Kant In A Nutshell

by Philip McPherson Rudisill
April 30, 2007 and some editing on-going as of September 20, 2017

This includes, in this order, brief summaries of the Critique of Pure Reason, Grounding to the Metaphysic of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason and Religion Within The Bounds Of Sheer Reason. When this has been completed and polished I intend to add also Kant's Critique of Judgement.

This is a major task and is presently still a fragmented presentation, and will likely require several years for me to complete (and which probably means that it will never be completed). I also want to note that none of my work is copyrighted, and is available to all. Also this was originally composed as a means for me to better understand and express Kant's thinking.

Critique of Pure Reason


Here we are going to examine Kant's conception of human knowledge, and discover and explain its foundations and its limitations. We will be especially interested in how it is that pure reason (or metaphysics) seems on the one hand to be a science and on the other hand flails about in conflicts and confusion.

We will first examine two sciences, the mathematical and the natural, and discover their foundations. We don't need this information to certify either science, for they stand firm as self evident. But we do need to know their foundations in order then to see why it is that when reason decides to leave the floor of experience and become metaphysical it gets lost in mirages of ideas.

Types of Knowledge. There are two sorts of knowledge, the analytical and the synthetic. The analytical arises by dissection of the concept such that, for example, the concept of table tells us of an elevated flat surface convenient for human use; and the concept of face indicates a "constellation" of mouth and lips, nose, eyes, forehead, etc. So via the analysis no new knowledge arises, but only clarity of thought and expression regarding the concept.

The other sort, the synthetic, takes us beyond the concept of the object to something about that object, e.g., a red table is a table which has a color of red. Here the basis is a sighting of a specific table, which makes it empirical knowledge and, in this case, tells us that it is red in color. This is called empirical and a posteriori and means that the information is added to the concept and based on an exposure to the object.

But there is another synthetic besides this empirical and a posteriori and that is the synthetic a priori (in advance) and this is given before, and independently of, any experience. The validation of such knowledge is given in the facts of mathematics and the foundations of experience itself.

With mathematics the validation of the a priori statements about its objects comes from what is called a "reine Anschauung", i.e., a pure "look-at" or view* of the object. The 12, as the object of the union of 7+5, is not given as the result of an analysis of 7 and 5 and their unification, but only in the construction of the answer by advancing from 7 and going five more numbers (using the fingers of the hand as a representation of 5) and seeing 7+5 unified in 12. The procedure then is a pure looking/sighting and so it is synthetic and also a priori.**

* Usually in Kant talk "intuition" is used for Anschauung. See Kant and the meaning of the Anschauung.

** One might think the following procedure would work: reduce the 7+5 to 12 1's, and then reduce the 12 to 12 1's. Since the 1's of each side will cancel each other out, we would want to conclude that the two sides are equivalent and can be substituted one for the other. But this does not follow universally. For even though, for example, the right and left hands can be perfectly equal in every respect, point for point, and described in the same way, they still cannot be substituted for each other, for both cannot wear the same glove. Accordignly then there is no universal principle that tells us that things which are completely equal to each other can be substituted for each other. Hence no analysis can tell us that 7+5 = 12. This knowledge is entirely synthetic a priori .

In the sciences and foundations of experience we need only to consider that Hume knew indeed that his table did not get smaller at a distance, and realized to his chagrin that this was a contradiction within the very system he had just expounded concerning human knowledge. Since it is obviously impossible to know this fact from experience (for every sighting shows a smaller table when viewed from a distance), this knowledge is a priori (as well as synthetic) and is a contribution of the human mind to the objects that appear in time and space (and which will be presented below in the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories).

The validation of mathematics lies in the object provided by the pure viewing/looking, and that of the other sciences is the experience that arises from the actions of the understanding capacity of the human, e.g., that things don't change size, but only appear to.

When we turn to reason as pure reason we find a drive to leave the floor of experience and to conceive of certain objects which transcend the capacity of all experience, and to reason that these objects actually exist, even though they can never be validated or viewed in any experience. Because no viewing, whereby merely thought objects are validated, is required or even possible, we are led astray by a natural dialectic.

Now from here we begin by going to the Transcendental Aesthetic, first in order to consider how objects are given to us via our sensitivity and what knowledge we obtain of them and how. And then in the Transcendental Analytic we will look and see how it comes about that these a priori notions we have (called categories of understanding) are actually applied to the objects given to us in the sensitivity (which Hume dismissed as impossible). And finally we will turn to the Dialectic and deal with objects of pure thought where we find much stumbling and confusion, and will learn why this is the case.

The Transcendental Aesthetic

It may be helpful here to first look at a preparatory piece entitled Kantland, which is an attempt to get one's mind focused on this section of the Critique.

In the Transcendental Aesthetic Kant reminds us (in so many words) that the entire universe that we can ever actually experience is a projection within the brainarium* (within our brains) and that all objects that can ever appear in that brainarium are merely appearances, and which, as appearances, exist only between the blinks of our eyes (and not during the blink). Indeed even the space and time that we are so familiar with and accept as intuitive are merely the ways in which we look at or view these appearances of our brainarium, seeing them as now and then, and as here and there (none of which is an appearance but simply the way we view and look at appearances, or anything in time and space).

* Kant does not use this term. It was inspired by my brief readings of Schopenhauer, but it does seem to reflect precisely our situation with regard to all possible objects of the senses. Another term might be "craniorama." It suggests a theater or panorama within the brain. Briefly, and for example, sunlight strikes a tree and some light is reflected from the tree and enters the eye and is transmitted (upside down and with left and right reversed) to the brain where a correction takes place and a panorama unfolds of the tree and what we call the universe.

Here so far we make no distinction between appearances, and see them indifferently as appearances and where both the rainbow and the rain are undifferentiated with regard to material (in our retinas). The distinction between appearance and a real object comes later. In saying this then we assert the reality of things apart from us and it is in contrast to that reality that we can recognize the objects actually viewed/intuited/angeschaut as mere appearances (images on the retina and in the brainarium). Hume knew that his table did not get smaller, and so he knew that he was seeing a mere appearance, a brainarium representation (in vision) of a real table.* There is no illusion here when we say that we know things only as appearances. The only illusion would be not to distinguish the appearance from a real thing and to think that appearances were real things just as perceived, and in which case Hume will have realized that his table physically did get smaller due to the distance, and that the distance was perhaps even the cause of the growing smaller, like thinking that the face in the cloud were a real face, that the cloud had a face just like a human has a face and where both, for all we can say (considering appearances to be real things as they appear) is that sometimes (in the cloud) real faces appear and then disappear. That would be the only illusion, to see the face in a cloud as real as the face on the front of a person's head.**

* See Hume's table.

** And where "front" represents nothing more than a way of looking at a human's head.

Now while this “thing on its own” must await its debut upon our examination of the acts of the understanding mind (also in the brain as an expression), we do now easily understand how it is that all things that can ever appear to us must do so spectrally, i.e., as appearances via our senses.

In this connection Kant will now want to make a transcendental deduction of the application of mathematics to all appearances which can ever appear to us in the brainarium, and this will arise by viture of the ideality of space and time (as forms of our sensing). To this end he considers the only ways that we might possibly know that any two sides of any triangle will be greater than the third. If we merely analyze the concept of triangle (three line segments where each endpoint is a common endpoint of two) we will not discover such a truth, i.e., there would be no suggestion as to the relative lengths of the sides. If we examine many triangles empirically, where each of many thousands of examined triangles has this property of relationship of lengths of the sides, still we cannot in that way know that a triangle might not appear someday that did not comport with that exposure, and while it would not be commonplace; and so still the condition of the lengths of the sides would not be certain in this way. The only way to recognize this condition as necessary for all triangles is to construct pantomimicly (or in a sketch) a triangle in a pure viewing out in space before our eyes and it will be seen in the construction that it is necessary for every two sides to be greater than the third; for otherwise it will not be possible to have a triangle.

Consequently, Kant wants to make clear, what we construct in time and space holds for all possible appearances/Erscheinungen; and the validity of mathematics is given through an object which is a pure viewing/Anschauung, preceding all experience, i.e., an object the viewer herself provides. This will be useful later when Kant needs to show how it is that reason cannot accomplish such knowledge via its own provision of an object later in pure reason. Reason may not take heart from the universal (in the brainarium) application of mathematics.

Summary: All objects of experience are nothing more than appearances which appear within the vista of our brainarium. And the time and space in which we see appearances in the brainarium are themselves entirely in the brainarium as the way in which we look at anything, be it appearance or even such as a triangle traced out pantomimicly in mid air (a pure and a priori, i.e., a non-empirical viewing). All viewings in this time and space of our brainarium will, therefore, be subject to the conditions of time and space (in the brainarium) as our form of looking, and for which reason also the conclusions of geometry are binding on all appearances (by being binding on all space).

Here is a link to an English translation of the Aesthetic.

The Transcendental Analytic

Deduction of the Categories

Since we have this knowledge of the world of the brainarium, i.e., that all things appearing to us are appearances within that theater of the brain, and since we know that this information cannot have been derived from any experience (which shows only that appearances on the retina and projected in the brainarium have so far always gotten smaller at a distance, for example, as Hume realized), it is clear that this information is provided by ourselves, and so obviously the appearances are subject to the rules of the understanding for, if not, we could not possibly know that they were appearances and not things on their own, and thus we would think that things do indeed get physically smaller at a distance. Our task now is to lay out how in fact this comes about, that what we essentially dream up in our understanding holds as valid for the appearances which are given via our sensitivity.

Categories. Kant wants to show how it is that the framework of human understanding, which entails thinking and judging in accordance with rules (per the categories of understanding, which serve as a connective mechanism), must be presupposed in order to account for even our first perception (Wahrnehmung = "careful-taking). In this way he wants to remove the theoretical doubts that skeptical Hume had raised, for Hume based his entire system on the perception. The way Kant does this is to identify the perception as merely the first step leading to the recognition of an object among the appearances/Erscheinungen that are given in our brainarium. In fact, since the recognition of an object will be a function of the category, he wants to show that the perception itself is a function of the category. In this wise he intends to explain and refute Hume's skepticism.

The steps are as follows: first the careful perusal or apprehension of the manifold which makes up the singularity (consisting of a manifold) sighted in space and time, e.g., noticing the legs and the top of a table, or the 7 stars making up a "Big Dipper", each as a singularity comprised of a manifold of appearances. Then there is the reproduction of this manifold all together in imagination and the association of it, e.g., the legs are below and the top is above. And then finally the recognition of the object through the concept of an object which serves as a rule binding the manifold and requiring it to appear as the manifold is organized, e.g., the concept of a table as an elevated top convenient for human use. In this latter and final step we arrive at a unified consciousness in that two discrete and different things (legs and top) are treated as a single thing in a single thought, e.g., parts of a table (and where table is the object combining the manifold of top and legs). It is this pure, original and transcendental apperception (consciousness of self) that makes possible the first (subjective) perception (viewing the elements of an object) on the way to a recognition (which is an objective and necessitated perception of an object) and a unified consciousness. Since this unification is only possible via a rule of understanding (per the category) it follows that the only objects we can expect to recognize in and among the appearances of the brainarium are objects which are of a certain form with regard to the thinking of them and thus the recognition of them. And so to the extent that any object can be perceived it will have to conform to the conditions necessary for a unified consciousness, and those are the categories of understanding and experience.

Now while it is true that it is only by means of the category that objects can be recognized, there is still a question as to whether the appearances do in fact constitute objects that can be recognized by us. For it is possible that appearances could be so diverse that no consistency would ever arise to suggest a rule or pattern of behavior. In that case we might still have perceptions of immediate facts, but never a recognition and thus never a unified consciousness of self. Our world, like that of my dog Jacky (as I hypothesize), would be less coherent than a dream, everything merely happenstance. What needs to be done is to show that we already know in advance of any exposure to the appearances that they are all together pieces of a giant, all encompassing puzzle and that they can be fitted together in a single object, (generally termed the Transcendental Object = X, and where X is nature in general, i.e., a law-ruled existence).* And so the pure productive imagination seizes upon manifolds of the appearances under the transcendental assumption that these appearances are not things on their own but rather the representation of objects. And so this holds of all appearances, namely that they are the representation of objects of a single nature (the affinity of all appearances).

* At least this is the assumption that our understanding mind makes in order to be taken by patterns and coincidences which can then lead to connection via the concept of the object by the understanding.

Accordingly then and in advance of experience the understanding provides the categories for the recognition of objects and these categories are as binding on the appearances as are the time and space in which those appearances appear within the brainarium, and thus we can know in advance that all appearances whatsoever are subject to the categories. And, of course, this could not possibly make any sense if appearances were things on their own, and so the categories do provide necessary objects, but only regarding the appearances, and have no reference to things on their own (this is developed in the next section). Thus we can see how here the presumption of the understanding to provide objects for the appearances to represent is validated, because these objects are always appearances and can be presented in a sighting or viewing. And we see that the apprehension and reproduction, which constitute the subjective perception of an object, are undertaken in anticipation of a recognition (which is the objective perception). Thus every perception is a function of the category as the means to a recognition, and this constitutes Kant's deduction of the categories as valid and necessary for experience and even Hume's perceptions.

The grasp of this process will help us realize the failure of pure reason to keep this in mind clearly, and as a result to presume to conceive of objects independently of any possible experience, e.g., a soul, freewill and God, and consider them as necessary as the objects of nature.

Click Deduction, for further discussion.

The Judgments Of Understanding With Regard To Objects
And The Principles Of Experience

So far then we see that we only have contact with appearances in the brainarium and that mathematics holds of all possible appearances, and that the objects we spy about us (and represented by appearances) are real objects and our perceptions of them are authentic perceptions of real objects. We now want to consider how the understanding actually acts upon our judgment as we deal with the appearances which are given to us. And we want to consider them in terms of the recognition of the object (in space and time) and then the recognition of the real object (via perception). This has to do with the construction of the physical object in the mind. Next we will consider these recognized objects with respect to their existence, i.e., how they relate to time and to each other. And then finally we will consider how our recognitions fit together in a whole, a unified consciousness of self.

I am also taken by the notion of a dual way of looking at the appearances. I'm thinking that each of these principles of understanding is in contrast to another way of considering the appearances. For example, I can look at an appearance as the object itself which gets physically smaller at a distance (which I sometimes call the animal take on appearances) or I can look at it as merely an image of the object with the object remaining unchanged in size. Here we want to justify how it is that we humans take the latter look at things, and not the former

Now I want to go through these principles and look at two alternative ways of considering the appearances for each one.


The axioms tell us that an object is extended in space and time, and so where we can notice what we are doing as we take in the extension of objects, e.g., in the sighting of a leaf. When I sight a leaf I can simply take it as it hits my eye (in the appearance/Erscheinung) or I can peruse it and “take it all in”. And so the human has the choice of simply staring at an object, or carefully apprehending the object. Kant talks about “paying attention” in the B version of the Deduction and I consider that to be a cue as to what Kant is all about here. And so the Axiom tells me to judge a sighted (viewed/intuited) object as an extended object and to apprehend all its parts. This occurs also in time as I consider, for example, the sound of a whistle as extended in time (not how loud or its pitch, but how long).


Speaking of a whistle we can turn to the Anticipations where we have a judgment to make with regard to the content of space and time to the extent it has a reality, i.e., a sensation. We can either take the sensation as a thing on its own and singular, or we can consider it in our mind as being the same sensation as before, only more or less of it, e.g., a subdued or louder whistle. When we are first confronted with the sound of a whistle, we can already on our own realize that that sound, while remaining the same pitch, could be softer, and then we can realize also in advance that it could be louder. What we then are told to do by the principle of anticipations is to judge that the sensations are all exemplified in a degree and that two otherwise different perceptions, e.g., a bright green tree and a dark green tree, can be one and the same thing, a green tree, only appearing in different light, and so where the difference in the different greens are degrees of one and the same green color. .

At this point we have come to recognize the object, e.g., a tree, that it is of such and such a shape and color. It has been a construction aiming at the transcendental object = X, that unknown something that we presuppose to be represented by the appearances. This has a mathematical character.

Now we are prepared to glean information about the existence of this object, i.e., the form of its existence.

First Analogy

The First Analogy guides us in judging as to the existence of this object. As a sheer appearance (in the brainarium) the object does not and cannot exist except in the perception. That is one way that we could judge of things, that there were no difference in meaning between “out of sight” and “not existing”, or between “in sight” and “existing”. We choose the other way, the one recommended by the first analogy of experience, and identify the object (with respect to its material) with time, as a sort of manifestation and confirmation of time as an object. The material of the object, per this First Analogy, continues unchanged with respect to quanity.

This is the way that we express the singularity of time, that there is not a time of this thing and a time of that thing, as though they might be separated by an empty time or that they might overlap in the same time. The standing tree and the subsequent fallen tree are judged to be one and the same tree (and where “standing” and “fallen” are predicates or states of that tree). The standing tree and the fallen tree did not exist at the same time nor were they separated by an empty time, for the tree itself continues always (again with regard to its material). Indeed it is by means of this endurance of substance (material of the object) that we can have an objective measure of time.

Second Analogy

The Second Analogy (causation) leads us into judgments regarding the successive existences and how it is that we introduce into the brainarium the notion of an objective apprehension. We notice earlier the standing tree and then the fallen tree, and that is merely a subjective apprehension where there is no necessity and where the next perception might be the same tree but now standing again. We could stay with the subjective apprehension and just eventually conclude that seldom if ever is the fallen tree followed by the standing tree, i.e., no necessity and entirely subjective. The judgment the human makes is that there is an objective apprehension and we seek it out in something which intervenes in the two perceptions, namely the perception of an ax man or a strong wind. All the causation principle does is to lead humans to make an objective (at least in concept) apprehension, and that means he judges that any new state is an effect, i.e., is the result of an earlier cause.*

* Our categorical mode of thinking and understanding is so set up that for us the term “event” (something that has happen, something new) is a synonym for the term “effect” such that upon the sighting of an event we immediately look about for the cause, for we know there is a cause since (per this analogy) all events are effects, i.e., effects of something preceding which was a necessary condition (the cause) for the reality of this state of things as events.**

** So the reason Hume could not find any causation in the appearances is because they are not in the appearances, but only in the mental connecting of the appearances by such categories as cause and effect, and so only in the thinking about the appearances, just as here, there, before, etc., are not in the appearances per se, but only in our looking at them.

Third Analogy

The Third Analogy deals with the instantaneous and reciprocal causation of things in space together. There are two ways of considering things in space. Either they are entirely isolated or else they affect each other. Either the space between objects is empty, or else it is full of interaction, whatever the form. The human is led by his categorical understanding (per this third analogy) to opt for the interaction or reciprocity. In fact it is due to this judgment alone that a person can speak of the simultaneity of all things, the idea being that if some object changed that change would be reflected in some degree in all things, all things reflecting all things and again via a space which were full of this interaction.*

* As an example of this I sometimes think of two people in conversation and where the facial expressions of each will be reflected to some degree in those of the other.


Moving to the Postulates we have possibility, reality and necessity. With respect to Possibility, when we consider a statement concerning an object we can judge it as possible if it could fit in with human experience, e.g., that there could be life on some planet somewhere. And so we are not content to speak of some object as simply non-self-contradictory, e.g., there is a 2009 Jeep on Mars, but how it could fit in with an all encompassing and single experience.


The postulate concerning Reality enables us, for example, to distinguish a dream from a real experience. With respect to the sensation there is no difference between a dream and reality, and we could judge of them indifferently. This postulate enables us to make this distinction.* Otherwise we would want to consider and judge dreams just as real as waking reality itself, and neither (reality or dream) any more real than a dream.

* For more on this theme see comment on the Refutation of Idealism.


Turning to the postulate of Necessity we integrate the statement concerning the object into a single experience. For example if we find water on the moon, that will be a reality, and then the next step is to be able to understand such water on the moon, i.e., how it is that water had to be there where found, and that will provide the necessity (and the continuing unity of consciousness). And so here we go from the simple reality to the inclusion in the whole of experience which entails necessity.


Now we can cast our thinking back to the Transcendental Deduction. There we considered the problem in general, the problem of how it is that the understanding could be the means for the recognition of objects in the appearance, since the understanding arises from a difference source than do the appearances. The answer was that it was only by means of the understanding (via the connective categories) that appearances could be unified in objects of experience and that perceptions could be possible. Here, with the Principles of Understanding, we have seen how this actually occurs, how the understanding directs our attention (paying attention) and judging in a peculiar way (one of two for each of the principles*) and how we come up to a single experience which encompasses all objects.

* These two might be called the animal, i.e., appearances are real things such as they appear, and the human, appearances are only representations of real things.

By way of clarification we can consider the three primary objects of Kant's work in the Analytic of the Critique. We have the appearance which exists within the brainarium. Then we have the object of experience which is a composite of diverse appearances which are unified under the concept of an object, e.g., the appearances of a tree in diverse seasons are united as the same tree. This is generally considered to be the thing on its own, i.e., das Ding an sich, in common and scientific talk. But in a transcendental sense, and which will become very important in the following dialectic, the object of experience is an appearance and distinct from the thing on its own. The thing on its own is merely a something which cannot be experienced except as it appears through the senses, i.e., as the object of experience, and not as it is on its own.

Leibniz makes a stab at grasping the thing on its own by imagining a world of monads, points of reality which reflect the entire universe in a particular way. For example, I am sitting with my hand on my leg. The monads within the confinds of my hand are expressing my hand, and the monads above my hand are expressing air. When I raise my hand, the monads that formerly expressed my hand now express air, while the monads earlier above my hand expressing air, now express my hand. It's very much like a moving sign made up of many light bulbs which blink off and on in coordination (Leibniz's "pre-established harmony") and can be seen as something, e.g., a person or words, moving across the sign. And yet there is no movement at all. And so for Leibniz the monads would be the thing on its own, and there would be no such thing as movement.

A better consideration for our understanding of Kant's conception of the thing on its own might be to consider what something looks like when it is not being looked at, or what it sounds like when no one is listening, etc. This will bring us closer to an appreciation of what Kant means with the thing on its own, a something, about which we can say nothing more than it is a something.

[Here I intend eventually to include a transition to the Dialectic.]

The Dialectic of Pure Reason

Note: This consideration of the Dialectic is an extreme condensation (and really more a conclusion) and will be greatly expanded just as there will be a significant editing of what has preceded (if I live long enough). All this is an early draft.

The human then will try to figure out the universe and existence and will come up with such ideas as a soul, free will and God, for it is only by means of these that reason can be satisfied. But here, apart from the brainarium and in the realm of pure thinking alone, since there is nothing which we can conceive of as a thing of experience, we find that we have no certitude at all, and must conclude that reasoning about these things is not really figuring things out, but rather dreaming things up that can apparently be figured out, but not actually, and instead leads to the illusion of insights. And these are unessential in explaining the appearances of the world we are subject to. And so here Kant finds no hope in all of theoretics or speculation that can assure us of our immortality, free will or God. The only solace, Kant finds, is that these can also not be refuted in the realm of science and philosophical knowledge, and so they are permissible, but thus far unneeded, ideas. In a word: they are namely Ideas,* but do not represent or denote things, at least not as far as anyone can tell.

* The term "Idea", spelled with an uppercase I, is a technical term and means a concept for which there is no corresponding object in any appearance.


As of 12/17/09 I have included a very tentative draft on a section on the Paralogisms of Soul. A summary of the B version of my translation of the Paralogism is given here.

Reason wants to get to the unconditioned of the category which the understanding has provided and proven in the construction of the object of experience and of the ensuing experience with that object, all by means of the category. With regard to the soul, while the understanding must remain with a Transcendental Object = X = soul, to which our thoughts, feelings, desires, etc., are connected, and so which is always empirically conditioned, reason wants to soar beyond that and find the unconditioned which must be (we are certain) embedded in that object, that soul.

And it goes like this. We conceive of a thinking entity which must exist (in order that thinking might exist) and call it substance, i.e., enduring. This is the major premise. Then in the minor premise we note that we ourselves are thinking entities, and then finally we conclude that we, therefore, must also exist, e.g., without end.

Now there are (at least) two problems here. On the one hand we are making a fallacious deduction, for the thinking entity thought in the major premise is indeed unconditioned and thus absolute, but the thinking entity of the minor premise (my soul) is an object of experience (hence represented as an internal appearance via my thinking) and so relates to the thinking being of the premise as the appearance of a tree relates to a tree, i.e., they are different. So we conceive of an object in the major premise (the thinking entity) that is necessary, but are not able to give it an identical object in the minor, but rather only the appearance of an object, and thus we cannot draw any conclusion whatsoever. It's apples and oranges, and the confusion arises by means of the term “thinking entity” which can be thought in two related and very distinct ways, i.e., we confuse the representation of an object (the thinking of I) with the object itself (the I). The representation of the soul must be simple, identical, etc., but this does not make the soul as object simple, etc.

The other problem is this. We try to take the categories as they are used by the understanding, but then think them in pure reason merely as logical relations, but in this way we think that we have gained a recognition of a fact. For example, we call the soul substance and then we analyze the category of substance and find that it means (here without an appearance and merely thinking pure Ideas) merely a something which must always be thought as subject. So I am something which must always be a subject and not a predicate of something. And which is no information at all, but only a tautology. A similar problem holds with the other categories of simplicity and identity and relationships. The simple is that which is utter reality, another tautology. And the same holds for the remaining two.

Thus we dream up the (necessary) thinking entity and then we reason that we are such necessary beings, but then by basing this reasoning on a play with words, and thus rendering it meaningless, it ends up a mere Idea (without an object). And even if we could conclude such, the categories could provide no information about such a thing and we would not be able to prove anything but tautologies, and never be able to know anything of the soul whatsoever except as it appears in experience and is understood by science. We can conclude an unknown something which unites our thinking and feeling, etc., into determinations of that something, but not that it cannot cease to exist (and which is precisely what we wanted to show).

When we recognize a table, we are able to conceive of an object (table) which unifies and necessitates the legs and top and makes it no surprise that we see a table with the legs between the top and the floor (for that's what the table is, an elevated flat surface for writing, eating, etc.). Here we have something abiding (the material, the wood or plastic) to which we can attach the predicates of color, weight, etc. But this is lacking with the soul. All we have is the apperception (wherein the perception of the legs and top are unified in the case of the table, and thus merely via our thinking), and so never as an abiding object which we can assemble out of something like legs and top, but rather always the subject, the “I” of all our sentences and thoughts. But we cannot unify the thoughts and feelings as the material of the soul, for they are seen as the predicates of the material, much as the brown, for example, is the color of the table. We don't say, “this brown is a table and that brown is a suit”. And we don't say, “we are our thoughts”, but rather “we think these thoughts”.

So it is impossible to recognize the soul in experience (it remaining merely an unknown something to which we attach our thinking). And it is impossible to recognize the soul by pure reason, which results in merely an Idea without any possibility of a recognized object, and which Idea then tells us absolutely nothing about the soul one way are the other. We can no more say we continue past death than we can say that our existence ceases with death. We can say nothing at all about this sheer Idea. We want to see ourselves recognized as objects, but always appear to ourselves only as (a thinking and perceiving) subject, a major inconvenience to any objective recognition of the soul, and a subject which does not have the same meaning in the minor premise as in the major. So the vaunted rational doctrine of soul becomes merely a discipline, namely to say nothing about the endurance of the soul.


It seems that we dream up objects via pure reason itself, e.g., the totality of spectral existence, objects which the understanding has recognized in experience, but now we are taking the objects beyond the possibility of any experience. And then we argue about these objects as though they were real things. The spectral world (the world of appearances) is actual. And so, it would seem, all of the conditions connected with that reality are also given. That seems so reasonable, and then we reason that if this is so, it follows that the world would be either infinite in scope or else it would be finite in scope. But here we are arguing about nothing at all. All argument here has to do with the world as though it were a thing on its own, and there we have this conflict of reason in the antinomy and we can't resolve it because the basis is so true and yet also false. It is true with regard to the world considered as a thing on its own, for this is the pure thinking of objects in general. And it is false with regard to the assumption that it is being thought as a thing on its own, for the only thing we can ever experience in any way is the appearance, and so it is the spectral world of appearances that we are arguing about, thinking it were a thing on its own. While the conditions are contained in the existence of the thing on its own, the appearance is not a thing on its own (but just something in our brainarium) and its conditions are not given and must rather of necessity always be sought out in experience step by step, and yet this is precisely what pure reason intends to avoid.

We speak of the world as a thing on its own (and not as the object of experience which presupposes looking and thinking). Then it follows that all conditions regarding it are also given, and so in that case it would be necessary to find for either side of a truly contradictory argument. And that's what we are doing here in pure reason. We are thinking of the object of experience, the world, as a thing on its own (and it always certainly seems to be, for it is by means of that transcendental object = x that we distinguish objects from appearances like the rainbow). But we are butting our rational heads against each other over nothing.* **

* In his Prolegomena Kant speaks of a like argument about a “square circle” where one side of antagonists asserts it is round, because it is a circle (given in the definition). And the other side asserts it is angular because it is square (given in the concept). This should have made them search out the source of their argument, and they would find that it is a misunderstanding and confusion of terms.

** The sense of this confusion between the object of experience (subject to a possible viewing) and the thing on its own (not subject to any human viewing) might be sensed in this analogy: in England (where people drive on the left side of the road) to drive on the left side is to drive on the right side, and to drive on the right side is to drive on the wrong side. Conclusion: to drive on the left side is to drive on the wrong side. The contradiction arises by using the term "right" first as "proper" and secondly as "opposite of left". And so it arises via a play on words. In a somewhat analogous manner all of reason’s vaunted proofs in the antinomies are verbal disputes with words which have different meanings, and which cannot be cleared up except by means of a critique of reason. The proofs are based on an illusion called “semblance”.

What is provided by the understanding is tied to experience and thus always to the appearance. And since the appearance is not a thing on its own, but a product of our brainarium, it is not given with the entire series of its conditions, but only always its “outer layer”, as it were, and which must be uncovered and exposed in the appearance.*

* This may help. Let's consider a tree. We look at it and see the bark. We know that beneath the bark will be wood. And so we consider the wood given along with the bark as the tree. But that is thinking of it as a thing on its own. As an appearance or appearance in the eye (brainarium) the only thing that is actually given is the bark. Indeed not even the back of the tree (on the other side from where we are standing and looking) is given in a static appearance. As an appearance all that is given is the bark. Once we cut through the bark then the wood is given. But then the cells that make of the wood are not given in the world of appearances, but only thought as a tree on its own. This is never a problem in experience and we identify the tree as the object of experience with the tree as a thing on its own. But when we consider the wood as a thing on its own (and not an appearance nor as an object of experience) and start to reason about it, we run into this trouble that it is not a thing on its own, but only an appearance.

So we are taking an object whose conditions cannot be considered as given and treating it as an object whose conditions are considered as given, and then being surprised to find what is unavoidably a contradiction. Again the illusion lies in taking the subjective for objective and having our way of perceiving objects hold for the existence of the transcendental object = X (and which is necessary in order to have some counterweight to the appearances in order to recognize that appearances are not real things but merely the representation of real things, but which cause these problems when we leave the floor of experience and try to think about and consider things on their own). It is so easy to do, this substitution of the subjective for the objective; and it is the source of the antinomies here.

The Third Antinomy

Here we deal with the conflict between treating things as appearances and also as things on their own, and specifically the Third Antinomy concerning natural necessity and free will.

The solution goes back to the notion of the thing on its own, by means of which we come to have even the first experience (that what we see is not a thing on its own, but only a representation a thing, and which is called the object of experience). We produce (dream up, conceive of) this thing ourselves as the concept of an existence which is under laws of the understanding, which work out to laws of nature. We assume that what we see is only an image and that the real object is out there apart from us in space, e.g., the rain or the mountain. We dream up this real object (for all we ever spy is the appearance [or specter] of the real object). It starts as the thing on its own, of which we say nothing except that it is an existing something. Then, in order to bring order to the appearances of the brainarium, we impose upon it all a derivation of the thing on its own called the object of experience (which is out there in “real” space and time on its own, i.e., truly there and not illusion--it is in this way, in fact, that we first discern the meaning of “illusion”). This denotes a something which exists and appears as a product of nature, i.e., according to laws.

We conceive of the thing, and then utilize this conception for the object of experience, in contrast to which we can recognize that we see within a brainarium, and have thereby advance notice as to what we might expect or encounter, i.e., that it is (seen) in space and time.

Let's consider this closely. We assume the thing on its own and then in order to utilize that for the sake of experience we assume the laws of nature. Thus we can say of this “thing” that we will never perceive a violation of a law of nature, but always only natural lawfulness.

Kant observes that any sort of predicate we wish may be ascribed to the concept of the thing on its own, as long as we do not violate the law of the appearances or appearances (in the brainarium). For example we could consider such a thing (the human) as actually free in his will (in his intelligible character) and not subject to any laws other than the laws of freedom, and nevertheless have his (empirical) character arise to us only in the circumstances of the world of appearances and where all is subject to the law of nature and where we can say, universally, that man is motivated by his desire for happiness, and acts in his understanding of what leads to that. This makes the human subject to the laws of nature, the province of the brainarium, and at the same time, understood as a thing on his own, he is totally free, and the empirical character merely is an appearance of this intelligible character of him as a thing on its own, i.e., him choosing freely and without compulsion or necessity at all.

And so freedom and the laws of nature exist in tandem and you don't have to pick between them, but to accept them both as true and valid, each understood in a different perspective, once as an appearance (the object of experience) and then also as a thing on its own.*

* I can even dream up a leaf which, while it falls in cold and windy weather, does so freely and is not necessitated Kant notes that we can assert anything we want to as long as we don't contradict experience or ourselves in our own thinking.

See further regarding the Third Antinomy. Also it may be helpful at this point to read the Key To Kant. This will cover much of the thinking concerning the appearance, the object of experience and the thing on its own..

Rational Theology

We need now to start thinking about the Being of All Realities. This is an embodiment, as it were, of the totality of reality and serves as a standard by which to measure and express the world we live in, e.g., a specific something has this reality, but not such as, for example, a stone is hard and will not burn (given the appropriate perspective).

We look at all appearances in this way: we utilize as our standard the totality and unity of all experience. But now here with the Ideal and proofs of God we are utilizing that empirical standard to hold for things on their own independently of any human looking and thought (and this is the source of the illusion). So we think of this All-of-Realities as a being, such that all else could be expressed in terms of the realities denoted by this being, e.g., not this and not that, lacking this power or that, etc. So we need this reality in order to express, transcendentally, the negative, e.g., less resistance.

We know that for the complete determination of any object we must comprehend the total possibility in order to make a comparison and show what is missing in the given object. This we find for the object of experience in the sum total of all possible experience. And this, of course, means what is available to us within the confines of our brainarium, i.e., the world of appearances.

Then we want to take this to the next level, the transcendental level, and declare that all objects must be compared to the totality of all reality whatsoever. This totality we might call utter perfection (in the words of Descartes). This totality of all reality, this perfection, we conceive of as a singularity, and so the object of this concept of the All-of-Reality, is a single object, God, and is so conceived that all reality is a function of this All, i.e., as the originator of existence.

So since this Idea can have but a single representation, it is an Ideal and we have in this way the single Ideal of pure reason and we call it God, and by means of this we can then derive all reality as a function or act of this God.

Now in case this seems a bit too glib, we need to consider another product of reason, namely the unconditioned reality. Every conditioned state has its condition and that is also in turn a conditioned. In order to complete this series of the conditioned we must start with the unconditioned condition. And so existence itself means also an unconditioned or absolute existence.

Now we have something which we can connect with this All-of-every-Reality. Since we know there must be an absolutely unconditioned being, surely the best bet for a fit will be this All-of-all-Realities. It contains all the conditions necessary for a match as the absolutely necessary being, since it possesses all reality and calls for no conditions beyond itself, and it must be that this All-of-all-Reality and this absolutely necessary (unconditioned) first being are one and the same.

But here is a problem. What exactly about this All-of-all-Reality makes it impossible for it not to exist? And if it is this necessary being, then the mark of this necessity must be contained in the concept of that being. Before we had only the necessity of some being; which is very general and renders no specific identification marks. Then we have this object called All-of-all-Reality (God). So now we have something in which to find the necessity. And so we are compelled to so conceive of the All-of-all-Reality in such a way that it would be impossible for it not to exist. And the effort to that goes like the following:

This all perfect being is to be understood as to encompass all reality and that is to be understood, of course, as its own reality. Now it is possible that there is a perfect being, but existence entails a greater perfection than does merely possibility. And so this being is so perfect that it includes its own existence, i.e., it is impossible to be thought as not existing, a thing whose very possibility means existence, i.e., contains that as an analytical predicate.

Is such a being possible? I ask. If you say yes that it is possible, then you have to admit further that it does in fact exist, for since existence is a predicate or aspect of the very concept itself, to deny the existence you will also contradict the concept. And so obviously it has to exist.

Ontological and Cosmological Proofs

Let's try now to find the illusion in this very famous, ontological proof of God; showing it by means of pure reason alone. The word “is” is a connective device for joining predicates with an object, e.g., the table is red, or to describe it's determinations, e.g., the table is an elevated flat surface (relative to the human). And so "is" is not itself a predicate (as though we could say both: the tree is tall and the tree is is). Hence it makes no sense to include existence in the concept of an object, for that is what is yet to be determined. It is one thing to conceive of a tree or an all perfect being or an invisible unicorn; it is another thing to discover an object corresponding to this concept. The concept of an object with all perfection except one is the same for any object corresponding to that concept, for if this additional perfection were present in the object, then it would not be the object of this concept (where one element of reality is missing) but of some other concept.

The upshot then is this: We cannot prove the existence of the Ideal, for we can find no necessity in its concept. At the same time we have this unidentified unconditioned existence, in the cosmological proof, but can find no marks of identification in our concept and have always had to take final refuge in the ontological proof. And so no progress has been made toward the recognition of God via pure reason alone.

These two branches, the ontological and cosmological, are called transcendental since they do not take any experience in aid. The unconditioned being did presuppose an experience, but only in general as a factual conditioned which called for a condition, and then solely for the transcendental purpose of deducing a first, absolute, unconditioned being or condition.

Physico-theological Proof

There remains a final attempt to prove a God and that is the physico-theological proof where we appeal to experience and especially to the make up of the world and conceive of it as akin to a fashioned clock. But that gives us only a first cause and not a world originator, for it assumes the continuation of material and so calls only for an craftsman (like a very powerful artist working with a given material). For the concept of God we need an originator. So we have to leave the arena of the physico-theological thinking and appeal to pure reason. We say then this existence itself proves a conditioned, and in this way we have jumped to the cosmological proof and find ourselves once again with an unconditioned condition and once again unable to make heads or tails of that and so finally have to take recourse to pure reason and the ontological proof which then, as we have seen, accomplishes nothing.

The upshot: there is no proof of the existence of God in pure reason, although there is the possibility of God. And so the result of pure reason in its speculative work regarding the God and the soul and freedom of will (all of which have a similar fate) is merely the conceivability of these objects, but by no means any recognition of an actuality regarding them.

Kant notes in closing that a transcendental belief in God, where there is no suggestion of any personality or interest in the humans, is called Deism, while the physico-theological belief is called Theism. This might be understood as a person whose parents are dead compared to one whose parents are alive, even if not directly accessible.

A paraphrase and abbreviation of Kant's writing on the Ideal can be found here.

Conclusion of the Critique of Pure Reason

We are efficacious in the construction of the object of experience and of experience with that object. We conceive of a world which is necessitated by universal laws and are able to discover objects of that world all about us, in the guise of appearances (which are nothing more ultimately than the projections within our brainarium) and which represent these objects for us. Thus the experience we construct by applying the categories of understanding and connection (the form of our thinking) proves our certainty regarding our capacity to do so, and we know for a fact that the "dog" we spy ahead of us sitting by the side of the road does not turn into a mailbox as we get closer, but only seems to (and this could not have been known through sheer empirical exposure at all [as Hume demonstrated through the machinations of his table]). In a word it is only in this way that we can come to provide a meaning to such terms as "seems" and "looks like". Buoyed by this achievement and recognition we presume to utilize these categories out beyond the brainarium and in a sphere of pure reason where it is impossible for an object to be given to us to confirm or disallow or correct our conception; and so out where the categories are being utilized for thinking, but where there is no object given to be the validation of the concept and where there is no recognition, but only thinking. And so we dream up these Ideas as necessary productions of pure reason, e.g., the soul and free will and God, and find that in the end we are simply playing with Ideas and while objects corresponding to them are possible enough, they still render no evidence of their actuality at all.

The Grounding to the Metaphysic of Morals

This is a preparatory work to the Critique of Practical Reason. Here Kant wants to investigate the origin and meaning of duty, and first in the common understanding, where it is making one's maxim (subjective principle of action) into an objective law (as though a law of nature). In such wise we can understand what the common person means with duty. It's something you have to do whether you want to or not, and it means acting in a way that is consistent with a law (which is yet undetermined). Hence the imperative, you shall not lie, is understood as a categorical command, i.e., unconditional, for to will a world where lying were our nature would mean to abolish promises all together.

This common notion of duty cannot have been obtained through any experience. For it is categorical and pertains to necessity. We go therefore to practical reason to find the source (for human knowledge is either empirical or it is a priori in reason and understanding, and since here it is not empirical it must be rational).

We find three applications of practical reasoning: rules of skill (in constructions, e.g., drawing a circle); counsels of prudence with respect to one's happiness; and finally categorical commands such as: one shall not lie. The first two are dependent upon the desirability of some goal (and are called hypothetical) and are self evident. The categorical requires further research. We, at least at this stage, see it as a willing of one's maxim to be a universal law of nature (which is one with that of the common understanding of duty or a moral act, which is what we had expected).

We ascend to pure reason and consider this imperative metaphysically. Here we conceive of all rational beings as being considered as ends in themselves without reference to any object or purpose. With this in mind we can obtain all the acts of duty, for it is our duty to promote rational existence itself as an end in itself.

Considering rational beings as ends in themselves suggests then the conception of a realm of free beings, a union in accordance with laws. And then we see that each member of that realm can be conceived of as himself issuing these laws (for everyone knows them, as the common notion of duty tells us), to which he and all members of that realm are subject. This is the concept of the autonomy of the individual, namely we all individually impose laws upon ourselves and each other. And this conception in turn leads us to the third representation of the basis of duty and the moral law (following as though a law of nature, and with rational beings being ends in themselves and as such).

In this way, by means of autonomy, we find the moral law is established independently of any interest on our part.* And this is the source of the notion of duty held by the common understanding (but which normally thinks in terms of a law of nature, e.g., “what kind of world would it be if everyone acted as I do?” which is the first of the three representations of moral duty).

* And this alone shows its superiority over all other systems of morality, every one of which required some interest on our part.

Accordingly we at least now understand the source of the conception of duty. But in what way do we come to take an interest in this notion of a realm of purposes inhabited by moral legislators? What would be necessary in order for us to develop an interest in this invention of metaphysics?

When we consider a realm of freedom we mean, in the first place, an ability to act independently from the laws of nature. But then since all realms must have laws, we see immediately that there is a positive take on this also and that the moral law would be the law of a free realm. But still the question remains: how do we come to take an interest in such a notion of a free realm with its moral law and its categorical imperative? How do we go from an assumption of free will to the reality of duty?

Normally and naturally we simply assume that we are free beings (per our application of reason in deciding among choices). But this is not enough to make us accept the categorical imperative as binding or even of interest. In fact it seems as though we may have dreamed up freedom to imply the moral law, and also may have dreamed up the moral law to imply freedom.

We escape this circle by means of the conception of the human as not only a being of the sense world and brainarium, but also as an expression of an intelligible existence.* We utilize our understanding, and especially our reasoning and the ideas from that, to express this intelligible existence.

* This is warranted by the original conception of the thing on its own in order to distinguish appearances from things on their own for the sake of experience (see the CPR above). We ascribe to that thing on its own what is necessary for it to become an object of experience (namely subjugation to laws of nature), but we do not thereby exhaust the meaning or potential of the thing on its own. Now we can avail ourselves of the notion of this thing on its own and conceive of ourselves as such beings, as intelligible beings, commonly thought of as a soul or spirit.

In this way now we can conceive of a being (ourselves) with an intelligible existence and a sensible existence and where the moral law would be definitive in the intelligible existence, but then still be confronted with contrary inclinations in the sensible existence, and so instead of an unfailing compliance the laws are clothed with the “ought”. The ought then means: what in the intelligible realm would be complied with without exception, may not be so in the sensible realm of nature. Or: what has to happen (in the intelligible) does not have to happen (in the sensitive)

This conception of this two-fold representation (intelligible and sensitive) is what enables the human to take an interest in the moral law. In this way then we see how it would be possible for such a thing as a categorical imperative or duty to arise in human consciousness and be considered as meaningful and how we could come to take an interest in what is a product of pure reason (via metaphysics). We are now ready to turn to the Critique of Practical Reason to see if in fact the human is imposed upon by this metaphysical invention, this categorical imperative. We have discovered the source of any meaning for the concept of duty, but have not yet established there that this concept of moral duty is in fact meaningful. This latter is our next task.

The Critique of Practical Reason

Now when we get with Kant into practical matters we will find we have a rational need for all three of the objects we sought in vain in the CPR (free will, immortal soul and God). And since there is no reason in theoretical and speculative reasoning which prevents them as existences, Kant will take advantage of them for his practical purposes.

Kant wants the human to have confidence in the moral law which wells up from within his own rationality and his emotional response* to this product of his rationality. He finds the moral law sufficient on its own without any props. By virtue of his analysis of the effect of the moral law on the human, Kant finds that the human must conceive of himself as a free being. Essentially a being who were not free of the necessitation of nature, and thus of innate self interest, would not be able to understand the suggestion of a moral act any more than he could believe that one were serious in asking him if he would like to have one of his hands removed and roasted for supper, or would he rather have a delicious steak. If he were told that the rule says that he must give up his life in order to spare an innocent man by telling the truth and can safely avoid that by telling a lie, he would look at that question in the same light, i.e., as a joke or an insanity. The human at least pauses and considers the matter, no matter how he finally chooses, and it is in that pause that Kant spies the common recognition of personal freedom, i.e., it is possible that I might tell the truth. That thought is not possible to a being who is rational, but not free.**

* The feeling of moral respect that arises upon the conception of the moral law is unique in Kant's view. Normally a feeling arises only per the prompt of some exposure, e.g., a great drama or music. The moral feeling arises only by virtue of the idea of the moral law, and not otherwise.

** See Kant's proof of freedom from the standpoint of the moral recognition of both scientists and non-scientists.

And so we have freedom as a meaningful idea, but then we have a rational problem which needs attention. By all right reason it doesn't make the least bit of sense to do something which is simply inane and without purpose. But this would mean that the moral law, which needs no purpose in its command, still needs a purpose in order to satisfy rationality. Even though the moral law is a product of rationality, nevertheless it, as all rational actions, must have a purpose, for otherwise it is to be counted as silly or inane. And so, unless we can find a purpose, the moral act stands in a gulf between two precipices, adherence to a law of reason and rational rejection of inanity.

This needed purpose to the moral law and freedom Kant calls the Highest Good (and some call Justice). The highest good that human rationality can conceive has a facet of happiness which is proportionate to one's moral worth and where everyone can achieve to a moral perfection. In order that this Highest Good be a practical purpose for the moral law, I have to believe that I can achieve to the required existence (of moral perfection contained in the concept of the Highest Good). And looking now into possible eternities of existence, I see for the Highest Good to be this necessary purpose I must believe that I am going to live longer than this span of life and that that purpose will indeed be attained, i.e., I will achieve (eventually) to moral perfection and to the requisite and commensurate happiness. In this way Kant introduces eternal life as necessary for my wanting to strive in pursuit of this moral perfection now, and for seeing it as a practical goal. *

* Kant doesn't get into this, as far as I know, but it is an interesting thought that in the time span of the earthly part of this continuing existence (that I am here conceiving), I may be establishing something which becomes a fixed part of my being after this earthly element, and thus something which will continue as my eternal character. He does allude to such as this in the 2nd Book of his work on religion (see below).

Now with God it is a bit easier. Since it is incoherent to speak of the apportionment of happiness to moral perfection by laws of nature, the only way that the Highest Good (Justice) can be conceived of as a practical, i.e., attainable, goal is if there is an Omnipotent Moral Judge (God) who can discern one's worthiness for happiness and can compel nature to conform and provide the requisite happiness.

And so there we have it: Kant has his freedom and his eternal soul and his God, all derived from rationality itself in order to “rationalize” one of its own laws, if you will, the moral law. All this leads us naturally into a consideration of religion.

Religion Within The Bounds Of Sheer Reason

Note: a more recent and comprehensive summary of this book is found in Religion, beginning with page xiv.

Kant introduces this inquiry by raising a question which, I think, is rather fascinating to contemplate. Let a man, who wishes to honor the moral law and who is guided by practical rationality, be given an opportunity to fashion his own world, and in which he would have to live just like anyone else, what would he do?

In the first place, guided as he is by practical rationality, he would not opt for a world where happiness were independent of moral worth, but rather he would choose a world of the Highest Good, where the virtuous can expect happiness by virtue of virtue being the condition for happiness.

And also he would even be obligated to fashion this sort of world because he honors the moral law which requires his greatest good at any instant, and at the instant of his fashioning of this world the Highest Good would be the greatest good he could do. And it should be noted that he will make this choice even though he will not himself be able to vouch for his own outcome in such a world, for he may very well not live up to the requirements of perfect virtue. He will still fashion this Highest Good world because he knows that it is right and good and necessary that the moral law be purposeful and that there be a meaning to one's duties.

Now from this reflection and conclusion Kant wants not only for people to imagine this world, but also to realize that they are morally obligated to fashion this world to the extent of their power through their good deeds now.* And it is from here that we delve into Kant's meditations on religion, on what sort of religion pure reason would prescribe for the humans. And this calls for an investigation of the human condition, starting with man's innate and voluntary descent into evil.

* This certainly seems to be reflected in the criminal law system where we punish people for disobeying the law, although we don't reward people who obey the law, that being a duty and in no need of reward in order to be efficacious (although, as we saw, it (as the Highest Good) is needful in order for the moral act to be termed a rational (purposeful) act.

Part I - Human Evil.

The human, though certainly made for good, automatically (naturally) and voluntarily chooses the evil principle (self-interest) over the good (common interest). Hence this evil may be ascribed to the humans as a species. It is a natural and voluntary initial choice, made perhaps at birth, to disregard the moral law on occasion, if it is advantageous to do so. We support this tendency by avoiding discussing the principles of each other's actions (which are the sources of good and evil) and look instead to the effect to see good and evil. We justify the polite lie to ourselves and each other, for example, and demonstrate thereby immediately our evil, while claiming to be good. There is even a natural corruption of meanings through this charades of moral, social talk, such that the term morality is confused and uncertain and we don't even understand ourselves.

Part II - Possibility of Change.

In order to straighten out the language and make things clear we need the idea of a perfectly righteous man, who always disregards self-interest for the sake of righteousness in case of a conflict. We can create the idea itself (as a product of human rationality), even though it may have first been introduced in the life of a historical man (here Kant is thinking of Jesus). And reports of such a moral man are not to be doubted, for reason requires it of each person at this very instant.

What we will need in our religion will be a means for a person to think that he can actually change and become morally a different person, and that experience will give him evidence of this, and finally that his former trespasses are legally forgotten and counted as paid for.

These difficulties must be overcome in a rational way for any man to seriously consider changing his ways for the good. Regarding becoming a different person, this is possible by considering the disposition has having become moral (via a steadfast resolution, called a conversion) and which is all that is considered in a moral court, the acts themselves in time and experience being a mix of this new disposition and the vestiges and inertia of evil in daily life. Experience can tell that a person is making progress in moral perfection (or is remaining evil), but not that one's has achieved to holiness and need not strive longer for virtue. Regarding any forgiveness, the moral convert (the "new man") shoulders the ills that were due the “old man” and without complaint and without seeking credit for his good acts. This taking on of these theoretically infinite ills associated with a dedication to the moral principle (a disadvantage given the evil of the world) counts as an atonement for the theoretically infinite evil that the “old man” was capable of doing in his former disposition (and where occasion and opportunity determined his factual evil), and which is the moral way of thinking.

Part III - Rational Expectations.

Next we must deal with the precarious position of a “new man” remaining in the “old world” of evil. He will be tempted mightily and it is not to be expected that he can be successful in progress toward moral perfection by himself, no matter how great his dedication. And so we come to the “curious duty” belonging to man, not as himself but as a member of a species of like men, each inadequate on his own to the task at hand, i.e., moral perfection. By virtue of this duty we find that we and all men need help and so we must help each other (the call of duty being for us to do our best). If I myself am to achieve to moral perfection, as is my intention as a “new man”, then I will need the help of others, and likewise others who strive to be morally perfect need my help. We have a duty to each other, a duty of the species to help the entire species, a duty of the species to itself (and where success is not guaranteed).* As a result these unions are to be formed and should be called churches of God. God is then finally introduced as the lawgiver who guarantees that the union will always be morally founded and directed, i.e., God has commanded the moral law and that, therefore, cannot be revoked or altered.

* The duty is called "curious" for while normally a person can always perform his duty, here the duty is to join with others, and since it is not certain that any others will be like-minded, it is possible he will find no one to join him in this quest for moral perfection.

Part IV - Rational Church.

And finally, since we are duty bound to join a church, we must make sure that it is a moral church and avoids the pitfalls which arise through superstition, where we utilize inane ceremonies to show our devotion and gain divine favor (in lieu of complying with the moral law) and fetishism, where we think to bend God to our way of thinking by acting and working on Him as though He were a means for our ends; and fanaticism where we think we have divine favor or immediate and direct perfection and need not bother with moral matters. Creeds and rituals are acceptable as long as they are not considered as necessary for salvation, and it is always understood that the only requirement for pleasing God is a moral heart and spirit. Creeds and rituals may become symbols of solidarity with all people of a certain spirit (including former generations) and thus can be useful for giving people a sense of oneness in their effort to help each other practice being moral on an ongoing basis and of becoming stronger in the struggle with the “prince of the world” (whose name is Self-Interest). This is permitted as long as there is a clear and supreme principle that such as creeds and rituals are dispensable, with the moral religion alone being mandatory and necessary.

To contact the author or translator, please e-mail: pmr##kantwesley.com
and where ## is to be replaced by @
To The Table Of Contents on Kant Studies