Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 21, 2018

Kant’s Theodicy and its Role in the Development of Radical Evil

  • Robert Gressis EMAIL logo


In the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant claims that rational beings should want to have no inclinations. But in Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason, he asserts that the inclinations are good in themselves. While many commentators hold that Kant simply wrote hyperbolically in the Groundwork and the second Critique, I argue Kant was sincere, and changed his mind about the worth of the inclinations between the second Critique and the Religion. This is because he changed his mind about the source of immorality: whereas in the Groundwork and Critique of Practical Reason Kant took our inclinations to be tempters, starting in “Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy” and concluding in the Religion, he posited a self-imposed propensity to evil as the source of immorality. Kant’s reason for changing his mind about the source of immorality was partly theological: if our inclinations were to blame for immorality, then God would also be to blame for creating us with them. The only way God could not be to blame is if our immorality were self-imposed. But Kant also concluded that looking for theoretical explanations of our immorality – whether theological or naturalistic – was itself problematic: such explanations ended up exonerating us for our immorality. Because they had this effect, I contend that Kant saw the offering of such exculpating theoretical explanations as itself motivated by immorality. This understanding of Kant makes sense of the approaches he takes in both “Miscarriage” and Religion.

Allison, H. E. 1990. Kant’s Theory of Freedom. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9781139172295Search in Google Scholar

–. 2011. Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. A Commentary. Oxford.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691531.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Baron, M. W. 1995. Kantian Ethics Almost Without Apology. Ithaca.10.7591/9781501720895Search in Google Scholar

–. 1997. “Kantian Ethics and Claims of Detachment”. In Feminist Interpretations of Immanuel Kant. Ed. R. M. Schott. State College, 145–70.Search in Google Scholar

Baxley, A. M. 2010. Kant’s Theory of Virtue. The Value of Autocracy. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511779466Search in Google Scholar

Bernstein, J. M. 2001. Adorno. Disenchantment and Ethics. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9781139164276Search in Google Scholar

DiCenso, J. 2011. Kant, Religion, and Politics. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511920851Search in Google Scholar

Duncan, S. 2011. ‘“There Is None Righteous”. Kant on the Hang zum Bösen and the Universal Evil of Humanity”. Southern Journal of Philosophy 49, 137–63.10.1111/j.2041-6962.2011.00050.xSearch in Google Scholar

–. 2012. “Moral Evil, Freedom and the Goodness of God. Why Kant Abandoned Theodicy”. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 20, 973–91.10.1080/09608788.2012.718860Search in Google Scholar

Engstrom, S. 2007. “Kant on the Agreeable and the Good”. In Moral Psychology. Ed. S. Tenenbaum. New York, 111–60.Search in Google Scholar

Fackenheim, E. L. 1996. “Kant and Radical Evil”. In The God Within: Kant, Schelling, and Historicity. Ed. J. Burbidge. Toronto, 20–33.Search in Google Scholar

Formosa, P. 2011. “A Life without Affects and Passions. Kant on the Duty of Apathy”. Parrhesia 13, 96–111.Search in Google Scholar

Frierson, P. R. 2005. “Kant’s Empirical Account of Human Action”. Philosophers’ Imprint 5, 1–34.10.1017/CBO9781139507035.003Search in Google Scholar

Guyer, P. 2000. “The Strategy of Kant’s Groundwork”. In Kant on Freedom, Law, and Happiness. Cambridge, 207–232.10.1017/CBO9781139173339.008Search in Google Scholar

–. 2005. “Kant on the Theory and Practice of Autonomy”. In Kant’s System of Nature and Freedom. Selected Essays. Cambridge, 115–45.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199273461.003.0007Search in Google Scholar

–. 2007. Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. A Reader’s Guide. London.Search in Google Scholar

Kant, I. 1996a. Practical Philosophy. Ed. M. J. Gregor. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511813306Search in Google Scholar

–. 1996b. Religion and Rational Theology. Eds. A. W. Wood/G. di Giovanni. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511814433Search in Google Scholar

–. 1997. Lectures on Ethics. Eds. P. Heath/J. B. Schneewind. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9781107049512Search in Google Scholar

–. 2002. Critique of Practical Reason. Ed. W. S. Pluhar. Indianapolis.10.1017/CBO9780511809576.004Search in Google Scholar

–. 2005. Notes and Fragments. Ed. P. Guyer. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511498756Search in Google Scholar

–. 2007. Anthropology, History, and Education. Eds. G. Zöller/R. B. Louden. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511791925Search in Google Scholar

–. 2009. Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason. Ed. W. S. Pluhar. Indianapolis.Search in Google Scholar

–. 2011. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. A German-English Edition. Eds. M. Gregor/J. Timmermann. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511973741Search in Google Scholar

Kerstein, S. J. 2002. Kant’s Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511498206Search in Google Scholar

Korsgaard, C. M. 2009. Self-Constitution. Agency, Identity, and Integrity. Oxford.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552795.003.0001Search in Google Scholar

Louden, R. B. 2000. Kant’s Impure Ethics. From Rational Beings to Human Beings. Oxford.Search in Google Scholar

Naragon, S. 2010a. “Natural Theology Notes”. On Kant in the Classroom. Materials to Aid the Study of Kant’s Lectures. URL: Accessed 8 July 2014.Search in Google Scholar

–. 2010b. “Pedagogy”. On Kant in the Classroom. Materials to Aid the Study of Kant’s Lectures. URL: Accessed 8 July 2014.Search in Google Scholar

Pasternack, L. R. 2014. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kant on Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. London.10.4324/9781315874302Search in Google Scholar

Regan, D. H. 2002. “The Value of Rational Nature”. Ethics 112, 267–91.10.1086/324235Search in Google Scholar

Sherman, N. 1990. “The Place of Emotions in Kantian Morality”. In Identity, Character, and Morality. Essays in Moral Psychology. Eds. O. J. Flanagan/A. O. Rorty. Cambridge, 149–70.Search in Google Scholar

Sikka, S. 2007. “On the Value of Happiness. Herder Contra Kant”. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37, 515–46.10.1353/cjp.2008.0005Search in Google Scholar

Sullivan, R. J. 1989. Immanuel Kant’s Moral Theory. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511621116Search in Google Scholar

Timmermann, J. 2007. Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. A Commentary. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511487316Search in Google Scholar

Wood, A. W. 1970. Kant’s Moral Religion. Cornell.Search in Google Scholar

–. 1999. Kant’s Ethical Thought. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9781139173254Search in Google Scholar

–. 2008. Kantian Ethics. Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511809651Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2018-3-21
Published in Print: 2018-3-7

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 28.2.2024 from
Scroll to top button