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  • The Emergence of Autonomy in Kant's Moral Philosophy ed. by Stefano Bacin and Oliver Sensen
  • Kate A. Moran
Stefano Bacin and Oliver Sensen, editors. The Emergence of Autonomy in Kant's Moral Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xii + 226. Cloth, $105.00.

Kant introduces autonomy in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals as "the characteristic of the will by which it is a law to itself" (GMS 4:440). Autonomy is Kant's solution to a puzzle about how to describe and account for moral obligation, which binds necessarily and cannot, [End Page 407] therefore, be derived from any independent desire or interest. But Kant's pithy description of autonomy raises more questions than it settles. How is self-legislation possible in the first place? How is autonomy related to the various imperatival statements of the moral law in the Groundwork? How can rational agents be motivated by their recognition of obligation in the absence of some other interest?

Though the title of the volume refers to the "emergence" of autonomy, the authors do not aim to reveal the moment at which Kant "discovered" autonomy (4). The volume sets itself the more philosophically interesting task of tracking the emergence of various components of autonomy. Though the contributors do not agree on every detail, the editors identify three such elements, and these recur through the volume and inform much of the discussion. Specifically, autonomy includes the claims that (a) "reason gives the content of the moral law," (b) "reason makes the law obligatory," and (c) "reason by itself can motivate an agent to comply with the moral law" (1).

The first four essays in the volume consider some of the predecessors to Kant's conception of autonomy and Kant's own reactions to them. Heiner Klemme focuses on the concept of obligation, and specifically on Kant's frustration that no adequate account of moral obligation had yet been given. Susan Meld Shell considers Kant's writings from the 1750s and 1760s with the aim of identifying which elements of Kantian autonomy were present early on and which had yet to develop. Stefano Bacin provides a nuanced discussion of Kant's reactions to theological and perfectionist theories, arguing that Kant's discussion of these is not principally an "argument by elimination" (59), but rather that Kant sees his view as a development of them. Finally, Georg Mohr discusses the development of Kant's views toward moral sense theories and provides a detailed picture of how Kant struggled with the question of moral motivation especially.

The next chapters consider the emergence and development of Kant's concept of autonomy in lectures and texts leading up to the publication of the Groundwork. Oliver Sensen studies the lectures on moral philosophy that Kant gave in the 1770s, and concludes that, by the middle of the decade, Kant had in place two of the three elements of autonomy mentioned above, reason giving content and making the law obligatory, but not the third, motivational, element. Jens Timmermann, in his chapter on Kant's discussion of the highest good in the Critique of Pure Reason, also presents Kant as grappling with the motivational question. Unlike Sensen, however, Timmermann denies that obligation and motivation can be decoupled: by ensuring reward for virtue in the Canon, God "makes the law obligatory by establishing the link between law and will" (110). Last in this section, Eric Watkins makes the case for parallels between Kant's theoretical project in the Prolegomena and the notion of autonomy in the Groundwork. In both the theoretical and practical contexts, "reason is a spontaneous faculty that is endowed with legislative authority" (140). This similarity underscores both the normativity of reason's lawgiving, as well as the unity of reason.

The next two chapters focus on the Naturrecht Feyerabend lectures that Kant gave just as he was sending the Groundwork to press. Marcus Willaschek focuses on the Introduction to the lectures, where the term first appears (141), with the aim of discovering how much of the Groundwork account of autonomy is present there. Interestingly, Willaschek argues that certain elements of the Groundwork account have yet to be developed—chief among these...


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pp. 407-409
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