Murder and Violence in Kantian Ethics

In Violetta L. Waibel, Margit Ruffing & David Wagner (eds.), Natur Und Freiheit. Akten des Xii. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses. De Gruyter. pp. 2257-2264 (2018)
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Acts of violence and murder have historically proved difficult to accommodate in standard accounts of the formula of universal law (FUL) version of Kant’s Categorical Imperative (CI). In “Murder and Mayhem,” Barbara Herman offers a distinctive account of the status of these acts that is intended to be appropriately didactic in comparison to accounts like the practical contradiction model. I argue that while Herman’s account is a promising one, the distinction she makes between coercive and non-coercive violence and her response to concerns with the classification of the latter as imperfect duties raise significant questions about the status of some duties. I suggest that we look, instead, to Kant’s treatment of suicide in The Metaphysics of Morals for an account of norms of non-violence and, in particular, to the connection between this duty and concerns with inner freedom and moral health. I argue that we can use this account to inform our general understanding of duties prohibiting killing and violence, and that the resulting account is a promising one.


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