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Philosophie, Religionsphilosophie


Grau, Gerd-Günter


Vernunft, Wahrheit, Glaube. Neue Studien zu Nietzsche und Kierkegaard.


Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 1997. 172 S. 8 = Nietzsche in der Diskussion. Kart. DM 38,-. ISBN 3-8260-1343-3.


George Pattison

Although the studies brought together in this book have an occasional feel about them, they are united in a common thematic that goes beyond the link provided by the names of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.

Indeed, it is tempting to sum up the shared focus of the essays in a single phrase, namely, the expression used by G.-G. Grau in the title of one of his previous works: "der absolute Anspruch" ("the claim of absoluteness" as one might loosely translate it into English: the expression and the concept alike defy easy translation, however). His central thesis runs something like this: If philosophy is to be taken seriously as offering a guide to life and as a means of raising our minds above the meaningless relativities of day-to-day existence, then it must speak the language of absolutes (absolute truth, absolute values, etc.). On the other hand, our critical, scientific world-view prevents us from subscribing to the actual existence of absolutes. What, then, are we to do? We could, of course, despair, concluding that life was indeed meaningless, a mere concatenation of one thing after another. But G.-G. Grau counsels another way, arguing that we can still have our absolutes, so long as we are willing to have them in the mode of an agnosticism that, although oriented towards faith, does not succumb to the temptation of metaphysical dogmatism. Such a way of looking at things, the author claims, can be of service to religion, if religion is willing to define its post-secular role in therapeutic rather than authoritarian terms.

It will be clear from this brief summary that the approach taken in Vernunft, Wahrheit, Glaube is shaped from the outset by G.-G. Grau’s conviction that religious philosophy must stand in the service of life and is therefore much too important to be left to the academ ic professionals. This, naturally enough, more than hints at the appeal of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and also explains the relevance of the opening autobiographical essay, in which we see how the philosophy and the life mesh together. It is in many ways a remarkable story. Beginning his war-service in the Wehrmacht, and participating in the invasion of France, the discovery by the authorities that his mother (who died in his early childhood) was Jewish led to him taking up the study of chemistry in Hamburg and, later, Marburg (where he was especially impressed by the preaching and presence of Bultmann). Finishing the war in a slave labour camp, he returned to chemistry but, with the help of Karl Löwith and H.-G. Gadamer, he became deeply involved in philosophy. Coming from an almost entirely secular background, he has subsequently had an on-off relation to formal religious belief, although the importance of religion to him is palpable on every page.

Perhaps the clearest single example of the interplay between philosophy and biography is in the study on the triangular relationship between Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and the man who did so much to establish the European reputation of both of them: the secular Jewish-born Dane, Georg Brandes. The "existential" pathos of the closing sentence of this essay is transparent: "Between obedience and refusal (Kierkegaard), between truth and honesty (Nietzsche), between politics and poetry (Brandes) - should this, then, yet prove to be the (half-) Jewish way?" (94)

The connection between philosophy and life is also particularly strongly marked in the essay on marginality and universality in Nietzsche.

It will be fairly obvious that there is one important influence missing from the book’s title: Kant. Nevertheless, the Kantian provenance of the author’s religious philosophy of "as if" is duly credited in the text. This is particularly striking in the use made of Kant’s discussion of Job in order to explain Kierkegaard’s appeal to this great figure of faith. Job, according to G.-G. Grau, is a type of each of us, and the book that bears his name is not so much a testimony to the overbearing and miracle-working God of the finale as to the task that humanity has to accomplish in time.

I am not familiar with the author’s previous work. Clearly he is not out to set or to break any academic fashions. In many respects - in terms of the texts studied and the positions advanced- much of the book is redolent of the post-war era in which his philosophy matured. However, I do not personally regard this as a disadvantage. I share G.-G. Grau’s conviction that religious philosophy cannot long survive its separation from life, and I am convinced that many promoters of postmodernism have written off the abiding insights and questions of the existentialist era too quickly. Indeed, the old Kantian dilemmas themselves will (I think) continue to trouble us for many years to come. I therefore wish the book well. It is, incidentally, somewhat curious to find that whereas in Britain the slogan "post-secularism" is being pressed into the service of a neo-conservative theology, it is being used in the German context to describe a position that would in Britain be labelled "liberal". I prefer the German version.