Dialectic Epistemological Considerations in the Production of Knowledge

Schleiermacher reported in a letter to his older sister Charlotte in 1802 that the Schleiermacher family's short stay in 1783 at Gnadenfrei, the community of the Herrnhuter Brethren (Moravian Brothers), had precipitated a life-changing moment: "here my consciousness of the relation of human beings to a higher world first arose Here there first developed that mystical disposition which is so essential to me and has saved and preserved me under all the assaults of skepticism. Here I became a Herrnhuter of a 'higher order.' "4

It took Schleiermacher eighteen more years after composing his letter to work out its implications in theology and philosophy. In 1821-1822, Schleiermacher establishes the feeling of utter dependence at the center of his introduction to the first edition of The Christian Faith. In 1822, Schleiermacher's philosophical lectures on Dialektik reveal an intellectual breakthrough in relating the striving toward knowledge to its transcendental condition as the "transcendent ground." The theologian educated in Pietist boarding schools during his youth and later in Enlightenment thought at the University of Halle would find the key to both Dialektik and theological system in the experience of an anthropological index to a ground hidden from human scrutiny, yet establishing the very parameters of that scrutiny. Schleiermacher situates the transcendent ground from the Dialektik's perspective in relation to the human desire for knowledge, while he determines the feeling of utter dependence from the theological perspective of The Christian Faith in relation to the historical religion of Christianity.

The key text for studying how Schleiermacher conceives of thinking in relation to its conditions is the Dialektik.5 The text's difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that it exists as lecture notes from 1811 to 1831 in a number of different versions. Schleiermacher had very much wanted to see the Dialektik completed in the same book form as his Christian Faith, as he told his student, Ludwig Jonas, but died before he could realize the project. Jonas was bequeathed the notes, which he edited, also providing an excellent and extended commentary for the 1839 publication of the Sammtliche Werke of Schleiermacher's works by Georg Reimer.6

The question of dialectic was of central philosophical interest in the early nineteenth-century discussion concerning knowledge. Both Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who lectured on dialectic in Berlin at about the time that Schleiermacher was developing his ideas on the matter, had been working on the problem since Immanuel Kant had deemed dialectic a cognitive quandary in his Critique of Pure Reason. The question concerning how reality could correspond to the ideas (or concepts) of reality became the question of knowledge as system in the post-Kantian period. If knowledge was to be the system of how the real agreed with the ideal (or being with thought), then dialectic became the question of how this knowledge was produced. Schleiermacher's answer, in contrast to Fichte's and Hegel's idealism, was oriented to a realism that yielded no more knowledge than could be sustained within the limits of Kant's critical philosophy. Schleiermacher's Dialektik is a modest epistemological proposal.

The Dialektik prescribes two requirements for knowledge: (a) the agreement between thought and reality; and (b) the identity in all of the pathways in coming to knowledge claims. On the surface, these requirements seem simply to state a philosophical consensus. Knowledge is generally defined as the correspondence between thought and being: a claim to knowledge must articulate a judgment that agrees with the way in which subject and predicate are related in reality. Furthermore, any claim to knowledge presupposes an identical process by which that knowledge is reached. This process must be uniform, so that the possibility of fluke or fantasy is excluded. Identity as sameness - not diversity of opinion - characterizes knowledge. Schleiermacher concurs with this consensus. He defines knowledge in his philosophical ethics7 as "identical symboliza-tion," which means that the experimental or thought process that produces knowledge must be reproducible in the same way by all. By "symbolization" in his sense of "ethics," Schleiermacher means the particular ways in which reason (or thought) is related to nature (or reality). Reason, in the case of symbolization, penetrates nature in such a way as to make nature its "symbol." Reason is the tool by which nature is made intelligible: for example, the laws of physics reveal the rational structure of natural processes.

Yet the two requirements are not as easily fulfilled as they first appear. For Schleiermacher, there is no knowledge without system. System as the main characteristic of knowledge was a consensus in the Enlightenment ever since Leibniz claimed his Monadologie to be his system. Schleiermacher, like his post-Kantian colleagues, insisted on the systematic requirement for agreement between thought and being. Knowledge is achieved when the system of ideas corresponds to the totality of reality. The institutionalization of this view of knowledge is the modern university - in Schleiermacher's case, the University of Berlin - that is structured by different departments as they constitute an interlocking system of ideas that correspond to the distinct spheres of reality as subjects of study making up the system of reality. The university as a whole is oriented to reality as a whole. Agreement is not between individual propositions and corresponding states of affairs, as a modern theory of truth as correspondence might hold, but between system and reality.

On the surface, correspondence as the first requirement for knowledge appears to privilege a metaphysical orientation for knowledge. Yet when considered together with the second requirement, that of identical process, the metaphysical focus recedes and an epistemological lens takes its place. Epistemology, not metaphysics, becomes for Schleiermacher the primary question of knowledge. The question concerning the content of knowledge claims is inextricably tied to the question concerning how the human being can know. Schleiermacher builds on Kant's "Copernican Revolution" by looking at knowledge through the lens of the human capacity for and limits to knowing. While thinking is the human process involving the human (and hence limited) capacities of intellectual and organic functions - reason and sense perception - knowledge is the ideal that cannot be attained. Whereas bits of reality can be at least partially understood, the connections of bits to each other in the totality of reality remain elusive. Schleiermacher's Dialektik is not a metaphysic that grounds claims of correspondence, but is a progressive teasing out of the processes by which thinking -oriented to knowing - occurs. Dialectic is a process of carefully extracting procedures regulating thinking from what little we know about thinking on the basis of the two criteria for knowledge. It is about rules, rather than results.

Yet Schleiermacher's epistemology is related to a metaphysic that grounds the process of thinking's desire to know in the first place. The way Schleiermacher gains access to the metaphysical ground of thinking is his unique contribution to a discussion that can be said to capture a major philosophical preoccupation of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The question concerns the constitution of human subjectivity. The post-Kantian search for "system" was twinned with the search for the ground of subjectivity because this ground would explain how the ideal and the real were metaphysically united. If the question is answered in terms of the ultimate transparency of the soul to its constituent ground - as Hegel does - then the self and world are ultimately knowable. Human reason can and does know reality because human subjectivity is metaphysically constituted by the "Absolute" grounding the unity between ideas and reality. If the question is answered in terms of the fundamental opacity of the soul to its constituent ground - as Schleiermacher does - then subjectivity is characterized by an elusive self-consciousness that yields an even more elusive sign to its metaphysical ground. Like Hegel, Schleiermacher aims to have a theory of self-consciousness that clues into its metaphysical ground, yet unlike Hegel, Schleiermacher frames the process of isolating the metaphysical ground in the sole terms of human feeling. The result is, at best, opaque.

The Dialektik of 1822 is so significant in Schleiermacher's corpus because its key insight dovetails with the principle structuring his theological system, The Christian Faith. Both works turn to the same two human capacities of thinking and willing in order to discern their unity in feeling, yet the Dialektik differs significantly from The Christian Faith because its discovery of the "transcendent ground" is cast exclusively in metaphysical, not religious, terms.

The question of subjectivity is raised at the very end of the Dialektik's first part, the "transcendental" part. Schleiermacher takes the oscillation between human thinking and willing as the defining question and explores how the unity of both activities can be attained. The mediating point of the transitions between thinking and willing is the self, where thinking is merged with being. Schleiermacher locates the ground of identity between thought and reality in "us"; "we" are being and thinking, the thinking being (das denkende Sein) and the thinking that is (das seiende Denken).8 Yet this mediation is not perpetuated by the self. The transition Schleiermacher argues is located externally to the self as its transcendent source. As a transcendent source, it cannot be experienced; as a transcendental source, it cannot be cognized. Rather it is "felt" by the self as the incapacity of the self to ground its own subjectivity. It is a feeling of a lack. In the terms of the Dialektik, this lack is felt in immediate self-consciousness; in The Christian Faith, this lack is described as the self-consciousness that "negatives absolute freedom" and "is itself precisely a consciousness of absolute dependence" (CF ยง 4.3). In epistemo-logical and in theological terms - and for Schleiermacher the two are to be strictly distinguished from each other - the realism of a higher order is achieved by the feeling of a lack. The Dialektik thematizes lack in the metaphysical terms of the opacity of the self to the transcendent ground, while productively orienting the feeling of lack to a discussion of epistemology. The Christian Faith initially the-matizes the lack in the bare terms of the unity between self and world as that unity is dependent on an external cause, and subsequently fleshes out this lack in Christian theological terms of Jesus' accomplishment of universal redemption.

The Dialektik can be said to elucidate Schleiermacher's self-designation as a "Herrnhuter of a higher order" by tying the question of subjectivity to the question of knowledge. The psychological aspect of the self that discloses a relation to its transcendent ground is feeling, while the philosophical question of knowledge is worked out epistemologically. Without metaphysical certainty, the episte-mological working-out of procedures for the production of knowledge and the testing of claims to knowledge relies on intersubjectivity as its inevitable contex-tualization. People make claims to knowledge, and they make them in such a way that they want to communicate them to others and so be understood by others. Hermeneutics is the intersubjective side of dialectic to which I now turn.

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