Habermas and Kant on Religion and the Enlightenment
Topic: Compare and contrast Immanuel Kant and Jurgen Habermas’s positions on Religion. How does each theorists position on religion contribute to the Age of Enlightenment?
One way to understand the problem Kant is articulating here is toconsider it once again in terms of the crisis of the Enlightenment. The crisis was thatmodern science threatened to undermine traditional moral and religiousbeliefs, and Kant's response is to argue that in fact these essentialinterests of humanity are consistent with one another when reason isgranted sovereignty and practical reason is given primacy overspeculative reason. But the transcendental idealist framework withinwhich Kant develops this response seems to purchase the consistency ofthese interests at the price of sacrificing a unified view of the worldand our place in it. If science applies only to appearances, whilemoral and religious beliefs refer to things in themselves or “thesupersensible,” then how can we integrate these into a singleconception of the world that enables us to transition from the onedomain to the other? Kant's solution is to introduce a third a prioricognitive faculty, which he calls the reflecting power of judgment,that gives us a teleological perspective on the world. Reflectingjudgment provides the concept of teleology or purposiveness thatbridges the chasm between nature and freedom, and thus unifies thetheoretical and practical parts of Kant's philosophy into a singlesystem (5:196–197).
The Critique of Pure Reason is Kant's response to this crisis. Its maintopic is metaphysics because, for Kant, metaphysics is the domain ofreason – it is “the inventory of all we possess through purereason, ordered systematically” (Axx) — and the authority ofreason was in question. Kant's main goal is to show that a critique ofreason by reason itself, unaided and unrestrained by traditionalauthorities, establishes a secure and consistent basis for bothNewtonian science and traditional morality and religion. In otherwords, free rational inquiry adequately supports all of these essentialhuman interests and shows them to be mutually consistent. So reasondeserves the sovereignty attributed to it by the Enlightenment.
Enlightenment is about thinking for oneself rather than letting othersthink for you, according to What is Enlightenment? (8:35). In thisessay, Kant also expresses the Enlightenment faith in the inevitabilityof progress. A few independent thinkers will gradually inspire abroader cultural movement, which ultimately will lead to greaterfreedom of action and governmental reform. A culture of enlightenmentis “almost inevitable” if only there is “freedom to make public use ofone's reason in all matters” (8:36).
The Enlightenment was a reaction to the rise and successes of modernscience in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The spectacularachievement of Newton in particular engendered widespread confidenceand optimism about the power of human reason to control nature and toimprove human life. One effect of this new confidence in reason wasthat traditional authorities were increasingly questioned. For whyshould we need political or religious authorities to tell us how tolive or what to believe, if each of us has the capacity to figure thesethings out for ourselves? Kant expresses this Enlightenment commitmentto the sovereignty of reason in the Critique:
To understand the project of the Critique better, let us considerthe historical and intellectual context in which it waswritten. Kant wrote theCritique toward the end of the Enlightenment, which was then in a stateof crisis. Hindsight enables us to see that the 1780’s was atransitional decade in which the cultural balance shifted decisivelyaway from the Enlightenment toward Romanticism, but of course Kant didnot have the benefit of such hindsight.
With these works Kant secured international fame and came to dominateGerman philosophy in the late 1780's. But in 1790 he announced that theCritique of the Power of Judgment brought his critical enterprise to anend (5:170). By then K. L. Reinhold (1758–1823), whose Letters on theKantian Philosophy (1786) popularized Kant's moral and religious ideas,had been installed (in 1787) in a chair devoted to Kantian philosophyat Jena, which was more centrally located than Königsberg andrapidly developing into the focal point of the next phase in Germanintellectual history. Reinhold soon began to criticize and move awayfrom Kant's views. In 1794 his chair at Jena passed to J. G. Fichte,who had visited the master in Königsberg and whose first book,Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation (1792), was publishedanonymously and initially mistaken for a work by Kant himself. Thiscatapulted Fichte to fame, but he too soon moved away from Kant anddeveloped an original position quite at odds with Kant's, which Kantfinally repudiated publicly in 1799 (12:370–371). Yet while Germanphilosophy moved on to assess and respond to Kant's legacy, Kanthimself continued publishing important works in the 1790's. Among theseare Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (1793), which drew acensure from the Prussian King when Kant published the book after itssecond essay was rejected by the censor; The Conflict of the Faculties(1798), a collection of essays inspired by Kant's troubles with thecensor and dealing with the relationship between the philosophical andtheological faculties of the university; On the Common Saying: That Maybe Correct in Theory, But it is of No Use in Practice (1793), TowardPerpetual Peace (1795), and the Doctrine of Right, the first part ofthe Metaphysics of Morals (1797), Kant's main works in politicalphilosophy; the Doctrine of Virtue, the second part of the Metaphysicsof Morals (1797), a catalogue of duties that Kant had been planning formore than thirty years; and Anthropology From a Pragmatic Point of View(1798), based on Kant's anthropology lectures. Several othercompilations of Kant's lecture notes from other courses were publishedlater, but these were not prepared by Kant himself.
After 1770 Kant never surrendered the views that sensibility andunderstanding are distinct powers of cognition, that space and time aresubjective forms of human sensibility, and that moral judgments arebased on pure understanding (or reason) alone. But his embrace ofPlatonism in the Inaugural Dissertation was short-lived. He soon deniedthat our understanding is capable of insight into an intelligibleworld, which cleared the path toward his mature position in theCritique of Pure Reason (1781), according to which the understanding(like sensibility) supplies forms that structure our experience of thesensible world, to which human knowledge is limited, while theintelligible (or noumenal) world is strictly unknowable to us. Kantspent a decade working on the Critique of Pure Reason and publishednothing else of significance between 1770 and 1781. But its publicationmarked the beginning of another burst of activity that produced Kant'smost important and enduring works. Because early reviews of theCritique of Pure Reason were few and (in Kant's judgment)uncomprehending, he tried to clarify its main points in the muchshorter Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to ComeForward as a Science (1783). Among the major books that rapidlyfollowed are the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), Kant'smain work on the fundamental principle of morality; the MetaphysicalFoundations of Natural Science (1786), his main work on naturalphilosophy in what scholars call his critical period (1781–1798); thesecond and substantially revised edition of the Critique of Pure Reason(1787); the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), a fuller discussion oftopics in moral philosophy that builds on (and in some ways revises)the Groundwork; and the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), whichdeals with aesthetics and teleology. Kant also published a number ofimportant essays in this period, including Idea for a Universal HistoryWith a Cosmopolitan Aim (1784) and Conjectural Beginning of HumanHistory (1786), his main contributions to the philosophy of history; AnAnswer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784), which broachessome of the key ideas of his later political essays; and What Does itMean to Orient Oneself in Thinking? (1786), Kant's intervention in thepantheism controversy that raged in German intellectual circles afterF. H. Jacobi (1743–1819) accused the recently deceased G. E. Lessing(1729–1781) of Spinozism.
In 1766 Kant published his first work concerned with the possibility ofmetaphysics, which later became a central topic of his maturephilosophy. Dreams of a Spirit-Seer Elucidated by Dreams ofMetaphysics, which he wrote soon after publishing a short Essay onMaladies of the Mind (1764), was occasioned by Kant's fascination withthe Swedish visionary Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), who claimed tohave insight into a spirit world that enabled him to make a series ofapparently miraculous predictions. In this curious work Kantsatirically compares Swedenborg's spirit-visions to the belief ofrationalist metaphysicians in an immaterial soul that survives death,and he concludes that philosophical knowledge of either is impossiblebecause human reason is limited to experience. The skeptical tone ofDreams is tempered, however, by Kant's suggestion that “moral faith”nevertheless supports belief in an immaterial and immortal soul, evenif it is not possible to attain metaphysical knowledge in this domain(2:373).