Kant­ian Phi­los­o­phy From An Islam­ic Viewpoint

Immanuel Kant (17241804) as a philoso­pher not only sought his own answers to philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions but was also an expert on the his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy. Hav­ing a thor­ough ground­ing in the philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion of the past, he was keen­ly aware of the stand­points of ratio­nal­ists and empiri­cists. He believed that both were part­ly right and part­ly wrong in that the ratio­nal­ists laid too much empha­sis on con­tri­bu­tion of rea­son and empiri­cists on sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence. It has been the­o­rized that Kant want­ed to pre­serve the basis for Chris­t­ian faith. He was a Protes­tant and since the days of Ref­or­ma­tion, Protes­tantism has been char­ac­ter­ized by its empha­sis on faith.

Some of his impor­tant philo­soph­i­cal pos­tu­lates are :

    — Kant believed that it is not only mind which con­forms to things but things also con­form to the mind. He called this the Coper­ni­can Rev­o­lu­tion in the prob­lem of human knowledge.

    - There are two ele­ments, accord­ing to him, that con­tribute to man’s knowl­edge of the world. One is the exter­nal con­di­tions that we can­not know of before we have per­ceived them through the sens­es, also called the mate­r­i­al of knowl­edge”. The oth­er is the inter­nal con­di­tions in man him­self, such as process­es con­form­ing to an unbreak­able law of causal­i­ty, also called form of knowledge”.

    - Kant believed that there are clear lim­its to what we can know. Thus to ques­tions like Where did the uni­verse or God come from?” we can­not have defin­i­tive answers.

    - Kant reject­ed the idea that either rea­son or expe­ri­ence is any cer­tain basis for claim­ing the exis­tence of God. And this vac­u­um, where both rea­son and expe­ri­ence fall short for him, can be filled by faith.

    - He believed that it is essen­tial for moral­i­ty to pre­sup­pose that man has an immor­tal soul, that God exists and that man has a free will. He called faith in these three ideas prac­ti­cal pos­tu­lates. That is to say, for man’s moral­i­ty, it is nec­es­sary to assume the exis­tence of God.

    - Kant felt that the abil­i­ty to dis­tin­guish between right and wrong is inher­ent in human rea­son. He calls it prac­ti­cal rea­son”, that is, the intel­li­gence that gives us the capac­i­ty to dis­cern what is right or wrong in every case.

    - Kant for­mu­lates the moral law as a cat­e­gor­i­cal imper­a­tive”, imply­ing that the moral law is cat­e­gor­i­cal”, or that it applies to all sit­u­a­tions. It is also imper­a­tive”, which means it is absolute­ly authoritative.

For Kant, only when you do some­thing out of duty can it be called a moral action. There­fore, if you act­ed out of good will, it is this good will that deter­mines whether or not the action was moral­ly right, not the con­se­quences of the action [Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World, Berkley trade edi­tion, Jan­u­ary 1997].

Many of these ideas are inline with the broad Islam­ic per­spec­tive. The exis­tence of immor­tal soul, free will (with­in the moral are­na), and faith in a Cre­ator are clear­ly Islam­ic ide­o­log­i­cal strains. Like­wise, the exis­tence of a pri­ori infor­ma­tion in human con­scious­ness to dis­tin­guish between right and wrong is an idea that finds men­tion in the Qur’an :

We showed him the Way : whether he be grate­ful or ungrate­ful (rests on his will).” (76:3)

By the Soul, and the pro­por­tion and order giv­en to it ; And its enlight­en­ment as to its wrong and its right.” (91:7 – 8)

It appears that Kan­t’s eth­i­cal sys­tem is based on a belief that rea­son and the moral law with­in” are the final author­i­ty for moral­i­ty. It is also sug­gest­ed that he believed we must fil­ter Scrip­ture through rea­son, which neces­si­tat­ed his denial of miracles.

From an Islam­ic stand­point, though vital, rea­son and innate guid­ance are prone to blun­der for which pur­pose revealed guid­ance comes into play. Pur­port­ing to rein­force the innate guid­ance, rev­e­la­tions build on it pro­vid­ing a bea­con for rea­son. Thus, even though the recog­ni­tion of par­tic­u­lar rev­e­la­tion as being tru­ly from God is itself based on rea­son, yet rea­son needs to be fil­tered through scrip­ture and not the oth­er way round as per the Islam­ic understanding.

As for Kan­t’s asser­tion that if you act­ed out of good will, it is this good will that deter­mines whether or not the action was moral­ly right, not the con­se­quences of the action, it appears to come close to the Islam­ic con­cept of Niyyah (inten­tion). The Prophet(P) is report­ed to have said :

[The reward of pious] Deeds are depen­dent only upon inten­tions [of the per­form­ers]. Every per­son shall only get that, which he actu­al­ly intend­ed [while per­form­ing a pious deed]. Thus, who­ev­er actu­al­ly migrates towards [anoth­er land, for] God and His Prophet, his migra­tion shall be [count­ed in the Here­after, as one] toward God and His Prophet [and shall, thus, fol­low great rewards]; while, who­ev­er migrates toward [anoth­er land, for] a world­ly gain, which he wants to earn or a woman, whom he wants to mar­ry, his migra­tion shall be [count­ed in the Here­after, as one] toward what he actu­al­ly intend­ed it for [and shall, thus, car­ry no weight in the eyes of God].”

Last­ly, inso­far as Kan­t’s view of faith in a Cre­ator with­out rea­son­able proof is con­cerned, it would not sit well with the exhor­ta­to­ry dis­course of the Qur’an.

For Kant, rea­son and expe­ri­ence can­not con­clu­sive­ly form the bases of faith in the exis­tence of God. Hence to some, first he is very crit­i­cal of every­thing we can under­stand, and then he smug­gles God in by the back door”. Kantian Philosophy From An Islamic Viewpoint 1Endmark

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