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Kant's Liberalism: A Reply to Rolf George

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2010

Leslie Green
York University


In his thoughtful paper, “The Liberal Tradition, Kant, and the Pox”, Rolf George joins the venerable argument about whether Kant should be accounted friend or foe of liberals. But this is not just a rehearsal of the debate over the compatibility of the Old Jacobin's defense of civil liberties and government by consent with his notoriously unpleasant doctrines of the absolute duty to obey the law or his ruthlessly retributive view of punishment. George advances the debate by suggesting that elements of Kant's moral theory are deeply incompatible with liberalism. And this is particularly striking when liberals like John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin and Robert Nozick are quick to invoke Kant's name in defense of their own views. The attraction of Kant for these modern (and American) liberals is clear, for they hold individualistic moral theories and they reject utilitarianism. But, if George is right, there are aspects of Kant's thought which make him an unsuitable mascot.

Copyright © Canadian Philosophical Association 1988

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