[After Kant], the thing to suffer most has been the reliable certainty that man can press, by solid intellectual argument, behind the realms of physics to the being of things and to their ultimate cause… there is thus no point at which faith can any longer link up securely with human thought.
Faith and the Future, 53
Reflection – Now, I have to start here by saying that I am no expert on Kant. In fact, I have always found Kant’s thought somewhat elusive. He is not an easy writer. All of that is to say that, if any smart person is reading this who actually knows Kant better than me, and I happen to put a foot wrong in this post, be nice to me and correct me in the comments.
The whole problem of Kant and his massive influence on philosophy is precisely in the area of epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. If I get him correctly, Kant holds that merely the phenomena of things present themselves to us—raw sensory data. The resolution of these phenomena into known objects comes entirely from our own minds, as we impose our own categories of meaning and truth onto what are otherwise jumbles of meaningless data.
This means that the real world is certainly out there, but there is no correspondence between the real world (things as they really are) and the contents of our minds (things as we know them to be). In other words, reality is inaccessible to our minds, and all we have is our internal mental acts.
Anyhow, Kant is complex and blogging is supposed to be concise, so let’s leave it at that for now (again, apologies to the philosophy majors reading this!). The problem with Kant and the post-Kantian world, of course, is that we are cut off from any real intellectual contact with the world and its deep truth. Questions of meaning, goodness, God become not matters of intellectual discussion and questing, but at best expressions of emotion, feeling, and at worst literally meaningless nonsense.
And this has indeed been the trend of philosophy since Kant. The shying away from metaphysics as a subject with any validity, the concentrating on language’s structures and rules apart from any considerations of truth, the flight into political theories of praxis and radical critique of society (i.e. Marxism and associated fields)—all of this flows from a sense that reality in itself is inaccessible and so all that remains is the human project of imposing meaning onto the world.
Of course this has terrible effects on Christian theology. Our whole religion is based on the possibility of our having a real relationship to God and to the cosmos as it truly is. We are a ‘reality-based’ religion—a Christianity that is seen as simply a projection of human meaning onto an indifferent universe is not the Christianity of the Bible, the Fathers, the saints, or the Church. Kant, whether he intended this or not, makes the whole notion of revelation and genuine encounter with God impossible.
But Kant’s philosophy, and the subsequent developments, in fact lock each one of us in the prison of our minds. We have no way out, no way to really encounter real reality. We have only our radically subjective experiences, our imposed ‘truth’ on a world that hides its true face from us. Again, I’m not sure that Kant fully intended that, but this has been the influence of Kant on human intellectual development.
It is important, then, to question just how persuasive Kant is. His influence has been immense; is that really warranted? Is Kant king? Why? His philosophy closes so many doors to us, doors that even the most irreligious of us may not want to be so firmly shut. Doors like inter-personal relationships… or human community… or a binding moral law… So many things that Kant and his followers decree to be off limits. On what authority? By what compelling argument? Who sez?