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Johannes Corrodi Katzenstein
H. Dooyeweerd and E. Voegelin on Transcendence


Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) and Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) are little known “master-thinkers” of the twentieth century. Both sought to ground their encompassing, historical and systematic philosophical projects in a restored vision of divine transcendence. On the one hand, their “starting-point” set them at odds with the immanent self-transcendence of allegedly autonomous subjects, theoretical or moral, so characteristic of modern thought and culture. On the other hand, it allowed them to recover a more integral view of human selfhood-in-community and makes their work an invaluable resource for transdisciplinary research. This paper starts with a condensed discussion of the basic direction of Dooyeweerd’s and Voegelin’s thought and moves to elucidate the idea of a “ground-motive” (Dooyeweerd) and “symbolic form” (Voegelin). Both terms point to the pre-theoretical roots assumed to support the stem and branches of Western thought and culture and potentially the whole of humanity. Dooyeweerd, the Christian and Calvinist philosopher, argues for the recovery of the biblical ground-motive of “creation, fall into sin, and redemption in Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit” to guide our ways in the face of all kinds of reductionist “-isms” beleaguering modern philosophy and science. Voegelin shares this outlook. But he is also a philosopher committed to the spiritual centre of inspiration guiding the path of ancient Greek phi­lo­so­phy. In contrast to Dooyeweerd, Voegelin does not recognize the existence of an antithesis between Athens and Jerusalem. For him, Israel and the Christ-event are pneumatic realities that any political philosophy has to recognize as of utmost significance for its own project. Yet they also represent moments in a wider movement of differentiating noetic consciousness. Both the Jewish-Christian pneumatic re­sponse to and the Hellenic noetic quest for divine presence have to be carefully balanced against each other. Hence, to conclude, I look at some of the strengths and weaknesses in these thinkers’ attempts to separate or combine the biblical and Hellenic ground-motives.

Johannes Corrodi Katzenstein is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institut für Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie, Universität Zürich, Switzerland. He did his PhD dissertation on S. Kierkegaard, entitled: God and Passion in Kierkegaard's Climacus, published by Mohr Siebeck Press, Tübingen, in 2007 (Religion in Philosophy and Theology 26) under the supervision of Prof. Ingolf U. Dalferth. Before receiving his doctorate from Zürich University, he spent time doing research at Cambridge University (UK). He is presently working on a project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), on philosopher and law-scholar Herman Dooyeweerd and political philosopher Eric Voegelin on the issues of transcendence and social pluralism. From 2002 to 2006, he engaged in part-time work for a NPO in philosophical and theological adult education.


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