Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stefan Dienstbeck on Tillich's Late Work


The criticism of Tillich's late work was always that the earlier take on the sense was helpful, but the sense of the Being in the ontology seems like a lapse back to before his own work; esp a re-metaphysical approach.

Early on Tillich had rejected the combination of truth and being. Truth is always correlated with thinking, which means recognition of truth. Truth can there not be objective, since concrete cannot be the absolute (an early and lasting distinction).

But the "Sein-Selbst" (Being as such) can come back in the 1960s in the Systematic Theology; this association with God in an unmediated form is not only a loss of symbolism, but rather comes across as a metaphysical Setzung. The Being of God is however not a subsumption among other forms of being; thus the relationship between Being and Being-as-such is necessary. Because an analogia entis would be problematic, while a word relationship would be ok.

Unfortunately Tillich allows both interpretations in his late writings. Tillich wants to cast God as a structure of being (I, 276) and supports the analogia entis (I, 278) directly. However, if one returns to the earlier phases of Tillich's thinking, then insights are possible.

Typologically there are other views of Tillich: 1919 he provides an idealistic stance, with thetical expressions and no doubtful statements. One principle of thinking should still allow difference; abstract and concrete need synthesis for its realization in absolute. The process is not visible in this way; there are only singular moments of stability. 

When writing to Emanuel Hirsch, however, doubt begins to tackle the unangefochtenen Wahrheitsbegriff, it is not removable from the life of the spirit (1917). Doubt must extend toward the idea of theology itself. The new starting position is the individual subject as the doubting person. The doubt is unstoppable and reaches all sense; doubt accompanies all individual actions, including belief and trust. Doubt becomes the mode of faith. Faith is no longer supported by an external absolute, and the individual has to describe the process of justification by themselves. Sense comes around by jumping into action in spite of doubt. 

After truth and sense as the basis of the systemic foundation, the modus of observation shifts. Tillich stays faithful by changing the perspective, but keeps the object constant. The perspective comes from the meta-theory of the system Tillich is designing. The theme does not change, it is always explication of the absolute and the concrete, under the perspective of the concrete. The target then is the possibility of theology at all; Tillich is a thinker of principles, even though he works it out in the context of concrete issues. If the topic is not clear and obvious, then a multi-faceted approach of perspectivity is necessary, since a perspective always focuses on some parts and does not show others. Only abstraction and complexity reduction can project the totality, with a loss of concreteness.

The idea of the moment is one way in which way the dynamicity is handled; the slice of reality gives an impression, but never catches the entirety of the process. The lack of objective capturing of the reality is implicated in this problem. The plurality of moments supports their relativity; but the individual moment is true, because the relativity is included and externally forwarding in its self-restriction. The principle is always visible in every form; truth is one view, an absolute one; sense is another, a concrete one. The aporetic tendencies however slosh along with the model. By seeing the systems as expression of these perspective moments pushes those aporetics out of the system analysis. Each system is relative, as is then to be expected, yea, unavoidable. (The issue of a meta-system does not arise, since that is not processable in relative form.)

Symbols are pictures of the absolute, but since these are tied to the systems, and thus relative. Systems are symbols in this sense too, because they are equally relative and attempts at depict the absolute. Since the Non-Depictable cannot be captured, the same modernization problems of temporary stability apply here as well. The absolute-per-se is not reachable; otherwise it would be a mere caricature.

In the third phase, which corresponds to the relationship between the abstract and the concrete, the Being-as-such and Being are related. The conditions of experience are apriori, and the ontological concepts belong here as well. However, apriori is just as relative as the other perspectives, and could be superceded. Kant was here looking for stable categories, Tillich wants to eliminate the absolute status of the ontological. 

Tillich wants a metaphysical theory of being, because he is concerned about extending the access patterns. The self-reflexive principle is to be universalized, so that the human concreteness is superceded, and extended to all being as such. The ontology brings the plan to include in the entirety of being. Again symbols are supposed to do the work, except for the Being-as-such.

Tillich is trying to synthesize the abstract and the concrete, then the Being-as-such must be an expression of the absolute (which differs from the absolute from the 1st system). The Being-as-such does two things: it is both abstract (see first system), but also the absoluteness (see the third system). Being-as-such also is now a symbol for itself, which may be what Tillich meant with saying it required no symbol. The oscillation comes from the systemic moments, even if not everything works out in the details.

Tillich is therefore pursuing transcendental theology; the Unbedingte is a non-grounded ground, the Being-as-such becomes an objective projection of the absolute via the symbol. The separation of absolute and the symbol allow relative but truthful expressions of the absolute. Thus there are moments of truth that make up the speech of religion.

Clearly this is a systematization, not a plan of Tillich; he may not have noticed this, and definitely did not do this consciously. 


  • Unlike Hegel, there is no absolute spirit anymore, only in perspectives; the flow of the system survives, but not the idealistic goal that has been reached. The system is a moment and an approximation, not expression itself. In that sense, he is more modern maybe then Hegel.
  • The three phases are very well understandable; but the explication of the absolute as the theme is too wide and too large, since any theologian would have claimed that. 
  • In Tillich's 1927 Eschatologie und Geschichte, the Being and the Sense are sibling terms; and this keeps recurring through-out the late work. But Tillich keeps old terms around, he just re-fills their contents, e.g. das Unbedingte from System #1. 


  • Could Tillich have saved himself System #3 if he had just chucked the creation? Is the extension to Being-as-such only there because he is not happy with the reduction to the relationship between the self-reflexive concrete.


Stefan Dienstbeck, Von der Sinntheorie zur Ontologie: Zum Verständnis des Spätwerks Paul Tillich.

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