Journal of the History of Philosophy 55 (4):641-673 (2017)

Markus Kohl
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Kant's doctrine of the radical evil in human nature invites at least two serious worries: first, it is unclear how Kant could establish the claim that all human beings adopt an evil maxim; second, this claim seems to conflict with central features of Kant's doctrine of freedom. I argue, via criticisms of various charitable interpretations, that these problems are indeed insuperable if we read Kant as trying to establish that all human beings are evil as a matter of fact. I then develop an alternative reading that avoids these problems. On my reading, Kant transforms the complaint that humans are evil into a prescriptive regulative principle. Although we cannot know whether all human beings really are evil, we ought to presuppose “inextirpable” human evil in the context of moral “ascetic”, the practical field that answers to the duty of moral self-perfection and that aims at the development of virtue.
Keywords Radical Evil  Moral Ascetic  Transcendental Freedom
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DOI 10.1353/hph.2017.0069
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