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§5. The Content of Reasonable Faith

§5. The Content of Reasonable Faith

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gressively improving, and not becoming steadily worse, or that it does

not fluctuate in perpetuity from bad to good and from good to bad. For

in this case we will view the spectacle of human history as a farce that

arouses loathing of our species.3 In our social unsociability that drives

us to competition and rivalry, and even to seemingly endless wars and

conquests, we may not unreasonably hope to discern a plan of nature to

force mankind, if it is to save itself from such destruction, to form a confederation of constitutional democratic states, which will then ensure perpetual peace and encourage the free development of culture and the arts.

By this long path we may reasonably believe a realm of ends will come

about in the world. Indeed, this faith itself may further this happy end.4 Or

as Kant says in his reply to Mendelssohn in “Theory and Practice” (Reiss


I may thus be permitted to assume that, since the human race is constantly progressing in cultural matters (in keeping with its natural purpose), it is also engaged in progressive improvement in relation to the

moral end of its existence. This progress may at times be interrupted

but it is never broken off. I do not need to prove this assumption; it is

up to the adversary to make his case. . . . I base my argument upon

my inborn duty of influencing posterity in such a way that it will make

constant progress (I must thus assume that progress is possible). . . .

History may well give rise to endless doubts about my hopes, and if

these doubts could be proved, they might persuade me to desist from

an apparently futile task. But so long as they do not have the force of

certainty, I cannot exchange my duty . . . for a rule of expediency

which says I ought not to attempt the impracticable. . . . [T]his uncertainty cannot detract from the maxim I have adopted, or from the

necessity of assuming for practical purposes that human progress is


3. “Theory and Practice,” in Kant’s Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, trans. H. B. Nisbet, nd

ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ), p. .

4. In this paragraph, I describe in the briefest fashion the idea of reasonable faith as it occurs

in Kant’s political essays: “The Idea of a Universal History” (), “Theory and Practice” (),

and “Perpetual Peace” (). See Reiss, Kant’s Political Writings.

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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[  ]

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§5. The Content of Reasonable Faith

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