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Kant categorical imperative simply seems to me a rational founding for a Christian ethic. As this is the centre-piece of his moral philosophy, it seems to me he is at least morally a Christian Philosopher. Of course this should not be surprising as his religious affiliation is as a Pietist - but I know that I would have found it surprising when I first started off in philosophy; as his denotation as a philosopher (to my mind at least) separates his thinking from Christian theology and morality.

Should one really call him a Christian philosopher in the same way for example one calls al-Ghazali an Islamic philosopher? (It may be of course untrue that Kants moral precept is Christian-like and that I have simply misunderstood the nature of the categorical imperative).

  • Just an aside: the categorical imperative, whatever its place in Kant’s philosophy, is by no means Christian. Indeed, it’s often touted by atheists as a (superior) rational (and therefore secular) alternative to the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, or other such rules derived from religious texts. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 22 '13 at 10:54
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I don't know why you'd constrain that thought to the Golden Rule only. Neither do I know about al-Ghazali, so I can't point out any similarities, but my first answer would be: definitely yes!

Just take a look at Kant's moral aims - the categorical imperative (together with the rational religion as presented in Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason) serves the formation of the Kingdom of God on Earth (though the Categorical Imperative doesn't "serve" anything as a purpose [it has its purpose in itself], every action has its outcome, and the outcome of everybody obeying the CI plus living in a rational ethical community would be the Kingdom of God). That God, independent of our inability to recognize his nature, is postulated as the Christian God (at least I think so, should probably check that out). Kant proposes a totally different approach to religion and God, but his morality cannot be thought independently of them. Morality makes a human being free, and to be moral, they need the certainty that their felicity isn't contrary to morality (that's a thought that, too, can be found in Religion). Only the idea of a/the God can assure us that this isn't the case. The perfect community needs a God and a rational religion, not as foundation but as completion.

  • +1: I only constrain it to the Golden Rule as I have only the barest understanding of Christian Theology. I see why its called the 'kingdom of ends'. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 19 '13 at 14:25
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Assuming that you are referring to the Golden Rule, two things may apply.

A. It is apparently debatable whether the first formulation of the Categorical Imperative is equivalent to the Golden Rule. See Wikipedia.

B. Also on Wikipedia:

According to Simon Blackburn, although the Golden Rule "can be found in some form in almost every ethical tradition", the rule is "sometimes claimed by Christianity as its own".

The list of traditions, religions, and what have you, provided on the entire page seems to support (the first part) of that.


NB: The first of the Wikipedia links refers to (the thinking of) "Ken Bilmore". With near certainty, that should be "Ken Binmore".

  • I think an between the 'Golden Rule' to Kants Principle is roughly similar to the discovery of the 'Pythagoras Theorem' this was understood empirically, before being understood theoretically; and its character illuminated further in the modern era. This doesn't obviate the original discovery nor its understanding. Of course this example is on the mathematical plane and not the moral. I'd consider it plausible that on the moral plane the three formulations that Kant offers could be intuitively grasped without necessarily going through the theoretical reasoning process that Kant does. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 19 '13 at 7:14
  • That covers point A. For point B, rather than Pythagora's theorem consider arithmetic - the same holds, it was understood empirically first, then theoretically; and there have been further developments in the modern era. Arithmetic has been discovered by most cultures. One wouldn't expect Kant to have taken his precept from say the Islamic religion when his own was so much closer. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 19 '13 at 7:18
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No. Kant's philosophy is generally too critical to be compatible with common strands of Christianism which are based on personal faith. Moreover, his idea of God is not compatible with Christian doctrine at a close look - neither with catholic nor with protestant doctrine, as they are taught within the various Christian churches.

That is not to say that Kant wasn't a Christian or that some very moderate forms of Christianism cannot endorse parts of his moral philosophy. Christian ethics is also virtue-based to some extent.

  • 1
    Christianity is more than what's taught in churches. On the same argument, one shouldn't call Luther a Christian philosopher in the 15th/16th century, because his doctrine wasn't taught in churches (yet). One can be a Christian philosopher and in the meanwhile agitate against the church or the Bible. – Keelan Apr 19 '13 at 9:05
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    I think I agree with Keelan here. Sunnis & Shiites disagree on their theology; and sufis are radically different. But from the perspective of an outsider they're all islamic. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 19 '13 at 15:19
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    So do I. Kant is probably more Christian than the Catholic Church. Maybe not, but his non-conformity still isn't reason enough to dismiss him as a Christian thinker. – iphigenie Apr 19 '13 at 17:52
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Kant philosophy has no Relation or connection to the bible and/ or New Testament so is therefore not Christian. All your Muslim religions are distinct, but connected to the Koran. You can't be a Christian if you don't believe the New Testament is the word of your god. Kant did not want a church and his desire for moral principles & reason was his "devotion" - I believe he was an agnostic & perhaps an atheist- certainly a clear belief in human rights over god's laws. Please also take note that his attendance @ the seminary was at best sporadic. Moral principles are deduced not given - god is not needed in this process. God or gods maybe needed in other context but Kantian philosophy doesn't need god, just humans and truthful sincerity & reason. Kant's philosophy is not Christian or bhuddist or Muslim or Hindu etc

  • You did hear of this totally irrelevant thing called Protestantism, didn't you? Kant clearly has a specific reading of the Bible, essentially that its main purpose is to lead us to moral belief instead of a dogmatic one, institutionalised in churches. That makes him Christian, but neither catholic, anglistic, puritanic or whatever. – Philip Klöcking Jul 19 '16 at 15:24
  • Kants family background was a pietist, it would be strange if this did not have some kind of influence on his thinking. – Mozibur Ullah Jul 26 '16 at 11:57

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