Religion and Morality - under consideration of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche

Hausarbeit, 2010

17 Seiten


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Religion and morality

3. Immanuel Kant
3.1. Morality
3.2. Religion

4. Nietzsche's understanding of religion and morality
4.1. Morality
4.1.1. Historical Genealogy
4.1.2. Psychological Genealogy
4.2. Religion
4.2.1. Nietzsche's connection between religion and resentment
4.2.2. Max Weber's term of resentment

5. Conclusion

6. Literature

1. Introduction

Religion and Morality is a widely discussed and analyst issue within the realm of philosophy and adjoined science areas. Since the Ancient Greek philosopher ask whether there is a connection between religion and morality and if there is one, how much do they affect each other? For my examination of this top I will concentrate on Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche, which both considered details the relation between morality and religion in their works.

First I will consider shortly the history of the discourse, as well as I try to give some definition about these terms and exemplify various position, which has developed through the time.

The following chapter describes Immanuel Kant's point of view of morality and religion. What is his approach, what role are duty and reasoning playing in morality and where does he see the connection between morality and religion?

I will consider then Friedrich Nietzsche's 'On the Geneology of Morality ', in which he analysis the term of morality, in particular with the help of the dichotomy between the noble and the slave morality, before he links in to the idea of religion.

In a final step I will give a summarizing conclusion and a very short and generalizing connection to movements and development in our world in the last few decades.

Main literature has been Richard Norman's 'The Moral Philosophers. An Introduction to Ethics', as well as the Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Michael L. Morgan's collection of philosophical lyrics. Here I appraise mainly Nietzsche's 'On the Geneology of Morality' and Immanuel Kant's 'Grounding for the Metaphysics of Moral'.

2. Religion and morality

Since Plato questioned if the gods themselves must honour the standards of the 'pious of the holy', a widely debate about about the interconnection between religion and morality has been spread out. Religion, which is still problematic and contentious in it's definition, has its origin in the Latin word religio. But this term evokes in itself a misunderstanding. It suggests, that the idea of a religious act is a term, which is also used in other languages and cultures, so the theological real encyclopedia. But this in fact not the case, especially if we consider the diversity of different types of religion, defined as monotheistic, to be seen for example in Christianity, where there is only one God , or henotheistic, like in Buddhisms, which knows various, partly also in competition standing Gods (Preul 1997).

In order to border this definition problem of religion, religious scientists make a division into two categories of the term. First religion as a substancialistic term, which refers mainly to the substantive characteristic of religion and sees religion as something, which refers to the holy, the transcendental and the absolute. Refindable in works of Rudolf Otto, Nathan Söderblom and Max Weber. Secondly , the functional term, assuming, that religion plays a significant role for the individual and the society and has to be defined through social functions, which means in accordance to socially and individually connections. Emile Durkheim or Thomas Luckmann are only a few of its representatives (Preul 1997).

Morality instead, which comes also from Latin, moralities, is distinct into mainly two categories. First, in a normative sense, this connects morality with right and wrong, and secondly in a descriptive sense, which is accepted as a guide to behavior by the society. Furthermore it should be mentioned here, that morality can also stand for the term of ethic (Preul 1997). Ethic or moral philosophy, how Richard Norman use both term interchangeable, is the aspiration to achieve an understanding of natural human beings values, of how we ought to live and of what constitutes right conduct (Norman 1998).

Moreover it has to be said, that the realm of morality and religion are overlapping and try to describe how people order their lives. So we have to ask if there is a God how do we have to understand the moral status of his commands? Preul (1997) describes in the Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy various perspective about the issue concerning the interconnection between religion and morality.

First there is the position of thinkers, which represents the idea of ethic as an autonomous realm. According to them, moral standards are independent of God's will and therefore God's authority is not supreme. The opposite perspective calls God's will arbitrary and the ethic absolute. Morality is created by the worship of power.

Religious theorists claim, that divine moral directives have to be seen in accordance to God's complexity and excellence and the idea of morality is linked to a larger worldview of one person. This worldview is build up by information, which we received from God. But they also stress out, that there is a big among of diversities within religious communities and therefore different moral ideas exist throughout the world, as well as in single religions, like the Christianity. Secularist theorists assuming, that there is no direct connection between the area of religion and morality at all.

But many religious thinkers have stopped that kind of understanding of this situation, so Preul.

Generally, it can be seen two strategies of alternative thinking. First, while defending a compatibilist perspective, thinkers argue, that religious based ethical directives are connected with a accepted philosophical perspective. Representative of this direction, are for example Jeremy Bentham, which defines the principle of utility1 as a universal one, accepted by all human beings, or John Stuart Mill, who is the opinion, that by submitting to God’s, will the fulfillment of the requirement of utility will be achieve. Also Immanuel Kant argues that various moral directives, in this case found in the Bible, can be seen as conforming to the categorical imperative.

The second strategy, which means to take a distinctive approach, leads to the assumption, that religious ethics are a unique alternative to the standard options in philosophical understanding in moral injustice. Therefore God’s will is not arbitrary; moreover it is an expression of its attitude. Or, as Thomas Aquina would say: God is essential goodness in itself (Preul 1997).

3. Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant was the a philosopher, who examines especially the term of morality in his work 'Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals'. He is asking 'what are the reason for acting morality'; as many philosophers before him, he also sees morality as given and he is not, as we can see later at Nietzsche's approach, requestioning this given fact. In his work he bases morality in his conception of a reason, which is practical in itself.

First of all he is putting some special importance on the 'pure' part of moral philosophy. The supreme moral principle itself must be discovered a priori through a method of pure moral pity. Pure or a priori does Kant understand, as a philosophy, which is grounded in posterior principles; principles which are inferred through experience or observation. This is a looking from the bottom up, a more anthropological, and therefore descriptive, moral principle. But what is the fundamental, authoritative normative principle, we are seeking to know? Kant mentions, that there is never a principle that commands all rational beings (SeoP 2008; Kant 2001).


1 Utilitarianism can be defined as the theory, „ (...) which states that actions are right in so far as they produce happiness or prevent suffering, wrong in so far as they produce suffering or prevent happiness. “ (Norman 1998:57).

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Religion and Morality - under consideration of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche
Mimarlık Fakültesi Taşkışla Binası  (Istanbul Teknik Üniversitesi - Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü)
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religion, morality, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy, resentment, Max Weber, Genealogy
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Kathrin Eitel (Autor), 2010, Religion and Morality - under consideration of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche, München, GRIN Verlag,


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