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Susan Moller Okin and Empathy vs Reason in Justice

Okin makes a very interesting point when she criticizes John Rawls through Kant for neglecting empathy in determining morality and justice. “The Kantian connection, I suggest, made it extremely difficult for Rawls to acknowledge any role for empathy or benevolence in the formulation of his principles of justice, instead, impelled him in the direction of rational choice” (Okin 231). She sees the root of the problem as Kant’s division of love into the "benevolent" and "pathological", and his deprecation of the "pathological". Kant stated: “There are two sorts of love: practical love that lies in the will and in principles of action, and pathological love that lies in the direction the person’s feelings and tender sympathies take” (Kant 9). On this point Kant is weakest, because his compression of the range of human affections into these two categories feels forced. Not that there’s anything wrong with the categories as such, and logically his division does work. But it makes Kant appear heartless. Kant was doubtless familiar with Aristotle’s classification the types of love, but he appears to have wanted to condense it. In using these categories, Kant probably intended to include specific types of love, such as mother love, brotherly love, platonic love, as well as the many affections which are arguably gradations of love, but towards which the English word is too strong: the friendship of soldiers, colleagues, as well as non-self-interested charity (a Christian ideal). The last would qualify as practical love, the remainder as pathological love, under Kant. Okin picks just one, the mother-child bond, as being so wholly special as to break Kant’s categories entirely, and then uses it as the basis for invalidating Kant’s entire system. Kant would doubtless argue this is logically invalid. And logically invalid it may be, though this fact does not invalidate Okin’s argument either.

Kant, Immanual. "Groundwork for the Metaphic of Morals".  2006. PDF. Ed. Jonathan Bennett. (Nov. 2006). 20 Aug. 2007 <>.

Okin, Susan Moller. "Reason and Feeling in Thinking about Justice." Ethics 99.2 (1989): 229-49.

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