Kant s critique
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Kant’s Critique. Kevin Rogers. Kant for Dummies. A simple explanation. Scope. “If it is fools who say in their heart there is no God, those who try to prove his existence seem to me to be even more foolish .” (J.G. Hamann ) Kant’s critique: What were his arguments ? A re they sound?

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Kant’s Critique

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Kant s critique

Kant’s Critique

Kevin Rogers

Kant for dummies

Kant for Dummies

  • A simple explanation



  • “If it is fools who say in their heart there is no God, those who try to prove his existence seem to me to be even more foolish.” (J.G. Hamann)

  • Kant’s critique:

    • What were his arguments?

    • Are they sound?

    • Are they relevant to contemporary arguments?

    • How do they affect the scope and usefulness of arguments for the existence of God?

Immanuel kant 1724 1804

Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)

Enlightenment Philosopher

Unite empiricism (Locke) and rationalism (Descartes)

Theist (moral argument)

Lutheran background

Atheism dangerous to society

Critique of pure reason 1787

Critique of Pure Reason (1787)

  • Critiqued:

    • Ontological argument

    • Cosmological argument

    • Teleological (Design) argument

  • Relevant sections:

    • Transcendental Doctrine of Elements,

      • Second Part,

        • Second Division,

          • Book 2,

            • Chapter 3,

              • sections 3 to 7

Definitions of terms

Definitions of Terms

  • Impossible existence

    • Square circles, married bachelors

  • Contingent existence

    • beginning

    • Caused

    • Do not have to exist

  • Necessary existence

Necessary existence necessary being

Necessary Existence (Necessary Being)

  • Possibilities

    • Uncaused

    • No beginning

    • Cause of all other things

  • Stronger sense:

    • Exists necessarily

    • Impossible not to exist

    • Must exist in all possible worlds

Traditional arguments for existence of god

Traditional Arguments for Existence of God

  • Types

    • Teleological (Design)

    • Cosmological (First Cause)

    • Ontological

  • More there are not, and more there cannot be

Overview of arguments

Overview of Arguments

  • Cosmological and Teleological arguments:

    • Been around since Plato and Aristotle

    • Depend on observations about the actual world

    • Some basis in Bible (Romans 1)

  • Ontological Argument

    • Invented in 11th century

    • Nearly pure logical argument

    • No reference to actual world

Kant s sequence

Kant’s Sequence

  • Considers Ontological first

    • Ontological fails

    • Cosmological and Design depend on OA

    • Hence fall with it

Ontological argument

Ontological Argument

  • Historical development prior to Kant

    • Anselm

    • Gaunilo

    • Descartes

  • Kant’s Objections

  • Modern Arguments

  • Assessment

St anselm of canterbury 1033 1109

St Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – 1109)

Benedictine monk

Archbishop of Canterbury (1093 – 1109)

Proslogion (1078) = Discourse on the Existence of God

Anselm s argument

Anselm’s Argument

Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

(Proslogion chapter 2)

Simple version

Simple Version

  • If "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" existed only in the intellect, it would not be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived", since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater

  • It follows that "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" must exist in reality

Plantinga s summary of anselm s argument

Plantinga’s Summary of Anselm’s Argument

  • God is defined as the greatest conceivable being

  • To exist is greater than to not exist

  • If God does not exist then we can conceive of a greater being that does exist

  • Thus if God does not exist then he is not the greatest conceivable being

  • This leads to a contradiction

  • Therefore God must exist

Gaunilo of marmoutiers

Gaunilo of Marmoutiers

11th-century Benedictine monk

In Behalf of the Fool

Refutes Anselm using a parody

The Lost Island is that than which no greater can be conceived

It is greater to exist in reality than merely as an idea

If the Lost Island does not exist, one can conceive of an even greater island, i.e., one that does exist

Therefore, the Lost Island exists in reality

No intrinsic maximum for the greatest conceivable island

Is “a greatest conceivable island” a coherent concept?

Rene descartes 1596 1650

Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650)

  • Father of Rationalism’

  • Introduced the idea that existence is a perfection

  • Simplified argument:

    • The very conception of God includes the possession of all perfections.

    • Existence is a perfection.

    • Therefore, it is inconceivable that God does not exist.

Kant s oa objections

Kant’s OA Objections

OA confuses existence and essence

Existence is not a predicate

Negation does not entail a contradiction

How can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence?

Confusing existence and essence

Confusing Existence and Essence

  • Descartes’ simplified argument:

    • The very conception of God includes the possession of all perfections.

    • Existence is a perfection.

    • Therefore, it is inconceivable that God does not exist.

  • Essence = properties (perfections)

  • Existence is not a property

Existence is not a predicate

Existence is not a predicate

  • Proposition = subject + predicate, eg

    • A dog has 4 legs

    • God exists

  • Predicate contains properties of object

  • Existence

    • is an instantiation of an object

    • is not a property

    • is not a perfection

  • Undermine Descartes’ version:

    • Existence is a perfection:

    • It would be more perfect to exist than not to exist.

Negation is not a contradiction

Negation is not a Contradiction

  • Some statements are necessarily true, eg:

    • All bachelors are unmarried

    • All squares have 4 sides

  • Their negation entails a contradiction

  • “God does not exist” does not entail a contradiction

  • Thus “God exists” is not a necessary truth

  • Confuses “necessary truth” with “necessary being”

Conceptual conundrum

Conceptual Conundrum

  • Anselm argues for concepts in our minds to the objective existence of God

  • How can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence?

Kant s conclusion

Kant’s Conclusion

[The Ontological Argument] “neither satisfies the healthy common sense of humanity, nor sustains the scientific examination of the philosopher.“

Is he right?

Response to kant s objections

Response to Kant’s Objections

Predicate Argument is Irrelevant

Necessary Existence is a Property

Predicate argument is irrelevant

Predicate Argument is Irrelevant

  • Plantinga’s Comment on Predicate Argument

    • Kant's point, then, is that one cannot define things into existence because existence is not a real property or predicate in the explained sense. If this is what he means, he's certainly right. But is it relevant to the ontological argument? Couldn't Anselm thank Kant for this interesting point and proceed merrily on his way? Where did he try to define God into being by adding existence to a list of properties that defined some concept?

    • If this were Anselm's procedure -- if he had simply added existence to a concept that has application contingently if at all -- then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn't, and it isn't. The usual criticisms of Anselm's argument, then, leave much to be desired.

Necessary existence is a property

Necessary Existence is a Property

Kant claims existence is not a property to invalidate OA

Applies this to necessary existence

Necessary existence is a type of existence

Hence necessary existence is a property

Does it apply to modern arguments

Does it Apply to Modern Arguments?

  • Modal Ontological Argument

    • It is possible that an MGB exists

    • If it is possible that an MGB exists, then an MGB exists in some possible world

    • If an MGB exists in some possible world, then an MGB exists in every possible world

    • If an MGB exists in every possible world then an MGB exists in the actual world

    • Therefore an MGB exists

Avoiding kant s fire

Avoiding Kant’s Fire

Now we no longer need the supposition that necessary existence is a perfection; for obviously a being can't be omnipotent (or for that matter omniscient or morally perfect) in a given world unless it exists in that world... It follows that there actually exists a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect; this being, furthermore, exists and has these qualities in every other world as well. (Plantinga)

Moa limitations

MOA Limitations

The MOA is not a proof

But obviously this isn't a proof; no one who didn't already accept the conclusion, would accept the first premise… Everyone who understands and reflects on its central premise -- that the existence of a maximally great being is possible -- will accept it. Still, it is evident, I think, that there is nothing contrary to reason or irrational in accepting this premise. What I claim for this argument, therefore, is that it establishes, not the truth of theism, but its rational acceptability. And hence it accomplishes at least one of the aims of the tradition of natural theology. (Plantinga)

Essence of argument

Essence of Argument

  • If it is possible that a Necessary Being (NB) exists then that NB must exist in all possible worlds

  • Outstanding Issues

    • Is a NB possible

    • Is the NB God?

Conclusion on oa

Conclusion on OA

  • Anselm

    • It is impossible for God not to exist

  • Plantinga

    • If it is possible that God exists, then He must exist

    • Rational to believe but not proof

Impact on cosmological and design arguments

Impact on Cosmological and Design Arguments

  • CA and DA predated OA

  • Kant believed CA and DA presuppose OA

    • CA and DA may show a Necessary Being (NB) exists

    • Rely on OA to show NB is God

Cosmological argument

Cosmological Argument

  • Main attack is dependency on OA

    • OA says God is NB

    • CA

      • argues for NB

      • Identifies NB as God – relies on OA

  • Kant accepts there must be NB

  • Disputes we can show NB is God

Dependency arguments

Dependency Arguments

CA Assumes NB is possible

CA assumes NB is God

1 necessary existence is possible

1. Necessary Existence is Possible

  • The concept of a necessary being appears in both arguments.

  • The cosmological argument assumes that necessary existence is at least possible since if it is not possible it cannot be actual.

  • This is a conclusion of the ontological argument.

  • Thus the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument.

Necessary existence is actual

Necessary Existence is Actual

  • Cosmological argument does not assume that necessary existence is possible

  • Necessary existence is actual and hence possible

  • Approach currently used in science

    • Dark Matter and Dark Energy explain galaxy motion

    • Cannot prove that they are possible

    • Don’t even know what they are

    • They are actual and must be possible

2 ca assumes nb is god

2. CA assumes NB is God

  • The Cosmological Argument relies on the Ontological Argument to associate the necessary being with God.

    • The Ontological Argument shows that God is a necessary being and therefore exists

    • The CA shows that a necessary being exists, but then relies on the OA to infer that the NB is God

  • Not necessarily so - discuss the KCA later

Additional objections to kant

Additional Objections to Kant

  • Space and time

    • Kant argues space and time are eternal realities independent of God

    • Examples of necessarily existent that are not God

    • Used this to argue for possibility of infinite past

    • Augustine argued against this on theological grounds

    • Confirmed by modern cosmology

  • Pure Reason

    • The CPR is a critique on the limits of Pure Reason

    • The CPR is an example of Pure Reason

Kalam cosmological argument

Kalam Cosmological Argument

The argument

Justifying the premises

Argument Conclusions

The argument

The Argument

  • KCA Syllogism

    • Everything that begins to exist has a cause

    • The universe began to exist

    • Therefore the universe has a cause

Justifying the premises

Justifying the Premises

  • Premise 1 usually accepted as intuitively obvious

  • Most effort justifying premise 2

  • Philosophical arguments

    • Impossibility of instantiating an actually infinite set

    • Impossibility of traversing infinite sequence of causes

  • Scientific discoveries

    • Second law of thermodynamics

    • The Big Bang

Argument conclusions

Argument Conclusions

Big Bang marked beginning of matter, energy, space and time

Cause must be transcendent, timeless and powerful

Attributes not derived from any a priori argument

Doesn’t argue that cause is NB or God

Limits to properties that are directly implied by the empirical and logical evidence

Kant s critique of design argument

Kant’s Critique of Design Argument

Kant: design argument demonstrates a designer

Modifies the form of matter but not a creator

To demonstrate creator, we must rely on OA and CA

Only demonstrate the existence of an architect

Limited by the material with which he works

The design argument may still be valid, but it is just limited in scope

Response to kant

Response to Kant

Not a serious concern

Aim of arguments is to establish God’s existence

Not completely define God’s attributes

If the design argument is sound, then it is decisive

Main became Darwin’s theory of evolution

Provided naturalistic explanation of design for living creatures

Fine tuning argument

Fine Tuning Argument

  • Craig’s formulation :

    • The fine tuning of the initial conditions of the universe and of the constants in the laws of physics are due to law, chance or design.

    • They are not due to law or chance.

    • Therefore they are due to design.

  • Craig uses syllogism to argue for a designer

  • Does not link back to OA

Craig s arguments

Craig’s Arguments

  • Craig’s arguments are cumulative

    • Cosmological: cause is transcendent, timeless, spaceless, powerful, personal

    • Fine Tuning: Designer

    • MOA: Necessarily existent and maximally great

    • Moral: Source of moral values and duties

    • Resurrection: intervenes in history

    • Personal: relates to us

  • Arguments, not proofs

Kant s scepticism

Kant’s Scepticism

Man of his own time

His views reflect influence of Enlightenment

Claims cosmological argument based on the “spurious transcendental law of causality”

Reflects Hume’s scepticism of cause and effect

Enlightenment aimed to achieve certainty but failed

Cause and effect intuitively accepted to be true

Kant’s desire for certainty is unrealistic

Why is kant c onsidered credible

Why is Kant Considered Credible

It is not to be denied that ever since Kant's time an impression has prevailed widely that the old proofs are no longer defensible. Possibly the mere fact that an eminent thinker had ventured to call in question such seemingly irrefutable arguments seemed by itself almost equivalent to a disproof. But another reason also, extrinsic it is true to the merits of the criticism, but none the less effective, operated in favour of this result. During the last century, rationalism, in the form either of naturalism or of idealism, had become strongly entrenched in the great centres of learning. It was only natural that thinkers who had discarded belief in a personal God should applaud Kant's conclusion, even if they might hesitate to affirm that his criticism of the proofs was in all respects sound. Thus it came about that those who admitted the value of the traditional arguments were regarded as out of date. Often the validity of Kant's objections is simply taken for granted, and the proofs of God's existence dismissed without more ado. Even some of the apologists of revealed religion, eager not to be behind the fashion, discard them as untenable. (Joyce)



  • Strong Points

    • Existence is not a predicate

    • The arguments are not proofs

  • Weak Point

    • Link between OA and CA/DA is dubious

Our response

Our Response

Be aware

Don’t overstate

Craig is well aware of Kant

Craig’s argument are not subject to Kant’s critique

Craig’s opponents do not directly use Kant

Some of Kant’s arguments reappear



Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008.

Joyce, G.H., Principles of Natural Theology, Longmans, Green and Co., New York, Toronto, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, 1922.

Kant, I. The Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd edition, 1787, translated by J.M.D. Meiklejohn, A Penn State Electronic Classic Series Publication, Pennsylvania State University, 2010.

Koons, R.C. Western Theism, Lecture notes and bibliography from Dr.Koons' Western Theism course (Phl 356) at the University of Texas at Austin, Spring 1998, http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/, in particular Lectures 5&9.

Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom and Evil, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974. The pertinent section on the ontological argument is quoted at http://mind.ucsd.edu/syllabi/02-03/01w/readings/plantinga.html.

Robson, Gregory, The Ontological Proof: Kant’s Objections, Plantinga’s Reply, KSO 2012: 122-171, posted August 26, 2012 www.kantstudiesonline.net.

Worthing, M., Apologetics Intensive Lecture Notes, Section 05, Apologetics, proofs and science, 2012.




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