Volume 38, 2013
A Splitting “Mind-Ache”
Challenge to Kantian Self-Legislation
I problematize the notion of self-legislation. I follow in Elizabeth Anscombe’s footsteps and suggest that on a plausible reading of Kant, he does not so much misidentify the sources of moral normativity, as fail to identify any such sources in the first place: The set of terms with which the Kantian is attempting to do so is confused. Interpreters today take Kant’s legal language to be merely metaphorical. The language of ‘self-legislation,’ in particular, is replaced by such interpreters with a language of ‘self-constitution.’ I challenge that, and claim that the language of legislation and judgment was, for Kant, more than a metaphor: The recognition of the moral law, he says, motivates us as if it were “the bidding of another person.” Legislation is typically remote in this way. It typically requires a distance between lawgiver and law-receiver—a distance that allows, for instance, for self-inspection and judgment. For Kant, these are the terms in which to explain the forms of the moral judgment and the sources of moral normativity. It is questionable, however, whether we can be remote from our own actions in the way required—whether we can observe our own actions. We cannot, for example, raise our hand and wonder how far it will go up. I develop this claim into an Anscombean challenge to Kant, and I call upon Kantians to take it seriously.