Kant and the experience of god

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Those of us who work in philosophy of religion but are not Kant scholars tend to think of Kant primarily as a critic of natural theology. Kant’s arguments on that subject are well known. Equally important for his view of religion, but far less well known, are his arguments that God cannot be an object of human experience. After all, if God could in some fashion be an object of experience, then the traditional theistic arguments, although they might be valuable for other reasons, would not need to play the foundational role assigned to them in the rationalist tradition that Kant was criticizing. In fact, these arguments might look very different if they were seen as complementing or clarifying an entirely different, nondiscursive form of knowledge. Kant’s views on the possibility of the experience of God must be distinguished from his views on the possibility of miracles and revelation. Kant seems to have been agnostic on the latter; that is, he finds no grounds for denying that miracles and revelation are possible in principle, although he does insist that, if they occur, they must conform to the moral law (see 6:84-87 and 7:46). By contrast, he firmly insists that an experience of God does not and cannot occur. Such a combination of views is perhaps surprising, but it is not inconsistent. Not every experience of God need be miraculous, and not every miracle or revelation constitutes an experience of God. After all, revelation can take place through an intermediary, such as an angel, and a miracle can be sufficiently distant from its source that God is not immediately present in it as an object; presumably this was the case, for example, in the miraculous feeding of Elijah in the desert by a raven. It is presumably those miracles and revelations in which God is not immediately present as an object that Kant is willing to countenance as at least in principle possible. In what follows, I will first summarize Kant’s arguments that there can be no experience of God. In my view these arguments are stronger than they might at first appear, and I will seek to defend them from some preliminary objections.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKant and the Question of Theology
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781316337813
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2017.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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