Brandt, The Philosophy of Schleiermacher: The Development of His Theory of Scientific and Religious Knowledge

Richard B. Brandt, Greenwood Press, 1968. 350 pages.

The significance of this intellectual history of Schleiermacher is best understood in a dual cartographic metaphor: locus and trajectory. The locus of the work, as Brandt acknowledges in his preface, is the formulation of a coherent conception of religious knowledge (vii). The trajectory of the work is a linear historical method that breaks Schleiermacher’s life project into four distinct epochs (14-17). Especially in the first two epochs, careful attention is paid to the ways in which Schleiermacher maps onto the wider terrain of thought prevalent in his milieu, from Pietism to Romanticism. Brandt concludes with an evaluation of the influence Schleiermacher carried in the discourses of theology and philosophy, especially epistemology and logic.Presenting Schleiermacher as thoroughly a product of his time in no way obscures the novelty and creativity that make him such a revolutionary, particularly in the theological side of his project. Nevertheless, Brandt’s tenacity to a linear historical presentation makes the elaboration of the many themes Schleiermacher addressed feel disjunctive and makes tracing the evolution of the themes difficult at best. Furthermore, adhering to the four epochs so strictly runs the risk of presenting Schleiermacher as Wittgenstein is often presented, with two virtually autonomous periods. Granted, the maturation of his thought drove Schleiermacher to revise On Religion (cited by Brandt as Discourses on Religion) twice, but this was to explain its continuity, not to change its substance, at least as Schleiermacher understood what he was doing.

One of the most helpful parts of the book is the careful comparative work between Schleiermacher and both Fichte and Schelling in the second and third chapters. Brandt elaborates the contours and important concepts that make up the systematic thought Fichte and Schelling elaborated in response to Kant, and in Schelling’s case to Fichte. This is helpful as it presents Schleiermacher in dialogue with these systems instead of simply appropriating a few ideas here and there. Furthermore, it presents a holistic picture of Schleiermacher participating in the German project of systematic responses to Kant. In concert with a reading of the broad contours of German Romanticism, this approach places Schleiermacher in dynamic interaction with his milieu, which is especially appropriate given his appropriation of the Romantic emphasis on nature as organism (59, 70).

Acknowledging a lack of clarity on Schleiermacher’s part with regards to his position vis-à-vis idealism and realism, Brandt is “nevertheless convinced that the preponderance of the evidence is in favor of classifying Schleiermacher, in modern terminology, as a dualistic or critical realist in epistemology” (71). This is a crucial claim for understanding Brandt’s interpretation of Schleiermacher on the central theme of this book, namely religious and scientific knowledge. It means that nature cannot be known through pure dialectics, but only by dialectical “thought in an alliance with experience” (88). There is a parallel, then, with the methodology in philosophy of religion in the pairing of the “view from the center,” dialectical thought, with the view from the “circumference,” or experience (91). Where the two come together is where Schleiermacher identifies religious intuition.

To this point, Brandt has focused attention around On Religion, with some attention also to the Soliloquies. In the fourth chapter, however, he points to a stark distinction in the evolution of Schleiermacher’s thought. “Schleiermacher’s views changed considerably in the years following his first publications.” The first two changes he cites as developments in his thought, but the third is truly a disjunction with prior work: “the identification of religion not any longer with intuition and feeling but with feeling alone” (155). Brandt argues that this is largely a result of Schleiermacher developing an account of scientific intuition (165-6). The strange thing is Brandt’s articulation of Schleiermacher’s definition of feeling:

Feeling is thus an immediate conscious state, the result of an interaction between the individual and his environment, a mirroring of the effect of that interaction on the individual, its enhancing or depressing his life in a specific way; and feeling is either pleasant or unpleasant in tone (179).

This sounds very much like the coming together of thought and experience as he had described religious intuition earlier. The difference is that intuition, in both its religious and scientific forms as Schleiermacher elaborates them, does not have the transformative effect on the thinker/experiencer that he attributes to feeling. While certainly a refining of terms has taken place, there is clearly a greater continuity of meaning than Brandt wants to admit.

The main body of the book concludes with an evaluation of Schleiermacher as a theological empiricist. Of course, the empiricism is with regard to the elaboration of a system of doctrines, not with the feeling that constitutes religion itself. This system of doctrines, then, “ought to be an empirical description or expression of the experience of persons … in which all phases of the religious development are considered systematically both in their historical connections and their relations to each other” (281). Systematic theology is an elaboration of personal and social development with regard to religion. This approach, as it evolves out of the distinction between religion and science, leaves Brandt feeling that Schleiermacher’s project results in “grave difficulties” (298).

Given these difficulties, it is not as surprising that Brandt finds substantially greater influence from Schleiermacher on theological projects than on philosophy. In fact, the disparity may have more to do with Brandt’s own valuations than on Schleiermacher’s own. Brandt points out that “had Schleiermacher not been so preoccupied both with theology and practical concerns and had his work not appeared in so forbidding a form, he might very well have had a much greater influence here [on philosophy] than he actually exercised” (316). It is hard not to conclude that Brandt’s own high valuation of philosophy blurred his recognition of the value Schleiermacher placed on the theological project as it arose out of the problematic religious engagements of his youth. Brandt wishes to make the problems of religious and scientific knowledge central whereas Schleiermacher himself was interested in elaborating what he could accept as an authentic religious life.

The book is a helpful guide to thinking through a number of epistemological issues in Schleiermacher. The placing of Schleiermacher in his context is done with careful attention not to let him be overcome by he context nor for his revolutionary thinking to be entirely irrelevant to it. If Brandt is somewhat overly concerned that Schleiermacher address his own particular concerns, it is not because Brandt’s concerns are not without contemporary warrant. Thinking out Schleiermacher’s system in light of these concerns is certainly a worthwhile project, and one Brandt points toward engaging in various ways throughout.

by Lawrence A. Whitney
Boston University, 2009

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