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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi; Immanuel Kant
It was difficult for Immanuel Kant to stay out of the Pantheism controversy as both sides of the dispute wanted to have him as an ally. Those on the side of the “party of faith,” Johann Georg Hamann, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, and Thomas Wizenmann were eager to gain Kant’s support. On the other side were Moses Mendelssohn and his supporters, trying their best to cajole Kant to fight for their cause.

With the intention of compelling Kant to join him, Jacobi declared in early 1785 that Kant was a “philosopher of faith.” Hamann tried to encourage Kant to launch an attack on Mendelssohn’s Spinozism. But after Mendelssohn’s death in January 1786, Kant came under pressure from Mendelssohn’s allies to speak out against Jacobi and avenge Mendelssohn’s death.

In May 1786, Wizenmann published a tract in which he posited that all philosophy ends in Spinozism, and therefore atheism and fatalism cannot be avoided.

In his essay “Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle,” (Chapter 4; The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser has this to say about Wizenmann’s use of Kantian premises to make a case for religion:
Where Jacobi is vague and merely suggestive, Wizenmann is clear and bluntly argumentative. His argument is especially interesting since it begins with Kantian premises and then draws fideistic conclusions from them. In the hands of the pietists an essentially Kantian-style epistemology becomes a powerful weapon in humbling the claims of reason and uplifting those of faith. 
The main premise of Wizenmann's argument is his definition of reason, which he explicitly states at the very beginning. According to this definition, which is truly Kantian in spirit, the task of reason is to relate facts, that is, to compare and contrast them, or to infer them from one another. But it cannot create or reveal facts, which must be given to it. Appealing to Kant's criticism of the ontological argument, Wizenmann advances the general thesis that it is not possible for reason to demonstrate the existence of anything. If we are to know that something exists, then it has to be given to us in experience. Of course, it is possible to infer the existence of something, but only when the existence of something else is already known. All inferences are only hypothetical in form, Wizenmann explains, such that we can infer the existence of one thing only if another is already given. Hence Wizenmann concludes in the manner of Kant that there is a twofold source of knowledge: experience, which gives us knowledge of matters of fact; and reason, which relates these facts through inference. 
On the basis of this Kantian definition and distinction, Wizenmann builds his case for positive religion. 
Wizenmann’s tract served the purpose of making Kant aware that Jacobi and Mendelssohn were heading in the direction of irrationalism and he had to intervene. But there were several other pressures that finally goaded Kant into action—with Jacobi and Mendelssohn trying to appropriate him for their own cause, Kant ran the risk of being seen as either a philosopher of faith or a philosopher dogmatic fanatical atheism. He disagreed with both the stances.

Finally in October 1786, Kant published his first contribution to the Pantheism controversy, an essay called “What Does it Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?”  Here’s Beiser’s perspective on the stand that Kant took on the Pantheism controversy in his essay:
In this essay Kant takes a middle position between Jacobi and Mendelssohn. He accepts some of their principles but refuses to draw such drastic conclusions from them. On the one hand, he agrees with Jacobi that knowledge cannot justify faith; but he disagrees with his conclusion that reason cannot justify it. On the other hand, he concurs with Mendelssohn that it is necessary to justify faith through reason; but he does not accept the conclusion that to justify faith through reason demands knowledge.  
What allows Kant to steer a middle path between Jacobi and Mendelssohn is his denial of one of their common premises: that reason is a faculty of knowledge, a theoretical faculty whose purpose is to know things-in- themselves or the unconditioned. Resting his case upon the central thesis of the second Kritik, which would appear only fourteen months later in January 1788, Kant assumes that reason is a practical faculty: it does not describe the unconditioned, but prescribes it as an end of conduct. Reason prescribes the unconditioned in either of two senses: when it commands us to seek the final condition for a series of conditions in nature; or when it commands us categorically to perform certain actions, regardless of our interests and circumstances. In both these cases the unconditioned is not an entity that we know, but an ideal for our conduct, whether that be scientific inquiry or moral action. By thus separating reason from knowledge, Kant creates the opportunity for a rational justification of faith independent of metaphysics. 
At the very heart of Kant's essay is his concept of 'rational faith' (Vernunftglaube). This he defines as faith based solely on reason. 
The concept of “rational faith,” allows Kant to walk the middle path between Mendelssohn’s dogmatism and Jacobi’s mysticism. He also makes the point that both Mendelssohn and Jacobi are guilty of undermining reason, which he says must always remain the final criterion of truth in philosophy. He accuses Jacobi and Wizenmann of irrationalism, and concludes that only critical philosophy can uphold reason.

In February 1787, only four months after the publication of Kant’s essay, Wizenmann wrote an an open letter to Kant—in it he rebutted Kant’s charges and pointed out the deficiencies in the Kantian concept of practical faith. Jacobi too realized that Kant would never join his cause, and he wrote a very influential criticism of Kantian philosophy.

On Jacobi’s attack on Kant, Beiser says:
Jacobi sees Kant's philosophy, especially as it is consistently and systematically developed by Fichte, as the paradigm of all philosophy—and hence as the very epitome of nihilism. Jacobi's attack on philosophy has now become first and foremost an attack on Kant, and in particular on Fichte, whom Jacobi sees as nothing more than a radical Kantian.

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