Date of Award


Degree Type


Committee Chair

Jacqueline Mariña

Committee Member 1

Daniel Smith

Committee Member 2

Christopher Yeomans

Committee Member 3

Christopher Insole


This dissertation concerns Kant’s doctrine of radical evil. The doctrine consists in the following two claims: (1) The propensity to evil is a universal propensity, found in every human being. It is therefore an innate disposition. (2) Every human being is morally responsible for the propensity to evil found in him. It is therefore a disposition that is freely chosen. The poor reception Kant’s doctrine of radical evil has received over the centuries can be traced to his insistence on these two claims. The doctrine has been censured for two reasons: (1) Kant appeals to empirical evidence in his argument that the propensity to evil is a universal propensity. But an empirical generalization cannot prove that the propensity to evil is universal. Interpreters of Kant have therefore tried to correct this huge lapse by providing us with Kant’s missing proof for the universality of radical evil. (2) Kant argues that the propensity to evil is both universal and freely chosen. But these are not two predicates that really go together. It is objected that the determinism necessary to make the disposition universal is logically incompatible with the demands of freedom, or that it is ridiculously improbable to suggest that every human being freely made the exact same (evil) choice. Interpreters of Kant have therefore tried to reconcile the two concepts by coming up with a plausible account of how every human being could have freely chosen evil. This dissertation will deal with both problems: (1) This dissertation argues that the problem of the missing proof is a non-problem. Kant’s argument for radical evil has been incorrectly interpreted as an empirical generalization. It is not. The examples of human evildoing that Kant gives are not meant to prove that human beings are universally evil. Kant is using them as counterexamples against the theory that human beings are universally good. (2) This dissertation argues that the universality of radical evil can be reconciled with the free choice of radical evil. The human being makes the noumenal choice of a fundamental maxim, which thereby determines his moral orientation. If he chooses to wholeheartedly embrace the moral law, he would have made the noumenal choice of a good fundamental maxim. Anything less than such a wholehearted and unconditional embrace of the moral law represents a noumenal choice for the evil fundamental maxim. For he has thereby made his obedience of the moral law conditioned upon something else. It is then argued that for a human being to so wholeheartedly embrace the moral law is not a logical impossibility, but it is, however, a real impossibility. In these two responses, this dissertation presents solutions to concerns that surround Kant’s doctrine of radical evil; concerns that are collectively labeled as the “problem of radical evil”.