On Dealing with Kant's Sexism and Racism

SGIR Review 2 (2):3-22 (2019)
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Kant is famous for his universalist moral theory, which emphasizes human dignity, equality, and autonomy. Yet he also defended sexist and (until late in his life) racist views. In this essay, I address the question of how current readers of Kant should deal with Kant’s sexism and racism. I first provide a brief description of Kant’s views on sexual and racial hierarchies, and of the way they intersect. I then turn to the question of whether we should set aside Kant’s sexism and racism or ‘translate’ his egalitarian principles into inegalitarian ones. I argue for a third position, namely, that we should highlight the tensions that pervade Kant’s theory. In the final section, I argue that the use of inclusive language and female pronouns in recent discussions of Kant’s moral and political philosophy carries significant risks. I end by articulating several preconditions for fruitfully using Kant’s moral principles to criticize sexism and racism.

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Pauline Kleingeld
University of Groningen


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