Kant’s second justification for belief in God is practical, to wit, since we have an intrinsic sense of an obligation to behave morally, there must be an underpinning of this principle. Kant’s reasoning is simple enough; morality demands that we take as our ultimate end the highest good that is possible in the world. In addition there is the corollary of an expectation of happiness for the virtuous individual. However neither is in fact achievable in the world as presented to us, thus the justification of this internal moral compulsion defaults to a divine being which can supplement to the extent required our contribution to the achievement of the highest good and assure our compensatory reward.8 In short, God is demonstrated by virtue of being essential to the rationale of moral action.

Kant’s third justification for the presumption of God is instantiated in reason itself. In part, there is the intelligibility of the universe which requires an intelligible ground without which we must fall into ‘plain absurdities’ The apparent purposiveness of the universe justifies presupposition of an intelligent cause. In addition, human reason involves two inescapable modalities : (1) theoretical – our desire to judge “about the first causes of everything contingent, chiefly in the order of ends which is actually present in the world,”9 and (2) practical – the inexorable need to judge in order to act within the world. Both work only if we assume the existence of God as the ground of reason (i.e. the basis for judging).


The fourth principle incorporated in Kant’s concept of ultimate reality is “good will” by which he means an absolute intention to perform entirely moral actions. Kant warns us that such good will is not part of the phenomenal world, but is noumenal in location. As such, we can never experience it, instead we can only “progress” toward noumenal goodness. In fact one feature of the sensible world critical to Kantian thinking is the unavoidable evil instantiated in it. Good will then is the supreme good, or “pure unconflicted goodness.”


In conclusion, these four elements – reason, the thing-in-itself, God, and good will – shape the transcendental which is, for Kant, ultimate reality. The phenomenal world we experience is thus only a mirror or imperfect disclosure of the noumenal which is the ultimate. However Kant is not completely pessimistic about our connection to ultimate reality. On the one hand, our experience is not mere illusion or hallucination, but an imperfect perception of the truly real. On the other, armed with this knowledge, we can augment our connection with the noumenal through several measures which are the subject of the next post.


9Kant, Immanuel, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K, 1998. ISBN 978-0-521-59964-4, page 8.

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