Philosophy: Kant’s Approach To Religion And God


Here is another of my philosophy essays written during my finals last summer.

‘What may I hope?’ From Morality to God (In Routledge Companion)

On Kant’s view, it is ‘…rationally necessary’ for all of us to have ‘…practical knowledge of moral obligation’. (p.314) Kant exercises the belief that this knowledge we all, supposedly, have within us amounts to proof of God’s existence. If this is true, then it is possible to suppose that our belief in God is a product of practical reason- because we are rationally obligated to have this belief. In this case, our beliefs are a result of obligation, not of what actually exists. Further, this obligation extends to morality- As moral agents we are bound to have a belief in God.

Kant requires us to use our capacity to reason here in order to ‘…supply some set of theoretical judgements which will rationalise the hope which is presupposed by the exercise of pure practical reason’. From this speculation, Kant introduces his proposition that the very reality of God depends upon ‘…rational necessity’. (p.317)

If this is correct, then our moral actions can be considered to be part of God’s will. However, this in turn would not mean that we have an obligation to act a morally because our actions depend on God’s will. Instead it would mean that we should view things as our having an inherent obligation to act morally because our actions are commands from God. Further, it is conducive for us to have rational faith if we want to live a life of meaning. These premises amount to a version of the transcendental argument.

To reiterate, Kant is claiming that, if we exercise the use of practical reason, it is possible to, in principal, have faith in the presence of God.

It is important to take note here of a distinction we would naturally assume to exist between theoretical and practical reason. On the contrary, Kant regards them to be wholly connected to one another. In point of fact, if we do not take the connection to be substantive then ‘…it will be possible for pure reason to conflict with itself’. (p.319) As a result, we risk losing the concept of rationality altogether. Therefore, it is a necessity for theoretical and practical reason to stand in unity.

Returning to the subject of rationality, Gardner illustrates that if we consider our rational potential to be ‘…of fundamentally as answerable to something other than and independent from themselves,’ (p.320) then the only other possibility is that they are ‘…answerable to themselves’. (ibid)

Kant advocates that it is a fact and the function of nature that our capacity to reason is designed to purposefully encourage us to contemplate matters such as God’s timelessness and whether or not we have free will. We are designed to ask such questions to ensure we meet our moral goals.

To partake in these inquiries is to as practical questions. In respect of this, ‘…the unity of reason must lie in a principle of practical reason’. (p.321)

In light of this, the ambition of our reasoning abilities is to seek God’s righteousness and superiority. This stands in opposition to the prospect of reasoning being associated merely with attaining knowledge alone.

Kant advances on this resolution by contending that it is also the purpose of nature to sustain man as a morally obligated creature. Finally, in keeping with Kant, the ultimate function of nature ‘… is man considered as noumenon transcendent of nature outside and inside himself’. (p.322) Therefore, it is a definitive condition of nature to create an encompassing environment in pursuance of the morality of man. This condition embodies the consequence of reason.

Consequently, conforming with what Kant has had to say so far, theoretical and practical reason are at first considered to be separate, and later interpreted as in harmony is one another.

Kant thereby rejects the view that, in order to retain faith in God, we must become disinterested with reason altogether. He is not concerned with whether or not reason amounts to happiness, but maintains that ‘it is no longer to be conceived as their immediate purpose’. (p.323)


Gardner, S. 1999. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason. [e-book] Routledge. pp. 314-324. Available through: philpapers [Accessed: 9 Apr 2014].

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