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Emotion and evil in Kant.

KANT IS OFTEN REGARDED as a philosopher with a simplistic view of what emotions are, and as the proponent of an especially harsh view of the role emotions play in the moral life. On one common reading, the affective components of human nature that Kant calls feelings, desires, and inclinations are thoroughly noncognitive: that is, they neither include any form of judgment or perception, nor are they responses to judgments or perceptions. Rather, they are purely nonrational elements of our nature that assail us, as it were, from the outside--that is, outside of our reason--and threaten to cloud our judgment, to limit our freedom, to undermine prudence, and to overpower moral motivation. Therefore, on this common reading of Kant, emotions can play no positive role in the moral life, which is not about shaping the affective or sensible side of our nature into a harmonious relationship with reason, because that is not possible. The moral life is instead about subduing our sensible nature through a discipline of reason.

There are some well-known texts that support this common reading. For example, in section one of the Groundwork, Kant claims that actions have moral worth only if they are done from the motive of duty alone; and he distinguishes between acting from the motive of duty and acting in order to satisfy some inclination, the latter of which cannot play any role in determining one's will if one's action is to have moral worth. To illustrate this, Kant gives a series of examples, including one in which he contrasts those who help others from the motive of sympathy with a grieving philanthropist who feels no sympathy but helps others from the motive of duty alone. The actions of sympathetic souls, Kant says, deserve "praise and encouragement but not esteem" because they have "no true moral worth," since sympathy is "on the same footing with other inclinations." By contrast, the actions of the grieving philanthropist do have moral worth, because they are not "incited ... by any inclination," but rather are motivated by duty alone. (1) What is it about inclinations, like sympathy, that prevents them from giving moral worth to actions motivated by them? In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant explains that "[i]nclination is blind and servile, whether it is kindly or not; and when morality is in question, reason must not play the part of mere guardian to inclination but, disregarding it altogether, must attend solely to its own interest as pure practical reason." (2) In the same paragraph (and also later in the Groundwork) Kant adds that inclinations are burdensome, even from the perspective of one's own happiness, because they "always leave behind a still greater void than one had thought to fill," and for this reason everyone "wish[es] to be rid of [inclinations]." (3) So it seems from these passages that sympathy cannot give actions moral worth because, like any inclination, it is blind or noncognitive, and therefore actions motivated by sympathy are not motivated by the rightness of the action but may simply happen to conform externally with what duty requires. Moreover, the blindness of inclinations may also explain why they are unreliable guides to one's own happiness. The solution in both cases, the moral and the prudential, is for reason alone to guide and motivate action, while subjecting inclinations to rational dominion as far as possible. (4)

If this common reading of Kant on emotion and its role in the moral life were correct, then it would seem to make Kant's entire account of moral motivation depend on, and only as plausible as, a noncognitivist theory of emotion. It would depend, in other words, on characterizing sympathy, for example, as blind instead of potentially responsive to the reasons that make an action right. If sympathy even could involve or be a response to what makes an action right, then actions motivated by sympathy could, after all, have moral worth or at least could not be distinguished so cleanly from actions motivated by duty alone. On a cognitivist theory of emotion, in contrast to this common reading of Kant's view, duty might require us to shape our sensible nature in such a way that an inclination like sympathy helps us identify and perform actions with moral worth. At one end of this spectrum, a strong cognitivist theory could hold that some inclinations are themselves perceptions of or direct responses to the rightness of an action. What it is about the motive of duty that confers moral worth on actions would then also be true of these inclinations: both would involve a recognition of the rightness of an action or a direct response to it. Further down the spectrum, a weaker cognitivist theory could hold that while no inclinations are direct responses to the rightness of actions, some are nevertheless indirect responses to judgments that are directly about the rightness of actions. Such a weaker cognitivist theory may actually be compatible with Kant's account of moral motivation, according to which the sole motive in actions with moral worth must be judgments about the rightness of the action. But it could add that some inclinations can and perhaps ought to be cultivated in such a way that they help us to identify and perform morally required actions, even if these inclinations themselves do not confer moral worth on those actions. But both versions of what I am here calling a cognitivist theory of emotions are at odds with the common reading of Kant, according to which emotion is always blind and the moral life does not involve shaping our sensible nature toward conformity with reason. (5)

The thesis I wish to develop here is that this common view is mistaken because Kant actually holds something like what I have just described as a weak cognitivist view of emotion. That is, as I interpret Kant, he regards some emotions as responses to judgments--or to what he calls maxims--that are about what makes an action right or wrong. That is not yet the whole picture, however. As my title is meant to indicate, I will also argue that understanding Kant's view of emotions and their role in the moral life requires assessing their relation to his theory about the radical evil of human nature. (6) In short, some emotions are responses not to what makes actions right but rather to what makes them wrong: namely, the fundamental maxim to give self-love priority over the moral law. Even emotions that are not corrupted by evil in this way must be seen in the context of Kant's view that the moral life is essentially a struggle against the propensity to evil in human nature. So rather than reading Kant as a noncognitivist about emotion, I propose reading him as a weak cognitivist whose suspicion of emotion reflects the significance he assigns to the human propensity to evil.


First let me clarify Kant's view of what emotions are. Kant does not use the German word Emotion, but the English word "emotion" is sometimes used to translate both Kant's use of Affect, which is better translated simply as "affect," and his use of Gemutsbewegung, which means a movement of the mind or soul and remains a loose term for emotion in German today. But Kant uses Gemutsbewegung infrequently and in a nontechnical sense. His technical terms for the phenomena that some other philosophers have called emotions are Affect (affect) and Leidenshaft (passion), which he characterizes in terms of the more basic emotional phenomena of feeling (Gefuhl), desire (Begierde), and inclination (Neigung).

If one compares Kant's texts with Aristotle's discussion of emotion in book two of the Rhetoric, for example, then both affects and passions, as Kant characterizes them, fall into the broader category of what Aristotle calls emotions, which Aristotle describes as feelings or desires that affect our judgments and are attended by pain or pleasure. (7) Some of the specific emotions discussed by Aristotle include anger and fear, which are affects for Kant; shame, which Kant says can be an affect or a passion; (8) and envy, which Kant describes as a vice and potentially a passion. (9) Moreover, Kant characterizes both affects and passions in ways that are similar to Aristotle's description of emotions. Affects, for Kant, are feelings that make reflection impossible or more difficult. (10) Passions are a kind of desire--namely, a habitual desire or an inclination (11)--that, Kant says, "can be conquered only with difficulty or not at all by the subject's reason." (12) Passions do permit reflection, unlike affects; but they prevent one from reflecting well by comparing them with other inclinations or with the sum of all inclinations. (13) So both affects (which are feelings) and passions (which are desires) affect our judgments, especially practical judgments--and thus, Kant says, they "shut out the sovereignty of reason" (14)--by making it at least difficult to reflect well on how they compare with other feelings or desires, where such reflection is required in order for reason to exercise control (or sovereignty) over the will and action.

The main differences between affects and passions, on Kant's account, are that affects are short-lived and thoughtless feelings, while passions are longer-lasting desires that reflect thought--indeed they reflect a rational maxim to act according to some end prescribed by inclination. (15) For this reason, translating Affekt as "emotion," as ff affects were the only emotions Kant recognizes, simply presupposes the common reading that emotions for Kant are noncognitive, since Kant's account of passions is explicitly cognitivist. It also saddles Kant with the view that all emotions are fleeting (as affects are for him), while in fact he recognizes and develops an interesting account of emotional states (including passions) that are long-lasting and deeply intertwined with rational principles.

On the face of it, the common reading has some textual basis with respect to Kant's account of what affects are, since he repeatedly characterizes them as "blind" and "thoughtless," and for that reason "honest and open" as well. (16) For example, in the Doctrine of Virtue he says that "[a]ffect is blind in its choice, and after a while it goes up in smoke." (17) In the Anthropology he says that affects initially make reflection impossible because they are intense feelings that momentarily surprise us. Once the surprise wears off, we become able to reflect with difficulty, and further reflection may cause the affect to subside entirely:
   Affect is surprise through sensation, by means of which the mind's
   composure (animus sui compos) is suspended. Affect is therefore
   rash, that is, it quickly grows to a degree of feeling that makes
   reflection impossible.... Whoever is usually seized by affect ...
   resembles a deranged person; but since he quickly regrets the
   episode afterward, it is only a paroxysm that we call
   thoughtlessness. (18)

For example, anger and shame, understood as affects, are "suddenly aroused feelings of an evil in the form of an insult." (19) Their initial intensity prevents one from reflecting on whether the situation warrants these affective responses or not. (20) But the surprise soon wears off and the initial intensity of these affects wanes somewhat, so that one becomes able to reflect with difficulty. The anger or shame may nevertheless persist at a lower intensity until one reflects that it is self-defeating and imprudent to remain angry or ashamed, because these feelings remain strong enough to make it difficult to reflect on the most effective way to achieve one's ends. (21)

Passion, on the other hand, is not transitory or thoughtless, but rather "takes its time and reflects." (22) Here the common reading of Kant obviously stumbles, because Kant's account of passions is clearly cognitivist. He writes in the Anthropology:
   Since passions can be paired with the calmest reflection, it is
   easy to see that they are not thoughtless, like affects, or stormy
   and transitory; rather, they take root and can even co-exist with
   rationalizing.... Passion always presupposes a maxim on the part of
   the subject, to act according to an end prescribed to him by his
   inclination. Passion is therefore always connected with his reason,
   and one can no more attribute passion to mere animals than to pure
   rational beings. (23)

Because of both of these distinctions--that affects are transitory and thoughtless, while passions last longer and reflect rational principles--Kant claims that passions pose a greater threat to freedom than affects do. "Affect," he says, "does a momentary damage to freedom and dominion over oneself. Passion abandons them and finds its pleasure and satisfaction in a slavish mind." (24) So passions result from a choice or maxim to enslave oneself (that is, one's reason) to some inclination or inclinations, while affects do not.

Kant also makes two other important claims about passions that will structure my ensuing discussion. He claims that all passions are evil, and that all passions are social in content. (25) He also seems to hold that affects too are at least mostly social in their content, as we'll see in a moment. But he does not claim, and in fact he explicitly denies, that affects are evil, at least in the sense that passions are evil. He says in the Doctrine of Virtue:
   A passion is a sensible desire that has become a lasting
   inclination (e.g., hatred, as opposed to anger). The calm with
   which one gives oneself up to it permits reflection and allows the
   mind to form principles upon it and so, if inclination lights upon
   something contrary to the law, to brood upon it, to get it rooted
   deeply, and so to take up what is evil (as something premeditated)
   into its maxim. And evil is then properly evil, that is, a true
   vice. (26)

This passage appears to allow that some passions might not be evil, either if the inclination in question does not light upon something contrary to the law, or if it does not get rooted deeply enough. But this appearance is offset by a passage in the Anthropology in which Kant explicitly says both that all passions are evil and that affects are not evil in the same sense (if at all):
   [P]assions are not, like affects, merely unfortunate states of mind
   full of many ills, but are without exception evil as well. And the
   most good-natured desire, even when it aims at what (according to
   matter) belongs to virtue, for example, beneficence, is still
   (according to form) ... morally reprehensible, as soon as it turns
   into passion. (27)

The word "merely" in the first sentence of this passage implies that affects are not evil, at least not without exception or in the way that passions are evil, but rather are only unfortunate and full of ills. The next sentence about passion calls to mind what the Groundwork says about sympathy, which Kant characterizes there as an inclination that is certainly good-natured in the sympathetic souls he imagines, who "without any other motive of vanity and self-interest [...] find an inner satisfaction in spreading joy around them and can take delight in the joy of others in so far as it is their own work." (28) So these sympathetic souls are not in the grip of a passion, and Kant would not call their actions worthy of praise and encouragement if he thought they were morally reprehensible. But this very inclination, like any desire, would become evil if it developed into a passion. I will return to this point shortly.

The claim that all passions are social in their content occurs in the Anthropology where Kant divides passions into "passions of natural (innate) inclination," on the one hand and, on the other hand, "passions of inclination that result from human culture (acquired)." (29) The innate passions are "the inclinations of freedom and sex, both of which" can have "the impetuosity of an affect." The acquired passions, "which are not connected with the impetuosity of an affect but with the persistence of a maxim established for certain ends," are "the manias for honor, dominance, and possession." (30) Each of these three acquired passions stems from a desire to acquire influence or power over other people. The mania or passion for honor seeks to influence others "through their opinion; mania for domination, through their fear, and mania for possession, through their own interest," that is, by acquiring money. (31) But all of these passions, even the innate ones, are social in content, in the sense that they have other human beings for their objects. Kant says:
   All passions [...] are always only desires directed by human beings
   to human beings, not to things; and while we can indeed have a
   great inclination toward the utilization of a fertile field or a
   productive cow, we can have no affection [Affection] for them
   (which consists in the inclination toward community with others),
   much less a passion. (32)

This passage is noteworthy because, if Kant's use of Affection is a reference to affects, then it would also claim that all affects, as well as passions, are social in content. This would square with most of Kant's examples of affects, but not with all of them. Why, for example, must the object of fear, which Kant identifies as an affect, be a human being? (33) In any case, returning to passions, even the innate passions are social not only in the sense that they have human beings as their objects, but also in the sense that they require social interaction to trigger them. What's innate about these passions is what Kant calls a "propensity" to them, which he defines in the Anthropology as "[t]he subjective possibility of the emergence of a certain desire, which precedes the representation of its object." (34) But in the Religion he defines "propensity" more strongly as "the predisposition to desire any enjoyment which, when the subject has experienced it, arouses inclination to it." (35) The innate inclinations of freedom and sex seem to be propensities in this stronger sense: they are different from instincts, which drive one "to take possession of [their] object before one even knows it ... (like the sexual instinct, or the parental instinct of the animal to protect its young, and so forth)"; but they are still desires that all human beings have and that develop into inclinations--indeed, into passions--when one experiences the enjoyment of these desires. (36) This is clearer in the case of another passion that Kant calls the desire for vengeance:
   [H]atred arising from an injustice we have suffered, that is, the
   desire for vengeance, is a passion that follows irresistibly from
   the nature of the human being, and, malicious as it may be, maxims
   of reason are nevertheless interwoven with the inclination by
   virtue of the permissible desire for justice, whose analogue it is.

The concepts of right on which Kant says this passion is based are innate, or have an innate ground in our reason; so this appears to be another innate passion not mentioned earlier. But when triggered by certain social conditions--not just any interaction with others, but experiencing what we take to be injustice--this passion arises irresistibly, given certain facts about human nature. If we recall that all passions for Kant are evil, then we must ask what it is about human nature that irresistibly leads us, in certain social conditions, to develop passions of freedom, sex, vengeance, and perhaps others. How can there even be innate passions or an innate propensity to develop certain passions in social conditions, if all passions are evil?


The answer is of course that Kant believes there is an innate propensity to evil in human nature, and that the innateness of this propensity to evil does not preclude its being the product of free choice. This puzzling claim relies on Kant's transcendental idealist distinction between the noumenal self, existing outside of time (which Kant identifies with pure reason and one's "proper self"), (38) and the phenomenal self, which is the appearance in time of the noumenal self. Our propensity to evil is innate, Kant says, "in the sense that it is posited as the ground antecedent to every use of freedom given in experience (from the earliest youth as far back as birth) and is thus represented as present in the human being at the moment of birth--not that birth itself is its cause." (39) Its cause is rather "an intelligible deed" that is freely chosen by and thus imputable to the noumenal self of every individual human being, "even the best," and that for this reason can be neither explained nor eradicated. (40)

Evil consists, for Kant, in the natural human propensity to subordinate the moral law to the incentives of self-love or inclinations. (41) It is not inclinations themselves that are evil. Kant says in the Religion that "[c]onsidered in themselves natural inclinations are good, i.e., not reprehensible, and to want to extirpate them would not only be futile but harmful and blameworthy as well" (42)--a remark that suggests either that Kant has changed his mind since the Groundwork and the Second Critique, or that his claims in those earlier works that all rational beings wish to be free of inclinations were not intended as endorsements of that harmful and blameworthy wish. Evil is a property not of inclinations but of human reason choosing to prioritize the satisfaction of one's inclinations over morality. But Kant denies that it is possible for any human being to choose evil simply because it is evil or to repudiate the moral law entirely. (43) Everyone "irresistibly" grants authority to the moral law, because of what Kant calls the innate human predisposition to personality--which, unlike a propensity, is not freely chosen or imputable. (44) But everyone also has what he calls predispositions to animality and humanity, whose principle is self-love or the satisfaction of drives and inclinations. (45) So every human being adopts both fundamental maxims of morality and self-love; and evil consists in the propensity to subordinate morality to self-love, while goodness would consist in subordinating self-love to the moral law:
   Hence the difference, whether the human being is good or evil, must
   not lie in the difference between the incentives that he
   incorporates into his maxim (not in the material of the maxim) but
   in their subordination (in the form of the maxim): which of the two
   he makes the condition of the other. It follows that the human
   being (even the best) is evil only because he reverses the order of
   his incentives in incorporating them into his maxims. He indeed
   incorporates the moral law into those maxims, together with the law
   of self-love; since, however, he realizes that the two cannot stand
   on an equal footing, but one must be subordinated to the other as
   its supreme condition, he makes the incentives of self-love and
   their inclinations the condition of compliance with the moral
   law--whereas it is this latter that, as the supreme condition of
   the satisfaction of the former, should have been incorporated into
   the universal maxims of the power of choice as the sole incentive.

Kant recognizes three "grades of this natural propensity to evil": frailty, impurity, and depravity. (47) Every human being is at best frail in the sense that we are often too weak to comply with the moral law, because our inclinations are subjectively stronger incentives to us, even when we recognize that objectively the moral law deserves priority over the satisfaction of our inclinations. Weakness of will, as Kant understands it, results from this original frailty of the human heart. One reaches the second grade of evil, impurity, when one's heart is not only frail but cannot adopt the moral law alone as an incentive that is sufficient for determining the will. The impure heart instead requires the will to be overdetermined by both morality and self-love in order to comply with what duty requires. So respect for the moral law can motivate the impure heart, but only with cooperation from inclinations. Finally, a depraved or corrupt heart subordinates the moral law to self-love entirely and is capable at best of legally good actions that conform externally with requirements of duty, but not of acting from the motive of duty itself. Since everyone irresistibly recognizes the authority of the moral law, one could descend to and occupy this third stage of evil only by elaborate self-deception, and probably deception of others as well, about what one's incentives or motives actually are. (48) At the first two stages one's heart remains good, though frail and impure. But at the third stage one's heart has become evil, though still not diabolical or capable of choosing evil qua evil; rather, its choices are based exclusively on the principle of self-love.

Finally, Kant holds that it is possible to undergo a change of heart, that is, to change one's evil heart into a good one, which amounts to moving from the third stage of depravity up to one of the other two stages, but this cannot result in extirpating the propensity to evil altogether. A change of heart would be as inexplicable as our propensity to evil itself, since both rest on transcendental freedom. But it must be possible because a change of heart is morally required of anyone with a corrupt heart, and "duty commands nothing but what we can do." (48) It would take the form of "a revolution" in one's disposition, a "single and unalterable decision" to reverse the order of priority between the fundamental maxims of morality and self-love. (50) But such a moral conversion would immediately affect only one's intelligible character or mode of thought, that is, the order of priority in one's fundamental maxims and one's heart or disposition for complying with those maxims. It would mark only the beginning of an endless struggle to reform what Kant calls one's empirical character or mode of sense, by which he means our sensible nature and its relation to our intelligible character. (51)


Before saying more about this gradual reform of one's sensible nature for moral purposes, let me return to passions and affects, and their relationship with evil. In the Doctrine of Virtue, Kant says that a completely virtuous person would have neither passions nor affects. Merely having passions is a vice, while affects are not themselves vicious but constitute "only a lack of virtue and, as it were, something childish and weak." (52)

Passions are not vicious simply because they are strong inclinations, just as Kant does not hold that inclinations themselves are evil. It is the maxim or rational principle underlying them that makes passions evil and vicious. Vice is opposed to virtue, and Kant defines virtue as "the moral strength of a human being's will in fulfilling his duty." (53) Virtue requires acting from "considered, firm, and continually purified principles" or maxims)' But more than that, it is also the fortitude or resolve to comply with those principles in the face of "what opposes the moral disposition within us." (55) Although sometimes Kant writes as if these obstacles are inclinations, when he is careful he clarifies that "it is the human being himself who puts these obstacles in the way of his maxims." (56) So virtue is strength to oppose our natural propensity to evil--that is, not to oppose inclinations themselves but our tendency to prioritize satisfying inclinations over the moral law. It is a property of the will that Kant regards as a kind of bulwark against the natural frailty of the human heart.

Vice, on the other hand, is not simply weakness in complying with duty, but rather is the adoption of maxims that are opposed to the moral law. Nearly all of the passions Kant discusses are vices because they involve adopting maxims that are materially as well as formally opposed to the moral law, to invoke Kant's distinction from the Anthropology passage quoted earlier. (57) For example, he defines envy as "a propensity to view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one's own," because "the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others." (58) Envy is opposed, Kant says, to the duty of love to other human beings, which requires us to adopt a maxim of benevolence that results in beneficence to others, where benevolence is "satisfaction in the happiness (well-being) of others," and beneficence is "the maxim of making others' happiness one's end." (59) So envy is a vice that involves adopting a maxim that is materially opposed to the maxim of benevolence, which is morally required. Envy cannot be motivated by duty at all, because its end is to derive one's self-worth from comparison with others, while duty requires that one's self-worth be derived from comparison with the moral law alone. (60)

But as we saw earlier, Kant claims that even an inclination like sympathy that aims at a good end--beneficence, he says--would be "morally reprehensible, as soon as it turns into passion." (61) This suggests that a passion could involve adopting a maxim only formally but not materially opposed to the moral law. This would be a maxim "to act according to an end prescribed [by some] inclination," but this end would coincide with some morally required end. (62) Kant does not discuss sympathy as a passion; but the innate passions of freedom, sex, and perhaps vengeance would seem to fall into this category, if any do. He says of the desire for vengeance as a passion that it is analogous to the desire for justice and thus interwoven with maxims of reason, but maxims of self-love turn out to be interwoven as well:
   The desire to be in a state and relation with one's fellow human
   beings such that each can have the share that justice allots them
   is certainly no passion, but only a determining ground of free
   choice through pure practical reason. But the excitability of this
   desire through mere self-love, that is, just for one's own
   advantage, not for the purpose of legislation for everyone, is the
   sensible impulse of hatred, hatred not of injustice, but rather
   against him who is unjust to us. Since this inclination (to pursue
   and destroy) is based on an idea, although admittedly the idea
   applied selfishly, it transforms the desire for justice against the
   offender into the passion for retaliation, which is often violent
   to the point of madness. (63)

Here self-love transforms the desire for justice into a passion for vengeance by changing its end from one that applies to everyone equally ("legislation for everyone") to one that is selfish (hatred of a person who is unjust to me); and in so doing, self-love also strengthens this (now altered) desire into something violent to the point of madness. The same type of transformation occurs when the inclination to freedom becomes a passion. The manias for honor, dominance, and possession--which, again, are acquired passions aimed at having power or influence over others--just are what the innate inclination to freedom gets transformed into through self-love in a social context. (64) Kant explains:
   Since passions are inclinations that aim merely at the possession
   of the means for satisfying all inclinations which are concerned
   directly with the end, they have, in this respect, the appearance
   of reason; that is, they aspire to the idea of a faculty connected
   with freedom, by which alone ends in general can be attained. (65)

In other words, considered abstractly, freedom is or at least involves the capacity to achieve ends; and the inclination to freedom develops into passions for specific means for achieving ends. In a social context, controlling other human beings appears to be the most effective means to achieving ends in general. Again in Kant's words: "getting other human beings' inclinations into one's own power, so that one can direct and determine them according to one's intentions, is almost the same as possessing others as mere tools of one's will. No wonder that the striving after such a capacity becomes a passion," indeed the general form of all passions for freedom. (66) So no passions in fact have morally permissible ends, although some arise when self-love in a social context transforms what were originally inclinations with ends that may even be morally required into something quite different.

Affects, in contrast with passions, are not evil in the way passions are because they lack what makes passions evil, namely, a maxim opposed to the moral law. But they are "unfortunate states of mind full of many ills," not least because they make reflection on how to achieve our ends impossible or at least difficult. (67) They also reflect a kind of moral weakness insofar as they temper the strength to comply with moral maxims that Kant calls virtue. Worse, given our propensity to evil as Kant understands it, affects provide an opening for self-love to develop passions. Shame, for example, can be both an affect and a passion. As we have seen, Kant describes the affect of shame as the suddenly aroused feeling of an evil in the form of an insult, and he also characterizes it as "the worried contempt of a person who is present." (68) This can become a passion that involves persistent, tormenting self-contempt even when that other person is no longer present. (69) But it seems that the affect of shame, so described, could get a grip on me only to the extent that I am receptive to measuring my self-worth by comparison with others (including what others think of me) instead of by comparison with the moral law. So this affect already seems to be a response to a judgment, and indeed a judgment in conflict with the moral law. In that sense, the affect of shame reflects our propensity to evil; but merely experiencing shame does not imply that one has an evil heart (that is, that one has descended to the third grade of evil) because, at least if shame remains only an affect, it is a response to a judgment that may not have been incorporated into one's maxim. Since we are all frail in the sense of occupying Kant's first grade of evil at best, we are all at least receptive to nonmoral measures of self-worth and to feeling ashamed by social comparisons in which we come out poorly. This in itself is merely a reflection of our frailty and not a serious moral lapse, but it is easy to see how the affect of shame could develop into vices in addition to the passion of shame. For example, being contemptuous of others in various ways--Kant discusses arrogance, defamation, and ridicule as Vices that involve contempt for others (70)--would satisfy strong inclinations that might develop in reaction to feeling the contempt of another, if I accept the principle that the worth of myself and others derives from such comparison with others. In this way, Kant may be read as holding a weak cognitivist account even of (at least some) affects. (But I am not claiming that this is the case for all affects--not, in particular, for affects that are not social in content. Fear, again, need not even be directed at human beings, let alone be a response to a judgment about the source of a human being's worth). Here it is worth noting that in one place, instead of characterizing affects as blind, Kant writes that "affect makes us (more or less) blind," which seems consistent with affects themselves being responses to judgments while leaving us temporarily unable to reflect on or to evaluate those judgments. (71)

The weak cognitivist account of passions and (at least some) affects that I am ascribing to Kant here is rooted in the social character of evil, or really, the social character of reason as he understands it. At the beginning of part three of the Religion, Kant writes:
   It is not the instigation of nature that arouses ... the passions,
   which wreak such great devastation in [a human being's] originally
   good predisposition.... Envy, addiction to power, avarice, and the
   malignant inclinations associated with these, assail his nature,
   which on its own is undemanding, as soon as he is among human
   beings. Nor is it necessary to assume that these [other human
   beings] are sunk into evil and are examples that lead him astray:
   it suffices that they are there, that they surround him, and that
   they are human beings, and they will mutually corrupt each other's
   moral disposition and make one another evil. (72)

Consistency with part one of the Religion requires that Kant means social conditions trigger a propensity to evil whose origin lies in the freedom of every individual human being, not that social conditions are themselves the origin of evil in human nature. (73) In his Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion from the mid-1780's, Kant is recorded as saying: "if we ask where the evil in individual human beings comes from, the answer is that it exists on account of the limits necessary to every creature.... [T]he human race is a class of creatures which through their own nature are someday to be released and set free from their instincts; during their development many false steps and vices will arise." (74) Evil thus "arises as a by-product" of the uncultivated state of our reason after we have been set free from instincts. (75) The way in which social conditions trigger and shape our propensity to evil is articulated in Kant's interpretation of the Garden of Eden story from Genesis in his essay, Conjectural Beginning of Human History, where Kant interprets the Fall in terms of the first attempts of an undeveloped reason to separate itself from instinct (represented by the voice of God) and to exercise free choice. (76) Reason differs from instinct in its method of satisfying natural inclinations: it proceeds by making comparisons of objects that might best satisfy inclinations. But in so doing, instead of satisfying natural needs as well as instinct had done, reason creates new desires that are increasingly more difficult to satisfy and some of which conflict with natural inclinations. In a social context, these desires arise through social comparison and have as their object securing the good opinion or esteem of others, from which we come to derive our sense of self-worth. (77) Both affects and passions, for Kant, are elements of the devastation wreaked by an uncultivated reason attempting to take over from instinct a task to which it is not yet equal. The social arena in which reason makes its comparisons shapes the content of at least most of our feelings and desires, but the underlying weakness or frailty of our reason that Kant calls our propensity to evil is the basic problem. His solution to this problem, and the task of the moral life on his view, is to cultivate our reason so that we can finally exercise free choice, which aims at the higher end of promoting a moral world but also, and not incidentally, involves regulating inclinations and indeed cultivating certain feelings and inclinations that are conducive to the work of reason, while eliminating others that conflict with it (especially passions and affects).


Contrary to what I have been calling the common reading, emotions do play a positive role in the moral life as Kant views it, and he does regard shaping one's affective nature toward conformity with reason, insofar as that is possible, as a central goal of the moral life. This is obscured, once again, by translating Affect as "emotion," and matters would not be much improved by considering both affects and passions to be the only emotions Kant recognizes, since we have seen that Kant believes a completely virtuous person would lack all affects and passions. But he does claim that several other feelings and inclinations (desires) play positive, in fact crucial, roles in the moral life. In this final section I will argue that these feelings and inclinations qualify as emotions because they fit the cognitivist account that I have been attributing to Kant.

The most obvious example of this is the feeling of respect or moral feeling, which Kant first characterizes in the Groundwork as "a feeling self-wrought by means of a rational concept" and as "the effect of the [moral] law on the subject." (78) The Second Critique calls it a feeling "produced solely by reason" and gives a much more detailed account of how it functions as the moral incentive. (79) In brief, the feeling of respect is a two-sided response to the moral law: it involves both displeasure in the law's infringement on self-love and in its striking down of self-conceit, as well as pleasure in the law itself because of the way it elevates us above our inclinations. (80) So this feeling should not be understood as battling inclinations themselves for control over our will, as if the will were determined by the strongest set of feelings and inclinations that combine to move us in a certain direction. Instead moral feeling is a response to the way the moral law itself relates, not to inclinations themselves, but to the principles or maxims to satisfy inclinations that Kant calls self-love and self-conceit. In the Second Critique Kant uses "self-love" to mean "a predominant benevolence toward oneself," which is only infringed upon or restricted by the moral law because there is nothing wrong with regard for oneself as long as it is conditioned by agreement with the moral law. (81) In this text Kant uses "self-conceit" to mean "satisfaction with oneself" or "esteem for oneself that precede[s] accord with the moral law," and he claims that reason "strikes down" self-conceit on the grounds that "certainty of a disposition in accord with this law is the first condition of any worth of a person ... and any presumption prior to this is false and opposed to the law." (82) Although Kant does not say so explicitly in this text, it is plausible to advert to the Conjectural Beginning essay published two years earlier in order to supply social comparison as the source of these claims to self-worth, which are independent of and indeed opposed to the moral law, and whose principle Kant here calls self-conceit. (83) This would also square with Kant's claim in the Religion that social conditions trigger our propensity to evil, although it would then seem that Kant uses the term "self-love" in the Religion the way he uses "self-conceit" in the Second Critique. In any case, the moral feeling so described may actually fit not only a weak but a strong cognitivist theory of emotions, since it is a direct response to what makes actions right: the moral law itself. This can be phrased better in terms of the propensity to evil: since moral feeling involves both pain and pleasure, it is a direct affective response to the comparison between the moral law and self-love or self-conceit, and our propensity to give priority to self-love over morality explains why this feeling has both negative and positive aspects. In fact, Kant's way of characterizing moral feeling as respect for the moral law seems very close to saying that it involves a judgment or perception of the moral law's objective priority over self-love in that comparison.

In the Doctrine of Virtue, Kant characterizes moral feeling as the central feeling that we ought to cultivate in order to progress toward Virtue. Recall from the Religion that a revolution in one's intelligible character can change an evil heart into a merely flail heart, but such a moral conversion would mark only the beginning of an endless struggle to reform one's sensible nature by bringing it into closer conformity with reason. This is because virtue itself, for Kant, has both intelligible and sensible aspects. (84) In general, virtue is the strength to comply with moral maxims in the face of our propensity to evil, understood as our tendency to prefer the satisfaction of inclinations. But the passages in the Doctrine of Virtue where Kant, apparently in criticism of Aristotle, denies that virtue boils down to habituation do not mean that Kant thinks virtue has nothing to do with shaping our sensible nature into conformity with reason. (85) His point is rather that forming habits "apart from any maxim," merely through imitating others, results in forming lasting inclinations by repeatedly gratifying them, which are "easier to acquire than to get rid of afterwards," and which do nothing to combat our propensity to prioritize satisfying inclinations over the moral law. (86) The right way to proceed in moral education, on Kant's View, is to "begin, not with an improvement of mores, but with the transformation of [one's] attitude of mind and the establishment of a character" with firm maxims, and to encourage the adoption of moral maxims by exercising the innate capacity for moral judgment on examples, especially of good people. (87) This promotes not only a good heart and the adoption of fundamental moral maxims, which together constitute the intelligible character of virtue, but also the strength of will to comply with those maxims in the face of our propensity to evil. We gradually acquire this strength to comply with moral maxims by cultivating moral feeling:
   For while the capacity (facultas) to overcome all opposing sensible
   impulses can and must be simply presupposed in man on account of
   his freedom, yet this capacity as strength (robur) is something he
   must acquire; and the way to acquire it is to enhance the moral
   incentive (the thought of the law), both by contemplating the
   dignity of the pure rational law in us (contemplatione) and by
   practicing virtue (exercitio). (88)

But Kant holds that there is also an empirical character or sensible side of virtue that likewise is "acquired little by little" and that he describes as "a gradual reformation of conduct and consolidation of [one's] maxims, [through which one] passes from a propensity to vice to its opposite. (89) This would amount simply to developing habits if it were not, as it should be on Kant's view, a gradual response to the free revolution in one's intelligible character that established the moral law as one's fundamental maxim. It consists in the adoption of less fundamental maxims that govern particular types of conduct on the condition of their conformity to the moral law, and in shaping one's emotions--that is, feelings and desires--toward conformity with these maxims.

One negative effect this should have over time is to eliminate passions and at least to control or to tame (zahmen) affects. (90) But it should also have the positive effect of cultivating other feelings and inclinations in us, besides respect for the moral law itself. (91) Among these emotions Kant includes the feeling of love for other human beings; (92) a feeling of respect for oneself; (93) satisfaction in the happiness or well-being of others, which as we saw earlier Kant calls benevolence; (94) a feeling of gratitude or honor to a person who has benefited us; (95) sympathy, which in the Groundwork Kant characterizes as an inclination to take delight in the satisfaction of others, (96) but which the Doctrine of Virtue describes in terms of feelings of pleasure or displeasure at another's state of joy or pain; (97) as well as what Kant calls the virtues or graces of social intercourse, among which he includes agreeableness, tolerance, affability, sociability, courtesy, hospitality, and gentleness, which are not simply emotions but no doubt include affective components. (98) Many of these Kant characterizes not as feelings we have a duty to cultivate but as effects that will follow naturally from acting the way certain duties require us to act. For example, Kant says:
   To do good to other human beings insofar as we can is a duty,
   whether one loves them or not.... [But] [i]f someone practices
   [beneficence] often and succeeds in realizing his beneficent
   intention, he eventually comes actually to love the person he has
   helped. So the saying "you ought to love your neighbor as yourself'
   does not mean that you ought immediately (first) to love him and
   (afterwards) by means of this love do good to him. It means,
   rather, do good to your fellow human beings, and your beneficence
   will produce love of them in you (as an aptitude of the inclination
   to beneficence in general). (99)

But Kant makes stronger claims about gratitude and sympathy. We have a duty to show gratitude to benefactors, and presumably therefore to feel it as well, assuming that we cannot have a duty to express a feeling that we do not have. (100) Of sympathy Kant writes:
   While it is not in itself a duty to share the sufferings (as well
   as the joys) of others, it is a duty to sympathize actively in
   their fate; and to this end is therefore an indirect duty to
   cultivate the compassionate natural (aesthetic) feelings in us, and
   to make use of them as so many means to sympathy based on moral
   principles and the feeling appropriate to them.--It is therefore a
   duty not to avoid the places where the poor who lack the most basic
   necessities are to be found but rather to seek them out, and not to
   shun sickrooms or debtors' prisons and so forth in order to avoid
   sharing painful feelings one may not be able to resist. For this is
   still one of the impulses that nature has implanted in us to do
   what the representation of duty alone might not accomplish. (101)

Here Kant clearly is thinking of these feelings of gratitude, sympathy, and the others as, in part, responses to judgments that we have certain duties, though in at least some cases this judgment is not sufficient to produce the relevant feeling in us. We must also act for the good of others in order to develop feelings of love for them, and we must actually encounter the sufferings and joys of others in order to feel sympathy for them. One problem with the sympathetic souls Kant discusses in the Groundwork may be that their sympathetic feelings, perhaps, are not based on moral principles and so are not even indirect responses to what makes actions right.

But if Kant is a weak, rather than a strong, cognitivist about these emotions, then even sympathy developed in response to our duty to cultivate this feeling would not itself confer moral worth on actions motivated by sympathy. Rather, we ought to cultivate sympathy in order to develop the empirical character of virtue, which is separable from the moral worth of our actions. To be sure, if one's will is impure, that is, at Kant's second grade of evil, then cultivating sympathy may be necessary even for acting to relieve the sufferings of others, because in that case the representation of duty would not be sufficient motivation by itself. But that is not the ideal case. Someone whose will is merely frail, that is, at Kant's first grade of evil, could act to relieve the sufferings of others from the motive of duty alone and would not need feelings of sympathy as cooperating motives. The goal of cultivating sympathy in that sort of case is to bring one's sensible nature into closer conformity with reason, in order to approach Kant's ideal of "thoroughly liking to fulfill all moral laws." (102) That is an unreachable ideal for us, on Kant's view, because as he says in the Second Critique, we "can never be altogether free from desires and inclinations which, because they rest on physical causes, do not of themselves accord with the moral law, which has quite different sources." (103) But the deeper problem, again, is that our propensity to evil is inextirpable. In the struggle of our reason against its own evil propensity to make satisfying inclinations a condition of complying with the moral law, the cultivation of moral feeling and of the other moral emotions Kant discusses reflects strength of will and constitutes the empirical character of Virtue. These are central goals of the moral life for Kant in a way that makes sense only on a weak cognitivist account of at least some emotions.

The Catholic University of America

(1) Immanuel Kant, Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten [1785], in Kants gesammelte Schriften, ed. Koniglichen Preussischen (later Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: Reimer (later de Gruyter), 1900-), 4:398; hereafter, G. Unless otherwise noted, all English translations from this work are taken from Groundwork of The Metaphysics of Morals, in Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, trans, and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 41-108.

(2) Immanuel Kant, Kritik der praktischen Vernunft [1788], in Kants gesammelte Schriften, op. cit., 5:118; hereafter, CPrR. Unless otherwise noted, all English translations from this work are taken from Critique of Practical Reason, in Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, op. cit., 137-271.

(3) CPrR, 5:118; G, 4:454.

(4) This common reading of Kant has roots in Friedrich Schiller, "Uber Anmut und Wurde," in Schillers Werke (Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta'schen Buchhandlung, 1867), 11:238-96. A more recent representative is Justin Oakley, Morality and the Emotions (New York: Routledge, 1992).

(5) Reactions against the common reading along these general lines include Paul Guyer, "Duty and Inclination," in Kant and the Experience of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 335-93; and Nancy Sherman, Making a Necessity of Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

(6) The relevance of Kant's theory of evil to his account of virtue more broadly is emphasized by Henry Allison, Kant's Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), chapters 8-9; G. Felicitas Munzel, Kant's Conception of Moral Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), chapter 3; and Anne Margaret Baxley, Kant's Theory of Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

(7) Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1378a21-33.

(8) Immanuel Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht [1798], in Kants gesammelte Schriften, op. cit., 7:255-6; hereafter Anth. Unless otherwise noted, all English translations from this work are taken from Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. Robert B. Louden, in Immanuel Kant: Anthropology, History, and Education, ed. Gunter Zoller and Robert B. Louden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 231-429.

(9) Immanuel Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten [1797], in Kants gesammelte Schriften, op. cit., 6:458-9; hereafter MM. Unless otherwise noted, all English translations from this work are taken from The Metaphysics of Morals, in Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, op. cit., 363-603.

(10) MM, 6:407; Anth, 7:251.

(11) MM, 6:212; and Immanuel Kant, Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der BloBen Vernunft [1793], in Kants gesammelte Schriften, op. cit., 6:29; hereafter, R. Unless otherwise noted, all English translations from this work are taken from Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, trans. George di Giovanni, in Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology, ed. Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 57-215.

(12) Anth, 7:251.

(13) Anth, 7:265-6; MM, 6:408.

(14) Anth, 7:251.

(15) Anth, 7:251-70.

(16) Anth, 7:252-3.

(17) MM, 6:471 (translation modified). Gregor misleadingly translates Affekt as "emotion" here.

(18) Anth, 7:252-3.

(19) Anth, 7:260.

(20) Anth, 7:253.

(21) Anth, 7:260.

(22) Anth, 7:252.

(23) Anth, 7:265-6.

(24) Anth, 7:267.

(25) These claims are emphasized in Allen W. Wood, Kant's Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Wood goes further than me in claiming that "[r]adical evil ... corrupts all human inclinations and affections" (ibid., 300), and in his characterization of the social character of evil (see note 73 below).

(26) MM, 6:408.

(27) Anth, 7:267.

(28) G, 4:398.

(29) Anth, 7:267.

(30) Anth, 7:268.

(31) Anth, 7:268-74.

(32) Anth, 7:268.

(33) Anth, 7:255-6.

(34) Anth, 7:265.

(35) R, 6:29, note.

(36) Anth, 7:265.

(37) Anth, 7:270.

(38) G, 4:457-8.

(39) R, 6:22.

(40) R, 6:25-32.

(41) R, 6:36.

(42) R, 6:58.

(43) R, 6:35.

(44) R, 6:36, 27-8.

(45) R, 6:26-7.

(46) R, 6:36.

(47) R, 6:29-30.

(48) R, 6:37-8, 42. See also G, 4:405, 424.

(49) R, 6:47.

(50) R, 6:47-8.

(51) R, 6:48; see also Kritik der reinen Vernunft, A539/B567. For more detailed treatments of Kant's theory of evil, see, for example, Gordon E. Michaelson Jr., Fallen Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Pablo Muchnik, Kant's Theory of Evil (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009).

(52) MM, 6:408.

(53) MM, 6:405.

(54) MM, 6:383; see also 6:394.

(55) MM, 6:380.

(56) MM, 6:394.

(57) Anth, 6:267.

(58) MM, 6:458-9.

(59) MM, 6:449, 452.

(60) CPrR, 5:81.

(61) Anth, 7:267.

(62) Anth, 7:266.

(63) Anth, 7:270-1.

(64) Anth, 7:268-70.

(65) Anth, 7:270.

(66) Anth, 7:271.

(67) Anth, 7:267.

(68) Anth, 7:260, 255.

(69) Anth, 7:255.

(70) MM, 6:463-8.

(71) Anth, 7:253.

(72) R, 6:93-4.

(73) Here I disagree with Wood, Kant's Ethical Thought, 288-90, along lines similar to those argued by Jeanine M. Grenberg, "Social Dimensions of Kant's Conception of Radical Evil," in Kant's Anatomy of Evil, ed. Sharon Anderson-Gold and Pablo Muchnik (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 173-94. The criticism also applies to Sharon Anderson-Gold, Unnecessary Evil (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2001), which also emphasizes the social character of evil for Kant.

(74) Immanuel Kant, Vorlesungen uber die philosophische Religionslehre [1817], in Kants gesammelte Schriften, op. cit., 28:1079; hereafter LPR. Unless otherwise noted, all English translations from this work are taken from Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion, trans. Allen W. Wood in Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology, op. cit., 341-451.

(75) LPR, 28:1078.

(76) Immanuel Kant, Muthmasslicher Anfang der Menschengeschichte [1786], in Kants gesammelte Schriften, op. cit., 8:111-12; hereafter, CB.

(77) CB, 8:112-13.

(78) G, 4:401, note.

(79) CPrR, 5:76. See also 5:78.

(80) CPrR, 5:73-81.

(81) CPrR, 5:73.

(82) CPrR, 5:73.

(83) See Wood, Kant's Ethical Thought, chapter 7.

(84) R, 6:47.

(85) MM, 6:383, 407, 409, 479-80.

(86) MM, 6:479.

(87) R, 6:48. See also Doctrine of Method sections in both the Critique of Practical Reason and The Metaphysics of Morals, which begin at CPrR, 5:151 and MM, 6:477.

(88) MM, 6:397. See also 6:399-400.

(89) R, 6:47.

(90) MM, 6:407.

(91) Baxley, Kant's Theory of Virtue, 79-84, argues convincingly that virtue does not reduce to continence for Kant, since it involves both of these negative and positive components, while continence requires only the negative one.

(92) MM, 6:401-2.

(93) MM, 6:402-3.

(94) MM, 6:452.

(95) MM, 6:454-5.

(96) G, 4:398.

(97) MM, 6:456.

(98) MM, 6:473-4.

(99) MM, 6:402.

(100) MM, 6:455.

(101) MM, 6:457.

(102) CPrR, 5:83.

(103) CPrR, 5:84.

Correspondence to: Michael Rohlf, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America, 620 Michigan Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20064.
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Title Annotation:Immanuel Kant
Author:Rohlf, Michael
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Essay
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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