Volume 3, 2007
The Role of "Legality" in Kant's Moral Philosophy
This study deals with the place and meaning of "legality" in Kant's moral philosophy. Although the return to Kantianism dominates contemporary political and legal thought, the boundaries of the analyses of the relationship between morality and legality in Kant's moral philosophy are confined to the boundaries drawn by John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas. While Rawls and Habermas consider law and morality as intersecting sets of rules and rights, they mostly consider this relationship in terms of the question of the legitimacy of law. By contrast, this study is an attempt to reconsider the Kantian link between morality and legality beyond the question of the legitimacy of law. Without the deontological filters of the Rawlsian and Habermasian political and legal theory, and therefore without leaving teleological and axiological concerns outside of the field of application, this study is an attempt to analyze the possible ways of understanding the conceptual connection between morality and legality in Kant's moral philosophy. Hence in this study, by paying particular attention to The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and The Metaphysics of Morals, I will analyze the role of legality in Kant's morality. The study first explains the goals of Groundwork and Metaphysics as Kant describes them. The study then turns to the discussion of duty as the central concept of Kant's thought. In the process, the study questions the possible ways of understanding the conceptual relationship between moral and legal obligation in Kant's thought, and mainly emphasizes two possible different conceptualizations of that relationship, (a) The first understanding can be constructed on the claim that the obligation of the moral subject is also to follow the fundamental principles of morality, the Categorical Imperative, in the legal order, which is part of the phenomenal world. The main point of this understanding lies in the idea that Kant's understanding of legal obligation presupposes the will's capacity to abstract from inclinations, (b) The second understanding, in contrast to the first one, can be built on the belief that moral and legal obligations should be conceived as completely distinct and non-intersecting in Kant's moral philosophy. From this perspective, neither moral obligation nor legal obligation can affect each other. The study concludes by focusing on moderate interventionism as a possible third option for linking moral and legal obligations in Kant's moral philosophy.