nav-left cat-right

Kant, Okin, and Universals

Considering Kant’s morality brings up the question of what is universal, and the implications that result from whether something is or isn’t universal. Kant was strongly oriented towards the universal, and in his Groundwork for the Metaphic of Morals sought to establish a universal principle. Susan Moller Okin claims he has invalidated himself (see my last two postings), ostensibly by the neglect of one factor she feels is highly important. But has he? Kant claims his morals can be applied by “all rational beings as such”. Okin objects that Kant didn’t include women in that category. That is a strike against Kant, but not necessarily his theory. Should we expand the circle of rational beings to include women, Kant would maintain that his theory applies just as well to the expanded circle as to the smaller circle he had imagined for it. This strikes me as similar to the issue of the universalist principles of the U.S. Constitution and how they were narrowly applied initially. The fact that “all men are created equal” in practice excluded not only all women but also a great number of men was a human failure of those alive at the time, and not an automatic failure of the principles that they articulated. The solution was to include the excluded in the circle of those who were treated equal, not throw out the entire principle. Getting back to Kant, a framework of morality that includes “all rational beings as such” can easily include women. I realize Okin made a substantial number of additional points, and her argument doesn’t rest on this one alone. But it is something worth considering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *