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The Transcendental Dialectic turns from the ordering of intuitions by the understanding to our faculty of reason. This investigation delves deeper into the sources of illusion in metaphysics and theology, which are intertwined with a predisposition toward comprehensive explanation. Kant begins with an overview integrating the understanding with the unifying faculty of reason: “All our cognition starts from the senses, goes from there to the understanding, and ends with reason, beyond which there is nothing higher to be found in us to work on the matter of intuition and bring it under the highest unity of thinking” (A298/B355). Reason is the highest faculty because its procedures are the most abstracted from experience. But reason in itself, without the understanding’s ordered reception of sense intuitions, cannot generate knowledge of reality. The entities hypothesized by metaphysics and theology are emblematic of the endeavors of reason to make ontological assertions disconnected from intuitions.
We have seen that the tasks of fostering open public discourse and furthering autonomy are central to Kant’s critical philosophy from its initial formulations. The multi-sided interface of epistemology, ethics, and politics we have discerned in Kant’s work provides the framework for a more detailed explication of the first Critique. For the purposes of this project, questions of knowledge and the status of supersensible ideas are approached mainly in relation to an inquiry into religion and its ethical-political significance. Hence my treatment is selective and governed by specific aims. I will minimize many of the technical issues in Kant’s epistemological model as I mainly aim at setting the groundwork for his project of rethinking metaphysics and religion.
Kant’s inquiry into historical religions does not compromise the epistemological and ethical principles underpinning the critical philosophy. He makes this clear at the opening of the work:
[S]o far as morality is based on the conception of the human being as one who is free [als eines freien] but who also, just because of that, binds himself through his reason to unconditional laws, it is in need neither of the idea of another being above him in order to recognise his duty, nor, that he observe it, of an incentive other than the law itself. (R, 6:3)
Before discussing the first Critique more closely over the following two chapters, I want to outline how Kant defined his long-term intellectual goals in broader ethical and political terms. This includes a discussion of the types of political and economic conditions he opposed, how his inquiries into the seemingly abstruse domains of metaphysics and theology formed a crucial component of a sustained inquiry into human autonomy, and how he developed his approach to individual and collective reform.
In Kant’s writings, the topic of religion occupies a strategic space at the confluence of epistemology, ethics, and politics. Inquiries into the validity of religious truth claims and the possible meanings of religious writings and images form a vital part of Kant’s ethical and political project. This project focuses on advancing human autonomy, both individually and in terms of political concerns with shared worldviews, laws, and rights. In its mature form, this line of inquiry begins with the Critique of Pure Reason, is further developed in Kant’s ethical writings and the Critique of the Power of Judgment, and reaches fruition in Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. This body of work constructs an intricate framework for understanding religion not only in relation to epistemological issues, but as relevant to both ethical and political considerations. It shows that religion, as both personal and cultural, is profoundly connected with the ethical and political possibilities of human beings. The structure of this investigation is wider than any of Kant’s specific inquiries. It addresses both individual ethical reflection and possible ameliorations of social and political conditions that have an effect upon our ethical development.
This book offers a systematic examination of the place of religion within Kant's major writings. Kant is often thought to be highly reductionistic with regard to religion - as though religion simply provides the unsophisticated with colourful representations of moral lessons that reason alone could grasp. James DiCenso's rich and innovative discussion shows how Kant's theory of religion in fact emerges directly from his epistemology, ethics and political theory, and how it serves his larger political and ethical projects of restructuring institutions and modifying political attitudes towards greater autonomy. It also illustrates the continuing relevance of Kant's ideas for addressing issues of religion and politics that remain pressing in the contemporary world, such as just laws, transparency in the public sphere and other ethical and political concerns. The book will be valuable for a wide range of readers who are interested in Kant's thought.
Throughout the Critique of Pure Reason, as Kant contests the objective validity of metaphysical and theological systems, he also begins to reinterpret them in practical terms. The main epistemological liability of traditional metaphysics, i.e., its tendency to construct worldviews based on orders of ideas without reference to experience, becomes a constructive resource for expanding the parameters of ethical-political thinking. To function in support of practical reason, ideas must be liberated from any pretense to ontological claims. As part of this restructuring, Kant also develops an innovative model of human subjectivity that is crucial to his ethical-political inquiries. Most importantly, our capacity for autonomy resists closed metaphysical systems that fix the status of human beings within hierarchical ordering structures. Autonomy is equally resistant to the mechanistic theories of scientific materialism. The subject traverses both reason and nature, and it is this dynamic twofold quality that allows us to apply practical ideas within existing states of affairs.
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