The historical dimensions of a rational faith

Journal of the History of Philosophy 18 (4):482-483 (1980)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:482 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY G. E. Michalson, Jr. TheHistoricalDimensions ofaRattonalFaith. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1977. Pp. 222. $8.65. The primary intentionof this work is to argue that historical or ecclesiastical religion plays a vital role in Kant's religious thought, because it is necessary to provide a sensible content for the purely formal doctrine of Kant's "moral" religion. But Michalson resists that this strategy cannot succeed, because of the technical requirements of Kant's eplstmology, and that we must ultimately encounter an "impasse" in Kant's thought on history and religion (pp. 77, 134, 169). This is an area of Kant's thought that has not until recently received the attention it deserves. A careful consideration of all the related issued helps one to recognize, from perhaps the most beneficial standpoint, how all the various parts of Kant's philosophical scheme fit together. Michalson quite rightly maintains that we must remain within the epistemological framework Kant has established for the Critical Philosophy. But unfortunately he recognizes only the negative aspects of this framework. What he chooses to call "Kant's principle of human limitations" (mentioned thirtynine times) is the essential element in his interpretation. Secondly, Michalson is unwilling to follow the lead of other commentators (e.g., Michel Despland and Ylrmiahu Yovel) in broadening the context still further in order to take into account the full scope of Kant's philosophical project. These two defects persist throughout Michalson's analysis, and ultimately they prevent any fruitful conclusions. The approach employed, in its most simple form, ~sto point out that historical religion belongs to the phenomenal order and that morality (as the basis for Kant's technical rehgious position) belongs to the noumenal order. Kant's recognition of the need to bridge this gap is dealt with in terms of the "schematism of analogy" (pp. 95, 112-13) mentioned in Religion withinthe Ltmits ofReasonAlone. Michalson provides an interpretation of the schematism m Chapter 3 and concludes that "Kant's Religion is not altogether consistent with certain basic teachings of the critical philosophy" (p. 132). His attempt to deal with this problem carries him into a discussion of teleology and the highest good (Chapter 4), and it is only in this concluding chapter that his various interpretive errors crystallze and produce their Inevitable consequences. Rather than emphasizing the negative aspects of Kant's conception of man, Despland offers Kant's positive perspective on man and his destiny----drawing, for example, on the Anthropologyfrom a PragmaticPoint of View. Employing equally good judgment, Yovel provides an interpretation of the highest good which shows it as the culmination (in the indefinite future) of the concrete process through which man's social, political, educational, and religious development takes place. These perspectives permit the historical dimension (both religious and secular) to be gradually transformed by the imposition of moral designs--as men ~lowly and painfully assume responsibility for directing the blind laws of nature into patterns that serve moral ends. Such commentators help us to see more clearly what Kant was attempting to achieve and how the elements of his total philosophical scheme are to be understood as interconnected. Michalson, on the other hand, has only his impasse to offer us. Because history is phenomenal and religion (as morality) is noumenal, he maintainsthat no bridge is possible between the two realms. But this is simply a failure to recognize Kant's strategy. For Kant is very careful to restrict knowledge (in the strict sense) to the phenomenal order. But he is equally clear in asserting that it is legitimate (indeed, necessary) to postulate those conditions which alone make it possible for us to act in conformity with the moral law. Therefore, we must postulate not only God and immortality but the possibility of a worldly order which conforms both to the laws of nature and to the moral law. And for Kant these postulates have the full strength of rational truths, m that--like the postulates of mathematics -reason cannot reject them. Interpreting Kant's phenomenon-noumenon distinction strictly (but misapplying it), Michalson insists that such a projected ideal state of the world is inconsistent with Kant's epistemological commitment. For such...



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