Kant and the In(ter)dependence of Right and Virtue

Eric Boot


This paper aims to clarify how Kant understood the relation between the two spheres of morals (Right and virtue). Did he, as O’Neill claims, acknowledge the need for civic virtue as necessary for maintaining a liberal state? Or did he take the opposite view (shared by many contemporary liberals) that citizens’ virtuous dispositions are irrelevant and that all that matters is the justice of institutions? Though The Metaphysics of Morals gives the impression that Kant shared the latter position, I will argue that, in fact, Kant held a position somewhere between the Rousseauian view (which O’Neill believes Kant endorsed) that the essential difficulty of politics concerns the cultivation of civic duty in citizens, and contemporary liberals’ exclusive focus on the justice of institutions, by arguing that it is the laws themselves that foster respect for the laws. In short, Kant views virtue as the felicitous by-product of legality.


Kant; Right; virtue; legality; morality; Onora O’Neill; Metaphysics of Morals

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5007/1677-2954.2017v16n3p395






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