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March 21, 2016 | Author: | Posted in philosophy, social sciences

Descartes and Kant

Their Philosophy on God and Faith

There were two great philosophers who came out from the Age of Reason These men redefined a chapter in the history of mankind and forced later historians to attach a label to the era where they made their presence felt and this time was aptly called the modern age and it can be partially explained by their monumental works that still reverberates today in terms of its originality and daring

Descartes and Kant questioned long held beliefs , traditions and rules that were [banner_entry_middle]

enforced for more than a millennium . Descartes began his with doubt and ended up with a robust declaration of faith not only of his existence but the certainty of God . On the other hand Kant began his journey with an assertiveness that man can surely know based on empirical evidences and he ended up unable to penetrate the mystery of faith and divinity and made the most famous capitulation : reason must make room for faith . All these conclusions were not made haphazardly and will be seen later as coming from a well structured analysis of perception and understanding

To have a better understanding of these men and a fuller appreciation of their ideas , a little backgrounder is in

Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes was born in France in March of 1956 and according to Paul Valery , .that great man whose thinking conveyed the clearest and most visible characteristic of the French mind [ .] and of the magnificent and memorable self (as cited in Lewis , 1998 , page vii

He was born after the turmoil of the Reformation and its waning stage when the social norm was to question religious beliefs and other medieval practices that were usually followed without the slightest inquiry into their practicality or veracity

Immanuel Kant

According to Louis Pojman , Kant was born into a deeply pietistic Lutheran family in Konigsberg , where he lived his entire life . Pojman adds , At sixteen he entered the University of Konigsberg , where he later taught philosophy . He is considered the greatest philosopher of the Enlightenment (2000 , page 297

Age of Reason

Both Descartes and Kant lived in an Age of Reason where rational thought reigned supreme in the more advanced countries of the Christian world In this place and setting both philosophers had the wonderful opportunity to have their ideas heard and discussed

It may come as a surprise to modern students to know that both philosophers who are both ahead of their time are in fact religious men and had no intention whatsoever to disprove the existence of God or denying that there is a spiritual world . On the contrary it is their faith that inspired them in their quest for knowledge and wisdom . In today ‘s world they could be labeled as Christians for their desire to know comes not from an atheist mindset but from a person who wants to know more about God and faith

Both philosophers argue about faith based on the most common attribute of the modern period – the discovery of reason – and they went on to make their arguments that indeed there is a rational aspect of faith

The Development of Ideas

Rene Descartes began to question , truth and reality when he realized that things that were taught to him had mistake and errors that made it doubtful . Cottingham describing the struggle within the man wrote the following

[ .] he (Descartes ) remarked of the philosophy he had learnt at school that despite having been taught for many centuries , it contained no point that was not disputed and hence doubtful . And as for other sciences , in so far as they borrowed their principle from philosophy nothing solid could be built on such shaky foundations (1996 , page 11

Descartes began to desire for more and it was evident in the way he formulated his ideas and as Pojman had said , Descartes records his determination to sweep away all previously accepted opinions , and start afresh . His project is nothing less than the reconstruction of knowledge from the foundations upwards . To pursue this goal , he devises a systematic method of doubt : anything that can be called into question for any reason whatever , will be discarded (2000 , page 11

Immanuel Kant on the other hand developed his way of understanding not by doubting the stimulus around men but in the realization that the only possible objects of human knowledge are phenomena – the empirically observable objects of the world around us (Cottingham , 1996 , page 8

In the philosopher ‘s words , Nothing is really given us [ .] except perception and the empirical advance from this to other possible perceptions (Cottingham , page 8 . Cottingham then adds that Kant . is thus deeply suspicious of the claims of rationalist philosophers of knowledge to describe a reality going wholly beyond the observable world (page 8

Descartes versus Kant

By using all the above-mentioned information with regards to the two philosophers then one can say that both are questioning the perception of reality and applying this to the most important issues . Both were forced to make comments on what is the impact of their theories regarding the most important issue of all , God and faith

Descartes began to dive into the complexity of faith and Godhead using doubt . It is a most bizarre way of conducting inquiries about truth when the normal mode of conducting such investigations is through the use of faith and belief – at least in the Medieval Age this is the standard operating procedure . Then here comes Descartes who in tried to know God the realization of the existence of God via doubting . In the process of questioning reality Descartes realized that there is something or someone beyond the reach of his rational mind and that is God

Descartes did not make the above conclusions based on his inability to explain the stimulus and the things that he observed . On the contrary he was very much aware that he could not have perceived unless God allowed him to do so . Thus in essence he believes that man was able to perceive himself and God because that is how he was made to be . And with this realization Descartes went further that in this perception of God , God himself will not deceive him and thus it is the truth . In this Descartes stop doubting

Kant on the other hand did not begin with doubt but he build on a set of confident assertions that basically says man ‘s mind can only be effective in matters dealing with observable evidences . Straying away from the natural environment where the natural mind of man can function effectively can be likened to a fish out of water . Man is way beyond his league when he attempts to go places and realms which could not see or measure

Descartes breakthrough came in the realization that there is at least one thing that he can be sure of and that is his knowledge of self . And his famous quote , I think , therefore I am ‘ became more than a declaration of self-discovery but was actually the cornerstone which he would later build his understanding of God

As said before , Descartes used a system of doubt to discover truth , yet this doubting reached its limit when Descartes realized there are things that he could not be skeptical about no matter how he tried . His mind is perfectly working therefore it is impossible to doubt its existence and since he is in existence then surely there is someone out there who is more perfect than he is that made it possible for him to think and to be alive . In his conclusion this is God

Kant on the other hand was bounded by his stance that man ‘s mind could only function in the empirical world of evidence . But Kant himself was quick to point out that there is a mechanism or process that allows man to perceive the observable world . Cottingham succinctly explains this as follows

But Kant takes a crucially different route from previous innatists who had suggested that the mind was simply endowed (by god , as Descartes maintained , or from a previous existence , as Plato had it ) with a range of non-empirical concepts and truths . Instead , Kant argues that all the concepts of the understanding are derived from certain fundamental categories which are presupposed by experience . Categories such as the categories of substance and causality are fundamental preconditions for our being able to experience the world at all . [ .] Knowledge involves a kind of fusion of `intuition (sensory representations ) on the one hand , and the concepts of the understanding on the other (page 8


Both philosophers were indeed products of their time . It was the Age of Reason but most importantly it was the time when people are allowed to question . In the case of Descartes he found nothing wrong with diving into doubt , as he explored the depths of faith and religion . He was not afraid to go where no one has gone before and he pushed the envelope into areas used to be off limits to mere mortals

Descartes contribution into the understanding on the role of faith and rationality in establishing belief is in the introduction of a system of doubting ‘ which allow for brutal examination of the faith of Christian Europe . In the end he was rewarded with a stronger faith in God as he discovered that his brilliance , his intellectual pursuit and sharp minds are all endowed by God . And he can think about God because his faculties were designed just like that to be able to perceive that there is a God

Immanuel Kant on the other hand did not make for himself an easy exit when confronted with the problem of faith and rationality . He himself made strict barriers that should not be crossed by saying that mortals minds must stay only within the bounds of empirical evidence and it is not proper to venture foolishly out of it . But in the end , Kant also reached the conclusion that knowledge or understanding comes aided by something and that something is built is the capacity of the mind to interpret what was observed or experienced . In Kant ‘s analysis , there is no evidence that can eliminate faith and God altogether ye , a knowing of God is beyond the natural capacities of the mind and could only be appreciated by transcending logic and reason References

Cottingham , John (1996 . Western Philosophy : An Anthology . Oxford Blackwell Publishing

Pojman , Louis

(2000 . The Moral Life : An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature

New York : Oxford University Press

Rodis-Lewis , Genevieve (1998 . Descartes : His Life and Thought (J . M Todd , Trans

New York : Cornell University Press ( Original work Published 1995

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