Kant’s Groundwork Third Section: Transition from the metaphysics of morals to the critique of pure practical reason

Kant on freedom of the will: some evaluative questions

  How defensible is Kant’s conception of what it is for the will to be free?

  How good an argument does Kant have that we cannot have a theoretical proof that the will is free or that it is unfree?

  How defensible is his way of making determinism (subsumption of all human actions under exceptionless laws of nature) compatible with free will (ability to set its own laws independently of alien causes)?

Central issue of section 3

  Is there actually a categorical imperative that binds us? = Is our will really free (=autonomous, self-legislating)?

  Kant’s answer

  We cannot know whether our will is free, since that would be a property of us as things in themselves, not of the way we appear.

  We can establish the compatibility of freedom of the will as a property of the will in itself with the fact that our actions as they appear  are determined in accordance with natural laws.

  As rational agents, we necessarily presuppose in our decision-making that our will is free.

Freedom explains autonomy

  The will = the causality of living beings qua rational (= the ability to act according to representations of laws [412])

  Freedom = quality that enables the will to be effective independently of alien causes determining it (446)

  Natural necessity = determination of beings lacking reason through alien causes (446)

  Natural necessity à heteronomy (law from outside)

  Freedom iff autonomy (law unto itself)

  Autonomy iff universalizability iff morality (447)

  But a third term is still needed to connect an absolutely good will to morality (= freedom = autonomy). (447)

Free will presupposed (448)

  Reason conscious of being steered in its judgments from elsewhere would attribute them to impulse.

  Hence every rational being with a will must think of itself as independent author of its principles.

  Hence it must regard itself as free.

  Hence even without a theoretical proof of its freedom all laws inseparably connected with freedom are valid for it.

NB: Kant claims freedom as a practical presupposition, not as something he personally presupposes.

Our interest in being moral

  Why subject myself to the categorical imperative derived from the presupposition of freedom? (449)

  Our interest in morality cannot be derived from any of:

   a pre-existing interest (imperative then hypothetical)

   moral obligation to regard ourselves as free (circular)

   interest in being worthy of happiness (circular)

  2 standpoints (450-452):

1.        how things (including ourselves) appear (phenomena)

2.        how things are in themselves (noumena)

  A rational being can think of itself as belonging both to the intelligible world as legislator and to the sensible world as subject to the moral law that it legislates. (452-453)

  NB: This subjection does not involve the will’s necessitating that we actually act according to its moral law.

How a categorical imperative is possible (453-455)

  idea of freedom à I am in an intelligible world.

  If only in that world, I would automatically act according to self-legislated universalizability.

  But I belong also to the world of sense.

  Hence acting according to the autonomy of my will becomes an ‘ought’:

  a categorical imperative

  a synthetic a priori proposition

   constraint of this ‘ought’ recognized by everybody

Limit of practical philosophy

  Speculative philosophy: it is consistent for humans to have free will in themselves but for humans as they appear to be determined by exceptionless laws. (455-456)

  NB: The same actions are both free and naturally necessary. (456)

  Practical reason: intuits its freedom, a postulate when it takes a certain standpoint. (458)

  Possibility of this freedom cannot be explained, only defended against attack. (459)

  Moral feeling: inexplicable consequence of validity of moral law, not its source. (460)

  Limit of practical philosophy: State the idea of freedom as presupposition of a possible categorical imperative. (461)

  Implications: Don’t ground morality in the world of sense or lose yourself in figments of the mind. (462)

Concluding remark (463)

  We do not comprehend the practical unconditioned necessity of the moral imperative.

  We do comprehend its incomprehensibility.

Kant on freedom of the will: some evaluative questions

  How defensible is Kant’s conception of what it is for the will to be free?

  How good an argument does Kant have that we cannot have a theoretical proof that the will is free or that it is unfree?

  How defensible is his way of making determinism (subsumption of all human actions under exceptionless laws of nature) compatible with free will (ability to set its own laws independently of alien causes)?

Evaluation of Kant’s conception of morality and of its foundation

  Strengths   

  Weaknesses   

Next

  Mill, Chapters I (“General Remarks”) and II (“What Utilitarianism Is”)

  Key points in Chapter I

  Mill’s general conception of “morals” (i.e. morality)

  His argument for a self-evident foundation

  His defence of the general happiness principle (note reference to Kant)

  Key points in Chapter II

  ***THE PRINCIPLE OF UTILITY***

  Responses to nine objections

  To objection 1: higher pleasures

  To objection 7: justifying exceptions to moral rules

  To objection 8: subordinate principles