Course level: Graduate

Spring 2022
Syracuse University

The conception of morality as autonomy was Kant’s revolutionary innovation in moral philosophy. This course will examine different ways of understanding Kant’s view that moral action is autonomous action, as well as some early and recent criticisms of this view.  We will begin by discussing whether Kant’s conception of autonomy commits him to realism or anti-realism in meta-ethics.  Then we will turn to three debates about Kantian autonomy.  First,  if the moral law is normative for the will in virtue of being the will’s own law, doesn’t that rule out the possibility of free immoral action?  Second, is there a “paradox” of Kantian autonomy?  How can Kantian autonomy both require an antecedent reason for the act of self-legislation (because otherwise it would be arbitrary) and prohibit such a reason (because it would not be self-legislated, nor unconditionally binding)?  Third, why should we accept Kant’s view that virtue and happiness are two distinct elements of the highest good (the view that leads to an antinomy of practical reason)?  We will discuss Kant’s own views on these topics in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason, and Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.  We will also discuss classical interpretations and criticisms of Kant’s views by thinkers such as: Reinhold, Maimon, Fichte, Schiller, and Hegel.