Keeping the Shutters Closed: The Moral Value of ReserveSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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In this paper I defend a little noted claim of Kant’s — that we should “keep the shutters closed” on our flaws and failings. Kant’s own arguments for this claim aren’t fully satisfactorily, and they rest primarily on pragmatic considerations. My aim in this paper is to provide a more robust Kantian-inspired argument for the moral value of reserve. I argue that collaborating with others to keep the shutters closed on our individual and collective flaws aids in the difficult task of building and maintaining moral community among morally frail and flawed human beings. The paper consists of three parts. In Part I, I examine what Kant himself says about reserve. In Part II, I present a Kantian-inspired argument for the moral value of reserve, drawing on sociologist Erving Goffman’s concept of a front. Moral fronts, I argue, contribute to the fulfillment of the Kantian duties of moral self-improvement and beneficence. To put it differently, they help us instantiate the kingdom of ends in a world of imperfect human beings. In Part III, I address three objections to my argument: that fronts are deceptive, that they actually interfere with moral self-improvement, and that they preclude morally valuable forms of intimacy. I argue that my account can accommodate these concerns.