Allison on rational agency

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 36 (4):405 – 418 (1993)
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In his very rich and insightful book, Kant's Theory of Freedom, Henry Allison argues that in the first Critique Kant's reason for rejecting Humean compatibilism in favor of an incompatibilist conception of practical freedom stems, not from a specific concern to ground morality, as many have supposed, but from his general conception of rational agency, which Allison explicates in terms of the idea of practical spontaneity. Practically spontaneous rational agency is subject to imperatives and therefore distinct from Humean agency. But it is not necessarily subject to the categorical imperative and hence is distinct from fully spontaneous (transcendentally free) moral agency. A conception thus emerges of an agent with limited spontaneity, subject to hypothetical but not categorical imperatives. A doubt may be raised, however, as to whether Kant's view can accommodate this conception of limited practical spontaneity. Reflection on Kant's notion of a hypothetical imperative suggests that the idea of limited spontaneity is in danger of either collapsing into the Humean picture or else turning out to be equivalent to the conception of full spontaneity appropriate to moral agency. There is thus reason to suppose that, for Kant, we would not be bound by imperatives at all if we were not bound by the categorical imperative.



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Stephen Engstrom
University of Pittsburgh

Citations of this work

On the Transcendental Freedom of the Intellect.Colin McLear - 2020 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 7:35-104.
The hypothetical imperative?Mark Schroeder - 2005 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (3):357 – 372.
Kant, Skepticism, and Moral Sensibility.Owen Ware - 2010 - Dissertation, University of Toronto

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References found in this work

Critique of pure reason.Immanuel Kant - 1781/1998 - In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Blackwell. pp. 449-451.
Religion within the Limits of Reason alone.Immanuel Kant & Theodore M. Greene - 1936 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 43 (1):11-12.

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