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Essays on Biblical Interpretation by Paul Ricoeur

Paul Ricoeur was Professor of Philosophy and Theology in the Faculty of Arts at Paris-Nanterre, then was the successor to Paul Tillich at the University of Chicago. This book was published in 1980 by Fortress Press. It was prepared for Religion-Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.

Chapter 4: Freedom in the Light of Hope

[Translated by Robert Sweeney. Originally "Approche philosophique du concept de liberte religieuse" in d’Hermeneutique de la liberte religieuse (Actes du Congres international, Rome, janvier 1968), Archivio di Filosofsa, direction E. Castelli, 38, 19458, and Paris: Aubier, 1968, 215-34.]


The concept of religious freedom can be approached in several ways and on several levels. For my part, I discern three. First, one can raise questions about the freedom of the act of faith; one then situates the problem in the field of an essentially psychological or anthropological discussion. But faith is not thereby recognized in its theological specificity; it is treated like a species of belief, and the freedom of the act of faith appears as a particular case of the general power of choosing, or, as we say, of forming an opinion.

On a second level, questions of political science can be raised about the right to profess a specific religion; it is not only a matter of subjective conviction but of public expression of opinion. Religious freedom is then a particular case of the general right to profess opinions without being intimidated by public power. This right forms part of the political pact (contract) which renders the right of one person reciprocal to the right of another. In the last analysis, the basis of this freedom consists not in the psychological power to choose but in the mutual recognition of free wills within the framework of a politically organized community. In this politics of freedom, religion figures as a cultural power, a recognized public force; and the freedom that one claims for it is the more legitimate as religion is not its exclusive beneficiary.

On a third level, the one on which I will try to situate myself, religious freedom signifies the quality of freedom that pertains to the religious phenomenon as such. There is a hermeneutics of this freedom to the degree that the religious phenomenon itself exists only in the historical process of interpretation and reinterpretation of the word that engenders it. Therefore I understand the hermeneutics of religious freedom as the explication of the meanings of freedom which accompany the explication of the founding word or, as we say, the proclamation of the kerygma.

This third way of posing the problem does not exclude the preceding ways; I hope to show that this quality of freedom, developed by proclamation and interpretation, recapitulates the anterior degrees of freedom inasmuch as it concerns what I shall henceforth call the completion of the discourse of freedom. This power of recapitulation will even be my constant preoccupation. In fact, the task of the philosopher appears to me here to be distinguished from that of the theologian, in the following manner: biblical theology has the function of developing the kerygma according to its own conceptual system; it has the duty of criticizing preaching, both by confronting it with its origin and by reorganizing it in a meaningful framework, in a discourse of its own kind, corresponding to the internal coherence of the kerygma itself. The philosopher, even the Christian one, has a distinct task; I am not inclined to say that he brackets what he has heard and what he believes, for how could he philosophize in such a state of abstraction with respect to what is essential? But neither am I of the opinion that he should subordinate his philosophy to theology, in an ancillary relation. Between abstention and capitulation, there is the autonomous way which I have located under the heading "the philosophical approach."

I take "approach" in its strong sense of "approximation." I understand by this the incessant work of philosophical discourse to put itself into a relation of proximity with kerygmatic and theological discourse. This work of thought is a work that begins with listening, and yet within the autonomy of responsible thought. It is an incessant reform of thinking, but within the limits of reason alone. The "conversion" of the philosopher is a conversion within philosophy and to philosophy according to its internal exigencies. If there is only one logos, the logos of Christ requires of me as a philosopher nothing else than a more complete and more perfect activation of reason; not more than reason, but whole reason. Let us repeat this phrase, whole reason; for it is this problem of the integrality of thinking which will prove to be the core of the whole problematic.

Here, then, is how we shall proceed. I will first of all sketch out what I, as a hearer of the Word, consider to be the kerygma of freedom. Then I shall attempt to say — and this is the principal point of my paper — what kind of discourse on freedom philosophy can articulate, beyond psychological and political discourse, that will still merit the name of "discourse" on religious freedom. This homologous discourse is that of religion within the limits of reason alone.


It is not initially of freedom that the Gospel speaks to me; it is because it speaks to me of something else that it speaks to me also of freedom: "The truth shall make you free," says John.

Where shall we begin then, if not with freedom? For my part I have been very much taken with — I should say, won over by — the eschatological interpretation that Jurgen Moltmann gives to the Christian kerygma in his work The Theology of Hope.1 As we know, Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer are at the origin of the reinterpretation of the whole of the New Testament, starting with the preaching of the Kingdom of God and of the last things and breaking with the moralizing Christ of the liberal exegetes. But then, if the preaching of Jesus and of the primitive church proceeds from the eschatological source, it is necessary to readjust all theology in accordance with the norm of eschatology and cease to make of discourse on the last things a sort of more or less optional appendix to a theology of revelation centered on a notion of logos and of manifestation which would itself owe nothing to the hope of things to come.

This revision of theological concepts beginning with an exegesis of the New Testament centered on the preaching of the Kingdom to come finds support in the parallel revision of the theology of the Old Testament inspired by Martin Buber, which insists on the massive opposition between the God of the promise — the God of the desert, of the wandering — and the gods of the "epiphanic" religions. This systematized opposition goes very far. The religion of the "name" is opposed to that of the "idol," as the religion of the God who is coming is opposed to the religion of the God of present manifestation. The first engenders a history, while the second consecrates a nature full of gods. As to this history, it is less the experience of the change of everything than the tension created by the expectation of a fulfillment; history is itself hope of history, for each fulfillment is perceived as confirmation, pledge, and repetition of the promise. This last designates an increase, a surplus, a "not yet," which maintains the tension of history.2

It is this temporal constitution of the "promise" that must now guide us in the interpretation of the New Testament. At first glance, one might think that the Resurrection, the heart of the Christian kerygma, has exhausted the category of promise by fulfilling it.

What has appeared to me precisely as most interesting in the Christology of Moltmann is his effort to resituate the central preaching of the Resurrection in an eschatological perspective. This is crucial for our being able to speak shortly concerning freedom in the light of hope. One might be tempted to say that the Resurrection is the past event par excellence. One thinks of the Hegelian interpretation of the empty tomb as a memorial to nostalgia. All the more might one prefer to locate it within the category of the present by applying it to ourselves, to the new man, as in the existential interpretation of Rudolf Bultmann.

How can we interpret the Resurrection in terms of hope, of promise, of the future? Moltmann attempts it by resituating the Resurrection entirely within the framework of the Jewish theology of the promise and by removing it from the Hellenistic schemas of epiphanies of eternity. The Resurrection, interpreted within a theology of promise, is not an event which closes, by fulfilling the promise, but an event which opens, because it adds to the promise by confirming it. The Resurrection is the sign that the promise is henceforth for all; the meaning of the Resurrection is in its future, the death of death, the resurrection of all from the dead. The God who is witnessed to is not, therefore, the God who is but the God who is coming. The "already" of his Resurrection orients the "not yet’’ of the final recapitulation. But this meaning reaches us disguised by the Greek Christologies, which have made the Incarnation the temporal manifestation of eternal being and the eternal present, thus hiding the principal meaning, namely, that the God of the promise, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has approached, has been revealed as He who is coming for all. Thus disguised by epiphanic religion, the Resurrection has become the pledge of all divine presence in the present world: cultic presence, mystic presence. The task of a hermeneutics of the Resurrection is to reinstitute the potential of hope, to tell the future of the Resurrection. The meaning of the "Resurrection" is in suspense insofar as it is not fulfilled in a new creation, in a new totality of being. To recognize the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is to enter into the movement of hope in resurrection from the dead, to attain the new creation ex nihilo, that is, beyond death.

If such is the meaning of hope on its own level of discourse, that of a hermeneutics of the Resurrection, what is the meaning of freedom if it also must be converted to hope? What is freedom in the light of hope? I will answer in one word: it is the meaning of my existence in the light of the Resurrection, that is, as reinstated in the movement which we have called the future of the Resurrection of the Christ. In this sense, a hermeneutics of religious freedom is an interpretation of freedom in conformity with the Resurrection interpreted in terms of promise and hope.

What does this mean?

The above formula attests that the psychological, ethical, and even political aspects are not absent; but they are not basic because they are not original. Hermeneutics consists in deciphering these original traits in their psychological, ethical, and political expressions, then in reascending, from these expressions, to the nucleus — which I shall call kerygmatic — of freedom in the light of hope. Indeed, we can speak in psychological terms of a choice for or against life, of a radical alternative; we find texts in this sense which make us think of a philosophical conception of freedom of choice, for example in Deuteronomy: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants might live, in the love of Yahweh your God, obeying his voice, clinging to him" (Deut. 30: 19-20).3 The preaching of John the Baptist, and, even more, that of Jesus, is an appeal which incites a decision, and this decision can be transcribed into the alternative: either/or. We know the use that has been made, from Kierkegaard to Bultmann, of the theme of the existential decision. But the existential interpretation of the Bible has not been sufficiently attentive to the specificity of this choice; perhaps it even marks a subtle emptying of the eschatological dimension and a return to the philosophy of the eternal present. In any case, there is a great risk of reducing the rich content of eschatology to a kind of instantaneousness of the present decision at the expense of the temporal, historical, communitarian, and cosmic aspects contained in the hope of the Resurrection. If we wish to express freedom in the light of hope in appropriate psychological terms, it will be necessary to speak, with Kierkegaard again, of the passion for the possible, which retains in its formulation the mark of the future which the promise puts on freedom. Indeed, it is necessary to draw all the consequences for a meditation on freedom of Moltmann’s antithesis between religion of promise and religion of presence, to extend the debate with the theophanic religions of the Orient to a debate with the whole of Hellenism, to the degree that this latter proceeds from the Parmenidean celebration of the "It is." It is then not only the Name that must be opposed to the idol, but the "He is coming" of Scripture must be opposed to the "It is" of the Proem of Parmenides. This dividing line is henceforth going to separate two conceptions of time and, through them, two conceptions of freedom. The Parmenidean "It is" in effect calls for an ethics of the eternal present; this is sustained only by a continual contradiction between, on the one hand, a detachment, an uprooting from passing things, a distancing and an exile in the eternal, and, on the other hand, consent without reservation to the order of the whole. Stoicism is doubtless the most developed expression of this ethics of the present; the present, for Stoicism, is the unique time of salvation; the past and the future are equally discredited; in one stroke, hope is rejected for the same reason as fear, as a disturbance, an agitation, which proceeds from a revocable opinion concerning imminent evils or coming goods. Nec spe — nec metu (Do not hope — do not fear) Spinozist wisdom will say with equal emphasis. And perhaps today what there is of Spinozism in contemporary philosophy returns us to this same wisdom of the present, by means of suspicion, demystification, and disillusionment. Nietzsche speaks of love of fate and pronounces the eternal yes to existence; and Freud reintroduces the tragic anake into the principle of reality. But hope is diametrically opposed, as passion for the possible, to this primacy of necessity. It is allied with the imagination insofar as the latter is the power of the possible and the disposition for being in a radical renewal. Freedom in the light of hope, expressed in psychological terms, is nothing else than this creative imagination of the possible.

But we can also speak in ethical terms and emphasize its character of obedience, of listening. Freedom is a "following" (Folgen). For ancient Israel, the Law is the way that leads from promise to fulfillment. Covenant, Law, Freedom, as power to obey or disobey, are derivative aspects of the promise. The Law imposes (gebietet) what the promise proposes (bietet). The commandment is thus the ethical face of the promise. Of course, with Saint Paul this obedience is no longer transcribed in terms of law; obedience to the Law is no longer the sign of the efficacy of the promise; rather, the Resurrection is the sign.

Nevertheless, a new ethics marks the linkage of freedom to hope — what Moltmann calls the ethics of the mission (Sendung); the promissio involves a missio, in the mission, the obligation which engages the present proceeds from the promise, opens the future. But more precisely, the mission signifies something other than an ethics of duty, just as the passion for the possible signifies something other than what is arbitrary. The practical awareness of a "mission" is inseparable from the deciphering of the signs of the new creation, of the tendential character of the Resurrection, to quote Moltmann once more.

The mission would thus be the ethical equivalent of hope, just as the passion for the possible was its psychological equivalent.

This second trait of freedom in the light of hope removes us further than the first trait did from the existential interpretation, which is too much centered on the present decision; for the ethics of the mission has communitarian, political, and even cosmic implications, which the existential decision, centered on personal interiority, tends to hide. A freedom open to new creation is in fact less centered on subjectivity, on personal authenticity, than on social and political justice; it calls for a reconciliation which itself demands to be inscribed in the recapitulation of all things.

But these two aspects, psychological and ethicopolitical, of freedom according to hope are the second expression of a core of meaning which is properly the kerygmatic center of freedom, of which we will soon undertake a philosophical approximation.

I shall say this: "Christian freedom" —to take a phrase from Luther — is to belong existentially to the order of the Resurrection. There is its specific element. It can be expressed in two categories, on which I have reflected and worked several times, which explicitly tie freedom to hope: the category of "in spite of" and that of "how much more." They are the obverse and reverse of each other, just as are, with Luther, "freedom from" and "freedom for."

For the "in spite of" is a "free from," but in the light of hope; and the "how much more" is a "free for," equally in the light of hope.

In spite of what? If the Resurrection is resurrection from the dead, all hope and freedom are in spite of death. This is the hiatus which makes of the new creation a creatio ex nihilo — a hiatus so profound that the identity of the risen Christ with Jesus crucified is the great question of the New Testament. That identity is not certain; the apparitions do not teach it, but only the word of the Risen One: "It is I, the same." The kerygma announces it as the good news: "the living Lord of the church is the same as Jesus on the Cross." The same question of identity has its equivalent in the Synoptics: how tell the story of the Resurrection? Well, properly speaking, one does not tell it; the discontinuity in the account is the same as in the preaching; for the account also, there is a hiatus between the Cross and the apparitions of the Resurrected. The empty tomb is the expression of this hiatus.

What follows from this for freedom? Henceforth all hope will carry the same sign of discontinuity, between what is heading toward death and what denies death. This is why it contradicts actual reality. Hope, insofar as it is hope of resurrection, is the living contradiction of what it proceeds from and what is placed under the sign of the Cross and death. According to an admirable phrase of the Reformers, the Kingdom of God is hidden under its contrary, the Cross. If the connection between the Cross and the Resurrection is of the order of paradox and not of logical mediation, freedom in the light of hope is not only freedom for the possible but, more fundamentally still, freedom for the denial of death, freedom to decipher the signs of the Resurrection under the contrary appearance of death.

But defiance of death is in its turn the counterpart or inverse of a life-force, of a perspective of growth, which the "how much mote of Saint Paul comes to express: but the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall. If it is certain that through one man’s fall so many died, it is even more certain that divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift. . . - If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall, it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift. . . . When law came, it was to multiply the opportunities of falling, but however great the number of sins committed, grace was even greater (Rom. 5:12-20).

This logic of surplus and excess is as much the folly of the Cross as it is the wisdom of the Resurrection. This wisdom is expressed in an economy of superabundance, which we must decipher in daily life, in work and in leisure, in politics and in universal history. To be free is to sense and to know that one belongs to this economy, to be "at home" in this economy. The "in spite of," which holds us ready for disappointment, is only the reverse, the dark side, of the joyous "how much more" by which freedom feels itself, knows itself, wills to conspire with the aspiration of the whole of creation for redemption.

With this third trait the distance is further widened between an eschatological interpretation of freedom and an existential interpretation which contracts it within the experience of present, interior, subjective decision. Freedom in the light of hope of resurrection has a personal expression, certainly, but, even more, a communitarian, historical, and political expression in the dimension of the expectation of universal resurrection.

It is by starting from this kerygmatic core of hope and freedom that we should now search out a philosophical approximation.


In beginning the task that is proper to the philosopher, I wish to recall what I said in the introduction concerning the approximation in philosophical discourse to the kerygma of hope. This setting in proximity, I said, is both a work of listening and an autonomous enterprise, a thinking "in the light of. . ." and a free thinking.

How is this possible?

There is, it seems to me, in the kerygma of hope, both an innovation of meaning and a demand for intelligibility, which simultaneously create the measure and the task of approximation.

An innovation of meaning is what Moltmann emphasizes by opposing the promise to the Greek logos; hope begins as "alogical." It effects an irruption into a closed order; it opens up a career for existence and history. Passion for the possible, mission and exodus, denial of the reality of death, response of superabundance of meaning to the abundance of non-sense these are so many signs of the new creation whose novelty catches us, in the strict sense, unawares. Hope, in its Springing forth, is "aporetic," not by reason of lack of meaning but by excess of meaning. Resurrection surprises by being in excess in comparison to the reality forsaken by God.

But if this novelty did not make us think, then hope, like faith, would be a cry, a flash without a sequel; there would be no eschatology, no doctrine of last things, if the novelty of the new were not made explicit by an indefinite repetition of signs, were not verified in the "seriousness" of an interpretation which incessantly separates hope from utopia. Likewise, the exegesis of hope by means of freedom, as we have just outlined it, is already a way of thinking according to hope. The passion for the possible must graft itself onto real tendencies, the mission onto a sensed history, the superabundance onto signs of the Resurrection, wherever they can be deciphered. It is necessary, therefore, that the Resurrection deploy its own logic, which obviates the logic of repetition.

We cannot restrict ourselves to the nondialectical opposition between the promise and the Greek logos; we cannot remain there, under pain of not being able to say, with the theologian himself, spero ut intelligam — I hope in order to understand.

But what understanding?

At the end of the introduction I was suggesting a possible direction of research by saying that the discourse of the philosopher on freedom which stays close to the kerygma, which makes itself homologous with it, is the discourse of religion within the limits of reason alone.

The phrase sounds Kantian, to be sure; it "shows its colors." But the Kantianism that I wish to develop now is, paradoxically, more to be constructed than repeated; it would be something like a post-Hegelian Kantianism, to borrow an expression from Eric Weil, which, it appears, he applied to himself. For my own part I accept the paradox, for reasons that are both philosophical and theological.

First, for reasons that are philosophical: chronologically, Hegel comes after Kant, but we later readers go from one to the other. In us, something of Hegel has vanquished something of Kant; but something of Kant has vanquished something of Hegel, because we are as radically post-Hegelian as we are post-Kantian. In my opinion, it is this exchange and this permutation which still structure philosophical discourse today. This is why the task is to think them always better by thinking them together—one against the other, and one by means of the other. Even if we begin by thinking something else, this "thinking Kant and Hegel better" pertains, in one way or the other, to this "thinking differently from Kant or Hegel," "something other than Kant or Hegel."

Such "epochal" considerations, internal to philosophy, join up with another order of reflection, which concerns what I have called "approximation," "putting into proximity." This closeness to a kerygmatic thought provokes, it seems to me, "effects of meaning," on the level of philosophical discourse itself, which often take the form of dislocation and recasting of systems. The theme of hope has precisely a fissuring power with regard to closed systems and a power of reorganizing meaning; it is inclined by this very fact to the exchanges and permutations I was just now suggesting.

I therefore see as converging toward the idea of a post-Hegelian Kantianism the spontaneous restructurings of our philosophical memory and those which proceed from the shock effect of the kerygma of hope on the philosophical problematic and on the structures of its discourse.

The route I propose to explore is opened up by the important distinction instituted by Kantian philosophy between understanding and reason. This split contains a potential of meaning whose suitability to an intellectus fidei et spei I would like to demonstrate. How? Essentially by the function of horizon that reason assumes in the constitution of knowledge and will. That is, I address myself directly to the dialectical part of the two Kantian Critiques: Dialectic of theoretical reason and Dialectic of practical reason. A philosophy of limits which is at the same time a practical demand for totalization — this, to my mind, is the philosophical response to the kerygma of hope, the closest philosophical approximation to freedom in the light of hope. Dialectic in the Kantian sense is to my mind the part of Kantianism which not only survives the Hegelian critique but which triumphs over the whole of Hegelianism.

For my own part, I abandon the ethics of duty to the Hegelian critique with no regrets; it would appear to me, indeed, to have been correctly characterized by Hegel as an abstract thought, as a thought of understanding. With the Encyclopaedia and the Philosophy of Right, I willingly concede that formal "morality" is simply a segment in a larger trajectory, that of the realization of freedom (Preface to Philosophy of Right, § 4). Defined in these terms, terms that are more Hegelian than Kantian, the philosophy of the will neither begins nor ends with the form of duty; it begins with a confrontation of will with will, with respect to things that can be appropriated; its first conquest is not duty but the contract, in a word, abstract right. The moment of morality is only the infinite reflective moment, the moment of interiority, which makes ethical subjectivity appear. But the meaning of this subjectivity is not in the abstraction of a separated form; it is in the further constitution of concrete communities: family, economic collectivity, political community. We recognize there the movement of the Encyclopaedia and the Philosophy of Right. movement from the sphere of abstract right to the sphere of subjective and abstract morality, then to the sphere of objective and concrete morality. This philosophy of the will which traverses all the levels of objectification, universalization, and realization is to my eyes the philosophy of the will, with much more justification than the meager determination of the Wille by the form of the imperative in the Kantian philosophy. Its greatness derives from the diversity of problems that it traverses and resolves: union of desire and culture, of psychology and politics, of the subjective and the universal. All the philosophies of the will, from Aristotle to Kant, are there assumed and subsumed. This great philosophy of the will is, for me, an inexhaustible reservoir of descriptions and mediations. We have not yet exhausted it. A theology of hope cannot but be in dialogue with it, so close to it is the problem of the actuation of freedom.

And yet, Kant remains. What is more, he surpasses Hegel from a certain point of view — a point of view which is precisely essential for our present dialogue between a theology of hope and a philosophy of reason. The Hegel I reject is the philosopher of retrospection, the one who not only accompanies the dialectic of the Spirit but reabsorbs all rationality in the already happened meaning. The point of discordance between the intellectus fidei et spei and Hegel becomes clear to me when I reread the famous text which terminates the Preface of the Philosophy of Right:

To say one more word about preaching what the world ought to be like, philosophy arrives always too late for that. As thought of the world it appears at a time when actuality has completed its developmental process and is finished. What the conception teaches, history also shows as necessary, namely, that only in a maturing actuality the ideal appears and confronts the real. It is then that the ideal rebuilds for itself this same world in the shape of an intellectual realm, comprehending this world in its substance. When philosophy paints its gray in gray, a form of life has become old, and this gray in gray cannot rejuvenate it, only understand it. The owl of Minerva begins its flight only when dusk is falling.4

"Philosophy always comes too late." Philosophy, without a doubt. But what about reason?

It is this question which sends me from Hegel to Kant, to a Kant who does not founder in the ethic of the imperative, to a Kant who, in his turn, understands Hegel. As I have said, this is the Kant of the dialectic, the Kant of the two Dialectics.

For both Dialectics accomplish the same movement, examine the same division, by instituting the tension which makes of Kantianism a philosophy of limits and not a philosophy of system. That division is discerned from the first and decisive distinction between Denken, or thought of the unconditioned, and Erkennen, or thought by way of objects, proceeding from the conditioned to the conditioned. The Two Dialectics result from this initial division between Denken and Erkennen; and, with the two Dialectics, is thus born the question which sets in motion the philosophy of religion: What can I hope for? It is that sequence, Dialectic of pure reason — Dialectic of practical reason — philosophy of religion, which we must now scrutinize.

The first is necessary to the second and the third because it introduces, at the very heart of the thought of the unconditioned, the critique of transcendental illusion, a critique that is indispensable to an intellectus spei. The domain of hope is quite precisely coextensive with the region of transcendental illusion.

I hope, there where I necessarily deceive myself, by forming absolute objects: self, freedom, God. In this respect we have not sufficiently stressed the idea that the critique of the paralogism of subjectivity is as important as the critique of the antinomy of freedom and, of course, as important as the critique of the proofs for the existence of God. The sophisms of the substantiality of the "I" even today retain a particular luster, along with the Nietzschean and Freudian critiques of the subject; it is not without importance to find the root and philosophical meaning of them in the Kantian dialectic; this latter has condemned in advance any claim to dogmatize on personal existence and knowledge of the person; the person is manifested only in the practical act of treating it as an end and not merely as a means. The Kantian concept of the transcendental illusion, applied to the religious object par excellence, is one of inexhaustible philosophical fecundity; it grounds a critique that is radically different from that of Feuerbach or Nietzsche. It is because there is a legitimate thought of the unconditioned that the transcendental illusion is possible; this latter does not proceed from the projection of the human into the divine but, on the contrary, from the filling-in of the thought of the unconditioned according to the mode of the empirical object. That is why Kant can say: it is not experience that limits reason but reason that limits the claim of sensibility to extend our empirical, phenomenal, spatiotemporal knowledge to the noumenal order.

This entire movement — thought of the unconditioned, transcendental illusion, critique of absolute objects — is essential to an understanding of hope. It constitutes a receptive structure within the framework of which the descriptions and denunciations of the post-Hegelian era will be able to be reassumed. Kantian philosophy comes out of this enriched; but, in return, atheism, whenever it is recharged by the Kantian philosophy of the transcendental illusion, is stripped of another illusion — its own: the anthropological illusion.

What does the Dialectic of practical reason add that is new? Essentially a transposition to the will of what we might call the completion structure of pure reason. This second step is concerned very closely with our meditation on the understanding of hope. Indeed, the Dialectic of practical reason adds nothing to the principle of morality, assumed to be defined by the formal imperative; nor does it add anything more to our knowledge of our duty than the Dialectic of pure reason adds to our knowledge of the world. What it does give to our will is essentially a goal — die Absicht aufs hochste Gut. That goal is the expression, on the level of duty, of the demand, the claim — the Verlangen — which constitutes pure reason in its speculative and practical use; reason "demands the absolute totality of conditions for a given conditioned thing" (beginning of the Dialectic of the Critique of Practical Reason). By the same stroke, the philosophy of the will takes on its true meaning: it is not exhausted in the relation between the maxim and the law, between the arbitrary and the willed; a third dimension appears: arbitrary — law— aim of totality. What the will thus requires, Kant calls "the entire object of pure practical reason." He says again: "the unconditioned totality of the object of pure practical reason, that is, of a pure will." That he applies to it the old name of "highest good" should not hide the novelty of his move: the concept of the highest good is both purified of all speculation by the critique of the transcendental illusion and entirely measured by the problematic of practical reason, that is, of the will. It is the concept by which the completion of the will is thought. it thus takes the place of Hegelian absolute knowledge exactly. More precisely, it does not permit any knowledge, but only a demand which, we will see further on, has something to do with hope. But we already have some presentiment of it in the role played by the idea of totality; "highest" signifies not solely "supreme" (nonsubordinated) but "whole" and "complete" (ganz und vollendete). Now this totality is not given but demanded; it cannot be given, not only because the critique of the transcendental illusion accompanies it without fail, but because practical reason, in its dialectic, institutes a new antinomy; what it demands, in fact, is that happiness be added to morality; it thus requires to be added to the object of its aim, that this object may be whole, what it excluded from its principles, that they might be pure.

This is why a new kind of illusion accompanies it, no longer a theoretical illusion but a practical one, that of a subtle hedonism, which would reintroduce an interest into morality under the pretext of happiness. In this idea of an antinomy of practical reason I see a second receptive structure for a critique of religion, applied more properly to its instinctual aspects, as in Freud. Kant gives us the means of thinking that critique of "hedonism" in religion — reward, consolation, etc. — by means of the very close-knit dialectic where pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction, contentment, beatitude, are confronted. Henceforth, the connection — the Zusammenhang — between morality and happiness must remain a transcendent synthesis, the union of different things, "specifically distinct." Thus the meaning of the Beatitudes is approached philosophically only by the idea of a nonanalytic liaison between the work of man and the contentment susceptible of satisfying the desire which constitutes his existence. But for the philosopher this liaison is not meaningless, even if it cannot be produced by his will; he can even say boldly: "It is a priori (morally) necessary to bring forth the highest good through the freedom of the will; the condition of its possibility therefore must rest solely on a priori grounds of knowledge."5

Such is the second rational approximation of hope: it resides in this Zusammenhang, in this connection that is necessary yet not given, but simply demanded, expected, between morality and happiness. No one as much as Kant has had a sense for the transcendent character of this connection, and this against the whole of Greek philosophy to which he is directly opposed, rejecting Epicurean and Stoic equally: happiness is not our accomplishment: it is achieved by superaddition, by surplus.

A third rational approach to hope is that of religion itself, but of religion within the limits of reason alone. Kant explicitly brings religion to the question "What can I hope for?" I do not know any other philosopher who has defined religion exclusively with that question. Now, that question is born both within and outside the critique: within the critique, by means of the famous "postulates"; outside the critique, by the detour of a reflection on radical evil. Let us try to understand this new linkage. So little is it arbitrary that it alone contains the final implication of freedom within hope — an implication on which the first part of our meditation rested.

First, the postulates. These are, as we know, beliefs of a theoretical character — bearing on existents — but necessarily dependent on practical reason. This status would be scandalous if one had not previously established the status of practical reason itself in its dialectical part. Theoretical reason, as such, is postulation, the postulation of a fulfillment, of a complete achievement. The postulates therefore participate in the process of totalization initiated by the will in its terminal directedness; they designate an order of things to come to which we know we belong; each one designates a moment of the institution, or better, of the installation, of that totality which, as such, is to be effected. One does not, therefore, understand the true nature of it if one sees there the surreptitious restoration of transcendent objects whose illusory character had been denounced by the Critique of Pure Reason; the postulates are theoretical determinations, to be sure; but they correspond to the practical postulation which constitutes pure reason as a demand for totality. The very expression "postulate" should not mislead us; it expresses, on the properly epistemological level and in the language of modality, the "hypothetical" character of the existential belief involved in the demand for completion, for totality, which constitutes practical reason in its essential purity. The corresponding postulates will be forever restrained fr9m veering toward "fanaticism" and "religious folly" (Schwarmerei) by the critique of the transcendental illusion; this latter plays in their regard the role of a speculative "death of God." The postulates speak in their own way of a God "resurrected from the dead." But their way is that of religion within the limits of reason alone; they express the minimal existential implication of a practical aim, of an Absicht, which cannot be converted into an intellectual intuition. The "extension" — Erweiterung — the "accession’ — Zuwachs — they express is not an extension of knowledge and awareness but a "disclosure," an Eroffnung (Critique of Practical Reason, p. 140); this "disclosure" is the philosophical equivalent of hope.

The specific character of the "postulates" appears clearly if we enumerate them beginning with freedom and not with immortality or the existence of God. Freedom is the true pivot of the doctrine of the postulates; the other two are in some sort its complement or explication. One might be surprised that freedom is postulated by the dialectic when it is already implied by duty and has been formulated as autonomy in the framework of the Analytic of the Critique of Practical Reason. But freedom thus postulated is not the same as the freedom analytically entailed by duty. Postulated freedom is what we are looking for here; it has a direct relation with hope, as we shall see. What does Kant say about freedom as the object of the postulate of practical reason? He calls it "freedom affirmatively regarded (as causality of a being so far as he belongs to the intelligible world)" (p. 137). Two traits characterize this postulated freedom. First of all, it is an effective freedom, a freedom which can, which is suitable to "this perfect willing of a rational being who at the same time would have omnipotence." A freedom which can be willed good. It is therefore a freedom which has "objective reality"; whereas theoretical reason has only the idea of it, practical reason postulates its existence, as being that of a real causality. We shall see shortly how the problem of evil is articulated exactly at this point of real efficacy. Moreover, it is a freedom which belongs to, which is member of, which participates. We will not fail to relate this second aspect of postulated freedom to the third formulation which the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals gives to the categorical imperative; speaking of the "possible kingdom of ends," Kant remarks that this formulation, which comes in the third part, crowns a progression of thought which runs from the unity of the principle — namely, the single rule of universalization — to the plurality of its objects — namely, persons taken as an end — "and from there, to the totality or integrality of the system" (p. 159). It is indeed this capacity to exist, by belonging to a system of freedoms, which is postulated here; thereby is concretized "that perspective" (Aussicht), evoked from the beginning of the Dialectic, that view "into a higher immutable order of things, in which we already are, and in which, to continue our existence in accordance with the supreme decree of reason, we may now, after this discovery, be directed by definite precepts" (p. 112).

That is what we will supremely; but that our capacity be equal to our will, that we exist according to this supreme vow, that is what can only be postulated. Postulated freedom is this manner of existing free among freedoms.

That this postulated freedom is indeed freedom according to hope is, to my mind, what the other two postulates which frame it signify (following the order of the three parts of the Dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason, which runs from rational psychology to rational cosmology and to rational theology). The other two postulates, I shall say, serve only to make explicit the potential of hope of the postulate of existential freedom. Postulated immortality implies no substantialist or dualist thesis about the soul or its separated existence; this postulate develops the temporal implications of freedom suggested by the text cited above, which speaks of the order in which we are capable of "continuing our existence . . . ." Kantian immortality is therefore an aspect of our need to effectuate the highest good in reality; now, this temporality, this "progress toward the infinite," is not in our power; we cannot give it to ourselves; we can only "encounter" it (antreffen). It is in this sense that the postulate of immortality expresses the face of hope of the postulate of freedom: a theoretical proposition concerning the continuation and indefinite persistence of existence is the philosophical equivalent of the hope for resurrection. It is not by chance that Kant uses the term "expectation" — Erwartung — for this belief. Insofar as it is practical, reason demands completeness; but it believes in the mode of expectation, of hope, in the existence of an order where the completeness can be actual. Kerygmatic hope is thus approximated by the movement which proceeds from practical requirement to theoretical postulate, from demand to expectation. This movement is the same as that which enables us to pass from ethics to religion.

Now, this postulate is nothing else than the preceding one: for "hope of participating in the highest good" is freedom itself, concrete freedom, that which finds itself in itself. The second postulate only succeeds in deploying the temporal-existential aspect of the postulate of freedom; I shall say: it is the dimension of hope of freedom itself. This latter belongs to the order of ends, participates in the highest good, only to the extent that one may "hope for uninterrupted continuance of this progress, however long his existence may last, even beyond this life" (p. 128). In this respect, it is worth noting that Kant recognized this practical temporal dimension, for his philosophy hardly leaves any room for a conception of time beyond the time of representation according to the Transcendental Aesthetic, that is, the time of the world.

As to the third postulate, that of the existence of God, we respect its character as postulate, that is, as a theoretical proposition dependent on a practical exigency, if we tie it very directly to the first through the second: if the postulate of immortality deploys the temporal-existential dimension of freedom, the postulate of the existence of God manifests existential freedom as the philosophical equivalent of the gift. Kant has no place for a concept of gift, which is a category of the Sacred. But he has a concept for the origin of a synthesis which is not in our power; God is "the adequate cause of this effect which is manifested to our will as its entire object, namely, the highest good." What is postulated is the Zusammenhang, the connection, in a being who encompasses the principle of accord between the two constituents of the highest good. But the postulate holds only insofar as we will, from the depths of our will, that the highest good be realized. The expectation, here again, is grafted onto the exigency. The "theoretical" expectation is articulated on the "practical" exigency. This nexus is that between the practical and the religious, between obligation and belief, between moral necessity and existential hypothesis. And, here again, Kant is not Greek but Christian; the Greek schools, he says, did not resolve the problem of the practical possibility of the highest good: they believed that the wisdom of the sage enclosed in its analytic unity the just life and the happy life. The transcendent synthesis of the highest good is, on the contrary, the closest philosophical approximation of the Kingdom of God according to the Gospels. Kant even has a word which is consonant with what Moltmann says of hope when he calls it "totally new":

Ethics, because it formulated its precept as pure and uncompromising (as befits a moral precept), destroyed man’s confidence of being wholly adequate to it, at least in this life; but it reestablished it by enabling us to hope that, if we act as well as lies in our power, what is not in our power will come to our aid from another source, whether we know in what way or not. Aristotle and Plato differed only as to the origin of our moral concepts (p. 132, note 2).

Such, therefore, is the first origin of the question "What can I hope for?" It is situated again at the heart of moral philosophy, itself engendered by the question "What should I do?" Moral philosophy engenders the philosophy of religion when the hope of fulfillment is added to the consciousness of obligation:

The moral law commands us to make the highest possible good in a world the final object of all our conduct. This I cannot hope to effect except through the agreement of my will with that of a holy and beneficent Author of the world. . . . Therefore, morals is not really the doctrine of how to make ourselves happy but of how we are to be worthy of happiness. Only if religion is added to it can the hope arise of someday participating in happiness in proportion as we endeavored not to be unworthy of it (p. 134).

Why should the philosophical meaning of religion be constituted a second time at the exterior of ethics? The reply to that question will make us take a new step — the last — in what we have called the philosophical approximation of hope and of freedom in the light of hope.

In fact, it is the consideration of evil which constrains us to make this new move; now, with the consideration of evil, it is the very question, of freedom, of the real freedom evoked by the postulates of the Critique of Practical Reason, which returns; the problematic of evil requires us to tie, more directly than we have so far been able to do, the actual reality of freedom to the regeneration which is the very content of hope.

What the Essay on Radical Evil teaches about freedom, indeed, is that this same power that duty imputes to us is in reality a non-power; the "propensity for evil" has become "corrupt nature," although evil is still only a manner of being of the freedom which comes to it from freedom. Freedom has from the beginning always chosen badly. Radical evil signifies that the contingency of the evil maxim is the expression of a necessarily corrupt nature of freedom. This subjective necessity of evil is at the same time the reason for hope. To correct our maxims — that we can do, since we should do it; to regenerate our nature, the nature of our freedom — that we cannot do. This descent into the abyss, as Karl Jaspers has seen very well, expresses the most advanced point of a thought of limits, which henceforth extends from our knowledge to our power. The nonpower signified by radical evil is discovered in the very place whence our power proceeds. Thus is posed in radical terms the question of the real causality of our freedom, the very same freedom which the Practical Reason postulated at the end of its Dialectic. The "postulate" of freedom must henceforth cross through, not only the might of knowing, with its crisis of the transcendental illusion, but also the night of power, with its crisis of radical evil. Real freedom1 can spring up only as hope beyond this speculative and practical Good Friday. Nowhere are we closer to the Christian kerygma: hope is hope of resurrection, resurrection from the dead. I am not unaware of the hostility of philosophers, since Goethe and Hegel, toward the Kantian philosophy of radical evil. But have we understood it in its true connection with the ethical? I mean, not only in regard to the Analytic, to the doctrine of duty, but, even more, to the Dialectic, to the doctrine of the highest good. One has seen there the projection of the unhappy consciousness, of rigorism, of puritanism. There is something true in this. And a post-Hegelian interpretation of Kant must proceed by way of this radical contestation. But there is something else in the theory of radical evil, which only our prior reading of the Dialectic permits us to discern; radical evil concerns freedom in its process of totalization as much as in its initial determination. That is why the critique of Kantian moralism does not liquidate his philosophy of evil but, perhaps, reveals it in its true meaning.

That meaning ultimately appears in Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. Indeed, it has not been sufficiently noted that the doctrine of evil is not completed in the Essay on Radical Evil, which initiates the philosophy of religion, but that it accompanies the latter through and through. True evil, the evil of evil, is not the violation of an interdict, the subversion of the law, disobedience, but fraudulency in the work of totalization. In this sense, true evil appears only in the very field where religion is produced, namely, in the field of contradictions and conflicts determined, on the one hand, by the demand for totalization which constitutes reason, both theoretical and practical, and, on the other hand, by the illusion which misleads thought, the subtle hedonism which vitiates moral motivation, and finally by the malice which corrupts the great human enterprises of totalization. The demand for a complete object of the will is basically antinomic. The evil of evil is born in the area of this antinomy.

By the same token, evil and hope are more closely connected than we will ever think them; if the evil of evil is born on the way of totalization, it would appear only in a pathology of hope, as the inherent perversion in the problematic of fulfillment and of totalization. To put it in a few words, the true malice of man appears only in the state and in the church, as institutions of gathering together, of recapitulation, of totalization.

Thus understood, the doctrine of radical evil can furnish a receptive structure for new figures of alienation besides the speculative illusion or even the desire for consolation — of alienation in the cultural powers, such as the church and the state; it is indeed at the heart of these powers that a falsified expression of the synthesis can take place; when Kant speaks of "servile faith," of "false cult," of a "false Church," he completes at the same time his theory of radical evil. This culminates, we might say, not with transgression, but with flawed syntheses in the political and religious spheres. That is why true religion is always in a debate with false religion, that is, for Kant, statutory religion.

Henceforth, the regeneration of freedom is inseparable from the movement by which the figures of hope6 are liberated from the idols of the market place, as Bacon put it.

This whole process constitutes the philosophy of religion within the limits of reason alone; it is this process which constitutes the philosophical analogon of the kerygma of the Resurrection. It is also this process which constitutes the whole adventure of freedom and which permits us to give a comprehensible meaning to the expression "religious freedom."



1. Jurgen Moltmann, The Theology of Hope, trans. J. W. Leitch (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

2. I have retained from the exegetical studies of the Old Testament only the core of the promise insofar as it engenders a historical vision. It would be necessary to distinguish, at the interior of this general schema of the promise, prophecy and its intrahistorical hope of later eschatologies, and, among them, the Apocalypses, properly so called, which carry beyond history the final term of all threat and all expectation. But if these distinctions and even these oppositions — particularly those between wordly and transcendent eschatologies — are essential for a theology of the Old Testament, they are less so for the implicit philosophical meaning, namely, the horizon structure of history itself. The horizon is both that which delimits expectation and that which moves along with us. For the imagination, the distinction between a hope in history and a hope outside history is fundamental. Furthermore, in his "The Theology of Israel’s Historical Traditions," Gerhard von Rad invites us to redraw the dividing line between prophecy and eschatology: the message of the prophets must be considered eschatological in every case where it considers the old historical bases of salvation null and void. We will therefore call eschatological not just any expression of faith in the future, even if this future is that of sacred institutions; prophetic teaching deserves to be called eschatological only when the prophets dislodge Israel from the security of earlier saving actions and abruptly move the basis of salvation in the direction of a future action of God (von Rad, Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M. G. Stalker [New York: Harper & Row, 1962], p. 126). Yet the opposition is never complete, inasmuch as acts of deliverance, announced as new, are represented by analogy to saving acts of the past: New Earth, New David, New Zion, New Exodus, New Covenant.

3. [TheJerusalem version of the Bible is used in all biblical quotations in this essay—Trans.]

4. G. W F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (New York: Oxford University Press, 1942), Preface, ad fin.

5. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. L. W. Beck (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1956), "Dialectic," p. 117. [All page numbers in parentheses in text in the remainder of this essay refer to this volume.]

6. A historical study of Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone should be dedicated to showing just how far the philosopher can go in the representation of the origin of regeneration. The Kantian schematism offers us an ultimate resource here. What we can conceive abstractly as the "good principle," which struggles within us with the "evil principle," we can also represent concretely as the man, pleasing to God, who suffers for sake of the promotion of the universal good. To be sure, Kant is in no way interested in the historicity of Christ: "this man, the only one pleasing to God," is an Idea. However, this archetype is not at all an idea that I can give myself arbitrarily. Although it is reducible as an event of salvation, this archetype is irreducible as an Idea to a moral intention: "we are not authors of it" (p. 54). It "has established itself in man without our comprehending how human nature could have been capable of receiving it" (ibid.). That is the irreducible element: "the incomprehensibility of a union between [the good principle] and man’s sensible nature" in the moral constitution of man (p. 77). Now this Idea corresponds completely with the synthesis demanded by pure reason or, more exactly, with the transcendent object which causes that synthesis. This is not only an example of duty, in which case it would not exceed the Analytic, but an ideal exemplar of the highest good, in that this Idea illustrates the resolution of the Dialectic. Christ is an archetype and not a simple example of duty because he symbolizes this fulfillment. He is the figure of the End. As such, this "representation" of the good principle does not have for its effect "to extend our knowledge beyond the world of sense but only to make clear for practical use the conception of what is for us unfathomable" (p. 52). "Such is the schematism of analogy, with which (as a means of explanation)," says Kant, "we cannot dispense" (p. 58, note). It is within the strict limits of a theory of the schema and analogy, hence, of a theory of transcendental imagination, that the philosopher approaches not only the meanings of hope but the figure of Christ in which these meanings are concentrated. [Page numbers in parentheses refer to the English translation of Kant’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, by T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudson (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960).]

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