Kant's Moral Constructivism and his Conception of Legislation

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Some hold that Kant’s conception of autonomy requires the rejection of moral realism in favor of "moral constructivism." However, commentary on a little noticed passage in the Metaphysics of Morals (with the assistance of Kant’s Lectures and Reflexionen) reveals that the conception of legislation at the core of Kant’s conception of autonomy represents a decidedly anti-constructivist strand in his moral philosophy.

I. Summary: the Meaning of "Kant's Moral Constructivism"

A. John Rawls

In A Theory of Justice, although Rawls's method of generating principles of justice from a choice in the Original Position is described as "constructive", in the sense of "helpful to settle disputes", the idea of "constructivism" is hardly present. Constructivism, in the sense that interests us here, first plays a major role in Rawls's 1980 Dewey Lectures, "Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory", where Rawls clarifies his own project as a limited programme in political theory, not in moral philosophy in general, a programme he has also described as something "political, not metaphysical". (2) There Rawls proposes a procedure of construction that connects a particular conception of the person with first principles of justice. In his article "Themes" Rawls emphasizes a similar idea in his interpretation of Kant moral philosophy, leading him to speak of what he calls "Kant's moral constructivism".

In "Themes" Rawls begins with an outline of the "CI-Procedure" (where CI is an abbreviation for "categorical imperative"), which he sees as something given or laid out, based on the conception of free and equal persons as "reasonable" and "rational". The procedure specifies the first principles of right and justice, and through the procedure the...

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...or" of the moral law. KGS IV, 431.

(28) "Würde man unter dem Legislator einen autorem legis verstehen, so würde dieses bloß statutarische Gesetze betreffen. Gesetzen aber, die aus der Natur der Sache durch die Vernunft erkannt werden, wenn man denen einen auctorem beilegt, so kann er nur autor der Verbindlichkeit sein, die im Gesetz enthalten ist. ... unter dem autore eines natürlichen Gesetzes nur der Urheber der Verbindlichkeit nach dem Imperativ des Gesetzes gedacht werden kann...""Metaphysik der Sitten Vigilantius", KGS XXVII, 544-45.

(29) "...sind nicht positive Gesetze." "Moral Mrongovius II", KGS XXIX, 634.

(30) My thanks to Profs. Otfried Höffe, Karl Ameriks, David Solomon, and audiences at the University of Tübingen and the 1998 APA Pacific Division Meetings and my commentator there, Mark LeBar, for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.
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