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Freedom and constraint in Kant's Metaphysical elements of justice

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Kant's political thinking is predominantly evaluated in contractarian terms, though recent contributions have also emphasized the natural law influence on him. This paper argues that the assimilation of Kant into either tradition is problematic. An analysis of his account of political obligation cannot ignore the distinctiveness of Kant's general philosophical framework. Two recurrent Kantian themes are crucial to a reconstruction of his political argument. The first is the tension between freedom and causality, or nature. The second is the role of reflective judgment in practical reasoning. The paper analyses Kant's property argument, and his related account of political obligation, from the perspective of these Kantian themes. Kant's ‘antinomy of Right’, formulated in the context of his property argument, is interpreted as a conflict between freedom and nature, and in analogy with the third antinomy of the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant's obscure theorem, the lex permissiva, is central to his ‘solution’ to the antinomy. The theorem is best understood as a reflective practical judgment, through which agents are brought to acknowledge that their obligations of justice towards one another are a direct entailment of their respective claims to property. The connection between property rights and political obligations is thus intrinsic, not extrinsic; the acknowledgement of that connection an act of reflective judgment, not contractual.
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Keywords: Kant; antinomy of Right; categorical imperative; concept of Right; contractarianism; empirical possession; entering civil society; external freedom; idea of freedom; innate right to freedom; intelligible possession; internal freedom; lex permissiva; natural law theory; obligations of justice; political obligation; postulates of practical reason; property rights; synthetic a priori propositions; universal principle of Right

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Philosophy, University of Essex, Colchester, CO4 3SQ. Email:[email protected]

Publication date: 1999-02-01

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