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Chapter IV: The Nature of Evil

The problem of evil is central in every attempt at a philosophical theology. Evil is the most obvious, the most pressing sign of imperfection. The idea of God, however we may define it, implies the element of perfection. It is easy to explain evil, if no God exists; it would be easy to maintain the existence of God, if no evil existed. Both together cause the greatest difficulties in thought. Even when we eliminate the problem of evil in general, especially when we exclude the sufferings of innocent people, the remaining problem of moral evil, as such, is hard enough. The world in which man succumbs to temptations, in which wickedness of all sorts and all degrees is not a rare but a common occurrence, is certainly an utterly imperfect world. How can this imperfection be brought into harmony with the existence of God? By no means through rational postulation and rational belief. What could be more irrational than this state of affairs? Many theistic thinkers take this obstacle much too lightly. When they insist that all existence is the revelation of God, they seem completely to forget that all existence includes the most cruel tyrants and the most horrible acts of criminals, not to mention the general corruption of man. Not philosophy, but revelation alone, can overcome the contrast between the idea of an omnipotent moral God and the reality of moral imperfection. And no religion has found a more paradoxical, but also a more profound solution of this conflict, than Christianity.

Can philosophy contribute anything to the discussion of the problem of moral evil? Is it possible to reconcile the idea of a morally perfect God with the fact of moral imperfection by means of thought without taking refuge in religion? Or, should this prove impossible, can philosophy approach the solution of the Christian faith without abandoning the ground of unbiased reflection? Is there any bridge between philosophy and religion built by philosophy? These are questions of such a tremendous import and weight that it would be rash to venture a satisfying answer in a short course of lectures. But perhaps we can try to clarify the questions themselves and to outline the possibility of an answer.

The problem of moral evil at first concerns man. Philosophy cannot begin with an apprehension of God. There is no immediate knowledge of God save by means of religious experience, and this experience must be interpreted in order to be available for philosophic needs. It is true that philosophy must aim at the knowledge of God from the outset, but it can attain such knowledge only after a long search. Philosophy must analyze the situation in which we live as men; it must try to determine what man is and means, before it can explore what place and function the idea of God has to fill. The Bible begins with God and proceeds to man, philosophy pursues an opposite course. Although God is first in the order of reason, man is first in the order of knowledge based on immediate experience. Although we cannot reach perfect knowledge about man without proceeding to the idea of God, nevertheless we must ask what man is in order to find the right way to the idea of God. There can be no doubt that the idea of man and the idea of God are closely bound together, that neither has significance without the other. Nevertheless man is nearer to our sources than is God; our immediate experience is an experience of ourselves. Even the experience of God is our experience. Even revelation addresses man, and the understanding of it is dependent upon the capacity and the mental condition of man. Therefore man is the first problem.

Admitting this, we can accept Kant's doctrine of the primacy of practical reason. Practical reason is the reason which controls human conduct. Ethics is the science of man. A concept of God is necessarily ethical. Though ontology and epistemology also culminate in this concept, ethics has priority, as Kant taught, for ethics opens a new horizon which embraces the field of ontology and epistemology and places the problems therein unsolved in a broader perspective. God, as experienced in religion, is primarily concerned with man's moral vocation and destiny. He is not so much a God of nature, as a God of man. He is not the natural cause of natural phenomena but the supreme judge of moral deeds. Even as the creator and as the ruler of the world He is Providence, i.e., the moral government of the course of life. Religions which look at God as involved primarily in nature and secondarily with man's moral affairs are pagan and inferior to the moral religion of the Bible. But these considerations alone do not suffice; they indicate the direction of our inquiry, but they have no demonstrative power; they cannot convince the man who has no religious sense, nor him who denies the superiority of the Christian religion as compared with mythological substitutes. The number of such people, it may be sadly admitted, is greater today than it has ever been during the twenty centuries of the Christian era.

The crucial problem which determines one's standpoint in metaphysics is the problem of evil. In this problem culminate all questions concerning the idea of God. All the difficulties of thought in the field of speculative theology assume their sharpest form herein. It is not merely the physical frailty of man, nor even man's ignorance, that demands the idea of perfection; it is most of all man's moral frailty that suggests the concept of an ideal toward which we can and must strive, but which we can never reach. Although we are not entitled to postulate the existence of God, as Kant holds, we, as morally imperfect beings, long for the existence of the morally perfect being that combines with His moral perfection an equal perfection of causal power to carry out the moral ends which we are unable to accomplish. This longing in itself can scarcely suffice to convince us that such a powerful being exists and governs the world. We have no right to “postulate” His existence, as long as we ourselves deny His existence by our own transgressions. We long for a full reconciliation with God. It would be absurd to postulate the existence of a being that grants us such a reconciliation; we can beg for, and hope for grace or mercy, but we cannot postulate their giver. This consideration suggests the necessity of seeking a sphere beyond moral reason for the idea of God. Perhaps it is altogether impossible to demonstrate the existence of God in a way that could satisfy the need of a devout heart. But still it should not be impossible to grasp the idea by means of speculation, to determine the content of the idea and to discover the function of the idea in man's inner economy, without appealing to revelation.

Before we can decide upon such a possibility we must inquire into the nature of evil. The consciousness of evil has developed apace with man's cultural progress since the days of antiquity. It is in the Christian world, as we might well expect, that this consciousness has become most acute, and, as a result, man's conscience most refined and sensitive. In a discussion of the difference between the ancient and Christian outlooks, Hegel says the Greeks still lived “in the paradise of the human mind.” They conceived of evil as not essentially different from other deficiencies or privations in nature. As every entity in the world fails to express fully the idea of its nature, because it is composed of material and formal elements, and because matter always impedes the pure and perfect realization of the form or idea, so man also, as an individual, does not represent the idea of man, but deviates more or less from his archetype.

Although Aristotle proclaims that there is an important difference between man and every other animal, because man is rational, this difference does not mean that man stands outside nature. Rather his moral frailty is nothing but a lack of natural perfection. To be sure, Aristotle expressly declares that man is not good or evil by nature, but by reason.1 This statement, however, does not intend to exempt man from the world of substances and to elevate him to the level of beings who can determine themselves instead of being determined by their nature or their idea. On the contrary, men fulfill their nature, the idea of their species, when they live a good life, and they fail when they do not follow the course determined by their nature. Aristotle looks at man as a part of the world, as a particular substance within the world. His philosophy knows no opposition between man and world; he does not see that man is man, and not merely animal, because he stands outside the world of substances; that he can make the world of substances and forms his object of knowledge because, and only because, he can take his standpoint outside the natural sphere. Aristotle, in other words, does not understand the character of man as a subject or a self in opposition to all other things.

The Greeks lived in the Eden of the human mind; they had not yet experienced the rupture between nature and man; they were still in harmony with the world of apparent things and beings. They did not yet realize that man's inward nature is not to be compared with the idea or the “form” of apparent objects. It is true that Socrates and Plato seem to be on the Way to this discovery, but Aristotle renews with the greatest emphasis and vigor the old belief in the harmony between man and the universe of sense. That is the meaning of Aristotle's empiricism as against Plato's idealism. It is an irony of history that Aristotle was the one who became the model philosopher for Christian thinkers. Origen and Augustine who followed the Platonic scheme were much nearer to the Christian soul than the medieval Aristotelians.

The belief in the harmony between man and nature influenced not only the ontological, cosmological, and episte-mological outlook of Aristotle, but also his view concerning man's destiny and vocation. He (like Plato) not only compares human vice and corruption with physical disease, he describes the nature of both phenomena in equivalent terms. Depravity of the will, says Aristotle, gives the impression of a disease like dropsy and consumption, lack of self-control the impression of convulsions.2 Even the expression virtue (ἀϱετὴ) is used by Plato and Aristotle not exclusively in the modern sense of the word, namely for man's moral goodness, but also for the proper development and natural excellence of organic functions. Moral virtue thus is only the excellence of a special substance, namely the human soul, as sight is the virtue of the eye. To be sure, Aristotle describes with care and thoroughness the peculiarity of man's virtue or his lack of it, but this description is analogous to his description of other animals and plants. Man is just a peculiar animal, the highest in rank, because he has reason, the highest of all faculties or gifts. This difference is one of degree only, not of the quality of the sphere to which man belongs. Aristotle does not reflect on the inwardness and subjectivity of the human soul, either in the field of knowledge or in the field of volition and conduct. Therefore he does not appreciate the sort of evil described in the idea of sin. Evil action is based on an intellectual failure, not on an evil will. It is the consequence of an incapability or unfitness, not of an evil decision; it concerns the attitude and the behavior of man as a rational animal, but not the kernel of his self. Man can act in a false way, but such action does not betray an evil heart, an evil person, because the very concept of a person (in the moral sense of this term) is unknown to the Greeks.

The entire ethical theory of Aristotle is an illustration of this fundamental outlook. Aristotle seeks a measure for the difference of good and evil action and he finds this measure in the famous doctrine of the right mean or proportion. This doctrine is a splendid example of the peculiar Greek mentality, both of its keenness and of its limits. The doctrine considers human attitude and conduct as if they were objects of contemplation only, and establishes the rule of the right mean in analogy to an aesthetic principle. Indeed, the very concept of the right mean is the concept of aesthetic harmony or symmetry. Man should act in accordance with such aesthetic canons. If he does so, he is morally good, or more precisely his action is morally good; if he fails to do so, his conduct is bad.

In introducing the theory Aristotle adduces analogies with physical health. Too strenuous gymnastic exercises are as useless for the purpose of physical development as those which are too light; excess in food and drink is as harmful as malnutrition; so also excess of feeling produces rashness, deficiency of feeling cowardice, and a moderate amount of feeling alone produces courage, a virtue. The same holds true of the other kinds of moral conduct.3 Correct proportion produces and preserves health in the physical and in the moral sphere as well. Aristotle thus closely connects the physical and the moral “good,” or the organically useful and the morally right. He draws no sharp line between physical health and moral virtue, as he draws no sharp line between aesthetic and moral values. Usually he applies the word “beautiful” (ϰαλὸς) where we would say “good.” The outer phenomenon, not the inner nature of morality, is the subject of his reflections and his ethics.

His concept of evil concerns conduct or action primarily. In order to act rightly we need knowledge of right action. He who does not act as virtue demands either has not the right knowledge or does not apply it in the right way. In both cases reason fails to control the impulses and the passions. Evil springs from the failure of reason or of practical insight. Aristotle, like Socrates and Plato, shares the Greek belief in the supremacy of the intellect. A man who has recognized what is beautiful or good will prefer it, for the morally good life leads to the ultimate end of man's natural desire, namely to happiness. No man can choose to miss these goods, no man, therefore, can choose to forfeit the appropriate means for securing this end. It is the lack of insight, knowledge or wisdom which causes all moral lapses. The man who acts basely, says Aristotle, does not know what he ought to do or ought not to do, and only by reason of such a deficiency in his knowledge does a man become bad or unjust.4

To be sure, Aristotle considers the possibility that a man who judges rightly nevertheless may behave wrongly.5 He quotes Socrates, who held that there is no such thing as incontinence, and who, therefore, concluded that no one acts against what he judges best, and that a bad action is merely a bad judgment; this doctrine of Socrates, Aristotle objects, plainly contradicts the observed facts. Aristotle is obviously puzzled by this incongruity between the doctrine of Socrates (which is no less the basis of his own theory) and certain facts which seem to be contrary to it. He discusses the problem of this seeming incongruity carefully, but he does not obtain a clear and satisfying solution. He cannot obtain such a solution without abandoning his whole standpoint and admitting a certain contradiction in the phenomenon of evil itself. Such an admission would have revolutionized the whole Greek outlook; it would have involved a distrust in reason and in the harmony between reason and reality. In order to avoid such a discomforting consequence Aristotle comes to the conclusion that a man who acts against his better knowledge resembles a man who acts when he is drunk, i.e., who temporarily does not know what he knows when he is sober. Such a man is, in the popular phrase, “not himself.”

Aristotle thus avoids the contradiction by placing the two sides of the phenomenon of evil, namely the knowing of what is right, and the doing of what is wrong, at two different points of time. The man who knows the right and who does the wrong is, though the same man, actually a different man, but at two different moments and under two different sets of circumstances. The man who knows the right, does not act wrongly in so far as he is the knowing man, and the man who acts wrongly, no longer knows the right. It is obvious that this explanation does not interpret the phenomenon which called it forth. This phenomenon concerns just those cases in which a man acts wrongly although he judges right. And this is the real phenomenon of evil. The difference between a natural process and moral action consists precisely in the fact that natural processes simply follow one another (or occur simultaneously) in time, whereas the moral agent is a self, embracing different moments or periods of time in one and the same consciousness. Man is a self, because he is responsible for his actions; and he is responsible or can be responsible for his actions only when his personality comprises both earlier and later stages of a sequence. The comparison with the man who is drunk, is not conclusive because drunkenness is a natural condition which diminishes man's responsibility.

On the whole, Aristotle, like Socrates and Plato, insists on the identity of moral evil and error. The man who acts wickedly is not possessed of the necessary knowledge to act in accordance with his own weal. He errs either because he does not know the truth in general or, when he knows it, because his knowledge is not actually present, or because he does not recognize that the particular situation is to be conceived in terms of the general truth. In all these cases it is not properly the will that fails but the insight or the intellect. As it is an axiom for the Greek thinker, that everyone seeks his best, and that everyone's best is at the same time what he ought to do, i.e., action in the right proportion; it follows that everyone who is able to recognize the right also does it.

There is some truth in this doctrine. A wise man is supposed to control himself and to act in accordance with his moral principles. He is a man whose knowledge has a practical value also, and whose actions are in harmony with his general convictions and views. Wisdom, indeed, is not knowledge only, it is not only theoretical reason or judgment, it is simultaneously the moral strength to live in agreement with the judgments of the intellect. The Greek hints at this harmony or agreement when he speaks of practical knowledge. Aristotle often uses the word wisdom in this wide sense which comprises both theoretical and practical or moral perfection.

For us the word “wisdom,” though still used and highly esteemed, nevertheless no longer has the same significance it had for the Greek consciousness. The Greek sought wisdom by the help of the thinking mind because his religion did not offer to provide it. Socrates, therefore, assumed the role of an Old Testament Prophet, and Plato manifests a prophetic feature in his character. But the peculiar nature of this wisdom rests on the belief that knowledge is the sole means of attaining it. Therefore, the “love of wisdom,” or philosophy, is a longing for knowledge, for that knowledge which can lead to a good life. Philosophy is or endeavors to find “the way, the truth and the life.” Philosophy is as theoretical as it is practical. It is the theoretical counterpart of practical accomplishment. The combination of both is wisdom. But the theoretical element is predominant in this combination. It has the primacy, it is leading and controlling. This is the peculiar Greek meaning of wisdom, as distinguished from the same term used in the Old and New Testament where it means to: “Fear God and keep his commandments.” The Greek believes that wisdom in the form of philosophic thought can find the right way, whereas the Bible teaches that faith alone can find it. Our conception of evil depends on whether we share the Greek or the Biblical view; whether we assume that the will can be controlled and informed by way of philosophy or whether we assume that it has to be controlled by religious faith. Or is there a third possibility? This question remains to be considered later.

The Greek standpoint depends on the conviction that the idea of the good and of the good life does not compel us to transcend the bounds of the cosmos, i.e., of the objective world. Plato hints at a point beyond these bounds when he says that “the good far exceeds essence in dignity and power.”6 But in spite of this intimation Plato remains inside the bounds of the cosmos to which the whole sphere of the ideas belongs. It is true that Plato is nearer to the Christian outlook than Aristotle. He separates the realm of the ideas from the realm of the apparent world. But both realms together make up the cosmos as a whole. The realm of the ideas, the upper realm of the whole cosmos, is as objective as the lower realm of the changing phenomena. It can be contemplated with the inner eye of the mind as the world of sense can be seen by the bodily eye. The world of the ideas is the proper object of philosophical knowledge, and therefore of practical wisdom also. He who contemplates the ideas and acts in accordance with the truth revealed by that contemplation is the man of virtue or of moral worth; he who is determined by the impressions and impulses which the phenomena generate is blind to that truth and therefore morally in error. The philosopher, striving after wisdom, is striving after the good simultaneously, and everyone who strives after the good is so far a philosopher. On the other hand, when we assume that the good compels us to advance beyond the cosmos in its totality, that the good occupies a station “beyond being,” then we can no longer hope to discover it by philosophic contemplation; it leads to a sphere beyond human knowledge, to revelation, if no third way is open.

Accordingly evil can no longer be identified with error; it becomes a transgression against the law given by God. It ceases to be primarily an intellectual deficiency and becomes a deficiency of the will; it is no longer due to a lack of knowledge, but instead to a lack of obedience and reverence toward the lawgiver. Not wisdom but faith is now the measure of man's virtue and its absence of his vice. Conscience, that is, a knowledge of good and evil not in terms of general ideas under which the particular case is subsumed, but as an immediate sense of what is commanded, permitted or prohibited in the particular situation, now takes the place of judgment as an intellectual act. (It is characteristic, that the Greeks in classical times had not even a word for conscience.) The voice of conscience as the voice of God is no longer the voice of reason, although reason participates, to be sure, in the moral action by applying the commandments of God to the peculiar circumstances at hand. But this part of reason or intellect is not central in the activity of man; it is only intermediate between the commandments and the decision of the will to act in harmony with them or not.

Philosophic and religious wisdom differ from each other in still another respect. Philosophic wisdom in Plato and Aristotle leads to the good life which is both morally good or virtuous and happy or blessed. In the view of the Bible, on the other hand, the alliance of moral worth and happiness is no longer guaranteed by knowledge. It remains questionable whether the two elements of a good life are inwardly connected with each other. Instead of such an inner connection between them faith assures us that God will reward the good man and punish the wicked. The nature of virtue does not contain in itself the source of happiness, but God connects them. If virtue guarantees happiness, we are able to find out this relationship by analyzing the nature of virtue. This is the central theme of Plato's philosophy and of Aristotle's ethics and politics. If, on the other hand, virtue does not produce blessedness, then no philosophy whatsoever can find a substitute for the belief in the providential care of a good and just God.

Evil from the biblical standpoint is not a deficiency of knowledge, but of good will. It does not rest on lack of information as to what is good and therefore expedient, but in transgression against God and conscience. Evil appears thus in a darker light. Errare humanum. If evil is based on error only, if the doer of evil is only unwise, more or less ignorant, then man himself can learn by himself to avoid evil, as he can learn other arts and acquire other skills. He can improve his moral activity as he improves his science and all types of knowledge. Indeed, moral and non-moral improvements are the same in kind. If, on the other hand, evil is a deficiency of the will and if no knowledge can persuade a man that he destroys his own weal and happiness, when he does evil, then evil appears as a dark fatality. In the light of faith this fatality assumes the character of a revolt against God. If evil consists in the fact that the willing man, though fully aware of the right or the good, nevertheless acts contrarily, then evil takes on a paradoxical cast. Paul gave classical formulation to this paradox. “The good that I will I do not, but the evil that I will not I do.” This simple statement plumbs the depths of the problem of evil. Indeed, evil is a greater enigma than the Greek thinkers admitted; they shrank from looking at the irrational nature of man. Man becomes a mystery that cannot easily be explained.

How can it be that man does something which he does not really will to do? How does it come that “the inner man,” who, according to Paul wills the good, is separated from the man “in the flesh,” who lies “caught in the rule of sin”? Nature is in no way to blame for this cleavage; the inner man does not belong to nature, and the man in the flesh transgresses only in so, far as he is the inner man at the same time. Genesis makes the serpent the incarnate principle of evil, because man as long as he is not led astray cannot incur guilt. The step from paradisical innocence to guilt and sin is the step from nature to man, from the original unity of world and God to the disunion of man and God. This step includes a mystery that cannot be interpreted in terms of an action of God alone or of man alone. Therefore, a third cosmic power, Satan, seduces man through the mouth of the miraculous serpent. Man in paradise is represented as one creature among other creatures who are alike ignorant of the difference between God and nature, between good and evil. How can man push beyond the bounds of nature? How can he become aware of himself as distinguished not only in degree but in essence from all other things and beings? How can he become aware of God as distinguished from the world? Scripture answers: by the fall. But how can man fall away from the original unity with nature and God? Scripture answers: by temptation. But how can man be tempted? Scripture answers: by the voice of Satan. This wonderful story disguises the deep riddle of evil in a myth. Is it possible to transform the biblical legend into a rational conception? Is it possible to comprehend the nature of evil by means of thought?

The Greeks were not able to comprehend the depth of this mystery, because they still lived “in the paradise of the human mind.” They had not yet ruptured the unity of the world and God, of man and the world, and of man and God, although, of course, they observed the phenomenon of evil. But they did not yet know its true depth and its full weight. Their mind was still at peace with nature and reason. There is no mystery at all in the entire system of Aristotle, not even a possible place for it. Plato was the only classical Greek thinker who had a glimpse of things beyond the terminus of reason; and this, one supposes, was the reason why the early Christian thinkers rested on Platonism when they first began the work of reconciliation of philosophy and revelation. But the mystery of evil was not detected by Plato either. The Christian thinkers first envisaged its depth with philosophic and religious eyes.

Clement of Alexandria and Origen emphasized freedom of the will; they knew very well that this emphasis was new and was specifically Christian. They first broke through the wall of Greek intellectualism and recognized the primacy of the will; this was achieved by them because they rested upon the Biblical idea of man, or to put it in other words, because they acknowledged the primacy of faith. “Volition takes the precedence of all; for the intellectual powers are the ministers of the Will.”7 Clement realized the difference between the metaphysical concept of man in Greek philosophy and the religious image of man in Christian faith. He rejects, therefore, the term “nature” as inadequate to comprehend the peculiar position of man in the Universe and his relation to God. “God has no natural relation to us, as the authors of the heresies will have it.\…” We “are in no respect related to Him, I say, either in our essence or nature, or in the particular energy of our essence, but only in our being the work of His will.”8 Man not as a rational animal, but as a willing being faces God. Will and belief make man the peculiar being he is, not his intellect nor any other attribute that could be added to the genus animal. Through his will man is man; his moral freedom signifies his metaphysical dignity. Clement speaks of faith as “the direct result of free choice,” as a “voluntary faith.”9

The Greeks had not yet discovered the significance of man as a moral person. They held that it is primarily the act that is good or evil, not the person. They did not yet comprehend the value of the individual. Aristotle conceives of man as an individual in the same way he conceives of all particular things. They are particular or just these things on account of the matter that is formed and animated by the substantial species. Socrates is distinguished from any other Greek because of the matter he represents. What is individual in Socrates is thus infinitely less worthy than what is generic; in the metaphysical order the general and the universal alone has a rank, the individual as such has no metaphysical dignity at all. The Christian thinker comprehends man as person; the person is the appearance of the will, and the will is exempt from natural causality. In the Greek conception man is a substance, in the Christian conception he is a subject, a self.

The Greeks did not yet envisage the moral freedom of man, which is the precondition of his metaphysical infinity, his unique position in the Universe, his being “created in the image of God.” Man, therefore, in their conception is evil if his acts do not agree with the form Man, with his rational nature; not if the individual will, as such, is corrupted or depraved. The person is not bad, the actions are bad. According to the Christian conception, on the other hand, the person is good or evil, good when united with God, evil when separated from God and, therefore, divided against himself. Man, says Aristotle, becomes just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions. “As the trees must exist,” says Luther in contrast with this Greek (and Catholic) view, “before the fruit, and the fruit does not make the trees good or evil, but the trees make the fruit, so man must be good or evil in his person, before he does good or evil actions.”10

Is there a third possible way of interpreting the nature of evil besides the Greek and the Christian viewpoints? Kant tried to elucidate such a third possibility. On the one hand, he endeavored to retain the standpoint of reason; on the other, he accepted the historic view of Christianity. The result is his doctrine of rational faith, as I have represented it in the foregoing lecture. He believed his idea of rational faith to be in perfect agreement with the Christian faith. He was not mistaken in so far as his theory is better adapted to the Christian faith than any theory based on the Greek version of human nature. It is strange to think that the philosophy of a man who shared in the general enlightenment and rationalism of his age was more Christian in substance than the system of the Dominican Thomas. The reason is that Kant abandoned completely the Greek standpoint of philosophical wisdom, of the harmony between virtue and happiness, and of the unity of nature, man, and God. He adopted from Christian teaching the idea that man's virtue consists in the obedience to a law which is in no way comparable and compatible with the “forms” or principles ruling the objective world. Kant realized that the Christian faith entails the overcoming of the cosmic outlook of the Greeks. He followed the Christian doctrine that man is possessed of a free will, and that he must determine himself instead of being determined by his nature. He agreed with the Christian conception of man so far; but this agreement has its limit. Kant transforms the commandment of God into a law given by reason itself, called by him “the moral law.” Whereas the Bible envisages man as the creature of God, Kant looks at him as a being to be governed and controlled by himself alone (in so far as he is a moral being).

Thus it was required that he erect a bridge between virtue and happiness, since the connection was no longer guaranteed by the nature of virtue as it was in the Greek conception of wisdom and, on the other hand, was not granted by God on the ground of an obedience to God's commandment. The consequence of this demand was the doctrine of rational faith. Kant thinks it possible that reason postulates a faith which is identical in substance with the Christian faith. In this indirect way the harmony between virtue and happiness is restored by Kant. It is no longer reason alone as in Greek wisdom, but it also is not faith alone which warrants man's welfare. It is a faith based on reason and alleged to be the same faith as that based on revelation or the word of God.

Evil must now be envisaged in a new manner also. It is the result neither of a failure of knowledge, nor of a transgression of the commandments of God. It means rather a disobedience on the part of free will of its own law. Evil in the Greek system is a peculiar example of the general fact that the phenomenal world is composed of matter and form, and that matter disturbs and modifies the true effect of the form. There is no real freedom of the will in the philosophy of Aristotle. The freedom granted to man by Aristotle does not include self-determination according to a law of freedom. It concerns only the way in which man achieves the kind of virtue proper to his nature or essence. Man is not necessitated to act, as the brute animal is; he is free because he is a rational animal that acts in accordance with insight and knowledge. But insight and knowledge determine his will, the will does not determine itself. Self-determination, in the doctrine of Aristotle, is determination of the will by man's real self, and his real self is his reason. If his insight is wrong, man's will is directed in the wrong way and he acts consequently in the wrong way too. In the philosophy of Kant, on the contrary, self-determination of the will purports determination of the will by the will. The will is man's real self, and the will is free in deciding how to act.

To be sure, reason also plays a part in Kant's doctrine of freedom, an important part. The will is free in so far as it is the will of reason or a rational will; the will is not free in so far as it is subject to desire and impulse. But the will is never completely subject to natural causes as is the beast. Man is a willing being just because he is not, like the beast, simply driven by his nature, but is able to determine himself. And in this respect Kant agrees with Aristotle. But there is a deep gulf between them, nevertheless, even with respect to the relation of will and reason. In the philosophy of Aristotle man is free, because his will is rational; in the philosophy of Kant man is free, because his will can obey or disobey the moral law. Or, in other words: man is free according to Aristotle because he is a rational being; man is free according to Kant because he is a willing being. Whereas Aristotle teaches that the moral value of a person depends on his insight, Kant teaches that this value depends on the decision of his will. The standard of man's moral value is intellectual with the ancient, it is volitional with the modern thinker.

Freedom of the will in Kant is, therefore, not only a psychological peculiarity of man; it does not characterize man as a natural species; rather it is a metaphysical and at the same time a moral privilege, the patent of man's nobility. Man cannot be regarded as a merely natural creature, not even as a rational animal; he is an animal, but he is something more, and he is called upon to determine himself because he is more than a rational animal. In Aristotle, on the other hand, freedom is a psychological peculiarity only. Man is free, in so far as he can choose between different possibilities of acting; but it is his intellect that chooses and that leads the will, and therefore primarily his intellect and only secondarily his will makes him good or evil. Man is the highest animal, but he is an animal and nothing else. To be an animal is his “form,” his nature, the attribute “rational” does not change this fact; it determines the kind of animal man is, but it does not elevate man above the level of animal, above the level of nature altogether.

Kant draws the conclusion of the Christian conception of man as a being exiled from paradise, who has broken the original bond between himself and nature. Nature is the objective world, thought of as a whole. Man stands outside this whole, because he stands under a unique law which addresses his free will, and which makes his will free by addressing him. Man is not, or not only, a worldly being, a being living in space and time. He is primarily, and in so far as he is man, a being that has or ought to have his stand outside the world of causality, namely on the ground of the freedom of the will. But whereas the Christian faith puts man face to face with the invisible God, the Creator of the world and of man, Kant puts him face to face with himself, with the invisible and sublime law in himself, the law of freedom, the law of his own reason. If man stumbles and infringes the law, he transgresses primarily not against God, but against himself, against his real self as constituted by his freedom, i.e., by the moral law and the pure practical reason. Only subsequently is the law conceived of as a commandment of God, and the transgression as committed against Him. World, God, man—these are the centers of the Greek, the Christian, and the modern outlook. Kant is the keenest and purest representative of the modern view. Evil as error, evil as sin, and evil as a disobedience to the moral law of pure practical reason—these are the conceptions of evil corresponding to the three eras of European history. How shall we make our choice among them?

  • 1.

    Eth. Nic. 1103a18 ff., 1106a8 ff.

  • 2.

    Eth. Nic. 1150b32f., comp. 1102b18.

  • 3.

    Eth. Nic. 1104a10 ff.

  • 4.

    Eth. Nic. 1110b28 ff.

  • 5.

    Ibid., 1145b22 ff. The Geek word means lack of self-control.

  • 6.

    Rep. 509a.

  • 7.

    Stromata II, ch. 17.

  • 8.

    l.c. ch. 16.

  • 9.

    l.c. ch. 3.

  • 10.

    On the Freedom of a Christian (1520). Compare Matthew VII, 16ff.

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