Friday, 6 November 2009

The Categorical Imperative and Public Right

The conclusion of the first part of the "Appendix" to Perpetual Peace moves on from the consideration of sophistical maxims to their basis. However, whilst the second part of the "Appendix" will lead to presenting public right in relation to the general principles of publicity (first presented negatively and subsequently positively) the first part of the "Appendix" concludes by relating the notion of public right to the categorical imperative. This part of Kant's argument tends to get overlooked and is particularly significant in relation to those commentators who present Kant's account of public right as constitutively separate from his general moral philosophy.

The presentation of the argument has the following form. Firstly, Kant presents the need to distinguish between formal and material principles of practical reason. In so doing he formal principle is stated as the categorical imperative (Ak. 8: 377). The formal principle is next, unsurprisingly, presented as taking precedence over the material principle. The standpoints of the political moralist and those of the moral politician are next distinguished with the concern of the former presented as technical whilst the latter is moral. The former's problem is one of political prudence and all the concerns connected with this concept are stated to be as uncertain as the concern with happiness in general practical reason. By contrast, the problem of the moral politician is presented as requiring a search for justice as the precondition for peace.

The division between the two approaches is also then indicated to be the root of the alleged conflict between politics and morals. The conflict is based on seeing politics in a material manner whilst a formal approach to it, concentrated on the notion of public right, will accord with the formal approach to morals in general. This gives strong support to the suggestion that the Doctrine of Right should not be regarded as completely distinct from the general moral philosophy but rather as in some sense emergent from it as is suggested by the concluding argument of the first part of the "Appendix" to Perpetual Peace.


Anonymous said...

I am not sure I understand the steps of the argument here (or maybe I don't understand the exact conclusion being argued for). Then again, I am not sure I grasp the meaning of the moral politician and the political moralist

What is "the" categorical imperative? And where does it show up at the end of the appendix? (At most, there is "a" categorical imperative. Is that the same thing? There seem to be discussions of categorical imperatives in the doctrine of right that importantly do not depend (necessarily) on acting from duty, only in conformity with duty. There is, afterall, a difference between morals (which includes both right and ethics) and morality (which is distinguished from the legality of the action, and refers to acting on a certain maxim). So even if there is a categorical imperative here, or a connection with the categorical imperative, it seems that the connection does not depend on right emerging from morality, but rather both right and ethics are connected to each other through a common principle (that is similar to, but not identical with, the fundamental principle of the doctrine of virtue)

How do such claims connect with claims that the moral politician can prudently wait to reform until the time is right (i.e. do not implement a constitution prematurely)?


Gary Banham said...

Thanks for this comment. You are right that there is a lot here that could have been further clarified. First, the distinction between the moral politician and the political moralist. The political moralist is presented by Kant as someone who adopts the principle of prudence first and foremost and subordinates any specifically moral principles to this. The moral politician, by contrast "makes it his principle that, once defects that could not have been prevented are found within the constitution of a state or in the relations of states, it is a duty, especially for heads of state, to be concerned about how that can be improved as soon as possible and brought into conformity with natural right" (AK. 8: 372), even at the cost of sacrifices to what might otherwise be a material good.

The reference to "the" categorical imperative is, I take it, at Ak.8:377 where Kant writes: "So act that you can will that your maxim should become a universal law (whatever the end may be)" . This clearly relates to the principle given in the paragraph above and also to the "single categorical imperative" mentioned in the *Groundwork* as "act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law" (Ak. 4: 421).