- Kant’s moral and political philosophy
- Kant’s moral and political philosophy Don Becker Practical philosophy, for Kant, is concerned with how one ought to act. His first important work in practical philosophy, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, provides Kant’s argument for the fundamental principle of how one ought to act, called the “categorical imperative,” which basically requires one to act only according to principles that are themselves fit to be universal law. In Part I of this chapter we will focus on Kant’s argument for the categorical imperative, and see how it functions as the fundamental principle of his moral philosophy. In Part II we will look at Kant’s political philosophy, seeing both that it is grounded in this fundamental principle of how one ought to act, and that it gains support from other aspects of Kant’s philosophical thinking. PART I: KANT’S MORAL PHILOSOPHY Inasmuch as Kant thinks that the fundamental principle of how one ought to act must be capable of grounding a definitive answer in all circumstances, he recognizes that no empirical study, which is dependent on the contingent nature of the world as we experience it, can provide the sort of principle that he seeks. Instead, Kant will proceed with an a priori study of how one ought to act, which, insofar as it is independent of the contingent nature of the world as we experience it, can provide a definitive principle. Two forms of a priori study that Kant employs are the analysis of concepts and transcendental arguments. According to the former, insofar as some concept applies, whatever is entailed in that concept is true. According to the latter, insofar as some concept applies, whatever is a necessary condition of its application is true. Thus, Kant begins with the two concepts that are fundamental to his intended study, “morality” and “rational being,” and determines that they reveal the truth of the categorical imperative. (Although the concept “rational being” is really the fundamental concept employed by Kant, the concept “morality,” which he could have derived from the concept “rational being,” plays a central role in his presentation.) Kant’s presentation includes two basic steps. First, he asks what is meant by the concept “morality,” and argues that it entails rational beings acting in accord with the categorical imperative. This, however, only answers the question of what morality is on the assumption that morality exists. Kant then considers the concept “rational being,” and argues that a necessary condition of a being thinking that this concept applies to itself is that it think of itself as free. Furthermore, since Kant equates freedom in this sense (i.e. “positive freedom”) with what he calls autonomy, and autonomy with subjection to the categorical imperative, it follows that beings who think of themselves as rational must consider themselves to be subject to the categorical imperative that he has described.1 “Morality” and “rational beings” Kant engages in the a priori study of ethics, or metaphysics of morals, because this is the only way to gain definitive knowledge of how one ought to act. He proceeds by first considering what is meant by “morality,” and determining that it means neither more nor less than acting according to the categorical imperative (FMM, 58).2 Although more must be said before it is possible to explain the categorical imperative fully, and the exact nature of the moral principle that it designates, nevertheless, if one merely considers the two words that make up the term, an important aspect of its nature is revealed. “Categorical” means absolute, without qualification or exception, and “imperative” refers to a type of command. Thus, a categorical imperative is an absolute command. According to Kant, “Everyone must admit that a law, if it is to hold morally (i.e. as a ground of obligation), must imply absolute necessity” (FMM, 5). Thus, Kant treats it as obvious to everyone that morality ultimately entails an absolute command or categorical imperative. Furthermore, since nothing absolute can be derived from something contingent, he argues that the only way to determine the exact nature of this absolute command is to engage in the a priori study of practical reason (i.e. reason related to acting): unless we wish to deny all truth to the concept of morality and renounce its application to any possible object, we cannot refuse to admit that the law is of such broad significance that it holds not merely for men but for all rational beings as such; we must grant that it must be valid with absolute necessity and not merely under contingent conditions and with exceptions. For with what right could we bring into unlimited respect something that might be valid only under contingent human conditions? And how could laws of the determination of our will be held to be laws of the determination of the will of any rational being whatever and of ourselves in so far as we are rational beings, if they were merely empirical and did not have their origin completely a priori in pure, but practical reason? (FMM, 24) Kant holds that morality entails absolute laws; that, insofar as they are absolute, these laws must hold not only for human beings but for all similar, i.e. rational, beings; and that to have such general applicability these laws cannot be learned through experience or any empirical study, but must be derived through a purely a priori study. Kant thinks that people, insofar as they are rational, are subject to an absolute moral law. Kant thinks that the fact that rational beings are subject to an absolute moral law is what fundamentally distinguishes them from all of the other material things in the world, which he recognizes to be subject to the laws of nature. Thus, Kant distinguishes physics, which is concerned with those objects that are subject to the “laws of nature,” from ethics, which is concerned with those objects that are subject to the “laws of freedom” (FMM, 3). As will become clear, these laws of freedom constitute the absolute moral law. This distinction between physics and ethics can be somewhat confusing; after all, isn’t everything subject to the laws of nature? Maybe not. Think for a moment of a world in which everything were subject to the laws of nature. This would be a world of strict causal determinism; everything that happened would have followed inexorably from what preceded it. Among other things, all human behavior would be completely determined by these laws. But if all human behavior is causally determined according to laws of nature, then in what sense could people be considered morally responsible for their acts? Thus, if the concept “morality” is to make sense, then it must be possible to think of people not only as common physical entities subject to the laws of nature, but also, in another sense, as rational beings, subject to the laws of freedom (see FMM, 68–73). Kant thinks of people in just this dual way, as sensible or physical beings, causally determined according to the laws of nature, and as intelligible or purely rational beings, independent of causal determinism and capable of acting in accord with the laws of freedom. Accordingly, Kant suggests that the human will is subjected to two influences (see e.g. FMM, 16, 42). As sensible or physical beings, human beings have desires that arise from their physical nature and corresponding physical needs, which Kant broadly characterizes as the desire to be happy. This universal desire, as well as other indiosyncratic particular desires, is the source of inclinations, which exert a potentially controlling influence on the will. However, insofar as human beings are intelligible or purely rational beings, they recognize the laws of freedom, resist the force of inclination, and determine their will for themselves, independently of external influences and inclinations. Furthermore, and recognition of this is crucial for a correct understanding of Kant’s moral philosophy, Kant thinks that all rational beings, insofar as they determine their will for themselves independently of their inclinations, will recognize the very same principle, the categorical imperative, as expressing the law of freedom in accord with which they ought to act (FMM, 71). Thus far we have seen that the concept of “morality” entails the notion of an absolute law or “categorical imperative,” and that it can only apply to (rational) beings who can resist their inclinations and choose to follow such a law of freedom. Let us now look more closely at exactly what Kant means by a “categorical imperative.” Kant’s concept of a categorical imperative Imagine that the human will were influenced only by pure reason. Whatever pure reason recognized as right would necessarily be willed, and whoever was possessed of pure reason would never do wrong. But Kant has said that the human will is influenced by both reason and inclination. Therefore, human beings don’t necessarily will (and consequently act) as pure reason reveals is right, because they can be led astray by their inclinations. Thus, if a human will is to be determined in accordance with the objective moral law, it must be constrained. Kant calls the formula that expresses the command that constrains this will an imperative. Kant holds that there are two types of imperatives: All imperatives command either hypothetically or categorically. The former present the practical necessity of a possible action as a means to achieving something else which one desires (or which one may possibly desire). The categorical imperative would be one which presented an action as of itself objectively necessarily, without regard to any other end. (FMM, 30) Two points that are rather important to Kant are expressed in this passage. First, Kant reveals the basic difference between hypothetical and categorical imperatives. All imperatives determine the will to some good, but hypothetical imperatives say only that some action is good given that one has a particular purpose. Hypothetical imperatives reveal the means to given ends. Since these ends are contingent, however, as are all the ends that one commonly imagines (including the desire for happiness) inasmuch as there is no necessity for human beings to be so constituted that they have any of the particular desires that they experience, these ends cannot give rise to a categorical imperative. A categorical imperative, as Kant says, cannot depend on any contingent end, but “would be one which presented an action as of itself objectively necessary.” Second, by saying of a categorical imperative that it “would be one…,’ Kant is making it clear that there may be no categorical imperative. Kant is only talking about what a categorical imperative would be like if one existed. This is very important, and is consistent with a point made earlier. Human beings can only be subject to a moral law if they are capable of resisting the influences of their inclinations, and determining their wills through reason in accord with a principle or law that is known a priori. There can be no moral responsibility for beings whose actions are all causally determined. Thus, before Kant can actually assert that there is a categorical imperative, he must first show that human beings have reason to believe themselves capable of determining their wills through reason. Nevertheless, Kant’s argumentative strategy is to hold off on the question of whether human beings are actually subject to the categorical imperative, and to first pursue the question of what a categorical imperative would be, assuming that one exists. The first formulation of the categorical imperative Kant argues that there can be only one categorical imperative, and that, from the very idea of a categorical imperative, one can deduce a formula of the categorical imperative. Kant’s argument can be expressed as follows (see FMM, 37–8). A categorical imperative is an absolute law. Although it is obvious that a categorical imperative entails an absolute law, it is not at all clear what this law will command. Imagine any possible content of this law, say, to maximize human happiness. Insofar as what constitutes human happiness is contingent (human beings could be constituted differently), all that one can construct is a hypothetical imperative directed to a particular contingent end. Thus, a categorical imperative cannot be directed to any particular contingent end. But if the imperative cannot be directed toward any particular contingent ends, then what is left? Although later a formulation of the categorical imperative that is based on an end that is not contingent will be considered, for now it seems that the imperative can require nothing more than conformity to absolute law. But since there is nothing in particular to which this absolute law can be directed, it can command only that one act in a way that is at least consistent with the possibility of absolute law. Kant expresses this categorical imperative as follows: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (FMM, 38). This imperative does not rely on any specific content, but states the formal requirement that one always act in a way that one could will to be required to act by an absolute law. The application of the categorical imperative and the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties What does it mean to act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law? First, what is a maxim? A maxim is a general principle according to which an individual acts. Thus, one might hold the maxim “I will watch television when bored,” or “I will steal things when I desire more goods.” Kant is saying that it is morally permissible to act according to one’s maxim only if it is possible at the same time to will that it should become a universal law. One of the most famous examples that Kant uses to help make his point clear is that of the maxim to make a false promise to honor one’s debt when seeking a loan that one does not intend to pay back (see e.g. FMM, 18–19, 39). Can one hold this maxim and, at the same time, will that it should be a universal law? Well, imagine that there were a universal law to make false promises. In such circumstances, inasmuch as no one could be trusted, the institution of promising itself could not exist. Now, since it is logically impossible for one at the same time to will both to make a false promise and that the institution of promising not exist, it is immoral to act on the maxim to make a false promise when desirous of another’s money. Thus, the categorical imperative, as well as stating a restriction on permissible behavior, also provides a test of whether the restriction applies. If one cannot conceive of acting on the maxim while, at the same time, the maxim holds as a universal law, as is the case in the example of the false promise, then the maxim fails the test and may not be acted upon. Immediately after introducing the categorical imperative, Kant provides four examples of its application, which are designed to represent a common division of duties into four basic categories. Kant provides examples of perfect duties and imperfect duties both to oneself and to others, which can be classified as shown below. Duty to oneself Duty to others Perfect duty Do not commit suicide Do not falsely promise Imperfect duty Develop talents Be beneficent While the distinction between duties to oneself and duties to others requires no explanation, this is not the case with the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties. Kant was not the first to distinguish between perfect and imperfect duties, but his distinction does not correspond exactly with that of his predecessors (FMM, 38 n.). As Kant employs the concepts, perfect duties are those with which one’s every action must conform. Thus, in all but one special case (i.e. the duty to join the state), perfect duties actually entail prohibitions against actions that should never be performed under any circumstances, e.g. stealing and murder. Imperfect duties, for Kant, entail principles that one must adopt, but that one need not (and, in fact, cannot) act upon in every instance. One would not think of another as moral who did not hold, and in some appropriate circumstances act upon, the principle “Be beneficent.” However, it is also clear that it is not possible for one’s every act to be the fulfillment of an imperfect duty. For one thing, one’s every act cannot be, say, beneficent, since one also must tend to one’s own physical needs. Even more obviously, one’s every act cannot be one of beneficence, and also one of developing talents, and also one that furthers every other imperfect duty. Thus, Kant distinguishes between those duties with which one’s every act must accord, and those duties that require one to adopt a principle, but leave one leeway in deciding when to act upon it. With this distinction between perfect and imperfect duties in mind, it is important to look back to the categorical imperative, and to the test of the permissibility of actions. There are two ways that a maxim can fail the test of the categorical imperative. There are maxims for which it is logically impossible, and thus inconceivable, for one to will the maxim and its universalization at the same time, as in the false promise example discussed above, and there are maxims for which there is merely a contradiction in the will of an individual who wills both the maxim and its universalization at the same time, as in the example discussed below. Kant recognizes that there is an exact correspondence both between the duties generated by maxims failing the test of the categorical imperative in the former manner and perfect duties, and between the duties generated by maxims failing the test of the categorical imperative in the latter manner and imperfect duties (FMM, 40–1).3 Both Kant’s test of duties entailed in the categorical imperative and his reformulation of the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties gain support from this correspondence. Having already seen in the example of a false promise how perfect duties are related to maxims for which it is inconceivable to will both the maxim and its universalization at the same time, let us turn to an example of an imperfect duty. Consider the maxim “I will not develop my talents when I seem to be doing fine without bothering.” There is no logical contradiction that results from holding this maxim and, at the same time, willing that it should become a universal law. After all, one can very well imagine a rather easy life on a tropical island where one need do nothing more than pick fruit when hungry. Thus, adopting this maxim does not violate a perfect duty. Remember, however, that the categorical imperative says to “act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” While the test of perfect duties focuses on whether one can will that the maxim should become a universal law, thereby focusing on the logical possibility of holding the maxim and its universalization at the same time, the test of imperfect duties focuses on the question of whether one can will that the maxim should become a universal law. It may be logically possible to live a human life without developing one’s talents, and yet it may be impossible, without contradiction, to will to live such a life. Although Kant’s treatment of the examples of imperfect duties is very unclear, I think that one can make the best sense of his discussion if one reads him as saying that the human will is essentially unlimited in that it can hold anything imaginable as its object, and that a contradiction therefore results if one wills to place a limitation on one’s own will. Thus, it is not logically impossible for people to will not to develop their talents (it doesn’t violate a perfect duty) but it entails a contradiction in their will, since, on the one hand, their wills are essentially unlimited, but, on the other hand, willing the nondevelopment of one’s talents yields a limitation on what one can effectively will. According to this analysis, it follows that there is an imperfect duty to develop one’s talents. The second formulation of the categorical imperative Although Kant thinks that there is only one categorical imperative, he thinks that it can be formulated in more than one way. Of course, any other formulation of the categorical imperative, if it is to be a formulation of the same imperative, must require and prohibit exactly the same actions as the first formulation. Although Kant maintains that the first formulation discussed above is the most fundamental and precise, he develops alternative formulations of the categorical imperative because they make the demands of morality more intuitively plausible (FMM, 53). The derivation of the first formulation of the categorical imperative can be thought of as based on a consideration of the necessary form of a categorical imperative. The idea is that the imperative must express an absolute law, but, since the law cannot command any contingent particular and still be absolute, all that can be commanded is that any particular maxim to be acted upon must be of such a form that it could be universal law. The second formulation of the categorical imperative, in contrast, focuses on the proper content of one’s maxims (FMM, 48, 53). Kant bases the second formulation of the categorical imperative on his view that rational beings have absolute value as ends in themselves (FMM, 45–6). Although Kant’s argument in support of this view of rational beings is not very clear, it appears to rely on two fundamental claims. Kant has elsewhere said that the only thing that is good without qualification is a good will (since anything else can be put to a bad end, but not good willing itself) (FMM, 9–10), and seems to allude to this position during the argument. He also begins the discussion of which this argument is a part by reminding his readers that only rational beings have a will (FMM, 44). From these two claims it is reasonable to conclude that rational beings are of absolute value because they are the only possible source of that which is good without qualification. An imperative with content can therefore be a categorical imperative, provided that the end of that imperative is for rational beings to be treated as ends. Thus, the second formulation of the categorical imperative is: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only”4 (FMM, 46). This imperative includes an absolute prohibition against treating others as means only, and to do so would violate a perfect duty. It also requires one actively to treat others as ends, and this requirement is an imperfect duty. A reconsideration of the examples introduced earlier will help make this clear. Consider what happens when Mary makes a false promise to John, say to pay back a loan when, in fact, she intends to flee to Brazil. Mary has used John as a means for gaining the money she needs to go to Brazil. It is true that virtually any time two people make an agreement they are treating one another as means, but the important thing is that when the agreement is honest they are not treating one another as a means only. When making an honest agreement, people know more or less how they are furthering the interests of another, and this furthering of the other’s interests is an explicit part of their own act. Thus, in honest agreements people treat one another as means, but they also respect one another as ends, insofar as the other has been able to make a free and informed decision as to whether to participate in the agreement. However, when Mary exploited John’s trust by making a false promise, she treated him as a means only, in that he was not given the relevant information with which to decide whether he wanted to provide the benefit to Mary that she actually received. He was not treated as an end at all, in that he was not provided the opportunity to embrace the results of their interaction as an end of his own. Thus, Mary violated a perfect duty by treating another rational being, not as an end, but as a means only. Now imagine that Mary is a botanist fascinated by, and extremely talented at, studying tropical deforestation, and she asks John, who won $50 million in the lottery, to help fund a research trip to Brazil. Here there is no question of perfect duties. Neither Mary’s request for support, nor John’s either providing it or refusing to do so, entails treating a rational being as a means only. But should John provide the support? Were John to provide the funding, he would be treating Mary as an end, insofar as he would be acting to facilitate her realization of her own ends. Of course, as was pointed out in the previous discussion of imperfect duties, it is not humanly possible for one’s every action to be one of actively treating (in the sense of furthering) others as ends. Nevertheless, there is an imperfect duty to hold the principle of actively treating or furthering others as ends, and to act on this principle in appropriate circumstances. John may not be specifically required to provide funding for Mary, but he does have an imperfect duty, in a range of circumstances that seem appropriate to him, to use his personal resources to actively treat or further other rational beings as ends. Thus, it is a perfect duty never to treat oneself or another rational being as a means only, and an imperfect duty to actively treat or further all rational beings as ends in themselves. The third formulation of the categorical imperative, the principle of autonomy, and duty Although Kant expresses his third formulation of the categorical imperative in a number of ways, its clearest statement may be in the “principle of autonomy.” According to this principle one is only subject to the moral law that one has legislated for oneself: “Never choose except in such a way that the maxims of the choice are comprehended as universal law in the same volition” (FMM, 57). Although this principle seems quite similar to the first formulation of the categorical imperative, the important difference is that this principle requires one to think of the universal laws as issuing from one’s own volitions, and thus that the constraints to which one is subject come from one’s own will. Kant’s point is that rational beings are not merely subject to the moral law, but subject to the law because they created it themselves, i.e. because the law comes from their own will. To understand the importance of autonomy for morality one must consider Kant’s views on “good will” and “duty.” While other things might be good toward one end or another, or when employed in one way or another, Kant says that the only thing that is good without qualification is the good will (see FMM, 9–10). Kant then reveals the nature of the good will in a discussion of duty (see FMM, 12–15). Kant argues that acts do not have moral worth merely because they accord with duty, but only if they are done from (the motive of) duty. For example, if a shopkeeper gives a young child the correct change because they know that it is good for business, or even if someone helps another in need because they like to be helpful, although the acts accord with duty, they have no true moral worth. Kant is not saying that it is bad for people to behave in these ways, but only that they do not warrant moral esteem. In all the cases in which people behave in accord with duty, but for reasons other than just the requirements of duty, the person is moved by some particular interest, even if it is only the good feeling that they get inside. In all of these cases the person is acting out of some particular interest, and not merely manifesting a good will. The good will is only manifest when one does one’s duty, not from any particular interest, but precisely because it is one’s duty. Now the importance of the principle of autonomy can be clear. Imagine that rational beings were subject to a moral law that they had not created for themselves. If the moral law did not come from the rational being’s own will, then there would have to be some influence external to this being that moved it to act in conformity to the law. Obedience to the moral law would then be conditional on rational beings responding in a certain way to this external influence. For Kant, however, this would be antithetical to morality. Obedience might accord with duty, but it would not be from duty, it would not manifest a good will, and it would have no true moral worth. Kant concludes that the principle of autonomy expresses the fundamental claim of his moral theory: That the principle of autonomy, which is now in question, is the sole principle of morals can be readily shown by mere analysis of concepts of morality; for by this analysis we find that its principle must be a categorical imperative and that the imperative commands neither more nor less than this very autonomy. (FMM, 58) The concept of morality entails the idea of an absolute law, and, therefore, the fundamental moral principle must be a categorical imperative. But when one thinks about this imperative one recognizes that, since the imperative must be absolute, it cannot be based on anything of contingent interest. This requirement eliminates all principles that have their source outside of the individual, and leaves only the principle of autonomy. Why people are subject to the categorical imperative So far it has been shown that if there is such a thing as morality, then its rule is expressed by the categorical imperative (in all of its alternative formulations) that Kant has provided. What has not been shown is that beings like ourselves are subject to this morality. Kant has shown that it is essential to the concept of the categorical imperative, through the principle of autonomy to which it leads, that, if there is to truly be a categorical imperative, then it must be adopted by rational beings for themselves. But why would rational beings adopt the categorical imperative? Kant’s answer is that, insofar as rational beings take themselves to be rational, they necessarily recognize the categorical imperative as a constraint upon themselves. Kant is saying that a necessary component of the self-image of rational beings is their recognition of the fact that they must constrain themselves in accord with the categorical imperative. Here again one can see that Kant is using an a priori argument based on the concept “rational being” to support his moral theory. Kant’s transcendental argument for his moral theory takes the following form. First he argues that there is a relationship between freedom and autonomy such that all beings who consider themselves free must accept the principle of autonomy, which, as was previously discussed, entails the categorical imperative (FMM, 64). Then he shows that rational beings, because of how they experience the world, and, specifically, their own activity in the world, must consider themselves free (FMM, 65). Thus, it follows that rational beings must think of themselves as constrained by the categorical imperative. An explanation of this transcendental argument for the categorical imperative best begins with an account of his view of freedom. Rational beings have wills, and they cause things to happen in the world through their wills. Kant says of the will of rational beings that freedom would be that property of this causality by which it can be effective independently of foreign causes determining it, just as natural necessity is the property of the causality of all irrational beings by which they are determined to activity by the influence of foreign causes. (FMM, 63) This is Kant’s view of negative freedom, i.e. freedom from determination by something external to the will. The idea is that if one’s will is free in this negative sense, then, as opposed to existing merely as a sensible or physical being, subject to strict causal determinism, one must also exist as an intelligible or purely rational being that can have effects on the world independently of any foreign influences one experiences. Kant claims that this negative conception of freedom opens the door to a positive one. Kant has said that the will is a kind of causality that, free in the negative sense, is not determined by foreign influences. One must recognize, however, that “the concept of a causality entails that of laws according to which something (i.e. the effect) must be established through something else which we call cause” (FMM, 63). So how is a will that is free in the negative sense determined? It is clear from the concept of “causality” that a free will must be determined in accord with some law. This is also confirmed by common sense. To imagine a will that is not determined in accord with some law, is to imagine a will that is random. But a being whose will appears to be random is not thought of as free, but is ushered away by people in white coats. Such a will does not accord with the concept of “freedom.” To be free, therefore, a will must be determined in accord with some law. It cannot be determined by the laws of nature, for determination by the laws of nature is exactly what accounts for the lack of negative freedom in sensible or physical beings. Thus, a will that is free in the positive sense must determine itself, it must act in accord with a law that it adopts for itself, a law of freedom. This, however, is exactly what it is to be autonomous, and therefore to recognize oneself as subject to the categorical imperative. After all, the categorical imperative is the only principle of the will that beings can adopt for themselves, since all other imperatives are based on ends that are of contingent value, and, thus, entail rational beings’ determination by things external to themselves. Kant concludes this discussion by stating that “a free will and a will under moral laws are identical” (FMM, 64). Kant still hasn’t shown either that rational beings have free wills, or that there are any beings in the world that are subject to the morality that he has described. What has been shown is that only free beings can be subject to morality, and, more importantly, that all beings that think of themselves as free must think of themselves as subject to morality. Thus, if Kant demonstrates that rational beings necessarily think of themselves as free, then he will have shown that rational beings must think of themselves as subject to the categorical imperative. And if this demonstration is based on the way that rational beings necessarily experience themselves in the world, then Kant will have provided a transcendental argument that rational beings are subject to the categorical imperative. So the question is: Do rational beings experience themselves in the world in a way that requires them to think of themselves as having a free will?5 What is it to think of oneself as a rational being? To think of oneself as rational is to think that one applies reason (competently) when making judgments. The following is an example of applying reason when making a judgment: If a rational being knows that if statement P is true then statement Q is true, and also knows that P is, in fact, true, then, if it actually manifests its rationality, it will conclude that Q is true, through the application of a certain, in this case obvious, principle of logic. A being that came to hold that Q is true without having applied the principle of logic, say because Q just popped into its mind, would not be thought of as having made a rational judgment (regardless of the truth of its belief). Furthermore, even a being who applied the principle of logic, if it did so out of instinct, or because it was forced to by some external power, would not be thought of as having (itself) made a rational judgment. Calling a judgment rational, and, by extension, a being rational insofar as it makes rational judgments, is only appropriate when the being has itself adopted and correctly applied the relevant principle of logic. If the being does not do this for itself then it is like a simple computer (one for which there is no question of artificial intelligence). It never deserves credit for the conclusions that it draws because its application of logical principles is solely the result of forces external to itself, e.g. the skill of its programmer. Thus, with respect to logical judgments, a being can only think of itself as rational if it thinks that it has adopted and applied the principles of logic for itself. Of course, one can adopt and apply these principles for oneself only if one is free in Kant’s positive sense. Thus, to think of oneself as rational, at least in one’s logical judgments, one must think of oneself as free, and as having freely adopted the laws of logic. Nevertheless, although one must freely adopt these laws if one is to think of oneself as rational, that does not necessarily mean that one could adopt some other laws of logic and still think of oneself as rational. It is quite possible (though there are some who would question this claim) that there is only one set of fundamental logical laws that one can adopt without belying one’s rationality. One’s freedom is still manifest, however, by the fact that one has adopted the laws of logic for oneself, even though there is only one set of logical laws that one can adopt as a rational being. The situation with regard to morality is analogous. To consider oneself possessed of practical reason, i.e. to think that one applies reason in determining one’s will and consequently one’s actions, one must think of oneself as freely adopting one’s principles of action. In other words, one must think of oneself as having a free will. However, the fact that one must be free in adopting one’s principles of action does not mean that there must be some range of options for one to select from among. As appears to be the case with logic, in the case of morality, there is exactly one fundamental principle of action that can be freely adopted, and that is the categorical imperative. These considerations lead to a common confusion with respect to Kant’s views on freedom, which can be expressed in the following question: How is it possible for one both to be free and to have to adopt the categorical imperative? This question manifests a misunderstanding of what Kant means by freedom. By freedom Kant does not mean the option of choosing one thing or another (which one might also call liberty), but rather, the power of self-determination (which can also be called autonomy). Kant’s point is that if the moral law is truly to be freely adopted, then it cannot get its force from any contingent conditions external to the individual. However, the only principle of action that is independent of determination by any contingent external influences is the categorical imperative. Therefore, insofar as one thinks of oneself as a rational being, possessed of practical reason, one must think of oneself as subject to the categorical imperative. A second common confusion with respect to Kant’s views on freedom is that he thinks that people are free only when they act in accord with the categorical imperative. The concern is that Kant is claiming that people are not acting freely on those occasions when they succumb to the influence of their inclinations and act contrary to the categorical imperative. If this were true it would raise quite a problem, because it entails the claim that people who act immorally are not free, and therefore cannot be held responsible for their actions. Kant, however, thinks of all rational beings as free insofar as they recognize the categorical imperative as a constraint upon their actions. Those who violate this constraint, insofar as they are rational, recognize that they have done wrong exactly because they recognize the categorical imperative as a proper constraint upon their wills (FMM, 41). A being who violates the categorical imperative, and does not recognize that it has done wrong, must not have adopted the categorical imperative as a constraint upon its will. Such a being cannot think of itself as rational. Thus, the categorical imperative expresses the definitive principle of how rational beings ought to act. PART II: KANT’S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY In his political writings Kant builds upon the foundations he established principally in his moral philosophy to provide a rather strong argument supporting the necessity and the legitimacy of the state. In particular, he argues that there must be a single institution among a people, which he calls the state, that has the authority to use coercion to force people to leave others free to formulate and pursue the ends of their choice, provided that they are not violating the similar freedom of another. Kant argues both that morality requires people to exist within a state that secures their freedom to formulate and pursue the ends of their choice, provided that they do not violate the similar freedom of others, and that morality permits people to use coercion to force others to be members of such a state. Kant suggests that his argument for the state grows out of the consideration of how human beings are actually to apply the categorical imperative (MM, 16).6 Nevertheless, this approach does not reveal all of Kant’s concerns in his argument for the state. Accordingly, I will also discuss Kant’s argument that people necessarily view themselves as having a certain role to fulfill in the world, and that they can only perform this role successfully if their freedom to formulate and pursue the ends of their choice is secured within a state. The domain of jurisprudence, the ends of nature, and the value of external freedom Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals addresses the issue of how the categorical imperative is to be applied by human beings. This work is divided into two parts: the “Doctrine of Right,” in which Kant expresses much of his political philosophy, and the “Doctrine of Virtue,” which is concerned exclusively with other aspects of his moral philosophy. Ostensively, the basis for Kant’s division of the work is the difference between duties of justice, juridical (legal) duties, and duties of virtue, ethical duties (MM, 18–21). Kant says that all legislation (juridical and ethical) consists of two elements: the law, and the incentive to obey the law. Although two different types of legislation may agree about the law, e.g. both juridical and ethical legislation may prohibit murder, they can at the same time differ with respect to their incentives: If legislation makes an action a duty and at the same time makes this duty the incentive, it is ethical. If it does not include the latter condition in the law and therefore admits an incentive other than the Idea of duty itself, it is juridical. (MM, 19) Kant is distinguishing ethics, according to which one must always do one’s duty exactly because it is one’s duty, and never for any other reason, from jurisprudence, according to which one can have some other incentive for one’s actions that fulfill one’s duties. In fact, Kant begins the “Doctrine of Right” by defining jurisprudence as “the body of those laws that are susceptible of being made into external laws, that is, externally legislated” (MM, 33)7 Thus, one must determine exactly what laws can be externally legislated. First we should consider the difference between perfect and imperfect duties, and whether the laws that correspond with each of these can be externally legislated. Perfect duties require the performance or nonperformance of specific actions. It is easy to imagine how laws corresponding to these duties could be externally legislated, as it is easy to imagine how external incentives could be employed to coerce people either to perform or to refrain from performing specifie actions. It seems impossible, however, for external incentives to be employed to coerce people to perform imperfect duties (MM, 45). After all, imperfect duties require people to adopt certain principles (e.g. beneficence), and to act on those principles in circumstances that they deem appropriate. But people cannot be coerced either to adopt principles or to act on them. Since people’s wills are always free, and adopting a principle is an act of will, people cannot be forced to adopt principles. Furthermore, although people can be coerced to perform acts that follow from specified principles, since the act is merely a response to the coercion, it cannot be construed as an attempt to act in accord with the specified principle. Thus, people cannot be forced to act on a principle. Therefore, only imperfect duties can be the subject matter of jurisprudence, imperfect duties cannot. It might appear, then, that all perfect duties can be addressed by jurisprudence. Actually, however, there is good reason to believe that Kant means to exclude perfect duties to oneself from the domain of jurisprudence.8 One clear statement to this effect follows: “The concept of justice…applies only to the external and—what is more—practical relationship of one person to another” (MM, 34). One can best understand Kant’s political philosophy, and specifically his exclusion of perfect duties to oneself from the domain of jurisprudence, by considering the broadest concerns that motivate him to write about the state. In a number of his writings, including some essays on history and, more importantly, the Critique of Judgment, Kant reveals a great concern for the development of humanity. In the Critique of Judgment, Kant’s interest in the development of humanity is revealed in the context of an extended discussion of teleology or purpose. He argues that people can only make sense of a thing insofar as they understand it in terms of its purpose (CJ, 280).9 The notion of a thing having a purpose, however, is ambiguous, raising two issues, each of which is relevant (CJ, 312–13). Something can be organized in a way that manifests a purpose internal to the entity, as a tree is organized to grow and reproduce, or the manifest purpose can be external to the entity, as a tree is organized to help maintain the proper oxygen level in the atmosphere for animals to survive. When the question of purpose is asked of nature itself, the answer is quite revealing about humanity. Kant thinks that the ultimate internal purpose of nature is human culture, by which he means the ability of human beings, as sensible or physical beings constrained by the laws of nature, to formulate and pursue whatever ends they may set for themselves (CJ, 317–21). But human culture in this sense can only develop if people are secure from others interfering with their ability to formulate and pursue the ends of their choice. Thus, the greatest development of human culture, the ultimate end of nature, can only be realized if people do not violate their perfect duties to others (“UH,” 45–6).10 However, since the violation of perfect duties to oneself would also inhibit the development of human culture, it is not yet clear why Kant restricts the role of the state to include the enforcement of only perfect duties to others. Kant’s reason for excluding perfect duties to oneself from the domain of jurisprudence is revealed through the consideration of his views on the final external purpose of nature (CJ, 322–3). The final external purpose of nature can only be manifest in something that makes use of nature, but is not itself a part of nature, i.e. is not subject to the laws of nature, otherwise it would merely be one more internal purpose of nature. It is human beings, insofar as they are intelligible, or purely rational, beings subject to the moral law, who provide the final purpose for all that exists within nature. However, to the extent that people are not acting on the moral law, but are responding to their inclinations, nature is not being used toward any ends that themselves come from outside of nature. Thus, the final end of nature is only realized to the extent that humanity has developed toward moral perfection. Kant, however, thinks that the final end of nature cannot be realized so long as people remain in the state of nature because morality is necessarily inefficacious when people remain in this condition. Among people who choose to remain in the natural condition, without a state that enforces the fulfillment of perfect duties to others, it is as if they have agreed with one another that anything goes: If men deliberately and intentionally resolve to be in and to remain in this state of external lawless freedom, then they cannot wrong each other by fighting among themselves; for whatever goes for one of them goes reciprocally for the other as though they had made an agreement to that effect. (MM, 72) In such circumstances, there is reason to believe that none of the duties that people have to one another will be fulfilled. Thus, only if there is a state that enforces the fulfillment of perfect duties to others is it possible that morality will develop to the point that all duties to others can regularly be fulfilled. Therefore, the existence of the state is viewed by Kant as a necessary condition for the development of morality. It is now clear that Kant requires a state that enforces at least the fulfillment of perfect duties to others, but why should it not also enforce the fulfillment of perfect duties to oneself? The problem is that the enforcement of perfect duties to oneself would undermine the development of the moral character necessary among people who are to fulfill all of their ethical duties. Although the argument is too involved to pursue fully here, the basic point is that one’s perfect duties to oneself are fundamental, and only one who truly fulfills these duties, i.e. fulfills them precisely because they are duties, can develop the character necessary for the fulfillment of all of their duties. But if one is coerced to fulfill these duties to oneself, instead of fulfilling them solely because they are one’s duties, this will undermine the development of one’s character as one who fulfills all one’s duties.11 Thus, although the external legislation of perfect duties to oneself may facilitate the realization of the ultimate end of nature, it would actually undermine the development of humanity toward moral perfection, the final end of nature. Kant’s greatest interest, the development of humanity toward both the ultimate and final ends of nature, can be realized only within a state that enforces the fulfillment of perfect duties to others, thereby securing people’s external freedom and permitting them to formulate and pursue the ends of their choice, provided that they leave a similar freedom for others. External freedom and the concept of justice Having, at least briefly, explained Kant’s non-political reasons for being concerned with securing people’s external freedom, the foundation has been laid for showing how Kant argues within his political philosophy from the presumed value of external freedom to the necessity and legitimacy of a state that uses coercion to force people to fulfill their perfect duties to others. The outline of Kant’s argument is as follows: 1 People have an innate right to external freedom. 2 The only legitimate limitation on this right to external freedom is the right of others to a similar freedom. 3 The condition of the universal realization of this right to external freedom is the condition of justice. 4 Justice entails the authorization to use coercion, as necessary, to support the condition of justice. 5 The innate right to external freedom entails both a the right to security in oneself, and b the right to possess things external to oneself. 6 Someone who remains in proximity, and in the natural condition relative to others, i.e. not in a state, interferes with their external freedom by not providing them a guarantee of security with respect to both a their right in themselves, and b their rightful possession of objects external to themselves. 7 Existing within a state, subject to juridical law, is the only way to guarantee this security to others. 8 It is just to use coercion to force anyone in proximity into a state, subject to juridical law. Kant claims that there are two types of rights: innate rights and acquired rights (MM, 43). Innate rights belong to people by nature, independently of any act of law. Acquired rights, on the other hand, only come to exist through an act of law. Since acquired rights are dependent on acts of law, they cannot themselves provide the basis for considering people obligated to accept the lawful authority of a state. Any right that is to provide a legitimate basis for considering people obligated to accept the authority of a state must be an innate right. The innate right of external freedom plays this crucial role in Kant’s argument for the necessity and the legitimacy of the state. Kant begins the section entitled “There is only one innate right” as follows: Freedom (independence from the constraint of another’s will), insofar as it is compatible with the freedom of everyone else in accordance with a universal law, is the one sole and original right that belongs to every human being by virtue of his humanity. (MM, 43–4) The innate right to external freedom, therefore, is the only right that can provide the justification for imposing a system of juridical law on others. This innate right to external freedom provides the basis for Kant’s conception of “justice,” which he defines as “the aggregate of those conditions under which the will of one person can be conjoined with the will of another in accordance with a universal law of freedom” (MM, 34). What are the conditions under which people’s wills can be conjoined in accordance with a universal law of freedom? Kant thinks that two wills can be conjoined if they include no incompatibility. But what does this mean? Following Kant’s description of willing as “the summoning of all the means in our power” (FMM, 10), two wills can be conjoined if each will, while summoning all of the means in its power applicable toward its end, does nothing incompatible with the activity of the other. Suppose that two people will to hold the same political office. They will both summon all of the means that are in their power to gain this office, which, taken to its literal extreme, will undoubtedly include the violent elimination of their rival. In this case their wills cannot be united since each of them, by seeking to eliminate the other, is acting in a manner that is incompatible with the other’s pursuit of the goal. It is not possible for them jointly to will that they act in the manner described, since it entails both of them willing their own death, and also willing to survive after the death of the other. The question of justice, however, is not merely whether their wills can be conjoined, but whether they can be conjoined in accordance with a universal law of freedom. This restricts the range of maxims upon which they can will to act to those that are in accord with the universal law of freedom, which, for human beings, is expressed in the categorical imperative. If the rivals restrict their wills to maxims that meet this requirement, then they each will act on no maxim (employ no means) the universalization of which would be incompatible or inconsistent with the freedom of the other to act on similarly acceptable maxims. If the politicians so restrict themselves, then all of their acts, e.g. distributing buttons, or advertising their virtues on television, will be compatible with the like freedom of others. Their wills can be conjoined since there is no incompatibility or inconsistency between their willing to act in this restricted manner, and others willing to act similarly. Although it was made to seem above, during the discussion of the universal law of freedom and its relationship to the categorical imperative, that justice requires one to act fully in accord with the categorical imperative, it is clear from Kant’s definition of justice that it is limited to perfect duties to others. The exclusion of duties to oneself is clear from the reference to conjoining the will of one person with the “will of another.” The exclusion of imperfect duties is entailed by the reference to the conditions in which one person’s will “can be conjoined” with that of another. When asking if the wills can be conjoined, one is asking only whether it is logically possible for the maxims to hold at the same time, the test for perfect duties, not whether one could will them to hold at the same time, the test for imperfect duties. With this understanding of Kant’s conception of justice, it is easy to see that it amounts to nothing more than the condition of the universal realization of the innate right to external freedom. For all people to be independent of the constraint of others’ wills, to the extent that this is compatible with the freedom of everyone else in accordance with a universal law, i.e. for the innate right to external freedom to be universally realized, requires neither more nor less than that people be in a condition in which their wills can be conjoined in accordance with a universal law of freedom, i.e. that people be in a just condition. Thus, if Kant can argue that the concept of justice logically entails the right to use coercion in support of the condition of justice, then he will have shown that there is no inconsistency in using coercion to support and maintain external freedom. Kant wants to show that such coercion as is truly employed in opposition to injustice is itself consistent with justice (MM, 35–6). It follows from Kant’s definition of justice that injustice would be any condition in which one person’s will could not be conjoined with the will of another in accordance with a universal law of freedom. This condition cannot be eliminated, but can only be furthered, by an act that is itself unjust. Since every unjust act entails a will that cannot be conjoined with at least one other will in accordance with a universal law of freedom, every unjust act itself necessarily furthers the existence of the condition in which one person’s will cannot be conjoined with the will of another in accordance with a universal law of freedom, i.e. the condition of injustice. Thus, any coercion that actually opposes the condition of injustice must, by definition, itself be just. Kant goes on to argue that it is not merely just, but required by justice, to use coercion against anyone who acts unjustly (MM, 36–7). Of course, there are conditions on how that coercion is to be justly applied, but, assuming that these conditions are met, the application of coercion in support of the innate right to external freedom is itself a requirement of justice. It is particularly important to Kant, in light of the broadest concerns of his political philosophy, that external freedom can be supported by coercion. He is concerned with external freedom because it is a necessary condition for the development of humanity toward the final end of nature, moral perfection. But if people have to be moral to respect one another’s external freedom, then Kant would have a circular argument in which the conditions for the development of morality were themselves dependent on morality. Kant needs the condition in which people respect one another’s external freedom to be established entirely independently of the morality of the people. Thus, it is essential for Kant’s argument that external freedom can be supported entirely by external legislation (independent of people’s internal moral motivations). The components of external freedom Having shown that coercion can and ought to be used in support of the innate right to external freedom, the question of exactly what is entailed in this right must now be addressed. Based on his definition of the innate right to external freedom it is clear that Kant wants people to be independent of constraints that come from the will of others, when they are formulating and pursuing the ends of their choice in a manner consistent with others having a like freedom. It would seem then that Kant thinks that the innate right to external freedom entails independence from others willfully acting in a way that interferes with one’s right to formulate and pursue the ends of one’s choice. A right to this son of freedom may be commonly recognized, and may provide an adequate basis for a derivation of the necessity and legitimacy of the state. However, it is clear from Kant’s argument for the state that he has a significantly stronger sense of “freedom” in mind. This freedom includes independence from others willfully acting in a way that interferes with one’s right to formulate and pursue the ends of one’s choice in a manner consistent with the similar freedom of others, but it also includes independence from otherseven willfully maintaining a condition that interferes with this right (see MM,35). If he is to provide an a priori argument for the necessity of the state, Kant has to be concerned with the possibility of one’s external freedom being interfered with by the conditions that others maintain, and not only by their actions. Kant’s argument is dependent on the fact that someone who is in proximity, and in the natural condition relative to others, necessarily interferes with their external freedom. If Kant based his argument for the state on the fact that people will commit acts that interfere with the external freedom of others, then his argument for the state would be contingent on people actually committing such acts. Thus, Kant says: I am injured by the condition of other people who are in the natural state. For [when others remain in the natural condition] I have no security and my property is always in danger. I am not obligated to remain in this fear.12 Kant’s point is that people who remain in proximity, and in the state of nature relative to others, interfere with others’ freedom by interfering with both their security in themselves and their right to things external to themselves. Furthermore, one need not tolerate this situation of insecurity that undermines freedom, because people can be forced to join the state, the only condition in which freedom is guaranteed, without violating their freedom. The last two sentences constitute, in effect, a restatement of steps 5–8 of Kant’s argument as outlined above. According to the innate right to external freedom, people have the right to formulate and pursue the ends of their choice, provided that they leave a similar freedom for others. Kant thinks that this right entails both the right to security in oneself and the right to possess things external to oneself. Any violation of one’s right in oneself, which would seem necessarily to involve some son of assault, clearly entails the victim’s being constrained by the will of another (the perpetrator). Furthermore, Kant thinks that even the threat of a violation of one’s right in oneself interferes with one’s external freedom, as Hobbesian reasoning reveals. If people are in fear for their personal security, they will have to focus a great portion of their efforts on securing themselves, and will not be able to formulate and pursue those ends that truly interest them. Thus, the innate right to external freedom entails the right to security in oneself. The explanation of why the innate right to external freedom entails the right to possess things external to oneself is much more complicated. One simple explanation that Kant alludes to at times is that human culture is advanced through people engaging in complex projects, but people will only engage in such projects if they have a fixed expectation of their efforts being undisturbed, and of being able to work from the results of earlier efforts in subsequent, more involved projects. Thus, the right to possess things external to oneself is necessary for the development of human culture, the ultimate end of nature. Kant’s more complicated explanation of the right to property is basically that freedom can only be restricted to preserve the like freedom of others, owning property does not restrict the like freedom of others, and, therefore, freedom includes the right to own property. Thus, to restrict the possibility of the rightful possession of things external to oneself is to restrict freedom for something other than freedom, which is necessarily inconsistent with the final end of nature (MM, 52–3). The necessary conditions of external freedom What remains to be shown is that anyone who remains in proximity, and in the natural condition relative to others, interferes with both of the rights that are entailed in the innate right to external freedom. First we shall look at Kant’s argument that such an individual interferes with others’ right to possess things external to themselves. Kant maintains that the right to possess anything, although land is the most important example, depends on a relationship of the wills of all those who are in proximity (MM, 65). There are no material conditions, which could be verified empirically, that constitute having a right to a thing. Although Locke argued that one can make something one’s property by mixing one’s labor with it, Kant would respond that this begs the question, since it can now be asked: By what right does one mix one’s labor with something? Kant thinks that a person can rightfully possess something only if everyone in proximity relinquishes their right to will the use of that thing. Thus, one cannot take rightful possession of something through one’s own will alone; there must be a union of wills manifesting the agreement of all to respect the property of each: Now, with respect to an external and contingent possession, a unilateral Will cannot serve as a coercive law for everyone, since that would be a violation of freedom in accordance with universal laws. Therefore, only a Will binding everyone else—that is, a collective, universal (common), and powerful Will—is the kind of Will that can provide the guarantee required. The condition of being subject to general external (that is, public) legislation that is backed by power is the civil society. Accordingly, a thing can be externally yours or mine only in a civil society. (MM, 65) For Kant, existing within a state is the form in which the people express their mutual respect for one another’s rightful possession of things external to themselves. What happens, however, if there are people in proximity, and in the state of nature relative to the others? These people are not parties to the union of wills by which each person’s rightful possessions are guaranteed. These people are in a position to will the use of things that would otherwise be rightfully possessed by others. But since rightful possession depends on the agreement of the wills of all those in proximity, the presence of these people who are outside the union of wills makes rightful possession impossible, thereby interfering with the freedom of those within the union. Thus, Kant concludes this discussion by saying that if rightful possession must be possible (and it is entailed in the innate right to external freedom), “then the subject must also be allowed to compel everyone else with whom he comes into conflict over the question of whether such an object is his to enter, together with him, a society under a civil constitution” (MM, 65). In summary, Kant argues that the innate right to external freedom includes the right to possess things external to oneself; that this right can only be realized within a state; that anyone in proximity and outside of the state interferes with this right; and, therefore, that it is just to use coercion to force such people to enter the state. Kant also argues for the necessity and the legitimacy of the state from the fact that the innate right to external freedom entails a right to security in oneself that can only be realized within a state. While it is true that everyone has an ethical duty to respect everyone else’s rights in themselves, nevertheless, since people have no way of knowing the intentions of others, they are not secure in their rights in themselves until such time as they guarantee to one another that they will respect these rights: The necessity of public lawful coercion does not rest on a fact, but on an a priori Idea of reason, for, even if we imagine men to be ever so good natured and righteous before a public lawful state of society is established, individual men, nations, and states can never be certain that they are secure against violence from one another. (MM, 76) Kant’s point is that, despite the requirements of morality, people’s rights in themselves are insecure outside of a state. Paralleling his argument for the state from the right to possess things external to oneself, Kant argues here that the only way that the rights entailed in the innate right to external freedom can be realized is if people make their will not to violate these rights publicly known, and that the form of this mutual guarantee is the state. Kant’s argument that the necessity and the legitimacy of the state can be derived from the fact that people have the right to security in themselves is well summarized in the following: It is usually assumed that one cannot take hostile action against anyone unless one has already been actively injured by them. This is perfectly correct if both partics are living in a legal civil state. For the fact that one has entered such a state gives the required guarantee to the other, since both are subject to the same authority. But man (or an individual people) in a mere state of nature robs me of any such security and injures me by virtue of this very state in which he coexists with me. He may not have injured me actively (facto), but he does injure me by the very lawlessness of his state (statu iniusto), for he is a permanent threat to me, and I can require him either to enter into a common lawful state along with me or to move away from my vicinity. (“PP,” 98 n.)13 The innate right to external freedom can be universally realized only within a state, in which each person guarantees this right of everyone else by participating in a union of wills resolved to use coercion in support of this right. Furthermore, since it is just to use coercion in support of the innate right to external freedom, it is just to use coercion to force into the state those people who would otherwise maintain a condition that interferes with the external freedom of others (e.g. by remaining in proximity and outside of civil society). Kant on international relations Before discussing Kant’s views on how one is forced to join a state, and the version of hypothetical social contract theory toward which these concerns lead Kant, it is interesting to consider the relationship between Kant’s argument for the necessity of the state and his views on international relations. Kant has argued that people who remain in proximity, and in the natural condition relative to others, because they necessarily interfere with the freedom of those others, may therefore justly be forced to join together with them in a state that secures their freedom. However, what if these people are already members of a state, but a different neighboring state? Two related problems arise: First, the members of each state interfere with the freedom of the members of the other state just as they would if they were not members of a state at all: if there is no formal relationship between the states, there is no guarantee that the members of each state will respect the rights of the members of the other state. Second, the two states, which can each be thought of as a “moral person,” are in the state of nature relative to one another, and suffer all the difficulties that led Kant to argue for the need for civil society. Kant recognizes that these are serious difficulties which, unchecked, would very much undermine the possibility of the sort of human development that he thinks should be facilitated. His solution to the problem is to suggest that the same forces that lead individuals into a state should lead states into a federation of states (“PP,” 102–5; “UH,” 47; “TP,” 90).14 This federation of states would then fulfill the same role among states that a state fulfills for its citizens, and would also provide the necessary guarantee of external freedom among the citizens of different states. Although it is clear what Kant provides through his suggestion of a federation of states, there is also a significant problem raised by this suggestion: Who is ultimately sovereign? Since Kant argues that for a state effectively to fulfill its role it must be ruled by an absolute sovereign, it would seem to follow that the federation of states can effectively fulfill its role only if it is ruled by an absolute sovereign. Thus, it appears to be a clear implication of Kant’s argument that there should be a single world nation, without lesser sovereign states. However, Kant never supports the notion of a single world state, and at one point discusses the concern that such a world state “may lead to the most fearful despotism” (“TP,” 90). Thus, while Kant was right to recognize that his argument for the necessity and the legitimacy of the state has important implications for international relations, he was never able to give a clear and satisfactory account of how those international relations should be organized. Kant’s hypothetical social contract theory Kant has shown that people who remain in proximity, and in the natural condition relative to others, can be forced to join together with others in a state. Before one can understand what Kant thinks is entailed in forcing someone to join a state, one must understand what Kant thinks is entailed in being a member of a state, and how this membership is manifest. These issues are all addressed by what might best be described as a hypothetical social contract theorist. Kant’s hypothetical social contract theory follows from his a priori reasoning about human beings, and his recognition of both the rights of human beings, and the impossibility of realizing those rights outside of a state: A state (civitas) is a union of a multitude of men under laws of justice. Insofar as these laws are necessary a priori and follow from the concepts of external justice in general (that is, are not established by statute), the form of the state is that of the state in general, that is the Idea of the state as it ought to be according to pure principles of justice. This Idea provides an internal guide and standard (norma) for every actual union of men in a commonwealth. (MM, 77) Kant is concerned with the Idea of the state, which is based on a priori necessary laws of justice, and thus ought to serve as the blueprint for all actual states. It is the possibility of deriving the state a priori that grounds the possibility of a hypothetical social contract theory. Kant is a social contract theorist, maintaining that one’s political obligations can only result from one’s having consented, along with others, to be subject to the authority of the state. Kant, however, departs from the more traditional social contract theorists in that he does not think that this consent is actual, either explicit or tacit. Thus, Kant’s social contract theory is best described as hypothetical, to distinguish it from those theories according to which people must actually manifest their consent through their behavior. Under Kant’s hypothetical social contract, human beings can be treated as if they have consented to the social contract, because their consent is a necessary manifestation of their humanity, i.e. it is known a priori that, inasmuch as a being is rational, and one to whom the concept “human” applies, this being necessarily consents to the social contract. Thus, Kant says that being a member of a state is a “requirement of pure reason, which legislates a priori” (“TP,” 73). It is in accord with this pure reason that people are parties to the social contract, and organize themselves into a state. Being organized into a state, however, does not require that individuals actually apply their own reason and recognize the necessity and the legitimacy of the state; rather, the state is legitimate because a priori reason reveals it to be so: “The act by means of which the people constitute themselves a state is the original contract. More precisely, it is the Idea of that act that alone enables us to conceive of the legitimacy of the state” (MM, 80). Kant places himself in the contract tradition through his reference to the “original contract.” However, he then avoids any reliance on the actuality of this contract, and introduces what I have called a hypothetical social contract theory. It is not any actual social contract, to which people have actually consented either explicitly or tacitly, that lies at the foundation of the state and accounts for its legitimacy. Rather, it is the “Idea” of the original contract, a necessary idea of a priori pure practical reason that must, therefore, necessarily be assented to by all human beings inasmuch as they manifest their rationality, that provides the foundation of the state, and accounts for its legitimacy. All that is required for one to be a member of a state, remembering that it requires no actual consent, is to exist in a condition in which each individual has the rights and obligations that are necessary for the maintenance of a just condition, and which are enforced by the state through coercion. In fact, Kant argues that even if the state does not enforce exactly those rights and obligations that are necessary for the maintenance of a just condition, people must still accept its authority (for reasons that will be revealed shortly). In any case, membership in the state amounts to nothing more than the fact that citizens have an obligation to obey the law, and will be punished if they do not. There is nothing that manifests citizens’ membership in the state save the fact that a priori pure practical reason requires people, as intelligible beings, to subject themselves to this system of laws, and that people, as sensible or physical beings, are actually subjected to the authority of the state. What about those people existing either within the borders of the state, or otherwise in proximity, who, as intelligible beings, do not recognize the a priori practical necessity of subjecting themselves to the authority of the state, and, therefore, as sensible or physical beings, do not necessarily obey the authority of the state? Kant has said that such people can be forced to join the state. But, since there is no particular behavior by which people actually manifest their consent to the social contract, there is no act that people can be forced to perfom that will manifest their joining the state. In the end, what it is to force such people to join the state can be seen by considering why it is necessary to do so. The fact that such people, as intelligible beings, do not recognize the a priori practical necessity of the state is irrelevant, since justice is concerned with only the external relations among persons. The fact that such people, as sensible or physical beings, do not obey the authority of the state, however, means that, were they members of the state they would have been subjected to coercion, as necessary, to maintain the condition of justice. Membership in the state amounts to nothing more than being subject to the threat of coercion in response to violations of the law. Kant’s claim, that people who do not accept the authority of the state should be forced to join the state, really amounts to the claim that, in accord with the hypothetical social contract that they necessarily accept insofar as they are rational beings, they should be treated as members of the state. Kant on rebellion and resistance Kant has argued from the fact that people have an innate right to external freedom, and the fact that this freedom is not violated by the use of coercion against someone who is violating the freedom of another, to the fact that people can be treated as if they were parties to an original contract by which they agreed to accept the authority of the state. The idea of an original contract, however, not only explains the political obligations of the members of a state, but also accounts for the limitations that exist on the authority of the state: [The original contract] is in fact only an idea of reason, which nonetheless has undoubted practical reality; for it can oblige every legislator to frame his laws in such a way that they could have been produced by the united will of a whole nation…. This is the test of the rightfulness of every public law. For if a law is such that a whole people could not possibly agree to it…it is unjust; but if it is at least possible that a people could agree to it, it is our duty to consider the law as just, even if the people is at present in such a position or attitude of mind that it would probably refuse its consent if it were consulted. (“TP,” 79) The idea of the original contract, to which all human beings, insofar as they are rational, necessarily consent, includes restrictions on the possible legislation of a legitimate state. Basically, legislation is legitimate if it would be possible for the people to consent to it. The fact that the people would be likely to choose not to consent to a given piece of legislation is not relevant to its legitimacy, provided that it does not require the violation of a perfect duty, and, thus, could at least possibly receive the people’s consent. Accordingly, it would not be surprising if Kant went on to argue that rebellion and resistance against a state whose laws are legitimate is absolutely prohibited, but that it is permissible to rebel against a state that passes unjust legislation, or at least to resist the specific unjust laws. Such a position would be consistent with the fact that Kant, on certain grounds, applauded the French Revolution. This line of reasoning is also supported by a passage in which Kant implies that resistance to illegitimate legislation, which requires the violation of a perfect duty, is permissible, or even required: “When men command anything which is itself evil (directly opposed to the law of morality) we dare not, and ought not, obey them.”15 Despite this apparent endorsement of resistance to unjust legislation, however, Kant repeatedly states that rebellion against states that enact unjust legislation, and resistance to illegitimate legislation, are both absolutely prohibited. At first blush this is rather surprising. After all, Kant’s interest in the state is grounded in his concern for the development of morality, which fundamentally entails the autonomy of the individual, and, yet, submission to an unjust state seems undeniably to entail the violation of morality and the denial of individual autonomy. Nevertheless, Kant’s arguments for the absolute prohibition against rebellion and resistance are well grounded in his most fundamental concerns. Kant’s absolute prohibition against rebellion and resistance, while holding a theory of illegitimate legislation, is evident. He says that “the people too have inalienable rights against the head of state, even if these cannot be rights of coercion” (“TP,” 84). Kant both recognizes that there are things beyond the legitimate authority of the state, and asserts that the people cannot use coercion in response to such transgressions. The absolute nature of this prohibition is stated unequivocally: “it is the people’s duty to endure even the most intolerable abuse of supreme authority” (MM, 86). Another passage both expresses this absolute prohibition, and begins to reveal Kant’s justification for it: It thus follows that all resistance against the supreme legislative power, all incitements of the subjects to violent expressions of discontent, all defiance which breaks out into rebellion, is the greatest and most punishable crime in a commonwealth, for it destroys its very foundations. This prohibition is absolute. (“TP,” 81) Kant not only thinks that the prohibition against rebellion and resistance is absolute, but that it must be absolute, because rebellion and resistance destroy the very foundations of a state. Even a state that is unjust must be supported because the state is necessary for the realization of the innate right to external freedom, and to rebel or resist any state is to act on a maxim that makes all states insecure: For such resistance would be dictated by a maxim which, if it became general, would destroy the whole civil constitution and put an end to the only state in which men can possess rights. (“TP,” 81) For such procedures, if made into a maxim, make all lawful constitutions insecure and produce a state of complete lawlessness (status naturalis) where all rights cease at least to be effectual. (“TP,” 82) In his political philosophy, Kant argues for the necessity and the legitimacy of the state because, without a state, the rights that people have under the innate right to external freedom cannot be secured, and humanity will not progress toward the ultimate and final ends of nature. Rebellion and resistance, however, entail the adoption of maxims that make the state impossible, rights ineffectual, and the hope for human progress vain. Thus, it is only if people live within secure states, that are themselves members of a healthy federation of states, that humanity can possibly progress toward the ultimate and final ends of nature, the complete development of human culture and the attainment of moral perfection. NOTES 1 For Kant these identities are necessary, thus obviating the claim that he is substituting into an intentional context. 2 FMM stands for Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 2nd edn, revised, trans. L.W.Beck (New York: Macmillan, 1959). 3 Kant wouldn’t consider this correspondence mere coincidence, but space does not permit a discussion of its grounds. 4 It is clear that by “humanity” here Kant is referring to rational beings generally. 5 Kant argues only that insofar as we think of rational beings as actors in the world, i.e. from the point of view of practical philosophy, can we argue that these beings are free. This argument does not constitute a theoretical proof of the freedom of rational beings. 6 MM stands for Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, the Preface, Introduction, and most of Part I (“Doctrine of Right”) of which constitute The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, trans. J.Ladd (New York: Macmillan, 1965). 7 The word that is here translated as “jurisprudence” is the same word as is translated “doctrine of right,” but the former corresponds to colloquial English. Furthermore, the root of this word, “Recht,” can be translated as either “right” or “justice” depending on the context. Thus, the “Doctrine of Right,” Kant’s theory of jurisprudence, is concerned with those duties that are duties of justice. 8 There is rather good evidence both for and against this claim; however, I think that much better sense can be made of Kant’s political philosophy on the assumption that it is correct. 9 CJ stands for Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. W.S.Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987). 10 “UH” stands for Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose,” in Kant’s Political Writings, 2nd edn, ed. H.Reiss, trans. H.B.Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). 11 Kant, Lectures on Ethics, trans. L.Infield (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1963), pp. 117–18. 12 Kant, Reflection 7647 (my translation), in Kant’s gesammelte Schriften, 29 vols, ed. Deutschen (formerly Königlich Preussische) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: de Gruyter [and predecessors], 1902–), Vol. 19, pp. 476–7. 13 “PP” stands for Kant, “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch,” in Kant’s Political Writings, op. cit. 14 “TP” stands for Kant, “On the Common Saying: ‘This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice’,” in Kant’s Political Writings, op. cit. 15 Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, trans. T.M.Greene and H. H.Hudson (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), p. 90 n. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Original language editions 3.1 Kants gesammelte Schriften, 29 vols, ed. Deutschen (formerly Königliche Preussische) Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin: de Gruyter (and predecessors), 1902–; the complete collection of Kant’s work. English translations of Kant’s work 3.2 Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. M.J.Gregor, The Hague: Nijhoff, 1974. 3.3 Critique of Judgment, trans. W.S.Pluhar, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987. 3.4 Critique of Practical Reason, trans. L.W.Beck, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956. 3.5 Critique of Pure Reason, trans. N.Kemp Smith, New York: St Martin’s Press, 1965. 3.6 Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 2nd edn, trans. L.W.Beck, New York: Macmillan, 1990. 3.7 Lectures on Ethics, trans. L.Infield, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1963. 3.8 The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. M.Gregor, Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1991. Preface, Introduction, and Part I (“Doctrine of Right”), trans. J.Ladd, in The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, New York: Macmillan, 1965. Preface, Introduction, and Part II (“Doctrine of Virtue”), trans. J.W.Ellington, in Ethical Philosophy, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983. 3.9 Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, trans. T.M.Greene and H.H.Hudson, New York: Harper & Row, 1960. 3.10 “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose”; 3.11 “On the Common Saying: ‘This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice’” ; 3.12 “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”: All appear in: Reiss, H. (ed.) Kant’s Political Writings, 2nd enlarged edn, trans. H.B.Nisbet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Humphrey T. (ed.) Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, Indianapolis, Hackett, 1983. Commentaries on Kant’s moral and political philosophy 3.13 Allison, H.E. Kant’s Theory of Freedom, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 3.14 Arendt, H. Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, ed.R.Beiner, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. 3.15 Aune, B. Kant’s Theory of Morals, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979. 3.16 Beck, L.W. A Commentary on Kant’s “Critique of Practical Reason”, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. 3.17 Carnois, B. The Coherence of Kant’s Doctrine of Freedom, trans. D.Booth, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. 3.18 Gregor, M.J. Laws of Freedom: A Study of Kant’s Method of Applying the Categorical Imperative in the “Metaphysik der Sitten” [“Metaphysics of Morals”], New York: Barnes & Noble, 1963. 3.19 Mulholland, L.A. Kant’s System of Rights, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. 3.20 Murphy, J.G. Kant: The Philosophy of Right, London: Macmillan, 1970. 3.21 Nell, O. Acting on Principle: An Essay on Kantian Ethics, New York: Columbia University Press, 1975. 3.22 Paton, H.J. The Categorical Imperative: A Study in Kant’s Moral Philosophy, London: Hutchinson, 1947. 3.23 Riley, P. Kant’s Political Philosophy, Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1983. 3.24 Shell, S.M. The Rights of Reason: A Study of Kant’s Philosophy and Politics, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980. 3.25 Sullivan, R.J. Immanuel Kant’s Moral Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. 3.26 Williams, H. Kant’s Political Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell, 1983. 3.27 Wolff, R.P. The Autonomy of Reason: A Commentary on Kant’s “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals”, New York: Harper & Row, 1973. 3.28 Yovel, Y. Kant and the Philosophy of History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.
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