Kant's Dinner Party: The Rules
A Kantian dinner party provides its participants with an opportunity for meaningful discussion and debate in a convivial and enjoyable setting. At its best the Kantian dinner party enables participants to experience and to engage positions that may be very different from their own, and to do so in a way that demonstrates respect for those with whom we may differ and keeps open the possibility that we might even come to enjoy their company.
A distinctive feature of the Kantian dinner is that the topics discussed there are wholly up to the participants. Kant's rules are procedural rather than substantive that is, they provide the framework and procedures for a civil discussion rather than dictate what is to be discussed. In particular, there is no expectation that the discussion will focus on philosophy, much less on Kant's philosophy! Beyond a basic familiarity with the rules below, participants are neither required nor expected to have any background in philosophy. The ideal participant comes to the table merely with a desire to engage others and their ideas respectfully.
Kant laid out his rules for a dinner party in his book entitled Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Among the most important rules are the following:
1. Size of the Group. Kant says the dinner party should have no fewer than three and no more than nine guests. This provides enough voices to keep a single conversation going, and prevents the group from growing too large and breaking up into smaller side conversations among those sitting near each other.
2. The Host. A Kantian dinner party is presided over by a host responsible for maintaining an open, inclusive and flowing conversation -- and particularly one in which no one voice dominates and the voices of all participants at the table are heard.
3. "Duty of Secrecy." Kant insists that guests agree not to repeat anything said at the dinner party afterwards, on the grounds that
this establishes the "trust" necessary for a genuinely open conversation.
4. Respect for Fellow Guests. Perhaps most importantly, Kant believes that it is the responsibility of each guest to preserve conditions of respect by avoiding all "dogmatism" and ensuring that in all of their contributions to the conversation "mutual respect and benevolence always shine forth."
Kant's complete description of the dinner party and the remainder of its rules can be found in the discussion of "The Highest Moral-Physical Good" at the conclusion of Part One of the Anthropology. An etext is available here for those with subscriptions to EBSCO. The complete text is available for purchase here.