Kant and the Commons

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Abstract

The idea of a preliminary commons – a sphere of common property prior to private property – is present in Kant’s philosophy of right where, with his theory of natural law, he first makes a move towards a still underdeveloped kind of ‘objective idealism’. But he cannot transform the idea of a preliminary commons into a theory of right that legitimates social institutions or a sphere of positive law because he soon turns back to the subjective idealism of his previous work in which he takes the world to be a transcendental construction of human subjects. Kant’s anthropocentrism and the highlighting of private property are a direct consequence of this subjective transcendentalism. Kant’s return to subjective idealism also makes it impossible for him to conceive a theory of right based on ‘serviceable stewardship’ and ‘responsibility’ rather than on private property. My claim is that in order to pass from a discourse of possession to one of responsibility it is necessary to emphasize and enlarge his theory of natural law which, I argue, tends towards ‘objective idealism’. Such idealism takes ‘objective reason’ to be manifesting itself in the world in an almost Hegelian way – and it is not confined to the subjective consciousness of humans. Things in the world can then be endowed with intrinsic rights. It is a further claim of this paper that a consequent theory of the commons needs this transcendental complement endowing things with intrinsic rights. Alternative positions like naturalism or subjective idealism place objects in a domain ‘beyond right’ condemning nonhuman beings to become merely potential private property. A remodelling of Kantianism would constitute the main layer of a renewed humanism based on an enlarged idea of community and a corresponding idea of responsibility for Being.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages33
JournalEtica e Politica / Ethics & Politics
Volume20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2018

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