Kantian Journal

2013 Issue №4(46)

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Kant on evil in the human nature



This article focuses on the analysis of the problem of evil in Kant’s works. The author attempts at reconstructing the key stages of Kant’s logic of ethics and, on this basis, reconstructs his idea of evil. Of special importance is the analysis and criticism of the anthropology-focused study of the sources of good and evil in the work Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. The author sees the key to understanding Kant’s approach to the problem of evil in the differentiation of the levels of the existing and the due in his theory. The article has the following structure: first, the author emphasis that, for Kant, evil is a practical moral phenomenon unlike, for example, metaphysically interpreted evil. It is shown that the problem of evil is closely connected to that of the nature or essence of a human being. The article presents an analysis of Kant’s notion of human ‘nature’. It is emphasised that Kant understands ‘human nature’ as mere “subjective grounds” of the exercise of freedom. Further, the author analyses the factors determining the actions of humans as moral beings. First, the article addresses the “predispositions to the good”, which describes a human being as a natural being, cultural being, and a personality. In this connection, different types of reason identified by Kant are stressed and the features of “pure practical reason” as a necessary condition of human morality are analysed. Further, the article considers Kant’s definition of evil as a deviation of rules regulating the actions of a human being from their principle of morality. The author analyses the factors underlying the “predisposition” to evil. It is emphasised that Kant measures wickedness not by deeds but solely by the way of thinking. The author discusses the question as to whether the intelligible good, i. e. the critical verification of rules regulating the actions against the categorical imperative, necessarily entail the empirically good. The conclusion is made that, in Kant’s works, the problem of evil is transferred from the empirical to noumenal sphere, from the real to intelligible world. Since Kant formulates the problem of evil in relation not to the empirical but the “intelligible character”, his solution proves to be idealistic. The next step is an analysis of Kant’s notion of “radical evil” and its causes. Since Kant sees the source of radical evil in the wrong subordination of motives dictated by sensibility and reason when choosing rules for actions, which Kant calls the “reversal of incentives”, there arises the question as to the role of sensibility in justifying morals. It is emphasised that, on the one hand, sensibility — as well as reason — is a necessary element constructing the being of humans. In this context, it is interpreted as either ethically indifferent or even a “predisposition to the good”. On the other hand, he sees sensibility as a ground for “self-love” or striving for happiness despite the moral requirements. The author analyses the reasons behind Kant’s exclusion of sensibility as a possible ground for morals relating to its subjectivity. The negative effect of sensibility of human behaviour emphasised by Kant is critically analysed. When choosing between subjective and material sensibility and objective and formal reason, Kant gives preference to reason as the ground for morals. In this function, reason should be necessarily interpreted as reason connected with good will. The consideration of this principle of Kant’s ethical theory concludes the article. The author makes an assumption that the creation of a moral world based on the principle of the free legislation of reason, which consists in that the criteria for the significance of provisions of such legislation is the possibility of transforming them into a universal law, is possible only under the condition that the notion of freedom as relating to practical reason is necessarily understood as freedom aimed at the good. In the sphere of the ideal, i. e. the sphere of logical bases of ethics, there should be no freedom aimed at evil; such freedom exists only in the real, empirical world. One can assume that the notion of freedom of will as freedom aimed at the good, being a condition for the possibility of morals, relates to the notion of a sentient being in general, including the notion of ‘human being’, whereas the notion of freedom as freedom of choice relates to a real human individual. However, the latter is capable of moral improvement through a “revolution in the disposition” and can correspond to the human determination — the ideal — despite one’s weaknesses.


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