Politics and Teleology in Kant

Politics and Teleology in Kant


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ISBN-13: 9781783160662
Publisher: University of Wales Press
Publication date: 08/15/2014
Series: University of Wales Press - Political Philosophy Now Series
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Paul Formosa is a research fellow and lecturer at Macquarie University, Australia.

Avery Goldman is associate professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago.

Tatiana Patrone is associate professor of philosophy at Ithaca College.

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Politics and Teleology in Kant

By Paul Formosa, Avery Goldman, Tatiana Patrone

University of Wales Press

Copyright © 2014 The Contributors
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78316-150-8


Natural Right in Toward Perpetual Peace

Howard Williams

1. Introduction

On the face of it Kant's Toward Perpetual Peace does not seem to be a work that belongs to the natural law (or natural right) tradition. From one important perspective, it can be seen as a piece of propaganda on behalf of a world federation, decrying the arbitrary power of the absolutist rulers of his day and supporting the new republican order appearing for the first time in the United States of America and France. From a conservative perspective of the time, Kant would have been seen as shaking the tree on which all settled order stood (Burke 1974, p. 90). From a progressive perspective, Kant's book might have been seen as a modest reformist tract that built on previous attempts, such as those of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre and Rousseau, to create a peace plan for Europe (Hinsley 1967). Toward Perpetual Peace is certainly not the work of a political revolutionary intent, like the Jacobins, on bringing down the old order by radical means, if necessary through violence from below. There can be no doubt, however, that Toward Perpetual Peace is intended as a direct intervention in the politics of the day – and of course the politics of the future – and that it has the objective of altering the habits and practices of political leaders to encourage greater amity amongst the peoples of the world. Kant casts himself as a public intellectual addressing both those engaged in political life and those who reflect upon it. He sees it as his obligation to comment on the policies of political leaders, just as he regards it as a duty of political leaders to provide a context where intellectual debate can flourish.

The book mocks, if not ridicules, the pretensions of many of the rulers of Kant's time by pointing out how callous some monarchs are in the way in which they use their own subjects as mere cannon fodder in war. 'Thus a Bulgarian prince gave the following reply to the Greek emperor's benign offer to settle their dispute by a duel: "A smith who has tongs will not lift the glowing iron from the coal with his own hands"' (ZeF, 8:354). It also mocks established rulers for their failure to limit their own power and their inability and lack of preparedness to listen to the informed views of their subjects. Certainly, were Kant's proposed changes – outlined in the preliminary and definitive articles of the book – to be implemented, including the introduction of representative government and an elected legislature, the running down of standing armies, the restriction of the use of national debt to expenditure on peaceful purposes and the elimination of forcible intervention in the constitutional affairs of other states, then the power of the political leaders of his day would have been considerably diminished. There is an implicit satirical attack in Toward Perpetual Peace on the supposed dignity of the absolute leaders of Europe. Clearly, all this seems somewhat distant from a scholarly and judicious work on natural law.

None the less the natural right/law tradition represents an extremely important context for situating Kant's text. Kant published Toward Perpetual Peace at a time of extraordinary upheaval in European politics, shortly after the cataclysm of the French Revolution and less than twenty years after the United States' declaration of independence. It was published at a time when a world market was beginning to evolve, bringing all the continents into direct contact with one another on a continuous basis. With the emergence of Asia, America and Africa as sources of potential profit and empire a world politics was set to emerge. From the standpoint of Kant's intellectual development Toward Perpetual Peace was published at a time when he was engaged in extending his novel critical philosophy from the pure and more abstract sphere set out in the three Critiques into the applied sphere of the doctrines of right, virtue, the philosophy of religion and anthropology. Kant's 'Doctrine of Right' was to appear shortly after Perpetual Peace in the form of the first part of the Metaphysics of Morals in 1797. Thus it is very likely that Kant was working on the 'Doctrine of Right' together with Toward Perpetual Peace in the period shortly after the French Revolution. The 'Metaphysical Elements [Anfangsgründe] of the Doctrine of Right', as Kant called it, was deeply embedded in the tradition of natural right, being a discourse on the nature of law (including international law) and the origins of property and government. Kant's metaphysics of right both takes a critical stand toward natural right and embraces some of its key ideas and objectives. This is the philosophical setting in which Kant develops the concepts which lead to the composition and publication of Toward Perpetual Peace. As we might expect, one of the most important aspects of natural right thinking that played a part in the shaping of Toward Perpetual Peace was the prevalent natural right doctrine of international law. For Kant this was exemplified in the writings of Hugo Grotius, Samuel Pufendorf and Emmerich de Vattel and perhaps even more immediately in the writings of Gottfried Achenwall and Alexander Baumgarten (as he used these texts in teaching moral philosophy and natural right over many years). Natural right was by no means a new field of study for Kant. He had engaged with it in many series of lectures from the 1770s onwards. Kant was also familiar with the work of another contemporary author in the field, Gottlieb Hufeland, several years his junior. Hufeland was born in 1760 when Kant was already in his thirties. Kant published a largely supportive review of Hufeland's Essay on the Principle of Natural Right in 1786 in the Jenaer Allgemeine Literaturzeitung, April 1786 (RezHufeland, 8:127–30). In the review Kant praises Hufeland for seeking the sources of the 'primary basic concepts' of practical philosophy to which natural right belongs 'in the faculty of reason itself' and only distinguishes his own approach from Hufeland's by denying that the 'principle of perfection of all sensing beings' that underlies Hufeland's approach is sufficient to ground right (RezHufeland, 8:128). Kant fears that the 'inner obligation' to perfection that Hufeland promotes will allow each individual to 'obtain the contested perfection' for themselves 'if necessary with force' (RezHufeland, 8:128). Kant rejects this as excessively subjective. He cannot see how one can deduce a right of public coercion from Hufeland's premises. 'For it seems to follow from it that one can cede nothing of one's right as permitting coercion' (RezHufeland, 8:128).

2. The assumptions of natural right theory

We can see from this 1786 review that the problem for Kant is to connect natural right with the principles of his own practical philosophy. Kant is dissatisfied with Hufeland's attempt to situate natural right within moral philosophy as a whole, even though this attempt was partly inspired by Hufeland's reading of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) and Kant hints that his own attempt to do so is not far off. Kant evidently regards the study of natural right as an important academic activity and one to which he wishes to apply his own novel philosophical approach. Kant shares with Hufeland the desire to make an entirely fresh start in natural right. Natural right was changing as a philosophical enquiry in their day. As we might expect, this commitment to subsuming natural right under his own critical philosophy strongly colours Kant's approach to the law of nations of his day as taught by the principal natural law theorists of the period, such as Pufendorf and Vattel. Two of the major problems for these natural lawyers were, first, how to accommodate individual freedom within a system of positive laws that could be coercively enforced – this was the problem that Hufeland, to Kant's mind, unsatisfactorily addressed – and, second, how could the sovereign independence of states be made compatible with a system of international law enforced only by those states themselves? In Toward Perpetual Peace and in the companion theoretical work of the first part of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant sets out both to counter and to dissolve these two problems.

Within the natural law tradition Hobbes had offered highly influential solutions to these two problems. For the Italian political philosopher Norberto Bobbio, Hobbes is the 'fountain head' of the 'conceptual model of natural law theory' (Bobbio 1993, p. 1). Hobbes's solution to the problems presented a point of orientation for all subsequent natural law theorists, thus in addressing them in Toward Perpetual Peace Kant was not setting out on a novel path. Hobbes's solution to the first question concerning individual freedom was, arguably, largely to suppress it. Hobbes's view was that the political order was so important – it represents the foundation of our whole social well-being – that where individual freedom potentially conflicts with sovereign authority, supremacy should be conceded always to the sovereign. This is the impact of his theory of authorisation laid out in his account of the social contract (Martinich 1996, p. 47). The individual ceases to be the judge as to what is publicly right or wrong and accepts the Leviathan's judgement on his behalf. The restraint exercised by the sovereign over the action of individuals is to be seen as an expression of the subject's own will. As Hobbes puts it, 'I authorise and give up my right of governing myself, to this man or assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him and authorise all his actions in a like manner' (Hobbes 1991, p. 120). As Bobbio appropriately remarks, this 'is as much a pact of subjection as a pact of union' (Bobbio 1993, p. 48). Hobbes's answer to the second question is to transfer to the international sphere all the laws of nature that came into force within the state once sovereign authority had been established. 'Concerning the offices of one sovereign to another, which are comprehended in that law, which is commonly called the law of nations, I need not say anything in this place; because the law of nations and the law of nature, is the same thing' (Hobbes 1991, p. 244). Hobbes acknowledges that the transfer of the laws of nature, such as that of showing gratitude or respecting treaties and pacts, to the international sphere does not secure complete international peace since each sovereign is left to be the judge of the applicability of natural law. However, Hobbes holds it is still a more stable order than that found in the individual state of nature since each sovereign presides over an orderly civil commonwealth.

Although not all natural lawyers agreed with Hobbes that sovereigns were free to interpret natural law in their own way, it was a dogma of the law of nations in the period of natural law – broadly speaking from the beginning of the seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century – that each state enjoyed a sovereign independence in relation to other states which was given expression in the right to go to war when the cause was just. Toward Perpetual Peace sets out to question this assumption and deploys a novel answer to the internal problem of freedom to bring about an approach to international order that transcends the usual picture presented in the natural law of his day.

A key assumption of natural rights thinking in relation to international politics was that war was a regrettable but necessary expedient in resolving disputes amongst states. The international law theorists Grotius, Pufendorf and Vattel deployed a doctrine of just war to deal with this inevitability. In order to sort out the always imminent conflict in favour of order and justice they made the assumption that it was possible in each conflict to discern one of the protagonists as just. Vattel puts the matter trenchantly when he says:

[T]he whole right of the nation, and consequently of the sovereign, is derived from the welfare of the state; and by this rule is to be measured. The obligation to promote and maintain the true welfare of the society or state gives the nation the right to take up arms against him who threatens or attacks that valuable enjoyment. (Vattel 1853, p. 303)

Kant sets out to question this assumption of the natural lawyers from the outset, arguing in the first preliminary article of his proposed treaty amongst states that 'no conclusion of peace' should count as such 'if it is made with a secret reservation of material for a future war' (ZeF, 8:343). Kant regards the usual peace treaty sanctioned by the law of nations as a mere 'armistice' with its premise that there may be future occasions where it is right to fight the same opponent. The correct spirit in which to engage with other states once a peace treaty is concluded is to acknowledge that 'causes for future war, extant even if as yet unrecognized by the contracting parties themselves, are all annihilated by the peace treaty' (ZeF, 8:343–4).

3. Questioning natural right

To put international law on a proper footing that transcends its inherited unsatisfactory status in natural right requires that each state should be seen as a 'moral person' (ZeF, 8:344) that cannot be treated as a mere thing. As a moral person each state has a responsibility to itself to preserve its freedom and a responsibility to other states not to exploit or threaten them. As moral persons, states have to respect their mutual independence and have to be fully aware of how their dispositions affect other states. Natural right (of the Grotian variety) works in a contrary direction by always permitting a state to take to arms if its vital interests are threatened. As Vattel puts it, 'justifiable self-defence is no breach of the treaty of peace. It is a natural right we cannot renounce, we only promise not to attack without cause, and to abstain from injustice and violence' (Vattel 1853, p. 566). But Kant challenges the assumption that it is acceptable for states to arm for war against one another. For him the readiness to go to war itself constitutes a threat to justice, which is what leads him to press in preliminary article 3 that 'standing armies' should in time be abolished altogether' (ZeF, 8:345). For Kant this is how an effective natural right should be presented if the imperative to bring into being a civil society and maintain order is to be obeyed. Because no civil society can persist indefinitely in isolation it requires that other states recognise its existence and form amongst themselves a union that preserves each civil society. Natural right – as presented in the work of Grotius, Pufendorf and Vattel – endangers itself when it grants to each state the sole responsibility for determining its readiness for war. The sovereign in Hobbes's Leviathan is, for example, permitted complete freedom of action in matters of war and peace. The sovereign is the judge 'both of the means of peace and defence' as its sixth right (Hobbes 1991, p. 124). And ninthly 'is annexed to the sovereignty the right of making war and peace with other nations' (Hobbes 1991, p. 126). It is the exclusivity of this role that Kant finds most objectionable. Hobbes stresses the complete independence the sovereign enjoys in relation to other nations. There is a state egoism that is evident here which places the national interest before the international interest. From Kant's perspective this self- interested approach puts right itself at risk and so should be rejected. Preliminary article 4, with its prohibition on all states incurring further national debt to pursue their external policies, brings home the need to curb state egoism.


Excerpted from Politics and Teleology in Kant by Paul Formosa, Avery Goldman, Tatiana Patrone. Copyright © 2014 The Contributors. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Connection between Politics and Teleology in Kant
Paul Formosa, Avery Goldman and Tatiana Patrone

1. Natural Right in Toward Perpetual Peace
Howard Williams

2. The Ends of Politics: Kant on Sovereignty, Civil Disobedience and Cosmopolitanism
Paul Formosa

3. The Development of Kant’s Cosmopolitanism
Pauline Kleingeld

4. Kant’s Principles of Publicity
Allen Wood

5. Public Reason and Kantian Civic Education, or: are the humanities ‘dispensable’ and if not, why not?
Susan Meld Shell

6. Kant, Justice and Civic Fellowship
Sarah Holtman

7. Teleology and the Grounds of Duties of Juridical Right
Tatiana Patrone

8. The Guarantee of Perpetual Peace: Three Concerns
Luigi Caranti

9. The Function and Structure of Teleology in Kant’s Philosophy of History and Political Philosophy
Thomas Fiegle

10. The Political Foundations of Prophetic History
Sharon Anderson-Gold

11. What are we allowed to hope? Kant’s Philosophy of History as Political Philosophy
Fotini Vaki

12. Perfected Humanity: Nature’s Final End and the End in Itself
Richard Dean

13. The Principle of Purposiveness: From the Beautiful to the Biological and finally to the Political in Kant’s Critique of Judgment
Avery Goldman

14. Kant’s Pure Ethics and the Problem of ‘Application’
Angelica Nuzzo

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