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.