Kant's Demonstration of Free Will, Or, How to Do Things with Concepts

Journal of the American Philosophical Association 2 (2):291-309 (2016)
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Kant famously insists that free will is a condition of morality. The difficulty of providing a demonstration of freedom has left him vulnerable to devastating criticism: critics charge that Kant's post-Groundwork justification of morality amounts to a dogmatic assertion of morality's authority. My paper rebuts this objection, showing that Kant offers a cogent demonstration of freedom. My central claim is that the demonstration must be understood in practical rather than theoretical terms. A practical demonstration of x works by bringing x into existence, and what the demonstration of freedom brings into existence is a moral will, a will regulated by the moral law and capable of acting in accordance with it. Since to act morally is to act freely, bringing a moral will into existence actualizes our capacity for freedom and demonstrates that we possess it. To confirm the viability of such a demonstration, Kant must establish that agents can regulate their wills by practical principles, and that practical judgments are efficacious of themselves (i.e., that non-Humean motivational internalism is true). Kant, I argue, is successful on both counts.



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Benjamin S. Yost
Cornell University

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References found in this work

The Possibility of Altruism.John Benson - 1972 - Philosophical Quarterly 22 (86):82-83.
Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy.John Rawls & Barbara Herman - 2002 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 64 (1):178-179.
Moral Reasons.Donald C. Hubin - 1995 - Ethics 106 (1):187-189.
Rethinking Kant's Fact of Reason.Owen Ware - 2014 - Philosophers' Imprint 14.

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