Schleiermacher's Implied Ontological Argument
Frederich Schleiermacher, (1768-1834)
The Feeling of Utter Dependence
Frederich Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) in On Religion: Speeches to it's Cultured Despisers,. and the Christian Faith (aka The Glaubenslehre) sets forth the view that religion is not reducible to knowledge or ethical systems. It is primarily a phenomenological apprehension of God consciousness through means of religious affections. Affections is a term not used much anymore, and it is easily confused with mere emotion. Sometimes Schleiermacher is understood as saying that "I become emotional when I pay and thus there must be an object of my emotional feelings." Though he does venture close to this position in one form of the argument, this is not exactly what he's saying. In the earlier form of his argument he was saying that affections were indicative of a sense of God, but in the Christian Faith he argues that there is a greater sense of unity in the life world and a sense of the dependence of all things in the life world upon something higher. What is this feeling of utter dependence? It is the sense of the unity in the life world and its greater reliance upon a higher reality? It is not to be confused with the stray-sky-at-night-in-the-desert feeling, but is akin to it. This phrase “unity in the life world” is important and will be explored latter. An example of the “feeling of utter dependence,” I used to notice a certain kind of feeling when I would sit in my back yard by the garden late at night. I could hear the sounds of the freeway in the distance, and on a clear summer night smell the sage I grew and watch the stars. It all seemed to be a great harmony of purpose. It was all unified. There seemed to be some higher sense of unification upon which it all hung. That's just a short hand for those of us to whom this is a new concept to get some sort of handle on it. Nor does "feeling" here mean "emotion" but it is connected to the religious affections. In the early version Schleiermacher thought it was a correlate between the religious affections and God; God must be there because I can feel love for him when I pray to him. But that's not what it's saying in the better version. Many people understand this feeling, or “God consciousness” as a reaction of the romantic rebellion against enlightenment rationalism. “Influenced by romanticism and his own early exposure to Moravian Pietism…the feeling…is the heart of the religious defined at the deepest level of self consciousness and awareness in contrast to the enlightenment preoccupation with beliefs and morals.”[i] There’s more to this than just a romantic rebellion. Schleiermacher rebels against Kant. For Schlieiermacher there is no Kantian dualism but an underlying unity and foundation of both knowledge and action. He battles Kant on two fronts, the account of consciousness and the account of God and experience. For Schleiermacher, consciousness is not simply non cognitive as with Kant but is immediate, original pre theoretical consciousness of reality. Feeling is part of consciousness so one is not just having random emotional states when having feelings, but a form of consciousness that is an immediate experience of reality. This experience is also pre-theoretical meaning its prior to thinking about. It’s a experience of reality before we reflect and do a bunch of philosophizing about the nature of reality. [ii] “Knowing and doing are more determinate, circumscribed and mediated modes of consciousness, which presuppose feeling or immediate self consciousness.”[iii]
The reason this phrase “knowing and doing” or “knowledge and action” keep popping up is because prior to Schleiemracher and with Kant religion was reduced to being thought a jumped up form of ethics, or an ethical form of philosophy. Kant recommends the use of God in practical reason as a means of regulating ethical practice.[iv]
Unlike Kant and with Husserl Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is logically founded upon pretheoretical intersubjective consciousness and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognitive, for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive and invalid, so is theoretical cognition. Schleiermacher contends that religious belief in God is pretheoretical: it is not the result of proofs and demonstrations, but is conditioned solely by the religious modification of feeling, namely the feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired though intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs of God are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience. If, as Schleiermacher says, God is given to feeling in an original way, this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an appreciation of divine being and reality.This is not meant as a Barthian fideism or an appeal to revelation but as a…religious a prori[v]
In other words, this is the “realization of the reality of God.” This concept of the life world has come up again. The feeling is said to be (above) a reflection of unity in the life world.
Unity in the Life world
"Life world," or Lebenswelt is a term used in German philosophy. It implies the world of one's culturally constructed life, the "world" we 'live in;’ this is life as we experience it on a daily basis. The unity one senses in the life world is intuitive and unites the experiences and aspirations of the individual in a sense of integration and belonging in the world. This is what Heidegger is talking about when he says "a being in the world." Schleiermacher is saying that there is a special intuitive sense that everyone can grasp of this whole, this unity, being bound up with a higher reality, being dependent upon a higher unity. In other words, the "feeling" can be understood as an intuitive sense of "radical contingency." The life world is an inter-subjective socio-cultural world the existence of which we take for granted.[vi] Since it is “subject relative” it can be given in intuition at least in principle. Yet It is not only subjective, but also inter-subjective, meaning something that is in principle subjective but not just subjective and, therefore, dismissed as either unimportant or impossible to understand, but is understood, albeit subjectively by others uniformly and somewhat universally and the sheer commonalty of the experience transcends the subjective nature. It’s like the way we all just know what it means to say “you had to be there, “ yet we can’t really put into words why being there would make a difference. Moreover, the life-world consists of general features that are more than subjective.[vii] On the one hand the life world is the “correlate of transcendental consciousness in the sense that belief in the life world is the transcendental condition of possible experience. On the other hand the life-world is experienced as a determinate social and cultural world.”[viii] Thus the life-world can be approach from either a phenomenological perspective or a concrete social perspective rooted in the social sciences.
Schleiermacher’s Implied Ontological Argument
As with the Tillich-implied OA, Schleiermacher did not say “this is an ontological argument.” Williams points that it is one, however, it is so by virtue of the correlation between the feeling and it’s object, or the co-determinate. The correlation (think about Tillich’s theological method discussed in chapter 2) is presupposed by the immanent in “historically determinate religious experience” At the base of the correlation is Shcleiermacher’s ontological approach to the question of God.[ix] For Schleiemracher revelation and person disclosure are part of God’s’ nature. “He accepts the ontological principle that God is the presupposition of the idea of God, and believes that the idea can be identified with nothing less transcendent non mundane whence of utter dependence…Schleiermacher,” says Williams, “presents a pre theoretical reflective version of the ontological argument.”[x] He adds that God is more than religious consciousness and a doctrine of God can be constructed, not merely a postulation as with Kant or Feuerbach. What he means is that Kant appealed to the concept of God as a regulation for ethics, and Feuerbach argued that God was just a construct designed to mask the true interest of society, money. Williams is saying that Schlemeriamcher believed God’s self revelation in the feeling of utter dependence is indicative of an actual God not just a theoretical reference point.
The ontological principle, God is the presupposition to the idea of God, what does this mean? Whitehead explained it this way:
That every condition to which the process of becoming conforms in any particular instance has its reason either in the character of some actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence, or in the character of the subject which is in the process of concrescence. This category of explanation is termed the ‘ontolgoical principle’…[xi]
In other words the idea of God is such that God must really exist in order for the idea to make sense. If the idea doesn’t make sense then why is it that it does make sense in terms of it’s correlation to actual experience? In the early crude form of the argument he was saying things like “I feel love for God so there must be a God for me to love.” That’s because he saw feelings as disclosures rather than self deceptions of useless wastes of energy. I can also be compared with the principle of sufficient reason. Putting it in Tillich’s terms if we sense the reality of being as eternal, infinite and necessary and our place in being as contingent upon this infinite reality, then this the correlation of our experience to God. We are realizing the reality of God in the realization of our place in being which comes to us from an understanding that the experience of the divine is correlation between God’s discourse and our realization. Williams links it to the Ontological Argument. Schleiermacher is sensing intuitively before he thinks about it what Anslem came to conclude in his reflection upon the fool. Williams is quoted above as saying “presents a pre theoretical reflective version of the ontological argument.” In other words before its thought about and formulated into a theoretical argument it’s a realization or an experience of the divine in raw reality, unformed and unedited. With this in mind I propose that this is really what Anselm thought of, but without the language of phenomenology he had to settle for putting it into theoretical terms.
There's also a corrolate with the cosmological argument, since the feeling is actually a sense of the contingency of the life-world upon a higher reality. The feeling is not proof of God's existence but a rational warrant for belief since it validates both CA and OA.
[i] Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, Hugh S. Pyper. The Oxford Companion to Christian Though:Intellectual, Spiritual and Moral Horizons of Christianity, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000, 483 (on line page number). On line copy URL http://books.google.com/books?id=ognCKztR8a4C&pg=PA483&lpg=PA483&dq=What+is+Schleiermacher%27s+%22feeling+of+utter+dependence?%22&source=bl&ots=WZvlE1z5vM&sig=QFo4uYB74aZnRuacLNHYTHFaUtg&hl=en&ei=AImsTaODNsfL0QG_nd34CA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CEEQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=What%20is%20Schleiermacher%27s%20%22feeling%20of%20utter%20dependence%3F%22&f=false
[ii] Robert R. Williams, Schleiermacher The Theologian: Construction of the Doctrine of God, Philadelphia: Fortes Press, 1978, 5.
[iii] Ibid. 4
[iv] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Kant’s Philosophy of Religion, First published Tue Jun 22, 2004; substantive revision Fri Jul 31, 2009. Copy Right Philip Rossi. online version URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/ visited 4/19/11.
[v] Williams, ibid, 4
[vi] Ibid, 31
[ix] Ibid 4
[x] Ibid, 5
[xi] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, an Essay in Cosmology. New York: The Free Press Corrected Edidition, ed David Ray Griffin Donald W. Shureburne, 19878, 24