Practical grounds for freedom: Kant and James on freedom, experience and an open future

In Freedom After Kant: From German Idealism to Ethics and the Self. Blackwell's. pp. 155-171 (2023)
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In this chapter, we compare Kant and James’ accounts of freedom. Despite both thinkers’ rejecting compatibilism for the sake of practical reason, there are two striking differences in their stances. The first concerns whether or not freedom requires the possibility of an open future. James holds that morality hinges on the real possibility that the future can be affected by our actions. Kant, on the other hand, seems to maintain that we can still be free in the crucial sense, even if none of our actions can have any effect on the future. The second difference between them is related, and concerns the location of freedom. Kant views experience as determined by natural necessity, and locates freedom outside of it, in things-in-themselves. James, on the other hand, has a richer conception of experience than Kant, and holds that we can locate our freedom within experience alone. In the end, we contend that James has a better account of how freedom relates to our experience, but this comes at a cost. For while Kant's account struggles with the relationship between freedom and experience, it has the advantage of insulating our freedom from potential empirical challenges.

Author Profiles

Joe Saunders
Durham University
Neil W. Williams
University of Roehampton


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