This first part of a two-part series exploring implications of the natural differences between the sexes for the cultural evolution of marriage assesses whether Kant should be condemned as a sexist due to his various offensive claims about women. Being antithetical to modern-day assumptions regarding the equality of the sexes, Kant’s views seem to contradict his own egalitarian ethics. A philosophical framework for making cross-cultural ethical assessments requires one to assess those in other cultures by their own ethical standards. Sexism is inappropriate if it exhibits or reinforces a tendency to dominate the opposite sex. Kant’s theory of marriage, by contrast, illustrates how sexism can be egalitarian: given the natural differences between the sexes, different roles and cultural norms help to ensure that females and males are equal. Judged by the standards of his own day and in the context of his philosophical system, Kant’s sexism is not ethically inappropriate.
This second part of a two-part series exploring implications of the natural differences between the sexes for the cultural evolution of marriage considers how the institution of marriage might evolve, if Kant’s reasons for defending monogamy are extended and applied to a future culture. After summarizing the philosophical framework for making cross-cultural ethical assessments that was introduced in Part I and then explaining Kant’s portrayal of marriage as an antidote to the objectifying tendencies of sex, I summarize Kant’s reasons for rejecting polygamy and for viewing monogamy as the only ethically acceptable form of marriage. Finally, I argue that if we apply Kantian principles to the real situation of marriage in many modern cultures, and if we wish to maintain a legitimate place for marriage in the future evolution of human culture, then the future evolution of marriage laws must recognize polyfidelity (i.e., plural marriages for both men and women) as being just as legitimate as monogamy.