Kant and Kierkegaard on the Need for a Historical Faith: an Imaginary Dialogue

  • Ronald M. Green
Part of the Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion book series (CSPR)


1 January 2027. Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard unexpectedly find themselves sharing a corner in the Delta Medallion Club at Denver Airport Snow has delayed their flights for several hours.


Moral Reason Moral Worth Christian Faith Rational Justification Moral Disposition 
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  1. 1.
    Jerry H. Gill, ‘Kant, Kierkegaard and Religious Knowledge’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 28 (1967–8), pp. 188–204; also his article on ‘Kant’ in Kierkegaard and Great Traditions, vol. 6 in Bibliotheca Kierkegaardiana, ed. Niels Thulstrup and Maria Mikulová Thulstrup (Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels Boghandel, 1981), pp. 223–9; John D. Glenn, Jr., ‘Kierkegaard’s Ethical Philosophy’, Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, 5 (Spring 1974), pp. 121–8; Peter J. Mehl, ‘Kierkegaard and the Relativist Challenge to Practical Philosophy’, Journal of Religious Ethics, 14: 2 (1987), pp. 247–78; Robert L. Perkins, ‘For Sanity’s Sake: Kant, Kierkegaard and Father Abraham’, in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling: Critical Appraisals, ed. Robert L. Perkins (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1981), pp. 43–61; Ronald M. Green, Kierkegaard and Kant: the Hidden Debt (Albany, NY: The State University of New York Press, 1992). Also, R. Z. Friedman, ‘Kierkegaard: First Existentialist or Last Kantian?’, Religious Studies, 18: 2 (June 1982), pp. 159–70; Jeremy D. B. Walker, To Will One Thing: Reflections on Kierkegaard’s ‘Purity of Heart’ (Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1972); also his Kierkegaard’s Descent into God (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1985); Alastair Hannay, Kierkegaard (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982); William D. Peck, ‘On Autonomy: the Primacy of the Subject in Kant and Kierkegaard’, Ph.D Thesis, Yale University, 1974; C. Stephen Evans, Subjectivity and Religious Belief (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982); Geoffrey Clive, ‘The Connection between Ethics and Religion in Kant, Kierkegaard and F. H. Bradley’, Ph.D Thesis, Harvard University, 1953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kierkegaard’s favourite descriptor for Kant is ‘aerlige’ (honest). See, for example, Søren Kierkegaards Papirer, 16 vols. (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1909–78), VIII2 A 358 n.d.; VIII2 B 81 n.d., 1847; X1 A 666 n.d., 1849; X2 A 501 1850.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    In offering this view of the relative novelty of Kant’s efforts in the Religion to explore the extent of our rational freedom from morality, I disagree with Dennis Savage’s estimate that ‘Kant’s theory of radical evil in the Religion contains nothing basically new as compared with his theory of moral good and evil presented in his [earlier] ethical works.’ — ‘Kant’s Rejection of Divine Revelation and His Theory of Radical Evil’, in Philip J. Rossi and Michael Wreen, eds., Kant’s Philosophy of Religion Reconsidered (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 73.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959), p. 21; Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956), p. 24.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Critique of Judgement, trans. J. H. Bernard (New York: Hafner Press, 1951), p. 187.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, trans. Theodore M. Green and Hoyt H. Hudson (New York: Harper & Row), p. 16.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    The Concept of Anxiety, trans. Reidar Thomte (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 16f.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Fear and Trembling, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. 98f.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Gordon E. Michalson, Jr., Fallen Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 16.
    Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, ‘Conundrums in Kant’s Rational Religion’, in Rossi and Wreen, eds., Kant’s Philosophy of Religion Reconsidered, pp. 48–9; John E. Hare, The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 60–2.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    ‘Inward divine revelation is God’s revelation to us through our own reason.’ — Vorlesungen uber die philosophische Religionslehre (hrsg. Politz), 2. Ausgabe (Leipzig: Taubert, 1830).Google Scholar
  12. 25.
    The Conflict of the Faculties: Der Streit der Fackultaten, trans. Mary J. Gregor (New York: Abaris Books, 1979), pp. 127–39.Google Scholar
  13. 28.
    This conception parallels Kierkegaard’s denial that the ‘contemporary’ is in any way privileged. See for example, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. Howard V. Hong and H. Edna Hong, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 96–8; Philosophical Fragments, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), p. 63; Training in Christianity, trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), pp. 43–4. The similarity between Kant and Kierkegaard on this matter is noted by Gordon Michaelson, Jr. in his Lessing’s ‘Ugly Ditch’: A Study of Theology and History (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985), p. 17.Google Scholar
  14. 37.
    Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1929), pp. 239–44 [A218–26 = B266–74].Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Ronald M. Green

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