Kevin Houser
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Many suppose some form of free will is required to make moral responsibility possible. Levinas thinks this is backwards. Freedom does not make moral responsibility possible. Moral responsibility makes freedom possible. Free will is not a condition for morality. Free will is an aspect and expression of our moral condition. Key to Levinas’s argument is his rejection of free-will-individualism: the idea that free will is a power a single being could possess. A “contradiction” extracted from standard accounts, and related troubles with autonomy as found in Kant and Korsgaard, motivate Levinas’s counter-claim: Freedom cannot be by nature mine. For my own nature is something I am free to change. Hence my own nature is something from which I am somehow free. Traditional freedom over one’s self thus presupposes a prior liberating ‘inner distance’ from one’s self. And this initial detachment or un-self-centering is an ethical distancing which only another person can effect. Free will individualism is mistaken, because other persons play an indispensable role in making us free. The chapter concludes that free will is best thought of as Levinas suggests: not as an individual power, but as a social process like love: an ongoing second-personal responsiveness wherein we face and free one another.
Keywords free will  responsibility  Korsgaard  autonomy  heteronomy  Levinas  Kant  love  Heidegger  second person
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