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Therefore, “the businesspeople of the higher faculties . . . can be prevented from contradicting in public the teachings that the government has entrusted to them to expound in fulfilling their respective offices, and from venturing to play the philosopher’s role.”6 As opposed to these:

The philosophy faculty can . . . lay claim to any teaching, in order to test its truth. The government cannot forbid it to do this without acting against its own proper and essential purpose; and the higher faculties must put up with the objections and doubts it brings forward in public, though they may well find this irksome, since, were it not for such critics, they could rest undisturbed in possession of what they have once occupied, by whatever title, and rule of it despotically.7

One may read Kant’s position as radical, since it expresses a fundamental lack of respect towards the non-critical empirical sciences as means for educating a man of the Enlightenment. Indeed, when confronting the challenge faced by the thinkers of the Enlightenment—in view, among other things, of their persecution—the placement of criticism as the primary value is understandable and should be viewed as a radical move. However, there is severe collateral damage in the critical move towards the higher faculties: for the process of marking out the lower faculty as unique, designed in its entirety to defend the truth, exacts as heavy a price from this faculty as it does from the higher ones—or indeed, perhaps an even heavier one.

While it indeed gains its freedom—the freedom denied the other faculties—it gradually loses its entitlement to content, to substance. The elimination of “the thing in itself” from the realms of cognition and of language, the immanent failure of any attempt to articulate “the ideas of reason”—these moves set up a strict dichotomy between “philosophical truths” and, in Hegel’s ironic language, “such questions as, When was Caesar born? or How many feet were there in a stadium? etc., [to which] a clear-cut answer ought to be given.”8

Kant, in other words, built a barrier between effectively trivial accessible truths—those truths belonging to the lower faculty but not to philosophy—and profound philosophical truths that lie beyond the realm of possible knowledge. While other sciences may penetrate the field of possible experience, metaphysics is doomed to remain merely critical: it is barred from articulating any doctrine. Indeed, it “extends to all parts of human cognition,” but “there are some parts . . . which it does not treat as its own content, but as objects it will examine and criticize for the benefit of the sciences.”9

Thus, despite the dramatic emphases in Kant’s text, exposing the truth is actually separated from the function of criticism and doubt; the latter, for Kant, is only characterized in its negativity, in its being anti-content, as opposed to the positive truth, the truth which was heralded in the philosophical past and the theological epos:

For if God should really speak to a human being, the latter could still never know that it was God speaking. It is quite impossible for a human being to apprehend the infinite by his senses, distinguish it from sensible beings, and be acquainted with it as such. But in some cases the human being can be sure that the voice he hears is not God’s; for if the voice commands him to do something contrary to the moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider it an illusion.10

Part II

Kant’s Conflict of the Faculties was a crucial stage on the way towards positioning science as the new epic that serves as the basis of modern states. In his book, Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University, Thomas Albert Howard follows Lyotard in noting that

without older religious-confessional or ‘divine rights’ forms of political legitimation, the modern state must derive it from other secular sources . . . Admittedly, in modern society, political legitimation comes at some level from ‘the people’, the ‘general will’; but in order to obtain and maintain credibility . . . political authority must convincingly demonstrate that its officials and policies are in line with, or at least not willfully contradicting, the latest in scientific scholarship, i.e. the authority of the university broadly understood. Government must therefore stand arm in arm with further advances in knowledge for the betterment of society.11

If, on the part of the government, the “stick” embedded in Kant’s treatise is the creation of a secure critical zone, the “carrot” is the promise of legitimizing the State. In order to accomplish this, the state must agree “to recognize the philosophical faculty’s claim of accepting no master but reason itself—reason ‘independent of time, place, and historical circumstance’.”12

Howard supplies a detailed, painstaking description of the transition, under Kant’s obvious influence, from the university founded on the theological ‘epos’ to the modern university, which sees as its vision the Wissenschaft, scientific learning. He concludes by noting wryly:

That reason might find it hard going to transcend time, place, and historical circumstance—and indeed that it could function as a mere expression of them while insisting otherwise—was not a thought that Kant and his intellectual progeny . . . entertained as seriously as one might have wished.13

6. Immanuel Kant, “The Conflict of the Faculties,” 256.

7. Immanuel Kant, “The Conflict of the Faculties,” 256.

8. G. W. F Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 23.

9. Immanuel Kant, “The Conflict of the Faculties,” 256.

10. Immanuel Kant, “The Conflict of the Faculties,” 283.

11. Thomas Albert Howard, Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 128.

12. Thomas Howard, Protestant Theology, 129. The inside quote is taken from Alasdair MacIntyre. Kant himself promises the “carrot” but insinuates that the “stick’s” blow isn’t that hard: “For the very modesty [of its claim]—merely to be free, as it leaves others free, to discover the truth for the benefit of all the sciences and to set it before the higher faculties to use as they will—must commend it to the government as above suspicion and, indeed, indispensable. Immanuel Kant, “The Conflict of the Faculties,” 255. Second emphasis added.

13. Thomas Howard, Protestant Theology, 129.

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