Five Concepts of Freedom in Kant

  • Lewis White Beck
Part of the Nijhoff International Philosophy Series book series (NIPS, volume 28)


In Kant’s works I can distinguish at least five important conceptions of freedom. In part they overlap, some are inconsistent with others, and some presuppose others. Kant’s nomenclature for them is variable, and for some of them he has no name at all. Three of them appear to me to be untenable, and the others which are more promising are hardly more than merely adumbrated by Kant. In The Actor and the Spectator I gave a fuller development of these latter conceptions, and though I briefly indicated their Kantian character I did not show their Kantian provenance. After briefly presenting the better-known Kantian conceptions of freedom, I shall devote the remainder of the paper to documenting, elaborating, and defending the fifth conception, and showing its relation to Stephan Körner’s.


Practical Reason Free Action Moral Action Pure Reason Natural Causality 
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    I do not speak contemptuously of the seminar room and the lecture hall, but the kinds of investigations which go on in them are not designed to discover actual causes of behavior, and my argument is that when we are convinced that we know the actual causes we must rescind the imputation of freedom, whereas in the philosophical lecture hall we can entertain a schematic, abstract, compatibilism, which Körner (op. cit., 209) wittily compares to eating one’s cake and having it too. In The Actor and the Spectator (pp.105–107) I pushed the analogy with the principle of complementarity to the point of showing that the conditions under which a specific, concrete causal explanation of an action is given prevent its being a free action, and not merely add another conceptual determination which prevent its being interpreted as a free actionGoogle Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1987

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  • Lewis White Beck

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