.it’s the formula of humanity.

“The Formula of Humanity”

Maturation and dignity of each individual in the present.


Love openly and fearlessly. Because there is no heaven or hell in the future. There are only the choices you make in each and every moment.
Hope doesn’t have to enter into the equation. Don’t hope for a bette life. Simply be a better life.

Immanuel Kant lived from 1724 until 1804, he is one of the most influential philosophers in the history of Western philosophy.

His contributions to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics have had a profound impact on almost every philosophical movement that followed him. Kant refused to believe that there was no deep-rooted value in existence. He refused to believe that we are forever cursed to recreate stories to give our lives any sence of meaning. So he set out his brilliant brain to figure out what value without hope would look like.


He started a simple observation. In all the universe, there is only one thing that, from what we can tell, is completely unique – consciousness. To Kant, the only thing that distinguishes us from the rest of the matter in the universe is our ability to reason – we’re able to take the world around us and, through reasoning and will, improve upon it. This, to him, was special, exceedingly special – a miracle, almost – because for everything in the infinite span of existence, we are the only ones who are self-aware. The only true meaning of existence is the ability to form meaning. The only importance is the thing that decides importance. Without intelligence, and the freedom to exercise that intelligence, we might as well all be a bunch of rocks. Rocks don’t change. They don’t conceive of values, systems, or organizations. They don’t alter, improve, or create. They’re just there. Which unfortunately doesn’t seem to far away from where some of the people are heading today.


But consciousness – consciousness can reorganize the universe. Consciousness is able to take a problem, a system of a certain amount of complexity, and conceive and generate greater complexity. In a thousand years, we went from twiddling sticks in a small cave to designing entire digital realms, connecting the minds of billions. In another thousand years, we could easily be among the stars, reshaping the planets and space and time itself. Each individual action may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but the continuation, preservation and promotion of rational consciousness overall matters more then anything.

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Kant argued the most fundamental moral duty is to maintain, care and protect the growth of consciousness, both in ourselves and in others. He called this principle of always putting consciousness first “The Formula of Humanity”, and it kind of explains… well, like, everything, ever. It explains our basic moral intuitions. It explains the classic concept of virtue (morality). It explains how to act in our day-to-day lives without relying on some imagined vision of hope. It explains how not to be an asshole. And, as if it weren’t enough, it explains all of it in a single sentence. The Formula of Humanity states,

“Act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means”.

I know: what the actual fuck? I had to read it ten times before I got it. So, don’t worry I’ll help you out.

Kant believed that rationality was incredibly special. When I say rationality, I don’t mean like sudoku or chess grandmaster rationality. I mean rationality as the fact that we are the only known creatures in the universe that are able to make decisions, weigh options, and consider the moral implications of any and every action.

The Formula of Humanity is the one thing that pulls people out of childish bargaining into being an adult who behave with high moral standards. See, the problem with hope is that it is fundamentally transactional – it is a bargain between one’s current actions for some imagined, pleasant future. Don’t do that, and you’ll go to heaven. Work hard and save money, because that will make you happy.
What we should and must do is to act unconditionally. You must love someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise it’s not truly love. You must speak honestly without expecting a pat on the back or a high-five or a gold star next to your name; otherwise you aren’t truly being honest.


Kant summed up these unconditional acts with one single principle: you must treat humanity never merely as a means, but always as an end itself. But seriously what does that even mean and what does that look like in a day-to-day life? Here’s a simple example:
Let’s say that you’re hungry and you want a burrito. You get in your car and drive to Chipotle and order your usual burrito that makes you so happy. In this situation, eating the burrito is your “end” goal. It’s ultimately why you’re doing everything else: getting in the car, driving, buying gas and so on. All these things you do to get your burrito are the “means”, the things you must do to achieve your “end”. Means are things we do conditionally. Things we bargain with to get what we want, things that lead us to our end goal.
An end is something that is desired for it’s own sake. It is the defining motivating factor of our decisions and behaviours. If you wanted to eat a burrito because your wife wanted burrito and you wanted to make her happy, then the burrito is no longer the end: it is now a means to an even greater end: making your wife happy. And if you only wanted to make your wife happy so you could get laid tonight, now your wife’s happiness is a means to a greater end, which in this case is sex. This is Kants point – treating any human being as a means to some other end is the basis of all wrong behaviour.


Lying is wrong because you’re misleading another person’s conscious behaviour in order to achieve your own goal. You are treating that person as a means to your own end. Cheating is unethical for a similar reason. You are violating the expectations, trust and emotions of others for your own personal aims. You are treating everyone else who is taking the same test or following the same rules as a means to your own personal end.


The Formula of Humanity does not rely on hope. There’s no great system to force onto the world, no faith-based supernatural beliefs to protect from doubt or lack of evidence. It’s merely a principle, it doesn’t project some future utopia. It doesn’t moan about some hellish past. No one is better or worse or more righteous than anyone else. All that matters is that conscious will – is respected and protected. End of story.


Kant decided that the only logical way to improve the world is through improving ourselves – by growing up and showing high moral standards – by making the simple decision, in each moment, to treat ourselves and others as ends, and never merely as means. Be honest. Don’t distract or harm yourself. Don’t avoid responsibilities or succumb to fear. Love openly and fearlessly. Don’t cave to tribal impulses or hopeful deceits. Because there is no heaven or hell in the future. There are only the choices you make in each and every moment.

Will you act conditionally or unconditionally? Will you treat others as merely means or as ends? Will you pursue adult virtue of childish narcissism?
Hope doesn’t have to enter into the equation. Don’t hope for a bette life. Simply be a better life.


Kant understood that there is a fundamental link between our respect for ourselves and our respect for the world. The values that define our identity are the templates that we apply to our interactions with others, and little progress can be made with others until we’ve made progress within ourselves. When we pursue a life full of pleasure and simple satisfaction, we are treating ourselves as a means to our pleasurable ends. Therefore, self-improvement is not the cultivation of greater happiness but, rather, a cultivation of a greater self-respect. Telling ourselves that we are worthless and shitty is just as wrong as telling others that they are worthless and shitty. Lying to ourselves is just as unethical as lying to others. Harming ourselves is just as unacceptable as harming others. Self love and self-care are therefore not something you learn about or practice. They are something you are ethically called to cultivate within yourself, even if they are all that you have left. The Formula of Humanity has a rippel effect: your improved ability to be honest with yourself will increase how honest you are with others, your honesty with others will influence them to be more honest with themselves, which will help them to grow and mature. Your ability not to treat yourself as a means to some other end will in turn allow you to better treat others as ends. Therefor, you cleaning up your relationship with yourself has the positive by-product of cleaning up your relationship with others, which then enables them to clean up their relationship with themselves, and so on.

This is how you change the world – not through some all encompassing ideology or mass religious conversation or misplaced dreams of the future, but by achieving the maturation and dignity of each individual in the present, here and now. There will always be different religions and different ideas about where we’re going and where we’ve come from. But, as Kant believed, the simple question of dignity and respect in each moment must be universal.



Taken from the great book “Everything is fucked” by Mark Manson.

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