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Archive for January 21st, 2003

Kant on Religion and Reason

In a very interesting essay entitled “What is Enlightenment?” (Was ist Aufklarung?), Kant takes pains to stress the necessity for reason’s autonomy. Reason should be free to follow its own ends and searches. While the citizen as citizen is duty bound to obey the ruler, the same citizen as scholar ought to be free to utilize his reason to investigate and criticize the governmental body and processes over which the ruler presides and which he executes. Which is all well and good, and thoroughly within the Kantian divide between pure reason and practical reason.

But most of the essay is taken up with the duties of pastor as pastor and that of pastor as scholar. Kant says a pastor is obliged to recite the creed, and teach it in catechism classes–though with something of a wink by saying, “This is what the church teaches”–but as scholar, the pastor is free to criticize and contradict the creed based on his own researches. The pastor must Sapere aude!, or dare to think for himself.

But one wonders on what basis Kant asserts such claims. First is what clearly appears to be a very dubious division between one’s public and private lives, a division which at least on a surface reading smacks of rank inauthenticity. On the other hand, on what basis can Kant assert that one must feel free to question and criticize, and even disbelieve, religion? On the basis of reason’s own assertions? Isn’t that question-begging? Reason tells me I should feel free to criticize religion on the basis of reason? What privileges reason over faith?

Now, I’ll grant you that Kant may certainly have a more systematic relationship between these two tensions, but having read the first Critique and the Groundwork, I’m not able to put these two tensions together. Not on Kant’s own terms, and definitely not on my own.

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