5. Reading Kant through Theological Spectacles
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107 five Reading Kant through Theological Spectacles Philip J. Rossi Dangerous shoals await those who use theological charts and compass as prime navigational aids in exploring the complexities of Kant’s thought. Yet those same aids sometimes can provide direction for routes to and through domains of Kant’s work and its development that are not readily accessible—or seemingly even closed off—from ‘‘standard’’ philosophical mappings of his critical project and its significance.1 Both the dangers and the possibilities of such theologically charted navigation need close attention when the domain under exploration is Kant’s treatment of the extensive range of topics we have become accustomed to place under the heading of ‘‘religion’’—a heading and a grouping that Kant himself, in company with other thinkers prominent in the constitution of ‘‘modernity,’’ played a role in establishing as a standard locus in our discourse about human activities and institutions. I issue this caution for readers as well as for myself with regard to the exposition and argument of the rest of this essay.2 What lies behind this caution about the use of theological mappings of Kant? It arises, first of all, from the particular academic context that has shaped my own work on Kant for at least three decades. Partly by choice, partly by a set Theological Applications for Kantian Religion 108 of circumstances, the institutional setting for this work has been a large department of theology that understands its work to embody the ecumenically engaged Catholic theology envisioned by Vatican Council II. Within that setting I have been continually reminded of the fact that Kant has cast a long shadow upon philosophical and theological inquiry of almost every kind for more than two centuries. The image for this that I regularly use with graduate students is to have them imagine Kant’s work and its aftermath as a mountain range that stands athwart one’s intellectual path. One might do one’s best to ignore it, but in the end it is far more likely that one will have to find a way over, through, or around it. Whatever path one negotiates, moreover, is likely to intersect with the paths of others, and one should not be surprised to find oneself with welcome—but also sometimes unwelcome—intellectual companions on various stages of the journey. That my own journey would be through and over the Kantian mountains, ratherthanaroundthem,wasprobablyfirstdeterminedbymyinitialphilosophical training in a Jesuit seminary where the Aristotelian-Thomist conceptual formalities that were the staple of the required curriculum were taught by facultywho,forthemostpart,workedwithinadistinctivelyCatholicphilosophical movement known as ‘‘transcendental Thomism.’’ This movement originated in the first half of the twentieth century in writings of the Belgian Jesuit Joseph Maréchal, most notably in his five-volume study Le point de départ de la métaphysique: leçons sur le développement historique et théorique du problème de la connaissance.3 In characteristically Catholic fashion, transcendental Thomism has subsequently taken both philosophical and theological trajectories , with the latter having a far more wide-ranging impact in Catholic intellectual circles, most notably through the work of the German theologian Karl Rahner.4 The thrust of Maréchal’s own work was to engage the concerns and issues of philosophers from Descartes to Kant and the later idealists from a Thomistic framework, but to do so constructively, that is, with an aim to recognizing and retrieving their contributions to philosophical inquiry, rather than ferreting out and refuting their errors in the adversarial and polemical mode that had become typical of other neo-Thomist analyses of these issues.5 This early exposure to a style of inquiry that approaches philosophical texts with an eye that looks first to convergences rather than differences had the effect of rendering Kant less of an ‘‘adversary’’ to the principles of Thomism and neoThomism as these were variously formulated in the manuals and textbooks of early- and mid-twentieth-century Catholic philosophy. He became, instead, an interlocutor—a formidable one, to be sure—who had to be understood and dealt with, first and foremost on his own terms, before one could make a judgment about the desirability or necessity of polemical engagement.6 This manner of engaging Kant—as well as any other philosopher or theologian —could be termed a principle of ‘‘hermeneutical generosity.’’ It is not always easy to apply this principle to a thinker such as Kant, given not only the span of years and range of topics encompassed...


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