“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.