Scott Ferguson: “Descartes, Boyle, and (Early) Kant on Physico-Theology and the Existence of God”

Scott Ferguson

PhD Candidate, Philosophy of Religions

Descartes, Boyle, and (Early) Kant on Physico-Theology and the Existence of God

Wednesday, October 4, 4:30pm, Swift 208

Physico-theology – the attempt to infer God’s existence and concept from nature – has an equivocal position in both Kant and Descartes. Kant consistently praises the beauty of the physico-theological (nee “cosmological”) proof for God’s existence, except that he never grants it any independent validity. Descartes explicitly rejects final causality, seemingly ruling out any theistic proof from nature’s purposiveness, except that Robert Boyle can fairly convincingly show room for just such a proof within Descartes’ thinking. Beyond just laying out the texts, I want to suggest that the reason for these obscurities may be that the basic concepts of physico-theology have just never been clarified – that this sense of “nature,” as an ontological field(a way for entities to be), has never been adequately characterized, nor explored in terms of its link (which I will try to show) to sensation and the union of mind and body.

Refreshments will be served

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Philosophy of Religions and Theology and Ethics Workshops Co-sponsored Event: Evan Kuehn on post-Kantian Theology

Evan Kuehn (PhD Candidate, Theology, UChicago)

“From Postulates of Reason to Doctrines of Faith: On Doing Theology After Kant”

Dec 9th, 12:00pm – 1:20pm (room TBA)

Russell Johnson (PhD Student, Philosophy of Religions) will respond

Lunch will be served


This paper will attempt to lay out some theses for the task of doing theology after Kant and in the spirit of his philosophical work. In particular, I am interested in the problem that faces any would-be Kantian theologian of how to offer a theological account of things like God, or the immortality of the soul, or human freedom. Kant sees these sorts of ideas as necessary postulates of reason which can, however, never become objects of knowledge for us. Yet in many cases, theologians do not consider ideas like these from such an epistemological remove. Ideas which according to Kant are merely regulatory for theoretical knowledge and at most objects of faith are, for theological inquiry, often treated as objects of knowledge. Can theology engage these objects (systematically, critically, and theoretically) as objects of theological knowledge without thereby abandoning the original Kantian framework of human knowledge limited to the categories of understanding? And what resources are available within Kant’s Critiques for dealing with these theological ideas as objects of theological knowledge?