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The Metaphorical Body of Justice: Re-turning to Augustine and Kant
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Mark Cauchi

Graduate Programme in Social & Political Thought

The following paper was presented at Strategies of Critique XII: (in)justiced subjects, April 24, 1998, in the session entitled "Politogany and Social Change." The conference was organized by students of the Graduate Programme in Social & Political Thought at York University.


Injustice usually rears its ugly head when the attempt is made either to separate literally or to unify mind (or soul) and body. Socrates, we know, justified his own execution because, according to his own argument, his immortal soul was more valuable than his mortal body. Yet, on the other hand, we do distinguish between the body of the human and every other body of mass. We have no moral problems taking a knife to, say, a loaf of bread or even, for some, to cows, poultry, or fish. But moral issues are inevitably raised if a knife is taken to a human body, even if - as Foucauldian studies have repeatedly shown - it is for medical reasons. The human body, it seems, is somehow more than the body; it is a corporeality with a surplus that cannot be incorporated. Where, then, in relation to the body, does in/justice reside, and what is the logic of its residence?

In order to address these questions I wish to re-turn, in a movement that may initially seem contentious, to the Augustinian conversion and to the Kantian Copernican revolution. It is no coincidence for this paper that both Augustine and Kant are concerned with turning (con-versio): Augustine with turning to God (conversion), and Kant with turning the uni-verse inside-out (his critical revolution). In response to their respective turnings, both Augustine and Kant have been criticized for turning away from the world of appearing bodies toward the world of non-corporeal souls or things-in themselves. Before I proceed any further, let me state openly that there are indeed strands of both Augustine’s and Kant’s thought that favour a soul-body dichotomy, and thereby support a notion of disembodied justice. However, I want to show that when Augustine and Kant favour a soul-body dualism, they do so in contradiction to their respective conversion(s) and revolution(s).

For I see it as one of the consequences of the Augustinian conversion and the Kantian critical revolution that the dualistic discourse of soul and body is enlisted in a such a way as to revolutionize, convert, transform, indeed, metaphorize this discourse. Thus, they enlist a soul-body distinction, but not a dualism; they separate soul and body in order to characterize their metaphorical relationship rather than perform their literal separation. That is, they separate soul and body in order to demonstrate that soul and body are not two different substances, but two different senses of the same substance: the subject. It is this site, where soul and body metaphorically signify one another, that in/justice resides. I intend to show, then, that, according to the Augustinian conversion and the Kantian critical revolution, in/justice can never be dissociated from the body of the subject, for the body of the subject is always already grounded within the metaphorical signification of justice.

Augustine: the Revolting Body

Let me begin by making an observation. When Augustine recounts the story of his conversion after he has converted - what he calls his confession - two seemingly contrary desires, he tells us, arose at about the same time: the desire for God and sexual desire; the desire for con-version, on the one hand, and per-verse desires on the other; a turning toward (con-versio) and a turn away to the worse (per-versio). According to Augustine, the standard against which the turn toward and the turn away is measured is God. Much like Kant defines the human will in the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals as that which is "good without qualification"(1), Augustine defines God as that for which "there is no other good for the rational or intellectual creature [i.e. the human being] save God only."(2)

Conversion, then, is a turn to God or the good - the two are provocatively indistinguishable here - while perversion is a turn away from the good/God: "when the will abandons what is above itself [i.e. the good/God], and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil - not because that is evil to which it turns but because the turning itself is wicked."(3) Evil or injustice, Augustine says, does not inhere in the things of the world but is an activity of the will. The things of the world, therefore, cannot be perverse in themselves; as Augustine argues repeatedly throughout his work, because God is good, so must be everything he creates - which even God himself declares at the end of each day of creation. Thus Augustine says, "For you [God] evil does not exist at all, and not only for you but for your created universe, because there is nothing outside it which could break in and destroy the order which you have imposed upon it."(4) Sounding rather Derridean, Augustine says there is nothing outside of existence; since God’s essence is existence,(5) nothing exists outside of God. Furthermore, since God’s essence is also good, nothing exists outside of the good ordering of his creation. Evil cannot exist on its own, for then evil exists outside of existence, which is to say, it does not exist. Paradoxically, the only way to maintain that evil or injustice occurs in the world is to say that evil or injustice does not inhere in the world itself. If evil is posited as inhering in the world itself, justice cannot exist except outside of existence, which is to say, it does not exist.

Precisely because evil does not exist on its own, it is redefined by Augustine as perversion, as a willful turning away from the good and just order of God. This privatio boni, or the ‘privation of good’ as Augustine calls it, while "inspired" by the neo-Platonist Plotinus, is not Platonic ignorance where one does wrong because one does not know the good. Augustine’s point is that one knows the good, but one evades, represses, delays, postpones, and/or defers it. Indeed, in the Confessions, Augustine returns several times to these ambiguous (ambi, both ways + ago, drive) moments/movements (both from moveo, move) of confused conversion and perversion, to his moments/movements of (in)di-rection (di, double + rect, guide). Here is one striking instance:

I ‘delayed turning to the Lord’ and postponed ‘from day to day’ (Ecclus. 5:8) finding life in you. I did not postpone the fact that every day I was dying within myself. I longed for the happy life, but was afraid of the place where it has its seat [i.e. chastity], and fled from it at the same time as I was seeking for it. I thought I would become very miserable if I were deprived of the embraces of a woman. I did not think the medicine of your mercy could heal that infirmity because I had not tried it. I believed continence to be achieved by personal resources which I was not aware of possessing. I was so stupid as not to know that, as it is written (Wisd. 8:21), ‘no one can be continent unless you grant it.’(6)

It is clear that here Augustine associates sexual deprivation or ‘continence’ with conversion. Because he feels that he cannot give up sex, he delays turning to God, he delays conversion; that is, he perverts conversion. It is this perversion of conversion which, I am arguing, is the only perversion or injustice that can exist. For again, outside of conversion or the just existence, perversion or injustice cannot exist - nothing is possible (perversion) which is not actual (conversion), as Kant says in the first Critique.(7) Thus, only converts can be perverse; only those who desire God can desire perverse sex.

The distinction between conversion and perversion, justice and injustice, is measured not only according to God, but according to how the human will orders or disorders the good things of creation. Now, the human will can re-order or re-create creation either by using it or by enjoying it: "To enjoy something is to hold fast to it in love for its own sake. To use something is to apply whatever it may be to the purpose of obtaining what you love - if indeed it is something that ought to be loved."(8) Of course, only God ought to be loved or enjoyed. Creation, then, is to be used as a means or way to enjoy God.

It is important that we do not understand by this end, an end literally beyond the body, an end that can be loved irrespective of or without respect for the body:

in this mortal life we are like travellers away from our Lord: if we wish to return [i.e. convert] to the homeland where we can be happy we must use this world, not enjoy it, in order to discern ‘the invisible attributes of God, which are understood through what has been made’ [Rom. 1:20] or, in other words, to derive eternal and spiritual value from corporeal and temporal things.(9)

Augustine describes human beings in this and other passages as travellers, sojourners, pilgrims, or strangers because he thinks we are temporal and corporeal, and yet not temporal and corporeal. We exist in the earthly city, and yet we do not exist in the earthly city. What city, then, do we exist in? Augustine answers - and note how un-Platonic his response is - that "these two cities are entangled together in this world."(10) Because the two cities are intermixed "in this world," Augustine concludes that "we must use this world." The sojourning human will must derive eternal value from the temporal, the value of God from the human, or the value of the soul from the body.

We derive spiritual value from the corporeal body by using the body as a means to enjoy that which exceeds it: namely, God, the soul, and the will. That is, we derive spiritual value from the corporeal body by recognizing the body as significant of something beyond, although not distinct from, the body:

If you go beyond...pleasure and relate it to your permanent goal [i.e. God], you are using it, and are said to enjoy it not in the literal sense but in a transferred [or metaphorical] sense. But if you hold fast and go no further, making [pleasure] the goal of your joy, then you should be described as enjoying it in the true and literal sense of the word.(11)

Since only God can be enjoyed in the literal sense of the term, all enjoyment which must be mediated through the body is not literal but metaphorical enjoyment, for one is not literally enjoying the body but using it. To use the body is to enjoy the body metaphorically. To enjoy the body metaphorically is to insure that the enjoyment of the body is significant of the enjoyment of the soul. When Augustine asserts that "the virtue which makes the life good [or enjoyable] has its throne in the soul [will], and thence rules the members of the body, which become holy in virtue of the holiness of the will [soul],"(12) he is suggesting that the body is holy (that is, metaphorically enjoyable) because it is put to good use by the will (soul). The body is abused, on the other hand, when it is literally enjoyed in itself, when the body is not recognized as signifying a soul, or when the body is treated as insignificant. The desire of the body is a metaphor for the desire of the soul.

Another way to speak about conversion and perversion is in terms of the distinction between a literal body and a metaphorical body. The converted body is, as I mentioned, a metaphor of the soul. The perverse use of the body, on the other hand, is grounded upon a literal notion of the body, a body which is treated as insignificant. Non-signification is perverted because it turns away from the significance inherent to existence; perversion, then, is an inability to read metaphor. Because creation is good, creation already signifies something which exceeds it: creation signifies a creator, a soul, a will. Therefore, to treat the body as mere body perverts the metaphor of creation, the conversion of creation into metaphor.

In the City of God, we see Augustine enlisting this metaphorical relationship of soul and body in his analysis of sexual violation. Here Augustine is defending Christianity against its pagan critics and is perturbed by the phenomenon of pagan men and women killing themselves due to shame after being sexually violated - a phenomenon which, he says, probably inaccurately, does not happen with Christian men and women. Augustine argues that if one accepts the conversion position, a position which he says is "unassailable" and therefore cannot but be accepted, there is never any doubt as to who is guilty in an act of sexual violation: "This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid. We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her."(13) Augustine can come to this conclusion against the opinion of much of the ancient world because he maintains that perversion is an act of the will, not the body. Therefore, if the woman does not consent to the act, then the woman has not done anything perverse. Rather, it is the violator who, in suppressing the woman’s decision (her will), perversely enjoys the woman’s body as an end in itself. Again, it is not the woman’s body which is perverse, but the willful ignoring of her will. The perversion consists in misreading the subject as pure body, as an insignificant body. Perversion is a turning away from metaphor; it is a literal reading of the metaphorical body.

When we confront the human body, then, we have three options, two of which perversely contradict the existence of the just human body. The first is to use the body as a metaphorical means to loving the soul (conversion); the second is to love the literal body while unjustly excluding the soul (sexual violation); the third is to use the soul unjustly as a means of literally excluding the body (as in Socrates’ case). From the converted perspective, however, once one knows that the subject is the metaphorical signification of soul and body, the latter two positions collapse into the single position of perversion, a position available only to the converted. For again, once converted, there is nothing outside the metaphor of creation.

Kant: Re-volving Bodies

Kant construed his metaphysical enterprise as revolutionary. He understood his own metaphysical system as turning in an opposite direction from that of traditional metaphysics. Because traditional Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics, in positing a passive subject whose subordinate mind conforms to the superior order of the object, failed to account for the existence of a priori knowledge (which Kant does not want to deny exists), Kant quite simply posits re-versing the order of the metaphysical uni-verse. Thus Kant feels akin to Copernicus:

We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars remain at rest.(14)

Kant sees the Copernican hypothesis as the proper "analogy"(15) to his metaphysics because, like Copernicus, Kant sees the ‘speculative’ subject as revolutionary, not the spectacular heavenly bodies or objects as they exist outside the spectrum of the subject. For Copernicus and Kant it is the subject, not the object, which revolves:

A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the objects (as objects of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.(16)

If the subject/spectator is not active or revolving in its constitution of objects as they appear to our senses as spectacle, then there is no way to guarantee that we can a priori know or inspect the constitution of objects. Therefore Kant, like Copernicus, re-verses the uni-verse, and argues that there is only one way of turning (uni-verse) that provides a priori knowledge: the revolution of the subject.

The most significant consequence of this revolution is that a distinction has to be made between the object as it appears to the mind and the object as it exists outside of this appearance or as it exists in-itself. There is no choice here. The universe is necessarily divided between appearing things and non-appearing things:

...if we entitle certain objects, as appearances, sensible entities (phenomena), then since we thus distinguish the mode in which we intuit them from the nature that belongs to them in themselves, it is implied in this distinction that we place the latter, considered in their own nature, although we do not so intuit them, or that we place the other possible things, which are not objects of our senses but are thought as objects merely through the understanding, in opposition to the former, and that in so doing we entitle them intelligible entities (noumena).(17)

Because we understand the mind as somehow being the condition of objects as they appear to us or as phenomena, we are forced to acknowledge a sense of the object which exists in excess of this appearance: "[W]hen [the understanding] entitles an object in a [certain] relation mere phenomenon, [it] at the same time forms, apart from that relation, a representation of an object in itself [i.e., a noumenon]..."(18). Paradoxically, at the moment that we accept the Copernican hypothesis and posit a bridge between the mind as understanding and phenomenal experience, we posit a gap between the mind and noumena.

As it turns out, this gap between the understanding and noumena in fact marks a gap within the subject between the speculative use of reason and the practical use of reason:

The theoretical [or speculative] use of reason is concerned with objects of the merely cognitive faculty [i.e., the understanding]....[Practical] reason [on the other hand] deals with the grounds determining the will, which is a faculty either of bringing forth objects corresponding to conceptions [i.e., bridging gaps] or of determining itself..."(19)

This gaping subject has, as such, "two standpoints from which he can regard himself": "first, insofar as he belongs to the world of sense subject to laws of nature (heteronomy); secondly, insofar as he belongs to the intelligible world subject to laws which, independent of nature, are not empirical but are founded only on reason [autonomy]."(20) The subject belongs to two worlds simultaneously: the phenomenal world and the noumenal world, the world of nature and the world of freedom. Kant ultimately situates the subject, in the first case, in the world of bodies (what Augustine calls the earthly city), and, in the second, in the world of souls (Augustine’s city of God). However, Kant is not maintaining a Platonic mind-body dualism. For Kant, the relationship between the subject’s body and soul, between objects of appearance and things-in-themselves, is much more complex and follows, as we will see, along the same lines as Augustine’s depiction of the relationship between the earthly city and the city of God.

Kant points out that if we do not maintain this distinction between objects in themselves and objects of appearance, which is to say, if we do not accept the critical revolution, and we attempt to "say of one and the same being, for instance the human soul, that its will is free and yet is subject to natural necessity, that is, is not free,"(21) then we end up in contradiction because we apply to the same substance two different predicates. Two different predicates demand two different substances or at least one substance in two different senses: namely, as things-in-themselves and as appearances. To avoid contradiction, Kant says, echoing the previous citation, that "the object [in this instance, the subject] is to be taken in a twofold sense, namely as appearance and as thing in itself."(22) Thus, "there is no contradiction in supposing that one and the same will is, in the appearance, that is, in its visible act, [that is, as body,] necessarily subject to the law of nature, and so far not free, while yet, as belonging to a thing in itself, it is not subject to that law, and is therefore free."(23) Again, to say that one substance is both body and soul is not contradictory, if we understand by this that the substance is each of these in different senses, that is, as body and as soul.

Kant later adds, in a surprising although consistent passage, a phenomenological dimension to this soul-body relationship. I quote at length:

the substance which in relation to our outer sense possesses extension is in itself the possessor of thoughts, and... these thoughts can by means of [the substance’s] own inner sense be consciously represented. In this way, what in one relation is entitled corporeal would in another relation be at the same time a thinking being, whose thoughts we cannot intuit, though we can indeed intuit their signs in the [field of] appearance. Accordingly, the thesis that only souls (as particular kinds of substances) think, would have to be given up; and we should have to fall back on the common expression that men think, that is, that the very same being which, as outer appearance, is extended [or embodied], is (in itself) internally a subject....(24)

The bodies which we encounter are in themselves souls. This is not to say that the existence of the body is the existence of the soul, however. Rather, souls appear as bodies; in themselves, souls do not appear. Souls, therefore, do not exist ‘out there’ or separately from the body, as Socrates held. Even if we wanted to attribute existence to pure souls, we would never know them. In a converted universe, the only ‘proof’ of the existence of the soul is the existence of the body. This is why we can never, as Kant says, intuit pure thoughts, but rather intuit only signs of thoughts. Ultimately, then, the body is a sign of the soul. The Kantian necessary distinction between body and soul thus renders the human body always already significant.


It is because the body always already signifies the soul that Kant says "freedom must be presupposed as a property of the will of all rational beings."(25) Because all rational beings ‘are to be taken in a twofold sense’, all rational beings must be presupposed to be noumenal as well as phenomenal. Their being must be seen to have, ‘apart’ from its conditional existence in the world of sense, an unconditional basis in the noumenal world. As such, there are two orders of law to which the subject is subject: the laws of nature (heteronomy) and the laws of reason (autonomy). Moreover, "since the laws according to which the existence of things depends on cognition are practical laws, supersensuous nature, so far as we can form a concept of it, is nothing else than nature under the autonomy of the pure practical reason."(26) Supersensuous nature (the soul) is nothing other than nature (the body) governed according to the supersensuous moral law of reason. Hence it is the presupposition of freedom which renders the body a soul: "[W]hen we think of ourselves as free, we transfer ourselves into the intelligible world."(27) When we think of our bodies as free, we trans-fer (trans: across + phoros: bear) our bodies into the world of souls. The body is thus a meta-phor of the soul; the soul is the body as metaphor.

It is the metaphoricity of the body which, for Kant, grounds morals. For now the human body can never be treated as mere body. As Augustine demonstrated, one cannot use the human body amorally, nor as pure body, nor without a loving end. This is why Kant asserts the maxim "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of an other, always at the same time as and end and never simply as a means"(28) as one of the variations of the categorical imperative. To treat human beings as a means would be to treat them as acting solely according to sensible laws, as pure body, and this, Kant shows, is forbidden.(29) For treating human beings as such would fail to recognize the agent as having the capability to act freely, independent of sensory causes.(30) We may conclude that one may never use the body of the other in such a way as to constrain his/her intelligible freedom. More positively, we may say that we must treat the human body as if it were a free will.

The categorical imperative is thus a law which metaphorizes bodies: "[T]he moral law ideally transfers us into a nature in which reason would bring forth the highest good were it accompanied by sufficient physical capacities; and it determines our will to confer on the sensuous world the form of a system of rational beings."(31). As a law which recognizes the metaphoricity of the body, the categorical imperative ensures that we acknowledge phenomena as significant of noumena. It ensures that our interaction within both the sensuous and supersensuous worlds does not contradict itself. It reminds us, at its most extreme, that the coherence of spatial and temporal sensuous intuitions is significant of the existence of a supersensuous rational being. The categorical imperative reminds us that nature is always already super-natural, that the human body is more than the body.

The Kantian critical revolution demonstrates that when we confront a human body, we must think of it as existing in two different senses, as intelligible and as sensible. If we do not, then we have no means of securing a priori knowledge of it, nor of recognizing anything in excess of the body. All objects of appearance, all bodies, become epistemologically and morally identical. Difference vanishes. To secure difference we must view the human subject as differentiated within itself, as sensible and as intelligible.

The Kantian revolution thus re-turns us to the classic theological distinction between soul and body, to the Augustinian con-version of creation. But again, even as Augustine and Kant distinguish between body and soul, they do so to show that the body always already justly signifies the soul, which means that the significant relationship between body and soul can never be severed. As Kant says, "though we may, in a theoretical respect, distinguish soul and body from each other, as natural characteristics of a human being, we may not think of them as different substances putting him under obligation, so as to justify a division of duties to the body and duties to the soul."(32) A Platonic division of duties of the body (warriors, slaves, women, children) and of the soul (philosopher-king, citizens, men) cannot be justified. Such a distinction is never just. Thus, either one accepts the metaphorization of the body, or one cannot justify the body’s existence. The existence of justice demands the metaphorization of the body. Justice must always be signified. And since signification demands a body, we can say that, precisely because the body demands justice, justice demands the body.


(1) Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals translated by James W. Ellington. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1981), 7. [return to text]

(2) Augustine, The City of God translated by Marcus Dodds. (New York: The Modern Library, 1993), Book 12, Chp. 1, 380. [return to text]

(3) The City of God, Book 12, Chp. 6, 386. [return to text]

(4) Confessions translated by Henry Chadwick. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), Book 7, Chp. 19, 125. (my italics)

[return to text]

(5) The City of God, Book 12, Chp. 2, 382.

[return to text]

(6) Confessions, Book 6, Chp. 20, 106. (my italics)[return to text]

(7) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason translated by Norman Kemp Smith. (Hong Kong: MacMillan Education Ltd., 1987), A, 230-33. [return to text]

(8) Augustine, On Christian Teaching translated by R.P.H. Green. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), Book 1, 9.[return to text]

(9) Ibid., 10. (my italics) [return to text]

(10) The City of God, Book 1, Chp. 35, 38. (my italics) [return to text]

(11) On Christian Teaching, Book 1, 25-26. (my italics) [return to text]

(12) The City of God, Book 1, Chp. 16, 21. [return to text]

(13) Ibid., Book 1, Chp. 19, 23. [return to text]

(14) Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 22. (my italics) [return to text]

(15) Ibid. [return to text]

(16) Ibid. [return to text]

(17) Ibid., 266-267. (my italics)[return to text

(18) Ibid., 267. (first set of italics are mine, the second are Kant’s)[return to text]

(19) Critique of Practical Reason translated by James W. Ellington. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1993), 15. [return to text]

(20) Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 53. [return to text]

(21) Critique of Pure Reason, 28. [return to text]

(22) Ibid. [return to text]

(23) Ibid. [return to text]

(24) Ibid., 340. (my italics) [return to text]

(25) Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 50. [return to text]

(26) Critique of Practical Reason, 44-45. [return to text]

(27) Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 54. (my italics) [return to text]

(28) Ibid., 36. [return to text]

(29) Ibid., 44. [return to text]

(30) Ibid., 53-54. [return to text]

(31) Critique of Practical Reason, 45. (my italics) [return to text]

(32) Doctrine of Virtue in The Metaphysics of Morals translated and edited by Mary Gregor. (Glasgow: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 174. (first set of italics are mine, the second and third sets are Kant’s)

[return to text]



Augustine. The City of God translated by Marcus Dodds. (New York: The Modern Library, 1993).

________. Confessions translated by Henry Chadwick. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

________. On Christian Teaching translated by R.P.H. Green. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

________. St. Augustine on Marriage and Sexuality Elizabeth Clark, ed. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996).

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason translated by Norman Kemp Smith. (Hong Kong: MacMillan Education Ltd., 1987).

____________. Critique of Practical Reason translated by James W. Ellington. (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1993).

____________. Doctrine of Virtue in The Metaphysics of Morals translated and edited by Mary Gregor. (Glasgow: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

____________. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals translated by James W. Ellington. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1981).

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