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The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Volume 48, Number 3, Fall 2014,

pp. 5-27 (Article)
DOI: 10.1353/jae.2014.0020

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Examples of Perfectionism
Paul Guyer
1. Two Kinds of Examples
Two claims stand behind my title. I will argue first that, if we read Immanuel Kants moral philosophy the way I do, in which rationality is the means
to the end of human freedom rather than being an end in itself, then Kant
offers a fuller example of what Stanley Cavell calls Emersonian perfectionism, but which I will call Cavells own perfectionism, than Cavell himself
has recognized even in his most sympathetic account of Kant, and can help
us see the full power of such perfectionism. Second, I will argue that there
is a deep affinity between the views of moral education with which Kant
and Cavell accompany their examples of moral perfectionism, in that each
thinks that examples of the possibility of actually living a moral life in the
face of the inexorable imperfection of the human condition play a central
role in moral education. This claim may seem even more surprising than
the first, since Kant seems to focus on the moral education of children by
their elders, while Cavell focuses on the education of grown-ups,1 and,
for Kant, moral education seems to take place primarily in the nursery
and classroom, while, for Cavell, it can seem to take place primarily in the
theater, whether that presents live actors or flickering images on a screen.
But I will argue that there are not only similarities between their images
of what moral education must teach but also the similarity that Kant too,
like a true moral perfectionist, is clear that the process of moral education
is never ending and never ended.

Paul Guyer is the Jonathan Nelson Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at Brown
University. He is the author of nine books on the philosophy of Kant, editor and
translator of Kants first and third critiques, and editor of six anthologies of work on
Kant, as well as coeditor of the first collective volume on the work of Stanley Cavell,
Pursuits of Reason (1993). His History of Modern Aesthetics in three volumes appeared
in 2014. He has been president of the American Philosophical Association Eastern
Division and the American Society for Aesthetics and is a Fellow of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 48, No. 3, Fall 2014
2014 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

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2. Cavellian Perfectionism
I will base my interpretation of Cavells perfectionism on the account he offers
in his second magnum opus, Cities of Words, since, for someone like me, who
took Hum 5 as a freshman in 196566, read Cavells first work on film as
it appeared while I was still at Harvard in graduate school, but then, having
left to start my own career, followed Cavells turn to Emerson from a greater
distance, that book is very special, both a souvenir of my own youth but also
a time-lapse film, in which we can see in a few hundred pages how Cavells
whole career of thinking flowered from seeds planted in those early lectures.
And, for me at least, Cavells characterization of perfectionism in the introduction to Cities of Words, In the Place of the Classroom, is the clearest he
has offered, its very title reminding us of one of the central educational themes
of perfectionism, one that we might trace all the way back to Platos Seventh
Letter, that education ultimately takes place in a relation between person and
person, not in a relation between a person and a printed page.
Although Cavell does not use such academic language, on the basis of
this text, I understand perfectionism as comprising both a metaethics and
a normative ethics. By the metaethics of Cavells perfectionism, I mean his
general account of moral thinking as taking the form of holding ourselves
up to the idea of a better world and a better existence than we currently
enjoy, one that we know that we can to some degree attain but at the same
time know we can never fully attain, for perfectionism specifically sets itself against any idea of ultimate perfection2 (why I have previously written that, if it were not so ugly, we might better call Cavellian perfectionism
perfectingism).3 Cavell expresses this first point by saying that, in every
variation of perfectionism, the way in which we now hold the world is
contrasted with, reformed into, a future way we could help it become (Cities of Words, 1); more fully,
Each of these variations provides a position from which the present
state of human existence can be judged and a future state achieved, or
else the present judged to be better than the cost of achieving it. The
very conception of a divided self and a doubled world, providing a
perspective of judgment upon the world as it is, measured against the
world as it may be, tends to express disappointment with the world
as it is, as the scene of human activity and prospects, and perhaps
to lodge the demand or desire for a reform or transfiguration of the
Cavell indicates that this is a general feature of all variations of perfectionism, more general than any specific conception of what the perfection of
human existence or the world as a whole might consist in, which is what
I mean by referring to the metaethics of his perfectionism: in his terminology, this is a register of the moral life that precedes, or intervenes in, the

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Examples of Perfectionism7
specification of moral theories which define the particular bases or moral
judgments of particular acts or projects or characters as right or wrong, good
or bad (ibid., 2).
I am not sure why Cavell uses the word perhaps: surely his view is
that, in all variations of perfectionism, our idea of a doubled world, or of
the ideal world to which we compare our actual world, and of the ideal self
to which we compare our actual selves, does lodge a demand or desire for
the reform or transfiguration of actuality. Perhaps he means perhaps to
indicate that we sometimes judge, as he says, that the present is better than
the cost of changing it. I take this to be an acknowledgment of the imperfectionism that is part of Cavellian perfectionism, the recognition that we can
progress toward our ideal but never fully attain it. But the very fact that the
incomplete attainability of our moral ideal is an imperfection in the world
means that our idea does and must lodge a demand or desire for the reform
or transfiguration of actuality; without that, our recognition that sometimes
the cost of change is too high would not count as an imperfection.
Cavell says that this thought, by which I take him to mean both the
thought that we must transform our actual world in the light of our ideal
world and the thought that we can never fully do so, is not exactly foreign
to Kant (Cities of Words, 1), and this is certainly correct, or at least correct for
the mature Kant who ultimately largely drops the postulate of immortality
from the conditions of the possibility of the highest good because he finally
realizes that morality demands only that human beings be as virtuous as
human beings can be, not inhumanly virtuous as only immortals might be.4
But rather than pursuing that thought, I will now turn to what I have called
the normative ethics of Cavells perfectionism, for here the affinity between
his thought and Kants may not be so apparent.
Cavell offers a statement of the normative ethics of perfectionism in his
chapter on Ralph Waldo Emerson in Cities of Words, which sums up many
previous papers: the aim of perfectionism is making ourselves intelligible
(to others, to ourselves). More fully, What I characterized as making oneself intelligible is the interpretation moral perfectionism gives to the idea of
moral reasoning, the demand for providing reasons for ones conduct, for
the justification of ones life, by means of confrontation and conversation
as the means of determining whether we can live together, accept one another into the aspirations of our lives (Cities of Words, 24). Cavell adds, This
does not mean that perfectionism is an alternative to [the] other famous
positions in normative ethics and adds this with good reason, for making ourselves intelligible and justifying our actions whether to ourselves or
others presupposes some additional goal beyond intelligibility as such: to
understand our actions and to justify them whether to ourselves or others,
we have to understand what they are aimed at, and, if this is only intelligibility, we will be caught in an uncomfortably tight circle. Conversely, other

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normative ethical theories presuppose that we must be able to understand
and justify our actions to ourselves and othersto anticipate, this is what
Kant calls moral self-knowledge and consciencebut that is so that we can
see what we are really aiming at in our actions and whether we are aiming at
what we ought to be aiming at. Intelligibility to self and others is a necessary
condition of successful moral reasoning but not its whole aim.
But Cavell has not really confused a merely necessary condition of successful moral reasoning with its whole aim; at worst, he has overstated
the nevertheless undeniable importance of this indispensable condition of
moral perfection. I will turn in a moment to his conception of the as it were
material or substantive rather than formal or epistemic requirement of perfectionism, but, before I do that, let me note that the requirement of intelligibility to self and others as at least a necessary condition of moral reasoning
was not something that Cavell learned only from Emerson (which is part of
why I would rather refer to Cavellian perfectionism than Emersonian perfectionism); it was a theme of his work from the outset. For did the actions
of the monitory figures of Lear and Othello end in tragedy for any reason
except their failures to make their actions intelligible to others but first to
themselves? Cavell did not use the term intelligibility in his accounts of
Lear and Othello, but that is what the problem was: Lears failures of vision
could not have been corrected by better glasses but only by his having more
fully understood his need for declarations of love from his daughters and
his having made more intelligible to them what he wanted, and Othellos
anger at Desdemona could not have been assuaged by her production of
the purloined handkerchief but only by a better understanding of his own
insecurity at the good fortune of her love for him and an honest communication of that insecurity to her that would have given her the opportunity to
reassure him of its needlessness. In Cavells conception of tragedy, in other
words, the failure of intelligibility to self and others, not ancestral curses or
contradictory demands of family and state, was always the cause of tragedy.
That is entirely consistent with the status of intelligibility as only the
necessary and not the sufficient condition for morality. But what is Cavells
conception of this further aspect of the normative ethics of perfectionism,
our fundamental substantive rather than epistemic aim in self-perfection? A
further passage in the Emerson chapter of Cities of Words points in the right
direction. Here Cavell says that
Emersons writing, in demonstrating our lack of given means of making ourselves intelligible (to ourselves, to others), details the difficulties in the way of possessing those means, and demonstrates that
they are at hand. This thought, implying our need of invention and of
transformation, expresses two dominating themes of perfectionism.
(Cities of Words, 26)

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Examples of Perfectionism9
This remark might suggest that we need invention and transformation in
order to make ourselves intelligible, but I think that Cavells larger point is
the converse, that we need to make ourselves intelligible in order to realize
our potential for invention and transformation and that the latterin other
words, the exercise of our freedomis the substantive goal of moral perfectionism. In the compressed context of the Emerson chapter, Cavell quickly glosses the second dominating theme as the thought that the other
to whom I can use the words I discover in which to express myself is the
Friend (ibid., 27) and thus turns to the issue of friendship, which, especially
friendship between man and woman, is such a central theme of Cavells
work on film; but here too I think we should think more in terms of a necessary rather than sufficient condition: intelligibility to self and others is what
makes friendship possible, but friendship, including that between a man
and a woman who have discovered the possibility of their (re)marriage in
the possibility of their genuine friendship, is itself a necessary condition for
the self-invention and self-transformation of each. Or at least self-invention
and self-transformation are the products of friendship as well as the conditions of the possibility of friendship. But, in any case, friendship, like intelligibility, is only a formal rather than a substantive goal of morality: there
is friendship among thieves, after all, and not every friendship is morally
significant, let alone the aim of morality. Only that friendship that allows
for as well as perhaps depends on self-invention and self-transformation is
morally significant friendship.
In other words, the aim of perfectionism is the perfection of our own use
of our freedom. This is clearly the point at which Cavellian perfectionism
comes into contact with the normative as well as metaethics of Kant. But,
before I turn to Kant, let me amplify my interpretation of Cavell with an illustration from Cavells classical interpretation of the film Bringing Up Baby,
Leopards in Connecticut. Cavell begins this essay with his own reference
to Kant, stating that this movie presents the purest example of the relationship between the principal man and woman in the comedies of remarriage
as the achievement of purposiveness without purpose (or say directedness
without direction) and explains that [i]n thus invoking Kants characterization of the aesthetic experience I am thinking of his idea of providing an
access to the connection of the aesthetic experience with the play of childhood.5 There can be no question that the antics of the hapless paleontologist
David (Cary Grant) and the reckless ingenue Susan (Katherine Hepburn)
can seem childish, indeed do seem childish to all the other characters (except the sympathetic Major) when they do not seem downright insane, and
are certainly purposive without purpose in the sense that David, at least,
has very little idea of what he is doing or better, in the earlier stages of the
story, of what is happening to him. But the doings of the characters are not

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ultimately purposive without purpose, anymore than aesthetic experience
on Kants own account is ultimately purposive without purpose. As Cavell
puts it, in the course of the story, the characters are attempting to cross
the limit of childhood, a crossing whose successful and healthy negotiation demands a satisfaction of ... reawakened curiosity, a stage at which the
fate of ones intelligence, or ability and freedom to think, will be settled
(Pursuits of Happiness, 125)6or better, ability and freedom to think and act,
although, through apparently purposiveless play, they can achieve this very
serious purpose (and perhaps through appreciating what they have accomplished, we can make some headway in doing that ourselves). Through their
willingness to disregard the limits of convention and, at least in the case of
David, his own preconception of his status and role in life (the dispassionate
curator assisted by the equally dispassionate Miss Swallow), the characters
are able to discover who they might really be and what they really might
donamely, since this is a comedy of (re)marriage, that they might be lovers
and friends, husband and wife, for and with each other. The specific aim of a
comedy is marriage or remarriage (though that is clearer in The Philadelphia
Story than in Bringing Up Baby), but that can only come about through the
free choice of the agents, itself made possible through their achievement of
intelligibility to their selves and to each otherif not immediately to everyone else. Intelligibility is only the means to the end, namely, freedom, and in
the case of Cavells comedies, the freedom to (re)marry.
The same point could be made through others of Cavells interpretations
of the comedies of remarriage. Thus, he says in his discussion of the film
The Lady Eve that comic resolutions depend on an acquisition in time (in
two senses, that is, in due time, or eventually, but also in good time, or
not too late) of self-knowledge; say this is a matter of learning who you
are. But again, self-knowledge is not an end in itself; rather, the discoveries about yourself that need to be made, learning the identity of your parents and learning, or accepting, your sexual identity, are in service of
the authorization or authentication of what is called a marriage (Pursuits of
Happiness, 56), a paradigmatic example of free action and perhaps the most
important action that many people will freely undertake in their lives. But
instead of further documenting this point, I want to make one further point
about Cavells treatment of the comedies of the remarriage before turning to
Kant for a while. Cavells earliest publications about Emerson date to the period in which Cavell was writing and collecting the essays that became The
Pursuits of Happiness,7 but neither the first Emerson pieces nor The Pursuits
of Happiness yet used the language of perfectionism. However, one could
argue that the idea was already there, indeed that Cavell chose the idea of
remarriage as his themeeven though it is a bit of a stretch in some of his
casesbecause it is an emblem of one of the most fundamental ideas of
his perfectionism: namely, the attainment of self-knowledge and, through

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Examples of Perfectionism11
self-knowledge, of the freedom for self-invention and self-transformation
is never completed in a single moment, like an initial wedding ceremony,
or indeed ever completed at all, but is an ongoing, life-long commitment.
He says of Bringing Up Baby that [t]he film ... poses a question concerning the validation of marriage, the reality of its bonding, as that question is
posed in the genre of remarriage comedy. Its answer participates in ... the
answer of that structurethat the validity of marriage takes a willingness
for repetition, the willingness for remarriage (Pursuits of Happiness, 12627).
All marriage is really remarriage because it requires a continual process of
trying to make oneself intelligible to oneself and ones spouse, and not just a
single renewal of vows in middle age, now surrounded by the adoring children who could not have been there at the original wedding, but a constant
process of bondingnote Cavells use of the gerunda continuing effort
at maintaining the friendship, the partnership that is marriage while each
partner continues his or her own self-invention, til death do them part, or
they give up on the marriage. And in this regard, marriage is exemplary of
free action in general.
My interpretation of the meta- and normative ethics of Cavellian perfectionism is now on the table. At this point, let me turn to the task of arguing
that this perfectionism is even more Kantian than Cavell has acknowledged.
I could begin from the central idea of Kantian aesthetics that Cavell introduced into his discussion of Bringing Up Baby, for, as I have argued in the
past, it is fundamental to Kants aesthetics that aesthetic experience prepares
us for morality, that [t]he beautiful prepares us to love something, even
nature, without interest; [and] the sublime, to esteem it, even contrary to
our (sensible) interest,8 yet without sacrificing the room for that free play of
imagination and understanding that is definitive of aesthetic experience in
the first place.9 But I will instead turn directly to several of the main claims
of Kants moral philosophy.

3. Kantian Perfectionism
How can I call Kants own normative ethics a form of perfectionism?
Doesnt Kant include perfectionism in his list of inadequate approaches to
moral theory because it begs the moral question, that is, it only prescribes
the development of talents and skills of human beings for ends that must
precede the determination of the will by a practical rule10 or are antecedently assumed to be moral without adequate justification? Well, Kant does
sometimes criticize perfectionism for that reason, but, in at least one place,
he classifies his own moral theory as a form of perfectionism. This is in his
exposition of the four possible forms of moral theory in the Lectures on Ethics
in the form in which he gave them in the years leading up to his publication
of the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals in 1785. Here, as he usually

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does, Kant criticizes theories that moral principles are given empirically by
either internal grounds (whether self-love or the moral sense) or external
grounds (whether custom, education, or government) as offering merely
contingent and thus not law-like principles; and, likewise as he usually
does, criticizes voluntarism or divine-command moral theory, as a theory
of an externally given but intellectually or rationally given ground for morality, as question-begging, presupposing as it does that we already have a
moral principle by means of which to recognize the purported commands
from God. But instead of repeating his usual criticism that perfectionism is
also either question-begging or else just another empirical theory, Kant here
instead puts his own moral theory into the place reserved for perfectionism. The second systema morale, he says, is the intellectual one, on which
the philosopher judges that the principle of morality has a ground in the
understanding, and can be apprehended completely a priori, and this principle is nothing other than that [i]t is a necessary law of free choice that
in all cases of free choice I must seek a conformity of [my] free choice with
itself and others.11 Indeed, Kant makes it explicit that he considers his own
account of the moral principle to be a form of perfectionism by stating that
the governance of our choice by rules, whereby all acts of my choice concur
with universal validity ... a rule which is the principle of the possibility of
the conformity of all in free choice, is the inner goodness and absolute perfection of free choice.12 Later in these lectures, in his discussion of duties to
self,13 Kant describes freedom as the inner worth of the world, the summum
bonum,14 and from that derives the supreme rule [i]n all self-regarding
actionsbut the same applies to all actions tout courtso to behave that
any use of powers is compatible with the greatest use of them, or act only
in accordance with conditions under which the greatest use of freedom is
possible, and under which it can be self-consistent.15 Kants theory is that
our supreme moral obligation is to exercise our freedom in each case of action so that it is consistent with the greatest use of freedom by ourselves and
others and that in this consists the perfection of free choice or the will. To exercise our freedom requires reason, for only reason can tell us how to achieve
consistency between any one use of freedom and the greatest possible use
of freedom by ourselves and others. But, in yet another lecture course, Kant
makes plain the relation between freedom and reason: If only rational beings can be ends in themselves, this is not because they have reason, but
because they have freedom. Reason is merely the means.16 Freedom is the
end that must be maximized by the use of reasonthis is perfectionism in
its simplest form, with our use of freedom as that which must be perfected.
How is this statement of perfectionism to be connected with Kants published statement of his moral philosophy, however, where he never refers
to the greatest use of freedom or calls his moral theory a form of perfectionism? And how is the perfectionism I have just assigned to Kant to

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Examples of Perfectionism13
be reconciled with Cavells own interpretation of Kants normative ethics,
which, even in as late a work as Cities of Words, stresses the formal requirements of universality and necessity as the hallmark of the moral for Kant
(12930) and also finds in Kantian morality an obligation to show dutys
purity in the light of which Emersonian perfectionism will not seem a
moral outlook at all (133)? The answer to this is that, while, of course, in
Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant first formulates the categorical imperativewhich is nothing less than the form in which the fundamental principle of morality presents itself to us human beings precisely
because of our inescapable imperfection, the irremediable presence in us of
inclinations to act contrary to the moral lawas the requirement of acting
only on universalizable maxims, and in Critique of Practical Reason never
presents the categorical imperative in any other way, in Groundwork Kant
also argues that the ground of a possible categorical imperative, its own
foundation, can only lie in something that is an end in itself, something
the existence of which in itself has an absolute worth,17 and then asserts that
this end in itself can be nothing other than our own humanity. This humanity is not, however, what distinguishes homo sapiens as a biological species
from other (possible) rational beings, but rather what we have in common
with other rational beings (or would, were there any others), but insofar
as it is present in us. And this rational nature, Kant then says, is nothing other than our ability to set ourselves an end,18 or ends, a point that he
reiterates a dozen years later, in Metaphysics of Morals for which Groundwork was the groundwork, when he states that humanity is that by which
the human being alone is capable of setting himself ends.19 The second
formulation of the categorical imperative, which makes its own ground explicit, the injunction, namely, So act 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,20 is thus nothing other than the command always to
make the ability to set ends, in ourselves and in all others whom our actions
may affect, our supreme end, the end to which all our other ends must be
subordinated. In other words, however in particular we choose to exercise
our freedom of choice, we are to make the preservation and promotion of
the possibility of freedom of choice our supreme end, an end that does not
rule out all other ends but that governs what other ends we can adopt. In
yet further words, we are to make the greatest possible use of freedom, our
own and that of all others, our supreme or essential end; in that way, just as
Kant said in his lectures, we are to make the perfection of our own capacity
for choice and that of others our end.
That this is the substantive import of Kants normative ethics is also clear
from his third major formulation of the categorical imperative, the formula
of the realm of ends. This formula, which combines the form and matter of moral maxims into their complete determination, requires that we

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abstract from the personal differences of rational beings as well as from all
content of their private ends in order to be able think ofand realize
a whole of all ends in systematic connection (a whole both of rational beings as ends in themselves and of the ends of his own that each may set
himself).21 This statement, the consequence of the formula of humanity as
its ground, has to be interpreted carefully. It does not tell us to ignore the
particular ends of others and abnegate our own. It tells us that our contingent, accidental preferences for particular ends, whether some of our own
or some of some others, must be set aside so that we can adopt the general
principle that tells us to treat everyone, ourselves and all others, as ends in
themselves and, thus, to promote the particular ends of each to the extent
that doing so is compatible with equally promoting the likewise compatible
particular ends of all others, whether or not we are currently inclined to do
so. The command that all maxims from ones own lawgiving are to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends as with a kingdom of nature22 is,
thus, another form of the command to use our own freedom only in a way
compatible with the greatest possible use of freedom and to strive to perfect
our will in that way.
Of course, Kant recognizes that, while we should always be able to avoid
injuring or destroying the (lawful) freedom of others, we cannot possibly
actually promote the realization of all the particular ends of all others, thus,
that we must pick and choose from among all those we could possibly help
those whom we will actually help and from among all the possible ways in
which we could help them those in which we will attempt to help. That is
why his system of duties includes perfect duties of omission but only imperfect duties of commission; in this abstract way, the acknowledgment of human imperfection is part of Kantian perfectionism, as it is of Emersonian or
Cavellian perfectionism. And while there is no space here to enumerate all
of Kants open-ended, imperfect duties of perfection, two comments about
them are in order here. First, in Kants view the First Command of All Duties to Oneself is
know (scrutinize, fathom) yourself, not in terms of your natural perfection (your fitness or unfitness for all sorts of discretionary or even
commanded ends), but rather in terms of your moral perfection. ...
That is, know your heart. ... This moral cognition of oneself will, first,
dispel fanatical contempt for oneself as a human being. ... But such
cognition will also counteract that egotistical self-esteem which takes
mere wishes ... for proof of a good heart.23
That is, to fulfill any duties, whether to oneself or others, one has first to
make oneself intelligible to oneself and, in so doing, to come to understand
that one must be neither more perfect nor less perfect than human beings are
allowed to beone must not hold oneself to a standard of perfection that is

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Examples of Perfectionism15
unattainable for human beings, but neither must one allow oneself a degree
of imperfection that is too lax for human beings. So, for Kant, as for Cavell,
intelligibility to oneself is not the end of duty but its beginning, its necessary
condition. To this requirement, Kant also adds that of conscience, one of his
explications of which is that, through his conscience, one constrained by
reason sees himself constrained to carry on the business of a human being
with himself as at the bidding of another person.24 That is, one has to be
able to make ones actions intelligible not only to oneself but also to others,
or to an otheran imagined supreme being, an imagined human being, an
actual human being. A necessary condition of acting freely is understanding what it is that one is trying to do, and a necessary condition of treating
the freedom of others as an end in itself is being willing to allow them to
understand what one is trying to do (in a way that, to borrow one of Kants
examples, one who would make a promise to another that he does not intend to keep has no intention of doing). The requirement of self- and mutual
intelligibility is as much a part of Kants ethics as it is of Cavells.
The second point that I want to make here is that the claims of friendship and that special form of friendship that marriage may be are just as
prominent in Kants normative ethics as they are in Cavells, for they are
paradigmatic cases in which one may promote the ends of others while
promoting ones own as well.25 To be sure, Kant offers a longer list of duties than Cavell ever does, and, perhaps as a lifelong bachelor himself, he
hardly makes marriage as central to his account of human self-perfecting
as Cavell does. Further, his discussion of marriage comes in his Doctrine
of Right, not his Doctrine of Virtue, so Kant is focused more on the legally enforceable perfect duties we have within marriage than on marriage
as an image of the fact that human beings can always be in the process of
perfecting themselves but can never perfect themselves. But what I want to
draw attention to is only Kants analysis of marriage as a site for the realization of human freedom, the place where the natural drive for sex can be
transformed into an expression of human freedom and the possibility of its
mutual realization, thus an instance of the ultimate goal of morality. Kant
has been scorned for his view of sex as the natural use that one sex makes
of the others sexual organs for enjoyment and for his claim that sex can
be made rightful only within marriage, but my concern is solely with his
reason for believing that sex can be made rightful within marriage, namely,
his idea that, within marriage, each does not merely acquire the (right to
use the) sexual organs of the other but each acquires the other as a whole
person, since a person is an absolute unity,26 and thereby enables herself not
merely to use her sexual organs as an instrument for her own enjoyment but
to become a whole person again as well. Kants idea is basically just that,
in sex as such (with oneself, with another), one is essentially a slave to passion, using oneself and/or the other as a mere means to pleasure, but that,

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in marriage, at least in a genuine marriage with all its give and take, one is
not merely treating ones spouse as a genuinely free will rather than a mere
means for pleasure, but that in so doing one also treats oneself as a genuinely
free will and not a mere means for pleasure. The unity that one spouse
concedes to the other but thereby gains for herself as well is precisely the
unity of a free, rational will, one who can choose to set the end of obtaining
sexual pleasure within and only within a larger practice of freely setting
her ends and conceding the same right to do so to othersin this case, one
otheras well. Kant makes it explicit that this sharing of the right to mutual
freedom to set ends is not confined to the bedroom, arguing that equality of
possession between spouses extends beyond equality in their possession
of each other as persons to include equality in their possession of material
goods as well.27 And while he does not make the next point equally explicit,
it should be clear that, in spite of the sexual monogamy on which he insists
within marriage, the married couples extension of personhood and, therefore, freedom to others is not limited to each other; the married couple may
have children, servants, and other employees, and Kants account of rights
to persons akin to rights to things makes it plain that, in these relations too,
we must always treat their objects as persons with their own freedom and
their own rights. We can think of marriage on the Kantian model as the center of concentric rings of freedom, in which the couple at the center extends
the freedom they have granted to each other in appropriate ways to others
beyond their own bedroom.28
I hope I have now said enough to substantiate my claim that Kants normative ethics can be considered perfectionist in its own terms, that it has
some of the same structural features as Cavellian perfectionism, and even
that it identifies some of the same sites for the imperfect realization of our
perfection as does Cavell, above all in marriage. I now want to turn back to
metaethics and suggest some of the parallels between Kants and Cavells
versions of perfectionism at this level of their thought. I hardly need argue
that Kants moral theory is in some way grounded on the idea that we are
members of not one but two worlds, an intelligible world, governed by reason, in which we are free from the importunate demands of inclination, and
a sensible world, in which the demands of inclination are, at the very least,
foregrounded. The idea that those who aspire to a moral life ... already
live, as it were, in an association (real or imaginary) other than the one manifested in our everyday world of imperfect laws and enforcements and unstable or unworthy incentives (Cavell, Cities of Words, 138) is self-evidently
an idea from Kant and an idea that Emerson could not but have associated,
to borrow this quotations own word, with Kant. In Kants Groundwork, this
idea takes the form that we have to think of ourselves as members of an
intelligible as well as of a sensible world in order to conceive of our reason
as a form of self-activity and as the condition of possibility of self-activity
and thus freedom in all of its forms.29 What I want to do with this topic here

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Examples of Perfectionism17
is only to highlight a profound problem in Kants initial conception of our
membership in two worlds and then suggest that his struggle to resolve
this problem took him even closer toward Cavellian perfectionism than may
be apparent from Cavells own use of Kant only to identify the two-world
structure characteristic of all perfectionism.
In his first mature published discussion of his moral theory, in the Critique of Pure Reason, this problem is not yet apparent. Here Kant says that our
moral task is to transform the natural world into a moral world, the world
as it would be if it were in conformity with all moral laws (as it can be in
accordance with the freedom of rational beings and should be in accordance
with the necessary laws of morality).30 But Kant offers no guarantee that
human beings will transform the natural world into a moral world; on the
contrary, his argument that virtuous individuals must be able to believe that
they will be rewarded for their virtue in a world that is future for them is
based on nothing less than the assumption that many other human beings
will not do their part in transforming the natural world into a moral one.31
In the Groundwork, however, Kant makes assumptions, intentionally or not,
that land him in the antiperfectionist position of implying that human beings cannot but be moral, thus that moral perfection is not only possible but
even necessary for us, a conclusion a Cavellian perfectionist cannot accept.
Kant begins the third section of the Groundwork by assuming that the moral
law must be a special kind of causality, in accordance with immutable laws
but of a special kind, for the free will,32 a position he then sustains by arguing that the moral law is the immutable law of the noumenal will, even if
it does not appear to the causal law of human actions in the phenomenal
world of human inclinations. But if the noumenal world or the noumenal
will is the ground of the phenomenal world, as Kant seems to believe in the
Groundwork and explicitly asserts in the Critique of Practical Reason,33 then
there can really be no conflict between morality and inclination, no threats to
our morality from our inclinations, and thus no possibility of human beings
falling short of moral perfectionor, as a long line of critics from Kants time
through the time of Henry Sidgwick to the present have put it, there can be
no possibility of evil in Kants model of the human will.34 Contrary to its
name, this is precisely what perfectionism cannot accept.
But neither could Kant himself ultimately accept this result. Thus, by
1792, in what would become the first part of Religion within the Boundaries of
Mere Reasonthe text that was the basis for Cavells presentation of Kant in
Hum 5 in 1966, though not in Cities of WordsKant argued that the noumenal will, now distinguished as Willkhr, the faculty of choice, from Wille,
the legislative rather than executive source of the moral law, can only be
understood as the inscrutable power to choose between good and evil. Kants
argument in Religion is that, precisely because the choice of evil is truly free,
we should not be discouraged by the undeniable prevalence of human evil,
because, if we have been free to choose evil, then we are also free to choose

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good.35 But Kant is also explicit that the freedom of the noumenal will affords us only the possibility of being moral, not a guarantee that any or all of
us will actually be moral, and he argues that the idea of our own immortality
is an image of the possibility of unending progress toward moral perfection, endless progress toward holiness,36 but also an image of the way in
which, once having converted from evil to good out of our radical freedom,
we could also always, inexplicably as before, convert back from good to evil,
and thus can never be confident that our virtue has been completed.37 Thus,
whereas in Critique of Practical Reason, the postulate of immortality is a guarantee of the possibility of perfecting our virtue, in the form of an image of
having enough time to do so (all the time in the world, or out of the world),
in Religion, the idea of immortality is a symbol of the fact that we can never
be confident in the completeness of our virtue. This is a thought that Cavellian perfectionism can live with, indeed requires, a fundamental part of its
epistemology or ethics of belief, and it is a thought to which Kant eventually
comes as well.

4. Learning Possibilities
In this section, I want to turn, though somewhat briefly, to the question
of education. Cavells characterization of philosophy as the education of
grownups, as I noted at the outset, has been a recent subject of discussion.38
This suggests a fundamental difference with Kant, who, at least in his account of moral education, the focus of his theory of education, seems concerned primarily with the education of children. But I want to suggest that
Kants theory of moral symbolism, adumbrated in Critique of Judgment and
developed more fully in Religion, shows that moral education is an on-going
process even for adults,39 as it should be on Cavellian perfectionism. Beyond
this one point, I want to suggest that there is an even deeper affinity between
the Cavellian and Kantian images of education, for, on Kants account, what
both children and adults must learn is not the principle or content of moralitythat, in Kants view, everyone, even a child, already knowsbut the
possibility of their own freedom, in particular, their freedom to be moral;
and on Cavells account too, what it is that grownups must learn is above
all the possibility of their own freedom, their freedom to be who they really
want to be free with another with whom they really want to be, which is the
core of morality for Cavell. Finally, I will suggest that, while Kant makes it
clear that children learn the possibility of being free to be moral themselves
in part from the example of others who have freely chosen to be moral, in
the face of great costs, but for Cavell, people seem either to learn how to be
free to be themselves with others or do not, on their own; nevertheless, the
characters who do so learn or do not are characters in artthe successful
learners characters in comedy, the failures characters in tragedyand, it is

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Examples of Perfectionism19
at least implicit, the rest of us (grownups) may learn about our own possibilities from their examples. The power of examples seems central to the
moral pedagogy of both Kant and Cavell.
Cavell connects his idea of philosophy as the education of grownups
with Wittgensteins remark that philosophical problems ... are solved, not
by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known.
The issues of philosophy, Cavell continues in his own words, are evidently ones requiring something like self-knowledge or, say, self-reflection.40 Cavells immediate focus in the piece from which I have just cited is
not moral education but the kind of education in grammar that Wittgenstein
models, obviously not the kind of education in grammar that children learning their first language get from the adult speakers who surround them and
their early teachers but the kind of education in the grammar of our deepest
concepts that adults may get from Wittgensteinian reflection on language:
It is clearly not the acquisition of a fresh piece of information, yet, as
the ... proposal of the education of grownups emphasizes, there is
learning that is not comprehensible as acquiring new facts; perhaps it
can be thought of as learning further what kind of thing can be a fact,
for example, that humans are mortals. One could call this learning
rethinking, except that this may suggest clarifying (say, giving explanations), which may pass by the essential idea that you already know
what you keep from yourself.41
But the last remark of this quotation, with its suggestion that our learning
as adults is not only a matter of becoming more aware of something that in
some sense we already know but also a matter of learning what we keep
from ourselves, thus unlearning our habits of keeping knowledge from ourselves, already points in the direction of moral education. For, on Cavells
image of moral education, where self-intelligibility is our goal and the condition of our intelligibility to others, self-deception is our biggest obstacle,
and what we must learn is not some principle of morality but that we tend
to deceive ourselves and how to undeceive ourselves.
Cavell makes the character of moral education, that it is not a matter of
learning some principle or principles that we do not already know but learning to understand ourselves, clear in his account of moral argument, the
instrument of moral education, in The Claim of Reason:
To the extent that ... responsibility is the subject of moral argument,
what makes moral argument rational is not the assumption that there
is in every situation one thing which ought to be done and that this
may be known, nor the assumption that we can always come to agreement about what ought to be done on the basis of rational methods. Its
rationality lies in following the methods which lead to a knowledge
of our own position, of where we stand; in short, to a knowledge and
definition of ourselves.42

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This passage comes from before Cavell characterized his position in morality as a form of perfectionism and before he described one goal of perfectionism as self-intelligibility, but the thought is the same: achieving morality, becoming educated to it, is not a matter of learning some previously unknown
rule but becoming intelligible to oneself, on condition of and as condition of
becoming intelligible to others.
What further thing it is that one achieves by becoming intelligible to
oneself, however, is not so much said by Cavell in his formal discussion of
morality in The Claim of Reason but is rather shown by Cavell in his discussions of art, positively in his discussions of comedy and negatively in his
discussions of tragedy. Cavell states that he has been encouraged ... to
think through the films of remarriage, especially in their relation to Shakespearean romance, as comedies of freedom (Pursuits of Happiness, 103). As
he portrays them, the central characters of these tragedies, the man and
woman who have actually been married and divorced before remarrying
or who come together only through a series of misadventures that seems
like a prior marriage and divorce, can finally come together only when they
have learned how to free themselves from misconceptions of their own
wants and those of each other, including misconceptions stemming from
their social roles and social definitions. Sometimes the characters have to
learn to make the transition from childhood to adulthood, where the latter
explicitly includes the freedom to think for themselves and by implication to
determine their own wants and set their own ends: about Bringing Up Baby,
Cavell says, weand by this he seems to mean we the audience as well as
the characters, thus revealing his basic assumption about the cognitive and
educational significance of artare attempting to cross the limits of the
stage of childhood latency, one whose successful and healthy negotiation
demands a satisfaction of ... reawakened curiosity, a stage at which the fate
of ones intelligence, or ability and freedom to think, will be settled (ibid.,
125). Here sex is at issue, certainly: the characters have to free themselves to
imagine having sex with each other (though this seems to be more difficult
for David than for Susan) and, ultimately, though in a classical Hollywood
movie only implicitly, actually to have sex with each other; but the freedom
to have sex is also only part of the freedom the characters achieve; their freedom is also the freedom to live their lives as and with whom they choose,
freedom from the preconceptions of society and of themselves, as in the case
of David, or at least from the demands of more conventional others, as in the
case of Susan and her aunt. Cavell also says that Bringing Up Baby presents
the purest example of a relationship in which the pair do next to nothing
practical throughout our knowledge of them; what they do is something
like play games; you could almost say they merely have fun together, except
that it takes the entire course of the film for the man to come to the essential
insight about himself that he was throughout having fun (ibid., 8889). The
dialectic of freedom in Bringing Up Baby is complex: David does not initially

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Examples of Perfectionism21
liberate himself from societys and his own preconceived role for him, but he
is dragged away from his work, protesting all the way, by the search for the
dinosaur bone snatched by Susans dog. Then he is retrospectively liberated
by realizing that all along he has been having fun (and more than he ever
would have had with his straitlaced assistant Miss Swallow), but only prospectively self-liberated for a complete life with Susan including sex, which
is, of course, not shown in the film. But, for all its twists and turns, certainly
what David is learning is the possibility of his own freedom and of a life of
freedom with Susan, and, in turn, we learn from him at least the possibility
of our own freedom as well. Nothing else, certainly not the mere cleverness
of the film, can explain our enduring attraction to it.
I will not take the time to argue that, on Cavells account, tragedy befalls
those who fail to make themselves intelligible to themselves and to each
other (thus, Lear to himself and to Cordelia, Othello to himself and Desdemona), and thereby destroy their possibility of living freely with themselves
and with each other, and that the tragedy of failing to realize our own freedom is what we the audience learn from tragedy. I will instead now turn to
Kants theory of moral education, which looks very different from Cavells
but which is at bottom, I will argue, not so different.
Kants moral pedagogy seems simple: children learn in good part from
example, and what they learn is not the content of morality, which they do
not need to learn, for it, or at least its principle, is a priori, but their own freedom to be moral. Kant stresses the power of example43 in a famous passage
in the Doctrine of Method of the Critique of Practical Reason, where he argues
that, although educators should spare their pupils examples of so-called
noble (supermeritorious) actions, which produce idle fantasies of basking in
the adulation due to heroes, they should instead provide them with examples of real purity of motivation, such as that of the honest man who refused
to calumniate Anne Boleyn in spite of the supreme cost to himself, which
will convince the child of the possibility of such purity on his own part and,
therefore, of his own freedom even when it costs so much, not because it
brings any profit, although, of course, he will hope not to have to exercise
his freedom to be moral in such extreme circumstances.44 But Kant makes it
more explicit in his Lectures on Pedagogy45 that the point of moral education
is to convince the child of his own freedom, of the necessity to exercise his
freedom in coordination with the freedom of others, and of his freedom to
do just that. Kant states that [o]ne of the biggest problems of education is
how one can unite submission under lawful constraint with the capacity
to use ones freedom, how to accustom the pupil to tolerate a constraint
of his freedom, and ... at the same time lead him to make good use of his
freedom. To accomplish this goal, Kant continues,
1) From earliest childhood the child must be allowed to be free in all
matters ... although not in such a way that it is in the way of others

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freedom. ... 2) The child must be shown that it can only reach its goals
by letting others also reach theirs. ... 3) One must prove to it that restraint is put on it in order that it may one day be free, that is, so that
it need not depend on the care of others.46
This suggests that, in part, the child must learn both its own freedom and the
necessity to constrain its own freedom for the sake of the freedom of others
as well as its own future freedom by doing, though under the guidance of
adults (Kant stresses early in the lectures that education partly teaches
the human being something and partly merely develops something within
him47). But Kant also stresses that one must teach children the duties that
they have to fulfill as much as possible by examples.48 In the immediate
context in which he says this, he means primarily that it is best to teach
children the various classes of duties that follow from the application of the
general principle of morality to the particulars of the human condition not
by abstract definitions and rules but by concrete examples of those duties.
For example, one does not define the concept of duty to oneself for a child
and then list prohibitions against excessive drinking, unnatural sins, and
all kinds of immoderation, but rather one teaches the child the value of human dignity, which the child will then naturally appropriately apply.49 But
Kant does not retract his argument from the second Critique that one teaches
children best by examples of the purity of motivation of others, so presumably he continues to believe that, in addition to letting children exercise their
freedom under appropriate supervision, so that they will learn both their
freedom and the necessity of their own supervision of it, one also teaches
children by presenting them with appropriate examples of moral conduct,
especially from history, in which children have a natural interest.
Moreover, Kant hardly supposes that our moral education is completed
while we are children. On the contrary, both aesthetic experience and religion offer opportunities for continuing moral education, in the former case
as a subsidiary benefit and in the latter case as its sole benefit. Moral education through aesthetic experience takes several forms, but in each case what
we have to learnor presumably, relearn, since we must have learned it
as children but also seem constantly to need to relearn it, again, a theme of
Cavellian perfectionismis not the content of morality but our freedom to
be moral. One experience through which we learn this is the experience of
the sublime, particularly that of the dynamical sublime, which allows us
to discover within ourselves a capacity for resistance to the demands of
nature, which gives us the courage to measure ourselves against the apparent all-powerfulness of nature,50 a capacity which can be nothing other
than that to determine our actions by the moral law instead of by mere inclination, such as fear of physical injury by powerful forces of nature. Since,
according to the Critique of Practical Reason, which preceded the Critique of the
Power of Judgment by a mere two years, we can infer our freedom immedi-

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Examples of Perfectionism23
ately from our awareness of the moral law and since, at least if we have been
blessed with a Kantian moral education, we have been aware from an early
age of both our freedom and the need to freely constrain it by the requirement of compatibility with the freedom of others and of our future selves,
the educational benefit of the experience of the sublime can only be to remind
us of our freedom, as apparently we need to be reminded frequently.
The sublime is an experience of nature; art does not offer us an experience
of the sublime (even the greatest landscape paintings offer us only beautiful
representations of vistas that in nature are sublime), but it does, according to
Kant, find its spirit in the free play with its own moral content that Kant
describes under the rubric of aesthetic ideas. Thus, [t]he poet ventures to
make sensible rational ideas, to make them sensible beyond the limits of
experience, with a completeness that goes beyond anything of which there
is an example in nature but in such a way that the imagination is creative,
and sets the faculty of intellectual ideas (reason) into motion.51 Again, the
moral benefit of art cannot lie in teaching us moral ideas that we have not
previously had, since the central ideas of morality are all a priori and available to us as soon as we reflect on a proposed action;52 the function of arts
play with such ideas can instead be only to keep them before us and keep us
engaged with them, something we apparently need, and need as much as
adults as we did as children.
Finally, the experience of beauty in general, whether in art or in nature,
makes beauty into a symbol of the morally good, and it does this above
all because [t]he freedom of the imagination (thus of the sensibility of our
faculty) is represented in the judging of the beautiful as in accord with the
lawfulness of the understanding, and we take this as an analogy of the
way in which in the moral judgment the freedom of the will is conceived
as the agreement of the latter with itself in accordance with universal laws
of freedom.53 The agreement of the will with itself in accordance with universal laws is Kants formal way of describing the self-consistent or greatest
possible use of freedom, the use of ones freedom on one occasion in a way
that is consistent with the possibility of ones freedom on other occasions as
well as with the freedom of others, the ultimate aim of morality according to
Kant and, as I have argued, for Cavell as well, though figured by the latter
in the special case of (re)marriage. But, again, for Kant, this is not a possibility for ourselves that we have first to learn from the experience of beauty;
it is something that, at least at one level, we know a priori and thus always
already know, but obviously something of which even as adults we have
frequently to be reminded.
That we have to be reminded even as adults of what at some level we
always already know is also the lesson of Kants reconstruction of religion,
or specifically Christianity, within the limits of reason alone. Kants Religion, as we know, is his attempt to reinterpret the symbols of Christianity as

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sensible representations of the central ideas of morality,54 a task he executed
with sufficient success to earn himself a royal prohibition of further publication on religion. I will hardly attempt an account here of every moment of
Kants argument but will simply point to his interpretation of the image of
Christ as a naturally begotten human being and thereby a representation
of the prototype residing in human reason itself of the human ability to
overcome human frailty and inclination, that is, of the human freedom to be
moral. Kant stresses that, even though it may be a limitation of human reason ... that we cannot think of any significant moral worth in the actions of
a person without at the same time portraying this person or his expression
in human guise, it is at the same time necessary that we think of Christ not
as an entirely supernatural being elevated above every frailty of human
nature but as a genuinely human being, whose ability to act morally at the
cost of immense suffering is evidence of our own. But yet again, that we are
free to do the right thing even at great cost to ourselves is something that, at
one level, we all always already know; the need for religious symbols can
only arise from the fact that, even as adults, we apparently need frequent
as well as graphic reminders of what we already know. To some extent,
as we saw a moment ago, the aesthetic experience of nature and art, and
not specifically religious art, can serve this function; but apparently Kant
thought that we sometimes need the even more powerful reminders of our
own freedom that religion can offer us, sometimes, of course, through the
art that it appropriates to itself.
Kant has little to say about the reminders of an ultimately happy use
of our own freedom that art can offer us, in the form of comedy, at least as
Cavell has interpreted it; he seems more drawn to the reminders of the possibility of the costly use of our freedom that both history and religion have to
offer us, although his extreme cases are still cases of the successful use of our
freedom, unlike Cavells tragedies, which are reminders of the possibility of
a needlessly self- and other-destructive use of our freedom. So I by no means
wish to suggest that Kants and Cavells aesthetics and pedagogy of freedom
are the same. However, I hope I have succeeded in showing that there are
greater affinities between Kants and Cavells perfectionisms and the accompanying aesthetics and pedagogies than initially meets the eye, even the eye
of Cavell himself. Cavell has located the core of his Emersonian perfectionism in the possibility of an ever greater, though never greatest, exercise
of our own freedom; and Kant too, I have argued, finds the essential end of
human beings in the greatest possible use of freedom, though at the same
time he also recognizes that this is something we at best achieve asymptotically rather than completely, that the greatest use of human freedom possible for human beings is not the greatest use of freedom possible tout court.
And both Cavell and Kant have recognized that the possibility of our own
freedom is something we must learn by doing, with the bumps and bruises

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Examples of Perfectionism25
that will come along the way of doing that, but that we must also learnand
as imperfect beings always be relearningfrom examples, examples that
may be afforded to us by those around us, by history and, for both Cavell
and Kant, by art. In these ways, I hope I have shown, both Kant and Cavell
offer us examples of perfectionism.

1. As a recent volume has foregrounded; see Stanley Cavell and the Education of
Grownups, ed. Naoko Saito and Paul Standish (New York: Fordham University
Press, 2012).
2. Stanley Cavell, Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 3. All further references to
this work will be cited in the text.
3. Paul Guyer, Civic Responsibility and the Kantian Social Contract, in Recht
GeschichteReligion: Die Bedeutung Kants fr die Gegenwart, ed. Herta NaglDocerkal and Rudolf Langthaler (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2004), 29.
4. I have argued for this claim in a paper on Mendelssohn, Kant, and Immortality, which will appear in a volume stemming from a conference on the highest
good that took place in Frankfurt am Main in September 2013.
5. Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1981), 113. All further references to this work will be cited in the text.
6. Here one cannot but think of Coleridges definition of genius as the ability to
recapture the innocence of perception and conception otherwise characteristic of
childhood: To carry on the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood;
see Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, with his Aesthetical Essays, ed.
by J. Shawcross, 2 vols., corrected. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), 1:59.
7. Ted Cohen and I had the privilege of publishing Cavells first piece about Emerson, Thinking of Emerson, in our edited collection Essays in Kantian Aesthetics
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19892), 26170; it is reprinted in Stanley
Cavell, Emersons Transcendental Etudes, ed. David Justin Hodge (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2003), 1019.
8. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul
Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), general remark following 29, 5:267; 151.
9. See Paul Guyer, Kant and the Experience of Freedom: Essays on Aesthetics and Morality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), especially chaps. 13.
10. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 5:41; Practical Philosophy, 173.
11. Kant, Moral Philosophy: Collinss Lecture Notes, in Lectures on Ethics, ed. Peter
Heath and J. B. Schneewind, trans. Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 27:254; 49.
12. Kant, Moral Philosophy: Collins, 27:257; Lectures on Ethics, 52.
13. Which probably do not reproduce the lectures that Kant actually gave in 1784
85, which is the date that the Collins transcription carries, because, although
Georg Ludwig Collins was a student at Knigsberg that year, his notes do not
match those transcribed by C. C. Mrongovius, who was also a student that
year, but do match, virtually word for word, an earlier transcription by Johann
Friedrich Kaehler from the summer of 1777 (see Immanuel Kant, Vorlesung zur
Moralphilosophie, ed. Werner Stark [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004]), and were
probably copied either from a set of notes similar to Kaehlers or a common
source (similarly, Collinss transcription of Kants lectures on anthropology was
actually based on another set of notes that went back all the way to 177273). In

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fact, Collinss transcription differs from Mrongoviuss precisely on the issue of
perfectionism, for, according to the latter notes, Kant repeated his usual criticism
of perfectionism in 178485 rather than putting his own theory in that position
(see Moral Philosophy Mrongovius, 29:626; Lectures on Ethics, 244). But this does not
affect the accuracy of Kants classification of his own theory as a form of perfectionism in the Kaehler and Collins notes.
14. Kant, Moral Philosophy Collins, 27:344; Lectures on Ethics, 125.
15. Kant, Moral Philosophy Collins, 27:346; Lectures on Ethics, 12627.
16. Kant, Naturrecht Feyerabend, 27:1321.
17. Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, 2, 4:428; Practical Philosophy, 78.
18. Kant, Groundwork, 2, 4:437; Practical Philosophy, 86.
19. Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Virtue, Introduction, Section V.A, 6:387;
Practical Philosophy, 518.
20. Kant, Groundwork, 2, 4:429; Practical Philosophy, 80.
21. Kant, Groundwork, 2, 4:433; Practical Philosophy, 83.
22. Kant, Groundwork, 2, 4:436; Practical Philosophy, 86.
23. Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Virtue, 1415, 6:641; Practical Philosophy, 56263.
24. Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Virtue, 13, 6:438; Practical Philosophy,
25. I say this in spite of Cavells remark that I anticipate here my sense that the
featured four examples Kant presents after introducing the first formulation of
the categorical imperative seem to me fantasies of essentially isolated, friendless people (Cities of Words, 133). This may be, but Kants examples in Section
II of Groundwork, like his examples in Section I, have a strictly limited heuristic
or argumentative function, in this case that of confirming the correctness of his
formulations of the categorical imperative by showing that they give rise to the
same four classes of dutyperfect and imperfect duties to self and othersthat
any common sense about morality recognizes (which is to say, the categories of
duty, excluding what Kant regards as the nonsensical conception of duties to
a creature without needs such as God, that Pufendorf and Baumgarten recognized). Kants more complete system of dutiesI say more complete because
a perfectionist cannot recognize the possibility of a complete system of dutiesis
presented in the Metaphysics of Morals, whose Doctrine of Virtue culminates
with a lengthy discussion On the Most Intimate Union of Love with Respect
in Friendship (4647, 6:46973; Practical Philosophy, 58488) and an appendix On the Virtues of Social Intercourse (48, 6:47374; Practical Philosophy,
588). But I am going to focus here on Kants treatment of marriage rather than
26. Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Right, 25, 6:278; Practical Philosophy,
27. Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Right, 26, 6:278; Practical Philosophy,
28. For further discussion of Kant on marriage, see Barbara Herman, Could It Be
Worth Thinking about Kant on Sex and Marriage? in A Mind of Ones Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity, ed. Louise M. Antony and Charlotte Witt
(Boulder, CO: Westview, 1993), 4967.
29. Kant, Groundwork, Section III, 4:452; Practical Philosophy, 99.
30. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 808/B 836, ed. and trans. Paul Guyer and Allen
W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 678.
31. Ibid., A 811/B 819, 680.
32. Kant, Groundwork, Section III, 4:446; Practical Philosophy, 94.
33. See especially Critique of Practical Reason, 5:9798; Practical Philosophy, 218.
34. See Carl Christian Erhard Schmid, Versuch einer Moralphilosophie (1790) and Karl
Leonhard Reinhold, Errterung des Begriffs von der Freiheit des Willens
(1792), in Briefe ber die Kantische Philosophie, second series, both excerpted in Ma-

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Examples of Perfectionism27
terialen zu Kants Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, ed. Rdiger Bittner and Konrad
Cramer (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1975), 24151 and 25274; and
Henry Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing,
35. Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, in Religion and Rational Theology, ed. and trans. Allen W. Wood and George Di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 83.
36. Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Part One, 6:47; Religion and
Rational Theology, 91.
37. Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Part Two, 6:71; Religion and
Rational Theology, 11112.
38. See Naoko Saito and Paul Standish, Stanley Cavell and the Education of Grownups,
particularly Cavells own contributions at 1932 and 20713, as well as that by
Naoko Saito, The Gleam of Light: Initiation, Prophesy, and Emersonian Moral
Perfectionism, 17085.
39. For an account of Kantian moral education as a lifelong (as well as social and
cultural) enterprise, see Barbara Herman, Training to Autonomy: Kant and the
Question of Moral Education, in her Moral Literacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2007), 13053.
40. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part One, 109; cited by Cavell
and continued with Cavells own remarks in Philosophy as Education, in Saito
and Standish, Stanley Cavell and the Education of Grownups, 207.
41. Cavell, Philosophy as Education, in Saito and Standish, Stanley Cavell and the
Education of Grownups, 209.
42. Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 312.
43. To borrow a phrase from Onora ONeill; see The Power of Example, in her
Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kants Practical Philosophy (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1989), 16586.
44. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 5:15556; Practical Philosophy, 26365.
45. Published by Friedrich Theodor Rink in 1803, the year before Kants death, edited by Rink from notes for a course on pedagogy that Kant had given four times,
notes that are now lost. See Translators Introduction, in Kant, Anthropology,
History, and Education, ed. Gnter Zller and Robert B. Louden (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2007), 43436; Robert Loudens translation of the
Lectures on Pedagogy follows on 43785.
46. Kant, Lectures on Pedagogy, 9:45354; Anthropology, History, and Education, 44748.
47. Kant, Lectures on Pedagogy, 9:443; Anthropology, History, and Education, 439.
48. Kant, Lectures on Pedagogy, 9:488; Anthropology, History, and Education, 475.
49. Kant, Lectures on Pedagogy, 9:48889; Anthropology, History, and Pedagogy, 47576.
50. Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 28, 5:261; 145.
51. Ibid., 49, 5:31415; 19293.
52. See, for example, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, 4:4023; Practical Philosophy, 57.
53. Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 59, 5:35354; 22728.
54. And, I believe, his attempt to argue against Moses Mendelssohns Jerusalem that
Christianity offers the best symbols for making the religion of reason accessible
to the sensible side of human beings.

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