Saturday, August 11, 2012

Refutations of subjectivism in Schleiermacher (and Kant)

I was just rereading a paper of mine where I quote from what I think is a very helpful article by Robert Williams, “Schleiermacher and Feuerbach on the Intentionality of Religious Consciousness.” What I like about Williams' point here is how basic it is - I find myself returning to it and wanting to requote it instinctively whenever I write about Schleiermacher.

In the article, Williams defends a thesis of fundamental importance for engaging Schleiermacher with anything even remotely resembling a fair reading: "I dispute the contention that Feuerbach represents the logical working out of the meaning and implications of Schleiermacher's thought. I want to make a beginning in this dispute by focusing on two issues: the so-called subjectivism of Schleiermacher and the subsequent and alleged replacement of God by man as the real subject of theological discourse." (p. 424) In his section on "the definite structure of feeling", Williams writes,

"The feeling of dependence is the common element in all receptivity determinations of the subject, and it signifies a concrete determination of the subject by its codetermining other. Without the other and its influence, the subject would not be determined as he is." (p. 436-7)

Williams goes on to speak conversely about the feeling of freedom, and about absolute dependence, where he describes in fuller fashion how Schleiermacher goes beyond any mere subjectivism in his doctrine of God. What drew me to this brief quote was its refutation of an assumed skepticism at the heart of Schleiermacher's alleged subjectivism. The "other" isn't just posited as the "whence" of one's feeling of dependence, as a subsequent explanation of that feeling. The feeling "signifies a concrete determination of the subject by its codetermining other," and absent a there there, "the subject would not be determined as he is."

The same problem frequently appears with Kant, and Kant even worked up the "Refutation of Idealism" to respond to misunderstandings about this assumed skepticism in the Critique of Pure Reason. There are surely also many pithy quotes that are useful in defending Kant here, although such defenses in the Kant literature often seem in danger of taking Kant too far in the opposite direction... I'm thinking here of two-stage readings where an object is given, sensed, and only subsequently passed up to a higher sort of understanding.

An interesting paper topic occurs to me on this point, but I'd have to refresh my memory on the Glaubenslehre as well as Schleiermacher's response to critics in the Letters to Lücke to know how it would proceed. A substantial comparative study could probably be made of Kant and Schleiermacher as they responded to critics and revised their respective works for second editions specifically to better address accusations of subjectivism in the first editions.

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