We have seen that for Kant, ultimate reality is the transcendental underpinning of the phenomenal world we live in. It has four foci which we can partially access – reason, the thing-in-itself, the divine, and good will. In the final analysis, these epitomize the wholly abstract and the absolutely concrete. On the one hand there is tremendous overlap of these facets and of our accessing them, and on the other hand they comprise extractions of a single realm which is just outside our grasp. Pure and practical reason and freely chosen moral conduct are the human activities vital to our alignment with ultimate reality.

Any summary of Kant is flawed in by its very nature as his own words offer crystallized explanations that should not be missed. I close with one of my favorite passages, but believe the industrious reader will profit from reading any and all of his works (a goal, I freely admit, I have yet to accomplish). Much is unexpected of perhaps the greatest rationalist thinker in human history.

I end now picking up from the epigraph starting this section, Kant is musing on the awe he feels from the starry heaven above and the moral law within:

“I have not to search for them and conjecture them as thought they were veiled in darkness or are in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and enlarges my connection therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding, and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent, but in a universal and necessary connection, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates as it were my importance as an animal  creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with a vital power, one knows not how, must give back the matter of which it was formed to the planet it inhabits (a mere speck in the universe). The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of the animality and even of the whole sensible world at least so far as may be inferred from the destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination not restricted to conditions and limits of the life, but reaching into the infinite.”5

There is much more, but I will not further test the patience of the reader…


5Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Practical Reason in Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Great Books of the Western World, Volume 42. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc., Chicago, 1952. Page 360-361.


For Kant, the third noumenal contact point is God, not as an ontologically demonstrable being, but rather as the inferred ground of reason, being, and morality. Connection here begins when reason is used to apprehend three noumenal features of the divine: (1) the ‘holiness’ of God – who as ‘the Author of the world’ -displays absolute good will in the decision to create the world even while aware that one consequence is unavoidable phenomenal evil, (2) the ‘goodness’ of God – i.e. the divine process of creating engenders the optimal balance of good and evil within the phenomenal world, and (3) the ‘justice’ of God – who as ‘law-giver’ – ensures eventual reward for moral acts and appropriate punishment for immoral acts where free will applies.

Another means of association with the divine is faith, not in the existence of God per se, but in the unadulterated system of morality and of human moral worth; both one’s own moral worth and the moral worth of others. By comparison, Kant posits grace, which he rejects, noting we cannot know how the noumenal realm works and thus can never answer the question as to whether our behavior is entirely autonomous or reflects some supernatural assistance. Instead human participation occurs through unshakable moral faith and hope that actions are not fruitless and moral perfection is, in the end, attainable.

Still another method to engage with deity is by asking of oneself: how can I be well-pleasing to God? (Or even, how ought I conduct myself so that were there a God, He would approve?) Since humans are by nature imperfect, the answer for Kant is not sinlessness, but an endless advancement toward true goodness. Moral perfection becomes possible through infinite moral progression, which paired with unwavering moral hope promises endless opportunity and thus, by inference, immortality. The self then, as it is in itself and not as it appears in time, is Kant’s free agent deserving of moral worth, and as such capable of merging with the noumenal. This connection between temporal acts and timeless reality occurs when our goodness pleases God (or would please a hypothetical God) at which point we share in the supreme goodness (of God).

The fourth and last interactive focus of ultimate reality for Kant situates in good will, again for humans, not pure ‘unconflicted goodness’ (which he tells us is not real in the phenomenal world), but the striving ‘with all our might’ to be morally perfect even when we know in advance this is impossible for us. For Kant, the concept of original sin derives from the “radical evil in human nature,” that is, our corrupt condition. While the striving for moral perfection must be disappointed, we can experience an underlying timeless progress within a ground of evil in the world. Each time we overcome evil tendencies we participate in the universal good will. And at last we discover the path to Kant’s summum bonum which it turns out, is not to be happy, since we can never know what will make us happy, but rather to be deserving of happiness – a deserving which originates in this participation.

(final continuation next post)


“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” – Immanuel Kant1

In the last three posts we saw that for Kant, ultimate reality is the transcendental or noumenal realm manifesting as four modalities: (1) reason – which for humans is theoretically the most accessible, (2) the thing-in-itself – which is largely forever outside human knowledge, (3) God – the implicit ground of reason, being, and morality, and (4) good will – in the absolute or pure sense, and as such, unattainable in the world as we know it. In addition, there are two key supplemental principles: human freedom and phenomenal evil. Today we will investigate the means of connection with the transcendental offered by Kant.

We should not be surprised that a man who wrote a 700 page book called Critique of Pure Reason believes that the first access point to ultimate reality is a sincere examination of reason, ‘the highest good on earth.’ Kant tells us “Thinking for oneself means seeking the supreme touchstone of truth in oneself (i.e. in one’s own reason); and the maxim of always thinking for oneself is enlightenment.2 This is not, we learn, the acquisition of information, but rather the practice when making an assumption or conclusion, of demanding logic which can be converted into a universal principle in the process of reasoning itself. In that case superstition, error, and inappropriate enthusiasm are circumvented and the formulated maxim participates in reason’s self-preservation.3

Next Kantian physics (or should I way metaphysics?) places the thing-in-itself at the center of physical reality. As I noted before, while for the most part we are unable to directly access the thing-in-itself, Kant does believe we interact with the noumenal realm because our experience of things arises directly from them phenomenologically. However there are two noumena that we may directly access: (1) reason as discussed above, and (2) free will particularly moral freedom. Robert Merrihew Adams explains this latter assertion: while actions or deeds [Tat] are acts in time (that is participate in the empirical world), they also transcend time (as participation in the noumenal realm).4 Thus our reasoning, perceptions, and activities within the world ultimately connect us (though imperfectly) with the thing-in-itself.

(continued next post)


1Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Practical Reason in Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Great Books of the Western World, Volume 42. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc., Chicago, 1952. Page 360.

2Kant, Immanuel, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K, 1998. ISBN 978-0-521-59964-4, 7 footnote. The bold is his.


4Ibid., page xiii.


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.



From reason, the abstract, Kant next takes on the concrete of the physical world. In keeping with his dislodgement of experience from the realm of certainty or ultimacy, he notes that human perceptions are imperfect and malleable. Real things, it turns out, can only be experienced by us as perceptions, so for instance, a red apple is only red because of the way its surface reflects light to the human eye; it is not red in-itself.  Kant believes the mind naturally takes perceptions and places them into categories such as cause and effect or possibility and impossibility. Following this analysis, Kant concludes that our normal concept of reality is not strictly a function of external things, but is generated by the mind’s organizing of external perceptions.

Nonetheless all the while Kant believes a thing we experience does exist, just not as the strict phenomenon known to us, but instead as the ‘thing-in-itself.’ He calls the realm of actual things (i.e. in-themselves) the noumenal. This then is the ultimate worldm but it is unfortunately is forever outside our definitive knowledge.


In the second part of the Critque of Pure Reason, ( titled ‘Transcendental Logic’), Kant refutes the traditional ‘proofs’ of the existence of God.4 As such we might expect Kant to be a secular atheist, but instead we run head long into his three methodical justification for at least pretending there is an ultimate (divine) being. First, since all individual things are contingent or merely possible, and thus ‘derivative,’ we must presuppose axiomatically “the possibility of that which includes in itself all reality”5 that is the ‘original.’ Individual things are modes of ‘limiting’ but “the ideal of reason which exists only in reason is called the original being (ens originarium) and insofar as it has no being above it, the highest being (ens summum), and insofar as everything as conditioned is subject to it, the being of all beings (ens entium).”6 But Kant is clear, this is not proof of ontology of such a being, but one based on reason or in his words “signifies the idea to concepts.” 7 In fact it is here where he goes on to refute the three traditional ‘proofs’ of God’s existence as well as the idea of ‘necessary existence.’

In his Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Kant seems to pick up where he leaves off in the Critique, with this passage starting the prior post. The concept of an original, supreme, and unlimited being is necessary as the ground of concepts of  limited contingent beings. In brief, Kant’s first justification for belief in God is as the ‘ground’ of being.

(further continued next post)


4Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason. Penguin Books, London, England, 2007. ISBN 978-0-0140-44747-7, pages 495-524. The reader will  be well rewarded for reviewing Kant’s explanations.

5Ibid., page 491.

6Ibid., page 492.The bolds are Kant’s.

7Ibid. Again the bold is Kant’s.


“It is quite otherwise with the concept of a first original being as a supreme intelligence and at the same time as the highest good. For not only does our reason already feel a need to take the concept of the unlimited as the ground of the concepts of all limited beings – hence of all other things – but this need even goes as far as the presupposition of its  existence, without which one can provide no satisfactory ground at all for the contingency of the existence of things in the world, let alone the purposiveness and order which is encountered everywhere in such a wondrous degree…”– Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.1

Today we move forward 150 years from Spinoza to Kant on our quest to understand ultimate reality and how we connect to it. Anyone struggling through Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason knows that he is one of the most methodical thinkers in human history and as far from mysticism and experience-based speculation as any. While I do not think he ever comes right out to say which he thinks is ultimate, we can extract four interlocking metaphysical principles that in aggregate establish his understanding. These include: reason (the abstract), the thing-in-itself (the physical), God (the divine), and good will (the moral). Let’s look at these individually and then consider Kant’s approach to connect with the ultimate.


Kant’s first piece of ultimate reality is epistemological. He tells us there is fundamental truth instantiated in reality and the means to such truth is reason. Kant tells us: “only reason – not any alleged sense of truth, not any transcendental intuition under the name of faith…only that genuine pure human reason”2  is necessary as a means of orientation of thinking. And reason for Kant is not essentially subjective, but objective as derived by means of mathematics or logic, i.e. beyond mere experience.3

While science and other forms of empirical knowledge are useful, they represent a lower form of thinking than analytic knowledge, which is logically prior to the synthetic. Empirical knowledge (such as all swans are white) can be amended by later experience (such as the finding of a black swan), but analytic knowledge (the part is never larger than the whole) cannot be undermined by later observations. The most prominent example of analytic knowledge offered by Kant however is that experience will always occur in the realm of space and time. Analytical reasoning then is the first mode of Kant’s ultimate reality.

(continued next post)


1Kant, Immanuel, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K, 1998. ISBN 978-0-521-59964-4, page 7.

2Ibid., page 4.

3Ibid., page 5.


Having presented his metaphysics of ultimate reality, we turn now to Spinoza’s explanation of how we connect with it. First we need to have a rational understanding which for Spinoza means the ability to recognize that features of the universe necessarily have their roles as essential properties of the one substance which is causa omnium rerum and causa sui (the explanation or cause of all things and of itself).

Since the one substance is a single system or whole, we must grasp the system as a whole before we can hope to grasp the nature of the parts including ourselves whose roles are determined by the system.3 “The supreme Good consists in the enjoyment of a human nature which, because it is perfectly aware of its place in and its unity with the whole natural scheme of things, accepts the inevitability and necessity of the natural order.”4 This grasping includes a deep understanding that nothing can exist outside of the one substance to limit it and thus it is unbounded or infinite. We come across a reformulation of the equation of ultimate reality: Existence = Unity = Infinity. God is not a first cause and there is no teleology since God has no purpose; God is inherently complete. God is facies totius universi or the “face of the whole universe.5

A final ethic arises from Spinoza’s conception of ultimate reality and human connection. Spinoza argues our traditional moral codes are artificial and derive from human erroneous belief in free will and arbitrary concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which are merely what humans see as things which cause pleasure or pain. In fact the conatus suo esse perseverandi (the striving to persist as a being) is the foundation of virtue which in turn derives not from action, but knowledge. As we free our thinking from the impact of externals, our ideas become key parts of the infinite idea of God. At last we reach Spinoza’s supreme connection of true blessedness, “the love of God to man and the intellectual love of man to God are one and the same.”6

While following a more logical, mathematical process, Spinoza, like Plotinus, seems extremely sincere in his presentation and almost mystical in his description of the experience of ultimate reality. Connection with ultimate reality is utterly simple and entirely within the control of each of us. In his words, “Although the love of God has no beginning, it nevertheless has all the perfections of love, just as if it had originated. Nor is there any difference, excepting that the mind has eternally possessed these same perfections which we imagined as now accruing to it, and has possessed them with the accompanying idea of God as the eternal cause. And if joy consist in the passage to a greater perfection, blessedness must indeed consist in this, that the mind is endowed with perfection itself.”7

A lot to think about…


3 I am reminded of Zen teaching which also emphasize a global grasping of things.

4Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 7, page 531.

5Ibid., page 535.

6Ibid., page 540.

7Ratner, Joseph (editor), The Philosophy of Spinoza. The Modern Library, New York, 1927. Page 370.


“But the creator is Himself knowledge, the knower and the object known. His knowledge does not arise from His directing His thoughts to things outside of Him, since in comprehending and knowing Himself, He comprehends and knows everything that exists.” – Moses Cordovero, A Garden of Pomegranates.1

On our journey to define the many human conceptions of ultimate reality, we have worked through the scientific understanding and last time finished our review of the ancient Western philosophical tradition ending on Plotinus who was active in the third century C.E. In the West for the next 14 centuries, philosophy is submerged within Christian theology (theological understandings of ultimate reality or God make up the third portion of the section on Ultimate Reality and the Meaningful Life) until we arrive at Baruch De Spinoza (later Benedict Spinoza), the first strictly philosophical thinker in this area since antiquity.

In his opus magnum, The Ethics, Spinoza attempts to create a metaphysics of certainty using geometric-like axioms and proofs to support his positions. While his presentation is not entirely convincing and at times seemingly confused, we can extract a speculative position wherein he appears to pick up from Aristotle with ‘substance’ as ultimate reality. However unlike Aristotle, Spinoza believes there is only one substance in the sense of a genuinely individual thing with intelligibility and not derived from other things. Its existence follows from its essence, not an act of creation rather that of which the laws of Nature are the operation. In other words, God is Nature!

All other things in the universe are finite modes of the one substance which itself has an infinite number of attributes. However we are only aware of physical and mental attributes of substances due to our limitations. In addition all finite things are united by the feature of conatus or striving to exist. Spinoza believes the laws of Nature are all-governing, hence prior conditions determine subsequent events, thus humans have no free will. Our sense of free will derives from an intense conatus opposed to external influences.2

(continued next post)


1 Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 7, page 534.

2Honderich, Ted, The Oxford Guide to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-534093-8 pages 888-892.



“This vision achieved, the acting instinct pauses; the mind is satisfied and seeks nothing further; the contemplation, in one so conditioned, remains absorbed within as having acquired certainty to rest upon. The brighter the certainty, the more tranquil is the contemplation as having acquired the more perfect unity…” (III, 8, 6)14


“The space open to the soul’s resort is vast and diverse; the difference will come by the double force of the individual condition and of the justice reigning in things. No one can ever escape the suffering entailed by ill deeds done: the divine law is ineluctable, carrying bound up, as one with it, the fore-ordained execution of its doom. The sufferer, all unaware, is swept upwards towards his due, hurried always by the restless driving of his errors, until at last wearied out by that against which he struggled, he falls into his fit place and, by self-chosen movement is brought to the lot he never chose. And the law decrees, also, the intensity and duration of the suffering while it carries with it, too, the lifting of chastisement and the faculty of rising from those places of pain – all by power of the harmony that maintains the universal scheme.” (IV, 3, 24)15

“…in all his pain he [the Sage] asks no pity; there is always the radiance in the inner soul of the man, untroubled like the light in a lantern when fierce gusts beat about it in a wild turmoil of wind and tempest.” (I, 4, 8)16



“[It] is simply a human error which assumes wisdom to be what in fact is unwisdom, taking the search for wisdom to be wisdom itself. For what can reasoning be but a struggle, the effort to discover the wise course, to attain the principle which is true and derives from real-being? …What reasoners seek, the wise hold; wisdom in a word, is a condition in a being that possesses repose. Think what happens when one has accomplished a reasoning process: as soon as we have discovered the right course, we cease to reason; we rest because we have come to wisdom.” ( IV, 4, 12)17


“That the soul is of the family of the diviner nature, the eternal, is clear from our demonstration that it is not material…but there are other proofs…Let us consider a soul, not one that has appropriated the unreasoned desires and impulses of the  bodily life, or any other such emotion and experience, but one that has cast all this aside and as far as possible has no commerce with the bodily. Such a soul demonstrates that all evil is accretion, alien, and that in the purged soul the noble things are immanent, wisdom and all else that is good…any one of us that exhibits these qualities will differ but little as far as soul is concerned from the Supernals…This is so true that, if every human being were at that stage, or if a great number lived by a soul of that degree no one would be so incredulous as to doubt that the soul in man is immortal, It is because we see everywhere the spoiled souls of the great mass that it becomes difficult to recognize their divinity and immortality” (IV, 7, 10)18


“…to those that approach the Holy Celebrations of the Mysteries, there are appointed purifications and the laying aside of the garments worn before, and the entry in nakedness  – until, passing, on the upward way, all that is other than the God, each in the solitude of himself shall behold that solitary-dwelling Existence, the Apart, the Unmingled, the Pure, that from Which all things depend for Which all look and live and act and know, the Source of Life and of Intellection and of Being.”(I, 6, 7)19

Of course there is so much more, but I have already treaded on the reader’s patience, so I propose to move on – next to Spinoza.


14Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Plotinus. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 17, pages 131-132.

15Ibid., page 154.

16Ibid., page 16.

17Ibid., page 164.

18Ibid., pages 198-199.

19Ibid., page 24.



“Our task, then, is to work for our liberation from this sphere, severing ourselves from all that has gathered about us; the total man is to be something better than a body ensouled… There is another life, emancipated, whose quality is progression towards the higher realm, toward the good and divine, towards the Principle which no one possesses except by deliberate usage but so may appropriate, becoming, each personally the higher, the beautiful, the Godlike, and living, remote, in and by It…” (II, 3, 9)8

“A man’s one task is to strive towards making himself perfect- though not in the idea- really fatal to perfection – that to be perfect is possible to himself alone.” (II, 9, 9)9


“In sum, evil belongs to the sequence of things, but it comes from necessity. It originates in ourselves; it has its causes no doubt, but we are not, therefore, forced to it by Providence: some of these causes we adapt to the operation of Providence and of it subordinates, but with others we fail to make the connection; the act instead of being ranged under the will of Providence consults the desire of the agent alone or of some other element in the Universe, something which is either itself at variance with Providence or has set up some state of variance in ourselves.” (III, 3, 5)10

“Wrong-doing from man to man is wrong in the doer and must be imputed, but, as belonging to the established order of the universe is not a wrong even as regards the innocent sufferer; it is a thing that had to be, and, if the sufferer is good, the issues is to his gain. For we cannot think that this ordered combination proceeds without God and justice; we must take it to be precise in the distribution of due, while, yet, the reasons of things elude us, and to our ignorance the scheme presents matter of censure.” (IV, 3, 16)11


“It is sound, I think, to find the primal source of Love in a tendency of the Soul towards pure beauty, in a recognition, in a kinship, in an unreasoned consciousness of friendly relation.” (III, 5, 1)12

As the All-Soul contains the Universal Love, so must the single Soul be allowed its own single Love: and as closely as the single Soul holds to the All-Soul, never cut off but embraced within it, the two together constituting one principle of life, so the single separate Love holds the All-Love. Similarly the individual love keeps with the individual Soul as that other, the great Love, goes with the All-Soul; and the Love with the All permeates it throughout so that the one Love becomes many, showing itself where it chooses at any moment of the Universe, taking definite shape in these its partial phases and revealing itself at its will.” (III, 5, 4)13

(final continuation next post)


8Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Plotinus. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 17, page 44.

9Ibid., page 71.

10Ibid., page 96.

11Ibid., page 150.

12Ibid., page 100.

13Ibid., page 102.