Kant’s sacrificial turns

Research paper by Paolo Diego Bubbio

Indexed on: 19 Oct '12Published on: 19 Oct '12Published in: International Journal for Philosophy of Religion


This paper addresses the role of the notion of sacrifice in Kant’s theoretical philosophy, practical philosophy, and in his account of religion. First, I argue that kenotic sacrifice, or sacrifice as ‘withdrawal’, plays a hidden and yet important role in the development of Kant’s transcendental philosophy. Second, I focus on Kant’s practical philosophy, arguing that the notion of sacrifice that is both implied and explicitly analyzed by Kant is mainly suppressive sacrifice. However, Kant’s account is fundamentally ambiguous, as sometimes the kenotic meaning of sacrifice seems to resurface, especially in the context of Kant’s discussion of the happiness of others as an end in itself. Because religious notions are regarded by Kant as necessary transitional forms (Darstellungen) to be used to make moral ideas applicable to the world, I then scrutinize Kant’s view of sacrifice as an improper symbol, and I analyze Kant’s arguments for such a dismissal and discuss the subject matter in recent literature. Finally, I examine the role of sacrifice in Kant’s account of Christ as the prototype of pure moral disposition. I conclude by arguing that Kant indeed grasped the importance of including kenotic dynamics in practical philosophy but was somehow unable or unwilling to integrate it into the formal grounding of his ethics. This tension, however, effectively provides an entry point for features that can be found in the post-Kantians.