Saturday, March 31, 2012

Immanuel Kant and Radical Evil

Pablo Muchnik has a very interesting book and a fascinating take on this controversial subject matter in Kant.  I now understand the concept of radical evil in Kant much better.
Muchnik, in his book Kant’s Theory of Evil, clarifies the issues involved in Kant’s doctrine of radical evil.  He steers a course between Henry Allison and Allen Wood by showing that the idea that human beings have a tendency to evil is not just an empirical observation but also has a priori status. 
Muchnik 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 the wickedness of the human heart.  The frailty of the human heart is referred to in the concept of the “weakness of the will.”  St. Paul complained that what he willed to do, he did not do, and what he willed not to do that is what he did (Romans 7).  The agent knows the action is morally required, but fails to carry it out and instead acts out of inclination.    In this case, Muchnik argues, the agent acknowledges the validity of the moral law, but doesn’t grant it authority.  He says “The agent with a weak heart, then makes herself believe that her motivational structure is essentially good, even when her actions suggest otherwise” (p. 157).  He holds that the agent with a frail heart is tempted by “gluttony, lust, and wild lawlessness [in relation to other human beings]” even in the case where moral luck makes her moderate and sympathetic. 
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 purely from duty.   Her real motivation is self-love even if she looks like she is doing the moral thing.  Muchnik tells us that this agent transforms morality into a system of hypothetical imperatives. 
The wicked heart represents depravity and perverts moral judgment at its root.  The wicked heart pursues non-moral reasons as a matter of principle.  She “callously uses everyone else as a tool to her goals, justifying her conduct in terms of a perverse conception of the good” (p. 161). Kant considers this the highest expression of the propensity to evil.   This person systematically denies dignity to other persons and even to themselves.
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 the diabolical will, but Muchnik argues that such a will would be incapable of being legislative and would undermine itself.

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