Modern Theology And The Dialectic Of God, Part 1 (Kelly Maeshiro)

The following is the first of a four-part series.

In the Christian tradition, the question of whether philosophy is necessary for theology, or even relevant to it, is a question almost as old as theology itself, for no sooner had theologians embarked upon the project of a programmatic exposition of faith than they found themselves, legitimately or illegitimately, having recourse to concepts appropriated from philosophers, and from Platonists in particular.

On the one hand are those unabashedly philosophical theologians like Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas, who did not hesitate to draw upon the resources of secular philosophy for the purposes of theological exposition, even if philosophy was relegated to a distinctly secondary status in regard to the authority of scripture. On the other hand are those like Tertullian, who looked upon philosophy with suspicion, often viewing it as the source of theological error on the part of those who would misinterpret the Gospel in the terms of a Hellenistic philosophy utterly alien to Gospel. “So, then,” Tertullian asks, “where is there any likeness between the Christian and the philosopher? between the disciple of Greece and of heaven?” Elaborating what was to become a common trope in Christian theology, he proceeds to accuse philosophy of corrupting theology with its foreign concepts, castigating those who, “[f]inding a simple revelation of God … proceeded to dispute about Him, not as He had revealed to them, but turned aside to debate His properties, His nature, His abode. Some assert Him to be incorporeal; others maintain He has a body, — the Platonists teaching the one doctrine, and the Stoics the other … Some of their brood, with their opinions, have even adulterated our new-given Christian revelation, and corrupted it into a system of philosophic doctrines, and from the one path have struck off many and inexplicable byroads.”[1]

In modern philosophy, substantially the same criticism was revived by Harnack, as similar debates were rehearsed between Bultmann and Barth.[2] To me it seems axiomatic that philosophical reflection is necessary for theology, or at any rate for a philosophically self-conscious theology, since philosophical conceptions are logically and therefore necessarily presupposed in any theology, so that to render these conceptions explicit is to open them up to rational criticism rather than to presuppose them dogmatically. But when we turn from the first-order problematics of systematic theology itself to the second-order problem of interpreting theology in its historical development, the question of whether philosophical reflection is necessary for theology is obviated, for whether or not it is directly necessary for theology itself, it certainly is necessary for its historical interpretation just insofar as theology has, as a matter of simple empirical fact, drawn from the resources of philosophy.

Whether legitimately or not, it is a fact that (at least some) theologians have done so, and if as historical interpreters we seek among other things to comprehend how these theologians understood their own work, then we have no choice but to analyze how philosophical conceptions entered into, and in many cases framed, the exposition of theological doctrine. The necessity of this analysis is heightened considerably in connection with the demands placed upon us by modern liberal theology in particular — the subject of this article — which was highly philosophically self-conscious, drawing heavily and explicitly upon the resources of modern philosophy in the construction of an historically novel form of theology.

As Gary Dorrien has shown, modern liberal theology was deeply shaped by the tradition of German idealism, and in particular by Kant, whom he credits with having launched the “modern departure in religious thought,” explaining that “[m]odern theology was born in the attempts by Schleiermacher, F.W.J. Schelling, G.W.F. Hegel and others to construe Christianity from the standpoint of a transcendental post-Kantian subject that was inconceivable without Kant.”[3] For better or worse — and there is substantial disagreement about this — these figures laid the conceptual framework within which modern liberal theology would be elaborated and developed, so that when Barth, in the 1920s, revolted against the whole framework of liberal theology, it was, as he well understood, against this framework and not some other that he revolted, and to that extent not even Barthian theology, which makes a radical break from this whole tradition, can be understood apart from it.

If, therefore, we are to acquire a satisfactory understanding of the development of modern theology, we cannot avoid confrontation with this tradition of modern philosophy, and it is to this end that an analysis of the historical development of this tradition is undertaken in this article, with a view toward certain highly selective aspects, and an emphasis on Kant and Hegel in particular. Needless to say, no attempt at comprehensiveness is made here.

Entire shelves can and have been written about every one of the figures considered, the significance of whom transcends the history of theology altogether. I will focus instead on a single aspect of this history which seems to me salient and rich with theological implications, arguing that in its broad outlines, the development of philosophy from classical metaphysics through Kant to Hegel can itself be read in Hegelian fashion as a dialectical one in which the implicit theme of a secularization of the divine is gradually developed and made explicit. I will also argue that this is a dialectic implicit in the logic of traditional Christian theology itself, so that the development of modern philosophy can be seen as exemplifying the very dialectic that Hegel claims to see symbolized in the Christian doctrine of incarnation.

The development of modern philosophy according to its own logic recapitulates the logic of secularity symbolized in the doctrine of incarnation, mirroring God’s own descent from heaven to earth. But on Hegelian terms, at least as many have read him, and as I do, the dialectic of finite human thought cannot ultimately be separated from the dialectic of God’s own self-consciousness through the finite medium of human consciousness, which in becoming conscious of the realization of the divine in human life, thereby becomes conscious of its own essentially divine nature — the consummation of a logic of secularity at once implicit in Christian doctrine, explicated in modern philosophy, and exemplified by the latter.

Whether not this logic can ultimately be sustained, whether not it is ultimately tenable either philosophically or theologically, in however qualified a form, it is, I submit, a salient aspect of the logical development of modern philosophy and theology, and to that extent must be understood if one is to grasp what is in my view a central element of the logic of modern theology, whether this logic is ultimately to be affirmed or denied, perhaps especially in the case of the latter.

This essay, then, affirms the fundamental project of modern liberal theology, for all of its flaws, as a genuinely Christian expression. In this sense, it is a defense, at least implicitly, of the overall project of liberal theology. I do not reject the charge that liberal theology stresses God’s immanence, but rather see this development as given, if only in implicit and contradictory form, in Christian doctrine itself, not least in its ancient doctrines of Incarnation and Crucifixion, and its emphasis on God’s finitude — only the idea is expressed in contradictory form here (in-itself) and must be worked out theoretically into self-conscious form (for-itself), which is the task to which all theology — but of particular interest for us, modern theology — is devoted.

If, in other words, liberal theology stresses God’s immanence, the identity of divine and human nature, that is in large part because the Christian scriptures themselves do, and modern theology is simply working out this idea into more self-conscious form. In order to somewhat restrict the scope of our dialectical inquiry, I limit it to only one theme, the knowledge of God, and to the issues — metaphysics, epistemology, dialectics, God’s relation to human beings — which are strictly related to it, and only insofar as they are strictly related to it, further restraining this inquiry to the few thinkers whose work bear directly on our topic, and deal with their work only insofar as it is strictly related to it. We thus deal almost exclusively with Kant, Schelling, and Hegel in the course of this essay, and especially with Kant and Hegel.

Here we find that Kant’s “Copernican revolution” in philosophy, his turn toward the subject, from dogmatic metaphysics to epistemology, recapitulates God’s movement from heaven to earth, and God’s own embodiment in the form of a human subject in Christ. But Kantian idealism is predicated on a Cartesian dualism of subject and object which shows itself to be problematic in its own way, and while it represents a descent from the misty realm of dogmatic metaphysics, it is stuck with a residue of heaven, the noumenal in-itself, which holds the divine apart from the human and prevents Kant’s philosophy from assuming its life as a philosophy of this world.

It is thus left to Hegel, following Schelling, to work out an immanent metaphysics of absolute knowing, which takes a further step from heaven toward the earth by dispensing with the noumenon, thus collapsing the distinction between the human and divine in the Absolute, from which point it is necessary to postulate human cognition, including not only Hegelian philosophy but also the whole development of modern theology, as divine cognition, as God’s self-consciousness through human subjects, or the Absolute’s awareness of itself as the Absolute in greater or lesser degrees of self-consciousness.

Hegel’s philosophy, in collapsing the distinction between thought and being, the noumenal and the phenomenal, the divine and the human, through a transcendental deduction of the Absolute, thus brings consciousness to a point where it can recognize its own thoughts as the self-consciousness of the Absolute. This in turn brings us to a point where, if we follow Hegel, we can interpret the whole development of modern theology, from Kant to Hegel and beyond, as God’s self-revelation, from which it follows that the secularization of theology which characterizes its development is the mode of God’s self-revelation, i.e., that the secularization which characterizes the development of modern theology does not just structurally recapitulate the logic of Incarnation, but rather that, on Hegelian grounds, we can see God as revealing Godself in the element of the finite, or the secular, and that, consequently, the secularization of modern theology is, on an Hegelian interpretation, the very manner in which God reveals Godself to the world. We begin with Kant.

Transcendental Idealism: Kant

To the popular understanding, the critical result of Kant’s first critique (the Critique of Pure Reason) is often misconstrued as marking the foreclosure, consequently the end, of metaphysics as such. There is a good deal of truth in this, though if we are to be technically precise, we cannot regard it as being quite right, for even after Kant satisfies himself with the elaboration of the critical philosophy, he leaves room for metaphysics of a certain kind, in the difficult labor of which he understands himself to be undertaking in the very Critique in which the impossibility of metaphysics as such is commonly supposed to have been demonstrated.

Kant, to his own mind, sees himself not so much as abolishing metaphysics as reformulating it, transforming it from an objectless and therefore invalid speculation which extends over a domain which exceeds the limits of possible experience to a transcendental reflection on the necessary conditions of possible experience itself, so that metaphysics, thus reformulated, can be seen as nothing other than the explication of the forms of intuition and categories of understanding which are held to make this experience possible. In this sense, the Critique of Pure Reason is not, and could not be, a demonstration of the impossibility of metaphysics as such, because its entire project consists in the explication of metaphysics in the reformulated sense.

Still, this is a rather trivial point inasmuch as it rests on a merely semantic point concerning the definition of metaphysics, and insofar as metaphysics in the new sense renders metaphysics in the traditional sense impossible, it is a mark of the good sense of the popular conception to recognize that the critical philosophy implies as a fundamental result the impossibility of the old speculative metaphysics, for according to Kant, our “faculty of cognition,” Kant writes, “is unable to transcend the limits of possible experience; and yet this is precisely the most essential object of [metaphysics].”[4]  When reason attempts to step beyond the sphere of possible experience delimited by the innate forms of intuition and categories of understanding, it “falls into confusion and contradictions, from which it conjectures the presence of latent errors, which, however, it is unable to discover, because the principles it employs, transcending the limits of experience, cannot be tested by that criterion.”[5]

“The Kantian revolution,” Dorrien writes, “established that experience is never merely given and that the meaning of experience is always a creative construction,” namely on the part of the subject.[6] For Kant, reality is never directly given to the knowing subject. It is not immediate but mediated — by the forms of intuition and the categories of understanding. The knower does not have immediate and unmediated access to things-in-themselves (noumena) but only to their phenomenal appearances insofar as these latter are mediated by the forms and categories of the mind.

The universal forms of intuition (sensibility), space and time, are not themselves objects of experience, or even concepts derived by abstraction from experience, but are rather necessary, or “transcendental” conditions for the possibility of experience as such, which for Kant are equated with conditions for the intelligibility of the representation of objects. “Space,” Kant writes, “is not a conception which has been derived from outward experiences. For, in order that certain sensations may relate to something without me (that is, to something which occupies a different part of space from that in which I am); in like manner, in order that I may represent them no merely as without of an near to each other, but also in separate places, the representation of space must already exist as a foundation.

Consequently, the representation of space cannot be borrowed from the relations of external phenomena through experience; but, on the contrary, this external experience is itself only possible through the said antecedent representation.” Consequently, to speak of objects which exist outside of space and time is not so much wrong as it is strictly unintelligible, for “though we may easily enough think that no objects are found in [space],” we “never can imagine or make a representation to ourselves of the non-existence of space” itself.[7] The same holds, mutatis mutandis, for the representation of time. Thus neither space nor time are empirical conceptions derived from experience but together constitute the formal conditions a priori for the possibility of the representation of any object whatsoever, and insofar as they do, they are reckoned universal forms of intuition.

Now intuition arises from the capacity of the mind to be affected by objects, which Kant calls the sensibility, or the sensuous faculty, and regards as one of the “two main sources” from which all of our knowledge springs.[8] The other is the understanding, which denotes the mind’s power of conception, or of “spontaneously producing representations.” If the sensibility gives rise to intuitions, which furnish the mind with the content or matter of cognition, the understanding gives rise to conceptions, which constitute their (logical) form, both of which are absolutely essential to rational cognition, and neither of which takes any precedence over the other. As Kant famously declared: “Without the sensuous faculty [sensibility] no object would be given to us, and without the understanding no object would be thought. Thoughts without content are void; intuitions without conceptions, blind.”[9]

If the universal forms of intuition — space and time — afford necessary conditions for the appearance of any object, the understanding contains pure conceptions, which Kant follows Aristotle in calling categories, which correspond to the logical forms of judgement and afford necessary conditions for the representation of the synthetical unity (of intuition) under which alone an object can be cognized. These categories are divided into four classes, under each of which three categories are subsumed: (I) Quantity, which includes the categories of unity, plurality, and totality; (II) Quality, which includes reality, negation, and limitation; (III) Relation, which includes subsistence, causality, and community; and (IV) Modality, which includes the categories of possibility, existence, and necessity.[10] Just as intuition is mediated by the forms of sensibility, understanding, which unites the manifold of intuition into representations of objects, is mediated by the categories of understanding, which are, like space and time, not predicates of represented objects, but preconditions of their intelligibility.

While the detailed elaboration of these forms of intuition and categories of understanding is extraordinarily complex, the point which their introduction serves to reinforce is fundamentally simple: for Kant, objects are not directly given to knowing subjects but are instead mediated by the forms of sensibility and the categories of understanding. Because all knowing is mediated in this way, the subject cannot have any direct knowledge of things-in-themselves, which is to say, independently of their mediation by these forms and categories, and can at best have only mediated knowledge of the noumenon, i.e., phenomenal knowledge, or knowledge of the noumenon insofar as it is mediated to the subject by the forms of sensibility and categories of understanding: “What may be the nature of objects considered as things in themselves … without reference to the receptivity of our sensibility,” or, we may now add, to the categories of the understanding, “is quite unknown to us.

We know nothing more than our own mode of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which, though not of necessity pertaining to every animated being, is so to the whole human race. With this alone we have to do.”[11] Kantian idealism thus established an epistemological prohibition on any speculative metaphysics which would seek to transcend the sphere of possible experience delimited by the forms and categories of the mind. It was exactly this prohibition that so much of traditional metaphysics and theology had routinely violated, and it was exactly these kinds of metaphysical speculations to which Kant had sought to put an end. Kant’s noumenal thing-in-itself acted therefore as a “brake on metaphysical speculation in philosophy and theology …”[12]

Here we must remember to bear in mind an important qualification, briefly mentioned earlier. Kant’s critique did not, even to his mind, mean the end of metaphysics as such, only the end of traditional speculative metaphysics, as it had been done for centuries before him. “Contrary to countless renderings of Kant,” Dorrien writes, “he did not renounce metaphysics in the Critique of Pure Reason, four-fifths of which expounded a theory of metaphysics.”[13]  Metaphysics would survive, but after Kant it would have to take a different, rather more modest, form. Metaphysics would live on, chastened. As Dorrien elaborates elsewhere, “Kant did not believe that metaphysics is useless … For Kant, two kinds of metaphysics were still imperative after he destroyed the old metaphysics in the Critique of Pure Reason: the metaphysics of nature expounded in the a priori principles of what is, and the metaphysics of morals expounded in the a priori principles of what ought to be,” where religion was to take up its new abode.[14] 

Kant thus warns against viewing his work as being entirely negative with respect to metaphysics.  Metaphysics as such would not be abolished, but transformed: to the extent that Kant’s “criticism is occupied in confining speculative reason within its proper bounds, it is only negative; but, inasmuch as it thereby, at the same time, removes an obstacle which impedes and even threatens to destroy the use of practical reason, it possesses a positive and very important value.”[15] A new space would be opened for metaphysics in the realm of practical reason, in religion and morals. As Kant famously writes, “I must, therefore, abolish knowledge, to make room for belief.”[16]

Kantian idealism involved a revolution in our conception not only of the limits of knowledge, but also of the locus philosophicus, the whole proper subject matter of philosophy. It did not only imply the limits to the questions philosophers asked, but also to the kinds of questions which they asked. After Kant, the old problems of metaphysics would increasingly be treated critically as problems of epistemology, which had displaced the former as first philosophy. The focus of philosophy would not be about knowable objects but knowing subjects. Kant compared his own revolution in philosophy to the efforts of Copernicus in the natural sciences, in which Kant himself was steeped and to which he had made significant contributions himself.

“We here propose to do just what Copernicus did in attempting to explain the celestial movements,” Kant writes: “When he found that he could make no progress by assuming that all the heavenly bodies revolved around the spectator, he reversed the process, and tried the experiment of assuming that the spectator revolved, while the stars were at rest.”[17] In Kant’s analogy, the knowing subject was like the celestial spectator, the heavenly bodies, the objects of his thought. If in the course of philosophical history, we have not made progress by proceeding from the object, Kant reasoned, perhaps we would do better by reversing the process and proceeding from the philosophical spectator, the knowing subject: “It has hitherto been assumed,” Kant writes, “that our cognition must conform to the objects; but all attempts to ascertain anything about these objects a priori, by means of conceptions, and thus to extend the range of our knowledge, have been rendered abortive by this assumption.

Let us then make the experiment whether we may not be more successful in metaphysics, if we assume that the objects must conform to our cognition.”[18] One of Kant’s most valuable contributions to philosophy from a theoretical point of view was to have shown that the subject is always already implicated in the act of knowing an object, and that an account of the knowledge of an object is inadequate with respect to its own aims without an account of the knowing subject and the manner in which the subject knows its object. “The historic significance of the Critique of Pure Reason … lay in its transcendental argument that the mind is active in producing experience out of its a priori categories. The mind is not passive in taking in whatever is out there … ”[19]

Kant’s Copernican revolution in philosophy, his turn toward the subject, recapitulated in a vital way the logic of Incarnation. Just as God had descended from heaven to earth, so philosophy, in conceiving God, would have to follow suit, descending from misty realms of metaphysics to the human realm of the knower’s subjectivity. Kant’s turn from a speculative consideration of metaphysical objects, including God, toward the human subject, recapitulated God’s own embodiment in human flesh. Just as God stripped Godself of metaphysical form, assuming instead a human one, so philosophy with Kant would strip itself of its metaphysical preoccupation and pretension and assume its own, rather more worldly questions about the knowing subject.

Kant’s historic move from metaphysics to epistemology was the first major theoretical development in the general movement of modern philosophy and liberal theology down from heaven and into earth, the secularization of reason, corresponding to the secularization of philosophy itself.[20]

Kant’s turn toward the subject corresponded to a change in the kinds of questions which it was proper to philosophy to be asking, and the disappearance of others. With his Copernican shift, Kant “redefines metaphysical problems as problems of epistemology,” Andrew Fiala writes. “Kant transforms questions about the existence of God, about the freedom of the will, and about the nature of time into questions about knowledge.”[21] Kant redefines the problems of metaphysics as problems of epistemology — just as philosophers in the analytic tradition would later attempt to redefine some of these same problems as problems of language and logic.

It was not so much a solution or resolution of the problems of metaphysics as it was a dissolution. In his own way, Kant showed long before Wittgenstein did that the solution to the problems of philosophy were to be found in the disappearance of the questions — that often the way around philosophical problems was not to solve them, but to dissolve them, changing the questions which engendered those false problems in the first place, rendering the old problems objectless. Kant changed the subject of philosophy, from speculative metaphysics to epistemology, the latter of which is always necessarily presupposed in the former.

But in a twist of irony, and a dialectical inversion, metaphysics would come back to haunt Kant. Just as metaphysics for Kant always already presupposed some kind of epistemology, so later post-Kantians like Schelling and Hegel would argue that epistemology always already presupposes some kind of metaphysics, inverting the whole Kantian order of things. Kantian idealism, they argued, was fundamentally predicated on a metaphysical dualism of subject and object, of thought and being, of knowable phenomenon and unknowable noumenon — along with a whole host of metaphysical presuppositions which Kant had assumed rather than argued.

Absolute Idealism: Schelling and Hegel

For Kant, the noumenon was a regulative concept which functioned to establish what cannot be known. It was formulated on the basis of a basic Cartesian dualism between what is given in self-consciousness and what is given to self-consciousness. In a sense, Kant was meticulously working out the philosophical problems earlier formulated by Descartes, but could only do so on the basis of Descartes’ metaphysical assumptions. On the basis of a Cartesian dualism of thought and being, or of subject and object, the noumenon was, from Kant’s point of view, a necessary philosophical presupposition.

But this was only so on the basis of a metaphysical dualism of thought and being, and it was precisely this basis which the post-Kantians like Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel would call radically into question. Schelling protested that Kant’s noumenon was so separate from the phenomenon, his subject so removed from its object, that no relation could be established between them. As Beiser writes, “Kantians cannot bridge the gulf between these realms, because they make so sharp a distinction between the form and the matter of experience that they cannot explain how their interaction occurs.”[22] Schelling protested that the concept of a noumenon, “being excluded from space and time, floats between something and nothing,” lacking even “the virtue of being absolutely nothing.”[23] “The postulated things in themselves do not cause representations in us,” Dorrien writes, “so what good are they?”[24]

Beyond being functionally useless, the noumenon posited by Kantian idealism prevents the possibility of real knowledge. Kant “left philosophy with a knowing subject that knows nothing besides the products of its activity. Since the Kantian subject could not know objects in themselves, it was stuck in the very dilemma that Jacobi warned about: Either it knew itself or it knew nothing.”[25] For Schelling as for the other post-Kantian idealists, the only way around this problem that could account for the possibility of knowledge was to posit a subject-object identity — the core foundation of Absolute idealism. Finding the concept of a noumenal thing-in-itself useless at best and obstructive at worst, Schelling discarded it and argued that a fundamental identity between subject and object, grasped by immediate intuition, was a necessary condition of any knowledge.

Hegel took up Schelling’s Absolute Idealism but modified it in doing so. Like Schelling, he had his own misgivings about the thing-in-itself. Hegel questioned the basis upon which a noumenon, being per definitionem unknowable, could in the first place be posited. The Kantian noumenon is supposed to be the criterion of truth by which the accuracy of the phenomenon’s correspondence to the noumenon is judged, but it is precisely at this point that the noumenon, by virtue of its ipso facto unknowability and unintelligibility, fails to account for anything.

As Hegel writes in the Introduction to his Phenomenology, the philosophical standpoint represented by Kantian idealism “takes for granted certain ideas about cognition as an instrumentand as a medium, and assumes that there is a difference between ourselves and this cognition,” but the problem is that, even then, “consciousness cannot, as it were, get behind the object as it exists for consciousness so as to examine what the object is in itself, and hence, too, cannot test its own knowledge by that standard.”[26] Kant’s noumenon is supposed to be a regulative concept whose specific theoretical value consists in its function, but it functions least exactly where it is supposed to function most.

How is Kant justified in positing the existence of the noumenon if it is, by definition, unknowable? How can the veracity of the knowable phenomenon be judged against an unknowable standard? As Findlay notes, “Hegel’s criticism of [the Kantian] view of knowledge is simply that it is self-refuting, that it pronounces, even if negatively, on the relation of conscious appearances to absolute reality, while claiming that the latter must for ever transcend knowledge.”[27] As a regulative concept, the noumenon is supposed to relate negatively to the phenomenon, prescribing the bounds of its knowability to the subject — but if the noumenon itself is unknowable, it cannot have any relation to the phenomenon at all, not even a negative one, since, epistemologically speaking, there are no grounds upon which to posit such a relation in the first place. The intelligibility of the phenomenon cannot be measured against an unintelligible standard, and so it cannot be measured, on the basis of Kant’s model, against anything at all.

Finding the noumenon useless, Hegel, like Schelling, dispenses with it altogether, and agrees that subject-object identity has to be posited in order to explain the possibility of knowledge. But he is unconvinced by Schelling’s appeal to intuition, and despite having flirted with an intuitionism of his own in his earlier years, Hegel later gives up on it as an ultimately dogmatic method. Kant may have predicated his epistemology on the basis of a faulty metaphysical dualism, but he at least provided an argument. Although Hegel agreed with Schelling that true philosophy begins with the identity of thought and being, he did not think one could simply proceed from it pure and simple.

One had to demonstrate its logical necessity by means of a dialectic of consciousness which derives subject-object identity as a transcendental condition of experience itself — to which task he devoted his Phenomenology of Spirit, which amounted to Hegel’s argument for Absolute idealism. Against Schelling, Hegel asserted that the logical necessity of the Absolute had to be demonstrated, for which task he found an appropriate method in Fichte’s dialectical method. In the Phenomenology, Hegel combined Spinoza’s substance monism with Schelling’s Absolute idealism and Fichte’s self-positing Ego to bring what he thought of as Kant’s truncated philosophical project into completion.

One cannot simply “palm off” the metaphysical dualism upon which Kant’s epistemology is predicated, but has to show, dialectically, the manner in which it develops, by virtue of its own contradictions, into the standpoint of Absolute idealism. One has to show how Kant’s metaphysical dualism itself presupposes and is only completed by Absolute idealism. In the Phenomenology, Hegel laboriously works out the manner in which the various shapes of consciousness give way by the weight of their own contradictions into new forms of consciousness which are always presupposed in the former shape.

Here it is not necessary to summarize his entire argument, but to describe the manner in which it relates to Kant in particular. What we must investigate is not so much the general argument of the Phenomenology, as the specific point in the course of the Phenomenology at which Hegel moves beyond Kantian idealism, and the specific manner in which he does this.

Kelly Maeshiro is a doctoral student at Union Theological Seminary. His work falls into two broad categories: practical and speculative. In his practical work, which draws heavily from political economy, especially Marxist political economy, Kelly is focused on a theological critique of capitalism as a form of religion corresponding to a definite historical form of idolatry. Drawing on Origen, Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Niebuhr. His speculative work is focused on the theoretical foundations of rational theology, incorporating elements of both philosophical theology and liberation theology, with the aim of synthesizing the valid claims of both rationalism and radicalism within a rigorous theological framework.


[1] Tertullian, Apology, trans. S. Thelwall, Ante-Nicene Fathers (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903), vol.3, pp.51-2.

[2] See Gary Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealistic Logic of Modern Theology (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2012).

[3] Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, p.23.

[4] Immanuel Kant, Preface to Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd ed., trans. J.M.D. Meiklejohn (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004), p.xxx.

[5] Kant, Preface to Critique of Pure Reason, p.xvii.

[6] Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, p.549.

[7] Kant, Critique of pure Reason, p.3.

[8] Ibid., p.21.

[9] Ibid., p.22.

[10] Ibid., p.37.

[11] Ibid., p.13.

[12] Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, p.47.

[13] Ibid., p.531.

[14] Ibid. p.48.

[15] Kant, Preface to Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd ed., p.xxxii.

[16] Ibid., p.xxxiv.

[17] Ibid., p.xxix.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Dorrien, Kantian Spirit and Hegelian Reason, p.56.

[20] In what was perhaps the instituting act of liberal theology of which it was constitutive, Kant’s turn toward the subject corresponded to the elevation of reason as an authoritative source of knowledge in the sphere of religion, for which scripture and church tradition had for so long held the coveted throne. For traditional theology (as for Barth, incidentally), the truth was not in the subject of knowing, but in the object of knowing, God, revealed in scripture, interpreted by the church. The authority of scripture and tradition therefore naturally corresponded to the structure of traditional theological metaphysics, the basis of which changed radically when Kant challenged the whole structure of metaphysical reason. If an adequate account of reality begins, as Kant reasoned, with epistemology rather than metaphysics, with the subject rather than the object, then the methodologically appropriate manner of describing reality is not the mediation of objective truth by scripture through the church but rather through the exercise of subject’s own reason. It is no accident that Kant’s philosophy included a philosophical turn toward the subject corresponding to a methodological elevation of individual reason, a view he expressed most forcefully, and not without a hint of presumption, in “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” “Enlightenment,” he writes, “is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity,” which is nothing other than “the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” “Laziness and cowardice,” Kant goes on, “are the reasons why such a large proportion of men … gladly remain immature for life.” But although it is “so convenient to be immature” and “difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of” this immaturity, it is imperative for each to follow the motto of Enlightenment: “Have the courage to use your own understanding!” (Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment,” in Kant: Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss, trans. H.B. Nisbet, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p.54). Although, in Kant’s view, one is morally obliged to restrict one’s private use of reason — the expression of reason within a given institution — one is at the same time obligated to make fullest public use of reason, especially in “matters of religion,” which Kant has made the “focal point of enlightenment” because “religious immaturity is the most pernicious and dishonourable variety of all” (Ibid., p.59). Therefore, “a clergyman is bound to instruct his pupils and his congregation in accordance with the doctrines of the church he serves, for he was employed by it on that condition. But as a scholar, he is completely free as well as obliged to impart to the public all his carefully considered, well-intentioned thoughts on the mistaken aspects of those doctrines, and to offer suggestions for a better arrangement of religious and ecclesiastical affairs,” even if these thoughts “deviate here and there from orthodox doctrine.” Beyond this, Kant proscribes the formulation of an “unalterable set of doctrines” on the part of religious institutions, which amounts to a “crime against human nature, whose original destiny lies precisely in … progress,” “violating and trampling underfoot the sacred rights of mankind” (Ibid., pp.56-9). Kant’s turn toward the subject thus corresponded to the elevation of reason as an authoritative source of knowledge, which was in many respects the defining characteristic of modern liberal theology. “Modern theology began,” Dorrien tells us, “when theologians looked beyond the Bible and Christian tradition for answers to their questions …” It is “the idea that all claims to truth, in theology and other disciplines, must be made on the basis of reason and experience, not by appeal to external authority” (Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, pp.3-4).

[21] Andrew Fiala, Introduction to Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd ed., p.ix.

[22] Frederick Beiser, Hegel (London: Routledge, 2005), p.106.

[23] “Being excluded”: Dorrien’s characterization of Schelling’s position; “the virtue of”: Schelling quoted. Both quotations from Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, p.170.

[24] Ibid., p.171.

[25] Ibid., p.538.

[26] G.W.F. Hegel, Introduction to Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp.47,54.

[27] J.N. Findlay, Foreword to Hegel, Phenomenology, p.xiv.

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