Today I continue the dialogue with Simple Faith who has been asking me very difficult questions about philosophy. Warning. This isn’t a tweet! and not for the faint-hearted. Don’t read if you have no interest in the philosophy of religion, because that’s what it’s about and I don’t want to bore you completely. Also it’s longer than usual, although there is the relief of Scott Murray’s delightful nature pics.

Reflections on rock in Water of Ruchill, Glenartney, Perthshire
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Who was Immanuel Kant?
Simple Faith: You mentioned a man called Kant some time ago …
Hard Going: I did, indeed, Immanuel Kant, a German who lived in the 18th century, but I remember reading once that according to Kant himself his father’s forebears were from a Scottish immigrant.
SF: Really, and was he a believer?
HG: A very good question! If we compare him with Dooyeweerd no, he wasn’t a believer. He put far more emphasis on reason than on faith. In that sense he was a child of his age but he had a huge impact on the philosophers that followed him. As regards belief in God, a very negative impact, it must be said, although that wasn’t Kant’s intention at all.

The paradoxes of reason
SF: So he didn’t even believe in God?
HG: Well, no, that’s not quite right. He did believe in God but he held that the existence of God couldn’t be proved by reason. When he tried to prove his existence by reasoning we come across something he called ‘antinomies’.
SF: In the name of the wee man, what on earth is that?
HG: An antinomy is simply a paradox. Two beliefs could be true, e.g. ‘God exists’ and ‘God does not exist’. Using reason alone, either could be true. So we’re stuck. Reason, said Kant, can’t tell us anything about God, or the soul or immortality, because reason leads to paradox. Soul, God, immortality belong to the noumenal world which we cannot know anything about through our understanding alone.
SF: I think I understand what you’re talking about, is the noumenal world the world of ghosts and fairies and so on …

Thistles with spider
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Kant’s Copernician revolution
HG: (laughs) Well, not quite, you see Kant had a very peculiar way of looking at things, he called it his Copernician revolution.
SF: I know about Copernicus; he was the man who proved that the earth went round the sun, not the other way about. People used to think the sun went round the earth.
HG: More or less, it was a revolution in people’s thinking?
SF: And Kant’s revolution?
HG: Bear with me, please, this not easy to explain, so it might take a little longer. You’ve really put me on the spot …
SF: Sorry!

Man at the centre of reality
HG: But I’ll try. You see, Kant put the human being at the centre of reality. You can only know reality through the categories or spectacles of the human; the categories being things like quantity or number, qualities such as negation, relation between things and so on. Our understanding of reality is governed by these categories, within the intuitional modes of time and space. If we see a chair, we see it through the spectacles of our understanding. We see mere appearances, we can never know the thing-in-itself – that belongs to the noumenal world.
SF: You said that, for Kant, God belonged to the noumenal world. Why then did he believe in him?
HG: I can’t believe you asked that question. You amaze me, you who wasn’t interested in philosophy! That is a key question. Because reason couldn’t prove the existence of God, Kant had to find some other way of preserving belief in God, he had to find something in man that belonged to the noumenal realm.

Sunset over Perthshire hills
(Photo: Scott Murray)

The noumenal part of man
SF: And what was that?
HG: In one word the ‘will.’ He argued that as a morally responsible being man was autonomous when it came to the will. There was nature with its laws of cause and effect and there was the noumenal free world of the will. A person feels he has to obey the voice which tells him what is right or wrong. He calls this the ‘categorical imperative’; you feel you ought to do something. So there are two worlds, the world of nature and natural law and the world of freedom.
SF: I think I know where all this is leading, correct me if I’m wrong.
HG: Go on …
SF: It leads to other people saying, ‘Ok, in that case, because God cannot be proved by reason I’m free to do whatever I like, I have absolutely autonomous freedom.’
HG: You’re quite right, but it got even worse, although it was not what Kant wanted. He thought he was clearing the ground for faith, but instead his philosophy led to atheism.
SF: How do you think that was?

Knowledge confined to appearances
HG: All there was in upper storey was freedom, a purely autonomous human freedom. We could have no certain knowledge of the noumenal world, only true knowledge of appearances. This way of thinking led to Schopenhauer (1788-1860) who, as far as I understand him, believed in a blind indifferent force from which arise phenomena or appearances. Nietzsche (1844-1900) was influenced by Schopenhauer and was virulently anti-Christian. This nature/freedom dualism still governs much of contemporary life. And so, as we saw in earlier blogs, the end of such philosophy is misery and despair.
SF: Because God has been rubbed out of the picture … do you believe all that stuff?
HG: Certainly not, you should know me better than that!
SF: But how can you answer these arguments, which are too high-flown for me, I must say?
HG: Kant doesn’t deny God or the noumenal. As far as I can see, he doesn’t deny that the noumenal in its own terms could reveal itself to humanity. Christians like you and me believe this has happened in the person of Jesus the Christ and that God revealed himself in the Scriptures.

Comparing Kant and Dooyeweerd
SF: And how does your favourite philosopher compare with Kant? You know, I did a bit of research of my own. I looked up ‘categories’ in the online ‘Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.’ Kant’s categories are there but not a mention of Dooyeweerd.
HG: That’s easily explained. Dooyeweerd’s work was originally written in Dutch and that doesn’t help, but more importantly Dooyeweerd is a holistic philosophy. He gives faith and the Biblical revelation a central place and, of course, that is anathema to mainstream philosophy which is influenced by the rational logical/analytic approach.
SF: Ah, that is one of Dooyeweerd’s aspects, isn’t it? Kant places too much stress on reason.

Reason made absolute, versus the ‘heart’
HG: Exactly. As Troost puts it: ‘ … he absolutizes thinking in relation to all other human functions, as if man’s entire humanity is concentrated in his intellect.’ In fact Dooyeweerd himself struggled with Kant’s way of thinking … until he discovered the importance of what he calls the ‘heart’.
SF: Ah, yes, you mentioned that before. The ‘heart’ for Dooyeweerd is much more than what we usually mean by the ‘heart.’
HG: Oh, yes, it has huge significance. Troost talks about ‘a transcendent root unity.’ Can I give a rather long quote to end with.
SF: Go ahead, I have all day.

The importance of the heart
HG: He says: “As regards the individual human being, it can be said that his entire existence is incorporated or comprehended in that unity of his heart. His heart concentrates the fullness of his temporal existence, and thus also transcends his ‘temporal diversity.’ A person’s temporal existence does not exhaust the reality of his life or the inner structural coherence of its diversity. He lives on, even after his corporeal death, and also then remains nonetheless the same total person, possibly with a distinct or new name as recorded in the ‘book of life.’ (Rev. 2:17; 20:12).