Kant's utopian categorical imperative

The motivation of this paper is to contribute to the project of finding new ways to use "utopia" in philosophy again. Since philosophers as well as poets can look to their forbears for inspiration in re-inventing terms, it would be nice if those of us trying to rehabilitate the term could lean a bit on our own disciplinary heavies, especially in the current climate of philosophical skepticism, even cynicism, about the very idea of utopia. My contribution to that task here will be to present a vision of utopian commitment that I see taking shape in the interface between Kant's ethics and aesthetics. This vision is broadly speaking a moral one, insofar as it describe the barriers to, but also the necessary conditions of, human motivation to strive for the creation of a just society in the real world. But turning to Kant's ethics as a model for a theory of utopia requires some explanation. After all, his moral theory, when it takes into account the really existing conditions of human existence, appears to do so only to dismiss them as obstacles or diversions in the path of correct moral judgment. When he discusses human community, it is often to dismiss it as driven by self-interest and and an "each against all" struggle that can be responsibly regulated but never eliminated. At best this "unsocial sociability" might be evidence for a hypothetical natural purpose: human strife and misery is a mechanical force driving the progress of our talents and capacities in the long evolutionary run.1 But this is hardly a utopian vision in the sense in which we would wish to see a well-regulated society be..
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