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No philosopher is more strongly associated with deontological ethics or is a more canonical modern moral philosopher than Immanuel Kant. In this chapter, we focus on Kant, though we begin, after a brief introduction of Kant and his historico-philosophical significance, with Rousseau. Rousseau is best known as a political philosopher, but there are elements of his thought that have great importance for moral philosophy and its history and, especially, for Kant. Kant credits Rousseau as the source of his signature claim of the equal dignity of rational persons. And Rousseau’s conception of political society as an “association” that “defend[s] and protect[s] the person and goods of each associate with the full common force,” but where each “nevertheless obey[s] only himself,” has obvious resonances with Kant’s “kingdom of ends” in which all are governed by self-legislated law. At the same time, Rousseau offers important points of contrast to Kant. Whereas Rousseau’s emphasis is essentially social and political, Kant will attempt to argue for morality as a common law binding all agents that is grounded in practical reason alone. Rousseau, by contrast, points toward an alternative grounding in sociability that is reminiscent more of Grotius, Pufendorf, Smith, and Reid.
This article examines Kant’s theory of property through a comparative analysis of Gottfried Achenwall’s justification of ownership rights. I argue that at the core of Achenwall’s and Kant’s understanding of ownership rights lies the idea that rights are to be acquired through a juridical act (factum iuridicum, rechtlichen Act) of the will. However, while Achenwall thinks of this act as emerging from a private will, Kant holds that rights and obligations can only be brought about by an act of the general will. By contrasting these two views, I aim to illuminate one of the main features of Kant’s theory of property, namely, that ownership rights are only possible in a rightfully constituted state. I conclude with a suggestion regarding Kant’s view of the notion of ‘provisional’ possession in the state of nature.
Kant’s criticism of democracy has been traditionally defused with the consideration that Kant’s aversion is not to democracy per se, but to direct democracy. However, what Kant says – ‘to prevent the republican constitution from being confused with the democratic one, as commonly happens’ (ZeF, 8: 351) – appears to count not only against direct democracy, but also against conceptions of democracy closer to the ones we are accustomed to. By offering a new account of what Kant sees as the real problem of democracy (direct or not), the article unpacks a lesson about the limits of democracy that has gone largely unnoticed among political theorists and Kant specialists.
The question now arises: Could there be human beings lacking in the capacity to see something as something – and what would that be like? What sort of consequences would it have? – Would this defect be comparable to colour-blindness or to not having absolute pitch? – We will call it “aspect-blindness”– and will next consider what might be meant by this. (A conceptual investigation.) —Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations I want now to look at three ways to think past, against, and sometimes with the myth of rigging and thus toward both the political possibilities and limits of actually existing democracy. And, in thinking toward and hopefully past those limits, I want also to think about the relation between democracy understood as a set of real and sometimes incommensurate historical facts and democracy understood as a set of variously wrought and deployed conceptual forms – forms that must, after all, limit and shape what will seem real to us about our political lives. Insofar as democracy exists not only in its practical instantiations but also within the imaginative frames or ideological horizons on which it at different moments depends (and which it, in turn, helps to shape), thinking about democracy also means thinking about thinking, which is to say, thinking about all the ways in which we think and struggle to think about the meaning of lives lived with other people while also living exactly the lives we’re thinking about. The need to think about the possibilities and limits of a system while dwelling within that same system makes any serious effort to understand democracy also a critical effort; and, at a moment when most societies identify themselves as democratic even – or even especially – when they are not democratic, the effort to identify a standpoint from whence we might perceive, understand, and perhaps think beyond our conceptual limits – to think otherwise about our democratic norms and expectations – is essential.1
The Philosophy of History’s search for a renewed sense wholeness originated in the paradoxes of Rousseau. He detested modern liberalism for producing the materialistic “bourgeois.” He wanted to restore the ancient concern with civic virtue and happiness to counteract this spiritual debasement. But because Rousseau accepted the modern account of nature as matter in motion, yielding appetitive individualism and identifying reason with utility, he could only promote the nobler dimension of human life as the freedom of will to oppose oneself to nature and reason altogether. This created a contradiction between nature and freedom, and undermined political authority by suggesting that no form of government could return us to our original natural happiness in a lost Golden Age, corrupted as we are by the progress of civilization. The Jacobins took this as a call to collectivist revolution and the return to “the Year One.” Alternatively, Rousseau extolled the Romantic notion of the solitary artist who seeks his happiness outside of civil society. These explosive tensions between natural happiness and political authority were grappled with by Rousseau’s successors, who sought ways of healing the division in man between his natural self and his free self.
Psychological development is not something self-evidently natural but a partly human creation, emerging contingently from the midstream of human history. Modern developmental psychology is a continuing outgrowth of the religious outlook. Christian ways of thinking have become psychological ones, and they share a common underlying metaphysic; philosophers writing about time such as Heidegger and Ricoeur spring from this same tradition. The so-called predestination of souls from before birth (saved or damned) by divine determinism transitioned into pre-natal biological determinism of cognitive ability and disability. The theory of developmental stages – today (for example) the arrival of ‘logical reasoning’ or ‘empathy’ in the child – emerged from theories about the arrival of saving grace in the individual.
The application of the word ‘development’ to a fully formulated principle of temporal Order becomes ubiquitous in Rousseau’s Emile. The biologist Buffon, the psychologist Condillac and particularly Bonnet all influenced this seminal treatise. But where they had written of development only occasionally and in an abstract sense, with Rousseau it becomes normative and the main descriptor of the structured lifespan of the individual. Rousseau retains the older sense of development as the ‘unfolding’ of an already existing, preformed structure; nevertheless, he also reveals in outline the modern human sciences’ presupposition that the child is an incomplete being. Thanks to Bayle and Diderot, Rousseau derived his concept of a political General Will, irrespective of the individual will, from that of God’s general will to save humankind that does not take individual behaviours into account; this has its psychological equivalent in Rousseau’s creation of ‘the abstract man’, against whose developmental norms the individual must be measured.
Kant’s notes known as Remarks in the ‘Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime’ reveal a deep concern with the way in which the human drives to equality and unity lead inevitably to a drive for honour and its attendant delusions. He developed his thinking about these problems in the context of his reading of Rousseau. In his published Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, Kant tries to overcome the influence of the drive for honour by appealing to a metaphysics that is critical of itself. The problem is how to distinguish what is grounded in reason when that reason is so easily influenced by others.
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