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Philosophie, Religionsphilosophie


Elberfeld, Rolf


Philosophieren in einer globalisierten Welt. Wege zu einer transformativen Phänomenologie.


Freiburg i. Br. u. a.: Verlag Karl Alber 2017. 488 S. Kart. EUR 24,00. ISBN 978-3-495-48907-9.


Joseph S. O’Leary

Globalization now enjoys near-coercive authority as the politically correct horizon to which all academic disciplines must bend. The journal Philosophy East and West and the Congresses of World Philosophy held every five years embody the new vision of philosophy resulting from this. Rolf Elberfeld offers a voluminous plaidoyer for this development, with some elements of special pleading.
In a sweeping encyclopaedic survey (13–127) he urges that phi-losophy has often thrived amid vibrant cultural interchange, citing the Asian origins of Greek thought, the reception of Greece in Buddhist, Roman, and Islamic milieux, the Chinese reception of Buddhism, and the modern European exposure to Chinese and Indian sources. Throughout the book the reader is overwhelmed by historical and cultural matter of this sort, and the specific rele-vance to philosophy is not always clear. E. tends to treat »thought« and »philosophy« are synonymous, leaving no reason for excluding Egyptian or Babylonian or Buddhist thought from our departments of philosophy. To say that we should now speak of Wissensgeschichte rather than Philosophiegeschichte (26) sounds like a sell-out of the identity of philosophy, even though E. admits the danger that »jede fachspezifische Frage ihre Berechtigung verliert« (27).
E. is quick to pounce on alleged ideological blind spots of Western thinkers. He claims that fear of cultural pluralism »einen bis zum Wahn versteigerten Vereinheitlichungsdrang erzeugte, der in Europa seinen […] Höhepunkt im Nationalsozialismus fand« (18). A. H. Armstrong, who failed to detect Indian influence on Plotinus, is seen as anxious to »rescue« Plotinus from Oriental contamination (43) – which, if true, would make him a good disciple of the Plotinus of Enneads 2.9, Against the Gnostics. Paulos Mar Gregorios is cited (45): »The attempt to make Plotinus totally independent of Oriental influence seems more of an Occidental prejudice than a scholarly proposition based on the evidence.« We are now living in a great age of Plotinus scholarship, and the hypothesis of Indian influence has not yet been found to be fruitful; and even if exposed to the East (as he was to Christianity) Plotinus would have striven all the more to build an autonomous philosophy according to the principles established by Plato and Aristotle.
E. talks of Greco-Roman philosophy being supplanted by Chris-tian philosophy, by which he appears to mean theology (24). Even when a system of thought is based on a religious scripture, this seems to be no obstacle to calling it philosophy, so that quite possibly the classics of Christian theology could be handled as philosophical sources. While there is nothing to stop philosophers from siphoning out philosophical content from Christian or Buddhist sources, E. fails to stress that they must do so following strictly philosophical methods, and abstracting from the wider religious context.
Disciplinary boundaries may indeed shift and become porous; consider how philosophy has lost its authority in cosmology even as physics is generating deep philosophical questions. Philosophy in the West has nonetheless always been anxious to secure its own distinct identity over against other disciplines, and its triumphant career would have been impossible without that anxiety, which is inherent in the project of philosophy as such. Diogenes Laertius presents Greek philosophy as a strongly unified tradition and claims that »der alleinige Ursprung für die Philosophie bei den Griechen zu suchen sei« (34); against this E. unconvincingly cites the Christian apologists’ idea that the Greeks stole their ideas from Moses, which in fact betrays their weak, doxographic conception of philosophy.
»Bei Platon und anderen altgriechischen Denkern verschwimmen die Grenzen von Religion und Philosophie« (158), and this, in E.’s view, is a promising basis for bridges to other traditions. But surely the entire thrust of Greek philosophy is to establish those frontiers lucidly and thus set philosophy on its feet as a science. That Plato speaks of »likeness to God« or that Aristotle sees philosophy as culminating in contemplation is not a convincing objection to this, since philosophy has never excluded the theme of divinity, as philosophically considered. To say that »an vielen Stellen ist im Mittelalter die Philosophie nicht zu unterscheiden von der Theologie« (160) is again to confuse natural and revealed theology. Within the latter there may be occasional philosophical discussions, but only at the service of a purpose that is no longer philosophical.
E. cites the participation of Muslims and Jews in the European philosophical project as if it somehow undercut monolithic no-tions of philosophy (160–1); but precisely the openness of the phi-losophy to these cultures, where in addition it was used in their theologies, confirms the sturdy and universal identity of phi-losophy as such. E. suggests that modern European philosophy, too closely linked with the sciences, has forgotten »die eigentlichen Aufgaben der klassischen Philosophie, wie z. B. die Liebe zur Weisheit, das Sterbenlernen und die Aufgabe ethischer Transformation« (161–2), and so is no longer real philosophy at all. This underplays the deep continuity of philosophical reason from antiquity through scholasticism to modernity (as mapped by Hegel), as well as the continuing sapiential and ethical roles of modern phi-losophy, pursued in un­easy coexistence with the dominant Chris-tian ethos.
Intercultural awareness has led to a »methodischen Transformation der Wissensordnungen im 20. Jahrhundert« (182) reflected in medicine, law, history, and aesthetics. Philosophy too can ques-tion its foundational decisions when confronted with the quite different approach of Chinese thought (219). This is especially marked in ethics (274–94) or in reflection on selfhood (294–327), or on crea-tivity and the phenomenon of »nothingness« as explored by Nishida (328–90). This inspires E.’s own »transformative phenomeno-logy« (391–449). The word »phenomenology« implies subscription to a distinctly philosophical method, although its pursuit might involve bodily exercises such as Yoga and Zen (435). Already for Plato philosophy was a therapy (395–6); but what should be remembered is that it was a specifically philosophical therapy, quite distinct from, and in tension with, the therapy offered by religious sources, and opposed as well to the pseudo-philosophical therapy of the Sophists. Pierre Hadot’s remarks about philosophy as a way of life and a spiritual exercise are exploited to dislodge the hard rational core of philosophy; in which case the project of world philosophy risks being a mere humanistic communing, in which softer think-ers with only a slight claim to philosophical status, such as Montaigne or Marcus Aurelius, would best represent Western thought.
In Japan, China, and Africa, different conceptions of modernity are developed that cannot be brought under a monolithic Western model (342–3); no doubt, but the influence of science and techno-logy is indeed rather monolithic, as is that of global capitalism; as are, regrettably to a lesser extent, the Enlightenment ideals of human rights and democracy. In any case not all political reflec-tion automatically counts as philosophy. Shifts in politics and historiography will of course alter the philosophy dealing with them, but radical changes in basic philosophical method have to be negotiated according to philosophical principles, not declared on the basic of cultural studies or the like.
Dissolution of the boundaries between philosophy and other disciplines such as theology, religious studies, Buddhology, cul-tural studies, and anthropology has dramatic consequences in aca-demia, where faculty members hired to teach, say, Zen Buddhist thought (perhaps in a bid to attract more students), are angry when they are refused promotion to top positions since their specialty is not regarded as real philosophy. E.’s indignation at the eurocentric insularity of German departments of philosophy could have been tempered by more patient consideration of these practicalities as well as of the fundamental methodological problems.