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Dalferth, Ingolf U., u. Philipp Stoellger [Hrsg.]
Krisen der Subjektivität. Problemfelder eines strittigen Paradigmas.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2005. XXXI, 668 S. gr.8° = Religion in Philosophy and Theology, 18. Kart. EUR 79,00. ISBN 978-3-16-148773-6.
Subjectivity is indeed a subject of raging persistent philosophical controversy: at least since Socrates and certainly since Descartes. It is one of the deepest or most trivial problems in philosophy, according to your tastes and schooling. The epistemic status of subjectivity is certainly puzzling. It looks unlike knowledge based on perception. If I see a dagger in front of me, I might wonder whether I am hallucinating – like Macbeth. But with chairs and tables and other such familiar objects in the world one is generally confident in predicting certain properties (e. g. solid, persisting in space and time, etc.). Ethics raises special and familiar problems: if I wonder whether it is right to kill, like Hamlet, I may not be as confident as the Prince of Demark that this is a categorical command and corresponds to an objective reality. Moral facts are often thought to appear queer. But there is nothing so queer as self knowledge. The ›I‹ is a most elusive object of knowledge. Do we, like Hume, find therein a mere bundle of shifting perceptions, or, like Descartes, a transparent and foundational principle of knowledge? In the highly technological contemporary world, many intellectuals are convinced that the human soul is the merely stuff of neuroscience.
And what of the relevance to theology? Augustine took up the imperative of the Delphic Know Thyself! and gave it a Christian construal: ›Noli foras ire, redi in te ipsum et transcende te ipsum, In interiore homine habitat veritas.‹ Thus spoke the greatest theologian of Western Christendom! ›Hier stehe ich, Ich kann nicht anders‹: was Luther a descendent of Augustine’s self analysis and reflection on his subjectivity? Was Hegel not the legitimate inheritor of Socrates, Augustine and Luther? Yet a Kantian emphasis upon autonomy and subjectivity threatens to collapse theology into anthropology. Orthodox Catholic and Protestant theology has tended to view any appeal to subjectivity with suspicion: as implicitly corroding the authority of Church and/or Scripture. And has not this same ›modern‹ subjectivity been vigorously criticised by Marx, Nietzsche and Freud as a quasi bourgeois delusion? And can not theology herself, the erstwhile Queen of the Sciences, exploit this critique for its own ends, and join in with ›Masters of Suspicion‹ to expose the criticisms of the Enlightenment as parasitic on just such bogus subjectivity and thus rediscover the force of God’s Word, Christian tradition, etc.
Krisen der Subjektivität discusses these and other issues with verve and sometimes breathtaking learning and breadth. It contains a mixture of thematic papers and of detailed and illuminating studies of specific thinkers. For example, the excellent papers by R. Barth on Augustine, Neugebauer on the unjustly neglected Rudolf Hermann Lotze, Wabel on Cassirer, Danz on Tillich, Großhans on Wittgenstein, Assel on Rosenzweig, Lohmann on Marion, Enders and Zichy on Foucault. Schleiermacher and Ricœur are special areas of concentration within the volume. There are also discussions of areas of special relevance: the concept of subjectivity (Grøn), subjectivity in ethics, seventeenth century contemporary discussions in Montaigne, Pascal and Guyon. Even the pertinence of contemporary media for a theological approach to subjectivity is elaborated and analysed.
Descartes stumbled upon his cogito in Germany; indeed, the Rhine has been a dividing line in many respects in European history. German philosophy tends to favour Geist or Spirit. Even where it does not, as in Nietzsche or Heidegger, there is a repudiation of Enlightenment materialism. The Gallic mind, Catholics or anticlericals, the Marquis de Sade or Michel Henry, frankly prefers the flesh. Notwithstanding Descartes’ Cogito, French philosophy has frequently repudiated the Cartesian heritage of subjectivity. This collection is the work of thinkers on the German side of the Rhine, but many contributors are drawing on the French phenomenological tradition that fuses subjectivity with bodily awareness. Yet the intellectual geography is more complex. Rosenzweig, Buber and Levinas exerted a powerful influence in French thought, and this strand is reflected in the collection.
However, there is also a rigorous analysis of the German theological inheritance that we most naturally associate with Schleiermacher, Hegel. Even if Schleiermacher himself repudiated the identification of theology with metaphysics or ethics, his impact and stimulus for a theology reflecting upon subjectivity has been enormous. Even the strenuous attack on Schleiermacher by Karl Barth tends to reinforce the significance of Schleiermacher’s Ansatz. The continued pertinence of Hegel for such different theologians as Pannenberg, Moltmann and Falk Wagner is reflected in a number of the essays (e. g. Welker).
A number of the contributors, like H. P. Großhans, reflect upon the retrieval of the problem self-consciousness in analytic thought. The volume bears the influence of the work of German philosophers who were influenced by such issues, especially Henrich, Frank and Tugendhat. Here we see the ambiguity of the analytic legacy for subjectivity. Many analytic philosophers tried to deconstruct the concept of mind in the full-blooded metaphysical sense as a falsely hypostatised entity. But that cannot be deemed a success. Eliminative materialism has been subject to very fierce criticisms by philosophers like Searle and Nagel. And the dominance of functionalism in contemporary Anglo-Saxon philosophy of mind is in part the result of a certain agnosticism about the issues that fired the physicalists. Indeed, the distinguished American philosopher of religion William Alston has employed functionalism as a model for epistemic access to the Divine; and Cartesanism has been defended in some form by philosophers of the stature of R. Swinburne, J. Foster and C. Taliaferro.
Though at times the reader may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume and variety of crises, Krisen der Subjektivität is an outstanding collection of essays and we can be grateful to the editors for producing such a very interesting document. It shows the philosophy of religion is still very much a burgeoning subject area in the German speaking countries. It is perhaps surprising that one cannot find more about Divine subjectivity among the essays. Christian tradition often interpreted the ›ego sum qui sum‹ of Exodus 3.14 as the scriptural warrant for contemplating the Divine Subject. Perhaps the very limits and elusiveness of human subjectivity need not suggest an irredeemable crisis of the concept; it may indeed furnish a clue to the soul’s enigmatic reflection of the infinite I AM.