Kantian Personal Autonomy

Political Theory 33 (5):602-628 (2005)
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Jeremy Waldron has recently raised the question of whether there is anything approximating the creative self-authorship of personal autonomy in the writings of Immanuel Kant. After considering the possibility that Kantian prudential reasoning might serve as a conception of personal autonomy, I argue that the elements of a more suitable conception can be found in Kant’s Tugendlehre, or “Doctrine of Virtue”—specifically, in the imperfect duties of self-perfection and the practical love of others. This discovery is important for at least three reasons: first, it elucidates the relationship among the various conceptions of autonomy employed by personal-autonomy theorists and contemporary Kantians; second, it brings to the surface previously unnoticed or undernoticed features of Kant’s moral theory; and third, it provides an essential line of defense against certain critiques of contemporary Kantian theories, especially that of John Rawls.
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