Papal cant about Kant*

Even Pope Benedict now agrees that some of the words in his recent speech at the University of Regensburg were just a tad ill-chosen.   His regrets, however, may not be as acute as those of the friends and family of the nun apparently murdered by Muslim thugs as a result, or even the parishioners of the various Catholic churches  burned down  in recent days by enraged mobs.

It’s hard to credit that a man as intelligent and experienced as His Holiness would not have anticipated such a reaction, especially given the fairly recent example of the Danish cartoons.   It’s almost as hard to credit that Benedict didn’t  intend to  convey at least some degree of sympathy with the views of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus as to the inherently violent and ‘evil’ contribution of the Prophet Mohammed to world religion.   After all, as others have pointed out, that particular passage was quite extraneous to the ostensible theme of Benedict’s address (the  posited inherently rational and peaceful nature of the Christian God) except to provide a convenient if inflammatory counterpoint.  

Finally, His Holiness shows no sign of being conscious of the irony of having structured a speech about the inherently rational and peaceful nature of Christianity around the words of  a Christian Emperor who was writing while the last of the Crusades were still in progress and the Spanish Inquisition was but a few short decades away.  

That said, there’s something very weird indeed about a modern religion (namely Islam) so many of whose clerics and  adherents habitually react to accusations of inherently violent tendencies with, well, extreme violence!    However, we  can  privately share many of Pope Benedict’s apparent reservations about Islam while simultaneously doubting the wisdom of his expressing them in the way he did.    

My own concerns, however, at least for the purpose of this post,  lie not so much  with Benedict’s anti-Muslim spray (intentional or otherwise),  as with the fundamentally incoherent nature of the central argument he manifestly did intend to convey.  Not least among my concerns, believe it or not,  is the Pope’s gratuitous and misconceived slur on Immanuel Kant.  

As I’ve already  mentioned in part, the theme of the Pope’s address was the proposition that the Christian God is by nature rational and peaceful, that human consciousness is the embodiment of that rationality,  and that the Christian Church has been unfairly excluded from occupying its proper key place at the table of mundane affairs  by the cumulative machinations of secular humanism.   The Pope sees this exclusion  as having come about through an unholy combination of Rationalism and Empiricism which has generated an  unjustified public and academic  faith in the universal efficacy of “science”,  a misguided view extending  across the humanities as well as the  physical sciences:

First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned. …  

This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

 The answer, according to His Holiness, is to bring about a rapprochement between rationality and faith:

We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Bizarrely, however, the Pope indicts Kant as one of the principal villains in  this posited  centuries-long process of marginalisation of the Church from the Halls of Rationality:

Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this program forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.   …

… theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific. What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant’s “Critiques”, but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences.

I suggested above  that the Pope’s indictment of Kant is bizarre simply because  Kant’s metaphysics attempted almost precisely what His Holiness now says he is seeking.   In a very real sense Kant placed God at the apex of his concept of reason and indeed  the very nature of the human mind (and therefore of  reality as we perceive it), and then proceeded to construct a complex (and  in my humble  view quite persuasive) system of ethics and morality on that God-centred basis,    as this excellent and accessible article explains:

Reason is our faculty of making inferences and of identifying the grounds behind every truth. It allows us to move from the particular and contingent to the global and universal. I infer that “Caius is mortal” from the fact that “Caius is a man” and the universal claim, “All men are mortal.” In this fashion, reason seeks higher and higher levels of generality in order to explain the way things are. In a different kind of example, the biologist’s classification of every living thing into a kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species, illustrates reason’s ambition to subsume the world into an ordered, unified system. The entire empirical world, Kant argues, must be conceived of by reason as causally necessitated (as we saw in the Analogies). We must connect, “one state with a previous state upon which the state follows according to a rule.” Each cause, and each cause’s cause, and each additional ascending cause must itself have a cause. Reason generates this hierarchy that combines to provide the mind with a conception of a whole system of nature. Kant believes that it is part of the function of reason to strive for a complete, determinate understanding of the natural world. But our analysis of theoretical reason has made it clear that we can never have knowledge of the totality of things because we cannot have the requisite sensations of the totality, hence one of the necessary conditions of knowledge is not met. Nevertheless, reason seeks a state of rest from the regression of conditioned, empirical judgments in some unconditioned ground that can complete the series (A 584/B 612). Reason’s structure pushes us to accept certain ideas of reason that allow completion of its striving for unity. We must assume the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality, Kant says, not as objects of knowledge, but as practical necessities for the employment of reason in the realm where we can have knowledge. By denying the possibility of knowledge of these ideas, yet arguing for their role in the system of reason, Kant had to, “annul knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

In other words, Kant argues that although we cannot prove the existence or non-existence of God by rational means (a proposition entirely consistent with orthodox Catholic theology), the very nature of the  human mind and its innate drive to make sense and order out of our universe compels us to assume the existence not only of freedom but  of some Uncaused Cause (i.e. God).   To modern eyes, the latter  assertion seems dubious at the very least, given that more than a few modern thinkers have managed to make sense of the universe without being driven to assume any such thing.  

However, I somehow doubt that this forms the basis for Benedict’s seeming estrangement from Kantian metaphysics.    More likely, it flows from the fact that Kant’s conception of God in The Critique of Pure Reason  doesn’t bear any necessary resemblance at all  to the Christian deity.   In fact, judging by some of Kant’s early and lesser known  cosmological musings, his personal conception of God might conceivably have been not unlike that of Australian cosmologist and philosopher Paul Davies:

If the universe were rerun a second time, there would be no solar system, no Earth, and no people. But the emergence of life and consciousness somewhere and somewhen in the cosmos is, I believe, assured by the underlying laws of nature. The origin of life and consciousness were not interventionist miracles, but nor were they stupendously improbable accidents. They were, I believe, part of the natural outworking of the laws of nature, and as such our existence as conscious enquiring beings springs ultimately from the bedrock of physical existence-those ingenious, felicitous laws. That is the sense in which I wrote in The Mind of God: “We are truly meant to be here.” I mean “we” in the sense of conscious beings, not Homo sapiens specifically. Thus although we are not at the center of the universe, human existence does have a powerful wider significance. Whatever the universe as a whole may be about, the scientific evidence suggests that we, in some limited yet ultimately still profound way, are an integral part of its purpose.

Perhaps His Holiness’s negative attitude to Kant might even stem from a subconscious acknowledgment of the logical shortcomings of his own arguments for the centrality of a linkage between God and reason.   Essentially, Benedict merely asserts this claim.   He provides no evidence or argument for it apart from the observation that the New Testament was written during the ancient Hellenistic period and  was thereby imbued with the spirit of Greek rationalism and enquiry, which was later reinforced by Aquinas’s incorporation of Aristotelian philosophy into Christian theology.  

Even if we assume that Aristotle’s  thinking represents the epitome of rational human thought (rather than just a long ago but giant step along the road), this  in itself proves nothing at all.    Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would not cease to be just a children’s fairy story and become a profound work of nuclear physics  merely because someone attempted to re-interpret it in the light of Einstein’s Theories of Relativity.

Kant once famously described Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg’s  work as  the outcome  of “hypochondrial winds” that result in farts when raging in the guts, and in heavenly visions when raging in the mind.   We can’t fairly  write off  His Holiness as a mystic, but some of the passages in  last week’s address at the University of Regensburg certainly exude faintly flatulent odours.

Meanwhile, I haven’t so far read any news reports of neo-Kantians torching churches or butchering nuns.  

* This post doesn’t presage a blogging comeback.   One of the reasons for my stepping back from regular blogging has been to concentrate on finishing several part-written scholarly  writing projects  that have been sitting in the bottom  drawer for a long time. This post provides an opportunity to ventilate some idea that are tangentially related to one of those projects (an article about the relationship if any between various recent neo-Kantian deontological  theorists and the jurisprudential rights theories of Dworkin and Rawls).   Hence constructive reader  feedback would be greatly valued.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

“Finally, His Holiness shows no sign of being conscious of the irony of having structured a speech about the inherently rational and peaceful nature of Christianity around the words of a Christian Emperor who was writing while the last of the Crusades were still in progress and the Spanish Inquisition was but a few short decades away.’

The Crusades were long over. Manuel had his discussion with the Persian scholar as the Ottoman Turks relentlessly attacked the ever-shrinking boundaries of Byzantium. Within 25 years of his death, Mehmet would storm into Constantinople and put Manuel’s son, and his civilisation to the sword. In that context, the avenging sword of Islam has quite specific and urgent resonance.

I’m also puzzled by the Pope’s apparent failure to recognise the potential impact of what he said. It’s hard to believe that he would have deliberately set out to incite a violent Islamic reaction – though I probably would have if I were him. Life affirming access to the rich vein of irony involved in invoking a Pythonesque response like – “how dare you call our religion violent?! We will kill you! – would be hard to resist.

I can only conclude that the old boy was so excited about being back in the midst of rarefied Bavarian theological discussion that he forgot that his every public nunace was being weighed; grain by politically significant grain.

His apology – ‘I’m really sorry that what has ensued, has ensued,” is also intriguingly opaque. But I’m sure some point has been made……

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Ken, the Hungarians weren’t exactly friendly to the Byzantines. If you read anything about the last Byzantine Emperors (remembering that the fall of Constantinople was in 1453 and that at this stage the “Empire” was reduced to about 30 miles around the capital and a few enclaves on the Greek coast), you’ll realise that all their appeals for Latin Christians to help were in vain. Popes sometimes wanted to help, conditional on a reunion of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but couldn’t take any secular rulers with them. And don’t forget that the 2nd crusade toppled the Byzantine Emporer of the day from his throne and installed a short lived Latin Empire of Constantinople in the 13th century. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and there was no love lost between many of Manuel II’s prominent subjects of Orthodox faith and the Latins – or the Popes for that matter.

Anyway, that’s by the by. I’m a bit too tired to offer anything useful on Kant but good luck with the project.

I can only conclude that the old boy was so excited about being back in the midst of rarefied Bavarian theological discussion that he forgot that his every public nunace was being weighed; grain by politically significant grain.

Basically I’m with Geoff. As I said here:

http://larvatusprodeo.net/2006/09/18/what-then-does-pope-benedict-mean/

And I’d also argue that it’s wrong to characterise what he said as an “anti-Islam spray” at all.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
15 years ago

I’m pleased to see that reports of your blogging death are greatly exaggerated.

A bloody great post – wish I’d written it.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

After all, as others have pointed out, that particular passage was quite extraneous to the ostensible theme of Benedict’s address (the posited inherently rational and peaceful nature of the Christian God) except to provide a convenient if inflammatory counterpoint.

Waleed Aly disagrees:

Had such critics done their homework, they would have noted Benedict’s description of Manuel II’s “startling brusqueness”

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
15 years ago

On a more substantive point Ken, you say this.

To modern eyes, the latter assertion seems dubious at the very least, given that more than a few modern thinkers have managed to make sense of the universe without being driven to assume any such thing.

Now you also said that you were sympathetic to Kant’s arguments, so I’m not sure where you stand on this point, but I think it’s nevertheless a bit glib. Though science has, since Kant’s time, managed to create knowledge about things where previously God was invoked – as with evolution for instance – I don’t think that ‘modern thinkers’ have ‘made sense of the universe’ in the sense Kant is talking about.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
15 years ago

I’m not sure what there is to expand upon as you seem to have put it better than I could. (This isn’t just a polite comment. I was expanding my point when I was writing it and it seemed to me all I was doing was making a meal of something you’d already put very succintly immediately before the sentence I commented on viz.)

In other words, Kant argues that although we cannot prove the existence or non-existence of God by rational means (a proposition entirely consistent with orthodox Catholic theology), the very nature of the human mind and its innate drive to make sense and order out of our universe compels us to assume the existence not only of freedom but of some Uncaused Cause (i.e. God).

I wonder why you say “It seems very unlikely that the Kantian edifice could so easily be assailed” but said in the post that to modern eyes the latter assertion seems dubious. Kant was writing at a time when science was clearly filling in large chunks of cosmological knowledge which had previously been filled by religion. As Newton had for example. Kant wouldn’t have doubted that lots of other holes would be filled in in due course.

But it’s a category mistake to suggest that once enough holes are filled in, his arguments vanish – or even get much weaker. It’s probably true that Kant used the room his arguments gave him to posit the existence of a God that did Christian things – like judge people – and that’s not necessary to his argument (or very convincing to me anyway). But his arguments in getting to God (or perhaps I mean the inevitability of metaphysics) are much sparer.

[irony]There Ken – you’ve had my explanation – I’m sure things are much clearer now![/irony]

C.L.
15 years ago

To the Pope and the Church, reason is not merely the faculty with which we make assumptions about God’s existence. It is also the faculty with which we make conclusions about God’s will. The first is metaphysical, the second practical or – better – cultural. Pursuant to natural law theology, for example, the Church believes that abortion is not only deeply immoral but deeply irrational. Modern science has tended to solidify the Church’s bona fides on this matter. There are several other examples – in bio-ethics and even Caholic social doctrine, for example – that emphasise how much and how often a de-sacralised, relativised secular morality pushes the Church and its theistic morality to the margins, under the auspices of rationality and reason. (But, increasingly, pursuant to mere utilitarianism).

I’m not sure that Kant had ideas about the lived reality of a human reason called to bring order to life as it is lived – precisely as an “innate drive” to systematise (or at least discern) the responsibilities arising from a relationship with God. Benedict believes modern secularism has become characterised by a moral relativism that denies and rebels against that relationship; denies, moreover, what that imperfect union calls people to become, even if His Holiness doesn’t argue that secularism demolishes outright the merely polite acceptability of ‘believing in God’. The Pope would argue that Christians living in a kind of enduring a “dictatorship” of relativism. In those circumstances, the faithful must fight, not merely surrender. Ratzinger is said to believe a “remnant” Church true to itself is better than a nominally multitudinous Church marked by apathy. I don’t think that’s true – on pastoral grounds alone – unless he is (allegedly) thinking in terms of a new Church Militant able and inclined to re-proselytise its own larger self.

What concerns Benedict is not so much that the Church is excluded from its “proper key place at the table of mundane affairs” but that the world is excluding itself from its proper key place at the table of a divine economy. Kant may have believed it was possible or even inevitable for man to look through a peephole and see that place but neither he nor any other rationalists have been successful in telling him how to live within a suddenly expanded universe of the spirit. The Church does have something to say on that score; this, indeed, is part of her raison d’etre.

As for Islam and violence, I believe Benedict intentionally used the story he did in order to stake the Regensburg disquisition in the concrete locus of the present. The challenge of the address was twofold: increasingly, who are you to talk about “liberty”, Christian Westerner? And who are you to talk about the immanence of Allah, Islamic everyman? The programmatic upshot? Let’s talk. Let’s change. Or not, if that’s your un-reasonable desire. Ill-chosen words? I don’t think so.

One final thing, the Pope has not apologised for his remarks. He has apologised for how they were received. That’s a big and fatherly difference.

C.L.
15 years ago

erratum: “The Pope would argue that Christians living in a kind [of dhimmitude vis-a-vis the secular world are, as he once said,] enduring a…”

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Ken, great (non-)comeback post.

I’m a little confused about this though.

“In other words, Kant argues that although we cannot prove the existence or non-existence of God by rational means (a proposition entirely consistent with orthodox Catholic theology), the very nature of the human mind and its innate drive to make sense and order out of our universe compels us to assume the existence not only of freedom but of some Uncaused Cause (i.e. God).”

I thought Kant did rely on a “moral” argument for the existence of God. I know this is very tricky stuff. From memory, the proof does not proceed from pure or theoretical reason, but from the use and nature of practical reason.

Are you just saying that Kant denied the validity of any path to demonstrating the existence of god from rationalist grounds like those of the ontological, cosmological or teleogical arguments?

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
15 years ago

I think you’ve put my concerns very well in your last comment Ken.

You write this.

how . . . do we maintain such a moral consciousness in the modern western world in the absence of many of the social features that led Adam Smith to posit social approbation/disapprobation as the mechanism for formation of a moral sensibility/Impartial Spectator (e.g. church, fairly tight-knit extended families and discrete local communities)?

These institutions or similar ones still exist – for instance the nuclear family (and to some extent the extended family and communities) still exist and still have normative power. It’s a bit tempting to think it was all hunky dory in Adam’s time, and now it’s all being rooned.

But I still think you’re right that social bonds have weakened in important respects. Like you, I get torn between the great traditions and think they all have something to say. But one institution that has grown since Smith’s time is Government itself. There’s been two tendencies in thinking about Government. One is a deus ex machnia where govnments get invoked whenever there’s anything wrong elsewhere – market failure, family inadequacies etc. That’s obviously a problem because Governments are human instututions (like all the other institutions we fear are being weakened) and so are subject to human frailties. Government failure is probably more real and more damaging than market failure (ask a sub-Saharan African)

On the other hand one can argue that Governments are nothing more than instruments for collectively expressing individual wills. In that case you set up strong restrictions on what they can do. That’s a reasonable instinct, but ultimately so long as I’ve supported what protections we can establish against tyranny, I’m happy to let governments experiment in the context of democratic accountability.

In an age where institutions are changing and many are diminished, government is one of our great instututions (along with the market) and so, without assuming that it will always do the right thing, I think it is inevitable that people will want to use Governments as moral agents and so the battle is about what moralilty you want them to reflect. Especially when they are doling out money, I don’t have a problem with Governments seeking to influence the values and expectations of the recipients of their protection.

I doubt I’d be as punative as Peter Saunders sounds, but the basic idea that it’s OK for the government to reflect some ‘community values’ in handing out social security is OK by me. Had it more successfully represented those values, I think we would have seen make work schemes – including Labor’s job compact and the Libs more punative ‘work for the dole’ much better funded rather than being the Mickey Mouse affairs that they’ve been.

Tony.T
15 years ago

How long before your next retirement, Ken? I want to get in early with the bookies.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
15 years ago

Ken,
you write:

I suggested above that the Pope’s indictment of Kant is bizarre simply because Kant’s metaphysics attempted almost precisely what His Holiness now says he is seeking. In a very real sense Kant placed God at the apex of his concept of reason and indeed the very nature of the human mind (and therefore of reality as we perceive it), and then proceeded to construct a complex (and in my humble view quite persuasive) system of ethics and morality on that God-centred basis

Most philosophers–analytic and continental–would interpret Kant as placing reason at the centre of his theoretical edifice or architonic. He took the scientific revolution and mathematical physics seriously in the Critique of Pure Reason and can be seen as a philosopher of modernity in science, ethics and aesthetics. So Benedict as a conservative Thomist, is right to turn his guns on Kant, given the acceptance of Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’ in philosopher and his critique on the basis of reason of the traditional arguments for the existence of God.

Kant is a tricky fellow though. Once we place limits around a self-critical reason (stop overeaching itself) and does make way for faith/religion we are in a position to make an affirmation of God on the basis of what he terms the practical( i.e., ethical) use of reason. Kant’s ‘Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone’ considers the postulate of God that arises out of morality without being the basis of moral obligation.

I haven’t read Benedict’s speech closely in a philoophical sense, but being the good scholar he is, he would know about Kant’s ‘The Contest of Faculties’ It is here that Kant describes the university as divided into four faculties: the higher faculties of theology, law and medicine, and one lower faculty, formerly called arts, which he renames philosophy. Of course, it is the lower faculty that is dangerously heterogeneous as it comprises both the “department of pure rational knowledge” that we normally associate with philosophy, and the “department of historical knowledge (including history, geography, the humanities [and] the empirical knowledge contained in the natural sciences.”

So for Benedict Kant would be a key figure to critically engage with.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Ken wrote a lot of finallys perhaps we are waiting for the grand finally

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Ken, I can’t hold a candle to Catholics so I would be making a Cardinal error if I commented on this topic and that’s nor Papal bull.

By the way if you did make those remarks in a truck then they would be semi-finallys

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Thanks for the clarification Ken.

But I’m not sure where “proving” God’s existence by way of a moral argument takes you, given that it is a poor one. I simply fail to see how it is a sound one or how a “moral” argument can prove the existence of anything. And how if you are going to prove that a god exists, you can get away from at least propounding a metaphysical argument. But Kant’s Critique has excluded these.

I’ve had a quick read of il Papa’s speech. Perhaps the Pope thinks this too about moral arguments for gods. And so he has to engage with Kant because he “anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole” and so overcome Kant’s “self-limitation of reason” in the Critiques. Success in overcoming this comes “only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verificable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons”. I would interpret this as a call to revise our methodology in metaphysics and as a consequence our ontology.

I also reckon we can pinch and use a lot of the Kantian and neo-Kantian ethical theory, but without bothering god.

Sort of neo-Kantianism without the cant.

James Farrell
15 years ago

Ken

As other commenters have said, that was a stimulating post. My first instinct, in assessing it, though, was to find out a bit more of the background. I googled “Catholic teaching” Kant and found this essay by a Jesuit.

The problem with Kant seems to be that he’s tied up with a tendency called Moderninsm, which some if not all Catholic theologians find dangerous, because it seeks to replace revelation (truth from an external source) with spontaneous psychological experience (from an internal source) as a source of faith.

Modernism set out to reconcile Catholicity with modern thought, and it has done so after a fashion by interpreting Christianity in terms of Kant. It has adopted Kant’s theory of knowledge, that we can know phenomena only. It has adopted Kant’s theory of religion, that we cannot apprehend God intellectually, but only by some other method, whether you call it Practical Reason or Religious Experience matters little. And by such means it has succeeded in reconciling Catholicity with modern thought, but at what a cost! At the cost of identifying Catholicity with an unsound system of philosophy; at the cost of revolutionising the very notions of things so fundamental to Christianity as Revelation, Faith, the Church, Church Authority, Dogma; at the cost of turning Christianity topsy-turvy. Modernism is “another gospel which is not another.” It is the Gospel according to Kant.

This may be similar to what Gary Sauer-Thompson was saying. I’m even less of a theologian than I am philosopher, so the subtleties of the debate are probably lost on me. But it was helpful to know that the antagonism to Kant goes back a long way. The idea of practical reason is a threat because it doesn’t provide any rationale for faith, authority and dogma.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

James – that tension between internal experience and external teaching (revelation) is something that Catholicism and Islam alike has historically struggled greatly with. It’s hardly new – it’s why both have considered many of their mystics to be heretics.

“The idea of practical reason is a threat because it doesn’t provide any rationale for faith, authority and dogma.”
I always thought Kant saw pure reason as the threat, and practical reason the defence. But Benedict, wanting to restore faith and authority (especially the latter), wants to takes the traditional line of denying that pure reason is such a threat without reverting to the discredited pure reason arguments for God’s existence.

All very interesting, but all distracting from the fact that this stuff is coming from the head of an institution which has persecuted reason whenever it was perceived to threaten its authority, and would continue to do so if it had the power.

I reckon modern neurology, developmental psychology, evolutionary biology, etc has disposed of the need for God in explaining human’s ability to create a order from raw sensory experience, as other sciences have disposed of the need for God to explain other features of the universe that used to be attributed to him. He should read Daniel Dennett.

Oh, and CL’s right – he certainly hasn’t resiled from the criticism of Islam he made; a fact the Islamics are quite sharp enough to understand.

Omar
Omar
15 years ago

I have to agree with the Pope’s interpretation here. Although God, freedom, and the Soul are given theoretical employment as heuristic ideas rendering experience a coherent totality in its particulars, it is their morally regulative employment that is paramount for Kant. This practical employment renders these metaphysical ideas subservient to morality. Why? Because to the extent that we obey the moral law out of any deeper awareness of God than as in the service to the moral law, we act out of desire for his reward, or out of fear for his wrath, and this renders our action immoralm ie., consequentialist in motivation, rather than in the spirit of the moral law.

But Kant found that these ideas could serve morality if they were merely viewed regulatively. Since the moral law posits and commands the achievement of an ultimate end in the highest good, an end that unites a perfect virtue with a perfect happiness, Kant found that if one used these ideas solely to give support to this apparantly impossible conjunction, that they could be morally justified in the belief. Kant thus limited knowledge of God, freedom and the Soul in order to insure a merely moral faith in their reality. They would hence only play the role of moral heurisms, aiding to illuminate possibilities for moral reform with respect to the highest good, while allowing us thereby to focus our intentions on achieving a pure and disinterested (even without direct concern for God) concern with duty.

Where the Pope is concerned, this be too limited a proposition: God’s reality posited solely in the service of morality.

tk.noonan
tk.noonan
15 years ago

A lot, perhaps most, theological discussion is a disguised attempt to tell God what to do.

Many people make sense of the world by living their day to day lives essentially as atheists. That is they instinctively recognise themselves as just a part of the world, and if science gives them greater insights, according to their ability to understand it, then that is a bonus.

Then if God comes and causes them to act in an unexpected way, they act. Call it unreasonable if you must, but it is life. One does not forfeit free will, one can beard God, one can deny God, and God is amused by this. J.W. Goethe explored this theme in “Faust”, one of the blackest comedies ever written.

This puts me well out of the paradigm of this debate, so I just mention it in passing.

Where is morality in all this. Well there are certain highly regarded people who are, in my opinion, thoroughly evil. If I can, by argument, undermine them and replace them, that is politics. If I do so honestly that is good. If I do so dishonestly that is politics.

Omar
Omar
15 years ago

Kant does not need to justify morality on analytic grounds, or any grounds at all, for the following reason: if morality can be grounded further, then it remains conditioned by something else, and cannot be an unconditional law for us. Morality in Kant is identical with reason, with practical reason, ie., as the pure form of the will. It commands us to universalize the principles of our actions, which is identical to commanding us to rationality. Hence the moral law, being identical to rationality, cannot be challenged to further grounding without appeal to the same law. In this respect, Kant treats the moral law in the manner that Aristotle treats Reason: one can only challenge it by appealing to it. The moral law, says Kant, is one of the “facts of reason”, hence presupposed in any demonstration as to its validity. This was the specific contribution made by the second Critique ,replacing the Groundings’ attempt at a theoretical justification of the moral law in the 3rd section to that work.

But the moral law is then able to directly justify or deduce freedom (one is only free when one obeys a command that one’s own reason commands; any command obeyed extrinsic to such an immanent law renders morality heterogeneous, and hence contingent), and indirectly, God and the Soul [as regulative ideas in the service of morality through its ultimate embodied object, the highest good.]

Omar
Omar
15 years ago

When Kant titles the book ‘Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone’ he means just that: we will only tolerate religion within the parameters permitted by reason. Otherwise we end in dogma, and one dogma invites any other, without the possibility of rational adjudication.

Since reason is identical with practical reason in Kant, this means that outside of such parameters any such belief is literally immoral. For to believe in God without seeing in such belief a support to morality is to render religion decadent, a means of pushing aside the fundamental duty: to obey the moral law out of respect for the law, ie., for its own sake. To put God before morality is to remove our ability to act in the spirit of the moral law: we could only act heterogeneously out of our awareness of God, and hence only according to the letter of the law: the letter being the possibilty of divine punishment or reward.

While the moral law is identical to practical reason and is unconditional in its self grounding, the belief process or what Kant calls ‘rational faith’, is a function of reflective judgment which is discussed in detail in the Third Critique. This is a form of judgment which permits merely a subjectively necessary and universal principle, unlike the objective necessity and universality associated with the determinative principles arising out of theoretical and practical reason (the laws of nature and the moral laws seen in the Metaphysics of Morals). That principle is: nature, for the sake of our ability to regard her as purposive with respect to reason, is treated as a technique.

In order to make sense of religion, whose objects we have no theoretical access to, we must attribute to it a technique, a purpose: to serve the moral law through serving its complete end in the highest good. Thus the Religion book is built for the most part on the reflective use of reason, or specifically: moral teleological reflective judgment. Thus the entire discussion in that book asks after the moral purposiveness of the various aspects of religion.

God plays the role of a mere guide in Kant: from God’s putative perspective, which we reflect on, we are able to shape a moral horizon of possible ways to direct our willing, so as to serve morality. In the Religion book, the good and evil principles guide us in to infiltrating our intentions as deeply as possible so as to wring every moral possibility from them: by seduction in the case of the second (through the image or idea of Satan), by example (of Christ) in the case of the first.

tk.noonan
tk.noonan
15 years ago

I met Kant in Bryan Magee’s book “The Great Philosophers”, and I found there a flattering account of the man, not the least of which was that he commenced his magnum opus when he was sixty and lived to complete it. However picking up on Omar’s post, I believe that morality is not a fact of reason, but is emotional. Now I may have missed a technical point about what is analytic and what is a priori and if so I apologise.

Concerning the Pope: I heard about the invocation of the words of Manuel II Paleologus, and I thought: “Right, keeping the conflict alive.” and also, “Right, backed the wrong side in WWII, backing the wrong side again.” Then I downloaded the Regensburg document, quickly scanned it and thought, “It’s nothing.” Then I heard some commentary explaining how it really said that Islam was irrational, and I thought “Hell, he would wouldn’t he.”

By the way, Faust in Part II, Act 3 establishes a Germanic Kingdom in Greece, but it comes to grief. “Faust” is a tedious play that generates as many different opinions as there are readers of it.

Omar
Omar
15 years ago

To Noonan’s suggestion that morality is a function of emotion: are we not required, in certain cases, to act despite emotion, or despite its absence as support, and hence simply from duty? Isn’t obeisance to emotion, in certain cases, simply immoral? Isn’t ‘will’, the ability to maintain one’s attention on a particular action against the intrusion of impediments to such attention, the basic tool of morality, and doesn’t that imply that morality’s fundamental conflict is with emotion (when it interferes with duty), or its absence (when it doesn’t provide support)?