The Panentheism of Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781-1832)

From Transcendental Philosophy to Metaphysics

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Benedikt Paul Göcke
Berliner Bibliothek
  • New York, NY: 
    Peter Lang Publishing
    , June
     260 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Within contemporary debates a particular model of God known as panentheism has captivated the attention of various theologians and philosophers of religion. This model of God has been criticized as being far too vague, and yet has also been praised for offering a better model of the God-world relation than its rivals. What is this model of God, and what are its origins?

In this recent book, The Panentheism of Karl Christian Friedrick Krause, Benedikt Paul Göcke takes us straight to the source by examining the writings of the philosopher who coined the term panentheism. The philosopher in question is German thinker Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781-1832). Though many contemporary discussions of panentheism point to Krause as the originator of the term, there is relatively little discussion of Krause’s actual thought. Göcke offers the first in-depth, systematic analysis of Krause’s thought in English in an attempt to rectify the lack of discussion of the thinker who developed such an important term for contemporary theology.

On Göcke’s analysis, Krause is a deeply systematic thinker who sought to unite all intellectual disciplines into one unified whole. The author offers an introductory chapter that presents the major themes of Krause’s work before delving into subsequent chapters that provide extended analyses of each theme. As Göcke points out, Krause unites panentheism with holism in science, panpsychism in philosophy of mind, and the metaphysics of grounding. Thus, Krause has much to offer to contemporary thought.

Krause’s work covers science, theology, epistemology, and metaphysics in an attempt to present a single, unified vision of reality. For Krause, the principle of science must explain the organic unity of knowledge, why the system is as it is, why whatever is true is in fact true, and why what is known is known in the way that it is known. God plays the role of this principle in Krause’s thought.

In Krause’s understanding, God is the only being that exists, and thus the only object of science. The rest of reality are parts of God. Moreover, God grounds the parts, and is thus prior to the parts. All of God’s parts participate in the divine consciousness itself and possess a finite realization of the divine attributes. To be sure, this is a creative proposal that ought to be of interest to scholars working on rival models of God because Krause presents a model of God that seems to capture the best of classical theism and yet claims to be able to unify reality in a way that classical theism cannot.

Not only does Göcke offer a systematic presentation of Krause’s thought, he also provides an important historical analysis. Göcke seeks to demonstrate that Krause had a significant influence on the thought of Arthur Schopenhauer. Though Krause never achieved the fame and renown of Schopenhauer, it is important for students of the history of ideas to give credit where credit is due. The evidence provided by the author for Krause’s influence on Schopenhauer is compelling. Göcke’s thesis of influence is further justified by the fact that Krause lived with Schopenhauer at one point in his life, and regularly engaged in philosophical discussion with Schopenhauer on matters related to God and ultimate reality.

Göcke is not content to merely set the historical record straight. In an attempt to demonstrate the lasting importance of Krause’s work, Göcke ends the book by bringing Krause into dialogue with contemporary philosophy of religion, science, and mind. I found these chapters to be the most exciting of the book as they help readers bring Krause’s ideas to life in modern debates.

With regard to philosophy of religion, Göcke considers the contemporary debate over rival models of God, and presents a case for panentheism as the strongest contender for theological and philosophical adequacy. Within the philosophy of science, the scientific holism of Krause is compared and contrasted with reductionism. Finally, within the philosophy of mind, Krause’s work is placed within the context of panpsychism, which is quite the hot topic in contemporary debates.

In my judgment, Göcke has successfully demonstrated the lasting importance of Krause’s work for contemporary philosophical and religious audiences. In fact, Göcke should be commended for bringing together diverse areas of study into one book. Scholars who are interested in the history of ideas, models of God, the science-religion dialogue, the relationship between continental and analytic philosophy, and metaphysical theories of mind will find much to interact with in this book.

About the Reviewer(s): 

R. T. Mullins is a Senior Research Fellow at the Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki.

Date of Review: 
October 1, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Benedikt Paul Göcke is Research Fellow at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion and a Member of the Faculty of Theology at University of Oxford. He is also a Member of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, and Professor of Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Religion at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany.


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