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  • A Third Concept of Liberty. Judgment and Freedom in Kant and Adam Smith
  • Elisabeth Ellis
Samuel Fleischacker . A Third Concept of Liberty. Judgment and Freedom in Kant and Adam Smith. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. Cloth, $70.00. Pp. 338.

Samuel Fleischacker's lively and ambitious new book on judgment makes significant contributions to the literature interpreting Kant and Smith. He constructs a powerful [End Page 447] theory of free human judgment from Kant's third Critique and Smith's Wealth of Nations, using this theory to revise Isaiah Berlin's classic distinction between negative and positive freedom. By arguing for what he calls "a third concept of liberty," Fleischacker hopes "to make the world free for good judgment" (243).

Fleischacker begins his book with three chapters on "the nature of judgment," which include a controversial but ultimately convincing reading of Kant's writing on aesthetic judgment. Having outlined a Kantian theory of judgment, Fleischacker moves in the next six chapters to "the politics of judgment," reading Smith's Wealth of Nations in light of Aristotle's philosophy of phronesis (and also, rightly, in the context of Smith's own Theory of Moral Sentiments). This second section concludes with two extremely interesting chapters on politics and judgment in Kant and Rawls, in which Fleischacker weaves a number of controversial hypotheses, for example, that Kant's Groundwork was fundamentally influenced by Adam Smith (229n.), or that Kant included gender-based inequality among the types of tutelage to be overcome (186n.), into a strong critique of contemporary political philosophy. To both the utilitarian and the deontological traditions in political thought, Fleischacker opposes a "third way," in which the basis of political legitimacy is rooted in neither desire nor reason, but in the capacity for judgment. Fleischacker concludes his book with a single chapter on "the freedom of judgment," in which he argues for this philosophy against a series of representatives of alternative views.

Interpreting Kant's political philosophy, Fleischacker directs our attention away from the familiar calculus of universal rules and toward what this reader agrees is the more authentically Kantian politics of gradual progress toward freedom. From this interpretation, he derives a very interesting critique of Kant's most prominent present-day successors:

Rawls and Habermas try to uncover a framework for just politics from the structure of reason itself, and their projects fail, deeply and irremediably, because that structure cannot tell us anything, by itself, about its own proper application to concrete matters of public policy. Kant's own political writings are more closely engaged with specific, contingent issues of his day. Surprisingly, perhaps, Kant has considerably greater respect for history, and for empirical fact, than do his modern-day followers.


Fleischacker is not the only scholar interested in directing our attention toward Kant's pragmatic politics. See, for example, John Christian Laursen, The Politics of Skepticism in the Ancients, Montaigne, Hume, and Kant (Leiden and New York: E. J. Brill, 1992). Fleischacker goes on to emphasize that for Kant political freedom is something to be achieved over time via such institutions as civic education and a free press. As such, political freedom is not identical with freedom of the will, and thus for Fleischacker, Kant's political arguments do not depend on defending transcendental freedom. Instead, Fleischacker argues, a truly Kantian politics will address the conditions for the free exercise of individual judgment. "Freedom. . . . can be developed empirically . . . " (186). Though generally convincing, Fleischacker's reading of Kant's politics is vulnerable to criticism on some points of interpretation. For example, by overlooking Kant's [End Page 448] account of provisional right in the Rechtslehre, Fleischacker misses one of the most important of Kant's attempts to translate judgment's mediating function into political practice.

If A Third Concept of Liberty elides some interpretive issues (such as the relationship between aesthetic and moral decision-making (23n.), the book confronts the most important questions of present-day political theory head on. Fleischacker makes a number of far-reaching but also quite specific proposals for moving the world closer to a realm of free human judgment. Against negative libertarians such as Milton Friedman, Fleischacker calls for governmental activism to...


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