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KantonPrayer

D.Chandler
FranklinCollege
pwp.franklincollege.edu/DChandler/

Kant%20on%20

Prayer,%20Proceedings.docx

Ifthereissurpriseordiscomfortwiththistitle,perhapsitistheinclusionofbothKantand
Prayerinit.Thisisnotanerror.WhatlittleKantsaysonprayercomesfromfoursources.
TheearliestdiscussionistheCollinsnotesonmoralphilosophy,astudentnotebookthat
probably[]representsthebasicsofKantsteachingforthenineyearsfrom1775until
1

1784inhislecturesonethics. ThesecondsourceistheLecturesonthePhilosophical
2

DoctrineofReligion

,probablygiveninthewintersemesterof178384. Thethirdsourceis
notesfromacourseonTheMetaphysicsofMoralsgivenin179394,takenbyalawyer
3

andgoodfriendofKants,JohannFriedrichVigilantius. ThefinalsourceisKantsReligion
4

withintheBoundariesofMereReason. TheCollinsandPlitznotesarefrom1784the
VigilantiusnotesandRGVarebothfrom179394.Itisimportanttorememberthatthe
kindsofprayerKanthasinmindthroughoutarecommonlyreferredtoasprayersofthanks,

SeeSchneewind,Introduction,in

LecturesonEthics.Cambridge.1997,xv.Hereafter

citedasVMo/Collins.Thestandardabbreviationsof

KantStudienareusedthroughout,
citingtheAkademievolume,pages,andlines,followedinparenthesesbythepaginationin
theCambridgeEditionoftheWorksofImmanuelKant

.Englishquotationsarefromthe
Cambridgevolumes.
2

In ReligionandRationalTheology,trans.byWood.Cambridge.1996,337.Hereafter

citedasVPhilTh/Plitz.
3

SeeSchneewindsIntroduction,

opcit.,xviii.HereaftercitedasVMS/Vigil.

InReligionandRationalTheology,trans.byGiovanni.Cambridge.1996.Hereaftercited

asRGV.

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praiseorpetition. Ofcoursethereareotherkindsofprayer.Onethinksofcontemplative
prayer,forexample.WhatareKantskeypoints?
Throughoutheuseswordslikeneedless,otiose,anduseless,inboldlyasserting
6

that[o]bjectively,then,prayersarequiteunnecessary. ForGodssake,declaringpraiseor
7

apetitiontoGodispointless,nothingbutsuperstitiousdelusion(afetishmaking). Bythis
hemeansthatanomniscientbeingalreadyknowsanyneedorinnermostmotivewemay
8

have.Hence,prayerisnotconversingwithGod,butinfact

withoneself. Theonlyreason
forprayerisforourownsakes.Tomakeourideascomprehensible,wemustclothe
theminwordsitisahumanweakness.Onlyinthissubjectivesenseisprayerneeded.
Anotherwayofputtingthissubjectiveuseofprayerishissuggestionthatwecanonlytalkto
someonewecansee.Henceitisanabsurdity,towishtotalkwithGod.[]sincewe
9

cannotintuitGod,[...]. Beyondthispointlessness,however,prayeraswordsand
10

formulaspositivelyavoidsdoinganyofthemoraldutiesincumbentonus.
Prayer,then,isneverinitselfgood.Properly,prayerisonlyameanstowhatisitself
good.ThisdistinctionisKantscentralpointaboutprayer.Hedevelopsthisbycontrasting
theletter(merelythemeans)andspiritofprayer.Thewordsandformulasaretheletter,
neededonlybyusaswespeaktoourselves.Whileordinarypeopleneedthisauditoryaid,
onecantrainoneselftodosoinsilence.Thisistheabilitytoexamineonesdispositions,
onesmotives.Anypersonwhocandothissilently,positivelyshouldnotprayaloud.
Kantaddsherethattheletterofprayerisnottobecensured,sinceifsolemnlyutteredin
church,itcanhaveagreateffectoneveryone.Buthecannotendthesentenceonthat

VMS/Vigil,AA27.2.1:728.35(449).

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:323.813(108).Citationsofbriefquotesaregroupedtogether,as

here.
7

RGV,AA06:194.30(210).

Ibid.,197.03(212).

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:323f.1519,3503(108f.).

10

RGV,AA06:194.3334(210).
2

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positivenote,giventhedeephumantendencytocorruptthespiritintotheletter:butinand
11

foritself,theletterisdead.
Whatprayershouldbe,thespiritofprayer,ismorality.Itistohavethedisposition
inallouractions,whichhedefinesas[a]sincerewishtopleaseGodinallourdoingsand
12

nondoings. Thedangerinprayingisthatprayerisneverthepoint.Butthehumanpsyche
ispronetoforgetthis.Indeed,heidentifiespreciselythisasthegreatestevil,inherentinall
religions.Thisisnotthefaultofanyreligion,butinsteadoftheinclinationthatisso
inveterateinallhumans,namely,tomistakewhathasthevalueofameansforthething
13

itself. Atbestitisonlyameans,indeed,notevenanecessarymeans,bywhichtostirour
moraldisposition,whichistheonlypoint.Asourmoraldispositionisprogressivelypurified
andelevated(thespiritofprayer),thatisallweneedandallthatweshouldworkon.The
14

letterofprayersshouldfinallyfallaway. Why?Becauseprayerinitselfhasno
15

value.
Atthebeginningofanextendedfootnote,withtypicalKantianbinaryprecision,he
clarifiesthisspiritandletterdistinctionfurther.Thespiritofprayeristhewishordisposition
topleaseGodinallouractionsandintentions.Kantsuggeststhatinthisrightkindof
praying,oneworksononeself,workingtobringonesmoraldispositionstolifeinactions.
Intheletterofprayer,wordsandritual,oneworksuponGod,clearlypresumptuousand
foolhardy.Further,thespiritofprayercanbecompletelysincereevenifIamquiteuncertain
whetherGodactuallyexists.Contrariwise,ifthepractitioneroftheletterofprayerthinks
thatherwordsallegedlytoGodcanatleastdonoharm,andmightevenhelp,sincerityis
16

clearlylesspure. Kantscautionatthispointisstunninginitsrelevancetocontemporary

11

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:324.0915(109).

12

RGV,AA06:194f.3503(210).

13

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:329.2227(113).

14

RGV,AA06:197.0408(212).

15

Ibid.,198.810(212).

16

Ibid.,195.0616(210).
3

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verbosepopularexpressionsofreligion.Themoreverbosethattheexpressionsof
humiliationandglorificationare,theyareallthelessmorallyfelt.Thissuggestsan
inverserelationbetweentheletterandspiritofprayer,betweenculticandmoralpractices.
Justpriortomentioningthedangerofverbosity,Kantsuggeststhattheletter,like
everythingwhichistrainedatagivenendindirectly,ratherweakenstheeffectofthemoral
17

idea. Elsewherehesaysthatthemoretheexternalpracticeofreligionisoverloadedwith
18

observances,theemptieritisofmoraltraining. Halfapagelatertheinverserelationis
repeated:whenpeoplearenotpunctiliousinregardtomorality,theyareallthemoresoin
19

regardtothecultus. So,whenvalueisplacedonprayerinitself,dangerously,themoral
idealisweakened.
Immediatelyfollowingthisprofoundwarningregardingprayer,Kantcautionsthat
whilechildrenneedtheletterofritualprayer,theymustbecarefullytaughtfromthevery
outsetthattheritualofpraying,ofinnerorverbalspeech,hasnovalueinitself,buttheonly
choreisrathertheenliveningofthedispositiontoalifeconductwellpleasingtoGod,[...].
20

Kantsuggeststhatprayercantooeasilybecomeanexpressionofdelusoryorfictitious

faith.Thedelusion,forKant,istopraythinkingthatinsodoingwecaninfluenceGodto
21

makeupwithGodsgracewhatwelackincommitmenttoourmorallife. TheGeneral
RemarkattheendofPartFourofRGVclarifieshowthemeansofgraceintraditional
Christianity(inadditiontoprayer,alsochurchgoing,baptismandcommunion)canalltoo
22

easilydeteriorateintodelusionandfiction.
Prayersareneeded,indeed,formoralpurposes,tokindlemoralityinthe
innermostheart.KnowledgeofGodisonlyforthepurposeofmakinganimpressiononour

17

Ibid.,197f.2204(212).

18

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:329.1718(113).

19

Ibid.,330.0106(113).

20

RGV,AA06:198.0408(212).

21

Ibid.,194.09,22,2934(209f.).

22

Ibid.,190199(206213).
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actsandomissions.Themoralpointofprayerisitsonlylegitimaterolenotany
metaphysicalrole.Strippingtheletterofprayeraway,thespiritofitremainsbehind,
namelyaGodfearingdisposition,aheartdirectedtoGod,andatrustthatGodwilltake
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awayourmoralfrailty. Theonlylegitimatepurposeforprayeristoproduceinusamoral
dispositionthatleadsustomoralaction.Inhisverybriefdiscussionofprayerinthe
LecturesonthePhilosophicalDoctrineofReligion,Kantreiteratesthispoint:thegreatest
usefulnessofprayeriswithoutquestionamoralone,sinceinprayer,thankfulnessand
24

resignationtoGodareactivatedinus. Theonlyallowablewishisthemoralonehe
declaresintheVigilantiusnotes.Thiswishisgoodinitself,andconformabletomorality.
25

Kantusesanumberofexpressionstodescribethiscentralideaofthespiritofprayer.

Prayerisdevoutwhenitawakensinusactivedispositionsthatfindexpressioninaction.
26

Acouplepageslaterhementionsthepointofdevotionalexercisesasonlyto

strengthenthedispositionsofthesoulinus,sothatinourliveswebecomepleasingtoGod
27

throughouractions.
Anotherexpressionistoprayinfaith,orprayerarisesfromfaith.Theprinciple
involvedinsuchprayeristhatitasksGodforthatofwhichitcanreasonablybehopedthat
Hewillgrantit.Heimmediatelyclarifiesthatonlyspiritualobjectsareofthiskind,
specifyingabeggingfromapuredispositionaswhatismeanthere,andexplicitlyrejecting
28

anytemporalfavoursasalwaysunreasonable. TheVigilantiusnotesdefinetwoelements
insuchprayer:adeclarationofoneswish,withtrustinitsfulfillment.Thisseemstoo

23

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:323f.2834,1721(108f.).

24

VPhilTh/Plitz,AA28.2.2:1112.3638(439).

25

VMS/Vigil,AA27.2.1:727f.3806(448f.).

26

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:326.3436(111).

27

Ibid.,328f.3905(113).

28

Ibid.,326.2230(111).
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broad,soKantimmediatelysaysthatweneedtoclarifywhatexactlythiswishis.The
29

answer?Theonlyallowablewishisthemoralone.
TrueserviceofGodisanotherexpressionforthisspiritofprayer.WeserveGod,
notbywords,ceremoniesandgrimaces,butwhenweexpressinouractionsthedispositions
thataredevotedtoGod.ThetrueserviceofGoddoesnotconsistinoutwardobservances,
butinsanctifieddispositionsactivelydisplayedinlifebyouractions.Hegoesontosay
thatwedonotserveGodbygoingtochurch.Theonlyappropriatefunctionofchurchis
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moraltraining,sowecanserveGodinourlives.
ItisimportanttounderstandtheprincipleKanthasinmindinallthisdiscussionof
moraldispositions,somethingherepeatsthroughoutRGV.Itisafundamentalprinciplein
anymoralreligionthat
tobecomeabetterhumanbeing,everyonemustdoasmuchasitisinhis
powerstodoandonlythen,[...]ifhehasmadeuseoftheoriginal
predispositiontothegoodinordertobecomeabetterhumanbeing,canhe
hopethatwhatdoesnotlieinhispowerwillbemadegoodbycooperation
fromabove.[...]Itisnotessential,[...]thateveryhumanbeingknowwhat
Goddoes[...]butitisessentialtoknowwhatahumanbeinghastodo
31

himselfinordertobecomeworthyofthisassistance.
Prayerisnevernecessarywhenthepurposeisnottoinduc[e]moraldispositionsin
us,butonlyaimedatourwants.Neverisprayertobeforpragmaticpurposes,asa
meansofgainingwhatwerequire.Anexampleofunnecessaryprayer,Kantsuggests,is
prayingwhenindistress.Thisisunnecessaryfortworeasons:objectively,Godalready
knowsoneisintrouble,andsubjectivelytheoneindistressisalreadyvividlyawareofthat
32

distress,sodoesnotneedtheaidofwordstoenlivenawareness. Inlanguagecommontwo

29

VMS/Vigil,AA27.2.1:727f.3301(448).

30

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:325.2325(110)328.2426329.710(112f.).

31

RGV,AA06:52.115(95f.).

32

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:323.2231(108f.).
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KantonPrayer

centurieslater,partofhisconcernistodecentertheonewhoprays.Kantcriticizesapiety
thatisthoroughlypragmatic,puttingtheselffrontandcenterwithitswants.Thenandnow,
popularpietyneedstodecenterthisself.Ofcourse,thistapsintothelongandrichapophatic
33

tradition,alsoknownasthevianegativa. Afterall,wordsareonlytheletteroftheprayer
forKant,andwehavealreadyseentheveryrealdangerofbeingimpressedbythe
externalitiesofloudprayers.Kantmakesclearthatatitspurest,prayerisgoodonlyasa
meanstoanend.Thatendisconstantlyreiteratedtobewhatwedotostrengthenourmoral
disposition.Properlythen,prayeronlyservesasavehicletomoralfaith,rootedinour
purifyingthedispositionsoftheheart.Inthisway,prayerplaysarolesimilartoparticular
historicalfaithsintheirrelationtopurereligiousfaith.Theproperroleforparticularfaithsis
continuallytocomeclosertopurereligiousfaithuntilfinallywecandispenseofthat
34

vehicle,[...].
AfictitiousfaithisonewhichpraysforGodsgracetomakeoneholyorvirtuous.As
hemakesclearthroughoutRGV,therightwaytoadvanceisnotfromgracetovirtuebut
35

ratherfromvirtuetograce. Wecanhope(butthisisonlyconjecture)forgraceifan
honestlookatourphenomenalconductoverasufficientlylonglifeshowsasteady
36

improvementofourmoraldispositionoverourconduct.
Surelyoneofthemostcommonprayersisthepragmaticprayer,aboutourspecific
temporalneeds.Kantusesanumberofexpressionsindiscussingthis:prayingforspecifics,
definitiveprayer,orunconditionalprayers.Wearebackintheterritoryoftheletterof
prayer.Specificprayers,temporalrequestsarewrongforthreebasicreasons.Firsttheyare
usuallynotmoralprayers,concernedtostrengthenthemoraldisposition.IfIprayfor
37

temporalfavours,IcannotreasonablyhopethatGodwillgrantthemtome,[...].

33

SeeLane,BeldenC.TheSolaceofFierceLandscapes.NewYork.1998,6278.

34

RGV,AA06:115.1922(146).

35

Ibid.,202.0305(215).

36

Ibid.,68.2024(110).

37

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:326.2730(111).
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Secondly,anyspecificprayerabouttemporalmattersmustbeconditional,leavingittoGods
wisdom.Soqualifyingaprayerineffectadmitsthattherequestcouldbestupidand
detrimental.Putanotherway,ourprayersshouldcontainabsolutelynothingdefinitive.
Definitiveisunconditional,withnoqualifications.Instead,toavoidbeingpresumptuousin
38

onesprayer,weshouldleaveittoGodswisdom,andacceptwhat[God]provides, or
mustalwaysaddtothespecificrequestsofarasmayseemfittingtoGod.Butthis
amountstoaneedlessrequest,hesuggests.Anyconditionalwaysannulstherequest,
undercutsthespecificityoftherequestbymakingitgeneral,takesbackthespecificrequest
byputtingitinGodshands.Kantsuggestsherethatwehumanscannotbeblamedfor
makingspecificrequestslikewhenweareinperilatsea,sincewearehelplessandignorant
39

ofourdestiny. ElsewhereKantsaysprayermustneverbeusedasameansofgettingour
ownway.Instead,everyprayerforourcorporealadvantagemustbeconditionedintwo
ways:whatevertheprayer,Godknowsbest,andsotheproperstanceistosubmittoGods
40

willinthisrequest. ThisrulesouteveryprayerpetitioningGodtoprovideforany
physicalorsensuousneed.Wehavenoreasontosupposeitanaimofthehighestwisdom
tosatisfysuchawish.SinceGodspurposesareinscrutable,thatmeanswemaywellnot
recognizethemasgoodandsuitableforus.InprayingforGodtorelievechronicback
41

pain,forexample,onecannottrustGodtodothissinceGodswisdomisnotmine. Again,
theapophatictraditionisrichwithwarningsaboutpreciselythiskindofidolatrythatalleges
42

GodandGodswisdomareknowablebyus. Interestingly,threeofthespecificgiftsof
43

fortuneriches,honorandhealtharelistedhereinwhatisruledout. Onemustpray
onlyinconditionalterms,ortheobjectofprayermustbegeneralandnotspecific,

38

Ibid.,325.0307(110).

39

Ibid.,326.1117(110f.).

40

VPhilTh/Plitz,AA28.2.2:1112.3336(439).

41

VMS/Vigil,AA27.2.1:728.1019(449).

42

Caputo.WhatWouldJesusDeconstruct?GrandRapids.2007,58.

43

GMS,AA04:393.14.
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KantonPrayer

puttingnolimitsonGodswisdom,therebyallowingtheexerciseofGodswisdomtoits
44

fullestdegreepossible. WatchfulnessisequallyneededwhenoneimaginesGodhas
intervenedinhumanaffairs.Kantwarnsthatthegreatestcareandcautionarenecessaryif
wewanttothinkofaparticulareventasGodssupernaturalintervention.Theconcernhere,
reiteratedtwoothertimesinthesenotes,isthedangerofdevelopingahabitoflazyreason.
Thatis,ifwecannotfindanaturalcauseforanevent,lazyreasonfillsinthatgapwithGod
asitscause.SuchaGodofthegaps,orfallaciousappealtoignorance,deniesourgreat
callingashumans,namelycarefullytocultivateourreason.Evenifwecannotdeterminethe
45

naturalcauseatthistime,itisstillcrucialtopracticethishabitofreason.
ThefinalreasontemporalprayersarewrongforKantisthatsuch[s]pecificprayers
areunbelievingprayers.Howso?Thevividexpressionsrolloffhistongue:theyare
intrusive,fortheirselfconceitisperversetheyappeartoawakenapresumptionand
mistrustinGod,asthoughwehadnoconfidenceinHisknowingwhatisusefultous,andso
seemlikeatemptationofGod.KantaddsthatIwouldmyselfbealarmed,ifGodwereto
grantmeparticularrequests,sincehehasnowayofknowingGodsinscrutablepurposes
beyondourmoraldispositions.Forallheknows,sucharequestmighthavecalleddown
46

misfortuneonmyself. Suchprayersareanabsurdandatthesametimeimpudent
47

delusion. TheunbeliefarisesfromthefactthatonemakesarequestofGod,butthenadds
aconditionlike,ifGodthinksfit.Byaddingthecondition,Kantpointsoutthatonedoesnot
believethattherequestwillbeheardbyGod.Abelievingprayer,whichforKantisthespirit
ofprayerforamoraldisposition,doesnotattachacondition.AspointedoutinRGV,
beyondnothingbeingaccomplishedinqualifiedprayers,thereisapositivedanger:though
properlyexecutedprayercantrainustoactaright,noneofthedutiesincumbentonusas

44

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:325.02326.0608(109f.).

45

VPhilTh/Plitz,AA28.2.2:1112f.3808(439)alsoibid.,997.1018(334)1071.0515

(406).
46

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:325.1014,3639(110).

47

RGV,AA06:196.1013(211).
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KantonPrayer

48

commandsofGodarecarriedoutbyorinsuchprayers. Theeverpresentdangeristhat
wewillbesatisfiedorcomfortedbyprayingandleaveitthere,forgettingthatweserveGod
49

onlybyenlivening[...]thedispositiontoalifeconductwellpleasingtoGod.
AnotherkeypointaboutprayerforKantispublicprayerinchurch.Thefundamental
pointremainsthesameasinprivateprayer:publicprayerisnotameansofgracebutmoral
50

solemnity. Supernaturalinterventionisnotpossible.Publicprayerisofvalueonlytothe
extentthatthesemoralconcernsarevisibleasapublicissue,andonastrictlyhumansocial
levelonecanseethattheysharewithothersthismoralendeavor.Caution,onceagain,
accompaniesthispublicallysharingthismoralvisionandendeavorcanelevateemotions.
Onemustbecarefulinsuchfeelgoodmomentsclearlytorememberthatthisemotional
highdoesnottriggersomedivinepowertochangeusthataloneisourdoing.Theonly
purposeofpublicworshipisallthemoretoexcitethemoralincentivesofeachindividual
throughanexternalsolemnitywhichportraystheunionofallhumanbeingsinthisdesire
51

fortheKingdomofGod,orthetruechurch.
Clearly,whatJesustaughtaboutprayerintheOurFatheriscrucialtoconsider.Not
surprisingly,thespiritoftheprayeriswhatitisallabout.Insummaryfashion,helists
fourpoints:prayersshouldneverbeverbose,theOurFathercoversonlythemost
necessaryofwhatwerequire,prayershouldfocusonlyondispositions,andnoprayer
52

shouldbeadefinitiveprayerexceptthoseaboutourmoraldispositions. Weknowto
expecttheemphasisonmoraldispositions.Butistherenotatleastonespecific,temporal
53

requestwithnoqualificationintheOurFather:giveusthisdayourdailybread?

48

Ibid.,194.3234(210).

49

Ibid.,198.0810(212).

50

Ibid.,196.3941(211).

51

Ibid.,197.2438(211).

52

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:324f.3402(109).

53

SeeMatthew6:913.
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KantdevelopsthisinafootnoteinRGV.JustasintheCollinsnotes,hefirstpoints
outthattheOurFatherisasuperbexpressionofthespiritofprayer.Heimmediatelygoeson
tosaythatassuch,thespiritofprayerrendersdispensableboththeactivityofprayingin
generalandthisformulaofprayerinparticular.Itonlycontainstheresolvetogood
lifeconduct,andso,putanotherway,itasksofGodnothingthatGodswisdommight
54

perhapsrefuse,sinceonesearnestresolveiswhatbringsaboutimprovedlifeconduct.
Thespiritofprayercanbeansweredsinceitis,exclusively,anexpressionofmoralityand
hencedependentonlyuponthehumanwilltoaccomplish.Thatspiritofprayer[...]itself
55

bringsaboutitsobject.
Henotesthattherequestgiveusthisdayourdailybreadisonlyforoneday.
ThesignificanceforKantisnotthataspecifictemporalrequestisbeingmade
unconditionally.Rather,hesuggeststhatJesusexplicitlyavoidsaskingforalongerlife.
Onedaynowhasthesignificanceofexpressingamerelyfeltanimalneed.Suchan
interpretationmeansthisisjustanadmissionofwhatnaturewillsinus,soisnot
expressingaconscioushumanintention,isnotaspeciallyconsideredrequestforwhatthe
humanbeingwills.Hisjustificationforthisinterpretationisthatifthiswereahuman
requestinsteadofamereanimalneed,therequestwouldhavebeenforbreadforanother
day.Oncehumanwillprocessestheanimalneedforfood,apparentlyitwillnecessarilyask
formorefoodthanforonedaybecausewehumansdesirethecontinuanceofourexistence
56

intothefuture,whichisclearlyenoughexcludedhere. Ourdesiretoextendourlife
beyondthisdayhasnonecessaryconnectiontoGodswisdomitmightperhapsbetter
conformtothiswisdom[ofGod]thatahumanbeingbeallowedtodieonthisdayforlackof
bread,Kantassuresus.Consequently,thisisnotatallaprayertryingtoredirectGodfrom
Godswiseplantosomepersonaladvantagewehaveinmind.Againhereiteratesthatthe
onlyprayerthatcanbeansweredisaprayerwhichhasamoralobject,thatis,whichis

54

RGV,AA06:195.2835(210).

55

Ibid.,196.0306(210).

56

Ibid.,195.3641(210).
11

KantonPrayer

57

graduallyansweredbyoneselfinonesactualeffortstowardmoralimprovement. He
qualifiesthisverycarefullytoguardagainstsupernaturalthinking.Aprayermaybefora
moralpurpose,likechangingonesheartordisposition.Butifweimaginethischangeis
possibleonlyifGodstepsintoinfluenceorchangeourheartsincewelackthewilltoexert
ourselves,thisselfincurred[...]deficiencyisourproblemtosolve,notGods.Rather,
58

wehavecausetoexpectthecontraryfromGod,namely,nohelpatall.
TheVigilantiusnotesaddoneveryinterestingargument.Kantbeginswithabynow
familiardisclaimer,thatifweprayforGodtorelieveaphysicalneed,likehunger,wecan
nevertrustthatthisrequestwillbefulfilledbyGod,fortheusualreasonthatwecannot
assumethatthiswishwillcoincidewiththedivinewisdom.Inverystarkterms,that
wouldmaketrialofGod,e.g.,inprayingforourdailybread.Heimmediatelyinterprets
thisashehadinRGV.Toprayforourdailybreadismerelyaphysicallynecessarywish.
Butnowheexplicitlyconnectsthiswithonesdutiestooneself:andwehaveadutyto
live.OurdutiesareGodscommands,andsoitistobeexpectedthatGodwillsustainour
wishtolive.ThisgivesusreasontohopeforGodsgoodness,sincethewishcontains
59

onlywhatisnecessarywithinitself.
Onelastpoint:isthereanyprayerthatworks?Canprayereverbeeffectual?
Piousreligionmightaskitthisway:doesGodanswerprayer?Ontheonehand,clearly
specifictemporalrequestsareexcluded.ButtheOurFathermakesclearthattheansweris
yes.Whathasbeenarguedthroughoutthispaperisthatoneandonlyonekindofprayeris
effectualwithGod.NoneedtoworrythatKantwouldwanttoholdaprayermeeting,but
addressingthisissueservestodrawtogetherthethemeshighlightedinthispaper,andgetsto
theheartofhisethics.
TheCollinsnotesraisetheissuefirst,whethersuchpersistentprayeriseffectual.
Twoconditionsarelaidout:iftheprayerhasbeenofferedinfaith,andifthepetitioner

57

Ibid.,196.0810,1315,3138(211).

58

Ibid.,196.1721(211).

59

VMS/Vigil,AA27.2.1:728.1011,1623(449).
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hasthespiritandnottheletterofprayer.Iftheseconditionshold,thensuchtrustinGodis
amotivatinggroundforgrantingtherequest.ThissoundslikeonecouldmoveGodtoact,
butifthatisinanywaypartofthepetitionersmotive,ofcoursethetwoconditionshavenot
beenmet.Havingsaidthatsuchtrustisamotivatinggroundforgrantingtherequest,Kant
completesthatthought:butspecificationoftheobjectofprayerisnosuchground.The
objectofprayermustbegeneralandnotspecific,[...].WeprayconsistentwithGods
wisdominageneralprayer,andthatispreciselyachievedwhenweasktobeworthyofall
thebenefitsthatGodisreadytobestowonus,andonlyaprayerofthatsortcanbegranted
60

foritismoral,andhenceconformabletoGodswisdom. Prayerregardingourmoral
dispositioncanandshouldbeadefinitiveprayer,[...]Icanbegcategoricallyand
61

unconditionally[...].
Alittlelaterinthesenotes,Kantsuggeststhatinreligionalltoooftenweimaginethat
weserveGodinadirectway.But,hepointsout,ouractionsarelimitedtothephenomenal
realm:infactwecanperformnoactionssavethosewhoseeffectsextendtothisworld.
FromthisitfollowsthatwecanhavenoeffectuponGodatall,butherecomesthemoral
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qualifieragain,saveonlyindedicatingdevoutdispositionstoHim. ToserveGod
genuinelybytakingondispositionsdevotedtoHim,is,ofcourse,verydifficult,since
thismeansconstantlycurbingourinclinationsandconstantcultivationofourdispositions,
63

somethingwebearheavily[...]and[which]mustbeobservedwithoutceasing. Howcan
weknowthatweareonthismoralpath?Whenwepayattentioninourlivesastowhether
64

moraldispositionsandthefearofGodaretobemetwithin[our]actions.
ThediscussioninRGVmakesexplicitsomedetails.TheOurFathercontainsno
actualrequestforsomethingthatGodinhiswisdommightperhapsrefuse.Instead,what

60

VMo/Collins,AA27.1:326.0111(110).

61

Ibid.,324f.3802(109).

62

Ibid.,328.0205,1114,3539(112).

63

Ibid.,329.2729,3537(113).

64

Ibid.,330.1114(113).
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KantonPrayer

thespiritofprayerpresentsisawish[...]which,ifearnest(efficacious),willitselfbring
aboutitsobjective(tobecomeahumanbeingwellpleasingtoGod).Whatisclearisthat
efficaciousprayeris,ofcourse,amoralwish,butnowthehumanagentisresponsibleforthe
efficacy.Tobeearnestiswhatmakesthewishforamoraldispositioneffective.The
humanmoralagent,withtheverydifficult,constantcultivationofonesmoraldispositions,
accomplishesprogressivelyinoneslifethepersonwellpleasingtoGod.Thiskindof
prayermadeinmoraldisposition,isthespiritofprayer,andcanthusbemadeinfaith.
AllKantmeansbysayingitisaprayermadeinfaithisthatwehaveassurancethatthe
prayercanbeansweredbut[againthequalifier]nothinginusexceptmoralityisofthis
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kind.
TheVigilantiusnotesendtheirdiscussionofprayerfocusedonthespiritofprayer.
ForonesmoraldispositiontobeupliftedtoGodsimplymeansthatoneshouldconstantly
keepinviewthespiritoftheactionwhiledoingtheaction.Presumablytheactioniswhat
oneshoulddo,namely,onesduties,andthespiritoftheactionisdoingtheactionfrom
duty.So,onelasttime,prayermustonlybeameanstothemoralend,bymakingones
moralwishmoreeasytounderstand,bymakingonesmoralrequestmoreactive.God
absolutelydoesnotfulfillthismoralaim.Inotherwords,Goddoesnotactasasubstitute
for[ones]ownefforts.Wecanonlyexpect[...]Godwillpromoteourmoralwelfare,not
66

thatHewilltakechargeofitsoourownactivityisabsolutelynecessaryaswell.

65

RGV,AA06:195.41196.0306(210f.).

66

VMS/Vigil,AA27.2.1:729.0107,1013(449).
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KantonPrayer

Kantonprayer
December6,2009AndrewLeaveacommentGotocomments

DoesKanthaveanythingtoteachusabouttheunityofcontemplationandaction?Onemightdoubtit,given
thewedgewhichhedrivesbetweentheoreticalandpracticalreason.Andyet,withinthepracticaldomain,hem
havesomeimportantthingstosay.Inparticular,Imconcernedwithhisaccountofcontemplativeprayerand
howitrelatestohistheoryofmoralagency.
InthefourthGeneralObservationofhisReligionwithintheLimitsofReasonAlone(Harper,1960originally
1793),Kantbrieflydiscussesprayerasoneoffourmeansofgrace(theothersarechurchgoing,initiation,
andcommunion).Meansofgraceare,inturn,oneofthreekindsofillusoryfaiththatinvolvethepossibilityof
ouroversteppingtheboundsofourreasoninthedirectionofthesupernatural(theothersarebeliefsinmiracles
andmysteries)(182).
Inviewofthesecategorizations,onemightexpectKanttosaythatprayerassuchisanactionpointingbeyond
therealmofpurereasonandthereforewhollyillusory.Interestingly,thisisnotwhathesays.Rather,he
distinguishestwosortsofprayer.Onesort,whichKantcallsverbalprayer,canbeadangeroussuperstitious
illusion(afetishmaking)foritisnomorethanastatedwishdirectedtoaBeingwhoneedsnosuch
informationregardingtheinnerdispositionofthewishertherefore,nothingisaccomplishedbyit,andit
dischargesnoneofthedutiestowhich,ascommandsofGod,weareobligated(183).Andyet,eventhis
dangerousformofprayerasverbaladdressisgoodforchildrenwhoneedittoacquireanideaofGod(186)and
forsomeadultswhoneedthespokenwordasakindoftemporarycrutch,helpingthemtoreachthetrue
moraldisposition(185).
Theothersortofprayerissomethingoccuringwithin.Kantcallsitthespiritofprayer,whichcan,andshould,
bepresentinuswithoutceasing'(183).Thisspiritofprayercapturesthecoreexperienceofreflectivefaith
whichKantbelievesisthebasisformoralreligion.Onefindsinthisformofinnerprayer,forwhichJesus
teachingprovidesthemodel,nothingbuttheresolutiontogoodlifeconductwhich,takenwiththe
consciousnessofourfrailty,carrieswithitthepersistentdesiretobeaworthymemberinthekingdomofGod
(183).SuchprayercontainsnoactualrequestforsomethingwhichGodinHiswisdommightwellrefuseus
(183).EvenwhentheOurFatherasksGodfordailyorsuperessentialbread,this,inKantseyes,ismorea
confessionofwhatnatureinusdemandsthanaspecialdeliberaterequestforwhattheman[inus]wills(184).
Moreover,thereisnothinginthespiritofprayerwhichaddressesGod,attemptstoworkuponGod,oreven
presupposesGodsexistenceorpresencerathertheman[sic]whoabidesinthespiritofprayeronly
adoptsanattitude(eveninwardly)asthoughhewereconvincedof[Gods]presence(183).
Mytakeonthisismixed.Ontheonehand,therearemanythingstocritique:(1)thefalseseparationofverbal
andspiritualprayer,whichnoseriousthinkertodaycouldformulatesodichotomously(2)theregulativeas
though,whichdisallows,itwouldseem,sincerefaithinthepresenceofGod,andforwhatreason?and(3)the
flimsyrejectionofprayerinthemodeofaddressbaseduponadoctrineofdivineomniscience,which
overlookstheconsensusintheChristiantraditionthatprayerisnotmeanttogiveGodinformation.Onthe
otherhand,despitetherationalismofhisage(whichhefostersandexemplifies)andthecorrelativesuspicion
ofpietism,Kantneverthelessmanagestodistillacertainessentialconnectionnotonlybetweencontemplation
andaction(takenabstractly)butmorespecificallybetweencontemplativeprayerandthemoraldisposition
whichleadstogoodactiongroundedingoodreasoning.Theotherproblemsaside,Kantmayactuallybea
resourceforthinkingthroughtheideathatthespiritofprayermoreadequatelyconceived(1)asinclusiveof
voice,(2)assincerelyaffirmingthemysteriouspresenceofGod,and(3)asarealaddresswhosegoalis
neverthelessnottogiveinformationhasalottodowiththestruggleformoralagencyinthemodernworld(for
whichKant,despiteorratherbecauseoftheendlesscriticismremainsatouchstone).

https://memoriadei.wordpress.com/2009/12/06/kantonprayer/

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