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The Enlightenment

- World History -
Scientific Revolution and The Enlightenment

Kant's Epistemological Model and Religious Pluralism
By David Sedivy

Religious pluralism is a contemporary interpretation of religion that theorizes that the Real is one, but that our human perceptions of the Real are plural and various. It is the basis for the hypothesis that the different streams of religious experience represent diverse awareness of the same limitless transcendent reality, which is perceived in characteristically different ways by different human mentalities, forming and formed by different cultural histories.

John Hick explores the pluralistic hypothesis that the great world faiths embody different perceptions and conceptions of, and correspondingly different responses to, the Real from within the major variant ways of being human.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant's epistemological model generally states that the mind actively interprets sensory information in terms of concepts, so that the environment as we consciously perceive and inhabit it is our familiar three-dimensional world of objects interacting in space.

St. Thomas Aquainas wrote that 'Things known are in the knower according to the mode of the know.' He applied this basic epistemological principle to faith considered as propositional belief, concluding that although God is simple and undifferentiated, God can only be known by human beings through complex propositions. Hick applies the same principal to faith understood as the interpretive element within all awareness of our environment; and he argues that in relation to the Divine the 'mode of the knower' differs within different religio-cultural systems so that the Real is thought-and-experienced in a wide variety of ways.

Terms Related to Religious Pluralism

There are many terms related to religious pluralism and how Immanuel Kant's epistemological model applies to it. I will list the ones which I feel are important.

an sich - the actual Divine, Ultimate, or Real (in him/her/its-self) as opposed to Real as conceptualized and experienced by humans. Same term can actually be applied, among other things, to the actuality of the world.

God a se - God's infinite self-existent being, beyond the grasp of the human mind.

personae and impersonae - terms in which the Real is humanly known. Personae being when humans relate themselves to the Real in a mode of personal awareness. Impersonae being when humans relate themselves to the Real in a mode of non-personal awareness.

noumenal - that which exists independently of our perception of it.

phenomenal - the same, as it appears to our human consciousness.

The Noumenal World
Kant distinguished between the world as it is an sich, which he called the noumenal world, and the world as it appears to human consciousness, which he called the phenomenal world. The distinction plays a major part in Kant's thought. He points out that since the properties of something as experienced 'depend upon the mode of intuition of the subject, this object as appearance is to be distinguished from itself as object in itself.' And so Kant distinguished between noumenon and phenomenon.

Hick explains that Kant does not use the term 'noumenon' in the positive sense of that which is knowable by some faculty of non-sensible intuition (for we have no such faculty), but in the negative sense of 'a thing in so far as it is not an object of our sensible intuition.' It is this strand of thinking which Hick applies to the epistemology religion. That, the noumenal world exists independently of our perception of it and the phenomenal world is that same world as it appears to our human consciousness. The world as it appears is thus entirely real. Hick says that the noumenal Real is experienced and thought by different human mentalities, forming and formed by different religious traditions, as the range of gods and absolutes which the phenomenology of religion reports. And these divine personae and metaphysical impersonae are not illusory but are empirically, that is experientially, real as authentic manifestations of the Real.

Kant's distinction between noumenon and phenomenon guides Hick to arrive at the distinction between things as they are in themselves and those same things as humanly perceived. The same thing appears in either slightly or considerably different ways to different people owing both to their varying spatial locations in relation to it and to differences in their sensory and mental equipment and interpretive habits.

Kant was concerned with the construction of the physical world in sense perception. Kant's categories of understanding were schematised in terms of temporality to produce more concrete categories which are exhibited in our actual experience of the world. The impact upon our sensory equipment then comes to consciousness in forms prescribed by these schematised categories. Hick suggests that the situation is basically the same in the case of our awareness of the real.

The Real An Sich
We may form the hypothesis that the Real an sich is experienced by human beings in terms of one of two basic religious concepts. One is the concept of God, or of the Real experienced as personal, which presides over the theistic forms of religion. The other is concept of the Absolute, or of the Real experienced as nonpersonal, which presides over the various nontheistic forms of religion. Anagously the divine Reality is not directly known as an sich. But when human beings relate themselves to it in the mode of I-Thou encounter they experience it as personal. Indeed in the context of that relationship it is personal, not It but He or She. When human beings relate themselves to the Real in the mode of non-personal awareness they experience it as non-personal, and in the context of this relationship it is non-personal. Each of these two basic categories, God and the Absolute, is schematised within actual religious experience as a range of particular gods or absolutes. These are, again, the personae and the impersonae in terms of which the Real is humanly known.

According to Hick, the particularising factor (corresponding, in its function, to time in the schematisation of the Kantian categories) is the range of human cultures, actualising different though overlapping aspects of our immensely complex human potentiality for awareness of the transcendent. It is in relation to different ways of being human, developed within the civilizations and cultures of the earth, that the Real, apprehended through the concept of God, is experienced specifically as the God of Isreal, or as the Holy Trinity... And it is in relation to yet other forms of life that the Real, apprehended through the concept of the Absolute, is experienced a Brahman, or as Nirvana, or as Being... It is Kant's epistemological model that supports the theory that when each of our various religious languages refers to a divine phenomenon or configuration of divine phenomena, that when we speak of a personal God, with moral attributes and purposes, or when we speak of the non-personal Absolute, we are speaking of the Real as humanly experienced: that is, as phenomenon.

It is my opinion that Hick sees this as a useful formula because it provides an alternative to total skepticism - that the great religious traditions of the world represent different human perceptions of and response to the same infinite divine Reality. In acknowledging this we are obeying the intellectual Golden Rule of granting to others a promise on which we rely ourselves. Persons living within other traditions, then, are equally justified in trusting their own distinctive religious experience and in forming their beliefs on the basis of it.

Conflicting Truth-Claims
It is only during the last hundred years or so that the scholarly study of world religions has made possible an accurate appreciation of the faiths of other people and so has brought home to an increasing number of us the problem of the conflicting truth claims made by different religious traditions.

The problem stems from the fact that each of these different religions says different and incompatible things about the nature of the ultimate reality, and about the modes of divine activity, and about the nature and destiny of the human race. Any ground for believing a particular religion to be true must operate as a ground for believing every other religion to be false; accordingly, for any particular religion there will always be far more reason for believing it to be false than for believing it to be true. This argument develops from the conflicting truth claims of the various world faiths. According to Hick there are three different types and levels of opposition of the differing religious doctrines.

First, there are the disagreements about what are in principle straight forward matters of historical fact. Second, there are disagreements about issues of what might be called trans-historical fact - such as whether or not human beings are involved in a process of continual reincarnation. And third, there are different stories or pictures professing to answer the ultimate questions about the nature of the Real and about the source and destiny of humanity and of the universe of which we are a part. The difference of beliefs concerning historical events relates to alleged past events that were accessible to human observation. As Hick explains it, if this event occurred, and if someone had been present with the right equipment, it would have been possible to tape-record and/or photograph them. There are numerous reported happenings that are believed by members of one tradition to have taken place, but which do not apply in history written outside of that tradition. An example of this would be the Christian belief that Jesus came physically back to life on the third day after his death.

Historical Beliefs
There are also historical beliefs held within one tradition that are strongly denied within another, such as the Christian belief that Jesus died on the cross, which is opposed by the Ahmadiyya belief that Jesus, having survived the crucifixion, subsequently died and is buried in Kashmir. There are also historical disputes internally in the religions that have developed through the centuries and hinge upon historically-based claims to authority. According to Hick, In face of such disputes an appropriate procedure is acknowledged in principle by all who live within the intellectual world of modernity: namely that these questions can only be settled by unbiased assessment of the historical evidence. In practice, however, such rational resolutions have generally proved elusive.

Many of the disputed issues are fundamental articles of faith and quite simply are not open to investigation or revision. This makes Hick's hope for the possibility of tolerance towards differing historical components of different religions more difficult to achieve. However, as he states, We can only claim that some, and in the modern world, a growing number, no longer regard such questions as being of the essence of their faith an accept, further, that we lack sufficient historical evidence definitively to settle most of them.

The second kind of conflicting truth claims, concerning matters of trans-historical fact, are - as Hick suggests - examples of the first type of avyakata, the 'unanswered questions'. They have to do with questions that in principle have a true answer, but which cannot be solved by historical or other practical evidence. Such questions as, Is the universe eternal or did it have a beginning? The question - eternal or not eternal? - is, surely in itself a valid one however, even if science should come to a definitive conclusion concerning the creation of the universe, this would not settle any religious issues; as the question of the eternity of the universe is only weakly and inconclusively linked with that of divine existence. And so when the Indian religions affirm and the Semitic religions deny its temporal infinity, this is not a dispute affecting the soteriological efficacy of either group of traditions. To believe that the universe is or is not eternal cannot significantly help or hinder the transformation of human existence from self-centredness to Reality-centredness.

Hick feels that what each religion "knows" is not necessary for salvation or liberation. All of the beliefs rose within a complex religious tradition to which they play a major role in how the Real is humanly perceived. In light of this, it is possible to consider the hypothesis that the great religions are all in contact with the same ultimate divine reality but that their differing experiences of that reality, interacting over the centuries with the differing thought forms of differing cultures, have led to increasing differentiation and contrasting elaboration.

Hick's suggestion, concerning issues of trans-historical fact is: (a) that they should be fully and freely recognized as matters on which directly opposed views are often held; (b) that - although by no means everyone ranged on either side of these disagreements will be able to accept this - the questions are ones to which humanity does not at present know the answers; (c) that the ignorance does not hinder the process of salvation/liberation; and (d) that we should therefore learn to live with the differences, tolerating contrary convictions even when we suspect them to be mistaken.

Myths are stories and systems of ideas which are not literally true of, or do not literally apply to, the divine Reality in itself but which may nevertheless be truthful in the sense that the dispositional responses which they tend to evoke are appropriate to our existence in relation to the Real. A number of tradition-specific beliefs are also possible candidates for mythological interpretation. Within the Christian tradition this would be such stories as that of Jesus' virgin birth, and bodily resurrection and ascension. Many of these stories, understood mythically make a religion more approachable to those who are not part of the specific tradition.

Hick's Conclusion
Hick feels that it is necessary to consider the total belief-systems of the different traditions and to ask to what extent they conflict. First, important ideas within the different traditions which on the surface present incompatible alternatives but which can also be seen on deeper analysis to be different expressions of the same idea. Second, there are the apparently rival conceptions of the Real as personal and as non-personal. Here the pluralistic hypothesis appeals to the principle of the complementarity: those whose religious practice is as prescribed by the theistic traditions experience it as a personal reality, whilst those who act in relation to it in the ways prescribed by the non-theistic traditions experience it as a non-personal reality; and the Real in itself is the noumenal ground of both of the ranges of the phenomena.

Third, all of the varying appearances of the Real within different collective and individual consciousness are no more mutually incompatible than are the larger cultural complexes to which they are integral. And fourth, within the systems of thought that have been built to house these forms of religious experience, Hicks suggest that although conflicting historical beliefs can in principal be resolved by historical evidence they are usually not in practice settlable, and we therefore have to learn to live with them. Fifth, conflicts of trans-historical beliefs are even more conspicuously incapable of being resolved by presently available evidence, and he suggests that we should recognize both the limits of our knowledge and the fact that this limitation does not hinder the all-important process of salvation/liberation.

Sixth, in response to questions about the mystery of human existence, religious traditions have developed their various mythologies. Their truthfulness is the practical truthfulness which consists in guiding us aright. They therefore do not conflict with one another as would rival factual hypotheses. Hick concludes that the differences between the root concepts and experiences of the different religions, their different and often conflicting historical and trans-historical beliefs, their incommensurable mythologies, and the diverse and ramifying belief-systems into which all these are built, are compatible with the pluralistic hypothesis that the great world traditions constitute different conceptions and perceptions of, and responses to, the Real from within the different cultural ways of being human.

Hick's conclusion is reasonable to me. Because I study history, I am highly conscious of the concept that a great deal of what is written as historical fact or myth or legend cannot be authenticated. Many of the concepts that are the foundations of Christianity are hard for me to buy in to. I do not accept the Christian view that only myself and those seeking to know Jesus Christ will receive salvation." I am comfortable with the pluralistic hypothesis and believe that each of the great traditions is capable of achieving human gratification and transforming into a way where everyone's spiritual needs are met.

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1.The Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution
Causes, Inventions, Galileo, Newton, Scientific Method

2. The Enlightenment (Age of Reason)
Man in the State of Nature - Locke, Voltaire

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Kant's Epistemological Model and Religious Pluralism

Borg vs Hick

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