In recent literature, it has been argued that Kant, despite his emphasis on the concept of human dignity, should not be considered a defender of human rights. One reason for this revisionist reading is a passage in the Doctrine of Right where Kant seems to say that criminals forfeit their dignity, are not persons any longer, and thus become slaves and therefore property of the state or individuals. I shall argue that this reading is incorrect. It is conceptually impossible that criminals forfeit their human dignity and personality, and Kant does not say so; rather, they forfeit their status of being citizens. The passage in question also sheds some interesting light on the historical phenomenon of Leibeigenschaft (serfdom).
Dieter Schönecker is Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Siegen (Germany). He is mainly interested in Kant, metaethics and philosophy of religion; he is also a poet who has published in a number of literary journals and books. Publications: Selbst philosophieren. Ein Methodenbuch (2013, 2nd. edition, with Gregor Damschen); Kants Begriff transzendentaler und praktischer Freiheit (2005); Kant’s ‘Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals’. A Commentary, Harvard University Press (2015, with Allen Wood); Kant: Grundlegung III. Die Deduktion des kategorischen Imperativs (1999). Editor of: Essays on “Warranted Christian Belief” (2015); Kants Begründung von Freiheit und Moral in Grundlegung III. Neue Interpretationen (2015). Co-editor of: Kant zur Philosophie der Mathematik. Eine Auswahl aus seinen Schriften (2018); Wirklichkeit und Wahrnehmung des Heiligen, Schönen, Guten – Neue Beiträge zur Realismusdebatte (2011); Kant verstehen/Understanding Kant. Über die Interpretation philosophischer Texte (2004, 2nd. edition); Der moralische Status menschlicher Embryonen (2003).