Vicious Regress (I’m not bad, I just chose to be drawn that way )

by John Holbo on May 14, 2006

I’m still chunking out a review of Zizek’s The Parallax View [amazon], per previous post. Here’s a passage that raised an eyebrow and I want a professional opinion.

Faced with the enigma of how it is that we hold an evil person responsible for his deeds (although it is clear to us that the propensity for Evil is part of this person’s “nature,” that is to say, he cannot but “follow his nature” and accomplish his deeds with an absolute necessity), Kant and Schelling postulate a nonphenomenal transcendental, atemporal act of primordial choice by means of which each of us, prior to his temporal bodily existence, choose his eternal character. Within our temporal phenomenal existence, this act of choice is experienced as an imposed necessity, which means that the subject, in his phenomenal self-awareness is not conscious of the free choice which grounds his character (his ethical “nature”) … (p. 246)

It goes on a bit but it’s clear enough – wild, too. Speculative and produces a vicious regress. Literally vicious. Why would I choose to be the sort of person who will choose to do evil? My question is: did Kant actually propose this? I would have thought I’d have noticed. (Specifically, because Schopenhauer thinks his rather Platonic notion of transcendental ethical ‘character’ is an improvement over Kant. But Schopenhauer never had the brilliant idea of letting you choose your own.) Schelling, I have no opinion. The only footnote is to chapter 1 of Zizek’s own The Indivisible Remainder, which I don’t have handy. Kantians?

If this question is too easy then just chat amongst yourselves about the contours of Swedenborg space or something.



time 05.14.06 at 1:00 pm

“atemporal act of primordial choice by means of which each of us, prior to his temporal bodily existence…”

an atemporal act, temporally prior to other events?

whatever else is going on in here, I’m pretty sure that part of Zizek’s report is wrong.

But it’s my impression that Kant did float something along these lines, and that Kantians have been apologizing ever since. Not that it’s much worse than the rest of the mess of phenomenal/noumenal double-talk.


theogon 05.14.06 at 1:19 pm

Aquinas, or maybe Origen, postulated this for angels – that each angel, at its creation, sees the entire history of reality lain out before it and at that moment can choose to accept or rebel against it. The question of “who’d choose to be evil?” jumps out there as well, especially considering that fully a third of beings so exposed to such a plan for the universe – incredibly rational ones, going by Aquinas in general – are willing to suffer eternal torment in order to register their distaste against it.


Kelly 05.14.06 at 1:33 pm

I have no comment of help here, as I admit in the past tending to fall asleep whenever Kant came up in class, and my Zizek is largely limited to his take on Lacan and desire. But, I wanted to admire you outloud for your clever title. :)


hilzoy 05.14.06 at 3:56 pm

You rang?

Zizek has to be referring to Part I of Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone. Taking what he says in bits (and leaving out Schelling, who I don’t know well enough to comment on):

“Kant and Schelling postulate a nonphenomenal transcendental, atemporal act of primordial choice”

That’s basically right, although obviously everything turns on how you understand non-phenomenal causality. Personally, I take causality in general, for Kant, to mean: the determination (=rendering determinate, specification) of something in accordance with laws. Phenomenal causality is, well, what we call causality. Non-phenomenal causality would have to be something different — for one thing, it would have to be a non-temporal relation, for Kant. The ‘non-temporal’ part in this passage is superfluous.

“by means of which each of us, prior to his temporal bodily existence, choose his eternal character.”

This is clearly wrong — the “prior to could conceivably mean ‘logically prior’, in which case it would be possible, but the context (‘prior to his temporal bodily existence’) suggests temporal priority, which is, as a reading of anything Kant said, nonsense.

“Within our temporal phenomenal existence, this act of choice is experienced as an imposed necessity,”

Um, no. We don’t know what it is. Here it’s worth reading elsewhere in the Religion, on the subject of a radical change of heart, which Kant takes to be possible through grace. (And ‘grace’ here means something like: what it takes to make the otherwise incomprehensible idea of a corrupt person putting off corruption possible.)

“which means that the subject, in his phenomenal self-awareness is not conscious of the free choice which grounds his character (his ethical “nature”)”

Well, the subject is not aware of this choice as an object of knowledge, or a historical event. It would be question-begging to suppose that there is no other form of awareness. (E.g., apperception.)

Hope that helps.


hilzoy 05.14.06 at 4:03 pm

I should add: Kant thinks that any such choice is inexplicable. You absolutely cannot go about trying to figure out why you made this choice, since (a) it’s not a temporal event to be explained (and whatever that means, it can’t mean something like: a non-temporal event (occurrence), which makes no sense), and (b) ex hypothesi, it’s fundamental — the choice that explains why you have the maxims you do, and thus why you accept one ground for choice rather than another, and so you can’t explain it by citing your reasons.

It’s more like a theoretical postulate needed to secure moral responsibility, but not itself knowable, except by its effects (i.e., our conduct.)


bza 05.14.06 at 4:03 pm

I can’t speak to Schelling, but as far as Kant’s concerned that’s quite a misreading. Take a look at, say, Ak. 5:97-8 in the Second Critique.


bza 05.14.06 at 4:05 pm

I don’t mean hilzoy’s remarks, but Zizek’s.


Keith 05.14.06 at 5:05 pm

More importantly, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, assuming that, in a pre-physical non-moment, I (whoever that was) chose to become the sort of person who would ask such questions, and would also then choose to temporialize in a universe where such questions are likely to be asked, and taken seriously?


etat 05.14.06 at 5:35 pm

How does anything spring, fully-formed, from nothing?


bob mcmanus 05.14.06 at 5:56 pm

hilzoy, you’ve made my day. I honestly don’t ever remember seeing this aspect of your understanding of Kant before. Very nice.


john c. halasz 05.14.06 at 6:06 pm

My recollection is that Kant held that one must ultimately be held to choose one’s “Gesinnung”, disposition, not exactly “intelligible character”. He also held that we can not know that we are free, since the only thing we can properly be said to know is phenomenal experience, which is subject to a thorough causal determinism, both in inner and outer sense. A lawless freedom, in turn, he claimed would be a contradiction in terms, hence freedom was a matter of acting in accordance with a maxim, a kind of rule or mini-policy. That would render freedom intelligible, though not knowable, hence consign it entirely to the noumenal, intelligible sphere. But I don’t exactly recall that he was preoccupied with the problem of condemning evil, since he saw evil as all too plentiful in the world, but rather with the problem of how a corrupt or even evil agent could be converted to the moral point of view, which he held to be always possible, since we all know ourselves as finite, sensuous beings to be imperfect, “pathological”, hence in conflict with the moral law.


john c. halasz 05.14.06 at 6:11 pm

Oh, and as to why one would choose evil, Kant defines “radical” evil as the inversion of the moral law, hence evil acts are those whose maxims subordinate the moral law to one’s “pathological” interests.


Neil 05.14.06 at 6:21 pm

Sartre more like it. But for him it is not experienced as necessity, and we can always choose a new character.


Mysticdog 05.14.06 at 6:27 pm

Sounds like an asinine attempt to justify that “evil” people (read: people who don’t do what I think should do) should never, ever be shown a bit of compassion, even if it would appear that they were victims of circumstance or otherwise reacting to their surroundings. They were born evil. They will always be evil. And they chose to be that way, so $#@% them.

It must have been great to live in a day when you could just make up shit about a nebulous otherworldly existance, arbitrarily give it the form you want it to have, and then get generous stipends to explain how it affects this world.

I see little difference between these kinds of arguments and astrology.


goatchowder 05.14.06 at 6:40 pm

I’m a simple man, but I don’t find the “problem of evil” terribly difficult.

First of all, things like earthquakes and hurricanes have long ago been explained by impersonal natural forces. Likewise diseases and plagues and such: these organisms want to live, it’s unfortunate but not incomprehensible that they do so by sickening or killing humans.

But what about man’s “evil” towards man? It’s pretty straightforward. 300 million (or however many years) of our evolution has been spent in the “nasty, brutish, and short” stage. Civilisation itself is, what, less than 10,000 years old? The concept of non-violence and forgiveness is 2500 years old or so? The concept of freedom of concience, 500 years old? The concept of equality and democracy, 200 years old? Abolishment of slavery maybe 150 years old? Equality of the sexes maybe 100 years old in some places and still not even present in others?

Civilisation is a very thin and very new veneer atop the mass of jungle emotion and animal motivation which still dominates our lives. Even the most eggheaded among us still thinks with our ape-brains more than we care to admit. And this is the “problem” of evil: our sense of what we *should* be doing has evolved much faster than our ability to actually do it. The “flesh is weak”, indeed– I don’t see “evil” being anything more complicated than that.

I’m sure there are counter-examples, and I’m rounding things off quite severely here and getting some of the dates wrong, but still.


John Holbo 05.14.06 at 7:03 pm

Thanks everyone, especially Hilzoy for the surprise show of over-the-top Kantsmanship. (I’m with bob mcmanus on this one.) Please continue to chat about abstruse metaphysical stuff.


hilzoy 05.14.06 at 7:13 pm

John: it wouldn’t surprise you if you knew me. I haven’t written Kant scholarship (though there’s something in the hopper), but that’s just because I’m more interested in putting (what I take to be) his ideas to use than in justifying the claim that they are, in fact, his ideas. (Not because I’m OK with being slipshod about what he thought — I’m not — but because given the choice between explaining my views of Kant and explaining my Kant-inspired views of, oh, freedom of the will, I choose the latter, and include some statement like: of course, I think I got it all from Kant.)


hilzoy 05.14.06 at 7:14 pm

Oh, and thanks ;)


Manfred Kuehn 05.14.06 at 10:03 pm

Whatever else Kant may be trying to say in the relevant passage of the Religion (Ak VI, 30ff.), he does not try to explain why and how some people are (or have become) especially evil “and how it is that we hold an evil person responsible for his deeds”. He is trying to explain “the propensity to evil (Hang zum Boesen)” that Christians have claimed is part of all our (human) nature (in general). He argues (against some Christians and others) that it is wrong to blame or senses or desires. Even the propensity to moral evil must be founded in something rational. He does talk about an “intelligible deed” (intelligibele That) as a necessary condition of the possiblity of the “innate” and “ineradicable” propensity to evil in all of us. It’s primarily something to do with us as a species, not an explanation why anyone turns out a particular way.

I am not sure whether Kant succeeds in explaining the propensity to evil by a transcendental condition of an intelligible deed, if only because I am doubtful that there is such an innate and ineradicable propensity to evil in human nature. I also don’t pretend to understand what an “intelligible deed” is.

I am sure of one thing, though, and that is that Zizek’s interpretation of Kant is rather misleading. Kant was not primitive enough to speak of a “nonphenomenal transcendental, atemporal act of primordial choice by means of which each of us, prior to his temporal bodily existence, choose his eternal character.” An “atemporal act” is nonsense. An individual “eternal character” that someone can choose is in Kantian terms just as much nonsense as any choice “prior to [our] temporal bodily existence.”


Manfred Kuehn 05.14.06 at 10:40 pm

Oh … of course this has, according to Kant, consequences for everyone of us. Everyone of us must assume that such an “intelligible deed” is presupposed by her/his propensity to evil, even though evil is, as hilzoy quite correctly pointed out, ultimately inexplicable.


john c. halasz 05.14.06 at 11:29 pm

It might be worth adding that I don’t think that the “infinite regress” charge quite applies, at least on Kant’s own premises. Kant was rigorously skeptical of the actual existence of freedom, only claiming to demonstrate its possibility. He, in fact, abandonned his attempt to deduce the moral law, in part from the account of freedom in the first “Critique”, that he attempted in the “Groundwork”, and, instead, relied on the “fact” of pure practical reason in the second “Critique”; that is, on the necessity of presupposing the agent’s point-of-view. The claim then would be that freedom is a necessary presupposition of there being moral conduct/deliberation at all. But that is just the structure of a transcendental argument: without the specified condition, a given possibility would not be conceivable at all. Previously, temporality had been specified as a “form of intuition”, without which phenomenal experience would not be possible. But that just would mean that such experience, as causally determined, does not impose its constraints on freedom. Freedom, whose possibility/intelligibility is outside the phenomenal world, would then only be evidenced by the moral law itself, whose “Ehrfurcht”, in the constraint it puts upon our inclinations, would be its only phenomenal manifestation. The basic claim then is that something timeless must enter into our moral judgments of empirical acts, in order for those acts and judgments to be at all intelligible and possible, that is, to make sense at all, and, tracing the implication of such a claim further out, the possible existence of a “good will” implies the assumption of a “timeless” choice of such a disposition. Mind y’all, I’m not a Kantian and don’t buy into the empirical/transcendental split, least of all the assumption that the intelligible is timeless and must be impervious to experience. But it’s important in the interest of accuracy to understand the premises of an argument and evaluate just what the claim of an argument accomplishes, without imposing alien assumptions. And I think Kant’s assumption of a transcendental argument form, at least, backstops the infinite regress argument, even if it remains entirely mysterious just how the intelligible and empirical could interact.


hilzoy 05.15.06 at 12:09 am

john c. halasz: I don’t actually think that the fact of reason is just “the necessity of presupposing the agent’s point-of-view”, especially if it’s the fact of pure practical reason, as it is in what you wrote (and in some, though not all, of the fact of reason passages.) I think it involves at least the fact that we comprehend questions about what we should do that do not depend on the ends set by inclination (so that the idea of answering the question ‘what should I do?’ by citing anything other than the sum of your preferences is not nonsensical, the way the idea of answering the question ‘what will make me the most money?’ by citing anything other than financial gains and losses.)

It also (arguably) involves the fact that we can derive (non-trivial)claims about what to do using pure practical reason alone — i.e., that the question I just mentioned is one we can (in suitably many cases) actually answer, so that we’re not stuck saying: sure, I can make sense of this question, but alas I can’t actually answer it.


john c. halasz 05.15.06 at 2:08 am


Yes, -(after waking in the middle of the night to take a pee),- I think I get the difference between hypothetical and categorical imperatives and the different levels of maxims involved in the proposal(s) of Kantian deliberation. But I was trying to make a different point about how the transcendental form of argument, which was Kant’s unique invention, backstops “infinite regress” objections based on an empirical, more-or-less Humean conception of “disposition” and preferences. In that context, the switch from the theoretical attitude to the practical standpoint, after the failure to more directly make the linkage, already implied from the outset, is what necessitates the appeal to an extra-worldly and self-sustained intelligibility. Of course, the horizon of communicability was always an implicit guiding concern of Kant’s notion of transcendental justification. But from my more-or-less Wittgensteinian point-of-view, the solipsism of his premises blocks off the concrete acknowledgement of the other, by which not only specific proposals could be made, involving a needfulness that is not necessarily reducible to mutual self-interest,- (and which should thus necessarily be forfended at all costs)-, but which could “ground” the recognition that it might actually be freedom which is at stake. So my own objection would not be that Kantian style deliberation can not take place, but rather to its abstract intellectualism/formalism that tends to be premised on a refusal/denial of embodiment, temporality and historicity- the very sorts of factors by which dispositions could be formed and wrongs could be “measured”.


zdenek 05.15.06 at 5:25 am

Most of the comments have focused on Kant’s view we find in “Groundwork ” but this is not the right place I think to look if you want to know what Kant says about whether we have duty to choose to be good. The right place is his mature work “The Metaphysics of Morals “. This is what he says on the subject :

” conscience is not something that can be acquired , and we have no duty to provide ouselves with one; rather every human being , as a moral being , has a conscience within him originally. To be under obligation to have conscience would be tantamount to having a duty to recognize duties… to act in accordance with conscience cannot be itself duty ; for if it were , there would have to be yet a second conscience in order for one to become aware of the act of the first.” ( p160-161 ).

Kant is clearly recognising the threat of regress John Holbo notices.
This is why he does not think that we have a *direct* duty to be good but only *indirect one*:

“the duty is only to cultivate one’s conscience , to sharpen ones attentiveness to the voice of inner judge, and to use every means to obtain a hearing for it”.(p 161 )


zdenek 05.15.06 at 6:29 am

Zizek’s gloss on Kant is really a criticism that says :
1) Kant has no moral psychology and all he has to offer is a bit of formalism to explain how one becomes good/evil.
2) Kant’s view doesnt work anyway because it generates regress.

I would make two comments. First Kant has some important things to say about moral psychology but mush of this is discussed in his later work ( Metaphysics of Morals ) and clearly Zizek is focusing only on the early work. To that extent his criticism is weak.
Second once we are able to grant that Kant has important things to say about moral psychology we can reply to the second criticism : Zizek’s view implies that Kant holds that we have direct duties to be good and this it is claimed leads to the regress . But Kant does not think that our obligation to act from moral feelings is a direct duty , something he denies on p160 of TMM. :
” since any consciousness of obligation depends upon moral feling to make us aware of the constraint present in the thought of duty , there can be no duty to have moral feeling or to acqure it.”


rollo 05.15.06 at 6:46 am

zdenek #24:
“the duty is only to cultivate one’s conscience , to sharpen ones attentiveness to the voice of inner judge, and to use every means to obtain a hearing for it”
And then?
I have a duty to sharpen my attentiveness to the voice of my conscience, and to use every means to listen to it…but no duty to act or withhold based on what I hear?
That’s like a well-built joke leading up to no punch line.
I have a conscience, I have a duty to keep it sharp and functional, I have a duty to listen to it, but no direct obligation to obey it.
Unless this is part of that preview process back at the edge of eternity when I chose my moral character from the available alternatives.
What I like about all that is it makes it so much easier to tolerate the suffering of other choosers, especially those who’ve done “bad” things.
Have to take responsibility for those choices, folks.
So, did we all choose to melt the North Pole, or just those 19th and 20th c. industrialists who kicked the whole thing off?
It would be helpful to get that established before things get too chaotic.


zdenek 05.15.06 at 7:26 am

rollo- yes of course it would be stupid to think that we have only this one indirect duty and Kant of course doesnt say anything like that. The point that was being made above in # 24 was just to point out that Kant doesnt think that listening to our conscience is a direct duty ( on my understanding of Zizek this is what he thinks Kant is commited to saying )and that in an important sense Kant thinks that our choice of our character is constrained.


hilzoy 05.15.06 at 8:08 am

zdenek: actually, I think that the point Kant is making in the MoM passage you cite is a different one than the one Zizek is concerned with, which (as I said) comes from the Religion. Nor is it obvious to me that the right gloss on the MoM passage is: our choice of character is constrained. This, however, would probably get us into the thickets of wille vs. willkur; the short version would be: that the moral law exists, and that we are aware of it, does not constrain our faculty of choice (if that means, limit the choices we can make, rather than: being something we cannot help being aware of.)


abb1 05.15.06 at 8:46 am

Why would I choose to be the sort of person who will choose to do evil?

’cause it’s fun! Bwahahahahaha!


time, again 05.15.06 at 9:19 am

So in answer to JH’s original question:

“did Kant actually propose this?”

The consensus answer is:

“no, though something that might be mistaken for it in a not very good undergraduate paper on Kant.”

i.e., if this is typical of Zizek’s work, it ain’t so great.


zdenek 05.15.06 at 9:30 am

hilzoy- we must distinguish between moral law which is legislated by us ( faculty in question is wille ) and moral psychology which is not legislated by us but rather is the background mechanism that we have only indirect control over. We can fine tune it but as apsychological mechanism it is something that we are born with.( again this is Kant’s distinction see 143-190 TMM ).

Now the question about choosing one’s character can be put this way : can we choose having moral feelings or having conscience ? and secondly what sort of duty is the duty to listen to our conscience ?
To the first question Kant answer is no we have limited control over this mechanism and that is why his answer to the second question is that we do not have direct duty to obey such commands ( we have indirect duties in this regard only, since they are not products of wille ).


hilzoy 05.15.06 at 9:46 am

zdenek: Possibly my problem is that I don’t think that having a conscience is an aspect of what one would normally call one’s moral character. You need to have a conscience in order to be a moral agent at all, but what sort of moral agent you are does not depend on your having a conscience.


Jon Mandle 05.15.06 at 10:43 am

I have nothing to add to Hilzoy’s impressive textual insights. But it might help to take a step back and think about the regress in terms of the relationship between choice and responsibility. It is natural to think that we are only responsible for what we have chosen. And choice, here, means a discrete event in time that is causally efficacious. So, in order to be responsible for something, I must have made a choice. But a choice is based on something – a desire, inclination, disposition, habit, impulse, etc. Am I responsible for that desire, etc.? Responsibility exists only on the basis of choice, so I am responsible only if the desire, etc., was itself the product of choice. Hence, the regress.

Think about how Aristotle gets out of this mess. Character is the basis of our actions, and we are responsible for our character. How do we come to have our character? Through habituation and our upbringing. There certainly were choices along the way that we made that affected the character we came to develop, but it would be a mistake to say that there was a moment when we chose our character. And yet, we are still responsible for the character we came to have. This means that responsibility is not tied to a discrete act of choice that can be temporally located. And that picture, I want to suggest, isn’t too far from Kant’s (mature) view.

Talk of an “atemporal act of primordial choice” is confused because it just suggests the same old picture of an act being the ground of responsibility – although in this case, somehow in a different place outside of time. The mistake is obviously compounded by the incoherence of saying that this choice occurs “prior to his temporal bodily existence.” But with the Aristotelian picture of character in mind, we find the grounds of responsibility cannot be located at any discrete moment of choice in a causal history. In that sense, it may make more sense to say that the acquisition of our character and responsibility is atemporal. Admittedly, Kant doesn’t help himself by talking about a transcendent choice, but I’m suggesting that it is really the issue of responsibility that he has in mind. Of course, there’s more Kantian metaphysical baggage that goes along with this picture, but Aristotle had metaphysical baggage of his own.


zdenek 05.15.06 at 12:20 pm

jon mandle — I think what you say about the regress problem and responsibility is wonderful but isnt there also a question about whether the *content* of the duty which tells us what sort of character we should have is legislated by us ?

In other words can one look to moral law to fix the question of what counts as good character and then as it were just implement the rule or act in accordance with that duty ?
Mature Kant’s answer seems to be that to think that this can be done is incoherent .


catherine liu 05.15.06 at 1:09 pm

I think what is being lost here is Zizek’s eternal attempt to read Lacan’s “Kant avec Sade.” Here is with the Jacques Alain Miller when he substitutes desire for character and rolls Kant into a Lacanian ethics of aforesaid “desire.” This category is amoral or perhaps immoral, but is meant to offer an alternative to liberal and Christian notions of good and evil.

Now I think that Zizek is mangling Kant in the process, but you have got to pay attention to his process of thinking…which is anti-liberal to the max and a philosophical explanation of Lacan, which is hardly psychoanalytic at best.

What Zizek might do best is play with a certain mode of sadism, but I think to try to understand this on a purely Kantian level is misguided at best.


Jon Mandle 05.15.06 at 5:34 pm

Zdenek – I’m probably just being dense, but I’m not sure I see the problem – well, I see lots of problems, but I’m not clear which one you’re worried about. The moral law itself is a matter of rational self-legislation. “Legislation” – like “choice” – suggests acts that occur at a temporal location, but that’s not what Kant means, of course. The character that we should have – the virtues that we should cultivate are determined by a combination of the moral law and our understanding of human nature. This depends on the specific capabilities and vulnerabilities of human beings. Because we are not purely rational wills, we cannot expect to implement the moral law directly, but only, as it were, mediated through the creation of a virtuous character.


Belle Waring 05.15.06 at 9:05 pm

Hey. What a great thread. Thanks everyone. (Not that I’m declaring the discussion over or anything. By all means keep it up.)


John Holbo 05.15.06 at 11:52 pm

Whoops, my voice cracked there. I sounded like a lady. That was actually (deep voice) the author himself approving the thread, not his wife Belle. (Which would have been strange.)


John Holbo 05.15.06 at 11:53 pm

I suppose when you start out by complimenting a female – hilzoy – for her ‘Kantsmanship’, all manner of gender confusion may ensue.


joseph heath 05.16.06 at 11:59 am

The first sentence is more-or-less what I’ve always taken Kant to be proposing (i.e. in the _Religion_, as a revision of the _Foundations_ view). The second sentence is presumably argumentative, not a statement of Kant’s view. The best scholarly discussion of these issues that I’ve encountered is Henry Allison, _Kant’s Theory of Freedom_, chap. 7. It’s also remarkably clear.


Harald Korneliussen 05.18.06 at 2:47 am

hilzoy:”that the idea of answering the question ‘what should I do?’ by citing anything other than the sum of your preferences is not nonsensical,”

In other words, it is reasonable, or possible, to justify one’s actions from something else than your preferences — It took me a time to parse all the negatives there.

Although I “use” Kant in much the way hilzoy does (I admit I probably have many of my ideas about things from him, but I can’t be sure I understand him), I have a question to something that was said above:

zdenek: “This is why he does not think that we have a direct duty to be good but only indirect one:”

But what about our duty to not be evil? Some people*, distinguish between a duty to do good, which is conditional and a duty to not do evil, which is unconditional. To quote Thoreau: “It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even to most enormous, wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him”.

But does Kant mean that not doing evil is a direct duty (in the sense of the zdenek quote)?

* (Yes, me included)

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