A Third Concept of Liberty: Judgment and Freedom in Kant and Adam Smith

Princeton University Press
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Taking the title of his book from Isaiah Berlin's famous essay distinguishing a negative concept of liberty connoting lack of interference by others from a positive concept involving participation in the political realm, Samuel Fleischacker explores a third definition of liberty that lies between the first two. In Fleischacker's view, Kant and Adam Smith think of liberty as a matter of acting on our capacity for judgment, thereby differing both from those who tie it to the satisfaction of our desires and those who translate it as action in accordance with reason or "will." Integrating the thought of Kant and Smith, and developing his own stand through readings of the Critique of Judgment and The Wealth of Nations, Fleischacker shows how different acting on one's best judgment is from acting on one's desires--how, in particular, good judgment, as opposed to mere desire, can flourish only in favorable social and political conditions. At the same time, exercising judgment is something every individual must do for him- or herself, hence not something that philosophers and politicians who reason better than the rest of us can do in our stead.

For this reason advocates of a liberty based on judgment are likely to be more concerned than are libertarians to make sure that government provides people with conditions for the use of their liberty--for example, excellent standards of education, health care, and unemployment insurance--while at the same time promoting a less paternalistic view of government than most of the movements associated for the past thirty years with the political left.

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About the author

Samuel Fleischacker is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois, Chicago and the author of Integrity and Moral Relativism and The Ethics of Culture.
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Additional Information

Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 15, 1999
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Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
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"Have the courage to use your own understanding! - that is the motto of enlightenment." - Immanuel Kant

The Enlightenment is one of the most important and contested periods in the history of philosophy. The problems it addressed, such as the proper extent of individual freedom and the challenging of tradition, resonate as much today as when they were first debated. Of all philosophers, it is arguably Kant who took such questions most seriously, addressing them above all in his celebrated short essay, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?

In this engaging and lucid book, Samuel Fleischacker first explains and assesses Kant’s philosophy of Enlightenment. He then considers critics of Kant’s views - from Burke and Hegel to Horkheimer and Adorno - and figures he regards as having extended Kant’s notion of enlightenment, such as Feuerbach, Marx, Habermas, Foucault, and Rawls.

Throughout, he demonstrates how Kant holds two distinct theories of enlightenment. On the one hand, Kant proposes a ‘minimal’ view, where to be enlightened is simply to engage in critical public discussion, allowing diversity of opinion to flourish. On the other, he argues that Kant elsewhere calls for a ‘maximal’ view of enlightenment, where, for example, an enlightened person cannot believe in a traditional religion. With great skill Fleischacker shows how these two views are taken in a multitude of directions by both critics and advocates of Kant’s philosophy.

Arguing that Kant’s minimal enlightenment is a precondition for a healthy proliferation of cultures, religious faiths and political movements, What is Enlightenment? is a fascinating introduction to a key aspect of Kant’s thought and a compelling analysis of philosophical thinking about the Enlightenment. Including helpful chapter summaries and guides to further reading, it is ideal for anyone studying Kant or the philosophy of the Enlightenment, as well as those in related disciplines such as politics, history and religious studies.

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