Introduction: The Young Kant — Pietism and Rationalism

  • Bernard M. G. Reardon
Part of the Library of Philosophy and Religion book series (LPR)


In the year 1784 Immanuel Kant wrote an essay the title of which posed the question Was ist Aufklärung? — ‘What is Enlightenment?’ No one at that date was in a better position than he either to ask or to answer it, for the author himself was both a product and a highly typical representative of the age to which the epithet ‘enlightened’ has become attached; as he also, through his own critical philosophy, was among the most potent forces by which its characteristic tendencies were eventually checked or at least diverted into new channels. The reply he gave to his question was, briefly, that ‘Enlightenment’ — although the translation of Aufklärung is not as easy as might appear — signifies the advance of man beyond a state of voluntary immaturity: of unwillingness, that is, to use his own intelligence except under the guidance of another. What the modern epoch required of him was to release himself from this self-incurred tutelage and to trust instead to his own understanding. Not that this new liberty had already been attained; by no means. ‘But’, says Kant, ‘we live, if not in an enlightened age altogether, then surely in one of enlightenment in which the free-ranging intelligence is now active and abroad.’ And a liberated intelligence would eventually lead to liberty of action.


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References and Notes

  1. 1.
    A similar claim might, however, be made on behalf of Heinrich Müller (1631–75), a prolific devotional writer and popular preacher for whom theological orthodoxy did not exclude an emotionally charged personal faith. His Der himmlische Liebeskuss (‘The Heavenly Kiss of Love’) was published in 1659. Albrecht Ritschl’s Geschichte des Pietismus (3 vols, Bonn, 1880–86) remains the chief work on the subject, despite its author’s evident lack of sympathy with pietism.Google Scholar
  2. Recent studies include: F. E. Stoeffler, The Rise of Evangelical Pietism (Leiden, 1965)Google Scholar
  3. and J. Wallmann, Philipp Jakob Spener und die Anfänge des Pietimus (Tübingen, 1970).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    See E. Beyreuther, August Hermann Franche 1663–1727: Zeuge des lebendigen Gottes (Marburg, 1956).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    cf. Emil Brunner, The Divine-Human Encounter (E.T. London, 1944) p. 34.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    William Chillingworth (1602–44) is best known for his The Religion of Protestants (1637), in which he argued that the basis of belief is scripture, the truth of which could be ascertained by sound reasoning and personal judgment. ‘Unity of opinion’, he thought, could thus be reached on essentials. John Tillotson (1630–94), who towards the end of his life became archbishop of Canterbury, also combined supematuralism with rationalism. He considered faith to be ‘a persuasion of the mind concerning anything’, i.e. an assessment of its probability, and as such conducive to virtue, with the prospect hereafter of due reward (or, in the case of failure, of punishment). This expectation is for him ‘the great motive and argument of a holy life’. Tillotson upheld the necessity of divine revelation while maintaining that it required to be tested both by its accordance with the principles of natural religion and by the evidence of prophecy and miracle; especially the latter, by which he understood a supernatural effect ‘evident and wonderful to sense’. Yet not even miracle, he stresses, can truthfully attest a claim that is inherently ‘unreasonable and absurd … unworthy of God, and … contrary to the natural notions which men have of him’ (Works, 1857 edn, iii, pp. 493ff.). The use of religion is to provide sanctions for morality. Tillotson sums up his position thus: ‘We do not found our belief of Christianity upon any one argument taken by itself; but upon the whole evidence which is proper and reasonable to prove any religion to be from God.’ To intuition or ‘feeling’ he makes no appeal. On Anglicanism generally in the later seventeenth century see G. R. Cragg, From Puritanism to the Age of Reason: a Study of Changes in Religious Thought within the Church of England, 1660–1700 (Cambridge, 1950).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Lord Herbert’s De veritate appeared in 1624, although his De religione gentilium, containing a fuller expression of his views, was not published until 1663. Herbert makes universal consent the prime test of religious truth. Such consent, he argues, shows five principles to be fundamental to all religions: that (1) there is a supreme deity, who (2) ought to be worshipped, virtue and piety (3) forming the main element of that worship; that (4) our sins must be repented of and expiated, and that (5) after this life we receive reward or punishment according to our deserts. But Herbert might better be described as the founder of the ‘natural religion’ beloved of the eighteenth century. There is an English translation of the De veritate, with introduction, by M. H. Cane (Bristol, 1937). See also W. R. Sorley, ‘The Philosophy of Herbert of Cherbury’ in Mind, N.S. iii (1894) pp. 491–508.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The book’s full title is: Christianity not Mysterious; or, a Treatise Showing that There Is Nothing in the Gospel Contrary to Reason, nor above It; and that no Christian Doctrine Can Properly Be Called a Mystery. A second edition was brought out in 1702. 9. Cf. B. Erdmann, Martin Knutzen und seine Zeit (Berlin, 1878), pp. 116, 45, 119.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Deism is a term which in the early eighteenth century was used with only a loose connotation, rather as is the epithet ‘radical’ today, and ranging as it did from Locke and Toland to Collins and Tindal it could cover almost any deviation from the orthodoxy of the Prayer Book and the Thirty-Nine Articles. John Toland (1670–1722) went beyond Locke, according to whom some accepted religious doctrines may, as ‘mysteries’, be ‘above’ reason, by arguing that what are commonly considered such are simply things intrinsically rational, whether teachings or alleged events, which have not been directly verified but rest only on the testimony of others. All sound religious doctrine must be seen to be in accord with reason. Locke himself discovered the essentials of Christianity to be but two, viz. the belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the obligation to lead a righteous life. To him these were ‘the indispensable condition of the new covenant to be performed by all those who would obtain eternal life’ (The Reasonableness of Christianity, edited and abridged by I. T. Ramsey [London, 1958] pp. 44–5). For most of the deist writers revelation served no other purpose than to reinforce the truths of natural reason. Matthew Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation, published in 1730, is typical in this respect. It is wrong, he argues, to look to religion for beliefs and practices that are morally indifferent. True religion is ‘natural’ religion, which has always existed as ‘a perfect thing’ and to which revelation can add nothing. ‘If, he asks (ch. vi), ‘revelation itself be not arbitrary, must it not be founded upon the reason of things? And consequently be a republication or restoration of the Religion of Nature?’ The whole purpose of religions is the promotion of morality, which differ from each other only in so far as the latter acts ‘according to the reason of things considered in themselves’, whereas the former acts ‘according to the same reason of things considered as the will of God’ — a clear anticipation of Kant’s teaching. He would also have agreed with Kant that miracles have no evidential value. ‘Duties neither need nor can receive any stronger proof from miracles than what they have already from the evidence of right reason.’ God is wholly benevolent. ‘To imagine He can command anything inconsistent with His universal benevolence is highly to dishonour Him.’ ‘The same light of nature which shows us there is such a good Being, shows us also what such goodness expects.’ On English deism generally see: G. V. Lechler, Geschichte der englischen Deismus (Stuttgart, 1841);Google Scholar
  10. L. Stephen, A History of English Religious Thought in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1876), i, pp. 74–277 (including bibliography, pp. 276f), which is still the best comprehensive review, despite the author’s bias. Also Cragg, op. cit.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 15.
    The most satisfactory general study of Wolff’s thought is M. Campo, Christiano Wolff e il razionalismo precritico (2 vols, Milan, 1939).Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    The matters discussed in the Fragments were: 1. Toleration of the deists; 2. The decrying of reason from the pulpit; The impossibility of a revelation which all men should have grounds for believing; 4. The passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea; 5. The Old Testament does not offer a revealed religion; 6. The Resurrection story; and 7. The aims of Jesus and his disciples. Lessing secured permission to publish them only on the condition, imposed by Reimarus’ family, that their actual authorship were not divulged. Cf. B. Brandi, Die Überlieferung der Schutzschrift des Hermann Samuel Reimarus (Pilsen, 1907). On the Fragments generallyGoogle Scholar
  13. see Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: a Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (translated by W. Montgomery, London, 1906. New edn, with introduction by James M. Robinson, New York, 1968).Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Cf. Karl Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century (translated by B. Cozens and J. Bowden, London, 1972) pp. 169–71.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    See H. E. Allison, Lessing and the Enlightenment (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1966).Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    This is the view which has usually been held, and it is a conclusion difficult to resist when Lessing’s own statements are broadly assessed. See H. Chadwick (ed.), Lessing’s Theological Writings (London, 1956), Introduction; also Barth, op. cit., pp. 234–65. Barth puts the question: ‘Is it not a fact that Lessing’s man is self-sufficient, and has no need of God in any event?’ (p. 264).Google Scholar
  17. Yet Helmut Thielicke, in Offenbarung, Vernunft, und Existenz: Studien zur Religionsphilosophie Lessings (Gütersloh, 1957) sees him as a definite theist, and Otto Mann, in Lessing, Sein und Leistung (2nd edn, Hamburg, 1961), takes him for a believing Christian. Neither of these opinions is very easy to sustain.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    ‘Of the teachers at the university of Königsberg, Knutzen alone represented the European concept of universal science’ (Ernst Cassirer, Kant’s Life and Thought (translated by J. Haden, with introduction by S. Körner) (New Haven and London, 1981) p. 25. He it was who introduced Kant to the works of Newton, and indeed it was Knutzen’s breadth of intellectual outlook which influenced the pupil who was to revolutionize philosophical thinking.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    Quoted by F. Paulsen, Immanuel Kant: his Life and Doctrine (English translation, London, 1902) p. 28.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bernard M. G. Reardon 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard M. G. Reardon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Religious StudiesUniversity of Newcastle upon TyneUK

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