Rüdiger Bittner on Autonomy

Erkenntnis (S7):1-10 (2013)

Rüdiger Bittner surveys with a skeptical eye classic and contemporary ideas of Kantian autonomy. He allows that we can be more or less free in a modest (quasi-Hobbesian) sense and that many people may want more of this freedom from impediments that make it difficult or impossible to do various things. He argues, however, that high-minded general affirmations of human freedom are unfounded and not likely to retain their grip on our thinking. While acknowledging the value of Bittner’s challenges, I raise questions about Bittner’s dismissal of ideas of freedom apparently imbedded in ordinary language and his critique of the idea of autonomy in Kant’s ethics and broadly Kantian theories. A key issue is how to make sense of the claim that a moral law can be a law and yet also self-imposed. Given certain background assumptions about Kant’s conception of autonomy of the will, the key claim requires different interpretations when it concerns the supreme moral law (the Categorical Imperative) and when it concerns more specific moral laws (for example, derivative principles in Kant’s Doctrine of Virtue). Bittner’s challenges are valuable because they require us to work out and articulate more carefully what we mean by autonomy and why it is important. As Bittner says, Kant’s idea of autonomy is not the same as the ideas of autonomy that appear in medicine, politics, and everyday life. Nevertheless, those who care about either have some reason to think about how these are connected.
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-013-9556-y
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The Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 1996 - Cambridge University Press.
Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785/2002 - Oxford University Press.
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.Kant Immanuel - 1785 - In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Late Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell.

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