Saturday, May 8, 2010

Kantian Reading Group

I recently announced the formation of a reading group based on the book The Moral Idea of the Main Dogmas of the Faith by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia. This group will study five essays (on the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and Redemption. I intentionally did not include the first part, on Immanuel Kant. For those brave souls who want to discuss this first part, I offer below an excerpt from a philosophical dictionary on Kant and then my own very sketchy outline of Metropolitan Anthony's chapter, followed be a few discussion questions. All are welcome to join in, but I would not be surprised if most were to give it a pass.

Here, to give some context to the discussion, is the entry on Kant from the book 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and their Important for Theology, by Clark, Lints, and Smith:

Kant, Immanuel (1724-1804) The central figure of the German Enlightenment and arguably the most influential philosopher of modern times. Kant was born, raised, and spent most of his life in the East Prussian city of Koenigsberg (now Kaliningrad). He was raised in a deeply religious home, studied theology in the university, but was generally impatient with traditional formulations of religious belief. He also had an abiding distrust in history as the vehicle of religious truth. Being faithful to his own Pietist background, Kant attempted to safeguard religious belief from the inroads being made by rationalist dogmatism on the one hand and empiricist skepticism on the other (with mysticism as a third threat). His rendering of the relationship between faith and reason brings morality to the center of the discussion. In the preface to his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), he famously concluded: “I have found it necessary to deny reason in order to make room for faith.” By this he meant that, while rationalist metaphysics admitted no room for God, morality demanded just such a belief. The “critique” of reason thus requires drawing the limits or boundaries of theoretical reason in order to preserve the room for this “moral faith.” The project finds its completion in his later work Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793).

Kant’s central project concerned the grounding of the natural sciences in a critical framework that was influenced by both the empirical and rationalist traditions. He affirmed in The Critique of Pure Reason that human knowledge begins with sense impressions (following Hume) but had to consist of more than mere sensations. His epistemology ushered in “the Copernican revolution in philosophy” where the mind, not the external object, is the center of cognition; the mind is not a passive recipient but is the active organizer of human experience. There must be a habitual, intellectual ordering of empirical perceptions according to certain mental categories, such as the concepts of substance and causality. These categories do not exist “out there’ in the world but rather “in here” as part of the mental apparatus. If for Locke and the empiricists the mind is a “blank slate” written upon by experience, then for Kant the mind is like a preformatted computer disk. Data are received onto the disk only within thee structural parameters of the formatting. (To extend the analogy, for Descartes and other rationalists the mind comes not just preformatted, but preloaded with data called “innate ideas.”) These categories are filters through which the external world is apprehended and interpreted. They also provide the glue that holds sensory perceptions of the world together. Kant believed that there is something that grounds our sensory experience, something that exists independently of our sensations of it, but that we have no access to it. Kant called the inaccessible but real ground of human sensations the “thing-in-itself.”

There are objects that cannot be filtered through our mental categories, most notably God and the self (the “ego”). These are not the sort of things of which we would form any sense impression. Try as we might, God and the self (as the seat of consciousness) could never be seen or touched. Thus they cannot properly be objects of knowledge, but rather must be objects of faith. Our convictions about them rest not on any empirical evidence of their existence, but rather in their role as necessary postulates of moral reasoning. In matters of morality, for instance, Kant thought that it is rational to hope that being virtuous will result in human happiness. SInce virtue is not always rewarded with happiness in this life, we must believe that it will happen in the next life. In short, we must believe that there is a next life in which virtue and happiness coincide and that there is a God who ensures that this will happen. Our future existence and the existence of God are, for Kant, rational postulates. He rejected the classical proofs for God’s existence, but in their stead argued on the basis of morality that we must nonetheless continue to believe in God if we are to be moral.

Here we have Kant’s reconfiguration or rational reconstruction of Christianity as offered in his Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. Kant’s Enlightenment project, concerned with universality and haunted by religious wars, required the rejection of the contingencies of tradition and hence “special” revelation (such as the Bible). Since tradition and special revelation were tethered to specific, particular, historical communities, any “religion” based upon them would be particular and contingent – and therefore disqualified from being a “universal” religion (the Enlightenment hope). Thus Kant offered a reconsideration of religion that revolved around the principles of morality, which were understood to be universal precisely because they were rational. He offered what he described as a “pure moral religion,” devoid of the “cultic| particularities of confessional religion, such as Christianity. This project of a “moral religion” was the signal influence on the subsequent development of classical liberal theology.
And here is my summary of the chapter:

Critique of Immanuel Kant’s Idea of Autonomous Morality

I. Moral Autonomism and Theism as Revelation

1. Foreword
a. Kant attempts to preserve the practical conclusions of revealed dogma while separating them from their objective basis; he seeks such an objective basis in those practical conclusions in human reason. The resulting rule of ethics is unsound and contradictory.

b. This occurred because, rather than beginning from a central rational principle, he began by taking the dogmas one by one and depersonalizing them.

c. Kant’s theological followers, such as Harnack and Tolstoy, attempted to find moral imperfection in Christian dogma.

2. The Conditionality of Moral Autonomy
a. Kant argues that the moral conscience of man bears within itself its own objective, moral worldview. It would seem that this is directed to theism, which neo-Kantians of the right accept, but those of the left do not. Kant, in fact, both allows and negates the objective aspect of the moral conscience. The answer to this quandary lies in Kant’s desire to establish a moral autonomism in contrast to the Roman Catholic and Protestant religions. In fact, our moral conscience requires objective confirmation, an objective explanation of our struggle for our full development. Choosing the direction of a moral principle – including the Christian one – is subjective, but the aim or goal of the principle is not.

b. For our full development, our moral conscience needs an objective confirmation, an objective explanation of our struggles.

c. In order for the reality of its ethical value to be acknowledged it is necessary for the struggle to be correlated with its object, and empirical knowledge of the objective world-view is necessary.

3. Moral Autonomy and Revelation
a. We can know people only with the help of revelation, which fully preserves moral autonomy. Kant’s morality cannot manage without an objective empirical cognition.

b. Both moral autonomy and moral “a priorism” are compatible in man with the acceptance of revelation as a guiding principle of moral life.

II. Moral Autonomism and Jesus Christ as Savior

1. The Means of Knowing the Lord as the Teacher of Truth and as Savior
a. Kant questions the Christian relation with Christ the Savior on the grounds that we known Christ empirically rather than a priori.

b. The acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ depends on the autonomous, a priori condition of our reason.

c. It is impossible not to acknowledge the objective moral value of Jesus Christ and His teaching.

d. Faith in Christ as predicant of Truth is based on an ethical penetration. This leads to profession of Christ as Savior.

e. We are helped by Kant’s general thesis that despite his affirmation of moral autonomy as opposed to a pure categorical imperative this philosopher acknowledges the need for moral struggle for an ideal.

f. A representative inspiring us to moral struggle must be assessed.

2. Jesus Christ as Moral Idea
a. Kant would want to inspire us by the representation of the desired moral perfection, but this alone is insufficient. Such a pure moral idea is possible only with a Personality (hypostasis), and this is Christ. Encountering this Person leads one’s nascent moral ideal to a meaning which is firstly given in a completely divine way that encompasses perfection and spreads out to eternity.

b. Perfect holiness is perfect love. The absolute unconditional holiness found in the moral ideal of Christ requires that one find in Him all encompassing love, uniting both man to God and man to man.

c. A holy person must unreservedly love everyone -- all mankind.

d. Man cannot love all mankind directly as the sum of all human beings, because he cannot imagine the sum. If Christ were able to do so, this demonstrates that he is God.

3. Savior -- Sufferer
a. Our examination has shown that in adhering to Kantian principles, one must acknowledge Christ as Holy One. Now it will be demonstrated that Christ is not only Holy One but also Sufferer.

b. The transformation to good, according to Kant, cannot occur without the exercise of will. A feeling of inner dissonance and a need for renewal cause deep suffering. Colliding with one another, these feelings cause that lofty suffering about which one can only offer a representative.

c. Kant’s First Thesis: There are two natures in a person, two sympathies, exclusive of one another – the old man and the new man.

d. Kant’s Second Thesis: For moral perfection, a tormenting destruction of the first one is necessary.

e. Kant’s Third Thesis: Our moral consciousness is the motive toward that, but if I must be good only because I am being called to this voice of conscience which I sometimes acknowledge, then according to that logic, I must be evil when the old nature speaks with me.

f. Kant’s Fourth Thesis: I must give preference to the moral consciousness according to its objective superiority, according to its conformity to the creative plan. Therefore, we add, we are moved away from autonomia in that sense with is incompatible with Christian dogma.

g. Metropolitan Anthony’s Fifth Thesis: If the highest rule in my nature was to conform one’s life with metaphysics, then theistic philosophy would be a sufficient support for the conscience, in order to mortify the old person. We are aware, however, that even that sought for philosopher who did not make use metaphysically of a definite rope to use for escaping from the pit, was fabricated by writers of fables.

h. Metropolitan Anthony’s Sixth Thesis: Thus, in order to experience what, according to Kant, is the greatest suffering for the self-mortification of the old person, there is not within me sufficient data, no matter how much I might be enlightened by philosophy.

i. Metropolitan Anthony’s Seventh Thesis: In order to achieve this, another life must be poured into me, which would animate a sinless new person and destroy the old one, i.e., which would give the power to mortify the old person. This new person is Christ and the power uniting Him with me is His Love: Love toward a suffer is co-suffering; co-suffering love pouring victorious power into a powerless suffer is suffering in it stead and is correctly called a sacrifice, a sacrifice of recompense.

j. Christ’s suffering were not endured by Him in a struggle with His own “old person” (which did not exist in Him) but rather in the struggle with our “old man,| which is conquered and crucified by Him. These struggles of co-suffering love are our redemption.

k. Kant is not far from those thoughts and would have been closer had he not been a Protestants, arguing that it is possible to be saved without suffering ourselves.

4. The Suffering Redeemer is True God
a. Kant acknowledges that the teaching about the mortification of the “old man” and the animation of the new person is the only idea consistent with the nature of our intellect and the known facts. Having acknowledged this, he is compelled to accept Christianity.

b. Man, with his spoiled nature, will not be moved toward the painful suffering of moral struggle or asceticism by philosophical consideration. Such motivation can only come in regards to Christ.

c. A dogma which finds support in emotion is itself insufficient.

d. One’s feelings can be revivified by a fully convinced faith in Christ.

e. The world hates continuous virtue.

f. Two of three Kant’s objections have been answered: the asserted practical uselessness of the dogmas of the Church, and the supposed impossibility of encountering God in experience

Questions for Discussion:

1) What, precisely is Metropolitan Anthony arguing against in his tract against Kant; and what is he in fact arguing for? What is actually at stake?

2) To what extent is Metropolitan Anthony a) contradicting Kant; or b) following Kant’s own line of reasoning, but drawing his own conclusions?

3) What is the relationship between empiricism and rationalism in Kant’s thought and Metropolitan Anthony's reaction?


aaronandbrighid said...

I'll try to get back with you on this, Father!

Felix Culpa said...

I hope I haven't scared everyone off! Needless to say, the next chapters are much easier, and don't require knowledge of German idealism or a graduate degree in philosophy.

I won't be offended if a discussion doesn't take off on this post. I myself am struggling with the text.

aaronandbrighid said...

Uh-oh. I thought this chapter was in my copy of the book, but it turns out it isn't! I could venture some comments based purely on a reading of your post, but hopefully someone else (who may even know Kant firsthand) will have actually read the relevant chapter in Met. Anthony's book...

Felix Culpa said...

I'm using the Second Edition (Expanded) from 2002. You most likely have the First Edition from 1984. What now serves as Book One (on Kant) and the Appendix (on Fr Seraphim) were previously issued as separate booklets, it I'm not mistaken.

Gabriel said...

I'll have something to add shortly. I actually took two graduate level philosophy courses on Kant--one covering his moral philosophy and the other discussing its social and political ramifications. I haven't studied any Kant in years, but this will be a nice refresher (I hope).

Gabriel said...

Oh, just for the record, my edition of this text does not have the Fr. Seraphim appendix. But it is the 2002 2d edition. Odd.

Felix Culpa said...

Gabriel, I look forward to hearing more from you!

Becoming said...

1) What, precisely is Metropolitan Anthony arguing against in his tract against Kant?

Answer – Metropolitan Anthony is precisely arguing against Kant’s ability to preserve the practical conclusions that result from the revealed dogmas of the Church and placing these practical conclusions on a foundation of human reason/rationalism. [23]

What is he in fact arguing for?

Answer – Metropolitan Anthony is arguing for the unity of the “practical conclusions” that result from the dogmas of the Church to stay united to the dogmas of the Church. The dogmas of the Church are the only foundation because any other foundation would alter and undermine the resulting “practical conclusions.” [23]

What is actually at stake?

Answer – What is actually at stake is the empirical validity of knowledge and the historical validity of the Gospel revelation.

2) To what extent is Metropolitan Anthony contradicting Kant?

Answer – Metropolitan Anthony contradicts Kant regarding:
i) the categorical imperative as the replacement to the Dogmas of the Church in being the ground for moral autonomy;
ii) the moral conscience as being objective and absolute because the reason there is a moral conscience is not objective but subjective (Met. Anthony does not deny the former but denies that it can have any authority when based on the latter);
iii) the denial of the ethical value of empirical data in favor of only a priori knowledge having ethical value; and
iv) the concept of a morally perfect man as not being inspiring enough in light of the Christian revelation.

To what extent is Metropolitan Anthony following Kant’s own line of reasoning but draws his own conclusions?

Answer – Metropolitan Anthony follows Kant’s own line of reasoning but draws his own conclusions in the following areas:
i) that the moral conscious is autonomous, objective and absolute;
ii) that the concept of a morally perfect man could offer a certain moral strength for people;
iii) that a feeling of inner dissonance and a need for renewal cause a deep suffering or torment because the evil inclinations of the will which are being overcome have deep roots into the very nature of man and have become habitual (and, suffering comes from the process of rebirth and forsaking evil) [43-44]

3) What is the relationship between empiricism and rationalism in Kant’s thought and Metropolitan Anthony's reaction?

Answer – The relationship between empiricism and rationalism in Kant’s thought, according to Metropolitan Anthony, is that ethical knowledge only results from the autonomously free a priori knowledge and that only this a priori knowledge can be morally regenerating whereas empirical knowledge cannot be because empirical knowledge is heteronomist and not free because of the coercion by the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches.[26]

Metropolitan Anthony’s reaction is four-fold:
Firstly, Metropolitan Anthony opposes this proposition because Kant is basing the objectivity of an autonomous moral freedom on a subjective basis. Kant vacillates between a personal Theistic God from whom the moral freedom is derived and external motives which guide and discipline the will in a basic and defined direction. Considering these to be Kant’s subjective bases, Metropolitan Anthony says, Kant delegitimizes both. [25-26]

Secondly, Metropolitan Anthony defends the validity of empirical knowledge to affirm moral autonomy. The moral principle can remain objective and autonomous but moving one’s free-will for or against that principle is subjective. [27]

Thirdly, Metropolitan Anthony relates that all the phenomena of life which evoke beneficent feelings in us, have, in relation to moral autonomy, a completely parallel significance to the Gospel revelations. This parallel convinces us that the world view desired by our moral conscience actually does exist. [29]

Fourthly, upon seeing this parallel and in retaining one’s moral autonomy, one can either accept or reject what is being presented.


Felix Culpa said...

I'd say that Matthew (Becoming) has pretty well hit all the nails on the head. Unless anyone objects to any of his responses, I propose that Matthew now suggest a new theme for discussion.

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