Religious Theology Martin Luther and Immanuel Kant Term Paper

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Luther and Kant: Visions of Freedom

Freedom carries so many meanings, both denotations and connotations. Perhaps no concept has been hashed out more by western philosophers throughout the centuries. The ramifications of their arguments are vast: as "free" people, we lean heavily on the concept of freedom, but our laws and court cases constantly struggle to define what exactly we can and cannot do. May we burn the flag, for instance? Is that considered one of our "freedoms?" Or may we shout "Fire!" In a crowded theater? Martin Luther, in his "Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans" claims that people are free when their actions naturally mimic laws and morality to such an extent that those laws are rendered unnecessary. Immanuel Kant, in his "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" takes an apposite view: Freedom for Kant is the ability to wield one's reasoning without restraint in public. A close reading of these two texts reveals that Kant's and Luther's views on freedom are actually more similar than different. Indeed, they are mutually exclusive: one cannot coexist with the other and Kant's views can even be read as rephrasings of Luther's views.

Luther is very concerned with the law. He takes an interesting stance on the law - laws exist to restrain man, and we are free to act within the law, but true freedom exists when we naturally conform our actions to the shape of the law: "To have the law on our side is the very nature of freedom from sin and the law...this freedom consists of taking pleasure simply in doing good, or in living uprightly, without being constrained to do so by the law." (Luther 29, 30) Kant disagrees wholeheartedly: "The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes imposed upon him: presumptuous criticisms of such taxes, where someone is called upon to pay them, may be punished as an outrage which could lead to general insubordination. Nonetheless, the same citizen does not contravene his civil obligations if, as a learned individual, he publicly voices his thoughts on the impropriety or even injustice of such fiscal measures.
" (Kant, 53)

Let us analyze these two passages. Luther advances no opportunity for anyone - even learned men - to question the law. Indeed, Luther's version of freedom is counterintuitive to our thinking - or at least to Kant's thinking - in that freedom is precisely that which restrains. The moment we contradict the law either in speech or action, we are not acting with freedom. Freedom for Luther is naturally conforming to laws that do not even need to exist. Perhaps the analogy of a child riding his bike with training wheels but without ever touching the training wheels to the ground - without ever needing the training wheels. Similarly, Luther's version of free people do not need any laws. Rather, they naturally conform to what the laws are, should have been, or would be.

Kant does not really offer any opportunity to act in defiance of the law either. Only learned men are even allowed to question the law in a public setting, but even these learned men are not given the "conscientious objector" option. Indeed, Kant intimates that he frowns upon the general masses questioning the laws in the first place. Only learned men in public surroundings may argue about the laws' meanings. Free individuals, then, even in Kant's view, must conform their speech and actions to the laws. This is quite similar, surprisingly, to Luther's view that free people naturally confine their actions to lawful actions. A parallel might be the Emancipation Proclamation, in which Lincoln freed the slaves he had no authority to free - a grand gesture, but functionally moot. Similarly, Kant assigns freedom of speech and argument in public forums to his learned men, but even they have no freedom to contravene the law in any way. Kant's freedoms are as limited in this spectrum as Luther's.

Kant's views on immaturity seem to….....

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