Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 331–352 | Cite as

An antinomy of political judgment: Kant, Arendt, and the role of purposiveness in reflective judgment



This article builds on Arendt’s development of a Kantian politics from out of the conception of reflective judgment in the Critique of Judgment. Arendt looks to Kant’s analysis of the beautiful to explain how political thought can be conceived. And yet Arendt describes such Kantian reflection as an empirical undertaking that justifies itself only in relation to the abstract principle of the moral law. The problem for such an account is that the autonomy of the moral law appears to be at odds with the social cohesion of Kantian political life. The ensuing contradiction can be deemed the antinomy of political judgment. Kant’s conception of reflective judgment offers such an inquiry considerably more to work with than Arendt uncovers. In particular, the regulative principle of the purposiveness of nature that is shown to direct all reflection can be seen to offer the solution to this antinomy.


Kant Arendt Political judgment Antinomy Purposiveness 

Hannah Arendt describes the principle of Kantian morality, the categorical imperative, when stripped of its “Hebrew-Christian ingredients,” which is to say all talk of imperatives, as a version of the “axiom of non-contradiction.”1 The thief contradicts herself by protecting for herself what she has taken from others, thus denying the right to property for others while proclaiming it for herself. Kantian morality is premised on the idea that the consistency of our maxims is to be valued above all else, which, when drawn to its furthest conclusion, demands that we should let a murderer find our hiding friend rather than risk sullying ourselves with a lie. Arendt writes that such a focus on “the truth of the philosopher, disclosed to man in his solitude”2 has as its goal the private development of the self. In emphasizing personal development rather than public involvements, such philosophical commitments would appear to direct us, as Arendt writes, “[t]o look upon politics from the perspective of truth… [which] means to take one’s stand outside the political realm.”3 Arendt explains that such an approach to politics emphasizes “man in his singularity” which is a perspective that is “unpolitical by nature.”4 Though approaching political concerns from the perspective of Kant’s unyielding categorical imperative might allow us to avoid the tragic compromises of our times, it is hard not to agree with those like Hegel who have argued that the emphasis on formal duty that guides Kantian morality ill equips us to address the complexity of our moral lives.5

And yet Arendt does not follow Hegel in his rejection of the perspective of the autonomous moral subject, as might have been assumed from her emphasis on political deliberation in her influential Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy.6 In fact, in the essay “Truth and Politics” Arendt looks to truth, to factual truth, but so too to the philosophical truth of the Kantian moral framework, to all that which, as she writes, “stands outside the political realm,” in order to distinguish the guiding principle of political thought.7 In this way, while she maintains a distinction between our private pursuit of impartial truths and the public discussion of interest and power that makes up the political realm, she does so in a way in which the political is in some way directed by the realm of truth, “limited by those things which men cannot change at will.”8

To be sure, Arendt’s essay “Truth and Politics” does not offer an extended discussion of Kant’s position. What it does offer is precise but limited accounts of the seemingly opposed elements of Kant’s moral and political thought, one concerning the categorical imperative and the other addressing the political implications of the conception of reflective judgment introduced in the Critique of Judgment. It should be pointed out that these accounts are offered in separate bracketed discussions in the midst of a more general discussion of the role of truth in political life.9 While Arendt is making a general claim about the relation of truth and politics, one that through her examples is seen to span the Western tradition, her focus in this essay is on factual truth, explaining that neither religious truth, nor philosophical truth “interferes any longer with the affairs of the world.”10 The answer that Arendt gives to the question of the relation of truth and politics, an answer which would appear to be offered for both her historical examples and her analysis of the contemporary political scene, is that this interest in objectivity and impartiality, which at times can “conflict with the demands of the political,”11 is itself responsible for the “integrity” of political life.12 Political life finds its limit, or border, and hence its direction, in that which cannot be changed, in the truth that is the product of independent thought, and which Arendt describes as both “the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.”13 But how can the idea of the autonomous moral subject co-exist with the social engagement of political judgment?14

This is the question that guides this paper: Is Arendt justified in finding in moral life the “integrity” of the political? To put this question in terms of Kant, who not only serves for Arendt as exemplifying the two poles of this discussion, but whose conception of judgment is also so important for Arendt’s own: Can Kant’s moral philosophy be both the “ground” (foundation, justification) and “sky” (telos) of his political philosophy? The answer that will here be developed is that the moral law cannot play both roles, that it grounds political deliberation, offering its ultimate justification, but it does not offer the “sky” above us, Kant’s “starry sky,” the metaphysical idea of which regulates our inquiries. Arendt overlooks the role of such metaphysical, regulative principles in Kant’s conception of our varied reflections, emphasizing instead an empirical undertaking, that of “collecting votes [Stimmensammlung]”15 in our political deliberation, that is directed only negatively by the categorical imperative. In the search for a positive guide for Kant’s conception of political reflection, I will investigate the role of regulative principles [Prinzipien] in Kant’s political philosophy. The issue is twofold: The first concerns whether we can understand the apparent contradiction of moral autonomy and political deliberation, the unnamed Kantian antinomy of political judgment, on the model of Kant’s other antinomies, and so as consistent with the Kantian system; the second concerns whether Arendt’s interpretation of Kantian political judgment on the model of his aesthetic judgment, but bereft of the regulative principle of “purposiveness,” can be considered Kantian in any meaningful way.

1 Kantian reflective judgment

The guiding insight of Arendt’s Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy is that the discussion of reflective judgment in Kant’s Critique of Judgment, the thread that connects the discussions of aesthetics and teleological natural science, offers a way to conceive of political judgment. For Kant, judgments are reflective rather than determinative when they do not subsume particulars under given universals, rather they attempt to find universals, concepts, that correspond to groups of particulars. In this capacity reflective judgment must be regulated or guided by a principle, an idea that directs its inquiries by promising that for which it searches.16 Such regulative principles follow from Kant’s critique of metaphysical speculation in the Critique of Pure Reason. In this work, Kant argues that the varied attempts to attain knowledge in the realm of metaphysical speculation fail; we cannot transform our thoughts of the soul, the world, and God into objects of knowledge, and yet such ideas can continue to guide our thinking, regulating our inquiries in areas that evade determinate cognition.17 It is the third idea, the theological inquiry concerning the idea of God, that regulates reflective judgment, offering the regulative principle of the systematic unity of nature that guarantees the meaning that reflection pursues. Kant describes this principle as the “purposiveness [Zweckmäßigkeit]” of nature.18 The two species of reflective judgment discussed in the Critique of Judgment that depend on the principle of such purposiveness are teleological judgments of natural science, in which I reflectively judge the systematic unity of the causal laws of nature, and aesthetic judgments, in which I reflectively judge the pleasure of my contemplation to be that of the beautiful and not merely the pleasant; both rely on the presupposition of a purposive nature, which is to say the presupposition that a decipherable meaning is accessible for their reflective accomplishment.

Kant begins the Critique of Judgment with a prolonged discussion of aesthetic reflective judgment as, unlike teleological judgments, aesthetic judgments offer us no rule that could be raised as a theory. Teleological judgments, on the other hand, offer so great an accomplishment that their merely reflective accomplishments could easily be thought to be constitutive of nature. Aesthetic judgments remain subjective; they do not make cognitive claims at all, and so need critique not to avoid being drawn into dogmatic metaphysics but rather to avoid empiricist skepticism.19 These judgments that refer to a feeling, to the pleasure provoked by nature or art, can be distinguished from the merely subjective claims that are made about what is found to be “agreeable.” The judgment that something is beautiful abstracts from all personal interest, all desire for what would please me, claiming rather that the object that provokes my pleasure is itself beautiful; and yet such a reflection is unable to offer an explanation of the object that it so judges. In the Critique of Judgment Kant undertakes the task of investigating the way reflection works in the judgment of the beautiful so as to bring this explanation to the teleological reflection on nature, an area in which systematic theory is all too easily distinguished, and so the need to justify this surpassing of mechanistic explanation is often forgotten.

Arendt explains that such a reflective judgment of the beautiful describes the viewpoint of the spectator.20 It is not the activity of the actor who must distinguish her next move, but the deliberator who is able to question her feelings, and attempts to transform the subjectivity of pleasure into something closer to objectivity. Since what is being isolated, or reflected upon, is a feeling, and the question concerning it is not its quantity but its universality, the criteria of such truth cannot be something that is experimentally determined; rather, as Arendt explains, it is the universal “communicability [Mitteilbarkeit]” of the pleasure that offers the justification of its claim.21 What interests Kant (and Arendt) is what the communicability of the pleasure of aesthetic judgment tells us about such reflection. Kant explains that the communicability of a pleasure depends upon the ability (and willingness) to rid it of all subjective interest, and so raise a merely subjective reflection to a judgment that all could hold. What allows for the reflection on such pleasure is a power that Kant describes as a “common sense” or “sensus communis.”22 He explains that this shared sense is that which allows the subjective judgment of taste to be contrasted with the possible judgments of others, transforming the feeling of pleasure into that which is, if not universally valid, at least universally communicable.

Arendt argues that the “sensus communis” that Kant describes as harbored in a judgment of beauty, what she equates with a “community sense,” can be understood to describe intellectual capacities that allow for the participation in the public life of a community.23 In the Critique of Judgment Kant’s focus is on inferring the necessity of such a shared power, one that permits the examination, in an a priori manner, without that is to say the necessity of actual engagement, of the possible judgments of others, and in so doing brings merely subjective judgments closer to universality.24 In §41 of the Critique of Judgment, the section following that of the analysis of the “sensus communis,” Kant writes that to our disinterested appreciation of the beautiful there can be added an empirical interest. And this interest in the existence of that which is judged beautiful is one that engages us “only in society.”25 Kant explains that a person “abandoned on a desert island” would not decorate her home or body since such interest in the beautiful is only undertaken when there are others to appreciate it, because what it offers is the possibility of the communication of such pleasure with others.26 Such an empirical interest in the beautiful is derivative of the disinterested judgment of the beautiful that it follows. Kant goes on to explain that “… this interest, attached to the beautiful indirectly, through an inclination to society, and thus empirically, is of no importance for us here, for we must find that importance only in what may be related to the judgment of taste a priori….”27

In the following section Kant turns from a discussion of the empirical interest in the manner in which communities are constituted by reflective judgment, and towards the intellectual interest in the beautiful upon which this empirical interest is founded. By an intellectual interest Kant means the direct interest that is taken in the beautiful when judgment is purged of all empirical interests, including even that of wanting to communicate such a judgment to others.28 In taking into account merely the possible judgment of others in the judgment of the beautiful, the pleasure so distinguished is deemed intellectual rather than empirical and therefore is not dependent on an expectation of actually communicating such pleasure to others. And so, Kant explains that while a person would not decorate her home when cut off from all of humanity, the intellectual interest in the beautiful is exemplified by she who, even when alone, appreciates the beautiful in nature, and does so without any other motives, which is to say without even the motive of actual communication. While the empirical interest in the beautiful offers “the beginning of civilization,”29 it is the intellectual interest that elucidates what can be claimed in an a priori manner about aesthetic judgment and so is the proper topic of a critique of taste. The question then is: What does such a conception of the beautiful tell us about the a priori elements of the reflective judgment of taste? The answer has already been broached: The judgment of the beautiful is born of a reflection on the pleasure that nature permits. In order to explain how the beautiful can be distinguished from the merely pleasing when its reflection affords no laws, what must be claimed is that the judgment of the beautiful presupposes that nature is purposive.30 And such a presupposition that guarantees the judgment of the beautiful by guiding reflective judgment must itself refer beyond the empirical realm whose order it affords. What is referred to is the idea of “a will that has arranged it so in accordance with the representation of a rule.”31 Such a rule is not distinguished; purposiveness is claimed without an idea of what this purpose is. And yet this does not diminish the claim. The commitment to the purposiveness of nature is distinguished because without it the possibility of such reflection, which in this case means the judgment of the beautiful, can be neither “explained” nor “conceived.”32 Kant is arguing that judgments of the beautiful presuppose the purposiveness of that which they judge. Such a role for purposiveness in reflective judgment is clearly not an empirical claim regarding that for which reflection strives; rather, what is presupposed is the “mere form of purposiveness”33 as an a priori claim about the “principle [Prinzip]” that directs or regulates such reflection.

Arendt does not follow Kant to the rational presuppositions of aesthetic reflection, emphasizing instead the empirical project of deliberation that brings our judgment closer to the universality of the disinterested interest of the Kantian notion of beauty, while avoiding Kant’s own emphasis on the a priori claim to universality.34 In so doing she overlooks the role of the regulative principle, that of the purposiveness of nature, that Kant claims must be presupposed in order to explain such reflective accomplishment.35 While doing so, confining her analysis to the empirical activity of aesthetic judgment allows Arendt to offer a model for political deliberation born of the empirical interest in reflective judgment, from this perspective she is unable to explain the connection between aesthetic and teleological judgment in the Critique of Judgment.36 In what follows I will set aside the question of the merits of the conception of political judgment that Arendt puts forward, and focus merely on her relation to Kant’s work. With Arendt’s rejection of the importance of the regulative principle of purposiveness in her account of political judgment, and so too the conception of progress that it affords Kant, can her conception of judgment be called Kantian in any meaningful way?

2 Purposiveness and the antinomy of taste

The role of the principle of purposiveness in aesthetic judgment is most thoroughly investigated in the short Dialectic of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment in which Kant investigates the antinomy of taste.37 Kant explains that there is in fact no antinomy of taste. There is only an antinomy concerning theories of taste, and so properly an antinomy of the critique of taste. In developing this antinomy Kant raises contrasting claims that can be made about taste. On the one hand, it can be said that there is no way “to dispute [disputieren]” a judgment of taste; judgment cannot distinguish determinate concepts and so its claims cannot be justified.38 And yet even though there is no hope to offer such proof, to properly dispute the claims of another, I remain committed to my judgment of the beautiful: I continue “to argue [streiten]” about taste even without hope of conclusively disputing the judgment of others.39 The question for Kant is: What can explain my commitment to my judgments of the beautiful, to their correctness even without determinate concepts? The Antinomy of taste follows: The thesis claims that judgments of taste which cannot be disputed can thus not be based on concepts; while the antithesis states that if there were no concepts involved I would not even argue about them, I would deal with such claims as I do with that which merely pleases me, and accept that they are merely subjective. But I do argue, I do proclaim the validity of my judgment for others, and so there must be a concept of some sort involved in such judgment.40

Kant solves the antinomy by explaining that while no determinate concepts are possible concerning judgments of the beautiful, no concepts of the sort offered by the understanding, such judgments relate to an indeterminate concept, a concept of reason or the supersensible.41 Kant goes on to explain that this indeterminate concept, this idea of reason functioning as a regulative principle, is nothing other than “the subjective purposiveness of nature.”42 I can conceive of the judgment of the beautiful as worthy of argument even though I cannot conclusively dispute the claims of others, if I conceive of such judgments as depending on the purposiveness of nature. This is to say that my commitment to the reflective pleasure of the beautiful in nature implies a commitment to the idea that nature offers itself as a systematic unity, and so that my reflection promises a conclusive achievement even though none can be found. Such a principle follows from the critique of theological knowledge offered by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant argues that while knowledge of God as the systematic unity of nature remains unattainable, such an idea can still be used to offer direction in other inquiries as long as care is taken to avoid proclaiming knowledge of its metaphysical reality.43 Aesthetic judgment is one such area.44 I must presuppose that nature, in so far as I judge it beautiful, is purposive in order to justify my commitment to a judgment that evades all determinate cognition. Purposiveness is not uncovered empirically; rather, it is an idea of reason that is needed to explain the commitment to that which evades all cognition.

What is clear is that Kant’s point is that in order to defend the claim that there is such a thing as a judgment of the beautiful and that it differs from that of the merely pleasing, even though we can designate no law of its composition, we must presuppose a regulative principle that guides such reflection, guaranteeing the purposiveness of the object that affords the aesthetic pleasure, a pleasure that might otherwise be deemed arbitrary. While Arendt overlooks the role of such a regulative principle in Kant’s conception of aesthetic reflection, emphasizing instead its empirical accomplishment, her general claim that the discussion of aesthetic judgment offers a way to conceive of political judgment still holds. This connection can now be understood to mean that both depend upon the regulative principle that promises that the unity for which they search, and which is never fully achieved, is attainable. The capacity to reflectively liberate ourselves from our interests, and in so doing permit communication with others about that which otherwise is private and hidden, which Kant elucidates in relation to our judgment of the beautiful, demonstrates the skills that allow for political deliberation. Kant’s analysis of the underlying conditions of aesthetic judgment highlights the necessary conditions of political deliberation, and hence in the language of Kant’s third Critique a reflective judgment of the political.

3 Kantian political judgment

To raise such a conception of political judgment does not necessitate a transformation of Kantian morality as for Kant moral responsibility does not end with the negative criteria of the categorical imperative. In the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals Kant describes the need to be not only negatively but positively in “accordance [Übereinstimmung]” with the idea of humanity as “an end in itself.”45 To live up to the moral law I must positively strive to bring about rational results, and not merely avoid those actions that contradict them; and yet how to choose such actions, how to choose an action from amongst the variety of possible actions that all pass the test of the categorical imperative, is not described by Kant in his moral writings. All that Kant does explain is that I must so choose, and do so with the goal of bringing about positive results. This avoidance of the question of how to choose an appropriate way to positively benefit humanity does not mean that it matters not what action is chosen. What it means is that such deliberation does not fall within the territory of the categorical imperative.

In his well known essay “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784) Kant introduces the distinction between the public and the private uses of reason in a manner that helps to explain the relationship that binds Kant’s politics to his moral philosophy. Kant explains that the “public use [öffentliche Gebrauch]” of reason is the engagement with others in a common discourse (that of a scholar before the “literate world”). Kant distinguishes this public use of reason, which is essential for the pursuit of enlightenment, from the “private use [Privatgebrauch]” of reason; the latter concerns the manner in which I take up all sorts of civic commitments, holding my tongue while completing my responsibilities.46 The attempt to enlighten myself can withstand such a constraint as long as I am free to reason publicly when I am not working to fulfill such responsibilities. To reason publicly is to enter into the broad discussion of means and ends, the deliberation that allows for the rejection of custom and the pursuit of enlightenment. But of course there are limits on both sides. On the side of the private use of reason, there are certainly situations in which the intellectually passive mechanism of a civic position is no longer appropriate. If the position in which I am employed demands that the categorical imperative be broken, then this is too much to ask. The pastor, in Kant’s example, can disseminate the church’s teachings while she is in the role of church leader, while as a scholar continue to challenge its views, but she can do so, promote the church’s doctrines, only as long as it is possible that the truth lies hidden in them. If she is convinced that they are false, she needs to resign.

On the side of the public use of reason, the deliberation over the common good that makes up the political realm is free to investigate what it will; in fact, this is precisely how it offers the individual the possibility of enlightenment; and yet it too has some constraints. The end it strives for, the progress of its age, could be impeded by the results of its own political deliberation. Kant gives the example of a religious community that enshrines its doctrine as the law of the political body, denying any further development. Such a doctrine would be invalid, demanding the end to all further enlightenment and so forfeiting the authority that is bestowed on it due to the possibility of progress that it offers. Kant describes such a decision as a “crime against human nature.”47 In “What is Enlightenment?” Kant explains that the test of whether a law can be politically justified is “Can a people impose such a law on itself?”48 This is to ask whether a people can ever be conceived as willing to have the possibility of its intellectual development forever removed. Such a question appears to be a political formulation of the categorical imperative, asking whether the maxim of the political deliberation can be universalized. In a similar way, Kant’s “Toward Perpetual Peace” offers the “Transcendental formula of public right”: Actions regarding the rights of others are wrong “if their maxim is incompatible with publicity [Publicität].”49 The political act would fail such a test if the actor had to hide her activity, because in this way it would be clear that those affected would not have willed it for themselves.50 This political version of the categorical imperative retains the a priori status of the analysis: I check to make sure that my maxims could be stated publicly regardless of whether I actually do so. I might not make my maxims public, even though they could be so stated, either because I have no interest in doing so, or else because I have an interest in not doing so. On the one hand, I might decide that a maxim that could be publicly stated is of no interest to others so there is no reason to actually proclaim it; and on the other hand, such a universalizable maxim might be expected to have an adverse effect and so I decide not to proclaim it. Clearly the categorical imperative is not the tool to discern the results expected when making a public proclamation, nor can it help to decide whether others have any interest in my maxim at all. Further analysis will be needed in order to explain how such a decision is made beyond the initial test of the potential that a maxim has for being made public.51

What needs to be remembered is that this test, that of a categorical imperative of political judgment, like that of moral judgment, is merely a negative test that distinguishes those political judgments that would destroy the autonomy of the individual and so contradict the conditions of peaceful interaction. In “Toward Perpetual Peace” Kant writes that the “[p]rinciple is, moreover, only negative, that is, it serves only for conceiving by means of it what is not right towards others.”52 Such political versions of the categorical imperative describe our political action as constrained by the idea of universal law. What is offered is a litmus test for the rationality of our maxims, and while it seems true that political judgment benefits from this test, such a commitment does not in itself explain the deliberation that is at the heart of the Kantian conception of political judgment that Arendt has interpreted as a species of reflective judgment.

Even in the account of the relation of morality and politics offered by Kant in the Doctrine of Right division of the Metaphysics of Morals there is no more robust role for the moral imperative in the realm of politics. The negative role that the moral imperative plays, what Kant describes as a “veto,” that in the political case states that there must be no war, does distinguish the ultimate goal for which politics strives, but it offers no help with the question of how to get there.53 The relevant issue, as Kant goes on to explain, is not whether perpetual peace could ever be thought to exist, but how can I go about pursuing it. And yet there is only the positive injunction to strive for perpetual peace, and no criteria that could assist in choosing between competing alternatives. Such a political version of the categorical imperative with which, as Kant writes, “morally practical reason pronounces in us its irresistible [unwiderstehliches] veto,”54 cannot differentiate between better and worse ways to proceed politically. Kant explains that

… even if the complete realization of this objective [perpetual peace] always remains a pious wish [frommer Wunsch], still we are certainly not deceiving ourselves in adopting the maxim of working incessantly toward it.55

Kant does not here address how this “pious wish” can be conceived, that with which “we are certainly not deceiving ourselves,” but following Arendt such incessant work can be conceived as a political version of reflective judgment.

Arendt herself writes: “Kant does not believe that moral judgments, which is to say judgments according to the categorical imperative are the product of reflection and imagination, hence they are not judgments strictly speaking.”56 Claims born of the categorical imperative are not (strictly speaking) judgments. By this Arendt means that they are not judgments of reflection (nor for that matter are they determinate judgments); they do not search for a universal that corresponds to a group of particulars, as do aesthetic and teleological judgments. The negative test of the categorical imperative is not in Kant’s sense a reflective judgment, and neither is it a determinate judgment, those born of the a priori concepts of the understanding in which such a category is applied to a particular. The categorical imperative investigates the maxims of possible actions without in this way judging, either reflectively or determinately, anything about a particular. This is both the success and the frustration of Kantian morality: My reasoning is never brought to rest on a particular, which is to say I am offered no positive guide, no way to determine which of the variety of maxims that conform to the categorical imperative I should choose.

To attempt to investigate the Kantian conception of political deliberation in terms of such a categorical imperative of politics explains only how the potential action can avoid destroying the ground of action, the possibility of rational autonomy in the political sphere. Doing so does not explain how I then go about choosing between possible actions. Categorical imperatives, be they moral or what can now be described as political, offer but the negative test of action. In my moral life the choice between competing maxims, both of which pass the test of the categorical imperative, is beside the point; actions must be chosen whose maxims accord with the categorical imperative, beyond that the chosen action must attempt in some way, as Kant writes in the Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals, to “correspond” positively with the moral law, to not just avoid offending it but to work to bring it into existence; and yet the moral worth of the action has nothing to do with how well the action actually does bring about such a positive goal. The categorical imperative, the sole tool of Kantian morality, has nothing to say about the hypothesizing concerning such effects. But in my political life I need more than the political version of the categorical imperative that Kant offers and which Arendt claims is the overarching guide of Kantian political judgment. Arendt’s claim is that the moral idea offers political deliberation its goal, but this does not explain how Kant can be said to have defended political deliberation; for how do I choose between the variety of maxims, all of which conform to such categorical imperatives? And thus, why should I assume that in the public discourse of political deliberation I am actually bringing about the desired goals of enlightenment and perpetual peace rather than being deceived by my “pious wish”?

Kant concludes “Toward Perpetual Peace” by offering a curious further version of the “transcendental principle of public right,” one which he describes as affirmative rather than negative. Kant writes: “All maxims which need publicity (in order not to fail in their end) correspond with right and politics combined.”57 This characterization goes beyond that of the earlier negative test, in which a maxim that could not be expressed publicly cannot bring together morality and politics. Here Kant claims that a political maxim that needs public deliberation for its success necessarily combines morals and politics. And yet how am I to know that my political maxim requires publicity, that it is directed at an end that is “attainable only through publicity”58? Kant does not explain, leaving the elaboration of such a principle to another, apparently unrealized occasion. Kant does add that such a proof will be transcendental and not empirical, “having regard only for the form of universal lawfulness.”59 Arendt describes this “affirmative” principle as the “solution of ‘the conflict of politics with morality’” insofar as it offers a political principle drawn directly from Kantian morality.60 She explains that Kant’s moral law directs us to maxims that can be publicly declared. The categorical imperative offers just such a test of whether private maxims can be expressed publicly. And yet the categorical imperative does not refer to the necessity of such publicness, merely to its possibility, while Kant’s “affirmative” version of such an imperative claims that politics and morals correspond when action is governed by the necessity of publicness. Therefore, I can repeat the above question that Arendt overlooks: How can I determine in an a priori fashion that a maxim will fail if it is not publicly communicated?61

Kant offers a few lines at the end of “Toward Perpetual Peace” that hint at the direction of a solution. He explains that the task that the idea of perpetual peace designates is one of “approximation by unending progress,” and it is guided by hope. In this he reiterates his claim earlier in this essay that the “guarantee [Gewähr]” of the pursuit of perceptual peace is “nothing less than the great artist nature (nature the contriver of things [natura daedala rerum]) from whose mechanical course purposiveness shines forth visibly….”62 In designating the principle of purposiveness as the guarantor of progress towards perpetual peace Kant is describing the “transcendental principle of public right” as dependent upon the regulative principle of reflective judgment, and so validating the connection between his account of reflective judgment in the Critique of Judgment, with its dependence on the regulative principle of purposiveness, and political judgment. Arendt has connected Kant’s discussion of the need for the communicability of the pleasure of the beautiful to public deliberation in the political realm, and in this she appears to have pointed to a way to understand Kant’s claim at the end of “Toward Perpetual Peace” that maxims that require publicity for their success can in a positive sense be deemed to bring together morality and politics. But how could such a claim be proven, how could the empirical discussion of the political realm, however pleased I am with its accomplishments, ever prove that such accomplishments are only possible through such discourse?

The answer for Kant is that political judgment is defended not because of what it accomplishes, but because the deliberation that produces it, that in which I contemplate the possible rather than the actual positions of others, is a reflective act committed to the principle of purposiveness, which is to say to the systematic unity of nature. Politics and morals can be understood to correspond in an action whose maxim demands publicity, demands communicability. And this can be claimed because communicability, for Kant, depends upon the principle of the unity of nature without which, in the political sphere, we could have no hope that morals and politics would not collide. But what maxim demands communicability? The answer to which Arendt has brought us is that political judgment, the duty to pursue the conditions of enlightenment, to strive towards perpetual peace, is itself a maxim that demands communicability, which is to say demands publicness. And yet what should be clear is that while I have followed Arendt’s connection of aesthetic and political judgment I have done so by emphasizing precisely that aspect of reflective judgment that Arendt overlooks, that of the regulative principle of purposivenes that guides such judgment.

In pairing political reflection with Kant’s explicit discussion of the aesthetic reflection on the beautiful, Arendt can be seen to have offered us a route beyond her empirical interpretation of Kantian reflection, one that makes use of the transcendental inquiry and so does not merely point at the phenomena of the “sensus communis” but searches for the way that such an accomplishment can be understood within the critical system. It is the regulative principle of purposiveness that offers aesthetic reflection and thus political reflection its direction. And such direction can be conceived as offering progress because the reflection depends upon a regulative principle [Prinzip], on the idea of the systematic unity of nature, which is to say on the theological idea of reason taken not as an object to be cognized but merely as a regulative principle. In teleological reflective judgment such a promise guides the designation of the systematic unity of the mechanistic laws of nature. In aesthetic reflective judgment it promises the meaningful unity of that upon which I reflect. Now it can be seen that in political reflective judgment such a regulative principle offers the goal of the systematic unity of the political realm.

Without such a conception of the relation of morality and politics in the Kantian system the divide between them appears impassible; if my moral life is guided by the private attempt to bring universality to my maxims, while my social or political life is driven towards pragmatic accomplishment, then it would seem that the gap between the two, between myself as a moral actor, and myself as a member of a group and thus as a political deliberator, or spectator, would be unbridgeable. If it is now clear that for Kant political deliberation takes place in the territory marked out by the negative test of a political version of the categorical imperative, and that within this territory such reflective judgment is guided by the regulative principle of purposiveness, then a solution to the apparent contradictions of the political spectator and the moral actor becomes visible.

4 An antinomy of political judgment

To be sure, this is a solution of the sort that Kant offers for the variety of his antinomies (mechanism vs. feeedom; teleology vs. mechanism; etc.). Politics and morals collide. I praise the revolution that allows people to strive for their autonomy, I judge it as a demonstration of the possibility of their freedom, and that of humanity more generally; but at the same time as a moral actor I may judge that the particular means to bring about the revolution are immoral, and so I am glad that I am not called upon to act and so can remain in the position of an enthusiastic spectator. In The Conflict of the Faculties, in reference to the French Revolution, Kant writes (a quotation to which Arendt refers):63

The revolution of a gifted people which we have seen unfolding in our own day may succeed or miscarry; it may be filled with misery and atrocities to the point that a sensible man…would never resolve to make the experiment at such cost – this revolution, I say, nonetheless finds in the hearts of all spectators… a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm [Enthusiasmus], the very expression of which is fraught with danger; this sympathy, therefore, can have no other cause than a moral predisposition in the human race [eine moralische Anlage im Menschgeschlecht].64

I praise the revolution from afar, while recognizing that I may have been unwilling to participate in it.65 I praise it precisely because I see its goal as the development of the conditions in which moral life will flourish. It is a moral interest that leads me, as a spectator, as an onlooker, to praise that which, for the participants, raises the possibility of a decent into barbarism. Such sympathy is produced by the moral disposition, and it is also limited by it. I am enthusiastic about a society’s pursuit of autonomy and fearful of the moral costs for the individuals involved. These contradictory impulses in the response to political events are most clearly displayed when I am a participant in these events and so have to navigate between my moral and political concerns. What is at issue is not merely that I am both spectator and actor, as the example of the French Revolution brings out, but that I must be both at the same time or at least in relation to the same material conditions.

Such is the nature of the contradiction that could be called the antinomy of political judgment. Kant does not name the conflict of the actor with the spectator (of morality and politics) an antinomy, but it is deserving of the name. The conflict closely follows not only the pattern of the third antinomy of the Critique of Pure Reason, that which relates mechanism and freedom, but even more so that of the Antinomy of Teleological Judgment in the Critique of Judgment. In this Antinomy mechanism and teleology are shown to be compatible even though they are guided by seemingly contradictory principles. In mechanism I search for causes for the effects that I see, while in teleology I examine nature with the goal of explaining its systematic unity. Such a unity, that of the purposiveness of nature, is merely presupposed in my judgment, offering further conceptual systemization where no causal laws are to be found.66 So too, in what I have here termed an antinomy of political judgment, my moral reasoning is limited to that of the test of the categorical imperative. I do not know how to produce a moral universe, and yet I can and to be moral must strive towards acting in a way that positively corresponds with such a moral order. But how should I make such political decisions, how should I choose between the variety of possible actions that all pass the test of both the moral and the now titled political, categorical imperative? The answer that has here been raised is twofold: On the one hand, any political action must be limited by the moral law; on the other hand, such political deliberation is guided by the regulative principle of purposiveness, which is to say, by the systematic coherence of that which I judge. The antinomy of political judgment is resolved when it is seen that a Kantian politics is able to describe its regulative dependence on the idea of systematicity without contradicting the moral law.

Kant explains in “Toward Perceptual Peace” that there is “objectively (in theory) no conflict at all between morals and politics,” but “subjectively … such a conflict will remain.”67 I will continue to experience the conflict of the moral and the political, and such a conflict, in fact, will offer the benefit of keeping in check my willingness to make political compromises. Although both sides of the antinomy are shown to coexist, the side of morality takes precedence over that of the political as it limits what we are able to do in the name of bringing about “perpetual peace.” Such a prioritizing of one side of a Kantian antinomy over another follows the pattern of Kant’s antinomy of teleological judgment where the teleological inquiry into nature is shown to take place only after mechanistic inquiry has first proceeded.68

5 Conclusion: Kant, Arendt and political progress

Arendt looks only to one side of this unnamed antinomy, emphasizing the dependence of Kantian politics on morality but not the further dependence of political judgment on the regulative principle of purposiveness. Arendt explains in her essay “Truth and Politics,” that we “look upon politics from the perspective of truth.”69 Morality both curtails the excesses of political speculation, and offers the goal towards which it strives. As an example of an unchanging truth, Kantian morality is, for Arendt, as was quoted earlier, both “the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.”70 And yet what has been shown is that Kantian morality does not have the specificity to direct political deliberation. If it offers itself as the “sky,” as Arendt claims, if Kantian morality offers a truth that has a role to play in political deliberation, then it does so by offering itself as a goal without explaining how to proceed towards it. If it is the “sky,” it is a starless sky, and so does not allow for political orientation. In Kant’s terms the categorical imperative does not offer itself as an idea of reason and so cannot function as a regulative principle. It is but a test to determine the state of the will. The metaphysical idea of the systematic unity of nature, the idea corresponding to the theological idea investigated in the Transcendental Dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason, is what directs Kantian political deliberation.

Arendt’s “sky” metaphor should bring to mind Kant’s famous statement in the conclusion to the Critique of Practical Reason: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, … the starry sky above me and the moral law within me [der bestirnte Himmel über mir, und das moralische Gesetz in mir].”71 While Arendt would have the moral law play the role of both the sky, and the ground of our action, Kant is clearly distinguishing the moral law from the “starry sky.” The moral law begins, Kant writes, “from my invisible self” and offers universality and necessity, while the “starry sky” connects the place where we stand “with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems.” It is the latter, the “starry sky,” that is the pull of metaphysical ideas and which offers us, after their critique, the possibility of regulative principles that direct progress in our inquiries into aesthetics, teleological natural science, and, here we have added, political judgment.

Arendt is aware that her account of Kant’s political philosophy rejects the role of such metaphysical, regulative principles in reflective judgment. In her Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy she points out that Kantian reflective judgment is committed to the idea that progress is possible, that whether or not the systematic unity of the moral universe is attainable, our reasoned deliberation will draw us nearer.72 And such an assumption is not one that could ever be justified. I presuppose the possibility of progress towards the systematic unity of the political realm, an idea which remains beyond my reach. Arendt recognizes that Kantian reflective judgment (the general term for aesthetic, teleological and now with Arendt political judgment) depends upon the regulative principle of “purposiveness”; and yet she rejects it in the name of a political deliberation that makes use of only the negative criteria of the moral law. In this way, Arendt rejects the guiding principle of Kantian reflection for reasons both internal to Kant’s philosophical position and external to it. Internally, Arendt argues that the “idea of progress—if it is more than a change in circumstances and an improvement of the world—contradicts Kant’s notion of man’s dignity.”73 What should now be clear is that such an apparent contradiction is to be conceived as an antinomy of political judgment; the moral life, and the dignity it affords, can be understood to be consistent with the pursuit of political progress. In fact, without the regulative idea of progress I would not be able to explain how, beyond the defense of my moral dignity, I actually pursue political goals.

Arendt goes on to explain that apart from the consistency, or lack thereof, of Kant’s system, the idea of progress that it assumes is one that must be seen as questionable by contemporary readers. Arendt writes:

Well, we know today we can date the idea of progress, and that we know that men have always acted, i.e., long before this idea appeared.74

Arendt would have us excise this late growth of human history, the concept of progress, but retain Kant’s accomplishment and the conception of reflective judgment that it affords even without its regulative principle. But is this possible? Can Arendt pick and choose between Kant’s concepts and still claim that what is maintained is a version of a Kantian judgment of reflection?

The Kantian answer to such criticism is that while the analysis of the areas of regulative inquiry, aesthetics, teleological natural science, and now politics, thematizes “purposiveness” and so the “idea of progress,” such a thematization is but an explanation of a presupposition that has long been at work in the varied fields of human inquiry. Kant explains in the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason that without the regulative use of the ideas of reason we would have “no sufficient mark of empirical truth,”75 and so “no empirical concepts and hence no experience would be possible.”76 Kant is referring to both mechanism and teleology in such a claim; while the former, mechanism, is shown to depend upon the regulative pursuit of causal explanation, guided by the cosmological idea of reason, the latter, teleology, depends for its inquiry on the theological idea, the regulative principle that offers the purposiveness of nature.77 Without the idea of progress in these inquiries empirical truth could not be distinguished.

In regard to political judgment, Kant explains in his work “On the Common Saying: This May be True in Theory but it does not Apply in Practice,” contra Mendelssohn, that without the idea that humanity is progressing we would not have continued to analyze human events from the viewpoint of the spectator, the viewpoint of one who is not called upon to act; for we would have tired of watching the passage of human life and the organization of societies, if all that was expected was the endless repetition of human failure and there was no hope for improvement.78 Clearly, with Arendt, Kant recognizes that people acted prior to the conceptualization of this idea, but once their engagements with nature and their socio-political involvements led, respectively, to scientific theories and political or historical ruminations, they were thus expressing a commitment to the idea of progress, even if it remained essentially hidden. In both teleological natural science and the reflective judgment of politics, Kant’s claim is that the thematization of the regulative idea of progress comes after the varied uses of such an idea; and yet this does not argue against such a regulative principle. Rather, Kant is claiming that our investigation of human society with the idea of its betterment, like the investigation of nature with the idea of the systematic unity of causal laws, depends upon such a regulative principle. If I am not willing to reject such inquiries, and Kant assumes that I am not, then I must ask whether such commitments can be deemed consistent with the variety of my other concerns. Such an inquiry asks not is humanity progressing, but what is implied in the seemingly unavoidable assumption that it is? And further, how can such an idea of progress be deemed consistent with that of morality and mechanistic nature?

In this way it is certainly evident that the Kantian conception of reflective judgment presupposes the conception of progress with which it begins, as its inquiry must begin with a conception of reflective accomplishment, and so demonstrates the kind of circularity that Kant describes as the “special property [besondere Eigenschaft]” of transcendental inquiry.79 And it is also clear that this conception of progress with which critique begins has, as Arendt claims, a history80; but the same can be said for Kant’s conception of morality, beauty, space (Euclidean geometry), nature (Newtonian mechanism), etc. All of these areas have in fact been challenged in a like manner: They are criticized as being fatally marked by their histories, and so are said to be valid only for these historical presuppositions (i.e., the space of Euclidean geometry); and yet if one is to begin with Kant, as Arendt surely does, at least in her Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, accepting at the least his description of reflection and the “sensus communis” it requires, then what can be said in Kant’s defense is not that these areas of inquiry are self-evident, but that in the transcendental move Kant has developed a way to address a variety of human concerns in a consistent manner. If one wants to reject the Kantian notion of progress, that of the regulative principle of “purposiveness” that guides ever further inquiry and accomplishment in science, politics, etc., then not only, as I have shown, is one unable to avoid the conflict in the Kantian system between politics and morality, but, even more to the point, in rejecting Kant’s ahistorical use of concepts one has, it seems, rejected the Kantian project writ large.


  1. 1.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 244). Similar descriptions can be found in Arendt (1968b, pp. 219–220; 1982, p. 37; 2003a, p. 153).

  2. 2.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 235).

  3. 3.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 259).

  4. 4.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 246).

  5. 5.

    Hegel (1991, §135, pp. 162–163; v. 7, 252–254; the second, bracketed reference, in this and other footnotes, is to the original language text. See bibliography for details).

  6. 6.

    Arendt (1982).

  7. 7.

    In describing this realm that stands apart from the political, Arendt explains that it requires “non-commitment and impartiality, freedom from self-interest in thought and judgment” (Arendt 1968a, p. 262). She uses Kant’s categorical imperative as an example (Arendt 1968a, p. 244), as well as “Plato’s philosophical truth” (Arendt 1968a, p. 263), although her general emphasis is on factual truth (Arendt 1968a, p. 263). Amongst the “politically relevant functions” (Arendt 1968a, p. 262) that Arendt associates with truth insofar as it “stands outside the political realm” are those of the philosopher, scientist, artist, historian, judge, witness, and reporter (Arendt 1968a, pp. 259–260). Arendt explains that this emphasis on impartiality can be seen to precede even the philosophical tradition. She locates its sources in Homer who “chose to sing the deeds of the Trojans no less than those of the Achaeans, and to praise the glory of Hector, the foe and the defeated man, no less than the glory of Achilles, the hero of his kinfolk” (Arendt 1968a, pp. 262–263).

  8. 8.

    Arendt (1968a, pp. 263–264).

  9. 9.

    Arendt (1968a, pp. 244 and 241, respectively).

  10. 10.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 235). Arendt explains that religious truth has been deemed insignificant for the political realm by means of the “separation of church and state,” and the philosophical has long since ceased “to claim dominion” except in the case of the use of ideology in the twentieth century in which the philosophical search for truth has been abandoned. I will set aside the question of the accuracy of these claims, limiting myself to the theoretical claim concerning the relation of truth and politics insofar as it helps to elucidate the Kantian position.

  11. 11.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 260).

  12. 12.

    Ronald Beiner seems to miss the conclusion that Arendt draws, emphasizing her description of the historic conception of morality and politics as “two diametrically opposed ways of life” (Arendt 1968a, p. 232, quoted by Beiner 2008, p. 124), rather than her conclusion that morality, in setting limits to politics, offers “politically relevant functions [which] are performed from outside the political realm” (Arendt 1968a, p. 262).

  13. 13.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 264).

  14. 14.

    Robert Pippin asks a similar question (Pippin 2006, p. 423). He focuses on the specific case of the role of the state in not only protecting but designating the “boundary between me and others” (Pippin 2006, p. 436), a political necessity that cannot be distinguished by the moral law. While Pippin does not describe such political designations in terms of Kant’s conception of reflective judgment, as Arendt does and as I do in this paper, his account of the Kantian commitment to both the moral law and the state’s designations is in line with the account that I am offering (Pippin 2006, pp. 433–437).

  15. 15.

    Kant (2000, §31, p. 162; AA 5, 281); references to Kant’s works include the volume and the page of the Akademie-Ausgabe (AA). Following accepted practice, references to the Critique of Pure Reason will give the ‘A’ and ‘B’ pagination of the first and second editions (first edition AA 4, second edition AA 3).

  16. 16.

    See Kant (2000, First Introduction, section v, pp. 15–18; AA 20, 211–214) for a discussion of the difference between determinate and reflective judgment and the role of regulative principles in the latter.

  17. 17.

    In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant calls this the “hypothetical use of reason” (Kant 1998, A647/B675), while in the later Critique of Judgment he describes this as the “reflective power of judgment” (Kant 2000, section v, p. 15; AA 20, 211).

  18. 18.

    See Kant (2000, First Introduction, section v, p. 19; AA 20, 216). I will address this concept further in the coming pages.

  19. 19.

    Kant (2000, First Introduction, section x, p. 41; AA 20, 241).

  20. 20.

    Arendt (1982, p. 53).

  21. 21.

    Arendt (1982, p. 40).

  22. 22.

    Kant (2000, §40, pp. 173–176; AA 5, 293–296); for further discussion of Kant’s “sensus communis” see my paper Goldman (2004, pp. 208–210).

  23. 23.

    Arendt (1982, pp. 70–72).

  24. 24.

    Kant (2000, §40, pp. 173–174; AA 5, 293–294).

  25. 25.

    Kant (2000, §41, p. 176; AA 5, 296).

  26. 26.

    Kant (2000, §41, p. 177; AA 5, 297).

  27. 27.

    Kant (2000, §41 p. 177; AA 5, 297).

  28. 28.

    Kant (2000, pp. 178–179; AA 5, 298–299).

  29. 29.

    Kant (2000, §41, p. 177; AA 5, 297).

  30. 30.

    See the Third Moment of the Analytic of Aesthetic Judgment (§§10–12) where Kant investigates the a priori role that purposiveness plays. See also the First Introduction to the Critique of Judgment where purposiveness is introduced in section v in discussing the principle of all reflective judgment, or what he describes as “a special [eigentümlicher] concept of the reflective power of judgment” (Kant 2000, First Introduction, section v, p. 19; AA 20, 216); see also sections vi and x in the First Introduction, and sections v–viii in the originally published introduction). Below I will address the Antinomy of Taste (§§55–58) where Kant explains that the a priori claim of purposiveness is that of a principle [Prinzip] (§58). On the role of purposiveness as the regulative principle of reflective judgment see Mertens (1975, pp. 107–114).

  31. 31.

    Kant (2000, §10, p. 105; AA 5, 220).

  32. 32.


  33. 33.

    Kant (2000, §11, p. 106; AA 5, 221).

  34. 34.

    Arendt (1982, pp. 70–72). Arendt follows her discussion of Kant’s “sensus communis” with one of the empirical interest in the beautiful, in §41, without going on to address the intellectual interest in the beautiful in §42 that Kant raises as the focus of the inquiry into the a priori elements of taste (Arendt 1982, pp. 73–77). Lyotard describes Arendt as offering one of the “sociologizing and anthropologizing readings of aesthetic common sense” (Lyotard 1994, p. 18), and more pointedly as an example of an abusively sociologizing reading of Kant’s “sensus communis” (Lyotard 1993, p. 162). While it is true that Arendt describes such others whose positions aesthetic judgment takes into account as “potential,” and merely “anticipated” (Arendt 1968b, p. 220), she goes on to describe them as those “without whom it never has the opportunity to operate at all” (Arendt 1968b pp. 220, 221). This empirical emphasis is reiterated when she describes such a common sense as permitting us a reflective judgment whose validity will reach as far as the community of which my common sense makes me a member (Arendt 2003b, p. 140).

  35. 35.

    Arendt connects purposiveness only with the Kantian conception of teleological judgment and not with his aesthetic judgment (Arendt 1982, pp. 12–13). This should not be surprising because the expectation of progress that such a regulative principle promises is precisely what Arendt goes on to reject (Arendt 1982, p. 76; and see the discussion of progress in Kant in Sect. 5 of this paper).

  36. 36.

    Arendt writes about the Critique of Judgment: “The links between its two parts are weak, but such as they are—i.e., as they can be assumed to have existed in Kant’s own mind—they are more closely connected with the political than with anything in the other Critiques” (Arendt 1982, p. 13).

  37. 37.

    See the Critique of Judgment, §55–§58 for Kant’s Dialectic of Aesthetic Judgment. For further discussion of Kant’s antinomy of taste see my paper Goldman (2004, pp. 215–218).

  38. 38.

    Kant (2000, §56, p. 214; AA 5, 338).

  39. 39.


  40. 40.

    Kant (2000, §56, p. 215; AA 5, 338–339).

  41. 41.

    Kant (2000, §57, p. 215; AA 5, 339).

  42. 42.

    Kant (2000, §57, p. 216; AA 5, 340).

  43. 43.
    In the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic Kant explains the way that the theological idea can be seen to function after the critique of all possibility of knowledge. He writes:

    The third idea of pure reason, which contains a merely relative supposition of a being as the sole and all-sufficient cause of all cosmological series, is the rational concept of God…the idea of that being, like all speculative ideas, means nothing more than that reason bids us consider every connection in the world according to principles [Prinzipien] of a systematic unity, hence as if they had all arisen from one single, all-encompassing being, as supreme and all-sufficient cause (Kant 1998, A686/B714).

  44. 44.
    Another is teleological judgment. While both aesthetic and teleological judgment depend upon the regulative principle of purposiveness, Kant distinguishes the aesthetic power of judgment, as directed by subjective purposiveness, from the objective purposiveness of the teleological power of judgment in which the reflective judgment is made about an object rather than about a subjective state (Kant 2000, First Introduction, sect. xii, pp. 48-49; AA 20, 249–250). Kant writes that

    …all judgments about the purposiveness of nature, be they aesthetic or teleological, stand under principles a priori, and indeed such as belong especially and exclusively to the power of judgment, since they are merely reflective and not determinative judgments (Kant 2000, First Introduction, sect. x, p. 41; AA 20, 241).

  45. 45.

    Kant (1996b, pp. 80–81, translation altered; AA 4, 430).

  46. 46.

    Kant (1996f, pp. 18–19; AA 8, 36–38).

  47. 47.

    Kant (1996f, p. 20; AA 8, 39).

  48. 48.


  49. 49.

    Kant (1996e, pp. 347; AA 8, 381); see Arendt (1982, pp. 48–49).

  50. 50.

    Otfried Höffe connects Kant’s “transcendental formula of public right” in “Toward Perpetual Peace” to his later Doctrine of Right [Rechtslehre] in the Metaphysics of Morals as an unstated categorical imperative of law (Höffe 1989, p. 159).

  51. 51.

    Arendt describes maxims that fail such a politically oriented categorical imperative as transgressing the “original contract [ursprünglichen Vertrage]” (Kant 2000, §41, p. 177; AA 5, 297; quoted in Arendt 1982, p. 74) that binds us together in communities in which we expect others to judge with a view to taste. Arendt is referring to Kant’s discussion of the manner in which we discuss the beautiful in community with others, expecting that they too will not only share in the sensus communis but will also actively pursue such “universal communication,” “as if from an original contract dictated by humanity itself” (Kant 2000, §41, p. 177; AA 5, 297). Arendt formulates what she calls a “categorical imperative for action” based on this “contract or compact” (Arendt 1982, p. 75): “Always act on the maxim through which this original compact [contract] can be actualized into a general law.” Such a formulation would demand that we act in ways that permit ever further inter-action, and so promote “the greatest possible enlargement of the enlarged mentality (Arendt 1982, p. 74). And yet, in so doing, Arendt moves beyond Kant’s own claim that a maxim must admit of publicity, and embraces an imperative born of an interest in promoting this “contract.” As is discussed above Kant’s interest in society refers to an “empirical interest in the beautiful,” one which, he states, does not allow us to uncover anything that is “related to the judgment of taste a priori” (Kant 2000, §41, p. 177; AA 5, 297). Clearly an analysis of political deliberation will need to address interests as they relate to society but the categorical imperative would seem not to be the place for such an analysis, and so too the Critique of Judgment, with its emphasis on reflective judgment, even in its discussion of the intellectual interest in the beautiful (in §42), would seem not to be the place to locate the political version of the categorical imperative.

  52. 52.

    Kant (1996e, pp. 347–348; AA 8, 382).

  53. 53.

    Kant (1996c, p. 491; AA 6, 354–355).

  54. 54.


  55. 55.


  56. 56.

    Arendt (1982, p. 72).

  57. 57.

    Kant (1996e, p. 351, translation altered; AA 8, 386).

  58. 58.

    Kant (1996e, p. 351; AA 8, 386).

  59. 59.


  60. 60.

    Arendt (1982, p. 49).

  61. 61.

    Arendt retreats to the moral sphere, explaining that the moral law tests whether our private maxims can be expressed publicly and so marks “the coincidence of the private and the public” (Arendt 1982, p. 49). In so doing she misses what is offered in this positive version of the political, categorical imperative, for Kant’s claim goes beyond that of the negative test of the categorical imperative, arguing that the moral and the political come together not in the moral law, when what is shown is that a maxim could withstand publicity, but in the maxim that can only succeed when it is expressed publicly.

  62. 62.

    Kant (1996e, p. 331; AA 8, 360–361).

  63. 63.

    Arendt (1982, p. 45).

  64. 64.

    Kant (1963, p. 144; AA 7, 85).

  65. 65.

    For a discussion of revolution see Kant (1996c, pp. 465–466; AA 6, 321–323).

  66. 66.

    Kant (2000, §69–78, pp. 257–284; AA 5, 385–415); on the solution to this antinomy see Kerszberg (1997, p. 218); Nuzzo (2005, pp. 351–353); and Souriau (1926, pp. 114–116).

  67. 67.

    Kant (1996e, p. 346; AA 8, 379).

  68. 68.

    See Kant (2000, §70, pp. 258–260; AA 5 386–388).

  69. 69.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 259).

  70. 70.

    Arendt (1968a, p. 264).

  71. 71.

    Kant (1996a, p. 269, translation altered; AA 5, 161).

  72. 72.

    Arendt (1982, pp. 50–51).

  73. 73.

    Arendt (1982, p. 77).

  74. 74.

    Arendt (1982, pp. 50–51).

  75. 75.

    Kant (1998, A651/B679).

  76. 76.

    Kant (1998, A654/B682).

  77. 77.

    For Kant’s discussion of the role of the regulative principle of cosmology see Kant (1998, A508-515/B536-543).

  78. 78.

    Kant (1996d, pp. 305–306; AA 8, 308).

  79. 79.

    Kant (1998, A737/B765); Kant describes such a property of his philosophical analysis as that of a “perpetual circle [beständigen Zirkel]” (Kant 1998, B404/A346, translation altered). On this issue see Heidegger (1987, pp. 241–242; 187–188); Kerszberg (1997, p. 87); Baum (1979, pp. 12–13; and 1986, pp. 188–190); Piché (1995, p. 259); Sturma (1985, p. 41); Bubner (1974, pp. 15–27; and 1975, pp. 462–465); and my paper Goldman (2007, p. 416).

  80. 80.

    On this issue I have benefited from comments by Surti Singh on a related presentation.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDePaul UniversityChicagoUSA

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