A Kantian Account of Trauma

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In our societies today, the prevalence of serious, untreated trauma means that we cannot reliably expect to receive or give unconditional love, understood as love which functions within a normative framework to protect each and all of us as having dignity. Serious, untreated trauma makes unconditional love (so understood) unreliable because each time the pattern of the psychological damage (trauma) is triggered in the traumatized person, in the wrongdoers or in the bystanders, their behaviour easily becomes self-and other-numbing, destructive and moralizing in an irrational and often self-deceived attempt to preserve or defend themselves or others against forces felt as threatening even though they are not. It is also common for someone who lives in societal conditions where it is impossible to avoid patterned, traumatizing behaviour to experience the emotional temptation to give up on the possibility of a better future for oneself, one's loved ones or one's community within the larger community or the state. For some, this is experienced as a draw towards suicide, while others experience it as a serious temptation to give up on working together with the good forces in society. This article seeks to continue Charles Mills' work on radicalizing Kant by sketching a Kantian account of trauma and thereby develop philosophical resources that can help us fight historical oppression and violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)573-591
Number of pages19
JournalKantian Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 26 2022


  • Charles Mills
  • Kant
  • oppression
  • trauma
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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