Volume 58, Issue 3, September 2018
Imperatives of Right
The Essential Ambiguity in Kant’s Rechtslehre
The relationship between Kant’s “Doctrine of Right” and his broader moral philosophy is a fraught one, with some readers insisting that the two domains are mutually supporting parts of a cohesive practical philosophy and others arguing for their conceptual and legislative independence. In this paper I investigate the reasons for this disparity and argue that both main interpretive camps are mistaken, for Kant’s Rechtslehre can neither be reconciled to his moral philosophy nor stand on its own. I argue that this failure results from Kant’s confused attempt to define the sphere of right as one that functions independently of (yet analogously to) the moral domain through the construction of non-moral yet categorical imperatives. The result is a fundamental tension in Kant’s text that can only be solved through either collapsing juridical duties into broad moral duties or denying any categorical status to duties of right.