Public Reason: Vol. 6, No. 1-2, 2014
Repulsive Virtues: Kant, Black Swans and the Responsibilities of Friendship
Blair McDonald

Looking at two well-known discussions of Kant’s discourse on friendship, namely, the second half of Doctrine of Virtue and his Lecture on Friendship, this paper traces the points of overlap and separation whereby, through the paradigm of friendship, the morals and politics of Kant’s discourse are reconsidered. In what follows, I will show first, how Kant’s theory of friendship plays a role in his conception of social relations and morality and second, how the nature of his concerns with friendship reveals both an insistence on moral duties and, in the spirit of Derrida, a difficult, if not paradoxical, politicization of these same duties. In doing so, I argue that Kant’s ideas on friendship are part of a necessary yet irreconcilable tension between political and ethical obligations. Friendship is thought necessary for the well-being of political states at the same time that its instrumentalization undermines the heterogeneous nature of ethical responsibilities and the call to particularity which distinguishes it from other forms of associations (ethnicity, gender, nationality etc.). In the end, I argue that Kant’s theory of friendship is characterized by a fundamental ambivalence whose contradictions do not pave the way for new possibilities for association, community, nationhood etc., but only highlight its aporetic underpinnings.

Key words: Kant, friendship, respect, Derrida, ethics, duty.


McDonald, Blair. 2014. Repulsive Virtues: Kant, Black Swans and the Responsibilities of Friendship. Public Reason 6 (1-2): 47-66.