Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a philosopher from the Eastern Prussian empire on the Baltic sea was born in the city of Königsberg. An unlikely place for a philosophical revolution perhaps, but that is what Kant gave us never the less. A very simple way to get across the type of man he was; is to study his name – born Emanuel Kant, he later changed his first name to Immanuel because it was more accurate to the original Hebrew – yes, he was a stickler for detail.
This particular book concentrates on Kant’s Theology. Which, while ignored by some, is immensely detailed, useful and profoundly moving. Anderson and Bell begin by sketching Kant as a human being, rather than a thinker. His parents of modest means – his father was a harness maker – and his nine siblings. Both of his parents were deeply religious, Pietists to be exact. Which for Kant gave him great respect for a personal theology. But which also gave him his deep-seated dislike of the Pietist movement. He was put into academic education which was also ran by the Pietist movement. Their emphasis on prayer, singing, confessing and self-study made him resent such religious movements because he found them condescending, and also because the obsession with self study can lead one to ‘insanity’. But it was only in his much later years that he came to revolutionize Theology (and many other areas of philosophy) with his texts and thinking.
The beauty of this book and the testament of the two author’s knowledge really shines through as they tackle Kant’s complicated and complex philosophy. This is shown best while talking about Kant’s first book and those following it, and how they work off each other to further his philosophy.
Kant’s greatest work was published when he was fifty six years old: this book is the Critique of Pure Reason. What is contained within it profoundly affected philosophy, and redefined methods and ways to approach many branches within philosophical debate. This book, by itself, shows Kant to be a fantastically great philosopher, and is the foundation of Kant’s entire philosophy. It is his metaphysics, his building blocks, his construction site. The Critique of Pure Reason is a study of theoretical reason. That is to say: what can and cannot be known by reason, and thus what is able to be studied and known via Science. What Kant does in this book is to lay the foundation for the possibility of morality and religion. He does this by asking “Is knowledge in metaphysics possible at all?”, his answer is yes, because we have knowledge in metaphysics in order to function and experience in the first place. What he means by this is that by virtue of being alive and existing, we already have metaphysical knowledge from human experience: that of time, space, and causation – the famous synthetic a priori. Space, time and causation are human forms of intuition. While we may not be able to theoretically prove these things, they are undeniably in existence via the way we exist – thus proving metaphysical knowledge is possible. Or as Kant himself says: “Without sensibility no object would be given to us, without understanding no object would be thought. Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” Thus human beings cannot help but see the universe and gain knowledge with human-tinted spectacles.
This leads us to Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason because what cannot be known and studied by theoretical reason can be studied, talked about in a meaningful way, and maybe even be known by something else: practical reason – and this is what religion and morality can be talked about with. God lies outside time and space, and thus cannot be known by scientific study, or synthetic a priori intuition. If we are to speak of things as things in themselves (noumena), rather than objects of knowledge (phenomena), then our reason leaves the theoretical realm and enters that of the practical. Thus through the use of practical reason freedom, God, immortality, morality and even beauty may not be scientifically reasonable, but are still rational to talk about in this practical sense.
By doing this Kant is suggesting that ideas such as God and freedom may be theoretically impossible to prove, but at least to our practical reason they are not contradictory, and thus are worth talking about. This feeds into Kant’s morality strongly. It is no hyperbole to say that Kant’s religion and theology is morality. For an agent to act morally and rationally it must be free to do what one ought to do, and to do this reason must allow agents to think for themselves. This distinction is made clear with his categorical imperative: that is to say – act only on a maxim that ought to become a universal law. It is this universality of reason which makes religion moral, and morality religious. By virtue of our rationality we are held together by this moral law and respect for each other. Kant deems rationality holy, and this holiness is humanity (the quality, not the specie), and this humanity is rationality. So for Kant the Enlightenment period was a time of making reason and morality our religion, and shared rationality should be that religion.
Well known are Kant’s criticisms of the three arguments for God (ontological, teleological and cosmological), but what is lesser known is his positive claim that God is a concept which is natural to human reason. Thus God is a transcendental ideal, and not known by experience. Of course this sets Kant apart from the traditional Christian view. But Kant also adds his own argument – the moral argument. This arguments says that within nature we cannot find anything which guarantees that people receive their just deserts, this entitles us by rationality and reason to postulate a being on whom these deserts rely on. This being would have to be good. What we must bear in mind with this argument is that it is not a proof of God, nor is it an attempt to prove God. It is an argument that suggests that a belief in a good being, and that to believe in a moral religion is advantageous to us, and is also within the realm of reason. In this sense one’s belief in God is an assertion of a conviction on which we can act, reflect and imagine. Kant postulates that a belief in God is like belief in rationality, what he means by this is that it enables us to do virtuous acts.
As I said before going into Kant’s complicated philosophy and theology – this book brings out these complex ideas which revolutionised philosophy with an ease that is astonishing. This is no hard, or challenging read, when it simply should be considering these monstrously thought out modes of thought. Anderson and Bell very clearly understand Kant’s philosophy, which is shown by their presentation of his ideas in a form which is easy to grasp and understand. They also bring Kant to the modern theological table and present what he has to offer, which is ignored by modern circles because he is not deemed Christian, and this is because he thinks of religion as a shared rationality, rather than a service to God.