Theology Thursday: Immanuel Kant Part 1

by Max Andrews

Theologian: Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) on Noumenal Knowledge

More about his theology:  Kant is known more for his philosophy but has greatly influenced 19th and 20th century theology.  He is known as the watershed of 20th century theology.  You may not realize it but that vast majority of our epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and theology have been influenced by Kant.  This Theology Thursday will focus on Kant’s noumenal knowledge.

Immanuel Kant proposed the practical or moral realm of life as the proper sphere of religion. Kant sought to establish religion as the devotion to a transcendent Lawgiver whose will ought to be the goal of humankind. The theology produced by Kant remained anthropocentric (centered on man) and it leads to an inescapable emphasis on divine immanence even though Kant himself rejected it. To Kant, the highest good here on earth would be to live in a realm in which virtue and happiness are linked. We all know that virtue is not always rewarded in this life alone and therefore there must be a future life in which virtuous living is adequately rewarded.

According to Kant one can not know the thing in itself (Ding an Sich) by pure reason; one is therefore limited to sensual and shaping mental categories of the mind.  Therefore, one can never know the noumenal realm by pure reason from the phenomenal realm.  The noumenal realm is the realm of essence of being of eternal realities, including God and the things one can not physically touch. In view of that, the phenomenal realm is the realm of sensual reality, the things which we experience through the senses. This realization was a powerful and influential synthesis of empiricism and rationalism which for Kant led to the disposing of metaphysical claims to any cognitive status – no longer regarded as knowledge.  This meant that knowledge through pure reason is always limited by sensations and the a priori forms and categories of the mind.  Therefore, that which comes through sensation (intuitions) is shaped by the mind’s a priori categories and forms.  Kant did support the reality of knowledge and indeed his quest was to establish the condition of the possibility of there being knowledge at all.  Yet in the process he greatly limited what is called knowledge and especially the knowledge of God.  In favor of the cognitive status of sense phenomena by pure reason absolute knowledge, that which is above experience is unattainable by purely intellectual processes (pure reason). This restriction of knowledge of the noumenal realm opened the way for many philosophers to claim that theology only deal with symbols that are not literal or historical.

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