Skip over navigation

Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason

Immanuel Kant

Study Questions

Key Facts

Quiz

What are Kant's main reservations about organized religion?

Generally, Kant believes that organized religion distorts the natural human tendency to seek out the good, to try to live in accordance with the moral law. Religious practices often suggest, misleadingly, that becoming a better person does not require a great deal of personal effort. Kant worries that adherents to organized religion will believe that they can attain salvation simply by uttering creeds and professing faith.

Kant also objects to the way religion blames human sin on the original sin of Adam and Eve. Kant thinks that humans are themselves to blame for their own sins, and that by faulting Adam and Eve humans refuse to take responsibility for their own sins. Instead of facing their guilt and resolving to become better, followers of organized religion become complacent about our own moral development. Kant objects to organized religion on the grounds that it stunts our natural predisposition to seek the good and teaches us to think that someone else is responsible for our sins.

Is Kant's Moral Religion really just a repackaged version of Christianity?

Although Kant's moral religion (MR) shares some theories with Christianity, it is not simply Christianity seen at an angle. Although both MR and Christianity hold that human beings are naturally predisposed to engage in immoral behavior, Christianity says that we are fallen beings from the moment we are born, because of Adam and Eve's original sin. MR says that we are depraved because we freely choose to do bad things, and that we bear all of the responsibility for these choices. Both Christianity and MR think that truly moral behavior begins with mimicry, because people need good role models in order to become morally righteous. But while Christianity holds up Jesus as the human ideal that all humans after him should emulate, MR interprets Jesus not as a historical person who was actually perfect, but rather as the embodied ideal of a perfect moral being. Both Christianity and MR advocate striving for a state of moral perfection, but Christianity believes this perfection will only occur in heaven, while MR says it can occur on earth.

What responsibilities does Kant's Moral Religion place upon individual human agents?

In general, individual agents are supposed to follow the moral law to whatever extent they can. Following the moral law means that they must consistently try to act from duty, and not merely from their own potentially immoral desires and interests. Individuals will sometimes act from duty in a way that also benefits them personally, but their actions are morally sound as long as a sense of duty motivates them. The spirit in which an action is performed, not the action itself, reveals the performer's morality.

Suggested Essay Topics

Kant is critical of the doctrine of original sin. Explain why he finds this doctrine so implausible.

Kant says that believing in miracles will not help us become better people. What arguments would you make to contradict this claim?

Kant speaks of a "church invisible," a congregation of like-minded individuals whose only allegiance is to the moral law. Members of this congregation do not necessary believe in any particular faith, nor do they regularly participate in any religious rituals. Do you think such a congregation could actually emerge? Explain why or why not.

Comment on Kant's specious argument that Judaism does not encourage personal moral improvement. To what extent can we understand his anti-Semitism as ignorance?

Under Kant's system of Moral Religion, is salvation from God attainable? Is it even a goal?

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us