Moral Philosophy Seminar (Monday - Week 2, TT22)

Moral Philosophy Seminar

This essay traces a narrative about different conceptions of freedom and their ethical significance in Kant, Schiller, Sidgwick, Green, and Berlin. Kant introduces three kinds of freedom that he claims are presupposed by moral requirements — negative freedom from determination by empirical motives, positive freedom or autonomy involving determination by practical reason, and transcendental freedom. Sidgwick objects to Kant’s conception of positive freedom as unable to explain how someone might be free and responsible for the wrong choices, as well as the right ones. Though Green rejects Kant’s transcendental conception of freedom, he thinks Kant can be defended from Sidgwick’s worry by identifying freedom with the capacity to be determined by practical reason. Green goes on to identify his own tripartite conception of freedom — juridical freedom, which is the absence of compulsion and restraint by others; moral freedom, which is the sort of moral capacity that he thinks Kant should have identified with freedom as responsibility; and real or perfect freedom, which resembles Kant’s own conception of positive freedom. On Green’s view, these three kinds of freedom are stages in the perfection of freedom. Berlin famously distinguished between negative liberty, as freedom from interference, and positive liberty, as a kind of self-realization, and criticized the legitimacy of positive freedom. Green’s perfectionist conception of freedom can be defended against Berlin’s doubts. Green’s tripartite conception of freedom allows us to make sense of Kant’s claims that respect and esteem are fitting attitudes toward different aspects of freedom and to accept Schiller’s criticisms of Kantian virtue. 

Moral Philosophy Seminar Convenor: Jeremy Fix