Kantian Newman

In chapter five of his Apologia, Newman writes,

If I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face, I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me, when I look into this living busy world, and see no reflexion of its Creator. This is, to me, one of those great difficulties of this absolute primary truth, to which I referred just now. Were it not for this voice, speaking so clearly in my conscience and my heart, I should be an atheist, or a pantheist, or a polytheist when I looked into the world. I am speaking for myself only; and I am far from denying the real force of the arguments in proof of a God, drawn from the general facts of human society and the course of history, but these do not warm me or enlighten me; they do not take away the winter of my desolation, or make the buds unfold and the leaves grow within me, and my moral being rejoice (241).

Newman emphasizes, here as in many other places, two fundamental themes of his work: proofs for the existence of God are not so much wrong as hopeless, while a better apologetic emphasizes the individual’s inescapable encounter with God-as-legislator in the depths of his own conscience.

This paragraph is one of the clearest indications in Newman’s corpus of how deeply he was affected (at how many removes is unimportant for now) by Kant’s “Copernican revolution” in philosophy. Consider its similarities to Joseph Ratzinger’s lucid summary of Kant’s first two Critiques: “According to [Kant], the voice of being-in-itself cannot be heard by human beings. Man can hear it only indirectly in the postulates of practical reason, which have remained, as it were, the small opening through which he can make contact with the real, that is, his eternal destiny. For the rest, as far as the content of his intellectual life is concerned, he must limit himself to the realm of the categories” (“Biblical Interpretation in Crisis,” 15). For Kant, our belief in God, the immortal and immaterial soul, and rational freedom is fundamentally the shadow cast by our inescapable belief in moral obligation, though we cannot justify those beliefs speculatively or metaphysically. (Thus the great “chasm” that Kant saw as yawning between the first and second Critiques, which he hoped to bridge in the Critique of Judgment).

Newman remains a helpful model for how to speak and think Christianly to a culture still profoundly under Kant’s spell in its skepticism of classical metaphysics.

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This entry was posted in Conscience, Immanuel Kant, John Henry Newman, Kant, Metaphysics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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