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Manual Beyond Legitimation: Essays on the Problem of Religious Knowledge

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As a result, Religion , despite its daring and original philosophical theology, has been given only a small fraction of the attention that his other books have received. In addition to its portrayal of the ens realissimum , one finds within it Kant's objections to the Ontological, Cosmological and Physico-theological Design arguments for God's existence. It is thus the text most central to the negative elements of Kant's philosophy of religion and is integral to the widely held view that Kant is deeply hostile to faith.

As Kant explains, underlying all the traditional proofs for God's existence is the concept of the ens realissimum , the most real being. Hence, where the particular determinations of actual objects are discovered through experience, our concepts, which in themselves are not objects of experience, necessarily remain partly indeterminate. Nevertheless, reason can construct for itself what is on the one hand still an abstraction but yet also an individuated entity. For example, when considering whether or not to get a pet, one might envision an ideal pet, a pet with the optimal set of desirable attributes.

Such an archetype for thought, however, is still not completely determined, for the ideal can still be neutral between various attributes that are not regarded as relevant to one's interests for example, one may not consider any specific nostril width salient to one's choice of pet. By contrast, the ens realissimum is the concept of an individual object that is completely determined, and is such through reason alone. In the case of most ideals, their determinations are the result of various empirical concepts as well as various subjective interests such as what one believes a pet would bring to one's daily life.

However, in the ens realissimum , all its determinations are set solely through reason's formal application of the principle of complete determination, aggregating together all possible predicates and selecting from these predicates all those which have a fully positive reality no negative predicates, no derivative predicates.

In doing this, the faculty does not violate any of the standards Kant sets out within Transcendental Idealism, for reason is merely applying the formal principle of complete determination to all possible predicates and constructing an idea or more precisely, an ideal thereby. This construction can then be entertained by the intellect, or perhaps, used as a regulative principle, as one does with other less grand ideals. As with other transcendental errors, we can subreptively conflate a subjective principle, generated by our intellects and of only regulative use, to one that is objective — a real being not constructed in thought, but discovered through thought.

Such, we may say, is the source of error in Spinoza's use of substance and in other monistic metaphysics. Our construction of the ens realissimum has the appearance of an actual unity since it is the concept of the sum total of all positive predicates. This appearance then casts an illusion unrecognized by the metaphysicians, leading them into the subreptive error. According to the Ontological Argument, it is self-evident from the idea of the most real being that that being exists.

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Whatever it is that is this most real being, it must include all predicates that contribute to its greatness or reality; and given that actual existence is allegedly one such predicate, whatever it is that is the most real being is therefore a being who by definition must exist. Hence, if one were to compare two beings, both equally great in all respects except that one exists and one does not, the one that does not exist, by virtue of its non-existence, is lacking a predicate that contributes to the greatness of the other.

The correct conception of that than which nothing greater can be conceived must, therefore, include existence. Between the two, there is no difference in the concepts of each: existence adds nothing to the concept of one hundred dollars. It is not a statement about a property essential to this being, for existence, as it is not a predicate or property, cannot be a property of an essence.

Kant's further contends that the Cosmological Argument is parasitic on the Ontological. He demonstrates this by taking Leibniz's Modal Argument as emblematic of all other Cosmological Arguments and then contends that a being posited as necessary in order to explain the contingency of creation has built into it the same error as discussed above. According to Leibniz's Modal Argument, the existence of a contingent reality can only be ultimately explained through a cause whose existence is in itself necessary. However, something whose existence is in itself necessary is something whose existence cannot depend upon anything else but itself, its own nature.

This returns us to the Ontological Argument, or at least the objectionable idea at its heart, for the necessary being that the Cosmological Argument proposes is also the idea of a being whose essence involves existence. So, as before, since existence is not a predicate, Kant rejects the coherence of the idea of a being whose existence depends upon nothing but its own nature. Kant's treatment of the Physico-Theological Design Argument is, however, substantially different from the other two classic proofs. While he still contends that it remains ultimately grounded upon the Ontological Argument's assumption that existence is a predicate, this objection does not cut to the argument's core.

He further regards it as having considerable utility for the Natural Sciences, a point he repeats in both the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic and in the Canon of Pure Reason. Despite Kant's explicit claim that one of the underlying drivers of Transcendental Idealism is to defend faith against theoretical reason, it is widely believed that his philosophical system powerfully challenges, if not outright bars, religious belief.

According to Kant, we can have no knowledge of anything outside of experience, outside the scope of the spatio-temporal-causal order. Hence, there can be no knowledge of God, of the soul, of the afterlife, or anything else beyond that order. Thus, it is not merely that we cannot prove whether or not God exists, but the concept of God itself, like all other concepts of supersensible entities and properties, allegedly cannot even have meaning for us.


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The former position, that we can have no knowledge of the supersensible, is textually well supported. Knowledge [ Wissen ], for Kant, follows its traditional tripartite model as justified-true-belief, and if there is neither experience nor rational proof of any supersensible claim, no such claim can meet with suitable justification. The latter position, that we can have no cognition of supersensible objects, is likewise correct. However, the alleged implication that this makes meaningful thought about them impossible is false.

Kant does not reject the thinkability of the supersensible, and, in fact, the body of arguments in the Transcendental Dialectic shows this to be clearly the case.

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If, for example, propositions about the supersensible were incoherent according to Kant, then he would not need his Antinomies or Paralogisms. Rather, he could sweep them all away quite simply through the charge that they fall short of the conditions for meaning. The problem, thus, is not that we cannot coherently think the supersensible. It is, rather, that we can think about it in too many ways. Absent experience, reason is without a touchstone through which hypotheses can be refuted.

Instead, so long as the ideas of reason are internally consistent, the faculty can construct a multitude of theses and antitheses about the supersensible. It can, moreover, argue quite robustly in favor of each, something we see both in the Antinomies and all the more grandly in the great tomes of the metaphysicians. The problem, for Kant, is thus not about meaning, but rather it is epistemic: having no possible experience of the supersensible, we lack the theoretical resources to adjudicate between competing claims.

It is a mode of thinking that is not just fanciful imagining but is directed to objects whose reality can be determined. Thinking requires merely the logical possibility of what is being entertained. So long as it is not self-contradictory, it can be thought. Cognition, by contrast, embeds the thought in the material conditions for, or the Real Possibility of, the object of thought, something that is not possible once one steps beyond the scope of possible experience.


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  6. Hence, we cannot have a cognition of God because, as Kant argues in the Transcendental Dialectic's Ideal of Reason, there is no viable argument for God's existence. Likewise, we cannot prove or disprove a miracle, for its alleged supersensible cause is not something whose conditions are determinable for us. Even if we experience some event whose cause is supersensible, we have no way whatsoever to establish that this is so, and have nothing to guide our hypotheses about how to test for miracles or how they come to be.

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    None of this challenges the intelligibility of religious doctrines. So long as they are not self-contradictory, they are thinkable. It is just that their truth or falsehood cannot possibly be known. Moreover, since they are not within the spectrum of epistemic evaluation, we cannot opine regarding them, for opinion [ Meinung ], as Kant understands the term, is a mode of assent based upon the weighing of theoretical grounds evidence and argument for and against truth. Yet, this does not leave us with agnosticism either. Faith is, for Kant, a mode of justified assent, though the nature of its justification is quite different from opinion and knowledge.

    Issuing from his Lutheran heritage, Kant regards the former, theoretical reason's attempt to have knowledge, as a serious threat to authentic religion. When religion is intellectualized, it alienates religion from the laity, makes them dependent upon a special class of theological experts, and, further, casts the appearance that it is through what one believes vs.

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    It is not its authority that is in question perhaps with the exception of the argument at in the Critique of Practical Reason. Rather, this advance from morality to religion concerns how we bind ourselves to the former cf. Thus, from Kant's objections to the traditional proofs for God's existence through to his rejection of supersensible knowledge, the negative elements of his philosophy of religion are not to be understood as denials of or even challenges to faith.

    They exist, rather, in order to make sure that the true worth of religion is not lost as a consequence of reason's excesses. Hence, despite more than two centuries of interpreters who have regarded Kant's criticisms as expressions of hostility, the barriers he establishes are not meant to abolish faith but to save it. It is, thus, a profound irony that Kant is so commonly portrayed in theological circles as the greatest enemy to faith that has ever emerged out of the history of philosophy.

    Not only is this incorrect, but it is an error that has deprived theologians perhaps Lutheran Theologians in particular of an important ally. Kant is not faith's enemy, but rather, one might say, its champion in exile. As Wizenmann claims, just as a man in love may delude himself about the putative beauty of his beloved, so likewise Kant has us subreptively transfer our personal wants into objective claims.

    It is not, like desire, something idiosyncratic, contingent, or variable from one person to the next. Nevertheless, there are some important ways in which practical assent is distinct from its theoretical counterpart. In addition, Kant distinguishes between the certainty of faith vs. Hence, even though both faith and knowledge are considered certain for us, and even though faith, like knowledge, is a form of conviction rather than persuasion, the nature of the commitment still does have, in its own way, a subjective quality.

    This quality may be understood through an analogy to Descartes' Cogito. Like this famous argument, there is a first-person privileged stance through which the certainty of faith arises. We see this most clearly in the Second Critique 's Fact of Reason. It is, rather, through the first-person awareness of one's own deliberative activity that the bindingness of the moral law upon our own selves is recognized Hence, there is no argument we can communicate and share to prove that we are all bound by the moral law.

    The certainty instead is only available to each of us with regards to the bindingness of the moral law for our own selves.

    Like the Cogito , we can communicate to others what they must reflect upon in order to become certain, but we cannot claim certainty about the bindingness of the moral law upon them. The Fact of Reason has, rather, a first-person character such that we can only be certain about the bindingness of the moral law upon ourselves. It further explains what he means here and elsewhere e. As should be apparent through his response to Wizenmann, the subjective character of faith is quite distinct from the subjective-psychological inclinations of persuasion. The causes for assent in the case of the latter are common to all.

    As previously mentioned, another important feature of faith for Kant is that it allows us to extend cognition into the supersensible. This does not mean that we gain through it some mystical intuition.

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    Rather, his claim is merely that unlike other thoughts about things-in-themselves, we have some guidance through which we can adjudicate between different possibilities. As is illustrated by the Antinomies, Kant does not deny the thinkability of things-in-themselves, but rather once concepts are extended beyond the realm of experience, we are without a basis to justifiably endorse one theoretical construction over another.

    By contrast, because the needs of practical reason gives us direction, we can have a determinate cognition of God. We do not merely muse about possibilities here, but instead postulate an objective reality, one that is shaped and justified by the needs of practical reason. Second, it is important to note that many of Kant's discussions of faith, especially those prior to , are co-mingled with the analyses found in Georg Friedrich Meier's Auszug aus der Vernunftlehre , the textbook from which Kant lectured on logic for forty years.

    Hence, it is important to recognize that Kant's own understanding of faith developed over time, shifting away from Meier's treatment, to one that became more tightly connected to Kant's own practical philosophy.

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    So, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. Kant's doctrine of the Highest Good is essential to his positive philosophy of religion. With the exception of some musings esp.