February Book 'O the Month

Mohr, Georg, and Brian O'Connor, eds. German Idealism: An Anthology and Guide. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. 481 pgs.

If you have read, let's say, more than one book by a modern theologian or about modern theology, you probably know that the period from around 1780-1830 in northern central Europe was more than a little influential. This period — known as German Idealism —  can be captured as an encounter between some of history's greatest minds and worst grammarians. The former makes them worth reading and the latter makes reading them like spending the day in wet socks. But for anyone who is truly invested in much of the theology discussed on blog sites like ours, there is simply no way around such a task. Don't get me wrong, I have read plenty about Kant and would have been stuck in the swamp that is the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals for a long while if it was not for someone like Christine Korsgaard. Her introduction to the text highlights some of its most essential points (see the Cambridge version to the Groundwork). But there comes a time when one either wants to or has to get into the primary texts themselves.

And that, of course, is why I am putting a plug in for German Idealism: An Anthology and Guide. In this collection, Brian O'Connor and Georg Mohr give a broad sampling of readings from Kant, Schelling, Fichte and Hegel. The text is divided into seven sections on major topics ranging from freedom and morality to beauty and art to God and religion. Each section has three or four selected readings around 12 pages in length, perfect to get a taste for what German Idealism is about. Additionally, O'Connor and Mohr provide brief introductions to every selected text, following the broader trajectory of thought during the period. I would not be suggesting this book if it was not for their introductions.

The first time reader, for example, will undoubtedly see the way that Fichte and Schelling each appropriate Kant's deduction of the transcendental subject before this whole notion is given an overhaul by Hegel. Or, turning directly to theology, I could not help but notice that Schelling's description of the "unconditional I" in his "Of the I as the Principle of Philosophy" is laden with traditional designations for God (viz., God's aseity). The theological issue: Schelling is not talking about God, but us. And yet, two decades later in the fragment The Ages of the World (my favorite of all the selections), the reader will find Schelling's robustly articulate expression of the doctrine of God. The ideas of these thinkers, in themselves and as they were passed on, made up much of figures like Troeltsch's and Barth's thought world. No doubt, the period of German Idealism is a difficult one to enter, but if your interested, this anthology might make the task a little more manageable.

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