What Nature Makes of Her: Kant's Gendered Metaphysics
35 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 8 Jun 2010
Women's exclusion from civic personality in Kant's political writings has frequently been noted in the literature, and yet has not been closely scrutinized. More often than not, commentators suggest that Kant's views on women reflect little more than his sharing in the prejudices of his era. This paper argues that Kant's views on women are in fact much more deeply problematic, and that women's exclusion from political enfranchisement is rooted in a deeper problem concerning their moral capacities. In his writings on anthropology, in which he articulates his most sustained examination of the nature and character of the sexes, Kant argues men and women participate in moral personhood through gender-specific forms of character. Kant suggests that while men partake in 'a noble virtue', the 'virtue of a woman is a beautiful virtue'; men and women articulate their moral character in fundamentally different ways. Men's virtues are tied to their capacity to act on the dictates of reason and to develop themselves as rational, self-governing beings; a woman's virtue appears, by Kant's account, to preclude her from developing the capacities for full, autonomous agency. I argue that a close examination of women's place in Kant's anthropology and in his teleological account of history presents us with a deeply problematic picture of women's agency, and of their place in Kant's larger account of humanity's development.
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