The Review of Politics: “‘The Constant Companion of Virtue’: On the Dilemma and Political Implications of Kantian Honor”
By Antong Liu
“This article provides a reinterpretation of Kantian honor to resolve an ongoing debate concerning Kant’s mixed attitude toward honor and to clarify the political implications of honor. Kant develops two distinct types of honor in his practical philosophy: natural honor as a human desire and ethical honor as a transcendental virtue. The conflict between these two types of honor can be resolved not in Kant’s ethics but in his political theory, which tolerates nonmoral motivations owing to their positive impact on politics and which presumes an imperfect world where political authority has difficulties in properly punishing disrespect. As a viable motivation for citizens to fight disrespect in a principled way, a reformed Kantian honor that combines the normative content of ethical honor and the motivating power of natural honor into a single whole can be conducive to the politics of mutual respect.”
Antong Liu is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Political Theory Project at Brown University. As a normative political theorist, he studies and teaches modern history of political thought, political ethics, comparative political theory (especially China), and democratic theory. His research focuses on the history of the passions and their implications for modern citizens and politics. In his current book project, entitled The Sense of Honor: Political Ethics and Eighteenth-Century Political Theory, he explores the neglected efforts of influential eighteenth-century thinkers, especially Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Kant, to preserve and reform the sense of honor. He argues that these efforts turn honor into a unique political motivation for individuals to balance their spirits of resistance and rule-abidingness in the modern context. His exploration reveals that the Western tradition of honor continues to flourish in the political theory of the eighteenth century, a century usually perceived as the twilight of honor, and that the sense of honor can still serve as a viable motivation for contemporary citizens spiritedly to stand up to social and political injustice without themselves becoming unjust in the process.
Dr. Liu is a JMC fellow.
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