Sincerity and Kant’s Inner Religion

Daniel Avatar

From Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (trs. Greene & Hudson), p. 178, n. 2:

O sincerity! Thou Astraea, that hast fled from earth to heaven, how mayst thou (the basis of conscience, and hence of all inner religion) be drawn down thence to us again? I can admit, though it is much to be deplored, that candor (in speaking the whole truth which one knows) is not to be found in human nature. But we must be able to demand sincerity (that all that one says be said with truthfulness), and indeed if there were in our nature no predisposition to sincerity, whose cultivation merely is neglected, the human race must needs be, in its own eyes, an object of the deepest contempt. Yet this sought for quality of mind is such that it is exposed to many temptations and entails many a sacrifice, and hence calls for moral strength, or virtue (which must be won); moreover it must be guarded and cultivated earlier than any other, because the opposed propensity is the hardest to extirpate if it has been allowed firmly to root itself. And if now we compare with the kind of instruction here recommended our usual mode of upbringing, especially in the matter of religion, or better, in doctrines of faith, where fidelity of memory in answering questions relating to these doctrines, without regard to the fidelity of the confession itself (which is never put to the test) is accepted as sufficient to make a believer of him who does not even understand what he declares to be holy, no longer shall we wonder at the lack of sincerity which produces nothing but inward hypocrites.


Astrea is the goddess of innocence and purity, and her father is Themis, the God of Justice. Astrea is the root of conscience, and hence the root of all religion. Don’t get me wrong, Kant is no polytheist. On the contrary, his text, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone is a wrestling with his moral philosophy expounded in the Critique of Pure Reason, and Groundwork for the Metaphysics of All Morals.

It centers on the problem that morality does not require a supreme lawgiver, what Lacan would refer to as the big Other. Morality then leads ineluctably to religion, in that it ‘extends itself to the idea of a powerful moral lawgiver, outside of mankind, for whose will that is the final end (of creation) which at the same time can and ought to be man’s final end’ (RL p. 6, pp. 5–6). The text explores the religious implications of this conception of the highest good by means of an analysis of the relationship between the good and evil principles in human nature.


1. In this quote, Kant makes a distinction between candor (when one truthfully reveals all that one knows) and sincerity (when everything one says is rooted in the truth). Sincerity is a demand, and must be cultivated, whereas candor is optional.

2. Man cannot fool himself. Outwardly and publicly one can practice deception until the cows come home, but one can never truly have an inner deception. The reason that we are able to access this level of inner truth and clarity is because we cannot fail to be aware of our motives. This is why it is possible to read into Kant as arguing that it is impossible for anyone to truly tell a lie.

3. It is impossible to have a sincere hypocrite, because man’s inner conscience is never deluded from itself.

4. What we find from the field of Lacanian psychoanalysis that problematizes this idea that one cannot face inner-delusion is that the act of telling the truth presents the truth-teller with something more than merely the content of their truth. By telling the truth we always tell a double version of truth, i.e. there is the revealed knowledge surplus (the secret of one’s desire that is revealed), but this depends on a prohibition on behalf of the subject, a need to conceal aspects of one’s desire to the other. The second part of truth-telling is similar to Kant’s version of candor, a willingness to share one’s full perspective without fear of error, or judgment.

This would then lead us to revise Kant’s distinction between sincerity and candor from a Lacanian point of view as meaning that sincerity may be obligatory, but when it is uttered, it inevitably conflicts with candor (the truth of surplus enjoyment) and this very interplay between these forces form an inevitable “double-ness” of truth-telling. This subject of double truth is capable of inner delusion in so far as the part of truth that is linked to knowledge of desire surplus and enjoyment surplus, what Lacan refers to as the subject of jouissance is inherently eluded from what drives its desire and thus its account of the truth is capable of being deluded.

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