Abstract: In his famous essay, “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy,” Kant argues that one is not allowed to lie, not even if a murderer comes to one’s door asking the whereabouts of their innocent victim who has taken refuge in one’s home. Many of Kant’s readers worry that his rigorism concerning the duty of truthfulness leaves us powerless in the face of evil. In this paper, I reconstruct and defend a Fichtean approach to the duty of truthfulness that responds to this apparent problem for the Kantian position. I make the case that Fichte’s prohibition against lying goes hand-in-hand with a perfectionist commitment to promote the greatest possible development of human nature, both in ourselves and in all other individuals. As I explain, this perfectionist commitment ultimately aims to get at the root of evil. This is because on Fichte’s view, evil is the product of acting without sufficient reflection and failing to attain adequate consciousness of one’s duty in a particular situation. If I am confronted with evil, it is my duty to set an example for the evildoer and to summon them to embark on the path of self-conscious reflection, a path that Fichte believes leads to moral goodness and moral maturity.
For the Love of Metaphysics by Karin Nisenbaum (Oxford UP, 2018)
Karin Nisenbaum is the Renée Crown Professor in the Humanities and Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Syracuse University. Her research focusses on Kant, German Idealism, and 19th & 20th Century Jewish Thought. She is the author of For the Love of Metaphysics: Nihilism and the Conflict of Reason from Kant to Rosenzweig, published by Oxford University Press in 2018.