The Story of Kant’s Critical Religion
That this book was completed just over 200 years after the appearance of Kant’s last published book, The Conflict of the Faculties [Kt65], is not without significance. On a trivial level, this is because many unexpected delays in completing the book were caused by the need for me to engage in various ‘conflicts’ relating to my university life. (Unfortunately, these were not always as healthy as Kant envisages such conflicts to be in Kt65.) More significantly, Kt65 itself played a crucial role in the development of my interpretation of Kant’s philosophy of religion. When I first read Kant’s Religion [Kt8], I was disappointed by what I perceived to be an unexpectedly negative and dismissive view of the nature and purpose of religion. This seemed to confirm the common view of many commentators, that Kant attempts in that book to reduce religion to morality. A few years later, when I read Kt8 a second time, I had a totally different impression: as if scales had fallen from my eyes, I now perceived a deeper and far more significant line of thinking pervading Kt8. The main difference, aside from the fact that I had in the meantime significantly refined my own interpretation of Kant’s philosophy by writing most of the first draft of KSP1, was that I had read Kt65. That book explicitly advocates a more positive interpretation of Kant’s intentions in Kt8 and thus encouraged me to rethink my initial assessment of the latter.
My work on Kant’s System of Perspectives formally began in the summer of 1983, when I changed the topic of my doctoral dissertation at Oxford University from human nature to Kant. In January of that year, I had decided to take a month to write a journal article developing my interpretation of Kant in more detail than would be possible in my thesis on human nature. As explained in Appendix I of KSP1, that one month break turned into six months and the article turned into five, all eventually published in scholarly journals. One day I realized I had already written half of a new dissertation on Kant’s philosophy. In discussing my intent to change topics with my supervisor, one of my main concerns was that, as a student in the Theology Faculty, my new topic would be too philosophical. I therefore requested permission to change from the Theology to the Philosophy Faculty. However, Professor Macquarrie explained that Faculty divisions at Oxford are quite loose, and advised me to go ahead and write on the philosophy of Kant from within the Theology Faculty.
Although my initial interest in Kant was limited to his philosophy as such, and my first reading of Kt8 left me rather cold, I decided that a Theology dissertation ought to say something about Kant’s views on theology. This was the occasion for the reading of Kt65 and rereading of Kt8 that set me on the path to develop a thoroughly perspectival interpretation of Kant’s Critical religion. The first version of my thesis (submitted in 1985) therefore contained an introductory section on the generally theological orientation of Kant’s System and ended with a Chapter on Kant’s theology. After my dissertation was ‘referred’ (returned for major revisions), due mainly to the examiners’ dissatisfaction with my use of diagrams [see KSP1:AI], I decided to expand the part on theology and religion. By the time the thesis was ready for resubmission in 1987, I had added two additional chapters, examining Kant’s views on religion and mysticism, respectively. Revised versions of these chapters were included in the original manuscript of Kant’s System of Perspectives, submitted to University Press of America in January of 1991.
UPA’s anonymous reviewer recognized that the first section of the book as well as the last three chapters were not very well integrated with the other nine chapters, dealing almost exclusively with issues relating to the interpretation of Kant’s Critical philosophy as such. He or she therefore wisely recommended that the material on religion and theology be removed and written up separately as a sequel. In the process of revising Kant’s System of Perspectives with this advice in mind, I came to a clearer understanding of how theology is related to the other basic metaphysical applications of Kant’s philosophy that must be included in any complete description of his architectonic: theology, science, and political history correspond, respectively, to the metaphysical ideas of God, freedom, and immortality. I therefore included as Part Four of KSP1 brief chapters summarizing my proposed treatment of each of these applications in a series of three sequels.
Kant’s Critical Religion, as the first of these sequels, is Volume Two of the projected four-volume work, Kant’s System of Perspectives. Soon after the publication of this volume, I therefore also hope to publish a slightly revised version of the first volume, with the new title: Kant’s Critical Philosophy. Work on the third and fourth volumes is already underway (see Pa90 and Pa94b, respectively), though my involvement in other projects means that once again there will inevitably be gaps of several years between the publication of each.
Much of the material in the present volume can be traced back to work that was included in my doctoral dissertation. As already mentioned, the dissertation’s introductory section [I.1] was cut from Kant’s System of Perspectives (i.e., from KSP1) when the project was split into four volumes; but it is included here in a revised form as I.1-3. The dissertation’s Chapter X became the basis for all three chapters in Part Two, though most of the material appears in Chapter V. The dissertation’s Chapter XI likewise became the basis for the current Part Three, with most of the material being used in Chapter VII. And the dissertation’s Chapter XII became the basis for Chapters II and X.
Earlier versions of various parts of this volume have been presented at seminars/conferences and/or published as independent essays—a fact that has given rise to a certain amount of unavoidable repetition in this book. I have done my best to rectify this situation through careful editing; but in some cases short passages that appear elsewhere could not be omitted without destroying the continuity of a particular argument. Some of these, especially passages providing a general overview of my approach to interpreting Kant, would not have been necessary, had the book been composed in a different way.
I would like to take this opportunity to express thanks to the editors and publishers of the publications named below, for allowing some of the material they published to be republished here. The first seeds of my interpretation of Kant’s view of religion were presented in a little Faith and Philosophy article [Pa89]. That article was a manifesto, setting out my plans to develop a thoroughgoing interpretation of Kant’s philosophy of religion (see AIII.2, below, for a brief discussion). It was originally written in January of 1985 as a talk I gave for Oxford’s Fellowship of Research Students in Theology. A short passage from this article has been included here in IX.1.
Most of Chapter I was first published as ‘Kant’s Theocentric Metaphysics’ in Analele Universitatii Din Timisoara 4 (1992), pp.55-70. Prior to that, as mentioned above, an early version of this material was used as the opening section of my D.Phil. thesis.
Earlier (and barely intelligible) versions of Chapters II and X—formerly combined as Chapter XII of my D.Phil. thesis—appeared as ‘Kant’s Critique of Mysticism: (1) The Critical Dreams’ and ‘Kant’s Critique of Mysticism: (2) Critical Mysticism’ in Philosophy & Theology 3:4 (Summer 1989), pp.355-83, and Philosophy & Theology 4:1 (Fall 1989), pp.67-94, respectively. Excerpts from II.2 also appeared, along with much of Chapter XI, in ‘What is “Tantalizing” about the “Gap” in Kant’s Philosophical System?’, Studies in Early Modern Philosophy IV, ed. Stanley Tweyman and David A. Freeman (Delmar, N.Y.: Caravan Books, 1997), pp.171-94.
Much of Chapter IV appeared in two rather different forms as parts of ‘Kant’s Theistic Solution to the Problem of Transcendental Theology’, Rodica Croitoru (ed.), Kant and the Transcendental Problem (Bucharest: University of Bucharest Faculty of Philosophy, 1991), pp.148-78, and ‘Kant’s “Appropriation” of Lampe’s God’, Harvard Theological Review 85:1 (January 1992), pp.85-108 [Pa92b]. The latter was initially a paper presented under the same title for the Staff Seminar of the Hong Kong University Philosophy Department in December, 1991. The former was initially a paper read at a conference on ‘Kant and the Transcendental Problem’, sponsored by the Romanian Kant Society and held at Bucharest University in Romania, 20-22 September, 1991. Some of this material, together with material now in Chapter V, was also read in an earlier form (as Chapter X of my D.Phil. thesis) for Professor John Lucas’ Philosophy of Religion seminar at Oxford University in November of 1984.
Chapter VI is a revised version of ‘Does Kant Reduce Religion to Morality?’, Kant-Studien 83:2 (1992), pp.129-48. Prior to publication an earlier version of this paper was presented under the same title for a colloquium of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist College, held in March, 1989.
Three appendices contain some material that was previously presented or published elsewhere. Some of the material in AIII.3, as well as in the last subsection of AIII.2, was included in my part of a paper jointly presented by Paula Manchester and I at the World Congress of Philosophy in Boston (August 1998). Our paper was entitled ‘Kant’s Architectonic Turn as a Model for Philosophic Practice: The Philosopher as Architect, Teacher, or Friend?’. AV includes a revised version of my article, ‘Four Perspectives on Moral Judgement: The Rational Principles of Jesus and Kant’, The Heythrop Journal 32 (1991), pp.216-32. And AVI is a revision of ‘Kant’s Critical Hermeneutic of Prayer’, The Journal of Religion 77:4 (October 1997), pp.584-604. Much of the latter article was based on material from two talks I gave on similar topics: ‘Kant’s Philosophy of Prayer’ for the Erasmus Society at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, on 8 September 1995; and ‘Why Should We Pray? An examination and critique of Kant’s views on prayer’ for a colloquium of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University, on 16 November 1995. I would like to thank the many people who contributed comments and questions on those two occasions. Without their input the article, and so also AVI, would have been considerably less clear.
Of the several reasons for the unexpectedly long time-span between the publication of Volume One and Volume Two (including several unfortunate bureaucratic diversions and a deepening involvement in the valuable but often time-wasting wonders of the internet), the most significant has been my decision to start a publishing company in early 1993. Shortly after sending off the camera ready copy of the revised manuscript of Volume One [KSP1], I completed an introductory text entitled The Tree of Philosophy, now in its fourth edition [Pa00a]. At the encouragement of several of my students, and in response to some frustrating experiences in dealing with conventional publishers, I decided to self-publish The Tree. The results were so pleasing that in the five intervening years I also completed and published three other books: Biblical Theocracy [Pa93]; Four Neglected Essays by Immanuel Kant; and Dreams of Wholeness [Pa97]. Obviously, working on these projects delayed my completion of the present volume.
One reason I allowed these delays to happen—because it has of course been my own choice to put off Kant’s Critical Religion until now—is that I wanted to wait until after the publication of the above-mentioned essay on the tantalizing ‘Gap’ in Kant’s System. That essay ended up taking a full four years from submission to publication. This reason, however, was in retrospect really just an excuse to cover up the more substantial fact that I did not feel ready to write what I believed would be one of the most important chapters: Chapter IX. For I knew this chapter would require something approaching a personal confession of faith, and I was not sure how best to proceed with this task. My detailed study of Kant’s philosophy of prayer (mentioned above; published here as AVI) provided a much-needed impetus for working out a biblical theology that is consistent with Kant’s System. Once the ‘Gap’ essay appeared and my excuse disappeared, I finally gave this book in general, and Chapter IX in particular, the attention it required in order to be completed.
A work of this magnitude is quite literally never finished. Every year since 1994 I expected to be finished within the coming year. But with every delay in my expected completion date, the amount of remaining work seemed to increase rather than decrease. The list of secondary literature that remained to be read grew longer, not shorter: new material appeared faster than I could process it. What I was able to read and digest inevitably produced new insights and/or clarifications to incorporate, thus making my own text longer and more unwieldy with each further delay. When I finally set the end of the millennium as a firm deadline, to be met regardless of how incomplete I knew the project would still seem, I inevitably ran out of time to finish everything I had planned to include. Of the many improvements I would have made to the manuscript, had I extended the project beyond 1/1/00, the most significant would have been to include more of the evidence I have collected from the text of Kt9 to back up the interpretation I present in XII.2-4, to incorporate the many notes I took upon reading the new translation of Kt25 (which supports numerous aspects of my interpretation in many ways), to do a more thorough job of researching Kant’s influence on the various mystics mentioned in AII.1, and to respond to many more of the scholarly objections to Kant’s criticisms of the theoretical arguments for God’s existence [AIV.1-2]. Also, during the final proofreading, I realized that steps four and five in systemr should probably be reversed, so that practical faith is the material element and divine assistance (i.e., grace) is the formal and inexplicable element. However, at that late stage, I simply had no time left to make such a complex change. Likewise, I did not have enough time to revise most of my quotations of Kant’s own writings so they would conform to The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, as I had hoped to do. Although I consulted this important new resource when necessary, most of my research on Kant’s own writings was done before the first of the projected fourteen volumes appeared in 1992 (the same year I completed the manuscript for KSP1), so with a few notable exceptions (as indicated in Part One of the Bibliography) quotations of Kant are from other (formerly) standard translations.
I would like to acknowledge the part played by various other persons in the making of this book. Thanks to a grant from Hong Kong Baptist University, I have benefited from the help of the following research assistants: Patricia Gillatt, Joanna Lai Wai Sum, Siti Afendras, Judy Isaac, So Po Man, Debbie Yee Fung Ping, and Winston Ü Wing On. The following people have read parts of this manuscript and/or discussed my interpretations in various ways, sometimes suggesting improvements that have led to numerous changes: various family members (especially my wife, Dorothy, and my parents, Richard and Dolores); my Oxford supervisors (especially John Macquarrie, W.H. Walsh, and David Brown); friends I met in Oxford (especially Richard Mapplebeckpalmer, Alan Padgett, and Milton Wan Wai Yu); friends I first ‘met’ via email (especially Steven Hoath, Philip Rudisill, and Lars Svendsen); members of email discussion groups (especially Hugh Chandler, Bruce Merrill, and Rick Wells on Kant-L, along with many others whose names I have now forgotten or never knew); other professional colleagues (especially Sidney Axinn, Christopher Firestone, and Paula Manchester); colleagues at HKBU (especially Jonathan Chan Keung Lap, Lo Ping Cheung, and Tsang Lap Chuen); former students at HKBU (especially Susanna Lam Oi Chi, Mannon Man Sui On, and Patrick Woo Pak Chuen); and numerous other students who have written honors projects on Kant’s philosophy of religion and/or participated actively in various classes I have taught wherein Kant’s views on religion have been discussed.
Thanks of a different kind go to those who have sacrificed countless hours that we could and perhaps should have been spent together in order to allow me to complete this book. I am thinking especially of my three children, Daniel, Joy, and Jonathan, to whom the three sequels to KSP1 are dedicated. All three books will be dedicated to all three of them, but in each case I shall single out one of them for special mention, inasmuch as they correspond in a striking (though perhaps somewhat fanciful) way to the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality. Most of all I would like to thank my beloved wife, Dorothy, whose patience with my persistent questioning of the simple truths of our faith has been matched only by her ability to put up with the idiosyncrasies of my own self-transformations—hopefully from evilheartedness to good.
. Kt65 was published in 1798. This appendix, together with the nearly-completed manuscript for Kant’s Critical Religion, was first sent to the publisher in December of 1998, though the final version was not actually ready until one year later. The delay means that my age when completing this volume is the same as Kant’s when he published Kt18, another book that plays a significant role in my interpretation.
. The version of KSP1 eventually published in 1993 is now out of print. However, the full text (excluding the diagrams) is on my web site, currently located at www.hkbu.edu.hk/~ppp/ksp1.
. This advice was wise because the delay in publishing the theological implications of my interpretation has given me the opportunity to do much more research and to change the way I view its significance. In 1991 I saw my work on Kant’s theology and philosophy of religion as a groundbreaking study, pulling together strands that had only been touched upon by previous interpreters. Over the past eight years, however, a great deal of new work has been published in this area, much of it very much along the lines I had already begun to develop. Incorporating all of this new material has contributed significantly to the excessive length of this book. But as a result, it has now taken on the character of a coup de grâce, laying to rest once and for all an old paradigm and establishing a new one as the standard among contemporary Kant scholars as we begin a new century.
. Unfortunately, the pair of articles identified in the main text appeared in a highly corrupted form, with literally hundreds of editorial and typographical errors. These were caused in part by the editors’ indiscriminate use of a computer program for automatically converting footnotes into main text (thus often interrupting the flow of the argument), in part by some horrendous layout errors (repeatedly cutting out or duplicating several lines of text at page changes), and in part by their failure to proofread adequately or (in the case of the first installment) provide me with proofsheets prior to publication. Sadly, the publishers adamantly refused to publish any corrections or even to acknowledge that the text had been severely corrupted.
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