Kant, God and Metaphysics: The Secret Thorn, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Kant, God and Metaphysics

The Secret Thorn, 1st Edition

By Edward Kanterian


444 pages

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Kant is widely acknowledged as the greatest philosopher of modern times. He undertook his famous critical turn to save human freedom and morality from the challenge of determinism and materialism. Intertwined with his metaphysical interests, however, he also had theological commitments, which have received insufficient attention. He believed that man is a fallen creature and in need of ‘redemption’. He intended to provide a fortress protecting religious faith from the failure of rationalist metaphysics, from the atheistic strands of the Enlightenment, from the new mathematical science of nature, and from the dilemmas of Christian theology itself. Kant was an epistemologist, a philosopher of mind, a metaphysician of experience, an ethicist and a philosopher of religion. But all this was sustained by his religious faith.

This book aims to recover the focal point and inner contradictions of his thought, the ‘secret thorn’ of his metaphysics (as Heidegger once put it). It first locates Kant in the tradition of reflection on the human weakness from Luther to Hume, and then engages in a critical, but charitable, manner with Kant’s entire pre-critical work, including his posthumous fragments. Special attention is given to The Only Possible Ground (1763), one of the most difficult, interesting and underestimated of Kant’s works. The present book takes its cue from an older approach to Kant, but also engages with recent Anglophone and continental scholarship, and deploys modern analytical tools to make sense of Kant. What emerges is an innovative and thought-provoking interpretation of Kant’s metaphysics, set against the background of forgotten religious aspects of European philosophy.


"Its impressive scholarship and thought-provoking claims make this a must-read for anybody with an interest in Kant, his ideas and his age." - Jack Herbert, British Journal for the History of Philosophy

"[E]xtraordinarily rich and useful … [This] book should take its place alongside other major studies of Kant's pre-critical development in English … [R]eaders with a particular interest in religious themes in Kant's pre-critical philosophy will find here an exhaustive presentation and discussion of not only published texts related to those themes but also unpublished Reflexionen and letters. … Kanterian's book deserves much praise for showing the centrality of religious and theological themes in Kant's pre-critical works and generally in the debates in early modern metaphysics that Kant engaged with." - Michael Rohlf, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"This seminal work integrates Kant's approach to the most profound questions. His thought is historically and conceptually situated in a manner at once analytically rich and entirely accessible. A "must read" for students and teachers of Kantian philosophy." - Dan Robinson, University of Oxford, UK

Table of Contents




Chapter One: From Luther to Hume – the Weakness Motif in the Tradition


1.1 The First Circle: The Certainty of Salvation



The Problem of Evidence

Further Developments

1.2 The Second Circle: The Rise of Protestant Orthodoxy

Securing Faith

The Return of Aristotle

Further Developments

1.3 The Third Circle: The New Science and its Philosophy

From Copernicus to Montaigne


The Reaction to Descartes


Further Developments

Pascal and Bayle

1.4 The Fourth Circle: Triumph and Peril of Reason



Pietism and Thomasius


Boyle and Locke

English Deism, Hume and French Atheism

1.5 Conclusion

Chapter Two: The Early Works

2.1 Introduction

2.2 The Beginning: Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces

2.2 God’s Glory: The Universal Natural History

The Character of the Work

Cosmology and Cosmogony: Kant’s Celestial Mechanics

Physico-theology: God and His Creation

The Abyss and the Sinking

Religion and Science: Some Predecessors

The Central Motifs

Anxiety, Fallenness, Faith and Revelation

The Chain of Creation: Glory and Vanity

The Human Fate

The Holy in Kant

2.3 From Physico-Theology to Onto-Theology: The New Elucidation

The Principle of Sufficient Ground

The Theological Argument

Sin and Free Will

More on the Principle of Determining Ground

Causation and God

2.4 The Modal Argument in the New Elucidation

Kant’s Modal Argument

Baumgarten’s Metaphysics of Possibility

Fragment R3733


Chapter Three: Intermission – The Period 1756-1762

3.1 The Physical Monadology, the New Theory of Motion, and the False Subtlety Essay

3.2 The Question of Optimism

The Optimism Essay

The Funk Essay

Two Optimism Models: Pope and Spalding

Crusius’s Optimism

Fragments R3704 and R3705

Chapter Four: The First Fortress: The Only Possible Ground of Proof for a Demonstration of the Existence of God

4.1 Preliminary: The Frailty of Theory

4.2 Existence

Existence is not a Predicate, but Absolute Position

Existence Goes Beyond Possibility

Discussion of Kant’s Thesis about Existence

An Objection

Discussion Continued

4.3 Possibility

A Digression: Actualism

The Impossibility of no Possibility

Formalising Kant’s Argument

Another Formal Attempt

The Modal Principle Again

The Necessary Being

The Uniqueness Of the Necessary Being

Simplicity and Uniqueness

Immutability and Eternity

The Highest Being

The Theistic Property: Personhood


The Status of the Modal Argument

4.4 Physico-Theology, Naïve and Improved

Life and the Supernatural


Naïve Physico-theology

The Question of Certainty

Three Objections to Naïve Physics-Theology

Improved Physico-theology


4.5 Conclusion: The Status of Onto-Theology

Chapter Five: First Cracks in the Wall

5.1 Introduction

5.2 The Prize Essay

Mathematics versus Philosophy

Certainty in Philosophy and the Newtonian Model

Certainty in Metaphysics

Certainty in Theology

5.3 Negative Magnitudes

Chapter Six: The ‘Sceptical’ Period

6.1 The Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime

6.2 The Remarks on the Observations and Rousseau’s Influence

6.3 Turning Against Metaphysics: The Mid-1760s

Two Notions of Metaphysics

Dreams of a Spirit-Seer

The Concept of a Spirit

The Immaterial Realm


Towards a Logic of Philosophical Illusion

A Theoretical Conclusion

The Limits of Knowledge and Moral Faith

Chapter Seven: Religious Roots and Sources of the Critical Turn

7.1 God and Metaphysics in the Reflexionen of 1760-1768

7.2 The Antinomial Structure of Reason: Theological Roots and Models

7.3 Kant’s Theological Teachers: Knutzen and Schultz

7.4 The Humean Model

7.5 New Building Blocks: the Reflexionen in 1769

The Antinomies and the Weakness Motif

Further Reflections on Reason’s Weakness

The Void

The World


Epilogue: An Unfinished Drama




About the Author

Edward Kanterian is Senior Lecturer in philosophy at the University of Kent. Previously he was a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Oxford. His research interests include metaphysics, the philosophy of logic and language, the ethics of memory, and modern philosophy. He is the author of several books, the most recent of which is on Frege’s logic.

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