Egalitarian Sexism: A Kantian Framework for Assessing the Cultural Evolution of Marriage (I)

Stephen R. Palmquist


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.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • ARIS, R. (1965): History of Political Thought in Germany, 17891815. London: Frank Cass and Co.

  • BENBOW, H. M. (2006): The Woman Should Reign and the Man Govern: Gendering Kant’s Body Politic. In: Melbourne Journal of Politics, 30, pp. 80–97.

  • CASH, M. (2002): Distancing Kantian Ethics and Politics from Kant’s Views on Women. In: Minerva, 6, pp. 103–150.

  • DENIS, L. (2001): From Friendship to Marriage: Revising Kant. In: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 63(1), pp. 1–28.

  • DERANTY, J.-P. (2000): The Son of Civil Society: Tensions in Hegel’s Account of Womanhood. In: Philosophical Forum, 31(2), pp. 145–162.

  • FELDMAN, S. (1998): Some Problems with Ecofeminism. Presented at the 20th World Congress of Philosophy [online]. [Retrieved June 3, 2017]. Available at:

  • FINLAY, V. (1999): Law aside, concubine still a popular accessory. In: South China Morning Post, Agenda Section, November 28, p. 2.

  • GANGAVANE, D. (2004): Kant on Femininity. In: Indian Philosophical Quarterly, 31, pp. 359–376.

  • HERMAN, B. (1993): Could It Be Worth Thinking About Kant on Sex and Marriage? In: L. M. Anthony & Ch. Witt (eds.): A Mind of One’s Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press), pp. 49–67.

  • KANT, I. (1930): Lectures on Ethics, trans. by L. Infield. London: Methuen.

  • KANT, I. (1959): Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. by L. W. Beck. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

  • KANT, I. (1960): Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime, trans. by J. T. Goldthwait. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • KANT, I. (1974): Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. by M. J. Gregor. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

  • KANT, I. (1991a): On the Common Saying: “This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice”, trans. by H. B. Nisbet. In: H. Reiss (ed.): Kant: Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 61–92.

  • KANT, I. (1991b): The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. by M. Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • KANT, I. (1997): Lectures on Ethics, trans. by P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • KANT, I. (2009): Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason, trans. by W. S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett.

  • KLEINGELD, P. (1992–1993): The Problematic Status of Gender-Neutral Language in the History of Philosophy: The Case of Kant. In: Philosophical Forum, 24, pp. 134–150.

  • KLINKE, W. (1952): Kant for Everyman, trans. by M. Bullock. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

  • KUEHN, M. (2001): Kant: A Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • LAURENTIIS, A. de (2000): Kant’s Shameful Proposition: A Hegel-Inspired Criticism of Kant’s Theory of Domestic Right. In: International Philosophical Quarterly, 40(3), pp. 297–312.

  • MENDUS, S. (1992): Kant: An Honest but Narrow-Minded Bourgeois? In: H. Williams (ed.): Essays on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 166–190.

  • MIKKOLA, M. (2011): Kant on Moral Agency and Sexism. In: Kantian Review, 16(1), pp. 89–111.

  • MOSSER, K. (1999): Kant and Feminism. In: Kant-Studien, 90, pp. 322–353.

  • NUSSBAUM, M. (1994): Feminists and Philosophy. In: New York Review of Books, 41(17), pp. 59–63.

  • PALMQUIST, S. R. (2003): The Waters of Love: A course of introductory lectures on love, sexuality, marriage, and friendship. Hong Kong: Philopsychy Press.

  • PALMQUIST, S. R. (2017): Egalitarian Sexism: Kant’s Defense of Monogamy and its Implications for the Future Evolution of Marriage (II). In: Ethics & Bioethics (in Central Europe), 7(3–4) (forthcoming).

  • PATEMAN, C. (1988): The Sexual Contract. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • SCHOTT, R. M. (1998): Kant. In: A. M. Jaggar (ed.): A Companion to Feminist Philosophy. Cambridge: Blackwell, pp. 39–48.

  • SCHRÖDER, H. (1997): Kant’s Patriarchal Order. In: R. M. Schott (ed.): Feminist Interpretations of Immanuel Kant. University Park: Pennsylvania State Press, pp. 275–296.

  • SEDGWICK, S. (1990): Can Kant’s Ethics Survive the Feminist Critique? In: Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 71, pp. 60–79.

  • SOBLE, A. (2003): Kant and Sexual Perversion. In: The Monist, 86(1), pp. 55–109.

  • WILSON, D. (2004): Kant and the Marriage Right. In: Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 85(1), pp. 103-123.

  • WILSON, H. L. (1998): Kant’s Evolutionary Theory of Marriage. In: J. Kneller & S. Axinn (eds.): Autonomy and Community: Readings in Contemporary Kantian Social Philosophy. New York: SUNY Press, pp. 283–306.

  • ZWEIG, A. (1993): Kant and the Family. In: D. Myers (ed.): Rational Matters. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 289–305.


Journal + Issues