Has Kant Committed the Fallacy of Circularity in Foundations III?

The third section of the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals presents a particularly acute interpretative problem that has perplexed generations of Kant commentators. Having devoted the two preceding sections of the work to identifying the supreme principle of morality, Kant, in this section, turns to the task of justifying the principle for rational yet sensually affected beings like humans. However, in the middle of this famous “deduction,” he suddenly confesses that “there is a hidden circle” from which “there is no escape.” Kant’s abrupt confession of the circle leaves the reader deeply puzzled, partly because Kant has so confidently presented his arguments for our subjection to the constraints of the supreme principle of morality up to that point, and partly because no clues are readily apparent as to what the mistake in the arguments might be. Where is the circle located? In this paper I tackle Kant’s problem of the hidden circle in the Foundations. In particular, I will identify and critically discuss three influential interpretations of the fallacy of circularity and offer an alternative reading of Kant’s way out of the problem
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DOI 10.5840/jpr_2002_10
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