Where does evil come from? Why do human do bad things? Is it part of out nature, just the way things are, or something we somehow chose, something we are fundamentally responsible for? Traditional Christian doctrine taught that there was a Fall, a world-historical catastrophe in which humanity rebelled against God, plunging the world into its current form: chaos filled and full of evil. But modern, Enlightened thinkers surely moved beyond such outdated ideas? Immanuel Kant, the greatest philosophical representative of the Enlightenment, upholder of the authority of reason and the supremacy of human autonomy, actually argued for a version of the Fall to explain human evil. That Kant took evil so seriously is itself important, but what do we make of his account, and what is its long-term significance?
How is theology related to philosophy? Can theologians ignore philosophy, or is it bound up with the entire theological project, to be ignored only at the price of incoherence? German Idealism is the sun which illumines all of modern theology. Ignored, distortion and darkness in the interpretation of modern theology become inevitable. Paul Tillich was one of the greatest twentieth century theologians, and his attempt to explain the Fall of humanity and the cosmos illustrates his profound, yet not fully acknowledged, debt to Kant and German Idealism.
Autonomy is the theme of the modern age. We are free only when we are the author of our own conditions and rules. Anything less is an arbitrary imposition and a threat to selfhood. Where did this idea come from? Immanuel Kant was its great exponent, and we are all Kantians now. German Idealism is the movement that developed from Kant's revolution, and Kierkegaard, so often associated exclusively with Existentialism, was one of its deepest critics. He sought to explore what it means to be a self in a way that acknowledged the reality of givenness while also upholding the power of human freedom and the ever-dynamic journey that is selfhood. This article explains the hardest yet most important passage about the self in Kierkegaard's work by placing it in its proper context: German Idealism and Romanticism, and the revolution of modern freedom to which we are all heirs.
Kant’s critical philosophy towers over eighteenth century German thought, casting a long and impenetrable shadow in which many lesser philosophical figures reside unknown save to scholars of classical German philosophy, their influence and thought ignored in most discussions of Kant’s system. Kant, however, is not an exception to the rule that a thinker and his thought must be placed in their historical and cultural context in order to be appreciated. Such placement would leave Kant comfortably in the German Enlightenment, an exponent and defender of its ideals, especially the supremacy of reason. Frederick Beiser, a scholar of classical German philosophy, acknowledges that while Kant severely criticized the Enlightenment, he came to rescue it and give a firm foundation to its primary tenet: “the authority of reason." It was precisely this tenet, however, which was being seriously questioned by the time Kant began publishing his main works of critical philosophy.