Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

SECTION 2. -- Kant's difficulties against the proofs of God's existence.

110. Kant, in his celebrated work, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason), discusses at length the Ontological Argument, the Argument of the First Cause, and the Argument from Design. He finds fault with each of them, and arrives at the conclusion that speculative reason is unable to come to a satisfactory result in the matter.

Answer. 1. What Kant alleges against the ontological proof, we may pass over, as we ourselves do not admit that proof; although we do not approve of all that Kant says in refuting it.{4}

2. Against the Argument of the First Cause, Kant has two principal difficulties. First, he considers that we are not certain of the universal value of the "Principle of Causality," upon which the proof of the existence of a First, Self-existing Cause entirely turns.{5} The answer to this objection is fully given in our proof. (§§ 25, 26.) It was there shown that Kant's opinion must lead to the denial of the principle of contradiction itself, and to universal scepticism. But he is armed with another weapon. He says that those who use the Argument of the First Cause really fall into the fallacy of the ontological proof, while appearing to avoid it. They first demonstrate a posteriori a first cause, a self-existing being; and then from the concept of self-existence they infer the existence of an Infinite Being. This conclusion he deems to be invalid. Were it valid, he says, it would be equally lawful to infer by a converse process the existence of an Infinite Being from its concept -- and this is the line of the ontological proof.{6} This objection at first sight seems formidable: but in reality its whole force is due to a want of distinction between unlawful and lawful reasoning a priori. It is unlawful to reason a priori from a concept, the internal truth of which may reasonably be doubted by those whom you would convince. So long as they may reasonably say, we do not know whether an intrinsic contradiction may not be hidden in that concept, your conclusion must remain suspected of error. But should you argue from the concept of a thing, the existence of which you have already proved, no one can reasonably demur to your conclusions. Now those who defend the Ontological Argument follow the former unlawful line of reasoning; while the latter, the lawful line, has been observed by us in the development of our Argument of the First Cause. Those who use the ontological proof, begin with the assumption that the concept of an infinitely perfect being is not self-contradictory. This they have no right to do, as we showed when discussing their argument. Very different is our mode of reasoning. We first prove a posteriori that an intelligent, self-existing Being certainly exists. This established, we have a right to maintain that the concept of self-existence is not self-contradictory; for what must exist, can exist. We are, therefore, entitled to argue from that concept, and to assert as absolutely true everything that is evidently connected with the truth of self-existence, to wit, that a self-existing being is evidently One, Simple, and infinitely Perfect.

3. The Argument from Design is held in higher respect by Kant.{7} He objects, however, to its conclusiveness for two reasons.

(a) By itself alone it does not lead us to the knowledge of a Self-existing, Infinite God and Creator, but only to the persuasion that there exists an intelligent Architect of this world. To know something definite about the nature of this Architect, we must fall back upon the unsound ontological proof; for, in trying by means of the Argument of a First Cause to bring the Argument from Design to a full issue, we commit ourselves to the ontological proof, inasmuch as we reason a priori from self-existence to Infinity.

To this we answer: it is true that the Argument from Design does not carry us the whole way. We completed it on the lines of the Argument of the First Cause.{8} But we deny that this mode of completing it can be justly condemned as a falling back upon the ontological proof; and the reasons for this denial we have just given.

(b) Kant again doubts whether the supposition underlying the Argument from Design is valid, "that well-ordered effects of nature no less than well-ordered effects of human art, can only have been produced by the pre-arrangement of an intelligent mind.{9}

Regarding this difficulty we remark that the analogy between order in works of nature and order in works of art by itself alone is not an absolutely solid foundation, although, as Kant himself admits, it is very Persuasive. Consequently, to anticipate Kant's objection, we went deeper down, and laid another foundation, which is solid enough. (Cf. §§ 42-45.)

{4} See discussion of Ontological Argument in c. I.

{5} Kritik der reinen Vernunft, p. 637 (Dritte Auflage). In the translation by M. Müller, p. 523.

{6} Ibid. p. 639. Apud M. Müller, ibid. p. 525.

{7} Ibid. p. 651. Apud M. Müller, ibid. p. 535.

{8} C. ii. § 46, and throughout the whole of cc. in. iv.

{9} Ibid. p. 654. Apud M. Müller, ibid. p. 537.

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