Immanuel Kant’s Theory of Evil

Pablo Muchnik in his book, Kant’s Theory of Evil, shows us that Kant explicates the radical tendency to evil in the notions of the frailty of the human heart, the impurity of the human heart, and finally in the wickedness of the human heart. The frailty of the human heart is referred to in the idea of the weakness of the will. St. Paul complained that what they willed to do, they did not do, and what they willed not to do that is what they did (Romans 7). The agent knows the action is morally necessary, but fails to follow it and in lieu acts out of inclination. In this case, Muchnik argues, the agent recognizes the validity of the moral law, but does not give it authorization. Kant says the agent with a weak heart, then makes herself think that her motivational structure is fundamentally lovely, even when her actions recommend otherwise (p. 157). He holds that the agent with a frail heart is lead to gluttony, lust, and wild lawlessness [in relation to other human beings] even in the case where moral luck makes her temperate and easy going.

Pablo Muchnik has a thoroughly intriguing book as well as a fascinating take on this much discussed subject matter in Kant. I now comprehend the idea of radical evil in Kant much better. Muchnik, in his book Kant’s Theory of Evil, makes the issues involved in Immanuel Kant’s doctrine of radical evil much clearer than most interpreters. Muchnik takes a position between Henry Allison and Allen Wood by showing that the idea that human beings have an tendency to evil is not an empirical conclusion but also has a priori status.

The frail heart knows better but doesn’t do better, but the impure heart doesn’t adopt the moral law as a sufficient incentive for moral action, but allows incentives of the inclinations to determine her actions. Her actions conform to duty, but are not done from duty. Her real motivation is self-love even if she looks like she is doing the morally right thing. Muchnik tells us that this agent transforms morality into a system of hypothetical imperatives.

The wicked heart is depraved and turns over moral judgment at its root. The wicked heart seeks non-moral reasons as a matter of principle. He callously makes use of all other persons as a means to his own goals, justifying his behavior in terms of a perverse conception of the goodness (p. 161). Kant considers this the highest expression of the tendency to evil. This person in principle refuses to respect other persons and even himself.

Muchnik also takes a position on the sticky question of whether Kant’s position can adequately account for the immorality of murder and genocide. Against Claudia Card and Bernstein, he defends Kant’s position that even these horrific acts are motivated by self-love. Bernstein wants to rehabilitate the idea of a diabolical will, but Muchnik argues that such a will would be incapable of being legislative and would undermine itself.

Learn more about Immanuel Kant. Stop by Holly L Wilson’s site where you can find out all about radical evil.

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