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Monica Burnett Modern Philosophy Paper on Transcendental Freedom

Kant argues that our natural world is deterministic. Yet he also carries the belief that

humans have free will. In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant tries to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory beliefs by developing a unique theory that lies between compatibilism and libertarianism. Kant uses s philosophical argument that distinguishes events as appearances from events as things in themselves1 to argue that a deterministic world with transcendental freedom is not logically contradictory. According to Kant, it not possible to prove that transcendental freedom exists, or is even metaphysically possible from an a posteriori standpoint. However, because the existence of a moral law is a priori knowledge (according to Kant), from a practical standpoint, this suggests transcendental freedom must also exist if free will is necessary for moral responsibility. First, this essay will explicate Kants notion of transcendental freedom. Then it will explain the problem Kant believes the empirical world poses for transcendental freedom.2 Next I will deconstruct Kants distinction between appearances and things in themselves, and how this dual nature of events makes the existence of free will in a deterministic world logically possible.3 I will then argue that, while Kant does in fact, manage to prove that transcendental freedom is logically consistent, his practical argument is unconvincing. First I will explain Kants notion of freedom. Kant describes freedom, in the cosmological sense of the term, as the power to begin a state on ones own(811b). In this sense, freedom is a purely transcendental contains nothing borrowed from experience (811b). This is because one of the universal laws of experience is that everything must have a cause (811b). That cause, in turn, must also have a cause, and so on. In the empirical world-- the causally determined natural world-- every state is brought about by a state before it. Transcendental freedoms definition, the power to begin a state on ones own, implies that state is not brought about by a state before it. This is why Kants idea of freedom contains nothing borrowed from experience and is therefore transcendental

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Kant more clearly develops this distinction in his passage on Transcendental Freedom This is why Kant is not considered a compatibilist under the technical definition of the term.

Whether or not it is metaphysically possible or likely is another question. I personally do not think that Kants one world/two world arguments are likely reflections of our world.

Monica Burnett Modern Philosophy Paper on Transcendental Freedom

Kant distinguishes transcendental freedom from practical freedom, the independence of our will from coercion by impulses of sensibility (812a). Kant believes that transcendental freedom, is the basis of practical freedom (812a). Transcendental freedom is needed in order for practical freedom to exist; the annulment of transcendental freedom would simultaneously eliminate all practical freedom, writes Kant (812a). if an agent does not have the power to begin a state on his own, that implies his states are coerced--pathologically necessitated by sensible impulses [or other external factors] (812a). The root of the conflict, therefore, between causal necessity and freedom, is transcendental. Lets look at how this conflict comes into play in our world. Kant claims that humans do have both practical freedom and transcendental freedom. The human will, although an arbitrium sensitivum, is is an arbitrium not brutum but liberum, he writes (812a). To put this in plain english, while the human will is of course affected by motivating causes, these causes influence, but do not coerce it. The human will is free, both in the practical sense and, therefore, transcendentally. But Kant is also a scientific determinist. He claims that every single event is caused by an event before it. All events are therefore necessitated by events before them. Kant acknowledges this presents a problem for transcendental free will. In the question concerning nature and freedom, we encounter the difficulty as to whether freedom... can coexist with the universal law of causality (813a). It seems contradictory to claim that an agent may begin a state that is already causally necessitated by the past. While still making the claim that could both exist without logical contradiction, Kant rejects compatibilism. Classical compatibilism claims that nothing more than an agent's ability to do what she wishes in the absence of impediments that would otherwise stand in her way4 If the cause of an agents action is internal-- if the agent was acting in the manner he intended, then that agent is free, although his actions may be predetermined. But to Kant, this does not fix the problem determinism poses for free will. Kant writes, Since the past is no longer in [the agents] control, every action that [he] performs must be necessary by determining grounds that are not within [his] control, that is, [he is] never free at this point in time in which

Compatibilism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Monica Burnett Modern Philosophy Paper on Transcendental Freedom

[he] act (). So, even if the cause of the agents action is internal to him, if it is in the past then it is not within his control. Kants rejection of compatibilism many come as a surprise to the reader. While Kant rejects compatibilism, he still makes the claim that transcendental freedom and nature, each in the complete meaning of the term, would be found in the same actions...simultaneously and without any conflict (814b). To accomplish this, Kant invokes transcendental idealism. Transcendental idealism applied to transcendental freedom is the thesis that humans experiences of events are only appearances and not things in themselves. Our perception does not account for the full complexity of the events that pass, especially in regard to the way we perceive space and time. As a result, our perception, the appearances of the

events , are distinct from the actual events, the things in themselves. Kant summarizes transcendental idealism in the following manner 5:
We have therefore wanted to say that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of appearance; that the things that we intuit are not in themselves what we intuit them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in themselves as they appear to us; and that if we remove our own subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, then all constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves would disappear, and as appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us... We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being(A42/B5960)[

But how does this distinction solve the freewill problem? It appears to remove the contradiction between the empirical world and the existence of transcendental free will. Recall Kants earlier criticism of compatibilism: Since the past is no longer in [the agents] control, every action that [he] performs must be necessary by determining grounds that are not within [his] control, that is, [he is] never free at this point in time in which [he] act (). The crucial issue here appears to be the timing. Because the determining cause occurred before the agent made his decision, at the time of the agents decision, his choice was already determined by events in the past. Therefore, this decision was not free. However, let us suppose for a moment that transcendental idealism is true, and there lies an important distinction between things in themselves and appearances. Kant posits, If appearances are things in themselves, then freedom cannot be saved (813a). So if the appearance of an event is identical to the event in itself, then Kants critique of

I found this description particularly helpful to understanding the distinction between appearances and t. I know it is a rather long but I think it makes the terms much clearer.

Monica Burnett Modern Philosophy Paper on Transcendental Freedom

compatibilism holds because an original action, through which something occurs that was not there before, is not to be expected from the causal connection of appearances (815a). However, the distinction between appearances and things in themselves holds, this removes the contradiction between necessary events and transcendental freedom. Writes Kant, If appearances count...not as things in themselves but as mere representations connected according to empirical laws, then they must themselves still have other grounds that...are outside the series of empiric conditions (813a). Let me clarify that statement by returning to Kants example. Lets assume that things and appearances are distinct and the agents decision exists out of time. Although all events in the natural world are predetermined by ones preceding it (via appearances), because the agents choice is acting outside of time (beyond the realm of appearances), the agent is making a decision about an event at a point in which the event is not necessarily determined. Outside of time, the agent may still have the power to begin a state on ones own in the natural world, and transcendental freedom is preserved. No logical contradiction remains. Notice that, although Kant personally believes that humans have transcendental freewill, he is not claiming that he has prove humans have free will from this particular argument. Kant writes, By this contemplation we have not sought to establish the actuality of freedom...furthermore we have not even sought to prove the possibility freedom... (819b). Kants goal of this argument was to show that there is no logical contradiction between a world governed by necessary cause that also has transcendental freewill. In this respect, I believe he is successful. Kants transcendental idealism may not be especially convincing. I believe transcendental idealism is problematic in key respects, making it an unlikely theory. I personally find the possibility that things in themselves exist outside of space and time to be dubious. I think would be a huge challenge to explain how, if things in themselves exist outside of space and time, they can somehow affect our perceptions and senses to create an appearance that exists within space and time. Explaining this is an obstacle transcendental idealism has yet to overcome. However, Kant has still successfully shown transcendental freedom and determinism to be consistent with one another, even if transcendental idealism is unlikely. Again, Kants argument here is concerned with logical possibility, not likelihood.

Monica Burnett Modern Philosophy Paper on Transcendental Freedom

This all seems well and good until Kant posits that not only is transcendental freedom in the natural world is a logical possibility, but it is also rational to believe in free will. The knowledge that transcendental freedom exists is a practical knowledge that is distinct from the theoretical knowledge believes cannot be established. This practical knowledge arises because Kant believes that transcendental freedom is needed to have moral law. Explains Kant, blame is based on a law of reason; and the law of reason is regarded in this act of blame as, a cause that, regardless of all mentioned empirical conditions, as a cause that could and ought to have determined the persons conduct differently (818b). In order for someones actions to be right or wrong, those actions must be in that persons control. Kant believes that moral law is a priori-everyone has a conscience and some form of a moral compass. It is practical to believe in transcendental freedom to justify human beliefs about moral law. I am willing accept Kants premise that freewill is necessary for moral law. The existence of transcendental freedom is therefore a practical belief in the sense that it preserves mans conception of moral law. However, Kants transcendental freedom is an impractical belief in that it comes with the baggage of Kants problematic theory of transcendental idealism6 . The problems within the theory of transcendental idealism are excusable when Kant was merely proving logical possibility, but then come back into play when discussing the rationality and practicality of transcendental freedom. Again, things in and of themselves existing outside time and perception raises the question of how they would be able to create an appearance. Unless Kant can provide an viable explanation or mechanism for how this would work this seems like a rather irrational belief to hold. From a practical standpoint, it is also concerning that transcendental idealism might imply a rather extreme form of skepticism. Because appearances are distinct from things in themselves, this implies they are not a complete reflection of our actual reality. They are, at best, a partial reflection, and we are left with an un rectifiable ignorance about things in themselves. Some philosophers worry this traps each of us within the contents of our own mind and cuts us off from reality. 7 The aforementioned concerns raise the

We have to accept the baggage of idealism on transcendental idealism or we are still left with Kants aforementioned contradiction between our natural world and freewill. This contradiction would override the practicality of believing in transcendental freedom

Kant, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Monica Burnett Modern Philosophy Paper on Transcendental Freedom

question: Why should the practicality of preserving moral law outweigh the impracticality of all the problems that arise from transcendental idealism? Kant has left me unconvinced that the practicality of moral law is important enough to make this transcendental freedom a practical, rational belief. In conclusion, I believe that Kant is successful in proving that our natural world and transcendental freedom do not logically contradict. But while his argument for transcendental idealism assists him in this endeavor, it is detrimental to his argument that transcendental freedom is a rational, practical belief.