When it comes to philosophy, nearly everyone’s heard of Immanuel Kant—and for good reason. Kant resolved a century-long gridlock between the rationalists and the empiricists by proposing a new way of thinking about how we come to know anything at all. Kant is also famous for inspiring competing interpretations. In his wake, two fascinating thinkers proposed different ways of understanding Kant’s theological consequences: Friedrich Schleiermacher and Georg Wilhelm Hegel.
The rationalists argued that knowledge results from the proper use of reason, whereas the empiricists claimed that knowledge derives from sense experience alone. Kant redefined the terms of the debate by asserting a more fundamental claim: we don’t conform to the objects of our perception; rather, they conform to us. We don’t perceive objects in and of themselves; instead, our mind shapes how we perceive objects and the world.
In doing so, Kant made the knower, not the known, the primary object of philosophical inquiry. By extension, we can only know things as they appear to us, not as they are in themselves. This turn toward the subject not only moved the conversation beyond the rationalists and empiricists—it revolutionized the direction of Western philosophy.
Since we don’t directly perceive God, Kant’s turn toward the subject undermined the claims of orthodox Christian belief. Friedrich Schleiermacher negotiated Kant’s critique by redefining religion as feeling—the capacity to sense the infinite—believing this to be the best way to preserve the possibility of Christian theology. Neither a creed requiring our assent, nor a moral code that must be followed, religion is consciousness of our absolute dependence on the infinite.
Schleiermacher considered it his responsibility to awaken and cultivate this consciousness in others. He attempts to do so in On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, arguing that religion’s dogmatic claims—which, after Kant, cannot be established as knowledge—are not religion at all. True religion lies in that which inspired theologians to first speak about God at all: the feeling of absolute dependence on the infinite.
Unlike Schleiermacher, Hegel criticized Kant’s critique. He maintained that there is no meaningful way to distinguish between things-in-themselves and our perception of them. He did away with things-in-themselves, asserting that our thoughts about the world are synonymous with the way the world actually is. He also considered the fundamental category of reality to be Mind or Spirit, of which we are simply a part.
Hegel understood the development of human history as coterminous with Spirit’s coming to know itself. His Phenomenology of Mind outlines this dynamic, evolving process in terms of dialectic. In works containing his lectures, Hegel articulates how the evolution of history and religion also reflect this process. For Hegel, Christianity represents the culmination of all religious forms—the one that most accurately reflects Spirit’s understanding of itself.
Understand Kant’s influence on German theological thought
Together, the Friedrich Schleiermacher Collection and the Works of Hegel give you the central texts of these important German thinkers. Discover how they wrestled with Kant’s thought and developed theological proposals that continue to influence Christian theology today. Both collections are on Community Pricing for 80% off! With more bids, the price could drop even further.