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Kant’s moral argument for faith in God aims not at converting unbelievers but at offering those who believe a reason for principled assent to the existence of God on moral grounds. It is based on a rational connection between purposive action and assent that applies not only to religious belief but to many other purposes as well, such as what Royce called “loyalty to a lost cause.” The argument in the Critique of Pure Reason differs significantly from its presentation in later works. Kantian moral faith is in tension with Cliffordian evidentialism but not inconsistent with it, and the two together constitute the doxastic virtue lying between the twin vices of uncritical credulity and stubborn incredulity; together they enable us to avoid the complacencies of both despairing resignation and overconfidence.
Kant is critical of many of the practices of Christianity in his time. But when we appreciate the dynamic relation between rational and revealed religion as Kant conceives them, the apparent opposition becomes more questionable and raises more questions than it answers. Kant’s project in the Religion bears important affinities with the religious philosophy of Moses Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn’s philosophy of church and state and their relation involve a number of radical proposals expressive of Enlightenment religious consciousness. Mendelssohn’s concept of enlightened Judaism bears interesting comparison to Kant’s enlightened reflections on Christianity. Mendelssohn defends a form of evidentialism even more radical that Clifford’s. He also defends a conception of the freedom of religious conscience that inspires Kant’s treatment of that topic in part four of the Religion. Conscience is an important theme in Kant’s moral philosophy, which has special application to religious conscience and the freedom of conscience Kant and Mendelssohn both defend.
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