Monday, August 26, 2013

Overcoming Deism: Hope Incarnate in Kant's Rational Religion by Christopher McCammon / Chasing Sophie

Kant and the
New Philosophy of Religion

The New Philosophy of Religion in Kantian Studies

In the late 19th century, there was a resurgence of interest in Kant's philosophy. Though at first there was some debate about Kant's views on religion, over time the view that he was a Deist came to dominate the interpretation. Much of this dominant interpretation is based in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. The conflicting interpretations vary as to what they say about Kant and why they say it. It's not until recently that Kant's philosophy of religion has come under scrutiny again. Though they vary as to their arguments, most of the new interpretation argues for a Kant who favored traditional religion.

Symptomatic of this new wave of interpretation is Kant and the New Philosophy of Religion. Today's article, "Overcoming Deism: Hope Incarnate in Kant's Rational Religion," is a very basic polemic against Kant's supposed Deism. It's written by Christopher McCammon, a Phd student at the University of Nebraska.

"Overcoming Deism"

Christ the Pantocrator
(Revealed Religion)
McCammon attacks two arguments for Kant's Deism. First, Allen Wood argues that Kant didn't express his Deism because he didn't want to anger traditional Christians. McCammon responds with Kant's explicit denial of Deism in Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. What's more, Kant himself said that while he didn't always express his own views, he never stated something he didn't believe in. McCammon says, and I think he's right, that we have no reason to doubt Kant without better evidence. When the argument for Kant's Deism is based on a particular interpretation of his Critique of Pure Reason, a very difficult work, we should probably give more credence to what Kant says explicitly. After all, McCammon says, we could argue that Kant softened the rhetoric for his traditional loyalties to accommodate the intellectual elite of his day, who can say for sure?

The second argument is that Kant believed in a progression of religion, from a revealed religion to help the weak to a rational religion for the strong. McCammon, drawing on Kant's Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason, argues that while a rational religion is ideal, Kant believes that man's nature is inherently evil, and so inherently weak. So, not only the weak-minded, but all men, as weak, need the hope that can only be found through revealed religion.


While the first argument seems pretty straightforward, I'll need to do more reading before I can fully comment on the second argument. However, the essay does at least demand a response, and it does give credibility to the idea that Kant was not a Deist.


While Kant clearly has his theological problems, orthodox Christians should not dismiss someone so influential from their camp if they can keep him.


I'm indebted to McCammon's essay and the introductory material by Chris Firestone and Stephen Palmquist which are all contained in Kant and the New Philosophy of Religion.

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