Kant on Political Change

Civil Society
International Relations
Critical Theory
Section Number
Section Chair
Sorin Baiasu
University of Keele
Section Co-Chair
Howard Williams
Cardiff University

It is certainly obvious that change will play a certain role in Kant’s thinking, particularly in his political writings; after all, Kant himself witnessed important political and more generally social changes during his lifetime. What critics usually point to is not the lack of an account of change in Kant’s thought, but the significance or rather lack of significance this seems to be given from the perspective of Kant’s account of the a priori structures through which he thinks we are in interaction with the world. Given the epistemic significance of these structures, as having an absolute validity from the perspective of our limited capacities, they appear to us as unchanging and not to be changed. From this limited perspective, change would seem a contingent inconvenience, rather than a necessary, meaningful and important aspect of our lives.

As a result, difficulties seem to surface at various junctures in Kant’s thinking. For instance, Kant’s account of the a priori structures of interaction with the world or, in short, his account of pure reason (whether theoretical or practical, moral-political) seems in contradiction with his attempt to discuss the “The History of Pure Reason”; if pure reason consists of a priori structures which make possible our cognition of the world and of its natural and moral laws, then there can be no history of pure reason.

Moreover, in his account of political revolution, Kant acknowledges it as a historical phenomenon, but dismisses it as not legitimate from a normative point of view. As a radical change in a society, a revolution is a focal point for a discussion of political change and, yet, Kant seems to reject it not only as unable to achieve what it sets out to do, but also as clearly detrimental to that aim. Furthermore, Kant’s account of the transition from the state of nature to a juridical condition acknowledges the provisional character of rights in the state of nature, but also enjoins us to leave the state of nature and move towards a juridical condition. And, yet, the provisional character of many of our rights can be easily observed as an enduring feature of our social and political existence.

What is more, Kant’s comments on cosmopolitanism and the closed commercial state indicate that a similar tension can be found at work in Kant’s discussion of the relations between states. More generally perhaps, Kant offers priority to ideal theory and then seems to find it difficult to account for the clear significance of non-ideal theorising. As a result, in many instances in the literature, the debate between ideal and non-ideal theory has worked with a shared assumption that Kant’s and other Kantian theories are idealised and focus on the necessity of the laws they consider, to the detriment of the contingent, and non-ideal circumstances in which we actually live our lives.*
This Section is designed to attract contributions on these and related issues. The plan to submit a Section proposal on political change in Kant has already attracted considerable interest with 7 potential Panel proposals on the following topics.

Please note: not all academics listed below have confirmed participation; they are mentioned as examples of scholars with research interests in the areas of the Panels

1. The History of Pure Reason
Panel convenor: Sorin Baiasu; co-convenor: Avery Goldman; discussant: Daniel Herbert; potential participants: Sorin Baiasu, Avery Goldman, Daniel Herbert, Kenneth Westphal, Dieter Schönecker, Elke Schmidt
2. Rights and Duties in Kantian Legal and Political Philosophy
Panel convenor: Alyssa Bernstein; co-convenor: Christoph Hanisch; discussant: Helga Varden; potential participants: Alyssa Bernstein, Christoph Hanisch, Helga Varden, Arthur Ripstein, Jeremy Waldron, Bernd Ludwig, Joachim Hruschka, Allen Brudner.
3. Du Bois and Rawls on Kant’s Cosmopolitanism
Panel convenor : Elvira Basevich ; co-convenor : Jacob Weinrib ; discussant : Matthias Kaufmann; potential participants: Elvira Basevich, Jacob Weinrib, Matthias Kaufmann, Jan Joerden, Pauline Kleingeld, Jochen Bojanovschi.
4. From State of Nature to Civil Society
Panel convenor: Luke Davies; co-convenor: Paola Romero; discussant: Jakob Huber; potential participants: Luke Davies, Paola Romero, Jakob Huber, Ralf Bader, Christopher Meckstroth, Martin Brecher; Marie Newhouse.
5. Realism and Idealism in Kant’s Political Thought
Convenor: Daniel Tourinho Peres; co-convenor: Alice Pinheiro Walla; discussant: Macarena Marey; potential participants: Daniel Tourinho Peres, Alice Pinheiro Walla, Macarena Marey, François Calori, Paola Satne.
6. Kant on Revolution
Convenor: Jakub Szeczepanski; co-convenor: Christian Rostball, discussant: Stan Erraught; potential participants: Jakub Szeczepanski, Christian Rostball, Stan Erraught, Elisabeth Ellis, Heather Roff Perkins, Kristy Sweet.
7. From Cosmopolitanism to the Closed Commercial State
Convenor: Howard Williams; co-convenor: Reidar Maliks; discussant: Ruhi Demiray; potential participants: Howard Williams, Reidar Maliks, Ruhi Demiray, Christian Meckstroth, Stephen Palmquist.

* The current debate between idea and non-ideal theory has its origins in the work of Rawls, who draws the distinction in A Theory of Justice (1971); a particularly strong emphasis in the debate is on contingency and the way in which Kant’s account fails to consider seriously the particularity, provisionality and circumstantial nature of our situations and condition. For recent discussions as part of this debate, see Papers by Sorin Baiasu, John Horton, Rainer Forst, Peter Jones, Susan Mendus, Glen Newey and Albert Weale (2016).
Rawls, J. (1971): A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Baiasu, S. et. Al. (2016) Special issue on Toleration and Pragmatism in the work of John Horton, in Philosophia. (forthcoming).

Panel List

P140From Cosmopolitanism to the Closed Commercial State View Panel Details
P143From State of Nature to Civil Society View Panel Details
P163Idealism and Realism in Kant's Account of Political Change View Panel Details
P192Kant on Revolution View Panel Details
P193Kant on the Nature of Rights View Panel Details
P309Realism and Idealism in Kant's Political Thought View Panel Details
P339Rights and Duties in Kantian Political and Legal Philosophy View Panel Details
P395The History of Pure Reason View Panel Details
P398The Legacy of Kant's Account of Political Change View Panel Details
P469Ethics and Right in Kant's Political Philosophy View Panel Details
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