Kant’s Protestant insight

I’ve had a long-standing interest in Kant, though you wouldn’t know that judging from this blog. That’s because I’ve been trying to move beyond Kant, by way of dogmatics, for the last few years. But no philosopher, except maybe Plato or Simone Weil, impressed me more than Kant as an undergraduate. It was a real breakthrough, for me, to move beyond apologetics and proofs. It was freeing, strange as that may sound, and Kant played no small role in this new freedom. God is not a conclusion from our observations; he is always there, immediate to our moral framing of the universe, and needs no proof. He has a claim on our lives. To know God apart from this moral claim is to know, at best, a hypothesis — the probability of an object, x, at the beginning of empirical reality. This is not God; this is a theory. God is not a theory.

Kant’s philosophy can free our attention toward the God at our most profound expressions of worth — of responsibility. We know God because we know an “ought” that comes, not from within, but from without, even though it is only known within. The ultimate guarantee that there is a God outside of us can, thus, only come by faith, not by tangible proofs. God cannot be “demonstrated,” whether through sense-based proofs or through a succession of bishops. Kant, then, must turn to the subjective arbiter of truth — the will. This is his Protestant insight, namely, our inability to grasp God apart from the assent of faith, which depends upon the will.

Kant failed, however, to go one step further: the will depends upon God. Kant would not allow this, and thus we are left with a Law and a demand but no grace and no redemption. It was inevitable that Kant’s philosophy could not withstand the problem of sin and evil. Hegel did an even worse job of assimilating this problem, and, finally, Existentialism called a spade a spade.

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4 comments

  1. Wow…i starred this in my reader account this years ago but its only now that its sinking in.. we were looking at fideism in class today and i just happen to be engaged in debate on the internet ( i know shocking )
    What’s a good definition of the will?

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