09 Jul

The Problem of Transcendental Freedom

Von Joe Saunders (Durham)

The limits of Kant’s philosophy are built right into his system. They play an important role, but ultimately cause serious problems. Freedom is a key instance of this.

Transcendental Idealism makes freedom possible for Kant. Appearances are not things-in-themselves. This allows Kant to maintain that our freedom is possible, no matter how dire things look for freedom in experience. Even if a scientist could completely predict our actions, that doesn’t matter, because our freedom is located (somehow) outside of space, time and experience.

With this, Kant manages to insulate our freedom from any threats from science or experience. That’s an ambitious and impressive move. But it also has its downsides, for it leaves freedom cut off from experience – a “great gulf” between the two.

This is especially problematic for Kant, as he sees freedom as crucially related to our moral practices. It’s what enables our moral agency, and gives us our distinctive moral status. But if freedom is cut off from experience, then we face serious problems as to how our freedom interacts with experience, and how we could have any knowledge of freedom in experience (not to mention what it means to think of freedom as timeless).

The limits of transcendental idealism make freedom possible, but in the end, cause serious practical problems for Kant.

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