Decision Concerning MS ‘On the Common Saying: “This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice”.’ // Author: Immanuel Kant

Dear Professor Kant,

Thank you for submitting your MS ‘On the Common Saying: “This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice”‘ to The Journal of Practically Applied Ethics. We have now received referee reports, and on the basis of these will not be proceeding with publication. I have appended reports below.

The main complaint was that too little was done, and too late, on the main issue of interest: the possibility of applying principles of international right in a cosmopolitan framework. Perhaps in future you should abandon the earlier parts of this article, and concentrate on articulating a theory of international relations in response to the established ius gentium accounts offered by Pufendorf, Grotius, and Vattel. This might help you get beyond Hobbes, which all your reviewers agreed currently represents a disproportionate influence on your thought.

With regards,

The Editor.


Referee 1

The MS proposes to examine the relationship between theory and practice in three key areas: individual morality, political duty, and the rights of states. An examination of this sort is certainly over-due. There can be few scholars working in the field today who have not felt aggrieved at the remarks of friends and colleagues that theory is fine, but practical experience knows best. And this MS starts well: emphasising that judgement is the irreducible link between theory and practice, and that there can ipso facto be no theory of judgement. Yet hopes of an appropriately Aristotelian emphasis on phronesis are soon dashed as a peculiarly idiosyncratic approach takes over.

Regarding the role of theory in relation to moral practice, the author initially seems concerned with repeating his established views against a recent critic of his. Yet it readily becomes apparent that the real claim being made here is that the best way of making moral judgements is to follow the dictates of duty. The author’s argument boils down to the contention that it is harder to make judgements based on calculations of consequences, than on the contents of duty. This, however, is support by the most inadequate of examples. It may be true that a child would answer that stealing is simply wrong – but so what? An adult wants to know why it is wrong, what it means for there to be a duty not to steal, and how we come to know and act upon that duty. Given the author’s own introduction, he of all people should know that judging as regards to the content of duty is no easier than judging with regards to consequences. The claim that his own moral theory thus vindicates the usefulness of theory to practice by showing us the path of duty is unduly self-aggrandising, and achieved only by begging the question quite spectacularly.

As regards the connection between theory and practice in politics, the author apparently sets out to deliberately mislead. The section is entitled ‘Against Hobbes’, but this is manifestly Hobbes’s system in the skimpiest of new guises. (The influence of Rousseau is also apparent, as evidenced by a conception of the General Will, but one I must confess to finding incomprehensible.) Ultimately, the author’s position is the same as Hobbes’s notorious conclusion: that the sovereign must be absolute. The only difference is that we are reassured that Hobbes’s tyrannical system will be avoided because citizens may write public letters of disapproval. They are not, however, allowed to do anything practical to resist tyranny. Instead they must trust that their leader will always act in line with what he can sincerely imagine would be the General Will, if such a thing could be known. Given recent events in France, one is disappointed by the author’s reactionary attitude. Rather than vindicating the rights of man, and the collective right of the people to live under a free republic, he opts instead to be a sorry comforter for the old politics of despotism. This is political theory 140 years past its sell-by-date.

The final section shows promise but is fundamentally under-developed. The author appears to presuppose a providential conception of nature whereby mankind is inevitably progressing to a higher plane of cosmopolitan world peace. Yet no better reason for believing in this is given than that the author cannot bear the thought of a directionless world in which all is the play of chance. This is hardly adequate. Perhaps some more explicit teleological justification would help, say with regards to man as an animal with a natural function or direct appeal to the role of God as creator. In any case, I am confused by the author’s stance given his earlier Hobbism. If the author follows Hobbes in his theory of the state, and yet desires the attainment of international peace, does he therefore advocate a world state? Yet Hobbes is explicit that a world state is unnecessary and anyway impossible. I would like to see the author work out this aspect of his thought. However, a fundamentally different work is manifestly required for what is interesting here to be properly brought out.



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