Date of Award

Spring 1996

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rossi, Philip

Second Advisor

Misner, Paul


Justification (absolution of guilt along with moral renewal) has been a central concern of Christianity. Although Christians have consistently held that God's forgiveness is necessary for justification to take place, prior to the rationalism of the seventeenth century there had been continuous discussion concerning the part that human merit plays in this process. The Age of Reason with the Enlightenment brought about a fundamentally different way of evaluating the human condition and the means for improving it morally. The human perspective itself, rather than tradition or revelation, was increasingly regarded as a starting point for truth. This meant that, for many, justification became a matter of living according to the principles of reason, thereby erasing the effects of evil. Different movements sought after a more "reasonable" religion whose theology would reflect this. Others reacted against this trend by either finding renewal in Pietism or retreating into dogmatism. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a product of many of these influences. He was raised and educated in an atmosphere of Lutheran Pietism, yet he received a university education that was sensitive to the wider implications of Enlightenment philosophy. A fundamental belief of Kant was that the human will is free to be moral through its own efforts; otherwise, the person cannot be held accountable. By the time he wrote Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone Kant was aware of the limited human ability to overcome what he termed radical evil, which is a perversion of the decision-making process away from the good. This caused him to respond to what Martin Luther (1483-1546) regarded as a fundamental principle of justification: the apparent inability of human beings to create their own salvation through works. For Luther, moral freedom is an illusion because human beings are incapable of effective righteousness on their own. This inability necessitates God's forgiveness, received in simple faith. Kant, in the spirit of Pietism, attempted to walk a centerline between justification through moral effort and salvation through forces which aid the individual in the moral task, such as God and the human community. In this way Kant's philosophy stood in tension with the Enlightenment, which de-emphasized God's role in human affairs, and with the Protestant notion of salvation through faith alone because of Kant's insistence on moral autonomy. The goal of this dissertation is to show that Kant was neither a Pelagian nor one who sacrificed free will. Rather, he saw the need for combining human action and the work of "Providence" in his description of the process of justification and its effects. In doing this, he recast Luther's "two kingdoms" (world and gospel) in the language of his era. However, he stopped short of Luther's exclusive reliance on God's grace.



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