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What Nature Makes of Her: Kant's Gendered Metaphysics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 March 2020

Abstract

Women's exclusion from political enfranchisement in Kant's political writings has frequently been noted in the literature, and yet has not been closely scrutinized. More often than not, commentators suggest that this reflects little more than Kant's sharing in the prejudices of his era. This paper argues that, for Kant, women's civil incapacities stem from defects relating to their capacities as moral agents, and more specifically, to his teleological account of the conditions within which we, as imperfect beings, develop our moral capacities. Women are not incidentally or tangentially excluded from the boundaries of political and moral agency, but rather must adopt an explicitly nonmoral character if we are to understand humanity as moving toward its naturally given, moral ends. I argue (1) that Kant's teleological view of human development requires women to develop an explicitly nonmoral character; (2) that this teleology is inextricable from his view of the moral agency that human—and not merely rational—beings are capable of; and (3) that taken together, these suggest that women's subordinate status is internally connected to Kant's view of moral personhood.

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Copyright © 2013 by Hypatia, Inc.

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Footnotes

The author would like to thank Kiran Banerjee, Lisa Ellis, Alex Livingston, Chris Meckstroth, and the journal's two anonymous referees for their very helpful comments and suggestions.

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