Moral Responsibility and the Natural Order
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis examines Kantian conceptions of freedom. Beginning with Kant himself, I show how Kant’s response to Hume concerning the rational justification of causal judgements results in his claim that the sensible world is governed a priori by causal principles. Kant’s moral philosophy, however, requires a robust conception of freedom for moral agency to be possible. These two features leave Kant in an apparent contradiction, for it is unclear how we, as members of the physical, causal world, can be truly free if all events are governed by causal laws. I show that Kant’s solution to this contradiction lies in an important aspect of his transcendental idealism: the noumenal/phenomenal distinction. I argue, further, that his solution is problematic due to the fundamentally unknowable quality of the noumenal realm, wherein freedom is located. John McDowell’s Mind and World is introduced as an alternative to the extreme Kantian dualism between noumena and phenomena, while remaining within a broadly Kantian framework. Like Kant, McDowell locates our freedom in our ability to operate through reason, though unlike his predecessor, he situates “the space of reasons” within nature. This becomes possible by extending our conception of nature to include a “second nature”, thus making our initiation into the space of reasons—into the realm of freedom—a natural process. Remaining Kantian in spirit, however, McDowell’s account inherits a problematic Kantian feature. He maintains the distinction between two modes of intelligibility—between naturalistic and rational modes of explanation—thus leaving room for a hard-nosed naturalist to question the autonomy of the latter. I argue that Peter Strawson’s proposal in “Freedom and Resentment” is able to assuage this worry in McDowell’s otherwise plausible model. In it, Strawson provides an account of why the autonomy of rational explanations can never be undermined by purely naturalistic explanations, even in the face of a theoretical conviction in determinism. Strawson argues that our “personal reactive attitudes” (like gratitude and resentment)—attitudes that express our commitment to a moral life and are representative of our functioning within the space of reasons—could never be undermined by the truth of determinism, and this reveals the extent to which our conception of ourselves as rational agents is immune from assault by the determinist. The result is a compelling form of compatibilism that persuasively retains the space of reasons without appeal to Kantian noumenalism.