The Axiom of Choice

In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant shows us a double, or split, subject. On the one hand, there is the subject as a rational being, whose will takes on the determining form of universal law; on the other hand, there is the empirical subject, whose will is determined extrinsically and contingently. The “autonomy of the will” is thus opposed to the “heteronomy of the power of choice [Wahl].” Kant’s association of “choice” with the heteronomy of a will that has been extrinsically determined, and in opposition to an act of freedom, especially needs to be recalled today, given the current hegemony (in both theory and practice) of neoliberal economics and “rational-choice” political science. For these approaches, everything is, and ought to be, determined, by individuals making choices among various possibilities in a world of scarcity or limited resources. From a Kantian point of view, this sort of market-driven “choice” is absolutely incompatible with any genuine notion of freedom or autonomy. To put it a bit crudely, but not inaccurately, you can have consumerism and the “free market,” or you can have democracy and self-determination, but you can’t have both.

One thought on “The Axiom of Choice”

  1. Nice. He talks about this also as one of the antinomies in the first critique. Part of my book is a rehearsal of the refutation of rational choice. One great book you should read is George Ainslie’s Breakdown of Will, who was the first to think really well about hyperbolic discounting. Quite amazing.

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