Enlightenment philosophy was especially interested in the natural sciences, in natural laws and evolution. Romanticism was more involved with the humanities, with history, with social and political values, like human
rights and the famous triad of freedom, equality, and fraternity. In this development several views on ethics and on justice played a leading part.
In order to understand these, it will
be helpful to make two important distinctions. The first is the difference between behaviour (both animal and human) and action (only human). The second is the distinction to be made between invariant normative principles or values
and changeable norms. It is supposed that generic values are inborn, universally recognized by everyone, whereas specific norms are human products, culturally and historically determined, whether or not according to the normative principles.
Since the twentieth century, biological ethology studies the behaviour of animals, which is not subject to values or norms, but to specific natural laws, restricted to the species to which
the animal belongs. Psychic and organic needs determine the strongly programmed animal behaviour as well as related kinds of human behaviour. In contrast, human acts are characterized by free will and normative relations.
‘If we describe what people or animals do, without inquiring into their subjective reasons for doing it, we are talking about their behaviour.
If we study the subjective aspects of what they do, the reasons and ideas underlying and guiding it, we are concerned with the world of meaning. If we concern ourselves both with what
people are, overtly and objectively, seen to do (or not to do) and their reasons for so doing (or not doing) which relate to the world of meaning and understanding, we then describe action.’
The science investigating values and norms for human acts from a general point of view is usually called ethics (13.3). In contrast, biological ethology studies the psychically
qualified behaviour of animals, which is not subject to values or norms, but to natural laws, in particular to the character of the species to which the animal belongs. Like an animal is characterized by its species-specific behaviour, a human is an acting being. Animal behaviour is stereotype, directed to its organic and
psychic needs. It is purposeful, goal-directed, but not goal-conscious. People share this animal behaviour. Much of what people do is genetically programmed or laid down in their memory, in more or less fixed action programs. Transcending this natural behaviour,
human acts are normative and to a certain extent free. People are conscious of what they are doing, such that they are responsible for what they do or do not.
An individual person’s
act starts usually internally, within the limits of their corporeal and spiritual existence, as an intention. This is based on their experience found in the past, on their imagination of the present, on their consideration of the eventual future consequences
of the intended act, and on their will to achieve something. After arriving at a decision a human being actualises this intention into a deed outside body and mind, in a subject-object relation or in a subject-subject relation, sometimes only concerning
These acts are characterized by one of the normative principles, which everyone knows intuitively, like economical, juridical, or logical. Acts are determined by norms derived
from normative principles, as far as the actor knows and acknowledges these norms, which anyhow allow of a margin for the freedom and responsibility of the acting person. Besides individuals, organized associations are able to prepare and perform such acts
in an analogical normative way.
Generic values are universal in so far as they are sensed by all people. Human feelings have a primary or a secondary character. Primary sensations that
people have in common with animals, like fear, pain, cold, or hunger, are primarily psychical or organic. Besides, people have a secondary sense for values like proficiency, beauty, clarity, truth, reliability, respect, service, discipline, justice, and loving
care. The feeling of justice, for instance, has both a psychic and a juridical side. The awareness of generic values points to a human propensity that is not yet articulated, a hereditary intuition, shared by all people, laid down in the human genetic and
psychic constitution, as a condition for being human. When education articulates this intuition, one starts speaking of a virtue or a vice. In education, the inborn feeling of justice is developed into the virtue of righteousness. Because both righteous and
unjust people have a sense of justice, they are responsible for their deeds. The same applies to all virtues.
Psychic and biotic needs determine animal behaviour as well as related kinds of human behaviour. In contrast, human acts are characterized by relations transcending the psychic and biotic
ones. People have the will to labour or to destroy; to enjoy or to disturb a party; to understand or to cheat; to speak the truth or to lie; to be faithful or unreliable; to keep each other’s company in a respectful or in an offending way; to conduct
a business honestly or to swindle; to exert good management or to be a dictator; to do justice or injustice; to care for or to neglect each other’s vulnerability.
The various virtues and vices express the will to do good or evil in widely differing circumstances. The will to act rightly or wrongly opens the human psyche towards relations transcending the psychic one. The desire to act freely and responsibly according
to values and norms raises a man or woman above an animal, a human society above a herd.
Animals have a sense of regularity,
such that they are able to learn, but only people are able to achieve knowledge about natural laws as well as about values and norms. This knowledge rests first of all on intuition, next on image formation, interpretation, and argumentation, finally on conviction
and education. During this lifelong process, people develop experienced values into norms within the context of their history, culture, and civilization. Hence, values, being normative principles, should be distinguished from actual norms:
‘Values are central standards, by which people judge the behaviour of one’s own and that of others. In contrast to a norm, a value does not specify a concrete line of action, but rather
an abstract starting point for behaviour. Therefore, values or principles are ideas, to a large extent forming the frame of reference of all kinds of perception. Often, a value forms the core of a large number of norms.’
Among several values, Enlightenment philosophers were particularly interested in the universal principle of justice. Since
the middle ages, philosophers distinguished between ‘natural law’ (not to be confused with the laws of nature discussed in chapters 6 and 7) and ‘positive law’. The former arose from human nature, the latter from any government. Early
Enlightenment philosophers like Hugo Grotius accepted this distinction. They developed a natural law theory with the right of freedom as a central theme: freedom to act independent of the government, freedom to believe, freedom to publish and teach one’s views. Grotius became well-known because
of his defence of mare liberum, the free use of the sea. John Locke emphasized inalienable natural rights. This view could easily be adapted to the assumption that humanity, including
human nature, is created by a benevolent God.
Nature and freedom. 13. Human nature and personal
13.2. The ethos of science
To reflect on norms and values, both individually and in a community, is not a philosophical monopoly. The communal
ethos should be distinguished from the individual character of a person. Both indicate an attitude towards values and norms, usually tied up with a world view or religion.
This does not mean that this attitude depends on the belief in a personal God. Who does not believe in a transcendental God still may have an ethical world view. Also any human community needs an ethos, a shared motivation of the common activity,
of norms and values, on good and evil conduct, whether implicitly or explicitly accepted. It has been attempted to reduce the common ethos to the evolution of the human species, to egoism, to a mythical social contract, to human reason, to justice, or to love,
but in vain.
is also a source of casuistry, the balancing of norms and normative principles in practical situations, in which various norms may collide. Because norms and values operate in all kinds of relations and in all kinds of communities, specific ethics are developed,
like the ethics of an enterprise, of contracts, professional ethics, medical ethics, the ethics for care, or for the environment. Sometimes these are formalized into a code of conduct.
reduces morality to subjective feelings and assessments: something is good if it appeals to somebody or if it provides somebody with a pleasurable feeling.
Proceduralism reduces the ethical debate to a discussion about procedures. And moral pluralism stresses that modern society is not dominated by a single world view. Because of pluralism, people sometimes fall back to individual emotivism,
which they try to canalize by procedures.
Both Kantian and positivist philosophy are inclined to contrast ethical conduct with other kinds of human activity, in dualisms like neutral facts versus subjective values, or ethical versus legal behaviour, or neutral science versus
practice determined by one’s world view. Meanwhile it has become clear that human activity is never neutral with respect to values and norms. There is no neutral field of human activities, to which one would apply any ethics, Christian or otherwise,
as an afterthought.
Any ethos rests on a set of shared values. Let us consider the ethos of science as an example. Natural science is not concerned with norms or normative principles,
but scientific activity is subject to a variety of norms. Robert Merton argued that the ethos of seventeenth and eighteenth-century science was strongly influenced by English Puritanism and German Pietism (10.3), with which it shared some vital values and
norms. Max Weber discussed a similar relation between Protestantism and capitalism. Whereas Catholics stressed obedience to the church as the leading normative principle of conduct, both
Puritans and Pietists emphasized intellectual autonomy, the freedom to believe and to propagate one’s faith.
According to Merton the scientific ethos or code of conduct consists
of communism (science is public knowledge, freely available to all); universalism (there are no privileged sources of scientific knowledge); disinterestness (science is done for its own sake); and scepticism (scientists
take nothing on trust). John Ziman replaced Merton’s communism by communalism
and added originality (science is the discovery of the unknown).
What is missing in this account is the fact that many people believe in science or in scientists, trusting them and their results. The relatively large certainty, provided by the natural sciences in particular, is not
derived from their ethos, but from the object of their research, the lawfulness of reality. It cannot provide complete certainty out of itself. In particular it cannot account for the origin and validity of natural laws and normative principles conditioning
human activity, including science itself. Science can only provide certainty by trusting that the laws and normative principles which it studies are universally valid, now, in the past and in the future. This includes the faith or conviction that antinomies
do not exist, meaning that natural laws (nomos is law) and normative principles are consistent with each other. This is not a logical, but a cosmological principle, surpassing the logical principle of excluded contradiction.
The results of science pretend to be universally valid, yet they are not always true. The self-critical character of science makes that it continuously revises its results. Current Western science
is not fundamentalist, if fundamentalism is understood as a world view accepting the absolute truth of some propositions or axioms. The force of modern science is not having a firm foundation, but its critical striving after consistency. Its network structure
is open, liable to critical reflection and extension. Therefore there is no ‘unity of science’,
no uniform scientific method. It is a historical irony that the final but one volume of The international encyclopaedia of unified science (1938-1969) was Thomas Kuhn’s The structure of scientific revolutions, which made an end
to the positivist ideas of the Wiener Kreis, constituting the ethos of this encyclopaedia. Yet there is a coherence and mutual dependence among related fields of science, informing and inspiring each other. Freedom of the exertion of science means the freedom
of having different opinions, to debate with each other continually, to correct and to be corrected.
Not the sciences but the laws they try to find are universally valid. Being valid
for anybody, these are not the property of scientists. Who believes that the laws are given in the creation, should not consider a scientific theory a logical construction of reality, but at most a reconstruction. Science can discover the
natural and normative principles, but not found them. Scientists investigate the law side of reality, what everybody concerns. Therefore the performance of science belongs to the public domain (11.2). Scientists constitute a public intersubjective network,
in which they freely use each other’s results stored in the objective public network of their theoretical and experimental results, in order to expand their shared knowledge by extrapolation and interpolation.
Nature and freedom. 13. Human nature and personal freedom
13.3. Philosophical ethics
Philosophical ethics is not a specific science, but since Immanuel Kant it is part of anthropology or of practical philosophy. It is a philosophical reflection on human activity and normativity. ‘Ethics’ is derived from the Greek ethos and ‘moral’ from the
Latin mos (plural mores). Both mean habit, custom, usage, or manners. Each human being has the disposition (aptitude, tendency, or inclination) to act in a right or wrong way. The attitude people have with respect to good and wrong acts in
all kinds of relations constitutes ethics’ field of investigation. For individuals this disposition comes to the fore in their individual virtues and vices, for groups in their ethos, their shared judgement of values and norms. The
explicit or implicit inclination to doing right or wrong is the subjective mentality of a human being or a group, in contrast to values and norms, which are valid for them.
Each culture and civilization knows one or more views on ethics. In the history of Western philosophy, these were often based on the dualism of body and mind, almost an axiom of Western anthropology.
In scholastic theology the natural world was separated from the supernatural one. It considered the human mortal body different from the immortal mind or soul, assuming that God creates the mind individually as a separate substance at the conception of the
body. After death, the decaying body remains on earth, whereas the immortal soul is transferred to heaven or to hell.
In Enlightenment philosophy the distinction of body and mind was
interpreted in the framework of its tension between nature and human freedom. René Descartes’ moderate Enlightenment distinguished body and mind as two independent substances, extension and thinking, res extensa and res cogitans. He kept the supernatural
apart from the natural. However, radical Enlightenment soon rejected the supernatural, reducing mind to matter.
All this led to widely varying views of ethics, alternatively emphasizing virtues, avoidance of sex, consequences, responsibility, or duties.
Before turning to Immanuel Kant, this section briefly summarizes these views as follows.
To start with, Aristotelian virtue ethics emphasizes the subject of activity,
a man or woman with their good or bad properties and customs. The inner self expresses itself in practical life. In concrete situations, the practical wisdom of the golden mean between opposing views looks for the most suited act.
The virtues can be rationally derived from human nature. Virtue ethics directs itself to the motivation of the individually acting man, wishing to realize himself by his virtues. In his Nicomachean ethics,Aristotle defines human happiness
or well-being (eudaimonia) as the purpose (telos) of human existence, the highest form that a good man may reach.
Therefore, this ethics is also called teleological (goal-directed). Aristotelian ethics is a preparation for a philosophy of social and political life, because a free man can only achieve well-being in the polis (the city-state), the human
society, warranting the development of the virtues.
The Roman Empire replaced polis by cosmopolis, during the Middle Ages interpreted as the church and the state, reflecting
the dualism of mind and body. Since then clerics and others associate virtues with the human spirit, and vices with the human body, in particular with sex. Celibacy, aversion of corporeal labour, ascetism, and avoidance of the world are consequences. There
is an enormous variety of virtues, which Christian theological ethics derives from the Bible
or from the authority of the church. The nineteenth-century Character Development League advocated an education model with no less than 31 hierarchically ordered virtues: Obedience came first, and the list of thirty-one traits, according to Character Lessons,
‘leads to right living, and establishes character.’
Since Augustine, the Western church connected sex directly with sin.
The Catholic Church interpreted Jesus’ virginal birth as immaculate conception, with the implication that ordinary human conception is stained with the original sin. Priests ought to live celibate. The Catholic Church bases celibacy on the assumption
that the love of a priest, monk, or nun, should first of all be directed to Christ. The Council of Trent in 1563 condemned the Protestant view that the married state excels the state of virginity or celibacy, and that it is better and happier to be united
in matrimony than to remain in virginity or celibacy. Since the end of the seventeenth century,
for many people ethical behaviour in the public sphere is virtually narrowed down to sexual behaviour.
The ethics of purpose (utilitarianism or consequentialism) is a fruit of the Enlightenment. It started with David Hume, followed by William Paley and Jeremy Bentham. It received its definite
form in John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism (1863). According to William Paley’s natural theology, morality is solely based on the reward of happiness in heaven.
Other utilitarianists took distance from natural theology and sought happiness within earthly existence. Ethics of purpose stresses the object of human activity, the goal or result to be achieved. An example is the raison d’état,
good is what the state serves, such that international treaties are only binding as far as they serve the national cause. The word goal has not the same meaning as telos in Aristotle’s form-matter scheme, but is related to the goal-directed behaviour
of animals. The purpose and the consequences of each human act apart determine its quality as the balance of the advantages and disadvantages. Like the Kantians, the utilitarians looked for a universal value, which they found in the greatest happiness of the
greatest number, in the optimalisation of the individual happiness. Their moral imperative is to reduce suffering. Utilitarians attach much value to making contracts, in which the partners balance their interests.
The idea that the common interest is the sum of individual interests was advocated by Adam Smith, like David Hume an influential member of the Scottish Enlightenment, author of the celebrated An
inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (1776). By pursuing his own interest the individual frequently promotes that of the society more effectively than when he would do that purposefully.
‘He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.’
Whereas The wealth of nations argues that self-interest constitutes the natural basis of common interest,
in The theory of moral sentiments (1759) Adam Smith emphasizes that human conscience arises from dynamic and interactive social relationships through which people seek ‘mutual sympathy of sentiments’.
For Aristotle justice is the summary of virtue, but since Kant ethics
and justice became separated. Ethics became internalized into Gesinnungsethik, concerning the individual attitude of people towards their rights and duties, whereas justice became external,
determined by a system of laws given by the state, which one has to obey, even if it would contradict one’s own ethics. In his Politik als Beruf (1919), Max Weber confronted Gesinningsethik, which he interpreted as an ethics based on
a conviction, on internally experienced values, with Verantwortungsethik, taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s deeds according to externally applied norms.
ethics of responsibility(for instance,Hans Jonas and Emmanuel Levinas) started from alarm about developments in technology assumed to be autonomous and inevitable. It emphasizes subject-object relations, the responsibility of people for their conduct
with respect to mankind as a whole or its future. It pays attention both to the persuasion of people and the effects of their acts, whether intended or not.
The ethics of responsibility identifies responsibility with the care for fellow people, for humankind as a whole, for nature, for the environment, and recently for the climate.
Nature and freedom. 13. Human nature and personal freedom
13.4. Immanuel Kant’s shift
naturalism to moralism
Let us now have a closer look at Kant’s deontological
ethics. The ethics of duty emphasizes the norm for human conduct, what one ought to do (Greek: deontos), the self-imposed duty and moral law, since the twentieth century in particular human rights.
The Enlightenment’s dialectic of nature and freedom was famously expressed in the conclusion of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of practical reason (1788):
‘Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. I have not to search for them and conjecture
them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of
sense, and enlarges my connection therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality,
and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding, and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent but in a universal and necessary connection, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds. The
former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates as it were my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital power, one knows not how, must again give back the matter of which it was formed to the
planet it inhabits (a mere speck in the universe). The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible
world, at least so far as may be inferred from the destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination not restricted to conditions and limits of this life, but reaching into the infinite.’
As a moderate Enlightenment philosopher restricting the scope of pure reason, Kant endeavoured to reconcile Christianity with Enlightenment, firmly rejecting atheism, materialist determinism, and
evolutionism, defending belief in God, freedom of the will, and the immortality of the soul. Thereby, Kant took distance from the teleological argument of design, and he restricted the reach of physico-theology.
His argument for the existence of God
did not rely on natural arguments, but on moral ones:
‘Morality inevitably leads to religion, and, through religion, extends itself to the idea of a mighty moral lawgiver outside
the human being whose ultimate goal (in creating the world) determines what can and ought to be the ultimate human end.’
However, his arguments based on morality were no less rational than the naturalist arguments of physico-theology. Kant considered man to be autonomous, law onto himself, such that morality cannot be derived from religion. He restricted the individual self-sufficiency by the categorical imperative (the law of unconditional duty), based on practical reason, not on divine revelation
like the biblical commandments. Kant called this moral autonomy human freedom. Morality making humans different from animals means to be free of any external authority. This is Kant’s
ultimate attempt to bridge the tension between nature and freedom.
Kant summarized the universal moral law in the golden rule: act always such as you would like everybody to
act. In Jesus’ words: ‘Always treat others as you would like them to treat you: that is the Law and the prophets.’
But whereas Jesus refers to God’s word, Kant states that the autonomous individual determines ethics on rational grounds, according to ‘… the idea of the will of every reasonable being as a general law-giving will.’ Kant presents various readings of the moral law,
the most general being: ‘act only on the maxim through which you can at the same time will that it be a universal law’.
(A maxim is a subjective principle to act, to be distinguished from an objective principle, like the practical law.)
This generalized autonomous individual is an abstraction in which concrete individual people seem to get lost.
In its elaboration Kantians have stressed what one ought not to do: ‘don’t ever to another what you don’t want to be done to yourself’,
but Kant himself considered this negative expression of the categorical imperative to be trivial.
Kant’s ethics of duties is reduced to precluding acts that restrict the freedom of other people, without paying attention to the consequences. For instance, according to Kant it is not allowed
to lie, even if one could save a friend’s life. Kant’s absolutization of the prohibition of lying (probably inspired by his Pietist upbringing) is a consequence of his rationalism: lying is a transgression of the logical principle of excluded contradiction,
the principium contradictionis, according to the rationalists the highest law, to which even God is subject.
In Kant’s three Critiques (1781-1790), forming the pinnacle of moderate Enlightenment,the emphasis shifted from the domination of nature to
human freedom. Kant separated natural from moral laws, pure reason from practical reason, and rational science from the no less rational religion. His philosophy convinced many people, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish alike, although his influence was mostly
restricted to the European continent. Yet Kant also met with much opposition, first of all from radical Enlightenment philosophers, condemning his social and political views to be much too conservative.
Alasdair MacIntyre argues that Kant’s maxims are not as consistent as he believes and that his morality is that of a rather conventional bourgeois. Macintyre concludes that the project to find a rational justification of morality is a failure.
according to Kant, employs no criterion external to itself. It appeals to no content derived from experience; hence Kant’s independent arguments against the use of happiness or the invocation of God’s revealed will merely reinforce a position already
entailed by the Kantian view of reason’s function and powers. It is of the essence of reason that it lays down principles which are universal, categorical and internally consistent. Hence a rational morality will lay down principles which both can and
ought to be held by all men, independent of circumstances and conditions, and which could consistently be obeyed by every rational agent on every occasion. The test for a proposed maxim is then easily framed: can we or can we not consistently will
that everybody should always act on it?’
Hence the Enlightenment’s dialectic may be expressed as: is human autonomy individual or collective? Kant wants to have his cake and eat it, assuming that human autonomy ought to be rationally shared by everyone. It is similar
to René Descartes’ view on common sense as the starting point of his rational construction of the world (3.1): ‘Good sense is mankind’s most equitably divided endowment, for everyone thinks that he is abundantly provided with it.’ Only if his methodical doubt would have
a universal character, and if every right-minded person would agree with his train of thought, Descartes would be able to construct the world rationally.
Whereas the Enlightenment stressed
individual autonomy, in particular the freedom of thought, the Romantics shifted the emphasis to the collective autonomy of the state. The state is now legitimized by a voluntary agreement of citizens, a social contract in which the citizens transfer
their natural rights in part to their sovereign. Thomas Hobbes characterized the state of nature as an unlimited anarchy, but like Hugo Grotius, John Locke assumed that people have naturally inalienable human rights, to be respected by any sovereign. The reason for the formation of a state is to warrant these rights. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau not the
state, but the community (the people) is the bearer of authority. In the romantic period this became the nation. Rousseau propagated the absolute and undivided sovereignty of the people. Hobbes preferred the reign of a single person having the consent of his
subjects, because he considered a strong government necessary to suppress haughty people. For
Locke it became a small step to the sovereignty of the parliament. It became a leading motive in British political thought. The idea of a social contract with checks and balances forms the foundation of the constitution of the United States of America.
The theory of the social contract
rests on the Enlightenment principle that any individual is autonomous, having primacy above any association. Its critics observed that people never lived outside a community and contested the view that the state can be seen as a set of autonomous individuals. Anybody is a member of the state without being asked, based on birth, not on a contract. Philosophers
defending the idea of the social contract readily admit this to be a theoretical fiction, having no historical ground.
It appears to be more likely that the modern state emerged from a multitribal community. An
intermediate form would be a class or caste state, in which people are classified according to their birth status. Both the recognition of individual rights apart from tribe or state and the recognition of the independence of associations that are not bound
to a family or the state, are more recent than the emergence of states apart from tribal ties. The liberation from tribal ties constitutes an important part of the historical development of a modern plural society, in which besides the state and the church
many free associations arose, not autonomous but mutually dependent and multiply related. It
is interesting that these associations are nowadays considered responsible persons, subject to the same normative principles and norms as individual people are.
philosophers based the sovereignty of the people on the contract theory. They overemphasized democracy, often interpreted as majority rule, instead of respect for minorities.
Nature and freedom. 13. Human nature and personal freedom
13.5. Faith and religion
Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft (Religion within the boundaries of mere reason, 1793),Immanuel Kant distinguished religion from ecclesiastical belief, assuming that religion is universally based on reason and hardly differs from ethics,
whereas faith concerns the specific dogmas of the churches.
Kant’s view on religion as based on morality was soon challenged by romanticists. For Georg Hegel religion as representation was the second form of development of the absolute mind, after art as contemplation.
These two reach a synthesis in philosophy, the third and highest form of development. Friedrich
Schleiermacher, too, based religion on aesthetic experience. He compared an artist to
‘a true priest of the Highest in that he brings Him closer to those who are used to grasping only the finite and the trifling; he presents them with the heavenly and eternal as an object
of pleasure and unity.’
In his Reden über die Religion (Addresses on religion, 1799), Schleiermacher emphasized that religion is neither a metaphysic nor a morality, but first of all an intuition,
a feeling, the experience of infinity and eternity in the universe. Later he wrote about religion as the sense of absolute dependence.
As an Enlightenment philosopher, Schleiermacher
developed a theory of language and became the father of modern hermeneutics, the theory of interpretation, as a general field of enquiry, including the textual criticism of the Bible. He initiated liberal Protestant theology as an alternative to both Evangelicalism
and traditional Reformed theology.
‘Liberals saw the Bible as one of many religious writings, Jesus as one of many religious teachers; they viewed progress as inevitable, human
nature as essentially good, and morality as the heart of religion.’
Liberal theology considered many biblical stories (such as to be found in Genesis) as myths. The word myth (from muthos, spoken word) has originally the meaning of a faith story, often concerned with the past, the emergence of mankind, of a tribe or a village, like the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus. Sometimes a myth contains a utopian scheme, an expectation regarding the
future. A myth marks a local transition from prehistory to history. Someone accepting a myth does so because they believe the story, not because it can be proved, whence myths received the negative image of an unreliable story.
A myth does not present verifiable historical facts. It represents a world view having a connective and inspiring function in a community. Such a myth can be found in Genesis 1-3, the story of creation, fall into sin,
and the promise of a redeemer. For Emil Brunner, the core of the doctrine of the creation is that persons depend for their existence on God, in whose image they are made. The meaning of the doctrine of the fall into sin is that persons seek, or suppose they
have, an autonomy ignoring the distinction between Creator and creature. These claims do not conflict, or compete, with the claims of natural science.
In contrast, Rudolph Bultmann proposed to demythologize the Bible.
A myth is different from literary fiction, like John Tolkien's The lord of the rings. You may enjoy Tolkien’s
book or the movie without believing anytime in the existence of hobbits, elves, and orks, or the spell of a ring. Similarly, you may enjoy the literary quality of the psalms or Isaiah’s prophecies without accepting these as faith documents. But nobody
can be a Christian without believing that the Bible as a faith story is the true foundation of their religion.
A faith story like a myth is not a scientific text. Since the Enlightenment,
scientific research of the scriptures has sown doubt about the reliability of the Bible. This research supposed wrongly that for Christian faith the Bible acts as a historical book or a scientific discourse. The Bible does not have the intention to write history
in Leopold von Ranke’s objectivist sense (11.1). Just like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey,the biblical books may be used as documents for historical research, for each faith document has an historical origin. It is delivered by former
generations, or put into words by a prophet like Ezra or Mohammed, an apostle like Paul, a preacher like Buddha, a reformer like Martin Luther, a philosopher like Karl Marx, or a scientist like Charles Darwin.
Myths are not necessarily religious. Enlightenment philosophers adhered to the myths of the social contract, the Communist manifesto, determinism, free market liberalism, evolutionism, materialism, and other forms of reductionism,
as well as a variety of nationalistic myths.
In modern theology, the Bible is not first of all considered a historical document, but a normative directive for faith. Nobody needs to
accept on historical grounds that Jesus is the son of God. The Bible itself indicates that this is a confession of faith, not a scientifically verifiable fact. No more does anybody need to believe on the basis of historical research that Jesus has risen from
the death, even if the Bible mentions a large number of witnesses having met Him alive after his death.
Christians accept the resurrection not primarily as a historical fact, but as the corner stone of their faith. ‘If Christ was not raised, then our gospel is null and void, and so is your faith.’
It is a dogma, a hopeful expression of their faith. Meanwhile no Christian can doubt the historicity of the man Jesus. Because God became man, He is part of human history.
Römerbrief, a comment on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (1919, second revised edition 1922), Karl Barth rejected liberal theology, emphasizing the saving grace of God and humanity's inability to know God without God's revelation in Christ.
The Bible itself is not a revelation, but it points to acts of God in history, about which it fallibly reports. In the dialectic between God and humanity, in which revelation is only given if it is received, God is ‘entirely different’. He can
only be known through interpersonal revelation, not by any kind of natural philosophy or theology.
Barth placed religion as Unglaube (unbelief) over and against true belief.
Whereas God works faith by grace, religion is an attempt of people believing to be autonomous to achieve knowledge of God:
‘Religion is unbelief; religion is a matter,
perhaps one should say the matter of godless people ... The impotent, but also haughty, presumptuous as well as helpless attempt, by which a man should want to but is unable to achieve, because he only can do that when and if God himself gives it
to him: recognition of the truth, recognition of God.’ 
In contrast, Herman Dooyeweerd considered faith to be a mode of human experience, of which religion is its central motive,
‘... the innate
impulse of human selfhood to direct itself toward the true or toward a pretended absolute Origin of all temporal diversity of meaning, which it finds focused concentrically in itself.’ 
He rejected the possibility of theoretical thought about God. Dooyeweerd stressed that in our pre-theoretical knowledge of God through Jesus Christ involves not only belief but all human modes
of experience. Apart from their terminological differences, the Calvinists Barth and Dooyeweerd agreed on their rejection of natural theology as an autonomous theoretical approach to God. However, Karl Barth also rejected Christian philosophy as proposed by
Abraham Kuyper and continued by Dirk Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd.
Nature and freedom.
13. Human nature and personal freedom
13.6. The calling
out of the animal world
Different from natural theology, pretending to be a science about God, anthropology is a philosophical or theological theory about being human. Philosophical anthropology covers
a wide spectrum, including the philosophy of history and social philosophy, normativity and philosophical ethics.
The standard naturalistic practice is to reduce all normative principles
to the natural ones. In order to deny normativity, ontological naturalists often assume that people are not free to act, and cannot be held responsible for their acts and the ensuing consequences. Everything, including human activity, is completely determined
by natural laws.
This theoretical view is opposed by the generally accepted practical assumption that human beings are to a certain extent free to act, and therefore responsible for
their deeds. Although this confirms common understanding, it is an unprovable hypothesis. Naturalist philosophers denying free will cannot prove their view too, but they should carry the burden of proof for a conviction deviating from common sense. Maintaining that human beings are just another species of animals, subject only to natural laws, they
have to deny human as much as animal freedom and responsibility. In contrast, Christian philosophy and theology hold that human beings and their associations are conditioned to be free and responsible according to normative principles irreducible to natural
Of course, many human acts are based on a reflex or some other fixed action pattern, wired in the brain or the nervous system. Experiments pointing this out cannot prove, however,
that this is always the case.
Immanuel Kant observed that science cannot solve all problems and even leads to unbridgeable antinomies (10.4). Therefore he complemented Kritik der
reinen Vernunft with Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, pure reason with practical thought, providing the foundation of morality and religion (13.4). Also for the problem of free will he sought a solution in morality. The theoretical pure reason
leaves no room for a free will, but practical reason does. From this point of view it is understandable that a neurophilosopher as a theoretician rejects free will, but simultaneously advocates a practice in which anybody may decide on their own end of life.
Augustine, Martin Luther and Jean Calvin are often accused of a kind of ‘religious determinism’ because of the doctrine of predestination. This is intended to make clear that a human person cannot convert to God from his free will, but only because
of God’s grace. However, they stressed invariably the responsibility of each person for their acts.
Christian anthropology, whether philosophical or theological, ought to dissociate
itself from naturalistic evolutionism that considers a human being like an animal or plant merely as an accidental natural product. Evolutionism wants to explain the evolution of humankind as part of the animal world as a completely natural process.
On the other hand, Christians do not need to object to the much weaker hypothesis that humanity is called out of the animal kingdom.
The evolution of humankind, like the evolution
of plants and animals, occurs partly according to natural laws, in the future maybe providing a necessary, though not a sufficient explanation for the coming into being of humanity.
‘… the claim made by some extremists that man is “nothing but” an animal … is, of course, not true. To be sure, man is, zoologically speaking, an animal. Yet, he is a unique animal, differing from all others in so many
fundamental ways that a separate science for man is well-justified.”
For a sufficient explanation one has to take into account normative principles, irreducible to natural laws. Concerning the necessary explanation, there is no reasonable doubt that human beings, as far as their body
structure is concerned, evolved from the animal world. This is a hypothesis, for which no logical proof exists, and probably never will exist. Scientific laboratories cannot copy evolution. However, scientific evidence differs from logical proof. Science does
not require conclusive proof for the hypothesis of human descent from the animal world. In stead, it requires empirical proof that does not contradict the hypothesis, but corroborates it.
for evolution, including the human one, is available in abundance. Moreover, for the aforementioned hypothesis no scientifically defensible or viable alternative appears to be at hand.
human beings and animals belong to the world of living beings because of their organic character, but they transcend it as well. The character of animals is not primarily organic, but psychically qualified by their behaviour. Hence, the assumption that humans
have a place in the animal kingdom does not imply that they are characterized by their natural behaviour. It does not exclude that a human body differs from an animal body in several respects. The size of the brain, the erect gait, the versatility
of the human hand, the absence of a tail, and the naked skin point to the unique position of humankind in the animal world.
‘Since man’s neural development consists of essentially
the same processes as that of other mammalian species (differing in the much greater extent to which those processes go on, to produce a relatively gigantic brain with a greatly exaggerated frontal portion and a number of other characteristic features) we
can expect that our brains too develop along genetically programmed lines. In the case of animals this was postulated because behavioural responses tended to be species specific. Is the same true for man? This is the central question … Without wanting
to prejudge the issue, it seems to be the case that some universal responses are clearly present in early life, but that they become less and less clearly evident as childhood proceeds; the conclusion that would appear to follow is that the relatively exaggerated
growth of certain brain areas is concerned not so much with behaviour determination and restriction as with the opposite: The keeping open of options for behaviour to be modified and adjusted by conditioning of basic programmes.’
The starting point for a Christian philosophical or theological anthropology should be that human beings are called out of the animal kingdom to control nature in a responsible way, to love their
neighbours, and to worship God. Persons are called to further good and combat evil, in freedom and responsibility. Science or philosophy cannot explain this vocation from the laws of nature. Yet it may be considered an empirical fact that all people experience
a calling to do well and to avoid evil. This fact is open to scientific archaeological and historical research, for philosophical and theological discussion.
The question of when this
calling was manifested for the first time can only be answered within a wide margin. It is comparable to the question of when (between conception and birth) a human embryo becomes an individual person, with a vocation to be human. The creation of humanity
before all times, including the vocation to function as God’s image, should be distinguished from its realization in the course of time. Contrary to the first, the latter can be dated in principle
After leaving the animal world, humanity took an active part in the dynamic development of nature. People expand their quantitative, spatial, kinetic, physical, biological, and psychological relations with other creatures and with each other. The exploitation
of energy and matter, far beyond the use of fire and celts, marks the start of history. Initially, the mastery of nature meant hunting, domestication of animals, and the collection of fruits. Only in agriculture and pastoral cattle-breeding, about 10,000 years
ago, people started to develop living nature dynamically. They influenced the genetic renewal of plants and animals by cultivating and crossing, replacing natural by artificial selection. This happened to be an important source of inspiration for Charles Darwin.
However, for understanding the history of mankind the development of normativity is far more important than the cultivation of nature.
Nature and freedom. 13. Human nature and personal freedom
13.7. The development of normativity
The fact that animals
can learn from their experience shows that they have a sense for natural regularity, but only people consider normative principles. Though not coercive, in the history of mankind the normative principles appear to be as universal as the natural laws. From
the beginning of history, human beings have been aware that they are to a certain extent free to obey or to disobey these principles in a way that neither animals nor human beings can obey or disobey natural laws. Moreover, sooner or later they discovered
that the normative principles are not sufficient. In particular the organization of human societies required the introduction of human-made norms as implementation or positivization of normative principles.
Therefore, human freedom and responsibility have two sides. At the law side it means the development of norms from the normative principles, which norms are different at historical times and places, and vary in widely
different cultures and civilizations. At the subject side, individual persons and their associations are required to act according to these norms, in order to warrant the execution of their freedom and responsibility. There is no need to argue that both have
been misused at a large scale.
The normative principles like justice are universal and recognizable in the whole of history (as far as we know it), in all cultures and civilizations.
Human skills, aesthetic experience, and language may widely differ, but are always present and recognizable where people are found. The sense of universal values is inborn.
there are relevant biological differences between human persons and their nearest relatives, the organic difference between a human and an ape is smaller than that between an ape and a horse. Humans and apes constitute different families of the same order
of the primates. Yet it is now widely accepted that the fundamental distinction between human beings and animals cannot be determined on biological grounds only.
want to establish whether certain fossils are ape-like or human-like they have to take recourse to non-biological characteristics, like the use of fire, clothing, tools and ornaments, or the burial of the dead. The age-old tradition of seeking the difference
between animals and human beings in human rationality (the size of the brain) alone seems to be abandoned. At present one looks for this distinction in culture, in language, in social organization and the like. It means that a human being transcends
psychic behaviour. Human activity is not merely directed to the fulfilment of biotic and psychic needs, but is directed to answering a calling to take responsibility according to normative principles.
The awareness of good and evil marks the birth date of humanity. Human beings have discovered the existence of good and evil, in the animal world, in their environment, and last but not least in their own communities. Consider the phenomenon of
illness of plants and animals. Every biologist can explain that what we call illness in nature is a natural process. Only from a human point of view does it make sense to say that a plant or an animal is ill, and that this is anti-normative in a human
context. Illness is an anthropomorphic concept, like any kind of animal suffering.
Also the evolutionary ‘struggle for life’ is experienced as anti-normative by people only.
Suffering and death are parts of any animal life sequence, and this was already the case long before humanity entered the scene. Like natural disasters, they can only be seen as evil from a human point of view. An alternative, put forward by some philosophers
and theologians, would be that natural evil has a demonic origin in the fall of Satan. However,
in the few biblical texts referring to demons always people are concerned. To apply demonic forces to explain animal evil as occurring before the appearance of humankind is therefore fairly speculative.
The occurrence of evil appears to constitute a problem for any theological or philosophical theodicy, the attempt to reconcile God’s goodness with the occurrence of suffering, or even to justify His acts (10.2).
From another point of view, one could observe that everything has been created vulnerable, including all living beings.
People have always tried to restrict their vulnerability, to become invulnerable, independent, autonomous, and immortal, but in vain, knowing that they fall short of their responsibility to take care of the vulnerable.
Since the rise of Christianity the care for vulnerable people like widows, orphans, and the poor belongs to the core of the Gospel. The miracles performed by Jesus and his disciples according to the New Testament do not testify to
divine power (Jesus rejected this emphatically when tempted by the devil), but to the care
for vulnerable people. Jesus does not present himself as a mighty magician, but as a healer, a saviour.
Stressing the autonomy of humans, the Enlightenment had trouble with people requiring
care. Indeed, the Enlightened ideal of human autonomy implies that everyone cares for themselves,
able to manage their own business, being independent of other people and of God. According to Michel Foucault the emancipation of free citizens involved the seclusion of dependent people. He observes that the Enlightenment project of free and equal citizens
could only be fulfilledby systematically keeping all people outside society who were ill, mad, old, and handicapped, as well as criminals.
Being placed in institutions, they were made invisible. From a religious experience that sanctified it, poverty became slowly but steadily a moral conception condemning it.
One should distinguish evil from vulnerability. Plants and animals are vulnerable, but not evil. People are responsible for everything and anyone who is vulnerable. A relevant distinction between
humans and animals is that an animal takes the world as it is, as given. A human person attempts to improve the world, not because it is evil but because it is vulnerable.
only persons experience the calling to fight evil. It makes them moral people, characterized by their attitude to values and norms. This does not apply to the vulnerability observed in the plant and animal worlds, but to evil in themselves and in their fellow
people. The awareness of good and evil constitutes the basis of culture. The sense of calling to fight evil, which is at the heart of human existence, cannot be traced back in any scientific way. From a philosophical point of view one can only establish that
it exists. In particular the difference between evil and sin (if understood as the attempt to make oneself autonomous, independent of God) is a religious question. Hence the development of humanity out of the animal kingdom cannot be completely scientifically
explained. Besides insight into natural processes, it requires revelation about what it means to be created in the image of God, to be related to God, to one’s fellows, and to the whole creation.
Nature and freedom. 13. Human nature and personal freedom
13.8. The freedom of a person
The central theme of Enlightenment philosophy is human autonomy, their individual independence. Probably each animal (at least any mammal or bird) has a sense of its own identity, but contrary
to humans, animals cannot take distance from their environment, from the likes of them or from itself. An animal’s behaviour is largely stereotype, fixed in the genetic structure of its species. In contrast, the acts of people are free and responsible,
as far as they transcend animal behaviour. An animal is bound to its Umwelt, the environment it immediately experiences, its physical, organic and psychical relations, in which it is specialized so much that its chances to survive are optimal. In
contrast, persons are not fixed; they are weltoffen, open to the world, even if they are strongly influenced by their inherited constitution and their natural and social environment.
In philosophy it is common to distinguish I from self. I stands for one’s identity. Self stands for the relation to other subjects and to objects, in which
persons take distance from their individual I. I becomes self in relations to other people, to objects, and to God.
‘It is by relating to oneself and others as well as to objects and events in the world that the subject (the child) acquires his or her identity.’
The self-consciousness of people begins with taking distance to nature, to the fellow humans, and to oneself. If it remains at this level, this may lead to alienation, an experience shared by many people.
Human acts always start with men or women themselves, with their will or lack of will to act. Technology cannot work without self-control. In aesthetic relations humans present an image of themselves, laying themselves open to others. In their lingual
acts persons express themselves, interpreting themselves. By reasoning human beings provide insight in their thought. Their belief or ideology makes persons self-confident and sometimes it leads to self-sacrifice. By showing respect to others one may achieve
one’s own position in society with self-respect. Economic relations start with a feeling of self-esteem, by developing one’s skills to be of service to themselves or to others. Authority is only effective if people are committed to self-discipline.
Juridical relations respect the right of self-determination and self-justification. Above all, human beings ought to love their neighbours as themselves.
Human acts spring from each
person’s self, developing in all kinds of relations and finding its destiny in religion. Being human concentrates itself in the heart of any person, directed to the origin, the meaning and the future of the creation.
The meaning people apply to their acts determines their attitude with respect to norms and values. As soon as they wonder what the meaning of life is, all people are religious, even if they do not believe in a personal
God. In their religion a person responds to the calling to conduct a meaningful life, the calling to do good and to counter evil. The empirically established fact that people are conscious of this calling does not coincide with knowledge of God. To know intuitively
to be called does not imply explicit knowledge of who does the calling. Knowledge of God does not originate from people, but reaches people through revelation and prophecy. The religious choice persons make gives direction to their acts and influences their
character. In their religion persons are directed past the law side to the Origin and Redeemer of the cosmos. Therefore, religion cannot be understood from the individual human I, but from the relational self. Only in the community of all
believers with Jesus Christ, a person may retire into God.
John Calvin started his Institutions stating that true self-knowledge is only possible by, and is nearly identical
to, knowledge of God.
‘Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as
these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.’ 
Calvin did not mean a theoretical idea of God as René Descartes did. Calvin referred to God, the father of Jesus Christ, who reveals Him to us. Descartes’ God was a perfect being subject
to logical laws, but Calvinists assert that not only natural laws but even the laws of logic hold true only as long as they are maintained by the Creator, because of His covenant in which Jesus is the mediator.
This illustrates the futility of rational theology, attempting to find arguments for the existence of God, for it does not arrive at God as a person (let alone three persons), but at the idea of God as a rationalistic
abstraction subject to logical laws of human reasoning, as is still common in analytical philosophy.
The Latin or Etruscan word persona meant originally mask and next (even
nowadays) the recognizable part played by an actor, who plays a character, personage, or personality in a theatre. A mask presupposes a face, a living or dead person hiding behind it.
By their facial expression persons show and hide their inner self to other persons and in front of a mirror to themselves.
They deliver a personal judgment about good and wrong, by showing approval or disapproval. People often play a part, not only on the stage. In a sense they put on a mask, hiding their true personality. In contrast, as a person they show themselves. Clearly,
the meaning of the word ‘person’ has shifted considerably, from masked to unmasked.
Believers also show themselves to their God. They stand for God’s face, finding
themselves in God’s presence. Or they hide themselves, like Eve and Adam did after the fall into sin, when they discovered to be naked, unable to hide behind a mask.
Reversely, God shows Himself in an epiphany, an appearance. In many cultures this is a historically important, repeatedly to commemorate event, in Catholicism more so than in Protestantism.
Epiphany is also a Christian festival, part of the appearance of the Lord, the Eastern-orthodox Christmas. Not only in Christianity, but also in many other religions the Gods show themselves as persons.
Greek rationalism turned away from this. Preceded by Parmenides, Aristotle imagined in his cosmology his God not as a person, but as a perfect sphere at the periphery of the cosmos, representing both being and reason. This outer, all encompassing sphere rests
in itself, keeping everything moving because all imperfect things strive after the perfection of the First Mover, doing nothing but contemplate itself. In some polytheistic religions the Gods are like people subjected to an impersonal moral power, like the
ancient Greek anankè or the Indian karma.
However, in monotheistic religions God reveals Himself as a person (according to Jewish and Muslim views) or as three persons (in Christianity). In the Bible, God presents Himself sometimes as the other, as almighty,
omnipresent, or eternal. More often He shows Himself in relations, as the creator of heaven and earth, as the lord of Israel, as the king of all peoples, as the father of his children. The Trinity shows God in the personal relations among Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit, between each of Them and all believers. The first great council of the Christian church (Nicea, 325) proclaimed that in Jesus, God really appeared on earth as a person, as the person of the Son. The council of Ephesis (431) confirmed that, however
different the divine and human natures of Christ may be, He is still one person. Therefore this council allotted Mary the honorific title of Mother of God. Next the council of Chalcedon (451) emphasized that Jesus is not only truly God, but also truly man.
In a real man the real God appears.
The statements of the three ecumenical councils have formed the Western concept of a person as being related to other persons.
The Greek text used the word hypostasis, i.e. form or appearance. Augustine translated this by persona.
The assumption that one God shows himself as three persons does not mean that God wears three different masks, but expresses the mutual relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as their relations with human persons. Each human being shows themselves
as a person, as a recognizable image of God, who reveals Himself as a person.
More than their Western colleagues, Eastern theologians stress that God’s being (Greek: ousia,
Latin: substantia) is not knowable. They assume that the dogma of the tri-unity is not open to rational analysis with the help of a theory (in the Western sense), but may be object to theoria, in the original sense of contemplation.
According to Martin Buber human being starts with taking distance to the Umwelt, such that a person stands opposite nature, something an animal cannot do: its Umwelt is its immediate
experienced world. The Urdistanzierung or Urdistanz at the start of humanity repeats itself in the development of each child. This movement is followed by another one, Beziehung, becoming related to the world, in particular to fellow
people. In the ich-du (I-you) relation each human being searches for self-confirmation, Bestätigung.
Hence the human self starts with the possibility to take distance.
This is connected to the consciousness of time, past, present and future, enabling people to cultivate the earth. By taking distance people become free to disclose themselves and the earth.
Even then they never get apart from created reality. Human freedom is restricted by the possibilities offered by natural laws and is bound to normative principles as conditions for their existence. People are created in order to be responsible for themselves,
for each other, for the whole creation, but they are enslaved to sin, the urge to autonomy, endangering the freedom of themselves and others.
People can only realize themselves in their
relation to others and to God. Christian freedom does not mean autonomy, law unto oneself, free from God and the law. It is the freedom that God gives humanity as his image to maintain and develop the creation responsibly according to his laws, liberated from
the slavery of sin because of the forgiving delivery by Jesus Christ.