Kantian Journal

2017 Vol. 36. No. 2

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Family ethics and philosophy of love in Kant’s Lectures on Ethics



This article considers Kant’s deliberations on the essence and varieties of human love, based on the Lectures on Ethics. Kant distinguished between the love of benevolence (ethical love) — a commitment to the other’s wellbeing (discussed in Kant’s other ethical writings) — and a love of delight (aesthetical love), further divided into the sensual and intellectual love. The sensual love of delight is identified with sexual love. The intellectual love of delight eludes definition, since such delight is difficult to perceive. The collision between vital and moral love results in a need to examine under what conditions relations between the sexes are compatible with morality. Such an examination is taking the form of an ethical and legal deduction of matrimony. Kant’s proof of the moral unacceptability of concubinage given in the Lectures is based on the ethical (‘its purpose is merely that one party allows their person to the other for enjoyment’) rather than formal considerations (an allegedly unequal contract). The moral contradiction of mutual objectification and instrumentalisation of free persons in matrimony is on the surface of Kant’s deduction. The moral prohibition of instrumentalisation rules out family ethics and family law. However, the root of all evil is not solely this circumstance. A morally illegitimate union of concubinage is formed to attain the subjective ends of a hedonistic individual and it does not contradict the ends of the human race. Therefore, such a deduction (unlike that presented in the Metaphysics of Morals) has to make a transition from strategies to maxims. In effect, the deduction rests on the question as to which form of delight should lie at the foundation of a matrimony. The ethical problem is solved beyond the realm of ethics — a morally acceptable union of the sexes can be based only on aesthetic delight within the element of beauty.


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