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§5. The Content of Reasonable Faith

§5. The Content of Reasonable Faith

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   

. The content of practical faith has now greatly changed. It fixes on

nature’s being (as we reasonably believe) not unfriendly to a realm of ends

but instead conducive to it. Yet the idea of reasonable faith, and its connection with philosophy as defense, is still preserved. We can now say, as Kant

did, that the political organization of a realm of ends will be a peaceful

international society (or confederation) of peoples, each people organized

as a state with some kind of a constitutional representative regime. We

assume these regimes to be either liberal constitutional states or social democracies; for our purposes it does not matter which.5 So when the realm

of ends is the object of the moral law, reasonable political faith, let’s say,

is the faith that such a peaceful international society of peoples is possible

and favored by forces in nature. To abandon this faith is to give up on

peace and democracy, and that we can never do as long as we affirm both

the moral law and human freedom. Kant says (KR Bf.):

This perfect state may never come into being; none the less this does

not affect the rightfulness of the idea,6 which, in order to bring the legal

organization of mankind ever nearer to its greatest possible perfection,

advances this maximum as an archetype. For what the highest degree

may be at which mankind may have come to a stand, and how great

a gulf may still have to be left between the idea and its realization,

are questions which no one can, or ought to, answer. For the issue

depends on freedom; and it is in the power of freedom to pass beyond

any and every specified limit.

Now, Kant emphasizes that the postulates of reasonable faith are affirmed for the sake of the moral law, that is, to sustain and to render secure

and enduring our capacity to act from that law (KP :, , ). But suppose it is said that when the realm of ends is the a priori object, we may

5. Kant rejected the idea of a unified world state, thinking it would lead either to global tyranny

or else to civil war as parts of the world with distinct cultures struggled to gain political autonomy.

See Reiss, Kant’s Political Writings, pp. , , .

6. This idea is that of a constitution allowing the greatest possible human freedom in accordance with laws by which the freedom of each is made to be consistent with that of all the others.

Kant adds here that he does not speak of the greatest happiness “for this will follow of itself” (KR


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still need to believe in God and immortality to sustain our devotion to the

moral law. Without those religious beliefs, we might lose all hope that

those who are just and good won’t be pushed to the wall and come to

think that the wicked and evil will dominate the world in the end. We lapse

into cynicism and despair, and abandon the values of peace and democracy,

since it is a need of reason, it might be said, to believe that there will be

a certain matching, if not exact proportionality, between moral worth and


Indeed, some may think this, and let’s suppose that it is often true. And

let’s grant that it would be better to maintain our religious faith, for then

we could preserve our allegiance to justice and virtue. But in this case, our

religious beliefs would not be postulates in Kant’s sense, since for him,

postulates specify conditions necessary for us to conceive how the a priori

object of the moral law is possible; religious beliefs are not needed for this

when that object is the realm of ends. Kant’s reasonable faith is more than

simply belief necessary for us to uphold our moral integrity.

§. The Unity of Reason

. Finally, let’s turn to the unity of reason. Here the main question is: What

is the relation between the theoretical and the practical points of view, and

how are the claims of theoretical and practical reason adjudicated within

the constitution of reason? Several brief comments.

First, as noted earlier, the distinction between the phenomenal and the

intelligible worlds is not an ontological distinction between worlds and different kinds of things belonging to those worlds. It is rather a distinction

between points of view, their different form and structure, and how their

common elements (for example, the concepts of object and representation)

are related, as well as the particular interests of reason that are expressed

in and specify the aims of these points of view. Epistemological and ontological distinctions are explained by reference to the elements of these points

of view and the role they assume therein.

. A further observation is that, while Kant says that the two points of

view are of one and the same world, we have to be careful about what

this means. For here a point of view is not a perspective. It is not, as it

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   

were, a view of an object from a position in its surrounding space, taking

into account the laws of perspective for that space, and such that the information contained in different perspectives from different positions in the

same space can be pieced together to work out the properties of the object.

But precisely what we cannot do is to piece together the two points of

view into one unified theoretical account of the world. At this point, Kant

breaks with the long tradition of Western metaphysics and theology. When

Kant says that the postulate of freedom, say, is affirmed from the practical

point of view, he means that it has no role in the unifying theories of high

science. None of the postulates extends in the least our theoretical understanding (KP :, ff., ). The reasonable belief in God has no role in

physics, and the God of physics, the God of the physico-teleological proof

(KP :–; KU §), has no role in practical faith.

. But if the two points of view are not related as perspectives of one

and the same world, how are they related? The answer, I think, lies in how

Kant understands the unity of reason: he holds that the points of view of

both forms of reason articulate the point of view of an interest of pure

reason, and that the unity of reason is established by a constitution that in

effect orders these interests and secures for each all of its legitimate claims.

The key idea is that no legitimate interest of one form of reason is sacrificed

to an interest of the other; all the interests of reason, properly identified,

can be and are fully guaranteed. He writes (KP :f.): “To every power

of mind an interest can be ascribed, that is, a principle that contains the

conditions under which alone its exercise is advanced. Reason, as the faculty

of principles, determines the interest of all the powers of mind including

its own. The interest of its speculative use consists in the knowledge of

objects up to the highest a priori principles; that of its practical use lies in

the determination of the will with respect to the final and perfect end.”

Thus, while theoretical and practical reason have different interests, the

unity of reason fully validates their proper claims so that they are met without balancing or compromise or loss within the one constitution of reason.

The space, as it were, that practical reason occupies by the postulates, theoretical reason denies to itself once the antinomies are revealed.

. To illustrate: it is illegitimate, on Kant’s view, for theoretical reason

to claim the right to reject all beliefs that cannot be established by manifest

examples in experience, even though they should be necessary for the integ[  ]

   

rity of the practical use of reason and not in the least contradictory to the

interests of theoretical reason (KP :Af.). Theoretical reason has two legitimate interests: one is the positive interest in regulating the understanding

and unifying into the highest possible systematic unity the low-level empirical knowledge it provides; the other is the negative interest in restricting

speculative folly. So long as the postulates of practical faith do not trespass

on these interests, theoretical reason has no grounds to object.

On the other hand, it is also illegitimate for empirical practical reason,

which merely serves the inclinations, to be the basis of postulates. For in

that case Mohammed’s paradise and the fantasies of theosophists would

press their monstrosities on reason to reason’s destruction (KP :f.). But

the postulates of pure practical reason depend on the a priori object constructed by pure reason itself, and against these postulates theoretical reason

has nothing to say, as they occupy a space it abdicates.

Thus the unity of reason is established not by the points of view of the

two forms of reason being ordered by their perspectival relations to the

(one) world, but by the harmony and full satisfaction of the legitimate

claims of theoretical and practical reason as articulated in the form and

structure of the two points of view. Reason supplies its own unity through

a critique of itself: the aim of critique is precisely to establish this unity.

. Many will find this view unsatisfactory. It may appear to give a merely

pragmatic order of adjustment, almost a judicial settlement, as if the unity

of reason is established by the court of reason—the supreme court of critique—arranging a peace between the disputing interests of reason itself.

To say this would be a mistake, for there is no balancing of conflicting

interests, and all of the legitimate claims of reason are fully met. Of course,

many will have hoped for a unity modeled on the structure of the world

itself, a unity already given for reason to discover. That is not the kind of

unity Kant provides. As I have said, it is at this point that he breaks with

the tradition of philosophy and theology up to his day.

Kant views philosophy as defense, not as apology in the traditional sense

of Leibniz, but as the defense of our faith in reason and of the reasonable

faith that sustains it. While we cannot give a theoretical proof of the possibility of freedom, it suffices to assure ourselves that there is no such proof

of its impossibility; and the fact of reason then allows us to assume it (KP

:). If the legitimate claims of theoretical and practical reason are both

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§5. The Content of Reasonable Faith

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