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Theological Ruminations

on Kant
Looking backward, forward and
heavenward

Jeffrey Brooks Price

11/30/2008

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

Background 4

Transcendental Philosophy 5

Categorizations of the World 8

Implications for the Modern and Post-Modern Thinker 11

Conclusion 13

Bibliography 15
Introduction
The fragile human mind looks backward at history to know where it has been, forward towards the
future to know where it is going, and heavenward to find meaning and purpose. The challenge to find
meaning and purpose has resurfaced again and again throughout the ages, as humanity has struggled to
understand where it is at present. Each age that passes has brought humanity closer to the final
consummation of the Kingdom of God, and thus nearer to the return of Jesus Christ. His return will
bring many answers to the longing questions of our hearts, and cast aside those questions that warrant
no answer. While this truth is astounding and perplexing for those adopted sons and daughters of the
most high God, imagine the struggle to understand for those that have not been called according to his
purpose1. Humanity’s struggle to understand this truth humbles us and shows us our need to submit all
thoughts to our Creator and Lord. However, the non-believer does not recognize the need for such
submission. Consequently, as Van Til points out “unbelieving thought bounces back and forth,
inconsistently, between rationalism and irrationalism.”2

The philosophy of Immanuel Kant is not exempt, as it suffers from the inconsistent movement between
rationalism and irrationalism. To understand this movement we will examine two major areas of Kant’s
thought – the transcendental argument and the categorizations of the world, each struggling to maintain
continuity and comprehensiveness, and failing to do so. Kant’s philosophy has resonated with students
and has made a significant impact on the history of philosophy because he encountered and
philosophized about many of the same questions that plague the modern and post-modern thinker
today. He sought after proof of the existence of God, a normative moral law and struggled with the
sovereignty of God. By understanding the thoughts of this significant figure in history and how he dealt
with these questions, we grow in our ability to deconstruct non-Christian worldviews, so that we might
make more effective witnesses in the world proclaiming the reign of our King, Jesus Christ.

Background
Immanuel Kant’s life history reveals the building blocks of the philosophy that he was to share with the
world. His parents were hardworking, Lutheran Pietists who “cultivated [within Kant a] personal
devotion to God in Christ and high moral standards.”3 Their piety would later influence Kant’s
emphasis on the “moral law within”4 and the heavy burden of obligatory commands, as he draws a
distinction between “natural causality, of what must happen”5 and “categorical imperatives, a command
not dependant on contingent situations or desires.”6 But even within these distinctions we see Kant’s
struggle to remain consistent where he sees a rational, objective standard for morality from God, it is
dismissed as nothing more than an irrational “exceptionless natural causality.”7 However, the
subjective reality or the law of freedom, is seen as an irrational “moral law within,”8 and is held up by
Kant as a rationalistic obligation “to do what morality commands.”9 The rational moral standards
taught to Kant in his youth would later find their way into his philosophy twisted into a subjective
irrationality.
Kant would later become a professor of philosophy and early in his career “taught the philosophy then
prevalent in Germany, which was Wolff's modified form of dogmatic rationalism.”10 This was very
similar to “the rationalistic, deductivistic approach of Leibniz.”11 This is where he began to lay the
foundation for a philosophy of the rational, autonomous mind as “he made psychological experience to
be the basis of all metaphysical truth, rejected skepticism, and judged all knowledge by the test of
reason.”12 Kant later “encountered the writings of Hume, which challenged the rationalism he had
imbibed from Wolff,”13 and as he stated, “awakened him from his dogmatic slumber.”14 This
awakening made such an impact on Kant that he rejected the rationalistic approach and embraced
Hume’s empirical skepticism. “[H]e began to question the solidity of the psychological basis of
metaphysics, and ended by losing all faith in the validity and value of metaphysical reasoning.”15 This
is where the foundations for the irrational “noumenal God”16 were laid because Kant could not rely
upon his rational mind to provide an understanding of anything more than what it could directly
experience. This background provides an understanding for where Kant came from as his philosophy
formed and where he was going with his philosophy as he dealt with the inconsistent tension and
movement between rationalism and irrationalism that plagued his thoughts.

Transcendental Philosophy
After looking back at the influences in Kant’s life and thought, we now turn our attention to the first
major area of his thought and perhaps his greatest contribution to philosophical studies. Kant’s
transcendental argument provided non-Christian thought “a revolutionary awareness of the uniqueness
and comprehensiveness of its distinctive principles.”17 It is this influence that finds its way into so
many modern and post-modern minds, and the framework from which many arguments against
Christianity are made today.

What did this mean for Kant? He “called his philosophy ‘transcendental,’ because for him an argument
is transcendental when it reveals some feature that is required by experience. Transcendental
philosophy is thus the demonstration of the features that we need to have experience at all.”18 This
philosophical argument is a comprehensive worldview that attempts to put all knowledge and
experience into one fluid perspective. Put another way, “[t]ranscendental philosophy is the wisdom of
pure speculative reason. Everything practical, so far as it contains motives, has reference to sentiments,
and these belong to empirical sources of knowledge.”19 What the mind experiences through the senses
capable of collecting information, it translates into knowledge. Finally, in his own words,
“[t]ranscendental philosophy therefore is a philosophy of pure, merely speculative reason.”20 To Kant,
this purity was the essence of his philosophy.

There is an intricately woven and constantly fluctuating rational and irrational string of thought within
the transcendental argument. Kant tied together the irrational skepticism of Hume with the rational
reason of Wolff. It is quite paradoxical that he used “speculative reason” to describe his thought, as he
made it clear that it is both irrationality and rationality married together. Kant taught a philosophy
where both, irrationality and rationality, relied upon one another in areas that neither are equipped to
provide answers to. Kant provided an example of this while explaining the natural course of human
reason.

“[F]irst it convinces itself of the existence of some necessary being,”21 so our human minds, using our
reasonable faculties convince us of something that only our experience can tell us exists. This seems
inconsistent if, as Kant teaches, we can only rely upon those experiences to tell us that which our minds
can reasonably understand. We are confronted with either a rational mind inventing something that
does not exist, thus it is an irrational mind, or having an irrational experience that the rational mind
does not know how to process. In the end, Kant concludes “that the highest being, as the primordial
ground of all things, exists in the downright necessary way.”22 Unfortunately, he has no basis to say
that the rational mind can and should conceive of anything irrational since our experiences do not give
us a reason to conceive the irrational.

Kant’s view of transcendental philosophy can be seen in the humanism of Sartre, who wrote, “[man
has] no legislator but himself, [and must] always be seeking, beyond himself, an aim which is one of
liberation or of some particular realization, that man can realize himself as truly human.”23 Put simply,
Kant’s transcendental philosophy adopted by Sartre said that humanism is “a doctrine that does render
human life possible.”24 Kant’s marriage of irrational skepticism with rational reason provides the
framework to deconstruct Christian thought and remake man in the image of man by empowering man
with a philosophy of humanism over theism.

However, transcendental philosophy did not have a purely negative impact on the history of
philosophy. Because of the tension created between sense experience and rational deduction, Christian
presuppositional apologists like Van Til were able to redeem the use of the transcendental argument.
“We do not get this knowledge [of the world] from sense experience alone (Hume) or from rational
deduction alone (Leibniz, Wolff), but from an argument assuming the reality of knowledge and
showing the necessary presuppositions of that assumption.”25 Rather than begin with the presupposition
that the mind is autonomous or neutral, and arrive at the same conclusion, Van Til begins with a
“theistic epistemology”26 which consistently maintains the tension between rational (analogical thought
of man) and irrational (transcendent thoughts of God). This “theistic epistemology”27 stands in contrast
to Kant’s rational (autonomous thought of man) and irrational (non-existent, noumenal God).

Categorizations of the World


Kant’s transcendental philosophy was the framework he used to argue for his categorizations of the
world. Here are perhaps the most obvious distinctions between the rational and irrational elements of
Kant’s philosophy. While his life story has provided the backdrop, and his transcendental philosophy
the framework, we are now equipped to examine “the relation between the irrational noumenal world
and the rationalistically conceived phenomenal.”28 By his categorizations of the world Kant offers us
“his reflection on the categories of the human mind [and] specified what could and could not be the
object of knowledge. [T]his pronouncement virtually determined what could and could not be part of
the world.”29 As such we have the heart of Kantian philosophy in these categorizations using the
skeletal framework of the transcendental argument.

The first distinction Kant draws in composing his view of the world is to look at the noumenal world,
or things in themselves. Here the focus is upon “reality as it really is, apart from any experience of it”30
which is similar to Aristotle’s matter. This is the ideal which cannot be experienced or touched, but is
simply known to be true. In Kant’s words the pure knowledge is known by these, “[c]ognitions a priori
that have no admixture of anything empirical.”31 Though this is pure knowledge, it cannot be known to
us by pure reason. “This means that we cannot have knowledge of God, the world, or even the
substantial self32” according to Kant. He said, “I cannot even assume God, freedom, and immortality
for the sake of the necessary practical use of reason.”33 This means that humanity does not have access
to God, freedom, or the soul, and thus cannot assume any exist without experiencing that which Kant
says we cannot experience, unless, Kant continues, “I deprive speculative reason of its presumptuous
insights. I thus had to suspend knowledge in order to make room for belief.”34 Already we see issues of
continuity and comprehensiveness with this type of suspended knowledge in relation to the noumenal
world.

In Kant’s attempt to avoid, “[t]he old rational dogmatism [that] laid too much emphasis on the a priori
elements of knowledge”35 he has walked right into an irrational a priori knowledge that cannot be
experienced or even known to be true. This is quite contradictory for a priori knowledge is known to be
true or it is not knowledge at all. Furthermore, “it plays no role in our thinking. Indeed, as with
Aristotle, it is in a sense nothing.”36 Kant’s noumenal world promises to be knowledge of things as they
really truly are, but only delivers knowledge that is really truly nothing. This is quite a failure for
anything claiming to be pure knowledge. The implication of the noumenal world on Kant’s view of
God leads only to a “surrogate god who cannot appear in history, who cannot become incarnate, who
cannot raise the dead, and who is alleged not to be in intimate fellowship with us in the midst of all
human reasoning.”37 There is nothing more irrational than ignoring the plain truth of history as it really
is, while claiming to have knowledge of the world as it really is.

The second distinction Kant draws in composing his view of the world is to look at the phenomenal
world or things as they appear to us. This is pure a posteriori knowledge passed through the filter of the
autonomous mind. “The structure of the phenomenal world, in fact, is not only apprehended by the
mind but contributed by the mind.”38 The phenomenal world cannot exist without the human mind to
interpret and even add to its existence. Here Kant diverges from pure Humean empiricism, and “argued
that the mind is not simply a repository of impressions and ideas but it is actively involved in knowing
the objects it experiences.”39 Knowledge of the phenomenal world “was necessarily a world of time,
space, and causality, and this was the foundation for sure knowledge.”40 This knowledge is the polar
opposite of the un-experienced noumenal world, as this “knowledge is a result of human understanding
applied to sense experience.”41 Now we begin to see the problems of a worldview that relies upon the
human mind for existence, for as the human mind unravels so does the world.

Again Kant attempted to avoid the trappings of failed philosophies of the past by recognizing “the
empirical philosophy of Hume had gone too far when it reduced all truth to empirical or a posteriori
elements.”42 Unfortunately this led Kant to an over-emphasis on the rational human mind that cannot be
maintained consistently, “a rationalism that constructs the entire universe of being itself from the
immanent thought-processes of the human mind.”43 If this were possibly true, then existence of the
universe would be held together by the autonomous human minds of man. “Or perhaps I should say not
minds but mind; for whether, on Kant's view, there is just one transcendental ego or several is, of
course, a vexed question.44” There is great difficulty here in maintaining a consistent worldview, even
one that claims such a strong hold on rationalism. Kant’s rationalism unravels quickly into an
unreliable irrationalism, showing “[ou]r knowledge is genuine but is a knowledge of appearances, not
of reality as it is in itself.”45 Even within his own worldview there is recognition of the inability to
consistently maintain a rational view of the world. For if we cannot have true knowledge of the things
we help to create (the phenomenal world), what knowledge can we rely upon?

Implications for the Modern and Post-Modern Thinker


The heart of Kantian philosophy lives on within the thought of modern and post-modern thinkers. They
are drawn both to the comprehensiveness of his philosophy and the Sartrian humanism because they
have hearts that are “bent by sin and rebellion against God.”46 His philosophy has provided answers to
the questions that many seek, and thus has proven attractive, despite many short-comings. We can
recognize the desire to find answers to these questions because our Biblical worldview asks and
answers these very same questions. Humanity cries out for answers to questions of God’s existence and
normative moral law, and we struggle with understanding human freedom within the context of God’s
sovereignty. It is perfectly permissible to ask these questions and understandable that people seek
answers, but the answers are not found within the empty philosophy of the world.47 The better we
understand these empty philosophies the stronger our Christian witness will be to redeem them from
peril and show the world everlasting life.

We shall first examine the implications of Kant’s philosophy on the struggle to understand God,
creation, and a normative moral law. Since Kant categorized God into the irrational noumenal world
and it is only through God that creation and moral law can be understood, we recognize an impassable
dichotomy for Kant and his students as they struggle to access that which by definition for them is
inaccessible. By maintaining this distinction we deny access to God and remove ourselves from the
very source of understanding these questions. Kant recognized this himself when he said, “if we admit
statutory laws of such a will and make religion consist of our obedience to them, knowledge of such
laws is possible not through our own reason alone but only through revelation.”48 God has revealed
himself through creation and through scripture, to show us a truth that is both truly knowable and
knowably true through the world and through special revelation.

Our dependence upon God for this knowledge is vastly different from the Kantian philosophy that says,
“[o]ur experience can therefore allow for no God other than one that is dependent upon the world as
much as the world is dependent upon Him.”49 While this is an attempt at rational argument it fails the
test of rationality by offering an irrational answer to the question. “Kant secures the objectivity of
phenomenal knowledge by cutting off access to things in themselves, which become unknowable.”50
This is not Kant’s only problem, for his objectivity or neutrality is based on a false premise as well.
“[H]e assumes that the functioning of the human mind at the present time is normal, rather than being
bent by sin and rebellion against God. Thus he has to smuggle in an ontology, a theory of what kind of
world we are in. And, paradoxically, this smuggled-in ontology exceeds the bounds of what he himself
says that human reason is capable of!”51 Ultimately, Kant supplies an inadequate answer to the question
of the human heart, while God provides a truly coherent and consistent view of the world, not only as it
really is, but also as it is meant to be.

Finally, upon the realization of the need for the God of scripture to be real, we are confronted with yet
another question of the heart – how do deal with human freedom and a sovereign God. Kant’s rational
answer was to make humanity, god, and knowledge “absolutely independent of all experience,”52 by
judging all theological statements with the autonomous mind.53 “Autonomy means answering only to a
law (nomos) that you give yourself (autos), which is the only way to be ‘rational’ for Kant, which
means not to allow your reason to be overwhelmed by an alien power.”54 By doing so, humanity can
supplant God for the throne and rule in his stead. Unfortunately, as we saw earlier, in Kant’s
phenomenal world there is a breakdown in human autonomy’s ability to sustain the test of rationality.
“Our knowledge is genuine and true, but it never makes us gods,”55 no matter how much we reason to
ourselves and provide argumentation to the contrary. The freedom we have is provided to us by a
sovereign God, as he gives us the ability to freely choose Him over the idols of our hearts. Kant fell
into the same trap as Adam and Eve by choosing to obey his own will and assert his own autonomy
over that of God Almighty.
Conclusion
The struggle to clearly separate the rational and irrational patterns in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant
stem from the non-Christian’s inability to consistently and comprehensively provide an answer to the
theological and philosophical questions of the ages. As sin has infected our hearts and minds, it has
also marred our ability to reflect the truth that is plainly given to us by God. The non-Christian
worldview is, by definition, set in contrast to that of the Christian, therefore, once again as Van Til
points out “unbelieving thought bounces back and forth, inconsistently, between rationalism and
irrationalism.”56

Immanuel Kant has provided us an intricately woven masterpiece of a comprehensive worldview,


trying to remain consistent, but ultimately failing to do so. The irrationalism of the purely speculative
noumenal world coupled with the rationalism of the purely reasoned phenomenal world has had a great
influence on the philosophy of the culture today. This influence can be seen in the highly subjective
morality and the ferociously independent psyche of many post-modernist minds. We must be equipped
to understand this philosophy, point out the inconsistencies and, ultimately, point people back to the
only source that can provide the comprehensive worldview that remains consistent, that of the most
high God of the Holy Scriptures. There we will find the redemptive historical story providing us with
an account of where we have been, where we are going, and the meaning and purpose of this story as
revealed from the heavens by God.

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Allen, Diogenes, and Eric O Springsted. Primary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology.
Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, Volume Two. Grand Rapids: Baker
Academic, 2004.

Caputo, John D. "Without Sovereignty, Without Being: Unconditionality, the coming God and
Derrida's Democracy to come." Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 4.3, 2003.

Crockett, Clayton. Anxiety and the S(ub)lime Body of God. November 11, 1999.
http://www.jcrt.org/archives/01.1/crockett.html (accessed 2008).

—. Taking Shape: On the Current Constellation of (Religious) Thought. August 31, 2002.
http://www.jcrt.org/archives/03.3/crockett.shtml (accessed 2008).

Frame, John. "Christian Apologetics Lectures." Syllabus, 2003: 140-149.

Frame, John. "History of Philosophy and Christian Thought." Syllabus, 2004: 46-53.

Frame, John. "Ontological Argument." Christian Apologetics, 0ST530, 2003: 285-289.

Frame, John. "Transcendental Arguments." Christian Apologetics, 0ST530, 2003: 279-281.


Frame, John. "Van Til: A Reassessment." Christian Apologetics, 0ST530, 2003: 271-276.

—. Van Til: the Theologian. February 9, 1997. http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/index.html?


mainframe=/apologetics/frame_vtt.html (accessed 2008).

Kaufmann, Walter. Existentialism from Doestoevsky to Sartre. New York: Penguin Group, 1975.

Kaufmann, Walter, and Forrest E. Baird. Philosophic Classics Volume III: Modern Philosophy.
Englewood Cliffs: Pretice-Hall, 1994.

Placher, William C. Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 2. Philadelphia: The
Westminster Press, 1988.

Plantinga, Alvin. Christian Scholarship: Need. July 13, 2002.


http://www.leaderu.com/aip/docs/plantlec1.html (accessed 2008).

Popkin, Richard H. The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1999.

Poythress, Vern. Implications of Scientific Method for Biblical Interpretation. 1988. http://www.frame-
poythress.org/Poythress_books/Science/bs2.html (accessed 2008).

—. Redeeming Science. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006.

—. Twelve Maxims of Symphonic Theology. http://www.frame-


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Til, Cornelius Van. Why I Believe in God. 1996. http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/index.html?


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Turner, William. Philosophy of Immanuel Kant. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08603a.htm


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1 Romans 8:28 ESV And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for
those who are called according to his purpose.

2 Frame, Van Til: A Reassessment 2003

3 Kaufmann and Baird, Philosophic Classics Volume III: Modern Philosophy 1994, 407

4 Popkin 1999, 501


5 Ibid, 501

6 Ibid, 501

7 Ibid, 501

8 Ibid, 501

9 Ibid, 501

10 Turner n.d.

11 Poythress, Implications of Scientific Method for Biblical Interpretation 1988

12 Turner n.d.

13 Kaufmann and Baird, Philosophic Classics Volume III: Modern Philosophy 1994, 409

14 Poythress, Implications of Scientific Method for Biblical Interpretation 1988

15 Turner n.d.

16 Frame, Christian Apologetics Lectures 2003, 140-149

17 Frame, Van Til: A Reassessment 2003

18 Popkin 1999, 496

19 Kaufmann and Baird, Philosophic Classics Volume III: Modern Philosophy 1994, 420

20 Allen and Springsted 1992, 185

21 Allen and Springsted 1992, 198

22 Ibid, 198

23 Kaufmann, Existentialism from Doestoevsky to Sartre 1975, 369

24 Ibid, 346

25 Frame, Transcendental Arguments 2003

26 Ibid

27 Ibid

28 Frame, Van Til: A Reassessment 2003


29 Poythress, Implications of Scientific Method for Biblical Interpretation 1988

30 Frame, History of Philosophy and Christian Thought 2004, 46-53

31 Allen and Springsted 1992, 178

32 Kaufmann and Baird, Philosophic Classics Volume III: Modern Philosophy 1994, 409

33 Allen and Springsted 1992, 176

34 Ibid, 176

35 Turner n.d.

36 Frame, History of Philosophy and Christian Thought 2004, 46-53

37 Poythress, Twelve Maxims of Symphonic Theology n.d.

38 Frame, History of Philosophy and Christian Thought 2004, 46-53

39 Kaufmann and Baird, Philosophic Classics Volume III: Modern Philosophy 1994, 409

40 Poythress, Implications of Scientific Method for Biblical Interpretation 1988

41 Kaufmann and Baird, Philosophic Classics Volume III: Modern Philosophy 1994, 409

42 Turner n.d.

43 Bavinck 2004, 69

44 Plantinga 2002

45 Allen and Springsted 1992, 172

46 Poythress, Redeeming Science 2006, 36

47 Colossians 2:8 ESV See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit,
according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to
Christ.

48 Placher 1988, 104

49 Til 1996

50 Crockett, Taking Shape: On the Current Constellation of (Religious) Thought 2002

51 Poythress, Redeeming Science 2006, 36


52 Crockett, Anxiety and the S(ub)lime Body of God 1999

53 Frame, Christian Apologetics Lectures 2003, 140-149

54 Caputo 2003

55 Poythress, Twelve Maxims of Symphonic Theology n.d.

56 Frame, Van Til: A Reassessment 2003