Rationalism and Irrationalism in Non-Christian Thought: The Case of Kant (Part 2 of 2)
A brief example of the rationalist/irrationalist principle can be illustrated from the history of philosophy. The epistemology of Immanuel Kant (1724 -1804) taught that the concepts the are necessary for our understanding the world around us, such as causality, laws of logic, time, space, and order, are structured by our minds and imposed upon the things we experience. In order to be rational and make sense out of life we must assume, or presuppose, these notions. Because we cannot prove these categories by touch, smell, sight, etc. they must be thought of as created by, and arising from, our minds, thus ordering and providing the standard for those things that we can empirically verify. This lead Kant to conclude that if we are to think of anything at all we must think in terms of everything being caused by something logically and temporary prior to it. This lead to a fairly deterministic view of mankind (man’s actions are strictly the result of prior conditioning, by both nature and nurture).
But what becomes of personal freedom, and moral responsibility? Kant believed that while we could not prove that man was a responsible moral agent we must nevertheless act as though this were the case. Philosophers have described these as Kant’s two worlds, the world of nature (which leads to determinism), and the world of freedom (where responsibility is found). Kant spoke of the “starry skies above” and the “moral law within.” While Kant could not deny the splendid regularity of the natural world and the reality of humanity’s “moral motions,” his philosophy could not bring these two worlds together. With no rational justification, Kant made the “upper story leap” to irrationalism.
Thus in Immanuel Kant we find both rationalism, and irrationalism.
Likewise, every non-Christian system contains what Jacques Derrida calls “alterity”, i.e. their own system contains the very principles for its downfall. They all “auto-deconstruct.” Esther Meek notes that much of the history of western philosophy can be described as the path from skepticism to “certainty” back to skepticism. The history of secular philosophy, up to this present day, is the story of man’s downward spiral
from epistemological presumption to chaotic relativism.
The Enlightenment project, which started with thinkers such as Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), begun from a theistic basis. Descartes considered himself a Christian and, in principle, sought not to undermine the faith he held. Yet, because his philosophical method began with the human mind as completely sufficient to determine the nature of the “really real,” later generations abandoned the idea that belief in the Biblical God was necessary for understanding reality. Soon enough rationalistic deism was born.
As the downward spiral of western philosophy continued, rationalistic deism gave way to pessimistic nihilism, followed by rebellious existentialism, eventually leading to relativistic postmodernism . Thus, non-Christian thought, when consistent with its own principles leads only to deeper and deeper levels of hopelessness and despair.