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Kant and the Limits of Autonomy

Kant and the Limits of Autonomy

Susan Meld Shell

ISBN 9780674033337

Publication date: 04/30/2009

Autonomy for Kant is not just a synonym for the capacity to choose, whether simple or deliberative. It is what the word literally implies: the imposition of a law on one’s own authority and out of one’s own rational resources. In Kant and the Limits of Autonomy, Shell explores the limits of Kantian autonomy—both the force of its claims and the complications to which they give rise. Through a careful examination of major and minor works, Shell argues for the importance of attending to the difficulty inherent in autonomy and to the related resistance that in Kant’s view autonomy necessarily provokes in us. Such attention yields new access to Kant’s famous, and famously puzzling, Groundlaying of the Metaphysics of Morals. It also provides for a richer and more unified account of Kant’s later political and moral works; and it highlights the pertinence of some significant but neglected early writings, including the recently published Lectures on Anthropology.

Kant and the Limits of Autonomy is both a rigorous, philosophically and historically informed study of Kantian autonomy and an extended meditation on the foundation and limits of modern liberalism.


  • Susan Shell's commitment to bringing the 'pre-critical' together with the 'critical' writings, and to exploring questions of development without losing track of overall coherence in Kant's philosophical adventures, demonstrates that she is at the cutting edge of Kant scholarship.

    —John H. Zammito, Rice University


  • Susan Meld Shell is Professor of Political Science, Boston College.

Book Details

  • 444 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press