Kant: God is a Transcendental Illusion

Posted in another forum;

Here is a clue [not the full proof] to Kant’s explanation that the idea of God is a transcendental idea, i.e. a transcendental illusion.
Note ‘idea’ in Kant’s case is specifically ‘philosophical idea’ not just an ordinary ideas.

For Kant, however, ‘The Idea is a Concept of reason whose Object can be met with nowhere in Experience’ (L p. 590), or precisely that which does not stand in any relation to an Object.
-Howard Caygill

The syllogism;

1. All transcendental ideas are transcendental illusions.
2. The idea of God is a transcendental idea
3. God is a transcendental illusion.

One will need to read the whole of the Critique of Reason to understand [not necessary agree with] to counter the above argument.

Here is a clue to P1;

  1. ALTHOUGH a purely Transcendental Idea is, in accordance with the Original Laws of Reason, a quite necessary product of Reason, its Object, it may yet be said, is something of which we have no Concept. A339

  2. For in respect of an Object which is adequate to the demands of Reason, it is not, in fact, possible that we should ever be able to Form a Concept of the Understanding, that is, a Concept that allows of being exhibited and intuited in a Possible Experience.

  3. But we should be better advised and less likely to be misunderstood if we said that although we cannot have any Knowledge of the Object which corresponds to an Idea, we yet have a Problematic Concept of it. B397

  4. The Transcendental (Subjective) Reality of the Pure Concepts of Reason depends on our having been led to such Ideas by a necessary Syllogism. 1

  5. There will therefore be Syllogisms which contain no Empirical premisses, and by means of which we conclude from something which we know to something else of which we have no Concept, and to which, owing to an inevitable Illusion, we yet ascribe Objective Reality.

  6. These conclusions [of transcendental ideas] are, then, rather to be called pseudo-Rational 2 than Rational, although in view of their Origin they may well lay claim to the latter title, since they are not fictitious and have not arisen fortuitously, but have sprung from the very Nature of Reason.

  7. They [transcendental ideas] are sophistications not of men but of Pure Reason itself. Even the wisest of men cannot free himself from them. After long effort he perhaps succeeds in guarding himself against actual error; but he will never be able to free himself from the Illusion, which unceasingly mocks and torments him.

Re P2;

‘The Ideal of Pure Reason’ in CPR
In short, we shall be able to determine it, in its Unconditioned Completeness, through all predicaments.
The Concept of such a Being is the Concept of God, taken in the Transcendental sense; and the Ideal of Pure Reason, as above defined [pg 489], is thus the Object of a Transcendental Theology.
A580 B608

What is 'Transcendental’ re P1 and P2;

Neither Space nor any a priori geometrical Determination of it is a Transcendental Representation;
what can alone be entitled Transcendental is the Knowledge that these Representations are not of Empirical Origin, and the Possibility that they can 2 yet relate a priori to Objects of Experience.
The application of Space to Objects-in-General would likewise be Transcendental, but, if restricted solely to Objects of sense, it is Empirical.
A56 B81

What is Empirical?:

An Empirical Concept or Intuition is one which ‘contains Sensation’ and thereby ‘presupposes the actual presence of the Object’ (CPR A50/B74).


Because the ‘transcendental’ cannot be of Empirical Origin, it cannot be of objective reality, i.e. really-real.

Even for the above, one will need to understand each term very carefully and precisely in accordance to what Kant intended them to be.

Any ideas [general] to the above?

your post do not address the points in the OP.
Where are the references?

They appear to be from readers who have not understood Kant thoroughly and cherry picked and has a theological bias. One of the famous Kant reader with the theological twist is Stephen Palmquist.

Kant is read by a diverse lot of people, i.e. from atheists, theists, philosophical realists, philosophical anti-realists. Unfortunately Kant’s work is very difficult to understand [not necessary agree with] that most readers of Kant missed out on the overall essence of Kant’s theories and end up imputed their confirmation bias.

Kant is a deist but to Kant God is a transcendental illusion as proven above.
Whilst to Kant God is an illusion, it is nevertheless a useful illusion but only for the purpose of morality and ethics. God should never be assigned as a thing with objective reality.


from google search noted your first point is from,

However note this point where Kant stated God is an impossibility;

But, as we never can have sensible experience of objects corresponding to such transcendent ideas and as the concepts of the understanding, without which human knowledge is impossible, can only be known to apply to objects of possible experience, knowledge of the soul, of the cosmos, and of God is impossible, in principle.

Re the following;

Thinking and speaking of God with analogous language can facilitate a theology that neither is anthropomorphic in a bad way nor succumbs to the dialectical illusions from which Kant’s epistemology would save us.

From what I read of Kant overally, I cannot find anything of substantial that could support the above that Kant is favorable with theology.

Kant wrote, “Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone
Whilst Kant made some good points on Christianity, his overall view of theology is in the negative which the author you linked
failed to highlight.

If Christianity is such a good ideology on morality and ethics, Kant would not have proposed his own system of Morality and Ethics to replace the existing Christianity model.

Who said transcendental illusions are bad? Many are helped by such illusions. It gets them thru hard times, and the challenges of life.

I say : Whatever works.

Prismatic, I find it a bit amusing that you dis what KT posted as ‘theological bias’ in light of the content of all of your own posts (or at least those I’ve read) in the Religion and Spirituality section of the board. In other words, your own anti-theological slip is ever and always showing, especially given your signature at the end of each post. Dude, we all is what we is and bringing bias into discussion is normal and unavoidable.

It seems to me that your argument can be reduced to the most common anti-theist argument:

  1. Only objects in time or space are real.
  2. God is an idea of a being that does not occupy time or space.
  3. God is therefore an illusion and not real.

The difference between a “transcendental idea” and a concept is interesting to me, but Kant is one of the ‘must read’ philosophers I haven’t read so have only what you’ve posted above to go on.

How would “transcendental idea” and “concept” be defined that distinguishes between them? I look at everything from the standpoint of whether a thing (empirical or conceptual) is able to offer information to a human mind. If it does it’s worthy of being real in some sense. Not sure what to do with a transcendental idea in this case. That it’s deemed a “necessary product of reason” suggests it is informational. It could still be illusion as you suggest; illusions, fictions and hallucinations are all various bundles of information but don’t have the same place in reality as matter.

Here’s what throws me. First sentence appears to only place “transcendental representation” [TR] outside time and space like other abstract objects. Okay.

How TRs relate a priori to experience seems no mystery; the concept of “freedom” is reached deductively and a priori; so far I see no difference between a TR and concept. How does Kant define “experience”…just something that has sense data?

If the distinction is relevant to what you’re wanting to get across—i.e., if it’s able to take the subject matter beyond the 3 point anti-theist proposition above and you’d be willing, I would be interested to hear your take on the matter. If not, and this post is too far off the subject, I understand.

And beyond what youwrite, I was simply quoting Kant experts: iow people who specialize in Kant, can read Kant in the original German, do not agree with Prismatic’s ideas of Kant. This doesn’t prove he is wrong, of course, since experts can be wrong. But then so can amateurs.

If God is a transcendental idea supported by anecdotal evidence, we are at liberty to accept or reject that evidence, usually depending upon what we believe is possible. I take it that the claim: “All transcendental ideas are illusions” means that such ideas cannot be demonstrated to have an empirical grounding. The problem with this argument, is that if we find that even one transcendental idea is real or valid - through experience. It opens the door to the existence of other transcendental ideas being real and eventually we must consider possibility of God/deities/spirits or what have you existing. However, then the argument will shift to experiential evidence not being actual evidence and its perceived integrity will remain. Yet, the type of evidence required to satisfy the conditions of the argument cannot be obtained even if it does exist, because of the limits of empiricism.

I think the problem with these broad scope absolute arguments (as I mentioned), is that if even one example contrary to the claim is found to be incorrect, the whole argument fails. The strength of this argument is that God or transcendental ideas cannot be demonstrated to exist empirically, but the nature of transcendence is that it is experienced, and not possible to measure empirically. This argument/syllogism, is like using a ruler to measure the length of the wind. Another problem, is that it assumes that every transcendental thought or experience reported is false, which means that every such encounter of which there are probably trillions considering the length of their history, has been misinterpreted, why would that be the case are people so inept?

What about the efficacy of transcendental claims, is that not evidence in itself that something is going on? If I were to pray to a deity, and received what I wished for on more than one occasion, should I then reject the possibility that my prayer was answered? If so, why? For what reason, because it can’t be proven empirically? The saying “If we eliminate the possible, then we have to consider the impossible.” comes to mind. Not in any and all cases, but it is shrewd to keep an open-mind about things IMV. Whilst I don’t doubt that people can misinterpret such experiences and that they have, I wouldn’t claim that every transcendental thought or experience that has ever occurred has been, which what this argument claims, but not in those exact words, it instead uses the term “illusory” which is tantamount to “impossible”. I don’t understand why Prismatic has consistently reasoned in terms of “all” as though he can infer “all”, and other absolutes such as “impossible” or “proper” etc., when absolutes are problematic to demonstrate in philosophy, more so with the concept of God.

Yes, transcendental illusions are not absolutely bad.
In fact the transcendental illusion of God [theism] is one one the most critical necessity for the majority of people to deal an existential crisis, without it they could go mad.

But like everything theism has it pros and cons.
The trend is the cons of theism are outweighing it pros as we move into the future.
Theism with a natural existence of evil prone theists [SOME Muslims] could exterminate and make the human species extinct when WMDs are more cheaply and easily available in the near future.

Theism has to be dealt as a whole, not specific parts [e.g. Islam], thus the whole of theism has to go in the future and it can be replaced by other spiritual practices which are more effective and optimal to resolve the inherent existential crisis.

Kant argument goes further than space and time.
The basis is, there is no thing-in-itself beyond space and time.

Here is an example.
Circles and Squares are empirical elements. Circular and square object exists and they can be verified empirically. Because they are empirical [via observation, senses], they are classified as “concept.”
Thus what is a concept must have empirical elements.

But because the brain and mind can think, speculate, theorize, explore, it can think of a thought of a ‘square-circle’.
Such a thought ‘square-circle’ is impossible to be empirical. It is a contradiction thus not logical and therefore empirically impossible.
The ‘square-circle’ is an idea, i.e. a thought that do not have any empirical possibility.
An idea [philosophical] is a thought that do not have any empirical possibility, i.e. has no concept -A339.

Thus the difference between what is ‘concept’ and ‘idea’.

For anyone to insist or had reified a ‘square-circle’ exists as really real, that would be a logical and transcendental illusion.

God as defined is independent of concepts [empirical elements] thus it is an idea.
God as Kant had demonstrated is an transcendental idea which cannot be real.
When theists reified God as a real being [even listens and answers prayers] they are engaging with a transcendental illusion in the mind [cortical brain]. In parallel in the ‘mid brain’, this is just like seeing an empirical illusion of a mirage in the desert.

Why theists reified God as real is due to desperate existential psychological impulses.

It is like a desperate thirsty person lost in the desert reifying the ‘mirage of an oasis’ as really real. It pays to deem every ‘perception’ of an oasis [real or mirage] as real thus increasing the chances of getting water.

For theists, it is Pascal Wager.

Note my explanation on the difference between ‘concept’ and ‘idea’ [philosophical] above.

Concepts lead to empirical illusions - mirage, bent-stick-in-water, etc.
Ideas [philosophical] generate transcendental illusions - God, Soul, Whole-Universe,

Kant defined “experience”

He [Kant in ID] defines Experience as ‘the Synthetic connection of Appearances (Perceptions) in Consciousness, so far as this connection is Necessary’ - Cargill

For Kant ‘experience’ is an emergence that emerged in consciousness [the self] from a very complex set of mechanisms in the brain/mind and sense-data is merely one aspect of the many.

If we go deeper, the term ‘transcendental’ in this case need to be specific.
I had explained in the above post the difference between empirical concepts and transcendental idea.

A transcendental idea is a thought without any empirical elements and possibility.
What is experienced must be empirical-based.
Therefore a transcendental idea is outside the scope of the empirical and experience [actual or experiential], thus in no way can a transcendental idea can be experienced.

I stated, “2. The idea of God is a transcendental idea”
In the above I explained, a transcendental idea [as defined] is outside the scope of empirical objects and mental experiences [experiential].
Btw, a person may have a thought of a ‘square-circle’ which is an experience of the thought activities, but that do not prove a ‘square-circle’ exists.

In any case, Kant narrowed down ‘transcendental ideas’ to only 3 pure ones and explained extensively what they are.
The only 3 pure transcendental ideas are

  1. God - the absolutely unconditional
  2. Soul - that can survive physical death.
  3. The Whole-Universe - totality of all.

Note the specific contended term is ‘transcendental idea’ which is has no concept.
A transcendental experience which has conceptual elements is not a transcendental idea.

To be more specific;

  1. All transcendental 3 ideas are transcendental illusions.
  2. The idea of God is one of the 3 transcendental ideas.
  3. God is a transcendental illusion.

I think the idea is that if God is purely transcendental then we can’t know him, so it might as well be an illusion. IOW it lacks empirical evidence or experience. But 1) this is based on Abrahamic conceptions of God, specificially Christianity, specifically the Christianity of medieval theologians that Kant was reacting to. 2) and EVEN with this this God, there are throughout the Bible immanent effects and direct presence and further can be contacted, interacted with. IOW even the Christian God is not purely transcendent. 3) there are conceptions of God that are not transcendent 4) one can infer things that are not directly experienced. This has a rich history in science - dark matter and dark energy is one current example. So his syllogism falls apart in a variety of ways right off the bat.

And empiricism (at least for realists) rests on a tautology, the ding an sich. As a fan of Kant he should know that there is something transcendent even in empiricism. But he’s a cherry picker.

or, really, the things the ideas are saying are real.

yes, he hops over agnosticism, for example.


The word “transcendental” has a meaning, let’s use that. It means, relating to a spiritual realm. So if we have an idea relating to a spiritual realm, that idea is transcendental, which you are claiming is illusory. We can take empirical and concept as a given.

A transcendental idea can be verified by experience, but it is anecdotal in nature. Like someone claiming Jesus came to them in a dream, that is a transcendental idea. They experienced the dream and it was real to them. It may have pertained to situations that were occurring in their life, or Jesus, in the dream, gave them some kind of mandate – that is the kind of experience that the religious report. We cannot know if their dream had any validity, but for that person it did, they experienced Jesus. We call this anecdotal or even wishful thinking, but the person and their religious community will believe that they had a transcendental experience. Objectively, we cannot know for certain if their experience was real or not. Whether we accept the idea will be based upon our own world views, perspectives, beliefs etc. So to claim that transcendental ideas are without possibility, is a subjective claim, not an objective fact.

It is outside the scope of science to demonstrate that transcendental ideas are real, but experientially, transcendental ideas are real to people who experience them. That is a fact.

With respect. That seems like a child’s reasoning. Ideas/thoughts are conceptualisations. Why would anyone who thought of a “square-circle” believe that it can be real? God/gods are concepts built upon transcendental ideas. There are reasons why people believe they exist, real or not. They have qualities, attributes, emotions, powers, immortality etc., and they are encased within the concept of religions and myths. People may not be right about them, and to compare God(s) conceptually to a square-circle, is fine if that’s what you think about the possibility of such a being existing, but that’s not how God is perceived by all, and there are valid reasons for that. If you want to prove that God doesn’t exist as a fact, then problems such as subjectivity with what you’re claiming arise.


An idea without a concept? Ideas are necessarily conceptual, no matter the content. I don’t understand the epistemology of why you separate them?

Are you seriously trying to sell me this? Example please.

This is a statement of belief. I’m not sure why you are trying to present it as a fact?

I have already stated above, for Kant, the transcendental idea is very specific as defined and argued for.

The only 3 pure transcendental ideas are

  1. God - the absolutely unconditional
  2. Soul - that can survive physical death.
  3. The Whole-Universe - totality of all.

Nope the ‘transcendental’ is not specifically related to the spiritual realm.
Idea is this case is not a general idea but specifically a philosophical idea as in Plato’s perspective of ideas, forms and universals.
What counts is whether the thought is conceptually based [empirical] or non-conceptually based.

It you adopt the ‘spiritual realm’ the beings and god you thought of can be empirically-based, e.g. monkey god, which ever anthropomorphic god - ghosts, - spirits, human-liked aliens, etc. These are not transcendental ideas because they are empirically laden and not contradictory.

A square-circle is a transcendental idea albeit not a pure one, because as a contradiction it is empirically impossible.

You have missed my point,
“A transcendental idea is a thought without any empirical elements and possibility” as such can never be experienced at all.
I stated, “What is experienced must be empirical-based.”

If someone dreamt about Jesus.
What is experienced in the ‘dream’ not the object of the dream, i.e. Jesus.
If I dream of an apple, my experience is a real dream, not a real apple.
If I insist upon my dream there are apples, I have to in the wakeful state produce evidence of apples and subject them to testing, verification and confirmation the apples are real.
So if the person dreamt of Jesus, he will have to produce evidence of Jesus in his awake state to justify Jesus exists as real.

In the case of Kant,
to claim pure transcendental ideas are impossible to be real is a logical and philosophical claim which is objective against the framework of reality.
Anyone can go through this logically and philosophically within the framework of reality and arrive at the same logical conclusion, thus objective.
Anyone who disagree with have to prove their counter-views.

The question of impossibility is very straightforward.
It is impossible logically for the non-empirical to be empirical.
The whole argument rested on this premise.

Nope, you got it wrong.
What is real to them are only the thoughts [neural activities] not the object that is thought of.
Schizophrenics will claim the gnomes who spoke with him are really real, but what is real is the neural activities that enable ‘realness’ to his schizophrenic brain.

Note, there are many of the mentally ill who have had experience with a ‘real’ Jesus, God. But they are medically diagnosed as mentally ill. When given the right medicine, their experience of Jesus, God, ghosts, Satan, etc. disappear, e.g.
The Temporal Lobes and God
There many cases [from tons of research] of people with brain damage, under heavy stress, taking drugs and hallucinogens, doing meditation, and all sorts of reasons, who claim to have experience of God, but the god experience disappear when the stimuli is removed or absent.

From these evidences, it is more probable the basis of god is psychological.
I have given my argument for this.
To top is all, I have argued logically, God is an impossible to be real, based on the perspective of pure transcendental idea.

Your “Ideas/thoughts are conceptualisations.” is misleading you into rhetoric.
Thoughts can be conceptualized or idealized -two distinctly different elements.
Thus conceptualizations cannot be idealizations.
Transcendental ideas are idealizations not conceptualizations.

The idea of the impossibility of ‘square-circle’ is analogical to ‘God’ but the explanation is different.

Who?? it had already happened and is happening for some mental cases, like schizos, etc. thinking of anything and insisting what-is-thought is really really in their deluded mind.


I have stated before the ‘idea’ used here is in the philosophical sense as used by Plato in his forms and universals.

I have explained throughout the difference between concept and idea.
Via selective attention you have missed them like the 500 pound gorilla right in front of your eyes.

I have explained in the dream example above.
If one experience an apple [conceptual] in a dream, hallucination, etc. that is not a transcendental idea [as defined].

Kant had argued premise 1 in his Critique of Pure Reason very comprehensively.

Note the point;
Transcendental ideas are not concepts [empirical only]
Example of a transcendental idea is like a square-circle which is empirically impossible.
Along the line of the square-circle, the thought of God is a pure transcendental idea.
It is very heavy stuff to grasp the above.
It is not based on symbolic nor modal logic but merely based on statements so it is within the reach of ordinary language.

I have already argued why the idea of God must ultimately be transcendent as an ontological God and not an empirical-based God.

If theists claim their God is empirical-based, yes it is empirically possible to exists and thus can be proven by empirical-Science upon availability of evidence to test and verify its existence as real Scientifically.
This is Richard Dawkins’ 1/7th God because he is entrapped by his Scientific Framework. But Dawkins insisted despite this empirical possible, it is highly improbable like trying to prove Zeus the Greek god exists.

But there are limitations of the empirical-based God.

  1. What is empirical is conditional and no theists will accept a conditional God. The ultimate God has to be a totally unconditional God.

  2. With the empirical, there is the point of infinite regression and no theist will accept a god where there is a possibility of a greater god than their god.

  3. Finally, according to Popper, scientific theories are at best polished conjectures. Thus a scientifically proven God [if done] is at best a polished conjecture. Theists will not agree their god are dependent on conjectures, even polished ones.

Kant assumed a transcendent for the empirical, i.e. the noumenon, not a real thing but has merely a limiting function with one phase of his long argument. This noumenon is proven to be a thing-in-itself in his next phase of his long argument. Ultimately the noumenon is a pure transcendental idea thought as the totality of Whole Empirical World.

I have already argued what is real must be justifiable empirically and philosophically.
God the pure transcendental idea is purely non-empirical.
Therefore it is impossible for God to be real.

As explained to Fanman, he had not differentiated transcendental-thought into thoughts as transcendental concepts [empirical] and thoughts as transcendental ideas [non-empirical].

I have never stated whatever experience is false.
The experience in terms of neural activities is real, but the object of experience can be real [if this can be verified empirically] or impossible [if this is thought of a pure transcendental idea]


I think I made the error of applying a meaning of “transcendental” that perhaps, was not specifically related to the topic or the points that you are driving at. You mean Transcendental in the Kantian sense, right? I’m not sure though, if it is right to remove the “spiritual” element from the term transcendental, because we are discussing things such and God, the soul and religious experiences, which are inextricably linked to spirituality.

I’ll try to respond to what you say more fully when I have more time.

The term “transcendental” is a very loose term, i.e.

-transcendent, surpassing, or superior.
-being beyond ordinary or common experience, thought, or belief; supernatural.
-abstract or metaphysical.
-idealistic, lofty, or extravagant.
Mathematics. transcendental number.
transcendentals, Scholasticism. categories that have universal application, as being, one, true, good.

The term ‘spiritual’ is another very loose term, i.e.
Spiritual = relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.

Spiritual is merely what is non-material or non-physical, which can relate to

  1. -the self, consciousness, hallucinations, which can be empirically verifiable and
  2. -the non-empirically verifiable claims like ghosts, spirits, angels, God, Satan, and the likes.
    We need to avoid equivocating 1 and 2.

Therefore I would suggest we specifically define precisely what we are talking with the terms ‘transcendental’ & ‘spiritual’ and avoid them as general terms especially when we are digging deeper into the issues.

Shalom and great reading here.

Just wondering, what is this …thing, this mind or ‘consciousness’ that is having these transcendental thoughts or episodes?

Evolution has taught us that nothing comes about without a specific evolutionary purpose.
So what would be the purpose of these transcendental realisations?

Pax et Lux


:question: Where did Kant claim that transcendental ideas are not conceptualisations, but idealisations? And if he did, wouldn’t it be contradictory to what he’s stated regarding his view of transcendental logic?

Note the different aspects of the mind, i.e. conscious, preconscious, unconscious.

The transcendental thoughts are triggered from the unconscious mind.

When a person mistakenly see a snake from a piece of rope in the shade, that is a kind of transcendental illusion related to the empirical.
The evolutionary purpose is to avoid death from poisonous snakes which from past experiences of our ancestors has been known to be potentially fatal.

The transcendental illusion of a God derived from an idea [not concept] also has an evolutionary advantage to soothe very disturbing anxieties manifesting from the subconscious or unconscious fear of death, so that the person can function productively to whatever the evolutionary goals.