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Unformatted text preview: Lecture on Kant's "Perpetual Peace" [The following is the text of a short lecture delivered in Liberal Studies 401 by Ian Johnston. This document is in the public domain, released June 1999] For comments or questions, please contact Ian Johnston Near the end of his essay "Perpetual Peace" Kant squarely addresses a question that we ought to be thoroughly familiar with by now, because it is almost certainly the most frequent issue we have discussed from one text to another in Liberal Studies. And that is question of the relationship between practical political behaviour and morality, between how people do behave in politics and how they ought to behave. Any observer of political action recognizes almost immediately that political action, as it actually occurs, is often, perhaps even usually, a morally questionable business (deception, lying, cruelty, self-interest). At the same time most of us have a sense that political behaviour could and should be better than it is. Politicians, we hold, should subject their actions and decisions to some form of moral control. This is the ancient conflict between what the Greeks called Kratos (Political Force) and Ethos (moral behaviour)--and there is no other issue which we have put on the table more frequently than this one. Before addressing Kant's remarks, then, I'd like to review some of the formulations. I'm doing this by way of an introduction to the seminar discussions this afternoon, which can address in greater detail Kant's contributions to this on going debate. Many months ago, at the start of LBST 301, we read the Odyssey . At the conclusion of that story we see Odysseus in disguise carry out a ferocious revenge on the suitors and their supporters--an action which involves killing, cruelty, deception, lies, and courage and which is effective in restoring him to the throne of Ithaka. Homer does not raise political questions directly, but the story puts great pressure on the readers to explore the extent to which Odysseus' effective use of force is justified, is, in other words, an acceptable moral act. And the structure of the narrative leads most of us to accept that what he does is just because the suitors have violated the most important moral rules of that world, the sanctity of the home--a rule which the gods themselves have repeatedly endorsed throughout the poem....
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- Fall '06