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Is the Universe Moral?

God, Time and History in Kant and Heidegger

In: Journal for Continental Philosophy of Religion
Author:
William Large University Gloucestershire Department of Education and Humanities UK Cheltenham

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Abstract

Kant argues against the ontological argument for the existence of God but replaces it with a moral theism. This article analyses Kant’s moral proof with emphasis on the Critique of the Power of Judgement, and his historical and political writings. It argues that at the heart of this argument is the idea of progress. The concrete content of the moral law is the idea of a just world. Such a just world would be impossible without the idea of God, since there would be no harmony between nature and freedom. It contrasts Kant’s concept of time and history with Heidegger’s. The difference between them is a reversal of modality. For Kant, actuality determines possibility. If I cannot imagine a just word as actual, then I would fall into moral despair. The idea of God grounds this actuality. For Heidegger, possibility is higher than actuality. Since history has no teleology, then no idea of God is required.

Abstract

Kant argues against the ontological argument for the existence of God but replaces it with a moral theism. This article analyses Kant’s moral proof with emphasis on the Critique of the Power of Judgement, and his historical and political writings. It argues that at the heart of this argument is the idea of progress. The concrete content of the moral law is the idea of a just world. Such a just world would be impossible without the idea of God, since there would be no harmony between nature and freedom. It contrasts Kant’s concept of time and history with Heidegger’s. The difference between them is a reversal of modality. For Kant, actuality determines possibility. If I cannot imagine a just word as actual, then I would fall into moral despair. The idea of God grounds this actuality. For Heidegger, possibility is higher than actuality. Since history has no teleology, then no idea of God is required.

Why does Kant argue that the moral idea of God is necessary once he had removed any theoretical proof of God’s existence? Philosophical concepts are created because they are answers to a problem, and problems exist in a sequence. To understand a problem is to know what sequence it comes in, but also how it interrupts that sequence. Kant’s moral theism is a response to the threat of nihilism. Kant did not invent the idea of a moral God because he was no longer convinced by the ontological proof, and thought he might substitute one proof for another, but because in the absence of any proof, a moral atheism might arise, which would eventually lead to moral despair.

Kant’s moral theism is a reaction against the threat of moral nihilism, whose origin is ontological but whose solution is moral. We do not first require moral theism to end up with nihilism, as though the threat to morality had to wait for Nietzsche’s critique. Rather it is the other way around. The moral solution comes after the threat of nihilism. Kant already knew what nihilism meant. He would have come across it through the ‘Pantheist Controversy’ of the 18th century, where the name Spinoza, rather than Nietzsche, labelled the threat of a dogmatic atheism.1 In a rare lyrical outburst, in the Critique of the Power of Judgement, Kant describes what would befall every such philosopher. Either humanity is the finality of creation, or the universe is meaningless:

Deceit, violence and envy will always surround him, even though he is himself honest, peaceable and benevolent; and the righteous ones besides himself that he will still encounter will, in spite of all their worthiness to be happy, nevertheless will be subject by nature, which pays no attention to that, to all the evils of poverty, illness, and untimely death, just like all the other animals on the earth, and will always remain thus until one wide grave engulfs them all together (whether honest or dishonest, it makes no difference here), and flings them, who were capable of having believed themselves to be the final end of creation, back into the abyss of the aimless chaos of matter from which they were drawn.

AA V, 4522

The significant philosophical issue here is not that Kant was not secular enough, so we might preserve his ethical and political system, by removing the idea of God, but retain the idea of human progress to prevent ourselves from falling into despair, but that his solution to the problem of ideas is their external determination through a representation of ‘quasi-actualities’.3 It is because Kant thinks of ideas as though they were like actualities that the idea of freedom must be determinable through the existence of a just world, and such a just world is only thinkable through the postulate of God’s existence. These ‘quasi-actualities’ are not the same as the sensible objects of intuition, nor even the categorical objects of the schematism, but they must be thought as though they were like actualities.

The source of Kant’s requirement for the subjective necessity of the idea of God both for morality and history is his conception of modality where real possibility is determined by actuality in advance.4 This is the case both for theoretical and practical reason. A rejection of such a necessity might be sought not in a secular denial of God that retains the form of Kant’s modality, but in a questioning of this priority of actuality. Is there another way of thinking of modality where actuality does not determine possibility but ‘possibility’, in Heidegger’s words, ‘is higher than actuality’?5 If there is, then nihilism is not an inevitable outcome of atheism, and the subjective necessity of the idea of God is not required, but this would entail that we would also have to reject progress, which is also dependent on this modality.

The argument of this article is that the philosophy requirement for the idea of God goes deeper than any confessional requirement and is dependent on Kant’s metaphysics. At the heart of this metaphysics is modality. It is how Kant conceives of modality that his conception of a moral history needs the belief in progress, and this belief in turn necessitates the idea of God. This argument has three stages. First, it examines why Kant was still committed to the moral concept of God at the end of his project because of the prerequisite of the ideal a historical progress towards a just world to motivate moral action. The focus will be the appendix of the Critique of the Power of Judgement, ‘Methodology of the Teleological Power of Judgement’ (AA V, 416–485/CPJ, 285–346). Second, the secular reading of Kant cannot avoid the theological implications of the idea of progress without completely rejecting Kant’s metaphysics, but fails to do so. Third, Heidegger’s description of history at the end of Being and Time, reverses the relation between possibility and actuality. It is not actuality that determines possibility, but possibility actuality. Such a reversal goes further than the secular ‘correction’ of Kant and marks a break with his metaphysics.

1 From the Desert of the Universe to the Moral World

If the teleology of nature is given objective validity through the composition of sensible intuition and the categories of the understanding, then the teleology of practical reason is given subjective legitimacy through the moral law. The idea of freedom is a ‘matter of fact’ (Tatsache), but this does not mean it is an object of experience (AA V, 467/CPJ, 332).6 Rather, it is given as an inference from our consciousness of ourselves as moral beings. There is no experiential proof of morality or freedom, which is why it is a fact of reason, rather than a straightforward deduction. Though Kant speaks of a deduction in the Groundwork, it can only be as a weak analogy with the deduction of the first Critique, since there is no sensible intuition of the moral law, as there is with objects of experience. By the second Critique, he ceases to talk of the deduction of the moral law precisely for this reason. Kant does not deduce morality from experience, because consciousness of morality is already part of our sense of ourselves as moral beings prior to experience. We are already conscious of the moral law, and it requires no justification from a philosopher to prove this to us. This is why it is a ‘fact’. Kant then deduces what must necessarily follow from such a consciousness common to everyone, which is the idea of freedom. Without freedom, the actuality of the moral law would not be possible.

If consciousness of the moral law is immediate to us as moral beings, and without freedom we would not be able to realize this law, then the idea of a moral world follows necessarily from this idea of freedom. Why would you be moral unless there was an ultimate end to your actions? This end is what Kant calls the ‘highest good’, which in the second Critique is the unity of virtue and happiness, but in the Critique of the Power of Judgement is better comprehended as the reconciliation of freedom and nature. If the idea of freedom is a ‘matter of fact’, then the idea of the ‘highest good’ is a ‘matter of faith’ (Glaubensache) (AA V, 469–470/CPJ, 333–334).7 It is a consequence of the moral law, but it is not part of our immediate awareness of it. What does this idea contain? We know the laws of nature are indifferent to humanity. Our belief that our lives are not in vain must lie elsewhere. It must be moral rather than scientific. For if we were really to live our lives as though they were at the mercy of the ‘aimless chaos of matter’, then what would be the point of even attempting to improve and create a moral world, since everything could be lost in an instant? For if there were no intelligent life to which this universe would have a moral significance, then how could it have one at all? It would, Kant writes, be a ‘mere desert’ (eine bloße Wüste) (AA V, 442/CPJ, 308). This judgement is not a determinate one. To claim the universe can have a moral meaning says nothing about it as an object of experience. It only has such a meaning for us, and nothing more. Morality, without the correlative of a moral world as an ultimate end, would be empty for us. The moral law would be merely a formal requirement, but without a material and concrete content in the idea of the actuality of a moral world it would lack direction or purpose. If we cannot conceive of morality through the existence of a moral world, then the moral law could not motivate us to act, since its realisation would be impossible.

The hope in a moral world in turn must also contain the belief in a moral God. If nature requires freedom to be transformed into a moral world, then freedom requires nature to be susceptible to such a transformation. Such a conception of nature is only conceivable in the moral idea of creation. Morally speaking, nature must be thought of as being created by a ‘moral author of the world’ (moralischen Welturhebers) such that it could even be molded by human action (AA V, 453/CPJ, 318. Emphasis in the original). For Leibniz, the harmony of nature and freedom is real because the existence of God can be proved ontologically, whereas for Kant it is only the idea of an actuality assented to subjectively through the moral law. In the first case, modality is objective and ontological. Whereas in the second, it is subjective and epistemological.8 So, the moral idea of God tells us nothing about the determinate nature of God, as though we might list God’s attributes, like any other object of experience, but only its requirement for our conception of ourselves as moral beings.

Though many secular commentators agree with Kant that if you accept the fact of the moral law, then the belief in the actuality of a moral world follows, some disagree that the necessity of the moral idea of God must also.9 There are two possible objections to this secular thesis as the hidden truth of Kant’s text, concealed presumably even from him. One, is to insist that the evidence, despite our own liberal and secular convictions, is that Kant never fails to link the idea of the ‘highest good’ with the moral idea of God. The other, which is a more interesting and deeper criticism, and goes beyond a mere scholarly debate about what Kant did or did not intend, secretly or overtly, is that even this secular reading conceals its own theological form. The idea of progress is theological, even when it declares itself to be a secular humanism, because it only replaces the content of the idea of God with the idea of humanity but retains its form. In comparison, Kant’s argument is more consistent. He demonstrates you cannot have an idea of progress without the moral idea of God, however minimal it might be, otherwise you contradict your own finitude. The unity of freedom and nature is not under our power. This is not just a personal conviction on Kant’s behalf, or a desire to escape censorship to hide the true atheism of his thought, but is the rigorous pursuit of an idea as is shown in his numerous political and historical essays.

2 The Glittering Misery of the Towns

Even though Kant’s writings on politics and history are minor texts in his work, they demonstrate a consistency of argument and are integrated into his overall system. They follow necessarily from the philosophical enquiries of theoretical and practical reason, and indeed attempt to solve the crucial problem of the critical system, which is the fundamental split between freedom and nature. The key to understanding why Kant does not reject ethical theology is how he solves the problem of the opposition between freedom and nature. This opposition can only be overcome from both sides of the relation. A completely secular interpretation of Kant would argue it is vanquished by human action, which would be from the side of freedom alone. Politics and history would replace theology, and Kant would be Hegel avant la lettre.

Yet, this is not Kant’s argument. Progress is impossible without providence. Providence, which is different from the blind chance of fate, Kant argues in his essay ‘Perpetual Peace’, is the manifestation of purposiveness in nature of a ‘higher cause’ (höheren Ursache) (AA VIII, 361).10 This ‘higher cause’ is the moral idea of God. The progress of history is impossible without providence because freedom alone cannot overcome the opposition between it and nature without nature already accommodating and promoting freedom’s goals. Such a nature can only be the theological idea of creation, even if it is given a moral twist, and not just a blind mechanical process indifferent to humanity’s aims. A purely secular idea of progress simply conceals this theological necessity from itself, since it denies we are finite beings as we can achieve this unity under our own power. If this then, appears to be impossible, which it will inevitably do so, we would again fall into nihilism and despair.

History has two meanings for Kant.11 One is the empirical study of history, about which the philosopher has nothing to say, and the other is the idea of history. Progress is immanent to the latter. Just as the idea of ‘natural purposes’ guides the study of biology, but the study of actual organisms would be entirely mechanical, so too empirical history is historiography, but without the idea of history it would have no value, and more importantly no meaning or direction. This idea of history cannot be proved empirically, for it is already presupposed, whether implicitly or explicitly, for something like history to be meaningful. Why would we study the past unless it had a meaning for our future? This future has a specific meaning for Kant. It is the moral perfection of humanity, which is the idea of an actuality that necessarily belongs to our moral concept of ourselves.12

If history has a beginning, it marks the break with nature, then it too must have an end, and when it reaches this final stage, the idea of history would be fulfilled, even though the accumulation of facts would continue. As Kant argues in his essay ‘Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History’, the start of history is the transition from ‘the guardianship of nature’ (Vormundschaft der Natur) to the ‘state of freedom’ (Stand der Freiheit). The idea of history is the ‘progress towards perfection’ (Fortschreiten zur Vollkommenheit), which is the ‘highest good’. If perfection is reached, then history comes to an end (AA VIII, 115).13 It is true that without human action the idea of history would not be realized, but the origin of freedom is provided by nature, and without the providence of God, the harmony of nature and freedom could never be conceived of as an actuality. In its absence, history could only ever be imagined as the contingent and chaotic rise and fall of civilizations without purpose or reason.

Kant summarizes the moral meaning of history in section 83 of The Critique of the Power of Judgement. Humanity is not merely a ‘natural end’ (Naturzweck), as other forms of self-organizing life, but also the ‘ultimate end’ (letzte Zweck) of nature, since only in relation to us does the universe have a meaning as a moral world (AA V, 429/CPJ, 297). The difference between humanity and life in general does not mean that humanity does not have ‘natural ends’, since like all forms of life, whether simple or complex, we have the same drive for self-preservation, but mere survival is not our ultimate purpose. We do not simply live from the world. We inhabit it and thereby transform it and ourselves. There is a difference between mere ‘happiness’ (Glückseligkeit) and ‘culture’ (Cultur) (AA V, 430/CPJ, 297). The pure enjoyment of nature is impossible for us. No matter how much we might dream of the idyll of nature, like all life our very dependency on it means we are vulnerable. What nature preserves it also destroys. Yet what makes humanity different, even if were to reach this illusory state of pure happiness, is that our reason would destroy it from within. We are more assailed from internal dissatisfaction, then disasters from without. As soon as we are satisfied, we would desire something else, more interesting, and novel. Happiness consumes, but reason invents new needs, which create every more innovative kinds of sadness. If reason, Kant writes in ‘Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History’, liberates us from the ‘mother’s lap of nature’ (Mutterschoß der Natur), then it also enslaves us to ever new vices, which nature could never imagine, and which are the ‘glittering misery of the towns’ (glänzende Elend der Städte) (AA VIII, 114 & 120/PW, 226 & 231. Translation modified).

Nature is the origin of freedom, which creates the strife that drives civilization, but without the idea of the actuality of the moral world, then all this would be for nothing. If culture, and the economic life it makes possible, were the ultimate ends of humanity, then we would be fated to a permanent state of unease and anxiety. The end of happiness alone is not the same as the end of freedom, which is the highest achievement of human reason. History might begin with culture and civilization, but it ends with the actuality of the moral world. It is both the final end of history, its direction and purpose, but also where history ends. Without the actuality of the moral world as the ideal of history, history would just be a heap of corpses, where cultural advancement could never be retrospectively justified through the actuality of the moral world. If the possession of reason is what makes human life different from animal life, which is a possibility given by nature, then if reason were not directed towards a higher purpose outside of culture, at first unknown to itself, it would only be the permanent state of strife and conflict. Antagonism between individuals, and then states, what Kant calls, in his essay ‘The Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’, ‘unsocial sociability’ (ungesellige Geselligkeit), thereby anticipating Hegel’s ‘cunning of reason’, might be the unconscious motor of historical development, without which the moral world would never be possible, but culture alone, without the idea of the actuality of the moral world, would lead humanity back to the state of animal life through permanent war (AA VIII, 20).14

There are two ways the idea of providence enters this argument. If nature conspired against human actions, then the moral world would never be actual, no matter what we did. As finite beings we are dependent beings. If we imagined nature were so created to undermine our efforts, then no number of actions on our behalf would be able to overcome its indifference to us. Secondly, the very spur for the development of human history, this ‘unsocial sociability’, which we have already noted is crucial to our cultural development as a species, is imprinted in us by nature. The actualization of freedom is dependent on our natural being even if this is not the final stage of our moral history. If human beings were not naturally competitive, first as individuals, then as states, no ‘free federation’ (Friedensbund), as Kant writes in his essay ‘Perpetual Peace’, would be achievable (AA VIII, 356/PW 104. Translation modified). If I cannot imagine human history as providential, then no progress is possible, and rather than the end of all wars, there is only war and war, and ultimately the destruction of the human species.

Freedom is a ‘matter of fact’ because all of us are conscious of the constraint of the moral law, but the idea of the actualization of freedom in the moral world requires the providence of nature, which is inconceivable without belief in the idea of the actuality of God. Freedom requires nature both in terms of its origin (there would be no freedom if it did not have its source in nature), and its fulfilment. It is not the moral law that makes the moral world actual, but the moral world the moral law. Without the moral world, the moral law would be merely formal rather than concrete. The moral law formally contains right as an idea based on freedom, but its reality is dependent on the actuality of a moral world, which in turn could not exist without the actuality of God. Without providence, we could only ever conceive of the moral world as a mere possibility, and never hope it might one day become an actuality.

Human reason does not discover the value of humanity in nature, it legitimizes it. The moral idea of God is required precisely because we are finite. We must make good the gap in our understanding of nature by our ideas. There can be no moral action without an orientation in a morally meaningful world, and that orientation is not supplied by our understanding of nature, so we must act as though nature were the product of a ‘moral Author’. It would be irrational to believe in the actuality of a moral world if we thought nature was wholly recalcitrant to our efforts, even if only passively. As Weil writes, ‘Freedom is freedom in a world that lends itself to action, to the action of man who finds himself free because a sensible nature allows him this discovery and pushes him to it.’15 Nature, morally speaking for Kant, is not an indifferent lump waiting to be transformed into a moral world through the actions of humanity. It already must be available for this transformation, and this accessibility to our moral metamorphosis requires, even in the most secular understanding of Kant’s argument, the moral idea of God. Without it, I could not possibly conceive of any moral progress to humanity, just as in the absence of rational belief in the unity of nature all I would possess would be a chaotic aggregate of empirical laws whose consistency would be entirely contingent.

In terms of Kant’s own system, we can see how the idea of progress is inseparable from an ethical theology, but is there a way of thinking about history without the idea of progress, which then would not require a theology, hidden or otherwise? To answer this question, we must return to the issue of modality in Kant. What does it mean to say ideas have an actuality? Actuality is one of the three categories of modality in the Critique of Pure Reason. The others are possibility and necessity. What is specific to Kant’s transcendental philosophy is that it is actuality that determines possibility and not possibility actuality. What is possible is thought of in terms of objects given in experience rather than as the mere logical difference between possible and impossible concepts. In the ‘Postulates of Empirical Thought in General’ in the Critique, it is the form and content of experience that determines real possibility and not logic.16 I can imagine any figure I wish, Kant writes, but that does not make it a real possibility. It has to be given in experience. This is not just a redefinition of the difference between possibility and actuality, but a complete rejection of a previous metaphysics. For Kant, against the ‘onto-theism’ of Leibniz, Wolff and Baumgarten, and the logicism it implies, it is experience that determines what is possible and not thought alone.

This precedence of actuality over possibility is as determinate for ideas as it is with intuitions and the categories. Though there are no empirical objects that correspond to the ideas of the self, world and God, their regulative function is legitimate only in relation to experience. In the sphere of practical reason, this actuality can only be by analogy. It is subjunctive rather than indicative. We act as though the moral world were a reality, and the existence of God were real. What this analogy conceals, however, is the origin of the external content of the ideal. The ‘quasi-actuality’ of the moral idea retranslates empirical attributes as universals and then normalizes them. When we peal back the skin of the idea of freedom, what we discover at its underneath is the superiority of European civilization, which has ceased to be one history among others, but the history of the world. The empirical content is retrospectively justified by the idea, even though the content is produced by the idea itself as though it were miraculous.

3 The Origin of Morality

The source of Kant’s moral idea of God is how he conceives of the ideas in general. Ideas are intrinsically problematic, but their solutions are extrinsic ‘quasi-actualities’. If we go back to the distinction between the idea of history and the empirical facts of history, Kant makes the idea of the development of freedom out of nature the guiding thread of empirical history, but this solution is extrinsic and normative, rather than intrinsic and historical. Rather than correctly concluding that such an idea is produced at a certain moment in history, for such reasons, and in these conditions and no others, the content of the idea is subtracted or separated out of history and then falls back upon it to determine it from the outside. This means that the content of this idea only has an external solution to empirical history whose evidence retrospectively proves the truth of the idea. Human history is nothing but the progress of human freedom as the unfolding of this idea in nature, which is nothing less than the domination of European civilization. Any event in empirical history that does not conform to this idea of human progress can therefore be discounted a priori. Kant is aware human history is full of setbacks and calamities, a ‘graveyard of freedom’ (Kirchhofe der Freiheit), as he writes in ‘Perpetual Peace’ (AA VIII, 367/PW, 114), but through the idea of history, they are always already cancelled out as obstacles to be overcome.

The idea of freedom requires the idea of a just world, which in turn entails the idea of God. This is the regulative form of the idea, but the content or matter of this idea, its external determination, is European civilization. This civilization is no longer one history among others, but the history as the telos of world history. Such a purification and idealization of the content of the idea of history, means paradoxically that the history of its origin vanishes. It becomes the internal development of an inborn origin that has no history. All other cultures have an empirical history, but their fate is ultimately to vanish. The end of history is the end of all histories. What is lacking in the external determination of the idea is its historical origin. This lack of a genetic account strikes at the very heart of Kant’s morality. If the idea of progress tells us about the development of morality (the world is becoming more and more moral), then it tells us nothing about the beginning of that morality except as inherent to consciousness. A commitment to an ahistorical understanding of morality and the teleological idea of history are intimately connected. History is the progressive unfolding of the idea of human freedom, which pre-exists it as an absolute origin that has no history. This would make the idea of history the very ‘resolution of history’ (Beschluß der Geschichte), as Kant himself acknowledges in a title to a subsection in ‘Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History’ (AA VIII, 118/PW, 229). History ends when culture begins, which is the culture of Europe, and empirical history then becomes the unfolding of the same idea. History is the history of the same. This robs history of its very historical nature because there could never be anything new or different in history. Whereas in fact, history only appears the same because we have retrospectively applied to the events of history our idea of history from our vantage point in the present and obliterated any differences. We project the empirical attributes of European civilization back into the absolute origin of time. History is the history of the same because it is our history, and no-one else’s. The generation of the idea of history, as the absolute origin and telos of history, is outside of history, but when Kant comes to illustrate concretely what such a history might be, as in his essay the ‘Idea for a Universal History’, it is the history of European civilization.17 This is why of all the histories in the world, only European history uniquely bears the label ‘progress’.

The subject of history is in history, but it is not itself historical. As Stern argues, Kant’s moral subject is an ‘ethical analogue’ to the Cartesian cogito.18 It is a subject without a history, which nonetheless determines the outcome of history externally by concealing its real social and historical origins. Even if Kant gives up on a transcendental deduction of morality, the idea of morality is still profoundly ahistorical. The moral self has no social and historical origins because it is an absolute origin without a history. Kant speaks of the historical development of morality, but not the historical genesis of the meaning of morality. History is the history of the adoption of the moral law, but there is no history of the origin of the moral law itself, either in its form or content. It arrives fully shaped in the hearts of everyone.

4 Higher Than Actuality Is Possibility

The secular interpretation of Kant’s idea of history accepts the form of the idea, even though it divests it of its theological content. The form of the idea requires the primacy of actuality over possibility in Kant’s modality.19 A more radical questioning of the idea, than replacing its content, would be to reject its form. This would mean reversing the relation between actuality and possibility. Kant requires the postulates of practical reason not because of some personal idiosyncrasy on his behalf, as though he wanted to smuggle his religious beliefs and commitments into his philosophy, such that they could be removed while leaving the whole of the argument unscathed, but because the modality of judgement requires the difference between real and logical possibility is determined by actuality, even if this actuality is a matter of rational belief.

The modality of being, as with the rest of Kant’s system, is crucial to understanding his conception of history, because modal categories represent our relation to objects as appearances rather than as things in themselves. Justice would not be possible, if the necessary conditions of its real possibility were not actualised in the idea of God. For Kant, this is a subjective and epistemological condition, and not an ontological one. It is we who must conceive of God as actual to imagine the real possibility of justice. The ground of its possibility is in us and not in reality. The modal categories are unique among the other categories in that they express explicitly our subjective relation to objects. It is not we who must conform to them, but they to us. Real possibility must be explainable, but its ultimate explanation is epistemological rather than ontological. The difference between practical and theoretical modal judgements, is that the former is reflective and the latter determinative, but in both cases, they are necessarily subjective.

It is not a religious or even confessional commitment that requires the rational belief in the existence of God, such that if you removed the idea of God, you would have a complete secular version of Kant. This is to conceive of the relation between modality and the idea of God the wrong way around. It is not the idea of God that requires modality, but modality the idea of God. It is how Kant comprehends modality, and in particular the difference between logical and real possibility and the primacy of actuality that determines it, which is driving the rational need for the idea in God in Kant’s conception of history. All this remains unchanged if you merely replace the content of the idea with humanity. Man (sic) becomes God.

To think beyond Kant is to break with his ‘actualism’ and this is only possible if we can see the hidden ontological basis of his modal categories. We can catch a glimpse of this ground in his ‘remark’ about modality in the Critique of the Power of Judgement, where the difference between the necessary, the actual and the possible is explained by the division of the cognitive subject into separate faculties of reason, understanding and intuition (CPJ 271–274/AA V 401–404). Modality does not describe how things are, but what kind of subject we are. The threefold distinction between necessity, possibility and actuality mirrors the division of the cognitive subject into three separate faculties. The difference between mere logical possibility and real possibility, as we have seen, is actuality. If an object is given in intuition, then it has an objective validity as opposed to a conceptual one. It is the status of ideas that is problematic. Ideas are subjectively necessary yet there is no object that corresponds to them. They are immanent and regulative; not transcendent and constitutive. Though reason may have an idea of the unconditioned, there is no actual experience of an unconditioned. The objective validity of the idea, therefore, is mediated by the understanding and its relation to intuition. The error reason makes is that it thinks it can replace the object of the understanding, whose possibility lies in the subjectivity of the subject, with its own object that is external to this subjectivity. It is this object, the thing-in-itself, which has no objective validity for Kant. It is an idea without an object. Actuality lies on the side of intuition in relation to the concepts of the understanding for finite reason. There is no intellectual intuition for the kind of beings we are. Even though the modal categories are placed fourth in Kant’s table of categories, they express the crux of the whole of Kant’s critical project, where the source of the objectivity of the object is the subjectivity of the subject.

This is how Kant presents his project as the epistemological reversal of ontology. This is the difference between the pre-critical and critical writing. Even though Kant does not leave behind the necessity of God’s existence for both theoretical and practical reason, it is now only an idea of the subject and not an objective reality. Yet what is entirely left unquestioned by Kant is the status of the subject itself and it is the subject which is the ontological ground of modality in the different faculties. The epistemological reversal is only made possible by an ontology that remains obscured and is this the ontology of the Cartesian subject who represents the world through ideas. It is this subject which is the basis of Heidegger’s ontological criticism in Being and Time of the primacy of cognition and representation and explains why he can reverse the relation between actuality and possibility and conceive the meaning of history in an entirely different way. ‘In taking over,’ Heidegger writes, ‘Descartes’ ontological position Kant made an essential omission: he failed to provide an ontology of ‘Dasein’ (BT 46/SZ 240).20

Heidegger discusses in detail Kant’s modality in his essay ‘Kant’s Thesis about Being’.21 The empirical postulates say nothing about what the object is but only how the object is related to the subject. They link, Heidegger writes, ‘the objectivity of objects to the subjectivity of human cognition’.22 Nonetheless, they leave unquestioned what the ontological status of this subjectivity is. The being of the subject is no different from the being of the Cartesian self. Though the source of the objectivity of objects is the subject, Kant does not think the subjectivity of the subject any differently from the objectivity of the object. The time of subject is identical to the time of the object, which is the time of representation. Epistemologically speaking the objectivity of the object has its source in the subjectivity of the subject, but ontologically it is the other way around. The being of the subject is conceived only through this relationship to the object. Though epistemologically, the subject determines the object, ontologically it is the relation to the object that shapes how the subject relates to itself. For the subject is conceived only as a thinking subject that represents itself in the same way it represents objects. Being is equivalent to thought.

Heidegger rejects the traditional metaphysical distinction between existentia and essentia [BT 62/SZ 42]. Existence is not a mere judgement ‘that something exists’ as opposed to the essence of ‘what something is’, but ‘a way of being’ distinctive to Dasein. How Dasein relates to being is through possibilities, but this possibility is not defined by judgement. It is neither a logical nor a real possibility. As we have seen with Kant, in such an epistemological account of possibility, possibility is lower than actuality and necessity. For Dasein, on the contrary, possibility is how you or I are. This would mean that we would have to think of modality in a completely different way. It does not first describe the relation of the cognitive subject to the object, but my own ‘ability to be’ (Seinskönnen) through my possibilities. If cognitively speaking, actuality determines possibility, then existentially, it is the other way around. It is possibilities that first determine my existence and not actuality. These possibilities are part of my being. If I am my possibilities, then this ‘actuality’ is quite different from the epistemological one. It is a fragile broken actuality of pregnant possibilities.

This reversal of modality entails a completely different understanding of history, which Heidegger describes in the final sections of Being and Time. For Kant, as we have seen, history is determined externally by the rational belief in the idea of the actuality of a telos. History progresses towards a completion that has been set, transcendentally at least, in advance. Only in this way can history be thought of as a unity, rather than just a collection of empirical facts, and thus have a moral purpose. The wholeness of Dasein, which Heidegger describes as the ‘connectedness of life’ (Zusammenhang des Lebens), is entirely different than the unity of an idea (BT 435/ SZ 373). In the latter, the unity of history is completed teleologically. In the former, the future is not an end, but a future to come. It is a future projected as a possibility rather than an actuality. If history has a meaning for me, then it does so only as part of my understanding of my own being. Why does history matter to me? Because my possibilities, which I project ahead of myself, and make me who I am, come to me from the past. My possibilities are not ‘free floating’. They arrive from a world that ‘has been’. This past world is not first an object of the science of history but belongs to my understanding of myself. If there is anything like the science of history, and the idea of history that makes it possible, then they have their origin in this everyday understanding of our being. History exists because we are historical, and not first because we are objects of the idea of history. Our ‘historicality’ (Geschichtlichkeit) is the condition of ‘history’ (Historie) and not the other way around (BT 427–428/SZ 375).

We talk about events belonging to the past as though they have passed (what was actual is no longer) but the past lingers, and it does so as the future to come. If we are to understand history ontologically, then we must do so temporally. The past of history is not just something actual that has happened and now no longer is but is a future possibility ahead of ourselves. If we talk about past things or past events concern us, then it is only in terms of these future possibilities, for without them why would the past matter to us at all? If we think of objects in a museum, Heidegger writes, then the past does not cling to them as properties of an object, but as belonging to a world that has been [BT 432/SZ 380–381]. This past world is part of the present world of Dasein but only as a future to come. We relate to our past as part of a present in relation to our future possibilities. Yet it is not the present that determines the future as a pre-existing actuality, but the future the present as an anticipated possibility. The present, understood through the temporality of Dasein, as opposed to the derivative time of things, is a ‘presentifying-future’ (gegenwärtigendes-zukünftiges), rather than a future of the present, as the actuality of a telos [BT 432/SZ 381. Translation modified]. This ‘presentifying future’ is the temporal basis out of which anything like the idea of progress might have its source, but the actuality of this idea conceals its own ontological foundations in the possibility of possibility. It is not the actual that determines the possible as the present, but the possible as the future to come the actual. If we reverse the relation between the actual and the possible, then we must also rethink the very ontology of possibility and this is Heidegger’s break with Kant’s ‘actualism’.

Progress is the representation of the same. It is the extrapolation of the present into the future from the past. Every event is an inevitable staging post towards a future that is already actual. It only holds the possible out into the actual. For Heidegger, such a conception of time is secondary and not primary. It is the time of things, and not the time of Dasein, out of which even the time of things must have its origin. The future as an extrapolation of the present has its origin in the projection of the future to come, which Heidegger calls ‘repetition’ (Wiederholung). Repetition is not the same as progress. ‘Repetition’, he writes, ‘does not abandon itself to that which is past, nor does it aim at progress’ [BT 438/SZ 386]. The idea of the actuality of the future has its origin in the future as possible. The actual is the sedimentation of the possible, but everywhere and always the possible flows on, which Heidegger describes as the continual ‘return of the possible’ (die Wiederkehr des Möglichen) [BT 444/SZ 391. Translation modified]. From the perspective of the present, we reconstruct the past as though its outcome was inevitable, but in so doing we erase both the past as possibility and the future to come, which rather than confirming the present opens it up to difference. The idea of progress has its ontological condition in projection, but it is a projection that has become ossified in the actuality of the present. Opposite to this stultification of the possible in the actual is what Heidegger calls the ‘quiet force of the possible’ (die stille Kraft des Möglichen), where past possibilities are repeated through a future yet to come that breaks with the monotony of the present [BT 446/SZ 394].23

Such an understanding of existence as possibility changes how we think about time and history. Time is no longer the presence of an actuality within a unified and continuous series but the projection of my past into the future to come that ruptures the present. I am not in time but am my time. For Kant, progress is the transcendent object of the idea. Every empirical event is merely a step along the road to the completion of this actuality, and without the guarantee of the existence of God, history would have no direction or purpose. The future and the past are determined by the threefold representation of the actualities of the idea: the actuality of freedom, the actuality of the moral world, and the actuality of God. For Heidegger, there is no justification or legitimisation of history external to history, because history is immanent and not determined by a transcendent object. Dasein is not in history but is historical. History is not first the representation of an idea that exists outside of me as an actuality but is the immanent existential possibility of a finite being. We only have a history because we are our history. What matters to us about the past is because of what concerns us in the present, but what affects us about the present is projected ahead of ourselves into the future. Three conclusions follow from this other ontology of history and time. First, there is no single idea that explains history since it is non-linear and discontinuous. Continuity is always constructed retrospectively from our projection. Second, it is events that explain history, and not history events, and they are rare, singular, and contingent. Third, there is no external objective viewpoint outside of history. We who interpret and give meaning to history are ourselves historical. Finally, we must come to see that Kant’s commitment to a ‘rational belief’ in God sustaining his view of a moral history has its origin in his modality. Once we break with this metaphysics, then we no longer require it. This rupture, however, is quite different from the secular interpretations of Kant, which leave the metaphysics of Kant’s ‘actualism’ untouched.

1

For an explanation of the importance of the ‘Pantheist Controversy’ on the development of Kant’s thought, see John H. Zammito, The Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 228–247. It was Kant’s adversary in this controversy, Jacboi, who introduced the term ‘nihilism’ (Nihilismus) into German philosophy in his ‘Open Letter to Fichte’, as a description of the inevitable conclusion of the former’s idealism. It was for this reason that Kant felt he had to defend himself from this charge. See, Stephen Wagner Cho, ‘Before Nietzsche: Nihilism as a Critique of German Idealism’, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, 18.1 (1995), 205–233. For a detailed account of atheism in Kant, see Laura Denis, ‘Kant’s Criticism of Atheism’, Kant-Studien, 94.2 (2006), 198–219.

2

I have cited Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. by Paul Guyer, trans. by Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 317–318. Hereafter, CPJ. References to the Akademieausgabe of Kant’s works will be given in the standard way by employing the abbreviation AA followed by the volume number, and then the page number. Immanuel Kant, Gesammelte Schriften, Königlich Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften/ Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: Reimer, ab 1922 de Gruyter, 1900 ff.).

3

There is an interesting agreement here between some recent Kant’s scholarship of the Critique of the Power of Judgement and Deleuze’s criticism of Kant in Difference and Repetition. Although strictly speaking there is no object corresponding to an idea, and thus no externality, Kant treats them as though there were by analogy. For modality in general in Kant, and the primacy of actuality over possibility, see Nicholas Stang, Kant’s Modal Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). For modality and ideas in Kant, see Andrew Chignell, ‘Real Repugnance and Belief about Things-in-Themselves: A Problem and Kant’s Three Solutions’, in Kant’s Moral Metaphysics, God, Freedom, and Immortality, ed. by Benjamin Bruxvoort Lipscomb and James Krueger (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2010), pp. 177–209. For Deleuze’s criticism of Kant’s ideas, see Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. by Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 168–170.

4

On Kant’s ‘actualism’ see, Uygar Abaci, Kant’s Revolutionary Theory of Modality (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2019). The difference between the pre-critical and the critical stages in Kant’s thought is that he first saw the priority of actual over the possible as an ontological commitment, whereas he later rejected it for an epistemological one. It belongs to how we relate to the world and not ‘things-in-themselves’. Abaci argues that modality is not one category among others, but crucial to understanding the critical project as such. Our knowledge of the world is relational, subjective, and discursive. He is right to argue that the source of Kant’s ‘actualism’ is in the cognitive subject, but he leaves completely unquestioned the ontological status of that subject, which of course is precisely what Kant also does.

5

‘Higher than actuality stands possibility’ (Höher als die Wirklichkeit steht die Möglichkeit). Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 2006), p. 38. Hereafter, SZ. I have cited the English translation Being and Time, trans. by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1962), p. 63. Hereafter, BT.

6

There is of course a huge debate in Kantian scholarship about what the status of this ‘fact’ might be, which is beyond the scope of this paper. For a Kantian defence of it, see Henry R Allison, Kant’s Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 230–249.

7

For the importance of the ‘highest good’ to Kant’s morality, see Klaus Düsing, ‘Das Problem des Höchsten Gutes in Kants Praktischer Philosophie’, Kant-Studien, 62.1–4 (2009), 5–42. If we cannot provide morality an objective reality through the idea of the ‘highest good’, then morality cannot command us. Such an end, however, is beyond the capacity of a finite will, so we require the necessary supplement of a belief in God, who as the ‘moral author of creation’, ensures that freedom and nature are unified. It is important to note that this objective reality is only an idea for Kant, and not an object of the senses. Its status is therefore problematic and a matter of ‘rational belief’.

8

To say that Kant’s modality is subjective and epistemological is not to deny that there is not a hidden ontology at the basis of it. This is subject of Heidegger’s critique of Kant, which we will examine in the final section.

9

Yovel argues, for example, that Kant should have argued that the idea of history is the secular story of progress of humanity, which does not require belief in God, and this is what Hegel and Marx achieved after him. See, Kant and the Philosophy of History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). This reading depends on whether you think faith in history is the same or different from religious faith, and whether one, as Korsgaard puts it, is the substitute for the other. See, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 33. For an equally strong secular reading of Kant, which argues that the harmony of freedom and nature is achieved from the side of human freedom alone, see also Richard L. Velkley, Freedom and the End of Reason: On the Moral Foundation of Kant’s Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

10

I have cited the translation of ‘Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch’ by Hans Reiss in Immanuel Kant, Political Writings, trans. by H.B. Nisbet and H.S. Reiss, 2. ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 108. Henceforth PW. On the importance of providence in Kant as the origin of the harmony between nature and freedom, see Pauline Kleingeld, ‘Nature or Providence? On the Theoretical and Moral Importance of Kant’s Philosophy of History’, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 75.2 (2001), 201–219.

11

In the second part of the Conflict of the Faculties, Kant distinguishes between ‘natural’ and “moral history” (AA VII, 79). The first concerns history as an empirical investigation, and the second the idea of history as the progress of humanity. I have cited the translation of the second part by Robert Anchor in Immanuel Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, trans. by Mary J. Gregor (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), p. 141. As in Kant’s views about science in general, the former is not possible without the latter since history would merely be an aggregation of facts without direction or purpose. See also Emil L. Fackenheim, ‘Kant’s Concept of History’, Kant-Studien, 48.1–4 (2009), 381–398.

12

As we shall see in the third stage of this argument, it is precisely this idea of the future that Heidegger will dispute. Whether we require the idea of God is a tangential to this disagreement and not its source. More fundamental than the idea of God is modality and time.

13

I have cited the translation of this essay by Barry Nisbet in Kant, Political Writings, pp. 226–227. Hereafter PW.

14

I have cited the English translation of this essay by Hans Reiss in Kant, Political Writings, p. 44.

15

La liberté est liberté dans un monde qui se prête à son action, à l’ action de l’ homme qui se découvre libre parce qu’ une nature sensée lui permet cette découverte et l’ y pousse. Eric Weil, Problèmes kantiens (Paris: Vrin, 1990), p. 90.

16

Translations from the Critique of Pure Reason are from Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998). As is standard, references to the Critique of Pure Reason (hereafter ‘CPR’) are to the pages of the first (A) and second (B) edition. The above reference is A218–226/B265–274.

17

The evidence of human progress Kant gives is from Greek to Roman civilisation to Europe, which will then ‘probably legislate for everyone else’ (der wahrscheinlicher Weise allen anderen dereinst Gesetze geben wird) (AA VIII, 29/PW, 52). The idea of progress in Kant cannot be separated from his racism. On the latter, see Robert Bernasconi, ‘Who Invented the Concept of Race? Kant’s Role in the Enlightenment Construction of Race’, in Race, ed. by Robert Bernasconi (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), pp. 11–36. And also, Robert Bernasconi, ‘Kant as an Unfamiliar Source of Racism’, in Philosophers on Race: A Critical Reader, ed. by Julie Ward and Tommy Lee Lott (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), pp. 145–166.

18

Stern writes, ‘to admit the intrusion of historical conditions in determining the structure and governing principles of moral agency has the consequence that his conception of the moral subject represents an ethical analogue to the Cartesian cogito.’ ‘The Problem of History and Temporality in Kantian Ethics’, The Review of Metaphysics, 39.3 (1986), 505–545 (p. 544).

19

Chignell argues that Kant offers three solutions to the problems of ideas. First, that the objectivity of ideas is like the actuality of objects but is a matter of belief rather than knowledge; second, that the objects of ideas are a peculiar kind of fact whose actuality is intellectual rather than empirical; and third, and perhaps the most interesting, that the objects of ideas are symbols in art and nature that indicate the ‘quasi-actuality of ideas’. See, Chignell, pp. 190–209.

20

Heidegger makes a similar statement in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. ‘In the radicalism of his questions,’ he writes, ‘Kant brought the “possibility” of metaphysics to this abyss. He saw the unknown. He had to shrink back.’ Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, trans. by Richard Taft, 5th edn (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), p. 118. Martin Heidegger, Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik, ed. by Friedrich-Wilhelm von Hermann (Frankfurt, M.: Klostermann, 2010), p. 168. Later, in the Contributions, Heidegger makes it clear that this reading of Kant is not meant as a correction, as though the analytic of Dasein were simply added onto the transcendental analytic, and made good what was lacking there, but an entirely different way of thinking. Kant is important for Heidegger, because he thinks of the self in terms of time, but this self is still the self of representation. Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy: (Of the Event), trans. by Richard Rojcewicz and Daniela Vallega-Neu (Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2012), pp. 199–200. Martin Heidegger, Beiträge zur Philosophie: (vom Ereignis), ed. by Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt, Main: Klostermann, 2003), pp. 253–254.

21

Martin Heidegger, ‘Kant’s Thesis about Being’, in Pathmarks, ed. by William McNeill, trans. by Ted Klein Jr. and William Pohl (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 337–363. Martin Heidegger, Wegmarken, ed. by Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1996), pp. 445–480.

22

Heidegger, ‘Kant’s Thesis about Being’, p. 354. ‘Der Objektivität der Objekte zur Subjektivität der menschlichen Erkenntnis’ Heidegger, Wegmarken, pp. 468–469.

23

‘The quiet force of the possible’ is like Benjamin’s ‘weak messianic power’ (eine schwache messianische Kraft) in his essay ‘On the Concept of History’. Walter Benjamin, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Volume 4, 1938–1940, ed. by Howard Eiland and Michael W Jennings (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 390. Walter Benjamin, Abhandlungen, ed. by Hermann Schweppenhäuser and Rolf Tiedemann, Gesammelte Schriften, 1 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2006), p. 694. Both require a rethinking of time and modality. The future is conceived not as a repetition of the same, but as difference. Possibility determines actuality and not actuality possibility. This leads to a complete rethinking of the meaning of history not as the progress of the same but as the discontinuity of the event.

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