The next essay in “Supervillains and Philosophy” is “V for Villain” by Robert Arp. Framing this all around “V for Vendetta”, Arp examines the issue of using people, as the villains and even the hero in the work constantly do. This will, of course, immediately run up against Kant’s maxim of treating people not merely as means, but always also as ends in themselves. By that standard, even the hero V is acting immorally, and we’d be acting immoral if we did so even if using those people resulted in better actions, which would be one of the main clashes between Utilitarianism and Kantianism, and also one of the main criticisms of Utilitarianism (that it would allow you to use someone merely to provide the most utility).
But this always raises the question of what happens if the person chooses to be used? What if they are perfectly willing to be used and are fully aware of what is going on, and thus choose it themselves? As Arp points out, to use them violates at least a strict reading of Kant’s principle, but to deny them the ability to choose to be used seems to violate it as well, as you end up using them as a means to fulfilling your own morality. How can we resolve this?
I think most of the controversy over this ignores the part where Kant says that the imperative applies to yourself as well. You are not allowed to use yourself merely as a means, but must also always treat yourself as an end in itself as well. This is what’s behind his rather infamous proscription against masturbation, as you use yourself merely as a means to your own sexual gratification. While that’s debatable, it’s clear that the choice to be used can only be a valid moral choice for Kant if the person isn’t even treating themself as a means to some other end, but also as an end in themselves. There’s a lot more to work out here wrt what counts as a valid end, but this ought to eliminate a lot of the cases where we immediately think that someone is consciously choosing to be used; they are, but they are still treating themselves as a means, and so even though you would be acting properly moral to accept their choice, they are acting immorally in making the choice.
Ultimately, we need to treat others as independent moral agents, but we also have to think of ourselves that way as well. While most of the focus of morality is in not using others, we do have to remember that we ought not use ourselves either.