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WAS EFFI BRIEST A VICTIM OF KANTIAN MORALITY? by Marcia Baron Kantsmoralphilosophy has in recent years seen a revival ofinterest on the part ofboth sympathizers and opponents. Perhaps the most interesting and serious criticism is one which claims that a Kantian approach to ethics—and indeed to life—is deeply destructive of all that is most valuable to human existence. In Julia Annas's words, "to live successfully by the Kantian ethic is to risk destroying one's sources of love and concern for others, and . . . this not only hurts the others but leaves one's own life bare and meaningless too."1 Annas's "Personal Love and Kantian Ethics in Effi Briest" provides a powerful and eloquent defense of this claim. Arguing that Effi, herself quite unKantian, lives in a society in which "a Kantian view of morality . . . prevails" (p. 16) and, in particular, that Effi's husband, Geert Innstetten, is extremely Kantian, Annas suggests that an examination of the "moral universe" in Fontane's novel discloses just how damaging Kantian ethics is. My aim is to evaluate the extent to which the tragedies of Effi Briest can be traced to a Kantian view of morality. More specifically, I will question whether Innstetten is as Kantian as Annas suggests and whether a Kantian view of morality really does prevail in the narrow, cold, and harsh social environment of late nineteenth-century Prussia as depicted by Fontane. In doing so I hope to correct some common misunderstandings ofjust what a Kantian character would be. That Innstetten is a man of principle is beyond dispute,2 and this fact lends some support to Annas's claim that he "is a textbook example 95 96Philosophy and Literature of Kant's man who acts out of respect for the moral law" (p. 21). But a man of what type of principle? And in what way a man of principle? What we need to determine is whether the concept of duty which plays a prominent motivational role in Innstetten's conduct is one and the same as, or at least very similar to, what Kant means by "duty." We may begin by guarding against some tempting misconceptions concerning what counts as evidence that an agent has a Kantian concept of duty and, more broadly, a Kantian moral outlook. It is sometimes supposed that the fact that a person acts with grim determination and contrary to inclination (or what we would hope would be his inclination) is evidence that he acts as a Kantian. This assumption seems to lurk behind a curious remark in Annas's paper. Fontane, she observes, "was capable of highly Kantian sentiments," and she supports her assertion as follows: Of Frederick William I's memorably horrible act of forcing his son, Frederick the Great, to watch the execution of his friend, Katte, Fontane once remarked that far from being a blot on the Hohenzollern escutcheon it shone like a precious stone—even tiiough it was a bloodstone. Whatever Fontane's own intentions, we can hardly fail to see this remark as a terrible distortion of Kant's claim that even in the most difficult of circumstances the good will shines like a precious stone; no doubt it did take strong will and devotion to duty to get Frederick William to do that to his son. (p. 17) Assuming that her claim is not that Fontane must have been thinking of Kant (and, moreover, attributing Kantian motivation to Frederick William I) since he used the phrase "shone like a precious stone," I take her to be asserting that Frederick William must have been acting from devotion to duty, in Kantian fashion, and that Fontane must have been admiring the act as an act done from duty. While this is one possible explanation for Frederick William I's conduct, it is a curious one, since there is nothing in Kant's ethics to suggest that he would regard so macabre an act as a duty. Nor is there anything in the anecdote, as told here, to support the claim that his motive was that of duty. And while it must have taken a strong will to do what Frederick William I did, there...


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