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Immanuel° Kant

KANT, IMMANUEL° (1724–1804), German philosopher. Born in Koenigsberg, East Prussia, Kant studied at the university in that city, where in 1755 he began to teach as a Privatdozent. In 1770 he was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics. His major work, the Critique of Pure Reason, in which he lay down the foundations of his critical philosophy, appeared in 1781. In 1783 he published the Prolegomena to Every Future Metaphysic in an effort to explain more clearly the main arguments of the Critique. The Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgment were published in 1790, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone in 1793, and the Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals in 1797.

Attitude Toward Religion

Kant's statement in the Critique of Pure Reason, "I have found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith" (Critique of Pure Reason, BXXX) succinctly expresses his attitude to religion, revealing both its critical and constructive aspects. His critical analysis of pure reason leads Kant to limit the scope of theoretical, demonstrative knowledge to the phenomenal world, i.e., to the world of sense perception, thereby denying the possibility of metaphysics, and consequently the validity of the traditional proofs for the existence of God – the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments (ibid., B811–25). But while Kant maintains that God, as a supersensuous being, cannot be an object of demonstrative knowledge, he does not claim that God does not exist, or that He is beyond the reach of reason as such. Indeed – and this is the constructive aspect of Kant's philosophy – he claims that reason must postulate the existence of God. In the realm of scientific knowledge the need for a "regulative principle of the systematic unity of the manifold of empirical knowledge…" leads reason to postulate the existence of God. It is, however, mainly in the realm of ethics that the burden of establishing the existence of God lies. God comes into the picture here not as the giver of the moral law, for this would destroy the autonomy of the moral law which is fundamental to Kant's ethical theory, but as the "necessary condition for the possibility of the summum bonum," i.e., for the "distribution of happiness in exact proportion to morality" (Critique of Practical Reason (tr.) Beck (1956), 129). The existence of God is postulated in order to fulfill a fundamental requirement of the moral law, namely, that the virtuous man is worthy to be happy (ibid., 135). True religion, in contrast to clericalism, is, therefore, ethical religion in which the kingdom of God is nothing else than the ethical commonwealth (Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (1960), 90ff.).

View of Judaism

Kant believes that Christianity, because of its idealized, spiritualized ethical teachings based on pure love, approaches this ideal of ethical religion more than any other historical religion. In contrast, following *Spinoza, he views Judaism as a mere national-political entity, contending that it fails to satisfy the essential criteria of religion in that it fails to inculcate the inner appropriation of morals, demanding only external obedience to statutes and laws. Interpreting Jewish messianism as nothing more than a national-political experience, Kant maintains that Judaism is concerned only with things of this world, and lacks any formulation of the concept of immortality.

Kant's negative view of Judaism, however, in no way interfered with his congenial relations with the Jewish community or with individual Jews, such as Moses *Mendelssohn. Nor did it deter many emancipated Jews from becoming attracted to Kantian philosophy. In Kant's lifetime Markus *Herz, Lazarus *Bendavid, and Solomon *Maimon were among his staunch supporters, and later, in the neo-Kantian revival, Hermann *Cohen and Ernst *Cassirer were numbered among his ardent followers. Kant also exercised an appreciable influence on Moritz *Lazarus, and a less pronounced, though significant, influence on Solomon *Formstecher, Solomon *Steinheim, and Franz *Rosenzweig.

Kant and Liberal Judaism

Kant's influence on Jewish philosophers may result from the basic affinity between his philosophic formulation of religion and the orientation of modern liberal Judaism (see *Reform Judaism). The exponents of liberal Judaism, regarding religion as essentially a system of ethics, found in Kant a philosophical formulation of religion which articulated their own conceptions of Judaism. The similarity between Kant and Judaism goes even deeper than the linking of religion with ethics. It is reflected in the structuring of the ethical system itself. The structure of Kant's ethics parallels that of biblical ethics with its source-consequences pattern and the central categories of "duty" and the "right" and not the Greek model with its means-end pattern and the categories of the "good" and "happiness." Yet it is at this point of closest similarity that basic differences emerge. For Kant the ethical source is reason. Thus religion is ultimately grounded in reason; it is "religion within the limits of reason alone," and, as such, is ahistorical, universal, and available to every individual by virtue of his inherent rational capacity. For classical Judaism, on the other hand, the ethical source is God. Ethics is grounded not in reason but in the will of God, a will which expresses itself not in timeless continuity but at a specific moment in time through revelation. While for Kant, religion is grounded in ethics, in Judaism it is ethics which is grounded in religion. Hence, notwithstanding the similarities between Kant and Judaism, the two formulations of religion move in radically different "worlds," making the attempt of adopting Kant as an authentic philosophic expression for Judaism problematic.

It is interesting to note that it was precisely in those aspects where he differed most from Judaism that Kant proved most congenial to his Jewish followers. This is understandable insofar as his followers were emancipated Jews for whom religion in its historical, particularistic manifestation, and its mystical, supernaturalistic, or ritualistic dimension was unacceptable. To be acceptable religion had to be thoroughly rationalized, ethicized, and universalized. These people gave up the attempt to find in Kant a philosophic formulation capable of authentically expressing Judaism, but sought rather to interpret Judaism in such a way that it would conform to Kant's formulation of religion. Kant's philosophic formulation became the norm and ideal. Indeed, for many of his followers the merit of Judaism lay precisely in being, as they thought, malleable to such a transformation.

Moritz Lazarus and Hermann Cohen

This can be seen in a particularly striking manner in the writings of Moritz *Lazarus and Hermann *Cohen. In his Ethik des Judentums (2 vols., 1898–1911; vol. 1 tr. into Eng. under the title The Ethics of Judaism, 1900) Lazarus, although he somewhat reinterprets the Kantian ethical imperative, follows Kant completely in giving priority to ethics over religion, and the autonomy of ethics is fully safeguarded (Ethics of Judaism, 1 (1900), no. 104). Ethics is not the content or expression of religion, rather religion is one of the subdivisions or expressions of ethics. Thus God is subjected to the ethical. He commands the ethical because it is ethical: "Moral laws, then, are not laws because they are written; they are written because they are laws" (ibid., 1 (1900), no. 85).

In Hermann Cohen's earlier writings there is a strong Kantian influence. The autonomy of ethics is never compromised. Religion, with its central idea of God, is established only on the basis of, and to the extent of, the requirements of ethical considerations. In his Ethik des reinen Willens (1904) he maintains that ethics require God as an idea, a hypothesis guaranteeing the existence of nature for the realization of the infinite ethical goal.


Guttmann, Philosophies, index; idem, Kantund das Judentum (1908); Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967); A. Lewkowitz, in: Festschrift… des juedish-theologischen Seminars, 1 (Breslau, 1929), 215ff., 226; M. Wiener, Juedische Religion im Zeitalter der Emanzipation (1933); S.H. Bergmann, Hogim u-Ma'aminim (1959), index; N. Rotenstreich, Jewish Philosophy in Modern Times: From Mendelssohn to Rosenweig (1968), index; S. Pines, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 20 (1968), 3–54; S. Axinn, in: JQR, 59 (1968), 9–23; E.L. Fackenheim, in: Commentary, 36 (1963), 460–7.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.