Kant’s Derivation of the Principle of Autonomy

Some hold that Kant’s conception of autonomy requires the rejection of moral realism in favor of “moral constructivism.” 

What do you think about the following discussion on Kant’s conception of legislation?

In the first section of theGrundlegung, Kant begins with the concept of a good will as the only unqualified good. A good will acts not out of inclination, but from objective practical laws. For a being with needs this means that a good will acts from duty, according to an “ought”. Because duties or moral obligations are categorically rather than hypothetically commanded, this means that a will that acts from duty is not determined by material motives but by pure practical reason, out of respect for the moral law. Thus Kant writes,
For since, other than the law, the imperative contains only the necessity that the maxim be in accord with this law, but the law contains no limiting conditions, nothing remains for the maxim of action to accord with other than the universality of law itself. The only thing the imperative actually represents as necessary is this conformity. 


The essential thing is the law-like, properly legislative form. Pure practical reason can determine our will to act only on maxims that are appropriate for universal legislation. A will that is so determined is a good will. And that is the only way a good will can be specified. Kant infers a principle: “the idea of the will of every rational being as a universally legislative will.” 

He explains:
“According to this principle, all maxims are rejected that can’t co-exist with the will’s own legislation. Thus, the will is not merely subjected to the law, rather it is subjected in such a way that it must also be regarded as self-legislating and precisely on this account, above all, as subjected to the law (of which he can consider himself author).”
Moral necessity, Kant argues, must be based on the self-legislation of a will, because, otherwise, this necessity would have to be based on an interest, which would contradict the requirement that moral necessity be a categorical necessity. This analysis generates the third formulation of the categorical imperative: “Act only such that the will can at the same time regard itself, through its maxim, as universally legislating” and is supposed to be the basis for the dignity of humanity.


We assume that this derivation of the principle of autonomy is more or less familiar. The present question, of course, focuses on the metaphysical significance of the requirement that agents regard the moral law as self-legislated. Does this imply that the moral law is a positive law or a human creation? That it is the object of a procedure of construction rather than discovery? While our contemporary conception of legislation might suggest such conclusions, there has been remarkably little discussion of Kant’s conception of legislation. One explanation for this is that in theGrundlegung and the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, Kant never elaborates his conception of legislation. But there is some interesting material in the Metaphysik der Sitten. In the introduction Kant wrote:
A (morally practical) law is a proposition that contains a categorical imperative (a command). The one who commands (imperans) through a law is the legislator (legislator). He is the author (autor) of the obligation in accordance with the law, but not always the author of the law. In the latter case, the law would be a positive (contingent) and arbitrary [willkürlich] law. The law which obligates us a priori and unconditionally by our own reason can also be expressed as proceeding from the will of a supreme legislator, i.e., one that has only rights and no duties (hence from the divine will), but this only signifies the idea of a moral being whose will is a law for everyone, without his being thought of as the author of it.”
Here Kant explains his conception of legislation in connection with his distinction between the author of obligation in accordance with a law and the author of a law. Unfortunately, the point and significance of the distinction seems obscure. As is often in the case in Kant’s writings, especially the Metaphysik der Sitten, a passage absent its context may remain cryptic. But further study of this distinction reveals an anti-constructivist strand in Kant’s thought which lies at the core of his conception of legislation.

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