Kant on the Perfection of Others

Southern Journal of Philosophy 37 (1):25-41 (1999)
Kant claims that we have a duty to promote our own moral perfection, but not the moral perfection of others. I examine three types of argument for this asymmetry, as well as the implications of these arguments--and their success or failure--for Kantian theory. The arguments I consider say that (first) to promote others’ perfection is impossible; (second) to try to promote others’ perfection is impermissible; and (third) one cannot be obligated to promote both others’ perfection and one’s own. I argue that none of these arguments establishes Kant’s conclusion. Since the formula of humanity grounds a duty to promote our own perfection out of respect for our rational nature, the absence of an argument denying that we must promote others’ perfection suggests that we must do so (out of respect for their rational nature). Even so, Kant’s theory discourages moral paternalism and takes perfection to be a primarily self-regarding project. Thus, I also show that a Kantian duty to promote the moral perfection of others would be unobjectionable, despite the problems such a duty might initially seem to invite.
Keywords Kantian ethics  duties to others  perfection  self-other asymmetry
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