STEPHEN PALMQUIST | Comprehensive Commentary on Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason | Wiley-Blackwell 2015 


By Philip J. Rossi, SJ

Before entering into discussion of the three aspects of Stephen Palmquist’s Comprehensive Commentary on Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason that I shall be highlighting in the essay, it first seems appropriate to take note of “the overall purpose” that he articulates for this work, which is “to provide the first comprehensive reference work in English on Religion: a work that any reader interested in Kant’s treatment of questions relating to religion can turn to for clarification of and assistance on any specific passage in Kant’s book” (p. xiv). With respect to that overarching purpose, the Commentary is, in my judgement, quite successful. It enables English language readers and students of Kant’s major treatise on religion first and foremost to focus upon on the arguments and issues raised in and by Kant’s words in the text of ‘Religion’.

An important aspect of this achievement is that integral to Palmquist’s method is the presentation, particularly in the copious running footnotes to the text, of carefully detailed accounts of what is at stake, syntactically and semantically, both in the German text and in the ways that different translators of Kant’s work have rendered his text into English. Palmquist, it should be further noted, does not hesitate to make his own contribution to the English language ‘translation history’ of Religion inasmuch as he offers a large number of his own emendations and revisions to the 2009 Werner Pluhar translation of Religion (Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason, Indianapolis: Hackett) that is employed as the running text for the Commentary (and which I shall be using in this essay); as he notes (p. 501) the revisions he has made pertain to 8 to 10 percent of 80,400 words of the text. In addition, Palmquist not only provides extensive explanatory comments in the notes with respect to specific translation decisions and emendations, but also offers, both at the outset of the volume and at its end, a larger rationale for the principles governing those revisions; the first of these is in the concluding section of the Preface (pp. xvii–xx) and the second is part of a thirty-five page Glossary appended to the main body of the commentary (pp. 501–36). As a result, whatever one might think about the specifics of the resultant Pluhar/Palmquist translation, or about Palmquist’s reading of a particular passage, or about the bearing of that passage upon the larger elements in Kant’s account of the relation between the exercise of critical human reason and humanity’s religious beliefs and practices, or even about Palmquist’s advocacy of a non-reductionist reading of Kant’s view of religion, the Commentary regularly provides the details needed to keep further argument on any of these matters focused in the first instance on attentively construing the words, sentences, and arguments of Kant’s text, with all its attendant difficulties and challenging ambiguities.

It is of further consequence for the usefulness of the Commentary—as both a philosophical as well as a lexical point of reference in English for Kant’s main treatise on religion—that Palmquist identifies what he sees as the place that the various English translations of Kant’s text (including his revisions of Pluhar’s) have within the context of what he calls the various ‘waves’ of twentieth and twenty-first century interpretation of Kant’s work on religion. Palmquist’s recognition here that translation is neither an interpretatively nor a philosophically neutral enterprise thus allows him also to acknowledge explicitly that his own interpretative location in undertaking this work is that of an advocate for what he terms a ‘moderate reading’ of Kant’s views on religion. There are two key elements to this reading. First, it disputes what has been a highly influential, but arguably textually and substantively problematic, view that Kant, in the Religion text and elsewhere in his writings, intentionally and relentlessly, simply ‘reduces’ religion to morality without remainder (pp. x–xi); and, second, this reading then constructively interprets Kant’s project in Religion as “a genuine attempt to elucidate one of the most significant aspects of human life, in hopes of reforming Christian theology and religious practice rather than abolishing it” (p. x).

As significant as the Comprehensive Commentary may prove to be as a lexical and methodological resource for Anglophone philosophers seeking a close parsing of Kant’s text, I am going to focus my comments upon what I take to be three larger topics and issues that arise in the course of Palmquist’s wide-ranging discussion in this volume. These issues arise, in the first instance, with respect to Kant’s specific discussions in the text of Religion and his treatment of religion within the overall scope of his Critical philosophy, but they also touch—at least in my judgement—upon significant points of interest for contemporary discussions in philosophical theology and philosophy of religion, discussions for which some Kantian informed wisdom may turn out to be of use. These three topics are:

1. Kant’s treatment of the role of embodiment with respect to the circumstances within which humanity undertakes its moral struggle to overcome evil. This discussion will suggest that, in addition to the points that Palmquist underscores about the importance of embodiment for what I shall term Kant’s ‘anthropology of moral agency’, the fact that we are embodied agents also has implications with respect to the shape and dynamics of the moral community—i.e. the ‘church’—that Kant takes to be the social locus, in both its ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ form, for the human struggle with and hoped-for triumph over evil. I shall thus suggest that Palmquist’s highlighting of Kant’s attention to embodiment points to a larger claim that our human embodiment can be itself understood as a fundamental feature of our human historicity both as individual moral subjects and as a species. I shall then argue that human embodiment construed in terms of our historicity has a bearing upon the concrete forms that can be given to the social organisation of particular human communities and to the moral dynamics that are operative in such organisation. I shall thus be proposing that attention to our embodied human circumstances may serve as a basis from which members of the particular congregations and communities that Kant construes as the ‘visible church’, can envision and articulate the concrete organisational forms that would enable them, in their particular historical circumstances, to sustain one another in the human struggle against evil.

2. The second topic focuses upon the model that Kant provides for a Critical mode of philosophical engagement with theological issues and the implications that this has for a range of contemporary efforts and initiatives to provide conditions for productive exchange between philosophers, theologians and scholars of religion. I shall be proposing here that Kant’s efforts in his own eighteenth-century context, through which he sought to make it possible for philosophy and theology to recognise their mutually limiting relation to one another, continues to provide an instructive model for contemporary discussions of philosophical theology and philosophy of religion to follow in engaging theology as a conversation partner. Kant’s own procedure is one in which each form of inquiry begins from a standpoint of freely undertaken mutual self-limitation (i.e. critique) as a prerequisite for productive conversation. It then further requires, on the side of philosophers, that they seek to understand and to engage religious and theological concepts, discourse and practice on theology’s own terms and that, on the side of theologians, they seek to do likewise with respect to philosophical concepts, discourse and practices. Palmquist’s account is useful for seeing this procedure inasmuch as it emphasises the respectful seriousness with which Kant engaged his theological interlocutors and critics, even as he robustly defended the legitimacy and the necessity of a critical philosophical engagement with theology as an academic discipline and as well as with the communal and the personal forms of human religious practice. My discussion here will expand upon a suggestion Palmquist makes that the contemporary circumstances of a global culture increasingly shaped by the dynamics of religious plurality may constitute an important locus for which Kant’s way of proceeding may offer some guidance on constructing and conducting a robust engagement between philosophy and theology on matters of pressing global import that arise in consequence of the religious plurality of human culture.

3. The third topic then focuses on elucidating the scope and the shape of the understanding of “experience” of “the purity and sublimity of the moral law” (p. 145n.2) that Palmquist makes central to his construal of the ‘Critical mysticism’ that he sees as fundamental to Kant’s account of religion. My discussion here will focus principally upon the manner in which Kant’s rendering of the human encounter with the ‘purity of the moral law’ implicates a theological construal of critique, i.e. of the anthropological task incumbent on finite human subjects to enact the unity of reason in history. This topic of Critical mysticism is one that Palmquist developed extensively in his earlier volume Kant’s Critical Religion (Palmquist 2000) and is implicated in the larger, i.e. non-reductive and constructive, interpretative stance that Palmquist advocates in the Commentary for reading Kant’s account of religion. The focus for my discussion, however, will not be on the arguments and textual material that Palmquist marshals in making a case for ‘Critical mysticism’ as Kant’s own view—and indeed even as that which stands at the core of his Critical enterprise. I propose, instead, to offer a parsing of the ‘experiential’ locus—the “unknowable and ineffable experience” (p. 202n.120)—to which Palmquist sees Kant gesturing as the basis for “his religious philosophy, and perhaps also his entire philosophical system” (ibid.) and that he (Palmquist) characterises as “mystical”. My suggestion is to construe such an ‘experience’ of the ‘moral holiness of God’ in terms of its bearing upon the moral task of serving as the juncture of nature and freedom that Kant’s project of critique makes incumbent upon humanity: Whatever else we take the experiential status of ‘Critical mysticism’ to encompass, it functions as a locus that provides an apprehension of the unitary working of human reason as itself part of this human task of effecting the unity of reason. Palmquist’s proposal to render that task in terms of a ‘Critical mysticism’ thus provides one way—though arguably not the only way—to trace the contours of the overall theological and religious import of that unitive project of critique that finite human reason has made incumbent upon itself.

Each of these topics can be linked to a number of either long-standing or more recent interpretative controversies over Kant’s account of religion—to name just a few:

  • the governing structure(s) of Kant’s arguments in the text of Religion; Kant’s relation to and assessment of Christian (doctrinal) ‘orthodoxy’;
  • the role (if any) of ‘grace’ in Kant’s account of ‘moral regeneration’ and the life trajectory that ensues from it;
  • the form and status within Religion of the ‘postulates’ and the ‘moral argument’ for God;
  • the larger role (if any) of the Religion text in relation to Kant’s project of Critical philosophy;

and, perhaps most fundamentally,

  • the proper way to construe Kant’s understanding of how “ethics therefore leads inescapably to religion” (RGV, AA 6:6).

I have not, however, selected the aforementioned three topics as foci for my discussion here primarily in view of their bearing upon these controverted issues. Instead, a common thread that I see linking the three topics I propose to discuss is the fact that, even as the Comprehensive Commentary notes that they have a role to play in Kant’s analysis and argument, the full import they have for Kant’s account of the philosophical and human significance of religion remains underdeveloped for the most part, even within Kant’s own text. As a result, I shall be arguing that Kant’s own account on these matters, even as it takes some note of their importance, can offer what is only an initial gesture that points towards a conceptual territory that he leaves (mostly) unexplored—and that has only occasionally become a focus for subsequent commentary. My purpose in offering these three topics for discussion here is thus two-fold: first, to draw explicit attention to Palmquist’s both perceptive and helpful recognition of their roles in Kant’s account and second, to articulate in a more explicit and extensive way how they constitute a part of the ‘conceptual territory’ of human religion that may benefit from—or may even require—further exploration of these issues along the lines that Kant opened up, but did not himself pursue, in the text of Religion.

In the interest of full disclosure with respect to my own interpretative stance on Kant’s treatment of religion, I should acknowledge at the outset that I place myself within the ambit of the kind of non-reductive and ‘reformist’ reading of Kant that Palmquist advocates—and I additionally recognise that such reading itself plays a role in constituting the possibility for even identifying and articulating the three topics I am proposing for discussion. In other words, these are topics that might not even be up for discussion within the ambit of many reductive readings of Kant’s enterprise with regard to religion—and why they would not be so may itself even constitute part of what eventually needs to be explored. On the other hand, while there are significant aspects of Palmquist’s version of such a ‘moderate reading’ and of his configuration of such a ‘reformist’ interpretative grid that I would dispute (e.g. with respect to the social origin and sources of ‘radical evil’, particularly with respect to scope and structure of human finite moral agency or over the implications such a social context then has for construing the relationship between the ‘church’ and the political order as both participant in the human task of overcoming evil), my treatment of these three topics here will not make these differences its primary focus. My main concern, instead, is to get these topics on the table for further conversation, modo kantiano.

1. Embodiment, Evil and the Organisation of “the Visible Church”

The first topic I propose for consideration originates from the attention that Palmquist gives to Kant’s treatment of the role of embodiment within the circumstances in which humanity undertakes its moral struggle to overcome evil. He correctly disputes the view that “one of the most common criticisms of Kant’s philosophy is that it presents us human beings as if we were disembodied moral agents” and in accord with a number of other recent commentators argues to the contrary that “nothing could be further removed from the truth” (p. 66n.137; he specifically references Shell 1996, Svare 2006 and Bunch 2010). In contrast to an interpretative tradition in which human sensibly embodied inclinations were taken to be the locus in which Kant sees humanity’s ‘propensity’ to evil operative, Palmquist maintains “that in Religion Kant regards our embodiment as the crucial factor about human nature that requires us to be religious: at its best, religion is, for Kant, embodied morality” (p. 66n.137).

I take this claim to mean, at the very least, that the role and the reality of human embodiment is important for understanding what I would term the ‘anthropology of moral agency’ embedded within Kant’s account of the human struggle to overcome evil, the struggle in which he locates the core of religion. It is in this struggle to overcome evil that finite human reason, as embodied in human persons, encounters the unconditional demand of the moral law (the “fact of reason” as Kant terms it in the Critique of Practical Reason, KpV, AA 5:42). This encounter with the unconditional demand of the moral law serves as the formative locus for what Palmquist identifies as “the essential element in religion”, i.e. “one’s inner conviction, expressed as a firm resolve to obey the moral law” (p. 476n.177). Such inner conviction, moreover, is constitutive for the experience (of moral conscience) that he identifies as the basis for and the core of Kant’s ‘Critical mysticism’.

Palmquist locates Kant’s understanding of our human embodiment and its bearing upon the human moral struggle between good and evil with reference to his articulation of “the predisposition to good”, and specifically places it in the first of the three “classes”—our animal nature—into which Kant differentiates the workings of this predisposition:

In the first of the three numbered subsections that argue for the goodness of the human predisposition, Kant interprets our animal nature—what we might nowadays call our ’embodiment’—in terms of the physical need of members of the human species to look after their own well-being (i.e., the need for ‘self-love’). (p. 66)

He subsequently notes a number of key texts and arguments in which Kant indicates that, even as our embodiment does stand as a place and occasion for weakness in the struggle against evil, it retains its fundamental status and orientation to the physical and sensible good that is fundamental to our finite human make-up.

Ironically, then, our embodiment—the very aspect of our nature that many readers think Kant blames for our evil nature—is what keeps us from being devils: by grounding us in self-love, our animal nature insures that at some level, albeit perverted, our evil behavior is motivated by a desire to do what is ‘good’ (at least for ourselves). (p. 98)

Of particular note with respect to the predisposition to good carried in our embodiment is Kant’s use of the Genesis story of the serpent’s temptation of Adam and Eve, in which Palmquist sees Kant both affirming the fundamental orientation of our embodiment to good and locating the ground of evil, not in our embodiment, but in the exercise of our “reasoned choice”.

Third, the focus on the spirit’s use of seductive reasoning aptly suggests that the source of evil lies not in our embodiment itself (this being a built-in ‘weakness’ that, if anything, lessens the extent of our guilt), but in our reasoned choice to give in to temptation. (p. 119)

A later footnote then provides a helpful explication of this important contrast:

Kant’s theory of the universality of moral evil does not stem from his “deep suspicion of our bodies”. Michalson correctly depicts Kant’s position as focused on “the competition for control of character between sensuous and rational incentives”, but he wrongly portrays Kant as blaming this battle on “the fact of our bodiliness”. Embodiment merely provides the occasion or context wherein human reason must make a choice […]. For Kant, the body is at worst a neutral domain, the battleground for the rational forces of good and evil within us. (p. 217n.8)

Palmquist’s discussion of embodiment quite properly has its main focus on correcting accounts that to a greater or a lesser degree take it, in company with its related notions of sensibility and inclination, to be what Kant proposes as a fundamental ground or source of evil. Over against this view, Palmquist correctly identifies the ‘reasoned choice’ of individual moral agents—our human will—as the locus in which Kant’s account places the activation and operation of the human ‘propensity to evil’.

Palmquist’s treatment of the role of embodiment with respect to moral agency thus follows Kant in keeping its prime focus for engaging questions of good and evil, first, upon articulating the working of evil within the structure of individual human moral choice and agency and, second, upon then accounting for an individual agent’s internal ‘extirpation’ of that evil by a ‘revolution in the disposition of the human being’, i.e. a re-ordering of the fundamental maxim to which one is committed for governing one’s decisions and conduct.

The focus of Palmquist’s exegesis and commentary upon Kant’s extended discussion of the dynamics and consequences of this ‘revolution’ that effects the ‘extirpation’ of evil from an individual agent’s inner moral ‘conviction’[1] (his preferred translation for Kant’s Gesinnung) closely follows Kant’s own concern with a key question about the justice of such a ‘revolution’:

[H]ow [can] a good God […] satisfy the demands of divine justice by punishing the real evil done by a person who previously had an evil conviction? (p. 195)

Kant references his discussion of this question to the terms of a standard grammar of Christian theological discourse in which overlapping notions of justification, expiation and redemption, have embedded within them underlying metaphors that intertwine the dynamics, on the one hand, of incurring and discharging a debt with, on the other, those of incurring and expiating guilt; to the extent Kant’s discussion—and Palmquist’s analysis—stays within a horizon defined by those forms of discourse, particularly as it was shaped by the controversies of the Reformation over the manner of an individual’s appropriation of ‘justification’, it remains preoccupied with the situation and condition of each individual moral agent, even when that horizon is considered ‘historically’, i.e. with respect to the whole ‘career’ of an agent’s moral life.

Yet this ‘historical’ extension with respect to the individual moral agent does not fully enlarge that horizon of discourse to encompass what I would term the deeply embedded ‘historical persistence of evil’ upon the individual and the social conditions of human living in the world. This is so even when the text later turns to Kant’s treatment of the community—i.e. the ‘visible church’ as the locus of the ongoing historical instantiation and ongoing emergence of what will finally stand as the definitive ‘ethical community’—that provides the context and conditions in which agents are empowered to provide mutual support to one another in the struggle to overcome evil.

As an understandable consequence of conducting this discussion against the horizon of the accounts of ‘justification’ stemming from the controversies of the Reformation, neither Kant nor Palmquist in their accounts of individual moral conversion and the ‘extirpation’ of evil by the reordering of an individual’s maxims bring into clear and sustained focus is what I would term ‘the historical persistence of evil’ and its implications for the human struggle to overcome evil. By this I mean that Kant’s focus on the internal dynamics of an agent’s moral conversion does not seem to provide conceptual resources for dealing adequately with two dimensions of what results, often unforeseen and unintended, from the performance of evil by human agents and that thereby constitute important features of what I have here termed ‘the historical persistence of evil’.

a. The consequences of evil ensuing beyond the particular evil acts and intentions that brought them about and that remain unrectified by the extirpating evil from the agent’s intentionality;


b. The responsibilities that may then be incumbent, not just upon the agent(s) of those acts, but also on other moral agents, either individually or as members of a particular human community, to rectify, remedy or mitigate such perduring consequences.

This question of the historical persistence of evil is a large one and to the extent that it is not explicitly articulated within the purview of Religion it constitutes an unfinished agenda for a Kantian account of struggle in which human agents engage good and evil.[2] At the same time, it is important to note that I am not raising this larger question as a point of criticism either of Kant or of Palmquist’s account of Kant, especially since I think that there are good reasons—chief among them the then inchoate status of philosophical articulation and engagement with the character of human historicity—that explain why this kind of question was neither historically nor conceptually ‘ripe’ for Kant to address. My reason for raising this larger question of the persistence of evil in history is thus not to criticise Kant for failing to articulate and address a question not yet in the purview of his (or indeed anyone’s) philosophical project at the time. My reason for raising it, instead, is that it provides an appropriate context from which to pose a further question about the role and importance of embodiment in the human struggle to overcome evil:

How does such embodiment provide a locus from which we may construe what is concretely incumbent upon moral agents in their struggle, not only as individuals but as mutually responsible participants in a concrete human historical community, to overcome evil?  

I am thus suggesting that, inasmuch as our human embodiment can be itself understood as a fundamental feature of our human historicity, it then has a bearing upon the concrete forms that can be given to the social organisation of particular human communities and to the moral dynamics that should be operative in such organisation. In particular, I am suggesting that attention to our human embodiment may have implications for how we then go on to construe the workings of the concrete social forms that historically instantiate the ‘visible church’ to the extent that those forms emerge from, and address the conditions of, our embodiment.

Put in terms of some pertinent questions, does attention to our human embodiment have a role to play in the task of giving concrete form to organisational conditions and the social practices that will enable a ‘visible church’ to function as an historical vehicle for a particular human community to participate effectively in the task of working for the triumph of good?

If it does have a role, what might such a role be, particularly with respect to those practices that a community might put in place to enable its members to remain steadfast in the inner moral conviction that places the inner demand of the universal moral law before any maxim of self-preference to exempt oneself from that universal demand?

To what extent does the shaping of these practices need to be attentive to the possibilities, limitations, and vulnerabilities that ensue from our human embodiment?

Finally, even though Palmquist does not directly address questions of this kind in the Commentary, do his discussions nonetheless at least suggest resources within Kant’s text that might be useful in response to them?

Let me respond to the last question first, since it will enable a brief articulation of what I shall put forth as tentative, but possibly provocative answers to the others. I think that, in addition to the general recognition he clearly gives to the importance of embodiment for understanding Kant’s account of the individual human agent’s struggle to overcome evil, there are three important resources that Palmquist provides for extending the implications of human embodiment to the dynamics of the historical community that is the visible church. The first is in elements of his discussion of the importance that Kant places upon the intent to unity and universality as the first ‘mark’ of the church (both visible and invisible). The second is in the attention he gives to the significance that Kant attaches to the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31–46) as a paradigmatic instance of the moral teaching of Jesus that should inform the practices of the visible church. The third is in his calling attention to the important moral implication—“animating a community to the moral conviction of brotherly love”—that Kant draws from the church’s historical practice of the ritual of communion. It is the second and third of these resources that open up possibilities for a community to give concrete shape and direction to practices attentive to human embodiment and its vulnerabilities.

The focus that Kant gives to ‘universality’ as a mark of the true (invisible) church is upon making constant the intent of its members that it become a single community encompassing all of humanity into an enduring moral union (p. 270). Palmquist sees this mark in close connection with the second mark, ‘integrity’, and it is in this connection that he makes a passing reference to our human embodiment with respect to the unavoidability of the church’s use of sensible symbols:

Kant’s point here [RGV AA 6:101.33–36] is not that the church must avoid immersing itself in sensible symbols, but that, when it does so (as it must, so Kant argues later in the Third Piece), it must take care to preserve the priority of moral incentives over any other. (p. 270)

My suggestion here is that, even more than sensible symbols, our human embodiment is unavoidable as a condition under which concrete and admittedly imperfect historical instantiation of the (true) church needs to give concrete form to its intent to unity. More specifically—and admittedly going beyond what can be found in Kant’s text—I would suggest here that, in concretely giving expression to such an intent, i.e. by working together in hope for an all encompassing unity, each particular community of the ‘visible church’ needs to attend to and respect, in its concrete practices, the embodied reality of each of its members. This, of course, is still very general and abstract, and thus not yet sufficient to provide a basis from which to articulate a principle for concrete forms of either individual or communal practice. For this, I suggest that Kant (and Palmquist) gesture towards the guidance needed by marking out the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31–46) as a key instance of the radical moral teaching of Jesus regarding the fundamental incentive for moral intent and conduct (pp. 406–7).

As Kant presents the moral significance of this parable, and as Palmquist reads Kant’s presentation of it (pp. 406–7), they each focus upon the inner disposition of those who have attended to the concretely embodied human needs for food, shelter, clothing or human companionship. First, Kant’s remark:

Compare with this what is said about beneficence toward needy persons from bare motives of duty (Matt. 25:35–40) where those who provided help to the suffering without letting even the thought occur to them that something like this might also be worthy of a rewardand that through this they would perhaps, as it were, bind heaven to a reward—are declared by the judge of the world, precisely because they did it without any concern for a reward, to be the ones actually chosen for his kingdom. (RGV, AA 6:161–2; emphasis added)

And next, Palmquist’s (407):

Jesus’ parable (see note 10.118 above) declares that at the last judgment God will condemn people who performed religious observances in the belief that they would thereby “bind heaven” to reward them (the “goats”), whereas those who instinctively helped “needy persons from bare motives of duty,” without even thinking about any possible reward, are judged to be “the ones actually chosen for” God’s kingdom. (p. 407; emphasis added)

My proposal here is that the fact that the human needs being addressed arise from the exigencies and circumstances of our embodiment—from what I would term recognition of the shared fundamental vulnerability of our embodied lives—may be significant for making it possible for those “who provided help for the suffering” to do so “without letting the thought [of reward] occur to them” (Kant) or to do so “instinctively” (Palmquist). Another way to put this point is to suggest that an unarticulated element of the respect for the humanity of those in need that is shown by those who make provision, without thought of recompense or reward, of food, or shelter or clothing for them is a recognition of the shared vulnerability of our human embodiment. If this is the case, then it may very well point in a formative direction with respect to the practices of communities that constitute the ‘visible church’: in the forefront of such practices should be those that attend to the needs of those most vulnerable to the contingencies of our human embodiment: those unable themselves to provide for their basic physical needs such as food, shelter and clothing; those whose life course and prospects have been interrupted and diminished in consequence of the vulnerabilities that are attendant upon contingencies such as illness, advancing age, debilitating accidents or psychological trauma.

A third and final locus in which Kant’s text gestures towards an expanded significance for attention to embodiment lies in one of the remarks he makes about the Christian ritual of table fellowship, i.e. communion, as a concrete practice that is to be formative of an expansive intent to unity

[T]he formality of a shared partaking at the same table, contains in it something great [that] expands the narrow, self-loving, and disobliging way of thinking of human beings, above all in religious matters, to the idea of a cosmopolitan moral communion, and it is a good means for animating a congregation to the moral conviction of brotherly love presented under this idea. (RGV, AA 6:199–200)

As is the case with first two points of reference, this text more ‘gestures towards’ than makes explicit the significance of human embodiment with respect to shaping concrete practices for any specific community that stands as an instance of the ‘visible church’. At the same time, I would not underestimate the significance of the allusion Kant makes here to the idea of a “cosmopolitan moral communion”. I take it to suggest that attention to the embodied circumstances of both our individual and shared lives in the context of the moral community of ‘the church’ has a bearing upon, if not a connection with, the ways in which we must also learn to live in peace with one another in the embodied circumstances of both our individual and shared lives in the context of the political, social and cultural communities of ‘the world’. Since discussion of how to construe the relation between these two, however, is beyond what I have laid out as the scope of this section, let me turn to a consideration of the second topic, and attempt to articulate one important lesson that I think can and should be learned from the way in which Kant proceeds in his philosophical engagement with theology.

2. Philosophy and Theology: Conversations under Conditions of Mutual Self-Limitation 

The second topic I shall be discussing stems from Palmquist’s account of Kant’s engagement with theological issues in his own eighteenth-century context. This account draws attention to what I see Palmquist correctly describing as an aspect of Kant’s philosophical treatment of religion that, at least in a number of influential interpretations, has been overlooked and at times even disparaged. This is Kant’s carefully articulated philosophical treatment of issues of major theological import that, by being attentive to how the Critical exercise of reason requires philosophy and theology to stand intentionally in a mutually respectful limiting relation to one another, makes it possible for philosophy to engage religious and theological concepts and discourse on their own terms. Palmquist draws attention to a particularly notable instance of such mutual engagement between philosophy and theology that has left its mark upon Religion in the additions and revisions that Kant made for the second edition of this text. These revisions, Palmquist argues, serve as a corrective response to the negative and positive assessments of the Critical philosophy offered by some of Kant’s philosophical and theological contemporaries (such as Fichte and Michaelis), and are most pointedly directed to the predominantly sympathetic reception of his Critical philosophy (including the first edition of Religion) put forth by the Tübingen theologian, Gottlob Christian Storr (pp. 37–8, 231, 280n.135, 361). Kant’s response thus provides one important textual locus in support of Palmquist’s view that, in his own context, Kant was seeking to set out a ‘middle path’ between what he took to be the most defensible philosophical and theological accounts of the place and function of reason with respect to religion (see pp. 37–8, 388–95; see also Palmquist 2000:97n.14, 440–3).

With regard to this topic, I shall be proposing that what Palmquist describes as Kant’s way of proceeding on such matters, in which he pays careful attention to the conceptual scope of each enterprise, provides a useful model for those contemporary discussions of philosophical theology and philosophy of religion that, for the sake of intellectual adequacy, require focused philosophical efforts to understand and to engage religious and theological concepts and discourse on their own terms. In particular, Palmquist makes two comments that suggest ways in which Kant’s philosophical account of religion anticipates two significant developments that have, in the more than two centuries that now separate us from Kant, altered the religious landscape in which much of humanity now finds itself. Both of these developments are concerned with what I shall term articulating the conceptual and practical possibilities and parameters for negotiating and mediating religious differences. One of these developments, the ecumenical movement, has a scope that is specific to differences within the doctrines and practices of Christianity; the other, interreligious dialogue based on recognition of humanity’s profound religious pluralism, while global in its intent to engage religious differences beyond those internal to Christianity, is also attentive in its practice to the importance of engaging specific differences between the particular religious traditions and communities brought together for conversation.[3]

Each movement, particularly the former, is located in contexts that generally have been more theological and religious than they have been philosophical. Palmquist’s mention of the possibility that part of their conceptual heritage may be traced back to Kant, however, offers a basis for exploring how such Kantian roots continue to be significant for contemporary philosophical accounts of religion; these roots may be of particular import for accounts that explicitly seek to engage the plurality and the distinctiveness ingredient in humanity’s theological discourse and concepts, as well as in the religious practices in which such plurality and distinctiveness function. Contemporary circumstances of a global culture increasingly shaped by dynamics of religious plurality and difference have also produced a sense that the workings of local, regional and even the global human community have become vulnerable to the conflicts that may arise from such differences, be they real or only perceived. Those circumstances of difference may thus constitute an important locus for which Kant’s way of proceeding may offer some guidance on constructing and conducting a robust engagement between philosophy and theology that encompasses not only matters of methodology and conceptual import but also ones that bear even more immediately upon human well-being. Engaging questions of religious difference in our contemporary world may very well be vital to the accomplishment of what Kant considers as central to the human meaning of the Critical project: participating in the human historical task and vocation of bringing about ‘the highest good’ in the world.

Here is what Palmquist writes about Kant’s anticipation of each of these developments, first with regard to ecumenism:

Kant’s key argument in Section V can be paraphrased in the form: he found it necessary to deny the status of certain knowledge to the claims made by any historical faith in order to make room for the moral faith of rational religion (cf. CPR B xxx). Foreshadowing the modern ecumenical movement, Kant argued that many different forms of church faith can lead to one and the same pure rational faith, but only if everything about each church organization is open to revision, except its reliance on the four requirements of the true church, as outlined in Section IV. (p. 288)

And second with respect to religious pluralism:

Anticipating theories of religious pluralism developed nearly two centuries later, Kant appends to Section V a series of untitled comments that clarify how different forms of revelation can give rise to different church faiths, which can coexist without compromising the first required precept of the true church, its universality. (p. 283)

At the core of Kant’s procedure for engaging differences both in religious conceptuality and religious practice is, not surprisingly, the distinction he makes between the one true moral ‘religion’ that exhibits ‘rational’ faith and the various forms of historical ‘faith’ that are concretely and contingently instantiated in the multiplicity of human religious beliefs and practices:

There is only one (true) religion; but there can be many kinds of faith. —One may add that in the various churches, segregated from each other because of the diversity in their kinds of faith one and the same true religion may nevertheless be found. (RGV, AA 6:107–8)

My focus here will not be on the adequacy of the distinction Kant makes here between ‘religion’ and ‘faith’. It is rather upon the importance this distinction attaches to recognising the contingency of the particularities that mark out different instantiations of ‘historical’ faith. It is this recognition of (historical) contingency that functions as an important element—and perhaps the key element—in the way Kant negotiates those differences in order to reach the conclusion that the “same true religion” may nonetheless be found in each of them.[4] A crucial part of Kant’s procedure here is that recognising the historical contingency of these differences does not necessarily result in their obliteration; that which emerges from a recognition of these differences, when such recognition is done with an intent to the unity and universality that is the first mark of the true church, will make it possible to forge their respective partial instancing of truth into yet another historical contingency that has the capacity to move ‘beyond’ those differences without obliterating them. Kant can be taken to provide an instance of this in his pointing to “many laudable examples of protestant catholics” (RGV, AA 6:109) which Palmquist helpfully glosses in the following terms:

To be authentically catholic is to define universality in terms of the pure religious faith that ought to be the core concern of all churches; to be authentically protestant is to repudiate any church that wrongly defines its universality in terms of its historically based statutes. In both cases those who see religion aright have “an expansive way of thinking,” while those who err exhibit a “restricted way of thinking’’. (p. 287)

It is helpful to remember for a parsing of the distinctions Kant makes here, that within the context of his discussion in Religion, he takes his primary theological interlocutors to be Biblical scholars, whose work he characterises as ‘historical’. This is not to suggest that he is not aware of other forms of theological writing and research in his own context; it is meant rather to acknowledge the importance of his characterising the particular field of theological discourse towards which he has framed his account as ‘historical’, a characterisation that comports well with his concern for delimiting the relationship between ‘rational religion’ and ‘historical religion’. At the same time, to the extent that Kant’s distinction has been and continues to be taken to suggest a yawning chasm between the ‘rational’ and the ‘historical’ in religion, in the manner of Lessing’s notorious ‘ugly ditch’, it presents a challenge to making a direct and straightforward application of his procedures to contemporary discussion of religious differences, both theological and philosophical. The challenge here, it should be noted, is not primarily with Kant’s construal of the distinction, but rather the fact that, in many contexts for such discussion the conceptualities of both the ‘rational’ and the ‘historical’—and a fortiori of their relations to one another—have now been rendered even more problematic by various forms of ‘post-modern’ discourse and inquiry.

The discussion of the next section will partially circle back to this larger set of issues, inasmuch I take Palmquist’s proposal to read Kant in terms of a ‘Critical mysticism’ as an effort to engage, from the locus of his account of religion, the key problematic of the unity of reason, a problematic that broods over the entire Critical enterprise. Before doing so, however, I would like to conclude this section by briefly indicating how I see Kant’s own philosophical engagement with theology providing a model for what the title of this section designates as ‘conversations under conditions of mutual self-limitation’, a self-limitation that I would argue provides a fundamental condition for productive ecumenical engagement, interreligious engagement, and dialogue between philosophy and theology. The Kantian provenance that I would like to claim for this expression is that it rests upon an understanding of ‘critique’ as reason’s freely undertaken enterprise of self-limitation.

Embedded in this expression is the view that Kant’s project of critique is meant to provide a marker and a reminder that, when left to its own unreflective dynamisms, human reason functions with unrestrained speculative hubris. Such hubris manifests itself in two forms, dogmatism and scepticism, that give rise to the dialectical tensions at play in the self-generated antinomies that constitute what Kant calls, in the first sentence of the Preface to the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, the “peculiar fate” of human finite reason (A vii). This hubris can be brought under effective control only when reason, having entered into reflective self-awareness of its contingency and finitude, freely takes upon itself the project of speculative self-restraint. Critique is a project of self-regulated speculative humility, undertaken in view of the moral demand that comes with awareness of the unique role and status—the ‘vocation’—to which finite human reason is called to enact the (moral) juncture of ‘nature’ and ‘freedom’. The self-limitation of human reason, moreover, is also a function of the social character of human finitude that requires of each knower/agent the mutual recognition of equal respect for each and every member of the universal community of human knowers/agents. That a dynamic of mutual self-limitation should then function as a condition for constructive engagement between philosophy and theology may thus be considered a straightforward implication of critique insofar as critique can be enacted only as a freely undertaken and thus a morally formative stance for mutual inquiry.

Kant’s way of proceeding resonates with a similar approach to dialogue over contentious theological and philosophical conceptualities that was modelled by the twentieth-century American Protestant theologian H. Richard Niebuhr, one that has been termed “a non-defensive self-understanding” rooted in a grasp of human historicity (Dickinson 2016:130).[5] The fundamental Kantian basis for such ‘non-defensive self-understanding’ lies, I would argue, in the social relationality in which he situates human freedom: Human freedom is structurally situated within a relationality that constitutes us—both conceptually and historically—as moral agents with respect to one another. This relationality is one that Kant images in terms of the mutual recognition and respect by which we constitute ourselves for one another as equally self-legislating and finite members of ‘a kingdom of ends’, that is, as a genuinely universal and fully inclusive moral community. The dynamics of self-limiting human relationality thus have their most fundamental locus in the exercise of moral autonomy of agents standing in relations of mutual respect to one another in a ‘kingdom of ends’. My claim here, towards which I think Palmquist gestures in his account of the way in which Kant proceeds in engaging theological issues, is that such critically shaped internal dynamics for responsible self-limitation (i.e. for a freely and mutually appropriated recognition of the limits of finite human reason) continue to be fundamental for the fruitful outcome of both philosophical and theological inquiry in their respective fields and, all the more so, for dialogue conducted across such inquiries.[6]

3. ‘Critical Mysticism’ as a Mode of ‘Experience’

The third and final topic I shall discuss engages the proposal Palmquist makes to construe Kant’s account of religion in terms of ‘Critical mysticism’.  The element of ‘Critical mysticism’ that I consider most important to explore, particularly with reference to the role of Kant’s account of religion within his critical enterprise, is the experiential status that Palmquist posits for it. The contexts in which he articulates Critical mysticism as experiential, both in the relatively brief remarks he offers in the Commentary and in the extensive discussion he provides in the earlier Kant’s Critical Religion, make it evident that this term is not primarily functioning in reference to the technical meaning that Kant gives to ‘experience’ in the Critique of Pure Reason. That meaning has its locus in terms of human understanding’s conceptual representing of objects as they are given under the spatiotemporal conditions of sensible intuition for purposes of theoretical cognition.

By contrast, the experiential point of reference for Critical mysticism is one that Palmquist squarely places within the ambit of conscience, that is, the exercise of practical reason in which human subjects acknowledge standing under the moral law. He thus at one point presents Critical mysticism as

Kant’s attempt to make our experience of “the purity and sublimity of the moral law” compatible with “the common way of thinking” about the supersensible through a theory of religious symbolism. (p. 145n.2)

He further elucidates this remark in terms of the necessity for such experience to stand fully within the ambit of the moral law as a test for its authority:

What is distinctive about Kant’s position is not that he rejects all religious experience, but that he insists that such experiences can carry no authority without first being tested for consistency with the moral law. (p. 145n.2).

He later expands the scope of the potential significance of this experience of “the purity and sublimity of the moral law” to encompass the entire Critical project:

Although few Kant interpreters have been willing to take this theory at face value, the sage of Königsberg bases at least his religious philosophy, and perhaps also his entire philosophical system, on an unknowable and ineffable experience. (p. 202n.120).

These brief remarks point towards the two concerns that will occupy the remainder of my discussion in this section. The first concern is to parse how “the purity and sublimity of the moral law” presents itself (or is encountered) as ‘experiential’ for finite embodied human subjects. The second is to indicate how such an experiential construal then bears upon the anthropological and the theological import Kant’s larger enterprise of critique. Two more extensive comments on Critical mysticism that Palmquist offers later in the Commentary will help to bring these concerns into focus.

The first of these comments occurs in his treatment of the ‘General Comment’ from the Third Piece of Religion. This comment places the frame of reference for the experiential construal of Critical mysticism in terms of the moral holiness of God:

Kant openly affirms that the subjective experience of the holy is something “each person will have to search for […] only in his own reason”. In other words, he openly affirms what I call “Critical mysticism” (see notes 0.3 and App. I.2), whereby experience of God is possible, but must be strictly limited by the strictures laid down by our theoretical ignorance. This experience, once again, is of “something holy”, which presents itself to individuals but cannot be communicated to others. (p. 356)

Palmquist then gives the holiness of God, as experiential point of reference for Critical mysticism, a particularly pointed emphasis and expression in the final sentences of the main text of the Commentary:

As we have seen, Kant joins Jesus by interpreting this spirit [of true religion] in terms of a cautious form of practically oriented, inwardly grounded experience of God. That is, Kant calls us to a Critical mysticism that offers genuine wisdom in place of the temptation to remain fixated on delirious experiences: a heartfelt conviction, rooted in the moral law within every human being, is the closest we can come to experiencing God’s holiness; and this conviction alone provides us with the confidence to believe that our shortcomings will be forgiven as we seek to exhibit the moral ideal through “external attestations” of virtue, by loving our neighbor as ourselves. (p. 500; emphases added)

I take these remarks about the experiential character of Critical mysticism to resonate with two related claims Palmquist had advanced about it in Kant’s Critical Religion. The first claim concerns the systematic import of the Opus Postumum, a work in which, according to Palmquist, “Kant attempts to realize his long-standing dream of establishing a Critical mysticism on the basis of his Critical metaphysics” inasmuch as “it treats the hand of God in nature and the voice of God in conscience as two sides of one mystical reality” (2000:321). I consider it to be of particular significance for articulating the contours of the ‘experiential’ character of such mysticism that this claim about “the two sides of one mystical reality” is offered and elucidated by reference to the well-known passage from the conclusion of the Critique of Practical Reason that identifies “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me” as the “two things [that] fill the mind with […] admiration and reverence” (KpV, AA 5:161). The link to this passage suggests that whatever is ‘experiential’ in a finite human subject’s attending to “the hand of God in nature” and “the voice of God in conscience” has a bearing upon the manner in which that subject stands as the embodied locus of unity for the exercise of finite reason in its two-fold engagement with the workings of the natural world and the moral demands of freedom.[7]

The second claim of interest with respect to this experiential character then stems from what Palmquist articulates as “the all important question” which he sees Kant’s Critical mysticism addressing, i.e. the question of “the actuality of communion with God” (2000:331). As I discuss below, parsing Critical mysticism in terms of an actual “communion” with the moral holiness of God may need further qualification to the extent that the theological import of the Critical project needs to respect the limits of that project as an anthropological enterprise inescapably rooted in the finitude of embodied human reason.[8] Taken together, these two claims suggest that the manner in which an embodied human subject stands as the locus of unity for the exercise of finite reason also provides the possibility for that subject to be actually “in communion with God”, i.e. in communion with the moral holiness of God, as concomitant with the exercise of moral reason precisely as finite.

Consequently, I take a basic ‘parsing’ of what Palmquist terms Kant’s Critical mysticism to be that it proposes a religiously referenced (or, if you prefer, a theologically referenced) construal of how a finite, embodied human subject, in the exercise of moral (practical) reason, performatively ‘experiences’ being the locus of the ‘enactment’ of the unity of reason. Such ‘enactment’ is one that Kant paradigmatically articulates in the “starry heavens […] moral law” passage from the Critique of Practical Reason,[9] but is also operative in every instance of an agent’s enactment of “respect for the [moral] law”, i.e. in the “consciousness of a free submission of the will to the law, yet as combined with an unavoidable constraint put on all inclinations though only by one’s reason” (KpV, AA 5:80). On this parsing, Critical mysticism, construed as an experiential communion with the moral holiness of God, takes place within the ambit of the moral conscience of a finite, embodied human subject. What seems to be left ‘unparsed’, however, is the character of the moral communion that unites finite human moral reason with the holy will of God.

I take it, however, that positing such a morally ‘experiential’ status for ‘Critical mysticism’ references it to what is, in the first instance, still an anthropological dimension fundamental to the overall unitary intent of Kant’s Critical project. This intent has as its primary locus the legitimation and the articulation of human reason’s finite and embodied enactment of the unity of reason that is marked out in the two-fold experience of awe-filled admiration and reverence that arises in our human encounter with the workings of the natural world and the moral demands of freedom. Legitimation is needed inasmuch as finitude and embodiment render such a unitary intent problematic for the human exercise of reason: humans, exercising reason as both knowers and moral agents under the circumstances of embodied finitude, are confronted with “the peculiar fate” encountered in reason’s antinomies that Kant references in the opening sentence of the Preface to the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (A vii). Articulation is made possible by reflectively engaging those antinomies under the discipline provided by ‘critique’. It is under such discipline that we come to learn that such unity presents itself as a task to be undertaken rather than as a condition that is simply and unproblematically given with these human circumstances. This suggests that whatever else we may take the parsing of the experiential status of ‘Critical mysticism’ to encompass, it functions as a locus that provides an apprehension of the unitary working of human reason as itself part of this human task of effecting the unity of reason.

Locating the unity of reason as a properly anthropological task, however, still leaves unresolved the theological import of that task, as well as the theological import of Kant’s own framing that task in terms of the project of critique. Put in what I hope are not overly simple terms, what is at stake here is the extent to which Kant’s account of religion, particularly as articulated in the text of Religion, requires that an adequate construal of the unity of Kant’s entire Critical enterprise be framed not only in anthropological terms but also in theological and religious terms.[10] The question here may very well be about the extent to which we may be required, in view of the unitary intent and task of critique, to parse theologically not just the claim that “ethics, therefore, leads inescapably to religion”[11] but also the task of enacting the unity of reason to which humans have been called in the project of ‘critique’. In other words, are we required to give ‘critique’, as a task that can be articulated philosophically as incumbent upon our humanity as embodied, finite rational subjects, a theological reading as well, at least in the sense that such human moral enactment of the unity of reason carries with it the possibility of a relationship to God of the sort that Palmquist designates as ‘Critical mysticism’?

I do not propose to address this much larger question, so I hope that an appropriate way to bring this discussion to a close is to cite an insightful remark from James Collins who, in a discussion that also draws upon the Opus Postumum, locates Kant’s account of religion “between Zoroaster and Job”. Published almost a half-century ago, Collins’s remark expresses in a different (and possibly less controversial) way a fundamental point that I take Palmquist to be making in his claims about the Critical mysticism he articulates as communion with the holiness of God, namely, that in their enactments of moral constancy and integrity finite human subjects are rendered open to the possibility of standing in a personal relation to the transcendent goodness of God:

When the philosopher of religion comes to the boundaries set by his theory of experience and reason, he does not come at the same stroke to the limits of the religious man’s free relationship with God. There is an open personal bond with the holy God that outstrips the range of our philosophical scrutiny.

Kant expresses this residual distinction in principle between the philosopher of religion and the religious man in the concrete figures, respectively of Zoroaster and Job. He does not propose them as examples to be imitated, but as vivid archetypes which can arouse our reflection and encourage our action along definite paths. Wisdom and holiness are one in God, but in man they remain distinct practical goals to be sought, rather than perfections in our plenary possession. (Collins 1968:205)

Invited: 8 July 2015; Received: 13 December 2016.


[1] Palmquist’s preferred translation for Kant’s Gesinnung; see the Glossary, where he notes: “The chief function of Kantian Gesinnung is to orient a person’s thinking and decision-making processes, thus determining the trajectory of one’s moral development, aiming to realize one of two opposing ideals: the good or the evil principle. It is, in a nutshell, a person’s moral compass—a metaphor Kant himself uses in WOT [“What Is Orientation in Thinking”]” (p. 520).

[2] I offer a preliminary exploration of this issue in Rossi (forthcoming).

[3] A third development that also has had an significant impact upon religion, perhaps more so that either ecumenism or interreligious dialogue, is the emergence of what Charles Taylor has termed “a secular age”. Though I believe that a case can be made for taking the reception of Kant’s Religion—and, indeed, of the entire Critical philosophy—to have had a formative role in the articulation of a number of the ways in which the ‘secular’ has been construed in relation to the ‘religious’, this is not a topic that Palmquist engages in the Commentary. I would note, however, that questions concerning the construal and the assessment of the value of ‘secularity’ and ‘the secular’ seem to be intertwined with the larger interpretative issues about Kant’s own stance towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. To name one of major import, is it more accurate to see Kant as relentless adversary of religion, an ‘ur-secularist’ if you will, or, as Gordon Michalson depicts him, a ‘wobbler’ between the secular and the sacred, whose work unwittingly and unwillingly set loose the forces of atheism, or, as presented by Palmquist, as genuinely a religious reformer and, indeed a Christian reformer?

[4] I would further point out—though shall not further pursue here—that there might be some value to exploring the connection between Kant’s attention to historicity here and the role, discussed in the first part of this essay, that Kant suggests that embodiment has in the dynamics of human historicity.

[5] For an account of the Kantian provenance for important elements in Niebuhr’s thought, see Pagano (2005).

[6] An important recently published discussion of Kant’s engagement with theology is Insole (2016).

[7] Palmquist further links this to the metaphor of the “Critical philosopher as standing on the shoreline between the sea and the land” and takes this to represent “the Critical philosopher [who] stands at the crossroads of immediate experience, casting a reflective gaze over the earth of empirical knowledge on the one side and the sea of transcendental faith one the other and recognizes that only on the boundary of these two can a person fully appreciate the awesome presence of God as it manifests itself in the voice of conscience in one’s heart and in the vision of the starry heavens in nature” (2000:321–2).

[8] If I am correct about this, Kant’s treatment of such moral communion might also provide another instance of the responsible self-limitation with which, as noted in the previous section, Kant undertakes the engagement of his Critical philosophy with theology.

[9] I would also suggest that this reading comports with what I have previously argued is a deep Augustinian trajectory in Kant’s account of human subjectivity, which recognises that the (moral) path ‘inwards’ at least points (and may even lead) ‘upwards’ (see Rossi 2007 and 2010).

[10] A more general way to raise this issue would be to pose it in reference to the character and function of hope for the project of critique: does the intelligibility of critically warranted hope require that it be explicitly articulated in ‘theological’ terms as well as in terms that primarily referenced to anthropological scope of the project of critique? In other words, in what way does the question, “What is the human being?” that sums up the three questions that unite “all the interests” of reason, “What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope?” (Log, AA 9:25), require an answer articulated in theological terms?

[11] This question is made all the more pressing by the gloss with which Kant then elaborates this claim “through which it expands to the idea of a reigning moral lawgiver, outside the human being, in whose will the final purpose (of the world’s creation) is that which at the same time can be, and ought to be, the final purpose of the human being” (RGV, AA 6:6).


Bunch, A. (2010), ‘The Resurrection of the Body as a “Practical Postulate”: Why Kant Is Committed to Belief in an Embodied Afterlife’, Philosophia Christi 12(1): 46–60.

Collins, J. (1968), The Emergence of Philosophy of Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press).

Dickinson, C. (2016), ‘The Three Faces of the O/other’, in L. Boeve et al (eds), The Normativity of History (Leuven: Peeters), pp. 121–41.

Insole, C. (2016), The Intolerable God: Kant’s Theological Journey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

Pagano, J. (2005), The Origins and the Development of the Triadic Structure of Faith in H. Richard Niebuhr: A Study of the Kantian and Pragmatic Background of Niebuhr’s Thought (Lanham, MD: University Press of America).

Palmquist. S. (2000), Kant’s Critical Religion (Aldershot: Ashgate).

Rossi, P. (2007), ‘Finite Freedom, Fractured and Fragile: Kant’s Anthropology as Resource for a Postmodern Theology of Grace’, in E. Gaziaux (ed.), Philosophie et théologie: Festschrift Emilio Brito, SJ, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, vol. 206, (Leuven: Peeters), pp. 47–60.

——— (2010), ‘Reading Kant from a Catholic Horizon: Ethics and the Anthropology of Grace’, Theological Studies 71: 79–100.

——— (forthcoming), ‘The Crooked Wood of Human History: The Ethical Commonwealth and the Persistence of Evil’, in S. Gerber et al. (eds), Nature and Freedom/Natur und Freiheit /Nature et Liberté; Proceedings of the XII. International Kant Congress (Berlin and Boston: de Gruyter).

Shell, S. (1996), The Embodiment of Reason: Kant on Spirit, Generation, and Community Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996;

Svare, H. (2006), Body and Practice in Kant (Dordrecht: Springer).

© Philip J. Rossi, 2017.

Philip Rossi is Professor in the Department of Theology of Marquette University. He is a specialist in the philosophy of religion and Christian ethics and a previous editor of the journal Philosophy & Theology. He has published widely on Kant’s philosophy of religion. He is the author of, among many other publications, The Social Authority of Reason: Kant’s Critique, Radical Evil and the Destiny of Humankind (SUNY, 2005). His most recent publication is ‘War as Morally Unintelligible: Sovereign Agency and the Limits of Kantian Autonomy’ (The Monist, 2016).