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Philosophie, Religionsphilosophie


Potepa, Maciej


Schleiermachers hermeneutische Dialektik.


Kampen: Kok Pharos 1996. IX, 226 S. gr.8 = Studies in Philosophical Theology. Kart. hfl 69,90. ISBN 90-390-0221-5.


Richard E. Crouter

Schleiermacher's systematic inquiry into human knowing and thinking seems increasingly relevant in light of the bankruptcy of naturalistic and postmodern alternatives that deny the human as a subiect. The work of Maciej Potepa (Warsaw) Schleiermachers hermeneutische Dialektik, which interprets the original sources and presents a stimulating and challenging piece of philosophic exposition, reflects this newer awareness of Schleiermacher's philosophical teaching. Faced with an effort to rethink and analyze Schleiermacher's processes of 'thinking about thinking' a reviewer can only convey the author's stated purpose and point to the work's direction - though scarcely the full detail - of its argument.

The book's initial sentence describes its author's challenging task: The Dialectics rarely presented as a document that attests to the philosophical originality of F. D. E. Schleiermacher. More often the Dialectics is viewed from the perspective of Schleiermacher's dogmatic teaching, while its place and impact within the history of philosophy is played down. In seeking to redress this situation, the author sees the core of Schleiermacher's teaching in his thoroughgoin, defense of knowledge as 'thinking that is unending never reaching final or absolute status'.

In ch. l 'Dialectic as the foundation of unity of physics and ethics' P. provides a sketch of Schleiermacher's system of sciences. His primary text for the study is Rudolf Odebrecht's edition of the 1822 lectures, chosen for its clarity of exposition and because it first introduces dialectics as analysis of the foundational idea of conversation in the field of pure thought. (Oderecht's version is supplemented by repeated use of Jonas version in the SW from 1839). In conveying the concepts of physics and ethics, P. points to the pluralism and interdependence of individual and community in Schleiermacher's thought and contrasts this stance with Hegel, for whom the state is the bearer of absolute spirit. Where physics shapes everything as product, ethics views reality as process; as part of both, consciousness involves an active, purposeful organizing-thought and a more passive-reflective, symbolizing thought. As the unity of theoretical and practical reason (47-51) dialectic seeks to make clear the common ground of both logic and metaphysics, how the ways and rules of thought relate to reality. Necessarily a dialogical, language-based enterprise, dialectics necessarily bridges over into hermeneutical reflection. The pole of contemporary philosophical writing on Schleiermacher that defends the reality of the finite subject with its inexorable expression in language is represented by Manfred Frank, whose work builds on that of Friedrich Kaulbach (1968) and Heinz Kimmerle (1959, 1974) in dialectics and hermeneutics. By contrast, this line of interpretation of the dialectic as a 'dialogic science of knowing' is opposed, on the one side, by Falk Wagner (1974) which insists on placing Schleiermacher's task more in the context of German idealism (Fichte) by emphasizing the (admittedly present) task of discovering the unity of knowledge (transcendent ground) via a dialectical method, and, on the other side, the view that would reduce dialectics entirely to a theory of dialog (communication theory) as represented in the recent work of Udo Kliebisch (1980) (51-53).

Ch. 2, 'Schleiermacher's critical encounter with Schellings system', which is broader than its heading suggests, argues for the relative independence of Schleiermacher from Fichte as well as Schelling within German idealistic philosophy. Schleiermacher insists on linking the necessary ideal or transcendent ground with real finite human self-consciousness, fully aware that 'the unity of the finite in the absolute can only be rendered present analogically in an original intuition' (68). Schleiermacher rejects the possibility of a self-reflexive grasping of the absolute through finite human reason. A section on Schleiermacher's encounter with Spinoza (72-79) draws from Günter Meckenstock's work on freedom and determinism in the young Schleiermacher (1988) and ends with reflections on transcendental philosophy in the Speeches and Soliloquies (79-83). Dialectical antecedents from these early works suggest a measure of unity in the development of Schleiermacher as philosopher, even if a genetic-developmental approach is not taken by this work.

Following an exposition of Dialectic as the art of engaging in a dialog in ch. 3 (91-99), which introduces the decisive hermeneutical turn to Schleiermacher's notion of dialectics, P. moves to the philosophic core of the argument of 'The transcendental section of the Dialectics'. (101-110) The two principles of knowing (intellectual and organic functions) are set forth along with their necessary interdependence, the roles of concepts and images as their products. and how these yield the ideal and the real as the objective poles in our awareness of reality (101-105). A brief section on space and time then wrestles with the apparent incongruity in the way the ideal and real are related to the sphere of the intellectual function, while space and time are related to the organic function (105-107). Schleiermacher's reflection on the interplay of concepts and judgments shows them as mutually presupposed, where concepts point to the collecting, unifying side of dialectic and judgments point to the plurality of our consciousness (108-109). Whereas the dialectical lectures of 1814, 1818, 1831 conceive of 'the unity of being and the absolute subject' as the formula of transcendental unity, in 1822 and 1828 Schleiermacher characterizes the absolute unity of being as 'empty and incomplete, while the absolute subject is by contrast the realized and perfect unity of thinking and being' (110). Through this shift Schleiermacher seeks to determine the limits of concepts and judgments within con-sciousness. ln passing, one again notes the developmental question of the unity of the dialectic (in its various unfinished forms).

In ch. 5, 'Attempt in the reality of being to find analogies for the limits of concepts and judgments', one comes even closer to the heart of Schleiermacher's project, where thought seeks to justify its own limits. Dilthey's view of Schleiermacher's debt to the theory of correspondence between being and thought, largely from Platonic sources, is presented and found wanting (l14-116). P. also shows how Schleiermacher finds the inherited philosophical characterizations of a transcendent ground (natura naturans, deity as contrasted with matter, fate or necessity, providence or freedom, as well as the ideas of lawgiver or world order derived from human intentionality) incapable of providing an adequate way of thinking the elusive transcendent ground. Continuing this line of exposition, P. arrives in ch. 6 and 7 at topics where the Dialectics touches on the more fami-liar themes of 'immediate self-consciousness' (129-150) and the 'feeling of absolute dependence in the Glaubenslehre' (159-167). Both sections provide useful, though not uncontroversial, commentary on these dimensions of Schleiermacher's thought in light of recent interpretations (e. g., Hans-Richard Reuter, 1979, Falk Wagner, 1974).

Having argued implicitly and explicitly for the relative adequacy of Schleiermacher's teaching, P. turns in chs. 8 and 9 to take on Hegel and Feuerbach respectively. The contemporary (Hegel) and subsequent (Feuerbach) critiques of Schleiermacher are shown to be related, as Hegel's charge of philosophical subjectivism levelled against the philosophy of feeling becomes the basis on which Feuerbach builds his anthropology-based theory of religion, and distorts the dialectical balance effected by Schleiermacher's metaphilosophy in its linking of theory with praxis. Ch. 11 on 'Dialectics, Grammar, and Hermeneutics' (203-211) returns to the book's extensive exposition by linking dialectics directly to hermeneutics and critiques the teaching of Gadamer with its tendency to obscure the finite self-consciousness in the name of tradition and historical con-sciousness. Finally, ch. 12 provides a brief 'Summary' (215-219) that retraces the paths whereby Schleiermacher came to insist on the strict unknowability and unthinkability of his first principle in light of the ineliminability of the conscious subject.

What, then, can a reviewer conclude by way of overall evaluation? First, on the positive side of the ledger: In the background of the work Manfred Frank's (Tübingen) contribution to Schleiermacher studies looms large. Since 1972 Frank has steadily moved (a) through new investigations of early Jena romanticism (Tieck, Fichte, Novalis) as it bears on and relates to Schleiermacher's romantic epistemic predilections and the intimate connections between poetics and philosophy in these writers, while more recently (b) testing of the mettle of Schleiermacher's insight alongside debates within contemporary Anglo-American philosophy of mind, where epistemological theory and questions regarding subjective consciousness, the nature and claims of religious experience, are today pursued with new energy and rigor. (See the essays, including two by Frank, in: The Modern Subject, eds. K. Ameriks, D. Sturm, SUNY University Press, 1995). P.s work further solidifies and confirms the direction of Frank's body of work with its intimate connection of hermeneutics to dialectics.

Dialectics actually has power and currency in today's intellectual world; when we rethink Schleiermacher's thoughts rigorously - not merely for reasons of special pleading or theological defensiveness - his views stand apart from his idealist contemporaries (Hegel, Fichte, Schelling) to speak to issues of philosophy of mind in today's world. Recognizing that the level of abstract theory involved in such analyses will never achieve great popularity - even in the hum-drum world of human letters - in no way detracts from our need for greater clarity in understanding the principles of thinking and willing that lie behind all human endeavour, including the worlds of theological discourse and the naturalistic explanations of religion and theology that are all too often taken as truisms in the academic world.

At the same time, however, this reviewer finds that this work, for all its considerable strengths, also has limitations. The major claim - that Schleiermacher's philosophy is more original than widely acknowledged - seems too broadly cast to elicit a new perspective or argument. By contrast, a book such as Hans-Richard Reuter's Die Einheit der Dialektik (1979), advanced a strong thesis with regard to the overall unity of Schleiermacher as philosopher. The debates with Hegel and Feuerbach, though of interest, do not appear to this reviewer to break new ground. Although previous interpretations of the dialectics are analyzed with care, a reader still wonders just how P.s work seeks to advance the discussion, e.g. beyond the work of Manfred Frank. The work's strengths lie more in its ability to chart a reasonable course through the minefields of contemporary interpretation than in arguing for a new or original perspective on Schleiermacher.

Perhaps owing to its carefully measured pace the account occasionally seems repetitious. Its use of subheadings sometimes seems abrupt and distracts from the flow of the argument, as do the rehearsals of previous skirmishes within the history of interpretation, where they don't seem to advance recent discussions, e. g. Dilthey on Schleiermacher's platonism. Schleiermacher's own dialectical writing, for all its austerity and level of abstractness, at least occasionally wrestles with examples that help clarify difficult moves. One senses here less a desire to philosophize and raise questions alongside Schleiermacher than would ideally be desirable. On matters of format (over which an author today has little control) footnotes would be much preferred to chapter endnotes, and a separate bibliography and index of names would greatly enhance the volume. As things stand, an attentive reader must constantly flip back and forth between P.'s argument and annotations that are buried in chapter endnotes, while wanting to dip into Odebrecht for fuller textual insight and confirnation of the argument. In the end, however, one is reminded of how extremely difficult a task the author has posed for himself. A single work of 220 pages will have difficulty doing justice to the issues of overall consistency within Schleiermacher's (unfinished) dialectical teaching.

The subtitle of Hans Rothert's 1970 article on the dialectic in ZThK (Überlegungen zu einem noch immer wartenden Buch) raised a question about interpreting a text that had not been brought to completion by its author.

Hermeneutical principles of a high order are at stake in this exercise, as well as a question of how we, as interpreters, can have access to Schleiermacher's own unfinished processes of thought. Of course, such a question assumes (surely wrongly) that printed texts are fully rounded and complete works. Indeed, the theme of incompletion (with its epistemological validity and rhetorical-literary-hermeneutical implications) goes far toward characterizing the primary insight and widest aspect of Schleiermacher's legacy. The penchant for unfinished form, open-endedness, and dialog as preferred modes of discourse, plus the continuous revising of manuscripts, whether published (Reden, Glaubenslehre, Kurze Darstellung) or not, is well-known. Knowledge-claims are indeed only sustained in conversation, including - one hastens to add - those that are elicited by the present book and its reviews.