Kant and Rawls

The St Andrews Kant Reading Party is an academic retreat aimed at bringing together scholars of various backgrounds and career stages to discuss and compare the works of Immanuel Kant and another prominent philosopher. The eleventh edition of the event, to be held from July 16-19 at The Burn House in Edzell, is titled “Kant and Rawls” and focuses on practical philosophy.

The Theme

Not only are Kant and Rawls two giants of moral and political philosophy, but their views are also connected in interesting and complicated ways. On the one hand, both are cherished as champions of enlightenment morality and liberal political thought, who wrote on such issues as social justice, the separation of church and state, and the various facets of human freedom. On the other hand, although Rawls repeatedly emphasized the tremendous inspiration he drew from Kant, differences between the two thinkers remain. These differences are reflected both in the two thinkers’ choice of philosophical method and in the normative conclusions they reach. At the methodological level, Rawls considered his approach an updated version of Kant’s, in the sense that it aims to be less metaphysical and more empirical, and therefore more fit for the scientifically-minded 20th and 21st centuries, than the original. Accordingly, at least in his later works, Rawls emphasized that his theory of justice is only addressed at Western liberal democracies that already assent to the conception of the person as a free and equal rational being. At the substantive normative level, Rawls favours the large-scale redistribution of income and wealth through the state, should this be necessary to meet the conditions for a just distribution stated in his ‘difference principle’, whereas Kant is wary of such measures.

Yet, it is far from settled how far-reaching the differences between Kant and Rawls really are and what we should make of them. Our aim at the Kant Reading Party is to engage with the difficult works of the two philosophers, to illuminate their complex relation to one another, and thereby to gain new and deeper insights into some of the important moral and political issues of our time.


The Kant Reading Party is open to all interested parties. We will issue a call for registrationin Spring 2018.

The event involves a combination of (A) discussion sessions on specific topics related to the theme of the event, which are facilitated by pre-circulated readings, and (B) paper sessions, which give graduate students a chance to present work relevant to the theme of the event.

We will issue a call for abstracts for the paper sessions in Spring 2018.

Potential topics for discussion sessions and paper presentations include:

  • Constructivism vs. Realism in Moral and Political Philosophy
  • Practical Reason, Autonomy, and the Justification of Morals
  • Reasonable Faith and the Highest Good: Religious or Political?
  • Contractualism: Should Ethics Be Grounded in an Ideal of Interpersonal Justification?
  • On Who Gets What: Property Rights and Economic Redistribution
  • Cosmopolitanism: What Do We Owe to Foreign Nationals?
  • The Relation Between Justice and Virtue


Janis Schaab, PhD Candidate, St Andrews/Stirling Philosophy Graduate Programme – First organiser

Lucas Sierra Velez, PhD Candidate, St Andrews/Stirling Philosophy Graduate Programme – Second Organiser

Jens Timmermann, Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of St Andrews – Supervising the Organisation

Kathleen A. Moran, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Brandeis University – External Organiser


If you have any questions about the Kant Reading Party, please email Janis Schaab (jds20@st-andrews.ac.uk).


The St Andrews Kant Reading Party 2018 is made possible by the support of the Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development at the University of St Andrews, the Scots Philosophical Association, the British Society for the History of Philosophy, the Centre for Academic, and the UK Kant Society.