“As Kant Could Have Shown…”

This is a short assignment I presented to my Analytic Theology class which is being taught by Dr. James Arcadi here at TEDS. In it, I interact with Andrew Chignell’s proposed solution for the Analytic theologian to the problem of what “Kant has shown”.

Whether it’s round Immanuel Kant, or through him[1], most theologians and philosophers after the 18th century have had to deal with the “Sage of Königsberg”.[2] While many have seen Kant as “a stumbling-block and rock of offence…”[3], philosopher Andrew Chignell argues that analytic theologians need not lament over what “Kant has shown”. He proposes that Kant can be seen as an ally to, and even a forbearer of analytic theology.[4] In this essay, I will lay out Chignell’s three characteristics of analytic theology and his suggested appropriation of a Kantian view of belief. Then I will critically engage with Chignell’s proposal and finish by offering a more fruitful path through Kant.

Chignell offers three criteria by which to characterize analytic theology:

(1) Classical conceptual analysis applied to concepts of theological importance.[5]

(2) “The use of characteristic tools[6] of analytic philosophy to generate arguments with theological content or import.”[7]

(3) The use of explicitly principled appeals to Scriptural revelation, ecclesiastical tradition, religious tradition, and the like, in order to:

(a) “Supply topics (e.g. Creation, Fall, Trinity, etc.) and direct inquiry;

(b) Supply prima facie justification for claims with theological content or import; and

(c) Supply defeaters for claims that are prima facie justified on other grounds.”[8]

He then suggests that each criterion is unsuited for the task on its own, but when taken together, (1)-(3) provide a useful characterization of analytic theology.[9] But then Chignell explains that Kant, “explicitly repudiates (3b) and (3c)” on the grounds that reason alone is the highest authority to which all “appeals to sacred texts, communal and ecclesiastical traditions, and individual religious experiences”[10] must be submitted. He then says “… if a brand of analytic theology involves (3b) and (3c), it will find no friend in Kant.”[11] This is an odd statement to admit given that:

(4) Chignell’s goal is to show that Kant is not an enemy of analytic theology;

(5) Chignell offered (1)-(3c) as important distinguishing criteria for the project of analytic theology; and

(6) Kant clearly repudiates (3b) and (3c), thus any analytic theologian wishing to avoid a Kantian critique ought to refrain from (3b) and (3c) in their theologizing.

But Chignell continues his self-stultifying proposal (CP = Chignell’s Proposal from here on) with the qualification that, for Kant, while (1) might yield analytic knowledge, (2) only yields, at most, “‘rational ‘Belief’ (Glaube) or ‘Acceptance’ (Annehmung)- i.e. a positive sort of propositional attitude which, even if it is justified and true, doesn’t count as knowledge (Wissen).”[12] CP seeks to avoid Kant’s fangs by surrendering the pursuit of knowledge in exchange for “mere Belief”. But this notion of capital “B” or “mere Belief” is weaker than our common sense understanding of belief simpliciter and is something like ‘holding-as-true’[13]; or holding a proposition “as-if” we believed it. Chignell summarized this move as such: “… we can engage in substantive analytic theology, even by Kantian lights, as long as we are careful to deny the status of belief and knowledge to our results, and agree that Belief is enough.”[14] We can call this:

(7) Kantian Compromised Belief

While, CP is an interesting approach to the problem of what “Kant has Shown”, ultimately, the conjunction of (1)-(7) serves to stultify or neuter the project of analytic Christian theology, instead of protecting it against Kant. Denying the Christian analytic theologian (CAT) the ability to use (3b) and (3c), effectively removes Christian convictions from the project and unbridles speculative reason to rule over all. But it gets worse. On CP, any arguments that you are able to generate through (2) wouldn’t qualify as knowledge, nor could they be believed, rather, they would only qualify to be “Believed”, i.e. held as-if you believed them. If analytic Christian theology is Athens in the aid of Jerusalem, CP is Jerusalem’s surrender to Königsberg.

While we might sympathize with Chignell’s instinct to go through Kant instead of around him, we’d be wise to avoid CP. I propose that CATs follow Kant formally rather than materially; we can appropriate his transcendental philosophy but not the conclusions of his method. It’s precisely in the denial of (3b) and (3c) that Kant was taken captive to philosophy not according to Christ which led him to empty deceit. Thus, in explicitly affirming (3b) and (3c), CATs can use Kantian tools with import and guidance from their Christian convictions. Let’s briefly consider Kant’s ethics and transcendental method for instance.

Kant’s deontological ethics propose that persons have a duty to do what’s right. To which a thoughtful interlocutor might ask, “a duty to whom?” A CAT can appropriate Kant’s deontology with justifying theological import from doctrines such as Creation and the Imago Dei: every human person ought to do what’s right as they are image bearers of the Good Creator God.

Similarly, Kant’s transcendental deductions, now known as transcendental arguments (TA), can be appropriated in form by CATs with import from Christian doctrines. In defining TAs, Robert Stern says, “according to most interpretations, their specific structure is characterized by the fact that they aim at defending some claim X by showing that the truth of X is a necessary condition for the possibility of Y, whereby Y is taken to be something that will not or even cannot be contested by the sceptic…”[15] Thus, a CAT can defend the doctrines of Creation and Governance by showing that they are the necessary preconditions of induction. Likewise, CATs can expound on the doctrine of the imago dei by arguing that it stands as the necessary precondition of rational human cognition. The options that TAs provide for CATs are numerous!

Thus, after examining CP, I find it to be detrimental to Christian analytic theology. A more fruitful way through Kant is the appropriation of his tools with explicit import from Christian theology. Rather than jettisoning theological convictions to placate secular philosophy, CATs ought to bring the fulness of their theology into the public square to the glory of God and for the good of their philosophical neighbors.

[1] Robert Stern took this phrase from the famous William James quote: “The true line of philosophic progress lies, in short, it seems to me, not so much through Kant as round him to the point where we now stand.” Cited in “Round Kant or Through Him?” In Pragmatism, Kant, and Transcendental Philosophy. (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2017) 152.

[2] Andrew Chignell, “As Kant has Shown…”, in Analytic Theology: new essays in the philosophy of theology. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) 120.

[3] Karl Barth cited in Ibid., 117

[4] “Rather, my goal in this chapter is to offer a few interpretive suggestions regarding Kant’s own approach that might allow would-be analytic theologians to see him as an ally or even a forbearer, rather than as a block over which to stumble or a disease from which to recover.” Andrew Chignell, Ibid., 122.

[5]“… especially the concept of God.” Ibid., 117.

[6] “These tools include: logical apparatuses of various sorts (deductive, probabilistic, epistemic, modal, etc.); abduction; rational intuition; thought experiment; reflective equilibrium; appeal to substantive theory-building constraints such as simplicity, elegance, and explanatory depth; stylistic rigor, clarity, and understatement; and, of course, necessary-and-sufficient-conditions analysis of our concepts, refined by counterexamples.” Ibid., 117-118.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 118.

[9] At least the project of the contributors to this specific volume.

[10] Ibid., 120.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 133.

[14] Ibid., 135.

[15]Robert Stern, “Silencing the Sceptic?” In Transcendental Arguments in Moral Theory. (Germany: Walter de Grutyer GmbH, 2017) 1.


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