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The Problem of God in Modern Thought
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The last few decades have seen a remarkable renaissance in philosophical theology among professional theologians and within neighboring disciplines. At the same time, we are also witnessing a new interest in "spiritual questions" on the part of many who would in no way consider themselves to be theologians and, further, might not even label themselves as theists. In the excitement of this period of rebuilding and searching for new models, it becomes increasingly important not to neglect the context for modern thought about God. We may criticize modern assumptions about the divine, but we ignore them at our peril. Any theology that is to be credible in the modern (or postmodern) intellectual world must understand how and why the notion of God became a problem.
This outstanding study by Templeton Prize-winning author Philip Clayton reconstructs and evaluates the steps by which the concept of God became a problem in modern thought. Clayton shows that this development has its roots in Descartes's break with the medieval tradition, in Leibniz's failure to build a modern metaphysics of perfection, in Kant's reduction of God to a regulative concept, and in the increasing power of the Spinoza tradition as it met the challenge of German idealism and became incorporated into it. These developments provide the backdrop against which theology's prospects today can be assessed.
However, while modernity raised serious, perhaps insurmountable problems for the "perfect being theology" of the medieval period, the question of God remained a deep and abiding concern in many of the great modern philosophical systems. Clayton shows how key thinkers of the modern period continued to wrestle with the concept of God as "infinite" and "perfect" and to make fresh proposals for understanding the divine. The sophisticated models of God developed by Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Fichte, and Schelling, among others, are presented, analyzed, and constructively applied to contemporary philosophical theology. Clayton's penetrating work reveals the resources that modern thought continues to offer to philosophical theologians. Ultimately, he finds in the narrative of modern thought about God strong support for panentheism, the new theological movement that maintains the transcendence of God while denying the separation of God and the world.
"The Problem of God in Modern Thought offers a new approach to the history of metaphysics in modern philosophy based on the most recent research into the thought of the leading figures from Descartes to Schelling. It takes its cue from the recent French interpretation of Descartes as the founder of a new approach to philosophical theology. This book is the most comprehensive account of the modern history of philosophical theology that presently exists."
"This study, already laureled in its German version, accomplishes a veritable breakthrough in philosophical theology. Philip Clayton rescues the discipline from a stagnant epistemology and returns it to its native metaphysical ground. His imaginative reinterpretation of major modern thinkers, his careful analysis of seldom examined theological notions, and his comprehensive philosophical erudition give this work the stature of a classic."
"Having set forth the case for panentheism as the most appropriate model for the God-world relationship in God and Contemporary Science, Clayton here investigates panentheism’s historical antecedents in modern philosophy from Descartes to Schelling. Especially valuable is his critique of the classical notion of divine infinity; he asks whether God cannot be both infinite and finite at the same time. Using the resources of Spinoza, Lessing, and the German Idealists, especially Schelling, Clayton points the way to a contemporary solution to some of the enduring problems in modern philosophical theology. In particular, he underscores the need for a radical rethinking of the classical God-world relationship if one is to truly endorse the notion of panentheism."
—Joseph A. Bracken, S.J.
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About the Author
Philip Clayton is Professor of philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy at the California State University (Sonoma). He is also the author of Explanation from Physics to Philosophy: An Essay in Rationality and Religion (Yale) and the Templeton Prize–winning book God and Contemporary Science (Eerdmans).
Table of Contents
PART I: THE CONTEXT FOR MODERN THOUGHT ABOUT GOD
Introduction: Skepticism and Metaphysics
The Regulative Starting Point for Metaphysics, and Beyond
The Methodological and Scientific Writings
The Foundations of Descartes's Theology in the Meditations
PART II: ON THE FATE OF PERFECT-BEING THEOLOGY
Intuiting the Finite, Intuiting the Infinite
On Thinking an Infinitely Perfect Being
The Concept of an Infinite Being
The Concept of a Perfect Being
Establishing the Context
An Analytic Reconstruction of Leibnizian Theology
Leibniz between Atomism and Monism
Conclusions: The Perfection Argument against Atomism
Kant's Critique of Metaphysics
Regulative Ideas after Kant
Theistic Metaphysics after Kant?
Kant on God and Infinity
Kant's Concepts of "Part and Whole" and "Space and Time"
The Crisis of Knowledge in Metaphysics
Toward a Theology of Limit Notions
Fundamental Limit Notions
God as Limit Notion
PART III: TOWARD A THEOLOGY OF THE INFINITE
Three Early Critics
Spinozism as Constructive Theology: The "Spinoza Dispute"
Fichte and Spinoza
The Atheism Dispute
Fichte's Later Philosophy
Tillich's Debt to Schelling
Schelling's Theory of God
Change in God
Duality in God
Infinity, Potentiality, and the Goodness of Creation
Toward a Theistic Metaphysics of Freedom
The Personality of God and the Limits of Philosophy
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