Kant's two touchstones for conviction: the incommunicable dimension of moral faith.
This is a point of no small contention among Kant's readers, for whom the issue of whether religious faith rests upon objective grounds that are valid for all, or is superfluous wishful thinking prompted by subjective psychological history, is of obvious importance. (5) Kant's own way of addressing this question is to delineate between valid belief and invalid belief, terming the former "conviction" (Uberzeugung) and the latter "persuasion" (Uberredung). Moreover, Kant attempts to find a "touchstone" (Probirstein)--in this context, an infallible method for discerning genuine instances of something from spurious ones--that will provide a consistent way to distinguish conviction from persuasion. (6) Unfortunately, Kant's account of how one goes about making this distinction suffers from a significant ambiguity.
In this paper, I will suggest a solution to the ambiguity between persuasion and conviction in Kant's works in order to shed light on the indispensability of faith for Kant. This ambiguity stems from seldom-noticed tensions within Kant's account of the subjective and objective conditions of faith as a form of holding something to be true (Furwahrhalten). (7) It is the difference between these conditions that is said to underlie the further difference between the chimerical sway of persuasion on the one hand, and the conviction necessary for a universally valid faith on the other. (8) Although Kant does not appear to notice it, he has two touchstones for distinguishing persuasion from conviction, rather than one, and therefore he overlooks a serious ambiguity regarding their compatibility. (9)
I will endeavor to show that Kantian religion is consistent with Kantian morality provided that we see how the structure of his religion dovetails with the touchstone of betting, a testing procedure whose primacy Kant's texts imply without explicitly resolving its divergence from the other touchstone he lays out: that of communal agreement. (10) The failure to notice that Kant has two touchstones for testing conviction can lead the reader to misconstrue the incommunicable dimension of Kantian faith--that is, the fact that faith is a practical attitude other people cannot talk me into adopting--as a sign of its incommensurability with the universal validity that makes Kantian morality compelling. (11) Those few scholars who pay any sustained attention to Kant's conception of conviction do not realize that Kantian faith is an attitude that hinges on who one is, that is, the kind of character one chooses to have. (12) Given the centrality of character to my interpretation, I will frame my discussion through Kant's treatment of two people: Spinoza and the biblical figure of Job. Spinoza serves as a negative example of the existential insufficiency of atheism, and Job serves as a positive example of religious conviction as the pinnacle of consistent moral agency. After using Kant's discussion of Spinoza's atheism to lay out the rationale informing the details of Kant's theory of valid belief, I will focus my attention upon Kant's two touchstones for distinguishing genuine conviction. After arguing that the touchstone of communicability is not as adequate to the nature of moral faith as the touchstone of betting, I will show how Kant's account of Job's character confirms this interpretation. (13) I will conclude that the basis of moral faith in moral character clarifies the special sense of necessity Kant attributes to rational faith.
Faith is More Than a Theoretical Issue: Spinoza's Unbelief. Without first comprehending how Kant accords faith a primarily practical validity, one cannot adequately understand what motivates Kant's discussion of a touchstone for valid faith. It is helpful in this regard to begin with Spinoza, who functions as a somewhat negative example of Kant's conception of faith. Since Spinoza denies the existence of any divine Providence over the events of this world, to analyze what Kant says about Spinoza is to attend to how Kant deals with the possibility--undoubtedly prominent in our minds--that someone can be an atheist and still be ethical. (14) According to Kant, Spinoza is someone whose goodness of heart stands in unacknowledged danger of being overthrown by a misguided assurance in his own theoretical speculations. Spinoza's noble behavior shows that he is at heart no atheist, because the way in which he gladly sacrifices happiness to pursue virtue demonstrates how much worth he places on the moral law. (15) Kant here distinguishes between theology, as a fully consistent account of what religion entails, and religion proper; Spinoza lacks the former, but shows true religion by putting piety into practice. This description of Spinoza as a religious man in practice is surprising, to say the least, given that religion is supposed to be an awareness of our duties as divine commands; how can one be religious in the Kantian sense without being aware (at least to some degree) that one's venerations are directed toward the divine?
While I think this description is incompatible with Kant's account of religion elsewhere, I do think this particular passage stems from a willingness on Kant's part to acknowledge that a virtuous character is open to those who do not share the same conclusions he does about the nature of the divine. This does not mean, however, that Kant is content to give ethical atheists their due and move onward; rather, Kant holds that the atheist, to be the consistent moral agent he strives to be, is in fact committed to more than he thinks he is. While a moral atheist such as Spinoza does not do good deeds for earthly (or even heavenly) reward, this high-mindedness is only open to him for a certain amount of time, or within certain conditions. Sooner or later, the sheer weight of the world's absurd recalcitrance to morality will depress him; there are limits to Spinoza's effort, and they are not unique to him alone, but to all human beings. (16) It is the heartache, born of a thousand natural shocks, that flesh is heir to. (17) This moral despair occasions a monumental choice between two alternatives: resignation to the apparent impossibility of enacting the moral law, at which point the sense of obligation to it dissipates, or resolution to have rational faith in its ability to be carried out despite appearances. (18)
It should be fairly obvious which one of these alternatives Kant endorses, but it is fruitful to see why Kant thinks that a responsible person must choose rational faith, and why this choice is not simply a matter of assenting to a plausible theoretical picture of the world, but the far more vital activity of maintaining the proper attitude towards being in the world. (19) There is far more at stake in the unverifiable thought that God exists than in saying of what is, that it is (to use Aristotle's definition of truth). When faced with moral despair, one's very worth rises or falls on this decision to be true to one's vocation, and therefore, true to oneself. It is the fact that one has to live with one's own conscience that constitutes the incentive to make this choice. (20) One's conscience reveals the absolute imperativeness of moral obligation, and for that reason one chooses to have faith, and not the other way around; whoever believes that everything would be permitted if God did not exist has a corrupt disposition. (21) By seeking purity of conscience first, everything else within the proper religious disposition will concordantly follow this "guiding thread." (22)
By implying that Spinoza cannot be a fully conscientious moral agent without having faith, we seem to be doing an injustice to Kant's statement that not much would have to be done to get Spinoza to see things aright. Would not Spinoza have to change a great deal about himself? Not if we understand what Kant means by faith. "Faith (as habitus, not as actus) is reason's moral way of thinking in the affirmation of that which is inaccessible for theoretical cognition." (23) Faith is not really faith if it falters when catastrophes and injustices transpire, because faith is meant to be a response to such events. Faith is not really faith if it can be shaken by theoretical arguments, because it is not based on theoretical argument.
The only kind of faith Kant recognizes is unshakeable faith, for faith is intrinsically steady. It is not an actus that one might pick up and put down sporadically, whenever one happens to be carried away by elevated feelings, or this or that theological argument; it is a continually-enacted habitus that is inseparable from the living-out of one's life, one's character, one's way of thinking. With faith, the moral subject becomes able to pursue the moral law with a steadfastness that is otherwise impossible, "... for without [faith] the moral way of thinking has no way to persevere in its collision with theoretical reason's demand for a proof (of the possibility of the object of morality), but vacillates between practical commands and theoretical doubts." (24) In other words, by changing the significance of God's existence from one of theoretical understanding to practical engagement, it becomes possible to approach the world as a place that is always amicable (zweckmassig) to the performance of duty, that is, to be at home in the world.
The person who can truly suspend judgment about matters that surpass human understanding--who can exercise skepsis for more than the ulterior motive of besting an opponent--is ready for faith in a way that the dogmatist is not. (25) Kant calls this skepsis by the oxymoronic name Zweifelglaube--"doubting belief"--a twilight state of openness to faith without embrace of the same. If Spinoza had Zweifelglaube, he would have been one step away from rational religion; his problem was that he was erroneously convinced that Providence is logically inconsistent, and he therefore exhibited unbelief. This is why Kant mentions that Spinoza "merely had too much trust in speculative argument," for the source of atheists' surety about the nonexistence of an Author of the world stems not from corrupt mores, but from a misplaced trust in their own deductions that can indirectly hinder their mores should tragedy arise--or as Kant says, "only their understanding was corrupted, not their will." (26)
Kant's assurance that dogmatic atheism is antithetical to faith is so great that he toys with the idea that a dogmatic atheist would have to be utterly lacking in moral fiber. That is: the person who can definitively believe that God's nonexistence can be proven, which an honest person would see as harder to prove than his existence, must not have reflected on the crisis this would occasion for the project of morality, or else has so reflected, and subsequently denied the primacy of practical reason's interests over those of theoretical reason. (27) The thought that someone could be this cold to the project of morality strikes Kant as so remote from human nature that Kant is doubtful that any person has ever really been committed to dogmatic atheism through and through. This would mean that Spinoza is not fully committed to dogmatic atheism, for the alternative--that the incentives of morality have no hold on him--is impossible to square with his noble character.
Of course, it could also be the case that Spinoza has just not adequately reflected upon the incongruence of dogmatic atheism and morality, and this interpretation seems far more plausible. Anyone who is as attuned to the absoluteness of the moral law as he is to the absoluteness of truth--anyone who treasures the other before him as much as he loves truth beyond him--cannot help but feel called by the subtle yet consistent strains of a faith through which his two loves can be in harmony. It is the unity of myself as both thinker and doer--that is, the coherence of theoretical and practical reason within me--that leaves me with no other choice than rational religion. The twilight state of Zweifelglaube remains open to the way God could serve as an answer to our deepest perplexities without preemptively affixing this hypothesis as fact, and in so doing, is an incomplete and obscure anticipation of the existential unity of self faith alone offers. The skeptical atheist is, in his heart, open to sincere belief in a way neither the dogmatic atheist nor the dogmatic believer ever could be. He brooks no pseudo-certainties because he wants to believe in something whole-heartedly; if he is to believe, he wants to believe all the way. He wants to be convinced, and in this he shows the potential for true piety.
The Subjectivity and Objectivity of Faith. To better understand what Kant means by true piety and what exactly moral religion is, we must examine what it means to believe whole-heartedly so as to better understand that belief which brings wholeness of heart. It is integral to keep in mind that, for Kant, a religion is the pure moral faith if everyone can be convinced of it. (28) Conviction, rather than mere persuasion, is a necessary feature of pure faith. The difference between conviction and persuasion is pivotal for an understanding of what Kant means by faith, and for this difference we must turn to the Canon of Pure Reason, where Kant discusses three manners of taking something to be true (Furwahrhalten): opinion (Meinen), knowledge (Wissen), and faith or belief (Glauben). On the one hand, Furwahrhalten is occasioned by subjective causes, and on the other hand, grounded in the objective aspects of the matter that is believed, known, or opined. (29) While the former deals with the way I relate to my knowing (or believing, or opining), the latter has to do with the justification the matter itself gives me for holding it to be true. However, as we shall see in a moment, this dichotomy does not hold up under close scrutiny, and Kant muddles the meanings of "subjective" and "objective."
Explicating the subjective side of Furwahrhalten first, we find that there are only two stances I can take on any particular thing I hold to be true: I can be either persuaded that it is true, or convinced that it is true. "If it is valid for everyone merely as long as he has reason, then its ground is objectively sufficient, and in that case taking something to be true is called conviction [Uberzeugung]. If it has its ground only in the particular constitution of the subject, then it is called persuasion [Uberredung]." (30) To be persuaded of something is to hold it to be true for reasons that are unique to oneself as a private individual; in other words, one bases one's judgment that x is true upon private conditions. One might find the claims made by a fire and brimstone sermon persuasive because, while listening to it, one was terrified by the horrors it evoked in one's imagination, and to avoid the threats of hell it seems one must believe in the solutions offered. (31) To be convinced of something, however, means that one's reasons for taking x to be true are "objectively sufficient," that is, they match up with the object rather than one's private conditions and are therefore true. (32)
It is strange, then, to say that we are now turning to the objective side of Furwahrhalten, since we differentiate conviction from persuasion not upon whether or not the judger feels his judgment to be valid beyond his private conditions (that is, a first-person perspective), but upon whether or not his judgment is in fact only applicable to his private conditions (that is, a third-person perspective). Is it really impossible to be convinced of something that is in point of fact not true? In this regard, it may help if we differentiate the three kinds of Furwahrhalten from one another:
Having an opinion is taking something to be true with the consciousness that it is subjectively as well as objectively insufficient. If taking something to be true is only subjectively sufficient and is at the same time held to be objectively insufficient, then it is called believing [Glauben]. Finally, when taking something to be true is both subjectively and objectively sufficient it is called knowing. Subjective sufficiency is called conviction (for myself), objective sufficiency, certainty (for everyone). I will not pause for the exposition of such readily grasped concepts. (33)
Kant's refusal to explain these "readily grasped" terms leads to no small frustration for the close reader. (34) Fortunately, Susan Neiman sheds a great deal of light on the meanings of subjective and objective sufficiency. (35) Knowledge involves both objective sufficiency, because it meets all the criteria for valid cognition, and subjective sufficiency, because anybody in my situation would also hold it to be true. Opinion lacks both objective sufficiency and even subjective sufficiency, since another person in my situation could just as reasonably advance another assertion. Still, matters of opinion, such as whether or not there is life on other planets, have the potential to be verified through sense experience, at least in theory. (36) Opinion is not utterly baseless speculation, that is, it is not fiction, but its assessment of the matter under question is too incomplete to count as knowledge. (37)
Matters of faith, on the other hand, are not verifiable through experience--not even in theory--but by the same logic, beliefs cannot be disconfirmed either. Thus the belief that there is life on other planets does not really qualify as belief, but instead as opinion. Unlike opinion, a matter of belief is not a matter on which certainty could be obtained; it cannot be substantiated through cognition. (38) Nor is faith some consolation prize for the knowledge we cannot win, namely, theoretical cognition of God, freedom, and immortality. It is a "direction that an idea gives me" that allows me to make moral progress, instead of going in circles in investigation of the supersensible. (39) The subjective sufficiency of faith is profoundly practical, consisting as it does in a need of practical reason (Vernunftbedurfnis) that is felt by all persons. (40)
Unbelief consists in a failure to acknowledge this need within oneself as legitimate. (41) Thus error lies not merely in believing something for which one lacks objectively sufficient grounds to accept; error also lies in not believing in something one has no subjectively sufficient grounds to reject. A moral atheist such as Spinoza is guilty of this second error. Because of the unity of the highest good with Providence's role in assuring the same, Spinoza could not have been convinced of the nonexistence of Providence, but was merely persuaded of this view by the comparatively superior force of his theoretical commitments. Because "all interest is ultimately practical," no one can have an interest in the manifestly demonstrable that supersedes the indispensable interest in attaining the highest good, and no more subjectively sufficient grounds for belief could possibly be found. (42)
Two Touchstones: Communicability and Betting. As we have seen, what makes moral faith valid is its basis in subjectively sufficient grounds; by contrast, someone's grounds for belief are subjectively insufficient if they are unjustifiable by anyone outside of his contingent, private circumstances, that is, if the ground for the belief is an inclination one happens to have. (43) One naturally wonders how to recognize the difference between those beliefs founded on subjectively insufficient inclinations and those based on a subjectively sufficient demand of reason. This problem is identical to the problem of differentiating conviction from persuasion, since persuasion is subjectively insufficient while conviction is subjectively sufficient. Kant offers two testing procedures--two "touchstones"--for resolving this issue. The first touchstone has as its criterion communal agreement, whereas the second touchstone looks only to a subject's own assessment of himself. Both touchstones make use of significantly different criteria. Before comparing them, however, it is necessary to examine the internal nature and complexity of each touchstone.
We shall begin with the first touchstone Kant mentions in the Canon of Pure Reason: communicability. This touchstone is thoroughly communal in nature:
The touchstone of whether taking something to be true is conviction or mere persuasion is therefore, externally, the possibility of communicating it and finding it to be valid for the reason of every human being to take it to be true; for in that case there is at least a presumption that the ground of the agreement of all judgments, regardless of the difference among the subjects, rests on the common ground, namely the object, with which they therefore all agree and through which the truth of the judgment is proved. (44)
The two forms of subjectively sufficient Furwahrhalten--faith and knowledge--stand up to this touchstone's test because, as Kant seems to be taking them here, these matters have an intrinsic communicability. When I talk with others about what it is I know and believe, I can convince them to know and believe in the same things rather than simply persuade them through rhetorical appeal to their private prejudices, and this is a sign of my own conviction, that I was not deluding myself into believing it either. Whereas I can only be persuaded of those things that are valid only within private conditions, conviction is a necessary element of pure moral faith. The allgemeine Einhelligkeit necessary for faith's universal validity to be recognized as such is a "communality of insight" in which the people could be unanimously convinced of the tenets of rational religion. (45)
Here we begin to see the ambiguity with which Kant talks about conviction. In the passage from the Canon of Pure Reason quoted above, conviction is objectively valid and has a logical grounding; elsewhere, we have seen Kant say that conviction is subjective sufficiency. By describing conviction as subjective sufficiency and as agreement with the object under purview, Kant inadvertently opens the door for regarding faith--which must have conviction--as subjectively and objectively sufficient. (46) However, Kant clearly designated knowledge instead of faith as the Furwahrhalten that is both subjectively and objectively sufficient. According to the conditions of the touchstone of communicability, it becomes difficult to adequately differentiate conviction from certainty, and faith from knowledge. (47)
Leaving aside how such a confusion may betray Kant's epistemological insights, and attending instead to this error's implications for moral religion, to designate a belief as valid only when it has both objective and subjective sufficiency vitiates the robust role that subjectivity is supposed to play when it comes to faith. It makes the tenability of one's faith rise and fall with the agreement or disagreement of other persons, and as this is contingent in ways Kant does not seem to have noticed here, faith would be shakable and therefore untenable. To characterize the universal validity of rational faith in terms of the consensus of every rational person forces the believer to be singularly articulate, to say nothing of industrious, for he must interrogate everyone before he can be sure he is not merely persuaded. To be fair, Kant only requires the possibility of communication, so I do not actually have to garner the consensus of all human beings to know that my Furwahrhalten is conviction and not mere persuasion; it merely has to be the case that I could do so. Yet how am I to legitimately discern when my beliefs could command such agreement, except through conversation with (presumably patient) persons I have not yet engaged? I might identify certain types of people as indicative of humanity at its most rational, yet Kant's requirement of unanimity is meant to forestall the self-serving bias that often lurks in such identifications; after all, persuasion rests upon private prejudice.
Furthermore, if rational faith is sifted out from irrational faith by reaching unanimity with other moral agents, then the believer no longer counts as rational once he meets with even a single person who disagrees. If we say that moral faith is nevertheless communicable because the other person will agree with me to the extent he is rational, we are avoiding the issue of how we decide who is the more rational in the case of disagreement. Is it I who am being irrational by not agreeing with him, or he who is being irrational by not agreeing with me? If communicability is the touchstone for moral faith, whether or not my belief is subjectively sufficient--that is, one that anybody else in my situation would also hold to be true--and therefore rational hinges upon what others say they would do in my shoes, or more precisely, what I can induce them to say about what they would believe. (48) If the way I get them to agree with me is to get them to be rational, that indicates I am familiar with what is rational or subjectively sufficient apart from conversing with them, yet if that is so, then my grasp on what is subjectively sufficient is not decided through the criterion of communicability.
With respect to moral belief, the touchstone of communicability would place us in the following vicious circle: 1) a belief is rational if it is universally valid, 2) a belief is universally valid if it is communicable to everyone, 3) a belief is universally communicable if all interlocutors can assent to it, 4) a belief can command unanimous consent if it is the sort of belief a rational person would hold, and 5) a person is rational to the degree their beliefs are rational, which is to say, universally valid--and we are back at the circle's beginning. (49) One way out of this circle is to acknowledge that my Furwahrhalten is valid whenever I appeal to evidence that is (at least potentially) open to all interlocutors. Such a move, however, is an appeal to objectively sufficient evidence, something that is possible for matters of opinion and knowledge, but by definition impossible when it comes to belief in God, as Kant himself notes at A828/B856. (50) Thus, there must be some other way to escape the vicious circle we find ourselves in when we apply the touchstone of communicability in matters of faith.
It is the contention of this essay that the only way of escaping this vicious circle while remaining within the Kantian system is to turn to another touchstone for evaluating subjective sufficiency: Kant's touchstone of betting. (51) This touchstone does not look to external communication, but to a hypothetical wager to reveal the individual's self-assessment of his own Furwahrhalten:
The usual touchstone of whether what someone asserts is mere persuasion or at least subjective conviction, that is, firm belief, is betting. Often someone pronounces his propositions with such confident and inflexible defiance that he seems to have entirely laid aside all concern for error. A bet disconcerts him. Sometimes he reveals that he is persuaded enough for one ducat but not for ten. For he would happily bet one, but at ten he suddenly becomes aware of what he had not previously noticed, namely that it is quite possible that he has erred. If we entertain the thought that we should wager the happiness of our whole life on something, our triumphant judgment would quickly disappear, we would become timid and we would suddenly discover that our belief does not extend so far. (52)
When I become aware that something valuable hangs upon my Furwahrhalten, the cavalier attitude I take towards the risk of believing in it is struck down. I am reminded that some assertions are not trifles to be won or lost in a competitive game, but can involve a matter of the greatest importance imaginable: becoming contemptible in my own eyes. (53)
Only if I am convinced of something would I be willing to stake my self-respect upon it. When I am merely persuaded of a subjectively insufficient assertion, that is, one we cannot expect every reasonable person to hold, I have seen how this assertion is tied up with satisfying some particular inclination, but not my life-project as a whole. If someone asks me to bet my whole happiness upon this assertion, I realize that I was only so insistent because backing down would mean losing face, or because I was desperately hoping beyond hope that I would have things work out in my favor, and so forth. Despite the prominence such possibilities usually hold in my mind, these consequences pale in comparison to losing what I desire for my life as a whole. A wager forces an act of self-reflection through which the intensity and extent of my deepest desires are brought to the fore, no longer lost among a panoply of comparatively trivial interests. At first, a ducat seemed as substantial as my confidence, but with ten ducats that single ducat now seems to designate the trifling nature of my initial bravado.
When I reflect upon my wants and needs honestly, I see that I desire not just holistic happiness but to deserve such happiness. For assertions that are more or less contingent to a person's circumstances (what Kant calls "pragmatic beliefs") wagering one's happiness is enough to distinguish between conviction and persuasion, but I take it to be consistent with the rest of Kant's corpus that conviction in moral beliefs cannot be based upon willingness to wager happiness, but self-respect. (54) The conviction with which we hold a moral belief cannot be contingent upon whether an individual attaches a requisite amount of his happiness to the matters of belief. Rather, it is necessary that each individual take the issue of God's existence and, through it, the possibility of the highest good to be of the utmost importance to his life. (55) By virtue of the fact of reason, each person does have a deep and abiding interest in these matters; whoever does not take them to be of paramount importance to his practical life has not adequately reflected upon the totality of his interests as a being with personality. (56)
Kant has nothing but contempt for individuals such as Pascal who would trick themselves into piety by persuading themselves that religious faith is necessary for the satisfaction of their empirical interests, since that entails "an inner lie." (57) Pascal's wager, whose aim is to compel the agnostic into belief through a cost-benefit analysis, is fundamentally antithetical to Kant's touchstone of betting, which is meant to ascertain the genuineness of someone's faith as it already stands, not to produce it out of thin air without some prior moral self-transformation. (58) To Kant's way of thinking, if someone does not first seek the kingdom of ends and the righteousness commensurate with it, then any act of religious belief will be a hypocritical ploy to trick the Almighty into giving him what his inclinations tell him he needs, rather than what reason demands. (59) Pascal is not convinced, but has merely persuaded (uberredet) himself that God exists through a disingenuous appeal to his baser drives. (60) What is awry with Pascal's belief is not that it cannot be expressed to others with sufficient clarity--under the touchstone of communicability, we could determine it to be conviction--but that it is disingenuous, so it is an instructive example of the self-trickery (an inner lie, as Kant says) that the touchstone of betting would reveal to be invalid. (61) If Pascal's wager strikes us as invalid, it must do so by another criterion than that of communicability, because anybody would have to concede that the wager operates with a consistent (albeit cold) logic of self-interest. (62) The fact that Pascal's wager fails the touchstone of betting but not the touchstone of communicability illustrates the difference between the touchstones, as well as the need to grasp if and how they might be commensurable.
The Incommunicable Dimension of Moral Faith. In this section, I will argue that moral faith entails a conviction that cannot be adequately tested by the touchstone of communicability, precisely because it is the very nature of moral faith that it not be reducible to assent to a set of propositions which I view as separate from my interests as a being with moral agency. Faith requires a continuous, inner commitment to the conditions that make possible the totality of my moral commitment--a commitment which no one else can enact for me--and the activity of explaining to others (or hearing from others) what faith involves does not mean that I myself do in fact make this commitment. In this important sense, Kantian faith is incommunicable because it requires more than assent to propositions. As a kind of existential investment, faith is interwoven with what I am disposed to risk in order to maintain my belief in Providence.
Here it is important to stress that a disposition is not amenable to wavering, for constancy is what distinguishes it from isolated acts. The very nature of betting--offering something up in the awareness that I may lose it without return--is well-suited to testing whether someone has the inner resolve to stick by a belief, or abandon it. In this respect, how much I wager shows how much I waver, and concomitantly how strong my moral disposition is. Thus it is the touchstone of betting that best tests whether I am convinced of my belief, rather than the touchstone of communicability. Whether I can make myself understood by someone else is a very different issue than whether I can make myself give up something dear to me; communication reveals whether or not propositions can be clarified, whereas betting reveals what I am truly disposed to value.
Unlike the first touchstone, which tests an individual's Furwahrhalten against the criterion of external communicability, the second touchstone--although it can be communal insofar as another person can challenge the individual to wager--looks only to an individual's internal, emotive life. Both touchstones are alike in that they operate by discerning whether a particular assertion is commensurable with a larger whole. The first touchstone looks to the whole of hypothetical social agreement to reveal the source of particular assertions as private prejudices, whereas the second touchstone reveals whether particular assertions are rooted in aberrant passions that ultimately detract from a fully integrated life. Because the second touchstone looks not to the object but to the subject's own emotive self-assessment, it more successfully captures the subjective aspect of Furwahrhalten than the touchstone of external communicability. (63) This touchstone successfully maintains the difference between the subjective and objective conditions of holding something to be true, and consequently, the difference between faith and knowledge. The touchstone of communicability cannot lay claim to similar success in differentiating faith from knowledge, precisely because this touchstone muddles subjective internal grounds of belief with objective grounds independent of the subject. To try communicating my beliefs to others would only succeed in showing me whether what I hold to be true is a piece of knowledge or a mere opinion.
It is therefore a mistake for Lawrence Pasternack, the most thorough commentator on this issue, to gloss over betting as a minor point Kant brings up only with respect to pragmatic belief, and instead charge forward on the assumption that moral faith is only valid insofar as it is communicable. (64) In this Pasternack finds himself forced to dismiss as unimportant Kant's remark that "Belief yields a conviction that is not communicable (because of its subjective ground)," preferring to save the objective validity of the postulates by showing how they can be derived by a communicable process from the incommunicable first principle of belief: the fact of reason. (65) Having noticed the potential elision between faith and knowledge in Kant, Pasternack hopes to ground belief in God upon a conviction (the fact of reason) that is universally compelling (and therefore objective) yet nevertheless cannot be confused with epistemic warrant, "an unmediated conviction, in no way reliant upon any steps of inference necessary to get me to it." (66) Pasternack makes an excellent case that the fact of reason can be universally recognized to be valid, "but in a fundamentally private manner" that I cannot explain to another but only perform for myself. (67) Still, despite his admission that the conviction that marks the fact of reason has "something subjective" about it, yet "is not the subjectivity of persuasion," Pasternack avoids the following natural conclusion. (68) Kant has a notion of genuine practical conviction that is richly subjective insofar as it rests on private commitment, yet simultaneously rests upon the conditions for consistent moral agency as such and is in that sense objective and is therefore not persuasion.
To avoid Pasternack's mistake, it is important that we distinguish between the objectivity of moral conviction--which, as Pasternack notices with the fact of reason, is compelling for all moral agents even as it is incommunicable--from the objectivity of theoretical certainty, which is rigorously demonstrable. Without making this distinction, Pasternack regards the fact of reason as a kind of axiom, which he takes to certify the postulates as necessary steps for explaining the possibility of the highest good. (69) In the precise Kantian sense, however, a postulate is not a ground for explaining something (for that is what Kant calls a "hypothesis"), but is instead an assumption through which reason's independently valid need to produce the highest good becomes a self-consistent practical thought, one that addresses the considerable obstacles to moral striving presented by the world. (70) Through the postulates I sustain my hope for the highest good, a rather different project than to explain how it is possible that all is arranged for morality to prevail. (71)
It is not so much that there is some loose set of doctrines I should comprehend, but rather that there is a certain kind of person I am supposed to be--namely, one who does not flinch in the face of despair--and the postulates make this character sensible rather than fantastical. The inner work of self-transformation necessary to have such a disposition cannot be reduced to propositions, for one's character is a matter of continuous commitment. The firmness of the sort of conviction that marks moral faith is not a function of historical evidence or theoretically sophisticated hypotheses, but rather of one's commitment to the exigency of the highest good. (72) While we may certainly scrutinize the credenda of rational faith through public discussion of their logical coherence, we must acknowledge that Kant himself takes this to be insufficient for the actual possession of rational faith, which is in every case privately enacted; the form of Kantian faith is in this way incommunicable, even if its content is not. It follows that the proper means for testing valid moral conviction (whatever the content of the particular moral belief) is through the touchstone of betting.
Given the sort of errors in which Pasternack inevitably finds himself tangled through his assumption that moral conviction is communicable, a significant tension arises if we regard both touchstones as appropriate measures for testing moral conviction. The way to resolve the tension between the two touchstones is to interpret them as pertinent to differing kinds of Furwahrhalten. In theoretical matters of opinion and knowledge, the touchstone of communicability exposes me when my assertions are pseudoconvictions whose insecurity I do not acknowledge. If communicability were not necessary in this sphere, then the epistemic foundations of objective knowledge across knowing subjects would implode. In practical affairs of faith, however, the touchstone of communicability is unsuitable, for the way I take something to be true in faith is through my own act of ordering my life according to a considered priority of my practical interests, and not by claiming access to an external object open to others as well. Betting reveals the place I have given to a belief in my priorities; it reveals the extent to which I am invested in the assertions I make, which is a qualitatively different conviction from theoretical conviction. Nothing of consequence for my life hangs upon my conviction that seven and five make twelve, while something central to my existence as a moral agent hangs upon the faith that God arranges the world in accordance with moral desert. (73) Similarly, it would be preposterous to think that the subjective conditions through which the attainment of the highest good can be a sensible possibility for me, by themselves, justify my conviction that seven and five make twelve.
All In: Job Shows What Faith Is by Wagering Everything. In this section, I will argue that Kant's interpretation of the biography of Job, the figure of paramount conscientiousness, maps onto my solution to the aforementioned ambiguity in Kant's account of conviction. (74) Given that moral religion is the only religion that can be held with conviction, and that the conviction required in faith must be in accordance with the touchstone of betting rather than that of communicability, it follows that the true believer is the one whose faith does not waver when everything is taken away from him. He has so deeply invested himself in the hope that the world is structured for morality, and he has so deeply committed himself to be moral, that doing whatever it would take to regain happiness would be a rejection of the commitments that constitute his identity. (75) The biblical figure of Job best exemplifies this conviction because the stakes could not be higher--he could very well lose his life to God's wrath, whereas he could regain happiness by repenting for something he did not do, thereby tacitly admitting that God judges on a nonmoral basis--yet Job firmly keeps wagering that divine Providence is not arbitrary, without any theoretical proofs for the same which he could communicate to others. (76)
In the end, God reveals Nature to Job in its terrifying as well as beautiful aspects; in response to such an overwhelming array, Job continues to accept that the Creator is in charge of these creatures he transcends, and to refrain from any claim to understand how this is so (how the leviathan fits into God's plan, for example). (77) Spinoza's response to the same abyss Job sees could be nothing other than an abandonment of morality as an impossible project, given how strongly Spinoza is persuaded by his arguments that the hidden force behind all events is merely Nature blindly acting with eternal disregard to the moral desert of rational beings. (78) Stripped of all the happiness that Satan claims makes it easy for a person to praise God, Job shows an autonomous character, inasmuch as obedience to the moral law merely when reward is guaranteed is heteronomous. (79) Yet we should stress that Job is not wagering on God's goodness without any regard to future happiness, as that would take a superhuman fortitude Stoics and other moral enthusiasts like to affect. (80) Job is still convinced that God will do what is just, not merely because he wants to be happy (as any honest human being would admit), but primarily because he treasures integrity above all else. (81)
Job's comforters, on the other hand, are merely persuaded rather than convinced of God's goodness, since the mere sight of Job's misfortune--and with it, the realization the same could happen to them--so unnerves them that they anxiously go through whatever hollow motions they take God to arbitrarily favor. (82) They tacitly see God's character as tyrannically arbitrary and therefore less moral than their own, yet they would rather be on God's good side and have happiness than dare to live for the integrity of character that is the supreme condition of life's worth. Their hypocrisy stems from a character that inverts the priority of virtue over happiness: the human, all too human propensity of radical evil. (83) Job himself, on the other hand, sees integrity as the supreme good and the condition upon which happiness should be accorded to him--in defiance of all public accounts of religiosity and with frankness (Freimuthigkeit) even toward the God who could obliterate him--and in this way, he demonstrates how the truly moral person incarnates the truest kind of faith. (84)
It is for Job's freedom of mind, and the devoutness of heart it makes possible, that God commends Job as the only person who has spoken rightly of him; it is not the atheist who deserves the moniker of "freethinker," but the man of faith, Job. God wants no hypocrite for his servant but a person willing to meet God on his own terms, someone who does not pretend there is some place or rite or empty act behind which he can hide from God; in other words, God wants someone who is convinced that through conscientiousness one lives coram deo. (85) Whereas Uberredung gratifies Job's comforters in their empty talk, Job is not swayed from his faith by arguments, and in this steadfastness he shows a true grasp of what it means to have faith in God. If the first touchstone were reliable in matters of faith, then Job should have been able to convince his comforters, or be convinced by them, yet we find nothing the sort. To the Kantian way of reading Job's story, we miss the point entirely if we hold that Job and his comforters talk past one another simply because one party is more informed or articulate than the other. In the figure of Job, two aspects of Kantian religion come together in a perspicacious way: in how Job goes about his belief we see the form in which rational religion is to be practiced (with conviction), and in what he believes we see the content of that faith which is truly and fully believable (the credenda of moral faith).
By serving as the paradigm of ultimate conviction, Job also serves to show us why no other kind of belief than moral faith is amenable to conviction that would pass the test of the touchstone of betting, at least when it comes to how things ultimately stand with respect to our practical agency. Job completely embodies the nobility of heart which Spinoza's theoretically unjustifiable resistance to Providence kept him from having in full. Were Spinoza to insist that he does not need to believe in Providence because he does not need the highest good, this denial of the need of reason would be disingenuous posturing; one can only be persuaded of such a position in moments of self-conceit, for the serious contemplation of how far we are from the sublime moral law reveals this person cannot wager as Job does. (86) There can be no more honest response to the world's disharmony with morality than Job's response, wherein one so profoundly holds the absoluteness of integrity to be the highest truth that one never deviates from being truthful, and it is this singleness of direction that makes it necessary for the fully consistent moral agent to trust in God. (87) Morality inevitably leads to religion, not because of an often-overlooked theoretical subtlety of argument, but because of the conscientious character each moral agent is called to have.
Conclusion: Moral Certainty Stems from Moral Character. Having plumbed Kant's conception of conviction, the reader may recall that in the Canon of Pure Reason, Kant talks not only about conviction but certainty as well. Are they the same? No one can be totally uninterested in attaining conviction in matters of moral faith, but perhaps this is not the same thing as achieving certainty. After all, we have a proclivity to overestimate the bounds of our cognition, and therefore to desire certainty in matters of moral faith because we think we can get definitive answers--we are naturally curious to know for certain whether God exists, whether the soul is immortal, and so forth--but this craving after definitive answers can hinder our faith from being moral faith. To believe that God's existence is a purely theoretical question is to compartmentalize the issue to a portion of ourselves that has nothing to do with life-conduct, or with reason's need for such belief to improve this life-conduct.
Indeed, a believer's faith may falter when faced with arguments for atheism if he has not adequately seen how his faith is not a theoretical position refutable through argument. All that the believer needs to believe is to sincerely hold as true the insight that he cannot renounce this belief without violating his own conscience, the God within. (88) To be conscientious of this connection is to stand upon the fundamentum inconcussum of moral faith, which is not logical certainty but moral certainty.
Of course, no one will be able to boast that he knows that there is a God and a future life; for if he knows that, then he is precisely the man I have long sought. All knowing (if it concerns an object of reason alone) can be communicated, and I would therefore also be able to hope to have my knowledge extended to such a wonderful degree by his instruction. No, the conviction is not logical but moral certainty, and, since it depends on subjective grounds (of moral disposition) I must not even say "It is morally certain that there is a God," etc., but rather "I am morally certain" etc. That is, the belief in a God and another world is so interwoven with my moral disposition that I am in as little danger of ever surrendering the former as I am worried that the latter can ever be torn away from me. (89)
Here we see that Kant holds moral conviction and moral certainty to be one and the same, but this does not suffer the contradiction laden in Kant's earlier conflation of conviction with certainty under the touchstone of communicability. Unlike in theoretical matters, here there is no gap between the reality of my practical disposition and the way I encounter the same, between certainty and conviction. Both consist in maintaining a practical disposition that nobody else can enact for me, and the most elegant arguments in the world cannot, by themselves, force me to have this disposition. When Kant discusses Furwahrhalten in the Jasche Logic, he clarifies why declarations of moral certainty must occur on an individual basis ("I am morally certain ..."): "Hence I can only say that I see myself necessitated through my end, in accordance with laws of freedom, to accept as possible a highest good in the world, but I cannot necessitate anyone else through grounds (the belief is free)." (90) Kant's emphasis upon the inability of others to sway me into moral faith by means of argument confirms my interpretation that the proper touchstone for moral conviction cannot be its communicability.
I must choose to have this disposition, and my continual choice to be faithful to this need of reason constitutes the habitus that is moral faith. This habitus is indissoluble from my ethos, my character. The kind of faith I have depends upon the kind of character I have; that is why I would lose all self-respect if I were to renounce faith while being aware of reason's need for it. Were Spinoza aware of this need, he would have made this choice, the choice that defines Job's life, the choice whose necessity Job's dire circumstances bring to the fore. In choosing to have moral faith, I choose to be the sort of person who heeds the gap between reason's needs and his ability to meet them (that is, a person who is honest with himself), for having faith that God will close this gap is the only way I can avoid either reducing the moral law to my level or overestimating my own powers to fulfill it. (91)
In offering me a way out of the false dichotomy of undervaluing the moral law or overvaluing myself, faith offers me the only practical direction for moving forward and stepping into my own as a consistent moral agent. Someone can say that the obligation to have moral faith is a compulsion that alienates him from truly being himself, but no one who understands what we mean by moral faith can really be convinced that this is the case: "This moral faith is a practical postulate, in that anyone who denies it is brought ad absurdum practicum. An absurdum logicum is an absurdity in judgments; but there is an absurdum practicum when it is shown that anyone who denies this or that would have to be a scoundrel. And that is the case with moral faith." (92) In Kant's claim that it is simply an absurdity that one could see the need for moral faith and reject it, we see once more Kant's assurance that there is no human being so alienated from the good principle that he is totally deaf to the call of conscience, the divine voice that calls him to believe that this world's counterpurposiveness to morality is not the final story. (93)
To say that rejection of moral faith is an absurdum practicum is not to say, however, that one is helplessly constrained to believe it. Kant makes this point when he differentiates the conviction of moral faith from the conviction one has upon understanding a mathematical proof. (94) When someone proves to me that seven and five make twelve, the fact that I cannot help but be convinced in no way impinges upon my autonomy; but in the case of moral beliefs, a similarly automatic conviction would rob me of my freedom. I must choose to believe; that is why it makes sense to say faith is demanded of me. According to Neiman, this is also what Kant means when he says that faith must be held freely to be faith: "... the very process of basing something so crucial as faith upon the acceptance of facts (whether actually true or not) is slavish. The acceptance of faith, including the living of one's life according to the best of moral principles--if done as accession to received facts, instead of the use of one's own reason--is mere superstition." (95) The person who refuses to have moral faith unless an impeccable theoretical argument for God's existence is cogently explained is slavishly looking to be compelled into believing. (96) He wants no possible doubt to remain in his mind that might shake his faith, instead of recognizing faith as a matter of unshakeable character for which he is continuously responsible. If this person asks how it is possible that he can freely have faith when it is demanded of him, then he does not see that this dual aspect of faith he questions no more alienates him from being himself than self-rule impinges upon his freedom, or his obligation to the moral law precludes him from being free.
Were this person to actually gain the logical certainty about religious matters he requests, this would also obliterate his freedom in having any sort of conviction about them. "Hence our faith is not knowledge, and thank heaven it is not! For divine wisdom is apparent in the very fact that we do not know but rather ought to believe that a God exists." (97) If we had logical certainty about God's sovereignty and understood the innermost secrets of its workings--that is, if the assertions of moral faith had objective sufficiency in the epistemic sense--then "all morality would break down," because we could never act without the thought of divine punishment or reward foremost in our self-interested minds. (98) For us to return the incentive for the moral law to its rightful priority over the incentive of self-love within our maxims, it is necessary that we remain ignorant of God's designs in this vale of tears, able not to know but to trust in divine assistance, and through that habitual trust find ourselves on the path back to righteousness. The denial of knowledge makes genuineness in faith possible, just as it makes possible law-governed freedom. (99)
Thus when Kant says that morality inevitably leads to religion, he is not talking about an automatic compulsion to be religious that comes over the earnest moral agent like a seizure, but a profound awareness that moral faith is the only choice open to someone who sincerely and honestly strives to honor the infinite exigency of the moral law. There is a curious necessitation that permeates this choice, since nothing compels the moral individual to make it, and yet his very identity as someone committed to the moral law can only be maintained by making this one choice and no other. This necessitation is not self-contradictory any more than the call of duty, for it is one and the same call: the vocation, heard clearly in the heart of any conscientious individual, as if from himself yet somehow also beyond himself, to treasure his fellow subjects in the kingdom of ends so thoroughly that he will do and believe whatever is necessary to bring about that freer world known as the highest good. (100) The crucial insight driving Kant's religion is the acknowledgement of just how much we--if we are to be the sort of people we ought to be--stand in need of a Providence to whom we entrust the fulfillment of our moral striving without abdicating our responsibility in contributing to the same. The genuineness of moral faith cannot be tested by one's ability to respond to counterarguments in word but by one's willingness to risk everything in deed, and its true character is set apart from other kinds of dispositions by its commitment to integrity above all else.
Mississippi State University
(1) See Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason in Religion and Rational Theology, ed. and trans. Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 6:6, 59. References to the original German are from: Kants Gesammelte Schriften, herausgegeben vonder Koniglich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1914). The volume and page of the German text are given first, followed by the corresponding page numbers of the English translations, indicated henceforth by the following abbreviations:
C: Correspondence, ed. and trans. Arnulf Zweig (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999);
CPJ: Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2000);
CPrR: Critique of Practical Reason in Practical Philosophy, ed. and trans. Mary J. Gregor (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996);
CPuR: Critique of Pure Reason, ed. and trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
LPDR: Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion in Religion and Rational Theology, ed. and trans. Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
LE: Lectures on Ethics, ed. Peter Heath and J.B. Schneewind, trans. Peter Heath. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
LL: Lectures on Logic, ed. and trans. Michael J. Young (Cambridge University Press, 1992).
MT: "On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy," in Religion and Rational Theology, op. cit.
MM: The Metaphysics of Morals in Practical Philosophy, op.cit.
Orient: "What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?" in Religion and Rational Theology, op. cit.
RBR: Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason in Religion and Rational Theology, op. cit.
(2) Kant's insistence that morality leads to religion has perplexed many of his readers, from Goethe to Gordon Michalson. Goethe famously remarked that Kant had "smeared" his philosopher's cloak with the filth of original sin so as to get the priests to kiss its hem. See Gordon E. Michalson, Jr., Kant and the Problem of God (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 1999), 152 for reference. Goethe and Michalson are hardly alone on this point: for comparable views, see Allen Wood, Kant's Ethical Thought (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 314, and Philip J. Rossi, The Social Authority of Reason: Kant's Critique, Radical Evil, and the Destiny of Humankind (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005).
(3) Here I should emphasize that it is not my intention to present any of the particular creeds of Kantian religion as having a claim upon the reader. The purpose of my paper is not apologetics, but an elucidation of what Kant himself (so far as his texts imply) took to be the overall character of religious belief.
(4) I am interpreting Kant to mean that while the content of moral faith may be expressed propositionally (for example, "God commands nothing immoral"), the manner in which one holds to this is not itself a proposition which can be communicated, but is instead a disposition borne out by my acts (which may be misinterpreted or misunderstood by other people, but not by my conscience). This distinction between form and content seems to be what Kant has in mind by saying that "matters of faith" are not reducible to "articles of faith." 5:469, CJ 333. My conviction that God commands nothing immoral remains a matter of faith, even if I fail to convince others that this is true. Conversely, many people publicly espouse articles of faith without actually believing in what they profess. Kant's disgust regarding mandatory public confessions of faith presupposes this distinction between the truth of an article of faith and the extent to which I am being truthful when I affirm it; to tell myself I believe an article of faith I in fact do not believe is to contravene my conscience, and thereby to lie before God, as Kant takes the Book of Job to exemplify. See 8:267-8, MT 34-5. For the sake of brevity, I will not repeat that my discussion centers upon the form of Kantian faith rather than its content, that is, articles of faith, although the reader is asked to bear this in mind continually.
(5) Those who interpret Kant to be saying that moral faith is an epistemologically and practically legitimate option for a moral agent, but is nonetheless optional rather than necessary for fully coherent moral agency, are at odds with Kant's assertion that postulating God's existence is "a practically necessary end of a pure rational will, which does not here choose; instead, it obeys an inflexible command of reason that has its ground objectively in the character of things as they must be appraised universally by pure reason, ..." 5:143, CPrR 255.
(6) Kant thereby hopes to distance his understanding of faith from the pathological self-indulgence that marks most religious hypocrisy, which is just a covert desire for sumptuous delights or some such "Mohammed's paradise." Kant often stresses the difference between this crypto-eudaimonism and his postulates. See 5:120-1, CPrR 237.
In the B Preface and Introduction, the Copernican hypothesis is the "touchstone" that tests the validity of knowledge claims (most notably at A13/B27). This is of a piece with Kant's famous injunction that all things must be submitted to critique. Kant's use of the term "touchstone" in the Canon of Pure Reason retains this sense of a procedure for discerning the genuine from the spurious, but does not require its user to have explicitly made the Copernican turn, for with respect to issues of practical import, that would mean that no one could have had genuine faith before Kant's critical project. My discussion of Kant's touchstones will follow this connotation of the term from the Canon.
(7) Chignell is an exception to this rule, as he notices this tension and endeavors to parse out how this ambiguity need not vitiate the strength of Kant's epistemological claims concerning the validity of knowledge. Andrew Chignell, "Belief in Kant," Philosophical Review 116.3 (2007): 323-60. Chignell notes the prevalent neglect of this issue in Kant scholarship in his opening paragraphs. Chignell's analysis follows and responds to an earlier article by Stevenson. Leslie Stevenson, "Opinion, Belief or Faith, and Knowledge," Kantian Review 7 (2003): 72-101.
(8) Stevenson is almost exclusively concerned with the epistemic status of faith, explicitly brushing over Kant's conception of moral faith at several points (for example, Stevenson, "Opinion, Believe or Faith, and Knowledge," 72 and 97). Chignell, in following Stevenson, does much the same, preferring to sort out to the extent to which certifiable theoretical grounds are necessary for a subject to be said to believe in (rather than know) a proposition. Moral faith is also a tangential issue for Chignell, relegated to a few cursory pages at the end of his analysis. The nature of practical conviction, as well as the means for distinguishing it from persuasion, hardly concerns them at all. Given that the religious dimension of Kant's practical philosophy is my concern, my analysis will only briefly mention Chignell and Stevenson at points.
(9) The only instance I can find of Kant explicitly acknowledging a plurality of touchstones occurs at one point in the Blomberg Logic, where he states: "We have 2 methods for grounds of holding-to-be-true. The agreement of other men with our opinions, and the testing of our thought according to other men's sentiments, is really a most outstanding logical test of our understanding by the understanding of others," 24:150, LL 118. Kant's published writings treat these two methods as if they are one and the same, and yet he often relies upon another method for testing an individual's convictions (betting) whose substantive difference from comparison of opinions Kant does not acknowledge.
(10) I hold that by seeing the touchstones as suited to different kinds of Furwahrhalten--the one pertaining to issues of opinion and knowledge, the other more suited to practical affairs of faith--one can show their commensurability.
(11) Pasternack notices that since Kant distinguishes faith from knowledge by saying the former lacks objectively sufficient grounds, Kant's designation of the postulates (of God and immortality) as objectively valid threatens to vitiate their character as objects of belief. Pasternack proposes a solution to this dilemma by saying that it is the fact of reason that--because of its subjectivity as an incommunicable conviction--is the one true object of genuine practical conviction, and conviction in the postulates is derived from that. Since Pasternack fails to notice the ambiguity surrounding Kant's account of subjective and objective sufficiency, to say nothing of the plurality of touchstones for discerning genuine conviction, he falls into some of the self-contradictions he worries might be ascribed to Kant. Lawrence Pasternack, "The Development and Scope of Kantian Belief: The Highest Good, The Practical Postulates and The Fact of Reason," Kant-Studien 102 (2011): 290-315. I will point out Pasternack's errors and, by extension, how my interpretation obviates these problems in Section IV.
(12) The error shared by Stevenson, Chignell and Pasternack is that all three of them take the postulation of God's existence to be a matter of finding justificatory grounds for a proposition, which makes it sound as if faith can be arrived at independently of doing the private, inner work on one's own character necessary to have a sincere disposition, since propositions can be assessed in a public discussion. The essence of faith, however, is a self-chosen transformation of my disposition, which no one else can induce, not even God. See 5:147-8, CPrR 258, as well as 5:481, CPJ 343.
(13) The connection between Job and Kant's theory of valid belief is not an arbitrary one, but is suggested by Kant's description of his own faith in his letter to Lavater of 28 April 1775: "You ask for my opinion of your discussion of faith and prayer. Do you realize whom you are asking? A man who believes that, in the final moment, only the purest candor concerning our most hidden inner convictions can stand the test and who, like Job, takes it to be a crime to flatter God and make inner confessions, perhaps forced out by fear, that fail to agree with what we freely believe," 10:175-6, C 152. That Kant should describe religious conviction as not only "inner" but also "hidden" strongly implies that Kant regards this devotion as incommunicable and separate from articles of faith. See also 27:723-4, LE 445: "But the sincere or inner conviction that we mean by faith, i.e., that of the opinion we grant approval to on closer examination, is then quite different [from socially enforced confessions of faith]; the conviction that dwells in a man after plumbing the depths of his inner state, and the confession that he honestly makes only to God, is necessary for moral faith."
(14) I will leave aside the issue of Kant's fairness or unfairness to Spinoza's thought, to say nothing of a similar fairness or unfairness to the wide variety of atheists in his time and ours.
(15) See 27:312, LE 100.
(16) See 5:452, CPJ 317.
(17) See 5:452, CPJ 317-8.
(18) See 5:452-3, CPJ 318.
(19) Here one might think of Sidney Axinn's The Logic of Hope, which tries to parse out the precise logical viability of Kantian religion as "rational hope." Sidney Axinn, The Logic of Hope: Extensions of Kant's View of Religion (Atlanta, GA: Rodopi), 1994. While Axinn's argument is too complex to treat in full here, I think Axinn's dismissal of the necessity for hope in the highest good is seriously misguided. Axinn argues that "[a] purely rational mind [that is, God's], caring only for consistency, might still make the distribution [of happiness] inversely as the worthiness of individuals." Axinn, The Logic of Hope, 237. Axinn's portrayal of practical rationality here is seriously barren, and cannot square with Kant's notion of imperfect duties, such as working to make others happy in accordance with their worthiness, which presuppose a substantive conception of personhood and what sort of behavior befits human dignity, thereby going beyond the logical self-consistency of maxims alone.
(20) See 5:451, CPJ 317. "Suppose, then, that a person were to convince himself ... that there is no God; he would still be worthless in his own eyes if on that account he were to hold the laws of duty to be merely imaginary, invalid, and nonobligatory, and were to decide to transgress them without fear."
(21) See 5:451-2, CPJ 317.
(22) See 6:185, RBR 202.
(23) 5:471, CPJ 335.
(24) 5:472, CPJ 336.
(25) See 5:471-3, CPJ 336.
(26) 27:312, LE 100.
(27) See 28:1010, LE 355.
(28) See 6:163, RBR 185.
(29) See A820/B848, CPuR 684.
(30) A820/B848CPuR 685.
(31) See A820/B848, CPuR 685. "Persuasion is a mere semblance [Schein], since the ground of the judgment, which lies solely in the subject, is held to be objective. Hence such a judgment also has only private validity, and this taking something to be true cannot be communicated."
(32) See A820/B848, CPuR 685. "Truth, however, rests upon agreement with the object, with regard to which, consequently, the judgments of every understanding must agree (consentientia uni tertio, consentiunt inter se [Because of agreement with a third thing, they agree among themselves])."
(33) A822/B850, CPuR 686.
(34) Stevenson, "Opinion, Belief or Faith, and Knowledge," 77-8.
(35) Susan Neiman, The Unity of Reason: Rereading Kant, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1994), 157: "A statement is subjectively sufficient if the causes on the basis of which it is held would be sufficient to enable any reasonable being to make the same assertion in a similar situation. A judgment is objectively sufficient, on the other hand, if the grounds upon which it rests involve knowledge of an object (according to the criteria that have been laid out in the first part of the Critique of Pure Reason)."
(36) See 5:467, CPJ 331.
(37) Neiman, The Unity of Reason, 157.
(38) See 5:469, CPJ 333.
(39) A827/B855, CPuR 688.
(40) See 8:139-40, Orient 12-3.
(41) See 8:146, Orient 17. This is why Kant says a person with a solid moral disposition can never fall into unbelief. See 5:146, CPrR 257.
(42) 5:121, CPrR 237-8.
(43) 5:143n, CPrR 255. It is ridiculous to believe in something merely because you want it to be true; what makes this ridiculous, according to Kant, is not that you take something to exist from the sheer idea of it, but rather the fact that one could just as well not want it. Because we are beholden to the moral law, however, no one can want to maintain that the highest good is impossible. See 5:144, CPrR 256.
(44) A820/B848-A821/B849, CPuR 685.
(45) 6:157-8, RBR 180.
(46) Chignell notices the aforementioned ambiguity within Kant's conception of objective sufficiency, and thinks it is resolved by appeal to intersubjective communication; see Chignell, "Belief in Kant," 337. Stevenson suggests this strategy as well, and in the process, also acknowledges only one touchstone for differentiating conviction from persuasion: "... when Kant says that private validity cannot be communicated ... [w]hat he must mean is that, if one has only subjective causes for a belief (mere 'private validity'), one cannot communicate any publicly recognizable justification for it--for one has no such justification to transmit." Stevenson, "Opinion, Belief or Faith, and Knowledge," 77.
(47) In Faith and Knowledge, Hegel proposes that Kant's framework is flawed at its core for precisely this sort of problem: try as it might, it cannot successfully keep objectivity and subjectivity apart, because this rigid dichotomy is artificial in the first place. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Faith and Knowledge, trans, and ed. Walter Cerf and H.S. Harris (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1977), 95. Unwilling to go as far as Hegel, Stevenson and Chignell chalk all potential elisions between subjective and objective sufficiency in Kant as categorical mistakes arising from errors in the terms one applies to certain kinds of propositional attitudes, to be solved by taxonomies that reflect their respective understanding of Kant's epistemological commitments. See Chignell, "Belief in Kant," 358, and Stevenson, "Opinion, Belief or Faith, and Knowledge," 82. The distinctions between kinds of Furwahrhalten they draw are in essence no different than those articulated--with more matter and less art--by Neiman, so I pass over them here. What matters is that they do not notice a divergence in Kant's methods of discerning conviction, so--since one touchstone is better suited to theoretical issues, whereas the other is suited to practical matters (as I will show)--their relative unconcern with Kant's moral philosophy disallows them from seeing the deeper conflict at hand.
(48) In keeping with Kant's system, a dispute about the validity of belief in God could not be decided through appeal to evidence; such a belief must be objectively insufficient because the object in question is cut off from us.
(49) Flabbergasted that the Kantian system could be so rational and yet meet with such resistance, Karl Leonhard Reinhold was inspired to differentiate what is allgemeingultig (universally valid) from what is allgemeingeltend (universally recognized as valid). Between Kant and Hegel: Texts in the Development of Post-Kantian Idealism, trans, and ed. George di Giovanni and H.S. Harris (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000), 10-11. The lack of such an explicit distinction in Kant makes it difficult to notice the inadequacy of communicability as a touchstone for moral faith.
(50) CPuR 688-9
(51) The unsuitability of the touchstone of communicability regarding matters of faith--that is, its failure to discern the presence of subjective sufficiency apart from objective sufficiency--is inevitable, given that Kant's justification for this touchstone muddles the meanings of subjective and objective. The validity Kant takes communicability to indicate trades on a principle which conflates 1) potential consensus among all subjects with 2) agreement between a subject's judgment and the constitution of the object; see A820/B848, CPuR 685. Thus the principle behind the touchstone of communicability blends subjective conviction with objective conditions of logical certainty. Communicability is therefore a better touchstone for testing the validity of forms of Furwahrhalten wherein objective sufficiency is possible, namely, opinion and knowledge.
(52) A824/B852-A825/B853, CPuR 687.
(53) Such blustering entails an "inner lie" which violates the dignity of one's personhood. See 6:429-30, MM 552-3.
(54) Otherwise, the inclination to not lose happiness would be the determining basis of one's will in fulfilling the duty to have conviction in one's moral faith, and one would be fulfilling a duty out of self-love rather than respect for the moral law. Kant overstates his case, I think, when he writes that someone who does not believe in God--and who is "separated from the moral interest by the absence of all good dispositions"--still has to take an interest in the question of God's existence because "even in this case there is enough [of the good disposition] left to make him fear a divine existence and a future." A829/B857; A830/B858, CPuR 689-90. Pathological fear of divine punishment, although certainly tied up with one's happiness in living a whole life, proceeds out of self-love rather than respect for the moral law, which 1) is Kant's definition of evil, and 2) is not legitimately binding upon all human beings. Subsequently, Kant clarifies that the righteous person's sacrosanct interest in morality is nonprudential, and for that reason he is absolutely justified in saying "I will not let this belief be taken from me." 5:143, CPrR 255. Notice the similarity between this person's declaration and Job's declaration that "Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me" (Job 27:5-6), which Kant cites with approval; see 8:267, MT 33. The similarity of these two cases suggests Kant may have had the example of Job in mind during this discussion of unshakable faith.
(55) See 24:149, LL 117-8: "However certain it is that a circle has 360[degrees], however apodeictic the Platonic theorems in geometry are, still no one would want to die for their infallibility and irrefutability. Belief in accordance with practical, and in particular in accordance with moral laws, however, has full power to strengthen the subject who has it with full confidence, and to bring that subject to the point that it will hold to it in spite of all dangers and unhappiness[,] even when it concerns the decision concerning everything that affects the subject's weal and woe." Note that the full confidence one has in believing something on moral grounds is not shaken by the threat of losing one's happiness, which confirms my interpretation in the previous footnote.
(56) See A830/B858n, CPuR 689.
(57) See 6:430, MM 553.
(58) See 6:189, RBR 205.
(59) Pascal's wager begins with the thought that reason finds itself in an untenable agnostic equilibrium. Blaise Pascal, Pensees, trans, and ed., Roger Ariew (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2005), 212. Inasmuch as Kant agrees that it is not possible to remain indifferent to matters of faith once one sees their practical import, he would agree with Pascal that one must come to a decision about God's existence. Pascal, on the other hand, believes that reason alone cannot help us make up our minds because it has no interest of its own, so we must attend to our desire for maximal happiness in order to "incline" one way or the other, in order to escape the aforementioned equilibrium. In Kantian terms, Pascal presumes that all incentives are empirical incentives (that is, inclinations), and does not acknowledge the nonempirical interest in morality intrinsic to reason.
(60) See 6:430, MM 553.
(61) Pascal would not be willing to wager his happiness in order to maintain his belief in God, since it is this very desire for happiness that underwrites his faith. Furthermore, there is no way that Pascal could stake his self-respect upon his belief in God if he has come to it in such a hypocritical manner.
(62) A consistent utilitarian would have to accept the logic of Pascal's wager, or else find sufficient theoretical reasons for not believing in God (which, of course, rejects the agnostic conditions of the wager).
(63) This may also explain why betting is our usual touchstone for distinguishing conviction from persuasion, as Kant observes at A824/B852, CPuR 687.
(64) Pasternack, "The Development and Scope of Kantian Belief," 299. I focus upon Pasternack here, rather than Chignell and Stevenson, because he draws a substantive connection between Kant's conception of Furwahrhalten and the issue of moral agency.
(65) See Pasternack, "The Development and Scope of Kantian Belief," 295: "If we follow Kant's comment in Reflexion 2489, 'Belief yields a conviction that is not communicable (because of its subjective ground)," we may choose to treat belief as exempt from the communicability criterion. Its putative incommunicability does seem consistent with its absence of objective sufficiency." I suspect Pasternack dismisses this passage because he does not acknowledge that Kant himself muddles the meaning of objective and subjective sufficiency in the Canon of Pure Reason, and that sways Pasternack to regard only the first touchstone mentioned in the Canon as the sole touchstone for belief, thereby taking up the attendant problems of holding all conviction to be communicable. As mentioned above, Chignell does notice Kant's conflation, but simply does not concern himself with the implications of it for Kant's practical philosophy.
(66) Pasternack, "The Development and Scope of Kantian Belief," 311. Pasternack neglects the possibility that I can think about something in order to arrive at belief in God without that meaning that my conviction in God's existence is a theoretical conviction. By acknowledging only unmediated conviction as practically legitimate, Pasternack seems to echo Jacobi's claim that discursive reasoning is intrinsically antithetical to the intuitive trust of faith. It hardly needs to be said that there is a significant divergence between Kant and Jacobi on this issue. See 8:142-3, Orient 14-5.
(67) Pasternack, "The Development and Scope of Kantian Belief," 315. "Our mode of assent to the Fact of Reason cannot be opinion since the Fact is a priori. It cannot be knowledge since there are no warrants to give us objective sufficiency. Yet assent here is objectively valid: it is 'valid for all human reason' as in every action, one 'always holds the maxim of the will in an action up to the pure will'." Pasternack, "The Development and Scope of Kantian Belief," 311. The text Pasternack quotes here is 5:47, CPrR 165.
(68) Pasternack, "The Development and Scope of Kantian Belief," 315.
(69) See Pasternack, "The Development and Scope of Kantian Belief," 312: "... their relationship to the Fact of Reason can be communicated just as any other explanatory or justificatory step of reasoning would be. The basis for the communicability and objective validity for the Postulates and the Highest Good has thus been identified. But in doing so, they begin to take on something of the appearance of knowledge rather than belief since assent has been shown to depend upon epistemic relationships to other propositions." I would argue that this "appearance" is no coincidence, for in taking all valid belief to be communicable (with the ad hoc exception of the fact of reason), Pasternack makes moral faith strictly propositional.
(70) See 5:125-6, CPrR 241. Here Kant clarifies that although it cannot be my duty to believe in God, it is my duty to believe in the practicability of the moral law, which then requires that I believe in God's existence as moral lawgiver. It follows that there is an indirect practical necessity to belief in God.
(71) See 8:141-2, Orient 14.
(72) See 8:141n, Orient 14.
(73) As Kant notes, nobody dies for the sake of defending mathematical propositions, but people can and do die for "moral propositions," and "a certain kind of merit" pertains to someone who adopts the resolve that defines moral faith. See 24:149-50, LL 117-8.
(74) See 24:855, LL 307: "Belief is firm, then, when it leads a rational man to neglect the advantages of his life for his belief. He who is moved by duty and hope combined to renounce all advantages believes and is convinced. In regard to its effect on the subject, this holding-to-be-true will not yield to the highest certainty, and practical conviction is the strongest possible. This practical conviction can fall on certain propositions, and these are then morally certain propositions. These are the ground of all morality, and they agree with our greatest conscientiousness, if we live according to them and thus subordinate our actions to them." Notice that Kant's discussion of conviction links willingness to wager one's happiness with firmness of faith. Also note that the scenario Kant depicts here maps perfectly onto Job's biography, and that Kant describes the person who responds in this way as "conscientious," the same word he uses for Job.
(75) See 25:149-50, LL 117-8.
(76) See 8:265, MT 32.
(77) Elizabeth Cameron Galbraith, Kant and Theology: Was Kant a Closet Theologian? (San Francisco: International Scholars Publications, 1996), 46: "... this is the person who is silenced by the deity's self-manifestation in the natural order. But it is also the person who, despite a total failure to comprehend the way in which justice prevails, makes an unreserved commitment, in the quiet hope that it must." See Job 42:1-3.
(78) See 5:452-3, CPJ 317-8. It should be noted that Kant goes on here to emphasize that Spinoza can respond to the world's counterpurposiveness to morality by taking up a belief in Providence, but only at the expense of his theoretical conclusions, in which he has a misplaced trust. Spinoza can only do this "if he would remain attached to the appeal of his inner moral vocation." By being so strongly attached to his inner moral vocation, rather than his theoretical comprehension (or lack thereof), Job has already made the proper choice regarding his attachments, and has a character defined through the repetition of that choice in the face of all obstacles and opinions to the contrary.
(79) Galbraith, Kant and Theology, 50. See also Job 1:9-10.
(80) See 5:86, CPrR 209.
(81) See 8:267, MT 33. See also Job 27:5-6.
(82) Since the beliefs of Job's comforters hold about God ultimately stem from eudaimonistic inclinations, they do not have subjective sufficiency, that is, they are not valid for all rational subjects. It follows that they can only be persuaded of these views, and not convinced of them. Their spurious faith that God will reward them for lip service is therefore akin to the pseudo-faith of Pascal that God accepts those who come to him through cost-benefit analysis. If God were to change his mind about what is just, these yes-men would unscrupulously follow suit, and thus their so-called faith is inconstant and superficial.
(83) See 8:265-6, MT 32.
(84) See 8:266-7, MT 33. "Hence only sincerity of heart and not distinction of insight; honesty in openly admitting one's doubts; repugnance to pretending conviction where one feels none, especially before God (where this trick is pointless enough)--these are the attributes which, in the person of Job, have decided the preeminence of the honest man over the religious flatterer in the divine verdict."
(85) Joseph P. Lawrence, "Moral Mysticism in Kant's Religion of Practical Reason," in Kant's Legacy: Essays in Honor of Lewis White Beck, ed. Predrag Cicovacki (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2001), 311-32. See especially Lawrence, "Moral Mysticism," 328-29.
(86) For the hollowness of self-conceit, see 5:85-6, CPrR 209.
(87) A.L. Loades, Kant and Job's Comforters (Great Britain: Unwin Brothers, 1985), 145: "... it is important to recognize the centrality of truthfulness to what Kant meant by saying that he was morally certain that there was a God. Here, as Jaspers rephrased Kant, one has to do with the very ethos of the Biblical religion, which demands veracity at all costs, not only because it is essential to human dignity, but because it remains the only possible mode of conceiving a relation to transcendent deity."
(88) See A828/B856, CPuR 688-9: "For [with moral faith] it is absolutely necessary that something must happen, namely, that I fulfill the moral law in all points. The end here is inescapably fixed, and according to all my insight there is possible only a single condition under which this end is consistent with all ends together and thereby has practical viability, namely, that there be a God and a future world; I also know with complete certainty that no one else knows of any other conditions that lead to this same unity of ends under the moral law. But since the moral precept is thus at the same time my maxim (as reason commands that it ought to be), I will inexorably believe in the existence of God and a future life, and I am sure that nothing can make these beliefs unstable, since my moral principles themselves, which I cannot renounce without becoming contemptible in my own eyes, would thereby be subverted." For Kant's notion of conscience as the voice of God, see 6:437-40, MM 559-62.
(89) A828/B856-A829/B857, CPuR 689. As the second sentence of this passage implies, moral certainty (in contradistinction to knowledge) cannot be communicated. It follows that the touchstone of communicability cannot discern when an individual has the conviction definitive of moral certainty.
(90) 9:69, LL 573.
(91) In which case, I would have to indulge in moral fanaticism. See 5:126-7, CPrR 242.
(92) 28:1083, LPDR 415.
(93) See 5:458, CPJ 323.
(94) See 28:1083, LPDR 415.
(95) Neiman, The Unity of Reason, 161-2.
(96) See 8:145, Orient 17. Here Kant defines superstition as "the complete subjection of reason to facts."
(97) 28:1084, LPDR 415.
(98) 28:1084, LPDR 415-6.
(99) "Knowledge of God's purposes would not produce genuine reverence.... The theoretical certainty that the speculative thinker seeks would, if it could be found, produce law and order at the cost of turning the universe into a police state so thorough that every concept of responsibility and value would be lost." Neiman, The Unity of Reason, 163.
(100) See 5:548-9, CPJ 322-3.
Correspondence to: Joseph S. Trullinger, Department of Philosophy and Religion, PO Box JS, Campus Mail Stop 9577, Mississippi State, MS 39762; email@example.com.
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|Author:||Trullinger, Joseph S.|
|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2013|
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