Theology and Philosophy – Milbank or Kant?

I hope that friends of the next theology will join me in welcoming the recent remark by John Milbank, in his 2011 Stanton Lectures, that the truer legacy of Thomas Aquinas is better sought “in the current of German Dominican mysticism and its Renaissance heirs” than in the soi-disant “Thomists” of a later day.

However, I cannot square this much-needed tip of the hat in the direction of religious experience with prof. Milbank’s later dismissal of Kant and the post-critical philosophy in the same lecture.  I’m wondering if he has any idea – since he doesn’t mention their names – that a very interesting turn to the subject characterized the work of some post-critical theologians – for example in the very adequate theologies of experience offered by Friedrich Schleiermacher and urged by Soren Kierkegaard.

Here I only wonder out loud about why it seems so important for Milbank to corral and brand Kant as of the herd of Duns Scotus, alleging that “an entire double current of both possibilism and transcendentalism flows from Scotus through Suarez through Wolff to Kant himself.”

Kantian Possibilism?  I have seen this argument in the secondary literature of the Analytical school, but I think they and Prof. Milbank will both miss the key to understanding Kant’s service to theology if they emphasize a single phrase like “Condition of possibility” with a view toward selling this as the sine qua non of a Kantian metaphysics that is all downstream from Scotus.

This gets complicated.  But for the blog, I’m only going to begin the argument with a statement of what I think the definition of philosophy must be if we are going to come to a satisfactory idea of its true relation to theology.

Philosophy’s task is to provide the intellectual methodology by which a person can be capable of simultaneously possessing both a genuine knowledge and a genuine faith.

By this I mean to cover a situation in which (a) the religious method of faith (whatever that turns out to be) cannot rule out-of-hand against the objective data of relations in and with the finite world and (b) the scientific method cannot rule out-of-hand against the subjective data of relationship with God.  As my definition implies, I’m actually talking about one and the same philosophical person using a pure philosophy to negotiate these two sides of the coin of real experience.

A careful reader should see Kant’s name written all over this definition of mine.  But metaphysics?  Not so much that can ‘go forward as science,’ as Kant would say.  Negatives aside, I think the positives in the Kantian program should be seen as good for theology.

I find one other Kantian sympathizer has blogged her misgivings of the lecture’s approach to the Critical Philosophy – Crystal also includes a clip of a Kant lecture by Keith Ward.

HT to Lee for the link to Crystal

And to Marc Cortez for the link to Milbank’s lecture.


3 thoughts on “Theology and Philosophy – Milbank or Kant?

  1. Thanks for the mention. I wish I knew more about Kant. I remember him vaguely from college classes but I think I actually got more from Keith Ward’s video. Looking forward to Prof. Milbank’s next lecture in the series.

    • Crystal, I thought you showed good instincts to bring up your question, and to bring in Ward’s lecture.

      In attempts to read Prof. Milbank’s books I invariably lose interest beyond the spots in the text where he disses the Critical Philosophy (this is a luxury I have as a non-academic).

      I also have doubts that theology stands to gain much – without aid from a critical philosophy like Kant’s – from an engagement with quite so many 20th century philosophers.

      But I’ll be monitoring the lectures too. I know he has a professional duty to engage his contemporary professionals, but I have no intention of acquiring a late mastery of analytical and continental secularists (and no confidence that Prof. Milbank can ‘turn the tables’ on them or get them to carry water for theology).

  2. Pingback: The Kantian philosophy as ancilla theologiae et scientiarum « Next Theology

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