The Concept of God and the Role of Ideas in Kant

The Concept of God and the Role
of Ideas in Kant
Charlotte Alderwick
University of Sheffield
[email protected]
• God’s role in Kant’s philosophy – ambiguous
- what roles is this concept playing?
- given this, what does this being need to be
- what, if anything, does this imply for
whether or not God needs to exist?
• Use these conclusions to say something about
regulative ideas in general
• Kant and Spinoza??
God in the Critique of Pure Reason
• Fourth Antinomy (A456/B484-A461/B489) –
discusses a necessary being as first cause, and
identifies problems with this:
- to be a cause the necessary being must be
phenomenal, BUT a phenomenal necessary being
leads to contradictions
• Highlights a problem for any Kantian account of
God – must be able to account for causal
relationship to phenomena without reducing him
to the phenomenal
God in CPR (2)
• The Ideal (A568/B596-A591/B619) – God is
literally reason’s ideal concept as he ‘contains a
therefore for every wherefore’ (A585/B613):
-he provides the unconditioned that reason
-fulfils the role of ens realissimum (the most real
being, which contains all possible predicates;
-and provides an archetype for morality in his role
as summum bonum (highest good)
God in CPR (3)
• BUT...despite this, no theoretical proof ever
sufficient to demonstrate (non)existence of
• However, there is a valid practical proof, which
stems from our awareness of the moral law this gives reason grounds to posit a being who
makes these laws obligatory (A634/B622)
God in the Critique of Practical Reason
• God’s moral roles the focal point:
- God as an exemplar/archetype of the highest
good (4:408)
- God as the being who ensures that the goals of
our moral strivings are possible, and therefore
rational (by ensuring the coincidence of duty and
happiness, the potentail for nature to be
moralised, and the possibility of eterninty)
- God as a postulate of practical reason, and this
gives reason grounds for belief
God in the Critique of Teleological
• Teleology and natural organisms
- reason is only able to think of certain natural
products as designed – infers existence of
- natural organisms as systems which selfregulate in accordance with a concept (tree, tulip,
for e.g.) – as nature does not have the
intelligence to produce concepts, reason infers a
higher intelligence to provide these
- natural organisms (‘ends of nature’) as
comparable to moral agents
God in CTJ (2)
• The problem – how to reconcile this kind of
causality (free/teleological) with the causality
that governs the rest of phenomenal nature
• The solution – both are united in a supersensible
ground. We are unable to perceive this unity due
to our discursive mode of cognition, BUT it would
be accessible to a divine intelligence (intellectual
intuition) (Ak V 407-410)
What we can say about all of this.....
• God has two central functions in Kant’s
- moral role
- grounding role
• BUT Kant always stresses that this concept
must remain a regulative are we
able to say anything about God’s existence?
• Moral roles – seems these could be played just
as well by mere idea of God
Regulative Ideas
• Strong sense – regulative ideas are just ideas,
their objects have no reality outside of rational
• Kant’s sense – regulative ideas refer to objects
which we can have no rational grounds to affirm
the existence of, but we do have rational grounds
for belief in
- Kant’s conception necessitates agnosticism
about the existence of the objects of regulative
A problem for non-metaphysical
accounts of Kant........
• Non-metaphysical accounts necessarily
committed to a strong understanding of
regulative ideas
• Because these accounts deny the possibility of
any ontological commitment to the noumenal,
they therefore lack the space in which these
objects could exist
• For Kant, the phenomenal world arises through
constitutive ideas – these ideas are necessary for
the world to exist in the way that it does
• Regulative ideas (freedom, God, for e.g.)
contradict certain constitutive ideas, and
therefore cannot exist in the phenomenal
• SO as non-metaphysical accounts are committed
to a denial of the noumenal, they are also
committed to denying that the objects of
regulative ideas could exist
Does it matter??
• Might think this is not problematic, as the idea
of God is sufficient to fulfil moral roles
- seems that non-metaphysical accounts will
have no difficulty accounting for God’s roles
with regards to morality
there is still one important function which
God plays that cannot be fulfilled by a mere
idea – his grounding role
God as ground
• God as ground for teleology and mechanism, but
also grounds other regulative ideas (e.g. the unity
of nature, transcendental freedom)
• This role cannot be sufficiently fulfilled by an idea
- if the possibility of God is denied, then the
apparent unity between mechanism and
teleology must be denied, and because
mechanistic causality is a constitutive idea this
implies that other forms of causality (teleological
or free) cannot exist phenomenally
God as ground (2)
• Further, if the possibility of God’s existence is
denied, so too is the noumenal, and therefore
the possibility that other regulative ideas
could exist as noumenal is also negated
- the denial of the possibility of God’s
existence entails the denial of the possibility
that the objects of other regulative ideas
could exist (most importantly transcendental
Guyer and the Opus Postumum
• Guyer’s account – rather than positing God as the
ground of unity for nature and freedom, Kant is
rather positing rational minds as this unifying
• God and nature form a single system as both are
‘thought entities’ posited by reason (2000:22)
• Evidenced by claims in the OP, and Kant’s
repeated insistence that his claims are only valid
for rational beings
• Kant’s reluctance to posit God as really existing is
due to the limits of his system rather than a belief
that God is a mere idea
• Kant (by his own standards) cannot reasonably
make any claims about God without contradicting
his claims about the limits of reason, and this is
why he doesn’t make any such claims
• Kant would not have wanted to deny the
possibility of God’s existence, as this would lead
to the denial of the possibility of transcendental
Do we need transcendental freedom?
• Could argue that Guyer’s account is not
problematic – although he cannot have
transcendental freedom, he can still retain
some conception of freedom
- Guyer’s account leaves room for practical
freedom (the necessity that we conceive of
ourselves and our agency under the
presupposition of freedom)
• Practical freedom is not enough – guarantees
the thought of our autonomy, but only
transcendental freedom can guarantee the
reality of this autonomy
• Kant’s emphasis on freedom and autonomy
demonstrates that he wouldn’t have been
happy with a system which negates the very
possibility of transcendental freedom
Kant and Spinoza...?
• Spinoza’s God:
- not separate from world, but constitutes
totality of existence
- synonymous with nature (deus sive natura)
- absolutely necessary – God is entirely
determined by his necessary attributes, and
thus the reality that follows from him is
inherently deterministic
Kant and Spinoza (2)
• The big advantage –
- traditional conceptions of God as separate
from creation fall into contradiction
- Spinoza provides a logically consistent
conception of God
- So this conception is valid in terms of
theoretical as well as practical reason
Kant and Spinoza (3)
• Kant’s critique of Spinoza – this conception of
God leads to fatalism
• BUT Kant argues that only transcendental
idealism is able to avoid this consequence, as it is
unable to posit God as direct cause of the world
• Demonstrates that with transcendental idealist
framework this problem is avoided – God as
ground rather than cause, so leaves open the
possibility for phenomenal beings to have some
degree of freedom
Kant and Spinoza (4)
• Spinoza’s God + transcendental idealism =
- avoids the problems of the fourth antinomy (as
God is ground rather than cause)
- God’s grounding role is fulfilled
- roles of summum bonum and ens realissimum
are fulfilled
- conception of God that’s valid on theoretical as
well as practical grounds
- fits in with two-aspect reading of Kant

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