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The Interpretation of History by Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

II: Kairos and Logos

When one considers the development of philosophy from the Renaissance to the present, from certain points of view, two directions in spiritual history become dear: a main stream, infinitely fruitful and boundlessly effective, which can be called the actual line of fate of Occidental culture, and an accompanying stream as yet but little developed, of no great practical effect, that has often flowed off subterraneously and perhaps still deserves to be called a threat rather than a fate. The main stream, which upon closer observation soon resolves itself into several smaller parallel streams or lines of thought, is characteristically methodical. The Discours de la méthode of Descartes is its classical formulation; Kant’s Critiques its mightiest expression. Along with this methodicism—the strongest, main line—run other corollary lines. One is the mystic metaphysical line that starts from Nicolaus Cusanus’ Docta ignorantia; another, the mathematic Neoplatonic, never to be separated from the mystic metaphysical, that finds its climax in Spinoza’s Ethics; and again, the line of English empiricism from Bacon to Hume and later the Positivists of the nineteenth century. All this, however, is one main stream, united in its variety of motives by a methodical self-consciousness, a predominance of the Greek view of nature and the world.

Beside this main line and its variations runs a side-line whose symbol is the name of Jakob Böhme. It goes back to the mysticism and nature-philosophy of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and has received no small impulses from Duns Scotus and Luther. It becomes visible afar at the moment when Romanticism grasps it and tries to merge it with the first main line. Schelling in his second period starting with his extraordinary book, Inquiries about Freedom, etc., is the leader of this trend. Hegel absorbs numerous motives, but subordinates them much more strongly than Schelling to the methodical main line, while the later Schelling brings the development into Mythology and Dogmatics. The second line takes on a very different form in the nineteenth century, where it more closely approaches the empirical and naturalistic branch of the methodical main line and yet retains in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche its old character, strongly differentiated from the methodical movement. Finally as a philosophy of life at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it raises a protest against the methodical formalism of the Kantians.

It is easy to understand that the consideration of Occidental philosophy has turned almost exclusively to the first, methodical movement. Here was the clear, unequivocal line, here the overwhelming success, here the power creating reality in technical science and society. Every doubt of the correctness of this method can be dispersed by experiment, and technical science is the constantly present, and the constantly growing experiment proving the methodical basis of Occidental science. Against this proof from transformed life itself, all criticism is untenable. And even in historical knowledge there is a stratum which can be proved by the experiment of new documents and other experiences. Modern philosophy, however, from its beginnings with Descartes, was methodical reflection of scientific work, was explanation of its premises and basic concepts, was creation of a general view of the world, in which science could pursue its path undisturbed. All advances into metaphysics effected no change in this. Partially indeed they served this very purpose. For example, the elimination of those elements of the religious view of life which disturbed the rational consistency of world and knowledge, as miracles; or the battle against the miracle of psycho-physical causality, served this purpose. Partially metaphysical encroachments were again eliminated, as, e.g., the methodically disturbing inspirations of the romantic philosophy of nature and history. The way of the epistemological reflection, however, went further and is even now effective in a rational interpretation of the present revolution in physics.

Quite different was the development of the second approach. It was not methodically connected with rationalscience. It was metaphysical in its innermost nature. As a result it created no scientific method and could be subjected to no experiment. Its development was erratic; it stopped and began anew. Its breadth was small. Its attitude was an intrinsic resistance to the methodical main approach, but on the whole an unsuccessful resistance. It therefore was in keeping with the actual situation, if histories paid it comparatively little attention, and if it played hardly any part in philosophic discussion. That, in spite of this, it effected a deep spiritual and religious upheaval like Protestant Mysticism, the later Romanticism and reaction, pessimism, the spiritual and political revolution proceeding from Nietzsche and irrationalism—has counted little in its philosophical valuation. Perhaps, therefore, the emphasis of it as a particular line of philosophical spiritual history will be considered questionable.

One could also ask in regard to the whole conception: Is not the mystic-Neoplatonic element, which was designated as an attendant phenomenon of the methodical main line, in reality an element of the opposition against the methodical-rational character of the main line? Did not this conflict become especially clear in German Idealism and lead finally to the separation of both elements? Would it therefore not be more correct to combine both mystic-metaphysical lines and to separate them from the philosophy of method? Through this separation not two lines, but two planes would be created: a mystic-metaphysical and a rational-methodical one! Doubtless this suggestion is tempting: it produces a simpler picture, but it can produce it only at the cost of historical accuracy. For modern philosophy did grow out of the Neoplatonism of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and took over from it the methodically decisive principle, mathematics. This connection shows that the mystic-intuitive and rational-reflective elements, which are combined in Neoplatonism, despite all possibilities of tension, rest on a common ground—the ground which bears also the contrast of Democritus and Plato, of Spinoza and Goethe, of Criticism and phenomenology. The consideration of this common ground will at the same time make clear the great contrast between the second line and the main line and everything that belongs to it.

The philosophy of the Renaissance, just as of Greece before it and modern science after it, wants to recognize the form of the world, the elements and the laws of their combination. There are two ways, however, of grasping the form of the real: from the form to the elements and their laws, or from the elements and their laws to the form. Both ways have been taken at all times. The first is intuitive-descriptive; it seeks to grasp the object in its entirety. The second is reflexive-explanatory; it breaks up a thing and puts it together again. The second has proven itself stronger in natural science, the first way in historical sciences; biology, psychology, and sociology waver between both and at the present time are influenced by the ascendancy of the Gestalt-conception. But no matter how significant this fact for the spiritual situation of the present, the fundamental contrast with the second line is not removed thereby, for it lies deeper than those contrasting pairs; it meets the premise common to them, the will for knowledge of the world as form, element, and law.

In the second line the world is to be understood as creation, conflict, and fate. With Democritus and Plato, Spinoza and Goethe, the Kantians and the phenomenologists, the eternal form of being is the goal of knowledge. Whether this form is thought of as a law of the movement of atoms or as a transcendental idea, whether as the mode of the resting substance or as living form, whether as the function of the spirit or as an essential being intuitively perceived, ever it stands under the eternal law of form. With Böhme, however, and the later Schelling, with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, the form-creating process itself is to be perceived. In the religious-pessimistic version of the idea, the given forms are derived from a catastrophe; the dissension of the principles drives them upward and dissolves them again. Therefore it is impossible to regard their unity as a resting cosmos. For the process of the living, the battle of the principles rushes further, toward unknown fates, perhaps divined but never seen. "Historical philosophy," Schelling called the observation of this occurrence—historical because it deals with a single, underivable happening, inexplicable as the realization of any universal law.

While time remains insignificant in that static type of thinking in terms of form, and even history presents only the unfolding of the possibilities and laws of the Gestalt "Man," in this dynamic thinking in terms of creation, time is all-decisive, not empty time, pure expiration; not the mere duration either, but rather qualitatively fulfilled time, the moment that is creation and fate. We call this fulfilled moment, the moment of time approaching us as fate and decision, Kairos. In doing this we take up a word that was, to be sure, created by the Greek linguistic sense, but attained the deeper meaning of fullness of time, of decisive time, only in the thinking of early Christianity and its historical consciousness. The thinking in the Kairos, which is the determinant of the second line explained in our historical consideration, is opposed to the thinking in the timeless Logos, which belongs to the methodical main line. Thus the correctness of our original distinction becomes apparent, and at the same time the question of the essential relationship between Kairos and Logos becomes urgent. For it must become apparent that the consideration of reality in the sense of the timeless Logos is at best an immense abstraction which cannot do justice to the passing fate and decision of immediate existence. As soon, however, as this fact is realized, we stand in the midst of the problems of the second line, to the systematic examination of which the subsequent arguments shall contribute.


A. The absolute subject and history

In order to judge both lines of philosophy it is of basic importance to note what position is given to the perceiving subject in relation to reality. For in this question the possible antithesis of Kairos and Logos is clearly expressed. For the philosophy of method with all its assumptions, the emptying of the subject is an unavoidable demand. The subject must be without content in order to receive the eternal forms. In this it remains a matter of complete indifference, whether the most naive theory of image or the most exaggerated idealism is valid for the epistemology, since even an idealism, which with Fichte, asserts that the world is created by the productive imagination of the ego, thinks of the creative forms, which are quite universal and necessary for each individual subject. idealism and naive realism both believe in an absolute, contentless position of the subject. The perceiving one simply accepts the perceived, whether he makes place within himself for the images of the things, or whether the suggestion of the single things arouses the "recollection" of the eternal essentialities. But how is such an absolute position of the subject, how is its complete emptying and then again its objective filling conceivable? To emptying belongs asceticism; to filling, Eros: asceticism— not, of course, with respect to earthly things, but to the historical fate, the Kairos; and Eros—not, of course, toward the creative depth of life, but toward the pure form, the Logos. That is the attitude of pure theory; asceticism toward the Kairos, Eros toward the Logos; thereon rests the possibility of regarding the world as a system of eternal forms. Starting out from this attitude, the opposite attitude, namely pure practice, can be defined with analogous formulæ. It would be asceticism toward the Logos and Eros toward Kairos. The minister, the politician, the economist, the officer, the man of society would be devoted to the eros in the immediate historic situation; likewise asceticism toward the Logos would be demanded of them. But this conclusion must raise doubts. To be sure, the unavoidable asceticism toward the Logos is felt by many men of practical life. It is then felt, however, as a defect in regard to practice as well, not as a merit, not as an essential element of practice. On the contrary, the practice which is guided by clear consciousness and scientific insight deserves preference over the purely instinctive. For the practical person, at any rate, asceticism toward the Logos is of no merit. Yet the questions must be raised, whether the same is also true of the reverse, that is to say, whether adherence to the Kairos is an advantage for theory. In recent times, argument has arisen about this question. Max Weber turned against the connection of science and life, making a demand of scientific asceticism, and not only opposed the bombastic, unclear conception of the necessary unity of both, but also the serious acceptance of this unity. And even in the younger generation the demand for pure devotion to objectivity is raised in opposition to growing irresponsibility in the employment of concepts. Yet, no matter how justifiable this demand, still it does not solve the epistemological problem. This is the question: Is there any possible asceticism toward the Kairos? Is this a real attitude? Or is it an abstraction, which can succeed to a certain degree, but which is only fruitful when the deepest forces of the Kairos work in the background?

Only one assumption is conceivable according to which an asceticism toward the Kairos would be essentially possible, namely, that the perceiving subject were to become timeless,—timeless not in the sense that it should step out of the current of passing time, but in the sense that it could be without qualitative time, "akairos." This possibility was natural for eras that had a static interpretation of life. Examples would be the Greek civilization with its tendency toward the eternal forms of nature; or the Middle Ages with their tendency to the eternal forms of revelation. In the Greek interpretation of nature, time is accidental. Modern natural science dissolved it into a dimension of space (the fourth dimension). The intuitive mind is assumed to have an absolute position beyond time. According to its genuine character it has an immediate intuitive view of the eternal forms. Even when it has lost this immediate contact with the eternal truth, it is still capable of reawakening the lost within itself. This is true of the greatest part of Greek and Occidental philosophy and also of the medieval consciousness. One believes that one is standing in a holy tradition, the unfolding and exposition of which has to be accomplished by the recognizing subject. More a mystical than a rational emptying, more a mystical Eros than an Eros toward rational forms is demanded here. Fundamentally, though, every one is capable of it who stands in the holy tradition, who belongs to Catholic Christianity. Thus nature and super-nature correspond. Only in one respect is there a difference: pure nature is at all times accessible to every one, super-nature only to the Christian. Here a historic fate cuts through the unity of humanity. The great question of the relationship of Kairos and Logos comes forward, but it is easily settled. The knowledge of nature is open to the non-Christian as well. The knowledge of super-nature is possible only through revelation. Whoever is not reached by it, stands quite outside the truth, a heretic or heathen. But whoever is illuminated by it, finds in this very fact the historical fate which links him to all others of the same destiny. Revelation eliminates individualization in thought and gives every single person an absolute position.

The question of the knowing subject became more serious only when historical thinking penetrated into the sphere of super-nature through Protestantism, and into the sphere of nature through humanism. The unity of the holy tradition was broken, the rational, ever identical character of the human being became more individualized and differentiated. This individuality, this difference, however, was no longer the insignificant passing of time, but was rather a fateful history. It is all the more remarkable, how long a philosophical school, which had learned to think historically, felt itself to be simply super-historical in the sphere of knowledge. The question whether knowledge also belongs to history was not asked for an unbelievably long time. The latent belief in the possibility of an asceticism toward the Kairos, a basic "untimeliness," was maintained. For some time one surrendered oneself to the illusion that the idea of development might help. But it cannot help. For it nowise overcomes the fact that knowledge was supposed to be outside of history. Development only means common asceticism through the generations, but contains nothing of conflict and historical fate. One sees humanity as a pupil marching in a straight line toward the knowledge of the eternal forms. Through this, however, the absolute position of the subject is in no respect shaken. The knowing individual subject is merely broadened into the knowing universal subject. But the idea which distinguished the Middle Ages from the Greeks, the cleavage between nature and super-nature is lost.

The absolute position of the knowing subject became doubtful when the break which the Middle Ages sought between nature and super-nature was found in nature itself, and when super-nature was done away with, as happened in Protestantism. While the Protestant interpretation of life, like the whole Renaissance, has a new affirmative attitude toward nature; in contrast to the Renaissance, it realizes the deep contradictions in nature. It does not flee from it into super-nature, as do the Middle Ages. It remains in nature; but it cannot remain naïvely in it, like Renaissance thought and Humanism, but remains in nature as the sphere of decision. The fundamental Protestant attitude is to stand in nature, taking upon oneself the inevitable reality; not to flee from it, either into the world of ideal forms or into the related world of super-nature, but to make decisions in concrete reality. Here the subject has no possibility of an absolute position. It cannot go out of the sphere of decision. Every part of its nature is affected by these contradictions. Fate and freedom reach into the act of knowledge and make it an historical deed: the Kairos determines the Logos.

From this point of view asceticism toward the Kairos is impossible and essentially contradictory. There can indeed be a scientific asceticism: the expedient abstention from the multiplicity of life for the purpose of concentrating the desire for knowledge. In this sense all successful action demands asceticism. But there can be no asceticism toward the demand of the Kairos, no avoidance of the decision. Idealism and supernaturalism, inner-worldly and super-worldly establishment of an absolute position of the subject, are flights from decision. Asceticism is a flight from the decisions which continually have to be made in this distorted existence.

But this conclusion has not been clearly drawn by Protestantism. There is a classical-humanistic conception of knowledge. It is rational and static. And there is a medieval-Catholic conception of knowledge. It is super-rational and static. But there is no Protestant conception of knowledge. It has to be irrational and dynamic. That is the subject of this chapter.

There are religious attitudes which tend to assume an absolute position of the knowing subject. There is a religious attitude from which the absolute position of the subject is attacked. This attitude is the consciousness of standing in separation from the Unconditioned, and in the sphere of cleavage and decision, without being able to evade this situation

B. History and decision

The religious consciousness of standing in the sphere of cleavage and alternatives opens up a stratum of being which is of the utmost importance in the metaphysics of knowledge. In order to understand it we ask: Which is the decision wherein according to the religious consciousness human knowledge participates? Generally speaking this decision can refer only to the Unconditioned, i.e., a decision for or against the Unconditioned. For it is not a question of any cleavage in nature, but of contradiction in the human attitude to the Unconditioned. In regard to the Unconditioned, however, only a yes or a no is possible. And yet this formulation is abstract, for it expresses in no way what this yes or no signifies in the concrete situation, which alone has importance. Even more! If one uses the abstract formulation, is not a decision implied in this use? Is not the situation of deliberation with respect to the Unconditioned in itself a decision against the Unconditioned? Is not, religiously speaking the wavering between yes and no—a no toward God? And does not this consideration prompt the rejection of this whole strain of thought and therewith a negative answer to the question regarding the possibility of truth?

Such thoughts lie behind the Catholic doctrine of the supernatural grace, which raises one out of the world of unequivocal darkness into the world of unequivocal truth. Similarly they are behind certain forms of radical Protestantism, which point to the transcendent reality of God but rigorously deny his reality in this world. Itis clear that by this means the doctrine of the decision-character of knowledge, the introduction of the knowing subject into the historical fate, is lost. Catholicism knows only two possibilities of an historical fate: to belong to the church or not to belong to it. Radical Protestantism knows only the one historical fate: to stand under divine judgment.

But the conclusion which is drawn from the abstract formulation of the matter does not lie in the nature of the matter itself. A decision in the direction of e Unconditioned cannot have the character of a single decision; it cannot stand beside other decisions, for then the Unconditioned would stand beside something else conditioned. The decision which is discussed here can be only a hidden, transcendental decision which is never apparent, but which may be the innermost meaning of each single decision. Not beside but within the single decision, does the decision regarding the Unconditioned find expression. However—and in this radical Protestantism is right—it is not true that the concrete single decision is unequivocal, that either a yes or a no is expressed in it. The conflict indeed, is not eliminated, and therefore every decision is equivocal. The abstract assertion that in a cleft world there cannot be a final decision for God means practically that every human decision with respect to God is equivocal. Indeed, this ambiguity is the actual mark of concrete existence. In answer to radical Protestantism one can only say, that while there can be no unequivocal decision for God in the world-of cleavage, there can no more be an unequivocal decision against Him, and consequently that existence is not Satanic. The Satanic would consume all concreteness. Our decision, and that means our concrete, individual existence, our freedom and our fate, is anti-divine insofar as it is equivocal, but insofar as it is not unequivocally opposed to God, it is not Satanic. Being concrete and human, it is subject to divine judgment, but yet it is not entirely annihilated.

With these observations the essential character of history has become manifest. History exists where there is decision, namely a decision which is concrete, on the one hand, and which is rooted in the depth of the Unconditioned on the other hand. Decisions in the conditioned sphere mean nothing in themselves. As long as they do not have an unconditioned element in themselves they are, absolutely speaking, meaningless and do not contribute to the meaning of history. The critical school of German philosophy had the merit of emphasizing that individual events are the subject of historical research, while in natural sciences the general laws are sought. This distinction, is meaningful only if individuals are more than samples of some thing universal, either some being or some value. If individuality is to have unconditioned meaning, it must be interpreted as the appearance of a concrete, genuine decision which transcends itself. That such individualism is possible nowhere else but in the personal sphere, that is, where there is freedom and where there is fate, requires no proof. Everywhere else individualization remains imperfect. Everywhere else the individual is subjected to the universal.

C. Knowledge and decision

It becomes necessary to ask whether we are really justified in drawing knowledge into the historical sphere of decision. One might say: If the center of the personality may stand in the concrete decision, knowledge lies to the side of this center. It is an extra-personal, therefore a technical occupation, and, like all technical things, is to be settled purely objectively according to the objective relations of things. There may indeed be a decision for science, but there is no decision in science which is more than a passing of judgment in doubtful cases. There is rational necessity in all knowledge and therefore possible progress in rational analysis of things.

At this point, of course, naturalism and supernaturalism which we previously treated jointly, separate. The supernatural conception does not approve of a truth without decision although limiting this decision to one moment in the history of mankind and of individuals. Indeed, even within philosophy there are conceptions, not only in what we called the second line of Occidental thinking, but also in the first, in which the decisive character of knowledge is brought to clear expression. Take, for example, Fichte and the manner in which he makes every philosophy dependent on the character of the philosopher. Such an idea accords with the supernatural trend of thought. The main tendency of the methodical line, however, interprets knowledge without referring to history as a realm of decision.

The reverse is true of the second line. Although the philosophers of this trend of thought did not grasp the consequences of their interpretation of the world as a world of discord, some of those consequences still affected their systems. This, for example, is so with Schelling’s presentation of the history of religion. Here it is clearly discernible that the dynamics of the historical powers must likewise draw the theoretical consciousness into the historical process. Consciousness is not capable of turning freely to the eternal forms at all times. It is always the battlefield of divine and demonic forces, and its knowledge is determined by the position of this battle. We will subsequently consider the operation of this thought in Hegel’s philosophy of history. In Nietzsche it is essentially different. His position is remarkably equivocal. He fights for pure science, into whose waters, even if they are dirty, the truth seeker likes to dive, as long as they are not shallow. He offers energetic resistance to all interferences from the sphere of wish and feeling, even when religious. And yet he thinks consistently in terms of the Kairos. He knows that he is living in the hour of fate, the great moment, the beginning of the superman; he knows that one cannot think everything at all times and most surely not in all places of society. He knows that spirit is blood, and that only what is written in blood is worth reading and learning. With this, the decision-character of truth is brought to clear expression.

Thus far the question of the historical character of knowledge has never been put or answered with entire clarity. For even in Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche, and others, the fateful character of their own decision is obscure because they place themselves as it were in the absolute era, in the last stage of history, at the beginning of the end. From this point to be sure they can admit that even knowledge has a fateful character for all the past. But they themselves are standing in an absolute place, which cannot be affected by history. They themselves are exempt from the danger of decision: a defiance of human limitations which led to catastrophe first of all with respect to Hegel’s system.

The presupposition of all our thoughts was that truth is realized in a decision regarding the Unconditioned: stated in religious terms, that all knowledge of the truth in a certain stratum is knowledge of God. There is hardly a philosophy for which this statement would not be valid. In order to define it more exactly, we must consider the manner in which the relationship to God is to be understood. First of all, the possibility that is realized in rationalism of every form must be considered. God is identified with universality, eliminating by this means the element of decision in the relationship toward Him.

There is no doubt that an element of universal validity is contained in all knowledge. This, however, is not a contradiction but a presupposition of the historical character of knowledge. Decisions are made by the Ego, which insofar as it decides cannot itself be subjected to decisions. The profound quality of having a fate is peculiar to personality. Therefore the structure of personality itself cannot be subjected to change or fate. Only personality can be confronted by the Unconditioned, can strive toward the Unconditioned. This means: Whether one is personality, whether one has fate, is not a possible subject of decision, since it is the necessary presupposition of decisions. This presupposition is implied in every act of knowledge. Without it there would be no situation of deciding at all. The question is: What is the character of this prerequisite of decision? Obviously all those structures which constitute an Ego and make it capable of deciding belong to it. As far as the self faces logical necessities and alternatives it rests within the security of the Logos.

But there is a second prerequisite of decision, namely the material in which it is carried out. The concrete decision, of course, is possible only in concrete material, in a formed, ambiguous world. This world is also a prerequisite of the decision. In order that personality can live in it as the material of its decision, it must stand opposite the Ego as a reality, foreign to it and yet capable of interpretation by it. Here, of course, no evidence but probability is demanded. The material is foreign to the Ego; it is given. It has the quality of not being part of the Ego. Its knowledge therefore can approach the ideal of evidence only in a slow progress. Here the Logos is estranged from itself, not, as before, remaining in itself. But even here the Logos is not in the Kairos, not in the sphere of decision. An epistemology whose problems lie between formal evidence and material probability, that is, an epistemology which lies between rationalism and empiricism, must miss the element of decision in all knowledge.

But such a doctrine overlooks a third element of knowledge which is neither formal nor material, and through which alone knowledge becomes a spiritual matter. It is not a question of the application of the form to the material, of the evident to the probable, that is, a question of "judgment." Judgment can be enhanced to the point of genius, but it does not therefore cease to be a technical function, withdrawn from decision in our sense. The third element of which we speak, is the meaningful interpretation of reality. We are not speaking of a religious-metaphysical interpretation of our world as a special task, but of an understanding of reality, such as is inherent in all scientific work. All knowledge, even the most exact, the most subject to methodical technique, contains fundamental interpretations rooted neither in formal evidence, nor in material probability, but in original views, in basic decisions. This third element is to be found not only in the method, not only in the philosophic and categorical foundations, with which the sciences work; rather does it penetrate deep into material knowledge. This becomes immediately clear in the productive understanding of norms, the religious, the moral, the esthetic, and so forth. The formal evidence here reaches only as far as the constitution of the field of meaning itself, no further, and no norm at all can be taken from the material. Where it comes to a concrete formation of norms, concrete decisions are effective, and only insofar as this is true are concrete sciences of norms meaningful. The situation is just as distinct in history. Where the collection of material and even ingenious judgment concerning the facts stop, historical understanding has manifestly the character of concrete decisions. But even in the three sciences that I would call sciences of Gestalt (biology, psychology, sociology) there is an element of interpretation, derived neither formally nor materially. And even in the physical sphere, yes, in the conceptions of logic and mathematics, this third element is noticeable. The formative power of knowledge, its actual life as distinguished from its technical tools, is achieved in this third element. Now it is important to ascertain whether this aspect is not something which could become the object of perception itself in the act of knowing. If that were attempted, the third element itself, which is beyond the plane of form and material, would become a formed material. This, however, would rob it of its special character, and knowledge would again be withdrawn from the sphere of decision. Only in the metaphysical view can that which must remain in the background in science gain suggestive, symbolic expression.

The assertion that there is an element of decision in knowledge has nothing to do with the doctrine of the primacy of practical reason. The decision which is spoken of here is not a moral one. It is moral just as little as it is intellectual. It lies in the deeper stratum upon which both of these rest and which we designate but indistinctly when we term it religious, for it is also not a question of decision in the sense of a specifically religious attitude. What is meant is the attitude toward the Unconditioned, an attitude which is freedom and fate at the same time, and out of which action as well as knowledge flows. Therefore, in every period in which religion is dominant in social life, the will to truth is subject to a special and outstanding responsibility quite independent of the moral one. And no moral greatness can balance defection from the truth in such a period: the defection from truth is not equal to immorality, but to a conscious devotion to the demonic in practice. Both are considered as aspects of the one act m which the fundamental alienation from the Unconditioned is accomplished. Of course, there is a responsibility for the single act in the moral field as well as in knowledge. That provides the possibility of transferring the responsibility in the sphere of truth to the moral plane of technical exactness, conscientiousness or honesty, i.e., of doing away with the element of decision contained in knowledge itself in favor of a moral attitude in scientific work. This conception, familiar to modern culture, is possible only because the transcendental relation to the true has been lost as well as the transcendental relation to the good. Whoever wants to understand knowledge through analyzing the single act, must necessarily divide it into a technical side (which can be expressed in scientific genius) and a moral side (which can be enhanced as far as asceticism). He cannot see the third element, the quality of freedom and fate belonging to knowledge. As soon as we break through this superficial consideration, the responsibility on both sides becomes infinite and direct: the responsibility toward the true is as great as the responsibility toward the good, or rather, it is one responsibility. There can be no question here of a primacy of practical reason.

In this third element of knowledge its decisive character, its genuine historic quality, its position in fate and in the Kairos is rooted.

D. Method and attitude in knowledge

We now ask what significance our line of thought may have for scientific work. Does it lead to a new method or merely an interpretation of old methods? In reply we must first repeat that the third element of perception is not an object which might occur in the act of perception itself. Otherwise a new third element would have to be sought in turn for this act of knowledge, etc. The third element is that which can never become an object in the act of knowledge itself and which therefore naturally had to remain hidden from the formalistic and empirical epistemology. It can become an object only for the metaphysics of knowledge. In the same way, style never lies in the intention of the creative artist, not even when he consciously follows a previous style. He can never consciously give himself his style. The style (the third element in artistic creation) is apparent only to the historian or observer of art (who under certain circumstances can be the same person as the artist). In the act of knowledge, as well as in the act of artistic production, the duality of form and material is realized. As soon as attention is directed to the third element, freedom and fate are lost, and subjective arbitrariness controlled by psychological necessity replaces them. Only in the severest methodical concentration can that objectivity be reached which can become the fate of a time. Here lies the whole gravity of the task of knowledge, the necessary asceticism which is not an asceticism toward the Kairos but toward subjectivity. For subjectivity is always "akairos."( This warning is extremely important at the present moment, when servile philosophers in dictatorial Countries abuse the philosophy of Kairos by identifying truth and power, or truth and political leadership, or truth and blood. They distort the idea of decision in knowledge by confusing decision and subjective arbitrariness. I am afraid that there is a danger of this kind in Pragmatism too.) So, for example, in the interpretation of documents from the past, it is not permitted to pass over the methodically correct comprehension of the "actual meaning" of the text. All subjective interpretation is arbitrariness and servitude, separating us from the truth. In this respect progress, improvement, and successful steps of scientific asceticism are possible. And it is just when this happens, when methodical severity combines with pure devotion to matter, that the understanding of the past becomes a living, creative deed, re-creating the past— an achievement of great historians. This is the effect of the third element in knowledge. The same is true regarding nature, where every will to be creative is less important than the smallest exact observation. Here lies the reason for the dangerous and unconvincing character of the romantic philosophy of nature, in perfect analogy with the encroachment of moral or political tendencies on historical writing. If the third element of knowledge is intended, the consequence is a corrupt empiricism. It seems, therefore, that the statement regarding the fateful and decisive element in knowledge had no methodical significance at all; but this is not true. To be sure, the methodical technique is not directly touched by it. The scientific method has its own value which it validates and constantly perfects in its experiments. But this fact does not absolve the average scientist from a serious challenge in regard to his spiritual attitude toward the object of his research. His usual attitude may be characterized as one of estrangement from the object, of desire to dominate it. The vital relation between the scientist and the object is thus lost.

This attitude corresponds to the belief in the absolute object. The fateful connection of the scientist with existence is denied and from this the demand for uninterested perception is derived. Insofar as interest means subjectivity, its exclusion is a prerequisite of truth. Insofar as it means connection with life, its intensity is decisive in the value of knowledge. It follows that the attitude of knowledge must not be strangeness but intimacy, not distance from but nearness to life. The community between the knowing and the known must be expressed in every scientific work. Such a community of fate, however, means a community before the Unconditioned. Thus, no contacts with the surface are demanded. No "stream of life" in some impressionistic, subjective sense is meant, but on the contrary the community in responsibility with the life that touches us—and that impinges, indirectly, on all life. In order to reach reality, we need not only a methodical technique but also a methodical attitude. Recent periods have brought the technical side of method to a high degree of perfection. Of the inner attitude they knew nothing. There were earlier times which knew much about the attitude in scientific work and little of the technique of method. We cannot return to them, but we can again appreciate them and above all, we can learn from them that the way to the innermost kernel of things is always simultaneously the way to the stratum in which they stand in fateful connection before the Unconditioned. The "Itinerarium mentis ad res" is possible only as an "Itinerarium mentis ad Deum." That is valid for the judgment of those movements in the present that try to assume a fundamental change in the attitude of knowledge, for example, the philosophy of life. To it indeed we owe a considerable step forward on the path to community with the living, but it remains stuck fast in the biological sphere and therefore does not lead on to the profound connection with the living. This is equally true of phenomenology, which was a still more important departure from the technical and dominating attitude toward things, but which came to a standstill in formality or threw aside the technical element of method with perilous haste. This is also true of the new view of history, which approaches history with the presupposition that it concerns the historian, and makes an effort to proceed to the depth of things, where they have an infinite meaning. A similar tendency may be found in part in the school of Dilthey and George. The measure of judging these attempts, however, must always remain in the stratum in which the union of the present with what is past takes place. And absolutely serious union and understanding is reached only when one approaches things with the question of the decision of life itself and with the expectation that they will contribute to this decision. Here lies the problem of "theological" exegesis. Exploration passes over into devotion; it takes on religious qualities without being allowed to lose its technical form. The right union of these tendencies, namely an inner tension leading to transcendence and a methodical technique is the ideal method of knowledge.

By this consideration, a fundamental insight into the limits of perception is gained. It is possible, indeed, to apply methods of scientific technique without limits to every object. This is both unobjectionable and necessary. It becomes questionable only when one forgets that preliminary conditions are furnished for truth in this manner but that the truth is not yet grasped. The possibility of recognizing truth is dependent on decision and fate and cannot be separated from the Kairos.

Not every reality is disclosed to even the most penetrating analysis and to the most exacting science. Only that reality can be grasped with which the seeker is connected through history and fate. This does not remove the obligation to make an effort for all reality, partly because each is connected with all, and partly because no one and no time knows a priori whither the way of knowledge is leading. Yet individuals and eras must sometimes know when to halt instinctively and when to press forward is futile. It is necessary to realize this in order to meet the arrogance of the illusionary absolute standpoint in thinking and to point out the limits which the Kairos has set for the realization of the Logos.

In the last analysis this is valid even for pure method. Even method is not only technique; it is also conditioned and decisively conditioned by the attitude. That is the reason why, in spite of its technical aspect, that not every method is possible at all times; rather is it that just in the method is first revealed what is timely according to fate, what paths the Kairos opens up for the Logos.


A. Reality and fate

From the point of view of reality, the following objection can be raised to the whole train of thought which starts out from knowledge: Should not the real be grasped in knowledge, and is not the real a unity? Is not therefore every decision of the subject—subjective and thus untrue? Does not the impossibility of truth follow from the historical character of knowledge? Is not the dethronement of the absolute subject at the same time a dethronement of the knowing subject? Indeed, one could go further and say: Is not the pragmatic theory of knowledge renewed therewith; is not knowledge robbed of its material significance in the last analysis? Of course, when one speaks thus, one ought not to cite the usual biological pragmatism, but one might perhaps speak of a religious pragmatism. Let us examine this idea for a moment: Obviously a religious pragmatism would be one in which the norm for the formation of concepts was the attitude to God. The decision regarding the Unconditioned would be the origin of the formation of concepts, which would have no other meaning than to justify this decision and attitude. If we assume this statement to be true, then it would mean that the subject in its formation of concepts does not want to express anything subjective, but, on the contrary, just that object to which it sacrifices its subjectivity, the Unconditioned. As soon as pragmatism were to become religious, therefore, it would transcend itself, for to speak truth regarding one’s attitude to the Unconditioned, would mean to speak truth altogether. The level would be reached in which the contrast of theory and practice, that is, pragmatism would be eliminated.

Yet it is necessary to answer the questions directly and positively. It is necessary to examine the concept of reality itself.

In this enterprise it is expedient to start from certain solutions which can be found in Hegel on the one side, in Marx on the other. Both are of outstanding importance for our problem. Both have attempted to unite ideal norms and historical reality, Hegel. by making history subject to ideality in interpreting history in logical terms; Marx, by making ideality subject to history in interpreting ideas as products of historical situations. It has never yet been shown with sufficient clarity that in both the turn toward a fundamentally new definition of the relationship between reality and truth is present, namely in the direction of a dynamic concept of truth and reality.

For Hegel the ultimate reality of history is rational in it, i.e., the rational concept which realizes itself in history. The important thing, however, is this, that the idea, or better, the series of ideas, is realized in such a way that it enters into a concrete historical form, not as a thought of somebody, but as the essential reality of an historical situation. Hegel calls the decisive historical power the Volksgeist (the spirit of a tribe or nation). In it the idea is incorporated. This raises a serious problem. The tribe or nation, aside from its spirit, is a biological-sociological reality with many-sided will to life and power, and consequently its relationship to any idea is ambiguous. The group can serve the idea as well as resist it. How does the fusion of vital and ideal tendencies take place? According to Hegel, in this way: the idea shrewdly uses even the resisting tendencies in order to reach its goal. But the picture of the shrewd idea is no solution of the problem. The idea in itself is not an acting creature; it becomes powerful only in unity with acting men. But this unity is possible only, if there is no real resistance to be overcome by the idea. The idea has no power of overcoming; it is powerless in itself. The solution of the problem from the point of view of Hegelian thought is the doctrine of the prestabilized harmony of idea and history, and there can be no doubt that this thought is in the background of Hegel’s picture. This, however, means historical determinism, and therefore the destruction of real history because the new, the unexpected, the "leap" belong essentially to history.

In Marx—the genuine, not the materialistically mutilated Marx—productive society is the ultimate reality and ideas are only reflections of a special situation of society in the mirror of intellect. The totality of such ideas is the ideology of a social group. The word ideology has become more and more a designation of thoughts that are used by a social group in order to justify its political and economic power, especially in situations where this power contradicts the actual historic situation. This is not the original meaning of the word ideology, but a use of it for purposes of agitation. We must admit, however, that this use of the word is not entirely unjustified, since from the very beginning it was meant to question the objective truth of concepts.

If ideology designates the true expression of a certain situation of society and the situation of society at the time is the real thing, then the word ideology contains no negation of the idea of truth, insofar as truth demands the agreement of perception and reality. Only this is new that reality itself is interpreted as something changeable in its essence. Consequently the concepts in which the essence of reality is grasped, must themselves be changeable, if truth is claimed for them. This important problem is implied in the word ideology, but the answer that has been given thus far is insufficient. First of all the formal objection must be raised that the assertion of the ideological character of thinking must allow at least one exception, namely this assertion itself. If this also is nothing but ideology it is only the expression of a special social situation and cannot even try to claim universal validity. Furthermore, if we identify reality with social structure we lose the reality of nature as well as of past history. This was by no means the intention of Marx, who agreed completely with a belief in objective sciences, but what position this belief takes toward the concept of ideology, what ideology is in the true sense, what objective truth is,—these questions Marx did not ask himself; and later Marxism was not even capable of it as a result of its materialistic naïveté.

And yet it was no accident that the question of the dynamic character of truth and reality was asked on the basis of intense activity by the leader of a movement for which that was a life-question, although it might remain only an interesting problem for the mere observer: the dependence of the intellectual life on the social and economic situation. A victory for the movement was not possible so long as its opponents could maintain the sanctity of their intellectual creations. The concept of ideology was a weapon of demonic power for the purpose of destroying all the hallowed truths of bourgeois and feudal culture. And it is easy to understand that Socialism does not renounce such a weapon despite the obvious difficulty of this concept. Moreover, it serves Socialism in other ways than as a weapon. The numerous endeavors which group around the concept of proletarian culture find there an ideological point of departure. It is urgent that "bourgeois science" should pay considerably more attention to these theories than before, not in order to "refute" them, but, on the contrary, to understand them, and that means to continue to develop them.

The further development is now to be tried in the following direction. The third stratum in knowledge besides pure form and pure material, the qualitatively changeable, actually historical stratum is to be interpreted not only from the point of view of knowledge, but from reality as well. Starting out from knowledge, we have defined it as the sphere of decision, and moreover we have seen that the decision is a decision with respect to the Unconditioned, and we had spoken of the ambiguity of every decision. In this concept of ambiguity we had found the root of individuality, the place where individuality gains metaphysical meaning. This assertion, however, is one-sided in that it starts out with the individual in his detachment from the community and world and therefore presupposes an abstract concept of freedom. We meant, however, only the freedom which is rooted in fate, and we have expressed this many times. Nevertheless the element of freedom implied in fate received primary emphasis. The time has come to ask about the element of fate implied in freedom. This question leads us directly to the question of the nature of reality. It becomes clear: In the "decision," the deciding ego is not opposite to reality but remains connected with it. If it were otherwise, the false presumption of an "absolute subject" would be defeated, but the arbitrarily relative subject would have taken its place and thereby the idea of truth would have been destroyed.

Then again, if decision is simultaneously taken to mean freedom and fate, isolation and connection, this failure is made impossible. The same can be shown in another way: if the accidentally filled subject were to take the place of the empty absolute subject in knowledge, the sphere of decision would not be reached at all, for subjectivity is given by nature; it is pre-intellectual, pre-personal, the material of decision but not actual decision. It is especially important to protect the doctrine of the historical quality of truth against the reproach that it furthers subjectivity in scientific work. Subjectivity is a prehistoric category. The historical categories are freedom and fate. Where fate is discussed, the connection of the free deed—only what is free has fate—with the whole of existence is recognized, but not with existence insofar as it rests in itself but insofar as it stands before the Unconditioned. Only where this relation of existence is meant, rather than that which constantly vacillates between accident and necessity can one speak of fate. Just as freedom stands objectively before the Unconditioned, so fate stands objectively before it. Both are one in every event which constitutes history.

The free act of the decision in knowledge is therefore one with the fate of the existing thinker, in whom the deed occurs. The free decision in knowledge, at the same time, is the expression of the fate in which the thinker stands :—presupposing that his deed is free and not arbitrary and that his connection with reality is fate and not mechanical necessity. Knowledge is true insofar as it is subjectively free, and objectively fate. Then and only then is it the expression of existence and thus in agreement with its object. Even customary speech knows thoughts which are the fate of a time, and means thereby those thoughts wherein the actual profundity of an epoch, its position before the Unconditioned is given creative, i.e., free expression.

In the third level of knowledge therefore the fatefulness of reality and the depth of life are effective. Reality also has an aspect which is subject to neither an empirical nor a rational necessity. It is fate and is therefore recognized only in the freedom of decision. But where such free—not arbitrary decision occurs, there this aspect of reality, fate, is effective. The third element of knowledge thus corresponds to a third element of being. The transcendental stratum of knowledge corresponds to the transcendental stratum of being.

B. Idea and fate

The dynamic conception of reality, which we have approached in our last discussion, needs more thorough explanation so that its significance for knowledge can be made evident. We are led to the question how far knowledge that is the true interpretation of reality is possible, when reality itself is dynamic; while truth is usually considered the static element in every change. How is it possible to grasp the nature of that which is changing, if the nature itself is not withdrawn from the change? If reality has fateful character in the depth of its essence, how then is the perception of essence possible? This question brings us to the problem of the idea.

No matter how the idea in the Platonic sense is to be understood, whether more epistemologically, or ontologically; at all events one thing is included in its concept; that it means the immutable element in being, the unchanging element of reality, that which is withdrawn from time,—and from which everything temporal lives by participating in it. The static, resting character of the idea in the Platonic sense is indubitable. It cannot even be doubted when the idea is drawn from its transcendental place into the things themselves, as in Aristotle, or when it is considered as a thought or as the first Hypostasis of God, as with the later academicians and Plotinus. The world of the eternal ideas is not touched by the flow of time; the eternal "son" is not subject to growth. These thoughts are all the more important, in view of their close connection to the practical attitude of antiquity. The will to overcome practical historical existence, the high estimate placed on pure observation, later asceticism, the goal of which is finally the unification with the super-being: all this is derived from the static conception of the idea. In the West, too, the state of things was not essentially different. To be sure, for the methodical line of modern philosophy, the Platonic doctrine of ideas was minimized to an increasing extent, but the concept of laws which took its place had a similar static character, notwithstanding all the dynamics of its application. And all a priori theory, critical as well as phenomenological, is static and can enter into the closest connection with the antique doctrine of ideas. For Schelling, too, there was no doubt of the static character of the idea. Yet at one point his departure from the opinion of antiquity showed plainly: he related the ideas in a polar relationship. The dualistic and dynamic principle of his natural philosophy entered into his interpretation of ideas.

This brings us to the second, irrationalistic line of Western philosophy, and above all to Jakob Böhme. Böhme also has a doctrine of ideas which in most of its formulations lies within the compass of Neoplatonism; and yet there is in it something that must break through these confines: the polarity and tension in the world of ideas. For Böhme the world of ideas is the revelation of the divine abyss, which unfolds in it, but the unfolding. takes place dualistically, through the contrast of the dark, egoistic, contractive principle with the light, kindly, communicative principle. To be sure this contrast is eliminated in eternity. The dark principle in eternity is the ground of the light one. It is in the place where it belongs, in which it forms the depth and power of ideas. Therefore, unity, harmony, contrasts are in the world of idea, i.e., in the unbroken, divine self-unfolding, but only in play. But this play contains within itself a threat; it can become serious. Namely, when the dark principle does not remain at the bottom, but rises, becomes excited and as fury destroys the harmony of love. That happened, and this happening is the fall of "Lucifer," in Schelling the fall of the "transcendent man of the idea" and with him of the world of idea altogether.

What is the logical content of this myth? Obviously, that the idea itself is the dynamic element that leads to history. The world of ideas is not only the principle of completion, but in it there is an ambiguity, a threat, a power to enter into conflict with itself, to rush forward to the historical revelation of the contrasting elements unified in it. Böhme’s world of ideas and that of Schelling, in his later period, rushes toward history, not by rational necessity but with a leap, a leap that is potentially in the idea, so to speak, as its inner temptation. While the Platonic idea offers eternal rest, the idea of Böhme is a unity of rest and unrest, a movable, in itself questionable, being, pregnant with infinite tensions. The idea has inner infinity, not indeed for a supposed observer but for itself, and every one who regards it is drawn into the inner infinity of the idea. There is indeed a rest, an eternal, static element in it; otherwise it would not be idea, and the unrest would have no resistance, no immutable point through which it could become evident as unrest, but this static element is not to be severed from the dynamic. Therefore whoever regards the idea can never come to rest in it. Since, however, no absolute subject of perception is possible without rest, all interpretations of the idea can be only ambiguous, just as every factor of the inner infinity of the idea is finite and therefore ambiguous. This means, however, that there can be no comprehension of the essential nature of things except in decision, because the nature of things itself stands in fate and ambiguity.

Only where the dynamic interpretation of the idea is applied, is history a genuine object of knowledge, and knowledge itself is drawn into history without a destruction of the idea of truth. A philosophical understanding of history and a corresponding metaphysics of history can be established on the basis of this dynamic concept of truth. But the next question is whether the dynamic doctrine of ideas has meaning for nature, too. Nature with its forms and laws is always a heavy weight on the scale of thought for a static and against a dynamic epistemology. This is particularly true where nature is under the rule of mathematical form, and therefore is removed almost completely from the decisive character of perception. Consequently it seems that one should feel that even as a static doctrine of ideas was the background of the perception of nature, so a dynamic doctrine of ideas must become the background for the perception of history.

But the contrast of nature and history is correct for our considerations only as far as there is a polarity of rest and unrest, of statics and dynamics, of eternity and infinity of the idea. To tear apart nature and history and distribute them to two kinds of metaphysics would mean to disrupt genuine elements of reality.

This can be clarified from both sides. We have seen that individuality gains its depth and significance in decision. Now it is obvious that individuality in the psychological and sociological sense rests on a natural basis, and that this natural basis is indissolubly joined with the biological, physical, indeed with the totality of microcosmic and macrocosmic happenings. This, however, means that history is not a separate sphere of abstract freedom over or beside nature; rather it is one aspect of events, which at every moment also contain the other aspect: nature and the totality of its relationships. All history is also nature. An idealism of freedom which overlooks this unity remains abstract and elicits a naturalistic opposition. It is therefore impossible to combine a dynamic metaphysics of history with a static metaphysics of nature. Historical dynamics become pure imagination, if there are no dynamic qualities in nature; and consequently, the static necessity of nature makes all historical happenings a complicated example of universal laws. The opposite is equally true: nature at every moment holds something within itself which is not to be determined by static and immutable laws. That nature is, as it is, with these qualities—and no matter how many of them could be traced back to quantities, the original quality cannot be eliminated—is not derivable; it is fate and therefore implies freedom. The meaning of this original quality of nature, of this underivable existence, finds its highest expression in history. In history, fate becomes visible as fate, implying freedom. In history, nature expresses its mystery: freedom and fate.

It is therefore shown that the metaphysics of history necessarily draw the metaphysics of nature into new paths. Into paths which were never strange to the mythical consciousness, but which were neglected for a long time in the interests of rational knowledge and control of nature, although they present themselves most emphatically to the unbiassed observation of nature.

Essence and fate are not strange to each other: that is the conclusion of this argument. Fate belongs to essential being. The idea is inwardly infinite; it does not contrast with existence as eternal completion, in which existence imperfectly participates, but drives on toward existence, toward the pouring out of its inner infinity in the historic fate. Recognizing reality is recognizing reality as it stands in the historical fate, not beyond it. Therefore the knowledge of ideas is never complete and cannot even approach this state, as phenomenology thought. The knowledge of ideas participates in the inner infinity of ideas. An intuitive view of ideas is not a view of the resting idea in an—perhaps outstanding but always accidental—example. it is a view of the idea in its historic fate. The participation of the things in the idea corresponds just as seriously to the participation of the idea in the things. The Logos becomes flesh; it enters into time and reveals its inner infinity.

C.Dialectics and fate

Dialectics is the art of determining the relation of ideas to one another and to existence. One is led beyond this subjective use of the word dialectics by the reflection that dialectics grasps truth only when the ideas themselves bear a relationship to one another and to existence, to which the dialectic form is suited; in other words: when the ideas themselves are dialectical. Thus, from an art of discovering relationships, dialectics becomes an expression for a certain kind of actual relationship. The word is to be understood here in this latter sense. We ask therefore: Setting out from our presuppositions, what form does the relationship of the ideas to one another and to existence take, and what ways must dialectical thinking travel therefore in order to comprehend these connections?

If we begin with the consideration of the relationship of idea and existence we first establish the proposition that if the doctrine of the inner infinity of the idea is right, then existence means that the infinity of the idea becomes manifest. This manifestation, moreover, is realization. If the idea were complete in itself, if it were finished, if the picture of the circle returning into itself held good for it, existence could only be interpreted as the defection of the idea from itself, as a lessening of its reality, at best as existence in contrast to essence. If, however, the idea is infinite in itself, and therefore has within it, namely in its essence the element of unrest, of ambiguity, existence is realization, the idea has historic fate, the contrast of essence and appearance is removed.

We therefore reject the definition of the relationship of essence and existence, which makes the essence unhistorical, without fate, and degrades existence in the scale of being and value in comparison with essence. Dialectics is observation of the essence, insofar as essence is in the hands of fate; not of the essence, insofar as it remains without fate.

For the Greeks the idea is without fate, but the fate of existence is tragic; it is subject to the demonic law of the demiurge. In the whole of late antiquity and beyond it in wide strata of medieval thinking this conception remains effective. By inner necessity it changes dialectics into asceticism and pure theory.

The first important attempt to grasp the idea dynamically, to understand its inner infinity and with this its entrance into existence, is Hegel’s dialectics. The idea becomes concrete; it becomes individualized; it enters into history; it experiences a fate. Here, and nowhere as much as here, the greatness of Hegelian thinking is manifest. He knows the meaning of historic fate; and yet his solution is inadequate. In the last moment essence triumphs over existence, completion over infinity, and the static over the dynamic. The philosopher places himself at the point in history where history has spoken its decisive word, where the whole road can be surveyed, where the circle has closed. With this, however, the idea is robbed of its fateful character. It became richer through its entrance into history; but it is not inexhaustible; its inner infinity does not hang as a threat over every existence, even the most filled. Therefore the Logos rules over the Kairos. In the emphasis on the necessity of dialectical progress, the ambiguity of every realization is overlooked. The possibility that the whole process gets a new meaning by a new realization of the infinite idea is denied.

With this we have come to the second basic question of dialectics, the question of the relationship of ideas among themselves. For the static conception of being, the world of ideas is just as much closed in itself as the single idea is complete in itself. It is a hierarchy, a completed structure, in which the one idea is implied in the other, in which there is no "seriousness of separation," as Hegel says of the idea in the stage of mere potentiality. The flight from one another, the impact against one another, the battle, are the fate of existence and are unessential for the relationship of ideas in themselves. "The war," of which Heraclitus spoke, his dual road of the real, his ambiguity of all things, is admitted for existence but not for essence. The relationship of ideas can be unequivocally determined, the world-structure can be intuitively grasped. Or, speaking in Kantian terms, the unity of the manifold, the synthesis of the syntheses, is the goal of the infinite process.

Here, too, the greatness of Hegel shows itself; he knows the "yes" and "no" in the idea itself; he knows the contradiction that rushes from idea to idea. No one has seen the ambiguity of the essence as he has. The employment of ambiguity as a principle of historical dialectics is an intellectual achievement of decisive importance. Hegel’s limitation at this point consists in this, that in his thought the ambiguity is removed if we look at it from the point of view of the total process, the contradiction thus losing seriousness. The necessity of the synthesis makes the antithesis an element of the whole, and does not permit the advent of a serious contradiction of the whole. History is taken into the synthesis of syntheses, but it is not a challenge to every conceivable completed synthesis.

Thus the demand is substantiated, which must be made of future dialectics: it must try to grasp the relationship of the ideas, the structure of the essential, in such a way that the ambiguity of every solution becomes visible in the solution itself. The solution must not be renounced, for that would mean renunciation of dialectics and at the same time of knowledge of truth. Yet no solution can make the attempt to escape from the threat which is included in the inner inexhaustibility of the idea. And above all: the dialectics may be pictured neither as a straight line nor as a completed circle. The idea which is infinite in itself proves its inexhaustibility, its threat of every existence by entering into the real contradiction, by creating out of its depth the unexpected, the unordered, the new.

On the other hand, it does not therefore cease to be idea, and dialectics does not cease to be dialectics. To deny a straight line and a closed circle does not mean to affirm the meaninglessness of the world. As in the depths of the idea itself, identity unites with inner infinity, clearness with inexhaustibility, so dialectics must show that unequivocal elements and ambiguous elements are united in every being: the unequivocal elements, without which it would be impossible to name the beings, the ambiguous elements which question every name and concept; not for the sake of a better name—as in the idea of progress— but for the sake of a new name, which expresses a new emergence out of the profundity of the idea.

The idea stands in fate which finally means that our perception of the idea is not flight from existence to the idea, not approximation of existence to the idea, but the fate of the idea in existence. Our knowledge itself is not only an expression; it is at the same time a realization of the fate of the idea. Dialectics is the attempt to comprehend the fate of the ideas from our Kairos, from the fate of our period. Because this attempt recognizes itself as fate, it does not transcend fate but remains within it. It knows itself to be an expression of the essentially infinite being. It knows itself to be joined to the universal fate, and knows that it is possible at all in its various forms only because of this union. It also knows that the universal fate is connected with it and thus achieves a new reality. In this reciprocal effect of the understanding of present and past, of the self and the other, the unity of Kairos and Logos is realized.


The doctrine of the character of knowledge as a decision, like everything that makes truth relative, elicits the objection that this doctrine makes itself relative and thus refutes itself, if the doctrine of the character of knowledge as a decision is itself a decision, then its judgment about the ambiguity of being and knowing is also ambiguous. What is true, however, of all knowledge cannot be true of the knowledge of knowledge, otherwise it would cease to have universal significance. On the other hand, if an exception is admitted, then for one bit of reality the equivocal character of being is broken. The point of view of the Unconditioned would be reached at one point. Is that possible? It would be impossible if the removal of the ambiguity of existence were to occur at any place in existence. Whatever stands in the context of knowledge is subject to the ambiguity of knowledge. Therefore such a proposition must be removed from the context of knowledge. It must arise from another sphere than that of knowledge. It must be the expression of the relation of knowledge to the Unconditioned and therefore the expression of a basic metaphysical attitude. Our exposition leads inevitably to this conclusion. The judgment that is removed from ambiguity, the judgment of absolute unequivocal truth, can be only the fundamental judgment about the relationship of the Unconditioned and conditioned. At this point the subjectivity of the knower and the ambiguity of the known are excluded. The content of this judgment is just this—that our subjective thinking never can reach the unconditioned truth, that it must always remain in the realm of ambiguity. This judgment is plainly the absolute judgment which is independent of all its forms of expression, even of the one by which it is expressed here. It is the judgment which constitutes truth as truth. There is nothing that could escape this judgment. Yet it itself is the premise for all judging, questioning, answering. One therefore really has no right to call it a judgment in a particular sense; it is rather the metaphysical meaning implied in judging. If, as here, it is made an articulate judgment, it loses as such the dignity that belongs to it as the meaning of judgment, it enters the context of knowledge and thereby is subject to transcendent criticism. The absolute standpoint is therefore a position which can never be taken; rather it is the guard which protects the Unconditioned, averting the encroachment of a conditioned point of view on the sphere of the Unconditioned. But the guardian is not the guarded, and if it claims to be such, it is the very one which abandons the watch and injures the holy. With these concepts the position of beliefful relativism is grasped, i.e., of that relativism which overcomes relativism.

The problem of relativism or of the absolute position can be answered in three steps: relativity in the sense of infinite progress is valid for the relationship of form and material of knowledge. Here there is no absolute standpoint except the one of pure form, through which, however, nothing real is recognized. The second step lies in what we have called the element of decision in knowledge and the element of fate in being. Here arise the concrete convictions the relativity of which does not come into consideration as methodical doubt and progress, but as ambiguity of the concrete fate. Judgment here replaces doubt; and creation, progress. The third step, finally, is none other than the revelation of this ambiguity of all knowledge, that is, the guardian position which prevents any knowledge from pretensions to unconditioned validity.

We have characterized the absolute standpoint as a guardian standpoint, as one which is not actually a position, but only a battle constantly changing with the opponent, against any standpoint that wants to set itself up as unconditioned. But the guardian is at the same time the one who points to the sanctuary he guards. His existence itself is an indication. The absolute standpoint, that is, the point from which relativism is overcome, is possible only as an indication and defense at the same time. Thus the basic principle of Protestantism, the principle of justification through faith is applied to the question of truth—namely, that in the context of existence a visible realization of the holy is not possible, that all existence remains ambiguous with respect to the Unconditioned. This ambiguity, however, is not meant in the moral but in the religious sense. It reveals itself in morality also, but not only there. The fact that Protestantism frequently applied and still applies the theory of justification exclusively to morals, supported a moralistic dissolution of the basic Protestant principle. At the same time it made it possible for Humanism to carry through a fateless, abstract idea of truth and to seize truth for itself. Theological thinking was forced out of the sphere of truth into that of morality. The abstract thought of truth is sadly shaken at the present time. The question therefore arises whether a return to the absolute position of scholasticism shall take place, a position which will not resign itself to being guardian and indication but seeks to be an absolute standpoint itself. If this way is not possible, however—and it would be possible only through a catastrophe and a return of all Western spiritual life to primitive conditions—there remains only the alternative that the guardian point of view of Protestantism toward the question of truth be assumed. This is the burden of our argument in this discussion. It is the honest expression of our situation, suited to reality and the Kairos. The Protestant idea of truth is the concept of truth which is actually living, full of tension, disturbing reality and the spirit. Protestant ethics, its tensions and its greatness has always been fully appreciated but the Protestant concept of truth has never been developed. As a result, Protestant knowledge fell into a crisis completely unsolved until now. If this crisis is not to be concluded negatively and Protestantism is not to end in profane morals, a solution of the crisis must be found. Protestantism has a right to the consciousness of carrying in it a principle that is as yet fully inexhausted and that is of decisive, liberating and constructive significance in the problem of truth.

The doctrine of the guardian character of the absolute position gives the concept of the Kairos its final fulfillment. A moment of time, an event, deserves the name of Kairos, fullness of time in the precise sense, if it can be regarded in its relation to the Unconditioned, if it speaks of the Unconditioned, and if to speak of it is at the same time to speak of the Unconditioned. To look at a time thus, means to look at it in its truth. The truth of a time is its attitude toward the Unconditioned, by which it is supported and directed. Knowledge born in the situation of the Kairos then is not knowledge growing out of accidental arbitrary events of a period but out of the period’s basic significance. Therefore in all our considerations we spoke of fate and understood in this word time’s being supported by the eternal. True knowledge is not absolute knowledge. The guardian puts an end to this arrogance; on the contrary, true knowledge is knowledge born of the Kairos, that is, of the fate of the time, of the point at which time is disturbed by eternity.

The dynamic thought of truth seems to throw the knowing subject into boundlessness and instability, and it is comprehensible that the longing for limits and firmness rises against it, even if the stability is looked upon only as an ideal. Yet the actual danger for knowledge lies not in the dynamic but in the static idea of truth. The static idea constantly places the spirit before the alternative: to be one with truth or to be separated from the truth. And the attempted mediation by the idea of progress which tries to approach truth infinitely, falls completely on the negative side of the alternative. Here the case is as with the religious attitude of the mystics: unity with God, deification, or separation from God, distance from God: in this oscillation to and fro the life of the mystic passes. Life in the static idea of truth is also engaged in this same oscillation, insofar as it possesses sufficient seriousness and sufficient depth. Relativism is the weakening of the static idea of truth, which occurs as soon as consciousness seeks to escape from the desperation of that alternative. The dynamic thought of truth is not relativistic. It has nothing statically absolute, in reference to which it can be called relative, while the static thought of truth forces one to relativism, as soon as the arrogance of the absolute position is broken down. The dynamic thought of truth overcomes the alternative "absolute-relative." The Kairos, the fateful moment of knowledge is absolute, insofar as it places one at this moment before the absolute decision for or against the truth, and it is relative, insofar as it knows that this decision is possible only as a concrete decision, as the fate of the time. Thus the Kairos serves to reveal rather than conceal the Logos.

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