Rescuing Autonomy from Kant

A Marxist Critique of Kant’s Ethics


In Rescuing Autonomy from Kant, James Furner argues that Marxism’s relation to Kant’s ethics is not one of irrelevance, complementarity or incompatibility, but critique. Although Kant’s formulas of the categorical imperative presuppose a belief in God that Kant cannot motivate, the value of autonomy can instead be grounded by appeal to an antinomy in capitalism’s basic structure, and this commits us to socialism.

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James Furner, Ph.D. (2008, University of Sussex), is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the Universtiy of Sussex, U.K., and author of Marx on Capitalism: the Interaction-Recognition-Antinomy Thesis (Haymarket, 2019).
‘Rescuing Autonomy from Kant provides a sophisticated and persuasive critical account of Kant’s moral philosophy that paves the way for a Marxist ethics which unites the value of autonomy with the value of human community. The book will be of particular interest to readers curious to see how a critique of Kant’s moral theory undertaken from a socialist standpoint does not require a complete rejection of this theory. Instead, key elements of it can be incorporated into an alternative ethical theory that demonstrates the unethical nature of capitalism.’
– David James, Reader in Philosophy, University of Warwick

‘James Furner’s book is an important addition to thought about the relationship between normative Marxism and Kantian autonomy. Of particular interest, it articulates and defends a novel way to understand the respect in which freedom, universalizability, and reason ground the critique of capitalism. Combining close readings of classic texts and careful consideration of secondary literature with constructive philosophy, this book will broaden the horizons of intellectual historians, normative ethicists, and political theorists.’
– Thaddeus Metz, Professor of Philosophy, University of Pretoria
References and Abbreviations


Part I Three Views of Marxism’s Relation to Kant’s Ethics

Introduction to Part I

1 Against the Irrelevance View
 1 The Instrumental Reasons Argument
 2 The False Claims Argument
 3 The Ideology Argument
 4 The Class Interests Argument
 5 Summary

2 Against the Complementarity View, Part 1: Socialist Strategy
 1 The Complementarity View: Stammler, Staudinger, Vorländer
 2 An Objection to the Complementarity View
 3 The Deficient Self-Understanding Claim: A Critique

3 Against the Complementarity View, Part 2: Can Kant’s Formula of the End in Itself Condemn Capitalism?
 1 FEI-Based Arguments against Capitalism
 2 Kant’s Never Merely as a Means Principle
 3 Applying FEI: Some General Considerations
 4 Applying FEI beyond Kant
 5 Evaluation of the Arguments
 6 FEI and General Injustice
 7 Conclusion

4 Against the Incompatibility View
 1 Two Components of Human Freedom
 2 Marx on Human Freedom
 3 The True Realm of Freedom and the Realm of Necessity
 4 The Link to Autonomy
 5 Marx on the Autonomy of a Human Community
 6 Marx’s Commitment to a Critique of Kant’s Ethics
 7 Summary

Part II A Critique of Kant’s Ethics

Introduction to Part II

5 Kant’s Contradiction in Conception Test
 1 The Basic Features of the Causal-Teleological Version of LCI
 2 Further Features of a Causal-Teleological Version of LCI
 3 The Suicide Maxim
 4 The False Promising Maxim
 5 Summary

6 Kant’s Contradiction in the Will Test
 1 Assessment Criteria
 2 Assessing the Existing Interpretations
 3 The Extravagant Imperfect Nature Interpretation
 4 Formulating the Groundwork’s Two Maxims
 5 The Maxim of Neglecting Natural Gifts
 6 The Maxim of Refusing to Help
 7 Summary

7 The Principle of Suitability Interpretation of Kant’s Formula of the Law of Nature
 1 The Contradiction in Conception Test
 2 The Contradiction in the Will Test

8 Kant’s Argument for the Formula of the End in Itself
 1 The Structure of Kant’s Argument for FEI
 2 Steps 1–3
 3 Step 4: the Logical Pluralism Version of Kant’s Regressive Argument
 4 Advantages of the Logical Pluralism Version of Kant’s Regressive Argument
 5 Humanity, Personality and a Belief in the Existence of God

9 Kant’s Arguments for a Belief in the Existence of God
 1 Kant’s Concept of the Highest Good
 2 The Argument from the Highest Good
 3 Wood’s Version of the Argument from the Highest Good
 4 The Objection from Moral Happiness
 5 The Physicoteleological Argument
 6 Conclusion

Part III Founding a Post-Kantian Ethics

Introduction to Part III

10 A Marxist Argument for Autonomy
 1 Relativising Practical Reason
 2 An Argumentative Strategy
 3 The Need for a Duty to the Whole
 4 The General Features of a Foundational Argument
 5 A Lesson from Mill’s ‘Proof’
 6 The Distinctive Features of a Marxist Foundational Argument
 7 A Simple Account of Capitalism’s Basic Structure
 8 Explaining the Premises
 9 The Rights-Antinomy
 10 Resolving the Rights-Antinomy
 11 The System Universalisability Principle of Justice
 12 The Autonomy of a Human Community
 13 Summary
 14 The Justification of Socialist Strategy
 15 Conclusion

Anyone interested in Kant, post-Kantian philosophy, Marx and Marxism, or the ethics of socialism.
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