A Reconciliation of Kant's Views on Revolution

Interpretation 32 (2):151-169 (2005)
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Kant's views on revolution are notoriously paradoxical: on the one hand he appears to condemn all instances of revolution, but on the other he expresses enthusiasm for the French Revolution and other revolutionary acts. I argue that we can reconcile Kant’s views on revolution by examining instances when an individual is under a moral obligation to revolt. First, I show how Kant reconciles his position on the French Revolution with his position on revolution in general. His answer, however, raises additional questions involving revolution in relation to his overall philosophical theory. Next, I present what is generally understood to be Kant’s philosophy on revolution, and Christine Korsgaard’s analysis using this traditional understanding to reconcile his seemingly contradictory views. After critiquing her position, I present my own analysis of Kant’s philosophy, and show how this apparent paradox can be resolved by examining an individual’s overriding moral obligation to leave the state of nature and establish civil society.

Author's Profile

Chris W. Surprenant
University of New Orleans


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