Kantian Journal

2015 Special Issue

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Arguments against Redistributive Justice based on Kant’s Doctrine of Private Right



According to Kant, “right in a state of nature is called private right” (MS, AA VI, S. 242). It is my claim that there is no room for a right to enforce the offer of benefits in the private right. Firstly, I will show how the concept of an innate right to freedom provides no conceptual foundation for a right to enforcement of alleged duties of cooperation. Since my argument is much more conceptual than hermeneutical, Isaiah Berlin’s analysis of negative liberty in “Two Concepts of Liberty” will be helpful here. Secondly, I will argue that the concepts of original acquisition and voluntary transfers are also at odds with the idea of a redistributive justice. At this point, it will be very useful to notice that the first two principles of justice in holdings of Robert Nozick roughly corresponds to the first two sections of Kant’s theory of acquisition of external things in the private right. Finally, I will sketch an objection against political uses of a principle of historical rectification of acquisitions. The principle of rectification is the third and last principle of Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice in distribution, and it should be of concern to Kantians too, since it is a mere principle of rectification of the two first principles. Due to the points I am going to make, I conclude that, if somewhere, redistributivism should make its case in Kant’s doctrine of public right, as a right of a State.


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