71 ANSCOMBE, Elizabeth (1919-2001) – Collected Philosophical Papers (1981)
British [Cambridge]; Neoclassical
72 HABERMAS, Jurgen (1929- ) -- The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity
(1987); Theory of Communicative Action (1981; 1984; 1987)
German [Frankfurt]; Postmodern linguistic analysis
73 LYOTARD, Jean-Francois (1926- ) – The Postmodern Condition: A Report on
Canadian [Montreal]; Postmodernism
74 MACINTYRE, Alasdair (1929- ) – Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry (1990)
Scottish [Vanderbilt; Notre Dame]; Neoclassical Critique of postmodernism
75 RORTY, Richard (1931- ) – Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989); Conse-
equences of Pragmatism (1982); Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979)
American [Virginia]; Postmodern analytic philosophy
76 *WOJTYŁA, Karol [Pope John Paul II] (1920-2005) – Person and Act (1969;
1979); The Controversy about Man (1976); Love and Responsibility (1960;
1981); Fides et Ratio (1998)
Polish [Krakow; Rome]; Personalist phenomenology
I – Continental Philosophers [Europeans] 55 Frankfurt (5); Vienna, Jena,
German, including Austrian, Swiss, Danish Heidelberg, Berlin, Freiburg,
27 Muenster (2)
French, including Belgian, Canadian 23 PARIS (20)
Italian and Spanish 3 Rome (2)
Polish and Ukrainian 2 Krakow
II – Anglo-American Philosophers 20 Cambridge (5); Oxford (4);
British [English and Scottish] 12 London (4)
American 8 Harvard (5); California (4);
New York (2)
CRITICAL NOTES ON THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHERS OF MODERNITY John A. Gueguen
Political Science Department
Illinois State University Summer 1976
Revised edition 2006
13. IMMANUEL KANT
(1724-1804) Analysis: Kant was the founder of systematic metaphysical idealism. His ideas about moral and legal topics must be sought within an elaborate and ambitious attempt to improve and enlarge science by uniting everything under one principle. He created his own categories, constructed his own concepts, and employed technical expressions that were meant to make his philosophy exotic and unavailable to public discourse. He thought the general discussion of philosophy outside the university could only cheapen and vulgarize it.
Kant drew a broad distinction between philosophy proper (the study of thoughts, or “noumena”) and empirical observation of experiences (“phenomena”). It was philosophy proper, or “metaphysics,” to which he devoted his labor to build a universal a priori system of reason. This was to be “theoretical” (as opposed to empirical), derived from “pure reason” (a priori intuition), and “critical” (going back to lay foundations in the first principles of reason, and not extending the development of any previous philosophical system).
Kant divided “metaphysics” into two broad areas: “morals” and “nature,” or the science of right/law (Recht) and the science of nature, or physics. Moral science was further sub-divided into ethics and jurisprudence. These two branches of morality were strictly segregated: Ethics was the study of personal or private Recht and virtue, as directed toward internal actions and duties. Here a person is subject to no other law than what he gives to himself. Jurisprudence was the study of public Recht and justice, as directed toward external actions and duties. It culminated in codified Law (Gesetz). Persons as citizens of a State are subject to no other law than what the Legislator sets before them.
As a consequence of this division, justice properly contains no ethical content or prescription of virtue. Duties of virtue are not to be legislated; only external morality can be legislated. Juridical duties are only external actions. To each of these areas of morality corresponds a set of “imperatives”: unconditional, practical propositions, or “maxims,” that command “duties.” These are the source of both private and public obligation. In private right we follow a subjective principle of action that results in rules or duties that we give to ourselves. When there is agreement between our actions and the maxim we have given ourselves, we are morally right.
In public right we are subject to an objective principle of action, the “universal law of justice”: “Act externally in such a way that the free use of your will is compatible with the freedom of everyone according to a universal law” (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Introduction, C). This is the public version of a “categorical imperative” that asserts what obligation is in general: “Act according to a maxim that can at the same time be valid as a universal law. You must first of all consider your actions according to their basic subjective principle…. When your reason puts this principle to the test of conceiving yourself as at the same time universally legislating by means of it, it qualifies for such a universal legislation” (Introduction, IV). It is important to note that both private and public maxims proceed from the will and command duties.
Private Recht is innate in man. It belongs to each one by original grant of nature and is thus equivalent to natural right. In a condition of natural society (before the State) we have only one natural right: freedom (which for Kant is the negative condition of not being constrained). In private Recht, since juridical relations are absent, each man has a right to extend his maxims over all objects. Private right is the province of my will and my possessions. By “possession” Kant specified that he did not mean actual relations to objects in space and time, but the intelligible union of my will with an object. Any interference would be an injury to me, a violation of my freedom. Owing to the metaphysical imperfection of a state of natural society, Kant thought the most responsible use of one’s freedom was the act of forming a civil society, a State.
Public Recht is acquired. It is bestowed as positive right or statute law in the condition of civil society, or the State (properly so called). This is the condition of society under a supremely powerful will that unites all the members. Public Recht proceeds from a Lawgiver whose will is law for all: “A unilateral Will cannot serve as a coercive law for everyone…. 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” that one’s possessions will be recognized by everyone as his external property (Fundamental Principles…, I, i, 8). By definition, the sovereign has rights without duties and can do no injustice. It fills entirely the field of Recht, and hence no scope remains for private rights. (This is a long stretch from Locke’s careful demarcation between the state and private prerogative.)
The highest culmination of public right is the Constitution, which Kant said was “holy and irresistible,” for “it is an Idea that is an absolute command of practical reason judging in accordance with concepts of justice—a command binding on every people. Even if the organization of the State is defective by itself, still no subordinate authority can bring any active resistance against the legislative Chief. Any deficiencies attributable to him must be gradually removed by reforms, which he carries out by himself” (Appendix, Conclusion).
Kant added that the Idea of a pure republic would be the perfect Constitution, with supreme authority residing in the whole people controlled and directed by its Collective Will (reminiscent of Rousseau’s Social Contract).
Having arrived by a priori reasoning at the Idea of the State and its Constitution, it took Kant but one further step to reach a universal union of States (a World State) and its corresponding law. This seems to have been the final aim of his thought on the “metaphysics of justice,” what he regarded as the highest political good. For only such a State would make possible “perpetual peace,” as he argued in his essay of that title. Kant thus seems to have been the first systematic political philosopher to include a world state in his scheme. Having arrived at that summit, however, even if such an Idea was actually unrealizable, nevertheless, we are obligated to work toward it. (Hegel will shortly bring to a grand theoretical conclusion Kant’s development of this thought.)
Some consequences of the Kantian notion of State and law: The State exercises four great areas of exclusive right:
1) the just use of coercion, since the continued exercise of personal freedom would be inconsistent with universal laws. The State is authorized to “use coercion against anyone who violates justice” (Introduction, D).
2) the right to punish all offenses against civil society in proportion to the crime; it would be unjust to allow exemptions or to grant pardons.
3) the right of sole proprietorship, since it is the State that guarantees the administration of possessions by each citizen. (Here Kant makes no allowance for a Church to own property: “The Church is an institution founded on fraud and illusion; when, as a result of popular enlightenment, the terrible authority of the clergy will fall away, the State will, with full right, seize the property that has been usurped by the Church through testamentary wills” (Appendix, 8B).
4) the right of obedience, or unconditional submission to the sovereign will: “The origin of the supreme authority is…not open to scrutiny by the people…as though the right of obedience due it were open to doubt…. They cannot and may not judge otherwise than the present Chief of State wills…. It is the people’s duty to endure even the most intolerable abuse of supreme authority” (II, i, 49A). “Legislative authority over a people must be obeyed; this is so unconditional juridically that it is in itself punishable to inquire publicly into the title of his acquisition” of this authority. And he added: “This is a categorical imperative” (Appendix, 8 conclusion). (Note the development since Spinoza and Rousseau: Now it is treason even to doubt the legitimacy of State sovereignty. Kant hardly needed to add, though he did, that there is no right of revolution. his strictures are so severe because if the State should perish, and justice with it, “it is no longer worthwhile for men to remain alive on this earth” (II, i, 49E1).
Evaluation: Kant’s moral and legal philosophy presupposes much of the earlier state-of-nature and social-contract thought, but he clothes it in a new conceptual framework that renders it more forbidding and makes it more invulnerable to criticism. For example, he is more explicit than his predecessors (with the possible exception of Hume) that MAN is the centerpiece of reality—and within man, REASON. Human reason is creator of all relationships there are, all the ground rules of being and acting. He is especially explicit in arguing that the only true juridical relationship is that of man to man. It is conceivable that there be a juridical relation of man to God, but since we cannot deal with God as an object of mental experience, our idea of God is something we make ourselves. Since we men put God in his place, there can be no such thing as divine justice. There is only human justice (Introduction, end).
When Kant bases his system on pure intuition (though he tries to make it more respectable by calling it “reason”), he is following the subjectivist orientation of Rousseau and making it theoretically possible to create his own systematic explanation of the meaning of everything in a way that cannot be challenged. In Kantian idealism, the ground determining thought is found not in objects external to the self but in the rational faculty itself.
By this a priori reasoning, Kant sought to make his system invulnerable to criticism. Since by definition his was the one true philosophy—founded on the only permissible assumptions—anyone taking exception to it would only demonstrate his ineptitude for philosophical work. Kant argued that there really was no philosophy prior to his “critical” thought, and since none could supersede it (there cannot be multiple philosophies), there was no basis for challenging him (Fundamental Principles…, Preface).
Hobbes had argued that his objective system was the only true one and therefore worthy of supplanting Aristotle and the medieval Schoolmen. Hume had argued that there was no one philosophy, for philosophy was subjective. Kant is arguing that his subjective system is the only true one; because subjectivity sets its own philosophical rules, it can by fiat exclude—“a priori”—all others. By definition, there can be no meaning outside Kantianism. In this way Kant attempts to combine subjectivism with universalism.
Since his system cannot be refuted on its own ground, the critic must either dismiss it altogether as the brainchild of an eccentric old man with prodigious persistence but little common sense, or demonstrate its true colors by pointing to some of its fruits.
For instance: There is no doubt that one effect of Kant’s moral teaching is to loosen the obligation to accept the natural law of human morality. His “imperatives” come very near to an individualized conscience that can establish its own moral norms—Rousseau’s moral subjectivism in more formal dress.
Moreover, Kant refuses to let us look to experience or observation for certification of the rightness of an action. To do that, he says over and over, would have no moral significance, since the validity of all metaphysics, including the metaphysics of morals, comes precisely from it’s a priori, non-empirical foundation. According to him, experiential or empirical morality lacks a brain (Introduction, B). We cannot know what is just or unjust, right or wrong, unless we abandon all fixed reference points in the external world of reality, and search for sources in our own “pure reason.” Thus, at every turn Kant excuses himself from having to show a correspondence between what he maintains is true and the reality of everyday experience. But anyone who cares to do so can build his castles in that air.
If it is the case, as some have maintained, that it was an elevated, altruistic motive (“perpetual peace”) that was Kant’s ultimate motivation in building such a system, a peace culminating in the union of all States, then many might at least credit him with having a good intention.