Thursday, 16 July 2009

International Right and Promising

After discussing the question of the "right" to rebellion in the context of the right of a state Kant turns next in Perpetual Peace to examples that concern the right of nations. In order to discuss this area at all it is necessary to work in accord with a "presupposition" of a rightful condition and the nature of this confirms the reading given in the previous posting of Kant's account of the problems with a "right" of rebellion. Here Kant points out that public right contains "in its very concept the publication of a general will". Since this is the claim that Kant makes here it surely follows that an implied appeal to this concept was made in the earlier discussion of rebellion.

The juridical state is based for Kant on a pact but the difference between the one that establishes a state and that which would hold between states is demarcated as being that the former is based on coercive laws whilst the latter may be only a condition of continuing free association. It is the need for some kind of pact that takes us beyond the condition of the state of nature. The criterion of the doctrine of right is appealed to as a general basis of morals that politics should be governed by and the nature of this is taken to follow from the principle of publicity in some general sense.

After making these points in order to set out the notion of a right of nations Kant next discusses three examples, which we will treat to a posting each. The first example treats of promising in regard to the right of nations. One state has promised the other something and the promisor now wishes to be freed from this promise due to the assumption that fulfilling the promise will compromise the welfare of the promisor. The attempt to be released from the promise is predicated on a distinction alleged to exist between two elements of the personality of the state. On the one hand, there is the sovereign who is accountable to no further power within the state. On the other hand, there is the supreme official of the state, whose decisions are open to inspection within the state. The suggestion then would be that the latter can be released from the promise due to pressure from within the state so to do. Such a distinction, which would allow for promise-breaking, is then put to the test of publicity and the maxim is shown to fall foul of the counter-productivity test on the grounds that if it were to be made public as the basis of actions no other state would ever ally with the promise-breaking one.

The basic counter-productivity test here is clearly revealed in this case to be one that tests the purposes of adoption of a maxim. This can be seen if we compare the treatment of promising in international right to that given in general moral philosophy in the Groundwork. The examples in the Groundwork are given in the second part of the work and are iterated twice. The first set of examples occurs shortly after the categorical imperative is introduced for the first time in Groundwork II and after which it has been refined to refer to universal laws of nature. In the example of promising that follows this refinement Kant mentions the promising example as one that arises in relation to personal welfare as someone needs to borrow money and has to promise to pay it back. The difficulty in this case is that paying the money back at the time required is not within the promisor's means. So it follows that the maxim would have to be one of making a promise you know you can't keep and that, when universalized as a law of nature, turns out to be inconsistent with itself as it contradicts itself. The point of the contradiction is one of self-frustration or counter-productivity since the generalization of the maxim would abolish the very practice of promising. So the first treatment of the maxim in Groundwork II indicates the problem to be one that concerns the institution of promising. The acts of promising are not isolated but belong to a general practice and it is this practice that is endangered when a false promise is made.

The second set of examples in Groundwork II is in regard to the formula of humanity. This formula explicitly highlights the relationship between means and ends that was only implied in the universal law of nature formula. In bringing this distinction in Kant here connects it to using others as ends-in-themselves rather than only as means for ourselves. The discussion of false promising at this point hence picks out an immediate problem with adoption of a maxim permitting it since it would involve treating those who one makes a false promise to as only a means. The reason why it involves treating the other in this way is that the other could not agree to being responded to in the way that the false promising maxim would allow. 

The treatment of false promising in regard to the humanity formula requires us to look at the situation from the other's perspective and to see that if we saw things from their side we would not act as we are thinking of acting. The discussion of false promising in regard to the right of nations involves an appeal to the view of other nations in the same way but, unlike the formula of humanity discussion, it is an appeal to all others that is here made. So the discussion of false promising in the context of international right does not merely consider the parties involved but rather, like the discussion in the universal law of nature, considers a general effect, a practice. It is the practice that would lead to a counter-productive effect since the false promisor acts in such a way that the generalization of their maxim would render the adoption of the maxim itself impossible as the practice that he is operating within would cease to be operable. So counter-productivity is part of the discussion in the case of international right precisely in view of the fact that international right is treated as part of a general practice of right. The false promisor would be acting in a way that would put them beyond the minimal agreement that creates a federation and would thus be acting as an "outlaw state".

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