and Personal Immortality

We will take up the problem [of the primary phenomenon of the human form in the
fullness of its physical-spiritual {*leiblich-geistig*} totality] at the place where Kant dealt with it,
although it has a long and great history prior to that. The mathematical aspect
of the problem of the infinite basically had already been
elucidated by Leibniz, though neither he himself nor thinkers of the
late eighteenth century drew the appropriate conclusions regarding
the treatment of the problem of the person.

In Leibniz' letter to Bernoulli of August, 1698, cited earlier, we find the statement: "Sane ante multos annos demonstravi, numerum seu multitudinem omnium numerorum contradictionem implicare, si ut unum totum sumatur." [Many years ago I have completely demonstrated that the number or multitude of all numbers implies a contradiction if it be construed as one whole.] The infinite amount of numbers is already clearly seen as a contradiction in terms by the end of the seventeenth century, but for a number of epistemological problems pertaining to the infinite an appropriate analysis was not provided until Kant's antinomies, and even here the issue of infinity as applied to the person remains entirely unsettled. Leibniz had posited the monads, including those endowed with reason as uniquely created and indestructible until the total annihilation of the world. And throughout the entire eighteenth century, whenever a rationalization of the problem of the person is attempted, we still find a doctrine of infinity that typically assumes either the Christian form of an immaterial afterlife in the beyond or the form of the transmigration of souls, the repetition of finite existence for an infinite number of times.

The most significant German formulation of the question
before Kant seems to me to be Lessing's, enunciated in
*
Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts
*
of 1780. Humanity as a whole in the
infinity of its being is to be led to the goal of love and virtue for its
own sake; over an infinite period of time humanity is to be brought
up to a final state of perfection. But how can this challenge for mankind as a
genus be reconciled with the meaning of the confined, finite existence of the
individual? Does the individual's life then have
no meaning, and is only the totality to be guided to perfection?

Lessing solves the question by assuming an infinite migration of the
individual immaterial soul. The whole progresses by imperceptible
steps, and the large, slow wheel that brings humanity closer to the
goal is moved by the small cogs of the finite lives. "Each individual
person (one sooner, the other later) must first travel the path by
which the whole race [*Geschlecht*] arrives at its perfection." The individual ego may repeat its existence as
often as it is destined to acquire new knowledge and skills; all of eternity
lies before it, and
over this time it can perfect itself along with the race; thus, the perfection
of the genus coincides with the perfection of all individuals
through the series of their rebirths.

"Life" here is altogether incorporeal, substantially simple soul,
in its permanence no different from the elements of inanimate matter, and we
now see more clearly why Kant could call the organism
only an analogon of life and had to distinguish it from life itself
when the latter is conceived of as a lasting substance, unlike the already
elaborated finite concept of natural purpose. The same observations made about
the problem of infinity in the sequence of numbers and the series of preformed
germs would now have to be
repeated for the series of soul migrations. Nor should their "eternity" be
taken as a
*
totum,
*
as something concretely given, as an infinite process of perfection, for all
events lose their meaning when
they are conceived of as infinite.

An infinite process of perfection is
synonymous with an absolute standstill for any finite intuition, for
every finite step on the way and every finite phase of perfection are
infinitely small in relation to the whole when the latter is seen as
something infinite. Every finite stretch on humanity's path of education, no
matter how big we envision it to be, cannot show any perceptible change if the
measure of change is taken from an infinitely
large one. The idea of the whole universe [*Weltganzes*] as the unity
in which the perfection of the ego takes place necessarily destroys
the meaning of the finite life of the person in his earthly existence.

Faced with this problem in his philosophy of the person, Kant
tried to find a solution in
*
both
*
directions marked out in the schemas
indicated above. First, by assuming the immortality of the individual person as
the precondition for the infinite approximation of perfect virtue, second, by
assuming an infinite historical process, in
which the human race is led to its goal under the guidance of providence. In
both solutions Kant finds himself compelled, in view of
the break between finitude and infinity, to express his astonishment
at the emerging inconsistenciesâ€”both times in a way that allows us
to look deeply into the mysteriousness of the situation.