Paper Fragment: “Natural Knowledge and Faith in the German Idealists”
The secret title of this paper was “What Thomism is Not”. The title was repressed since I write in a time where reason is discriminated against. The section quoted below is a good introduction to what Thomism is not, because it articulates a sort of philosophy that has no room for mystery at all. Thomism often comes under fire in our time for being “too rational”, but this is a charge meant not for St Thomas, but for Hegel. This section of the paper follows a discussion of faith and natural knowledge in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
While Kant denies the knowability of God through speculative philosophy, he leaves open the possibility to relate to God by faith. We have already noted the peculiar character of this faith, sc. it does not necessitate a body of truths revealed by God. What would be the status of revealed truths, if any there were? The Critque of Pure Reason is silent on this question. Hegel’s Phemonenology of Spirit is not.
Hegel’s need to account for what have commonly been called “reveled truths” proceeds from a system of thought that strives to be absolutely inclusive. Despite the tendency of all the German Idealists to give transcendental and all embracing accounts of the world, none set the bar as high as Hegel. Hegel aimed at such transcendence that he was disturbed by his inability to account for the color of a pen. There is no room for a potential agnosticism in Hegel- the simple presence of things called “revealed” had to be accounted for in Hegel’s thought. The mere belief in revealed things was a sufficient condition for their rationality. They were a stage in the growing awareness of spirit. Hegel takes the things commonly held to be revealed, and derives them from the human mind.
The Trinity and the The Incarnation are primary examples of things commonly held to be revealed truths, accepted by faith. Yet, in the hands of Hegel the very notion of faith:
Is nothing else but the actual world raised to the universality of pure consciousness The articulation of this world, therefore, constitutes the organization of the world of faith, except that in the latter the parts do not alienate themselves in their spiritualization, but are beings, each with an existence of their own, spirits that have returned to themselves and abide in themselves…
Hegel then accounts for the Trinity and the Incarnation:
…the first is the Absolute Being, Spirit that is in and for itself in so far as it is the simple, eternal substance. But in the actualization of its notion, in being spirit, it passes over into being-for-another, its self identity becomes actual, a self- sacrificing absolute being; it becomes a self, but a mortal, perishable self. Consequently, the third moment is the return of this alienated self and the humiliated substance into their original simplicity; only in this way is the substance represented as spirit (pp.531-33).
As a description of the Trinity, one could do worse. It is startling to note, however, that for Hegel the Trinity manifests itself in a necessary and quite reasonable way. It is a philosophical doctrine. What Kant was content to keep silent about, Hegel lays claim to, claiming to use reason alone. The account of God’s knowability has changed, to say the least. Hegel sees no reason to assert the finality of an opposition between faith and knowledge. If there is any such opposition, it will be overcome by the movement of consciousness. Revealed religion will be dealt with at greater length a the close of the book, and where the opposition between what was once believed necessary to hold by faith and knowledge is definitively overcome:
God is attainable in pure speculative knowledge alone, and [exists] only in that knowledge, and is only that knowledge itself, for He is Spirit; and this speculative knowledge is the knowledge of revealed religion.
The identity of speculative knowledge and revealed religion leads to something that looks a great deal like speculative knowledge, but not much like revealed religion as commonly understood:
Speculative knowledge knows God as pure thought or pure essence, and knows this thought as simple being and as existence, and existence as the negativity of itself, hence as self, as the self that is at the same time this individual… It is precisely this that the revealed religion knows (pp.761).
There are few points of agreement between Kant and Hegel on this point. While Kant orders his entire system in the CPR to “making room for faith”, Hegel orders his whole system to destroy even the possibility of faith. Kant denies any knowledge we might have of God by natural reason alone, while Hegel makes an absolute identification between the powers of natural reason and what was held to be revealed God. For Kant, nature is a closed system of homogenous causes, having no room for the knowable presence of an absolute being, but for Hegel it is unclear if there is even an opposition between what might be called nature, and what might be called God (Hegel certainly doesn’t preserve the distinction between what everyone including Kant would call “natural knowledge” and “revealed truth”). The opposition between Kant and Hegel in the matter of God’s knowability is so extreme that it is hard to escape the creeping suspicion that this absolute contrariety might be a sign that they represent two extremes of a position- extremes which call out for a certain mean. The locus of this dispute seems to be radically different accounts of what each philosopher would call “natural knowledge”- a thorny topic that now cries out to be noticed.