Monday, November 12, 2018

On Paulsen’s Kant

Friedrich Paulsen (1907)
Friedrich Paulsen, in his book Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine, suggests that the real purpose of the Kantian philosophy is to overcome the opposition between faith and knowledge that has extended through the history of human thought. According to Paulsen, Immanuel Kant believed that by properly fixing the limits of knowledge and faith, he had engineered an honorable and enduring peace between them. To knowledge, Kant gave the entire world of phenomena to be investigated through science; and to faith he gave the eternal right to interpret life and the world from the standpoint of value.

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction in Paulsen’s book:
There is indeed no doubt that the great influence which Kant exerted upon his age was due just to the fact that he appeared as a deliverer from unendurable suspense. The old view regarding the claims of the feelings and the understanding on reality had been more and more called in question during the second half of the eighteenth century. Voltaire and Hume had not written in vain. Science seemed to demand the renunciation of the old faith. On the other hand, the heart still clung to it. Pietism had increased the sincerity and earnestness of religion, and given it a new and firm root in the affections of the German people. At this point Kant showed a way of escape from the dilemma. His philosophy made it possible to be at once a candid thinker and an honest man of faith. For that, thousands of hearts have thanked him with passionate devotion. It I was a deliverance similar to that which the Reformation had brought to the German spirit a century or two earlier. Indeed, one may in a certain sense regard Kant as the finisher of what Luther had begun. The original purpose of the Reformation was to make faith independent of knowledge, and conscience free from external authority. It was the confusion of religion and science in scholastic philosophy against which Luther first revolted. That faith had been transformed into a philosophical body of doctrines, that fides had been changed to credo, seemed to him to be the root of all evil. To substitute for belief in a human dogma the immediate certainty of the heart in a gracious God reconciled through Christ, to emphasize the importance of the inner disposition, as opposed to outer acts, was the soul of his work. Kant was the first who definitely destroyed the scholastic philosophy. By banishing religion from the field of science, and science from the sphere of religion, he afforded freedom and independence to both. And at the same time he placed morality on a Protestant basis, not works, but the disposition of the heart. 
However, the modern interpreters of Kant like Paul Guyer have a different take on the Kantian contributions to the scope of faith. In the Introduction to his book The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy, Guyer says:
Or as Kant more succinctly but also more misleadingly puts it, “I must therefore suspend knowledge in order to make room for belief,” or, as it is often translated, “faith”. This is misleading if it is taken to mean that Kant intends to argue that knowledge must be limited in order to allow us some nonrational basis for belief about important matters of morality. Rather, what Kant means is that the limitation of the foundational principles of the scientific worldview to the way things appear to us is necessary not only to explain its own certainty but also to allow us to conceive of ourselves as rational agents who are not constrained by the deterministic grip of nature but can freely govern ourselves by the moral law as practical reason (although certainly not all forms of religious faith) requires.

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