Teleology and Radical Evil: An Interpretation of the Concept of Species Character in Kant's Philosophy of History

Dissertation, New School for Social Research (1980)

This dissertation focuses on the relation between Kant's philosophy of history and his ethics. It has been claimed that Kant's writings on history contradict his ethics and have no systematic value for his philosophy. Therefore, Kant's writings on history cannot be taken seriously. This objection can be summarized as follows. Kant's philosophy of history implies a notion of moral progress. Earlier generations stand in a means-ends relation to later generations. This contradicts the concept of the absolute value of the individual which is held to be central to Kant's ethics. A historical view of the development of moral life qualifies the moral freedom of the individual. This contradicts Kant's view of the spontaneity of freedom and the distinction between the realms of freedom and nature. ;I wish to maintain that the proposed tension between Kant's philosophy of history and ethics rests upon an inadequate interpretation of Kant's ethics resulting from the neglect of his writings on the character of evil and its relation to the human will. Kant's concept of evil in his Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone is not a concept derived from experience and ascribable in its primary sense to the individual. Radical evil is a species character of man as man and opens up a temporal horizon for the development of freedom. Virtue is always a task and a project for the human being, a self-creating, self-perfecting process. Evil is an anthropological-ethical notion. History is linked to ethics by way of a pragmatic cultural anthropology. Therefore, I conclude that Kant's philosophy of history has systematic value for his thought as a whole and deserves to be taken seriously
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