Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

Guest Post by Danielle Kahut (Western Seminary Student)

A critical dimension in the theological discussion, whether emphasis shall be placed on the objective study of Scripture or the subjective experience of the individual, has its roots in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted only loosely allude to this philosophy-to-theology link in their later chapters. It is of such importance that it needs to be emphasized.

Allen and Springsted do highlight the clear connection between Hume’s philosophy and Kant’s categories. Hume had used the fact that there is no observable link between ‘causes’ and ‘effects’ to say that the entire empiricist enterprise (the philosophical endeavor to ground knowledge on the foundation of experience) was fruitless and would therefore never produce any ‘true knowledge.’ This view, referred to as Humean skepticism, Kant felt a burden to answer.

Unlike the philosophers who had come immediately before him, Kant did not believe that experience was the source of knowledge; however, he did believe that knowledge begins there. The external sensations (touch, taste, smell, etc.) are significant because they arouse our thinking; Kant calls this first stage on the way to knowledge experience. Our reason, Kant said, cannot go beyond these experiences and arrive at true knowledge on its own; instead, our reason categorizes and makes sense of our experiences. Kant posits twelve categories that shape and filter man’s understanding of his experiences (for a good chart on these categories visit the following link: http://bcresources.net/app-Docs/Kant_TwelveCategories.pdf). This second stage, in which our categories process and interpret our experiences, Kant calls conception. The third state, knowledge, comes as a result of the forming of the raw data of experience via our categories.

This discussion of the twelve categories, and how they interact with our sense-experiences, is significant because it shifts the center of knowledge from the external world to the mind. Thus knowledge is no longer ‘objective’ in that it is independent of man, but ‘subjective’ in that it is wholly dependent on man and his processing of his experiences. This aspect of Kant’s philosophy soon had a major impact on theology. Friedrich Schleiermacher was primarily responsible for shifting the source of dogmatics from the objective study of Scripture to the subjective study of Christian religious feeling. He perceived the traditional subjects of dogmatics—God, Creation, Preservation, Salvation, Regeneration—through the subjective lens. Although the return to objective theology began on the continent over 100 years ago (cf. Hermann Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics) the shift has yet to take hold in the United States. To understand theology, especially to understand the cultural constructs which shape the current theological climate, we must understand that this turn to the subject (individuals feelings being a source of knowledge) began back in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Comments

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38 Responses to “Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason”

  1. Marc Cortez September 13, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    Danielle, thanks for a very helpful summary of Kant’s philosophy and why it’s important for understand theological developments in the western world. It’d be curious to know, though, what you think (or anyone else thinks) about these developments. Do you think that Kant was right to shift reflection from the noumena to the phenomena in this way? Or, do you see any problems with this (subjective) shift in philosophical/theological discourse?

  2. Bobby Grow September 13, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    Thanks for the review, Danielle.

    Barth as a theologian certainly felt the weight of Kant; thus his response to Kant’s dilemma. I.e. to ground Kant’s dichotomy in Christ (the object/subject gap is bridged in the hypostatic union).

  3. no1kingsfan September 14, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    Danielle, I really want to thank you for helping me understand more clearly the chapter on Kant from Allen and Springsted’s book. This really helped me see the connection between Hume and Kant that I first missed when I was reading through their book. I also appreciated the link to the 12 categories so I could visually see how they were divided up.

    I do wonder like Marc above though if his shift is positive? Really the only reason reasons why I ask this is because in the very next chapter of Allen and Springsted’s book (Philosophy for Understanding Theology) entitled “Hegel and the Restoration of Optimism,” Allen says, “Kant’s attempt to restore objective connections between particulars turn everything we experience into phenomena or appearances, and we are cut off from any knowledge of reality…Thus, Kant, instead of helping, has driven an even larger wedge between ourselves as knowers and what it is we seek to know (pg. 170).”

    Allen seems to believe that this shift is negative and actually hurts our ability to know.

    This is me wondering aloud now in blog form…is there a way to have knowledge as both objective and subjective?

  4. bcash32 September 14, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Danielle, thanks for the post.

    I have to agree with Allen and Springsted that the shift to subjective experience was not necessarily a good one. It appears that knowing for the believer is grounded in both objective revelation and subjective experience. However, subjective experience must at times be interpreted by objective revelation. If not, then it seems we are left with a plethora of authorities for interpreting data and arriving at what we say may be known. I guess here I have the same question as Andrew: isn’t it both?

    In your post you also say that this shift has not taken hold in the United States yet. Do you see the pietistic movements of the First and Second Great Awakenings as an agreement with Kant’s Subjective Experience as authoritative? If so, the experience as authority for knowing seems to be very prevalent in the states.

    • Andreas Lunden September 15, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

      Time for me to get involved. I’m not so sure it’s both. I guess I could argue that experience can potentially open my eyes to truth/Christ, but isn’t God, the object, outside of myself still at work in me.

      Wouldn’t Barth, for instance reject natural theology as long as it is apart from Christ revelation? In this sense knowing, ultimately has its roots in being known. What do you think?

  5. Marc Cortez September 14, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Billy, I believe Danielle’s point was that there has been a shift back to a more objective theology on the continent but that American theology has remained largely subjective. So, the two of you seem to be in agreement on that point. I’d be cautious, though, about sweeping conclusions regarding theology on the continent or in America. The reality is, of course, far more complicated than that.

  6. Brian LePort September 14, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    One thing that I have trouble embracing in this conversation is the (seemingly) undefined premise that knowledge = objectivity. Thus far I have not read as far ahead as it seems others have but it seems to me that Kant’s twelve categories that lead to knowledge could all be considered a “way of knowing”. Therefore, when we “know” something this may not (and I would contend cannot) equal some sort of mythological “objectivity” where we can absolutely verify something void of doubt. In some sense we may even speak of the “subjective experience” that Billy notes as a form of knowing.

    I’d be interested to hear if there is something I am not considering.

  7. Marc Cortez September 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Brian’s got a good point. It does sound like some of us are presupposing that Kant’s subjective shift prevents real knowledge. That seems to presuppose that only “objective” knowledge counts as real knowledge. But, Kant’s whole point was that objective knowledge in this sense is impossible. I don’t actually know the ding an sich (thing in itself), but I only know my experience of it (i.e., my sensory experiences filtered through my interpretive grid). And, my experience is necessarily subjective. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have real knowledge, but it does change what I’m having real knowledge of. And, this is the only kind of knowledge that is available since “objective” knowledge is impossible anyway.

    I think we should also be clear that Kant would agree that both object and subject are necessary for knowing to happen. He’s not denying the reality of the object, only our “objective” knowledge of it.

  8. Brian LePort September 14, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    Marc,

    Now that seems to make more sense to me! It does seem like this observation makes “objectivity” a bit of a misnomer or at least something purely hypothetical (except for God?).

  9. Adam B. September 15, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    From what I gather the 12 categories represent what is necessary for our mind to comprehend anything. Without these categories thinking simply could not happen. (Since they are necessary they are a priori – transcendental.) Without these organizing properties in the mind we could not make sense of our experiences of the world; our experiences would be nothing more than stimuli without meaning. Consequently, it is the categories all ready inherent in our mind (categories that exist before experience, not because of it) that gives us the ability to comprehend unity and meaning from stimuli.
    It would seem, if we are looking for objective knowledge, that we must assume that the world as it is is organized according to the same categories that our mind uses to organize our understanding of sense data. While philosophically this might be quite a leap we may be able to say with Descartes that a good God would not fool us so as to make our understanding and the actual world substantially different.

    • Marc Cortez September 15, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

      I think you’re right to point out that it’s quite a leap to go from Kant’s transcendental categories to the actual structure of the noumenal world. There’s nothing in Kant’s system to suggest that my intellectual categories bear any necessary relationship to the Ding an sich. Of course, there’s nothing to suggest that they don’t either. They’re completely separate issues. I suppose you could make a theological shift and claim that belief in a divine being is necessary to ground our confidence in our intellectual capacities. (This might then be somewhat akin to Kant’s argument that certain theological beliefs are necessary to ground moral action.) The problem, though, is that this kind of God-of-the-gaps argument is rarely satisfying.

  10. Keith Mitchell September 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    As far as I see it the issues of importance are not (1) whether or not subjective or objective experiences lead to our knowledge of God or (2) whether Kant was ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Of course as Christians of our particular stripe–and I may be assuming too much here–we believe that we can have objective knowledge of GOD by way of divine revelation in Scripture. What does seem important for this class is to identify in what ways Kant’s philosophy has become central to the theological conversation. Apart from the foundational role that Kant’s philosophy plays in western liberal theology through Schleiermacher and Ritschl there was also the secular attempt to justify cultural morality without an appeal to this revelation.

  11. Marc Cortez September 15, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    Keith, I think you’ve done a nice job illustrating the two different reasons that people can have for studying philosophical theology. We can engage Kant for primarily pragmatic reasons (i.e. we need to understand him to understand later thinkers), or we can engage him for more constructive reasons (i.e. we want to work through our own epistemology by critically interacting with what he had to say).

    Danielle’s post was primarily descriptive and thus offered a more pragmatic perspective. (By the way, don’t take “pragmatic” here as a bad thing. I’m using it to describe any time we focus more on describing/understanding someone’s ideas than constructively/critically engaging them. You should always do the former before doing the latter.) Most of the comments have focused on the constructive task – if that’s what Kant said, what should I do with it? I would argue that both an inherent in the task of doing philosophical theology. Very few people do purely descriptive work, and no one should be doing constructive work without first doing the hard work of understanding well the person in question. Exactly how you understand the relationship between these two tasks and the extent to which you do/don’t want to engage in each will largely be driven by your understanding of how philosophy and theology are related to each other.

  12. Marc Cortez September 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    Andreas, I’d like to hear a little more on what you mean in your comment. It sounds like you’re saying that the object has primacy in our knowledge, particularly when we’re actually talking about God himself. But, remember, Kant would actually agree with that. I’m only having the subjective experience that I am because of some object. My experience is not self-generated.

    So, if I’m going to know Christ (the object), it will be because of some experience that I (the subject) have of Christ that I then interpret through the cognitive capacities that are inherent to me as a human. What I “know”, then, is not the object-in-itself, but the experience-of-the-object-as-conceptualized-by-me. In a Kantian theology, this would be as true of Christ as with anything else.

    • Andreas Lunden September 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

      Hey Marc,

      Yes, and I think we agree, as far as what Kant meant to say. Danielle also does a good job describing this distinction. I was just trying to point out that with any experience-of-the-object-as-conceptualized-by-me, for it to be seen as divine revelation, perhaps we should speak of the object as also being present in that experience. We cannot know if God isn’t present or wants us to know.

      For some reason, the Finnish Lutheran School actually comes to mind here. They would say, Christ is not only the object of our faith, but that the object is also present in our faith. I guess I’m just trying to build bridges between the object of our faith and our experience. ;-)

      Make sense?

      Andreas

  13. ufindpdxhomes September 15, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    I agree with Kant that our thinking is started by the objective world, but how we know comes to pass through our inner processes. (I don’t agree with his outline or description of those processes.) I’m a fan of Kant.

    Our knowledge of a tree is not the same as the tree itself.
    We can believe that objective knowledge about the tree exists, or we can believe that we create the knowledge of the tree itself through our perceptions. The tree can never be inserted into our heads. It wouldn’t fit or compute. Even if we scientifically studied the tree, those written facts are objective items we experience subjectively. Even if something objective were proved to have a property 1000 times over, the experience of this great proof is subjective.

    The bible is no different. The bible is part of objective world, generally pages in a book, or audio waves, that we encounter and know through our inner processes.

    Sure, we believe the tree exists. We believe that the bible and even the message of the bible is objectively true. The point is, we believe – a subjective process. We have no objective knowledge; the tree won’t fit into our heads.

    I have no problem with this what-so-ever. The scripture that I subjectively believe in commands me to have faith. I believe in objective realty; I do not know objectively. I know subjectively through my inner processes the objective world I believe subjectively exists objectively.

    I am happy to proclaim my faith to the world and feel no greater responsibility.

    • Renjy September 16, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

      Stephen I appreciate your comments and to a certain extent I agree with you. Kant’s views on knowledge starting with the objective world seem reasonable. We do not actually know the tree in itself, but only my experience of it.

      However, I don’t think this can be fully applied to God. God is a volitional being with the ability to reveal himself to his people. He reveals himself in different ways, like Scripture. But when we talk about illumination, the indwelling of the Spirit, and saving grace, is there objective knowledge of God that is being known? I am not saying that every believer knows God in the same exact way. But do you think there is knowledge of God that every believer has that is objective?

      On another note this is a great discussion and the timing of it all is pretty interesting. Yesterday I was brought into a conversation with someone in my ministry asking the question “How do you know that what you believe is true?” She was really wrestling with it. It’s great that I am in a class talking about this stuff right now as I minister to her.

      • Stephen FitzMaurice September 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

        Renjy,

        Thanks for your reply.
        I believe God knows objectively (the only one who does).
        Objective knowledge exists because God knows it.
        I believe I know God and everything else subjectively.
        If God gives me direct revelation, I believe God knows this revelation as objectively true, but I as a limited human must accept this revelation on subjective faith.

  14. dkahut September 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    Marc,

    I am at an impasse here because I am not sure how we can respond other than ‘descriptively’ due to the lack of philosophical understanding the class brings to the table. I don’t see how we, in theology, can engage in a ‘constructive’ way with Kant’s philosophy if we don’t share his essential presuppositions.

    • Marc Cortez September 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

      Danielle, those are good questions. I would definitely agree that we need to take the descriptive task seriously. But, I usually find that the best way to really learn someone’s philosophy (or theology for that matter) is to engage critically with it. So, although I recognize a legitimate distinction between the descriptive and constructive tasks, I see them as more intertwined than sequential in the learning process. It’s messier that way, but I think it leads to better/deeper learning.

      I would definitely question, though, the idea that we can’t engage someone constructively unless we share his/her essential presuppositions. I regularly engage many philosophers and theologians with whom I disagree deeply and fundamentally. But, that doesn’t mean that they don’t offer anything with which I can engage in a constructive manner. Granted, the further apart the presuppositions are the harder the constructive (as opposed to purely critical) task gets. But even then I prefer to approach the conversation through a constructive lens first.

      • dkahut September 17, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

        Well, okay Marc. I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

      • Keith Mitchell September 17, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

        Wow, I think I’m going to have to agree with Danielle. It’s funny that the only two people with philosophy degrees in the class disagree with the teacher. OMG.. what are we going to do now?

        P.S. It’s not a conspiracy.

      • Marc Cortez September 18, 2010 at 7:47 am #

        Danielle and Keith, I’d be happy to agree to disagree if I was a little clearer on what we were disagreeing about. Are we disagreeing about teaching method (i.e. engaging the constructive/critical and the descriptive tasks at the same time), about whether you can constructively interact with someone even if you don’t share their presuppositions, or about both? And, whichever it is, why exactly do you think I’m wrong? I can’t really respond unless I have some idea of how we’re disagreeing.

      • dkahut September 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

        Marc,

        We didn’t mean to say anything about whether you’re ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ in this constructive approach. I guess what we mean is that we were both really looking forward to the class and hoped the students would be receiving more of a descriptive analysis of the various significant philosophers and an understanding of how they have impacted and shaped the modern theological discussion (i.e. Kant’s influence, through Schleiermacher and Ritschl, on the rise of liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries).

        Maybe we’re both confused about what the class is all about? As far as how it is going, we are not quite sure what the significance or purpose of the blog is. How do you feel the blogging is going so far (is it the type of discussion you were hoping for)?

        Danielle and Keith

        • Marc Cortez September 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

          Thanks for the clarification. We can talk about this some more in our next class, but let me see if I can clarify a bit. We will definitely spend probably the majority of our time understanding the historical development of the philosophy/theology relationship. So, we will certainly discuss, for example, Plato’s impact on Augustine, Aristotle’s impact on Aquinas, Kant’s impact on Schleiermacher, and so on. Thus, we will definitely spend a fair amount of time on this historical task, particular here at the beginning of the semester. But, although this historical task is foundational to what we’re doing in the class, it is not the primary goal of the class. (That, by the way, is why we listed this as a theology seminar rather than a historical seminar.) The primary goal is really for students to develop a model (at least an initial one) for understanding how philosophy and theology should be related and how they will approach the task of philosophical theology. So, the historical/descriptive task will be an important part of the class, but it is designed to lead to the critical task (Do I think philosopher X was right about that?), and finally to the constructive task (How am I going to approach issue X in philosophical theology?).

          To answer your second question, I have no idea how the blog is going to function in this process. Remember, this is a total experiment. But, yes, I thought this discussion did a good job of engaging all three of the tasks (descriptive, critical, and constructive), though I’m sure that not every discussion will be as robust. And it was helpful for me as a teacher in seeing some things that we need to discuss in our next class.

          I hope that helps a bit.

  15. Brian LePort September 16, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    Maybe we should begin using this weekly blog to address particular subjects rather than particular philosophers?

  16. a3w275 September 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    A cursory examination of 1John 4:7-8 shows that there are those who know God, and those who do not know God. So God is knowable, although obviously not all fall into that category. Indeed, John begins his epistle with the words “what we have heard, seen, beheld, and touched”. These terms are experiential terms, used to express the physical sensible reality of th Word. Yet John’s purpose is to convey these things (proclaim to you) to his audience. On this basis, while it may be argued that John’s knowledge of the Son was based upon his subjective interpretation of his experience with Jesus Christ, nevertheless those “experiences” can be passed on, so that those who have not experienced first hand still learn and know.

    However, this discussion of subjectivity of experience and whether we can truly know God through reason neglects to account for 1Cor 2:10-11 where Paul asserts that NO ONE can know God apart from the Spirit of God, who teaches those whom He indwells. So while we can toss around these philosophical ideas, I don’t think it is at all legitimate to apply them to knowledge of God.

    • Stephen FitzMaurice September 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

      God teaches us through his Spirit – some method of human experiential learning is happening. We can also know of God without the Spirit. I agree 1 Cor. 2 is referring to a deeper type of human experience with God, but no matter how profound the works of God are, they are still experienced by humanity. I respectfully disagree.

    • bcash32 September 17, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

      Tim, I might not understand, but let me ask this. I’m curious then how you would say that we come to know God. It seems that your first paragraph continues to argue for objective knowledge passed onto later generation by someone who has subjective experience (which would still be subjective?). If knowledge of God is not subjective (through experience) and not objective (revelation) than how do we know him? If you say, through the Spirit, then aren’t you arguing for objective knowledge? If so, it seems that would still have to be grounded in some subjective experience.

  17. Marc Cortez September 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    It sounds like we have an interesting disagreement brewing here with at least a few distinct positions: (1) Kant is wrong, objective knowledge of external reality is possible; (2) Kant is right about most things, but not about our knowledge of God; (3) Kant is right, all knowledge is subjective. (Notice, by the way, that “subjective” here is not the same as “relative.” Since for Kant the categories are universal, subjective knowledge is not necessarily relative.)

    I’d be intrigued to hear a little more from those of you arguing that knowledge of God must be objective in some way. What do you base this conviction on? Stephen rightly points out that appeals to the biblical text alone are unhelpful since, of course, the objective text still needs to be perceived through our interpretive frameworks. Tim takes a different approach by arguing that knowledge conveyed to us by the Spirit is objective. I presume (maybe wrongly) that he means that this knowledge somehow bypasses our interpretive frameworks (or transforms our interpretive frameworks?) so that we receive direct and objective knowledge of God himself. Are others arguing for an objective knowledge of God from any other directions?

  18. Brian LePort September 17, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    I don’t understand what it means for knowledge of God to be objective. It seems to me that if we use this language we remove ourselves from the God-human relationship. If there is any form of individuality in our knowing God there cannot be “objectivity”.

    Objectivity seems to suggest that there is something “out there”, that if we would just get our act together and refine our approach to understanding, would be discovered. I don’t think the Christian God can be understood in such terms. Maybe Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” or Plato’s “One” but not the Christian God.

    So while God is an objective entity the fact that we are “other” should suggest that we cannot experience him in a way that is not subjective. Like Marc said this is not to be equated with relativity, but it is subjective.

  19. bcash32 September 17, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

    Marc, the only other thing I’m wondering after reading the chapter on Kant’s Limiting of Knowledge is whether or not we could see our knowledge of God as being “a priori.” If this was the case, then you can argue that no subjective element would be required. Of course, to be a priori it has to be necessary and universal, (IF I’m understanding this correctly) and I’m sure you can’t get people to agree on whether or not this is true about God (although one could argue that Scripture teaches this via imago dei or something?). It seems, however, that this would be the only way to remove subjectivity from the equation. You might still have subjective experience (which could point you to the God of the Bible), but it would not be the ground for knowledge. As Brian pointed out I seems that this would only leave us with Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” or Plato’s “One.” I hope that made sense.

  20. andy September 17, 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    Sorry I am late to the party. I was gearing up for Plato and Aristotle, but we have jumped to Kant. Like, Brian, I have not reached that far in Philosophy for Understanding Theology, but will try some thoughts.

    I was intrigued by Tim’s thoughts on the role of the Holy Spirit in this discussion and I think that there is an interesting way of thinking of the Spirit in these terms. Perhaps we can think of the Spirit as the ‘subjectivisor’ (I will also accept ‘subjectorer’ or ‘subjectinator’ in honor of certain politicians). The role of the Spirit is to give us subjective knowledge of God through a variety of means, such as some have mentioned, in that he indwells and through him we know (i.e. experience) God. The same would be true in His role in inspiration and interpretation, for a couple other examples. I would also argue that there is indeed objective knowledge of God, but it is the Spirit who subjectively makes it known to us.

    As example, if we understand Rom. 2:15 to suggest that there is an inherent conscience placed within us that testifies to the existence of God, this would be an objective understanding of God. However, it is the Spirit that uses the subjective experience of the conscience to reveal God’s existence. I seem to recall that this would not be a very Kantian idea because he was attempting to ground morality on the subjective rather than objective (I could be remembering this incorrectly), but I think we need to account for the account of scripture since we are looking at philosophy and theology. I am just kind of thinking off the cuff here so I am very open to your ideas.

  21. Adam B. September 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    This is just for clarity… so I hope it clarifies.
    Typically in theology we talk about the objective truth of Scripture against the knowledge of God we might gain from our subjective experiences (miracles we have seen, God working in our heart, etc.) This way of speaking allows us to elevate Scripture above experience because it is “objectively” true.
    Per this philosophical conversation the terms are somewhat different. As we are discussing “philosophically”, any data that needs to be interpreted is “subjective”. The raw data (i.e. data in the object itself) is objective. According to Kant while we may experience the object (think “truth”) directly, we simultaneously interpret it according to the categories in our minds. Because all data is interpreted in this way it is all “subjective” (we cannot get the tree into our brains). It is all shaped by the categories of our mind. Kant does not argue that there is no objective truth (that could be to say there are no objects – he doesn’t go there).
    For my part it is difficult (impossible) to say that Scripture enters our minds without interpretation. If it does why do we spend so much time studying hermeneutics?
    It would also seem that if God communicated to our minds objectively (giving us himself as he is in concrete forms we could express with words) there would be more harmony in theology.

  22. nwdisciple September 19, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    First of all, a big thanks for all of the great comments… it’s been helpful to read everyone’s posts… I found Adam’s discussion of our vocabulary insightful. What do we mean by “objective” truth and “subjective” truth? Does subscribing to the subjective view mean we are abandoning universal truths? (It seems this is the fear.) I think not… I believe that we can imperfectly know through our own subjective perceptions and yet arrive at a reasonable/useful picture of reality…(that is, I can have true-truth without having exhaustive truth)

    Clearly, my perception of a thing is not the same as a thing-in-itself… my perception is limited, and experience shows that even my own future perceptions will often increase/modify my knowledge of something. (For example, when I see something in dim light, and then later inspect it in better lighting.)

    This limitation of my knowledge, however, does not mean that I cannot have ‘meaningful’ knowledge of an external object. If I see a heavy object hurting toward my head I can duck without knowing the composition or origin of the object… knowledge does not have to be comprehensive to be significant.

    In the same manner, even if my perceptions of an object differ from yours, we can examine the object together and discuss. We are not limited to one “imperfect perception” of an object – like radar we can ‘ping’ the object at different times and from different positions to gain a composite (and useful) view of it’s nature… and even if we don’t (perhaps can’t) gain 100% of the data, we can gain a sufficient amount….

    Additionally, we are not alone. So we can compare our imperfect perceptions together, and further refine our ‘knowledge’…. you may have better eyesight than I do, and be able to make out the words on a sign across the street…. we have subjectively different views of the situation… yet if we walk across the street together, I will end up seeing the sign at some point, and when I do, I will see the same words that you do….

    (I may interpret those words differently…. but I will see the same ‘reality’)

  23. Brian LePort September 20, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Andy,

    I wonder if we should read Rom. 2.15 as prescriptive or descriptive. I understand what the Apostle is saying in his context would likely have been both/and but the Greco-Roman world was a religious world where most shared the assumption that the existence of deity is self-evident. I don’t know that this is true of our world.

    This doesn’t mean that the Apostle was wrong but merely that his premise was one shared by most people. In our world most may share it but by no means all do. Thoughts?

  24. Brian LePort September 20, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    I think Adam makes a very good point. If the Scriptures were “objective” knowledge (per this discussion) there would be little need of study and debate and there surely wouldn’t be like a million commentaries on say Romans. We must acknowledge the very subjective side of Scripture because texts must have readers and all readers have interpretations.

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  1. Discussing Kant | Near Emmaus - September 14, 2010

    [...] Discussing Kant Posted on September 14, 2010 by Brian LePort For you philosophical types you may be interested in a conversation brewing amongst some of my fellow Th.M. students on the subject of “knowledge” especially as it relates to Immanuel Kant. Danielle Kahut began by writing the primary post and now comments are coming. It is open to all so join in here. [...]

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