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Shadows of Divine Things

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This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kant and the ‘One Possible Way’ (Part 2)

Pre-critical Kant

Clement Webb in his work Kant’s Philosophy of Religion describes the pre-critical period of Kant’s efforts in the arena of the philosophy of religion as such:

"The earliest published reflections of Kant on the philosophy of religion are chiefly concerned with the impression of design made upon us by the spectacle of nature. This seems to have been always in his eyes the most obvious and natural means by which the thought that there is a God is suggested to the human mind." [Clement C. J. Webb, Kant’s Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926), 25.]

This is a telling quote about Kant’s pre-critical philosophy which becomes more evident in his Critique of Pure Reason regarding the notion of analytic and synthetic judgments. However, prior to the fullest development of this theory of judgments Kant’s pre-critical era at least demonstrates his move toward such conclusions (from the above quote) in his assessment of the proofs for God’s existence. In other words, pre-critical Kant, as we will soon see, seems to be searching for a possible demonstration for God’s existence via what he would later call a synthetic a priori judgment.

[Throughout Kant’s career he believed that the notion of the synthetic a priori is the only way in which one could, if it were possible, truly prove God’s existence. Thus, for Kant, proof for God’s existence would require this type of judgment.]

It seems one of the reasons for Kant’s essay The One Possible Basis for a Demonstration for the Existence of God was his contention with the current use of the ontological argument. Clement Webb has pointed out that "it may surprise those unacquainted with the course taken by Kant’s thought on this subject prior to the appearance of the Critique of Pure Reason to find that this ‘only possible proof’ is a modified form of what is called the ontological argument. [Clement C. J. Webb, Kant’s Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926), 30.] If nothing else, pre-critical Kant is at least playing with the notion that there might be a possible demonstration for the existence of God. Of course, the operative term in the preceding statement is "might."

In his pre-critical writings Kant is not willing to concede the notion that there is any "proof" which would, without doubt, be able to demonstrate God’s existence. Nonetheless, in this pre-critical essay Kant is at least working on the idea of possibility as being a better explanation for demonstrating God’s existence than what has been presented as ‘proof’ in the Cartesian ontological argument.
In his essay The One Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the Existence of God, Kant formulates an argument which looks something like this:
  • All possibility presupposes something actual in which and through which everything conceivable is given.
  • Accordingly there is a certain actuality whose annulment itself would totally annul all internal possibility. But that whose annulment or negation eradicates all possibility is absolutely necessary.
  • Therefore, something exists in an absolutely necessary fashion.

[Immanuel Kant, The One Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the Existence of God, trans. by Gordon Treash (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), 79. I have put the argument in a syllogism to distinguish the premises and conclusion. This was not something that appeared in the original text.]


Prima facie the above argument only seems to demonstrates that there is such a thing as necessity. However, this argument is the basis or ground from which Kant attempts to rework or correct what he finds wrong in the ontological argument. Frederick Copleston, in his popular work A History of Philosophy volume six describes with great clarity the intent of Kant’s pre-critical assessment of the arguments for God’s existence. Copleston declares,

"All proofs of the existence of God must rest either on the concept of the possible or on the empirical idea of the existent. Further, each class can be divided into two sub-classes. In the first place we may attempt to argue either from possibility as a ground to the existence of God as a consequence or from possibility as a consequence to God’s existence as the ground of this possibility. In the second place, that is, if we start with existing things, two courses are open to us. Either we can try to prove the existence of an independent cause of these things, and then show that such a cause must possess certain attributes, which make it proper to speak of it as God. Or we can try to prove at the same time both the existence and the attributes of God. Any proof of the existence of God must, according to Kant, take one of these four forms." [Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy vol. VI (New York, New York: An Image Book Dell Publishing Company, 1985), 188.]

The above quote is quite helpful, especially to those readers of pre-critical Kant in determining what exactly Kant was up to when he was examining the proofs for God’s existence. It at least lays a good foundational starting point from which a more thorough examination of Kant’s early essay can be established.

3 Comments:

Blogger Streetapologist said...

Perhaps you can answer this question:How does Kant's above treatise relate to Van Tillian apologetics?

7:07 PM, December 26, 2007  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Streetapologist,

I have heard that Van Til's apologetic method is akin to Kant, to what degree? I have no idea, I'm not familiar enough with that method to actually make that assessment.

10:59 PM, December 27, 2007  
Blogger Streetapologist said...

Thanks for your response. I am *fairly* familiar with Van Tillian apologetics. Van Til's argument basically argues that *predication* and human reason is not possible apart from God as the precondition of intelligibilty.

It was actually a Wiki article that stated that Kant came up with this Transcendental argument.

Anyway thanks for taking the time to answer.

7:28 PM, December 28, 2007  

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