Date of Award

Fall 2019

Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Ingolf Dalferth

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Anselm Min

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Oona Eisenstadt

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2019 Trevor Kimball

Subject Categories

Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


In this dissertation, the notion of moral responsibility is employed to clarify the Kantian idea of radical evil in relation to Paul Ricoeur’s understanding of the self as becoming. Despite the determined regularity of the natural world, Kant posits a human freedom that can be understood along the lines of our first person experience. By shifting from theoretical to practical reason, thinking about action in terms of cause and effect gives way to a posited freedom wherein we can give reasons for action and make meaningful changes in the world. At the same time, Kant’s claim that human beings are radically evil ‘by nature’ seems to problematize this freedom. If we cannot help but do evil, then how can we be meaningfully responsible for our actions? I will argue that, far from removing our responsibility for our actions, radical evil provides a prescriptive account of the coherence of our moral actions and the basis for responsibility. This dissertation aims to work out the influence of Kant’s theory of radical evil on Ricoeur’s thinking about narrative and responsibility. For Ricoeur, narrative provides the context to think about genuine initiative in a world determined by natural forces. Responsibility is enabled by the fact that we are the meaningful authors of our own actions. Ricoeur’s robust account of narrative identity is simultaneously a theory of interpretive moral agency. It provides a necessary aspect to a theory of responsibility because it allows us to think about reasons for actions in terms of initiative and in relation to the integrity of one’s life as a whole. After we considered the condition of freedom for responsibility, located our acceptance of radical evil as the price for the coherence of our lives on a moral register, and understood action as that for which we are responsible and as that which is configured into our narrative identity, we can consider the context in which we become selves. For Ricoeur, the self is never a given; it is always mediated. These mediations include narratives of the origin of evil, which give shape to our trans-historical self. It is not ahistorical; instead, it gives a kind of insight into the inscrutable by placing the adoption of the propensity to evil in narrative time that gives cohesion to our first person experience without requiring our memory of the adoption of the propensity. We are always becoming a self in conditions which we did not set and for which we are not responsible. This is why the origin of evil must be trans-historical. It conditions history and therefore cannot be contained in its movement. The result of this path is to articulate the becoming of the self under the conditions of immorality. Given the human condition and the ethical situation in which we are located, we must therefore protect ourselves from ourselves as we know ourselves from actual history. We are worse than we believe ourselves to be. And yet, underneath this notion is the original goodness that Ricoeur was so committed to retaining. This is not a goodness to which we can simply return. Through our own actions, we are forever alienated. However, we can attest to this goodness through forgiveness and hope. Ricoeur speaks of the hymn of forgiveness. This is the point at which philosophy of religion makes way for religion. In this way, as Ricoeur always attests, the predispositions towards goodness in Kant capture philosophically the place at which religion addresses the capable human being.