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.