Jacobi's Response to Religious Nihilism

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Jacobi defines nihilism as the tendency of the Self to annihilate all external reality, so that eventually only the Self remains. By interpreting rational theology as a form of nihilism, Jacobi contributed substantially to the outbreak of its already looming crisis (section 2). The origin of nihilism is the propensity of the understanding for logical enthusiasm, in particular the conviction that God’s existence could be demonstrated by reason. However, the triumph of the understanding in religious matters results, paradoxically, in annihilating the personal, living God and substituting him with an anonymous, purely conceptual idol (section 3). Against this nihilistic tendency of modern philosophy, Jacobi develops his own, alternative philosophical theology, which has the immediate awareness of the supersensible, in particular of God as an objective, personal being as its starting point. Yet, although the revelation of God through (a redefined idea of) reason provides philosophical theology with its content, the understanding is essential too, since it offers philosophy its conceptual and reflective form. This means that philosophical theology has to take the individual experiences and stories of God’s living presence as its point of departure and reflects on them conceptually (section 4). By taking this approach, Jacobi makes clear that philosophical theology should refrain from demonstrating God, and should confine itself to hinting at the truth of God’s existence; yet at the same time philosophical theology needs concepts to express and reflect on this truth, so that it can become an object of intellectual exchange and justification.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFriedrich Heinrich Jacobi and the Ends of the Enlightenment
Subtitle of host publicationReligion, Philosophy, and Reason at the Crux of Modernity
EditorsAlexander J.B Hampton
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781009244978
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


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