Gary Dorrien’s Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealistic Logic of Modern Theology is a an extensive (nearly 600 page) history of German Idealism and its ramifications for modern theology, which is to say that ignorance of the former entails ignorance of the latter. As with so many other important works, I have not yet been able to read Dorrien’s book. In the meantime, I enjoyed Samuel Loncar’s overview and interpretation of the book in The Marginalia Review, an open-access journal. Loncar is a PhD student at Yale, specializing in the philosophy of religion and focusing on German Idealism. I have some disagreements with Loncar on Barth, but I respect his concerns.
Is a truly modern religion possible? Can faith survive in the face of modern science and knowledge? These timely questions are central to a major new work by Gary Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit: The Idealist Logic of Modern Theology. Answering these questions leads Dorrien back to Immanuel Kant, for it is to Kant and the world he created that we must turn if we want to understand the possibility and challenges of a distinctively modern religion.
“The Second Immanuel”
The long nineteenth century is said to begin in 1789 and end in 1914. Politics, and their continuation by other means, shape our historical categories. But it was the overthrow of ideas in Germany rather than the storming of the Bastille in France that marked the beginning of the nineteenth century. Despite its revolutionary character, the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 took time to have effect; it wasn’t until well into the 1780s that a serious discussion of the first Critique ensued. Once it was understood, philosophy and religion changed forever.
Kant saw himself as part of the German enlightenment, or Aufklärung, which, unlike its French counterpart, saw enlightenment as fully compatible with religion. The central idea of the Aufklärung was the supremacy of reason, the idea that reason was the arbiter before which all other authorities must be judged, including the venerable authorities of tradition and religion. Enlightened thinkers in late-eighteenth-century Germany thought reason’s supremacy and autonomy would not cause trouble for religion, whose rational tenets most of the Aufklärer defined as the existence of God, moral duty, and the immortality of the soul — these beliefs were held to be interconnected and necessary for the moral stability of society.
Kant was dismayed when he surveyed the state of metaphysics in 1781. He saw the profound disagreement and lack of progress in philosophy in marked contrast to the progress and consensus in the natural sciences, symbolized above all by Newton’s mathematical physics and the mechanistic worldview it implied. On Kant’s analysis, the disagreement on fundamental philosophical issues ultimately derived from Reason’s failure to understand herself. A critique of reason itself was therefore the essential prerequisite for progress in philosophy. To determine the nature and extent of human reason would unshackle it from its embarrassing lack of progress and lead it on to “the sure path of science.”
You can read the rest at Marginalia.