Libertarian freedom and the empirical

Kant’s Grounding gives an impressive and focused argument for the opposition between the empirical world and the world of freedom, where freedom can never be established empirically but has to be taken as a postulate of moral reasoning. But perhaps Kant could have been more ambitious and made the empirical itself rest on a postulate of freedom. Here’s the argument:

Any action performed by a person whose outcome could be otherwise is a free action

The empirical demands that a person perform an action that could be otherwise.

Major: This is the familiar account of libertarian free will, but if either it or determinism has any meaning we can’t require that we actually run the tape of life backwards and see if we can change the outcome. In other words, if the “action that can be otherwise” is numerically one thing, then we could never establish either free will or determinism. If either freedom or determinism is to mean anything, we have to be talking about two actions that are specifically the same or do not differ in any relevant characteristics.

Minor: the whole point of an experiment, or at least of the paradigm case of an experiment, is for a person to set up a control and an experimental condition that are specifically the same but whose outcomes differ. We simply can’t do experiments without assuming that the control group and the experimental group do not differ in any relevant characteristics except the one that the experimenter is changing. But the whole meaning of the empirical is found in just this sort of experiment, as is clear from experience and was made famous my Kant himself in the prologue to the first Critique. 

Therefore a condition for the existence of the empirical is the action of an agent with libertarian freedom. Q.E.D.

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