Ellis Washington
On Immanuel Kant and reasoning God out of existence
By Ellis Washington
February 28, 2015

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

~ Kant

[T]he world is governed to-day by Kant [more] than by Bonaparte.

~ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

Biography of Kant

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was a German philosopher who is celebrated as a major figure of the Age of Enlightenment and an innovator of modern philosophy. He believed that essential ideas form and animate human experience, and that reason is the foundation of morality. The Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 1781), was Kant's primary opus which described the connection between reason and human experience. Once establishing this intellectual paradigm in this book, he endeavored to move beyond what he considered to be unresolved questions of traditional philosophy and metaphysics. This created a radical paradigm shift in conventional philosophy that forever ended what Kant thought to be an age of useless and speculative philosophies of human experience, while criticizing the skepticism school of philosophy represented by Descartes of the past and in his day, George Berkeley and David Hume.

Kant argued that human experiences are structured by foundational concepts of our minds. His understanding of the mind is that it forms and structures human experience on an abstract plain, therefore, all human experience has certain necessary essential features. Foremost among these structures Kant thought that the concepts of space and time are fundamental to all human experience, likewise is our concepts of cause and effect. Some significant consequence of this opinion is that one never has direct experience of things (e.g., the noumenal world), therefore what we do experience is conveyed by or manifested in our senses (the phenomenal world). These assertions condense Kant's understandings of the so-called subject-object problem.

A prolific writer, Kant published other essential works on aesthetics, astronomy, ethics, history, law, and religion. These included the Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788), the Metaphysics of Morals (Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 1797), which dealt with ethics, and the Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790), which examines teleology (study of purpose) and aesthetics (appreciation of art, beauty, taste).

Critique of Pure Reason (1781)

The Critique of Pure Reason was a systematic analysis and evaluation of the arrogance of pure theoretical reason to achieve metaphysical truths outside the type of applied theoretical reason. Kant argued that pure or uncorrupted theoretical reason of necessity must be objective, since it presents disordered arguments when applied outside its domain. Nevertheless, unlike this book, the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) is not a critique of pure practical reason, but a justification of this paradigm as being useful in establishing behavior above that established by desire-based practical reasoning. Kant's critique, therefore, is of applied practical reason's dogmatic belief in metaphysical truths. Pure practical reason should be developed rather than restrained.

Kant states that though the first Critique presented freedom, immortality and God as unknowable, the second Critique will reduce and modify that assertion. Kant asserts that "freedom is knowable because it is revealed through the force of the moral law. Immortality and God are not knowable, but now (practical) reason requires belief in them." Yet how does one prove for example that God exists? Kant in this instance asks the dissatisfied antagonist to essentially offer such a proof, confident that no such proof is possible. The dialogue of freedom Kant asserts is particularly essential, for empiricists maintain thinking of it in purely psychological terms creates utter confusion.

Kant and dialectical reasoning

Plato and Aristotle – Kant and Hegel are four primary explanations of dialectic in the tradition of the literary classics. It is as fundamental a worldview in the thought of Kant and Hegel as it is in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. These changes which arguably are more significant than the similarities, the Kantian dialectic is similar to the Aristotelian, the Hegelian dialectic resembles the Platonic. Comparable to the division concerning the Posterior Analytics and the Topics in Aristotle's Organon, the transcendental logic of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is separated into two sections – the analytic and the dialectic. The difference between his transcendental logic and Kant's understanding of "general logic should be considered as an organon (e.g., a tool or instrument), must always be a logic of illusion, that is, be dialectical." He believes that this is the very meaning that the ancients had in mind when they used the word "dialectic," to imply "a sophistical art for giving ignorance, nay, even intentional sophistries, the coloring of truth, in which the thoroughness of procedure which logic requires was imitated." Nevertheless, Kant wants "dialectic" to be understood "in the sense of a critique of dialectical illusion."

Kant's distinctive transcendental logic, therefore, is divided into two parts. The first part addresses "the elements of pure cognition of the understanding, and the principles without which no object at all can be thought." This is the "transcendental Analytic, and at the same time a logic of truth" – a logic of science. Subsequently in his understanding "it ought properly to be only a canon for judging of the empirical use of the understanding, this kind of logic is misused when we seek to employ it as an organon of the universal and unlimited exercise of the understanding."

According to Kant, the end result of dialectical reasoning is either opposed by a conclusion in conflict with reason – "a perfectly natural antithetic" – for example like the general logic of pure reason; or, as in the paralogisms (e.g., fallacies of presumption), the reasoning has false logic which can be demonstrated to "conclude falsely, while the form is correct and unexceptionable." This algebraic balance of reason against itself contains the illusory paradigm of Kant's transcendental dialectic.

Where Aristotle distinguishes that reason may be utilized on both sides of a question since it includes rival probabilities, Kant in defining dialectic "a logic of appearance" plainly observes that "this does not signify a doctrine of probability." In addition Kant differentiates what he means by "transcendental illusory appearance" from "empirical illusory appearance" and conventional "logical illusions." The last two may be amended and completely removed. Nevertheless "transcendental illusion, on the contrary," he writes, "does not cease to exist even after it has been exposed and its nothingness has been clearly perceived by means of transcendental criticism."

Kant justifies this reason under the supposition that "here we have to do with a natural and unavoidable illusion, which rests upon subjective principles, and imposes these upon us an objective. ... There is, therefore," he continues, "a natural and unavoidable dialectic of pure reason" which comes about since the mind pursues answer to questions "well-nigh impossible to answer," such as "how objects exist as things in themselves" or "how the nature of things is to be subordinated to principles." Therefore the power to transcend experience – "in disregard of all the warnings of criticism" – the mind is imprisoned inside a crucible of confusions Kant calls the dialectical illusion, "which is an inseparable adjunct of human reason," It is not, Kant again and again contends, that "the ideas of pure reason" are "in their own nature dialectic; it is from their misemployment alone that fallacies and illusions arise."

Immanuel Kant in modern times

In many respect Kant is considered the father of modern philosophy and his philosophical ideas endures and continues to have a major influence in modern-day thinking, particularly the fields of political philosophy, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology. However, the Catholic Church has criticized Kantian ethics for its apparent contradiction, disputing that humans are co-legislators of morality contradicts the assertion that morality is a priori. Therefore, if a thing is generally a priori (i.e. existing unchangingly prior to experience), then it cannot also be in part reliant upon humans, who existence is finite (determinate) rather than infinite (indeterminate).

The Kantian contradiction of a priori that humans are co-legislators of morality, is further described in utilizing a Christian analysis of modern philosophy. "The theory of the categorical imperative is, moreover, inconsistent," wrote Kevin Knight in the Catholic Encyclopedia. "According to it the human will is the highest lawgiving authority, and yet subject to precepts enjoined on it." Philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe likewise criticized contemporary ethical concepts, particularly Kantian ethics, for their obsession with law and duty. In addition to analyzing from a Positive Law view that theories which depend on a universal moral law are too inflexible, Anscombe advocated that, because a moral law indicates a moral lawgiver, they are irrelevant in modern secular society which no longer are bound to God, Natural Law or the ideas held as the central foundational principle by America's constitutional Framers, namely that legality and morality are inseparable.

"To an imagination of any scope the most far-reaching form of power is not money, it is the command of ideas ..." wrote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who further declared, "[A] hundred years after his death the abstract speculations of Descartes had become a practical force controlling the conduct of men. ... [T]he world is governed to-day by Kant [more] than by Bonaparte." Was Justice Holmes right in his assessment of the universality of Kant's ideas in modern times? Well here we are almost 200 years after the death of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and the world is grappling more than ever with this universal question – How does one prove that God exists? Kant states that though the first Critique presented freedom, immortality and God as unknowable, the second Critique will moderate that assertion. Kant asserts that freedom is knowable because it is revealed through the force of the moral law. Immortality and God are not knowable, but now practical reason requires belief in them. I'm not convinced by Kant's amendment here.

Therefore since God is unknowable or an 'illusion' then society and all of its structures, institutions, organizations, religious, political, economic, medical, business, legal, philosophical, aesthetic, epistemological systems, etc... are all mere allusions which we only believe in because practical reason demands belief in them – because society, culture and institutions are all revealed through the force of the moral law. This is what I call 'Kantian atheism' of the 1780s, which of course led to Hegelian dialectical materialism and atheism (1807-30), which lead to Marx/Engels dialectical materialism (1850s-80s), which led to communist atheism (1848-1917), which led to Charles Darwin's evolution atheism (1860s-1900), and the Classical Age of Genocidal Tyrants in the twentieth century – the Ottoman Turks genocide of the Armenians (1909, 1915), Lenin's Bolshevik Revolution (1917), Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, the Iranian Ayatollahs, etc... Therefore, historically, to one degree or another, these diverse brands of atheism and neo-paganism (which I consider Islam) owe their philosophical genesis and structure to the dialectical reasoning and diabolical ideas of Immanuel Kant.

Epilogue: Was Kant an atheist?

Was Kant an atheist? Technically no, but since Kant was obsessed about liberating the idea of God from what many at the time viewed as the damage religion received during the Age of Enlightenment, he limits reason so that hope (faith) is a probability. Kant confesses that any argument for the existence of God will be unsuccessful since human reason always uses experience to construct reality which Kant considers an illusion. Although I disagree with our modern day understanding of Kant as lacking the historicity of the preceding paragraph, yet most philosophers today believe that Kant understood this world as subject to empirical science, and by dutifully following the dictates of human reason, humanity has a degree of hope (faith) which if we understand that our capacity for hope (faith) will prevail only if we don't conjecture about God's existence in ways which are likely to conflict or contradict with modern science. Exhibit One: Presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis) had to "clarify" remarks made which were interpreted as Walker being a religious fanatic or idiot for not believing in evolution – a Kantian sacrament disseminated into society by the fascist Left in our modern age.

*N.B.: This essay is based in part on ideas from Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor-in-Chief (University of Chicago, 1952), Vol. 2, Chap. 18 – Dialectic; Vol. 2, Chap. 49 – Logic; Vol. 3, Chap. 64 – Opinion; Vol. 3, Chap 77 – Reasoning; Vol. 42 – Immanuel Kant.

Book Notice

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Invitation for manuscripts

I am starting a new a program on my blog dedicated to giving young conservatives (ages 14-35) a regular place to display and publish their ideas called Socrates Corner. If you know of any young person who wants to publish their ideas on any subject, have them send their essay manuscripts to my email at ewashington@wnd.com.

© Ellis Washington


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Ellis Washington

Ellis Washington is a former staff editor of the Michigan Law Review (1989) and law clerk at the Rutherford Institute (1992). Currently he is an adjunct professor of law at the National Paralegal College and the graduate school, National Jurisprudence University, where he teaches Constitutional Law, Legal Ethics, American History, Administrative Law, Criminal Procedure, Contracts, Real Property, and Advanced Legal Writing, among many other subjects... (more)


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