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OF the three possible methods of presenting ethics, the empirical, the philosophical, and the theological, the first and most ancient is to be regarded as the mere fore-court to the science itself. And philosophical ethics, as resting upon the inner necessity of rational thinking, can never, even when it is inspired by a Christian spirit, entirely assume the place of theological ethics, and displace the latter as a lower stage of the science; rather can it only be the scientific presupposition and support of the same, without, however, taking up into itself its actual collective contents; for theological ethics bears in its foundation and essence predominantly an historical character—has for its source the historical revelation, and for 28its essential contents the (not philosophically necessary) thoughts of the actual existence of sin and of the collective history of salvation, whereof the central point is the historical Christ (who is at the same time the perfect ideal of the moral), and it treats also of the circumstances of humanity and of individual man, as having become real within the scope of Christian history, which also, as the results of fiee action, are not to be regarded as philosophically necessary.
A merely empirical ethics, furnishing only a series of observations and rules, as with the Chinese, the Indians, the older Grecian sages, and also to a large extent inside of the scope of Christian history, is only a collection of material for scientific ethics, but not ethics itself. In the sphere of science we have to do only with the antithesis of philosophical and theological ethics, in the place of which, however, we may not, as Schleiermacher does,1414 Christl. Sitte, p. 24. substitute the antithesis of Christian and philosophical ethics. Over against Christian ethics stands, not’ philosophical, but non-Christian ethics; also a philosophical ethics may be Christian, and a Christian ethics philosophical; a believing Christian will in fact never otherwise philosophize than in a Christian spirit.
The antithesis between philosophical and theological ethics is in itself simple and clear; for philosophical ethics, only that is valid which is developed from the per se necessary thought, with inner necessity; it presents the moral as a pure revelation of reason; theological ethics, on the contrary, conceives it as a revelation of faith in the personal God and in the historical Christ—as an expression of obedience to the revealed will of God; hence between the two methods of presentation there is in fact not merely an antithesis of method and source, but also of compass. Theological ethics, embracing also the sphere of the historical facts of free will-determination, transcends the limits of philosophical ethics. The two could only then be perfectly co-extensive when the sphere of moral freedom should be merged into that of unconditional necessity; that is, when the 29rational ground and presupposition of the ethical itself should be denied.—The ethical thoughts which relate to the realized free acts of man and of Christ can be treated of in philosophical ethics only hypothetically, so that philosophy shall apply the results obtained in the sphere of pure thought to the, not philosophically, but historico-empirically ascertained conditions; that is, not as pure but, in some sense, as mixed philosophy. But if also the historical facts of Christianity are to be taken up into philosophical ethics, as Palmer assumes,1515 Moral, p. 19. then its difference from theological ethics is at least, not to be placed in the fact that the latter bases itself upon Scripture; for indeed philosophy cannot come at these facts otherwise than from the Scriptures, and is then in fact no longer purely philosophical.
While purely philosophical ethics can develop only the general moral ideas, but not their application to definite historically-arisen relations, on the other hand, a purely theological ethics, as absolutely excluding all philosophical treatment, is defective, at least, in scientific respects. Theological ethics can appropriate to itself philosophy, and it is all the more scientific the more it does this; but it cannot take philosophy as its exclusive ground and source without ceasing to be theological. Hence theological ethics is, in respect to extent of contents and to the means at its disposal, richer than purely philosophical ethics. The highest perfection of Christian ethics is a vital union of the philosophical and the theological manner of treatment, namely, in that the ideas given in the moral reason itself are treated and speculatively developed as such, and receive from Christian revelation their religious confirmation; while, on the other hand, the actual truths lying in the sphere of the free activity of man himself are taken up from revelation and from historical experience. Such a presentation of ethics preserves its Christianly-theological character by the fact that, in view of the constantly-renewed alternation of philosophical systems, and of their not unfrequently weighty and essential mutual contradictions, it does not make the validity of the firmly-established truths of revelation dependent on their agreement with a particular philosophical system, but, on the contrary, makes the acceptance of philosophical thoughts and of their sequences dependent on their harmonizing with the certain truths of revelation. If this 30relation is otherwise understood, then it is in fact no longer a theological, but a philosophical, system.
This antithesis between philosophical and theological ethics is entirely rejected by Rothe, in that he presents a theological ethics which is essentially speculative, and in that he definitely distinguishes theological speculation from philosophical, and requires of theological ethics that it must, as a science, be also speculative, whereas dogmatics cannot in the nature of things be such. Every speculation begins with a proto-datum,—philosophical speculation with the self-consciousness. But this self-consciousness is not mere self-consciousness, but is at the same time in some manner a determined one, is also a God-consciousness; the religious subject recognizes his self-consciousness not as an absolutely pure one, but as always at the same time affected by an objective determinateness, namely, the religious. Man is never otherwise conscious of himself than as being conscious at the same time also of his relation to God. This point may, says Rothe, be in itself controverted, but in the sphere of piety, that is, in the theological sphere, it is not controverted: “we deny to no one the right to question the reality of piety itself, but with impiety we have, as a matter of principle, nothing to do; there can be a system of theology only on the presupposition of piety; for all who are impious our system of speculation has no validity, and, as related to them, we must continue in error.” According to this, there are two kinds of speculation, a religious and a philosophical; the latter has its point of departure in simple self-consciousness, the former in the pious self-consciousness; philosophical speculation conceives the “All” through the idea of the ego, theological speculation through the idea of God, but both are à priori; hence theological speculation is theosophy; it begins with the idea of God, with which idea philosophical speculation ends; the evidence is the same in both. Speculative theology must be essentially different for every peculiar form of piety, inasmuch as the starting-point, namely, the peculiarly-determined pious consciousness, is different. Hence there is also a peculiarly Christianly-speculative theology, and likewise for every Church a special one, and hence also a special evangelico-Christian theology; and this special speculative theology has in fact validity only for this particular Church—is for the others without significancy. This theological 31speculation, however, is not in any way bound by the dogmas of the Church in which it originates, but is independent of them—knows itself as co-etaneous with them; nay, it must in its every nature be heterodox; its purpose is in fact to develop the consciousness of the Church still further, and to reconstruct the existing dogmatical definitions. In the circle of theological sciences speculation occupies the first and highest place. The difference between theological and philosophical ethics becomes, now, perfectly plain. Both are speculative; but philosophical ethics proceeds from the moral consciousness purely as such; whereas theological ethics proceeds from the same as it exists in the Christian individual belonging to a particular Christian Church, that is, as a peculiarly-determined religious consciousness, and from the historically-given ideal of morality in the person of Christ.
This view appears to us entirely erroneous. We cannot possibly admit any other than a purely philosophical speculation, at least as of a scientific character. In the first place it is incorrect, in point of fact, that philosophical speculation always proceeds from self-consciousness as in contradistinction to theological speculation, which is made to proceed from the God-consciousness. Spinoza starts directly from the idea of God, and his philosophy will surely not be called a theological speculation; in like manner also Schelling. Hegel begins with the idea of pure being; and this is certainly also not identical with self-consciousness.—Theological speculation, Rothe holds, differs only in its beginning, from philosophical, in that this beginning is, in it, somewhat more determined and more rich in contents, namely, as being already a religiously-determined self-consciousness. This is the view of Schleiermacher, who also proceeds from the religiously-determined self-consciousness; however, Schleiermacher does not undertake to base thereon a system of speculation, but simply a theological description of the pious conditions of the soul, and to argue toward their presuppositions, which in fact cannot, in any sense, be called speculation. Rothe—herein less consequential than Schleiermacher—goes beyond him in two respects: first, in that he carries the religious determinateness, the self-consciousness, even into the confessional phase; and, secondly, in that he undertakes to make this purely empirical fact the foundation of a system of speculation. 32The original self-consciousness upon which Rothe bases speculative theology, and more specifically ethics, is not merely religiously determined in general (as, e. g., with Schleiermacher, a feeling of absolute dependence), but also Christianly-religiously, nay, even evangelically-Christianly, etc., and only on the basis of such a quite specific determinedness is, in his view, a theological speculation possible. This, however, is, properly speaking, not a theological speculation, but a Christian, a Protestant, a Lutheran, or a Reformed speculation, and has in fact validity only for this special ecclesiastical circle; others, belonging to another Church, may construct their own peculiar speculations-with the speculations of others they have no concern, nor others with theirs; and yet all this is assumed to be not merely science, but in fact speculative science. We can find in it, however, only arbitrary assumption, and can recognize such products neither as speculative nor as scientific, neither as Christian nor as evangelical. In the first place, a real science, and hence above all a true speculation, cannot rest upon a merely fortuitous ground, but only upon an absolutely certain one. A speculation which concerns itself not as to whether its starting-point, its foundation, is certain and true, is manifestly worthless. Now the pretended theological speculation of Rothe bases itself upon an entirely fortuitously-determined religious consciousness, without inquiring as to its legitimacy, and then speculates thereupon unsuspectingly, further. Again, as the starting-point of this speculation is of a fortuitously-determined character, hence it can never have any validity save for the definite and limited circle of persons who in fact chance to recognize this starting-point,—has, in fact, no general significancy, as indeed Rothe himself expressly admits; and hence there is absolutely no possibility of harmony between the speculative theologians of different Churches; they must simply let each other alone, and deliver themselves in monologues; and he who speculates from the Protestant consciousness must renounce all hope that a Roman Catholic Christian may understand him, and in any degree enter into his line of thought—for he cannot do so. But this is a positive contradiction not merely to all speculation, but in fact to all science; nay, to the very nature of truth in general, and to morality itself. Truth—and every science claims to be its expression—can never be particular, but necessarily claims universal 33validity; every real science purposes to convince all men who are rational and at all capable of scientific thought; hence to renounce all hope of convincing other men, for the reason that they chance to find themselves otherwise confessionally-determined, would be positively immoral. No real science in general is at liberty to construct itself upon a fortuitously-given ba1sis, and to regard other equally fortuitous bases as equally valid and unassailable. I cannot, without treason to the truth, speculate evangelically-Christianly simply because I find myself in my earlier religious self-consciousness evangelically-Christianly determined, but only for the reason that, for convincing grounds, I have recognized this evangelically-Christian consciousness as per se true, as universally valid truth, and which therefore excludes, as erroneous, every contradictory view. And for the simple reason that the truth, in its very idea and essence, can and may lever be merely subjective, but must have objective and universal validity, and because all men should come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. ii, 4), I absolutely dare not construct a system of speculation which, on principle, excludes the hope of persuading other persons of different confessions, which purlposes to have for such no convincing power, and does not regard them as called equally with me to recognize the truth, which as truth must be absolutely valid for them also. Without a firm and absolutely verified basis there can be no science. A speculation upon a chance, fortuitous basis is idle play without purpose and without worth. There would, in fact, be as many mutually-excluding and equally-entitled speculations as there are such chance presuppositions; and what would be the significancy of a science which aims not at convincing those in error, but only at furnishing an interesting entertainment for the already convinced? If the assumed foundation is not to be itself an object of a preliminary scientific examination, then in fact any and every one would be fully entitled to say: I find myself not merely so or so religiously, but also so or so morally, determined,—I find in my moral self-consciousness this particular desire and this particular aversion, and on the basis of this determinedness I propose to construct a system of speculative ethics! The distinction between philosophical and theological speculation in Rothe’s sense would in fact be simply the distinction between science and unscientific arbitrariness. We 34fully admit that only a moral spirit can truly speculate upon the moral, and only a Christianly-pious spirit upon religion; but that a person is moral or pious is only an individual fact, but not a scientific basis of a system,—is a moral presupposition, but not a material principle of the speculation itself; piety is only the subjective condition, the impulse toward and the power for speculation, but not the scientific foundation thereof.—The strange contradiction, that this speculation, though proceeding from a determined ecclesiastical consciousness as the unassailable and unquestionable basis, yet at the same time claims to be entitled to pass out beyond the ecclesiastical consciousness, and even sets up heterodoxy as one of its requirements (a requirement which Rothe himself meets in a high degree), we need not here further elucidate.
Rothe presents theological speculation as co-etaneous, along-side of philosophical. Now, however, if, as he expressly affirms, philosophical speculation in proceeding in its development necessarily arrives at the idea of God, and there ends, that is, precisely at the point where theological speculation begins, then, in fact, speculation may, from this idea of God as obtained in a purely scientific manner, simply advance further, so that consequently we now have a theological speculation resting not upon a fortuitous and empirical presupposition, but upon a scientific result,—to which the one assumed by Rothe bears only a relation of premature over-haste. The entire distinction between theological and philosophical speculation, we must consequently declare as scientifically unfounded; and we cannot, with Rothe, look upon the difference between philosophical and theological ethics as the difference between a speculation without presuppositions and a speculation with presuppositions, but only as the difference between a speculative and a non-speculative ethics, or an ethics resting essentially on history. Purely philosophical ethics knows nothing of Christ, of redemption, nor even of sin as a reality, and hence cannot possibly answer the full idea of a Christian ethics, although it may and should, in that which it is competent to embrace, be of a very Christian character: and as the entire moral life of the Christian rests upon redemption and spiritual regeneration, hence there is not a single point in this life, where at purely philosophical ethics could suffice. Hence the view of Schleiermacher, that Christian and philosophical 35ethics are of exactly of the same compass, we must regard as incorrect.1616 Christ. Sitte, Beil, p. 4.In his Philosophical Ethics he himself expressly declares that the notion of evil has no place in it, but is only obtained from the experience of real life; but in Christian ethics this notion is an essentially co-determining element of the whole.1717 Ibid., pp. 35, 36.
Theological and philosophical ethics do not mutually exclude each other, but stand in intimate connection, and may go hand in hand; we must admit both of them, each in its own field, and each with the task of combining the other as much as possible in itself. But for each of the two manners of treatment, we must lay claim to universal validity. Whether we have recognized a truth philosophically or theologically, we regard this much as settled, that it is a truth not merely for us Protestant or Roman Christians, but for all men who seek truth at all; and those who do not admit it, we can regard only as in error. This is not intolerance, but simple fidelity to the truth; every truth is, in this sense, intolerant,—claims the right to be accepted of all men.
Ethics is frequently so treated that philosophical ethics, as pure, precedes, and Christian ethics as applied ethics, follows. This is not correct; Christian ethics is not a mere application of philosophical, but has, in so far as it rests on history, an essentially other character, and other ground-thoughts peculiar to itself.—We purpose here to present a System of Christian ethics, which, for the reason that it is to embrace all the phases of the Christianly-moral, must be essentially theological; but in the inner organizing and in the developing of the ground-thoughts, philosophical considerations must furnish the deeper scientific foundation.
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