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  • Kant's Theory of Evil: An Essay on the Dangers of Self-love and the Aprioricity of History
  • Holly L. Wilson
Pablo Muchnik . Kant's Theory of Evil: An Essay on the Dangers of Self-love and the Aprioricity of History. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2009. Pp. xxix + 183. Cloth, $64.99.

There is growing interest in Immanuel Kant's doctrine of radical evil, and Pablo Muchnik's book succeeds in showing how this concept has both an a priori grounding and an empirical and historical basis. In the literature, Henry Allison has argued the transcendental grounding for the concept of radical evil, while Allen Wood has maintained that the concept has to be supported by reference to empirical realities. Allison holds that Kant's claim that human beings have a universal radical propensity toward evil is an a priori claim not based in experience, whereas Wood believes that the truth of Kant's position can only be supported in the principle of unsociable-sociability, an empirical concept rooted in the species' character.

Muchnik leans toward Allison, as he finds that radical evil is rooted in the Gesinnung (disposition) rather than in particular actions, a description of which would be empirical. He argues that a person's Gesinnung, according to Kant, is good or evil depending upon the principle of maxim selection a person gives herself. Evil corrupts the basis of all maxims. However, Muchnik thinks that Allison does not provide a sufficient justification for the propensity to evil, partly because Kant does not provide us with this justification either and because evil is not analytically contained in the notion of "man." Instead, Muchnik reconstructs the justification for Kant's claim of radical evil in what Kant has to say in the preface to his work Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Kant does use empirical evidence negatively to show that it does not contradict his philosophical defense, so there cannot be a true transcendental argument to support the thesis of radical evil in human nature. Rather than being a transcendental argument, it is more of a metaphysical argument that offers a principle by which we think the a priori condition under which alone radical evil, whose concept is given empirically, can be further determined.

Muchnik does not provide us with reasons why Wood's project of establishing the widespread empirical grounds for radical evil in the principle of unsociable-sociability fails to supply us with the sufficient justification for the propensity to evil. So Muchnik believes the proof of the propensity to evil is under the cover of the highest good and is found in both the a priori tendency to place the claims of happiness over morality and in the species' tendency toward unsociable-sociability. [End Page 462]

Muchnik defends Kant's position that radical evil is not diabolical evil, but rather a tendency to place the claims of self-love before the moral law, against interpreters such as Claudia Card and Richard Bernstein, who do not believe self-love is a sufficient motivation to impel the immorality of murder and genocide. These interpreters believe that a diabolical will must be behind such horrific acts. But Muchnik rightly defends Kant's position that even these horrific acts are motivated by self-love, because doing evil for evil's sake is not possible for a finite and free human will. A truly corrupt will is incapable of being legislative and would create a self-defeating motivational structure. Human beings must always rationalize their actions, and hence Eichmann justified his evil by claiming he was only doing the will of his Führer. Hitler himself justified his actions under eugenics and the betterment of the species. However, what they are doing in their justification was systematically ignoring the limits that other agents impose on their actions.

Muchnik argues that the "good heart" can play the role of a mediator between the a priori nature of the moral law and the empirical nature of human nature. Kant develops a typology of evil hearts: weakness of the heart, impurity of the heart, and finally depravity of heart. In each case it is self-love that underlies the...


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pp. 462-463
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