Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason Summary

Immanuel Kant


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (1785; Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics, 1895; better known as Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 1950), Immanuel Kant introduced the concept of the categorical imperative, the absolute moral law for his duty-based, or deontological, ethics. Kant presented the categorical imperative in five different but closely related formulations, which are generally referred to as 1, 1A, 2, 3, and 3A: “Act only according to the maxim which you could will to become universal law,” “Act only as if, by your will, the maxim of your action would become universal law,” “Act only so that you treat humanity as an end and never as a means,” “Act only as if your will, by its maxims, were the universal lawgiver,” and “Act only according to the maxims of the universal lawgiver in the potential realm of ends.”

The premise of Kant’s entire ethical philosophy, including his philosophy of religion, is the categorical imperative. It is derived from the principles of individual freedom that he developed in Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781; Critique of Pure Reason, 1838), one of the most revolutionary books in the history of philosophy. For Kant, only a free person can be a moral agent, because moral action requires ethical decision making, and only a rational being with free will is capable of that kind of thought. Moral action consists in freely obeying one’s duty as known through conscience, without coercion or compromise and regardless of one’s personal feeling, inclination to the contrary, or expectation of certain results. Kant seeks to purge emotion from ethical reasoning, moral action, and religion. Conscience, as a gift of God, reveals the categorical imperative to each individual in each problematic ethical situation.

Because Kant reduces not all...

(The entire section is 771 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Daniel, David Mills. Kant’s Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone. London: SCM, 2006. A synopsis aimed at secondary school students and undergraduates.

Di Giovanni, George. Freedom and Religion in Kant and His Immediate Successors: The Vocation of Humankind, 1774-1800. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Explains in detail how Kant’s contemporary Christian theologians misunderstood and misused his philosophy of religion.

Luft, Eric v. d. God, Evil, and Ethics: A Primer in the Philosophy of Religion. North Syracuse, N.Y.: Gegensatz, 2004. Devotes a chapter to Kant’s Reason Within the Bounds of Mere Reason and offers a new translation of selections from part 4, “On Service and Pseudo-Service Under the Control of the Good Principle, or, on Religion and Clericalism.”

Moore, A. W. Noble in Reason, Infinite in Faculty: Themes and Variations in Kant’s Moral and Religious Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2003. Reinterprets the relations among various kinds of reason, social morality, and Kant’s ethical and religious thought.

Reardon, Bernard M. G. Kant as Philosophical Theologian. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988. Shows how Kant can be a moralizing theist while rejecting both natural and revealed theology.