LAWRENCE PASTERNACK | Guidebook to Kant on Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason | Routledge 2014


By Lawrence Pasternack

Once again, I would like to thank Allen for his time and interest. Philosophical (and even some interpretative) disagreements cannot be settled, but there is often something to be gained by their examination. Let me thus offer this brief reply, addressing Wood’s four points in turn.


Do I appeal to the ‘literature’? Yes. Do I do so because I regard it as having ‘authority’? Well, I take it that it deserves attention, though certainly can err. Hence, my appeals to the ‘literature’ were not to grant it authority, but rather to engage in the debate, and often to criticize the views of others.

As should be very clear, I disagree with the well-known objections to Kant found in Hare, Wolterstorff, Quinn, and Michalson. My treatment of their views, and my account of what I regard to be the correct alternative to their reading(s) of Kant’s Soteriology can be found on pages 153–62 (Part Two’s ‘Third Difficulty’), 190–6 (Part Three’s ‘Remarkable Antinomy’), and 248–57 (on the issue of Pelagianism) in my book. Readers may also be interested in my ‘Kant on the Debt of Sin‘, published in Faith and Philosophy. As in my book, I there offer a detailed analysis of the standard reading of Kant’s Soteriology and then develop an alternative, one that, through due argumentation, I take to be more accurate to the text.


The dispute here is whether Kant sees only a “purely philosophical exercise” or whether he sometimes claims that Christian doctrine is either false or to be rejected on practical grounds. Of course, there is a “philosophical exercise” in the text. But also, Kant does, I maintain, “appraise” Christian doctrine in the sense I have indicated. He does both, with the former “exercise” as grounds for the latter “appraisal”. Hence, contrary to Kant’s claim that he offers no “appraisal” of Christianity, I think the evidence is abundant that such is (also) taking place. I have a paper which deals with this at length: ‘Kant’s “Appraisal” of Christianity: Biblical Interpretation and the Pure Rational System of Religion‘, which has just been published in Journal of the History of Philosophy. Some readers will find of interest its extended discussion of the topic.


On the translation of unvertilgbar, I stand corrected. I did not at first understand Wood’s criticism, as I did not intend on deviating from Di Giovanni’s translation of the term. However, I now see that my commentary contains a typo not caught during editing, for Di Giovanni has ‘inextirpable’ whereas my commentary has ‘inextricable’.


I take it that there is a before and after for the Change of Heart. I do not presume that we can know when the Change of Heart takes place, for we cannot even know if such a change has even occurred. Hopefully, this is evident from my discussion of the Three Difficulties. Only God, “who scrutinizes the heart” (AA 6:67), would know if one has undergone this change.

As for the issue of “gradual reform”, given Wood’s recognition of the need to align our understanding of the Change of Heart with Kant’s Rigorism, perhaps we have no substantive disagreement here. We must differentiate the Change of Heart from this reform, not because the former is irrelevant to the latter, but rather because they concern different elements of our moral nature. The Change of Heart pertains to our supreme maxim. The “gradual reform” involves issues of virtue (moral strength, etc.).

Nevertheless, I think Wood here might be overlooking a point. The Change of Heart may be causally relevant to our pursuit of virtue, but there are problems with taking the exhibition of good principles as evidence. One problem, as presented in the “Second Difficulty” is that “one is never more easily deceived than in what promotes a good opinion of oneself” (AA 6:68). This, I take it, as well applies to appearances of virtue as to any apparent Road-to-Damascus moment. A second problem with taking the advance of virtue as evidence for the Change of Heart is that those elements of virtue that have to do with the control of inclination (which is much of what virtue is about for Kant) can be cultivated with or without the Change of Heart.  Consider Kant’s treatment of Sulla in the Anthropology as illustration of this.

© Lawrence Pasternack, 2015.

Lawrence Pasternack is Professor of Philosophy at Oklahoma State University. He specialises in Kant, ethics, and philosophy of religion. Among many book contributions, he has recently published in the journals Journal of the History of Philosophy, Kant-Studien, and Religious Studies, and wrote the current entry on Kant’s philosophy of religion for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He is also series editor of the Bloomsbury series Immanuel Kant’s Sources in Translation.