| Immanuel Kant
Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone
TABLE OF CONTENTS
III. Man is by nature bad.
“Vitiis nemo sine nascitur.”
|IV. on the origin of the evil in human nature.
Origin (primary) is the derivation of an effect from its primary cause, that is, one which is not in its turn an effect of another cause of the same kind. It may be considered either as a rational or a temporal origin. In the former signification, it is only the existence of the effect that is considered; in the latter, its occurrence, so that it is referred as an event to its cause in time. When the effect is referred to a cause which is connected with it by laws of freedom, as is the case with moral evil, then the determination of the elective will to the production of it is not regarded as connected with its determining principle in time, but merely in the conception of the reason, (45) and cannot be deduced as from any antecedent state, which on the other hand must be done when the bad action, considered as an event in the world, is referred to its physical cause. It is a contradiction then to seek for the time-origin of free actions as such (as we do with physical effects); or of the moral character of man, so far as it is regarded as contingent, because this is the principle of the use of freedom, and this (as well as the determining principle of free will generally) must be sought for simply in conceptions of reason.
But whatever may be the origin of the moral evil in man, the most unsuitable of all views that can be taken of its spread and continuance through all the members of our race and in all generations is, to represent it as coming to us by inheritance from our first parents; for we can say of moral evil what the poet says of good:
. . . Genus et proavos, et quæ non fecimus ipsi, Vix ea nostro puto. . . .
(46) It is to be observed, further, that when we inquire into the origin of evil, we do not at first take into account the propensity to it (as peccatum in potentia), but only consider the actual evil of given actions, in its inner possibility, and in what must concur to determine the will to the doing of them.
Every bad action, when we inquire into its rational origin, must be viewed as if the man had fallen into it directly from the state of innocence. For whatever may have been his previous conduct, and of whatever kind the natural causes influencing him may be, whether moreover they are internal or external, his action is still free, and not determined by any causes, and therefore it both can and must be always judged as an original exercise of his elective will. He ought to have left it undone, in whatever circumstances he may have been; for by no cause in the world can he cease to be a freely acting being. It is said indeed, and justly, that the man is accountable for the consequences, of his previous free but wrong actions; but by this is only meant, that one need not have recourse to the subterfuge of deciding whether the later actions are free or not, because there is sufficient ground for the accountability in the admittedly free action which was their cause. But if a man had been never so bad up to the very moment of an impending free action (even so that custom had become second nature), yet not only has it been his duty to be better, but it is now still his duty to improve himself; (47) he must then be also able to do so, and if he does not, he is just as accountable at the moment of acting as if, endowed with the natural capacity for good (which is inseparable from freedom), he had stepped into evil from the state of innocence. We must not inquire then what is the origin in time of this act, but what is its origin in reason, in order to define thereby the propensity, that is to say, the general subjective principle by which a transgression is adopted into our maxim, if there is such a propensity, and if possible to explain it.
With this agrees very well the mode of representation which the Scriptures employ in depicting the origin of evil as a beginning of it in the human race, inasmuch as they exhibit it in a history in which that which must be conceived as first in the nature of the thing (without regard to the condition of time) appears as first in time. According to the Scriptures, evil does not begin from a fundamental propensity to it—otherwise its beginning would not spring from freedom—but from sin (by which is understood the transgression of the moral law as a divine command); while the state of man before all propensity to evil is called the state of innocence. The moral law preceded as a prohibition, as must be the case with man as a being not pure, but tempted by inclinations (Gen. ii. 16, 17). Instead now of following this law directly as an adequate spring (one which alone is unconditionally good, and in respect of which no scruple can occur), the man looked about for other springs (iii. 6), which could only be conditionally good (namely, so far as the law is not prejudiced thereby), and made it his maxim—if we conceive the action as consciously arising from freedom—to obey the law of duty not from duty, but from regard to other considerations. (48) Hence he began with questioning the strictness of the law, which excludes the influence of every other spring; then he reasoned down obedience to it to the mere conditional conformity to means (subject to the principle of self-love), whence, finally, the predominance of sensible motives above the spring of the law was adopted into the maxim of action, and so sin was committed (iii. 6). Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur. That we all do just the same, consequently “have all sinned in Adam,” and still sin, is clear from what has preceded; only that in us an innate propensity to sin is presupposed in time, but in the first man, on the contrary, innocence, so that in him the transgression is called a fall; whereas in us it is conceived as following from the innate depravity of our nature. What is meant, however, by this propensity is no more than this, that if we wish to apply ourselves to the explanation of evil as to its beginning in time, we must in the case of every intentional transgression pursue its causes in a previous period of our life, going backwards till we reach a time when the use of reason was not yet developed: in other words, we must trace the source of evil to a propensity towards it (as a foundation in nature) which, on this account, is called innate. In the case of the first man, who is represented as already possessing the full power of using his reason, this is not necessary, nor indeed possible; (49) since otherwise that natural foundation (the evil propensity) must have been created in him; therefore his sin is represented as produced directly from a state of innocence. But we must not seek for an origin in time of a moral character for which we are to be accountable, however inevitable this is when we try to explain its contingent existence (hence Scripture may have so represented it to us in accommodation to this our weakness).
The rational origin, however, of this perversion of our elective will in respect of the way in which it adopts subordinate springs into its maxims as supreme, i. e. the origin of this propensity to evil, remains inscrutable to us; for it must itself be imputed to us, and consequently that ultimate ground of all maxims would again require the assumption of a bad maxim [personal rule]. What is bad could only have sprung from what is morally bad (not the mere limits of our nature); and yet the original constitution is adapted to good (nor could it be corrupted by any other than man himself, if he is to be accountable for this corruption); there is not then any source conceivable to us from which moral evil could have first come into us. Scripture,2 in its historical narrative, expresses this inconceivability, at the same time that it defines the depravity of our race more precisely (50) by representing evil as pre-existing at the beginning of the world, not however in man, but in a spirit originally destined for a lofty condition. The first beginning of all evil in general is thus represented as inconceivable to us (for whence came the evil in that spirit?), and man as having fallen into evil only by seduction, and therefore as not fundamentally corrupt (i. e. even in his primary capacity for good), but as still capable of an improvement; in contrast to a seducing spirit, that is, a being in whom the temptation of the flesh cannot be reckoned as alleviating his guilt; so that the former, who, notwithstanding his corrupt heart, continues to have a good Rational Will [“Wille”], has still left the hope of a return to the good from which he has gone astray.
on the restoration of the original capacity for good to its full power.
What man is or ought to be in a moral sense he must make or must have made himself. Both must be the effect of his free elective will, otherwise it could not be imputed to him, and, consequently, he would be morally neither good nor bad. When it is said he is created good, that can only mean that he is created for good, and the original constitution in man is good; (51) but this does not yet make the man himself good, but according as he does or does not adopt into his maxim the springs which this constitution contains (which must be left altogether to his own free choice), he makes himself become good or bad. Supposing that a supernatural co-operation is also necessary to make a man good or better, whether this consists only in the diminution of the obstacles or in a positive assistance, the man must previously make himself worthy to receive it and to accept this aid (which is no small thing), that is, to adopt into his maxim the positive increase of power, in which way alone it is possible that the good should be imputed to him, and that he should be recognised as a good man.
Now how it is possible that a man naturally bad should make himself a good man transcends all our conceptions; for how can a bad tree bring forth good fruit? But since it is already admitted that a tree originally good (as to its capacities) has brought forth bad fruit, and the fall from good to bad (when it is considered that it arises from freedom) is not more conceivable than a rising again from bad to good, the possibility of the latter cannot be disputed. For notwithstanding that fall, the command “we ought to become better men,” resounds with undiminished force in our soul; consequently, we must be able to do so, even though what we ourselves can do should be insufficient of itself, and though we should thereby only make ourselves susceptible of an inscrutable higher assistance. It must, however, be presupposed that a germ of good has remained in its complete purity, which could not be destroyed or corrupted—(52) a germ that certainly cannot be self-love,2 which, when taken as the principle of all our maxims, is in fact the source of all evil.
(53) The restoration of the original capacity for good in us is then not the acquisition of a lost spring towards good; for this, which consists in respect for the moral law, we could never lose, and, were it possible to do so, we could never recover it. It is then only the restoration of its purity, as the supreme principle of all our maxims, by which it is adopted into these not merely in combination with other springs or as subordinate to these (the inclinations) as conditions, but in its entire purity as a spring sufficient of itself to determine the elective will. The original good is holiness of maxims in following one’s duty, by which the man who adopts this purity into his maxims, although he is not himself as yet on that account holy (for there is still a long interval between maxim and act), nevertheless is on the way to approximate to holiness by an endless progress. Firmness of purpose in following duty, when it has become a habit, is called also virtue, as far as legality is concerned, which is its empirical character (virtus phenomenon). It has then the steady maxim of conformity of actions to the law, whatever may be the source of the spring required for this. (54) Hence virtue in this sense is gradually acquired, and is described by some as a long practice (in observing the law) by which a man has passed from the propensity to vice, by gradual reform of his conduct and strengthening of his maxims, into an opposite propensity. This does not require any change of heart, but only a change of morals. A man regards himself as virtuous when he feels himself confirmed in the maxims of observance of duty, although this be not from the supreme principle of all maxims; but the intemperate man, for instance, returns to temperance for the sake of health; the liar to truth for the sake of reputation; the unjust man to common fairness for the sake of peace or of gain, &c., all on the much-lauded principle of happiness. But that a man should become not merely a legally but a morally good (Godpleasing) man, that is, virtuous in his intelligible character (virtus noumenon), a man who, when he recognises a thing as his duty, needs no other spring than this conception of duty itself; this is not to be effected by gradual reform, as long as the principle of his maxims remains impure, but requires a revolution in the mind (a transition to the maxim of holiness of mind), and he can only become a new man by a kind of new birth, as it were by a new creation (Gospel of John, iii. 5, compared with Gen. i. 2) and a change of heart.
But if a man is corrupt in the very foundation of his maxims, how is it possible that he should effect this revolution by his own power and become a good man of himself? And yet duty commands it, and duty commands nothing that is not practicable for us. The only way this difficulty can be got over is, that a revolution is necessary for the mental disposition, but a gradual reform for the sensible temperament, which opposes obstacles to the former; and being necessary, must therefore be possible; that is, when a man reverses the ultimate principle of his maxims by which he is a bad man by a single immutable resolution (55) (and in so doing puts on a new man); then so far he is in principle and disposition a subject susceptible of good; but it is only in continued effort and growth that he is a good man, that is, he may hope with such purity of the principle that he has taken as the supreme maxim of his elective will, and by its stability, that he is on the good (though narrow) road of a constant progress from bad to better. In the eyes of one who penetrates the intelligible principle of the heart (of all maxims of elective will), and to whom therefore this endless progress is a unity, that is, in the eyes of God, this comes to the same as being actually a good man (pleasing to Him), and in so far this change may be considered as a revolution; but in the judgment of men, who can estimate themselves and the strength of their maxims only by the superiority which they gain over sensibility in time, it is only to be viewed as an ever continuing struggle for improvement; in other words, as a gradual reform of the perverse disposition, the propensity to evil.
Hence it follows that the moral culture of man must begin, not with improvement in morals, but with a transformation of the mind and the foundation of a character, although men usually proceed otherwise, and contend against vices singly, leaving the general root of them untouched. Now even a man of the most limited intellect is capable of the impression of an increased respect for an action conformable to duty, in proportion as he withdraws from it in thought all other springs which could have influenced the maxim of the action by means of self-love; and even children are capable of finding out even the least trace of a mixture of spurious springs of action, in which case the action instantly loses all moral worth in their eyes. This capacity for good is admirably cultivated by adducing the example of even good men (good as regards their conformity to law), and allowing one’s moral pupils to estimate the impurity of many maxims from the actual springs of their actions; (56) and it gradually passes over into the character, so that duty simply of itself commences to acquire considerable weight in their hearts. But to teach them to admire virtuous actions, however great the sacrifice they may cost, is not the right way to maintain the feeling of the pupil for moral good. For however virtuous anyone may be, all the good he can ever do is only duty; and to do his duty is no more than to do what is in the common moral order, and therefore does not deserve to be admired. On the contrary, this admiration is a lowering of our feeling for duty, as if obedience to it were something extraordinary and meritorious.
There is, however, one thing in our soul which, when we take a right view of it, we cannot cease to regard with the highest astonishment, and in regard to which admiration is right or even elevating, and that is the original moral capacity in us generally. What is that in us (we may ask ourselves) by which we, who are constantly dependent on nature by so many wants, are yet raised so far above it in the idea of an original capacity (in us) that we regard them all as nothing, and ourselves as unworthy of existence, if we were to indulge in their satisfaction in opposition to a law which our reason authoritatively prescribes; although it is this enjoyment alone that can make life desirable, while reason neither promises anything nor threatens. The importance of this question must be deeply felt by every man of the most ordinary ability, who has been previously instructed as to the holiness that lies in the idea of duty, but who has not yet ascended to the investigation of the notion of freedom, which first arises from this law; (57) and even the incomprehensibility of this capacity, a capacity which proclaims a Divine origin, must rouse his spirit to enthusiasm, and strengthen it for any sacrifices which respect for this duty may impose on him. The frequent excitement of this feeling of the sublimity of a man’s moral constitution is especially to be recommended as a means of awaking moral sentiments, since it operates in direct opposition to the innate propensity to pervert the springs in the maxims of our elective will, (58) and tends to make unconditional respect for the law the ultimate condition of the admission of all maxims, and so restores the original moral subordination of the springs of action, and the capacity for good in the human heart in its primitive purity.
But is not this restoration by one’s own strength directly opposed to the thesis of the innate corruption of man for everything good? Undoubtedly, as far as conceivability is concerned, that is to say, our discernment of its possibility, just as with everything which has to be regarded as an event in time (change), and as such necessarily determined by laws of nature, whilst its opposite must yet be regarded as possible by freedom in accordance with moral laws; but it is not opposed to the possibility of this restoration itself. For if the moral law commands that we shall now be better men, it follows inevitably that we also can be better. The thesis of innate evil has no application in dogmatic morality; for its precepts contain the very same duties, and continue in the same force, whether there is in us an innate propensity to transgression or not. In the culture of morality this thesis has more significance, but still it means no more than this, that in the moral cultivation of the moral capacity for good created in us, we cannot begin from a natural state of innocence, but must start from the supposition of a depravity of the elective will in assuming maxims that are contrary to the original moral capacity, and, since the propensity thereto is ineradicable, with an unceasing effort against it. Now, as this only leads to a progress in infinitum from bad to better, it follows that the transformation of the disposition of a bad into that of a good man is to be placed in the change of the supreme inner principle of all his maxims, in accordance with the moral law, provided that this new principle (the new heart) be itself immutable. A man cannot, however, naturally attain the conviction [that it is immutable], either by immediate consciousness, (59) or by the proof derived from the course of life he has hitherto pursued, for the bottom of his heart (the subjective first principle of his maxims) is inscrutable to himself; but unto the path that leads to it, and which is pointed out to him by a fundamentally improved disposition, he must be able to hope to arrive by his own efforts, since he ought to become a good man and can only be esteemed morally good by virtue of that which can be imputed to him as done by himself.
Now reason, which is naturally disinclined to moral effort, opposes to this expectation of self-improvement all sorts of corrupt ideas of religion, under the pretext of natural impotence (among which is to be reckoned, attributing to God Himself the adoption of the principle of happiness as the supreme condition of His commands). Now we may divide all religions into two classes—favour-seeking religion (mere worship), and moral religion, that is, the religion of a good life. By the former a man either flatters himself that God can make him eternally happy (by remission of his demerits), without his having any need to become a better man, or if this does not seem possible to him, that God can make him a better man, without his having to do anything in the matter himself except to ask for it; which, as before an all-seeing being asking is no more than wishing, would in fact be doing nothing; for if the mere wish were sufficient, every man would be good. But in the moral religion (and amongst all the public religions that have ever existed the Christian alone is moral) it is a fundamental principle that everyone must do as much as lies in his power to become a better man, and that it is only when he has not buried his innate talent (Luke xix. 12-16), when he has used the original capacity for good so as to become a better man, that he can hope that what is not in his power will be supplied by a higher co-operation. But it is not absolutely necessary that man should know in what this co-operation consists; (60) perhaps it is even inevitable that if the way in which it happens had been revealed at a certain time, different men at another time should form different conceptions of it, and that with all honesty. But then the principle holds good: “it is not essential, and therefore not necessary for everyone to know what God does or has done for his salvation,” but it is essential to know what he himself has to do in order to be worthy of this assistance.