Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Johann Gottlieb Fichte
March 24, 2017

German idealism

Immanuel Kant

I mmanuel Kant was a German philosopher who is considered a central figure in modern philosophy. Kant argued that the human mind creates the structure of human experience, that reason is the source of morality, that aesthetics arises from a faculty of disinterested judgment, that space and time are forms of our sensibility, and that the world as it is "in-itself" is independent of our concepts of it. Kant took himself to have effected a Copernican revolution in philosophy, akin to Copernicus' reversal of the age-old belief that the sun revolved around the earth. His beliefs continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political theory, and aesthetics.


22 April 1724 Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia)


12 February 1804 (aged 79) Königsberg, Prussia


18th-century philosophy


Western philosophy

Main interests

Epistemology, Metaphysics, Ethics, Cosmogony

Chapter Ⅶ. German idealism

Immanuel Kant


Syamasundara dasa: In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant asks the fundamental question, "How are a priori synthetic judgments possible?" How can we apprehend the relationship between cause and effect? Where does this facility come from? What is the source of knowledge? He proposes that one knowledge-acquiring process, the transcendental aesthetic, synthesizes sense experience through the concepts of time and space. The mind acts upon sensory perceptions and applies time and space relations to them. Knowledge of time and space is a priori, prior to and independent of sense experience. It is an internal creation of the mind. Even before we sense anything, we have an idea of time and space.

Srila Prabhupada: He speaks of the transcendental aesthetic, but we understand the real meaning of transcendental to be beyond the senses—that is, referring to something not in our experience. We have to receive this knowledge from higher authority, parampara, a source beyond the reach of the material senses. By sense perception, we have no knowledge of the spiritual world, but in Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says that there is another nature, a spiritual nature, which is beyond this material nature ( Bg. 8.20). We have to understand this through transcendental knowledge; we cannot experience it.

atah sri-krsna-namadi
na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau
svayam eva sphuraty adah

"Material senses cannot appreciate Krsna's holy name, form, qualities, and pastimes. When a conditioned soul is awakened to Krsna consciousness and renders service by using his tongue to chant the Lord's holy name and taste the remnants of the Lord's food, the tongue is purified, and one gradually comes to understand who Krsna really is." (Padma Purana). The names, qualities, pastimes, and nature of God cannot be understood by these material senses, but if we engage in God's service, they will all be revealed. Vaikuntha and Goloka Vrndavana, Krsna's abode, will then be confirmed. These truths are revealed gradually; they are not abruptly understood. Common men cannot understand the meaning of going back to Godhead. They say, "What nonsense is this?" They cannot understand because it is transcendental, beyond the reach of the gross senses. It is revealed knowledge. If one becomes submissive and engages in the service of the Lord and the spiritual master, all these truths will be revealed. No one can mislead a person who receives knowledge through revelation. From Bhagavad-gita, we understand that there is a transcendental abode, cintamani, and we cannot forget this even if offered a great fortune to forget. On the other hand, if we offer a person a million dollars to believe in the transcendental abode, he will not believe in it. Transcendental knowledge is not a matter of speculation. It is received from higher authority. As we progress in bhakti-yoga, these things become clear.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant strongly advocated the right and duty of every man to judge for himself in religious and secular matters. "Have courage to make use of your own intellect" was his motto. He emphasized individual freedom and the ability of man to intuit the truth.

Srila Prabhupada: Does this mean that whatever anyone does is perfectly right? If we are given that freedom, then anyone can do as he likes.

Hayagriva dasa: At the same time, Kant considered the Bible to be the best vehicle for the instruction of the public in a truly moral religion.

Srila Prabhupada: This means that he has accepted some authority. Where is his freedom then?

Hayagriva dasa: The individual can intuit truths within, but can be helped from without by scripture.

Srila Prabhupada: This means that we should not be totally independent. We should be dependent on some authority, and that authority should be recognized. Then knowledge is possible. That is Vaisnavism.

Syamasundara dasa: Descartes believed that knowledge comes through innate ideas, and Hume opposed this by saying that knowledge comes from sense experience. Kant tries to unify these extremes.

Srila Prabhupada: Knowledge comes from purified sense experience. That is seva. I may see Krsna, whereas others may see a stone. This means that my eyes and vision are different.

santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti
yamsyamasundaram acintya-guna-svarupam
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami

"I worship the primeval Lord, Govinda, who is always seen by the devotee whose eyes are anointed with the pulp of love. He is seen in His eternal form of Syamasundara situated within the heart of the devotee." ( Brahma-samhita 5.38) When our eyes are anointed with the ointment of love of God, we can truly see. The same applies to the rest of the senses. Unless our senses are purified, we can neither see nor know.

Syamasundara dasa: In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant wrote: "Thoughts without content are empty, perceptions without conceptions are blind....Understanding can perceive nothing, the senses can think nothing. Knowledge arises only from their united action."

Srila Prabhupada: When you try to understand through the senses, that is calledpratyaksa. There is knowledge through direct perception,pratyaksa, and knowledge received from higher authorities, paro'ksa. When we apply our senses and come to the same conclusion, that is anumana. For instance, a higher authority says that there is a spiritual world. Now, how can we come to this conclusion? Obviously, we have to apply our senses. We can reason, "I am a combination of spirit and matter. That is a fact. However, I cannot see the spirit at the present moment, but I know that there is spirit." If we understand that there is a material world, we can also understand that there is a spiritual world. We can arrive at this conclusion by applying our senses and reason. If a material world is possible, certainly a spiritual world is possible. This is preliminary knowledge. When we see a dead body, we understand that something is missing. We see this with our senses, and from higher authority, from Bhagavad-gita, we understand that this something that is missing is eternal.

avinasi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idamtatam
vinasam avyayasyasya
na kascit kartum arhati

"Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul." (Bg. 2.17) That consciousness is spread throughout the body. It is eternal and spiritual. Through our sense experience, we can also understand that the body is constantly changing from the body of a child to that of an old man, and that this consciousness is continuing. Despite the different bodily changes, consciousness is enduring. The basic principles of knowledge are received from higher authorities, just as preliminary mathematical information is given by the teacher when he informs the student that two plus two equals four. God has given us reason, senses, and consciousness, and by applying them, we can arrive at the proper conclusion.

Hayagriva dasa: In Critique of Judgement, Kant writes: "Absolutely no human reason...can hope to understand the production of even a blade of grass by mere mechanical causes. That crude matter should have originally formed itself according to mechanical laws, that life should have sprung from the nature of what is lifeless, that matter should have been able to dispose itself into the form of a self-maintaining purpose—is contradictory to reason."

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and therefore we have to learn from an authority, from one who is cognizant and knows things as they are. Matter certainly cannot combine itself without a brain behind it, and that brain is the Supreme Lord, God. It is unreasonable to think that matter automatically combines independent of intelligence to form the sun, moon, and other planets.

Syamasundara dasa: If we are unable to receive knowledge from a higher authority, is it possible to have it innately inside of us?

Srila Prabhupada: Innate knowledge is knowledge that is already there. We say that Krsna is the caitya-guru because Krsna is within. Krsna is everything both inside and outside. Within, He is the Paramatma, the Supersoul, and outside He is the spiritual master and the sastra, the scripture. Krsna is trying to help the conditioned soul in both ways: from within and without. It is therefore said that the spiritual master is the representative of Krsna because Krsna appears outside as the spiritual master. Inside, He is personally present as Paramatma.

Syamasundara dasa: For Kant, the second knowledge-attaining process is the transcendental analytic. First, the mind applies the concept of time and space. Then it applies the categories of quantity, cause and effect, quality, modality, and so on.

Srila Prabhupada: That is all right.

Syamasundara dasa: The third process is the transcendental dialectic, whereby the human mind seeks to understand everything. But since sensory information is inadequate, the mind tries to go beyond sense experience.

Srila Prabhupada: How is that?

Syamasundara dasa: The mind is aware that there is an ultimate reality, a thing in itself, a noumenon, which produces each phenomenon. But because the mind is not equipped to sense this ultimate reality, the mind must forever remain agnostic.

Srila Prabhupada: Why agnostic? He should go to higher authorities. If we hear a sound on the roof, we may speculate that the sound is this or that, but with our imperfect senses we cannot ascertain what made the sound. But if someone is actually on the roof, he can tell us, "The sound was made by this." Why should we remain satisfied with an agnostic position? We should satisfy ourselves by asking, "Is there someone on the roof?" If someone says, "Yes, I am here," then we can ask him what made the sound. Therefore the Vedas enjoin: tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet ( Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12). In order to understand what is beyond the senses, we must approach a spiritual master who can impart information. When we actually want to understand transcendental subjects, we must approach a guru. And what is a guru?

tasmad gurum prapadyeta
jijnasuhsreya uttamam
sabde pare ca nisnatam
brahmany upasamasrayam

"Any person who is seriously desirous of achieving real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. A spiritual master must have realized the conclusion of the scriptures by deliberation and arguments and thus be able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities who have taken complete shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, are to be understood as bona fide spiritual masters." (Bhag. 11.3.21) A guru is one who is well versed in the Vedic literatures, sruti. And how can we understand that he is? Brahmany upasamasrayam. One who knows the Vedas forgets everything material and concerns himself only with spirit soul.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant was just exploring the possibility that although we cannot know ultimate reality by our senses, the mind nevertheless wants to know it.

Srila Prabhupada: But that is misleading. No one can ascertain the Absolute Truth by mental speculation. That is impossible. The sastras state:panthastu koti-sata-vatsara- sampragamyah (Brahma-samhita 5.34). Even if we travel at the speed of mind for thousands of years, we cannot find Krsna. If this is the case, a man, who lives the utmost for only a hundred years, cannot understand Krsna through his material senses. The material attempt will be futile. The Vedas say that the devotee who has received a little grace from Krsna's lotus feet can understand Him. Others will speculate for millions of years to no end. Krsna can be understood only through the grace of Krsna. Because the devotee is engaged in Krsna's service, Krsna reveals Himself.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant would also say that we cannot experience God through our senses but only through faith and intuitive reason. Speculative reason is unable to attain to a sure or adequate conception of God.

Srila Prabhupada: That is correct: it is not possible to understand God by mental speculation. When God explains Himself, we can understand Him. The devotees can accept the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His instructions, but a nondevotee or atheist, unable to understand, simply speculates. It is not possible for a speculator to reach the vicinity of God. We can understand God only by God's mercy, which is bestowed by a pure devotee surrendered to God. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna explicitly states:

naham prakasah sarvasya
mudho 'yam nabhijanati
loko mam ajam avyayam

"I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them, I am covered by My eternal creative potency (yoga-maya); and so the deluded world knows Me not, who am unborn and infallible." (Bg. 7.25) Revelation means that God opens the curtain for His devotee. The sun is in the sky all the time, but at night it is obscured. By God's mercy, the sun rises in the morning, and everyone can immediately see the light. At night, we may speculate about the sun, but when the sun rises in the morning, we can immediately understand what the sun is.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant maintains that the mental speculators try to reconstruct ultimate reality by applying mundane categories to it. They attempt through the mind to create what they believe to be the real world.

Srila Prabhupada: For mental speculators, the real world is nothing more than the negation of this world. This is voidism. In this world, we experience that everything is material. The mental speculator's materialistic thinking induces him to conclude that the spiritual must be the opposite of the material. Since the material has form, the spiritual must be formless, or void. This is typical materialistic thinking. He thinks, "Since this is not truth, the opposite must be truth."

Syamasundara dasa: Kant says that "the world is my representation." That is, this real world becomes an ideal construction in the mind of man.

Srila Prabhupada: We try to construct an ideal world, but we are frustrated here because everything is temporary; therefore we can understand that the ideal must be eternal. No one wants to die; we all want to live. However, this is hopeless because the body is not eternal. Therefore we understand that in the ideal world, the body is eternal.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant acknowledges that there is a design in nature but that man, not being able to know the total design, cannot know for certain whether there is a designer. The design, as man sees it, does not necessarily prove the existence of the designer. His existence can only be intuited.

Srila Prabhupada: As soon as we see pottery, we immediately understand that there is a potter. It is impossible for pottery to be made any other way.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant maintains that due to the overwhelming effects of suffering and natural calamities, it is impossible for man to see nature's final end.

Srila Prabhupada: Nature does not have a final end; nature is only an instrument. If I beat you with a stick, it is I, not the stick, that is beating you. When we receive pains and tribulations from nature, we should understand that nature is an instrument designed by God. Sitosna-sukha-duhkhesu ( Bg. 12.18). By witnessing the changes of seasons, heat and cold, happiness and distress, we can understand that there is a designer or brain behind the functionings of material nature.

mayadhyaksena prakrtih
suyate sa-caracaram
hetunanena kaunteya
jagad viparivartate

"This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again." (Bg. 9.10)

Hayagriva dasa: Kant would say that the design can be intuited but not known.

Srila Prabhupada: To a foolish man, everything is unknown, but a man in knowledge knows everything from authority, or from direct perception. Some way or other, the knowledge is there. Something is unknown when one doesn't care to know, or doesn't want to receive the knowledge.

Syamasundara dasa: When man realizes the futility of mental speculation, he attempts to create ideas about the universe which transcend the bounds of experience. For Kant, this is the third stage, the transcendental dialectic. These ideas belong to the realm of pure reason, or transcendental reason, and are not mere fictions. They spring from the very nature of reason itself.

Srila Prabhupada: We are all seeking eternity. Because we understand that we are eternal souls, we know that this is not our place, and are therefore seeking the eternal world. The spirit soul does not feel comfortable within this material body. This is understood when we conclude that we must return to the spiritual world and attain a spiritual body. Information on how this is done is given in Bhagavad-gita, wherein Krsna says that one who understands Him and develops love for Him attains a spiritual body that will enable him to see God. If we are very anxious to see Krsna and full in Krsna consciousness, we will be transferred to Krsna's abode at the time of death. This is Krsna's promise in Bhagavad-gita.

Syamasundara dasa: Transcendental reasoning is in man to guide his understanding to clearer and wider knowledge. For instance, the idea of a Supreme Being is a regulative principle of reason because it tells us to view everything in the world as if it proceeded from a necessary cause, the Supreme Being.

Srila Prabhupada: The Supreme Being is the cause of all causes.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant says that it is the natural impulse of pure reason to perceive a total regularity in everything. To arrive at this total synthesis, the mind must suppose that there is a Supreme Being.

Srila Prabhupada: This is confirming the statements of Bhagavad-gita.

Syamasundara dasa: He claims that it is impossible to arrive at the ultimate reality by pure reason alone because phenomena are endless.

Srila Prabhupada: Therefore he has to accept Krsna's assertions. He has to admit that he is puzzled with these various changes in phenomena. As soon as we come to Krsna, we find out that Krsna is behind the changing phenomena and that the universe is working under His direction. This is the perfect conclusion.

Syamasundara dasa: According to Kant, when we examine material phenomena by our reason, we arrive at certain contradictions called antimonies—that is, two opposing statements regarded to be true.

Srila Prabhupada: In Sanskrit, this is called viruddhartha, words that mean both yes and no.

Syamasundara dasa: For instance: "The world has a beginning in time, and is enclosed within limits of space." And, "The world has no beginning in time, and no limits in space, but is infinite." As far as reason is concerned, both conclusions are true.

Srila Prabhupada: So how is this adjusted? The adjustment is given in Bhagavad- gita, wherein Krsna says that this phenomenal world of materials comes into existence, is annihilated, and then comes again into existence.

avyaktad vyaktayah sarvah
prabhavanty ahar-agame
ratry-agame praliyante

bhuta-gramah sa evayam
bhutva bhutva praliyate
ratry-agame 'vasah partha
prabhavaty ahar-agame

"When Brahma's day is manifest, this multitude of living entities comes into being, and at the arrival of Brahma's night they are all annihilated. Again and again the day comes, and this host of beings is active; and again the night falls, O Partha, and they are helplessly dissolved." ( Bg. 8.18-19)

Syamasundara dasa: Another antimony of Kant's is: "Every composite substance in the world is made up of simple parts, and nothing whatever exists but the simple, or what is composed out of the simple." And, "No composite thing in the world is made up of simple parts, nor does anything simple exist anywhere in the world."

Srila Prabhupada: We say that the whole world is made of material energy, and this is the simplistic view. Now, there are many component parts of material energy: the mahat-tattva, the pradhana, the purusa, the twenty-four elements, the five gross elements, eight subtle elements, the senses, the objects of the senses, and so forth. In this way, when we begin to analyze material energy, so many complications arise.

Syamasundara dasa: Another antimony deals with causal relations: "Causality and conformity with laws of nature are not the only causality from which all the phenomena of the world can be derived. To explain those phenomena, it is necessary to suppose that there is also a free causality." And, "There is no freedom, but all that comes to be in the world takes place entirely in accordance with laws of nature."

Srila Prabhupada: He cannot explain the cause because he does not know it. The ultimate cause is Krsna, God. Events may seem miraculous because we cannot understand how they are taking place. God's energy is so subtle that it works simply by His will. By His will, all processes in nature take place, but they take place so swiftly that we see them as miracles. Actually, there is no such thing as a miracle; we only see it as a miracle. Krsna is floating many planets in space, and this may seem like a miracle, but to Krsna it is not. Krsna is known as Yogesvara, the master of all mystic power.

Syamasundara dasa: Another antimony questions the existence of an Absolute Being: "There exists an absolutely necessary being, which belongs to the world either as a part or as the cause." And, "There nowhere exists an absolutely necessary being, either in the world or outside, as its cause." Thus, according to reason, we can conclude that there is either a God or no God.

Srila Prabhupada: What reasoning can support the nonexistence of God?

Syamasundara dasa: We can conclude this by using the senses.

Srila Prabhupada: But where do you get your senses?

Syamasundara dasa: One could say that they are only a combination of matter.

Srila Prabhupada: But where does this matter come from?

Syamasundara dasa: According to material reasoning, one can say that there is no necessary cause.

Srila Prabhupada: But we can see that matter is growing, coming into existence like a tree.

Syamasundara dasa: It may have been eternally existing.

Srila Prabhupada: How is that? A tree is not eternally existing. This brass pot is not eternally existing. Someone has made it.

Syamasundara dasa: But the matter itself could have been eternally existing.

Srila Prabhupada: But we can see that it is not only existing. It is growing. A tree is wood, and wood is matter. How is it growing? Similarly, our material bodies take birth at a certain moment, grow, reproduce, dwindle, and finally vanish. This is the nature of all matter. Everything starts out as a seed and grows from there. Now, where does the seed come from? Krsna says, bijam mam sarva-bhutanam. "I am the original seed of all existences." (Bg. 7.10) Therefore Krsna is the cause of everything.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant's point is that these antimonies arise from the attempt by reason to apply its categories to the Absolute, the transcendent. But by mundane reasoning alone, we cannot approach the Absolute.

Srila Prabhupada: By our reasoning, we can see that everything is growing and that the entire cosmic manifestation must have grown from a source.

Syamasundara dasa: But this is transcendental reasoning.

Srila Prabhupada: No, common reason. Everything is growing from a certain source; therefore this material world must have grown from a certain source. It is very simple.

Syamasundara dasa: But some people can look at the seed of a tree and come to a different conclusion.

Srila Prabhupada: Well, we also receive this information from authoritative literature, from the Vedas.

Syamasundara dasa: Someone can apply material reasoning and arrive at a different conclusion.

Srila Prabhupada: But is this reasoning proved by experience? Can a man prove that he is born without a father? How did the material body come into existence? How can one deny his father? How can one deny the cause? He cannot because his very existence is depending on some cause.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant is simply saying that whenever we begin to speculate about the Absolute, we run into contradictions.

Srila Prabhupada: Contradiction is due to imperfect knowledge. Unless we conclude that Krsna is the cause of all causes, our knowledge is doomed to be imperfect. Vedic literature says that Krsna glanced at material nature and impregnated her. Then so many products developed, including all these categories. Matter and spirit combined to bring this whole cosmic manifestation into existence.

Syamasundara dasa: For Kant, cause and effect relationships are also a priori conceptions, mental creations, like time and space. Prior to sense experience, we have an idea of them.

Srila Prabhupada: I take my birth at a certain time, and I die at a certain time. Time is existing before my birth, and it will continue to exist after my death. Similarly with space. This body is temporarily manifest in time, for a certain period considered my lifespan. During that time, I occupy some space, and that is a temporary occupation. Time and space, however, are eternally there. At least, time is eternally there, because space is also born in time.

Syamasundara dasa: How is that?

Srila Prabhupada: We receive information from Srimad-Bhagavatam that because this material space is also akasa, it is born of the finer, subtle mind and intelligence. These descriptions are given in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Space is also created.

Syamasundara dasa: Hume had said that cause and effect are habitual assumptions, that we naturally assume that a certain effect follows a certain cause but that the cause does not necessarily bring about the effect.

Srila Prabhupada: We don't agree with that. There cannot be an effect without a cause. Let him prove first that there is an existence without a cause.

Syamasundara dasa: Well, Hume gave the example of a footprint on the beach. Normally we can assume that a human being left the footprint.

Srila Prabhupada: Why normally assume? If it is actually there, it is a fact.

Syamasundara dasa: Possibly something else left the footprint. Someone could have made a cast of a foot, or some other possibility may exist.

Srila Prabhupada: That is nonsense. Why should someone make a footprint to mislead you? But even if he does, that is the cause. The cause is that someone came to mislead you.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant would say that when we see something, we intuitively understand the cause and effect relationship.

Srila Prabhupada: You may or may not understand what the cause is, but there must be a cause. Without a cause, nothing can happen. People foolishly inquire when or why the living entity fell into material nature, but what is the use of this question? There is certainly a cause, but instead of trying to find out the cause, we should try to treat the disease. Why waste time?

Syamasundara dasa: Kant concludes that because the mind imposes a priori laws upon nature as both necessary and universal, the mind is creative and does not come into the world a blank slate.

Srila Prabhupada: It is a fact that the mind is creative. It creates and then rejects. That is the mind's business—samkalpa-vikalpa.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant would say that apart from using the categories of thought—like quantity, quality, cause and effect, and modality—there is only mere guesswork and imperfect dogma. The mind is not satisfied with this partial explanation; it wants to grasp reality in a comprehensive way. The mind wants to know something beyond these categories, and this is the realm of the transcendental dialectic.

Srila Prabhupada: This inquisitiveness is actual philosophy. We are searching for the cause of all causes. A thoughtful man is naturally interested in the ultimate cause of everything. That is human nature. It is the mahatma who searches after the ultimate cause and finds it. The Vedanta-sutra therefore begins with the inquiry: athato brahma-jijnasa. "What is the ultimate cause? What is Brahman?" It answers: janmadyasya yatah. "Brahman is the supreme source from whom everything emanates." Unless we go to the supreme source, we cannot be satisfied. Those who approach this source through mental speculation attain the impersonal feature. From this point, they can make further advancement. In Isopanisad, there is a prayer petitioning the Supreme:

hiranmayena patrena
satyasyapihitam mukham
tat tvam pusann apavrnu
satya-dharmaya drstaye

"O my Lord, sustainer of all that lives, Your real face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Please remove that covering and reveal Yourself to Your pure devotee." (Isopanisad 15) If we penetrate this impersonal Brahman, we will arrive at Krsna, and then be satisfied. Therefore it is stated in Bhagavad-gita:

bahunam janmanam ante
jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
sa mahatmasudurlabhah

"After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare." (Bg. 7.19)

Syamasundara dasa: Kant says that after the futile attempt to apply categorical analysis to transcendental knowledge, a man attempts to create other ideas about the universe which transcend sense experience.

Srila Prabhupada: In other words, after failing to attain material knowledge, he attempts to attain transcendental knowledge. What is this?

Syamasundara dasa: Rather, he fails to understand transcendental knowledge when applying the techniques of material knowledge.

Srila Prabhupada: This means that he cannot approach transcendental knowledge with material senses. If this is not possible, how can he hope to form valid ideas about transcendence?

Syamasundara dasa: Through pure reason.

Srila Prabhupada: He admits that the material senses cannot reach transcendence, but he is not clear about the meaning of this pure reason. If the senses are imperfect, and if your reasoning is fed by the senses, your reasoning is also imperfect.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant maintains that reason can act a priori, separate or independent of the senses, to understand that there is God and a soul.

Srila Prabhupada: That is possible.

Syamasundara dasa: In fact, Kant recognizes three ideals of pure reason: the soul, the ultimate world, and God. These ideals transcend the bounds of sensory experience; they are innate and a priori.

Srila Prabhupada: That is also true.

nitya-siddha krsna-prema 'sadhya' kabhu naya
sravanadi-suddha-citte karaye udaya

"Pure love for Krsna is eternally established in the hearts of living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, the living entity naturally awakens." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madh. 22.107) It is our natural tendency to offer service to the Lord. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has also said that the living entity is God's eternal servant. The tendency to offer service is natural. Somehow or other, it has been covered by material ignorance.

Syamasundara dasa: Whereas sense perception cannot provide any information about the soul and God, pure reason can provide us with certain conceptions, but not much more.

Srila Prabhupada: We cannot know more by our personal attempt, but these subjects can be known by a process called guru-parampara. When God speaks, it is possible to know. We hear from God in order to understand what, who, and where He is. In this way, our knowledge is perfect. According to Kant, we cannot attain reality or God through reason and the senses. That is a fact admitted in the Vedas. The word vacanam means "words," and manah means "mind." We cannot reach the Supreme either by words or the mind.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant suggests that certain knowledge of God's existence would destroy a man's freedom and reduce human experience to a show of puppets frantically attempting to attain the favor of the Almighty. Thus uncertainty is a necessary ingredient for faith.

Srila Prabhupada: Faith should not be blind. If it is, it is useless. We may believe in the government, but the government is not dependent on faith. There is a government, and we are under the government's laws and therefore have to obey them. There is no question of faith. Similarly, one who knows God becomes dependent on Him, and that is not faith but fact. The devotee is happy depending on God. He knows that it is foolishness to think himself independent. A child voluntarily depends on his parents and is therefore happy.

Syamasundara dasa: Since our knowledge is limited to mere phenomena, faith is necessary to acquire knowledge of God, freedom, and immortality.

Srila Prabhupada: No, faith is not a fact but a compromise. It is good that he admits that we cannot approach God ultimately by our senses or reason, but faith alone also is not sufficient, not perfect. Western philosophers have created so many different faiths. One may believe in one faith, and another person in another, but this is faith, not fact. The fact is this: if we are convinced that there is a God and that He is omnipotent, we have to admit that by His omnipotence He can descend into the world. In Bhagavad- gita, Krsna says that He descends into the world for two reasons: to rectify the discrepancies in religion, and to please His devotees who are always anxious to see Him. Some people may say that God is partial, but He is not. God is kind both to His devotees and to the miscreants and demons. When the miscreants are killed by God, they attain immediate salvation, and when the devotees see God, they can understand His actual position. In Vrndavana, God displays Himself just as He does in the spiritual world. It is His nature to play with the cowherd boys and dance with the gopis. When the devotees understand this, they become encouraged by knowing that after finishing the material body, they will return to Krsna to join in His pastimes. This information is not only understood from the sastras, but is actually demonstrated by Krsna. Thus this knowledge is doubly confirmed. When we hear about God and His activities, we can also realize them because God is absolute. There is no difference between seeing Him and hearing about Him. In this way, true knowledge is attained. However expert a logician one may be, it is not possible by reason, logic, or mundane knowledge to approach the Supreme Absolute. It is possible to understand God only when He descends Himself, gives information about Himself, and displays His pastimes.

Srimad-Bhagavatam is a chronicle of the descents of God. If we try to understand God throughSrimad-Bhagavatam or Bhagavad-gita, we become a bhagavata. In Bhagavad-gita, God speaks about Himself and His activities, and Srimad-Bhagavatam is a record of God's activities and pastimes. The first nine cantos are devoted to the understanding of the transcendental nature of God, and the Tenth Canto is a chronicle of God's activities before the eyes of the people of the world. However, those who are miscreants will think that God is just a famous person, or a superhuman being, and that's all.

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning religion and faith, Kant writes: "There is only one (true) religion, but there can be faiths of several kinds. It is therefore more fitting to say, 'This man is of this or that faith (Jewish, Mohammedan, Catholic, Lutheran), than he is of this or that religion.'"

Srila Prabhupada: That is correct. Since religion means obedience to God, it does not refer to some sect. People are trying to understand God in different ways, but these ways are not real religion; they are methods of understanding God. Religion begins when we have understood God and are rendering Him service.

Syamasundara dasa: In Critique of Practical Reason, Kant affirmed that moral laws are necessary and universal objects of the human will and must be accepted as valid for everyone. We can know what is morally right a priori, by intuition.

Srila Prabhupada: No. Morality is relative. It varies according to the development of a particular society. For instance, there are many immoral acts taking place in modern society, but no one cares. People go ahead and act as they please.

Syamasundara dasa: Then there is no universal morality?

Srila Prabhupada: Universal morality means obeying God. That's all.

Syamasundara dasa: But are any of God's laws fixed?

Srila Prabhupada: All laws are included if you obey God. That is universal morality.

man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo 'si me

"Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend." (Bg. 18.65) This is the basis of morality. We must become Krsna's servitor. Since so many immoral activities are being accepted as moral, how else can a person know what is moral and what is not?

Hayagriva dasa: Kant writes: "For a rational but finite being, the only thing possible is an endless progress from the lower to the higher degrees of moral perfection."

Srila Prabhupada: This means that there is an endless struggle to understand real morality. This is not necessary. We need only accept the orders of God and follow them. That is ultimate reality.

Hayagriva dasa: What Kant means by morality is rather vague. He does not give specific outlines for action. Rather, he writes, "The moral individual is to do what is good only because it is good." According to his categorical imperative, man should act in such a way that the maxim of his actions might become the principle for universal law.

Srila Prabhupada: But that is impossible for the individual soul. It is impossible for a conditioned living entity to do something that will be universally accepted.

Hayagriva dasa: Then man cannot establish a universal law by his own action?

Srila Prabhupada: No. Only God can do so. Only God can say, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam. "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." (Bg. 18.66) If an individual conditioned soul says this, who will accept him?

Syamasundara dasa: But Kant says that there are certain imperatives that we are born with.

Srila Prabhupada: What are these? He should say specifically. The only universal imperative is that you should be obedient to God. That's all.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant rejects the traditional proofs of God's existence in order to clear the ground for his assertion that God is morally necessary in a moral universe. In this universe, every soul is an end in itself, and these individual souls are like citizens in a "kingdom of ends."

Srila Prabhupada: Why does he use the word "kingdom" if he does not accept the king?

Hayagriva dasa: No, he would say that the king is a moral necessity in a moral universe. He simply rejects the traditional proofs.

Srila Prabhupada: That's all right, but he sees the individual souls as ends in themselves. There is no question of such independence, because everything is part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is behind nature, and if our morality denies the existence of God, what is its value? One man may think that animal killing is good, while another may think that it is immoral. So who is correct? There must be some authority to establish morality. Morality must have some background, otherwise it will change at any moment.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant also writes: "It does not enter men's heads that when they fulfill their duty to men (themselves and others), they are, by these very acts, performing God's commands and are therefore in all their actions and abstentions, so far as these concern morality, perpetually in the service of God, and that it is absolutely impossible to serve God directly in any other way "

Srila Prabhupada: If man does not serve God, how can he know how to serve humanity? If he does not receive information from God about how to serve humanity, what is the value of his humanitarianism? The best way to serve mankind is to preach this message of Bhagavad-gita so that everyone can become a faithful servant of God. When we are God's servants, we can render service not only to our fellow man but to all other living entities as well. However, if we manufacture our service, it is useless.

Hayagriva dasa: In the preface to one of his last works, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, Kant seems to shift his position to say that morality "extends itself to the idea of a powerful moral Lawgiver, outside of mankind." Still, he believes that knowledge of God is ultimately uncertain.

Srila Prabhupada: It is uncertain for one who does not have perfect knowledge. If you believe in God and know God, you can get perfect knowledge from Him. Then you'll become perfect.

Syamasundara dasa: Ideally, for Kant, it is the moral obligation of everyone to obey the moral commands.

Srila Prabhupada: Not moral commands, but the supreme command. As I said, what is moral for you may be immoral for others. One man's food is another's poison. If Krsna tells Yudhisthira to lie, that lying is moral. Krsna tells Arjuna to fight and kill, and that killing is moral. Morality means obeying God's order. Because your senses are imperfect, you cannot create morality. You cannot even know what is moral. Therefore you should follow the orders of Krsna or His representative. The real categorical imperative is to obey the Supreme. That is morality, and anything else is immoral.

Syamasundara dasa: Then we are not born with a priori knowledge of what is right?

Srila Prab hupada: A priori in the sense that we know we have to obey Krsna. That knowledge is manifest even in uncivilized men. When aborigines see a thunderbolt, they offer prayers. It is natural and inborn to offer obeisances.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant says that it is not the act itself which is good or bad, but the will behind the act.

Srila Prab hupada: Yes, but that will has to be developed. A child has will, but it has to be developed by his teacher. Everyone in the material world is in ignorance; therefore it is called a place of darkness. The Vedas advise: "Don't remain in darkness. Go to the light." The spiritual world is light. In the material world, since our will is in darkness, it is bound to be imperfect. The will has to be dragged to the light, and that requires superior help. We cannot think, "I am doing this for a good cause; therefore it is good." In this way, people manufacture all kinds of creeds and act in every way. Guidance is required. We must consult a superior authority for confirmation.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant believed that only man can be regarded as nature's own end, or highest product, because on earth only man is capable of complying with the categorical imperative, the moral law.

Srila Prabhupada: But if nature creates man, then nature is supreme. However, nature is only dull matter.

bhumir apo 'nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir astadha

"Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies." ( Bg. 7.4) Human beings cannot create these things, nor can nature in itself create them. So how can nature create man? How can man be considered nature's own end or highest product? What is the logic in this philosophy?

Hayagriva dasa: Kant would say that man is nature's final end because man's moral nature alone is worthwhile.

Srila Prabhupada: We object to his emphasizing that man is a product of nature. Nature itself cannot make man. Nature provides the body, just as a tailor provides a suit. This body is but the outward covering of the living entity. The living entity within the body is not created by material nature. He is part and parcel of God.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant says that man belongs to "the kingdom of ends" because man is not just an object of utility but an end in himself. Since he alone possesses self-direction, or dignity, he should never stoop to sell himself like a commodity.

Srila Prabhupada: And what is that end? Kant does not give any concrete example. Man's dignity is his inherent quality of obedience to the Supreme. It is that obedience that we should not sacrifice. We are not independent, but subordinate to God's will. Kant may be a strict moralist, but that is not the highest platform. We have to transcend even the moral principle to attain perfection. There is morality and immorality in the material world because there are the three modes of material nature operating: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Morality is on the platform of goodness. According to the transcendental, spiritual point of view, the entire material world is condemned. One may be a first-class prisoner, or a second-class prisoner, a brahmana or a sudra. Whatever the case, one is still a conditioned soul. Of course, as far as conditional life is concerned, there is value in morality. Morality may help us come to the transcendental platform, but coming to that platform is not dependent on morality. It is independent of everything. Krsna's order is above morality.

Syamasundara dasa: But might not morality help us see behind the moral law and transcend it?

Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily. In Bhagavad-gita, we find that Arjuna was trying to become moral by not killing his relatives, but that could not help him. Rather, by directly abiding by the orders of Krsna, he transcended morality. So morality in itself does not always help.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant spoke of "the starry sky above, and the moral law within." This seems to echo Christ's teaching that "the kingdom of God is within you."

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, if you are actually a lover of God and His instructions, the kingdom of God is within.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant proposes that since the moral law cannot possibly be fulfilled within the limits of one lifetime, the soul must be immortal.

Srila Prabhupada: That is a very good proposition. That is real evolution. Darwin had no idea of the existence of the soul, and he gave some theories about material evolution, which we do not accept. But there is spiritual evolution. Even though a devotee falls down, what he has earned in devotional service will never be lost. In the next life, he begins from that point. However, as far as material activities are concerned, they vanish with the change of body.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant also proposes that since only God can insure the human endeavor for the supreme good, God's existence is a necessary postulate of practical reason.

Srila Prabhupada: We have already explained this. Whatever devotional service is rendered in this life is taken up in the next. Who can give the living entity that chance but God? I may forget, but God does not forget. God is Paramatma. He is within, and He knows what the living entity has done to this point.

Syamasundara dasa: For Kant, the summum bonum is virtue combined with happiness. Happiness is the knowledge of doing what is right.

Srila Prabhupada: Happiness means spiritual happiness. There is no material happiness because whatever is material is temporary. Since the spirit soul is eternal, he must have spiritual happiness. That happiness is Krsna consciousness. If you know that you are the eternal servant of Krsna, and you are serving Krsna, that service is your happiness. Even if your duty is painful, you are still happy because you know that you are acting for Krsna.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant points out that on earth, happiness does not necessarily accompany goodness; therefore there must be a God who sees that a virtuous man finds his deserved happiness in a future life. Without such justice, there would be no meaning to morality.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, in the last mantra of Isopanisad, it is stated:

agne naya supatha raye asman
visvani deva vayunani vidvan
yuyodhy asmaj juhuranam eno
bhuyistham te nama-uktim vidhema

"O my Lord, powerful as fire, omnipotent One, now I offer You all obeisances, falling on the ground at Your feet. O my Lord, please lead me on the right path to reach You, and, since You know all that I have done in the past, please free me from the reactions to my past sins so that there will be no hindrance to my progress." (Isopanisad 18) We should be very sincere in our service to God so that He will relieve us of the reactions of our karma. Unless there is a Supreme, what is the value of morality?

Syamasundara dasa: Kant would say that in his earthly life, a man should not be motivated toward moral conduct out of any expectation of happiness, but out of a sense of duty, or reverence for the moral law.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that means unmotivated service. It is not that we love Krsna just to receive some benefit. It is our duty. That is pure morality. Knowing that we are part and parcel of Krsna, we should render service to Krsna without ulterior motivation.

Syamasundara dasa: The goal of Kant's personal ethics is twofold: it is a person's duty to attain his own perfection and also to seek the happiness of others.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is Krsna consciousness. A Krsna conscious man is not happy thinking, "I have now contacted Krsna; therefore my business is finished." Other living entities are also part and parcel of Krsna, but due to misguidance, they are not serving Him. Consequently, they are not attaining happiness. It is the duty of one who knows Krsna to preach about Him out of mercy. Those who are satisfied just tending to their own personal spiritual life are not as highly elevated as those who try to enlighten others.

Syamasundara dasa: Pure practical reason, the free will's ability to choose, takes priority over pure speculative reason, or theorizing about reality.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is not sufficient to merely understand that there is a God. We must render service to God. Our Krsna consciousness movement means applying knowledge of Krsna. If you are a devotee, you must demonstrate it. My Guru Maharaja therefore condemned those who make a show of being devotees and spend all day and night within closed doors chanting Hare Krsna. Sometimes such people smoke and have illicit sex because they are not mature in their devotional service. A neophyte should work for Krsna; otherwise he will simply be a showbottle. We have to spread Caitanya Mahaprabhu's teachings all over the world.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant concludes that self-realization is superior to mere philosophy.

Srila Prabhupada: This Krsna consciousness movement is a practical demonstration of this. Since we know that we are the eternal servants of Krsna, we engage in His service. Krsna wants it to be known that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We may either accept this or not—that is all right with Krsna—but it is our business to inform everyone that Krsna is the Supreme Lord and that everyone else is His eternal servant. If we enlighten people in this way, we are engaged in Krsna's service. It is not that we go to church and ask God, "Give us our daily bread." God is giving bread daily to everyone, even to birds and beasts; therefore it is not practical to ask God for what He is already supplying. According to our Vaisnava philosophy, we must work for Krsna. We are not just theorizing, but practicing.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant rejected church-going as a means to salvation. He states that "sensuous representation of God is contrary to the command of reason: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,' etc."

Srila Prabhupada: If someone imagines an image, that is not good. An image arises from the imagination. However, it is different to keep a photograph of your beloved. The photograph of your beloved is not imaginary. It is a fact.

Hayagriva dasa: Although rejecting prayer as an inner formal service to God, Kant believed that it is good to teach children to pray so that in their early years they might accustom themselves to a life pleasing to God.

Srila Prabhupada: Religion means pleasing God, and that is not restricted to children.

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body, Kant writes: "For who is so fond of his body that he would wish to drag it about with him through all eternity if he could get on without it?"

Srila Prabhupada: It is natural to want to retain one's body. Even though his life is abominable, a hog will cry when being captured or killed. He does not consider his body to be undesirable, although he is eating stool and living in a filthy place. It is natural to want to protect one's body perpetually, regardless of one's condition. This tendency is there because the living entity is eternal, and he is hankering after that eternity. It is his mistake to desire this eternity in a material body.

Syamasundara dasa: In his book Eternal Peace, Kant asserts that there can be peace in the world if certain laws are followed.

Srila Prabhupada: We often hear that peace can be attained, but it can be attained only when we understand that Krsna is the factual proprietor of everything. We must accept Krsna as our friend and understand that we are not the proprietors of anything. We must know that everything belongs to Krsna if peace is to reign.

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning government, Kant writes: "An ethical commonwealth can be thought of only as a people under divine commands, as a people of God....This would be a commonwealth wherein God would be the Lawgiver."

Srila Prabhupada: If the king or president and the people abide by the orders of God, the state will be ideal.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant's state would be theocratic in its constitution; however, since priests receive gifts from God directly, they would construct an aristocratic government.

Srila Prabhupada: A theocratic government is properly outlined in Manu-samhita, given by Manu for the benefit of all human society.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant believes that there should be a world state in which everyone can participate, and a system of international law regulating relationships between various nations or states.

Srila Prabhupada: This is also our position, the proposition of the International Society for Krsna consciousness. There is one God, and there should be one state. If we can turn the majority of people to Krsna consciousness, they will vote for Krsna conscious people, and they will not be exploited. The principles that we are following individually can be introduced on a larger scale.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant believes that the leaders should follow the moral principles, but he rejects Plato's idea that the philosophers should be kings. Rather, they should serve as advisors only. Then they will be able to exercise good judgment.

Srila Prabhupada:

That is also the Vedic system. The


advise the


. If the


are empowered and try to administer, their philosophical qualities will be diminished. They should remain free and act only as advisors.

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