Macquarie University
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The emancipation paradox: a critical study of the Kantian tradition in political philosophy

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posted on 2022-03-28, 10:47 authored by William Hebblewhite
This thesis argues that within Kantian and post-Kantian political philosophy, specifically in the work of Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas and Rainer Forst, there is a problematic that I designate as the emancipation paradox. The Emancipation Paradox is understood as the failed attempts in the work of these philosophers to bridge the gap between universal moral claims about the equality of persons and the practical inequality of the political institutions that they develop. I begin by examining the work of Jacques Rancière who I argue has best explicated the issues of the emancipation paradox. Throughout Rancière's published work there is a continuing theme of locating with ancient and contemporary philosophy a problematic that arises over the equivocation between universal claims of the Human Being and particularistic practical conclusions. The main body of this thesis is the critical analysis of the work of Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas and Rainer Forst. The critical analysis locates within each philosopher a focal point from which the paradox arises. In Kant it is the concept of 'Humanity', in Rawls it is the concept of the 'basic structure of society', in Habermas it is the method of 'Communicative Action' and in Forst it is the idea of 'Justification'. Each of these focal points is examined by seeing what "work" they do in the theory presented, and the assumptions that are made by its usage. I conclude the thesis by suggesting that our methods of inquiry need to pay more attention to the possible implicit conclusions that may appear in political philosophy's use of universalistic language.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Rancière, equality and political philosophy -- Who is the subject of humanity: the paradox of emancipation in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant -- Who is the subject of justice? John Rawls, equality and the emancipation paradox -- Habermas and discourse ethics and the subject of communication -- Forst's critical theory of justice, power, and the subject of justification.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 191-202

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jean-Philippe Deranty


Copyright William Hebblewhite 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource ( ix, 202 pages)

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