Do rational beings act from free will?
IMMANUEL KANT AND RENE DESCARTES’ IDENTITY
Immanuel Kant was one of the most influential thinkers in the world of philosophy. He was known for his brilliance in writing philosophical concepts regarding lives of human beings. He was famed with his work “The Categorical Imperative” and the “Critique of Pure Reason” made waves in the field of philosophical ethics. Kant is known for his complex philosophical ideas but nevertheless, a very good philosopher that his teachings are until now being studied.
Kant was born on April 22, 1724 and died February 12, 1804. He is a German philosopher from Konigsberg in East Prussia which is now called Kaliningrad, Russia. His father was Johann Georg Kant, a German craftsman and his mother was Anna Regina Porter. His works dominated and greatly influenced modern Europe. He was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff which are both successful philosophers in themselves. He became a tutor before he began his philosophical writings.
Rene Descartes, however, was born ahead of Kant. Descartes was born march 31, 1596. He died February 11, 1650. He studied in the Jesuit College Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Fleche at the age of ten. After graduation, he studied at the University of Poitiers and earned license in law in 1616. Descartes was known by the name “Cartesius” and he was regarded as a highly influential French philosopher, a mathematician and a scientist. He was called the “founder of modern philosophy” and the “father of modern mathematics. He was known for his concept “cogito ergo sum”. Over all, Descartes was great in different fields of knowledge and is of great significance in today’s line of thinking.
The two great thinkers are both successful in the field of philosophy in their own rights. In this paper, we will tackle their philosophies concerning “human free will”. Based on their philosophies, we will try to answer the question: Do rational beings act from free will? Hopefully, we can provide a clear answer to the question in using their philosophies. May this paper provide clarity instead of ambiguity.
KANT’S NOTION OF FREE WILL
Kant’s notion of free will is quite complicated. His philosophical arguments regarding free will are hard to understand. Kant’s notion of free will starts from the human being itself. For him, freedom is being free from “pathological necessitation”. This is in contrast with the liberalist view of freedom.
Kant starts with the way he viewed the world. He says that there is a distinction between the world as it is in itself and the world as we experience it. From this conception of the world, he then proceeds to the discussion of free will. Kant’s view of the world as we experience it is somewhat in line with the determinist view that human actions have causes. The choices that we choose everyday have causes and that something necessitated us to choose a particular option.
Kant is emphasizes that his determinist view is only applicable to the world we create. We create the world by our conceptualizing activities. His determinist view of the world is not applicable to the world as it is in itself. This idea of the cause and effect in this world was the spring board for his conception of free will.
For Kant, the concept of causation does not apply to a person as a person truly is. It is only applicable to the way a person conceptualizes himself. Causation is not applicable in us as persons in ourselves. It is only then when we live with other people in the objective and conceptualized world that causation is applicable. If we are persons as we conceptualized, our decisions are caused. If we are persons in ourselves, our decisions are not caused or influenced by other factors. This is the distinction given by Kant in his view of being human as caused and not caused.
In terms of moral accountability, according to Kant, we are not accountable for our actions. We can only be accountable for our actions if we have a contra-causal freedom. When we are in ourselves, according to Kant, we have the contra-causal freedom. When we are making choices in life, we must be in the mode of being we are in ourselves and therefore have the contra-causal freedom. If we will not be as in ourselves, our actions become pre-determined by causal factors that are around us. We become caused and our actions and decisions are just products of causality.
In being in we are in ourselves that have the contra-causal freedom, we will be able to think and decide on our choices based on reasons and not causes. Kant emphasize that there is a distinction between reasons and causes. By virtue of us making choices using reasons, we become rational beings, rational persons. Causes are not reasons because if we think of causes as the means to arrive at a particular decision, we are not thinking of reasons but cause itself. Therefore, causes are not reasons.
Since being in ourselves leads us in having contra-causal freedom, and having contra-causal freedom makes us use reasons in judgments of our actions, we therefore, become rational beings and therefore have our actions not caused by any predetermined factors.
DESCARTES NOTION OF FREE WILL
Descartes thinks that the will is free. Absolute freedom for him comes from an absolute knowledge of the world. The world is full of complexities that it’s very hard to grasp and understand. There are a lot of different states of affairs present in this world. We encounter a lot of them everyday as we travel the journey of our lives. Our lives are consisting of different decisions to make in different situations. It is inevitable in our lives that we are faced to decide everyday.
Correctness in judgment according to Descartes relies on our capacity for knowledge and the knowledge that we have about the world we are living. If we are knowledgeable on the states of affairs of the world, we, as a product knows what things are bad and what things are good. This knowledge on the badness and goodness of things then will lead to a decision which is right. If we are knowledgeable of this world, we will arrive to right judgments.
According to Descartes, we are free human beings in making our choices but the act must be rationally done. Rationality helps us arrive to a better judgment on things and situations. There must also be an interaction between our free will and our minds. If our will cannot fully understand what the mind is telling regarding a particular thing or a situation, we most likely to commit an error.
Therefore, in Descartes philosophy of the will, the human will is free but must be used rationally.
THE INTERACTION OF KANT AND DESCARTES IN THE ISSUE OF FREE WILL
For Kant, rational beings act from free will. There is an existence of the free action of the will if man will act rationally. But for Kant, there are two possibilities that we can travel in this world as we decide on the states of affairs of our lives. We can travel the path of being caused and we can travel the path of being free.
We can be in the path of being caused if we will stay on our conceptualized self. Our conceptualized self is a self that is constantly caused by the different causal factors of the world. The way we perceived ourselves makes us vulnerable to be caused because we are living with many other things and other people. We view ourselves as part of a reality that is attached to other things.
We can travel the path of having free. Kant will surely advise us to be in ourselves and not deviate from this state. Only in the state of us being in ourselves that we cannot be caused because this state is a state where we achieve rationality. Our rationality will make us realize reasons for our decisions and not look at things as causes. For Kant, rational beings are free. The will can only be free in a state of rationality. Not all people can achieve this state of rationality but once we are in this state, we have a free will. We are then in a situation where we act from this free will.
Therefore, rational beings act from free will for Kant. There can be no free will without rationality and when become rational beings, we act from free will. It is then the state where we use reasons for our judgments and not causes.
On the other hand, Descartes also views rational beings as acting from free will. Rationality paves way to us as not being caused by anything. Descartes tells us that our absolute knowledge of the world will make us arrive to right judgments. Rationality is an exercise of freedom. This is our use of our minds in making decisions regarding situations that govern us. We are using our knowledge here as a basis in making decisions. It is our knowledge of the world of complexities that makes us able to decide freely. Our knowledge is our power to be free.
Only in a state of rationality that the will becomes free and if we become rational beings, we then act from free will. This is due to the fact that in being rational, we are able not to be deceived by the factors that tend to influence our decisions. With our knowledge of things, we become free in our decisions as rational beings because we are not already governed or blinded by external forces in this complex world. However, there is a possibility in us that we cannot achieve full rationality given our finite capacity. We can only learn something about things but not everything. This leaves us vulnerable to be influenced by the complex world and soon commit mistakes.
Therefore, Descartes views a rational being as acting from free will. This is because rational beings have the knowledge on the states of affairs that govern his decision making and this knowledge makes him not vulnerable to be caused. A person being caused entails an absence of freedom. This is due to the fact that if we are caused, we are not making decisions with our own volition.
The two great philosophers lived in different time and context. They lived with different philosophical backgrounds. But in discussing their philosophies of the free will, we can visibly see some related concepts made by them. Though the illustration for Kant is different from the illustration of Descartes regarding free will, they both arrive in a conclusion that a rational being is a being acting from free will. This is because rational beings cannot be influenced by external factors due to their knowledge of the world.
There is just a difference in the way the two supported their conclusions. For Kant, it is only if we are in ourselves that we people can achieve rational and therefore act from free will. For Descartes, it is from our absolute knowledge of the world that we can be beings that can act from free will.
The two philosophers can debate only in their premises but not on their conclusion.
The both view that rational beings are beings that act from free will.
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