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Palgrave MacMillan, Behr EH. Politics of Difference: Epistemologies of Peace. London: Routledge, Kant wrote his social and political philosophy in order to champion the Enlightenment in general and the idea of freedom in particular. His work came within both the natural law and the social contract traditions. Kant held that every rational being had both an innate right to freedom and a duty to enter into a civil condition governed by a social contract in order to realize and preserve that freedom.

His writings on political philosophy consist of one book and several shorter works. Political philosophy is also to be distinguished within practical philosophy from both empirical elements and from virtue proper. The separation from virtue is treated later in this section. Yet Kant also included the more pragmatic, impure, empirical study of human behavior as part of practical philosophy. Practical philosophy provided rules to govern human deliberative action.

In its Preface, he notes that the Groundwork is to be a preparatory book for a future Metaphysics of Morals. Kant sought to separate political rights and duties from what we might call morals in the narrow sense. As an example of the latter he considers trade, which for right must have the form of being freely agreed by both parties but can have any matter or purpose the agents want.

While Kant must include consideration of beneficent action as part of right, he does not conclude that beneficent actions are required by right but only that most are permitted by right and others violate right. In addition to these three conditions for right, Kant also offers direct contrasts between right and virtue. Right concerns acts themselves independent of the motive an agent may have for performing them, virtue concerns the proper motive for dutiful actions — In another formulation —81 he says that right concerns universality as a formal condition of freedom while virtue concerns a necessary end beyond the mere formality of universality, thus appearing to tie the distinction to the first two formulas of the categorical imperative in the Groundwork.

In yet another he says that right concerns narrow duties and virtue wide duties In the Feyerabend lectures, Kant notes that right is the subset of morally correct actions that are also coercible Kant rejects any other basis for the state, in particular arguing that the welfare of citizens cannot be the basis of state power. He argues that a state cannot legitimately impose any particular conception of happiness upon its citizens — To do so would be for the ruler to treat citizens as children, assuming that they are unable to understand what is truly useful or harmful to themselves.

In the Groundwork Kant contrasts an ethics of autonomy, in which the will Wille , or practical reason itself is the basis of its own law, from the ethics of heteronomy, in which something independent of the will, such as happiness, is the basis of moral law — Further, even were there any universal desires among human beings, those desires would, as empirical, be merely contingent and thus unworthy of being the basis of any pure moral law — No particular conception of happiness can be the basis of the pure principle of the state, and the general conception of happiness is too vague to serve as the basis of a law.

Arendt, Hannah | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This explains why happiness is not universal, but not why freedom is universal. Still, the universality of political freedom is linked to transcendental freedom. Since every human being does enjoy transcendental freedom by virtue of being rational, freedom of choice is a universal human attribute.

And this freedom of choice is to be respected and promoted, even when this choice is not exercised in rational or virtuous activity. One might still object that this freedom of choice is incapable of being the basis of a pure principle of right for the same reason that happiness was incapable of being its basis, namely, that it is too vague in itself and that when specified by the particular decisions individuals make with their free choice, it loses its universality.

Kant holds that this problem does not arise for freedom, since freedom of choice can be understood both in terms of its content the particular decisions individuals make and its form the free, unconstrained nature of choice of any possible particular end Freedom is universal in the proper sense because, unlike happiness, it can be understood in such a way that it is susceptible to specification without losing its universality. Right will be based on the form of free choice. The very existence of a state might seem to some as a limitation of freedom, since a state possesses power to control the external freedom of individual citizens through force.


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This is the basic claim of anarchism. Kant holds in contrast that the state is not an impediment to freedom but is the means for freedom. State action that is a hindrance to freedom can, when properly directed, support and maintain freedom if the state action is aimed at hindering actions that themselves would hinder the freedom of others. Such state coercion is compatible with the maximal freedom demanded in the principle of right because it does not reduce freedom but instead provides the necessary background conditions needed to secure freedom.

The amount of freedom lost by the first subject through direct state coercion is equal to the amount gained by the second subject through lifting the hindrance to actions. State action sustains the maximal amount of freedom consistent with identical freedom for all without reducing it.

Freedom is not the only basis for principles underlying the state. The direct link to action comes when pursuing that autonomously chosen conception of happiness. Equality is not substantive but formal. Each member of the state is equal to every other member of the state before the law. Kant exempts the head of state from this equality, since the head of state cannot be coerced by anyone else. This formal equality is perfectly compatible with the inequality of members of the state in income, physical power, mental ability, possessions, etc. Further, this equality supports an equality of opportunity: every office or rank in the political structure must be open to all subjects without regard for any hereditary or similar restrictions.

Independence concerns citizens as subject to laws they give themselves, i. While this principle appears to require universal democratic decision making for particular laws, Kant instead understands this principle on two levels, one of which is not universal and the other of which is not for particular laws. At one level, that of participation in determination of particular laws, citizenship does not extend to all.

Kant excludes women and children, weakly claiming that their exclusion is natural, as well as anyone who lacks economic self-sufficiency. Hence decision making is not universal. At the second level, he claims that all members of the state, as subjects of the law, must be able to will the basic law that governs them. Hence decision making at this level is not for particular laws.