Date of Award

May 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Nataliya Palatnik

Committee Members

Nataliya Palatnik, Bill Bristow, Stan Husi


Action, Evil, Immorality, Kant, Moral Psychology, Self-Deception


Kant’s account of evil has often been criticized for being overly restrictive in that it seems unable to account for profoundly immoral acts such as those committed by the Nazis. In response, most defenders of Kant have attempted to gerrymander his original categories of evil such that they become expansive enough to account for these cases. In this paper, I argue that such defenses fail because they rule out the possibility of immoral acts committed intentionally and in full knowledge of their immorality. However, I also show that there is room in Kant’s ethics for an additional category of evil that can account for such cases. I term this new category “villainy,” and then point to a variety of self-deception that Kant ignores in order to help explain how villainous agents are able to intentionally do what they know to be wrong within a Kantian framework. Lastly, I defend the compatibility of “villainy” with Kant’s ethics writ large by responding to four objections. First, that villainy violates Kant’s commitment to the “guise of the good” principle; second, that villainy should only be possible for diabolical beings; third, that our lack of insight into agential intention forces us to remain skeptical about the existence of villainous agents; and fourth, that we risk “aestheticizing” evil if we admit that human beings can be villainous agents.