The Ideas of Spinoza, Hume and Kant on God

The debate on the existence and nature of God has always been the subject of numerous philosophical inquiries since time immemorial. Some of the great thinkers like the rationalist Benedictus Spinoza saw Gods necessity. Some like the empiricist and skeptic David Hume discovered for themselves Gods futility. Still others like the idealist Immanuel Kant realized in them a reverence for things their minds cannot possibly conceive objectively, and one of which is God. The point of the study of theodicy however is to determine from the ideas of such great thinkers how similarly and differently they have viewed God.

God according to Spinoza
Benedictus Spinoza was a theist but an atheist at the same time. He was a theist in a sense that he believed the existence of God but he was at the same time considered an atheist for his definition of God did not conform to that of any established religion of his time, particularly Christianity and Judaism about whose teachings he has been educated.

Spinozas God was a product of extremely careful logical thinking and critical analysis void of any emotion and resulting in 36 propositions. These propositions are somehow summed up into the idea of monism, or a belief in one substance which he identified as God. Substance, according to Spinoza, is the totality of the universe and God at the same time, the two being synonymous (Smith, 2010). He also theorized that besides God, no substance can be granted or conceived (Smith, 2010), which is considered the basis of monism.

The aforementioned statement on monism is somehow linked to his a priori proof of Gods existence the fact that, since nothing prevents Gods existence, the God must exist (Smith, 2010). According to Spinoza, the only thing that would prevent God from existing is either something external to Him, which is a substance drawn from a separate substance of a different nature, or something drawn from the nature of God Himself, or something in God that would contradict Himself (Smith, 2010). And since, as Spinoza contended, there is no other substance that exists outside of God then there must be nothing outside of Him and nothing therefore that can prevent His existence. In order to refute the second possibility of a substance that can prevent Gods existence, Spinoza maintains that it is logically contradictory to conceive of God as not existing (Smith, 2010) for somehow it is but logical that God cannot prevent His own existence.

Spinoza also presented an a posteriori proof of Gods existence. He states that if only finite beings necessarily existed, then such finite beings would be more powerful than an infinite being (Smith, 2010) and that this whole idea is naturally absurd. The reason behind such a claim is that if an infinite being does not exist, it means a negation of power (Smith, 2010) and this Spinoza conclude that God is not only one but also absolutely infinite (Smith, 2010).

In addition to the attributes of God mentioned above, Spinoza declares Gods supreme existence by stating a pantheistic proposition which finally establishes Gods necessary existence Whatever is, is in God, and without God, nothing can be, or be conceived (Smith, 2010). This statement predicates a number of claims on Gods nature. First, all things are attributes or modifications of God. Second, all possibility and all actuality originate with God and that God is the indwelling, not transient or external, cause of all things and that whatever we conceive to be in His power necessarily exists (Smith, 2010). Lastly, Spinoza underlined a very essential quality of God and that is thought is an attribute of God, or God is a thinking being (Smith, 2010). If God indeed has numerous attributes then it follows that one of which is thought. Unlike the Christians who emphasized Gods mercy or righteousness, Spinoza believed in Gods thought and existence that encompasses everything.

God according to Hume
Unlike Spinoza who somehow attributed everything to God, the great skeptic Hume never gave God the least bit of importance in his philosophy for first and foremost, God is something impossible to prove by evidence and that nothing much can be said of Him. This is perhaps why Hume lived his whole life an agnostic.

In Humes Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, the Scottish philosopher contends that one does not have an impression of necessary connection between any perceived cause and any perceived effect and that everything originates only from custom and habit. Hume therefore argues that the appearance of a cause always conveys the mind, by a customary transition to the idea of the effect (Smith, 2010). If, for example, one sees two events happening consecutively and in close succession, through custom one usually considers the first event as the cause and the second as the effect. However, Hume argued that this perception is only brought about by custom and that one mentally and customarily labels a cause only as an object followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that other (Smith, 2010). Hume is therefore implying here that God is nothing but an idea which is either attributed to a perceived cause or a perceived effect. If, for example, one did something good like helping his friend to get through some financial difficulties, and after which something good happens to him, then he somehow tries to make a sensible connection between these two events and somehow attribute the connection with the idea of God. Malbranche said that it is God who makes the connections between two events necessary by ordaining that the events should always be paired together (Smith, 2010) but Hume disagrees with him and accuses him of going beyond evidence.

Hume altogether rejects both the idea of good and evil and he rejects two propositions concerning these. First, he rejects the idea that God is the cause of evil for he said it was contrary to common sense. He also rejects Leibnizs idea that evil is not really evil but really good in the context of the whole (Smith, 2010) simply because it just sounds wrong. So, who then is Humes God Hume answers that it is beyond the capacity of the human mind to delve into theodicy (Smith, 2010) or simply, man is not capable of comprehending anything concerning God. Humes God therefore is simply forever a hypothesis that no human experiment or logical reasoning can reduce into description.

In Humes Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume somehow takes the position of Philo, the skeptic among the characters and the one who seeks to destroy the idea of natural theology and teleology (Smith, 2010). And following from Philos ideas, Humes God, that is if ever He exists and that this condition is of extreme importance to his philosophy, is a God who must be beyond human comprehension and therefore a God who must not necessarily adopt a human form and display human qualities (Smith, 2010). Another of Philos arguments about God is that since the universe He allegedly created is finite and imperfect, it therefore follows that He is not perfect, even as a finite mind or intelligence (Smith, 2010). Lastly, Philo, to reflect Humes ideas, defines God as one who cannot be both omnipotent and all-good at the same time. This is because of the problem of evil. Either God is omnipotent in that He is able but unwilling to end suffering, or all-good in that He is not able but willing to end it (Smith, 2010). Such is Humes hypothetical God.

God according to Kant
Like Hume, Kant did not emphasize that God has a great influence on his philosophy but like Spinoza, he agrees that God is necessary but only when it comes to the idea of morality.

On the subject of God, Kant first of all expressed his opposition to the ontological argument which states that the idea of the existence of God predicates the fact of His existence. Kant believed that the ontological argument has two major flaws First, the argument assumes that the transcendental idea can be objectified as a most real being and that the argument wrongly assumes that existence can be a predicate (Smith, 2010). Based on the aforementioned statement, Kant, like Hume, believed that God must be a transcendental idea and therefore cannot be perceived through the human mind or senses. However, unlike Hume, Kant did not suppose that God needed empirical evidence to be proven. For based on Kantian logic, if one considers God as something that cannot be known, then who are we to say that His existence can be determined only through empirical evidence Kant considered the idea of God so defined above as something not subject to empirical employment and is therefore meaningless (Smith, 2010). Kant seems to differ from Spinoza who viewed God with his reason and from Hume who looked at God through his spectacles of empiricism.

Kant theorized the idea of God as the most perfect and most real being (Smith, 2010). If God is a transcendental ideal, then it must be the absolute unity of the condition of all objects of thought in general, the sum total of all possible predicates (Smith, 2010). According to Kant, God is somehow synonymous to the highest possible unification of predicates, the sum total of all possibility (Smith, 2010).

Kant was a theist but he did not place too much importance on God and all he did was to criticize the arguments for Gods existence made before him, therefore somehow establishing the idea that Gods existence should be investigated fairly, that is according to his transcendental aspect, and not according to human logic as what Spinoza did, nor according to empirical evidence as what Hume argued for.

The subject of God and his existence was viewed in both similar and different ways by the philosophers Spinoza, Hume, and Kant. They were similar in that all three philosophers somehow wrestled with the idea of God and His existence before they were able to lay out their philosophies. Spinoza and Kant were similar in terms of Gods necessity. Hume and Kant were similar in terms of their opinion that God cannot be perceived through pure reason alone. When it comes to their differences, Spinoza considered God a necessary being whose existence encompassed all reality without exceptions, while Hume thought God was but a mere product of custom and if ever He existed, He would be imperfect and finite. Also, while Spinoza argued that God is knowable through logic and reason, Kant maintained that only through transcendental gradation, which is one particular aspect of reason, can God be known. Lastly, Kant differed from Spinoza and Hume in that he did not view God in terms of how one would normally view humans, that is, rationally or empirically. Rather he viewed God in terms of morality, which he believed was a more fitting criterion for considering God and his existence.


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