Transcendental (un)Freeedom ›

Transcendental Idealism entails the possibility that an event may be empirically unconditioned i.e. free via its relation to an intelligible cause (cognition) outside the manifold of appearance while simultaneously continuing to be empirically determined as it is situated in relation to empirical conditions. In the third antinomy, this possibility of freedom ends up yielding a double conception of human agency as a product of a conception of an intelligible character as the explanation of empirical character.[18] However, the intelligible character belongs to the noumenal world (which is non-temporal), therefore we cannot conceive of explaining it. We thus have no understanding of how we are free.[19] But we can say that freedom is at least possible and our faculty of reason possesses transcendental freedom.[20] If we can conceive of transcendental freedom then we have the starting point for practical freedom. Until we devise a practical freedom, we must behave “as if” it existed. As Kant states, in transcendental freedom we presuppose that, “…we can regard the past series of conditions as not having occurred, the act as being completely unconditioned by any preceding state; just as if the agent in and by himself began in this action an entirely new series of consequences.”[21]


The “as if” here encapsulates the essential dynamic of the transcendental Ideal of freedom and its relation to the critical system. In the “as if,” the reality of transcendental freedom is not denied. It is rather freed from a constitutive role in practical freedom. This makes it possible to use the transcendental Ideal in its proper regulative mode as a “model” for conceiving human action and agency. However, in the necessity to act “as if,” the reality of our heteronomous world¾a world which we do not in fact, fashion independently of nature, a world in which we live as practically unfree beings¾the transcendental Idealism of the Critique of Pure Reasoncan seem quite dubious indeed. Adorno, for example, sees an ideological mirror image in the notion that, “the world upon which we may be said to depend appears to us… as if we were its masters.” For Adorno, it seems we are rather captive in this world regardless of how far we can transcend it with pure concepts of reason: “as an object of knowledge the world appears as a human world, as our world, on a plane where that is not actually true.” He finds this as a problematically tautological aspect of Kantian philosophy. As knowing subjects, “we are imprisoned within ourselves.” We are confined in a self-made world, “the world of exchange, the world of commodities, the world of reified human relations that confront us, presenting us with a facade of objectivity, a  second nature.”[22] The question is then: Is it possible to transcend this “second nature?”

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