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Title: Doing Right by the World? Kant on Freedom, Human Nature, and Global Politics
Authors: Hofmann, Benjamin Felix
Advisors: Stilz, Anna
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: Freedom
Intellectual history
Political theory
Subjects: Political science
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation develops a novel interpretation of Kant’s political thought, rooting it in a unique theory of freedom as political independence. Freedom, according to Kant, requires independence from being subject to someone else’s law, i.e. from being governed by them. This is only possible in a condition in which no private individual can unilaterally determine the rights and obligations that structure their interactions with other persons. On this view, membership in shared legal-political institutions is constitutive of freedom, not just instrumentally valuable in its pursuit. Because no actual legal-political system is in full conformity with the ideal civil condition, (i) all existing systems of rights are only provisionally binding and (ii) we are under a continual obligation to improve them to more fully achieve individuals’ freedom. Kant also complements this rendering of a moral right to freedom and its implications for existing political systems with a speculative genealogy of how such systems, as well as the moral disposition that in turn upholds them, can emerge. While both the moral and the anthropological-historical components of Kant’s theory of political freedom are cast in terms of universal applicability, he nonetheless rejected globally shared political institutions. Drawing on his writings and lectures on anthropology, race theory, and geography I explain why: based on a hierarchical account of the human races, Kant deemed most non-European peoples incapable of achieving a condition of civil freedom and thus permanently unfit for participation in a condition of global Right. This leaves a consequential contradiction at the heart of the theory: while all human beings are said to enjoy a natural right to freedom, and thus to membership in political institutions, only members of White, and primarily European, ‘peoples’ are accorded the potential to make good on it. Because this racially-grounded hierarchy of peoples is thoroughly embedded in his own thinking on global politics, the only fruitful way forward is to read Kant against himself. The accounts of freedom as political independence and the perpetual provisionality of rights hold the potential for a conceptually viable and normatively appealing alternative to existing accounts of liberal cosmopolitanism.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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