Preparation for Natural Theology

With Kant's Notes and the Danzig Rational Theology Transcript

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Johann August Eberhard Eberhard
Translator(s): 
Courtney D. Fugate and John Hymers
Kant's Sources in Translation
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , January
     2016.
     328 pages.
     $145.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781474213837.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

There is a tendency to misunderstand Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of religion as simply the product of his brilliance rather than the serious labor of developing themes from an intellectual inheritance within a historical context for a specific milieu. With this second volume in the Kant’s Sources in Translation series editors Courtney D. Fugate and John Hymers have done Anglophone researchers the great service of making this all-too-easy trap no longer excusable. Presented here along with a contextualizing Introduction (xv-xlvii) are fresh translations of three texts: Johann August Eberhard’s Vorbereitung zur natürlichen Theologie [Preparation for Natural Theology] (1781), Kant’s Reflexionen [Reflections] on Eberhard’s textbook (1783-1788), and the Danzig transcript of Kant’s lectures on rational theology (c. 1783-4). Each is diverse in style and specification yet united in the common conviction that rational theology serves essentially cognitive, but much more importantly, moral purposes. English readers with an interest in the development of Kant’s philosophy, Enlightenment religious thought, or modern theology will find Preparation for Natural Theology an essential resource.

Best known today as a critic of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Eberhard (1739-1809) was well known for his contributions to religion, philosophy, and the German language in his day. The Preparation (1-67), which Kant used as a textbook for his lectures on rational theology in 1783-4, 1785-6, and in the summer of 1787, is a summary of “the rules for forming the most perfect knowledge of God in the human understanding, and for communicating it” (3). While many themes familiar from Kant’s mature religious thought abound, the extensive bibliographic references to key Latin, German, and English sources are especially noteworthy. Whereas Kant rarely disclosed his sources—thus necessitating the current series—Eberhard makes them completely transparent.

Eberhard’s textbook reviews major positions in philosophical theology arranged in two main parts. The first takes up theoretical issues in four sections. Section 1 addresses the “Internal Truth of the Concept of God” (9, 10-18). Section 2 treats the “External Truth” or existence of God in two divisions (9). The first treats the a priori or so-called ontological proof (19-23). While rightly associated with Anselm in a genealogical sense Eberhard’s discussion of this form of argument, like Kant’s, relies on a reformulation of the Cartesian version of the argument and makes no mention of how Anselm actually argues in the Proslogion. The second division treats a posteriori arguments (23-41) which rest on “the contingent actuality of our souls,” or some determination thereof, and the unacceptability of “an infinite series of contingent causes” (23). The third section takes up the “errors” of atheism, polytheism, and superstition (41-59). There follows a discussion of the essence and attributes of God (59-64). Section 4 comments on the “natural history of religion” (64-65). The second part treats practical issues and consists of two very brief sections on the “Sensuous Manner of Communication” (65-66), and the “Rational Manner of Communication” (66-67) of religious knowledge.

Kant’s Reflections (69-129) are best read in conjunction with Eberhard, with Kant’s lectures on rational theology, or with his mature Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason (1793). The availability of these Reflections in English should therefore foster improved sensitivity to the development of Kant’s system. Moreover, there is an abundance of evidence on the systematicity of Kant’s thought here too. For example, Kant responds to a preliminary comment by Eberhard about “extending the pure concepts of religion” (2) with the observation that the three tasks of metaphysics are to “accommodate God, freedom, and immortality to the last three antinomies . . . simplicity, . . . causality, and necessity” (74). Here Kant draws connections between Eberhard, his own lectures on rational theology, and the antinomy chapter of his Critique of Pure Reason (A 405-567/B 432-595).

The third text is the Danzig transcription of Kant’s lectures in rational theology (131-218). Much of the introductory material in this edition of Kant’s lectures is derived from Eberhard’s textbook, however the influence of Alexander Baumgarten’s Metaphysics (1739) looms even larger. Fortunately Fugate and Hymers have provided a translation of this important text as well in Metaphysics: A Critical Translation with Kant’s Elucidations, Selected Notes, and Related Materials (Bloomsbury, 2013).

In addition to their translations Fugate and Hymers provide an extensive apparatus to help both the newcomer and the polyglot Kantian scholar to get the most out of their volume. Specialists will benefit from the marginal page numbers corresponding to the original publication of Eberhard’s Preparation (E I-VI, 1-108) as well as the reprint in the Akademie Ausgabe edition of Kant’s works (AA 18: 491-606). Kant’s Reflections too are listed using the standard numbering system as well as the nearest page in his copy of Eberhard where these annotations first appeared. The Danzig lectures are cross-referenced as well (AA 28: 1230-1319). The first of two “Concordances” gives corresponding page references to section headings in Eberhard (for the 1781 edition and AA 18), the Danzig lectures, and Kant’s Reflections (220-228). This otherwise cumbersome table helps to make up for the fact that while in the German Kant’s Reflections are, as they were in his own private copy, interspersed within the text of Eberhard’s Preparation, they are printed separately here by Fugate and Hymers. The second “Concordance” cross-references section headings in the Pöltiz, Volckmann, and Danzig lecture transcripts to facilitate comparisons. Two “Glossaries” (German-English, 231-242, and English-German, 243-253) are useful, if somewhat cryptic, as mere lists of words with their corresponding equivalents. Scholars and more casual readers alike will find the brief discussion of the translators’ choices of English equivalents of key German terms (xl-xliv) significantly more helpful, but limited in scope.

The best recommendation that can be made for Preparation for Natural Theology is that despite the high quality of the translations, explanatory footnotes, and Introduction, the reader is left wanting more. Armed with the work of Fugate and Hymers we can expect great strides in English language Kantian scholarship filling in the connections and associations laid bare by their pioneering service to the academy.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Derek A. Michaud is adjunct instructor of philosophy at the University of Maine.

Date of Review: 
February 24, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Johann August Eberhard (August 31, 1739 – January 6, 1809) was a German theologian and philosopher.

Courtney D. Fugate is Assistant Professor at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon.

John Hymers is Associate Professor of Philosophy at La Salle University.

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