According to the traditional interpretation and reception of Immanuel Kant's work, the impact of his philosophy on the discipline of theology has been primarily negative.1 The Critique of Pure Reason cuts off all access to knowledge of God, and, in so doing, demolishes not only the foundations for dogmatic metaphysics, but also the foundations for any kind of positive theology whatsoever. Because traditional interpreters understand these theoretical strictures on knowledge of God to be inescapable, Kant's subsequent philosophical work, when it touches on matters of significance to theology, is thought merely to aim at reducing their stifling effects. Traditional interpreters judge that Kant's effort to establish a foundation for theology in his moral philosophy is a failure, or at least a failure in ways that might matter to the adherents of most religions. God is nothing more than an idea, a moral postulate. Although traditional interpreters sometimes recognize that Kant tries again later in his career to establish moral grounds for theology in his writings on religion, his efforts there are thought to be inadequate - either hopelessly convoluted or reducible to his moral philosophy in a way that eliminates their positive contribution to Kant's thought.
Theological programs indebted to the traditional interpretation of Kant have run their course in several different directions. Somewhat predictably, few of them end up being congenial to the discipline of theology. In some cases, Kant's philosophy has been used to support a kind of anti-theology. This response to Kant has its roots in a particular way of understanding Kant's groundbreaking theoretical philosophy in the first Critique. If one understands Kant's phenomenal-noumenal distinction to have strict epistemic and ontological implications, then human beings are decisively and ultimately cut off from both the knowledge of God and any possible experience of God. Henry Allison calls this rendering of
1 For a definition and discussion of the term 'traditional interpretation' (or 'traditional interpreters'), see the 'Editors' Introduction' to Kant and the New Philosophy of Religion, Chris L. Firestone and Stephen R. Palmquist, (eds.) (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006), 1-5. I cite several manifestations of the traditional interpretation below. Two highly influential examples are Gordon E. Michalson, Fallen Freedom: Kant on Radical Evil and Moral Regeneration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, 'Conundrums in Kant's Rational Religion', in Kant's Philosophy of Religion Reconsidered, Philip J. Rossi and Michael Wreen, (eds.) (Bloomington, IN.: Indiana University Press, 1991).
Kant's philosophy the 'two-world' interpretation.2 There exists an impassable boundary between the experience of human beings and the 'reality' of noumenal beings, a boundary so deep and wide that not even the highest possible being - God - could traverse it. If God did traverse it and in some way attempt to become manifest to us, we could never know or even reasonably believe that it was God. When evidence for evil and imperfection in the world are then introduced and no counterbalance in the form of arguments for God's existence and interaction with the world is allowed, we are left with atheism as the only rational faith for the transcendental thinker. In the absence of good epistemic or ontological reasons for believing God exists and cares about the world, the only rational option regarding religious faith is disbelief in the existence of God.
Another approach to theology indebted to Kant as traditionally understood is primarily agnostic about God's existence and essence. Although Kant posits a strict denial of knowledge of God in the first Critique, God still arises in Kant's transcendental analysis of reason as a problematic idea with moral significance. 'The negative part of this thesis is important', suggests P. F. Strawson, '... leaving room for certain morally based convictions, not amounting to knowledge'.3 For Kant, reason has an inherent moral need for belief in God, but since the content of this belief must remain empirically empty, only agnosticism in reference to God is warranted. What Kant leaves us with then is a strong epistemic separation from all things noumenal and ignorance (and indecision) about what can properly be thought of as obtaining in the ontologically real world of the supersensible. Matthew Alun Ray's conclusions are typical of traditional readers who follow this trajectory: 'Kant's epistemological agnosticism seemed relatively self-consistent but his associated and quasi-existential moral proof of God turned out not to be successful'.4 The logical entailments of Kant's philosophy are not moral theism, but, in Ray's estimation, 'Konigsbergian Nihilism'.5 For interpreters like Ray and Strawson, theology under the aegis of Kant amounts to nothing more than human speculation about what we take to be traces of the divine in human life. Culture and history reveal faint longings for the religious ultimate, and the world's imperfections militate against these longings. There are no more substantial reasons on which to gauge our beliefs and nothing beyond these considerations on which to ground the enterprise of theology. Rational religious faith is thus properly termed theological agnosticism.
Taken at face value, Kant's doctrine of divine unknowability appears to favour theological agnosticism over atheism. One of the goals of Kant's first Critique
2 Henry Allison, Kant's Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983), 3-4.
3 P. F. Strawson, The Bounds of Sense: An Essay on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (London: Methuen, 1966), 240-1.
4 Matthew Alun Ray, Subjectivity and Irreligion: Atheism and Agnosticism in Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2003), 110.
5 Ray, Subjectivity and Irreligion, 26.
was, after all, to silence the metaphysical sceptic rather than fuel the sceptic's arguments (Bxxx). We don't know if God exists beyond the boundaries of human reason that define immediate experience. Therefore, rather than being theologically negative, we should remain philosophically neutral on the matter of belief in God. On closer inspection however, theological agnosticism seems to slip into logical incoherence under Kant's strictures. How can we take Kant seriously regarding the radical unknowability of all things noumenal and still hold out hope for some kind of room for faith in God? If God exists, then God must, in some sense, be knowable. However, the doctrine of unknowability is radical. God is unknowable, full-stop. The idea of God as a noumenal being who, in principle, both can and cannot be known appears unintelligible. In this way, Kantian agnosticism shades off into atheism. As Ray puts it, 'Kant's critical philosophy ... shifted God out of ontological consideration on wholly epistemological terms which ultimately left the Kantian metaphysic not only agnostic but - despite Kant's arguments to the contrary - also arguably liable to be read in atheistic terms'.6
One way of construing these atheistic implications of Kant's philosophy is to understand them as a precursor to twentieth century logical positivism. only propositions that can be confirmed by the senses are taken by traditional interpreters of Kant to be meaningful for understanding human experience. Strawson posits this position as the positive flipside of Kant's negative doctrine of 'noumenal unknowability'. He calls this positive flipside of the doctrine 'the principle of significance'.7 These positive and negative doctrines, thinks Strawson, are Kant's only philosophically responsible contributions to discussions on transcendent metaphysics. According to Strawson, all true propositions amounting to support for rational conviction must either admit to empirical verification or be cast off as examples of dogmatic metaphysics. I will be examining Strawson's interpretation more closely in the next chapter.
It is not hard to see how his line of reasoning ends up having negative, if not devastating, consequences for religion and theology when founded on Kant's philosophy. Peter Byrne interprets Kant's philosophy along the lines of Strawson, and applies this interpretation to Kant's account of religious language in general and Kant's writings on religion in particular. According to Byrne, 'Kant's account of religious language departs from realism as that is understood by many contemporary philosophers' by not being referentially and causally based.8 The significance of Kant's religious writings, in this light, is not their theological affirmation (although Byrne does allow for some minimal amount of affirmation), but their meta-ethical implications. The moral law is transformed in these writings, thinks Byrne, into a set of ethical demands that humans strive to achieve in corporate unison. Referring specifically to Book Three of Religion, Byrne writes, 'Kant's underlying thought
6 Ray, Subjectivity and Irreligion, 110.
7 Strawson, The Bounds of Sense, 33.
8 Peter Byrne, The Moral Interpretation of Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1998), 60.
here - surely a plausible one - is that only in and through cooperative human effort can the full human power to combat evil and pursue good be realized and enhanced'.9 In other words, Byrne finds Kant's solution to the challenge of evil and vice in the collective moral agency of human beings. The true theological importance of Kant's work is not rational religious faith (where faith in God's person and work is understood to be rational), but faith in collective human moral striving for justice (or the Highest Good) through present and future socio-political structures.10 For this reason, Byrne believes Kant's philosophy of religion affirms the church as the appropriate, even if only incidental, means of achieving what Kant calls an 'Ethical Commonwealth'.
Yirmiahu Yovel interprets Kant's philosophy of religion under the aegis of these strawsonian doctrines as well, but arrives at even more theologically divisive conclusions than Byrne. Employing these doctrines like a Kantian version of Ockham's razor, he characterizes Kant's philosophy of religion as 'an uncompromising attack upon existing religions and an attempt to eliminate them from the historical scene'.11 Kant, on this view, is not only unfriendly to organized religion in general and Christian theology in particular, but antagonistic in an eliminative sense - Kant is taken to be intent on removing religion and theology from the academy altogether. What remains is a so-called 'civil' society divorced from religious affiliations and institutions or basically a secularised version of Judeo-Christian religious ideals.
Gordon Michalson, a Kant interpreter concerned with the welfare of Christian theology, applies the Strawsonian Kant to the flow of ideas about God in the Western philosophical tradition. He understands the kind of religiously subversive subjectivity found in the interpretations of Byrne and Yovel to be the real legacy of Kant. Michalson's thesis is 'that [Kant's] own efforts to ameliorate the theologically destructive effects of the Critique of Pure Reason implicitly make things worse for traditional theism, not better'.12 Kant, in Michalson's view, moves from theoretical agnosticism to a vicious form of autonomous or subjective theism, where Christianity emerges from Kant's philosophy as the means to a thoroughly secular end, rather than as an end in itself. He traces the influence of Kant through a philosophical stream of thought stretching from Descartes to Feuerbach, characterizing Kant's philosophy as 'a way station between Luther and Marx'.13 Michalson's conclusion, echoing Yovel's sentiments, is that 'Kant has cut
9 Byrne, The Moral Interpretation of Religion, 152.
10 For a thoroughgoing critique of Byrne's interpretation of Kant's philosophy of religion, see Chris L. Firestone and Nathan Jacobs, In Defense of Kant's Religion (Bloom-ington: Indiana University Press, 2008), Chapter 7.
11 Yirmiahu Yovel, Kant and the Philosophy of History (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1980), 202.
12 Gordon E. Michalson, Kant and the Problem of God (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 5.
13 Michalson, Kant and the Problem of God, 27.
off the head of the traditional religious body, yet the corpse continues for a time to twitch and move, as though life is still in it when it is not'.14
While the atheistic and agnostic theological movements after Kant are undeniable, they are not the only legacy of Kant traditionally understood. Some approaches to theology emerging out of this tradition are just as restrictive in their allowance of rational access to knowledge and experience of God as Byrne's, Yovel's and Michalson's, but nevertheless understand the idea of God to have more significant practical implications than either theological atheism or agnosticism admits. Theologians of this sort take the idea of God to be a uniquely important reference point for human thinking about the world and the place of human beings within it. Theology matters not because God is real per se, but because the idea of God gives meaning to the moral quest where otherwise there would be none. Because we do not know what actually obtains in reality but desire for it all to make sense anyway, we are warranted in constructing our own ideas about God and embracing these ideas in faith. These ideas become for us realms of meaning focused on divine things with no actual or possible corresponding reference in experience. Transcendent metaphysics matters to philosophical inquiry only insofar as our ideas about it are thought to enhance human well-being and flourishing. On this view, human thinking about God is tantamount to theological non-realism. The idea of God is a pragmatic one, but attempting to take theology beyond non-realism is nothing more than wishful thinking.
Good examples of the non-realist approach to Kant can be found in the interpretations of Keith Ward and Don Cupitt.15 Citing Kant's Lectures on Ethics, Ward points out how Kant explicitly affirms certain theological premises: 'though ethics cannot depend upon metaphysical or theological belief, it necessarily gives rise to theological belief and cannot exist without it'.16 Yet, in Ward's estimation, while clearly positive in theological intent, little of Kant's pre-critical metaphysics actually survives the Copernican revolution in Kant's thought. In the development of Kant's ethics, Ward understands Kant to start from a position of theoretical agnosticism and, rather than gravitate toward atheism, move gradually toward moral non-realism according to the attractive force of human autonomy inherent in Kant's philosophy. Kant's rational foundations for theology are severely limited by a distinct lack of support (if not outright antagonism) found in the theoretical philosophy; whatever positive support is maintained corresponds directly to Kant's moral theory. Ward finds a fundamental tension between Kant's moral formalism and the religious realism implied in much of Kant's language that simply cannot be
14 Michalson, Kant and the Problem of God, 26.
15 Don Cupitt, 'Kant and the Negative Theology', in The Philosophical Frontiers of Christian Theology: Essays Presented to D. M. MacKinnon, Brian Hebblethwaite and Stewart Sutherland, (eds.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 55-67; and Keith Ward, The Development of Kant's View of Ethics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972).
16 Ward, Kant's View of Ethics, 59.
resolved.17 For this reason, the rational grounds for theology in Kant must remain merely a formal aspect of his moral philosophy; they support belief in the idea of God, but not in the existence of God.
Cupitt interprets Kant along lines that closely parallel Ward, but argues directly that Kant so construed amounts to little more than theological non-realism. In his essay 'Kant and the Negative Theology' for example, Cupitt compares Kant's philosophy on the topic of God and religious belief with past theists from various religious traditions, including Platonists, Christians, Jews and Muslims, but with specific reference to the Greek Orthodox tradition. He concludes that, while structural similarities exist between Kant and the tradition of negative theology in general, their conceptions of God's existence and nature and our cognitive access to these aspects of the divine differ widely. Negative theology has consistently asserted that 'it is certain that God exists, but the nature or essence of God is unknowable'.18 Kant, on the other hand, holds that 'God's existence is problematic, but God's nature as the Ideal of Reason is explicable'.19 Cupitt then concludes that 'what Kant is saying is strikingly different from older negative theology ... [whose] language is designed to attract, ... Kant's language is designed to repel'.20 The upshot of this line of reasoning, for Cupitt, is decidedly anti-realist: 'Kant wants us to renounce impossible and futile aspirations and be content with doing our duty. Do not aspire after the real God, he says, for that will only end in anthropomorphism and fantasy. Be content with the available God postulated by practical reason - fully recognizing his non-descriptive character - for that is sufficient'.21
A fourth approach to Kant is perhaps more common in the field of Kant-studies than in discussions about the discipline of theology, but every bit as indebted as the other three to traditional interpretations of Kant. Some interpreters grant that Kant's writings support theological realism. Kant often speaks of God, appears to believe in God and uses the idea of God positively in support of many of his arguments. No mitigating factor exists in Kant's corpus that decisively counteracts these points. Instead of understanding Kant's thinking on these matters to be agnostic and thus risk gravitating toward atheism (which so clearly rubs against the grain of Kant's convictions) or non-realism (a position far afield from the rationalist tradition of the Prussian Enlightenment), interpreters under this rubric argue that Kant's position moves in yet another direction - it amounts to theological deism.
As Allen Wood puts it in Kant's Moral Religion, 'But though divine revelation itself is not impossible, it is impossible for any man to know through experience
Ward, Kant's View of Ethics, 154.
Cupitt, 'Kant and the Negative Theology', 57.
Cupitt, 'Kant and the Negative Theology', 59.
Cupitt, 'Kant and the Negative Theology', 63.
Cupitt, 'Kant and the Negative Theology', 63.
that God has in any instance actually revealed himself'.22 God can interact with the world, but, for all intents and purposes, we could never know that God is interacting with the world. The world is always perceived as a cause and effect nexus regardless of what God may or may not be doing to manipulate or sustain it. What this principle implies is not a logical contradiction favouring atheism, but a minimal collection of divine predicates that entails deism. Since God cannot be known (or, by implication, experienced) but must exist for morality to make sense and for the world to have meaning, Kant's philosophy requires deism. Theology, on this view, can reasonably claim to know of God's existence and even attribute a few basic predicates to God. However, without actual or possible access to God's person or activity, maintaining more robust rational grounds for faith in God is impossible. Wood's distinguished career, characterized by a gradual movement from interpreting Kant's philosophy as supportive of faith in a 'living God' (Kant's Moral Religion; 1970) to defending an explicitly deistic interpretation ('Kant's Deism'; 1991),23 is a testimony to the attractiveness of this interpretation of Kant.
A problem exists with each of these theological positions indebted to the traditional interpretation of Kant - each appears to 'pick and choose' from among Kant's philosophical resources without taking full account of Kant's transcendental grounds for theology. Kantian atheists focus on the empirical aspects of knowledge (or knowledge of the phenomenal realm) without accounting for the nature and range of the transcendental conditions that must be taken into account for knowledge to be possible. Kantian agnostics focus on the possibility of noumenal realities in the light of noumenal unknowability, yet are equally inattentive to the transcendental givens that make the entire discussion of the phenomenal-noumenal distinction intelligible. Kantian non-realists recognize the transcendental necessity of belief in the ideas of God, freedom and immortality, yet get trapped by the insightfulness of the subjective component of transcendental thinking. Although non-realists recognize the significance of Kant's account of subjectivity for science, they rarely pay attention to the reasons Kant provides for moving from subjectivity to objectivity in ways that matter to rational faith. Thus, they are unable to account for the existential elements of Kant's thinking, and tend to ignore them. Kantian deists accept the objective validity and existential import of Kant's philosophy as it relates to God, but disavow any robust cognitive access to God's nature and activity. We can reasonably believe that God exists, but are limited to attributing only generalities to God. God calibrates the machinery of nature and even lies behind the moral imperatives of human experience as 'the great paymaster', but little more can be said. In other words, Kantian atheists, agnostics, non-realists and deists recognize Kant's strictures on knowledge and support for subjectivity, but
22 Allen W. Wood, Kant's Moral Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970), 204.
23 Allen W. Wood, 'Kant's Deism', in Kant's Philosophy of Religion Reconsidered, Philip J. Rossi and Michael Wreen, (eds.) (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991).
go no further with Kant, positing instead that no viable grounds for theology exist within the critical philosophy.
The reasoning behind this theological pessimism varies, but its assumptions and implications are manifest - not enough research has been done to spell out the transcendental dimensions of Kant's philosophy and the significance of these dimensions as possible grounds for theology. Much recent work has been devoted to remedying this lacuna in traditional interpretations of Kant. Kant and the New Philosophy of Religion (2006), co-edited by Chris L. Firestone and stephen R. Palmquist, comprises something of a watershed in this regard. In addition to fine contributions by Gregory Johnson (challenging the traditional view on Kant and enthusiasm), John Hare (challenging the traditional view on Kant and atheism) and Christopher McCammon (challenging the traditional view on Kant and deism) et al., Palmquist and I, in the 'Editors' Introduction', make the case that the traditional interpretation of Kant is merely the 'largest unified minority report' on how to understand Kant's philosophy and its implications for religion and theology.24 Although unified according to a selective sampling of first Critique principles, traditional interpretations of Kant often undervalue (or overlook) the positive grounds for the establishment of religion and theology in Kant's work. It is not that the traditional interpretation is wrong regarding the particulars, but that traditional interpreters tend to give 'thin descriptions' of the grounds for theology present throughout Kant's philosophy. We point to the early work of Allen Wood and Michel Despland as providing the first interpretations of Kant in English displaying a conscious awareness of this problem.25
In Kant's Moral Religion, Wood writes, 'Much careful and fruitful labour has been devoted to the analysis of the subtle argumentation of Kant's epistemology and moral philosophy; but his philosophical outlook as a whole, his view of the world and man's place in it, is often grotesquely caricatured'.26 He goes on to challenge the Kant establishment in the following way: 'there is an area of Kant's philosophical thought - itself badly neglected by responsible scholarship - which though no less demanding on the reader than most of his writing, does give us a more or less direct access to Kant's outlook as a whole. ... This area of thought is Kant's investigation of rational religious faith'.27 Wood's point is that most interpretations of Kant on rational religious faith are too reductive or simplistic, and more needs to be done to understand the vast resources grounding religious faith in Kant's philosophy. Ironically, as noted earlier, Wood's subsequent work on Kant never brings to fruition his early endeavours in this regard.
24 Chris L. Firestone and Stephen R. Palmquist, 'Editors' Introduction', in Kant and the New Philosophy of Religion, 3.
25 Wood, Kant s Moral Religion; and Michel Despland, Kant on History and Religion (Toronto: McGill-Queens University Press, 1973).
26 Wood, Kant's Moral Religion, 1.
27 Wood, Kant's Moral Religion, 1-2.
In Kant on History and Religion, Despland's interpretation of Religion gives teeth to Wood's call for more responsible scholarship on rational religious faith. In Despland's words, 'The whole thrust of my interpretation leads to one conclusion: the superiority of moral theism is to be found not in the purely moral but in religious considerations as well Its merit lies in the fact that it gives meaning to faith which makes of faith an act which is both rational and religious'.28 He goes on to argue that theologically rich concepts like grace and revelation permeate Kant's philosophy of religion and lend support to the conclusion that Kant's philosophy is far more amenable to religious and theological concerns than is traditionally supposed. According to Despland, grace and revelation are necessary supplements to human striving after goodness and a perfect moral kingdom. This realization brings to the fore the idea that rational religious faith, for Kant, is far more positive toward history and theology than is commonly thought.
The work of Wood and Despland in the early 1970s has given way to a vast new movement in Kant-studies affirming the positive nature of Kant's philosophy for religion and theology. Not long after these two books drew attention to the problems inherent in traditional approaches to Kant, a spate of books and articles appeared in direct challenge to traditional claims about the negative impact of Kant's philosophy on religion and theology. Adina Davidovich, Elizabeth Galbraith, Ronald Green, John Hare, Ann Loades, Stephen Palmquist and others have pointed out in convincing fashion that traditional interpretive approaches to Kant on religion and theology are wholly inadequate and in need of renovation, if not outright demolition.29 In a special symposium edition of the journal Philosophia Christi (2007), several scholars within this movement, including myself, address the question 'What Can Christian Theologians Learn from Kant?'30 Although each contributor speaks to a different aspect of Kant's philosophy of religion, the collective argument, in a nutshell, is that traditional interpretations have tended to reduce Kant's philosophy of religion to other dimensions of his critical program in ways that eliminate its vitality and draw into question Kant's religious sincerity.
28 Despland, Kant on History and Religion, 145.
29 Adina Davidovich, Religion as a Province of Meaning: The Kantian Foundations of Modern Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993); Elizabeth Cameron Galbraith, Kant and Theology: Was Kant a Closet Theologian? (San Francisco: International Scholars Publications, 1996); Ronald M. Green, Religious Reason: The Rational and Moral Basis ofReligious Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), and Religion and Moral Reason: A New Methodfor Comparative Study (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); John E. Hare, The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God's Assistance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996); Ann L. Loades, Kant and Job's Comforters (Newcastle Upon Tyne, England: Avero Publications, 1985); and Stephen R. Palmquist, Kant's System of Perspectives (Lanham, MD: University of America Press, 1993) and Kant's Critical Religion (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2000).
30 Book Symposium on Kant and the New Philosophy of Religion, Chris L. Firestone, Guest Editor, Philosophia Christi, 9:1 (2007), 7-97.
Kant's philosophy of religion, contrary to what traditionalists usually indicate, is a genuine contributor to his critical philosophy and, though itself highly critical of empirical religion, essentially positive in its posture toward the many claims and concerns of Christian theology.
Despite this 'new wave' of theologically affirmative Kant interpretation, prominent thinkers, such as William Alston, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Keith Yandell have done excellent work in showing the shortcomings of Kant and Kantian thinkers from a Christian vantage point.31 Alston makes the case that the Kantian theologies of John Hick, Gordon Kaufman and Paul Tillich, when pressed for precision, appear to default into theological non-realism; Plantinga challenges the theological coherence and contemporary relevance of Kant, Hick and Kaufman; Wolterstorff shows that traditional understandings of Kant yield a theological anxiety antithetical to the history of Christian thought and the common practice of Christian adherents; and Yandell points out that even the most positive interpretations of Kant deny rational and religious significance to key Christian doctrines. These challenges indicate that the new wave of Kant interpretation must be more clear about exactly how Kant's philosophy provides positive resources for theology and how these resources can be brought together to form new means and methods for doing theology.
Today more than ever before, we find ourselves, it seems, at a crossroads between Kantian philosophy and Christian theology. Wolterstorff, in his essay 'Is it Possible and Desirable for Theologians to Recover from Kant?', makes this very point: either we have to accept Kant's strictures and embrace the theological anxiety that goes along with them or reject Kant and embrace a philosophical starting point prior to or in contradistinction to Kant. Wolterstorff commends, for instance, the philosophy of Thomas Reid as an alternative to Kant. While I understand 'Wolterstorff's fork', and think it the appropriate analogy for many, I also believe that, for others, a more appropriate analogy is the one Philip Rossi presents. He places the crossroads of Kant and theology on a mountain pass: 'Kant's work and its aftermath [is like] a mountain range that stands athwart one's intellectual path. One might do one's best to ignore it, but in the end it is far more likely that one will have to find a way over, through or around it'.32 On this analogy, responsible contemporary scholarship must respond explicitly or
31 William P. Alston, 'Realism and the Christian Faith', International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 38 (1995), 37-60; Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), Chapters One and Two; Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, 'Is it Possible and Desirable for Theologians to Recover from Kant?', Modern Theology 14:1 (1998), 1-18; Keith Yandell, 'Who is the True Kant?' Philosophia Christi, 9:1 (2007), 81-97.
32 Philip Rossi, 'Reading Kant with Theological Spectacles', in Kant and the New Philosophy of Religion. Chris L. Firestone and Stephen R. Palmquist, (eds.) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 108.
implicitly to Kant's philosophy and what remains to be determined is whether that response means going 'over, through or around it'.
In what follows, I will attempt the road less travelled by going through Kant to seek out and make plain the promising grounds for theology in his philosophy. This work is not, therefore, written for Kant exegetes eager to see a text systematizing Kant's writings on philosophy of religion. Instead, this work is written for those interested in understanding the grounds for Christian theology in Kant's philosophy and estimating their promise for theology today. It is written for those persons who believe Kant's influence is not going away, and, as a result, recognize the importance of assessing the grounds for theology in Kant's philosophy.
Even though this book is not devoted to Kant exegetes, we cannot avoid 'getting our hands dirty' by ignoring Kant's texts or key Kant interpreters. Knowledge of Kant's corpus and longstanding disputes in the field of Kant-studies serve as invaluable guides or signposts for understanding how Kant's philosophy can be supportive of theology. For example, one important dispute, though certainly not the only one, centres around Kant's philosophy of religion as exemplified in the classic text Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. While contemporary interpreters agree on the basic contours of Kant's Religion, below the surface all is not well. Over the past 30 years, detailed analysis has exposed numerous interpretive difficulties with this classic text, and these findings have snowballed into full-fledged assaults on its philosophical viability. The difficulties surrounding this text provide a significant reason for the continued persistence of traditional interpretations of Kant despite mounting pressure in the field against them and in favour of theological affirmation.
In Defense of Kant's Religion offers a detailed synopsis of this troubled interpretative history. Capitalizing on new resources, Nathan Jacobs and I offer a fresh interpretation of Kant's Religion that is both consonant with the critical philosophy and internally coherent. A number of the key insights from that book are echoed and expanded on here. These include Kant's notion of pure cognition (chapter two), rational faith (chapter three) and depravity and redemption (chapter seven). Where that book uses these insights to interpret Kant's philosophy of religion, this book applies them to theology proper. In this sense, these works, as mentioned in the Preface, are complementary volumes - one written for exegetes of Kant focusing specifically on Religion and the other for theologians wanting to go through Kant's philosophy rather than over or around it. What makes this book distinctive is that, while going through Kant's philosophy as a whole, I examine it with particular reference to the theological significance of its transcendental boundaries and their positive utility for Christian theology.
This examination takes place in three stages. The first stage, in chapters two and three, examines the theoretical philosophy with an exegetical eye in order to establish what Kant means by 'pure cognition' of God and 'rational faith' in God. The second stage comes in chapters four, five and six. This second stage is not primarily an exercise of Kantian exegesis or exposition, although I consistently draw on Kant in order to orient the reader and assess the strength and weaknesses of the philosophical grounds and theological superstructure of the positions under review. Rather, throughout these chapters, I examine the various resources in Kant that influential 'Kantian' theologians utilize to establish grounds for theology in Kant's philosophy. By no means do I intend to commend these disparate 'Kantian' theologies as definitive or even desirable, but by using these theologically inclined readers of Kant as guides for discovering the most theologically positive and useful aspects of Kant's corpus, we will mine those resources buried in the critical philosophy and discover precisely how these Kantian resources can be positively utilized in a theological context. The third stage is found in chapters seven and eight, where I summarize my findings with specific reference to the positive utility of Kant for contemporary theology, and make concluding comments. The details of the presentation are as follows:
Chapter two sets up the problem of knowledge as a backdrop for Kant's understanding of God. Looking at two leading interpretations of the first Critique, namely, strawson's in The Bounds of Sense and Allison's in Kant's Transcendental Idealism, I argue that Kant's theoretical philosophy does not provide a complete, self-sustaining paradigm for philosophy. This deficiency bids further inquiry into the transcendental nature of reason and, by extension, the promise of what Kant calls 'transcendental theology'. I lay out some of the positive features of Kant's turn to transcendental theology in the first Critique. Among the most important of these developments, I argue, is the distinction between knowledge and cognition. This distinction is especially significant for understanding faith as a basic element in Kant's philosophical foundation for theology. Importantly, Kant makes this distinction clear and its application evident in his Lectures on Metaphysics. The chapter concludes by showing how this insight proves to be the key to resolving an open debate between Peter Byrne and Don Wiebe over the proper relationship between theoretical knowledge and practical faith in Kant's philosophy.
Chapter three addresses Kant's understanding of faith as it is related to pure cognition in the previous chapter and expressed in 'The Canon of Pure Reason' in the first Critique. Drawing on the early work of Allen Wood and C. stephen Evans, I argue that Kant's understanding of faith in God was not revolutionary, but an adaptation of the basic rationalistic conception of God inherited from Christian Wolff and Gottfried Leibniz. Pure theoretical cognition of God provides theologians with this rationalistic conception of God as the starting point for faith, while the transcendental questions of duty and hope drive Kant's thinking to develop the grounds for faith that move us beyond a mere propaedeutic to theology. At stake in the second half of chapter three is the proper critical vantage point from which to understand the development of this rationalist seed of faith in Kant's philosophy. Surveying the history of Kant interpretation over the last century, we find at least three distinct sets of grounds for rational religious faith supported in Kant's critical corpus. What becomes clear as we examine these grounds is that Kant, in his philosophy after the first Critique, contends that we can, and indeed must, believe in God in certain ways, guided by critical inquiries into the very nature of reason itself, if the world and our place in it are to be meaningfully understood.
The fourth chapter capitalizes on this starting point by following Kant's transition from a transcendental analysis of theoretical reason to a transcendental analysis of practical reason. I look specifically at the work of Ronald Green as a Kant interpreter who argues persuasively that theology must be developed, if progress is to be made at all, according to the resources of practical reason. For Green, a critical evaluation of reason reveals that moral reason and prudential reason are subcategories (more exactly, sub-employments) of practical reason, and yet are in conflict with one another. The only way to resolve this conflict is to embrace a form of practical reasoning Green calls 'religious reason'. The religious faith emerging out of this conflict, argues Green, constitutes critically sufficient grounds for theology. A comparison is made between Green's interpretation of Kant and its theological analogue in the work of John Hick. Although not a Kant exegete, Hick accepts Kant's moral philosophy as true, and makes an amendment to Kant's theoretical philosophy in order to get religion and theology off the ground. I show that Hick's methods are built on an internal logic nearly identical to that of Green's interpretation of Kant. The comparison shows the nature of theology when grounded in the transcendental boundaries of Kant's moral philosophy.
In chapter five, I examine Kant's transition to a third perspective in the Critique of Judgement. I find, per the work of Adina Davidovich, that God is not only a rational postulate of or requisite for the moral life, but also a belief necessary for any adequate answer to the question of hope. The Summum Bonum or Highest Good provides Kant with a way of dealing with the question of hope in the third Critique. Without a poetic vision of the Highest Good, human reason becomes unstable, and prone to retrograde moral pathways. We need God in order to construct forms of meaning (or 'religious realms') adequate for human hope. In this light, Davidovich argues that teleological judgement (or 'contemplation') became, for Kant, reason's most important faculty. I present her interpretation of Kant with a view to understanding the judicial grounds on which Kant believes theology can be established. I then compare Davidovich's reading of Kant with the theology of Gordon Kaufman, and make plain the form and content of theology at the transcendental boundaries of Kant's judicial philosophy.
Chapter six explores the possibility of a third transition in Kant's philosophy to a purely religious or mystical perspective. Turning to the interpretation of Stephen Palmquist, we study Kant's posthumous writings and writings before and after 1781 for indications that an overarching ontological perspective is at work in Kant's thinking. This 'Transcendental Perspective', as Palmquist calls it, grounds theology in human experience of the divine, and makes way for the type of theology we find in the work of Rudolf Otto and Paul Tillich. We can only understand God on Kant's terms when we recognize that religious experience is a universal phenomenon with rational and non-rational components. These components are traceable to the Transcendental Perspective of reason as it comes into contact with or 'encounters' reality. God cannot be said to exist like other objects of human experience, but must be thought of as existence itself or that which stands behind all that exists in human experience. God is 'the ground of being', and this truth is the cornerstone of all genuine theology. The comparison of Palmquist's interpretation and Tillich's appropriation of Kant in this chapter shows the nature of theology built on Kant's ontological grounds.
In the seventh and eighth chapters, I review the resources brought to light in the previous chapters, and draw conclusions regarding the relationship of Kant's philosophy and Christian theology. Acknowledging that Kant's immediate resources, while more plentiful according to these interpretations, are still less than the Christian theologian desires, I turn to the most recent and theologically affirming work on Kant in the literature. Nathan Jacobs' and my book, In Defense of Kant's Religion, figures prominently. Drawing on this work (as well as essays in the literature spun off this work), I highlight the ways in which Kant presses practical reason for the sake of moral soteriology beyond merely a generic belief in God, freedom and immortality to fully worked-out doctrines of moral depravity and transcendental type of 'Christology'. I draw out several motifs that must frame any critically satisfying account of rational religious faith, and focus in on one, namely, the motif of conflict between philosophy and theology. Drawn from Kant's The Conflict of the Faculties, this motif suggests that Kant's philosophy remains decidedly open to the continued development of rational religious faith under the chastening influence of theology. I look at one specific theological truth claim of concern to Christian theologians that Kant does not think has rational warrant, namely, the Trinity. I show how recent work in theology focused on the doctrine of the Trinity is beginning to challenge this view. This challenge is not dogmatic, however; rather the challenge is being made in accord with Kant's conflict motif by advancing new proposals meant to satisfy Kant's philosophical strictures. My argument is that these motifs in conjunction with a better understanding of the pervasive and substantive grounds for theology found throughout Kant's philosophy provide promising opportunities for theology at the transcendental boundaries of reason.
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