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Glossary of Kant's Religious Terms

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This Glossary supplements the Glossary in KSP1:453-61, providing brief definitions for selected technical terms that are specifically related to Kant's theology and philosophy of religion. (The only terms listed here that Kant himself does not use are 'Critical mysticism' and 'theocentric'.) Taken together, these Glossaries can serve as a study aide to help make the intricate web of Kant's terminology comprehensible to those who have little or no familiarity with Kant's writings. Where relevant, the opposite term is given in curved brackets at the end of the definition. When a word defined here (or a slight variation on such a word) is used in defining some other word in this Glossary, its first occurrence in that definition is given in italics. Likewise, terms already defined in KSP1's Glossary appear here in quotation marks.

archetype: the 'idea' of perfect humanity that resides within each person. Calling Jesus the Christ signifies that his life fully realized this idea.

atheism: the philosophical stance whereby a person believes there is no God. A strict atheist believes it is possible to prove God's nonexistence. (Cf. theism.)

Bible: the scripture of the Jewish and/or Christian 'faiths'. Kant has a genuinely high regard for this book, viewing the New Testament in particular as a divine revelation enabling hu­manity to take a major step forward in its moral evolution. Nevertheless, regarding the propo­sitions themselves as literally God's words is a serious religious illusion. (See scripture.)

biblical theology: any theology that takes the Bible as its primary starting-point. Kant warns that such a theologian must be careful not to deny the validity of 'reason'. (Cf. philosophical theology.)

caloric: heat. This is an important aspect of Kant's theory of ether in Opus Postumum.

Christ: a person anointed with such a God-like disposition that we can regard him as the perfect example of the archetype. Kant regards Jesus as the Christ in this sense.

Christianity: an historical faith that accepts the Bible as its scripture and practises religion in a church tradition founded by Jesus Christ.

church: an ethical commonwealth wherein the members regard themselves as being governed by God. The visible form promotes a particular historical faith, whereas the invisible form promotes pure rational faith. A true church is a visible church that is based on the four principles of the invisible church: universality, purity, 'freedom', and unchangeableness.

cosmological argument: one of the three types of 'theoretical' proofs for God's existence, arguing that 'experience' in general provides us with 'knowledge' that God exists.

Critical mysticism: the final goal of Kant's Critical System (though he never fully developed it himself), consisting of an openness to immediate experience in various forms, and an aware­ness that at this level the presence of God can be felt, but with the crucial qualifi­cation that no knowledge-claims can be constructed out of such ineffable experiences.

deism: the philosophical stance claiming that God exists, but not as a living being who intervenes in the natural or moral worlds we inhabit (as in theism). Many deists believe there are proofs for the existence of God that succeed in making God's existence knowable.

direct service of God: obeying the 'moral law' within. (Cf. indirect service.)

disposition: the 'noumenal' source of a person's moral motivation, also called the heart. It can be either evil (like the propensity) or good (like the predisposition), but not both at once.

ecclesiastical faith: a form of historical faith that is focused on a church tradition.

ens realissimum: a Latin term for the most real BeingЎXi.e., God. Kant uses this term as the basis for his special possibility proof of God's existence.

ether: the hypothetical material that fills empty space. Kant regards it as an unknowable substrate of nature that symbolizes how the hand of God operates.

ethical commonwealth: a humanly organized group of persons who agree to live and let others live 'autonomously', according to the principles of the 'moral law'.

evil: reversing the proper order of moral 'incentives', whereby a person regards 'maxims' promoting happiness as more important than maxims promoting 'duty'. (See radical evil.)

fanaticism: a form of religious enthusiasm that allows workings of grace to obscure the voice of 'conscience', thus encouraging moral laziness and false assurance of salvation.

God: the ens realissimum who administers the 'moral law' to all persons. We can know this Being only as an 'idea' (i.e., as a 'hypotheti­cal' 'concept' that cannot be absolutely proved to exist); but we must postulate such a Being in order to make sense out of our moral life, and we can feel this Being's presence in the 'moral law' and in nature. God's unique way of knowing consists of intellectual intuition and intuitive understanding. (See Trinity.)

grace: unmerited assistance from God. Kant argues that, although radical evil prevents every­one from being worthy to receive grace, our good disposition, and the good life-conduct that comes from it, can nevertheless make us worthy to be made worthy by God.

hand of God: Kant's metaphorical way of describing the ineffable experience of God's presence in nature. (Cf. voice of God.)

historical faith: belief in and/or commitment to a religious tradition that looks back to specific past events, rather than to bare reason, for its grounding. Such a faith may or may not promote true religion among its believers.

hope: the topic of the third of the three (or four) questions that Kant says define the task of philosophy. Kant views religion as establishing the human standpoint that best answers the question of what we may hope.

ideal: in the first Critique, the 'idea' of God, viewed as an externally existing object. As such, God's existence is wholly unknowable to humans, though we may know God's nature.

immediate experience: the fundamental contact between 'subject' and 'object' that gives rise to 'experience' in the sense of 'empirical' 'knowledge'. 'Representations' that are not mediated by the 'transcendental' conditions of 'space', 'time', and the 'categories', are useless for constructing knowledge, but we may nevertheless be aware of them in various ways.

indirect service of God: doing or believing something that is not itself required by the 'moral law', but will encourage oneself to obey the latter. (Cf. direct service.)

intellectual intuition: a form of knowing that creates its object in the very act of per­ceiving it. God is the concept of a Being possessing this power, lacked by humans.

interpretation, scriptural: in a church, scripture should be interpreted morally whenever possible, even if this was not the author's original intention; 'theoretical' interpretations are for historical scholars. Interpretation by personal feeling should be avoided, since it can easily be both morally harmful and theoretically inaccurate.

intuitive understanding: a form of knowing that is immediate, and does not require perception. God is the concept of a Being possessing this power, lacked by humans.

Jesus: the human being who, as founder of the first true church, can also be regarded as divine, in the sense of possessing the very disposition of God, to the extent that he was able to withstand the corrupting influence of radical evil. He can thereby be regarded as the Christ.

Judaism: an historical faith based on adherence to externally legislated statutes and thereby used by Kant to exemplify the essence pseudo-service to God.

kingdom of God: a political situation characterized by universal peace and respect between all human persons, with the 'moral law' being followed so consistently that external legal forms are no longer needed. Bringing this (or its moral equivalent, the kingdom of ends) about is the final goal of the ethical commonwealth, but will probably require assistance from God in order to become a reality in the distant evolution of the human race.

means of grace: one of the four parerga, referring to ceremonies or rituals that make us aware of God's assistance. To believe such ceremonies can themselves make a person good is a religious illusion that leads to pseudo-service; but the same ceremonies can be an indirect service of God. Kant's four examples are prayer; church-going, baptism, and communion.

miracles: one of the four parerga, referring to a presumed supernatural intervention in the 'empirical' world. Kant does not rule out this possibility, but claims such external 'experiences' of the impossible must be regarded as happening either almost never or else all the time.

moral argument: Kant's new way of justifying belief in God's existence by arguing that a person who believes it is rational to act morally is acting as if God exists; so it would be ab­surd for that person to deny God's existence, even though it cannot be proved 'theoretically'.

mysteries: one of the four parerga, referring to a divinely prompted 'understanding' of 'transcendent' 'objects' that incomprehensible by means of 'reason' alone. Kant examines the Trinity as his primary example.

mysticism: a way of interpreting certain types of immediate experience as a direct encounter with God or with 'transcendent' 'reality'. Kant speaks harshly about mystics who tend to be fanatics or who make unjustified knowledge-claims based on such experiences. Ironically, his own philosophical 'System' can be interpreted as an attempt to transform mysticism into a philosophically justifiable (i.e., Critical) way of life.

natural religion: any religion wherein a command must be recognized as a 'duty' before it can be regarded as God's command, and whose doctrines can therefore be spread to all human beings by the unaided use of universal 'reason'. (Cf. revealed religion.)

ontological argument: one of the three types of 'theoretical' proofs for God's existence, arguing that the necessity of God's existence can be known from the 'concept' of God alone.

parerga: 'transcendent' 'ideas' that arise as by-products of 'pure' rational faith in order to solve problems that 'reason' alone cannot solve. They are an acceptable part of a true religion only if used to direct believers to its moral core. The four parerga Kant discusses are: workings of grace, miracles, mysteries, and means of grace.

person: a living, rational, and responsible being, capable of being aware of the 'moral law'.

philosophical theology: any theology that takes 'reason' as its primary starting-point. Kant argues that such an approach does not prevent a person from also taking a specific revelation into consideration; however, the latter must be consistent with the former. (Cf. biblical theology.)

physicotheological argument: one of the three types of 'theoretical' proofs for God's existence, arguing that particular 'experiences' provide us with 'knowledge' that God exists.

predisposition: a person's original disposition, before performing any moral acts. Our animal, rational, and personal natures all indicate that the human predisposition is good. Unfortunately, it is corrupted by radical evil in our first moral act. (Cf. propensity.)

possibility proof: Kant's own preferred version of a 'theoretical' proof for God's existence, whereby God is viewed as the ens realissimum, who must exist in order for anything else even        to be possible. Kant never completely rejects this proof, but he does admit that it serves only to clarify what we mean by the word, God, without providing any theoretical 'knowledge'.

prayer, spirit of: a heart-felt wish to live a life well-pleasing to God, based on a good moral disposition, and the good life-conduct that comes from it. The letter of prayer (i.e., verbal prayer) does not please God on its own, but only if it promotes this inner spirit.

proofs for the existence of God: arguments attempting to establish 'theoretical' 'knowl­edge' that God exists. Kant demonstrates that all three types (the ontological, cosmo­logical, and physicotheological) must fail. He puts his own special moral argument in their place, but insists this argument does not constitute a theoretical proof. This is important, because only the latter can provide a proper philosophical foundation for theism and religion.

propensity: a person's tendency to act in either a good or an evil way. Prior to undergoing a change of heart (or disposition), a person's propensity is naturally evil. (Cf. predisposition.)

postulate: a 'transcendent' 'idea' that we must regard as true, even in the absence of 'theoretical' proof, because it is 'practically' necessary to justify living a moral life. Kant's moral argument postulates God's existence, but does not claim to prove it.

pseudo-service: attempting to please another person by performing an action that actually (usually inadvertently) hinders one's ability to please that person. Acts of divine worship fall into this category, for example, if the worshipper believes that because such actions are directed solely to God, they can take the place of good life-conduct. (Cf. service.)

pure rational faith: religious belief that has the pure religion of reason at its core.

pure religion of reason: the moral core of all genuine religion. Historical faiths are of value only if they serve as vehicles for pure religion; they are the shell that protects the inner core. Religion needs some such vehicle, because it raises questions 'reason' cannot answer.

radical evil: a rationally inexplicable corruption at the very root of the moral life of every human being. As a result, each person's first moral act is evil, as is their initial propensity.

rational theology: the metaphysical discipline that tries to prove the existence of God. Kant demonstrates that this discipline is bound to fail as long as it aims at 'knowledge'.

religion: the practice of viewing human duties as divine commands. For Kant this does not imply that religion is just a form of morality in disguise; rather, it means morality, though ontologically independent of religion, needs religion in order to reach its goal.

revealed religion: any religion wherein a command must be recognized as being from God before it can be regarded as a 'duty', and whose doctrines are therefore available only to those human beings who are familiar with a given historical faith. (Cf. natural religion.)

revelation: unprecedented moral insights, believed by a religious individual or community to be given by God. 'Reason' can test them by checking their consistency with the 'moral law'.

scripture: a text believed by an historical faith to be revealed. (See Bible and interpretation.)

service: attempting to please another person by performing an action that actually (some­times even inadvertently) hinders one's ability to please that person. Good life-conduct falls into this category when viewed as a way of serving God. In addition to such direct service, any non­moral act that encourages good life-conduct can be called indirect service. (Cf. pseudo-service.)

statutes: external commands put forward by a scripture and/or an ecclesiastical faith on the grounds that God commands obedience to such rulesЎXregardless of whether they are moral.

supreme maxim: the fundamental 'maxim' that determines the disposition a person has.

symbol: any part of an historical faith (e.g., a doctrine or a ritual) that has, in addition to its literal meaning, another deeper meaning with a moral content.

teleological argument: A 'theoretical' proof for the existence of  God based on reference to specific designs or purposes 'experienced' in nature. Kant regards this as a type of physicotheological argument. Viewed from the 'judicial' 'standpoint', however, it can provide good reasons for believing in God, reasons that support rather than endangering theism.

theism: the philosophical stance claiming not only that God exists (as in deism), but that God is alive and interacts with the human world. Kant regards theists as those who are willing to make a moral commitment to postulate God's existence, but argues that the various attempts to prove God's existence are harmful to theism in the long run. (Cf. atheism.)

theodicy: an attempt to justify God in the face of evil. Kant argues that all such attempts must fail, for they require a misuse of 'reason' that is ultimately harmful to religion.

theology: 'knowledge' of God, based on either 'theoretical' or 'practical' 'reason'. Kant practices philosophical theology and believes this should complement biblical theology.

Trinity: a mystery that arises in Christianity when believers attempt to 'understand' God's threefold nature. Kant proposes a moral version, viewing God as holy Legislator, benevolent Ruler, and righteous Judge. In this 'practical' sense, the Trinity ceases to be a mystery.

true religion: any 'empirical' religion that has the pure religion of reason at its core.

voice of God: Kant's metaphorical way of describing the ineffable experience of God's presence in the form of the 'moral law' within us. (Cf. hand of God.) 

workings of grace: one of the four parerga., referring to a presumed inner 'experience' of God's grace. Fanatics often (wrongly) believe this can replace the need for good life-conduct.

worship: any action that pleases God. The most profound expression of a life of worship is good life-conduct. Praising God without having good life-conduct is pseudo-service.



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