The Effects of Theology on Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment Philosophers

Though the effect of theology and philosophy on one another is admittedly asymmetric, it has often been tacitly assumed that such influence is in a single direction. Whereas it is recognized that theologians have taken inspiration from philosophers, the vice versa is less readily entertained. When such studies have occasionally been performed, the focus is often on the Christian religious context of philosophy, but much less frequently on how theologians have affected their counterpart’s work. This paper will seek to explain some of the manners in which theology, as a discipline, has affected philosophers during and after the Enlightenment. Such an undertaking aids in thinking of the relationship between the fields, provides a hermeneutical aid in interpreting both philosophers and theologians, and is a corrective to the secularizing interpretations that are common in 20th and 21st century scholarship. In light of this last point, the philosophers that will be given the lengthiest discussions are those who have frequent misinterpretations related to the attempt to remove theological influences from the interpretation of their work. These would include the desacralization of Immanuel Kant’s ethics and epistemology, the overly existentialist analyses of Martin Heidegger, and the contemporary “austere” interpretations of Ludwig Wittgenstein. The theologians, related to these philosophers, with the most extended treatments will be Augustine, Martin Luther, and Søren Kierkegaard.
For the sake of space, the manners of reliance will be left relatively unexplored, especially considering the complexity of how philosophy and theology have constantly been intertwined. The primary focus, then, will be on the theological areas of reliance that have affected the afore mentioned philosophers. Three areas will receive the majority of the attention. First, is the theologically defined limitations of humanity, which will effect epistemological concerns such as the knowledge that individuals can possess, but also ethical issues such as the motivation of people to do what is right and the possession of the necessary resources to do so. Second, is the provision of and the defense of theological transcendentals that are necessary for philosophical axiology. Finally, is the discussion of teleology, such that theology provides a content concerning which philosophy provides a conceptual reconstruction. Moreover, this teleology will begin to elucidate the manner in which these philosophers see the relationship between philosophy and theology, as seen in Heidegger’s ontic-ontological distinction. In each one of these moments, explicit analyses of how these are structurally central issues to philosophy will make apparent the dangers of unwarranted secular interpretations of philosophers.

4 thoughts on “The Effects of Theology on Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment Philosophers”

  1. Too Broad; Too Philosophical
    This paper does not fit with our section: it is too much focused on philosophy.
    The paper’s aim is far too broad; I’m fairly certain to do the topic justice, much more than a 30-minute presentation will needed to cover the topic and argue the thesis (which I fail to find in the abstract).

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