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Hamline News

Swenson-Hirak Collaborative Research

Swenson-Hirak Collaborative Research Full

What does it mean for a human action to be free? Philosophy major Mike Hirak is trying to answer this question through a summer collaborative research project with professor Joe Swenson.

Hirak’s project, entitled "Kantian Autonomy and the Problem of Overdetermination," offers an interpretation and defense of the eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s account of human freedom. Kant claims that in order for an action to be moral it must be performed for reasons that are freely chosen. However, many of Kant’s critics have argued that he is unable to prove that reason alone determines our free actions.

Mike’s project aims to sort through these objections and interpretive puzzles in order to show that Kant’s philosophy is important for our current understanding of the concept of freedom. Hirak also intends to show why Kant’s project is more consistent than many of his critics have supposed it to be.

The main ideas of Hirak’s project with Professor Swenson came out of an informal independent study of Kant’s ethics that he did with Swenson last year. Professor and student quickly discovered that they held opposing opinions regarding Kant’s philosophy. Mike is attempting to interpret and defend the legitimacy of Kant’s theory of moral freedom against a number of criticisms. "In my own research, I am attempting to develop some of these same criticisms of Kant’s account of morality and freedom. Needless to say, this had made for spirited discussions," said Swenson.

Hirak agrees that it is sometimes enlightening to disagree. "Since Joe and I are approaching questions of human freedom from very different positions, we both have the chance to escape the narrowness of research that often accompanies academic inquiry," adds Hirak

The project culminated in a paper presentation at the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics Undergraduate Conference hosted by Washington and Lee University. The Center also published Hirak’s paper in its inaugural undergraduate journal: The Mudd Journal of Ethics.

The full paper may be accessed at the address below:
https://www.wlu.edu/mudd-center/mudd-journal-of-ethics/volume-1-spring-2016