The Smithian Categorical Imperative

Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie 98 (2):233-254 (2012)
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This paper offers a sympathetically critical discussion of one of the central features of Neil MacCormick’s last book, Practical Reason in Law and Morality (2008), namely, what he called ‘the Smithian Categorical Imperative’ (SCI). The SCI is presented by MacCormick as a synthesis of the best of Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith’s contributions to moral philosophy. The paper proceeds in three parts: the first two are dedicated to articulating and evaluating MacCormick’s understanding of Kant and Smith. The focus in these two parts is on the following concepts: autonomy and universality in the case of Kant, and imagination and sympathy in the case of Smith. The third part then discusses the formulation and two applications of the SCI, the first of these relates to the practice of lying and breaking promises, and the second to the conjoined twins’ case. It is argued that MacCormick’s rapprochement between Kant and Smith in the form of the SCI is a genuinely important and original contribution to moral philosophy, and has important implications for theories of legal judgement. Nevertheless, the paper also considers whether, by modifying MacCormick’s interpretation of Kant and Smith (and especially the latter), we may be able to further extend MacCormick’s characteristically generous capacity to tread a middle path between otherwise antagonistic theoretical traditions.



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