What Morality Requires: Re-Reading Kant's Highest Good

Dissertation, Loyola University of Chicago (1996)

The issue of the highest good has divided Kant scholarship. This divisiveness is primarily a result of the shortcomings of the interpretations of the highest good. These interpretations fall short insofar as they interpret the highest good through its apparently isolated presentations throughout the Kantian project rather than fully appreciating the role of the highest good throughout the Kantian corpus. Instead of interpreting the highest good through its apparently isolated instances, I argue for a new way of approaching and interpreting the highest good. That is, through my interpretation of the highest good, I have sought to overcome the cacophony of conflicting interpretations and thereby offer a method toward quieting the din. In doing so, I examine the predominate interpretations of the highest good as: a unifier, moral ideal, individual end, and social end. I argue that traditional interpretations of the highest good wrongly assert that the highest good comprises one or more of these aspects alone. These traditional interpretations do not appreciate that the highest good encompasses all of these aspects. With this understanding of the highest good, for which I argue, we are left with an articulation of the highest good as the ethical commonwealth based on perpetual peace, which I demonstrate to be the consummate articulation of the highest good. In describing the ethical commonwealth based on perpetual peace as the consummate articulation of the highest good, a richer picture of the Kantian project appears. Kant no longer appears as a rigorous formalist with no concern for the human condition. Instead, Kant is shown to have great concern for the human condition insofar as his project includes a tripartite plan for the realization of the ethical commonwealth. In so doing, Kant demonstrates that his is no vacuous ethical theory, but rather one which thoroughly demonstrates both the results and requirements of morality
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