Monday, 25 January 2010

Kant and Religion Review

Today the following review appeared in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews Online:

Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason, Werner S. Pluhar (tr.), Stephen R. Palmquist (intro.), Hackett, 2009, 289pp., $16.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780872209763.

Reviewed by Anthony N. Perovich, Hope College

The review mostly concerns itself with comparing this edition with two previous English translations (and their introductions) of Kant's work. It also comments on Pluhar's other translations of Kant's works, noting that they were well received - so those familiar with his terminology and style can expect much the same here. Noteworthy also is the inclusion of "a glossary of important terms along with their English renderings, an extensive bibliography, and an index for which the German equivalents of the English entries are included" absent in other translations of this work.

Examples of the thoroughness of Pluhar's work include:
"At Ak. 27, Kant describes how the intention to allow no one to achieve superiority over us becomes transformed into an unjust desire to gain superiority over others. In Greene and Hudson the passage passes unnoted. In di Giovanni the reader is invited to compare Kant's comments with Rousseau's Emile, from which four lines are quoted in English translation. Pluhar quotes over seven lines in translation from Emile, including all of the passage cited by di Giovanni -- the additional material does in fact help the reader appreciate Rousseau's position -- and precedes it with the original French."
Of great interest to those seeking greater context is the helpful and brief comparison of the three introductions:
Silber's introduction [to Greene and Hudson's version] in particular contains helpful discussions of Kant's terminology and moral theory. The introduction (by Robert Merrihew Adams) to the paperback edition of the di Giovanni translation is the shortest of the three, but it includes an illuminating discussion of Kant's ideas in the light of his Reformation forebears. The introduction to Pluhar's translation by Stephen R. Palmquist is less concerned with the philosophical analysis of Kant's moral and religious ideas. It makes some attempt to place the work in the context of Kant's life and of his critical philosophy, and in assessing its relevance it offers useful reminders against moral reductionism in the interpretation of the Religion.
This short comparison makes it clear that, unless persuaded otherwise, I will seek out the introductions of both previous editions in addition to the full text of Pluhar/Palmquist.

The review concludes, "For the detailed study of Kant's text in English, this is surely the most informative translation that we have, or are likely to see."

My own interest in this comes, of course, in my work to compare Kantian and Buddhist Ethics. While they diverge more often than run together, each sees religion (in terms of views and beliefs) as secondary to morality (in terms of an innate rightness that we seek to awaken).

For Kant, simply put, morality is natural, innate, and spontaneous (it follows laws, but laws beyond our world of phenomena).

In Buddhism, morality is likewise shining, pure, and merely defiled by superficial unwholesome traits. As Peter Harvey (2000, p.35) notes:
Whatever a person is like on the surface, it is held that the depths of their mind are 'brightly shining' and pure (A. I.10). This depth purity, referred to as the 'embryo of the Truth-attained One' (Tathāgatha-garbha) - or 'Buddha-nature' - in the Mahāyāna, represents the potential for ultimate change: the attainment of enlightenment, and as such is a basis for respecting all beings.

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