Jacques Maritain Center: Ethics Without God?

How God Enters the Ethics that Didn't Allow for Him: Kant and Beyond

Tuesday, July 15
Afternoon session
Luciano Sesta

In this paper I will point out, starting from Kant's Critique of Practical Reason, the difficult relation between ethics as an autonomous horizon of practical reason and faith/hope as a reference to God's transcendence. What we find in Kant is a happy ambiguity (due perhaps to his paradoxical status as a Christian Enlightenment thinker) leading to the conclusion that ethics needs God precisely because it does without Him. The act of reason by which moral duty is recognized does not imply any reference to God's transcendence at either the level of knowledge or the level of reasons (motives) for action. However, the peculiar depiction of morality as the only fact of pure reason (einzige Faktum der reinen Vernunft) opens up a metaphysical sphere in which it is not only possible but morally necessary to affirm the existence of God. This approach, while restating the autonomy of practical reason (which, after all, is no more than the autonomy of the second cause), recognizes that it is impossible for this autonomy, marked as it is by finiteness, to make the reference to God superfluous.