Apaar Kumar: Theology as the Handmaiden of Philosophy?: Kant on the Relationship between Faith and Reason

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For Apaar Kumar, Kant’s discussion of the relation between reason and faith marked a major shift from Aquinas’s. With Aquinas, reason was subordinated to faith: only revealed theology could permit a knowledge of God. Kant disagreed: in what he called the ‘religion of reason’, rational faith could happen only through rational inquiry. In other words, for Kant, reason and belief were not diametrically opposed; the centrality of reason for human understanding did not imply a logical rejection of all things religious. Kant did not assert the existence of God, but he adopted a regulative position: we can postulate that there is a God; we can act ‘as if’ there was a God.


Rationally, for Kant, the existence of a God can make sense only if it is a response to a human need. This is the need for a faraway horizon, an ultimate destination for the efforts of a humanity going towards progress. And getting there is truly an effort: human agents performing the good are rarely immediately rewarded. It takes patience, and, literally, faith. With a Kierkegaardian vocabulary, we could suggest that each human would need to undertake a ‘leap of faith’ to make the regulative speculation of God into an assertive one. The final justification of God is its ability to act as an incentive to motivate people to good action.

Kant’s discourse on religion matches with the larger project of his thought: bringing previously unquestioned disciplines into the space of debate, the public sphere. He was one of the first thinkers to challenge the authority of clergymen, jurists and physicists, and to dream of a world where all citizens, armed with reason, could critically address all possible authorities.


For Kant, theoretical reason culminates in practical reason – it is therefore practical reason that matters the most. It is, similarly, for practical purposes that the postulate of God is primordial. The human has an inescapable limitation: our reason is oriented towards the ends of our actions. In the human realm, there is no reason for reason’s sake. The balance is upturned: the human needs faith, she needs the God hypothesis to motivate her to follow reason on the way to humanity’s moral improvement. Rational faith emerges as a need for practical reason. Belief comes from the structure of human reason.

Kant’s final goal is the construction of an ultimate ethical commonwealth. Superstition leads to irrational actions that may deteriorate the community; but reason cannot lead to any harmful action, because it is universal. The promise of God is still a source of motivation for this ultimate goal. Speculative theological exploration must be the starting ground for new religions and spirituality.


Implicit in Kant’s position is an advocacy of Christianity. Kant presents Christianity as the religion of reason. Christ is not forcing anyone, but only indicating the path of love: he relies upon the individual human’s reason. Pushing Apaar Kumar’s argument further, Kant’s utopian ‘cosmopolitan society’ could be read as a form of dissimulated Christian society. While this neatly closes Kant’s system, and reinforces its coherence, it also reveals the philosopher’s cultural influences. If the teleology of Kant is so particular, so Christian, how could the medium of this teleology – reason – be absolutely universal? Isn’t Kant’s avowed religious leaning revealing the Achilles’ heel of Kant’s claim for a universal conception of the human?

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One response to “Apaar Kumar: Theology as the Handmaiden of Philosophy?: Kant on the Relationship between Faith and Reason

  1. Pingback: 2013 Science and Religion Workshop | Barefoot Philosophers·

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