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The theories which ascribe to the ideals and beliefs of religion only an imaginative, poetic, or aesthetic value, constitute a large family. In Christian theology the tendency found a representative in the beginning of the century in De Wette, whose “aesthetic rationalism” is explained and criticised by Dorner (Doctrine of the Person of Christ, v. pp. 51–58, Eng. trans.) and Pfleiderer (Development of Theology, pp. 97–102). On the side of materialistic science, the best-known representative is Fr. A. Lange, author of the History of Materialism (1875), whose positions are yet more fearlessly carried out by his disciple Vaihinger: “We ought to have, and may have, a theory of the world (or religion), but we must not believe in it theoretically; we must only allow ourselves to be practically, aesthetically, ethically influenced by it.” See this theory explained and acutely criticised in Stahlin’s Kant, Lotze, und Ritschl, pp. 92, 110 (Eng. trans.); and in Pfleiderer’s Religionsphilosophie, ii. pp. 173–175. From the idealistic side, this view, again, is represented by Vacherot 387in his La Metaphysique et la Science (1858): “God is the idea of the world, and the world is the reality of God.” His theory is criticised at length by Caro, in his L’Idee de Dieu, chap. v., and in Renan’s Fragments Philosophiques, pp. 207–324. Finally, Feuerbach, from thee atheistic side, regards the idea of God as a mere illusion—the projection by man of his own ego into infinity. See his Wesen des Christenthums. (translated).

Professor Seth has said of this class of theories as a whole: “The faith bred of ignorance is neither stable, nor is it likely to be enlightened. It will either be a completely empty acknowledgment, as we see in the belief in the Unknowable, or it will be an arbitrary play of poetic fancy, such a’s is proposed by Lange for our consolation. Our phenomenal world, says Lange, is a world of materialism; but still the Beyond of the Unknowable remains to us. There we may figure to ourselves an ampler and diviner air, and may construct a more perfect justice and goodness than we find on earth. The poets, in word and music and painting, are the chief interpreters of this land of the ideal. To them we must go if we would restore our jaded spirits. But we may not ask—or if we do, we cannot learn—whether this fairy land exists, or whether it lea’s any relation to the world of fact. To all which it may be confidently replied, that such an empty play of fancy can discharge the functions neither of philosophy nor of religion. The synthesis of philosophy and the clear confidence of religion may both, in a sense, transcend the actual data before us, and may both, therefore, have a certain affinity with poetry; but the synthesis is valueless and the confidence ill-timed if they do not express our deepest insight into facts, and our deepest belief as to the ultimate nature of things.”—Scottish Philosophy, pp. 178, 179.

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