Foreword by Michel Despland
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foreword Michel Despland Everyone reading Kant today will sooner or later find passages that seem so ridiculous that one is tempted to meet them only with laughter and not bother with refutation. Three come to my mind. First, practically all his texts on women, and his definition of marriage. Then his view on lying from philanthropic motives, showing him singularly inept at weighing probabilities and lacking in usage du monde. Finally his praise of Enlightenment, making of an admittedly admirable but local and dated movement among a small élite, the sole bearer of a universal moral imperative. And yet . . . The collection of articles that follows is a clear demonstration that Kant’s philosophy of religion remains of enduring interest. The authors touch upon a vast range of issues and give them first-rate discussions. They should convince anybody that Kant’s philosophy of religion has a lot of staying power, more than, for instance, those of his two historical neighbors, Hume and Hegel.1 The scholarship of the last decades on Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason shows that a rich variety of new perspectives has been opened up by readers who offer painstakingly detailed interpretations of Kant’s philosophy of religion, but who nevertheless seriously differ on the overall assessment .2 The collection here takes up a specific line of argument that makes important claims.3 The argument is advanced that Kant’s work on religion is theologically relevant; put minimally, his work might be said to replace the common Enlightenment strategy of containing religion or seeking to regulate it with the help of rational principles external to it, with a genuinely positive appreciation for it. Most noteworthy, in my opinion, are the works of Ronald Green, Adina Davidovich, Stephen R. Palmquist, Chris L. Firestone, John Hare, and Ann L. Loades.4 The papers collected in this book also agree that the properly theological potential is found most clearly in Kant’s works of the 1790s. What interests me in this claim is not just that Kant brings water to some Christians’ mills, but, more importantly, that he leads to some rethinking of Christian theism and opens important avenues for the theory of religion. His way of doing philosophy embodies an understanding of what it means to be human that is most relevant to any theological endeavor or any undertaking to study religions. Two planks seem to me to lie at the basis of his unique contri- Foreword xii bution. First, Kant maintains a broad, generous view of possible human wellbeing , even at times kissing the hems of utopia. Second, he keeps a sharply critical view of our ability for working toward our own well-being.5 Thus his work formulates strong tensions and continues sustaining them. The first and properly foundational tension is that found in the joint impact of the Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason. Firm limits are set for knowledge. Noumena are distinct from phenomena. Room is made for faith of a moral kind. Warnings are issued against the tendency of the human mind to ‘‘press . . . monstrosities on reason,’’6 religious imagination being identified as a major source of these pathological speculations. These arguments are momentous and have understandably given rise to canonical views of the Kantian philosophy: they provide a solid and indispensable framework for all readers. Kant, however, moved beyond this framework, or, rather, pressed vigorously against the limits it established. It is at this point that the articles published here have a call on the attention of all Kantian scholars. Their importance may be highlighted, it seems to me, by drawing attention to convergent developments in the world of Kantian scholarship in French. Much attention has been paid recently to the third Critique and its way of moving beyond the strict alternative established in the first two. Eric Weil coined the expression ‘‘a second Copernican revolution’’ to describe the advances made in the Critique of Judgment (1790).7 The expression is not entirely felicitous, since nothing in the third Critique is like the reversal of the respective positions of Sun and Earth accomplished in the first Critique, but the expression stayed because it made clear that Kant opened there a whole new field of inquiry.8 While the first two Critiques located themselves largely in the timeless truths of epistemology and metaphysics, the third one, examining judgment (aesthetic and teleological), moved into grounds where it could become apparent that, at the close of the eighteenth...


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