Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




In Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (1793), Kant makes the claim that all humans are radically evil, both by nature and through a free choice. This radical evil, which is the state of having a Gesinnung (disposition) that commits oneself to prioritizing incentives of inclination above incentives of duty, throws into question whether humans can ever become morally good. For this reason, many commentators have dismissed the Religion as not cohesive with Kant's corpus and do not consider it to play an important role in his ethical theory, in particular. Contrary to this traditionally-held interpretation, I show in my project that the Religion in fact helps to clarify and justify major components of Kant's ethical theory, such as the question of the source of evil and how a person can freely choose evil. I then claim that there is another important way that the Religion further develops Kant's ethics, insofar as it plays a transformative role in the development of his theory of moral improvement. I argue that the need to overcome radical evil introduces a new and distinct stage of moral development: the need to undergo a singular revolution of Gesinnung prior to the gradual improvement of the moral worth of our actions. In making this argument, I address many popular misunderstandings regarding the overcoming of radical evil, such as the idea that it is morally impossible for humans to achieve on their own and that it cannot occur in a sequence of events in time.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.