Athism, Just Like Religion
= Dogamtism. Here's Why
From: [Suppressed, by request, due to Abraham
To: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: athism, just like religion = dogamtism. here's why:
Date: Thursday, May 14, 1998 11:36 PM
Immanuel Kant's approach to philosophy necessitates an ironic relationship with religion. Kant's critical philosophy begins its analysis of epistemology as the author comments on the zeitgeist of the Enlightenment: Our age is, in especial degree, the age of criticism, and to criticism, everything must submit. Religion through its sanctity ... may seek to exempt [itself] from it. But [it] awaken[s] just suspicion, and cannot claim the sincere respect which reason accords only to that which has been able to sustain the test of free and open examination.
In this Critique Of Pure Reason, Kant subjects the foundations of human knowledge (including religious faith) to intense scrutiny, as he endeavors to justify the objectivity of mathematical and scientific knowledge in the face of the radical skepticism and empiricism of David Hume. As noted in the first critique: "it would also have to contain an exhaustive analysis ... Our critique must, indeed, supply a complete enumeration of all the fundamental concepts that go to constitute such pure knowledge." Kant accomplishes this task by means of the 'Copernican revolution' in philosophy: the theory that everyday objects must conform to the laws of the mind, as opposed to the common sense notion that the mind conforms to its respective environment. Due to the structure of sensibility and constancy of human understanding, objects will always appear to us in certain ways. One is thus enabled to make universal scientific judgments that hold reliable for all possible experience or "phenomena." However, from this position it follows that the pure concepts of the understanding do not enable the individual to apprehend "things in themselves," that is, apart from the way in which they appear to his or her senses. Such pure concepts would also be futile in the domain of any supersensible reality, including God, immortality, freedom and anything else deemed "noumena." Hence, it is not surprising that Kant's argument in the Critique Of Pure Reason and the Prolegomena is commonly regarded as "world-crushing" for the traditional proofs of God's existence and all metaphysical speculation. Simultaneously, however, it must be argued that in this critical process, Kant effectively insures the protection of God and religious faith from any form of refutation. Since the mind acts like a "logical prism," constrained by this "language" we have come to know as reason (or the pure categories of judgement), metaphysics and all other supernatural speculation inherently lie outside of the boundaries of human rationality and thus cannot be readily dismissed as mere fabrication. Moreover, Kant ironically holds that the failure of transcendental metaphysics carries with it a highly desirable consequence, as it allows for the possibility of human freedom, insofar as the individual's will is considered as a non-sensible object. In this sense, it seems as though Kant may appropriately be deemed the "savior" of metaphysics. The task of this essay is to illustrate how such an ironic turn of events occurs within Kant's philosophy, and why it is of paramount importance to his ethical thought in the domain of "practical reason."
Philosophers from Plato onward have held that the human mind has direct insight into objects apart from their senses. Kant, however, dismisses such claims to the "intellectual intuition" of objects as a form of mysticism. His fundamental objection is that no existing object can be given to human beings "in itself," for what is given in human intuition is always modified by the manner in which it was received. As noted in the first critique: "[i]f our faculty for knowing makes any such addition, it may be that we are not in a position to distinguish it from the raw material". In other words, the innate, a priori faculties of human reasoning modify the given object in any human experience. As the philosopher notes in the Prolegomena: "[m]y intellect ... is subject to the conditions under which alone it can relate the qualities of things as they exist". Consequently, it is the mind's representation which makes the object possible; it is not the object which makes possible the mental representation. In other words, we can only experience the representation, or appearance of an object, but never the object in itself. This revolutionary epistemological theory introduced the mind as the active originator of human experience, in contrast with the passive recipient of perception from the empiricist tradition (the "tabula rasa" or "blank slate"). As Kant notes: "I say in respect of these laws of the intellect: The intellect does not derive its laws (a priori) from nature but prescribes them to nature." In short, he thus argues that the human mind is related to objects, a priori, through the use of general concepts: In this way, the a priori principles of the possibility of all experience are ... nothing but propositions which subsume all perception under the pure intellectual concepts in accordance with certain guidelines ... they are nothing more than principles of possible experience.
Therefore, such concept-generation is genuinely a priori; it is, in other words, universal, necessary, and prior to or independent of any experience. This fact is a prerequisite for metaphysics as a science, as any such speculation cannot possibly rely on the obvious inconstancies human experience. As noted in the first critique: "[e]xperience teaches us that a thing is thus and so, but not that it cannot be otherwise ... Empirical universality is only an arbitrary extension of a validity holding in most cases to one which holds in all". These generated concepts of pure reason thus serve as legitimate starting-points for a metaphysical investigation, as "[n]ecessity and strict universality are ... sure criteria of a priori knowledge".
Despite this solid beginning, however, Kant's argument holds that the science of metaphysics quickly takes a wrong turn. This problem concerns the "core and specific nature of metaphysics", and is noted in the Prolegomena where it is written that: "[m]etaphysics has to do ... with pure rational concepts which can never be related to any possible experience. Therefore metaphysics has to do with concepts whose objective reality ... cannot be confirmed or discovered by any experience." In other words, the a priori origin of metaphysical concepts suggests that supernatural ideas apply to objects that are independent of sense-experience, and thus, metaphysics is an invalid basis for any secure knowledge: Therefore pure intellectual concepts have no meaning whatever when they refer to things in themselves (noumena) instead of objects of experience ... My intellect, which is subject to the conditions under which alone it can relate the qualities of things as they exist, prescribes no rules for the things in themselves; these things do not conform to my intellect, but my intellect must conform to them.
In Kant's terminology, metaphysicians, such as Plato, Descartes and St. Augustine, have used these concepts "transcendently" in a vain attempt at gaining access to "hyper-physical," noumenal objects. In other words, what follows from the traditional proofs for God's existence, such as the "I think, therefore I am" argument, is an inevitable crisis within the crux of the metaphysical inquiry: "[t]hese unavoidable problems set by pure reason itself are God, freedom, and immortality."
It is thus safe for Kant to conclude that the applicability of pure concepts to noumenal objects is a type of illusion, and it is the exposure of this truth which ultimately spells the end to conventional metaphysics. "Since we cannot deal with transcendental ideas and since transcendental ideas will never allow themselves to be realized, they serve to show us ... the actual boundaries of the use of pure reason". The legitimate use of one's a priori categories is thus restricted to objects in space and time, or in other words, the objects of phenomenal sense-experience. Hence, in attempting to extend the categories of judgment beyond the field of sensible objects, one gives rise to the fallacy that a priori concepts can be used intuitively to bridge the gap between noumena and phenomena. What follows from Kant's metaphysical critique is a practical implication for philosophers: we must simply give up any pretense to scientific knowledge of some ultimate or unconditioned object. In other words, "as soon as we have left the ground of experience, we should ... not [make] use of any knowledge that we propose to erect". Although it may be useful to assume that there is such an entity as a thing in itself, its existence can never be proven. Hence, the permanent gap between the noumenal and phenomenal worlds is a sobering reality of the boundaries of pure reason, and consequently of the failure of any knowledge of God beyond faith.
On the other hand, however, it must be understood that the existence of such noumena cannot be disproved either. Kant is very careful to note that just because the existence of things in themselves cannot be proven, it does not follow that one is capable of refuting such noumenal entities. "Therefore metaphysics has to do with concepts ... and with assertions whose ... falsity cannot be confirmed or discovered by any experience." What then, is the significance of this Kantian move? It does seem like the philosopher is attempting to play both sides of the fence on this theological issue, yet indeed Kant has secured a comfortable spot for religious faith in the midst of the metaphysics under fire. In short, God has successfully entered through the back door of this highly critical system.
Essentially, this position should be taken as another means of reconciling the: "[t]wo things [which] fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." In other words, this is another move by Kant to assert that we can be certain of the foundations of the highly "causal" physical sciences, and simultaneously believe that we are rational, moral agents whose actions are not merely predicted in accordance with deterministic laws. Hence, Christian theology can still be reconciled in a world that is seemingly governed by physics, chemistry, and biology. How then would Kant have reacted to the "God is dead," post-Darwinian, atheistic attitude of the latter nineteenth century? Certainly, he would not justify evolutionary theory and other such scientific claims as a legitimate deathblow to the existence of God: But it would be even more absurd not to admit that [there might be] things in themselves, or to suggest that our kind of experience is the only possible method of knowing objects, in other words, to pretend that our way of looking at things in space and time is the only possible way, and that our discursive intellect is the prototype of every possible intellect.
The proposition that there is no "Supreme Being" is out of the field of all possible human experience, and is also therefore beyond the limits of human insight. Simply put, if metaphysics is not possible as a science, atheism is not possible as a science. Kant's position is thus highly compatible with his own Christian-Pietist upbringing; his legacy to intellectual history allows an individual of the world to be a man of science and religion simultaneously. After all, the scientific principle of non-contradiction is nothing other than a logical notion; it is the cornerstone of a "language" that originates in the structures of the human mind. Indeed, the traditional notions of God's existence give rise to logical paradoxes that may seem threatening to theology, but they do not necessarily produce metaphysical absurdities. In other words, God's existence remains an undeniable and irrefutable possibility, as "[t]he intellect does not derive its laws [of reason] (a priori) from nature but prescribes them to nature ... and our kind of experience is [not] the only possible method of knowing objects". In short, Kant argues that although "it is thoroughly necessary to be convinced of God's existence, it is not quite so necessary that one should demonstrate it."
Thus, in no way does Kant merely discard this so-called, pseudo-science of metaphysics. For "[i]t can be just as little expected that the spirit of man will ever give up metaphysical investigations as that we should stop breathing." Although useless as a system for secure knowledge, transcendental concepts can indeed serve as "regulative ideals" in the mundane phenomenal realm. In spite of the fact that no knowledge of God, immortality and freedom is possible, one can form such concepts as "things in themselves" in order to meet his or her individual, rational needs: Thus the transcendental ideas, if they do not instruct us positively, at least serve to repudiate the audacious assertions of materialism, naturalism and fatalism that narrowly restrict the field of reason. At the same time, these ideas produce a place for moral ideas outside the sphere of [mere] speculations.
Hence, Kant's argument ironically holds that the failure of transcendent metaphysics carries with it a highly desirable consequence: it allows for the possibility of human freedom, insofar as the human will is considered as a non-sensible object. In effect, a belief in God can serve as a "symbolic anthropomorphism which, as a matter of fact, only concerns the language and not the object." In other words, "the Supreme Being ... is adequately defined for our purposes, although we have left out everything that could determine this conception generally and in itself." Kant is thus able to maintain an ironic, yet logically consistent relationship between his epistemological, moral, and metaphysical systems.
Moreover, Kant's argument holds that ethics are insufficient when placed in the domain of nature, as "[n]othing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even of it, which can be called good without qualification, except a GOOD WILL." If left alone in the phenomenal world, such a will would be contingent upon the outside forces of sense perception. In other words, there would be no a priori or universal basis for morality. Furthermore, for the possibility of ethics in general, man has to take as a basic assumption that he is free to choose between good and evil. Thus, Kant shifts the focus from morality as natural phenomenon, to the super-sensible, noumenal realm. In other words, humans must act as if they were totally free, even though freedom "in itself" is a complete unknown. For Kant, the possibility of such a thought as a "thing in itself" implies that the subject is free to act as an intelligent or rational being. Hence, "practical reason" is not freedom itself but an effect of freedom. In short, the moral law gives the phenomenal world the form of reason; human experience becomes a supersensible system, and the subject becomes a member of an intelligent community endowed with free-causality.
So much then, for the "practical" benefits that result from the failure of metaphysics as a genuine science. This essay has demonstrated how it is thus safe to conclude that the ironic twists within Kantian metaphysics give rise to a highly compatible philosophical system. In short, this argument has shown that one may appropriately deem the philosophy of Kant as both the "world-crusher" and "world-savior" of metaphysics.
Did you funky up the writing and grammar to make it look like you didn't copy this from an encyclopedia?
Besides, you use a definition for "atheism" that most atheists reject:
an atheist is someone who simply lacks a god belief, for whatever reason.
How can that be dogmatic?
-- Cliff Walker
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