Origin and Nature of Evil Kant Hegel Kierkegaard Niebuhr
Kant -- Hegel -- Kierkegaard • Kant tries to secularize the Augustinian/Lutheran conception of original sin. • Hegel sees sin & guilt (“the unhappy conscience”) as a conflict-ridden stage through which we must pass as we move toward philosophical enlightenment. • Kierkegaard rejects Hegel’s relativizing of Christian faith to a mere stage.
Kant • No historical fall. Adam/Eve a myth. • Human nature is good. The law of morality remains valid, not abrogated or denied. • Universal, innate tendency toward evil. • Evil is very subtle (insidious, involving self-deception). Morality involves the inner motivation (the priority of moral principle over inclination), not just external conformity to moral rules.
Origin of evil is an insoluble mystery 1. Evil cannot be subsequent or parallel to the will, since then there would be no explanation of the universality of sin. 2. But, evil cannot precede the will either, since it must either be part of our nature or outside our nature. • (a) If evil is part of our nature, then the moral law no longer applies to us, and evil could not still be evil. • (b) If evil is not part of our nature, then the evil we do is the result of this alien intrusion, and we are not really responsible.
The Noumenal vs. the Phenomenal • Kant resolves this paradox by distinguishing between our real self (pure intellect, existing beyond the bounds of time and space) and our apparent or “phenomenal” self (whose character apparently unfolds progressively through time). • The noumenal self exercises true, uncaused free will, that expresses itself in the naturally caused behavior of the phenomenal self. The origin of evil is pushed beyond the bounds of sense & time.
Kant’s solution to the problem of evil • Moral self-reform through a rational faith. • We can "atone" for our sins through the acceptance of suffering. • Seems inconsistent with Kant’s affirmation of the “insidious” and “inextirpable” character of sin. • Answer: some of Kant’s echoing of traditional Christian language is not to be taken literally. Perhaps he didn’t really believe that sin was both radical and universal.
G. W. F. Hegel (early 19th century) • Developmental theory of sin. • Sin results from a necessary conflict between individuality (self-assertion, willfulness) and universality (laws, principles).
Hegel’s Solution • Philosophical understanding reconciles this opposition through a kind of pantheism. • We realize that the universal claims of morality are not something coming from outside ourselves: we are God, and God is us.
Kierkegaard: Agreement with Kant 1. Original sin is not merely an inherited condition, resulting from a historical fall. 2. All sin is the result of the exercise of human freedom. 3. Human nature is not nullified through sin. 4. Sin is a universal phenomenon. 5. Origin of sin is a mystery: "sin presupposes itself".
Disagreement with Kant • There is no “noumenal” self: human beings essentially “exist” (in time). • Mere self-reform is not an adequate solution. • The solution involves going beyond human reason (beyond a Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone)
Agreement with Hegel 1. Sin is a kind of developmental phase -- necessary if we are to reach the higher level. 2. Sin does represent a conflict between individuality and universality, and both are necessary.
Disagreement with Hegel 1. We are not parts or aspects of God (the Absolute). The contrast between our sinfulness and God's holiness is real, not merely apparent. 2. Philosophical thought of a pantheistic sort offers no viable solution, since it denies our real existence as individuals in space and time.
3. There is no permanent solution to sin: the transition from sin to faith must be continually repeated in our experience. We never simply leave sin and guilt behind.
Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments • A thought-experiment, beginning with a single hypothesis, What if? • What if: we begin life without the truth (the essential truth about who we are), and without even the condition of discovering the truth on our own? • What would follow from this hypothesis?
Upshot of the Experiment • Kierkegaard reconstructs most of traditional Christian theology in the process of answering this question. • This is why his “critic” at the end of the section accuses the author of being a charlatan (pretending that he has just invented what is in fact Christian theology).
Kierkegaard's existentialism 1. Human existence is a matter of living through time, which involves having a narrative or history to one's life. 2. Therefore, the central challenge of human life is that of "becoming a self" by constructing and maintaining the continuity of the narrative of one's life through time, despite changes.
3. This unity or continuity of one's life-history is either a unity with God or against God. If it does not include God, it necessarily excludes Him.
4. Therefore, human life begins either in a state of unity with God or of opposition to God. • In the first case, knowing the truth (about oneself and God) is a matter of recollection (making explicit what you already know, deep down). • In the second case, knowing the truth involves learning it through an event (the moment) - an encounter with God in time (= faith).
5. But, human life cannot begin in harmony with God, for two reasons: • (a) This original harmony would destroy our unique individuality. Each of us would be swallowed up in God's being. • (b) This original harmony would make it impossible for us to encounter God as an Other. We would be unable to have an interpersonal relationship with God.
6. So, recollection is not the road to truth -- faith is. • 7. For faith to be possible, God (the eternal) must confront us in time, through some sort of incarnation. • 8. Such an incarnation of the eternal in time is paradoxical -- rationally incomprehensible.
9. When we encounter God's self-revelation in time (the incarnation), we first become aware of our own opposition to God. Guilt and the consciousness of sin is the first result of the encounter with God. 10. The solution to sin is faith, the acceptance of the paradox.
Reinhold Niebuhr • A leading American theologian of the 20th century. • Began as a Christian socialist and pacificist. • Supported WW II against Nazis, founded the Americans for Democratic Action. • Moved toward “Christian realism”, a modern version of Augustinianism.
The Easy Conscience of Modern Man • Modern man denies the reality of evil • Three forms: • Romantic naturalists (Helvetius, Rousseau) • Scientific progressivists (F. Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Skinner, Wilson) • Rationalists (Spinoza, Hegel, Whitehead)
Romantic Optimists • Human nature is wholly good, as fashioned biologically. • Evil is the product of specific, historic circumstances. • Helvetius (Renaissance), Machiavelli: organized religion, political tyrants, chaos • Rousseau: society, language, property • Marx: private ownership of capital
Progressivists • Evil is the result of defects in nature, correctable through human agency, ingenuity. • F. Bacon: scientific knowledge • Hobbes, Locke: social contract • Bentham, Mill: reform society through better policy, education • Dewey, Skinner: cultural lag of social sciences behind natural sciences
Rationalists • Human beings transcend nature through reason, spirituality. • Evil results when we are overcome by sub-rational nature, passions, self-centeredness. • Spinoza (no progress, no real evil) • Evil will disappear as mankind evolves toward greater rationality & spirituality: Hegel, Whitehead
Niebuhr’s Critique of Romantics • Romantic optimism is self-contradictory: if human nature is wholly good, where did the evil social institutions come from that distort that nature? • These were produced by supposedly good human beings in past. Yet, the creation of tyranny and oppression are themselves clearly evil.
Niebuhr’s Critique of Progressivists • Their position is similarly self-contradictory: if human beings are by nature ignorant, irrational, and self-centered, how can science and political reform be possible? • The scientific reformer (Skinner, Wilson) always inconsistently exempts himself from the scope of “nature”.
Niebuhr’s Critique of Rationalists • These come the closest to the truth, since they do acknowledge the reality of evil. • However, they wrongly imagine that freedom and reason are always innocent. In fact, the greatest evils are the product not of animal passions but perverted spirituality. • Nothing inevitable about an evolution toward goodness.
Freud - the Consistent Pessimist • Freud believed that what’s wrong with humanity is incurable: the mismatch between the demands of civilized life and our anti-social animal natures. • Unlike Rousseau, he had no romantic illusions about the primitive life. Unlike progressivists and rationalists, he had not illusions about the future. • However, Freud also denied the reality of moral evil, since he undermined the authority of conscience.