Kant’s revolutionary thinking, expressed in his magnum opus, “The Critique of Pure Reason”, allowed the debate to progress from its stalemate. Neither empiricist nor rationalist, Kant reminded the philosophical community of the subjectivity inherent in human experience. Hume conceded that our interpretation of sensory experience depended upon causal inference. But causal inference as a principle cannot be derived from experience, merely applied to it. Causal inference, then, is a presupposition that is necessary for experience as understood by a rational being.
Kant’s exploration of the presuppositions that shape our experience would seem, at first glance, to support the rationalist position: we have innate concepts and innate knowledge. But Kant affirms neither the rationalist nor the empiricist position. His own position is transcendental. To explain his thinking, he uses the analogy of a pair of spectacles. Our experience is like a man who sees the world through a pair of spectacles, but who lacks the ability to remove the spectacles. He knows that he is wearing spectacles, and from this infers that the spectacles are in some way influencing his vision. Now the external world may be very like the world of the spectacles, but he lacks the means of finding this out, because he cannot remove the spectacles. He must accept a limit to his knowledge (at least on an infallibilist understanding of knowledge); he must accept scepticism.
Kant’s exploration of the nature of experience is reminiscent of Descarte’s “evil demon” argument and of Berkeley’s idealism (more specifically his attack on the “material substratum”). Unlike the empiricists, he affirmed the existence of the synthetic a priori; however, unlike the rationalists, he denied that one could make an a priori argument for the existence of God. “God exists” is not an analytic proposition, but a synthetic one. A distinction must be made between two claims that are easily confused (for which reason, Kant would not be persuaded by Plantinga’s ontological argument).
A) “If God exists, then His existence is necessary.”
B) “God’s existence is necessary.”
To assert that God, by definition, is a being whose existence is not dependent upon any other entity is to make an analytic judgement. But the definition of a concept is distinct from the assertion that such an object exists. We may define UNICORN to our heart’s content, but that will not cause a unicorn to exist, nor does it depend on or presuppose the existence of a unicorn in the external world.
To assert that an entity exists or that something is the case is to make a synthetic judgement. Now, Kant has argued that some synthetic judgements are a priori (e.g. “2+7=9”). But can the proposition, “God exists”, be known this way? Is “God exists” a necessary truth? Maybe – but the ontological arguments of Anselm and Plantinga have not shown it to be so. The subjectivity inherent in the “spectacles” make our examination of both reason and experience problematic.
If we are to follow an empiricist method of arguing for the existence of God, then we must conclude that we cannot be certain of God’s existence (for which reason, faith is necessary). Experience does not provide us with universals, but only with matters of fact bound by the presuppositions of space in time imposed by us upon our experience through the spectacles.
If we attempt the path of reason, we will find that the Cartesian circle denies us certainty regarding the truth of “clear and distinct” ideas. The evil demon threatens.
The consequence of the empiricist and rationalist debates, and the Kantian progression beyond the debate, are scepticism and an awareness of human subjectivity. For that reason, faith is an essential ingredient in a person’s ability to grasp the proposition, “God exists.”
Faith is required. I seem to dimly remember, from college mostly, and it’s been a while, that it was just as impossible to rationally prove the statement, “God does not exist.” That too requires faith to support the argument.
For me, I often think those spectacles Kant spoke of are sunglasses, and I fear I may require a new prescription, since the focus doesn’t seem as sharp. 🙂
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LOL – I wish I had a pair for those sunny days and not for the gloomy ones… 😛
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Kant lost. He was trying to directly attack St. Tomas’ ipsum esse statement about God. It couldn’t be done, though several others tried from various angles. Kant’s was just another failed attempt, even though many joined him by adopting his position.
Yes, it is true that adding the definition of a word like unicorn to the all the lexicons of the world will not create one, should one exist in the mind and heart of a little girl, there is little that can be done should they remove all traces of the unicorn from every dictionary on the planet. This is also true of God. Acknowledging His existence doesn’t create Him, nor does refusal to acknowledge Him un-create Him. Also if a person has a distorted image of Him in their mind and heart, whatever you say to that person about God will be measured against the distorted image, and against their a priori deductions based upon their distorted image, their unicorn. On the other hand the a posteriori proofs of the existence of God will frustrate them, especially when they remain stubbornly obtuse based upon their inner unicorn’s image. They will naturally adhere to any and all person’s dissertations who support the invention of unicorns and find a fellowship among the admirers of various types of unicorns as long as they remain of the same genus, that of a mythical beast.
Isn’t is wonderful knowing without a doubt who God is? But then again if I’m talking with someone who believes in unicorns……………………………nuff said. God bless. Ginnyfree.