Kant on Freedom, Reason, and Moral Evil

Duncan, Samuel, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia
Secada, Jorge, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

In my dissertation I offer a new interpretation of the account of moral evil we find in the Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason and its place in Kant's ethical theory. I argue that rather than building on his earlier thoughts on moral evil, the Religion marks a fundamental shift in Kant's views on this subject. In earlier works Kant had attempted to explain immorality as a result either of flaws in our present social arrangements and culture, or as a consequence of the fact that we are finite beings. However, by the time he wrote the Religion he had come to believe that these explanations were incompatible with holding human beings accountable for their actions, and he thought that since evil could only be the result of free choice it was to a large degree incomprehensible. Kant did want to offer an account of immorality with his doctrine of a human propensity to evil, but it is a much more modest account than we find in earlier works The claim that we see a shift in Kant's views in the Religion is not unprecedented, but several things distinguish my work from previous interpretations. I examine largely ignored works of Kant's as well as the work of some of his contemporaries, who are almost completely unknown in Anglophone Kant literature, to provide evidence for my interpretation. I also devote attention to the role that the problem of moral luck played in motivating the theory we find in the Religion. Perhaps most importantly, unlike many of its competitors my interpetation neither trivializes Kant's claims about the universal evil of humanity nor attributes claims to him that are inconsistent with the Religion as a whole.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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