Kant Type 1: Focused Summary

Kant explains his argument on the right to punish and grant clemency. First, he states that the right to punish is “the right of a ruler to inflict pain upon a subject in response to a crime committed by the subject.” (140) From this logic, Kant explains that the ruler, therefore, cannot be punished. (140)

Kant then differentiates between private and public crimes, the former including embezzlement, for example, and the latter includes something that endangers not just the individual person, such as robbery. (140) He explains that private crimes are tried by civil courts and public crimes are tried by criminal rates. (140)

When discussing types of punishment for these crimes, Kant brings up the categorical imperative. He claims “the principle of punishment is a categorical imperative.” (141) Kant explains here and elsewhere in his book that the categorical imperative is a way for humans to rationally decide what the right thing to do is.

Kant proceeds to explain and refute other theories of punishment based on how they conflict with the categorical imperative, one of which being utilitarianism, something we discussed already in class. He argues that the utilitarian view views justice as a “means to an end,” not as “an end in itself.” (141) Kant argues that justice is an end in itself, and should be pursued as such.

Kant follows by bringing up several examples of punishable circumstances. After several examples of theft, he mentions an interesting comparison by comparing theft to death. This explains the idea of the punishment fitting the crime. Kant supports the proportionality of punishment. In the most extreme case of a murder, if someone “committed murder, he must die.” (142)

Essentially, Kant’s take on punishment involves two arguments. First, based on a categorical imperative, justice must be an end in itself, not a means to an end. Because of this, in addition, the punishment must be proportional to the crime.

Kant, Immanuel. (1991). The Metaphysics of Morals. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


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