On Evil

On Evil: Short Paper 3 (due Nov. 15 [note different date from syllabus])


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Please completetwo of the tasks below in as much detail as you can (500-750 words):


  1. Quote and interpret the first two versions of Kant’s categorical imperative in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals that we have studied in class (especially 4:421-430). Apply both to Kant’s own example of borrowing money under a wrong pretense. As Kant himself explains, when applying the first version of the categorical imperative as a testing procedure, we are looking for a rational inconsistency; when applying the second version, we ask how we are treating others.



  1. Interpret the two subsections in Section II of the Groundwork on “autonomy of the will” and “heteronomy of the will” (4:440-441).



  1. Interpret the following passage from Kant’s Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.


“But lest anyone be immediately scandalized by the expression nature, which would stand in direct contradiction to the predicates morally good or morally evil if taken to mean (as it usually does) the opposite of the ground of actions [arising] from freedom, let it be noted that by ‘the nature of a human being’ we only understand here the subjective ground—wherever it may lie—of the exercise of the human being’s freedom in general (under objective moral laws) antecedent to every deed that falls within the scope of the senses. But this subjective ground must, in turn, itself always be a deed of freedom (for otherwise the use or abuse of the human being’s power of choice with respect to the moral law could not be imputed to him, nor could the good or evil in him be called ‘moral’). Hence the ground of evil cannot lie in any object determining the power of choice through inclination, not in any natural impulses, but only in a rule that the power of choice itself produces for the exercise of its freedom, i.e., in a maxim” (70f.).



  1. Explain the three different grades of evil in Kant’s Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason:


“We can think of three different grades of this natural propensity to evil. First, it is the general weakness of the human heart in complying with the adopted maxims, or the frailty of human nature; second, the propensity to adulterate moral incentives with immoral ones (even when it is done with good intention, and under maxims of the good), i.e. impurity; third, the propensity to adopt evil maxims, i.e. the depravity of human nature, or of the human heart” (77).


Find an example for each of the three grades of the natural propensity of evil.



  1. In section 260 of Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche differentiates between two types of morality, master morality and slave morality, in an attempt to formulate an origin story of contemporary values. Describe both in some detail and compare them. How has what was deemed “good” by the “masters” become “evil” to the slaves?



  1. Interpret the passage below from Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Moral, First Essay, Section 10:

“The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate with an imaginary revenge. While every noble morality develops froma triumphant affirmation of self, slave morality from the outset says No to what is ‘outside’, what is ‘different’, what is ‘not itself’: and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye—this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself—is the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all—its action is fundamentally reaction.”

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