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On ‘nothing to distinguish’ Schleiermacher and Otto: reply to Smith

  • ANDREW DOLE (a1)

Abstract

Responding to my claims in ‘Schleiermacher and Otto on religion’, A. D. Smith has argued that there is ‘nothing to distinguish’ Schleiermacher and Otto on the topics of the naturalistic explanation of religion and divine intervention in the natural order. There are respects in which Smith seems not to have understood my arguments, and his most significant challenge to my claims about Schleiermacher rests on a conflation of two different questions at issue in Schleiermacher's discussion of the incarnation. Further, Smith's correct observation that I have misinterpreted Otto on an important matter is itself coupled with a similar misreading on his part. Smith's arguments prompt me to revise my view of Otto, but not to abandon the idea that he and Schleiermacher assumed different positions on the topics at issue.

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References

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Notes

1. Smith, A. D.Schleiermacher and Otto on religion: a reappraisal’, Religious Studies, 44 (2008), 295313; Dole, AndrewSchleiermacher and Otto on religion’, Religious Studies, 40 (2004), 389413. Parenthetical page references in the text will be to Smith's essay.

2. In October 2008 I delivered a paper entitled ‘Schleiermacher and religious naturalism’ at a conference held at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The paper has been published in the conference volume: Brent W. Sockness & Wilhelm Gräb (eds) Schleiermacher, the Study of Religions and the Future of Thology: A Transatlantic Dialogue (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010). The issues involved are explored in greater depth in my Schleiermacher on Religion and the Natural Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

3. Dole ‘Schleiermacher and Otto on religion’, 396. See Smith ‘Reappraisal’, 311 for his reply.

4. Rudolf Otto The Idea of the Holy, trans. John Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958), 144f.

5. Dole ‘Schleiermacher and Otto on religion’, 391–397.

6. Smith, A. D.Otto's criticisms of Schleiermacher’, Religious Studies, 45 (2009), 187204.

7. More specifically, Smith argues that there is only one component of Otto's position that is not compatible with Schleiermacher's when the latter is correctly understood. This is Otto's ‘insistence that the feeling of absolute dependence (or creature-feeling) has but a secondary role to play in the numinous œconomy’. But this claim, Smith argues, ‘has to be excised from Otto's account anyway’ for reasons of internal consistency; Smith ‘Otto's criticisms’, 204.

8. References to Schleiermacher's dogmatics will be to Friedrich Schleiermacher The Christian Faith, trans. H. R. Mackintosh et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989) [hereafter CF]. Translations will be those of Mackintosh et al. unless otherwise noted.

9. CF, §4.4, 17.

10. CF, §4.4, 17f., emphasis added.

11. Dole ‘Schleiermacher and Otto on religion’, 401.

12. Ibid., 395, citing Otto The Idea of the Holy, 10. Translation modified; see Otto, Das Heilige (Gotha: Leopold Klotz Verlag, 1925) 10. Todd Gooch has also called attention to Otto's reservations about the ‘subjectivism’ of Schleiermacher's position; see Gooch The Numinous and Modernity: An Interpretation of Rudolf Otto's Philosophy of Religion (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2000), 50, 58, 111–113.

13. It seems to me that Smith's arguments in ‘Otto's criticisms of Schleiermacher’ effectively concede this point; see n. 7 above.

14. Dole ‘Schleiermacher and Otto on religion’, 403.

15. A more extensive defence of this claim can be found in chapter 4 of Dole Schleiermacher on Religion.

16. CF, §3.1, 6.

17. CF, §47.3, 183f. and §45.2, 168. These and other passages were cited in Dole ‘Schleiermacher and Otto on religion’, 404f.

18. Ibid., 406, italics original.

19. Dole ‘Schleiermacher and Otto on religion’, 405–407, and idem Schleiermacher on Religion, ch. 4.

20. CF, §97.2, 404.

21. My evidence for this suspicion is that Smith takes Schleiermacher's denial that Jesus' perfect God-consciousness was developed out of human nature to be the equivalent of exempting this event from the general fate of being explicable by what went before (303). But the contextual understanding of the supernatural that I attribute to Schleiermacher makes it possible to say both things at the same time.

22. CF, §97.2, 401.

23. CF, §94.1, 385.

24. W. R. Matthews Memories and Meanings (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1969), 154f.

25. See idem God in Christian Experience (New York NY: Harper's, 1930), 8.

26. See CF, §88.4, 365, and §94.3, 389.

27. See Dole Schleiermacher on Religion, ch. 4.

28. There is a middle territory that I overlook here. It might be the case that there are facts about the natural order that human beings could not possibly discover, but due to limitations other than God's deliberate ‘hiding’ of these laws. As Peter van Inwagen has observed, for example, ‘it is certainly not true that science can at present explain everything we observe. Perhaps the idea is that science will one day be able to explain everything we observe? This is far from evidently true … . It is certainly conceivable that the observable world outruns our capacity to understand it … . It is entirely possible that we cannot discover the correct laws of physics without employing some piece of experimental apparatus that it is physically impossible for us to construct – a linear accelerator many thousands of light-years long, for example’; Peter van Inwagen ‘Is God an unnecessary hypothesis?’, in Andrew Dole & Andrew Chignell (eds) God and the Ethics of Belief (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 137.

29. CF, §13.1, 64.

30. Dole ‘Schleiermacher and Otto on religion’, 402.

31. See ch. 1 of Dole Schleiermacher on Religion.

32. Schleiermacher Lectures on Philosophical Ethics, Richard Louden (ed.), Louise Huish (tr.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 158.

33. Otto The Idea of the Holy, 86f. Space prohibits consideration of a related issue. Schleiermacher envisioned the production of a body of scientific knowledge that would deliver the same kinds of explanations of human behaviour as of the rest of nature. Otto, however, resisted contemporaneous versions of this project as they bore on religion – in particular, William Wundt's attempts to explain religion psychologically. As Troeltsch observed, Otto insisted instead on a ‘psychology of empathetic understanding’ as the appropriate methodological approach to the subject of religion. For more on Otto, Wundt, and the significance of Dilthey's distinction between the natural and human sciences for the disagreement between them, see Gooch The Numinous and Modernity, 86–89. I have discussed Schleiermacher's conception of the science of ethics and his relationship to Dilthey's distinction in the introduction and ch 1 of my Schleiermacher on Religion.

34. Otto The Idea of the Holy, 113.

35. Ibid., 145. In his ‘Rückblick’ appended to the centennial edition of Schleiermacher's Speeches, Otto noted that on Schleiermacher's view ‘that an event is a ‘miracle’, namely a sign and announcement of the divine idea, does not rule out that it begins and ends entirely within the interconnection (Zusammenhang) of natural causes and conditions'; Schleiermacher Über die Religion, Rudolf Otto (ed.) (Göttingen: Hubert & Co., 1967), 214, note. (I am indebted to an anonymous reader for Religious Studies for bringing this passage to my attention.) For two reasons the passage has limited force against the non-naturalistic reading I offer. First, it is not entirely clear that in describing the position of the Speeches Otto was embracing that position as his own; and second, as I pointed out in my original essay, Otto's shift of allegiance from Schleiermacher to Kant and Fries took place subsequent to the publication of the centennial edition of the Speeches.

36. Rudolf Otto The Philosophy of Religion, Based on Kant and Fries, Ernest Barrett Dicker (tr.) (London: Williams & Norgate, 1931), 40.

37. Rudolf Otto Naturalism and Religion, William Douglas Morrison (tr.) (New York NY: Williams & Norgate, 1907), 370.

38. Ibid., 372f.

39. Ibid., 68, 66.

40. Otto The Philosophy of Religion, 40f.

41. Ibid., 42.

42. Ibid., 43.

43. Ibid., 92, emphasis original.

44. Ibid., 101. In this connection Gooch notes that ‘Fries does not limit the scope of ‘cognition’ (Erkenntnis) to the understanding. Instead, he broadens the application of the term to include knowledge (Wissen), belief (Glaube) and aesthetico-religious premonition (Ahndung), each of which is a form of cognition in its own right'; Gooch The Numinous and Modernity, 61.

45. Otto The Idea of the Holy, 143. Cf. Naturalism and Religion: ‘Religion itself consists in this: believing and experiencing that in time the Eternal, in the finite the Infinite, in the world God is working, revealing himself, and that in Him lies the reason and cause of all being’ (370).

46. Bastow, DavidOtto and numinous experience’, Religious Studies, 12 (1976), 159, 173.

47. For helpful comments on drafts of this essay I am indebted to the Editor, A. D. Smith, and an anonymous reader for Religious Studies.

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