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Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 43, No.

4, 2009

Can Kant Have an Account of Moral


Education?

KATE A. MORAN

There is an apparent tension between Immanuel Kant’s model


of moral agency and his often-neglected philosophy of moral
education. On the one hand, Kant’s account of moral
knowledge and decision-making seems to be one that can be
self-taught. Kant’s famous categorical imperative and related
‘fact of reason’ argument suggest that we learn the content
and application of the moral law on our own. On the other
hand, Kant has a sophisticated and detailed account of moral
education that goes well beyond the kind of education a
person would receive in the course of ordinary childhood
experience. The task of this paper will be to reconcile these
seemingly conflicting claims. Ultimately, I argue, Kant’s
philosophy of education makes sense as a part of his moral
theory if we look not only at individual moral decisions, but
also at the goals or ends that these moral decisions are
intended to achieve. In Kant’s case, this end is what he calls
the highest good, and, I argue, the most coherent account of
the highest good is a kind of ethical community and end of
history, similar to the Groundwork’s realm of ends. Seen as a
tool to bring about and sustain such a community, Kant’s
philosophy of moral education exists as a coherent and
important part of his moral philosophy.

There is an apparent tension between Immanuel Kant’s model of moral


agency and his often-neglected philosophy of moral education. On the one
hand, Kant’s account of moral knowledge and decision-making seems to
be one that can be self-taught. Kant’s famous categorical imperative and
related ‘fact of reason’ argument suggest that we learn the content and
application of the moral law on our own. On the other hand, Kant has a
sophisticated and detailed account of moral education that goes well
beyond the kind of education a person would receive in the course of
ordinary childhood experience. Kant was deeply concerned with
pedagogy, and his ‘moral curriculum’ includes specific advice about
how to foster a moral character. This fact seems to suggest that agents
require a kind of formal education in learning and applying the moral law.
The task of this paper will be to reconcile these seemingly conflicting

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Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
472 K. Moran

claims. Ultimately, I argue, Kant’s philosophy of education makes sense


as a part of his moral theory if we look not only at individual moral
decisions, but also at the goals or ends that these moral decisions are
intended to achieve. In Kant’s case, this end is what he calls the highest
good, and, I argue, the most coherent account of the highest good is a kind
of ethical community and end of history, similar to the Groundwork’s
realm of ends (see Kant, 1996b, 4:433). Seen as a tool to bring about and
sustain such a community, Kant’s philosophy of moral education exists as
a coherent and important part of his moral philosophy. In turn, this fact
about the role of education within the ethical community should help us to
see the whole of Kant’s moral philosophy in what is perhaps a new light.
Specifically, we come to see that Kant’s theory does not simply provide
agents with abstract and formal rules for moral action. Rather, Kant’s
moral philosophy is also centrally concerned with the ways in which our
characters are shaped by participation in the institutions and relationships
that make up a large part of our everyday life.
The following discussion proceeds in three parts. First, I present a brief
sketch of Kant’s account of moral knowledge and decision-making in
order to point to the ways in which this account appears to be in tension
with his emphasis on moral education. Next, I sketch the details of Kant’s
account of moral education. Having presented Kant’s account of
education, I conclude by suggesting a way to reconcile this account with
Kant’s theory of moral knowledge and decision-making.

I KANT’S MORAL EPISTEMOLOGY: THE CATEGORICAL


IMPERATIVE AND THE FACT OF REASON
A natural starting point for an overview of Kant’s theory of moral
knowledge is, of course, his famous categorical imperative procedure. In
the Groundwork, Kant presents this decision procedure in terms of the
well-known formulae of universal law, humanity, and the realm of ends.
In its various formulations, the categorical imperative tells agents to act
‘only in accordance with a maxim through which you can at the same time
will that it become a universal law’ (Kant, 1996b, 4:421), or in a way that
‘you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any
other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means’
(4:429), or in such a way that would be consistent with ‘a systematic union
of all rational beings through common objective laws’ or the so-called
kingdom or realm of ends (4:433). As simple as Kant may make the
categorical imperative seem, many readers have been confused or
frustrated by the categorical imperative, since applying it seems to require
a certain level of skill. One must, for example, formulate her maxims
according to a specific form, roughly: ‘in circumstances C, I will pursue
action A in order to bring about effect E’ (see Rawls, 2000, pp. 167–170).
And it is important to keep in mind that when we locate and describe our
maxim, we are not just describing an action at any level, but, as Onora
O’Neill puts it, the ‘underlying principles or intentions by which we guide

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Can Kant Have an Account of Moral Education? 473

and control our more specific intentions’ (O’Neill, 1989, p. 84). For all of
these reasons, it may seem as though Kant’s decision procedure requires
an expert’s guidance to navigate. We may, as a result, think that Kant’s
moral philosophy is especially well suited to a kind of moral education,
since his decision procedure is just so difficult to master.
There is a grain of truth in such an assessment, and I return to this idea
shortly. However, in general, Kant thinks of the categorical imperative not as
an arcane decision procedure, but as one that stems from very common moral
cognition. Thus, for example, Kant’s explicitly stated mission in the
Groundwork is to start from this type of common cognition and work toward
‘the determination of its supreme principle’ (Kant, 1996b, 4:392). To be sure,
our common cognitions need to be analyzed, ordered, and systematised, but
the ‘raw material’, so to speak, of moral knowledge is the common awareness
that each of us (assuming a normal upbringing) already has.
This leaves us with yet another question, however. If the categorical
imperative is a formula for applying common moral cognition, we may
rightly ask ourselves where this knowledge of the moral law comes from.
In general Kant answers that our awareness of the moral law is something
that comes hand in hand with practical reason, or our ability to freely set
and pursue ends. Kant’s first attempt at demonstrating this fact appears
later in the Groundwork, where he argues that knowledge of our own
freedom gives us knowledge of the moral law and its bindingness, since
freedom and being bound by the moral law mutually imply one another.
However, almost as soon as Kant presents this argument, he retracts it,
observing that ‘a kind of circle comes to light’ (4:450). Actually, what
Kant has on his hands is the difficult to prove assumption that we are free.
In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant retains the thesis that human
freedom and being bound by the moral law mutually imply one another.
Here, however, he reverses the direction of his argument, and argues that
our knowledge of the moral law is a ‘fact of reason’. He claims, ‘Pure
reason is practical of itself alone and gives (to the human being) a
universal law which we call the moral law’ (Kant, 1996a, 5:31).
Of course, this does not mean that Kant thinks we are born with fully
formed awareness of the moral law or specific moral rules. Indeed, Kant
suggests that, for precisely this reason, we cannot hold children
responsible for their actions in the same way that we hold adults
responsible. In the Lectures on Ethics, he explains that ‘when children
destroy something useful, it cannot be imputed to them, because they
know not what they do’ (Kant, 1997, 27:291). But Kant’s point here is not
just that moral reason is not fully developed in children, but rather that
moral reason is not fully developed because practical reason itself is not
fully developed. Kant goes on to explain that children cannot be held
responsible for destroying something because they have not yet learned
the ‘subjective conditions of freedom,’ that is, ‘the ability to act, and
further, that [they] know what pertains thereto, that [they] are aware of the
motivating ground of the action’ (ibid.). Thus, the ability to set and pursue
ends knowledgably is a precondition for moral knowledge. The important
point to remember, however, is just that practical reason and the

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awareness of the moral law that comes along with it are capacities that
develop naturally with normal human experience. A special kind of moral
education seems to have no essential place in this picture.
Still, there is one way in which moral education might play a role in
Kant’s ethics, even if knowledge of the moral law is something that is
acquired without any special guidance. Specifically, we might still need
help in applying the moral law. In other words, we may need help in
learning what Barbara Herman has called ‘rules of moral salience’
(Herman, 1993, p. 77). Herman defines these rules of moral salience as
elements ‘that enable [an agent] to pick out those elements of his
circumstances or of his proposed actions that require moral attention’
(ibid.). Kant himself suggests that such an interpretation is perfectly
consistent with his account of moral epistemology. In the Groundwork, he
observes that ‘moral philosophy . . . gives to [us] . . . laws a priori, which
no doubt still require a judgment sharpened by experience, partly to
distinguish in what cases they are applicable’ (Kant, 1996a, 4:389). Here,
then, is one sense in which education might play a role in Kant’s moral
philosophy. But the existence of such rules of moral salience is not enough
to justify Kant’s detailed treatment of moral education for several reasons.
First, Kant’s account of moral education (sketched below) goes well
beyond simply educating for the rules of moral salience. In fact, it is only
in the final stages of education that Kant deals explicitly with teaching
morals and moral reasoning. At its most fundamental level, Kant’s theory
has to do with developing certain dispositions or character traits. And to
explain this, we need to go beyond just the rules of moral salience.
Second, even in the passage from the Groundwork, Kant makes no
mention of education; he only mentions experience generally. And, as we
have already seen, Kant thinks that a basic level of normal experience can
go a long way in helping agents pick out the morally salient features of a
situation. To be sure, a kind of ‘targeted’ moral education might be more
effective than haphazard experience in sharpening our moral judgment,
but for this to be important to Kant, we need an account of why such
‘effectiveness’ makes any kind of difference. Just such an account will be
presented in Section III.
In sum, then, even though education might help us in applying the moral
law, it is nevertheless the case that Kant thinks that anyone with normal
experience should be able to develop into the type of person who can pick
out morally salient features of a situation and apply the moral law on her
own. Fundamentally, Kant’s theory is one in which pure practical reason
gives the agent the moral law without the benefit of special instruction. In
other words, not having the right ‘upbringing’ or education will be no
defence for a Kantian agent’s wrongdoing.

II KANT’S PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION


Biographical evidence suggests that Kant was both deeply interested in-
and involved with education, especially moral education (see Kuehn,

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2001, pp. 61ff.). First, Kant had decades of experience as an educator.


After he finished his studies at the University of Königsberg, Kant worked
as a household tutor for seven years. In addition to some 43 years of
continuous lecturing at the university, Kant was actively involved in the
promotion of the Philanthropinum, a school in Dessau whose principles
were based largely on Rousseauian ideals of education. And, at one point,
Kant remarks that education is ‘the greatest and most difficult problem
that can be given to the human being’ (Kant, 2007, 9:446).
Kant’s discussions of pedagogy appear primarily in his lectures on
pedagogy, transcribed (at Kant’s request) by his colleague Friedrich
Theodor Rink. Kant’s original notes are long since lost, and there has been
considerable debate about the organisation of Kant’s lectures (see the
translator’s introduction in Kant, 2007, p. 434). Still, many of the ideas
that appear in the lectures on pedagogy appear in other texts, including the
Critique of Practical Reason, the Metaphysics of Morals, and in Kant’s
notes and lectures on ethics and anthropology.
Because of the relative lack of organisation of some of Kant’s writings
on education, there is some disagreement among commentators about how
best to divide the stages of Kant’s philosophy of education (for a detailed
discussion of the ambiguities in Kant’s terminology, see Louden, 2000,
pp. 38–40). This discussion follows Kant’s own division of the stages in
his lectures on anthropology (see Kant, 1998b, 25:723). There, he divides
the stages of education into four stages, grouped in pairs under the
headings of ‘negative education’ and ‘positive education’. Negative
education includes, first, Kant’s recommendations for the nurture of
infants and young children and, second, a stage that Kant calls discipline.
Positive education includes, first, a stage that involves civilisation and
cultivation, as well as a final stage called moralisation.

A. Negative Education
The first stage of negative education, nurture, involves both suggestions
for the care of infants and, more relevant to the discussion at hand,
suggestions about how to prevent various inclinations from getting a
foothold in the child. In several of Kant’s lectures on anthropology, Kant
credits Rousseau for promoting this type of education, but he also
criticises Rousseau for essentially limiting his account of education to this
stage (see Kant 1998b, 25:447). For Kant, a major goal of the stage of
nurture will be to ‘prevent children from becoming soft’ or becoming
spoiled and accustomed to luxury (Kant, 2007, 9:463). Thus Kant warns
against immediately running to a crying child, since this is both bad for the
child (apparently crying is a kind of exercise for children) and it ‘is often
the first undoing of the child, for if it sees that everyone rallies at its cries,
then it repeats its cries more often’ (9:459). In addition, Kant argues
against the use of artificial devices like ‘leading strings’ that would have
been used in order to help teach children how to walk (9:461). Instead, he
commends the English for allowing their children to run around like

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farmers’ children, since this has the effect of making children more
dexterous (Kant, 1998b, 25:664). In general, Kant’s view is that nature
itself does a good job of acclimatising children, and that artificial devices
like leading strings tend to soften a child’s disposition. But perhaps the
most telling piece of advice that Kant has for this stage is his insistence
that children not be allowed to develop habits. He explains that ‘the more
habits someone has, the less he is free and independent. It is the same with
the human being as with all other animals: they always retain a certain
propensity for that to which they were accustomed early’ (Kant, 2007,
9:463). Toward this end of hardening children, Kant endorses Locke’s
suggestion of constructing children’s shoes so that water always seeps in
(Kant, 1998b, 25:726), and he cites Rousseau’s claim that a child who is
correctly raised will be raised in much the same way that a peasant is, with
no attention paid to comfort and the social mannerisms of adults, but
rather to developing a hardened disposition (ibid.). Though Kant may
sound a little harsh in these suggestions, he is certainly not condoning any
kind of treatment that a child could not sustain naturally. Thus, for
example, he disagrees with Locke’s suggestion that children be denied a
regular meal schedule (Kant, 2007, 9:464). Furthermore, Kant was himself
displeased with the relatively harsh treatment that he received as a youth
at his school in Königsberg, the Collegium Fridericianum. Though it was
a relatively progressive school, Kant was reportedly often ‘overcome’
with ‘fear and terror’ upon thinking of ‘the slavery of his youth’ (Kuehn,
2001, p. 45).
Far from condoning abuse, Kant is rather suggesting that we begin
shaping in children a disposition that is not drawn away from duty for the
sake of comfort, or because it has simply established a habit that stands in
the way of freedom. There is also a sense in which Kant wants to ensure
that children are able to experience their freedom. And habits, even
seemingly harmless ones, get in the way of this experience. Kant insists that
‘a child must always feel its freedom’, as long as this freedom does not
interfere with others’ freedom or his own safety (Kant, 2007, 9:464). Even
as infants, children should be allowed, Kant thinks, to feel as much freedom
as possible. He warns against swaddling infants and suggests instead the use
of an aruccio, or a wooden box with leather straps, so that the child can
have free use of its limbs (9:459). Kant’s insistence on allowing children to
experience their freedom has much to do with instilling a kind of sympathy
or appreciation of freedom in them. This experience of one’s own freedom
is essential later in life, when we finally introduce the moral law to the
pupil. It will be easier for the child to understand the duties he has to
himself and others if he has had this experience of his own freedom, and, in
a certain sense, understands the value of such a capacity. And, in this vein,
the formation of habits is of particular concern. The more habits that a child
develops, the less likely he is to have the experience of deliberately and
freely choosing a course of action.
Negative education continues in a second stage that Kant calls
discipline. Instead of merely preventing inclinations from taking root,
Kant explains that this stage involves a ‘restriction of lawless freedom’

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Can Kant Have an Account of Moral Education? 477

(Kant, 1998b, 25:464) and ‘changes animal nature into human nature’
(Kant, 2007, 9:441). Here, Kant begins to part ways with Rousseau. In the
anthropology lectures, he explains, ‘man is an animal, who requires
discipline, without which he grows up to be not unlike a wild animal, and
here is where Rousseau makes a mistake, when he believes that discipline
flows from the nature of man’ (Kant, 1998b, 25:447).
The crucial lesson of discipline is that the child learns not to interfere
with the freedom of others. This will naturally involve some corrective
punishment, but Kant suggests that physical punishment be used as little
as possible. Instead, he suggests a kind of ‘moral punishment’, in which
we make use of a child’s natural desire to be ‘honoured’ and ‘loved’ as a
member of a group or community (Kant, 2007, 9:482). Examples of such
punishment might range from isolating a child physically to remind her
that a person who acts a certain way cannot expect to play alongside
others. Best of all, Kant thinks, is the kind of punishment that he calls
‘natural punishment’, in which the child’s punishment is simply the direct
and natural result of his misdeed (9:483). Kant’s example in this case is
that a child who over-indulges will feel ill afterwards. Here, again, we can
see some of Rousseau’s influence on Kant—the best type of punishment is
one that comes from nature. In all of these cases, of course, we are dealing
with some form of coercion; the child is not doing anything for the sake of
duty. And, though this may seem to fly in the face of Kant’s moral theory,
it is important to remember Kant’s overall goal in education, namely to
create adults who can and do act from duty. We have already seen that
Kant thinks of children as a kind of ‘special case’—they are potential
moral agents, but not fully developed yet. Punishment and coercion are
thus perfectly consistent with Kant’s theory, as long as they do not leave
the child with an inability to act freely as an adult. It is precisely because
of this type of concern that Kant urges against physical punishment, since
he thinks that this tends to lead to a servile disposition (9:482). Similarly,
parents and teachers should avoid shaming the child, or comparing him to
others (Kant, 1997, 27:437). This, it seems, will only lead to a character
that is overly concerned with the approval of others.

B. Positive Education
Following the stage of discipline, Kant’s pupil proceeds to the first stage
of positive education, cultivation. The stage of cultivation is perhaps what
most of us think of when we think of education, since it involves teaching
and improving upon various physical skills (Kant, for example, borrows
Benjamin Franklin’s advice on teaching children how to swim; see 2007,
9:466) and teaching intellectual skills like reading, writing, memorisation,
and arithmetic. But perhaps most importantly, this stage also involves
developing the capacities of judgment, understanding, and reason in the
pupil.1 This means, in other words, that students need to acquire
‘knowledge of the universal,’ as well as ‘application of the universal to the
particular.’ And finally, they will learn the ‘connection of the universal

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with the particular’ (9:472). In general, Kant thinks, the best way to
develop these capacities is to practise them by combining them with other
kinds of education: so, for example, Kant suggests that when a student
‘quotes a universal rule, then one can have him cite cases from history and
fables in which the rule is disguised’ (9:472). And in all cases, Kant
reminds us, ‘One must occupy the memory only with those things which
for us are important . . . in real life’ (9:473). Thus Kant warns against
giving children novels to read, since ‘novel-reading weakens the memory’
and fails to exercise the child’s thought (ibid.).
At this stage the pupil also learns how to conduct himself in society or
how to use his ‘skillfulness effectively’ or ‘how to use human beings for
one’s purposes’ (9:486). Kant sometimes calls this process ‘civilisation’
and it includes lessons in manners and custom, aspects of which will
‘conform to the changeable tastes of each age’ (9:450). It may seem
initially surprising that Kant would include a lesson about how to use
other people for one’s own ends in his account of moral education.
Certainly, we might think, there is nothing strictly speaking wrong with
using others for our own ends, so long as we do this within certain limits,
but it is not immediately apparent how such information could help with
the moral education of a child.
There are a several responses to this worry. First, we should not dismiss
the fact that Kant is making some practical suggestions about how a
person can go about pursuing various hypothetical imperatives in society
with others. But we should also not overlook the fact that the capacity to
pursue such hypothetical imperatives is not unrelated to the moral law or
moral reasoning. It is, in other words, precisely because we live together
with others who pursue their own ends (and because we often provide the
means by which they pursue those ends) that moral problems arise.
Indeed, it is for precisely this reason that Kant thinks children ought to be
educated in a public setting. Kant argues that ‘public education has its
obvious advantages, because by means of it one learns both to measure
one’s powers, [and] one learns restrictions through the rights of others.
Here no one enjoys any advantages because one feels resistance
everywhere . . .’ (9:455) In the stages of cultivation and civilisation, then,
students learn both practical lessons about how to achieve their ends, as
well as lessons about the difficult relationships that can arise as a result of
living in society with other rational agents.
Kant’s fourth and final stage of education is ‘moralisation’. It is at this
stage that pupils begin to discuss moral problems specifically. But, Kant
thinks, students should not be allowed to launch into a full-scale debate
about moral issues before they have first learned a solid foundation of
principles, so Kant divides this stage into an initial stage of moral
catechism, which precedes a stage of questioning and dialogue, in which
students debate about cases and historical examples (see Kant, 1996c,
6:478–9).
Given the earlier claims about the moral knowledge being, in some
sense, innate, a stage of ‘moral catechism’ might seem out of place. But
when Kant uses the word ‘catechism’, he doesn’t have in mind a kind of

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didactic or religious education, in which students simply accept various


principles handed down from an instructor. Rather, he says, ‘a pure moral
catechism, as the basic teaching of duties of virtue . . . can be developed
from ordinary human reason, and . . . needs only to be adapted to rules of
teaching suited for the earliest instruction’ (6:479). Following this
passage, Kant presents an example of such a catechism—in the form of
a conversation between teacher and student—in which the instructor
slowly draws out of the student basic moral principles. Kant also suggests
that, once principles have been ‘drawn out’ of the pupil, he should them
write them down for later memorisation (ibid.).
After the stage of catechism, Kant allows students to participate in
dialogue about casuistic questions and historical examples. In the Critique
of Practical Reason, Kant notes how easily people from any walk of life
fall into discussion about morality (Kant, 1996a, 5:153). Kant wonders
why it is, then, that ‘educators of young people have not long since made
use of this propensity’ and suggests that this kind of dialogue be used in
order to sharpen students’ powers of thinking and judging (5:154).
Kant also discusses the use of examples with respect to this stage of
learning. Examples can be useful, he concludes, so long as they are used
correctly. For one thing, we should not use examples of super-meritorious
actions, or actions that go ‘beyond the call of duty’, since these examples
of ‘inaccessible perfection produce mere heroes of romance who, while
they pride themselves on their feeling for extravagant greatness, release
themselves in return from the observance of common and everyday
obligation’ (5:155). In other words, such super-meritorious examples tend
only to make students strive for the unattainable, while neglecting the real
‘dry and earnest representation of duty’ (5:157).
In general, then, there are several goals that the instructor hopes to achieve
in the stage of moralisation. First, the teacher needs to teach students what is
contained in the moral law by drawing it out of them. A second goal of
moralisation is that pupils’ powers of thinking are sharpened, so that they
may be better able to make moral judgments in the future. Finally, it seems
Kant wants to instil in students a kind of positive attitude toward moral-
decision making. He explains that ‘it is natural for a human being to love a
subject which he has, by his own handling, brought to a science . . . and so, by
this sort of practice (in moral judgment), the pupil is drawn without noticing
it to an interest in morality’ (Kant, 1996c, 6:484).

III RECONCILING MORAL EPISTEMOLOGY AND MORAL


EDUCATION
At this point, we are left with an apparent contradiction. On the one hand,
Kant seems devoted to the idea of moral education. Yet this seems
incompatible with his more well-known views about how we come to
know and practise the moral law. The fact of reason and categorical
imperative together suggest that the moral law is something that we can
know and apply in isolation. How, then, are we to reconcile these views?

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One strategy might be simply to deny that Kant held both views at the
same time, or that his philosophy of education represents a later, less
formalised kind of thinking. This kind of interpretation may seem initially
plausible, since much—but not all—of what Kant says about education
appears in works like the Doctrine of Virtue that come after the
Groundwork and display a little less of the formalised rigor of that earlier
work. The Doctrine of Virtue, for example, contains a series of ‘hard
cases’ that Kant spends considerable time discussing. And, Kant’s
growing concern with developing moral sympathies becomes especially
apparent in this work. All of this might lead us to think that Kant’s
philosophy of moral education fits in with this stage of his thinking, and
not the more formalised system of the Groundwork.
While it is the case that the Doctrine of Virtue, especially, represents an
interesting shift in at least Kant’s presentation of his moral philosophy, it is
nevertheless the case that the same basic premises about how we know and
apply the moral law remain in place. Even in these later works, Kant would
not, for example, say that a person could not be held morally responsible
simply because she lacked the appropriate moral education. We might have
some sympathy for the person, but the fundamental fact of responsibility
remains the same. Furthermore, the apparent tension between Kant’s moral
epistemology and his philosophy of education is not solved this way, since
Kant was clearly interested in the problem of education throughout his career.
The anthropology lectures in which he discusses education span the years
1772–1778, years before the 1785 publication of the Groundwork.
We are left, then, with the task of finding a way to make these two
threads of Kant’s thought consistent. One option in solving this problem,
raised above, is to argue that while the Kantian agent may know the
content of the moral law and the general form of its decision procedure
without any special experience, she may still need help in applying the
moral law in specific circumstances. An agent might know the moral law,
but still need help in sorting out the morally-salient features of a particular
situation. This, then, is where a kind of moral education might have a
legitimate role in Kant’s philosophy. Its purpose would be to help students
practise and refine their skills of moral reasoning, helping them apply what
they already know to the complex world they inhabit.
I think all of this is true, but I also think that there is more going on in
Kant’s philosophy of moral education than can be addressed with just this
response. As we have already seen, moral debate and discussion make up
only the final stage of Kant’s sketch of moral education. Long before any of
this occurs, a great deal of work must be done in shaping the pupil’s
character. Moral education is a long process of controlling desires and habits,
teaching reasoning skills, and instilling in children a reverence for freedom
and autonomy. So, while Kant is concerned with teaching children how to
reason in hard cases, or apply the categorical imperative correctly, there is
also evidence that Kant has in mind a much larger project.
I suggest that we can give an account of this project if we look at Kant’s
moral philosophy from two different (but ultimately related) perspectives.
The first of these is that of the more well-known ground of moral action—

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that is, those reasons for acting that ultimately make our actions morally
worthy. If, in the famous example, the ground of the shopkeeper’s action
in giving fair change is a respect for the moral law, then his is a morally
worthy action (Kant, 1996b, 4:397). If, on the other hand, his ground has
only to do with garnering a reputation in order to earn more business, then
his action cannot count as morally worthy. This is the account of Kant’s
ethics that we are, for the most part, familiar with. But there is a second
aspect of moral reasoning that is also important for Kant, and this is the
object of moral action, or that toward which moral action ultimately
strives. Now, it may seem strange to suggest that Kant was at all
concerned with the object of moral action, since, as we’ve just seen, the
moral worth of an action stems not from its consequences, but from the
reasons an agent has for acting. But, for Kant, the object of moral action is
nevertheless important because, he thinks, we cannot will at all without
having an object in mind. Of course, Kant emphasises repeatedly that the
ground of action must take precedence over the object (since otherwise we
would quickly slip into a kind of consequentialism). Still, having an object
for moral action is a necessary and inseparable part of moral willing. And
for Kant, the object of moral willing is what he calls the ‘highest good’.
Kant defines the highest good as the greatest degree of happiness
consistent with the greatest degree of virtue. That is, the state in which
perfect virtue serves as a limiting condition on the maximal happiness that
we, as sensible and rational creatures who necessarily set ends for
ourselves, can achieve (see Kant, 1996a, 5:110–111).
Now, it is probably still not immediately apparent how this fact about
Kant’s concern with the object of moral action, or the highest good, solves
any contradiction between his moral theory and his philosophy of education.
We need to know more about how Kant envisioned the realisation of the
highest good. Unfortunately, Kant’s early account of the highest good does
very little to help resolve any contradiction. In this account of the highest
good (found especially The Critique of Practical Reason) the object of the
moral law is something that can only be achieved in an afterlife. Perfect
virtue, says Kant, is impossible here on this earth, and so is the happiness that
matches such virtue. Indeed, in this work, Kant bases his proofs for the
existence of God and an afterlife on just this claim (see Kant, 1996a, 5:122–
126). We must postulate the existence of an afterlife, he argues, in order to
ensure enough time to achieve perfect virtue. And, similarly, we must
postulate God’s existence in order to ensure that happiness is distributed in
proportion to virtue in the afterlife.
But this account of the highest good, as Lewis White Beck points out,
adds very little, if anything, to Kant’s moral theory. Put simply, it doesn’t
tell us to do anything new or different with respect to our moral action; it
doesn’t add anything to the moral law or the duties implied by it (Beck,
1960, pp. 244–5). The moral law still only commands us to be as morally
perfect as possible. The rest of the equation is simply ‘filled in’ so to
speak, by God in the afterlife. And, for this reason, this ‘transcendent’
account of the highest good also does very little to help us resolve the
apparent tension between Kant’s moral theory and his philosophy of

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482 K. Moran

education. Fortunately, however, Kant’s account of the highest good and


the duties implied by it change over the course of his life. In later works,
such as his Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Kant’s view
is that the highest good is something that we should strive to achieve on
this earth, as a kind of communal goal (Kant, 1998a, 6:95–100). Such an
account lies in contrast to the earlier, otherworldly, account in several
respects. First, and most obviously, Kant seems to have given up some of
the pessimism (and, frankly, bad logic) that supported his claims about the
impossibility of moral perfection and happiness. On this account, at least,
achieving these is possible, though, of course, difficult. Kant also
abandons the idea, especially apparent in the Critique of Practical
Reason, that each person will be awarded the happiness that matches his
own virtue. On the later account, there may be individuals who, perhaps
because of bad luck don’t achieve the happiness that is ‘due’ to them. But,
in general, the greatest possible happiness will follow naturally from the
greatest possible virtue, and this will all take place here on earth.
Even though this may sound a bit utopian, it actually fits quite well with
the rest of Kant’s theory. As autonomous beings, we set ends for
ourselves, and the moral law ensures that we are able to pursue these ends
insofar as they remain consistent with others’ ends. Thus, we might think
of the ethical community as the state of affairs that would exist if such
limiting conditions were to be universally instituted and followed.
Because individuals would be able to pursue their ends as far as is
compatible with others’ ends, such a world would allow the greatest
possible happiness consistent with perfect virtue.
Another feature of the later, ‘immanent’ model of the highest good is
that it does add a duty—or at least a new and more urgent way of looking
at the duties that we already have. Instead of participating in an eternal and
individual quest for moral perfection, agents on this account have a duty to
work individually and collectively to bring about the ethical community.
These individuals will be concerned, for example, with what kinds of
institutions can help realise this goal.
In sum, then, the object of moral action is, for Kant, just as important as
the better-known ground of action. To be sure, the ground of action takes
precedence and priority, but, in a certain sense, we cannot act at all
without already having the object of action in mind. And the final form of
this object is what Kant comes to call in the Religion Within the
Boundaries of Mere Reason an ‘ethical community’, something akin to the
kingdom or realm of ends in the Groundwork. By definition, the ethical
community is a kind of communal goal, achievable on earth over the
course of human history. Together, all of these facts suggest that when we
will a moral action, we are already, in some sense, also willing the end of
that action, or the ethical community. This, perhaps, is what Kant has in
mind when he says in the Groundwork that all three formulations of the
categorical imperative—including the realm of ends formulation—amount
to essentially the same thing (Kant, 1996b, 4:436).
It is with respect to this goal of achieving an ethical community that
Kant’s philosophy of moral education begins to make sense as part of his

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Can Kant Have an Account of Moral Education? 483

moral theory. Kant’s theory of the highest good, understood as an end of


history, implies that we have more than just a duty to individually follow
the moral law in the hopes of achieving perfection and reward in an
afterlife. Rather, understood in the more communal sense, Kant’s notion
of the highest good suggests that we have a duty to strive towards a kind of
realm of ends. And this is where Kant’s philosophy of moral education
starts to take on an important role that is consistent with his overall moral
theory. If we have a duty that goes beyond simply perfecting ourselves
morally and extends, rather, to working toward this kind of community,
we must necessarily ask ourselves what kinds of actions will help bring
about this end of ours.
It is Kant’s claim that the system of education that he describes will be
particularly effective in bringing about the end of the ethical community.
To see why Kant thinks this is the case, it is useful to return to our earlier
discussion of the ‘subjective conditions of freedom’ that Kant thinks each
agent must learn in order to act morally (Kant, 1997, 27:291). These
‘subjective conditions’ include: knowledge about how to act (i.e. to take
toward a particular end); which features of a situation are relevant to moral
action; and what kinds of considerations can or ought to motivate us.
Again, Kant thinks that an agent raised in community with others will
eventually learn these subjective conditions of freedom, but he also thinks
that the system of education that he proposes will, in effect, teach these
lessons much more efficiently. So, for example, a child who has not been
allowed to develop habits will have a stronger and more salient
appreciation of freedom. Similarly, a child who experiences some
appropriate amount of discipline will learn and internalise the lesson that
the world is not organised in such a way that she can always expect her
desires to be fulfilled. Furthermore, children who are taught how to pursue
their ends alongside other agents will have a deeper understanding of the
kinds of conflicts that can arise between agents. And, of course, when
these conflicts arise, a person who has developed a deep appreciation for
freedom and who is practised in moral reasoning will be more likely to
make a moral decision.
At all stages of education, then, Kant is concerned that we shape in
children certain dispositional traits and ways of thinking that will make
moral choice and moral motivation more likely as these children mature
into fully-developed rational agents. With this observation, we can begin
to see just how incomplete any purely individualistic and ‘formalised’
account of Kantian ethics is. Developing a moral disposition is, for Kant,
both a crucial component of working toward a kind of ethical community,
and it is a project that requires a great deal of social cooperation. Given
our duty to pursue the ethical community, in other words, it is not simply
enough to hope that individual agents will each apply the formal principles
of morality correctly. Rather, we have an obligation to catalyse our
progress toward this community through participation in institutions like
formal education. Indeed, it seems that education may be the most
important institution in this regard. Kant, at one point asks, ‘How, then,
are we to seek this perfection, and from whence is it to be hoped for?’ His

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484 K. Moran

answer should at this point come as no surprise: ‘From nowhere else but
education’ (Kant, 1997, 27:471).

Correspondence: Kate A. Moran, Department of Philosophy, Brandeis


University, 415 South Street MS 055, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454,
USA.
E-mail: kmoran@brandeis.edu

NOTE
1. Indeed, it is this stage of Kant’s account of education that seems to correspond most closely with
what some 20th century authors have called the education of autonomy. Though these
contemporary authors may not be committed to Kant’s metaphysical notion of acting on a moral
law that reason gives to itself, they certainly share Kant’s commitment at this stage to developing
agents who are able to reason well, think critically and act for themselves. These agents, as R. F.
Dearden puts it, will be those agents whose thoughts and actions ‘cannot be explained without
reference to [their] own activity of mind’ (Dearden, 1972, p. 453).

REFERENCES
Beck, L. W. (1960) A Commentary on Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason (Chicago, University of
Chicago Press).
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(eds) Education and the Development of Reason (Boston, Routledge and Kegan Paul), pp. 448–
465.
Herman, B. (1993) The Practice of Moral Judgment, in The Practice of Moral Judgment
(Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press), pp. 73–93.
Kant, I. (1996a) Critique of Practical Reason, in: M. Gregor (ed.) The Cambridge Edition of the
Works of Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), pp.
133–271.
Kant, I. (1996b) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in: M. Gregor (ed.) The Cambridge
Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy (Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press), pp. 37–108.
Kant, I. (1996c) The Metaphysics of Morals, in: M. Gregor (ed.) The Cambridge Edition of the
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353–603.
Kant, I. (1997) Lectures on Ethics, in: P. Heath and J. B. Scnheewind (eds) The Cambridge Edition
of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Ethics (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
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Kant, I. (1998b) Vorlesungen über Anthropologie (Lectures on Anthropology), in Kant’s
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Kant, I. (2007) Lectures on Pedagogy, in: R. B. Louden and G. Zöller (eds) The Cambridge
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Kuehn, M. (2001) Kant: A Biography (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Louden, R. (2000) Kant’s Impure Ethics (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
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Rawls, J. (2000) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, ed. B. Herman (Cambridge, MA,
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