The Influence of Kant on Christian Theology: A Debate about Human Dignity and Christian Personalism: A Response to Derek S. Jeffreys

By Kraynak, Robert P. | Journal of Markets & Morality, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Kant on Christian Theology: A Debate about Human Dignity and Christian Personalism: A Response to Derek S. Jeffreys


Kraynak, Robert P., Journal of Markets & Morality


The debate before us is an attempt to understand and to evaluate the principles of Christian personalism, focusing on two key issues: (1) the origins of Christian personalism, especially the question of whether personalism has been influenced by Kant or is largely a product of developments within Thomism; and (2) the wisdom of adopting Christian personalism--whether the "personalist" approach has improved Christianity or whether it has fatal flaws requiring major revisions. In the debate so far, we have emphasized the first issue and only touched upon the second issue. In my final remarks, I would like to add a clarification about the origins of personalism and then highlight its problems--explaining why I am not a "personalist" but an "impersonalist," as Simone Weil might have said in her trenchant criticisms of personalism. (1)

Regarding the influence of Kant on Christian personalism, I would like to reply to Professor Jeffreys' charge that I have invented a "Kantian straw man" or made "absurd allegations about repressed Kantian presuppositions." He is correct in noting that I believe most Christian theologians today are "in denial" (a psychological term that I use somewhat humorously) about their debt to Kant: They may think they are merely developing Thomism or adding a little phenomenology, but they are actually picking up and smuggling in a great deal of Kantian and neo-Kantian liberalism from the surrounding culture. While Pope John Paul II explicitly acknowledges his debt to Kant, others such as Martin Luther King Jr., Jacques Maritain, John Finnis, and Professor Jeffreys himself are reluctant to admit Kant's influence. Yet, in his writings, Professor Jeffreys contradicts himself on this issue, sometimes denying the Kantian influence and at other times admitting it by saying, "Thomistic personalists can selectively use Kant's ethical ideas without worrying about Kantianism's alleged dangers." The latter statement clearly indicates that Professor Jeffreys incorporates Kantian ethics while believing he can control its negative effects. This is an important admission because it means Professor Jeffreys views Christian personalism (or "Thomistic personalism," as he prefers to call his position) as a synthesis of Thomas Aquinas's metaphysical realism, Max Scheler's phenomenology, and the ethical idealism of Kant. Concerning the last element, Professor Jeffreys acknowledges that he embraces the Kantian ethical principle of treating people as ends, never merely as means and respecting the inherent dignity of "persons" rather than using them instrumentally as "things."

By acknowledging this principle, Professor Jeffreys takes a step in the right direction; but he needs to concede a much larger point as well. Christian personalism not only affirms the dignity of the human person, but it also links human dignity to a specific political agenda--namely, universal human rights, liberal democracy, and support for the United Nations. In embracing this political agenda, personalists have adopted the main features of Kantian liberalism, whether they admit it or not. Surprisingly, many distinguished scholars, such as Jacques Maritain and John Finnis, do not admit it and foster the illusion that their political views are merely developments of Thomism or neo-Scholasticism. They apparently have forgotten the political teaching of Thomas Aquinas, which is monarchist and hierarchical, as well as the fact that Christian theology over the last two hundred years has undergone a radical reversal in its attitudes toward liberalism, democracy, religious liberty, women's rights, war and peace, and international organizations.

It is widely believed that such changes have occurred by developing earlier traditions of Thomism, Augustinianism, Calvinism, or Lutheranism and that continuity has been preserved with traditional Christian notions of freedom, justice, and natural law, but these claims are not really true. We need to remember that Saint Thomas Aquinas thought the best form of government was constitutional monarchy rather than liberal democracy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Influence of Kant on Christian Theology: A Debate about Human Dignity and Christian Personalism: A Response to Derek S. Jeffreys
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.