It is obvious to almost everyone that the empirical doctrines of science had much to do with expansion of knowledge. But while modern philosophy has always embraced this, the chief instigator of modern philosophy is always assumed to be Descartes. And he engaged in such blatant subjectivizing speculation about the reality of the universe around him that he set a standard for introspection for several centuries after him. Descartes did not do much to buoy empiricism so much as begin the soul-searching process of rational doubt, but empiricism was clearly the subject of many philosophers, such as Bacon, who were plainly interested in the advancement of human learning and activity. Yet the questions of morality in philosophy never fail to emerge, and no amount of transition in epistemology would ever eradicate a survey of moral implications. At this crossroads of skepticism concerning empirical reason, dangerous concern for morality, and exploration of the implications of empirical reality, Kant stands ready to answer all our questions. Primarily on the basis of transcendental logic, Kant has sought to supply a critical basis for reason’s tasks.
As Christians, I suppose there are basically three kinds of responses to philosophers. The first is outright rejection. This has the purpose of protecting theology from the influence of philosophy. The problem with this way of thinking is quite clear. It doesn’t actually seem to work. And merely outwardly rejecting philosophy does not “win” the ideological battle for minds. If it were so simple that I could subjectively refuse something and determine events on that power, then discourse and words would have no power whatsoever. The second kind of response, I will distinguish as a kind of hybrid policy. It treats certain philosophies as very bad and deleterious, and rejects them in much the manner of the first way: as intrinsically bad. But it is willing to explore certain philosophies that do not actually flagrantly violate scruples. Furthermore, it is willing to distinguish between philosophical subjects so that something can be strong in one area and weak in another, allowing you to pick and choose line items from the thinker’s overall structure. The third approach, and the one that I seek, is to fully bear (in one sense), fully encounter, and yet (in another sense) fully reject the entire weight of philosophy. Philosophy is not unlike the world itself, fully useful, sensory, and useless. What I mean to arrive at, therefore, is a fully ministerial concept of reason and philosophy, or the construction of a philosophy with service as its purpose. This differs quite radically from the construction of philosophy that aims at mastery or freedom, for these two objects undertake to form a philosophy that suits their purpose. But the same subjects grasped by them must be fully addressed and yet so that the end is not our mastery or freedom (which ultimately comes only in the Word) but rather our servitude and inability, which expresses itself most fully in the contradictions and limitations of reason.
Now that we have set forth the historical matter that concerns us along with the practical concerns that guide us, I want to comprehend more fully the idea of empiricism as it pertains to the other concern, service. For reason to be used ministerially means nothing further than that it is service. And service is the use of reason on behalf of someone else, although this is not its sole suggestion or definition. Service aims to accomplish something unworthy and without merit, and reason generates a will to act. That action which we perform for another on the basis of reason is rightly said, therefore, to be service, unless, of course, we are using our reason magisterially. In this sense, we use reason to free ourselves or on account of thinking ourseles masters. We therefore use reason to lord it over others and magisterially imply that they ought to follow our lead. Yet it cannot be claimed that because there is this false and usurping use of reason, that the true use of reason in service is bad. Nor can it be claimed that because true service is a good thing, we should not take time to examine the dangers of thinking ourselves masters.
This limitation affects all our works so that we can never think or speak about our works of service as anything other than rationally-motivated service, which must happen–if at all–with all the limitations not only of our senses, talents, and performance, but also of logical reason. Consequently, Christian service as a human being means nothing more than being a limited creature using partial faculties in a way that only makes sense to us insofar as it can be rationalized. (I do not know how angels think about their service, and I can only speak about God insofar as he has revealed himself.) I say, therefore, of heaven that when the Scriptures say that Christ will be their light and they will need no sun or temple, this teaches us that our thoughts will be primed to true mastery and our service will, in fact, be meritorious in that glorified condition, the praise and glory of our God. For now, however, I can only judge about the usefulness of a thing by means of the limited conspectus of human reason. If I must make a pizza according to the needs of a customer, I use reason to provide them with that pizza. Yet, it is service to God our maker who has given us a mind and body with which to conduct works. But I have used reason, not faith, to order the food product, hire workers, market a product, arrange a workspace, instruct employees, purchase services, contract a business, and take an order. In the same way, every human profession entails a use of reason to serve others. If there were no person, no customer, that is, who took any interest in the pizza, then my reason for making pizzas would cease. For reason provided the entire motivation for the service that consisted of rational work. On these grounds, I wish to placate and ameliorate our position to those whose practical minds have carried them away from Christ and yet at the same time firmly note that while this is an integral use of reason and pragmatically important, it is not on that account firm or valid so much as demanding and servicable. Hence, we must explore how this reason functions subjectively in order to properly digest the pizza-making process.
We could, of course, make ourselves radicals and declare against all use of reason. The problem with reason, we find, is that it is thought to obtain a sense of validity. At an axiomatic level, the validity of reason breaks down. When you get to undefined terms, you no longer have logical validity to undergird your propositions. You simply have an agreed upon disposition to explore certain concepts a certain practical way. Euclidean geometry is more practical than non-Euclidean, but the latter has applications as well. Which is valid? The limited notion of validity, therefore, differs from the wide and downhill notion of validity which expresses a “freedom” of inclination so long as one can validate it. Logic is not a tool for independence but for service. Otherwise, Solomon would have written something like “rely on your understanding.” Instead, we use our understanding, to be sure, yet in a servile and humble manner. And there is no inner faculty of the human mind which can liberate us from this “prison house” which is so deplored by the post-moderns. When we confess in the Third Article that we cannot by our reason or strength come to believe in Christ, we mean most implicitly that reason cannot free us.
So there are a good deal of objections to reason as master, but the idea of reason as servant is not without value to God. In the first place, if we look at the Genesis narrative of creation, man was put in the garden to serve it. This is the same word that crops us when God addresses Israel in the declaration of the Ten Commandments, when he most sternly says, I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of servitude. So God created us for service, and yet, he brings us out of servitude. This is a duality to pay attention to, to say the least. Now how could Adam serve the garden? In the first place, he gave rational names to all the animals, and whatever he called them that was their name. Now, was there any creative merit in this? I think it is clear that God created the reality, and Adam the nominal ascription. The reality is real, and Adam’s excellence lies in that he knows that reality under the rubric of a term. This is how reason functions. Reason knows what God has created and serves the author of that creation through reason. It does not lay claim, thereby, to an unconcealed and bare knowledge of the creator.
For this reason, that I think true service is an act of a reasonable and gentle disposition to serve, I cannot get lost in intrigues about faith and works. It is really quite simple to me to see what many have noticed, that man is a rational animal. Yet, as rational, he is either using reason magisterially or ministerially. If the former, then faith is not real faith. If it is the former, then he is simply alloting rational space or rational probability to the concepts of veracity and faith. If, however, the latter, then reason can no longer do anything but serve with works. For as long as a human lives, his mind functions in some rational way, unless he has been completely deprived of his mind. Yet, if faith destroys the magisterial use of reason, it alone makes possible to ministerial use of reason. If faith tramples the authority of reason, it lifts up the benefit and value of reason. If faith lays hold of propositions in trust and without proof from reason, then it subjects reason to the tasks of advantages and benefits for others.
This confusion over faith and works is also, therefore, a confusion about reason and works. If one supposes that rationally approved works are meritorious before God, then the question of justification is no longer answered so clearly. Why should it be through faith, when it might be by works? Only when reason is fully deprived of its mastery can it be shown that no amount of rationalizing can justify us. Yet in this same light, the doctrine of Luther becomes clearest. Unfortunately, if one overcorrects and says: reason has no value or purpose, then you must also proceed to ask: how then can good works happen? Only in this limited sense in which reason serves a neighbor can good works happen, as rationally produced labors without merit.
Man, I have spent a lot of my life thinking about this… Where then shall we proceed? I meant to get to Kant and explore how his thinking treats reason as master. Yet even Kant, so completely subjected to the catechism as a pietistic youth cannot allow the notion of reason’s unrestricted use. And after all, neither could the skeptics allow the glorification of reason to pass without doubt. But the practical advantages of reason were so desirable and good that one hated anything other than the most enthusiastic appraisal of empiricism. The truth is that God has given us minds and capacities for the purpose of service.
As such we must see what it means to be an idolator and serve images, idols, and creatures rather than to serve the creator who is over all. This is, after all, the first commandment and the most germane to all service. It is this, that on the sensation of an image, idol, or creature rather than God we justify ourselves. This is a concept of rationalization whereby one’s self becomes rationally validated by sensory perception, subjective experience, or objective observation. None of these powers have created man, and none of them can sustain him. If we explore this principle, it can be seen how Kant’s devices fail us.
Kant decided that reason could know things in a certain sense, as phenomena, but not, in fact, as things in themselves, ding an sich, or noumena. From this phenomenal appraisal of the use of reason, carefully asserted through trancendental thinking, Kant led inadvertently to Hegel, whose logical criteria were essential to the development of existentialism, Marxism, and just about everything that can seem disturbingly wrong with the Western world. Because the phenomenal use of reason seemed to adequately address the skeptic’s concerns over empiricism, science has proceeded rather unbridled to deconstruct every theistic narrative of the universe. This is exactly the sort of magisterial use that must be forbidden. All such magisterial reason is a delusion.
There is an obvious failure in the idea of reason as master, and this failure comes to light in existentialism. If I could use reason to do whatever I wanted, then any proposition could be asserted and truth would become meaningless. This is precisely, in fact, how many view the subject. There is probably one philosopher, unfortunately, that I have to read more deeply on this subject, and that is, alas, Heidegger, because it is pretty clear to me how Sartre operates. For Sartre personal experience becomes a unique way of identifying reality. The tangle of reason, then, is that in its efforts to serve, it instead has a completely arbitrary choice. And its main purpose, then, is for the self to make a choice. But the self’s faculty of choosing, in reality, ought to be seen as an opportunity to use reason to make a choice that serves. This is a reflection, also, of Luther’s doctrine, for he taught that there was, indeed, an arbitrary service. And how is one to make decisions except through reasoning?
The balance of reason depends on philosophy. Reason cannot be detached from that field of enquiry which pertains most explictly to its function. Reason cannot be “scripturalized”. The best thing that can happen to reason is that it be bound, not liberated. This happens, as I said, not accidentally when the Word displaces reason, through faith, as the authority on which we depend. For this reason, I submit that in order to do true and ready service, we ought to exercise our minds in knowledge of God’s creation. This is a difficult thing when all of philosophy has been warped, as by a black hole, towards the absence of the divine. One cannot simply make use of a secular philosopher the way that a pizza created by a non-believer can still be a good thing to eat. One does not simply walk into Mordor.
Accordingly, I have not simply thrown Kant out here for consideration without much prefacing. But in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant basically adjusts the mind to think of experience in two kinds of aspects. First, he treats of transcendental intuition, then secondly, transcendental understanding, and finally he uses transcendental logic to make assertions about experience based on these two. I am concerned with the logic he used, which generally seems flawed to me on the main basis that it asserts too much. It asserts as magister rather than minister.
This is the “experience” with which the secular mind cannot grasp. The secular mind cannot tolerate being a servant. It must needs rationalize some way by which to make itself master. The full expression of this is in oppression and exploitation. Yet to make oneself a servant, who can do that? Who has the power to cease being master in order to become a servant? Yet God does this. Christ becomes man. The incarnation sets a new tone, as fully realized when Christ takes the garb of servant and washes the disciples feet. Did Christ need to use his hands and a bit of water to wash feet? No, he could have used his divine powers to cause it. But he wanted to institute a policy of service in a way that would be memorable for all later times.
Because there is a clear use in service, I think that the Enlightenment period needs to be appraised with respect to the spin that gets put on reason. Someone might argue that reason inevitably leads to magisterial assertions. This evokes a lot of emotions about how bad rationalizations are. So be it. Deny that man ought to use his reason to do good deeds. But how then can a man count that he has two coats while his neighbor has none? How can he count without the use of reason? Without an axiomatic or ideal form of “coat” in his mind, has he any way of grasping that he has two of what his neighbor lacks? Can anyone even create a coat without the skill that God gives him? Yet, is this skill as reasonably conscious something which we ought to deprive a man of in order to make him more pious? Accordingly, the Enlightenment definitely errs, except in this regard: that the reason which is so deplorable as magisterial is absolutely necessary as minister. But we make a greater error if we treat God’s creation of human reason as something without which we can still be of service. For thought and will are intimately connected, and yet now it seems appropriate to advance the actual agenda.
As I said, Kant devotes his first section to Transcendental Intuition. Here he presents his doctrines of time and space as fields of sensory intuition. Here we have the basic skeptical concerns of the validity of empirical knowledge. We have to have a rigorous sentiment concerning sensation, because sensation is the primary quality attacked by skeptics. It seems so easy, after all, to delude impressions and sensations with masks and disguises. Thus, the rigorous exposition of time and space as subjective, a priori fields of intuition eludes and yet embraces the skeptical doubts.
In the next section, he handles the understanding. Here he speaks about the twelve categories of his transcendental thought. It is a very interesting position, but essentially it handles certain predicable characteristics as a priori formulated according to a necessary handle. I think it is interesting and useful work here. But I subject it to criticism on account of what follows it.
The notion of transcendental deduction depends on the dichotomy of the subjective and the objective. If there were not a strict delineation of the subjective and the objective, then the Kantian deduction would not make sense. But I have this to say about this easily accepted standard of division: Kant takes it for granted that human experience can be experienced as generated by a merely rational function without God. Indeed, he applies his effort to come up with logic that denies the existence of God. This is because, again, of a magisterial tone towards reason. When Kant does try to preserve ministerial sense, he does so by arguing of our limitations with respect to ding an sich, thing-in-itself. This, however, is idolatry. The thing in itself is not an unknowable mystery. After all, water is water, heat is heat, and pain is pain. To confuse this is to lead to madness. But without ding an sich, Kant cannot simply address his simultaneous desire for a ministerial sense for morality and a magisterial sense for empiricism. By saying that we can have no real knowledge of things, he alleviates the concern that reason is invalid. That is, the limitation is moot, because there is nothing further which ought to be performed for anyone. Here is a particular passage that shows the dichotomy that ignores God as creator:
There are only two possible cases in which synthetic representation and its objects can come together, necessarily relate to each other, and, as it were, meet each other: Either if the object alone makes the representation possible, or if the representation alone makes the object possible.
Here there is no concrete assertion of a deity. Now, because it is so far removed from the context of a discussion of God’s existence, and it seems to address the manner of consciousness rather than the manner of reality, I was delayed with contemplation on this dialectic. For the true Lutheran confession is that God is the maker of the world around me that I experience. It is not subject to lunacy, nor disinterested, nor short on curiosity. Synthetic representation, of course, refers to the mentally conjured image of a thing according to law and order we understand a priori in our minds, and the object, of course, alludes to the factually existent thing. Now the subtext proves to be that meritorious morality can only actually really deal with objects, but as Kant will later express, in the metaphysics for morality, his concern is that we act according to a subjective standard, by which we could wish that our action were a universal law. But for someone who believes that God is the author of his actual experience, that the divine Word knew these things prior to all things, then there is a reality in them that demands my actions. And yet I cannot, as a rationally limited creature, sufficiently rationalize my actions. Hence, Kant not wishing to support anything like the Gospel, reduces to the romance of subjective experience. Yet it is clear that such a move cannot support us in the last day. Only the grace of God can lift us up.
Thomas Aquinas, long ago, spoke of man as a rational animal, following Aristotle, and tried to explain sin using the dialectic that man is rational. Yet it is clear for us that we ought to be able to supply the good works God demands and reason ought to be able to perform good deeds. But this is impossible unless reason is serving. Reason is something we experience ourselves using. This is why the existentialists, on the one hand, sought to orchestrate it to validate themselves; and the Marxists, on the other hand, thought that on the basis of reason they could ignore subjective necessities and deal only in socially conceived terminologies. But Luther clearly teaches that sin is such a defect that it cannot perform anything good. Thus all human pride is dejected. Not only so that we might have a villain to deplore, but so that we might learn to think of reason as a servant.
I say all things of this sort, because I cannot give myself the satisfaction that I am in the right on the basis of my actions. I cannot suggest that my taking action makes me right. I cannot. That which I cannot do, I trust that Christ has done for me. I cannot attain to that glory, but he has and does attain to me. This then must be my doxological conclusion. Amen.