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Shadows of Divine Things

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Location: Texas, United States

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.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Kant: The One Possible Basis (Part 3 & Conclusion)

Is Existence a Predicate?

Kant Declares:

"If existence is to be inferred as a consequence from the ground of the merely possible, that existence must be encountered in an analysis of the concept, for there is no other derivation of a consequence from a concept of possibility except through logical analysis. But then existence must be contained as a predicate in the possibility. Now since this can never be, according to the truth of the First Observation of the First Part, it appears that a proof of the truth in question is impossible in the way mentioned." [Kant, The One Possible Basis, 225]

In that reference Kant explains that existence is not a predicate. To illustrate his point Kant uses Julius Caesar. If one takes Julius Caesar and then joins "in him all conceivable predicates, not even excluding those of time and place, [one] will quickly see that with all of these determinations he can exist or not exist." [Ibid., 57] Furthermore, according to Caesar’s ‘thorough determination,’ there can be no predicate missing at all. What Kant means by ‘thorough determination’ is simply that using a priori rules always ensures truth and certainty. Kant’s interest in using these a priori rules is that it helps strip away all matter and exhaust all options in order to arrive at certainty.

Thus, the term existence is used as a predicate, and as Kant asserts,

"This can be done and without troublesome errors so long as it is not proposed to deduce being from merely possible concepts as one is wont to do in proving absolutely necessary existence. For then one seeks in vain amongst the predicates of such possible being, because existence certainly is not to be found amongst them. In those instances of ordinary speech where existence is encountered as a predicate it is not so much a predicate of the thing itself as it is of the thought one has of it." [Kant, The One Possible Basis, 57.]

In the above quote one can see how Kant’s rejection of existence as a predicate has direct connections with his contention of the ontological argument moving from concept to necessity. This is demonstrated in the fact that Kant firmly believes that the Cartesian ontological argument moves from possibility as a ground to existence as a consequence. Of course Kant reverses this process and moves from possibility as a consequence to a necessary being as the ground. Thus, granting the movement of the Cartesian process involves not only a logical problem for Kant but a predicate problem as well. The logical problem Kant detects in the Cartesian process is described in nice detail by Treash in his introduction to Kant’s essay The One Possible Basis (pp. 15-16). Kant believes the problem lies in the form of the argument. The Cartesian form begins with conception. Thus, in actuality the argument is, at best, "bare possibility" (as Treash describes).

The predicate problem stems from the logical problem in the sense that because the Cartesian process starts in conception, actual existence can only be deduced from ‘bare possibility’ (or mere possibility) through analysis of what is actually in the concept. [Treash, The One Possible Basis, 16.] Treash elaborates on Kant’s assertions by declaring,

"There is no conception or predicate attaching to an existent thing that does not constitute its determination as a mere possibility. The complete conception of the hero Julius Caesar must include all his determining predicates. These determine him both as an actual, historical character and as a merely possible one. Nothing at all is added to that determination which delineates Caesar from Brutus when the former is recognized to be a real and actual being. Hence although "existence" may sometimes be employed as a predicate in grammar, it is not a real predicate. And so it will never be possible to derive the existence of any entity from the concept of that entity, be that concept what it may." [Ibid.]

And Kant contends that the Cartesian form of the ontological argument does this very thing; it begins with the concept of a perfect being and moves to the actuality of that being as a consequence of the concept. Therefore, God’s actuality, according to Kant, is already contained in the possibility. And as Treash points out, "This requires existence to be considered a real predicate." [Ibid.] This is something which Kant is not willing to concede since he believes the condition through which God may be thought is hypostatized. In other words, as was stated earlier, Kant’s contention with the Cartesian view is that God (as being) is a consequence of the concept and is thus already present in possibility. Thus, predicating existence to God is something that is already present in the possibility, and as Kant points out later in his Critique of Pure Reason, "I cannot know as an object that which I must presuppose in order to know any object." (CPR A 402) [Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. by Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), 365. See also Howard Caygill’s work A Kant Dictionary (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995), under the term ‘existence.’ Caygill gives a nice description of Kant’s view regarding existence and the notion that it is not a predicate.]


Having examined a small aspect of Kant’s pre-critical philosophy of religion (esp. regarding the Cartesian Ontological proof for the existence of God) we can see the importance it has on the critical period; a period in which Kant is more explicit in his affirmation that any proof which purports to demonstrate God’s existence is ultimately suspect.

Kant, in his pre-critical period, while possibly being a little more sympathetic to the ontological argument, is not nearly as willing to pay homage to the notion that there is a viable proof for God’s existence. And this denial is more forthcoming during his critical period; a period which demonstrates a greater development of Kant’s thinking on these issues than was demonstrated in the pre-critical era. However, in his pre-critical period, as well as his critical period, Kant is more than willing to concede to the notion that belief in God is necessary. Albeit, certain proofs which attempt to support these beliefs are not necessary.

Kant himself, at the end of The One Possible Basis essay declares, "It is thoroughly necessary that one be convinced of God’s existence; but it is not nearly so necessary that it be demonstrated." [Kant, The One Possible Basis, 239.]


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