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The German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant contributed a vast amount of knowledge to the western philosophical canon. Among one of his most recognized works, Critique of Pure Reason sought to synthesize rationalism with empiricism, and distinguish the nature of such things as freedom and duty. Kant disagreed with many of the ethical and philosophical theories of empiricist David Hume, and claimed that while all knowledge begins with experience, it cannot come completely from experience, nor can knowledge come exclusively from reason.

Of his own conception of freedom, while Kant admits not being able to cognize it, he can think of it without contradiction and sees “the critical distinction of the two modes of representation (the sensible and the intellectual) and the consequent limitation of the conceptions of the pure understanding and of the principles which flow from them” (Kant, 2008/1781). More than Hume, who relied heavily on sensory experience to explain all ideas, Kant believes that reason and sensory experience are separate, yet work to provide individuals with an understandable view of reality, including such complex ideas as free will.

Both Hume and Kant had strong opinions on the existence of free will. Hume considered the problem of free will to be one of philosophy’s greatest challenges and sought to reconcile it with need, stating: “To proceed in this reconciling project with regard to the question of liberty and necessity; the most contentious question of metaphysics, the most contentious science” (Hume, 1993/1748, p. 63). Hume concluded that free will was reconcilable with determinism, or that a first thing caused a second thing and a third thing is said to have the first thing as a cause.

Kant takes a different approach, attempting to distinguish between the empirical and rational conceptions of free will and how it influences virtue, questioning whether freedom is the independent choices of free will or merely the practical reaction to circumstance and causality. To this end, Kantianism is highly dependent upon reason to figure out the proper decision concerning virtue, and his ethics rely on obligation to reason more than emotions or goals. Only through reason can a person remain truly autonomous, while a person reliant on emotions is heteronymous.

Though Kant considers free will ultimately unknowable, he believes that human will acts in a way that it deem it should, known as the Categorical Imperative. To Kant free will lies in choice and reason and dictates autonomy, which he considers to exist when the will becomes a law unto itself, while heteronomy is when the will seeks anything other than its own law, “and if it thus goes outside of itself and seeks this law in the character of any of its objects, then heteronomy always results” (Kant, 1785/1993, p.

45). For Hume, the attempt to discern free will as it relates to action is that freedom and necessity dictate human moral responsibility. And while each philosopher’s conception of free will stemmed from their ideas of knowledge and influenced their take on moral responsibility, they also affected the way they approached the existence of God and metaphysics. The questions of God and metaphysical theory create a problem for Kant concerning his concept of freedom.

His remedy to this problem is to create a new system of metaphysics based on scientific fact, realizing that humans always had and will always have need for a metaphysical system. Kant’s scientific metaphysics will contend with the dogma of faith: “a science which is at the very outset dogmatical, that is, it confidently takes upon itself the execution of this task without any previous investigation of the ability or inability of reason for such an undertaking” (Kant 2008/1781). Kant’s asserts that human conception of freedom comes from the desire to accept certain metaphysical uncertainties out of ignorance and dogmatic suppositions.

Although Immanuel Kant claimed that reading the work of Hume awoke him from his “dogmatic slumber,” many that followed were content with Kant’s “answer” to Hume, and merely studied Hume to repudiate his philosophy (Steinberg, 1993, p. vii). It is obvious, whether from his ideas or their repudiation, that Hume had a significant effect on Kant, as well as his contemporaries; and, true to causality, Kant’s philosophy, or the repudiation thereof, had a significant impact on the shape of modern and postmodern philosophy.

While each man continues to be studied and the ideas on knowledge, freedom, and God continue to be revised, the scope of human inquiry owes a great debt to their efforts. Kant’s ethics are admirable in that they ask humans to rely on reason rather than blind conformity to harness their compassion. Being charitable to the poor is not something that should be done because it evokes strong feelings of pity, but instead should be done because it benefits all parties involved.

A person who suffers often grows desperate, and by offering help to those in suffering, one alleviates the threat of a desperate person pursuing desperate acts. It makes little sense to keep friends and neighbors hungry, and if one is in the fortunate position to do so, he or she should consider it their duty to spread dignity and freedom to all those without either.


Hume, D. (1993) Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. (E. Steinberg, Trans. ). Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Original work published 1748) Kant, I. (2008). The Critique Of Pure Reason. (J. M. D. Meiklejohn, Trans. ). eserver. org. Retrieved April 6, 2008, from http://philosophy. eserver. org/kant/critique-of-pure-reason. txt (Original work published 1781) Kant, I. (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. (J. W. Ellington, Trans. ). Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. ,. (Original work published 1785) Steinberg, E. (1993). Introduction to Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.