Monday, September 2, 2013

On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy by Immanuel Kant / Chasing Sophie

Immanuel Kant

You can read my previous post on Kant's "What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in One's Thinking" for my quick biography on him. Continuing where I left off from last week's Chasing Sophie, I want to focus on Kant's religious life. I'm still deciding what I think about this topic, and while I haven't reached a final verdict, here's a list of the pertinent points so far-

  1. The liberal tradition claims Kant as its predecessor.
  2. Kant abhorred deception in all its forms.
  3. He explicitly stated that he was not a Deist.
  4. He said that revealed religion is necessary for man's weakness.
  5. Kant believed that a perfectly rational man would be a perfectly moral man.
The point of contention, as far as I understand it, between Kant as believer and Kant as unbeliever is his view of man's weakness. What is this weakness, and can man escape his weakness by his own efforts?

The Problem of Evil Expressed

"On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy"

I'm not going to completely summarize today's essay, but I do want to highlight a couple of main points. In this essay with the long title, Kant attacks all attempts to rationalize against the problem of evil. Kant starts off by saying that the presence of evil in the world violates three specific attributes of an omnipotent God.
  1. God's holiness
  2. God's goodness
  3. God's justice
Of course, while Kant doesn't say these are God's only attributes or his most important, the fact that Kant didn't mention God's love in the context of the problem of evil is certainly worthy of note. After all, he based ethics solely in duty.

Kant proceeds from there to discredit (or, he attempts to discredit) arguments that vindicate the wisdom of God. Most of the time, Kant relies on the limitations he places on reason in his Critique of Pure Reason to argue that these defenses go beyond their proper bounds.

Kant's most instructive refutation was given about this argument- The divine wisdom cannot be understood by man's reason because it's higher. Kant said that this was basically correct, because man cannot understand supersensible things. Kant says that this is not a vindication. For Kant, we can't vindicate God; we need to recognize that reason cannot answer this question.

While Kant's discussion of the problem of evil has been very influential, I found his last remarks on conscience to be the most interesting of the essay. He argues that man is good as long as he keeps himself from any form of deception, especially self-deception. Kant applied this to following our conscience. As long as someone acts according to their conscience, they are basically good people. While this touches on the discussion of man's weakness in many respects, I don't believe it decisively answers the question because Kant talks about man having a "propensity" to deception. Clearly, Kant believed that some people, if not all, have an overwhelming character flaw that leads to self-deception. However, Kant does not mention if that applies to all people or if someone can be saved from this. From his language, I would guess that he does not apply this "weakness" to all people, but I don't find this conclusive.


I'm indebted both to Religion and Rational Theology from Cambridge Press and Kant and the New Philosophy of Religion.

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