The Public Use of Reason in Kant's Political Philosophy

Dissertation, Boston College (1996)
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Abstract

This dissertation is a study of Kant's advocacy of an active political role for reason and his corresponding defense of freedom in its public use. The central finding of Kant's critique of reason--namely, that reason is a practical, rather than theoretical faculty--justifies and even requires that philosophy turn its attention to practice and attempt to take a leading role in morals and politics. Moreover, it does so in a way that subordinates orientation by such natural ends as happiness, advantage, or interest to the rule of inviolable and universally applicable principles of duty and justice. The boldness of Kant's claims for the practical employment of reason is matched by a sobering awareness of its limits. His defense of freedom in the public use of reason and the philosophic rhetoric that corresponds to that freedom are essentially attempts to respond to those limits in a way that sustains philosophy's claim to authority in the face of them. ;Chapter One examines Kant's account of the scope, limits and purpose of reason in the Critique of Pure Reason in order to illuminate the foundations of his account of its use in politics. Chapter Two looks to the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals for his account of philosophy's moral employment. Chapter Three turns to three of Kant's most explicitly political works--Theory and Practice, Perpetual Peace and The Doctrine of Right--to clarify his understanding of reason's political status. Finally, Chapter Four looks to What is Enlightenment? and The Conflict of the Faculties, focusing on his advocacy and practice of a philosophic rhetoric as the means by which reason can advance critical standards for moral and political life that might never be fully rational

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