Kantian Journal

2017 Vol. 36. No. 2

Back to the list Download an article

Kant on the rights of citizens in matters of religion: The concept of religious tolerance in the German Enlightenment



The universal public law is a section of Kant’s lectures on natural right, which he delivered in 1784. A traditional part of the then natural right compendia, it might seem strange to us today. Kant distinguished between three branches of government. However, they were not identical in the name or function to the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Of interest is the justification of the exclusion of certain powers from the monarch’s authority — the monarch must not dispense justice or rule in a way that is demeaning to his or her greatness. Moreover, the section covers the problem of the rights and obligations of the monarch and his or her subjects in religious matters. This problem was crucial to the Enlightenment. Kant’s deliberations on the issue include a long prehistory of formulating the concept of religious tolerance and modelling relations between the state and different confessions, based on the rules of natural law, which date back to the early Enlightenment. For the first time, it was discussed at length by Christian Thomasius, whose endeavours marked the beginning of the Enlightenment in Germany. Moreover, a number of important aspects relate Thomasius’s early Enlightenment ideas and Kant’s late Enlightenment concept. Firstly, this is the perspective on the role of the monarch in regulating interactions between different confessions. Thus, both thinkers stressed that the secular ruler had to pay heed only to the worldly happiness and wellbeing of his or her subjects. The major criterion for resolving theological disputes must be nothing else than upholding peace and order in the state. This article is supplemented with a translation of a section of Kant’s lectures on national law.


1. Kant, I. 2016, Lekzii o filosofskom uchenii o religii [Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion], trans. into Russian by L. E. Kryshtop, Moscow. (in Russian)
2. Kant, I. 1994, Otvjet na vopros: Chto takoje prosvjeshchenije [An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?], in: Kant, I. 1994, Sobranije sochinenij v 8 tt. [Writings in 8 vol.], ed. by A. V. Gulyga, vol. 8, Moscow, p. 29—37. (In Russian)
3. Achenwall, G. 1781, Juris naturalis pars posterior, Göttingen.
4. Bernard, F., M. 1971, The „Practical Philosophy“ of Christian Thomasius, in: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 2 (32), p. 221—246.
5. Bordoni, G., S. 2016, Note al Testo, Kant I. Lezioni sul Diritto Naturale (Naturrecht Feyerabend), a cura di N. Hinske, G. S. Bordoni. Milano, p. 233—282.
6. Ciafardone, R. 1990, Einleitung, in: Die Philosophie der deutschen Aufklärung. Texte und Darstellung, hrsg. von R. Ciafardone, Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam. S. 11—38.
7. Dreitzel, H. 1997, Christliche Aufklärung durch fürstlichen Absolutismus. Thomasius und die Destruktion des frühneuzeitlichen Konfessionsstaates, in: Christian Thomasius (1655—1728). Neue Forschungen im Kontxt der Frühaugklärung, hrsg. von F. Vollhardt, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, S. 17—50.
8. Fritsch, M., J. 2004, Religiöse Toleranz im Zeitalter der Aufklärung. Naturrechtliche Begründung — konfessionelle Differenzen, Hamburg: Meiner Verlag.
9. Hammerstein, N. 1979, Thomasius und die Rechtsgelehrsamkeit, in: Studia leibnitiana, Bd. 11, H. 1, S. 22—44.
10. Kant, I. 1998, Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?, in: Kant I. Werke in sechs Bänden, hrsg. von W. Weischedel, Bd. 6, Darmstadt.
11. Kant, I. 1937, Vorlesungen über die philosophische Religionslehre, hrsg. von K. Beyer, Halle: Akademischer Verlag.
12. Lehmann-Brauns, S. 2004, Weisheit in der Weltgeschichte, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.
13. Schneiders, W. 1983, Aufklärung und Vorurteilskritik. Studien zur Geschichte der Vorurteilstheorie, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog.
14. Schneiders, W. 1979, Vernunft und Freiheit. Christian Thomasius als Aufklärer, in: Studia leibnitiana, Bd. 11, H. 1, S. 3—21.
15. Stapff, J., S. 1735, Jus naturae et gentium: in duos divisum tractatus, quorum primus continet jus publicum universale, alter Hugonis Grotii, jus belli at pacis explicatum, Mainz.
16. Thomasius, Chr. 1699, Das Recht evangelischer Fürsten in theologischen Streitigkeiten, Halle.
17. Thomasius, Chr. 1726, Von der Kunst vernünftig und tugendhaft zu lieben, als dem einzigen Mittel zu einem glückseligen, galanten und vergnügten Leben zu gelangen, oder: Einleitung der Sitten-Lehre, Halle.
18. Wolff, Chr. 1747, Jus naturae methodo scientifica pertractatum. Pars septima, Halle.