At one point in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Kant says:

So it is not surprising that an Apostle represents this invisible enemy, who is known only through his operations upon us and who destroys basic principles, as being outside us and, indeed, as an evil spirit: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood (the natural inclinations) but against principalities and powers – against evil spirits.”

Now, as far as the postulates of practical reason go, the postulate of God is introduced as a positive solution to a problem, not as the figuration of an ultimate enemy. Still, I find it peculiar that in the Groundwork, Kant says:

... it [the abstract-perfectionist view] is nevertheless preferable to the theological view, first, because we have no intuition of the divine perfection and can only deduce it from our own conceptions, the most important of which is that of morality, and our explanation would thus be involved in a gross circle; and, in the next place, if we avoid this, the only notion of the Divine will remaining to us is a conception made up of the attributes of desire of glory and dominion, combined with the awful conceptions of might and vengeance, and any system of morals erected on this foundation would be directly opposed to morality. [emphasis added]

He's just about as harsh with respect to one of the empiricist viewpoints, saying something about destroying the sublimity of the moral law and extinguishing the distinction between right and wrong; but he also says (again in the Religion) that the Stoics were amiss to identify their moral enemy in empirical inclinations. So either Kant had an equally harsh opinion of one version of empirical and one version of abstract ethics, or he ultimately portrayed the divine-power concept as the worst possible in terms of the thinking in play (the four families of deficient moral theories, according to Kant's scheme, take principles of understanding, under their fourfold heading, and not reason for their axioms, which understanding is under the influence of passive physical determination too much to represent the standard of autonomy; ergo, the corrupted image of God corresponds to one of the modal postulates of empirical understanding, viz. the question of necessity, and then modulo his talk of the transcendental ideal does this corruption become an image of absolute necessity).

Dystheism has it that God is Itself evil enough to merit the perspective in relation thereto; maltheism seems to be that God is hated irrespective of whether It is evil (one might hate God for whatever reason, or on account of Its evil). I don't think that Kant was actually either a dystheist or a maltheist and, precisely, his concept of God is not of a being that can do wrong even when wrongfulness is defined by a relatively independent standard. Still, there seem to be potential dystheistic or maltheistic moments in Kant's writings. Since his rebuttals of prominent arguments for God's existence are sometimes portrayed in an antitheistic manner, is there any evidence that Kant considered the possibility of an evil deity as anything more than an allegorical reference as in the Religion? Presumably, Kant did not mean to say that the postulate of God was logically necessary, as in denying the postulate would be (self-)contradictory, but it is a synthetic(al) claim; so if, "God is the solution to the problem of the third postulate," can be denied "without contradiction," does that mean that, "God is the anti-solution to that problem," can be accepted without contradiction instead?

EDIT: ambient countargument: according to Kant, intellectual intuition is the meaning of divine intuition. Intellectual intuition of a fact could not be mistaken about that fact, could not be diverted by a wrongheaded confluence of empirical and discursive consciousness. If a truly divine being could not err about any facts, how could it err about moral facts (such as they are)? But so then Kant even says that "ought" means "would," the conditional sense attaching to the image of purely rational beings, including his description of God as "holiness as substance." Transcendental freedom is like intellectual intuition in terms of being spontaneous/proactive, and so in e.g. the Groundwork Kant identifies the freedom of the intellect with a quasi-proof of freedom of the will. It is true, for all that, that in the Religion he says that it is incomprehensible, how even mortal agents fell into sin "outside of time," but how can he countenance talk of evil spirits even as hypothetical allegories, if pure spirits would know things by intellectual intuition and act by a will not subject to the senses-understanding skewpoint that he mentions in his little discourse about how "the senses do not err because they do not judge at all"?

  • i like your questions, nut hardly ever read them. imvho you should make your titles clearer, and that might help the lazy reader
    – user65174
    Mar 22 at 9:26
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    No. Kant is sympathetic to the teleological argument even in CPR (more so in CJ), as long as it is taken as evocative rather than epistemic, and CPR2 is seen as presenting a moral argument to the same effect, as a "postulate of practical reason" and reason's posit for "highest good". His beef is with the rationalist misconstruals of the conclusion by Leibniz et al., not with the conclusion itself. Even in the late Opus Postumum God remains an ideal.
    – Conifold
    Mar 22 at 13:04
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    @zero I'll try, what about "Does Kant allow the logical possibility of God being evil?" Mar 22 at 14:18
  • go for it @KristianBerry ?
    – user65174
    Mar 22 at 15:25
  • in general @KristianBerry i often skip to your closing question/remarks, and struggle to work out what you are asking. i would suggest making these clearer and less dependent on the body of your question, like an abstract. but ofc just my two cents. so i can see what you're asking here in bold, but it so far out that i cannot make sense of it. if you added the title as stated, then yes, that would help (though you won't want to provoke opinion, so...)
    – user65174
    Mar 22 at 15:44

1 Answer 1


I think your starting point is already off amd based on a misunderstanding.

Apostles become or can be seen as evil spirits in the sense of being, establishing, and institutionalising "principalities and powers" that claim to be a way to morality and goodness outside of one's own practical reason.

In the same direction the second quote argues that the "divine" that seeks to dominate and establish an externalised moral system becomes "directly opposed to morality".

It other words: he does, in a sense, criticise the churches who tend to institutionalise faith and facilitate dogmatic moral beliefs.

It would be very odd for Kant to say anything substantial about God and divine motives. It is perfectly in line with his work to criticise anyone who claims to have divine authority in moral matters, though (as opposed to each person's own practical reason). And that is what he is doing there.

  • Yeah I wouldn't want to say that Kant was even hinting at a substantive claim about God being possibly evil. I got hung up on Onora O'Neill's thing about how the Religion is superficially very pro-Bible/religion but as if it was an attempt (which failed!) to get past the censors, so I wondered if Kant's apparent esteem for God might've been coded likewise. And Kant can criticize malformed theistic ethics so sharply not on account of God being possibly evil, but because if God is the ultimate good, then the ultimate corruption is to disrespect God by portraying It adversely. Mar 22 at 19:32
  • Except... not even really disrespect-for-God being the problem, since Kant says we don't have duties to God. How to phrase the point, then, though... Mar 22 at 19:33
  • Actually, I'm going to accept this answer because it gets at a concrete reason for Kant to talk in the way he does in this context. But I also want to sort of round off this question because I realized my main problem isn't so much with Kant talking about obscurely evil beings but his warfare analogies/metaphors in this connection. Mar 22 at 23:33

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