Kant, Hegel, and Habermas: Reflections on "Glauben Und Wissen"

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THIS ESSAY EXAMINES Immanuel Kant's (1724-1804), Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel's (1770-1831), and Jurgen Habermas's (1929-) accounts of God and of the interplay of belief about God (1) and philosophically justified knowledge. Hegel's account is central, because he responds to Kant's critical position that sets the stage for much of subsequent thought, including the context for Hegel's essay and Habermas's lecture "Glauben und Wissen." (2) The reflection on the death of God in Hegel's 1802 essay "Glauben und Wissen" (3) lies at a turning point in the Western intellectual appreciation of God. (4) This text is addressed both in its own right and as essential for appreciating Habermas's recent engagement with the idea of God. That Habermas names his lecture after Hegel's essay provokes the question of how to compare the authors' views concerning God, especially in their accounts of the relation between theological and philosophical claims, that is, between Glauben and Wissen. After all, Habermas engages the idea of God, even though he admits the impossibility of a "renewal of a philosophical theology in the aftermath of Hegel." (5) Although his assumptions regarding the possibilities for "communicative action" are more Kantian than Hegelian, yet his understanding of the role of God in philosophy depends on the major shift in Western philosophical understandings of God appreciated by Hegel in "Glauben und Wissen."

From Kant through Hegel to Habermas, the concept of God and the place of theological claims have been progressively deflated. This paper shows why the idea of God and the theological images that after Kant and Hegel remain for Habermas to use in his "Glauben und Wissen" are insufficient to justify its proscription of human genetic engineering. (6) This insufficiency in Habermas's arguments is due to Kant's and, especially, to Hegel's foreclosure of God's transcendence, His independent existence qua God, even as they use the idea of God to serve moral and cultural goals. From Kant and Hegel to Habermas, the dialectic between philosophy and her master, theology (7), has led philosophy to master her master, rendering the claims of theology subject to the claims and needs of philosophy. Habermas is the inheritor of this history. The robust position that natural theology possessed in the mid-eighteenth century was undermined and recast by Kant so that God remained only to satisfy the needs of his epistemology and morality. Religion was then philosophically conceptualized by Hegel as Absolute Spirit understood representationally, but only conceptually by philosophy. Philosophy has the same content as God does for religion, though for Hegel categorized in terms of thought, its philosophically justified truth) Then finally, having been lodged within robust constraints of secularity, God is invoked by Habermas as a heuristic resource for bioethics.

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Given the accent on Hegel, a cardinal difficulty must be acknowledged at the outset: any treatment of Hegel is complicated by the circumstance that there are numerous competing accounts of what Hegel really held his philosophical project to be. As Kreines aptly observes, "Recent work on Hegel lacks consensus concerning the central ambitions of his mature project in theoretical philosophy." (9) To approach Hegel is to do so within one of the numerous denominations of Hegel interpretations. Therefore, a confession of sectarian biases is in order: I concur with Klaus Hartmann (1925-1991) that Hegel's mature project was postmetaphysical, or as Hartmann's best-known article in English puts it, "noumetaphysical." (10) This view holds:

   that Hegel seeks to advance yet farther Kant's revolution against
   pre-critical metaphysics.... Hegel denies all need to even conceive
   of Kant's things in themselves, leaving no contrast relative to
   which our own knowledge could be said to be merely limited or
   restricted. That is, Hegel aims not to surpass Kant's restriction
   so much as to eliminate that restriction from the inside. … 

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