Secularization of Christian eschatology in Kantian philosophy


The formation of the philosophy of history in the 18th century has been described as the secularization of Christian eschatology by several influential writers. The idea that history has a telic course was, according to that position, transformed from God’s plan of salvation of mankind to political history. Such claims have been used to justify different normative claims, reaching from a strong criticism on the project of philosophy of history in general up to an apology of theology in the modern age. The book seeks to use the secularization model in a third way. It develops a methodology according to which analogies in the structure of ideas that can historically be traced back to a Christian origin are evidence for a secularization process. This process, however, is not necessarily to be judged as illegitimate. The book aims at evaluating in how far Kant’s philosophy of history contains secularized elements of Christian theology of history. The main part of the book elaborates a detailed interpretation of Kant’s texts on history.

Two results shall be highlighted: Firstly, the teleological view Kant presents seems to share a conservative trait with the traditional theological view on history. When reflecting on history, Kantian actors have to assume that everything is useful for something. Even seemingly bad facts are to be interpreted as made by nature with useful aims. Secondly, Kant recognizes that in the sphere of politics there is a cooperation dilemma: No one can pursue moral ideals in a successful way because everyone has to fear that others will interfere. Kant argues that, if moral actors should see themselves able to contribute to political progress, they have to assume that there is progress yet, guaranteed by a high-order agency that he calls “nature” or “providence”. Both aspects taken together, despite the differences between Kantian philosophy of history and the traditional theological concept of history, it seems that Kant endorses a strong belief in historical progress that even serves as a kind of theodicy.

Literature: Hoesch, Matthias, Vernunft und Vorsehung. Säkularisierte Eschatologie in Kants Religions- und Geschichtsphilosophie (Quellen und Studien zur Philosophie, vol. 121), Berlin et al.: De Gruyter 2014.