Questions about Kant’s Opposition to Revolution

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

in Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692002
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741241 | DOI:
Questions about Kant’s Opposition to Revolution

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Kant’s denial of a right to revolution is famous, but he was an ardent supporter of the spirit of the French revolution. He acknowledged cases of conscientious refusal and passive resistance, and unlike Hobbes, thought standards of justice apply to rulers; but he argued against any right to overthrow a bad legal system governed by a tyrant. In a spirit critical of Kant but trying to understand his underlying thoughts, this chapter takes up these questions: How could Kant consistently express enthusiasm for the French Revolution while denying a right to revolution? Does Kant have adequate arguments against a legal right to rebel against a tyrant? Do his arguments support his view that overthrowing the supreme legal authority is always morally wrong? Do the reasons implicit in his formulations of the Categorical Imperative, which ground his endorsement of passive resistance, justify revolution in certain conditions, despite what he himself concluded?

Keywords: Kant; revolution; legal right; moral wrong; conscientious refusal; justice; categorical imperative

Chapter.  7388 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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