The Consistency of Kant's Doctrine of Radical Evil

Dissertation, New School for Social Research (2002)
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Abstract

Against the charge that Kant's doctrine of radical evil is inconsistent and alien to his practical philosophy, my aim is to show its necessity within the critical system. First, I undermine the alleged vacuity of Kant's notion of evil by showing that, already in the Groundwork, an evil will is the necessary conceptual correlate of a good will. "Good" and "evil" characterize the agent's form of willing and represent the source of value of right and wrong actions. Then, I show how the doctrine of radical evil derives from Kant's notion of evil. That evil lies at the level of an individual Gesinnung is the result of Kant's radicalizing the use of transcendental freedom. That there is a propensity to evil in the whole species is the result of Kant's naturalizing the principles of his moral psychology. Although Kant is not clear about this distinction, the consistency of his doctrine depends on indicating that an "evil Gesinnung" and the "propensity to evil" are not equivalent concepts. Rather, they refer to different units of moral analysis, the individual and the whole species, and represent a failure to comply with different types of moral obligation: the duty to realize the good and the duty to realize the highest good. The correlation between units of moral analysis and types of obligation explains the isomorphism that Kant detects between them, as well as their logical independence, without which the individual's choice of Gesinnung would be analytically contained in the species' choice of moral nature . Finally, to account for the problem of moral self-constitution I argue for the necessity of assuming a transcendental volitional structure, the unity of acknowledgement or "I will". At the different levels of analysis, this structure organizes the will's manifold intentions according to unifying principles that allow it to recognize them as its own. Although Kant does not mention it, the "I will" is a necessary assumption to account for the continuity of choice and for its possible imputation to an agent

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Pablo Muchnik
Emerson College

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