While reading an excerpt of Kant's Metaphysique of morals I was shocked by the conclusion drawn from it.

Resistance that counteracts the hinderig of an effect promotes this effect and is consistent with it. Now whatever is wrong is a hindrance to freedom in accordance with universal laws. But coercion is a hindrance or resistance to freedom. Therefore, if a certain use of freedom is itself a hindrance to freedom in accordance with universal laws (i.e., wrong), coercion that is opposed to this (as a _hindering_ of a _hindrance_ to _freedom_) is consistent with freedom in accordance with universal laws, that is, it is right. Hence there is connected with right by the principle of contradiction an authoriization to coerce someone who infringes upon it.

Kant, 'Introduction to the Doctrine of Right, §D', The Metaphysics of Morals, rev. ed., tr. Mary Gregor, Cambridge: CUP, 2017: 28.

It seems that the problem is, for Kant, to know what legitimizes resistance to the use of my freedom? For Kant it is the same principle of resistance to this resistance, using the same law.

So I deduce that Kant by the negation of the principle of authority in the social organization and the refusal of any constraint stemming from the institutions based on this principle. This is justified by the fact that resistance to resistance is justified by the same law.

I deduce that Kant is an anarchist or libertarian.

Where did I go wrong?

  • 3
    All he is saying is that in order to protect freedom one must resist any use of freedom that would become an obstacle to freedom proper. I don't see any direct correlation there with either anarchy or political libertarianism.
    – Bread
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 13:35
  • @Bread Haa, I concluded after reading it that if we had to resist to someone using freedom because both share the same law. So I deduced that Kant stood for a negation of any authority as far as every use to resistance for freedom was legitimated by the same law that allows anybody to use his own. Then all resistances are equally legitimated. As a result I was able to conclude that Kant stood against any authority and that Kant was an anarchist/libertarian. So I think I made a misconception but I do not see why this interpretation would be bad regarding the text. Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 13:55
  • I wouldn't know, but apparently libertarians seem to think so: libertarianism.org/publications/essays/… Libertarianism demands that a general policy of "laissez faire" be imposed upon government. johnhospers.com/Articles/GuestEds/…
    – Bread
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 14:26
  • @Bread Interesting, would a consequence of the injonction that one must resist any use of freedom that would become an obstacle to freedom proper be a general policy of "laissez faire" be imposed upon government? Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 14:41
  • Judging from what I've observed about laissez faire governments, no.
    – Bread
    Commented Mar 10, 2019 at 14:43

1 Answer 1


The problem Kant tries to solve here is, according to me : What makes legitimate (rationally founded) the legal or juridical constraint?

To understand the problem, let's recall that Kant distinguishes legal ou juridical obligation ( obligation with an external constraint) and ethical ( purely moral) obligation ( where there can be no external constraint, since an ethical act made by constraint looses all moral/ethical value).

Kant faces a kind of paradox : (1) the first principle of a legal system is freedom ( " always use your freedom in a way that is compatible with the freedom of everyone else, according to a universal law") (2) and, at the same time, juridical law is associated with a constraint, an external " necessitation" which, apparently, is the contrary of freedom.

The solution Kant comes up with lies in an application of the principle of non-contradiction to the practical problem he is considering :

(1) what is NOT UNJUST is JUST

(2) the legal constraint that IS OPPOSED to INJUSTICE ( i.e unfair use of freedom) is JUST; it protects the freedom of everyone since it opposes the inconsistent use some people ( unjust people) make of their freedom.

So, the legal constraint (exerted by the political authority, of course) is not illegitimate: the State has a right ( and even an obligation) to compel citizens, considered here as " subjects" , to obey (juridical) laws.

Conclusion : here, we are far from anarchy.

Remark - Although it is mistaken to say that Kant has anarchist tendencies, he is surely a liberal thinker. In Theory and Practice, he says that the first principle on which rests a legitimate Constitution is " the freedom of everyone in one's private life" ( the State should let anyone seek his own happiness according to one's own conception of life, provided one uses his freedom in a way that is compatible with the freedom of everyone). In other words, in rawlsian terms, one might say that the State is concerned with Justice alone, the Good is not within the scope of its authority.

  • Many thanks ! Can you add excerpt or at least references ? Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 19:43
  • Je suppose que tu parles français puisque tu traduis Philonenko. Je pense qu'en ce que la meilleure référence reste : Victor Delbos, La philosophie pratique de Kant ( accessible sur Archive.org). Tu y trouveras un résumé clair et précis de la Métaphysique des moeurs ( et plus précisément de la Doctrine du droit). En anglais, il y a Paul Guyer, Kant ( Routledge Philosophers) .
    – user37859
    Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 21:01

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