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What Properly Belongs to Me

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Kant on Giving to Beggars

image of Journal of Moral Philosophy

Kant has a number of harsh-sounding things to say about beggars and giving to beggars. He describes begging as “closely akin to robbery” (6:326), and says that it exhibits self-contempt. In this paper I argue that on a particular interpretation of his political philosophy his critique of giving to beggars can be seen as part of a concern with social justice, and that his analysis makes sense of some troubling aspects of the phenomenology of being confronted with beggars. On Kant's view, without absolute poverty relief, the poor persons' external freedom is subject to the arbitrary choices of those who have means. But the legitimacy of the state is based on ensuring that no one's basic freedom is subject to the arbitrary choices of another. This means that in a legitimate state public structures must ensure that there is unconditional poverty relief. Having your basic needs met through private charity wrongs you. Kant's analysis is that when you encounter someone in a public space who asks you for money to meet their basic survival needs, you are being asked to solve a public problem in a private interaction, and there is no rightful way for you to do this.

Affiliations: 1: University of the Witwatersrand and Sussex University,


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1. Cohen Jerry, If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?, Harvard University Press, 2001.
2. Hershkoff Helen, and Cohen Adam S., “"Begging to differ: the first amendment and the right to beg",” Harvard Law Review, January 1991.
3. Kant Immanuel, Ak: 6, Metaphysics of Morals, in Practical Philosophy, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant in Translation, Mary Gregor (editor and translator), 1999.
4. Kant Immanuel, "Ak: 27, Lectures on Ethics", The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant in Translation, J. B. Schneewind (Editor), Peter Heath (Translator), 2001.
5. Kant Immanuel, Ak: 19, Moral Philosophy, Philosophy of Law, and Philosophy of Religion Nachlaß edited by Friedrich Berger, 1934.
6. Margalit Avishai: The Decent Society. Cambridge MA: Harvard University. Press, 1996.
7. Ripstein Arthur, Force and Freedom, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2009.
8. Singer Peter, “"Famine, Affluence and Morality",” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. Vol 1, no. 1 (1972), pp. 229243.
9. Sypnowich Christine, ‘Begging’ in The Egalitarian Conscience: Essays in Honour of G. A. Cohen, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
10. Varden Helga “"Kant’s Non-Voluntarist Conception of Political Obligations: Why Justice is Impossible in the State of Nature",” Kantian Review, vol. Vol 13–2, 2008, pp. 145.
11. Varden Helga “"Response to Kleingeld",” Kantian Review, forthcoming: 2014.

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