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Civility and Hospitality: Justice and Social Grace in Trying Times

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011

Sarah Holtman
Affiliation:
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Extract

‘[S]o act externally that the free use of your choice can coexist with the freedom of everyone in accordance with a universal law’ (MM 6: 231). This is Immanuel Kant's first principle of justice, stated in the imperative form appropriate for human beings, beings who can comply with it but who might not do so. For Kant it is a principle that applies not only to relations among citizens within a state, but to those among states themselves and among citizens of varying nationality. As Kant's Rechtslehre makes clear, the universal law of justice, as he terms it, lies at the foundation of a set of standards that together form his theory of justice. Subsidiary standards follow from this most fundamental one by argument and together form a system, or metaphysics, of related principles. The system is hierarchical, that is, we can argue from the universal law of justice to increasingly concrete standards that help us apply it to various questions and in varying contexts.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Kantian Review 2002

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References

1 Citations of The Metaphysics of Morals (MM), ‘On the Common Saying: That May Be Correct in Theory, But It Is of No Use in Practice’ (TP) and ‘Toward Perpetual Peace’ (PP) are from Practical Philosophy, ed. and tr. Gregor, Mary (Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)Google Scholar. They use the volume and pagination of the German Academy edition of , Kant'sGesammelte Schriften, ed. the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1900–)Google Scholar.

2 For discussion of these cases see Monbiot, George, ‘The end of enlightenment’ in ZNET Daily Commentaries, 21 December 2001.Google Scholar For further information on the case of Katie Sierra, the teenager suspended from high school for the political message on her tee-shirt and for promoting an ‘anarchy’ club, see ‘Judge bars school anarchy club in West Virginia’, ACLU Newswire, 1 November 2001

3 For discussion of these incidents see, for example, ‘Airlines, passengers confront racial profiling’, 3 October 2001,Google Scholar available at CNN.com/Travel; Bai, Jane and Tang, Eric, ‘The war at home’, Color Lines (6 March 2002)Google Scholar.

4 For discussion of these detentions see, for example, ‘ACLU blasts attorney general's move to subvert court order opening records of immigration detainees’, ACLU Press Release, 18 April 2002. Cusac, Anne-Marie, ‘111 treatment on our shores’, The Progressive (26 February 2002)Google Scholar; Gumbel, Andrew, ‘The disappeared’, Independent (26 February 2002)Google Scholar.

5 For a more thorough discussion of this point see my ‘Revolution, contradiction and Kantian citizenship’, in Timmons, Mark (ed.), Kant's Metaphysics of Morals: Interpretative Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 209–31, 216–17.Google Scholar It is important to recognize that Kant does not deem any actual state to be fully just. His claim is that it is not possible to realize justice outside the state, not that every (or any) state realizes it perfectly.

6 I do not mean to suggest, of course, that Kant is right either to classify women and those who do not own the means to their livelihood as passive citizens or to deny them the vote. I mean to explain part of his reasoning i n this regard.

7 Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader seem to be examples. Neither distances himself from the US or fellow citizens. Each rather seeks to inform others of facts about US policy and to urge a critical bent among citizens and support for thoughtful political reforms.

8 Marcia Baron provides a particularly strong argument for this understanding of Kantian virtue. See Kantian Ethics Almost Without Apology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), esp. chapter 6.Google Scholar The reading of Kant is controversial, but I will not seek to defend it here. The general view certainly has roots in Kant even if one doubts that it is the best explication of his works.

9 As a contrast to social grace as I thus conceive of it, consider Martha Nussbaum's discussion of James's character, Maggie Verver. See ‘“Finely aware and richly responsible”: literature and the moral imagination’, in Love's Knowledge (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 148–67.Google Scholar I do not disagree that Maggie displays an important moral capacity. My point is that social grace is another, and equally important, aspect of our moral development.

10 In Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), Rawls, John describes a duty of civility that holds among free and equal citizens of a just state. While that duty is based on an account of citizenship that shares much with Kant's and expresses respect for others as citizens, Rawls is not concerned with social grace in the sense I intend here.Google Scholar

11 How grave a risk to person or reputation social grace properly encourages is a question I will here leave unanswered.

12 Thus Kantian social grace differs significantly from the kind of habit or practice we might associate with the political theory of Hume or Burke.

13 Thanks to Jennifer Manion for helping me to recognize the relationships between hospitality as principle of justice, as virtue and as social grace.

14 In a recent article, Kleingeld, Pauline reads Kant somewhat differently from my understanding. She understands him to allow a state to exclude a foreigner from its borders for any reason at all and notes that this leaves a gap to be filled regarding possible race-based and other morally problematic exclusions. See her ‘Kant's cosmopolitan law’, Kantian Review, 2 (1998), 7290, esp. 75–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar My own reading suggests that such exclusions treat the foreigner as an enemy on grounds of foreign status alone, and thus are forbidden. In any event, I believe we are largely in agreement as to the outcome most compatible with Kant's larger view.

15 One might suppose that these go beyond Kantian hospitality and constitute treatment as a guest. My thought is rather that they are necessary to remedy or counter inhospitality. Of course, more would be needed to prove the point.

16 One might think that encouraging such thoughtful discussion of justice is part of the political philosopher's civic duty. On the philosopher's role in matters of international justice see Perpetual Peace at 8: 369-70.

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