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§3. The Rational Representation of the Origin of Evil

§3. The Rational Representation of the Origin of Evil

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   

is disclosed in part7 in the weight we give to different kinds of reasons and

in what we do. That our choice of a fundamental character should thus

manifest itself follows from practical freedom (KR B–): namely, that

the free decisions of our practical reason are operative causes in nature.

Now, from the point of view of practical reason, there is no physical

explanation of our intelligible character (KP :); that this is so follows

from our belief in transcendental freedom. Moreover, we know about our

intelligible character only by way of our actual moral thought and conduct

(KR Bf.). From this we can discern, in rough outline anyway, the empirical character of ourselves and others. Armed with this knowledge, we can in

general foresee, or estimate, what others will do in particular circumstances.

(Kant says that could we know that character perfectly, which we cannot,

we could accurately predict our actions in any given conditions.) As thus

foreseen, Kant speaks of our conduct not as free but as necessary and subject

to the laws of nature.

But all this means is that, given the knowledge of people’s beliefs, interests, and circumstances, together with the knowledge of the weight they

give to different kinds of reasons (their empirical character), we can tell

what they will decide and do. But from a practical point of view, when we

are making mutual decisions or asking others for advice, we regard those

empirical characters as expressing the outcome of the deliberations of pure

reason. These deliberations are the upshot of the absolute spontaneity of

reason; expressing our intelligible character, they are taken as not having

a physical or other explanation.

. When in Religion I :f. (f.) Kant speaks of seeking the origin of

evil not in time but merely in rational representation, I think he means

roughly the following. Insofar as our fundamental (intelligible) character

arises from our power of free choice, we are to regard it as our responsibility

alone. Doing this is part of our view of ourselves in acting under the idea

of freedom when complemented, as it should be, by the belief in transcen7. I say in part because our empirical characters are not the work of practical reason alone.

Kant says: “The real morality of actions, their merit or guilt, even that of our own conduct, thus

remains entirely hidden from us. Our imputations can only refer to the empirical character. How

much of this character is ascribable to the pure effect of freedom, how much to mere nature, that

is, to faults of temperament for which there is no responsibility, or to its happy constitution . . . ,

can never be determined; and upon it therefore no perfectly just judgments can be passed” (KR


[  ]

     ,  

dental freedom. How our character can be evil—violate the moral order

of the predispositions—is indeed inscrutable (Rel I :f. [f.]): since our

nature is good, not evil but good should have arisen from it, yet long historical experience convinces us to the contrary. But that the choice of that

character has no physical or other causal explanation we must believe from

a practical point of view so as to affirm the absolute spontaneity of our

reason. So to look for such an explanation, when that point of view is

appropriate, contradicts, indeed is an invitation to evade, regarding ourselves as free and responsible.

As far as possible, then, I want to understand Kant’s speaking of reason

as not subject to the form of time (KR Bf.), or not subject to the conditions of time (KP :–), and of not looking for a first origin of character

in time (Rel I :f. [f.]), and similarly, as describing how we are to view

ourselves when we act under the idea of freedom, all the while affirming

our transcendental freedom. I believe that he is describing beliefs and attitudes that we are to adopt and cultivate so as to act from the practical point

of view. Alternatively, he is characterizing the form of our self-consciousness

as possessing pure practical reason.

Yet I should say that this interpretation is not generally accepted: the

idea of the intelligible character as permanent and timeless is more often

given a metaphysical interpretation. I believe that doing this is not required

by the text and goes against the conclusions of the Dialectic of the first

Critique, as well as Kant’s constantly repeating that what he says about freedom is to be understood from a practical point of view. (On this see the

important Sections VII–VIII of the Dialectic of the second Critique.) Thus,

to interpret as a metaphysical doctrine Kant’s speaking of reason as not

subject to the form of time, yet affecting the course of events in the world,

is not allowed by his text. Or so I think. It also leads to hopeless difficulties

for Kant’s view.8

8. For metaphysical interpretations, see Norman Kemp Smith, A Commentary to Kant’s Critique

of Pure Reason (London: Macmillan, ), pp. –, and Wood, “Kant’s Compatibilism,” pp. –

. To illustrate more fully: suppose one were to try to reconcile transcendental freedom with

strict causal (physical) determinism from the first state of the world in the following way. Imagine

that there are n noumenal selves, where n is the number of persons who exist at any time in the

order of nature (past, present, and future). Imagine these n selves to make n transcendentally free

choices of an intelligible character. The choice is alleged to be atemporal once and for all, and

orders the three predispositions as the highest principles from which we act. Suppose these n choices

[  ]

   

. To continue: in a (largely) realized realm of ends, all persons view

themselves and others as free, that is, as acting under the idea of freedom.

They also suppose that their own and others’ empirical characters as shown

in their public thought and conduct reflect, more or less, their intelligible

character for which each accepts responsibility. If we suppose further that

the members of such a realm of ends are lucid before themselves and speak

truthfully, so that they know the reasons from which they act and inform

one another of them as appropriate, then from within the practical point

of view they have no grounds for going behind the reasons they state to

one another when acting under the idea of freedom: those reasons everyone

accepts as the real reasons why they do what they do. Those reasons are

not, for example, viewed as simply rationalizations. There is cause for doing

that only when there is a failure of lucidity or of truthfulness, or another

such failure to act under the idea of freedom (excluded by hypothesis). In

a (largely) realized realm of ends, free public reasons—the reasons people

freely present in good faith to one another—are viewed as real reasons and

are accepted as such.

having been thus made, the divine intelligence then computes the size of the initial mass of the

universe, its shape and the distribution of particles within it, and the appropriate first principles of

physics and chemistry, and whatnot, so that beginning with the first state of the world, natural

events unfold in accordance with causal laws in such a way that the n intelligible characters (which

were freely selected) are reflected in n corresponding empirical characters of persons in various

societies in history.

Now, this fantasy might appear to reconcile transcendental freedom and causal determinism.

It allows us to say that all persons have an equal freedom to determine their intelligible character

and thus to determine their course of life in the world. Moreover, we are set above the order of

nature, and we have a hand in making the whole course of history, since our choice of an intelligible

character imposes a further constraint on the possibilities open to the divine intelligence in creating

the world.

One might think this fantasy has a certain usefulness, say in contrasting Kant’s view with

Leibniz’s. For in Leibniz’s conception, all the complete individual concepts lie from eternity in the

divine reason; Judas’ life as a possible is present and known to God in every detail before Judas

was created as part of the best of all possible worlds. Judas never makes a choice of his intelligible

character and the laws that determine his development as a spiritual substance over time—laws

that, while individually distinctive and not reducible to natural laws of science, are laws all the

same. Further, Judas doesn’t know what his own law is, as it must cohere so as to yield preestablished

harmony and the mutual reflections of all substances in the most perfect universe, each from its

own point of view.

Whatever illumination we imagine we gain from this comparison, Kant would regard it as

intellectually frivolous. In affirming the convictions of reasonable faith we are not to apply them

theoretically in this way.

[  ]

     ,  

This conception of a realm of ends in which everyone is publicly recognized as acting under the idea of freedom is part of the conception of the

person that specifies the conception-dependent desires in Kant’s doctrine.

I come back to this in §.

§. The Manichean Moral Psychology

. In discussing what I shall call the Manichean moral psychology,9 I do not

suppose that Kant ever held such a view or ever clearly formulated it for

himself. I think of it as his tendency to say certain things and to express

them in a manner and tone that, once we fix on them, suggest a certain

moral psychology. The reason for discussing it is that it brings out a development of Kant’s thought in the Religion, or at least a sharper articulation

of his view, once he undertook to consider religion at some length. Once

he did this, then, with his Pietist background, his moral psychology had to

be Augustinian and not Manichean. The manner and tone of the Manichean

tendency are often present, but the explicit doctrine is Augustinian.

The basic idea of the Manichean moral psychology is that we have two

selves: one is the good self we have as intelligences belonging to the intelligible world; and the other is the bad self we have as natural beings belonging

to the sensible world. In speaking of the hardened criminal, Kant says (Gr

III: [–]):

This better person he believes himself to be when he transfers himself

to the standpoint of the intelligible world. He is involuntarily constrained to do so by the idea of freedom—that is, of not being dependent on determination by causes in the sensible world; and from this

standpoint he is conscious of possessing a good will which, by his own

admission, constitutes the law for the bad will belonging to him as a

member of the sensible world—a law of whose authority he is aware

even in transgressing it. The moral “I ought” is thus an “I will” for

man as a member of the intelligible world.

9. I take the names of the two psychologies from Saint Augustine’s Confessions. For a time

before his conversion to Christianity he was a Manichee, and his many writings include an account

of the sect’s tenets. His own view is representative of Christian orthodoxy; Kant’s Augustinian moral

psychology is his more orthodox doctrine. I don’t say Kant’s view is orthodox.

[  ]

   

The good self has just one predisposition, to use the language of the

Religion, namely, the predisposition to act from the moral law. That is why

for the good self the “I ought” is an “I will.” The only reason we fail to

act from that law as the principle of autonomy is that we are burdened

with natural desires and inclinations, and hence, as Kant says, it must be

the wish of every reasonable person to be wholly free from them (Gr II:

 []). They are despised by our reason, which, in the consciousness of

its own dignity, is able to achieve mastery over them (Gr II: [– ]).

Indeed, as members of the intelligible world, we do not impute our natural

desires to our proper self at all, since they are, as it were, mere incitements

and solicitations aroused in us by our needs as finite beings situated in the

order of nature (Gr III: [–]).

The bad or natural self likewise has just one predisposition, at least

insofar as it is fully rational: the predisposition to happiness, or rational selflove. This predisposition in some ways parallels the two predispositions to

animality and to humanity of the Religion, though the account of these

predispositions is not the same. As moved by our natural desires and the

principle of happiness, we must always experience injunctions of the moral

law as a frustration, as a foreign element that blocks the way to what we

want. Hence the bad or natural self lacks moral feeling; what might be

mistaken for such is simply fear and hostility, or suppressed rage aimed at

the self for safety’s sake (KP :–). Finally, the bad self is also a driven

self, since the satisfactions of natural desires are transitory and leave behind

them a greater void than before: the inclinations, even when they are goodnatured like sympathy, are blind and slavish (KP :f.).

. The Manichean moral psychology presents grave difficulties for Kant’s

moral doctrine: not only does it commit him to a serious heretical doctrine

at odds with the tenor of his religious thought, but also it would seem to

defeat any satisfactory account of responsibility that is acceptable to us

when we act under the idea of freedom as we assume the practical point

of view. Lacking the idea of the free power of choice, the Manichean psychology cannot provide such an account. For as members of the intelligible

world, we are to see ourselves as all equally having no choice but to act

from the moral law (we have no other predisposition), while as members

of the natural world, we are to see ourselves as all equally having no choice

but to pursue our own happiness. If we viewed ourselves that way from

[  ]

     ,  

the practical point of view, it would seem to be impossible to think of

ourselves as all equally responsible while some behave far better than others. We would lack suitable reasons for holding responsible those who


Of course, we could say that while our predisposition to act from the

moral law as members of the intelligible world is constant and pure, our

natural desires and inclinations can be of many different strengths and directions in view of our situation in the natural world. Our actual conduct, we

might say, is settled by the balance of forces generated by those desires,

the strength and direction of which depend on circumstances. People who

do what is right are people whose predisposition to act from the moral law

is not overridden by the direction and force of their natural desires; people

who act badly suffer the opposite fate. We get the familiar moral fatalism

of the Manichean view, which surely Kant must avoid.

. The Augustinian moral psychology overcomes these defects by attributing to the self a free power of choice and enough complexity for a satisfactory account of responsibility. There is no longer a dualism between a good

self and a bad self—two selves each with only a single predisposition, with

the predisposition of one being liable to clash with that of the other—but

one self with three predispositions, all of which are dispositions to good.

Moreover, these predispositions have an appropriate moral order suitable

for free persons capable of acting from pure practical reason. The origin of

moral evil, then, lies not in a bad self with its natural desires but solely in

the free power of choice, which may change the moral order of the dispositions and determine what we count as appropriate reasons in deciding what

to do.

As for how to understand these moral psychologies, I believe that we

should see them as ways of conceiving of our moral nature from the practical point of view, and so how to think of ourselves when we are acting

under the idea of freedom. They are not, as such, empirical accounts of

human psychology, nor subject to the usual criteria of empirical truth.

Rather, they belong to different ways of characterizing the reflective selfconsciousness of pure practical reason; as such they embody different ideal

conceptions of the person.

Thus, as we have said, when acting under the idea of freedom on the

Augustinian view, we cannot regard our fundamental character (the order[  ]

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§3. The Rational Representation of the Origin of Evil

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