James J. DiCenso, _Kant, Religion, and Politics_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

I’m not looking at the whole book (which I already reviewed for Ethics); just some passages relevant to his analysis of dispositions, radical evil, and the continuity of Kant’s views from the first Critique to Religion.

176: “The moral disposition is an ideal we may strive to approximate in the course of our lives, but it is not fully attainable as such.”

177: “In the first CritiqueGesinnung is used to express the disposition, cast of mind, or fundamental attitude specific to every person.18″

177n18: DiCenso cites some passages from the first Critique to support his contention at 177, directly above: “For example, Kant discusses a ‘disposition to rectitude’ at B425, and ‘moral dispositions’ at A813/B841ff.”

177: The rich valences of Gesinnung, only partially captured by the term ‘disposition,’ indicate inner ethical states actively cultivated through choices made over a lifespan. This is a crucial concept, because it makes the locus of ethical endeavor synonymous with the entirety of one’s life path, rather than reducing ethics to discrete dilemmas faced only occasionally. The Gesinnung is neither innate nor immutable along the lines of classical models of the soul, but it conveys the biographical continuity of our personal decisions and actions.”

178-79: DiCenso notes that in the Groundwork, Kant catalogues a lot of obstacles to the manifestation of the good disposition. According to DiCenso, this is what Kant is doing at G,  4:406-7.

179n22: “In discussing dispositions in the first Critique, Kant notes ‘a certain dishonesty in human nature’ which he characterizes as ‘an inclination to hide its true dispositions and to make a show of certain assumed ones that are held to be good and creditable.’ He observes that ‘through this propensity to conceal themselves as well as to assume an appearance that is advantageous for them humans have not merely civilized themselves but gradually moralized themselves to a certain degree, since no one could penetrate the mask of respectability, honorableness, and propriety’ (A747-48/B775-76).”

179: “In explaining these obstructions to recognizing and following the moral law, Kant anticipates the more intensive analyses of radical evil and the complacent conscience developed in Religion. In fact there are numerous direct references to human evil in Kant’s ethical writings.23″

179-80n23: “The second Critique specifies that ‘the only objects of a practical reason are therefore those of the good and the evil‘ (CPrR, 5:58). This indicates free choice as the basis for both ethical and unethical maxims: ‘good or evil always signifies a reference to the will insofar as it is determined by the law of reason to make something its object’ (CPrR, 5:60). Kant also specifies that ‘good or evil is, strictly speaking, referred to actions,’ indicating continuity between willing and acting. He continues: ‘it would be only the way of acting, the maxim of the will, and consequently the acting person himself as a good or evil human being, that could be so called’ (CPrR, 5:60).” DiCenso also cites CPrR, 5:100 and A830/B858, and then concludes: “In light of such recurring comments, it is strange [180] that commentators have responded with surprise and dismay to Kant’s inquiry into radical evil, as if it had no basis in his ethical thinking. To the contrary, since the entirety of Kantian ethics is predicated on autonomy actualized within phenomenal conditions, and on the need to bring our maxims into greater conformity with duty, freely chosen unethical maxims and therefore human radical evil are assumed from the beginning.”

213: “Respect indicates a desire to follow the moral law conjoined with a sense of distance rom it. Respect is connected with ‘consciousness of a continuing propensity to transgression or at least impurity‘ (CPrR, 5:128; this propensity to transgression is a key feature of radical evil).”

221: “Kant is not interested in wrangling with questions of theodicy (consistent with the essay of 1791, ‘On the miscarriage of all philosophical trials in theodicy’). He is not trying to reconcile human evil and suffering with the idea of a perfectly just, omnipotent deity. He disengages the problem of evil from a theological framework. Within a humanistic focus, radical evil is initially defined as willful moral failure.”

227: “Propensities to evil are associated with the free choice that enables morality, and the seemingly oxymoronic expression ‘moral evil’ evinces this mixing.”

228: “The concept of radical evil does not necessarily refer to an extreme of evil deeds; it rather indicates the root (radix) of evil in our freedom.”

229: “Kant clearly does not reduce human evil to natural inclinations, but roots it directly in our power to adopt evil maxims. Kant’s emphasis is on evil as willed and hence ‘positive,’ that is, not simply the result of the ‘privation’ of goodness caused by ignorance, as in many conventional theodicies.25″

229n25: “For Kant’s summary of these views, see Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion, 28:1078.”

233-34: “Kant’s model of ethical progress maintains a critical distinction between internal transformation and mere external conformity with socially sanctioned behavior. This distinction is characterized as a ‘change of heart … ‘ in contrast with ‘a change of mores …’ (R, 6:47). The figurative notion of the heart expresses a freely cultivated ethical orientation that is differentiated from passive adoption of conventions. There are several such terms that work in conjunction: [234] disposition or basic convictions (Gesinnung), the receptive mind (Gemüt), mode of thought (Denkungsart), and character (Charakter). Together they convey the actively fashioned ethical orientations cultivated through the course of our lives. While Kant recognizes that approximating an ethical disposition will be a gradual process, he also emphasizes the importance of an ‘ethical revolution’ in our dispositions. … The image of an inner revolution as a rebirth conveys a dramatic reorientation from an evil to a good will; it characterizes the clear intention to adopt supreme guiding principles based on moral laws. At the same time, the implementation of these ethical changes requires an incremental process.”


Andrew Chignell, “Rational Hope, Moral Order, and the Revolution of the Will”, in _The Divine Order, the Human Order, and the Order of Nature: Historical Perspectives_, ed. Eric Watkins (Oxford University Press, 2013), 197-218.

197-99: Kant discusses three attitudes: knowledge, belief, and opinion. He says that, while we can’t have knowledge of God, freedom, and the soul, we can have Belief in them. Since these seem to be religious ideas, one would think that the main question of Kant’s philosophy of religion would have to do with Belief. However, that’s not what we find: Kant instead claims that the point of philosophy of religion is to answer the question, “what may I hope?” Now, people tend to assume that Kant equates hope and Belief. But Chignell does not think he does. Instead, he thinks that hope is a weaker attitude than Belief — closer, perhaps, to opinion than to knowledge. Why investigate “what may I hope?”? Because Kant thinks that hope, rather than Belief, is the typical attitude of religious believers towards many of their religion’s specific doctrines.

199-: You might think that “what may I hope?” is a weird question. After all, it seems like you’re allowed to hope for whatever you want, even though you’re not (epistemically) allowed to believe whatever you want (199). But this isn’t true. If you hoped for something logically impossible, we’d say there’s something cognitively wrong with you. So you can’t hope for the logically impossible (199-200).

What if you think something is probable? If you think something is probable, you can hope for it to happen, but you probably wouldn’t say that; instead, you’d say think you think it will, or probably will, happen, because if you have two epistemic attitudes to X, E1 and E2, and E1 is stronger than E2 (knowledge as opposed to Belief, or Belief as opposed to opinion), you’ll assert whichever epistemic attitude is stronger (200).

What if you think something is improbable? In such a case, hope seems to be the appropriate attitude. There is, of course, false hope, but false hope is not hoping for the improbable, but rather hoping for the improbable (when you think it has, say, a 5% chance of happening) without realizing just how improbable it is (it actually has, say, a 1% chance of happening) (200-201).

Some philosophers think that if you hope for X, then you may act as if X will come to pass. But this doesn’t seem right; you can hope to win the lottery, but if you start acting as if you’re going to win the lottery (taking out bank loans, etc.), then we think you’re acting irrationally (201).

It’s not clear whether it’s rational to hope for something causally impossible. Perhaps if you believe that there are no superbeings, then it’s not rational even to hope for something causally impossible, as there will be no way for it to come about. On the other hand, if you do believe in the existence of a superbeing, then it seems more likely to be rational to hope for causally impossible things to happen. (202-3)

Can you hope for something that you believe is causally necessitated to happen anyway? Yes, but only insincerely; if someone asks you, “will the sun rise tomorrow?”, you could reply, “I certainly hope so!” This would indicate that you think the question is kind of silly, not that you don’t believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. (203)

Can you hope that a past event didn’t occur? Yes, but only if you don’t know what the outcome was. (That said, Chignell seems to think that it’s rational to hope that your parents never met; I don’t see why he thinks this is rational.) (204)

Again, you can’t hope for the logically or metaphysically impossible to be real. (204)

Finally, you can rationally hope for what is logically or metaphysically necessary to be true, but only if you don’t know that it’s logically or metaphysically necessary. (205)

Chignell summarizes his conclusion as follows: “We can rationally hope that only if describes something that we [206] are not certain to be metaphysically impossible. … It is only when we become certain that the relevant event is metaphysically impossible that rationality requires us to abandon hope.” (205-6)

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues that we ought all to will for a moral world (where happiness is doled out in proportion to virtue), and that, because we ought to will such a world, such a world is possibly real. Since the moral world is really possible, we may rationally hope for its actuality. (207) The only way a moral world could be really possible, though, is if there is actually a God. Therefore, because we ought to try to bring about a moral world, we are licensed to Believe in God (and a future life). (208) This shows that the conception of hope that Kant operates with in the first Critique is this:

  • “(H*) S’s hope that is rational only if S at least rationally Believes that is really possible.” (209)

Compare that to the kind of hope Chignell himself establishes:

  • “(H) S’s hope that is rational only if S is not in a position to be certain that is really impossible.” (209)

What’s the difference between H* and H? H says you’re rationally permitted to hope for p, just so long as you’re not certain that p is impossible. This is pretty weak — as long as you can’t rule out p’s metaphysical possibility, you’re entitled to hope for p. Compare this to H*: according to H*, you’re rationally permitted to hope for p if you rationally Believe that p is really possible. You need a lot more to have H* rather than H.

Chignell uses the foregoing analysis to solve a puzzle in Religion. Kant in Religion endorses four claims that seem not to be compossible:

  • (A) S is morally responsible for making himself good (i.e., for converting the quality of his will).
  • (B) S can make himself morally good.
  • (C) If S is morally responsible for making himself good, and S can make himself good, then S’s moral condition must be fully ontologically dependent on S as well. (Stoic maxim).
  • (D) S requires assistance in becoming good. ((A)-(D) are all quoted word-for-word from 212.)

Kant has to accept (A) given his ethical theory. Given that Kant accepts (A), he can’t reject (B) unless he rejects ought-implies-can. Kant accepts ought-implies-can, so he accepts (B). (C), however, seems to contradict (D). If you require assistance to become good, then your goodness can’t be fully ontologically dependent on you. If your goodness fully ontologically depends on you, then you can’t require assistance. (212)

The way Chignell solves this conundrum is as follows: for us to know that (D) and (C) are incompatible, we have to know something about the noumenal world. Specifically, we have to know that if S is fully ontologically responsible for his own goodness, then no other noumenal substance can also be responsible for S’s goodness. But we can’t know that, because we can’t know about the status of ontological relations in the noumenal world. So, we can’t say that it’s logically or metaphysically impossible for (C) and (D) to coexist. Since we can’t say their coexistence is logically or metaphysically impossible, we can hope for it. At least, we can according to (H). (213-14)

But can we rationally hope that (C) and (D) are compossible if we accept H*? That is, can we rationally Believe that (C) and (D) can coexist? (214) There’s two ways Kant could do this: first, just as you can rationally hope for causally impossible states of affairs to take place (at least, you can if you think there are superbeings), you can similarly rationally hope for nausally impossible states of affairs (a “nausally” impossible state of affairs is a state of affairs that is impossible according to the laws of the noumenal realm). Alternatively, you can say that the nausal laws don’t apply to interactions between God and other noumenal substances, but instead only to interactions among noumena. (215)

I close with few citations to Kant that will be useful to me:

  • See AA 6:171, 48, and 52-5 for passages where Kant says that we can legitimately hope to receive supernatural assistance if we try as hard as we can. (210)
  • “Kant says regarding the ‘will to the good’ that ‘the human being, in his natural corruption, cannot bring it about on his own within himself’ (AA 6:143).” (210)
  • “to Believe (glauben) that grace may have its effects, and that perhaps there must be such effects to supplement the imperfection of our striving for virtue, is all that we can say on the subject” (AA 6:174).
  • “Kant says in his lectures on the philosophy of religion, as well as in the published Religion itself, that the ‘minimum of theology’ or ‘minimum of cognition’ in true religion is the Belief that God is really possible and that if he did exist, then he would command the moral law (AA 28:998; AA 6:153-4, and note).” (218)

Joseph Shieber, “Between Autonomy and Authority: Kant on the Epistemic Status of Testimony”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 80, no. 2, March 2010 (327-48).

Unfortunately, this article is largely worthless for my purposes, as it’s not really a work of historical scholarship.

332: Kant thinks that you can have knowledge, not just belief or opinion, on the basis of testimony. In addition, Kant distinguishes between having faith in someone, and believing what someone says. Having faith in someone doesn’t amount to knowledge, but believing what she says can.

334: “Kant considers a variety of factors affecting the reliability of witnesses. He notes that reliable witnesses will have competence and integrity [see 9:72]. Furthermore, he suggests that they will possess the ability rationally to consider their experiences, a reliable memory, and the ability to express themselves clearly [see 14.1: 244]. He distinguishes between direct witnesses … and indirect witnesses … , who merely transmit the testimony of another, and suggests that indirect witnesses are only half as believable as direct witnesses, since one would have to examine the reliability both of the direct as well as the indirect witness [see 14.1: 244-45].”  This last passage is obviously relevant to assessing the reliability of the chain of witnesses stretching from the apostles to now.

334-35: Shieber wants to figure out whether Kant is an anti-reductionist or a reductionist about testimony. What’s an anti-reductionist? Someone who holds that “testimony, in some cases, could ground knowledge without additional inductive support for the competence or veracity of the testifier” (334). A reductionist is someone who holds that “testimony always requires additional inductive support regarding the qualities of a testifier that make her a reliable testifier” (335). The problem is that some passages from Kant support anti-reductionism and some support reductionism.

335: One bit of evidence in favor of the view that Kant is an anti-reductionist is that he holds a “Rule of Fairness”, according to which “everyone will be held to be honest and candid until the contrary … has been proven” [14.1: 246]. Unfortunately, right after articulating his Rule of Fairness, Kant claims that “in order to achieve right knowledge of the truth, it is nevertheless required that one examine whether someone speaks truth of lies.” [14.1: 246] So which is it, Kant? Do you believe the Rule of Fairness, according to which you should simply assume that people are honest and candid? Or should you think that you can’t treat testimony as providing knowledge until you first prove that someone is honest and candid (“testimony only confers epistemic license when coupled with an inductive argument in support of the reliability of the witness.”)?

336: Shieber concludes that Kant is an anti-reductionist, on the basis of his views on lying. In §6 (pp. 336-39) Shieber explains why even understanding what others say requires believing that people are generally trustworthy, and so requires believing that their testimony is reliable.

339-342: In §7, Shieber explains why we should believe the claim (offered in §6) that if someone is rational, then she is a source of truth.

342-343: In §8, Shieber explains why we’re entitled to assume that our interlocutor is not lying; the only reason to think he’s lying is if we have special reasons. (This article is not really Kant scholarship; it’s just an article about the epistemology of testimony, using Kant as a jumping off point for some reason. I can’t see that it gives a clear, textually grounded interpretation of Kant’s position, nor does it solve any interpretive puzzles — though it brings one up. Maybe it will solve the one it brought up? No, he doesn’t explicitly do so; he may implicitly do so in §8, though. If so, I can’t figure out what his resolution is.)

343-45: Shieber raises an objection to his earlier argument that we can assume that speakers, when they assert something, believe it to be true. The response is that Shieber’s argument depends on the assumption that the function of language is to communicate truth. But evolutionary psychology shows that the function of language is not to communicate truth, but rather to promote cooperation. In addition, lots of utterances that look assertoric are, in fact, not: they may be ironic, joking, metaphorical, etc. Thus, we have no reason to presume that people say things because they believe them to be true, and so we have no reason to believe people’s testimony. In response to the point about joking, metaphor, etc. — which Shieber calls “strategic use of language” — Shieber responds that, in order for a speaker to joke, use metaphor, etc., she has to intend the her utterance be understood as a joke, metaphor, etc. So, this second reason doesn’t give us much reason to think that we can’t believe that people are usually sincere.

345-46: In §10, Shieber responds to the evolutionary criticism of his argument. His basic point is that even if you grant that the primary evolutionary purpose of language is social coordination, it doesn’t follow from this that truth-telling is not an assumption of linguistic communication; after all, we couldn’t socially coordinate unless our utterances were, by and large, true.


Axel Gelfert, “Kant on Testimony”, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 4 (2006: 627-652).

628: Kant thinks that someone else’s testimony can provide me with knowledge, and generally has the same epistemic weight as experience. Gelfert calls this the symmetry thesis. These facts about testimony give rise to a presumptive principle: “Testimony is to be believed, unless we know that certain defeating conditions obtain.” 

628n3-4: See 16:501 and 16:509 for some remarks from Kant on testimony. 

631: It’s possible to have an experience according to which X is the case, while X is not the case. This is a fortiori true for testimony: if it’s possible for your own experience to be misleading, it’s possible for someone else’s experience to be misleading too, so if you believe X on the basis of their experience, you could be wrong. However, testimony has two additional problems that experience doesn’t have: while experience may be non-veridical (therefore, so too can testimony), the speaker on whose testimony you rely can be incompetent or insincere. 

631-32: According to Meier, from whose logic textbook Kant lectured, for someone’s testimony to be reliable, she has to be “a competent witness as someone who possesses “sufficient powers to not only acquire the right experience but also to designate it in the right way” (Auszug, §207). … Competence eludes formal definition because it is essentially a skill that varies with context … competence on this account is not conceived of as entirely within the witness but also takes into account the [632] circumstances under which experiences are made. In order for someone to be a competent witness, what is required is not only ability but also opportunity

“In addition to observational skills and favorable circumstances, a third element is required for a competent witness, namely “the adroitness to declare his experiences so that one can well understand what he means”. … A general inability to express oneself clearly and accurately, in this context, is far more detrimental than an occasional lapse … as it introduces a systematic error. … Thus, competence, when analyzed in terms of Tüchtigkeit, is not a statistical point about someone’s being right more often than wrong, but requires the presence of an adequate “rule-guidedness” of reasoning and observation.”

See AA 14.2, 896 and 898 for some of the quotations for Kant on this matter.

So, for someone’s testimony to be reliable, she has to be a competent witness. To be a competent witness, she must have the ability to observe things, the opportunity to observe them, and the ability to clearly and accurately express what she has witnessed. For her to have these two abilities (the opportunity is not an ability), her reasoning and observation must be rule-guided.

633: So, Kant believes it’s possible for testimony to convey knowledge. OK, but when is it possible? Nowadays, epistemologists say that you have a right to believe someone’s testimony just so long as there are no relevant defeaters to it. But that’s not Kant’s tack. Instead, “Kant’s presumptive principle does not so much establish a “presumptive right” as a “presumptive obligation” to accept another’s testimony.”

634: Very interestingly, Kant thinks it’s immoral to be too suspicious of people: “we … have a presumptive obligation not to distrust others. The mere fact that this is not a perfect obligation … does not render it any less fundamental. It does, however, call for a specification of the social and institutional conditions that circumscribe its applicability.” 

634: “Testimonial belief requires an element of faith … that is, an exercise of trust. … in accepting someone’s testimony we do not just adopt a new belief, we trust him for the truth.” Note that Kant thinks that we have an obligation to believe people who make promises to us. Since someone else’s testimony is a kind of promise to us that what the person claims to have witnessed is something he really witnessed, underlying Kant’s principle of presumptive acceptance of testimony is “a duty to fidelity combined with a duty not to be wantonly suspicious”. 

635: The thought behind Kant’s claim that we have a duty to trust others’ promises is that if we didn’t, then we wouldn’t be able to have promising, which would have negative consequences for social life. Similarly, if we couldn’t accept anyone’s testimony (unless we verified it ourselves), then this would make public life impossible. Kant says such incredulity violates human dignity.   

635: This is a nice summation of Kant’s position so far: “Kant’s epistemology of testimony differs markedly from other positions in that it balances the recipient’s perspective, which is characterized by the hearer’s desire to have adequate justification for his testimonial beliefs, with the testifier’s perspective and his legitimate expectation to be believed. … The idea seems to be that, as human beings, we are all in the same epistemic predicament of sometimes giving and sometimes receiving testimony; hence, if we desire to be believed by other people — as we all, at times, do — we ought to also believe the word of others. Of course Kant is not suggesting that we should always believe everyone … But some degree of trust is necessary if our epistemic position is to be tenable and sustainable.”

637: Kant distinguishes between testimony materialiter (testimony about contingent historical events) and testimony formaliter (testimony about universal truths of reason). In the first case, we rely on others’ witness to give us knowledge about contingent events that we can’t experience ourselves because we weren’t situated in the right way. In the second case, we should rely on our own reason rather than that of others (this makes the role of a church–to publicly propound certain moral principles so that people don’t rely just on their own judgment–even more curious). “The idea … is that as rational beings we are all on a par with one another: Hence, in matters that are the domain of reason (such as morality and universal truths), each of us can, and indeed has a duty to, think things through on their own, whereas in contingent empirical matters … we ought to rely on other people’s experiences”.

638: Kant is an anti-inferentialist about the epistemic authority of testimony: it has epistemic weight, not because you infer to its weight from the epistemic weight of direct experience, but rather because “the adoption of testimony works by “tying together the experiences of others with our own” and spotting an inconsistency, or a violation of an independently known universal truth of Reason, when one occurs. Such transpersonal extension of the domain of experiences hinges on our own experiences being ocntinuous with those of others (at least as far as knowledge claims are concerned)”. 

639: If Kant thinks we should not be suspicious of others’ testimony, how can he also think that enlightenment is thinking for oneself? To answer this question, you have to look at Kant’s notion of enlightenment as it appears in the Critique of Judgment

640: In CJ, Kant discusses a sensus communis, which “is a form of “common” sense not so much because of its merely being widely accepted but because it is something which is genuinely shared by a community. … He identifies three maxims that are constitutive of sensus communis: “1. To think for oneself; 2. To think in the position of everyone else; 3. Always to think in accord with oneself”.” Kant thinks that accepting 1 is essential to being enlightened, because it is only by accepting 1 that you can avoid being prejudiced. The worst prejudice, on Kant’s view, “”is to imagine nature as not being subject to those rules which the understanding has constitutively imposed on it … by means of its own essential law: i.e., superstition“. Kant goes on to introduce the notion of enlightenment as a “merely negative element”: “Liberation from superstition is called enlightenment“.” I really need to get clear on what Kant understands by “superstition”. 

640-41: One of the prejudices that Kant warns against is “the “logical prejudice” of “authority” … of the speaker” (640), which is when one accepts a proposition of reason on the basis of someone’s say-so rather than on the basis of thinking for oneself. “The very fact that propositions of reason are such that every rational being can come to know them by properly exercising their own capacity to reason excludes them from testimony” (641).

641: In these pages (641-43), Gelfert makes a series of fascinating points that are of use to my paper on the church. Let’s take them in the order in which they appear: “While [Kant’s demand to think for oneself] imposes limits on our reliance on the word of others, these limits are by no means overly narrow. In particular, they leave room for a presumptive acceptance of empirical testimony; indeed, as Kant acknowledged earlier, such testimony provides us with knowledge that we could not otherwise obtain. It is, thus, perfectly rational to rely on such testimony, provided this reliance is not “uncritical” (in the sense described earlier): “Historical belief is reasonable … if it is critical”. [16: 501; Refl. 2763]. Being “critical” … means that we must not adopt testimonial beliefs in a dogmatic fashion that ignores that testimony, just like experience, is always fallible. Staying attuned to the fallibility of knowledge claims, while avoiding any slippery slope leading to skepticism, is what “being critical” is all about. Thus, we must be ready to revise our [642] (testimonial) beliefs, for example when a comparison of our own judgments with those of others gives us reason to suspect that we are in error. This is what justifies an attitude of presumptive acceptance in the first place.” This attitude of revisability is what, perhaps, makes autonomous religion so hard for people to accept. 

642: “The significance of one’s ability to “think in the position of everyone else” is clear: it indicates the opposite of being prejudiced, namely being “broad-minded”. As such, it is more of an attitude than a skill or (natural) capacity.” Gelfert then quotes the CJ, §40 for evidence of this.

643: Gelfert quotes from the Bauch Logic to make a point that relates interestingly to the propensity for deception described in the Theodicy essay. First, the quote from the Bauch Logic: “We do not only have a propensity to participate [in society] but also to communicate. Man only learns something so as to be able to communicate it to others. He does not trust his own judgment, unless he has told it to others. Everything is unimportant to us if we cannot communicate it to others.” (BL, 55) About this, Gelfert writes, “[Kant] refards communicability (and, as we shall see shortly, actual communication) as a normative “touchstone” of truth. In the section of the Critique of Pure Reason, titled “On having opinions, knowing, and believing” (A 820, B 848f.), Kant makes communicability a fundamental criterion by which to distinguish cases of mere opinion (on the basis of persuasion) from believing something to be knowledge (on the basis of testimony)”. 

644: “Communicability, as Kant conceives of it, is not a merely derivative phenomenon but is constitutive of reliable judgments concerning the truth of matters of fact. The point of communicability … consists precisely in furnishing us with a means of distinguishing between knowledge, beliefs, and opinions, by allowing others to scrutinize, challenge and correct our own judgments. In the Bauch Logic, Kant illustrates this “validating” function of communicability using a very apt metaphor: “Man always wishes to test his judgment on others; other people’s judgments are to be regarded as contrôleurs of our own judgment“. [BL, 55] Other people’s judgments, of course, are typically available to us through their testimony only, which is why an attitude of presumptive acceptance — in the spirit of the “critical method” outlined earlier — is called for.” Gelfert says that communicability is crucial for ensuring that our judgment concerning matters of fact goes right; but it seems to me that it would also have an important role to play in judgments of reason as well, as we need to know whether other people can reach the same judgmen ts to know whether our judgment of reason is counterfeit or the real McCoy.

 644-45: “It is important to realize that Kant’s conception of communicability as a “touchstone”, or “criterion”, of truth requires both that communication of one’s own thoughts is possible under the given circumstances, and that we display a general readiness to critically accept other people’s testimony, since it is through testimony that we learn about other people’s judgments. If either of the two requirements fails to be met, communication fails to lead to epistemic progress.” (644) So, in order for communication to be useful to the race, people have to have communicable thoughts, and they have to display a willingness to accept others’ testimony. The reason, then, we have to worry about censorship is this: “It is only to the extent that we are deprived of the opportunity to receive critical feedback from other people that restrictions [645] on expressing our own judgments are unjust. … if self-expression derives its justification first and foremost from the possibility of criticism by others, then clearly the normative role of communicability cannot be separated from an attitude of presumptive acceptance of testimony, to the extent that the latter is necessarily the prime source of learning about other people’s judgments.” So, self-expression is important because if we’re allowed to express ourselves, we can improve our own ideas and the ideas of others through mutual challenge. Heteronomous religion is dangerous, then, because it pressures us to limit self-expression. Autonomous religion is useful because it can encourage certain ideas that are useful for the spread of truth — e.g., it can encourage us to take other people’s testimony seriously, at least as a presumption. (Of course, this raises the question: what about taking others’ testimony seriously — is this an idea we merely must accept, or can we challenge this as well? Presumably we can challenge it, and it can defend itself, as it is an idea of reason.) 

645: Guyer claims Kant is a methodological solipsist — he thinks each individual should simply focus on his own thinking in order to know the limits of thought. If Guyer is right, then it doesn’t make sense why Kant would take testimony seriously. However, Kant is a methodological solipsist only when it comes to “searching for transcendental conditions that secure the possibility of experience in general.” Kant has another project, though, and about this he is not a methodological solipsist. This other project is that of “analyzing the conditions that make knowledge possible in the given situations we find ourselves in. … [this] project analyzes the conditions of knowledge for us as finite social beings.” 

646: Kant “acknowledges that testimony can not only communicate knowledge but, given the right circumstances, can also create it.” Gelfert cites What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking, p. 54. I don’t know what version it is, but it’s where Kant talks about Rome. The point seems to be that if lots of people have testified to the existence of something, then you can say that you know that whatever they’re testifying to exists. (E.g., if Rome no longer exists, but there are lots of records of people in the past saying they went to Rome, then you can know they went to Rome — you don’t have to say, simply, “well, I believe there was a Rome”, or that “there is very good evidence that there was a Rome” — no, you can say you know it. “Of course, if we had reason to doubt the veracity of the announcement [of the death of a great man], we could put our judgment to the test by inquiring further and comparing our own judgments with those of others, but as things stand, the rules by which such announcements do occur, seldom give reason to begin a detailed investigation.” (647) 

647-48: In these very interesting and relevant pages, Kant points out that testimonial practices vary by time and place (“specific testimonial practices are culturally determined”). Consequently, the testimony of people in one place/time may provide us with knowledge while those of people of a different time/place don’t (see 14.2, 898f.). His thinking is that there need to be certain institutions in place before you can rely as much on people’s testimony (“The ancient world lacked certain standards of accuracy that, in modern times, are enforced through collective projects such as science … and communication (“institution of the postal service”): “Not until the beginning of the last century did people begin to realize that it is necessary, to tell the whole truth, and every one thus had to be wholly accurate in his reports, and if someone swerved from the truth only a little in his writings: then he would be embarrassed and dishonored”). If these institutions are in place, though, then you can believe people’s testimony (“it is the presence of collective endeavors such as science and modern systems of communication (alongside the postal system he also specifically mentions the printing press and the emergence of newspapers) which warrants trust in the truthfulness of testimony, because it is through their presence that they set standards of accuracy and rules of communication to which people on the whole aspire.)” (All quotations taken from 647).

647-48: “the presence or absence of [648] practices that ensure that the criteria laid down for the sensus communis — first and foremost, a willingness to revise one’s own judgment in the light of other people’s testimony — are fulfilled, is indeed a contingent matter. … the mere fact that its presence is a contingent matter does not entail that the sensus communis cannot play a justificatory role. On the contrary, it is the very standard of justification that we must adhere to in our judgments”. Obviously, this is all quite relevant for how seriously we take miracle-accounts. 

  • 16:501, 508, and 509; Rflx. 2763, 2780 (pp. 628, 634-36, 638, 641)
  • Vienna Logic: 14.2, 893, 896, 898 (pp. 630-33, 647)
  • Dohna-Wundlacken Logic: 14.2, 750
  • Blomberg Logic:14.1, 246 (635)
  • CJ, B157-160 (see pp. 640)
  • Cataldi Madonna, 1992: 38 about Kant’s skepticism regarding a logic of probability (as opposed to a mathematics of probability). 
  • Bauch Logic: 59, 72, 139ff. (see pp. 636-37, 640-41)
  • Pölitz Logic, 14.2, 560f. (p. 637)

James J. DiCenso, “The Concept of Urbild in Kant’s Philosophy of Religion”, Kant-Studien 2013, vol. 104, no. 1 (100-132).

103: “In Kant’s usage archetypes are based on principles constructed by the operations of reason and given specific form based on corresponding phenomenal and cultural features. Ideals and archetypes provide no direct knowledge of reality; they are ideational resources assisting our ethical practice under varying historical conditions.”

104: “With reason, we possess a capacity to generate coherent ideas that surpass the range of possible experience. As indicated in Kant’s discussion of the just Republic, this practical use of ideas is regulative; i.e., ideas of reason offer rules for thinking: they guide us in moving from more circumscribed to more inclusive concepts.”

105: “just as a given concept analytically postulates an antecedent concept, so too a practical principle indicates something that should happen. This initiates a rule-governed conceptual movement from an imperative to that which is required for its fulfillment; Kant calls this movement a form of postulating.” This is a helpful definition of postulation: practical reason tells you that X ought to happen; X can’t happen unless Y is the case; therefore, practical reason must postulate that Y is the case.

107: DiCenso provides a helpful understanding of what an Urbild is: “Ideas provide rules that guide our autonomous actions, but we must apply them in varying contexts. Ideas such as justice can have an effect upon existing states of affairs, insofar as our actions guided by the idea can lead to ethical and political modifications. However, ideas as such lack direct intuitive representation: ‘we can never project i in an image’ … (KrV, A 328/B 384). This formal and abstract quality of practical ideas makes them difficult to apply in concreto. This is why Kant explores ideals and Urbidler that, by contrast, offer more individualized presentations of ideas allowing them to circulate and function more effectively under distinct social and political conditions.” So, DiCenso’s account is this: reason produces ideas; ideas provide us with rules for action; however, ideas are supersensible, so we cannot have a direct representation of them; because we can’t have a direct representation of them, they can be difficult to apply (and so, can’t function as rules for action); in order to apply them, we have to come up with ideals or Urbilder that allow us to apply ideas to the more specific contexts in which we find ourselves.

107: Here DiCenso disagrees with Palmquist: “[Kant] notes that any actual human being we encounter is likely to have little congruence with ‘the idea of humanity that he bears in his soul as the archetype of his action’ … . Nevertheless, although no person can fully embody the ideal of human perfection, it is possible for us to actively work toward it. … The archetype is a representational configuration of human ethical perfectibility generated by reason, which we can strive to approximate in the course of our lives.”

108: “Ideals and archetypes do not have ontological status (the ‘divine human being,’ as he stresses, is in us, i.e., it is an ideal of reason). However, neither are these ideals mere figments of the brain … Their reality is rational and practical, forming rules by which we can critically reflect upon ourselves and our institutions in pursuing ethical and political amelioration.”

109: “Throughout the first Critique, there is a close relationship between Urbilder and ideals.” The fact that DiCenso is arguing for this suggests that the relationship between Urbilder and ideals is a matter of some degree of interpretation. Anyway: “This is evident in Kant’s defining the ideal as a specific instantiation of an idea of reason: ‘human reason contains not only ideas but ideals, which do not, to be sure have a creative power like the Platonic idea, but still have practical power (as regulative principles) grounding the possibility of the perfection of certain actions‘ … Ideas have no ontological status. Yet, they guide our actions in the world, and in this sense, through the medium of autonomous human willing, judging, and acting, they can have a constructive impact upon existing social-political worlds. The example of the Sage indicates how archetypes mediate between formal ideas of reason and specific cultural exemplars; the Sage is one possible version of a moral exemplar among others. Throughout the critical philosophy, Kant links ideas of reason presented through ideals and archetypes with various representational forms transmitted historically. He also utilizes ideas to interpret and assess these culturally-informed images. All of Kant’s subsequent discussions of religious models, representations, and archetypes are rooted in the first Critique‘s formulation of ideas and ideals of reason.”

110: “Ideas do not designate objects of experience, but because they exhibit a comprehensiveness not found in actual entities they serve as regulative principles guiding our practical thinking. Ideals are … differentiated from ideas by taking the form of specific representations of a concept or set of concepts; in this respect their function is virtually identical to that of Urbilder. Hence, an ideal is a concrete universal; although ideas cannot be directly represented they can be indirectly indicated through such singular exemplars.”

110: “Just as imagination mediates sensible intuitions for the understanding, it reciprocally mediates ideas of reason for practical employment in the world of sense. However, Kant stipulates if the power of imagination is disconnected from the guidance of regulative principles, we can drift into mere illusion”.

111: “There is … a significant difference between ideals such as that of the Sage or the philosopher and the idea of God as the transcendental ideal … KrV, A 571/B 599). This transcendental ideal embraces the most inclusive attributes conceivable, thereby extending well beyond what could be attributed to any possible human being, no matter how idealized.”

113: “In contrast to any ontological assertion, the transcendental ideal or Urbild has a regulative functi0on in relation to our conceptual activity. The archetype provides rules and guidelines for human thought and willing, which is an imperfect copy or ectype of the former. It is reason that formulates guiding models in the form of archetypes, and it is we who must freely approximate these models in our thought and actions.”

114: “the transcendental ideal cannot legitimately be translated into an entity with a causal or explanatory relationship to material reality. However, neither this mere fiction synonymous with falsity; as will all Urbilder, it should be understood as a practically effective representation deriving from rigorous rational procedures of seeking maximally inclusive concepts.”

115-16: Kant “links ‘the ideal of the highest good‘ with ‘an intelligible, i.e. moral world … ,’ and explains that ‘we must assume the moral world to be a consequence of our conduct in the sensible world … . With this, the apparent dualism of intelligible and sensible worlds is resolved: the first is constituted by ideals that regulate (provide lawful guidelines for) our autonomous practical activity in the latter. Kant notes that ‘without a God and a world that is now not visible to us but hoped for, the majestic ideas of morality are, to be sure, objects of approbation and admiration but not incentives for resolve and realization … [116] ‘ (KrV, A 813/B 841). The practical reality of these ideas means that they can become real, i.e., can be realized through the ethical activity of human beings in the world. Reciprocally, ideas of reason help us address the problem of cultivating interest in the moral law; they provide incentives and guidance for our efforts to realize a more moral world.” (115-16)

116: In the Critique of Practical Reason, “the Urbild describes the full realization of the moral law in a holy will. This ideal of holiness, while providing a guide for our ethical practice, also highlights the fact that human wills do not fall into this category. We can, at best, modify our subjective maxims so that they better harmonize with imperatives based on rational principles; the archetype serves as a means of making the ends generated by practical reason more intuitive for us, thereby facilitating this practice.”

116-17: “the intelligible or archetypal world is the rationally formulated ideal of a world in accord[117]ance with the moral law, i.e., the realm of ends. The same relationship between archetype and ectype described in the first Critique is here [i.e., at C2, 5:43] used to describe the way our autonomous willing can be guided by principles of practical reason expressed through ideals. The task is to bring the humanly constructed features of the phenomenal world (i.e., social and political institutions) into greater conformity with the moral ideal.”

118: Here’s how DiCenso interprets Kant’s doctrine of grace: “Kant does not suggest that we should passively depend on an unknowable power, but rather that hope counteracts the adverse effects on motivation of the unrealizability of the moral ideal in this life.”

119: DiCenso interprets Kant as holding that the postulates of God and immortality do not suggest the existence of an actual objects; rather they are merely motivational aids to help us bring about the highest good. (This seems very implausible to me!)

120: At C3, 5:232, “the Urbild of taste is associated with a ‘maximum’ that provides the most comprehensive conceptualization of an idea guiding reflective judgment. Moreover, the ideal is clearly linked with a process of cultivation or Bildung in human beings, and hence leads directly into Kant’s concerns with moral teleology.”

123-24: In C3, “Kant describes matters of faith such as ‘God and the immorality of the soul’ as ‘ideas, i.e., concepts, for which one cannot secure objective reality theoretically.’ It is only through human activity in the world in accordance with practical reason that these ideas can secure objective reality, i.e., become constitutive: ‘In contrast, the highest final end that is to be realized by us, that through which alone we can become worthy of being ourselves the final end of a creation, is an idea that has objective reality for us in practical relation’ … (KU, AA 05: [124] 469; this point is reiterated at KU, AA 05: 473f).” So, on DiCenso’s view, insofar as we realize the highest good, we literally bring God into being.

124: “The Lectures on Metaphysics from 1790-1791 state: ‘An archetype is actually an object of intuition, insofar as it is the ground of imitation. Thus Christ is the archetype of all morality. But in order to regard something as an archetype, we must first have an idea according to which we can cognize the archetype … If we have no idea, then we can assume no archetype, even if it were to come from heaven. I must have an idea in order to seek the archetype concretely’ … (V-Met-L2/Pölitz, AA 28: 577). In addition to applying the concept of Urbild to Jesus, this passage emphasizes that an archetype can be classed as such only if it gives intuitive expression to an idea of reason (as also indicated at KrV, B 371f and RGV, AA 06: 61). … An individual image can serve as an archetype only by conforming to the rational ideal of the moral law, thereby giving phenomenal expression to moral realization or holiness.” (124)

126: Here’s what DiCenso has to say about 6:61: “The term Urbild is applied to the figure of Jesus as portrayed in Christian writings, indicating that he serves as an archetype representing ideas of reason. Second, Kant emphasizes that Jesus should be understood as human rather than divine in order for him to be an effective ethical example (also see RGV, AA 06: 63f). It is espeically important that Jesus personifies humanity as vernünftige Weltwesen; i.e., we are rational beings immersed in phenomenal conditions. This indicates that the moral challenges represented in accounts of his life also concern our ethical endeavors in the world. Finally, Kant stresses that it is we who must actively elevate ourselves to an approximation of this archetypal moral disposition, and that it is reason that calls us to this ethical duty.”

127: “Kant interprets the one pleasing to God as a regulative ideal with practical effect on our reflection and judgment. He therefore associates our hope for moral improvement with ‘the practical faith in this Son of God (so far as he is represented as having taken up human nature)’ … (RGV, AA 06: 62). Jesus as Urbild represents a potential moral condition toward which all human beings might aspire, with practical faith presented as a resource sustaining our effort toward this attainment. … These religious representations, insofar as they express moral principles, have a relation [128] to ideas of practical reason that parallels that of ideals. The main difference is that historical representations are generally constituted by ideals presented in narrative configurations and mixed with other culturally-derived features. Most importantantly, Kant states that our turning to any example (as a resource for autonomous ethical reflection) is optional: ‘there is no need, therefore, of any example from experience to make the idea of a human being morally pleasing to God a model to us; the idea is present as a model already in our reason’ … (RGV, AA 06: 62). Here, Jesus is described as Vorbild rather than as Urbild. … This is significant, because while Urbild indicates an original or foundational image to be emulated, there is an explicit ‘anticipatory’ meaning in Vorbild. … (V-Met-L2/Pölitz, AA 28: 235-236). Therefore, Jesus as Vorbild directs us toward a possible future condition, i.e., an ethical condition in accordance with moral principles as in the realm of ends, to which we aspire.”

128-29: “Historical representations have an ancillary status, making access to ideas of reason more accessible for phenomenal, culturally-[129]formed beings like ourselves.”

129: “Religious representations can vivify ethical concepts, but practical reason remains the necessary touchstone for assessing and interpreting all religious forms. The arguments of Religion are entirely commensurate with these earlier formulations stressing the need for us to realize the highest good through autonomous ethical practice.”

130-31: “The Urbild of humanity in its full moral perfection represents the actualization of the categorical imperative through the course of a human life; it is a model for us to follow voluntarily within the unique challenges of our lives, but there is no invocation of assitance from a hypostatized supersensible being. The latter view would contradict the heart of Kant’s epistemology and ethics: the denial of supersensible knowledge claims, the rejection of reliance on heteronomous authorities and powers to do for us what we will not do ourselves, and the emphasis on autonomy that cultivates an ethical disposition according to the guidelines of universaliz-[131]able laws.”

131: “It is helpful to us to personify ethical ideas in order to make them more intuitively accessible, as in the case of Jesus as an Urbild of ethical humanity. However, Kant notes that ‘we do not thereby mean to say that this is how things are in themselves.’ … we are socially-formed and fallible beings, despite our inherent rational capacity to formulate universalizable moral laws. We require the pedagogical assistance of culturally produced representational forms, such as those found in religious teachings, to make principles and laws accessible and to orient out lives with reference to them.”


Palmquist, Stephen R. “Could Kant’s Jesus Be God?”, _International Philosophical Quarterly_, vol. 52, no. 4, issue 208 (December 2012: 421-437).

The last quotationis a good summary of the main claims of the article. As I (at this moment) recall them, they are these:

  1. It is theoretically possible that Jesus was divine.
  2. It is practically useless to believe that Jesus had a holy will, as this will not encourage a believer to try to emulate Jesus.
  3. It is practically useful to believe both that Jesus was a human being who managed to achieve a perfectly good disposition, and that there is historical evidence that he actually existed and did things in keeping with having a perfectly good disposition. It’s practically useful to believe this because the fact that he was a human and achieved a perfect disposition shows that you can as well, and the fact that he actually existed and did things in keeping with a perfect disposition provides further motivation for you to imitate his example.
  4. I don’t recall what the article said about the Resurrection. It did say something about vicarious Atonement and symbolism, but I’ll have to reexamine the quotations I include below to reconstruct that.

Finally, here are some articles to check out:

  • Stephen Palmquist, “Kant’s Ethics of Grace: Perspectival Solutions to the Moral Problems with Divine Assistance,” The Journal of Religion 90 (2010): 530-53.
  • Lawrence Pasternack, “”Regulative Principles and ‘the Wise Author of Nature,'” Religious Studies 46 (2010): 1-19.
  • Joseph Palencik, “Kant, Testimony, and the Basis for Empirical Knowledge,” International Philosophical Quarterly 52, no. 4 (2012).”

424: Palmquist (arguably) offers the thesis of his article in this sentence: “Could a Kantian go so far as to affirm the divinity of Jesus without contravening this fundamental principle of Critical humility? I am not aware of any affirmative interpreter up to now who has gone this far, yet my purpose here is to demonstrate that the answer is (at least a qualified) yes!

Parts of the Religion to read for stuff on Jesus/the Atonement: Section VII of Division One of the Third Piece and Subsections A, B, and C of Section I of the Second Piece.

425-26: “Kant recommends not that we abandon any belief in a God-man, but that if we choose to adopt such a belief despite the ethical danger that accompanies [426] it, we must do so in a particular way that preserves its potential for moral empowerment.”

426-27: Kant claims two things: (1) we’re not obligated to regard Jesus as divine (427); and (2) stronger, it doesn’t do us any good to regard Jesus as divine (426-27). It doesn’t do us any good to regard Jesus as divine, for two reasons: (a) we can think Jesus is perfect because Jesus conforms to the archetype. However, we also have the archetype in ourselves, and so we think of Jesus as perfect because he, despite being human, nonetheless manages to perfectly conform to the archetype. If we saw Jesus as divine, we wouldn’t be impressed by his conforming to the archetype, so he would provide us with no moral motivation. (b) The archetype, within both us and Jesus, is already something we must regard as supernatural. Consequently, regarding Jesus as supernatural is superfluous.

427: Theoretically, we cannot know whether Jesus is divine. Practically, we should not see him as having a holy will, because if we view him this way, then we’ll conclude that we can’t be expected to live up to his example because he, unlike us, is not radically evil.

428-29 (but esp. 428): In what sense could a fully human Jesus also be divine? One possibility is that Jesus exhibits a morally perfect disposition by his outward conduct. Obviously, you can’t know that anyone has a good, let alone perfect, disposition, but you can infer to such, just so long as none of his behavior contradictions the attribution of a perfect disposition to him. “References to Jesus’s divine nature in the Gospels may be interpreted not as a claim that Jesus is somehow different and unique among human beings, but rather as a challenge to others to find in Jesus’s actions anything that might contradict a good disposition.” (428) “Theologians need not assume that, by alluding to his own divine nature, Jesus was setting himself apart from the rest of humanity. Rather, his goal may have been to [429] show his followers the secret of moral empowerment: radically evil human beings can become good only by calling upon the divine archetype of perfect humanity that God has placed into the heart of every human person, just as Jesus did.”

429: Palmquist interprets Kant as holding the following view of vicarious Atonement: (1) it’s not theoretically impossible; (2) it’s practically dangerous to believe in its possibility; (3) although it’s practically dangerous to believe in it’s possibility, it’s permissible to believe in it, as long as you do so in a special way, one that relies on the right kind of religious symbolism.

430: Theoretically speaking, the notion that angels are lower on the moral scale than us is hard to fathom. After all, they have morally perfect wills. Nonetheless, we cannot but conceive of them as lower than we are, morally, because they don’t have to struggle, and so cannot display moral worth. Similarly, theoretically we’re inclined to say that God loves us perfectly, but for the God of classical theism, this is hard to admire. Consequently, we come up with the religious symbol of God sacrificing himself for us, even though theoretically we cannot make sense of how God could do that. Kant calls such symbols — which give a sense to supersensible phenomena, like God loving us perfectly — schemata of analogy.

430-31: Kant warns in the third Critique that symbols can bewitch us, giving us only subjective grounds for assent but not objective ones. (See C3, 5:461.) “By contrast, when a symbol is interpreted properly, its function is not unlike that of what Kant calls a ‘focus imaginarius‘ (A644/B672)–i.e., ‘a point from which the concepts [431] of the understanding do not really proceed, since it lies entirely outside the bounds of possible experience,’ but which ‘still serves to obtain for these concepts the greatest unity alongside the greatest extension.'”

431: “the schematism of analogy is another term for the hermeneutic of moral symbolism that forms the core of Kant’s theory of religion; … purely theoretical interpretations of theological dogmas deceive believers into thinking that they can know God in a manner that transcends any consideration of good life-conduct: the moral empowerment that ought to accompany genuine religious belief is thereby bound to be impaired. As Kant repeatedly argues throughout Religion, the legitimacy of religious beliefs (which for Kant means their tendency to empower rather than to obstruct the believer’s moral development) depends on how a believer interprets them. We must therefore keep constantly in mind that to ‘schematize (make a concept graspable through analogy with something sensible)’ does not enable us to ‘infer (and thus expand a concept)’ (65n) in a way that provides knowledge that the concept belongs to supersensible reality as such.”

431-32: “in religion … [432] we must regard the schema as a requirement for us to grasp a concept, not as a requirement that must apply literally ‘to the thing itself.’ Fully understanding this hermeneutic point makes it obvious that, even though he has made clear that there can be no positive theoretical evidence compelling us to believe that Jesus is divine and that certain practical dangers inevitably accompany such a belief, Kant has no overriding objection to a Christian upholding such an assertion. Quite to the contrary, as noted above, he later explains why we must clothe the bare religion of reason with some such historically-grounded beliefs, if it is to fulfill its function of empowering us to be good.” (431-32)

434: “This distinction between the two experiments in Religion holds the key to a proper understanding of Kant’s position on Jesus’s divinity. If we take Kant at his word, then he has no intention of dictating to Christians any position whatsoever as to whether or not Scripture (or any other form of divine revelation) justifies a belief in Jesus as God in human form as historical fact. That many (if not most) Christians regard their assertion of Jesus’s divinity as if it were an empirical fact is irrelevant to Kant’s position. As he warns in the above-quoted passage, even his second experiment has no ‘theoretical aim’ that would be in the least relevant to the ‘instructional method’ that clerics might use to convey Christian doctrines to the laity. If we take his claim at face value, then the position Kant adopts on Jesus’s divinity serves solely as a comment on the practical (i.e., moral) empowerment that such a belief must provide for a person who affirms the ‘religion of bare reason’ that Kant expounds.

435: “affirming the existence of a God-man is morally acceptable if it empowers a person to live a moral life after all; it is unacceptable if we mistakenly believe that by merely copying what that person did (or, even worse, by merely relying on that person’s goodness), we too can be moral.”

436: “nothing that [Kant] says on this topic [i.e., the divinity of Jesus] has any relevance to the historical or factual (objective) question of whether or not Jesus ‘really is’ properly described as God. A matter that is held to be true on such objective grounds would count as what Kant here calls ‘knowledge,’ and our decision to assent or withhold assent to any alleged historical knowledge is properly based on testimony. Kant would freely admit that anyone concerned with upholding Jesus’s divinity as a doctrine of historical faith may proceed in this manner. But since Kant’s question concerns Jesus’s disposition, and this transcends the bounds of the objective world as we know it, his position on the issue at hand must be one of either belief or opinion.”

436: “[Kant’s] central claim, that one who ascribes divinity to Jesus based on his disposition (Gesinnung) must fully recognize that every human being is equally capable of adopting this same disposition, amounts to raising the affirmation of Jesus’s divinity to the status of a belief.”

437: “One can therefore assert that Jesus is divine, without contravening any principles of Kant’s Critical philosophy, provided we understand by this assertion that the believer is just that: a believer. In other words, Kant is not rejecting the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity so much as challenging Christians always to remember that they do not have positive (scientifically verifiable) knowledge that objectively proves the divinity of Jesus. He is therefore warning that even the biblical theologian’s attempt to demonstrate Jesus’s divinity on historical (or Scriptural) terms risks being detrimental to their morality, unless one’s historical faith is already firmly grounded in the religion of moral reason. As such, he is at the same time affirming the genuinely religious power that can be gained by asserting that a God-man, understood as a living symbol of human perfection, really did live at a specific time in a specific place in human history. For taken in this way (i.e., as a symbolic belief), it provides all the evidence we need to form a subjective conviction that we, too, are capable of living a good life.”

Andrew Chignell, “The Devil, the Virgin, and the Envoy: Symbols of Moral Struggle in _Religion_ Part Two, Section Two, in Otfried Höffe, ed., _Religion innerhalb der Grenzen bloßen Vernunft_

113-14: Chignell points out that many people (well, at least Eberhard and Wizenmann) criticized Kant in his own day for the practical postulates. The criticism was this: in the first Critique, Kant postulated limits to knowledge; but in the second Critique, Kant postulated entities — God, immorality, the highest good — that go beyond the strictures set out in the first Critique. Consequently, we cannot say that the objects of the practical postulates are really possible. At best, we can say they’re logically possible. “Thus practical reason in its postulating role — just like theoretical reason in its speculating role — may for all we know be groping among concepts of mere ‘thought-things’ (Gedankendinge), and practical faith (Glaube) may be as empty as theoretical speculation (cf. KrV, A771/B799).

114: So what did Kant say in response to this criticism? Well, he responded at 5:144n. But broadly speaking, “Kant [… sought] to forge a much stronger connection between the ideas of reason and intuitional sources of content. One of his main efforts in this regard invokes the notion of ‘symbolism’ or ‘schematism by analogy.'” Chignell mentions Real Progress, where Kant claims that we schematize categories. What is it to schematize a category? It is to “appeal to a kind of a priori intuition that provides content to a pure category”. This appeal to an a priori intuition (space or time, obviously) “provides ‘an emergency assistance [Nothülfe] for concepts of the supersensible which are as such not truly presented, and can be given in no possible experience.”

114: How on earth can appeal to an a priori intuition provide emergency assistance to a concept of the supersensible? Supposedly, appeal to the a priori intuition provides content to a pure category by revealing a relationship that the category has to things in the phenomenal world. Chignell: “The thought here is that symbolization may provide a kind of ersatz content when normal a priori or a posteriori intuitions aren’t available: we can get a sense of what a supersensible object is like (and also of whether it is really possible) by drawing an anlogy between its relationship to something we already cognize, and the relationship between two other things that we cognize.”

114: For example, ,if you want to know how a supersensible object ground nature, you can use the relationship between a clockmaker and his clock. The relationship between the supersensible object (God, let’s say) and nature is analogous to the clockmaker/clock relationship.

115: Why do we need to do this? Because, according to Chignell, “having a sense of the real possibility of the objects involved — even if only by appeal to symbols and analogies — becomes something close to a requirement on rational belief/faith (Vernunftglaube) by 1790 or so, just as being in a position to ‘prove’ the real possibility of its objects is a requirement on knowledge (KrV, B xxvi, note) (Chignell 2010).” So, practical reason forces us to posit postulates, and although we can’t have theoretical knowledge of the objects of the postulates, we can use symbols to give us a sense of the relationship of the objects of the postulates to things in the phenomenal world, and even if the relationship we think is there is not, in fact, there (there’s no way to know, theoretically), we still need to assert that relationship to make use of the postulates.

115: Kant relies on this approach to symbols in the Religion. There, Kant distinguishes between a “schematism of object-determination” and a “schematism of analogy”. (Chignell doesn’t say where Kant mentions these two schemata.) What does that mean? Chignell quotes Kant: “in the ascent from the sensible to the supersensible, we can indeed schematize (render a concept comprehensible through analogy with something of the senses).” I.e., while we don’t know about things like God, immortality, and the highest good, we can figure things out about them analogically. How? Well, let’s say we depict sensible thing A as having relationship R with sensible thing B. Then we can say that noumenal thing N1 relates to noumenal thing N2 with the same relationship, R. That’s what it is to use a symbol to give yourself, if not knowledge, then at least a grasp on something. Chignell writes: “if we venture beyond the claim that the relation between the two sets of things is similar, we fall into ‘anthropomorphism, and from the moral point of view (in religion) that has most injurious consequences’ (Rel., 65n; cf. KU, V 351 and 464n on the two kinds of ‘hypotyposis’).”

115-16: Kant starts the second section of Part Two of the Religion with a symbolic representation of the struggle between the good and the evil principles, a model that can be construed either as the Christus Victor model, or as a more legalistic model. Christus Victor models “depict an agonistic struggle between the beloved envoy of a ruler, on the one hand, and a once-loyal vassal who has become a usurper, on [116] the other … After a long battle, the envoy triumphs — though not without great injury to himself, an injury that is sometimes construed as a kind of ransom — and thus brings the world back into the rightful dominion of the good ruler.”

116: the more legalistic Christological model goes like this: Christ is “a kind of advocate for humanity in a legal case that will be decided, fairly, by an all-observant ‘supreme judge.’ The Devil also transforms — from a vile usurper into a kind of lawyerly prosecutor … who comes before the heavenly court and charges humanity with giving itself over to evil.”

116: Chignell notes that Kant does not make recourse to penal substitution models. That said, in n.6 on this page, Chignell caveats, “Kant does subscribe to a kind of penal substitution model in Part One, but says it is the ‘new man’ in us — rather than Christ — who pays for the sins of the ‘old man’ (see 74-5 and note). Thus there is no genuine substitution here (though see Hare 1996, 57 ff. for a different account of this according to which Christ is also the ‘new man’).”

116-18: Chignell then discusses Kant’s account of the Fall and the Jewish Theocracy, but I don’t know why he discusses this.

119: Chignell notes that Kant writes that Jesus announced himself as coming from heaven. Kant does this because he doesn’t want to offend the Biblical theologians, but he also doesn’t want to commit himself to the claim that Jesus actually was of heavenly origin.

119-20: “As a result of this metaphysical reticence, however, there is no real explanation offered for why the envoy — as a ‘true human being’ doesn’t participate in the radical evil that characterizes the rest of humanity. This is something that many commentators find perplexing, especially in light of the doctrine of the innateness and ‘universality’ of the corrupt propensity to radical evil. But Kant’s views on autonomy generally suggest that we must allow that this is theoretically possible not just for Christ but for anyone. … it must be under the individual’s control whether she enters into the ‘bargain with the evil principle.’ The story of our first progenitor must therefore be taken symbolically as a narrative depiction of something that inevitably albeit contingently happens to each of us in the realm of freedom. … The innate propensity to natural evil is neither necessary nor strictly universal. Rather, it is a contingent universal — and ‘universal’ ap-[120]parently means ‘always or for the most part.’ Christ, it turns out, is the one great exception to the rule.”

120: “The fact that there is one human being who is able to resist adopting the propensity to evil immediately puts the sovereignty of the usurper in jeopardy. But why? In keeping with Kant’s general approach here, we must not view the threat to the evil principle as metaphysical or forensic; rather, it is because other humans might ‘believe in him and adopt his moral dsiposition’ — in other words, they might see that it is humanly possible to be fully moral in the way that he was, and then earnestly seek to follow his example. Of those who ‘believe in him’ in this way, Kant says, ‘the prince of this world would lose just that many subjects and his kingdom would run the risk of being totally destroyed’ (81). Aware of this threat to his dominion, the Devil tempts the envoy in multiple ways …”.

120-21: “This part of the account raises an obvious epistemological question: how do others know that the envoy is perfect, in order to take his life and work as [121] an example? How does Christ’s life prove to them that human perfection is really possible? … In light of his ‘irreproachable’ behavior and the absence of proof to the contrary, Kant says, it is only fitting that observers give him the benefit of the doubt and ascribe to him a perfect will (ibid.). But this hardly constitutes a proof of actuality or real possibility! Moreover, since Kant thinks the latter is required for any sort of knowledge … the result is that the most that we or even the contemporaneous witnesses at first hand can have about Christ is ‘practical faith'”.

122: Kant claims that, although we have had a human envoy at a particular moment in time, it’s not true that we needed this particular person to appreciate our moral calling. “Kant’s idea is that the moral law is and always has been available to reason, at least in an ‘invisible’ way.” Kant thinks there are three advantages to this way of thinking of things: “First, Kant can claim … that no one particular religious ‘vehicle’ is required for grasping the moral law — it was already there, descended to humanity in the form of practical reason itself. Second, Kant can endorse a secular version of the Pauline doctrine that all rational beings, even those who lived well beofre Christ or on nother other parts of the earth, ‘are without excuse’ before the law (Romans 1:20). Finally, Kant is able to say that if the good principle does descend in an actual envoy at one point in history, that person has ‘come until his own’ (in the biblical phrase) — not just his own race or biological species, but his fellow free rational beings to whom the good principle had already appeared in the form of the moral law.”

123: Chignell notes that Kant writes that people are bonded to the evil principle against their will. This can’t be literally true, because it if were, then evil would not be imputable. Instead, when Kant says this it must mean that people use their Willkür to freely submit themselves to the bondage of the evil principle, in defiance of their ideal will. When Jesus shows up, though, he shows that you don’t have to put your ideal will in bondage: “The appearance of an envoy of the good — one who does have a perfectly rational will — exemplifies to them [i.e., people in general] a life of true morality and (hence) true freedom, and this example helps to protect their new morality.”

124: Kant claims that showing that holy texts dovetail with morality is a duty. Why? The most important reason is that holy texts provide a kind of intuitional content to some of the claims of morality, namely those we must believe but that refer to the supersensible: “in the course of performing the [second] experiment we have also encountered images and symbols in historical and scriptural narratives that provide a crucial kind of ‘sensible rendering’ … of rational religion: they give its central ideas (God, freedom, evil, forgiveness, the afterlife) with an ersatz sort of intuitional (albeit symbolic) content — and thus an indication that such things are really possible. ‘We always need a certain analogy with natural being in order to make supersensible characteristic comprehensible to us,’ Kant says, and ‘the Scriptures adapt themselves to this manner of representation, to make the extent of God’s love for the human race comprehensible to us, by attributing to God the highest sacrifice a living being can ever perform in order to make even the unworthy happy’ (65n).” (125)

The remainder of the article is about what we should believe about miracles in general, and it has the same tenor as Chignell’s other article.


Chignell gives a couple of important references in this chapter:

  • Chignell, A. 2010: Real repugnance and belief about things-in-themselves: A problem and Kant’s three solutions, in: Krueger/Lipscomb 2010.
  • Ricken, F./Marty, F. (eds.) 1992: Kant über Religion, Stuttgart.