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It seems to me that if everyone refused to say when a monogamous relationship was over, refused to tell someone of their affairs, and so on, then no monogamous relationships could exist. If relationships of these sorts were never obeyed, or clarified, they would not exist, right? Even if they could exist as one off events in someone's life, they could not last, and it's difficult to conceive of -- not just will -- monogamy never existing twice in anyone's life.

Have I misunderstand the universalizing principle there, or is there a perfect categorical imperative here, according to Kant's system. Is it just an imperfect duty?

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'It seems to me that if everyone refused to say when a monogamous relationship was over, refused to tell someone of their affairs, and so on, then no monogamous relationships could exist.'

I don't see that the conclusion follows, because it takes no account of monogamous relationships that persist and are not over.

'If relationships of these sorts were never obeyed, or clarified, they would not exist, right?'

I am not sure what work 'or clarified' is doing but if the requirements (whatever they are) of a monogamous relationship were 'never obeyed' then the relationship might continue to have a legal or formal existence but would not actually be practised. In this sense it would not exist.

'Even if they could exist as one off events in someone's life, they could not last, and it's difficult to conceive of -- not just will -- monogamy never existing twice in anyone's life.'

Uncertainty again: is this is meant to follow logically from your previous statements or is offered independently of them?

Let's start from Kantian basics. Does he privilege monogamy? Yes, quite clearly he does in The Metaphysics of Morals (1797):

The relation of partners in a marriage is a relation of equality of possession, equality both in their possession of each other as persons (hence only in monogamy, since in polygamy the person who surrenders herself gains only a part of the man who gets her completely, and therefore makes herself into a mere thing), and also equality in their possession of material goods. (Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, §26, tr. M. Gregor, Cambridge: CUP, 2017, 68-9.)

How does this relate to Kantian ethics? Kant's argument (and his response to your question) is roughly as follows. It is in and only in a monogamous relationship that each person surrenders her/ his-self completely to the other. Each allows the other to own their person: X owns Y's person and Y owns X's person. From this perspective, neither will lose their own person and become a mere thing (something to be used as a mere means). Only so can the formula of humanity be respected in sexual relationships.

This seems a strange argument. How does X own and not lose their own person by owning Y's person and Y's owning X's person? How can I own myself and be the property of another?

Kant's response, or at part of it, seems to given at §25. In mongamy (which he clearly has in mind in view of §26):

one person is acquired by the other as if it were a thing, the one who is acquired acquires the other in return (Gregor: 68).

How to justify the 'as if'?

Kant adds:

That this right against a person is also akin to a right to a thing rests on the fact that if one of the partners in a marriage has left or given itself into someone else's possession, the other partner is justified, always and without question, in bringing its partner back under its control, just as it is justified in retrieving a thing. (Gregor: 68.)

But if X brings Y back under X's control (this relates to infidelity in your question), we are still in the paradoxical situation in which X owns and does not lose their own person because X owns Y's person and Y's owns X's person and the question remains (to repeat): How can I own myself and be the property of another?

My suggestion is that you are right to raise questions about what one might term the moral logic of Kant's account of monogamy but that the real problems about that logic are located elsewhere.

References

I. Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. M. Gregor, Cambridge: CUP, 2017.

L. Pakadaki, 'Kantian Marriage and Beyond: Why It Is Worth Thinking about Kant on Marriage', Hypatia , SPRING 2010, Vol. 25, No. 2 (SPRING 2010): 276-294.

C. Korsgaard, 'Creating the kingdom of ends: Reciprocity and responsibility in personal relations', Creating the kingdom of ends. Cambridge: CUP, 1996: 188-221.

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  • hi geoffery "the relationship might continue to have a legal or formal existence" but the same goes for property and theft, which fails the universalization test – user46524 Jun 25 at 18:07
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    Hi unidentified. I do not need the clause you cite, so have deleted it. And you still have not said what you mean by 'or clarified'. Do you need it? I I have tried to give a clear account, textually based, of Kant's argument for mongamy. Kant relies on the principle of humanity - of not using another as an end or mere object which in his view monogamy alone satisfies in sexual relationships. I have suggested a difficulty here, namely that Kant's 'each owning the other' formula is paradoxical. I'm not sure I can do any more. – Geoffrey Thomas Jun 25 at 20:18
  • only the universalization test? – user46524 Jun 25 at 20:56
  • unidentified. '... only the universalization test?' Could you clarify? I'm quite willing to engage but am missing your point - my fault. Best - Geoff – Geoffrey Thomas Jun 25 at 22:06
  • i mean, is infidelity and or a lack of clarity about infidelity, something that we can or can't universalize? – user46524 Jun 25 at 23:21
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I'm not a Kant scholar, but he clearly had a strong position in favor of monogamous marriage and against sexual license, which doesn't leave much room to justify infidelity. Here's a textbook chapter which explains:

He objects to casual sex (by which he means sex outside of marriage), however consensual, on the grounds that it is degrading and objectifying to both partners. Casual sex is objectionable, he thinks, because it is all about the satisfaction of sexual desire, not about respect for the humanity of one’s partner. Even when casual sex involves the mutual satisfaction of the partners, “each of them dishonours the human nature of the other. They make of humanity an instrument for the satisfaction of their lusts and inclinations.” [...] In stark contrast to libertarian notions of self-possession, Kant insists that we do not own ourselves. The moral requirement that we treat persons as ends rather than as mere means limits the way we may treat our bodies and ourselves.

For a deeper and more critical look, you might want to check out the article "Kantian Marriage and Beyond: Why It Is Worth Thinking about Kant on Marriage" by Lina Papadaki.

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