Understanding Autonomy: Form and Content of Practical Knowledge

Stephen Engstrom
University of Pittsburgh
March 7, 2014  3:00-5:00 pm  CHEM D300

Abstract: Kant famously traces morality to the autonomy of the will, maintaining that our obligations are rooted in a distinctive characteristic of the will, that it is a law to itself. Interpreters have long doubted whether this doctrine can accommodate our ordinary understanding of obligations as at once necessary and contentful. Any law the will might legislate for itself would be arbitrary and contingent; and though a purely formal law of the will might be necessary, it would be empty of all content. To address this problem, this paper undertakes, in two steps, to clarify the idea of the will as self-legislative. First, it examines Kant’s conception of the will as practical reason and his conception of practical reason as a capacity for practical knowledge. Second, it articulates the idea of such knowledge, giving special attention to the role the notions of form and content play within it.