Kant, Groundwork Section III
Kant goes about starting the section showing that not only is there something that would be the content of a categorical imperative, if there were one, but that that actually applies and is authoritative for us is by looking at the nature of the will. Kant starts section III by telling us something new about the will. He says a “Will is a kind of causality of living beings insofar as they are rational, and freedom would be that property of such causality that it can be efficient independently of alien causes determining it.” Looking closer at a “will is a kind of causality of living beings insofar as they are rational”: what does this mean? Here we have, insofar as they are rational, as opposed to like inanimate. So we’re talking about something not like us, the things with wills, the highly rational, in contrast to things without wills like stones and chapstick. So, a will is a kind of causality of living beings insofar as they are rational living beings. Those things, the will is what causes them to be as they are. The kinds of living beings and not living beings that lack wills, they’re caused by something else. They can be efficient and they can bring about effects independently of alien causes determining it.
So here’s what it means to be rational. For Kant, you have a will, and what determines what you do is that will and not other things happening to you. Other things happening to you would be like you are floating down a river because of the current. But, there can be things that happen because of your will. In contrast, natural necessity is the property of the causality of all non-rational beings to be determined to activity by the influence of alien causes. So, natural necessity, the laws of nature, are what determine non-rational beings and how non-rational beings behave, but the will is what determines how rational beings behave. This is an important difference.
Because of this, the behavior of rational beings is not determined by alien causes that is what Kant specifies as the negative conception of freedom, negative being an absence, the freedom is determined by a lack of something, a lack of external influences.
The fact that the will is a cause, does a lot of work. Kant says “the concept of causality brings with it that of laws in accordance with which, by something that we call a cause, something else, namely an effect, must be posited,” so Kant says that if you don’t commit to there being a law which governs the relationship of the cause and the effect, it would be chaos. When you imagine something like the effect of something else, there is a law that you think can explain the connection between those two things.
There are many different natural laws, natural laws tell us all sorts of different things, there are different types of laws that cover anything. Kant says “Natural necessity was a heteronomy of efficient causes.” What he means by this is that there are many different things going on. There is no unity here, it is not like they are a contradiction, like chemical laws and geological laws don’t conflict but they aren’t unified, they are just different sets of stuff. But, the freedom of the will he says is autonomy, the single unity of the self. Kant says it's the property of the will of being a law to itself. Kant thinks that we can understand the content of the law that would govern the will, if there were one, by looking at the nature of the will.
Kant writes, “the proposition, the will is in all its actions a law to itself, indicates only the principle, to act on no other maxim than that which can also have as object itself as a universal law.” First, we saw that in order to show that there is a law that governs the will, it couldn’t be shown the same way as we showed that there are hypothetical imperatives because we can’t appeal to any inclination. In fact, that’s the secret we have to just look again at the nature of the will. But we saw that there is another feature of the will, which is that it is a cause.
When we can acknowledge that there is a special, important way that the will is a cause, then we can see that there has to be a law that governs the will. Because understanding something as a cause and something else as its effect is being committed to there being a law that governs that connection. The will is not something that's governed by the push and pull of physical stuff. The will is autonomous, it gives maxims to itself and chooses principles. There are a cause and effect, in between cause and effect we have to think that there is some law that connects these two. A law that we can call an objective principle. For things other than the will there is no way to go wrong, a law is predictive in a way. If there is something that we know can be a cause and it's in the position to bring about an effect, that's predicted by the law, we know the effect will come about. But, because the way the will is governed by laws and the will is determined by principles, it has to bring about an effect by a subjective principle, what Kant calls a maxim. And, so even though this is necessary for the effect to be brought about, what determines the connection is the fact that we can see it as an effect is that we have to understand it as being under an objective law. To go back to section one, this allows there is such thing as a good will. If the subjective and objective principle is the same then the will is a good will.
As something that we conceive as a cause, there has to be some law governing the connection between the cause and the effect, but it has to be this strange sort of law, the kind of law we can recognize and give ourselves. We saw that it’s going to be a law with the content that is just its own unlawfulness, the form of this categorical imperative, is that should act only on the maxim, such that it could at the same time become a universal law, this is just the maxim that could itself be a law and now I see that there has to be some law, assuming that the will is a free cause.
Kant wrote that “it is not enough that we ascribe freedom to our will on whatever ground, if we do not have sufficient ground for attributing it also to all rational beings.” So why should we think that the will is free? Kant thinks morality governs all rational beings because of this, one has to have some reason to think that anything with the will is going to be free. Kant says that “every being that cannot act otherwise than under the idea of freedom is just because of that really free in a practical respect,” This means that every being who can only act if they understand themselves as free is free. If it is a condition on you acting that you believe yourself to be free, you are free. Then, he says “that is, all laws that are inseparably bound up with freedom hold for him just as if his will had been validly pronounced free also in itself and in theoretical philosophy.” This is an interesting way to understand actually being free if the only way you can do something is to believe something of yourself. Then the laws that govern that thing govern you.