An alternative proof of the universal propensity to evil

In Sharon Anderson-Gold & Pablo Muchnik (eds.), Kant's Anatomy of Evil. Cambridge University Press (2009)
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Abstract

In this paper, I develop a quasi-transcendental argument to justify Kant’s infamous claim “man is evil by nature.” The cornerstone of my reconstruction lies in drawing a systematic distinction between the seemingly identical concepts of “evil disposition” (böseGesinnung) and “propensity to evil” (Hang zumBösen). The former, I argue, Kant reserves to describe the fundamental moral outlook of a single individual; the latter, the moral orientation of the whole species. Moreover, the appellative “evil” ranges over two different types of moral failure: while an “evil disposition” is a failure to realize the good (i.e., to adopt the motive of duty as limiting condition for all one’s desires), an “evil propensity” is a failure to realize the highest good (i.e., to engage in the collective project of transforming the legal order into an ethical community). This correlation between units of moral analysis and types of obligation suggests a way to offer a deduction of the universal propensity on behalf of Kant. It consists in tracing the source of radical evil to the same subjective necessity that gives rise to the doctrine of the highest good. For, at the basis of Kant’s two doctrines lies the same natural dialectic between happiness and morality. While the highest good brings about the critically acceptable resolution of this dialectic, the propensity to evil perpetuates and aggravates it. Instead of connecting happiness and morality in an objective relation, the human will subordinatesmorality to the pursuit of happiness according to the subjective order of association. If this reading is correct, it would explain why prior attempts at a transcendental deduction have failed: interpreters have looked for the key to the deduction in the body of Kant’s text, where it is not to be found, for it is tucked, instead, in the Preface to the first edition.

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Pablo Muchnik
Emerson College

References found in this work

Problems of the Self.Bernard Williams - 1973 - Cambridge [Eng.]: Cambridge University Press.
Moral Luck.B. A. O. Williams & T. Nagel - 1976 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 50 (1):115-152.
Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view.Immanuel Kant - 2006 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Robert B. Louden.
The impossibility of moral responsibility.Galen Strawson - 1994 - Philosophical Studies 75 (1-2):5-24.

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