Freedom of the Will and Morality

  • H. B. Acton
Part of the New Studies in Ethics book series (NSE)


Whether the will is free or whether everything is subject to natural necessity is one of the main questions which Kant tried to settle in the Critique of Pure Reason. The answer he there gave to the question is that when the actions and choices of men are regarded as events in the spatio-temporal world they must be subject to empirical laws, and hence they cannot be free but must be determined. If we adopt the position of theoretical observers trying to explain men’s actions, then inevitably we regard some act, say, of malicious lying as the act of a man whose heredity, education and environment made it certain that he would act in this way. If we had complete knowledge of his origins and circumstances we should be able to predict exactly what he would do. But in spite of all this, Kant observes, we impute this man’s offence to him and blame him for it. When we do this we are no longer explaining his action as a psychologist might, but are considering it in the light of practical reason. As a natural event his act was inevitable, but nevertheless he ought not to have done it. If he ought not to have told this lie but nevertheless did, it must have been possible for him to have refrained from telling it, and since all the natural impulses and desires and circumstances brought it about, some non-natural motive must have been available to him to enable him to desist from the lie.


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Copyright information

© H. B. Acton 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. B. Acton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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