14 Mai

Kant and the “Cannibalism” of Sex

Von Matthew King (Bristol)

Kant makes the bizarre claim that “carnal enjoyment is cannibalistic in principle (even if not always in its effect)” (Kant 1999, 495 [6:359]). He then follows this with three examples, yet each refers only to some possible types or effects of the enjoyment, rather than something inherent to it. Kant implies that the gap does not matter though, for he thinks that all carnal enjoyment ultimately involves the same issue. He then explicates the “cannibalistic” issue as the making of ourselves, or parts of ourselves, into “a consumable thing (res fungibilis)”. He claims that if we imagined a contract for this it would be “contrary to law” (495 [6:360]), then presumably takes this to rule out the rightfulness of carnal enjoyment itself.

However, and even ignoring the surprising equation of this worry about carnal enjoyment with cannibalism, Kant’s concern is clearly incorrect. Carnal enjoyment does not principally turn ourselves, or parts of ourselves, into res fungibilis. This is because there is no trade of organs when we have sex and enjoy carnal pleasure. Instead, there is only the exchange of a service which involves our organs, but does not alienate or destroy them in principle. There is therefore no tension with contractual law and, if there were, Kant would then have to commit to the illegality of all contracted labour, since labour always involves the use of one or more of our organs as a part of a service. Kant is therefore simply wrong about the “cannibalism” of carnal enjoyment, at least in principle.


Kant, Immanuel. “The Metaphysics of Morals”. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, translated and edited by Mary J. Gregor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999c, pp. 353-603.

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