Introduction to Western Political Thought
Professor Mithilesh Kumar Jha
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati
Lecture No. 22
Kant – III: Kingdom of Ends & Critical Assessment of His Thought
Hello and welcome everyone. This is the third and concluding lecture on Kant. Today, we are
going to discuss his views on ‘kingdom of ends’ and his republican thoughts and views on
cosmopolitanism, and how to attain what he called the perpetual peace among the community
of the nation. Within the nation-state by following republican ideals or democratic values one
can attain peace. But how one can extend it to the international level. That we will discuss in
the first part of our lecture, today.
And in the second part, we will discuss how Kantian philosophy shaped metaphysical
thinking and about ‘German Idealism’. What are the legitimate criticisms against Kantian
political philosophy? We have done two lectures on Kant, where we have discussed his views
on enlightenment and how he connected morality based on what he called the ‘categorical
imperative’ by differentiating it with the ‘hypothetical imperative’. And then, how he
combined that notion of morality as the basis of duty or obligation which human beings must
perform. By performing that duty and obligation human beings could realize their freedom
and attain his and her autonomy.
So, thereby in Kant, you have a complex or delicate combination of freedom with morality
and autonomy. That we have already discussed. Let us start with today’s lecture. (Refer Slide Time: 03:56)
As we have discussed before in Kant, we had a quintessential, enlightenment thinker who
wanted to bring about progress, development, peace, morality, and enlightenment based on
reason, and yet at the same time, he was someone who understood the limits of reason. There
are domains of life which we cannot know that is the world of ‘noumenon’. What we know is
the world of the phenomenon through our sense perception and using our reason and rational
faculty, develop our knowledge or understanding based on those sensations and perception
where there is a world which we do not know, we cannot know about it.
So, there is a kind of paradox here. The reason is the basis of all forms of knowledge. It can
lead to enlightenment. But also, there are certain limits to reason. Then how to combine
reason with morality or a sense of absolute duty and obligation towards the self and others.
These are some of the things which we have discussed. In Kant, you have a kind of
enlightenment project that was based on his invariable faith in human being’s capability as a
moral and rational agent. Therefore, he regarded them as capable of perfecting their own lives
as well as their community.
Kant believed in human beings' capacity to reason and through the use of reason on public
matters as free and autonomous citizens, they could not only perfect their own life. But also,
they could bring about enlightenment for their community and thereby progress,
development, peace, and prosperity. The whole purpose of Kantian philosophy was to search
for those absolute moral laws that would guide human action and what was the framework of such moral laws was his a priori maxim that he called the ‘categorical imperative’ which we
have discussed in the second lecture on Kant.
He wanted individuals to use their reason to guide them. But they ought to do that in a
manner that they wanted others to follow universally and unconditionally. There was a kind
of categorical framework. It was a kind of transcendental ethics where human beings in his or
her particular setup should act on those moral laws which they want others to follow
universally and unconditionally in the same context. So, they transcend their particular
context and see in themselves the presence of a universal community of free rational and
And that free, rational, or autonomous men together constituted what he called the ‘kingdom
of ends’ which we will discuss further. We have discussed in the previous two lectures that
Kant’s primary objective was to understand the functioning of knowledge and human reason,
how it functions, what are the limits to human reason, and human knowledge, and the three
major critics that he wrote the critic of pure reason, practical reason, and judgment. It was to
analyze the realm of human understanding or human knowledge. The way it functions and its
limits to knowledge and human reason.
He argued in favor of reason and rationality as the basis of enlightenment. Therefore, he was
very critical of religious dogmas and beliefs. However, in Kant, as we have discussed there
was no rejection of faith. He gave reason or faith a more rational foundation rather than blind
faith or blind worshiping of religious dogmas and beliefs as mentioned in the scriptures or by
the priest. He also argued that human freedom and autonomy were rooted in performing a
duty for its own sake without any consideration of the consequences of that duty.
Thus, human beings as moral rational agents would decide for themselves what action they
should do, their obligation towards self and others in the community, and they decide that
based on what he called the ‘categorical imperative’. Once it is decided they will perform that
duty for its own sake. That is a kind of beauty in itself and it does not require any further
justification like in utilitarian philosophy or hedonist philosophy. Kant was thus very critical
of hedonist philosophy or utilitarian philosophy which talks about the consequences of one’s
action or consequences of the policy. Thus, the justification or assessment of a policy is based
on the idea of how it benefits the other.Maximum good of the maximum number. So, those kinds of ideas were something Kant had
rejected. He was very critical of that. Kant argued that by following a priori maxim that is
‘categorical imperative’, human beings could truly experience their freedom and autonomy.
The realization of freedom and autonomy is like Rousseau in performing one action that
human beings themselves legislate. It may lead to a peaceful co-existence with others and
society or community, and Kantian ideals of individuals and community are best illustrated in
this theory of ‘kingdom of ends’.
(Refer Slide Time: 09:11)
Now, we move on to this idea of the ‘kingdom of ends’. Kant through the formulation of the
‘kingdom of ends’ assessed the ultimate value of human life and dignity that deserve our
utmost respect. So, Kant was a kind of individualist thinker in the sense that for him, the
ultimate value in life is that of human life and his dignity. It demands a kind of utmost respect
from others in society or by the community as a whole. There should not be interference or
kind of instrumental use of human life and his or her dignity.
The ‘kingdom of ends’ that Kant asserted was the ultimate value of human life and dignity
which must be respected by others in the community. And Kant explained that freedom and
autonomy could be realized only in the ‘kingdom of ends’ and he explained this in the
following words. So far as rational agents are all subjects to the universal law that is based on
the categorical imperative and this universal law then is something that they legislate. So, are
all subject to universal laws which they make. They constitute a kingdom that is a state of the
commonwealth, so far as these laws bind them treat each other as ends in themselves. The kingdom so constituted is the ‘kingdom of ends’. That is the basis of the formation of
what he calls ‘kingdom of ends’, thereby he meant that human being as rational and moral
agents would govern their life on universal law. This universal law is something that is not
given to them by society or by any other kind of authority. They legislate through using their
reason by following a priori maxim what he called the ‘categorical imperative’.
And then when you have a community of such man as a moral rational agent, governing
themselves by the universal law, you form a commonwealth or a community where everyone
will treat everyone else as an end in themselves and not as a means for something else. That
community would be the ‘kingdom of ends’, where dignity and human life would have
utmost respect and regards, and so each will respect everyone else. Thereby, the dignity and
the human life of each would be respected and acknowledged by everyone else. Therefore,
human beings would be truly free and autonomous in such a ‘kingdom of ends’.
So, in the ‘kingdom of ends’, he also distinguished between the members and these members
are all finite rational agents. There was a kind of finite need for human rationality and human
being as a rational agent. There were domains which they did not know. So, he made this
distinction between the members in the ‘kingdom of ends’ as the finite rational agent. It was a
supreme head and this supreme head was an infinite rational agent. Thus, as a law-making
agent of such a kingdom, the rational agents would what he called dignity. This dignity was
something intrinsic, unconditional, and incomparable worth or worthiness in the individual.
This is something which gives meaning to our life and human being as a social being or who
prefers to live in the society in association with others constantly seek that others respect,
their dignity when it is not recognized or it is used by others as an instrument for something
else. That human being feels hurt, cheated, betrayed, and that leads to conflict, enviousness,
and even violence. Thus, the ‘kingdom of ends’ would be a community, where everyone
would respect everyone else’s dignity and thereby, treating others as an end in themselves
and not as a means for certain ends.
In this ‘kingdom of ends’, every action was right in itself and governed by the universal law.
So, everybody would perform their duty and obligation to self and others for its own sake
regardless of the consequences. In this ‘kingdom of ends’, every action is right in itself or its
maxim is such that the freedom of the will of each can coexist together with the freedom of
everyone following the universal law. So, there would not be any conflict of freedom andautonomy of one person versus the freedom and autonomy of another person. Thus, everyone
could live a free and autonomous life without coming into conflict with a similar life of
That is a kind of mutual understanding or respect of freedom and autonomy of each by
acknowledging and respecting the dignity of another person as an end in themselves and not
as a means. Kant argued that in such a kingdom, individuals would govern their lives on the
principle to treat humanity whether in thine own person or in that of another in every case as
an end never only as means. That is how human beings would behave in the ‘kingdom of
ends’ where they would treat humanity and this humanity applies to themselves as well.
So, humanity in their person or another person. Every interaction with others in the society
would be governed by this law that is similar to a kind of ‘categorical imperative’. One needs
to treat others as an end in themselves and not merely as a means. And this is not something
which one use once and do not use on other occasions. It must be internally and externally
consistent. That means in all cases and circumstances, one must treat others as an end in
themselves. This applies to all kinds of relationships whether friendship, family relationships,
and community ties.
When you see, observe, or experience people, treating other people as a means for them to
achieve certain other ends then that person treated in such a manner feels cheated. They feel
their dignity is heard and that leads to the problem and conflict. That also leads to
enviousness in the society and to avoid that human being as a moral and rational agent, Kant
argued, treat every other human being as an end in themselves, thereby, recognizing their
dignity. They together can live a life of peaceful co-existence where the autonomy and
freedom of everyone would be respected.
So, these two are based on the ‘categorical imperative’. He argued that in the ‘kingdom of
ends’, every man is to be respected as an absolute end in himself. The existence of man does
not require any further justification. The humanity in any person whether the self or others
should be treated as an absolute end in themselves. Not for any other further ends and it is a
crime against the dignity that belongs to him as a human being, to use him as mere means for
some external purpose. So, in the ‘kingdom of ends’, a man must not treat other men as
means for certain other ends. But end in themselves that would constitute what I call a
community of ‘kingdom of ends’ where the individual is a rational and moral agent.Although it is a kind of ideal image of such a community, the human in actual practical life
does not govern themselves according to this principle. Nonetheless, it remains ideal and only
possible where a human being can realize his true and real sense of freedom and autonomy.
(Refer Slide Time: 19:10)
Kant understood how difficult it was for human beings to live such principles of morality that
tells you to treat everyone as an end in themselves. However, according to Kant, that was the
only way we could create an ideal community of moral and rational agents, where each
would seek happiness in others and perfection in himself. This is also a kind of paradox and
counter-intuitive thinking. In the ‘kingdom of ends’, Kant argued that human beings would
not create happiness. They would be guided by their duty and a sense of obligation to self and
others, and in performing that duty they make themselves worthy of happiness rather than
craving for it.
In their interaction with others, they would try to seek happiness or bring happiness to others'
lives and in doing so, they would perfect themselves. And thereby, when all the members in
the community follow the same rule that they would be perfect in their duties and obligations.
They would be in themselves and seek happiness in others. The society would be a society of
free and autonomous individuals in the true sense of the term. A human being could realize
the fullest potentiality which nature had endowed on them with. That is the use of reason,
rationality to lead a life that would be peaceful, harmonious, and dignified life.
So, to create such a community, Kant wanted the individual to believe and act according to
moral laws. As if they were already a part of such a community, it is not that Kant did not realize the practical life and imperfectability of practical life. That means human beings do
not necessarily guide their action, according to the rational principle or moral laws. And yet
Kant believed that one must have the absolute moral laws of perfect moral laws in the
imperfect society to bring about an ideal community. Thereby, bringing peace, progress,
prosperity in the society or the enlightened age.
In Kant, you have a contemplative or ethical understanding, where he wanted the human
subject as a moral agent to think of themselves as part of that community of ‘kingdom of
ends’. So, it was not real, not given, yet when the individual began to think of themselves as
the member of that community of ‘kingdom of ends’ and thereby perfecting their sense of
duty and obligation. Gradually, there would be the creation of such a community. There is the
realization of an imperfect world. But to make the life perfect, ideal, and better than the
(22:22) life or sub-human life of existence.
You have to have a life governed by certain moral laws and on the majority, and most of the
people will govern their life, according to the same laws. Then you have a society that would
be more peaceful and prosperous that would recognize the dignity of each and thereby the coexistence or peaceful harmonious co-existence of everyone. Thus, it is only in this
community that human beings could attain the highest stage of perfection.
So, remember, for Rousseau, human beings were free and inherently moral. But it was the
corrupting influence of society that make them act in a certain manner. And how to avoid the
corrupting influence of society or socialization had one of the chief concerns for Rousseau.
Similarly, in Kant, you have a kind of idea that life was imperfect. Most of the people lived a
life of immaturity condition. That means, they do not use their reason.
And yet how one can bring about enlightenment and do that one should have to have moral
laws. It is only in the ‘kingdom of ends’, the highest stage of human perfection is possible
where everyone would govern themselves by the same universal laws that they want
everyone else to follow unconditionally. Thereby, recognizing what is the worthy thing in the
human being that is dignity.
The highest stage of perfection is possible in such a community and in this kingdom, Kant
gave priority to a moral sense of duty towards self and others over theoretical knowledge or
logic. So, every human being as I have discussed, his views on morality, freedom, and autonomy that the rules of morality apply to a human being. Because human beings have in
need of a sense of justness or what is unjust.
They may not accept it may be for their personal or selfish interest. They tend to ignore it.
Nonetheless, they have an intuitive understanding of what is just? what is unjust? and what is
desirable? what is undesirable? They may ignore or sideline it. Nonetheless, they cannot
remove it from their imagination, consciousness, and their inner-self and that is the basic
premise of Kantian thinking, where he sees that human beings are governed by moral laws.
And this moral sense of duty and obligation should come before their theoretical knowledge
or understanding. He wanted the individual to lead a life as if it was a kind of prelude to
something larger, immortal life or even God. That is the kind of realm of metaphysics where
Kant considered this practical, empirical life of the individual as something a prelude to the
larger life. That is the life of immortality and even God. So, he provided some kind of
rational basis to religion and religious thinking or faith, not rejecting the use of faith or moral
concern or life beyond. That is to say, in his thinking that led to some kind of mysticism or
mysteriousness in Kantian thinking.
Now, we move on to the Kantian views on republicanism and cosmopolitanism. Kant was a
republican and a great admirer of the French revolution. He saw it as a kind of divine
commandment and wanted every state or monarchies in Europe to be based on the republican
principles and constitution. It was where people should themselves decide how their
community should be governed and how major decisions should be taken. He was against,
therefore, all kinds of class hierarchies and hereditary privilege that he considered as the
result of some unjust world in the past. Thus, everyone must be treated equally and with
The reason for each treatment or demand for such treatment is that human beings are rational
or a moral agent that has nothing to do with his class, position, or any other forms of
hierarchy. They must be treated equally. That is the very basis of republican ideas during the
French revolution. In his essay, ‘The Natural Principles of Political Order’, considered in
connection with the idea of ‘Universal Cosmopolitan History’ was published in 1784. Kant
argued about the need for a struggle as indispensable for progress and a form of world
government based on republican values. However, this struggle must be carried out within the limits of laws or the limits of the
constitution. So, Kant as a republican did not reduce individuality as Rousseau did at the altar
of community. If you remember, Rousseau’s idea of ‘general will’ that human beings must
submit to the ‘general will’. And there is no kind of difference between the individual and the
‘general will’. These are kinds of the organic connection between the individual and the
‘general will’ of the community.
In contrast, Kant did not reduce the individual to the community and complete socialization.
He argued that all progress and development happened because of individuality, enviousness,
and desire for power, and possession. These are something that leads to the advancement in
science and technology, industry, and overall prosperity. This desire for power or possession
led them to exert their faculties in a particular way and according to Kant, the complete
socialization of man would lead to a stagnation, where human beings could lead a perfect,
simple, and harmonious life. But without any new development progress and innovation.
Thus, even as a republican thinker, he did not completely reduce the individuality to the
process of socialization or the life of a community.
(Refer Slide Time: 29:34)
According to Kant, as we have said that the struggle was a part of all progress and
development throughout human history. But such a struggle must be regulated by certain
laws, rules, and customs. It leads to the origin and development of the civil society and
eventually, the states and all the capacities of man that nature has endowed him with could be
wholly developed in a state governed by the political constitution that is internally and externally perfect. Thus, the idea is that the laws and government must be based on the
consent of the people.
It has to be internally and externally consistent. That means, the decisions that are taken
should be by the constitution and the constitution is something that reflects the will of the
people as a whole. Note a few people or a particular section in the society such as monarchies
and elite. But as a people, as a whole in their collective sense reflect their will in the
constitution and the government must operate in that constitution and that constitution needs
to be internally and externally perfect. He further argues that the civil constitution of every
state shall be republican which should be the guiding force or a kind of limit to the access of
the government and its power.
He argued that the civil constitution of every state shall be republican and war shall not be
declared except by a plebiscite of all citizens and during Kant's times, there was a kind of
competitive struggle for power, for the acquisition of new territories or new colonies among
the European states. That leads to a kind of militarization, where natural resources were
mostly spent on the preparation of war. And many welfare programs such as education,
health, and others were ignored. Thus, the whole functionaries of a state were in preparation
for war, in the competitive struggle for new territories, power, and authority among the other
In contrast to that kind of thinking, Kant argued that how to create a society where internally
a state would be republication. But also, in their external relation, they can have a peaceful
co-existence with other states. Now, one of the major reasons for such conflicts, such threat
to peace was constant war. Kant argued that the war was declared by those who had the least
to suffer as a consequence of it. So, it is the people, the majority of the population who
suffered as the consequence of war through their lives or resources or property. But that has
no participation, while a state or its King or a ruler decide the war.
And most of the time, they declare war on the flimsy ground. So, whether to declare war and
peace which should be a preferable option or decided by the whole community as such. He
wanted and this is the reflection of his faith in the republican values and democratic culture.
When it comes to the declaration of war, it should be only declared, when there is a plebiscite
by all citizens. So, it cannot be taken by the few people who enjoy the luxury of their life and declare war and people suffer. Thus, those who suffer the consequences of war must
participate in the decision about war.
He also argued that the laws that govern a state internally to manage or organize political life
among its members should be the guiding principle for the international order. He argued that
the laws governed a state that should also govern the international order if peace and
harmony are to be maintained. He further developed this idea in his conception of perpetual
peace and to which now we turn. In 1795, Kant wrote an essay called the ‘Eternal Peace’.
This may appear contradictory to many scholars. The title of the essay appeared contradictory
as there was a constant cycle of peace and war in human existence.
So, there was nothing like perpetual peace or eternal peace, there was the cycle of a period of
peace followed by war and again by peace and followed by war. The human existence or the
history of human existence is replete with this cyclical nature of peace and war, and then
arguing for something like the eternal peace or perpetual peace or something like kind of
history or counter-intuitive in its possessions. But Kant argued that how a state within its
territory and at the international level might attain the peace that would be everlasting or
permanent by following certain principles or moral assumptions. That is guided by the
‘categorical imperative’ where the particular is not in isolation from the universal.
Therefore, the transcendental ethics in Kant if applying to individuals and the state and
international order would create a society and a condition of perpetual peace, and eternal
peace. So, if you look at their title, it may appear contradictory and peace rarely remains
everlasting. There is a kind of constant threat to peace and the whole order of the state. Its
machinery is to maintain the peace and yet war is inevitable. Particularly, during Kant’s time,
nation-states were constantly at war with each other and violence was a regular part of life.
Kant tried to establish a perpetual peace among the states at the international level and he
wanted the nation first to minimize and gradually, abolish the standing armies. The very
legitimacy and the strength of a nation-state lie in the fact of its standing armies. To achieve
peace, first, Kant argued that that the government should function under a civil and
republican constitution, where the war was declared only through a plebiscite. Thus, it is the
people who decide whether they should go for peace or war.
The next thing that he argued was all the states if they wanted perpetual peace and eternal
peace, first, minimize their standing armies and eventually, abolish them. He argued that the standing armies of the state excited state to outrival one another in the number of their
ornaments which had no limit. This kind of competitive rivalry among the nation-states to
have more and more standing army was a limitless competition. There was no end to that and
yet a state constantly tried to outrival each other in terms of the standing army. That is the
(38:50) perpetual peace that Kant was arguing. So, he wanted that all the states should first
minimize and eventually, abolish their standing armies.
If they want to have perpetual peace among themselves within their territory and also among
the other nation-states at the international level. Kant argued that rulers rarely had resources
for public education and other welfare measures as all resources of the state were mobilized
and kept for the preparation of the next war. Thus, he was against all forms of violence and
war. He saw it as a violation of individual dignity and peace. Kant was equally critical of the
expansionist regime of the European states.
(Refer Slide Time: 39:45)
So, the European states expanded their territory and power beyond their territory in Asia,
Africa, America, or Latin America. Kant was equally critical of the European states and their
expansions in America, Africa, and Asia, and the horrors they committed, the resources they
extracted from these colonies. And the way, they reduced their aboriginals in these lands to
nothing all. At the same time, when they fight for piety and republican values at home
resulted in, according to Kant’s competitive militarism and ever-present threat to peace
among the nation-states in Europe. He was a critique of the colonial expansion and competitive rivalry among the European
nation-states to outperform other states within Europe in conquering new territories. And the
kind of horror, they committed there and reduce their aboriginals of those lands to nothing.
The territories in Asia, Africa, and America were considered by the European states as open
for grabs. They could come and establish their rule, then extract resources, do all kinds of
horrors, all at the same time when they were fighting in their states for greater freedom, rights
of the citizen or pieties, and the republican values.
And this seems to Kant internally contradictory in the functioning of the European states that
lead to the competitive struggle among themselves for more and more military might or
standing armies and a kind of competitive rivalry among other states for the conquest of new
territories. That leads to a kind of threat to the possible peace or perpetual peace that he is
shaking to establish even at the international level. Kant, however, hoped like he was arguing
about enlightenment that even in the immaturity conditions of the majority of the population
yet courageous individual as a moral or rational agent that would gradually take the society
forward towards the enlightenment age.
Similarly, among the nation-states, he hoped that the states with the republican constitut
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