In Kant forms a reciprocal link in his works

In his 1793 essay ‘On the common saying: “This may be true
in theory, but it does not apply in practice” Kant outlies his view of the
relation between morality and liberty and the role freedom plays within both
these concepts. This essay will examine how Kant develops his moral theory by
using the idea of freedom as a necessity for beings to be rational and subsequently
have the ability to be morally autonomous. It will then explore various thinker’s
criticisms of this view and how Kant would respond to these challenges. Later,
it moves on to Kant’s notion of liberty and how there is a distinction between
being worthy of happiness and actually making somebody happy and how the role
of the civic state deals with this difference and subsequently uses coercion as
a means of promoting freedom and liberty. Allison (1986) argues that Kant forms
a reciprocal link in his works between freedom and morality and this essay will
back that claim up.  

Kant’s moral theory of freedom
centres on the idea that human beings are not only rational but morally
autonomous beings. Kant defines the human will as “a kind of causality
belonging to living beings so far as they are rational” (Kant cited in Bantock
1984: 150). Kant argues for humans to have a purely rational will they must
“pull away from our intuitions and emotions and thus become absolutely free
from influences to decide what the right duty to fulfil is” (Gregor 1996 :14). Therefore,
to describe the will as free would be to say, “it could act causally without
being caused to do so by something other than itself” (Kant 2005: 98). Kant
argues that having a rational will, which is not influenced by that around us,
gives us the ability to create laws based purely on our own reasoning and
become self-governing beings.

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Kant’s notion of freedom based
on rationality can be seen to be both positively and negatively constructed.
Isiah Berlin (1969) described negative freedom as “the absence of coercion”
(1969: 24) and as previously mentioned Kant argued that it is fundamental for
the notion of rationality that an individual is free to make their own choices;
highlighting Berlin’s concept of negative freedom. However, Kant’s ideas also
give rise to a positive notion of freedom, which Berlin defines as
“self-mastery” (Berlin cited in Nelson 2005: 58). As Kant sees rational humans
as not only being free from pressure but having the ability to follow rules
that they set themselves this brings about a positive notion of liberty.

This freedom can be translated
into autonomy as mentioned above as Kant defines it as “choosing only in such a
way that the maxims of your choice are also included as universal law in the
same volition” (Kant cited in Korsgaard 1985: 308). As an individual is free to
act without external pressure and based on their rationality, they have the
ability to make their own laws which they abide by. However, for these laws to
be universal each individual has to be bound by them and choose to follow them
in the future. Kant develops this into the first formulation of his categorical imperative, in which he
states every individual should “act that the principle of one’s act could
become a universal law” (Kant 1997: 30). Here Kant is stating that when
individuals act using reason then their actions are worthy of moral law. Kant
argues these laws cannot come through experience but have to be based on
reason. This is because experience is necessarily contingent; therefore, no
universal or necessary conclusions can be drawn from it. Whereas for Kant human
reason has the ability to create necessary as each individual can come to the same
conclusion of what is a rightful law to follow.

Freedom is central for Kant’s
view of not only making laws but also of acting morally as he “presupposes that
we are free in the sense we have the ability to act” (Kant cited in Wellman
2010: 67) because otherwise if we cannot be held responsible for our actions we
cannot be held accountable for the results these actions may cause. He gives
the example of a thief and states that for his actions to be morally wrong, he
must have the option to commit this crime. As humans are intrinsically free to
act how they wish, and therefore free to commit crimes, Kant (1785) develops
the second formulation of his categorical imperative as he states through
humanities freedom individuals have the ability to use others as merely ends.
However, Kant believes that there should be a “kingdom of ends” (Kant cited in
Rawls 1971: 264) in which all citizens are at once the “authors and subjects of
all laws” (Ibid: 270), and this society would be a perfect one in which there
is mutual respect for every individual. Kant develops his doctrine by arguing
there is a duty on rational humans to “live up to the moral laws that our own
free will has set” (Kant 2005: 41). This follows that as individuals abide by
the law they are acting both morally and freely at the same time.

Schopenhauer (1840),
challenges Kant’s view that moral laws come solely through rationality. He
argues that “human conduct is guided sometimes by emotions such as sympathy for
other people and other times by selfish or egotistic concerns for oneself”
(Schopenhauer 1818: 52). He goes on to argue that contrary to Kant’s view,
truly moral conduct, must be sympathetic. Whilst Kant sees emotion as
unreliable, Schopenhauer sees some emotions such as sympathy necessary for
keeping other emotions such as egoism intact. Although, Fieser defends Kant’s
theory by stating that “there is a humanitarian emphasis within human reason”
(Fieser 2001: 182). Despite, an individual’s emotion such as sympathy not being
the only influence in Kantian ethics, it does form part of human reason. As
Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative does state to treat
humans as ends instead of mean’s this does counter Schopenhauer’s argument as
it shows emotions such as sympathy and gives worth to positive human emotions
when making decisions.

Overall, Kant’s moral theory
of freedom is heavily based on the idea that humans have the ability to act
rationally and not be influenced by outside causes. When humans act in this way
they have the ability to be self-legislating and treat each other as ends
instead of means. To be moral humans must follow these laws they set for not
only themselves but for everyone around them in what becomes a ‘kingdom of

Walker (2001) also contests
Kant’s moral theory of freedom by stating “equating freedom with moral law
leads to the absurdity that no free action can be wrong” (Walker cited in
Scruton 2001: 14). If a human being follows all the moral law, which by
definition is “what I universally ought to do, and thus morally correct, this
excludes the possibility of me ever being in the wrong, as a free agent” (Ibid:
61). Walker, also attacks Kant for stating in his Lectures on Ethics, “that a
person who steals for material necessity is less responsible of theft than a
wealthy person that steals” (Kant cited in Walker 1998: 89). This does seem
like a reasonable claim, but it is not compatible with Kant’s theory of freedom
where two noumenal agents have the same degree of freedom. Bennett sums up
Walkers argument by stating that “we are left with the dubious equation between
moral law and freedom which leads, to the absurdity that either no free agent
is ever wrong or that almost no one is actually free” (Bennett 1976: 223). Kant
would argue back that to be free is still to be moral, however we are not free
when we “give into the temptations surrounding us on a day to day basis” (Ibid:
219). At this point we are not acting rationally and therefore going against
the moral law, so for Kant humans can still act immorally even when they appear
to be free by giving in to these ‘desires’.

Kant’s theory of liberty is
also established in his work On the
Common saying when he defines liberty as the ability “to seek his happiness
in whatever way seems best to him” (Kant cited in Allison 1986: 490). “In
Kant’s terms happiness with one’s life is an apodictic end, since happiness is
just a name for being suitably satisfied with pursuing and achieving one’s
goals” (Melnick 2008: 71). Westphal (2005) argues that this idea of
non-interference in Kant’s notion of liberty fits in with Kant’s notion of the
moral law and shows the importance of freedom once again in Kant’s writings. Kant
has already demonstrated that the source of all moral obligation is the
rational will, which prescribes universal laws independently of experience. For
Kant it is freedom alone that gives worth to human beings, as freedom allows an
individual to have a rational will. Therefore, for Kant it is preposterous to
interfere with another’s pursuit of happiness, as it interferes with their
freedom which for Kant is the very essence of being a human.

In Critique of Practical Reason Kant argues that despite happiness
being universally pursued, it is “not specific enough to entail any particular
universal desires in human beings” (Beiser 1992: 31). As desires are empirical
and contingent, they cannot form the basis of any pure moral law as one’s
happiness is not universalised. Therefore, for there to be a ‘universal
principle of right’ which helps promote Kant’s definition of liberty as pursuit
of happiness it must be based on something universal such as freedom, which
Kant describes as “the only one innate right” (Kant 1991: 81) Kant sees the
role of the state to therefore, establish a maxim not of happiness but of
freedom “for we are not concerned here with any happiness which the subject
might expect to derive from the institutions…of the commonwealth, but primarily
with the rights which would be secured for everyone” (Kant cited in Reiss 1991:
80). The role of the state can therefore be seen to help individuals be ‘worthy
of happiness’ rather than telling them ‘how to be happy’, as Kant argues “a
state cannot legitimately impose any particular conception of happiness upon
its citizens as this conception can never be universal because of the very
nature of happiness” (Ibid: 91).

“Kant therefore insisted that
the role of the state is only to ensure freedom, to provide those arrangements
that enable each person to pursue what each sees as in his or her best personal
interests within the limits of rights” (Gregor 1997: 78). However, this liberty
offered by the state can only provide humans the ability to become happy it
cannot make them happy, as happiness is contingent and therefore it would be
impossible for the state to create conditions where every individual is happy. It
can again be seen the similarities between Kant’s notions of moral freedom and
liberty as both requires humans to have not had external pressure applied to
them and backs up Allison’s (1986) claim that Kant creates this reciprocal

Kant sees the role of the
civil state to foster co-existence with one another, so that individuals have
the ability to pursue their own notion of happiness. Despite, arguing earlier
that the moral law can never be coercively applied, Kant argues that political
order must be. In Doctrine of Right
Kant contends that an “individual follows the law because of two incentives:
ethical and juridical” (Kant 199`: 129). As humans have the ability to be
influenced by their surroundings, Kant argues that there has to be some form of
punishment to prevent individuals infringing on others freedom. This comes in
the form of coercive laws which act as a deterrent to individuals to infringe
upon other rights, for example coming back to the thief analogy individuals
have to be punished for their actions as otherwise they have the ability to
disrupt others happiness. Therefore, although Kant argues that humans have the
ability to act rationally there are still a number of temptations which can convince
people to act immorally.

Despite, coercion seemingly
hindering negative freedom, Kant argues that it can be justified based on the
fact that it can be used to prevent other rights violations and can therefore
be seen to be a “hindrance to a hindrance to freedom” (Ripstein 2008: 12).
Entering into a political union has a number of benefits according Kant. Hoffe
believed that Kant defended “a government, as the only means to achieving a
lasting peace that is permanent and unconditional” (Hoffe 2006: 10). Taylor
also built on this by arguing that a political union allows humans to live
under the law and “representing a common recognition of our common subjection
to the law” (Taylor 1984: 81). Therefore, it seems here that Kant is willing to
sacrifice some notion of Berlin’s negative freedom to help promote individual
liberty. However, Kant only does this because he feels the benefits of a
political union will help develop society as a whole.

Danto disputes Kant’s idea of
coercion by stating that “we can never be free as long as we are coerced”
(Danto 2008, 210). Danto’s argument is based on his notion that freedom can
only come from within and true freedom will never come from external factors.
This is a direct challenge to Kant as his notion of coercion is central to his
arguments for political freedom and therefore his notion of morality and
liberty. However, Fowler counters Danto by arguing that we need “to see
coercion in relation to our understanding of how practical reason works” (Fowler
1982: 330), and that coercion does not simply leave us with no choice, but it
should show us the right choice and that “if the coerce chooses otherwise than
that the coercer demands this would be against practical reason” (Ibid: 376).
Therefore, coercion can still allow for freedom and choice, its role should be
to help individuals make the right decisions and as mentioned earlier should
give individuals the opportunities to become ‘worthy of happiness’. Berman
develops this argument for the need for coercion by arguing that “despite human
will not able to be inclined to follow a certain action, laws can be made to
help individuals to follow to the moral law” (Berman 2006:51). It can
subsequently be argued that Danto’s definition of coercion is a far harsher one
than that of Fowler and Berman. They argue that coercion helps develop society
as a whole by showing individuals which is the right choice rather than purely
forcing them into a way of living.

In conclusion, this essay has
clearly shown that Allison’s claim that Kant forms a reciprocal link between
morality and freedom is true. Kant’s moral theory hinges on humans being free
and therefore rational, and also having the ability to not only abide by laws
but also to create them. These laws are not only moral because they come from
rational humans but because they protect individual rights as they treat humans
as means rather than ends. This freedom is linked with Kant’s ideas of liberty
because for Kant liberty is about pursing whatever makes an individual happy.
As each individual is different it would be impossible for a state to make
every person happy, but it does have the power to put in place the necessary
laws to allow humans to seek happiness. Kant therefore allows a small
infringement on individuals freedom in the form of coercive law, as Kant does
not see this as an infringement but a way of actually creating the means for
humans to be happy. Despite, some critics arguing that freedom does not always
equate to being moral and coercive law not promoting individual rights. Kant’s
arguments can withstand this criticisms by explaining the need for these
restraints and how freedom leads to rationality which subsequently forms the
basis for the moral law. Therefore, I believe that Kant is successful in his
argument that morality and liberty do form the basis of one another, and that
the moral law helps us to chase our own variations of happiness.