11th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Boot

Eric Robert Boot

The Interdependence of Justice and Virtue: A Kantian Approach 

Much work in contemporary liberal thought relies on a strict distinction between justice and virtue. In formulating the demands of these two domains (i.e. perfect duties of justice and imperfect duties of virtue), scholars often refer back to Kant’s distinction between duties of Right and duties of virtue. The two main contentions of the present paper however, are, first, that such a strict separation of justice from virtue is not tenable and, second, that although Kant did indeed strictly separate the sphere of Right from the sphere of virtue in The Metaphysics of Morals, he appeared to be aware of the problems to which such a rigid distinction could lead in some of his other works, most notably in Toward Perpetual Peace. According to Kant, justice merely demands the compliance of my external actions with its laws, which it may impose through external force, but it may not compel me to adopt a particular maxim for acting. I will argue however, that in practice any legal system does depend on at least a majority of its subjects acting in accordance with its laws from the motive of duty, i.e. from respect for the law. This, however, leads to the following paradox: How can Right depend on something – i.e. its subjects acting from the motive of duty – that it may not demand? In order to provide a solution to this paradox, I will turn to Toward Perpetual Peace, in which Kant argues that the very act of living in a good Rechtsstaat develops one’s virtue by instilling respect for the law in its subjects. This exchange between the objective order – the Rechtsstaat – and the subjective ethical development of the people is Kant’s answer to our paradox: Right may not demand virtue, but it can help cultivate it, thus undoing the paradox.