Value and Law in Kant’s Moral Theory [Book Review]

Ethics 114 (1):127-155 (2003)
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Paul Guyer’s Kant on Freedom, Law, and Happiness is a collection of essays written over a period of ten years on the roles of freedom, reason, law, and happiness in Kant’s practical philosophy. The centrality of these concepts has always been acknowledged, but Guyer proposes a different way to understand their interconnections. Kant extols respect for moral law and conformity to moral principle for its own sake while at the same time celebrating the value of human freedom and autonomy. Guyer sees tensions between these two poles of Kant’s practical philosophy—obedience to law and the value of freedom. He argues: “A profound paradox can be avoided only if it can be shown that Kant intended obedience to universal law to be mandatory solely as the necessary condition for the realization of human freedom and through that freedom a systematic and unselfish distribution of happiness among all persons” and that “the sheer fact of adherence to universal law is not an end in itself but is rather the means to the realization of the human potential for autonomy or freedom in both choice and action” (p. 1). One guiding theme of Guyer’s book is that Kant’s practical philosophy is based on the fundamental, and hence indemonstrable, intrinsic value of freedom, which Guyer understands as a value that is prior to the moral law, providing both an end to be realized through conformity to universal law and the basis of the authority of moral principles. Conformity to universal law has no intrinsic value in itself; it is the means to the preservation, enhancement, and full realization of human freedom, and is required because of its instrumental connection to the prior value of freedom. As he says, “freedom of choice and its natural expression in action are what human beings value most, and the fundamental principle of morality and the rules for both po-.

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Andrews Reath
University of California, Riverside


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