Issue #59 February 2023

God as Transcendental in Kant and Hegel – from Possibility to Actuality

‘God’, whatever that word means, has since its very inception been one of the most cornerstone, but also contentious, concepts in metaphysics. Among all the great minds to have commented on this idea, Kant does not stand out as one for whom it would be considered as cornerstone, and yet also does stand out as one for whom it would be contentious. God of metaphysics seems to be the culmination of Kant’s entire critical project of the ‘transcendental dialectic’ as a critique of metaphysical postulates of pure reason. For God of the rationalists was, in the end, the idea of pure reason, the sublime rational-metaphysical abstraction, the pinnacle of the drive towards the diminishing of the role of sensible experience, and the highest of all possible ontological necessities. It is commonly held that it is against these ideas that Kant directed his critique, which effectively pronounced the death of the metaphysical God.

Yet this is not what Kant’s critique of the God of traditional metaphysics actually results in. Otherwise, he would not still call God the ‘highest reality’:

“Thus all the possibility of things (as regards the synthesis of the manifold of their content) is regarded as derivative, and only that which includes all reality in it is regarded as original. For all negations (which are the sole predicates through which everything else is to be distinguished from the most real being) are mere limitations of a greater and finally of the highest reality; hence they presuppose it, and as regards their content they are merely derived from it. All manifoldness of things is only so many different ways of limiting the concept of the highest reality, which is their common substratum, just as all figures are possible only as different ways of limiting infinite space. Hence the object of reason’s ideal, (…) is also called the original being (ens originarium); because it has nothing above itself it is called the highest being (ens summum), and because everything else, as conditioned, stands under it, it is called the being of all beings (ens entium).” [Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A578/B606]

The popular opinion of Kant as a committed critic of the metaphysical concept of God rests on the excessive reading of his most famous passages for philosophy of religion – the critique of the ‘ontological’ argument for God’s existence – over the necessary context within which this particular critique is happening. This context is precisely the relegation of the metaphysical idea of God from the objective principle of ontological necessity to a (still metaphysical in the novel, Kantian sense), regulative principle of pure reason. It is only through reading carefully into the sections of the Critique of Pure Reason coming before the discussion of the ontological argument, a task which I intend here to undertake, that it is possible to understand why Kant thought of God as the inextricably necessary transcendental conditioning of the possibility of all concrete thought determination, yet still confined his role to never anything more than a possibility.

And it is also through a reading of the principal text in which Hegel delves into the metaphysical concept of God – the monumental Science of Logic – that I can show how that pure regulative possibility is turned into a genuine ontological actuality of God, in a robust Hegelian project of a critical restoration of fundamental metaphysics. Too frequently, again, have philosophers of religion focussed on important Hegelian texts, like the Phenomenology of Spirit or Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, yet without attending almost at all to the metaphysical basics of Hegel’s re-establishment of the extra-mental objectivity of the divine Idea. The divine appears both in the introduction and at the end of the Science of Logic – as Hegel sets out the project as an investigation into the pure divinity of the most actual concept, and when he finishes his mind-blowingly impressive deduction of thought’s self-examination at the supreme ontological actuality of the Absolute Idea. After an examination of Kant’s ‘Transcendental Ideal’ – the metaphysical idea of God which is reduced to the sum of all possibility – I will discuss the precise way in which Hegel overcomes the artificial and dogmatic distinction between appearances and essences of things, which enables God as Absolute Idea to again assume a place of the ens realissimum.

What I intend, therefore, to show in this essay is how the idea of God passes from pure transcendental possibility to genuine ontological actuality as one of a number of various other metaphysical ideas being re-established. The fate of the God of metaphysics is like a ship reliant on the whirlwinds a huge storm, which is the philosophically unprecedented transition from transcendental idealism of Kant into absolute idealism of Hegel.


Background: Kant’s Transcendental Project

In the sphere of philosophical thinking, at least, Kant’s project of transcendental idealism seems to be one of the starting points of modern, to use Max Weber’s term, ‘disenchantment’, Entzauberung, of metaphysics. Before Kant, and ever since the ancient Greeks, access to metaphysical knowledge functioned on the basis of what the founder of subjective idealism called ‘pure reason’: namely, an intuitive access of reason to the fundamental patterns underlining reality and Being itself. This intelligibility between human reason and external reality was the basis for an entire pre-modern paradigm of knowledge, followed by early modern rationalism. The latter, though it has turned this ‘natural’ inter-intelligibility, the logos of mind, God, and the world from being an implicit presupposition, to being a hypothesis of inquiry, did not overturn it, but rather intended to reach it through a purely abstract rational self-reflection of the subject on the conditions of its own knowing, such as is the case for the Cartesian philosophy of God.

Kant worked largely on the rationalist paradigm, as we shall see later when we attend to his Leibnizian presuppositions guiding the derivation of the necessity of God as a sum of possibility. Yet the main contribution of Kant with reference to metaphysics is claiming that genuine access to its truths can only be happening when taking into account, apart from purely theoretical abstractions of reason, also the condition of knowledge as restricted to possible experience. Concepts can only mean states of possibility, not actuality, if not supplanted by concrete experiences and intuitions:

“In the mere concept of a thing no characteristic of its existence can be encountered at all. For even if this concept is so complete that it lacks nothing required for thinking of a thing with all of its inner determinations, still existence has nothing in the least to do with all of this, but only with the question of whether such a thing is given to us in such a way that the perception of it could in any case precede the concept. For that the concept precede the perception signifies its mere possibility; but perception, which yields the material for the concept, is the sole characteristic of actuality.” [Kant, CPR, A225/B272f]

So, the Kantian revolution in metaphysics has its basis in a recognition that human reason is not in a capacity to provide information about the foundational principles of the external world without directly attending to it through sensible experience, and synthesizing this experience with both its own prior knowledge, and with the a priori apparatus of knowledge itself which is laid down in the system of categories.

The realm of the categorical and access to the re-defined, new idea of metaphysics, can only be achieved through the transcendental analysis. The classical meaning of what is ultimately ‘transcendental’ had religious connotations, but through being purely actual rather than possible – the three ‘transcendentals’: Beauty, Truth, and Goodness (and some others, such as the ‘one’, or ‘something’) were frequently listed among the foundations underlying ontological patterns, and described the fundamental communication between human willing nature, and the objectivity of the external world guided by the will towards Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. For Kant, on the other hand, ‘transcendental’ meant not an inquiry into the foundations of ontology through pure reason alone, but rather attending to the conditions by which understanding and experience interact together to produce genuine truthful knowledge.

“I call all cognition transcendental that is occupied not so much with objects but rather with our mode of cognition of objects insofar as this is to be possible a priori. A system of such concepts would be called transcendental philosophy.” [Kant, CPR, A11/B25]

Empirical analysis is only concerned with appearances, without attending to the rational substrate which underlies the way we can even cognize, categorize, and understand those appearances. Rationalism, on the other hand, though admitting the importance of pure reasoning, and even of systematic doubt (in which it overcomes the alleged uncritical approach of classical metaphysics) does not attend to the necessary experiential elements which would prevent it from ‘wandering away’ into producing judgements which are unqualified and can be disproved by new empirical findings. The transcendental analysis reveals that what is needed in every synthetic a priori judgement, that is, one which is concerned with finding a general rule or law which would not be a description of present fleeting experience, is a presence of both the categories which are implanted a priori within the mind, as well as concrete sensible experience, or at least its possibility.

“(…) the understanding can never accomplish a priori anything more than to anticipate the form of a possible experience in general, and, since that which is not appearance cannot be an object of experience, it can never overstep the limits of sensibility, within which alone objects are given to us. Its principles are merely principles e of the exposition of appearances, and the proud name of an ontology, which presumes to offer synthetic a priori cognitions of things in general in a systematic doctrine (e.g., the principle of causality), must give way to the modest one of a mere analytic of the pure understanding.” [Kant, CPR,  A246f/B303]

What this yields is the fundamental trait of the transcendental analysis which is simultaneously its point of distinction from empirical or rationalistic inquiry, and also a condition of its proper validity. The transcendental, in the Kantian sense, leaves us with the foundational distinction between appearances and things in themselves. The world of appearances is the only one to which human understanding has genuine access, since the activity of producing ideas and concepts relies on the synthesis of direct representations of things in our cognition with the unity of our consciousness containing the regulative categories and our prior experience. We have no access to things as they actually are. For Kant, there is a ‘noumenon’ as a boundary point of whose existence we can know, but we do not have access to because of the fundamental nature (and simultaneously a limitation) of our minds: it always, to direct appearances, adds an element of synthesis with its own rational content.

“In the end, however, we have no insight into the possibility of such noumena, and the domain outside of the sphere of appearances is empty (for us), i.e., we have an understanding that extends farther than sensibility problematically, but no intuition, indeed not even the concept of a possible intuition, through which objects outside of the field of sensibility could be given, (…).” [Kant, CPR, A255/B310]

The common intelligibility of reason and the things as they actually are, as we can see, fundamentally contested by Kant in the reduction of metaphysics to describing possible experience and in the absolutization of the difference between appearances and the things in themselves. The fate of the metaphysical concept of God relies on those two notorious critiques, as we shall see now.

Kant’s Transcendental Ideal

Philosophers of religion, or at least courses on such philosophy, have read the Critique of Pure Reason to this day almost solely as a resource for Kant’s exposition of arguments against the existence of God as a concept of traditional metaphysics. Yet what they fatally miss in this restricted approach is the broader context of transcendental theology within which the critique of those arguments takes place, and the important presuppositions of the Kantian critique of pure reason outlined above. It is only through those that we can understand fully Kant’s idea of God of metaphysics as, paradoxically, a necessary possibility. Furthermore, as we will see in this exposition, it is also the only condition for understanding Kant’s famous reduction of the objective validity of the concept of God to practical, not metaphysical reason.

God, for Kant of the Critique of Pure Reason, is a transcendental ideal. The meaning of this term is connotated deeply with the differentiation between the determination of abstract concepts and things. As we have repeatedly seen above, concepts in the Kantian version of idealism cannot have any actual reality if they do not relate to any at least possible concrete experience. This does not mean, however, that those concepts cannot exist in their own right, as mere possibilities related to the functioning of pure reason. Reason, according to Kant, has a natural inclination towards abstract totalizing interpretations of reality, through which it can determine particular concepts and objects within a broader contextual web of interrelated ideas. Hence, determination is one of the core activities of synthetic reason which Kant recognizes.

Yet how is this determination supposed to proceed? There are two varying ways. The determination of abstract concepts is merely logical, and rests on the principle of non-contradiction. So, if I have a concept which does not have a corresponding intuition, or at least a possible experience, I can metaphysically ‘wonder’ about it merely through applying the rule that for every predicate that I apply to it, I have to choose between the predicate and its negation, and this is an absolute choice. For example, when devising the concept of a ‘human being’, I cannot say that it is both rational and not-rational. In that, Kant follows the basics of Aristotelian logic.

“Every concept, in regard to what is not contained in it, is indeterminate, and stands under the principle of determinability: that of every two contradictorily opposed predicates only one can apply to it, which rests on the principle of contradiction and hence is a merely logical principle which abstracts from every content of cognition, and has in view nothing but the logical form of cognition.” [Kant, CPR, A571/B579]

But, as we have seen, leaving determination as based only on such a principle is synonymous to a firm belief in the rational powers of pure reason, and the fundamental intelligibility between the mind and reality. Yet this is an interconnection which, as we have seen, Kant wants to deny, to the dread of the rationalists. Transcendental analysis is not merely rational, it explores the very conditions upon which rationality can interact with appearance and sensation. So, Kant brings forward another way of determining, this time not mere logical and abstract concepts, but rather concrete objects and things as things. This is what is called the principle of thoroughgoing determination (durchgängige Bestimmung):

“Every thing, however, as to its possibility, further stands under the principle of thoroughgoing determination; according to which, among all possible predicates of things, insofar as they are compared with their opposites, one must apply to it. This does not rest merely on the principle of contradiction, for besides considering every thing in relation to two contradictorily conflicting predicates, it considers every thing further in relation to the whole of possibility, as the sum total of all predicates of things in general; and by presupposing that as a condition a priori, it represents every thing as deriving its own possibility from the share it has in that whole of possibility.” [Kant, CPR, A571f/B599f]

Kant seems to require a comparison with the pure rational sphere of total possibility of all things as a condition for any concrete determination of a thing to occur (which, as we have seen, is always an activity of synthetic understanding – to put it in simplified terms – composing categories and sense perception).

This might appear to be sounding quite foreign to the modern reader and thinker. Why would a concrete determination of an object in front of our senses and, further, rational comprehension, require an implicit notion of a total possibility, instead of merely a notion of the possibility of experience of this object (as it was the case, I wrote above, for the condition of possibility of genuine synthetic a priori judgements)? The answer lies in, as is frequently in philosophy, placing a thinker in a historical context of a development of ideas. Kant, of course, did not think in a vacuum, and the necessity of an implicit ‘whole of possibility’ he inherits from the rationalist Leibnizian-Wolffian tradition. But Kant enhances this tradition by distinguishing between, as we have seen, the logical and the transcendental use of the principle of determination. For abstract concepts, it is sufficient to follow the law of non-contradiction to properly construct their meaning and account for them. That is the role which Kant prescribes to understanding. But reason, being the higher faculty, and against the rationalist intuition, has to also make sense of the very interplay between the understanding and sensibility, and therefore has to use the principle of determination not only in the logical but also transcendental sense. So, to bring in an example, to produce knowledge through a hypothetical method about a concrete human being, we cannot merely settle on a principle that they can be ‘either tall or not-tall, but cannot be both’. We must, additionally, provided we do not have background knowledge of that person, take into account all possibilities about them, and then test them on our empirical experience of them. We cannot, in other words, determine a concrete object with reason alone, and if this is so, then we necessitate to bring into a picture (at least implicitly) the totality of determinative possibilities.

We therefore see a crucial scheme in Kant, which will help to illuminate his notion of a regulative ideal of God: truth is a confrontation of rational possibility, produced in a logical way by the understanding, or in a transcendental way by reason, with concrete empirical content provided by the senses. The Transcendental Ideal, which is a regulative principle of reason, represents the ultimate element of possibility, and is indispensable to make sense of any sensible actuality and therefore to thinking itself. God as this Ideal, therefore, is the condition of possibility of thinking itself. Yet, given the gap Kant postulates between the logos of human reason and the logos of external reality, can this condition of thinking be also considered a condition of being?

Before we attend to this question, there is one more important element within the Kantian conceptualization of the Transcendental Ideal, which resonates later in the Hegelian re-thinking of metaphysics. It is Hegel whom philosophers have more often associated with the ‘labour of the negative’. Kant, however, also ascertains to it an important role, as a constitutive (maybe, in contrast to Hegel, not methodologically constitutive) for the validity of the Transcendental Ideal:

“Now no one can think a negation determinately without grounding it on the opposed affirmation. The person blind from birth cannot form the least representation of darkness, because he has no representation of light; (…). All concepts of negations are thus derivative, and the realities contain the data, the material, so to speak, or the transcendental content, for the possibility and the thoroughgoing determination of all things.” [Kant, CPR, A575/B603]

The Ideal, as a functional rational concept for the possibility of the All, is constituted through the differentiations and negations which represent particular possibilities.

“Thus if the thoroughgoing determination in our reason is grounded on a transcendental substratum, which contains as it were the entire storehouse of material from which all possible predicates of things can be taken, then this substratum is nothing other than the idea of an All of reality (omnitudo realitatis). All true negations are then nothing but limits, which they could not be called unless they were grounded in the unlimited (the All).” [Ibid.]

We see here the Kantian foreshadowings of Hegelian panentheism: God as the supreme Ideal of reason is the framework within which differentiations of particular possibilities can even make sense as differences. It is the backbone of the entire edifice of Hegelian logic (and against the philosophers of ‘positivity’ such as Nietzsche or Deleuze), as we will see, that differences and negations can only be intelligible, within frameworks of reference produced by concepts which provide contexts for divisions to occur. For example, the distinction between a cat and a dog can only become functional and intelligible within the context of a common idea of ‘animal’. In Kant, however, all this plays out yet in the sphere of rational possibility to be sensibly actualized.

The question of the reality of Kant’s God of the Critique of Pure Reason has already, I think and hope, been partially answered by all the considerations above. Although Kant thinks about the Transcendental Ideal as necessary, yet due to the gap between the intelligibility of the rational and the intelligibility of the real, his critique of pure reason categorically precludes applying the reality of the Ideal to external reality.

“(…) nothing is an object for us unless it presupposes the sum total of all empirical reality as condition of its possibility. In accordance with a natural illusion, we regard as a principle that must hold of all things in general that which properly holds only of those which are given as objects of our senses. Consequently, through the omission of this limitation we will take the empirical principle of our concepts of the possibility of things as appearances to be a transcendental principle of the possibility of things in general.

That we subsequently hypostatize this idea of the sum total of all reality, however, comes about because we dialectically transform the distributive unity of the use of the understanding in experience, into the collective unity of a whole of experience; (…).” [Kant, CPR, A582f/B610f]

Kant therefore holds that the reason for the common, natural, but also immature hypostasizing and reification of this highest principle of possibility is that reason confuses the purely theoretical principle of determination, which requires an Ideal of possibility, with that what is ultimately real, i.e. that which has an empirical correlation in sensibility. This confusion is then represented in the metaphysical idea of God as holding within the objectivity of ‘how things are’, yet in actuality being an illusion of a principle which pure reason would very much wish and even yearn for to be real.

The existence of God as a metaphysical judgement which is synthetic a priori cannot therefore be achieved due to the principle of reduction of truth to the realm of possible experience, to which God simply does not belong to by definition. The remaining possibility, namely of God’s existence as an analytical necessity, one which would flow from the very concept of God, is put to criticism by Kant in his abolition of the ontological argument, which, as I have claimed, is the much more notorious and famous piece of Kant’s philosophical theology in the first Critique. As it can be seen now, however, it is only by discarding the possibility of divine existence being a synthetic judgement, that Kant can proceed to the criticism of the remaining analytical necessity.

For us here, the remaining challenge is an effective re-establishment of the actuality of the ‘God of metaphysics’. A challenge that Hegel has successfully taken up.

Hegel’s Science of Logic as a Critique of Kant’s Regulative Reductionism

What shall constitute a notable part of the argument in this essay is a thesis that it is only, or at least most effectively, through some version of Hegel’s thinking that philosophical theology can transcend the boundaries restricting the metaphysical concept of God in Kant’s critique. That is, without simply passing over and above this scepticism as if in philosophy ‘nothing had happened’.

Hegel was acutely aware that the way in which the genuine metaphysical role of religion, and the idea of God more precisely, could be restored, is through a reconstruction of the said inter-intelligibility between the intuitions of pure reason on the one hand, and the principles upon which external reality is structured and functions on the other. This is simultaneous with an overcoming of the ‘opposition of consciousness’, and amounts to a profound re-definition of the metaphysics of the divine:

“Pure science thus presupposes the liberation from the opposition of consciousness. It contains thought in so far as this thought is equally the fact as it is in itself; or the fact in itself in so far as this is equally pure thought.

Accordingly, logic is to be understood as the system of pure reason, as the realm of pure thought. This realm is truth unveiled, truth as it is in and for itself. It can therefore be said that this content is the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and of a finite spirit.” [Hegel, Science of Logic, 29 (21.34)]

The way in which we have got from the stark Kantian division between possibility and actuality, and the Hegelian surprising argument that thought is actual when it is synonymous with itself, is a long one. It is based on two general moves, which set the scene for Hegel’s entire philosophical project.

The first move is a unification of content and method of philosophy, or of thinking with cognition. The cornerstone of Kant’s philosophy was that the condition of veritable knowledge to occur, is supplying thought-constructs (categories, products of imagination of possible experience) with concrete sensual representations. In other words, as I have mentioned before, there is no veritable knowledge which would not be a mere regulative content of the mind, without the principle of reduction to possible experience. In this way, as we have seen, Kant criticises the traditional metaphysical concept of God, as in ‘reality’ (that is, Kantian synthetic reality reduced to the appearance of possible experience) we are not in authority to say whether it is a metaphysical being existing ‘out there’, or only a regulative idea within the mind. Hegel’s critique of Kant is levelled at the distinction between form and content of thought, in which form would signify categories of understanding with which we think, whereas content would mean the sensible experience synthesized with those categories. Hegel explains the example of such an attitude with reference to logic (regardless if propositional or, as in Kant, transcendental logic), which has prior only been thought of as the form of genuine thinking, not its content:

“Whenever logic is taken as the science of thinking in general, it is thereby understood that this “thinking” constitutes the mere form of a cognition; that logic abstracts from all content, and the so-called second constitutive piece that belongs to the cognition, namely the matter, must be given from elsewhere; hence that logic, since this matter does not in the least depend on it, can give only the formal conditions of genuine knowledge, but does not itself contain real truth; or again, that logic is only the pathway to real knowledge, for the essential component of truth, the content, lies outside it.” [Hegel, Science of Logic, 24 (21.28)]

But this standard and at face value ‘common-sense’ view of thought as a ‘container’ for empirical appearance in order to produce knowledge, has been accepted without proper justification.

“Presupposed from the start is that the material of knowledge is present in and for itself as a ready-made world outside thinking; that thinking is by itself empty, that it comes to this material as a form from outside, fills itself with it, and only then gains a content, thereby becoming real knowledge.” [Ibid.]

When Kant studied philosophical structures of consciousness and the limits of human theoretical reason, he presupposed from the start, and later explored in the transcendental analysis, the very division between categorical form and empirical content of knowledge. Even though he approached his own project as critical, he made a number of fundamental and unjustified presuppositions, such as taking at face value that there is an external world and we fundamentally don’t have access to it but through appearances, or that metaphysical ideas can be reduced to a regulative function, as in the case of God, because the transcendental method precludes us from predicating them on the reality ‘out there’. The transcendental method itself, its derivation and validity, according to the very conditions of Kant’s system, does not refer to the realm of possible experience (because of the distinction between the categorical and the empirical), and so can be rendered as invalid upon a meta-philosophical examination of the conditions of transcendental critique itself – a transcendental of the transcendental. If the transcendental method itself, like God, does not have any objective but merely regulative reality, then how can it be in authority to delineate what ‘objective reality’ is? What this reveals, according to Hegel, is that there is a possibility of re-inventing metaphysics, including as we already know, the metaphysics of God, not merely in the realm of regulative ideals of pure reason, but world-objectivity itself.

The core of Hegel’s project in the Science of Logic, is to dispense with those undue Kantian presuppositions, and look at pure thought itself as it unravels. The precise process of this unravelling is already delving into the particular ideas within the Logic, for which I do not have space here. But the outcome of this examination, as Hegel anticipates in the Introduction to it, is retaining the inter-intelligibility between thought and sensibility through recognizing that it is within thought that this difference plays itself out. Thought is the ‘birds eye’ view to recognize the distinctions between thought and sensibility themselves, and to transcend, through reason, the ordinary contradictions of the understanding (for example a contradiction produced by this very notion of thought, namely that it both is and is not sensibility). It is a ‘misconception’ to say that

“reason is the one that contradicts itself; it [analysis of thought] fails to see that the contradiction is in fact the elevation of reason above the restrictions of the understanding and the dissolution of them. At that point, instead of making the final step that would take it to the summit, knowledge flees from the unsatisfactoriness of the determinations of the understanding to sensuous existence (…).” [Hegel, SL, 26, 21.30].

Traditional metaphysics has retained the emphasis on the connection between the forms of thought and external reality, “that the things and thinking of them agree in and of themselves” [Ibid., 25]. The Kantian critique, however, was possible because this metaphysics presupposed this noetic connection from the start as fundamental and intuitive, and has never taken pains to (as Hegel claims he has done in the Logic) to justify this said inter-intelligibility through a critical derivation of metaphysical forms of reality from pure forms of thought. It does not mean, of course, that empirical reality is untrue or that it cannot lead the knower to truth, or that it cannot even be a criterion for truth. Hegel is not a Berkeleyan or something akin to this. It means, on the other hand, that our very idea of the ‘empirical’, of ‘possible experience’, or ‘verification’ are thought constructs, and they will never have pure empirical verification because they construct the very way we determine what is ‘empirical’. The difference between the understanding and sensibility plays itself out within the higher confines of thinking reason.

The consequences of this for the Kantian reduction of our knowledge of the metaphysical idea of God as merely a regulative ideal of reason, are now becoming more explicit. But, apart from the division of form and content, there is another one which Hegel seeks to criticise, and that is between appearances and things in themselves. As I have shown, God for Kant cannot be extrapolated into the realm of the noumenal, or even into the realm of appearances, because this would contradict the principle that the only access to external reality we have through confirmation of possible experience with actual sensuous representations. For Hegel, however, this division between the phenomena and the noumena, is another artificial one.

“(…) his [Kant’s] point of view remains confined within consciousness and its opposition, and, besides the empirical element of feeling and intuition, is left with something else not posited or determined by thinking self-consciousness, a thing-in-itself, something alien and external to thinking – although it is easy to see that such an abstract entity as the thing-in-itself is itself only the product of thought, and of merely abstractive thought at that.” [Hegel, SL, 41, 21.47]

Furthermore, it is only on the conditions of the absolutization of this difference that the criterion of synthetic truth as accordance with the spectral ‘possible experience’ (which I have already determined to be in reality a thought-category) can be valid. It is only when we divide the two ‘worlds’ – of appearances, to which we have access, and of things in themselves to which we do not, that we can claim that we can never be sure whether God is ‘out there’, and not only a product of our minds, since there is a fundamental gap posited between mind and reality. This is a difference Hegel wants to criticise, not through arguing for solipsism or the non-existence of reality external to mind, but to the very artificial, and essentially largely uncritically assumed, division between the reality which is, and is not accessible to our minds.

What we deal with when reading Hegel, therefore, is an attempt at restoring the essential connection between the noetic intuitions and external objectivity, without recourse to finding absolute principles of sensuous confirmation of possible experience, which in themselves, for Hegel, do not have such ‘concrete’ backing in empirical representation. Where in external reality is it said that I have to approach it in the Kantian way? Or is it more, like Hegel argues, that I should first determine in the mind the right way to approach reality, in a progression of logical inferences which ground categories?

Hegel, therefore, actualizes Kant’s panentheism of regulative thoroughgoing determination. We can no more posit an external thing-in-itself, to which we theoretically cannot transpose God as the basis of our determination. What is left is to acknowledge that, as consequence of such noetic (not ontological) unification of subject and object, God as the basis for thoroughgoing determination of things is what grounds not the determinative capacity of our minds, but also the capacity of reality itself, things ‘out there’ to determine themselves in front of the knowing mind. The category of such actualized total determination is in Hegel the Absolute Idea, the framework within which all particular differential determinations make sense as themselves, as different then what they are not. It is personal by virtue of its ultimate freedom, but also remains a model for a panentheist God:

“The highest and most intense point is the pure personality that, solely by virtue of the absolute dialectic which is its nature, equally embraces and holds everything within itself, for it makes itself into the supremely free – the simplicity which is the first immediacy and universality.”
[Hegel, SL, 750, 12.251]



I have written in the introduction that the concept of God in Kant and Hegel, in its panentheist guise as the ground for determination, sways like a ship torn by winds of grand philosophical systems. I have attempted to show in this essay how those storms blow between restriction of the God of metaphysics to the functionality of the merely possible, to the re-visiting of its importance in its establishment as supremely actual. But regardless of whether one remains a Kantian with respect to the question of God’s existence, or makes the Hegelian step forward into divine foundations of idealist ontology, the issue remains that the sections of the Critique of Pure Reason and the Science of Logic mentioned above are still in many ways not a subject of discussion in philosophy of religion and all the more in theology. It is my hope, therefore, that this piece would contribute at least a bit in changing this.

Andrew Karpinski is an honours student of Theology and Religion at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford. His current interests include the relationship between Christian theology and post-Kantian continental philosophy, particularly Hegel and phenomenology.

Works Cited

Kant, I., Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Alen W. Wood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998.

Hegel, G.W.F., Science of Logic, trans. George di Giovanni, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.


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