|dc.description.abstract||Morality makes claims on us. This is what is meant by morality being normative. But what is it that makes morality normative? What is it that can justify, once I find it hard to comply with moral requirements, that I still have do it? This is not a question asking for a demonstration of how morality can be in our interest. It is a question about what it is that makes morality binding on me. To put it with Christine Korsgaard, it is a question about the source of normativity. The search for a source of justification of our moral judgements and their motivational force is to my mind one of the most important tasks a moral theory must address. In this paper I shall consider how Immanuel Kant responded to this challenge and the main problem I think he ran into in doing so.
I argue that the fundamental problem Kant faces is the result of a deep conflict between his moral project and the possibility of actualising this project within his conception of human nature. In this I go counter to a recent wave of Kant-defenders who claim to be able to bridge the gap between Kant s rational ethics and his so-called impure ethics, or anthropology. However, when I argue that Kant s project fails, I do it not for the reasons most Kant-critics put forward. I am not first and foremost concerned with the problem of actualising freedom within an empirically determined will. Rather, the problem I point to arises within the free will iself, manifested as a conflict between what Kant needs in order to establish a morality that is necessarily binding, and a moral theory that can account for the responsibility of immoral actions.
My argumentation is based on a close reading of Kant s account of necessary obligation, preceded by a short historical reading of the problems Kant confronted. I believe this historical aspect is important, in particular because the importance of the history of philosophy is too often neglected in the contemporary Anglo-American approach to Kant, resulting in readings that respond to problems Kant did not himself address. Moral philosophy is not a discipline detached from political, religious and social contexts. We need to consider the context within which a moral philosopher develops his theory. Once we grasp how the project emerges as a response to problems this particular period confronted, we can also understand in what sense the questions posed and the answers suggested can be relevant for the challenges we face today.
In my opinion, Kant s most important contribution to moral philosophy is his idea that the source of normativity lies in human beings, and more precisely, in their rational capacities. The moral agent is his own legislator, his own motivator and his own judge: this is what it means to be autonomous. To be autonomous is to subject oneself to a self-imposed universally valid moral requirement: the moral law. However, as human beings we often act on a competing principle of action, namely that of self-love or happiness. Thus, our role as a priori legislator is in conflict with our capacitiy to choose to do what pleases us on the basis of our desires and interests. This conflict between choice to do what one desires and one s moral obligation poses a serious problem for our conception of ourselves as free responsible agents. For what happens to a moral legislator when he violates his own obligations? Indeed, can you be a free responsible being in so far as you choose to violate your own law of freedom?
These questions provide the background for Kant s introduction of the notion of character. To have a character is commonly understood as having a set of dispositions on the basis of which we form a steady conduct and outlook on life. In other words, character is associated with the empirical constitution of what we take to be our self that we form and educate, and through which we express ourselves in interaction with other human beings. But according to Kant, in so far as we are moral beings, we need a character that operates within the realm of freedom, obeying its own a priori legislation independently of these dispositions. Through an investigation of the development of the notion of character from the Critique of Pure Reason to the Religion within the Boundaries of mere Reason, I shall show that the notion of character becomes the battlefield between the metaphysics of freedom and human psychology, leading to the claim that human character is infested with an innate tendency to choose moral disobedience, what is known under the expression radical evil . Briefly, radical evil is a freely chosen corruption of the ground of choice made by the free self. But why does the free will turn against itself? Why does Kant claim that we have chosen an inherently evil character? And how can he claim that seemingly incapable of saving ourselves from moral corruption, we remain under the obligation to do so? Many have expressed their disappointment with Kant s answer or lack thereof to these questions. Their embarrassment is often expressed as surprises at Kant s collapse into religious vocabulary, with idioms that seem like a thinly disguised recasting of the Christian doctrine of original sin. An important part of the argument in this paper is to show that the notion of radical evil is present at the beginning of Kant s formulation of his project as a tension between the requirements of moral obligation and the account of moral responsibility.
This thesis has a two-fold structure. In the first part, which includes chapters I, II and III, I focus on Kant s project and the main problem it runs into. Here I consider Kant s first introduction of the notion of character as a tentative response to the problem of imputation of morally bad actions. In the second part, which includes the two last chapters, I elaborate on Kant s mature conception of character and the radical evil with which it is allegedly infested. It should be noted that neither part is concerned with the nature or reality of freedom: that discussion lies beyond the confines of this paper. The main lines of the argument are as follows:
The first chapter is a brief outline of the central debates within the secondary literature on Kant s so-called second ethics . The purport of this chapter is to clarify in what way my own approach to the notion of character differs from these debates. My concern is to determine the role Kant initially assigned to the notion of character within his moral project. This is why the aim of the second chapter is to establish two things; firstly, what Kant s moral project is, and secondly, what he needs in order to accomplish this. In so doing, my main focus will be on the Groundwork. In this chapter I establish the position of the human will between holiness and animality, and clarify the implications of autonomy for moral responsibility.
The moral law is the corner - stone of the possibility of moral obligation. And the moral law is only possible through the exercise of a rational will endowed with free causality. This is the point of departure in the third chapter. I shall here investigate Kant s account of the agent as divided between two causal worlds. This involves examining Kant s first introduction of the notions of empirical and intelligible character in the Critique of Pure Reason. I shall suggest that the introduction of an intelligible character can be read as an attempt at responding to the problem of responsibility for immoral actions. I conclude that this does not succeed in solving the issue, because the main conflict does not arise between our empirical character and our intelligible character, but within a free self that must be expressed as a power to choose between good and evil, and not as a causal property of the will.
If our freedom is expressed through choice, then we need an imputable ground for this choice. The purport of the fourth chapter, which introduces the second part of this paper, is to examine Kant s mature concept of character as the source of choice, Gesinnung. The main challenge will consist in elucidating Kant s claim in the Religion that our Gesinnung is corrupted. Why does Kant claim this, and what are the consequences for the possibility of attaining a morally good character? What consequences does the doctrine of radical evil have for the possibility of imputation?
The examination of these questions will be the main focus of the fifth and last chapter of this paper. Here I shall first and foremost concentrate on Kant s rigorism about character, the view according to which a will s character is either fundamentally good or fundamentally evil. This investigation will be directly linked to the first chapter s account of Kant s moral project, with a particular stress on the relation between Kant s claim that we are radically evil and his claim that the moral law must be an imperative on human wills. I argue that Kant s rigorism is consistent, and that it explains, although does not prove, Kant s claim that the will is universally evil. In this regard I shall examine some possible ways of avoiding rigorism about character. I shall argue that the only way to avoid rigorism about character is to leave behind the uniqueness of Kant s moral project. But Kant s project, I argue, shows us the only viable way of approaching morality. The problem is that according to Kant s project, we cannot both be necessarily obligated, and at the same time be responsible for our morally bad actions. The challenge then is to find a moral theory that can make room for both these requirements.||nor