Morality, Voluntary Laws, and State Neutrality

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Kantian political philosophies stress that a state ought to be “neutral” (Rawls), “minimal” (Nozick), or “public” (Ripstein’s Kant), as part of its duty to respect its citizens’ freedom to pursue whatever ends these citizens find valuable. States are under duty merely to secure citizens’ independence from each other and from the state. In contrast, Kantian morality contends that individuals are subject to a duty to pursue certain “obligatory” ends, viz., ends that emerge from the intrinsic value of personhood and autonomy. In some cases, hindering one’s freedom is necessary for promoting these ends. This essay describes circumstances in which a legal right to interfere with one’s property and body in promoting obligatory ends is justified, even though such a right compromises states’ neutrality. This description sheds a new light on the relation between the optimal legal system (“Right”) and morality (“Virtue”) and between justice and truth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number24
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Arthur Ripstein
  • John Rawls
  • Kant’s political philosophy
  • democracy
  • justice as fairness
  • political liberalism

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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