Sunday, 16 August 2009

Autonomy and Moral Personality

The second preliminary article of Perpetual Peace, like the first, is formulated negatively. It forbids acquisition of one state by another whether by means of "inheritance, exchange, purchase, or donation". (Ak. 8: 344) The reference here is partly archaic now since the notion of inheritance suggests princely houses and their relation to each other, a reference further indicated when, in discussion of this article, Kant mentions the notion of states marrying one another!

However there is much in this article that remains relevant. Firstly, in arguing for it, Kant refers to the notion that the state is a "moral person" and argues that the reason why there is a problem with purchasing a state is because such action would treat a person like a thing. This contrast between a person and a thing was already at work in the discussion of autonomy in the Groundwork where Kant contrasted dignity with "price" indicating that what possesses dignity has, by virtue of that, something beyond the value of price (Ak. 4: 434-5). In indicating that the state possesses a personality Kant is hence treating it as a moral entity equivalent to a person and in being so equivalent requiring moral respect. Failure to engage with a state on this level is to treat it in a way that violates, Kant states, "the idea of the original contract, apart from which no right over a people can be thought" (Ak. 8: 344).

Finally, in discussing this article, Kant also argues against the mercenary hiring by one state of the troops of another on the grounds that such treatment involves relating to the subjects in question as items that are fungible. Hence in declaring the moral personality of the state Kant is articulating a further ground, of a political sort, for respecting the autonomy of the individuals who are citizens of a state.

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