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I think that Kant’s mistake was to claim that we must act under the idea of freedom; what he should have said, I think, is that we must act under the idea of autonomy. Let me explain the difference between these concepts. ‘Autonomy’ is derived from the Greek word for self-rule or selfgovernance. Our behavior is autonomous when it is self-governed, in the sense that we ourselves are in control of it; it is not autonomous – or, as Kant would say, it is heteronomous – when it is controlled by something other than ourselves.

As we have seen, requirements that depend for their force on some external source of authority turn out to be escapable because the A Brief Introduction to Kantian Ethics 19 authority behind them can be questioned. S. ” And as we observed in the case of the desire to punch someone in the nose, this question demands a reason for acting. The authority we are questioning would be vindicated, in each case, by the production of a sufficient reason. What this observation suggests is that any purported source of practical authority depends on reasons for obeying it – and hence on the authority of reasons.

The requirement to act for reasons thus seems to come as close as any requirement can to having intrinsic authority, in the sense of being authoritative by virtue of what it requires. This requirement therefore comes as close as any requirement can to being inescapable. But remember that inescapability was supposed to be the hallmark of a moral obligation or duty: it was the essential element in our concept of a duty, from which we hoped that the content of our duty could be deduced. What we have now deduced is that the requirement that bears this mark of morality is the requirement to act for reasons; and so we seem to have arrived at the conclusion that “Act for reasons” is the content of our duty.

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