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.