Kant's concept of freedom and the human sciences

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 39 (1):pp. 113-135 (2009)
The aim of this paper is to determine whether Kant’s account of freedom fits with his theory of the human sciences. Several Kant scholars have recently acknowledged a tension between Kant’s metaphysics and his works on anthropology in particular. I believe that in order to clarify the issue at stake, the tension between Kant’s metaphysics and his anthropology should be broken down into three distinct problems. First, Kant’s Anthropology studies the human being ‘as a freely acting being.’5 This approach thus presupposes that such an inquiry can acknowledge freedom and appeal to it in its accounts of human behaviour. Yet the Critique of Pure Reason clearly asserts that ‘as regard [man’s] empirical character there is no freedom; and yet it is only in the light of this character that man can be studied.’ This, in contrast, seems to indicate that the human sciences should be carried out independently of freedom. Second, the Anthropology seems to suggest that empirical factors encompassed by culture, civilisation and mores can have an impact on the human being’s moral status by generating some form of moral progress. Yet if freedom and moral agency are restricted to the domain of the intelligible, they cannot be influenced by anything empirical. Third, the Anthropology provides numerous moral and prudential recommendations as to how one should behave in particular circumstances. Thus it seems to presuppose that anthropological knowledge, as well as the practical guidance based on this knowledge, can have an impact on the free choices we make. Yet how can the human sciences be legitimately, and efficaciously, prescriptive vis-à-vis our free choices? Regarding the first problem, which I tackle in section I, I will hold that the human sciences can legitimately refer to ‘practical freedom’ understood as the power to determine one’s aims and to act independently of sensuous impulses, through intentions and the representation of purposes. I will address the second and third problems in two steps. Section II will tackle them negatively through a distinction between the conditions of moral agency and the conditions of moral improvement. It will allow me to argue that the possibility of any direct influence of the empirical on the intelligible is metaphysically invalid in principle, and hence, that empirical factors cannot effect any direct change in one’s moral character. In the third section, I will turn to the positive side of my account by focusing on the issue of the moral relevance of culture and civilisation as well as that of the human sciences (which study their influence), and suggest that they are morally relevant insofar as they make us more morally efficacious.
Keywords Freedom  Kant  Anthropology  Human Nature
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DOI 10.1353/cjp.0.0035
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