Kant and the Practical Man

Reinterpreting the Appendix to Toward Perpetual Peace

In: Danish Yearbook of Philosophy
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  • 1 University of Aarhus

The Appendix to Kant’s Toward Perpetual Peace is commonly viewed as an explication of the systematic relations between political practice and normative political theory. This paper provides an alternative interpretation of Kant’s main aim in the Appendix which is to provide an argument against the so-called “practical man.” The practical man believes that human nature precludes normative political ideals from ever playing a significant role within political practice. Drawing on the 1793 text “On the common saying: That may be correct in theory, but is of no use in practice,” the paper argues that Kant’s argument against the practical man is based on a proto-phenomenological analysis of moral experience. The practical man’s attempt to describe political practice in purely non-normative terms is, Kant believes, necessarily self-undermining because it denies one of the most basic aspects of human life; the inherent and inescapable normativity of practical reason.


The Appendix to Kant’s Toward Perpetual Peace is commonly viewed as an explication of the systematic relations between political practice and normative political theory. This paper provides an alternative interpretation of Kant’s main aim in the Appendix which is to provide an argument against the so-called “practical man.” The practical man believes that human nature precludes normative political ideals from ever playing a significant role within political practice. Drawing on the 1793 text “On the common saying: That may be correct in theory, but is of no use in practice,” the paper argues that Kant’s argument against the practical man is based on a proto-phenomenological analysis of moral experience. The practical man’s attempt to describe political practice in purely non-normative terms is, Kant believes, necessarily self-undermining because it denies one of the most basic aspects of human life; the inherent and inescapable normativity of practical reason.

I Introduction

One plausible reading of Kant’s essay Toward Perpetual Peace is to view it as an attempt to spell out the (political) conditions of possibility for the establishment of peaceful co-existence among the states of the Earth. In the two main sections of Toward Perpetual Peace Kant thus outlines the necessary domestic and international political structures that have to be in place if a stable and rightful condition of peace is ever to be established. Kant readily acknowledges that these structures are not yet (and in fact might never be) fully realized, but he insists that they are conceivable, that we have an obligation to aim for their realization, and that it is thus possible for us to conceive of ourselves as continuously approaching a condition of perpetual peace. [pp 8:360] The First supplement to the essay continues this line of argument by showing that nature seems to have favorably prepared the stage for such a peaceful condition, such that human beings may be reasonably assured that this end is “not merely chimerical.” [pp 8:368]

In the Appendix to Toward Perpetual Peace Kant turns his attention from the social and institutional pre-conditions for perpetual peace to a discussion of the relationship between empirical political practice and normative political theory, and between politics [Politik] and what Kant here (somewhat confusingly) terms morality [Moral or Moralität], but elsewhere usually terms right or doctrine of right [Recht or Rechtslehre]. Kant uses the distinction between politics and morality to tackle a number of systematic objections to the idea that perpetual peace is a possible, i.e. conceivable and empirically realistic, political end.

This paper focuses on the most important of these objections; the claim that human nature somehow invalidates the normative conception of perpetual peace developed and presented in the two main sections of Toward Perpetual Peace. Kant’s discussion of this objection in the first section of the Appendix, “On the disagreement between politics and morality with a view to perpetual peace,” takes the form of a debate between Kant and an imaginary opponent, the so-called “practical man.” According to the practical man, perpetual peace is a both conceivable and desirable political end. However, human nature prevents us from ever realizing this end because normative concepts such as “perpetual peace” and “cosmopolitan right” as a matter of fact can never exert any determining influence on the political actions of legislators and heads of state. [pp 8:371]

Kant’s discussion of and response to the practical man has rarely, if ever, been explicitly and systematically discussed in the secondary literature. Most commentators on Toward Perpetual Peace focus on the main sections of the essay. Explicit discussions of the Appendix are few and far between, and these discussions mostly focus either on Kant’s brief remarks on the systematic relationship between politics (political practice) and morality (the doctrine of right) in the first section of the Appendix,1 or his famous discussion of the “transcendental formula of public right” [pp 8:381] in the second section.2 Although these are obviously important features of Kant’s political thought, I will argue that Kant’s main line of argument in (at least the first section of) the Appendix is different from, and has mostly been neglected by, these main lines of interpretation. More precisely I will argue that Kant’s discussion with the practical man primarily concerns the question of how to properly conceive of human nature, and that Kant’s reply to the practical man’s objections hinges on a (quasi-)phenomenological argument concerning the necessary relationship between rational human agency and responsiveness towards the “normative pressure” of pure practical reason.3

Section ii of the paper presents the practical man’s argument with particular emphasis on the practical man’s claim that human nature prevents us from ever establishing a condition of perpetual peace on Earth. Section iii briefly discusses Allen Wood’s recent analysis of the Appendix and shows that and why this analysis fails to mention Kant’s engagement with the practical man. Section iv introduces Kant’s discussion with Christian Garve in the first section of Kant’s 1793 essay “On the common saying: That may be correct in theory, but is of no use in practice,” and shows that Garve’s criticisms of Kant’s moral theory are quite similar to the practical man’s objections to Kant’s political theory. Section v presents Kant’s response to the practical man’s objections and argues that this response is based on the very same idea as Kant’s response to Garve: that human beings are rational creatures and as such are necessarily exposed to and responsive towards the normative demands of pure reason. The practical man’s objections, Kant argues, are based on a mistaken view of human nature, which is phenomenologically implausible and practically inconsistent.

II The Practical Man’s Objection

In the first section of the Appendix to Toward Perpetual Peace Kant identifies and discusses an important objection to the account of how to achieve perpetual peace among the states of the world, presented and defended by Kant in the main sections of and supplements to this essay. The objection is raised by “the practical man”: an imagined critical opponent who, according to Kant, believes that “morals is mere theory,” and who, although he accepts both the desirability and conceivability of establishing a condition of perpetual peace among the states of the world, denies that such a condition will in fact ever be realized.4 “[T]he practical man,” Kant explains, “(for whom morals is mere theory), bases his despairing denial of our benign hope (even while granting ought and can) strictly on this: that he pretends to see in advance, from the nature of the human being, that he is never going to will what is required in order to realize that end leading to perpetual peace.” [pp 8:371]

The reasoning behind the practical man’s claim is somewhat complicated and has to do with the conditions that must be fulfilled if perpetual peace at the national and international level is to ever become a reality. The practical man believes that for perpetual peace to be realized it is not enough that each individual actually wills this end; they have to will this end as a political collective, that is, as a civil society. For this to happen however “a uniting cause must be added to this variety of the particular volitions of all, in order to produce from them a common will, which no one of the all is capable of.”5 [pp 8:371] Human beings are recalcitrant, sensuous, ego-oriented creatures, who are not immediately and naturally disposed to enter into a rightful, political association with each other, but require some external motivation, some “uniting cause,” to do so. The only way to bring about the existence of a civil society based on and guided by law is thus through the employment of violence: “in the carrying out of that idea the only beginning of the rightful condition to be counted upon is that of power, on the coercion of which public right is afterwards based.”6 [pp 8:371]

This brings us straight to the heart of the practical man’s objections to Kant. The problem according to the practical man is that our knowledge of human nature tells us that we cannot expect those endowed with power to ever give it up:

we can scarcely allow for a moral disposition of the legislator such that, after the disorderly multitude has been united into a people, he will now leave the people to bring about a rightful constitution by its common will […] he who once has power in his hands will not let the people prescribe laws for him.

pp 8:371
Human nature, so the practical man claims, seems to actively undermine and make impossible the creation of a rightful civil society—a society based on a republican constitution in which the legislators are representatives of, and thus answerable to, the people, as described by Kant in the First Definitive Article. [pp 8:349–353] And since a truly rightful condition of perpetual peace according to Kant is only achievable by and among republican states,7 [pp 8:349n] such a peaceful condition is nothing but a pipedream, a desirable but unachievable ideal which can never be realized in practice.
According to the practical man, this problem—the problem that human nature seemingly implies an unwillingness to relinquish power—arises not simply at the individual level, i.e. in cases where particular legislators refuse to hand over power to (the representatives of) the people. It also shows up at the institutional level of states and even continents:

A state that is once in possession [of the power] not to be subject to any external laws will not make itself dependent upon the tribunal of other states with respect to the way it is to pursue its right against them; and even a continent, if it feels superior to another that does not otherwise stand in its way, will not leave unused the means of strengthening its power by plundering or even conquering it.

pp 8:371
From this the practical man draws the, in his eyes inescapable, conclusion, that “all the plans for the right of a state, the right of nations, and cosmopolitan right dissolve into ineffectual, impractical ideals.” [pp 8:371] Political practice thus cannot draw upon and make use of such normative ideals, but must be based simply and solely on “empirical principles of human nature” and on maxims drawn “from the way of the world.” [pp 8:371]

The practical man’s objection to Kant thus amounts to a rejection, based on observations of human nature, of the practical political applicability of normative ideals. Normative ideals and principles may very well have some theoretical validity (remember that the practical man regards morals as “mere theory”), but they have no place in political practice. And though perpetual peace and cosmopolitan right are desirable political ideals which experience does not immediately contradict (the practical man grants the ideal both “ought and can”), our knowledge of human nature ultimately shows that these ideals can in fact never be realized. Political practice thus can only be built upon “a general doctrine of prudence, that is, a theory of maxims for choosing the most suitable means to one’s purposes aimed at advantage.” [pp 8:370]

The practical man thus raises a twofold problem for or challenge to Kant. First and most obviously he denies that perpetual peace is ever achievable, thus undermining the basic claim, which Toward Perpetual Peace is supposed to establish. Secondly he denies that normative principles and concepts can and should play a role in political practice. As we have just seen these two claims are closely related; it is the practical man’s belief that perpetual peace is not a realistic aim and has no chance of ever being realized that leads him to deny the practical applicability of (merely theoretical) normative ideals and principles. Kant quite obviously rejects both of the practical man’s conclusions. He believes, and argues extensively to prove, that perpetual peace is achievable, although perhaps only as “a task that, gradually solved, comes steadily closer to its goal.” [pp 8:386] And, as his arguments in the first sections of Toward Perpetual Peace clearly show, he also believes that normative ideals both can and should play an important role in political practice.

III Wood’s (mis)Interpretation of the Appendix

As we have seen, the practical man’s objections against Kant are based on a particular view of human nature. His rejection of perpetual peace as a realistic and achievable political end is not grounded in reflections on the anarchical nature of international relations or the inadequacies of existing political institutions, but on the belief that “the nature of the human being” implies that legislators and heads of state are never going to will what is required in order to realize this end. This belief seems to be based on the implicit presupposition that human beings by nature are motivated primarily, perhaps solely, by self-interest, and that substantive normative principles and ideals thus have little or no influence on human decisions and actions. Differently put, the practical man believes that human beings are primarily motivated by and act in accordance with prudential reasoning concerning the most suitable means to advance whatever ends they happen to have, not by moral reasoning concerning the ends they ought to have.8

This is important to keep in mind because it shows that Kant’s main argument in the first section of the Appendix is not (or at least not primarily) concerned with the question of the systematic relationship between morality and politics (or between the doctrine of right and political practice), but with the question of how to conceive of human nature. More precisely, since the practical man’s objections against Kant are based on a particular view of “the nature of the human being,” the only proper way to respond to these objections is to show that this view is mistaken, or at least inadequate and implausible.

Most commentators on Kant miss this point, and thus misunderstand or misinterpret Kant’s arguments in the Appendix. Allen Wood for instance, in a paper dedicated to a discussion of the Appendix, claims that:

Kant frames his discussion of politics in the Appendix as a possible conflict between “politics” – regarded as a set of principles of political prudence – and “morals”, as a system of laws that binds us unconditionally or categorically [pp 8:370]. This is essentially the same conflict that he takes up under the heading of “theory” vs “practice” in his essay of two years earlier, On the Common Saying: That May Be Correct in Theory, but Does Not Work in Practice.9

Wood claims that the main topic in the Appendix is the question of the systematic relationship between two different sets of principles, “politics” and “morals,” and this claim forms the basis for his subsequent explication of Kant’s argument. This explication proceeds by first providing a (very useful) account of how Kant defines and conceptualizes the systematic relations between his moral and political philosophy and between theory and practice, and then showing that and how Kant employs normative ideals and principles in his political philosophy. What is conspicuously missing from Wood’s account is any mention of the practical man’s objections, or of the fact that this objection is based not on systematic considerations of the relationship between morality and politics but on a specific view of human nature.

Now, Wood is quite right when he claims that Kant initially frames the discussion in the Appendix as a discussion of the systematic relationship (and possible conflict) between “politics” understood as a set of principles of political prudence, and “morals” understood as a system of unconditionally binding laws. The first (and to some extent also the second) paragraph of the first section of the Appendix [pp 8:370] explicitly discusses precisely this problem. Where Wood goes wrong, however, is in thinking that because Kant opens the Appendix with this discussion it must therefore be the only, or at least the only significant, discussion contained within this part of Toward Perpetual Peace.

This seems implausible for the very simple reason that Kant himself wraps up the systematic discussion quite quickly, by noting that from the point of view of his systematic philosophy there is not, indeed cannot be, any conflict between morals and politics, as long as these terms are properly defined:

there can be no conflict of politics, as doctrine of right put into practice, with morals, as theoretical doctrine of right (hence no conflict of practice with theory); for if there were, one would have to understand by the latter a general doctrine of prudence, that is, a theory of maxims for choosing the most suitable means to one’s purposes aimed at advantage, that is, to deny that there is a [doctrine of] morals at all.

pp 8:370
Wood’s paper serves as an extended explication of this passage, and provides valuable systematic context for understanding Kant’s argument. However, Wood’s focus on the question of the systematic relationship between politics and morality ignores one important possibility: that the reason why Kant mentions, and then summarily settles, the systematic question in the very first paragraph of the Appendix is because this question is not the main question he wants to discuss. The systematic question is of course important, and Kant briefly returns to it later in the Appendix. But the problem which the main part of the Appendix (or at least the first section of the Appendix) is aimed at resolving is, I will claim, the challenge raised by the practical man. And as we have seen, this challenge arises out of the practical man’s view of human nature, in particular his belief that human beings by nature are primarily motivated by self-interest, and that normative principles and ideals play little or no role in the daily life of human beings.
Kant seems to explicitly confirm this when he, a bit later in the Appendix, states that:

there is objectively (in theory) no conflict at all between morals and politics. But subjectively (in the self-seeking propensity of human beings, which, however, because it is not based on maxims of reason, must still not be called a practice), such conflict will remain; and it may always remain, because it serves as the whetstone of virtue.

pp 8:379
From the point of view of a properly systematic theory there is no conflict between morals and politics, at least not if we have an adequate understanding of the relevant terms. Subjectively however, at the level of “the self-seeking propensity of human beings,” there is and remains a conflict between morality and politics. Wood seems to be primarily interested in the former conflict: the apparent, but in Kant’s opinion ultimately illusory and non-existent, theoretical conflict between politics viewed as “a set of principles of political prudence” and morality seen as a system of categorical, unconditional laws.10 Kant on the other hand is primarily interested in the latter, subjective, conflict: the practical conflict between “the self-seeking propensity of human beings” and the unconditional claims and demands of right.11 Wood seems to completely miss this aspect of Kant’s argument, and this fundamentally skews his interpretation of the Appendix.

IV Kant and Garve

As Kant depicts the practical man he is not a radical moral skeptic. His aim is not to deny the existence or (theoretical) validity of normative principles or concepts, but to question the use and applicability of such concepts in political practice. The problem raised by the practical man’s objections is thus not the skeptical question of whether there are such things as normative political principles and ideals (the practical man grants this, but views such principles as “mere theory”), but the question of the proper role of normative principles within political practice.

The practical man’s objections in the Appendix to Toward Perpetual Peace bears a striking resemblance to the criticisms against Kant’s moral theory raised by Kant’s contemporary Christian Garve (1742–1798), and discussed at length in the first part of Kant’s 1793 essay “On the common saying: That may be correct in theory, but is of no use in practice.” Kant here discusses a number of different critical remarks made by Garve, but his main focus, “the point that really concerns us” as he puts it, is Garve’s contention that he can think but not feel Kant’s basic distinction between duty and happiness—that he can conceive of this distinction in his head, but not feel it in his heart. 12 [cs 8:284] More precisely Garve seems to question the practical validity of Kant’s idea of moral duty as a categorical, unconditioned demand of reason. Kant’s moral theory, Garve claims, is of no practical value, because his theoretical principles, distinctions and ideals are incapable of actually motivating, informing and guiding the real-life actions and decisions of human beings.13

The theory and practice essay deals with many of the same questions (the relation between philosophical theory and moral and political practice for instance, and whether and to what extent it is possible to discern a rational, progressive development in history) as Toward Perpetual Peace and commentators often compare the two essays, and use passages from one text to illuminate and illustrate passages and argument in the other.14 Furthermore, Garve is often explicitly identified as one of Kant’s main (unnamed) antagonists in Toward Perpetual Peace.15 However, Kant’s disagreement with and discussion of Garve is rarely mentioned in contemporary debates of Kant’s political philosophy. These debates usually focus on and draw upon the second and third part of the 1793 essay, where Kant discusses the relationship between theory and practice in relation to first politics (specifically Thomas Hobbes’ political philosophy) and then history (specifically Moses Mendelsohn’s views on the progress of the human race).16 Before we turn to Kant’s reply to the practical man in Toward Perpetual Peace it may thus be of interest to take a closer look at Kant’s response to Garve.

Kant’s reply to Garve takes the form of two interrelated arguments. Kant first, somewhat humorously, suggests that it is Garve, not Kant, who gives pride of place to theory over practice. Garve, Kant insists, is a man of integrity, and as such actually accepts that morality does make unconditional claims on human beings. The problem, according to Kant, is not that Garve rejects or denies the existence of unconditional categorical moral duties, but that he is unable to reconcile “the possibility of categorical imperatives (such as those of duty are) – with the usual principles of psychological explanation (all of which have the mechanism of natural necessity as their basis).”17 [cs 8:285] Garve’s problem is that he has let a specific theoretical view of human psychology obscure his understanding of something, which he in fact always already implicitly acknowledges, namely the immediate and categorical influence of morality on human beings.18

The second part of Kant’s response consists in a compressed and complex argument in support of his claim that morality does in fact impress itself on human beings in the form of immediate, undeniable, and categorical claims or demands. Kant here appeals to a number of distinct claims; that children from the age of eight or nine appear to operate with a notion of unconditional wrongness [cs 8:286]; that maxims of happiness, as opposed to maxims of duty, necessarily vacillate between incentives depending on time, place, and context [cs 8:287]; and that transgressions of duty, as opposed to transgressions against nature or inclination, work immediately on the mind of the agent “and makes him reprehensible and punishable in his own eyes.” [cs 8:288] Kant thus believes that the phenomenology of moral duty, the way in which human beings perceive and respond to moral claims, confirms, indeed proves, both the validity and the applicability of his moral theory.19 For Kant the objection that his moral philosophy may be true in theory but not be relevant in practice is thus fundamentally misguided. The unconditional norms of morality are always already at play in human consciousness and in every human action, and to claim otherwise is to (perhaps unwittingly) misunderstand the phenomenology of moral experience.20

Kant’s argument against Garve implicitly appeals to and draws upon some of the most basic and pervasive features of Kant’s moral theory, in particular his views on human nature and the necessary relationship between moral demands and rational agency. For Kant the most basic and defining characteristic of human beings is that they at one and the same time are both rational and empirical creatures. As such they are necessarily caught between two fundamental, inescapable and inherently conflicting set of claims. As rational creatures, creatures endowed with the capacity for reason, human beings are subject (and subject themselves) to universal normative principles of pure practical reason—norms with the rational authority to determine how we ought to think and act. As empirical creatures, however, embodied sensuous beings with inclinations and desires, human beings possess a natural propensity for selfishness—a propensity to make their own, subjective wants and needs the determining principles for their actions. This is why the claims of morality, of pure practical reason, present themselves to human beings in the form of unconditional demands and limitations: empirical nature dictates what we want; practical reason tells us what we unconditionally ought to do, and in the process strikes down and limits the pretentions of our empirical nature.21

For Kant the claims of morality are related to, founded on, indeed constitutive of, reason in such a way that no rational creature can ever be completely unresponsive to and ignorant of these claims. In his Religionsschrift (published in 1793, the very same year as the essay on theory and practice) Kant thus explicitly denies that human beings are capable of diabolical evil, i.e. evil motivated solely by a desire to do evil, since such evil, according to Kant, would imply a complete lack of responsiveness towards the moral claims of practical reason. [rel 6:35–37] And complete unresponsiveness towards the claims of practical reason reduces the human being to “a purely animal being” [rel 6:35], i.e. places human beings so far outside the moral pale, that they no longer count as rational, and hence not as moral, creatures.22

This, of course, is not an empirical claim. Kant is not saying that human beings, considered simply as members of the species “homo sapiens,” are necessarily rational and thus responsive to the unconditional demands of practical reasons. The relation of dependence goes the other way; it is only because and insofar as members of the species “homo sapiens” actually are fully rational, i.e. are both capable of rational thought and responsive to the unconditional demands of morality, that they qualify as, or are worthy to be called, human beings. Kant, we might say, is using the concept “human being” in a “thick,” normative sense, where “being human” means “being a rational creature capable of grasping and responding to the demands of (pure practical) reason.”23

Kant’s reply to Garve thus rests upon deep and pervasive features of his moral philosophy. For Kant categorical demands of morality are a basic and in principle (although certainly not in actual fact) undeniable feature of the rational agency of sensuous, embodied creatures. This is why Kant’s first move in his debate with Garve is to deny that Garve actually rejects the existence of unconditional, categorical, moral demands. Garve is “a man of integrity” [cs 8:285], a rational agent endowed with reason and will, and as such he is necessarily subject to and aware of the unconditional demands of morality. Kant believes that the only reason why Garve might seem to deny the existence and validity of such demands is that he has been seduced by unfounded speculation and misguided theory, namely the psychological theories of the empiricists. And the second part of Kant’s argument is specifically designed to convince Garve of the phenomenological inadequacy of such empirical accounts of the moral psychology of human beings.

V Kant’s Reply to the Practical Man

V.I The Practical Man’s Objection Revisited

Let us now finally turn to Kant’s reply to the practical man in the Appendix to Toward Perpetual Peace. Recall that the practical man’s objection to Kant’s account of perpetual peace is based on a particular view of human nature. The practical man believes that human beings by nature are primarily, perhaps exclusively, motivated by self-interest, and views normative political ideas such as “the right of a state, the right of nations and cosmopolitan right” as nothing but “ineffectual, impracticable ideals,” which have little or no influence on political practice. [pp 8:371] Perpetual peace, the practical man claims, is thus an attractive but ultimately unachievable political end, because human nature prevents politicians, legislators, and heads of states from willing what is necessary for this end to be realized.

Kant begins his reply to the practical man by acknowledging that “if there were no freedom and no moral law based upon it,” then “the concept of right would be an empty thought” and politics would be nothing but a purely technical discipline concerning how to best make use of “the mere mechanism of nature” to govern human beings. [pp 8:372] However, Kant immediately dismisses this skeptical scenario, and instead focuses the discussion on another question, namely the relationship between and possible unity of the concept of right and political practice: “if one finds it indispensably necessary to join the concept of right with politics, and even to raise it to the limiting condition of politics, it must be granted that the two can be united.” [pp 8:372]

For Kant the main problem raised by the practical man is thus not the skeptical question of whether the concept of right is an empty thought or not, but rather the question of the proper relationship between and unity of the concept of right and political practice. This fits well with Kant’s initial description of the practical man, which makes it clear that he is not a radical moral skeptic, who denies the (at least theoretical) validity of normative concepts and ideals such as freedom or the moral law. What the practical man criticizes is the idea that such normative concepts can and should play a role in political practice.

V.II The Moral Politician and the Political Moralist

To further illustrate and explore this debate Kant’s next move is to introduce two imaginary political characters, each of which embodies a distinct way of understanding the relationship between morality and politics: the moral politician and the political moralist. Kant introduces these two characters in a quite curious passage, immediately following his dismissal of the skeptical scenario:

I can indeed think of a moral politician, that is, one who takes the principles of political prudence in such a way that they can coexist with morals, but not of a political moralist, who frames a morals to suit the statesman’s advantage.

pp 8:372
Kant’s distinction between the moral politician and the political moralist serves at least three different purposes within his argument against the practical man. First of all the distinction makes clear the precise nature of the disagreement between Kant and the practical man. In Kant’s view this disagreement concerns the proper relationship between prudence and morals within the political sphere—between purely instrumental reasoning concerning the most suitable means to advance the statesman’s political ends on the one hand, and explicitly normative reasoning concerning which political ends the statesman ought to have based on principles and ideals derived from the doctrine of right on the other.

Secondly the distinction outlines and clarifies Kant’s own views on the proper relationship between political prudence and normative principles and ideals based on the doctrine of right. As Kant’s discussion of the distinction makes clear (and as his moral and political philosophy in general should lead us to expect) the moral politician represents Kant’s ideal for how legislators and heads of state should operate. Kant views the moral politician as a political actor whose ends are determined and informed by principles derived from the doctrine of right, and who applies properly circumscribed prudential reasoning to achieve those ends. Kant explicitly states that when the moral politician is faced with defects “within the constitution of a state or in the relations of states” he or she is morally required to “be concerned about how they [the defects] can be improved as soon as possible” and “at least take to heart the maxim that such an alteration is necessary, in order to keep constantly approaching the end (of the best constitution in accordance with laws of right).” Furthermore, he insists that it would be “contrary to all political prudence […] indeed be absurd to require those defects be altered at once and violently.” [pp 8:372]

Morality (the doctrine of right) points out the ends the moral politician should strive for; it does not require that he blindly adhere to specific abstract principles or rules. Nor does morality require that the moral politician reject or ignore the counsel of prudence. It is true that prudence in and of itself is amoral—simply “a theory of maxims for choosing the most suitable means to one’s purposes aimed at advantage.” [PP 8:370]. But it would be absurd and contrary to reason for the moral politician to deny or reject the importance of prudential reasoning. The doctrine of right prescribes ends for the political realm (perpetual peace among the nations of the world and the creation of a state based on a republican constitution), and the employment of prudential reasoning, reasoning concerning the most advantageous means to achieve one’s purposes, is necessary for those ends to be realized. Prudential reasoning thus has an important and legitimate place within political practice, but only if and insofar as prudence is based on and guided by ends and aims laid down by the doctrine of right. “The right of human beings” Kant emphasizes “must be held sacred, however great a sacrifice this may cost the ruling power.” [pp 8:380]

The moral politician is thus not a naïve idealist who proudly rejects the counsel of political prudence and blindly applies abstract moral principles to political practice with no regard for the complexities and particularities of the concrete situation. Kant draws a clear distinction between such “despotizing moralists” whose political meddling “offend in various ways against political prudence” [pp 8:373], and the moral politician who understands both the importance of political prudence for realizing the ends and ideals prescribed by the doctrine of right and the strict limitations which the basic principles of right impose on prudential reasoning.24

Thirdly Kant’s distinction serves as an important step in his response to the practical man. Most obviously Kant’s portrayal of the moral politician serves as a gentle rejoinder to the practical man’s contention that human beings by nature are “never going to will what is required in order to realize that end leading toward perpetual peace.” [pp 8:371] The moral politician may be an ideal, but he is not, at least not in Kant’s opinion, a completely unrealistic and utopian ideal. It seems perfectly plausible to assume that at least some legislators and heads of states sometimes act as moral politicians, i.e. let their decisions and actions be informed and guided by normative principles and ends derived from the doctrine of right. The moral politician thus serves as a reminder that the practical man’s objection is an empirical objection, based on a particular understanding of human nature, not an a priori, necessary truth.

V.III Kant against the Political Moralist

This of course is not enough to rebut the practical man’s objection. Even if some politicians may sometimes act morally, i.e. act on maxims based on and guided by normative principles of right, the practical man’s general point seems to still hold true; realizing, or simply moving closer to, a condition of perpetual peace requires determined efforts from legislators and heads of state from numerous nations. And, so the practical man may argue, it seems implausible to assume that most, or even just a sizable minority, of these political actors will in fact be inclined to e.g. hand over power to the representatives of the people, so as to establish a state based on a republican constitution. The practical man may thus (perhaps grudgingly) admit that moral politicians do exist, but in response to this admission he can point out that such politicians are few and far between. Most legislators and heads of states both can and should be viewed as political moralists, who bend and shape the principles of right so as “to suit the statesman’s advantage.”25 [pp 8:372]

To answer the practical man’s objection Kant thus has to do more than simply provide a plausible and positive account of the moral politician. He also has to show that the practical man is mistaken in his belief that human nature is fundamentally opposed to the influence of normative political principles and ideals. In short, Kant has to show that the practical man’s conception of the political moralist is based on an implausible or inadequate conception of the relationship between political prudence and morals.

As it turns out Kant actually goes one step further than this. For Kant the notion of a political moralist seems to be not merely implausible or inadequate, but somehow incoherent. This at least seems to be what Kant has in mind when he, in the very passage, where he first introduces the distinction between the moral politician and the political moralist, claims that: “I can indeed think of a moral politician […] but not of a political moralist, who frames a morals to suit the statesman’s advantage.” [pp 8:372] For Kant the political moralist thus appears to be not simply a mistaken or inadequate model of the relationship between political prudence and morals, but an unthinkable or inconceivable conception of political agency.26

How are we to understand this claim? Kant of course does not want to say that it is conceptually impossible to subordinate principles of right to political expediency. Nor does he want to deny that there are politicians (monarchs, heads of state, political counselors, advisors, and lawyers) who routinely and systematically do precisely this—political actors who ignore principles of right and let political prudence be the sole determining principle of their actions. What he does want to claim, however, is that the actions and decisions of such political moralists are characterized by (or perhaps better, plagued by) deep, pervasive, and unavoidable inconsistencies, which make the very notion of a political moralist fundamentally incoherent and self-undermining.

It is worth quoting Kant in full here:

From all these twistings and turnings by which an immoral doctrine of prudence tries to bring a condition of peace among human beings out of the warlike state of a state of nature at least this much is clear: human beings27 can no more get away from the concept of right in their private relations than in their public relations, and they dare not openly base politics merely on the machinations of prudence and so disown all allegiance to the concept of public right (this is especially noticeable in the concept of the right of nations); instead they give it all the honor due to it, even if they should think up a hundred pretexts and subterfuges to evade it in practice, and attribute to cunning force the authority of being the source and bound of all right.

pp 8:376
Kant’s basic argument seems to be that it is impossible to systematically implement an “immoral doctrine of prudence” according to which political practice is and ought to be structured solely by prudential reasoning, because such a doctrine misrepresents and misunderstands the constitutive importance of the concept of right in human life. The political moralist thinks that he can simply exclude or ignore normative concepts of right in his political practice, but that, Kant believes, is simply not true. However much they might want to, human beings cannot avoid, cannot get away from, the concept of right, neither in their private nor their public relations with each other.

This is not merely an empirical claim. Kant is not simply claiming that human beings as a matter of fact typically or for the most part apply normative concepts of right in their dealings with others. Nor is he simply making an observation concerning the strategic necessity and prudential value for political actors of sometimes feigning an interest in the concept of right in order to achieve their political ends. In a footnote just before the paragraph quoted above, Kant thus explicitly and unequivocally states that “respect for the concept of right” is something “which the human being simply cannot renounce [sich schlechterdings nicht entschlagen kann].” [pp 8:376] Kant’s claim thus seems to be, that the concept of right imposes itself on human beings with some sort of unavoidable necessity.

This of course brings us back to Kant’s reply to Garve in the 1793 essay on theory and practice. Remember that Kant here argued that Garve’s belief in the practical irrelevance of the notion of unconditional moral duty was mistaken because it relied on a misrepresentation of the phenomenology of moral experience. Unconditional moral norms, Kant believed, are always already immediately at play in human consciousness, and this becomes apparent as soon as we attend to and takes seriously the phenomenology of moral duty. And as we saw in Section iv this argument implicitly presupposed and appealed to basic features of Kant’s moral theory, most importantly his belief that human beings, embodied, sensuous, rational creatures, by their very nature are necessarily exposed to and responsive towards the normative pressure of pure practical reason.

Kant’s argument against the political moralist in the Appendix to Toward Perpetual Peace seems to follow a very similar pattern. The political moralist believes that normative concepts of right are irrelevant for political practice (or at least is nothing but yet another means to be exploited for the advancement of his political ends), and that practice thus should be guided solely by “an immoral doctrine of prudence.” Against this Kant argues that such a doctrine fails to grasp the undeniable importance and unavoidable necessity of normative concepts of right in human life. Respect for the concept of right unavoidably imposes itself on human beings, and all attempts to completely excise this concept from political practice are thus doomed to fail.

For Kant, purely prudential accounts of political practice either willfully or unwittingly misrepresent the nature of right. One implication of this is that the reasoning of the political moralist is inherently flawed and fraught with inconsistencies. Kant identifies at least two such basic inconsistencies.

First of all, the political moralist seems to acknowledge the value (or at least prudential utility) of many of the same political ends as the moral politician, but believes that he can make sense of and pursue these ends without any use of or appeal to the inherently normative principles and prescriptions of the doctrine of right. The political moralist is not (at least not necessarily) a simple self-centered egoist, whose sole aim is to maximize his own happiness, but someone whose main concern is the welfare and happiness of the state, and who wishes to act in such a way that he promotes and advances this end.28 However, the political moralist, as opposed to the moral politician, views this end as a merely natural and thus contingent good, not as something which is derived from and based on normative principles of right. Furthermore, the political moralist sees the creation of perpetual peace and the establishment of a right of state, a right of nations, and cosmopolitan right as “a mere technical problem (problema technikum)” to be solved in order to advance the welfare of the state, whereas the moral politician sees it as “a moral problem (problema morale) […] as a condition arising from acknowledgement of duty.” [pp 8:377]

But, Kant insists, political prudence on its own cannot achieve what the political moralist wants. All attempts to e.g. establish a right of nations based solely on prudential political reasoning are bound to fail, because such a “right” would rest “on pacts that contain in the very act of their being concluded the secret reservation that they may be violated,” [pp 8:377] and such pacts cannot establish stable and lawful relations among nations, but at most a temporary truce based on fleeting mutual interests. And in such a condition “right is in fact only an empty word,” not a normatively binding, obligatory principle prescribed by reason. [pp 8:377] As Kant sees it, the political moralist thus wants to both have his cake and eat it; he wants to deny the relevance and importance of normative concepts of right, while simultaneously aiming for political ends which (at least implicitly) rely on and are dependent upon such concepts.

Secondly Kant points out that a purely prudential doctrine of political reasoning seems to view human beings not as rational creatures free to and capable of setting ends for themselves, but as mere means—as pieces of a social or political machine. This quite clearly contradicts Kant’s own moral and political views, and the views of many, if not most, political liberalists. However, Kant also believes that such a view actually undermines the moralist’s own political ends. Kant thus argues that political moralists who seek to explain the origin of the political community solely through reasoning about “the natural mechanism of a multitude of human beings entering into society” will inevitably thwart their own purposes, because:

… such a pernicious theory itself produces the trouble it predicts, throwing human beings into one class with other living machines, which need only be aware that they are not free in order to become, in their own judgment, the most miserable of all beings in the world.

pp 8:378
The political moralist wants to promote the welfare and happiness of the state. However, by treating human beings as “living machines,” rather than as free, rational creatures, as ends in themselves, the political moralists actually undermines this very aim. Because when human beings realize that they are not free, and that the political order does not accommodate their status as ends in themselves, they will inevitably come to view themselves as “the most miserable beings of all in the world.” Human beings, Kant seems to claim, cannot be happy if they are not viewed as, and treated in accordance with their status as, free rational creatures.

Kant’s claim here should probably not be understood as a straightforward empirical claim. Rather his argument seems to once again implicitly appeal to and rely on his general view of human nature and rational agency—that certain normative concepts and ideas immediately and inescapably impose themselves on the minds of sensuous, rational creatures such as human creatures. Human beings, Kant thus seems to claim, are never able to completely disregard their status as creatures who are able to freely set their own ends, and whose actions issue from principles, which they themselves have legislated.29 The political moralist, whose political prudential reasoning implicitly (and perhaps also explicitly) denies this status, thus operates on a mistaken and incoherent understanding of human beings. And this, at least according to Kant, inevitably undermines his political efforts.

Kant thus thinks that the political moralist is practically inconsistent: by insisting that political practice must be based solely on the counsel of political prudence the political moralist undermines and makes impossible the realization of his own political ends. Kant locates the source of this inconsistency in the political moralist’s impoverished and inadequate understanding of human nature. Political moralists operate “on the pretext that human nature is not capable of what is good in accord with what that idea, as reason prescribes it,” and thus “make improvement [of the political system] impossible and perpetuate as far as they can violations of right.”30 [pp 8:373] The political moralist claims that human nature prevents normative concepts of right from ever having a determining influence on human beings, and this, according to Kant, prevents him from ever fundamentally changing or improving the political order.

VI Conclusion

According to the practical man politicians, legislators and heads of state are primarily motivated by purely prudential reasoning. Human nature, so the practical man argues, prevents normative principles and ideals from having any determining, motivational influence on political practice. The political moralist may acknowledge the general desirability of certain normative political ideas and the occasional, strategic utility of employing normative concepts as means to an end, but his basic view is that normative conceptions of right are ineffectual, impractical ideals with no practical relevance. Perpetual peace may thus very well be a conceivable and (at least in theory) attainable political end. In practice, however, perpetual peace turns out to be nothing but a hollow pipedream—an impossible ideal which human nature prevents us from ever realizing.

My argument in this paper has been that Kant’s main aim in the Appendix is to show that this view of the relationship between political prudence, political practice, and normative conceptions of right is based on an impoverished and mistaken view of human nature, which misrepresents or misunderstands the constitutive role of normative concepts of right in human life. Kant believes that all human beings, insofar as they are rational at least, are necessarily exposed to and responsive to the normative demands of pure reason. Everybody, including politicians, legislators, and heads of state, are reluctantly but unavoidably faced with the normative reality of claims and demands that transcend prudential, self-interested concerns. The practical man’s claim that such inherently normative principles and demands can have no determining influence on political practice thus rests on a mistaken, implausible, and ultimately incoherent view of human nature.

Political moralists, Kant acknowledges “… make much of their knowledge of human beings (which is admittedly to be expected, since they have to do with so many).” This knowledge, however, quickly turns out to be both superficial and misleading, since it does not reveal the true nature of “the human being and what can be made of him (for which a higher standpoint of anthropological observation is required).” [pp 8:374] Kant’s moral anthropology provides such a higher standpoint, and thus delivers what the practical man is incapable of: an understanding of human nature which explains both how perpetual peace is possible and why it is an obligatory political end for human beings.


See Allen Wood “The moral politician” in The Free Development of Each (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 90–118 for a recent example of this. I discuss Wood’s interpretation of the Appendix in Section iii below.


See e.g. the papers in James Bohman and Matthias Lutz-Bachmann, ed., Perpetual Peace. Essays on Kant’s Cosmopolitan Ideal (Cambridge: mit Press, 1997). Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge: The mit Press, 1991), § 13 is the locus classicus for contemporary discussions of the principle of publicity in Toward Perpetual Peace. Monique Castillo, “Moral und Politik: Mißhelligkeit und Einhelligkeit,” trans. Michael Walz, in Klassiker Auslegen. Zum Ewigen Frieden, ed. Ottfried Höffe (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995), 195–220 and Volker Gerhardt, Immanuel Kants Entwurf ‘Zum ewigen Frieden’. Eine Theorie der Politik. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995), Ch. viii and ix are exceptions to the general neglect of the Appendix in the secondary literature.


Howard Williams is one of the few commentators who explicitly notice the importance of this idea for Kant’s political philosophy: “Kant believes that it does not matter how evil the politician, moral principles will necessarily force their attention on him.” Howard Williams, Kant’s Political Philosophy (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), 45. However, Williams does not explain why Kant has this view, nor does he systematically relate this view to the rest of Kant’s philosophy. Volker Gerhardt’s claim that for Kant “the human being’s understanding of himself as a rational creature is constitutive also for Right [Recht]” (Gerhardt, Immanuel Kants Entwurf ‘Zum ewigen Frieden’, 160, my translation) comes quite close to the interpretative approach I will pursue in the following.


The practical man may be imaginary, but Reidar Malik suggests that he represents a composite or amalgam of three of Kant’s conservative critics: Friedrich von Gentz (1764–1832), August Wilhelm Rehberg (1756–1836) and Justus Möser (1720–1794). See Reidar Malik, Kant’s Politics in Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 63 and Reidar Malik, “The state of freedom: Kant and his conservative critics,” in Freedom and the Construction of Europe, Vol. ii: Free Persons and Free States, ed. Quentin Skinner & Martin van Gelderen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). This paper focuses on the systematic problems raised by the practical man’s objections to Kant. I thus do not discuss the particular criticisms of Gentz, Rehberg, and Möser.


Katrin Flikschuh, “Elusive Unity: The General Will in Hobbes and Kant,” Hobbes Studies 25, no. 1 (2012): 21–42, provides an extensive discussion of how Kant’s conception of the general will both derives and differs from Hobbes’ and Rousseau’ conceptions. Curiously Flikschuh does not discuss Kant’s (admittedly very brief) use of the concept in the Appendix to Toward Perpetual Peace.


The German text has: “so ist in der Ausführung jener Idee (in Praxis) auf keinen andern Anfang des rechtlichen Zustandes zu rechnen als den durch Gewält, auf deren zwang nachher das öffentlichen Recht gegründet wird …” Gewält can mean both “power” (or perhaps better; “legitimate coercion”) and “violence.” See also [mm 6:312]: “Hence each may impel the other by force [mit Gewalt] to leave this state and enter into a rightful condition.” On founding violence as the basis for the establishment of law see, e.g. Jacques Derrida, “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority’,” trans. Mary Quaintance, in Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, ed. Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosenfeld, and David Gray Carlson (New York: Routledge, 1992), 3–67.


See also [cs 8:311]. See Pauline Kleingeld, “Approaching Perpetual Peace: Kant’s Defence of a League of States and his Ideal of a World Federation,” European Journal of Philosophy 12, no. 3 (2004): 304–25; Pauline Kleingeld, “Kant’s Theory of Peace,” in The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy, ed. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 477–504; Alyssa Bernstein, “Kant, Rawls, and Cosmopolitanism: Toward Perpetual Peace and The Law of Peoples,” Jahrbuch fur Recht und Ethik 17 (2009), 3–52; and Alyssa Bernstein, “The Rights of States, the Rule of Law, and Coercion: Reflections on Pauline Kleingeld’s Kant and Cosmopolitanism,” Kantian Review 19, no. 2 (2014): 233–49 for (somewhat conflicting) discussions of Kant’s hypothesis concerning the interdependence of republicanism at the state level and perpetual peace at the international level.


Since the practical man’s argument quite explicitly concerns the decisions and actions of legislators and heads of state we have to understand “self-interest“ and “prudential reasoning” quite broadly. (1) Interest should be understood not simply as “individual self-interest,” but also as the specific interests of a particular state (as opposed to the interest of other states). (2) Prudential reasoning should be understood as not simply reasoning concerning the means to advance a specific person’s ends and interests, but also as political prudence, i.e. ­reasoning concerning how to best advance the ends and interests of a particular state. This latter form of prudential reasoning is what Kant has in mind when he speaks of “Staatsklugheit.” See Mogens Chrom Jacobsen, “Kant and the modern State System,” Jahrbuch für Recht und Ethik 17 (2009): 85–107 for a succinct summary of Kant’s conception of political prudence.


Wood, “The moral politician”, 91.


Wood briefly discusses the passage where Kant denies an objective and confirms a subjective conflict between politics and morality but without clearly explaining what this distinction amounts to. See Wood, “The moral politician," 92.


One of the many valuable systematic points made by Wood in his paper is that he makes it abundantly clear that within the context of the Appendix “morals” (or “morality”) should always be understood as “right” or “doctrine of right”, i.e. as a system of unconditional principles and norms regulating the outwards behavior and external relations of human beings. “In the context of the appendix to Toward Perpetual Peace, when Kant speaks of “morals,” he means only right, never ethics. He emphasizes this point repeatedly—at least ten times in the course of a fifteen-page discussion [pp 8:370, 374 (twice), 377 (twice), 378, 379, 381, 383, 384, 386]—so it is truly remarkable that critics habitually overlook it.” Wood, “The moral politician”, 94. See The metaphysics of morals [mm 6:218–221] and [mm 6:229–242] for Kant’s own introduction to the basic features of his doctrine of right, and his distinction between doctrine of right and doctrine of virtue.


Garve’s criticisms of Kant was originally published in Versuche über verschiedene Gegenstände aus der Moral, der Litteratur und dem gesellschaftlichen Leben, Erster Theil (Breslau: Wilhelm Gottlieb Korn, 1792), 111–116. For the purposes of this paper I simply accept and follow Kant’s account of Garve.


See Williams, Kant’s Political Philosophy and Bernd Ludwig, “Kant, Garve, and the Motives of Moral Action,” Journal of Moral Philosophy 4, no. 2 (2007): 183–193, for the background for and fuller discussions of Garve’s relationship with and criticisms of Kant. Ludwig’s paper focuses on precisely those aspects of Garve’s critique, which I leave out here.


See, e.g. Katrin Flikschuh, “Duty, Nature, Right: Kant’s Response to Mendelssohn in Theory and Practice iii,” Journal of Moral Philosophy 4, no. 2 (2007): 223–41; Jørgen Huggler, “Cosmopolitanism and Peace in Kant’s Essay on ‘Perpetual Peace’,” Studies in Philosophy and Education 29, no. 2 (2007): 129–140.


See, e.g. Gerhardt, Immanuel Kants Entwurf ‘Zum ewigen Frieden’, 169n, 182n, and 189n. Although Malik believes that Gentz, Rehberg, and Möser were the main targets of Kant’s criticism, he also mentions Garve as an important influence. See Malik Kant’s Politics in Context, 55–57.


This is nicely illustrated by the fact that the 2006 Rethinking the Western Tradition collection of Kant’s writings on “Politics, Peace and history” includes both Toward Perpetual Peace and the 1793 essay on theory and practice – but leaves out the first part of the latter essay. Pauline Kleingeld, ed., ‘Toward Perpetual Peace’ and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History, trans., David L. Colclasure, part of the Rethinking the Western Tradition-series (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).


Both Ludwig and Williams note that Garve’s criticism of Kant’s moral philosophy was most likely directly inspired by British empiricist philosophers such as Hume, Ferguson, Burke, and Paley. See Williams, Kant’s Political Philosophy, 189 and Ludwig, “Kant, Garve, and the Motives of Moral Action,” 188. Garve was one of the 18th century’s main translators of English and Scottish philosophical literature into German.


See also Ware’s brief discussion of the Kant-Garve debate: “It is only from the standpoint of theory, then, that Garve can find obscure what he knows clearly and distinctly from the standpoint of practice.” Owen Ware, “Rethinking Kant’s Fact of Reason,” Philosophers Imprint 14, no. 32 (2014): 1–21. Ware also refers to Kant’s remarks in The metaphysics of morals: “People who are accustomed merely to explanations by natural sciences will not get into their heads the categorical imperative from which these laws proceed dictatorially, even though they feel themselves compelled irresistibly by it.” [mm 6:378]


Howard Williams claims that “Kant’s main criticism of Christian Garve in Theory and Practice is that Garve is theoretically inconsistent […] Kant regarded Garve’s metaphysics as faulty” (Williams, Kant’s Political Philosophy, 186). This is somewhat misleading. As Williams himself acknowledges a couple of pages later, Kant’s primary complaint against Garve seems to be that he misrepresents the psychology (or perhaps better; the phenomenology) of moral duty (Williams, Kant’s Political Philosophy, 188–189). It is true that the source of Garve’s misrepresentation is his adherence to a (from Kant’s perspective) mistaken theoretical account of human psychology, but for Kant the basic problem with Garve’s position was not theoretical inconsistency but phenomenological inadequacy.


See Jeffrie G. Murphy, "Kant on Theory and Practice," Nomos 37 (1995): 47–78 (especially 56-59) for a fuller, critical discussion of Kant’s analysis of the phenomenology of ­moral duty in the theory and practice essay. Murphy thinks that “at least in the realm of ­moral phenomenology, Kant seems to win the battle with Garve. He is far closer to being right in his description of the internal life of the normal moral agent.” But this, he argues, does not imply that Kant’s theoretical account of morality is necessarily correct. There are, Murphy believes, other, more plausible ways to explain the phenomenology of moral duty than that offered by Kant. Kant’s moral phenomenology has recently attracted a lot attention. See, e.g. Jeanine Grenberg, “The Phenomenological Failure of Groundwork iii,” Inquiry 52, no. 4 (2009): 335–56; Anne Margaret Baxley, “The Problem of Obligation, the Finite Rational Will, and Kantian Value Realism,” Inquiry 55, no. 6 (2012): 567–83; Robert Stern, “A Reply to My Critics,” Inquiry 55, no. 6 (2012): 622–54; Jeanine Grenberg, Kant’s Defense of Common Moral Experience. A Phenomenological Account (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).


This is perhaps the most basic feature of Kant’s moral thinking and pervades every aspect of his practical philosophy. See [G 4:412–414], [cp 5:32], and [mm 6:222 and 6:379] for paradigmatic formulations. Part One of Religion within the boundaries of mere reason [rel 6:18–53] contains Kant’s most systematic (but also quite enigmatic) discussion of the normative basis for and inherent inescapability of the conflict between the moral law of pure practical reason and the human capacity for and tendency towards self-interest. See Paul Guyer, Kant, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), 207–208 for a short analysis of the importance of the Religionsschrift for Toward Perpetual Peace.


See also Kant’s important discussion “Of the incentives of pure practical reason” in the Critique of practical reason [cp 5:71–89], and the section on “Concepts of what is presupposed on the part of feeling by the mind’s receptivity to concepts of duty as such” in The metaphysics of morals. [mm 6:399–403]


The Kantian concept of a person is another, perhaps better, way to make the same point. “[R]rational beings are called persons” Kant states in Groundwork, “because their nature already marks them out as an end in itself." [G 4:428] See also [mm 6:223 and 6:434–435]. See Jeffrie G. Murphy, “Moral Death: A Kantian Essay on Psychopathy,” Ethics 82, no. 4 (1972): 284–98, for an interesting and influential discussion of the implications of Kant’s conceptions of personhood and rational agency for our understanding of amoralism and psychopathy.


See Williams, Kant’s Political Philosophy, 41–46, Gerhardt, Immanuel Kants Entwurf ‘Zum ewigen Frieden’, 166–179, and Wood, “The moral politician” for more detailed accounts of Kant’s view of the moral politician.


Gerhardt, Immanuel Kants Entwurf ‘Zum ewigen Frieden’, 170–171 argues that although the specific target of Kant’s critique of the political moralist was probably Friedrich ii of Prussia, he also intended his criticism to have a much broader scope; it was directed not simply at the Prussian monarch but more generally at counselors, ministers, publicists, and lawyers whose “only concern is to go along with the power now ruling (so as to not neglect their private advantage)." [pp 8:373]


Most commentators seem to either miss or ignore this point. One exception is Hans Henrik Bruun, who in a 2010 paper explicitly notes that Kant’s notion of the political moralist “is a contradiction in terms (“cannot be thought”) since he “so moulds a moral doctrine for himself as fits the statesman’s advantage”—and a moralist cannot, by Kant’s definition, subordinate morality to advantage.” Hans Henrik Bruun, “The Incompatibility of Values and the Importance of Consequences: Max Weber and the Kantian Legacy,” The Political Forum 41, no. 1–2 (2010): 51–67.


I have slightly altered Gregor’s translation here. The German text says “die Menschen,” not “die Leute.”


Remember that the political moralist does not frame morals in order to advance his own purposes, but in order to advance the purposes of the statesman. [pp 8:372] See also ­Mogens Chrom Jacobsen who defines Kant’s conception of political prudence (reason of state; Statskluugheit) as a theory about the most suitable means for a state to increase its power, welfare, or happiness (Jacobsen, “Kant and the modern State System,” 86). Jacobsen also quotes Meinicke’s famous definition of Staatsräson: “the maxim for state action [… which] tells the statesman what to do to maintain the state in a healthy and powerful condition” (Jacobsen, “Kant and the modern State System,” 86).


Kant provides a developmental and quasi-historical argument for this claim in “Conjectural Beginning of Human History,” first published in January 1786.


This conclusion seems to be in clear conflict with Kant’s (in)famous claim in the First Supplement to Toward Perpetual Peace, that “The problem of establishing a state, no matter how hard it may sound, is soluble even for a nation of devils […] For the problem is not the moral improvement of human beings but only the mechanism of nature, and what the task requires one to know is how this can be put to use in human beings in order so to arrange the conflict of their unpeacable dispositions within a people ….” [pp 8:366] I offer no solution to this interpretive puzzle here, but see Henry Allison, “The Gulf between Nature and Freedom and Nature’s Guarantee of Perpetual Peace,” in Essays on Kant (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 217–28, esp. 226–8.

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