How to lie to God: Kant’s Thomistic turn

Roy Arnold Sorensen*, Ian Proops

*Corresponding author for this work

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For most of his career, Kant accepts Augustine's requirement that lying requires an intention to deceive. However, he eventually converts to Aquinas, following him in rejecting this requirement in favor of Aristotle's teleological conception of lying. This change of view amounts to an improvement, for it makes room for the possibility of lying to an omniscient being—and such lies, we argue, are indeed possible. We accompany these historical and philosophical theses with a biographical thesis taking the form of the following story. Kant believed that in his youth he had lied to God, largely because of his religious training. He adopted policies designed to help him resist the habit of lying to God. However, this program conflicted with his desire to lead a well-rounded life as a public intellectual. This worldly ambition led him to forego the Quaker solution to the problem of lying to God: refuse to swear any oath to God, avoid set prayers and hymns, decline offers of intercession by clergy. Kant's worldly compromise served him well, but as he entered his twilight years, he came to worry that his only surviving argument for theism—the moral argument—might constitute a relapse into the vice of lying to God.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Philosophy
VolumeEarly View
Early online date8 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 May 2024


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