Thinking with Kleist: Michael Kohlhaas and moral luck

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The concept of moral luck comprises four aspects of acts of the Kantian will that are beyond the control of the agent and yet, paradoxically, can affect her moral appraisal. The challenge posed to Kantian moral theory by moral luck was identified by Schleiermacher in his critical review of Kant's Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht, and evidence suggests that Kleist was familiar with Kant's relevant writings while composing Michael Kohlhaas, a novella in which the various kinds of moral luck play a significant role. I extend the concept of moral luck by discussing two further versions of it in the novella, which I call interpretive moral luck and - drawing on Max Weber - proxy moral luck. In tracing these categories, I show how Kleist dramatized paradoxical consequences of Kant's theory that Kant himself acknowledged. Lastly, I interpret the secondary narrative of the gypsy woman and her prophecy as a further critique of Kantian morality. © 2013, American Association of Teachers of German.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Pickford, H

Published Date

  • October 1, 2013

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 86 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 381 - 403

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1756-1183

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0016-8831

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/gequ.10188

Citation Source

  • Scopus