Disagreement, Unilateral Judgment, and Kant’s Argument for Rule by Law

Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 20 (3):285-309 (2021)
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Kant argues that it is only as citizens of a properly constituted state that persons are able to respect one another’s innate right to freedom, for joint subjection to the authority of a state enables them to avoid what Kantians call “the problem of unilateralism”: when I interact with you in a state of nature according to my judgment of right in circumstances of disagreement between us, I implicitly claim that my judgment, and not yours, has authority over us simply because it is mine. But this argument seems vulnerable to a powerful objection: my reason for acting on my judgment of right is not that it is mine but rather that it is, as I believe, correct, and so there is no sense in which I am claiming special authority for that judgment. This paper defends the Kantian problem of unilateralism against this objection and, in so doing, illuminates the feature of the Kantian conception of right that accounts for why, no matter how good and right-loving they might be, persons in a state of nature about right are unable coherently to pursue the aim of acting rightly.

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Daniel Koltonski
University of Delaware


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