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  • Kant and Theodicy: A Search for an Answer to the Problem of Evil by George Huxford
  • Matthew C. Altman
George Huxford. Kant and Theodicy: A Search for an Answer to the Problem of Evil. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2020. Pp. xxiii + 149. Cloth, $90.00.

A theodicy attempts to reconcile the existence of evil (or really any imperfection) with the belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God. Hume, among others, thought that they were incompatible, and he used it as an argument against God's existence. Leibniz claimed that this was the best of all possible worlds because metaphysical evil is unavoidable and moral and physical evil lead to greater goods. Kant, however, has mostly been left out of the conversation. George Huxford seeks to correct this.

The problem of evil is as difficult as it sounds. In the first place, there are several kinds of evil that would seem to need explanation, including physical or natural evil (suffering), metaphysical evil (limitation), moral evil (sin), and injustice (the fact that evil people often thrive and good people often suffer). There are at least three different kinds of responses to the problem. One approach is a theoretical, speculative, "doctrinal" (123), or "philosophical" theodicy (xviii–xix), which attempts to infer knowledge of God's reasons for acting. Another response is fideism, which appeals to nonrational faith that God must know best. A third approach is practical or "authentic" theodicy (124), which derives God's existence and ultimate justice on moral grounds. The most common philosophical theodicies include the limited-view defense (we cannot know God's purposes); the instrumental, net-good, postponement, or higher-purpose defense (something good comes from evil); and the free-will defense (we, not God, are responsible for sin). Huxford's attempt to explain these varied approaches, combined with the fact that Kant's theodical positions change throughout his career, lead to a dense and sometimes confusing exegesis.

Huxford explains and evaluates Kant's different answers to the problem in the pre-Critical, early Critical, and late Critical periods. In the pre-Critical period, Kant defends a philosophical theodicy and adopts a Leibnizian approach. Suffering is not evil per se, because it does not involve judgment or desert; it is rather the result of natural law. Metaphysical evil is merely limitation, not positive evil. And moral evil is attributable not to God but to human beings' misuse of their freedom. Huxford says that this argument [End Page 333] does not succeed in answering the problem of evil, since God is still indirectly responsible for evil in deciding to create a finite world, one in which God knows we will act wrongly. In the early Critical period, Kant does not explicitly defend a philosophical theodicy, but his writings, especially unpublished lecture notes, seem to indicate that he continued to believe in the best possible world approach (with some elements of the limited-view and instrumental defenses), even though such a claim transcends the limits on human knowledge that Kant establishes in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787). In the late Critical period, especially in "On the Failure of All Attempted Philosophical Theodicies" (1791), Kant argues against many different philosophical theodicies. According to Huxford, not every argument succeeds, but he says that Kant can rule out speculative theodicies as a class because they are predicated on insight into God's reasoning based on our experience of the world. Since we can have no knowledge regarding noumena, that is impossible. Instead, Kant proposes his authentic theodicy: we can rationally justify practical faith in God as a holy being, acting necessarily in accordance with what reason and morality require. Although we cannot know why God acts, we can trust in God's moral wisdom to do what is best. Huxford concludes that Kant's mature view fails as a theodicy because it does not actually explain the compatibility of God and evil.

Huxford's limited focus on theodicy, his frequent use of textual evidence, and his division of the book into Kant's three periods provide good insights into Kant's philosophical development. Huxford often relies on minor texts and texts that were unpublished during Kant's lifetime...


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pp. 333-334
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