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German Thought


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Hegel's Metaphysics of God: The Ontological Proof As the Development of a Trinitarian Divine Ontology by Patricia Marie Calton (Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Philosophy: Ashgate)

Hegel's Metaphysics of God presents Hegel's response to Kant's claim that metaphysics in general and, in particular, knowledge of God, is beyond the grasp of human knowledge. Calton argues that Hegel uses his version of the ontological proof not only to establish the existence of God, but also to develop a trinitarian divine ontology.

Hegel's Metaphysics of God opens with a discussion of the traditional version of the ontological proof as it is set out by Anselm in his Proslogium and an analysis of the critiques of this traditional formulation of the proof offered by both Kant and Hegel. However, the main focus of the book concerns Hegel's reformulation of the ontological proof as a description of God's self-expression in the world and of God's attaining complete self‑knowledge through human consciousness. Exploring Hegel's proof as his description of God's activity of self‑expression and self‑knowledge, Calton demonstrates that Hegel uses the ontological proof not only to establish that God exists, but also to articulate the trinitarian structure of God, pointing to conclusions drawn by Hegel that human knowledge of God participates in the life of God by completing the Trinity. The book concludes by explaining the role played by human consciousness in completing the Trinity through the reasoning that takes place in the ontological proof.

Hegel's Metaphysics of God details the development of Hegel's argument for a trinitarian metaphysics of God and establishes that the structure of Hegel's ontological proof encompasses Hegel's entire philosophical system, from the concept of God, to God's self‑expression in finitude, and, finally, to the recognition on the part of human consciousness that humans are in integral part of God's being.      

Author summary: In formulating his own type of proof for God's existence, Hegel first looks at what he must establish in order to be successful. Since the goal of an ontological proof is to demonstrate that the concept of God necessitates the being of God, Hegel's proof must show that the coherence of God and being is intrinsic to the concept of God. While Hegel holds that the function of a proof is to show coherence between terms, he argues that this coherence need not be demonstrated syllogistically. Given the great variety of ways in which things are related to one another, there are many different ways in which to attempt to establish their coherence. Because proofs elucidate a variety of types of coherence between many types of things, a good proof does so in such a way that is best suited for the specific kind of coherence it seeks to express. Therefore, a proof must be judged to be either good or flawed in the context of the relation it attempts to demonstrate, since the appropriate form of each proof is dictated by this relation.

Since Hegel is attempting to show that the relation of God to being is both necessary and grounded in the concept of God, Hegel must find a form of proof that is suited to this task. As we saw in Chapter Two, Hegel argues that the type of proof most appropriate to establishing the intrinsic relation between God and being must involve an analysis of the concept of God so that we come to know its necessary internal determinations. By exploring and following the necessary determinations of the concept of God itself, Hegel's method allows the concept of God to reveal itself to us. This new methodology is important because it is capable of demonstrating that being is a necessary component of the internal divisions within the concept of God and that this coherence is rooted in the concept of God itself. This grounding of the proof in the concept of God has two benefits: (1) God's being is its own foundation; it is not grounded in a finite presupposition or simply presupposed; and (2) our knowledge of God is determined by the logical necessity of God's interior determinations, so that it is not the result of our subjective understanding of God but is derived from God's ontological structure.

In order to demonstrate that this connection is intrinsic to the nature of God, Hegel abandons the traditional syllogistic form in which the conclusion of God's being would either have to depend on finite premises or presuppose God's actuality and employs a discursive method of proof, which he argues is the proper form for bringing to light an intrinsic relation. Hegel argues that he has put`the ontological proof into its proper form in his examination of the development of the concept of God. We discussed the Logic in the second chapter as the primary presentation of Hegel's proof that the concept entails actuality and that what is real is in fact conceptual. Here we find Hegel's most detailed account of the correspondence between the being of our experience and conceptual laws and principles. Instead of a division between the conceptual and the material, which first appears to be the case, we discover that what we experience of the material world is in fact conceptual, so that the truth of the world is consciousness and not matter. Since Hegel determines that our experience of the world is of an ordered, self-communicating consciousness, Hegel argues that the condition for the possibility of the way we know the world is that the world is an expression of God. Hegel concludes that the concept of God determines itself in being by systematically expressing itself in the world. The world, then, does not have its own independent being. Rather, the truth of the world is God. Therefore, the concept of God is infinite in the sense that it incorporates all being. This identity between concept and being that we find in Hegel's Logic, along with the concept of God's self‑expression and self‑knowledge that we find throughout his system is the substance of the ontological proof. Therefore, Hegel's philosophical system provides us with a new speculative form of the ontological proof in which "the division between essence [Wesen] and existence [Existenz]‑that something is and what it is‑is sublated" (Jaeschke). Most importantly, this sublation is grounded in the necessary dynamics of the consciousness of God.

 In the third chapter we looked at the implications for the metaphysics of God of the world's being a systematic self‑expression of subjectivity. In this chapter we saw how spirit acquires concrete shape and self‑knowledge in its process of self‑diremption and return to itself both in God's knowledge of himself apart from creation and in human knowledge of the world as the othering of God. We also discussed the trinitarian, internal divisions of the self­-expressive knower, the self‑expression qua known, and the unity of these two in knowledge and love that the qualities of self‑expression and self-knowledge on these two levels entail for God's metaphysical structure. As part of this investigation, we examined how these internal divisions, which can be inferred from our experience of the world as systematic, self-expressive consciousness, form the trinitarian structure of divine ontology by demarcating the intrinsic and extrinsic Trinities. As a consequence, we recognized that the same reflection on experience that reveals to us the necessity of the existence of a self‑expressive God also reveals to us something of the structure of God's being, since the qualities of divine self-expression and self‑knowledge that we uncovered in our initial examination of our experience of the world entail these tripartite divisions. Our ability to deduce this trinitarian structure from our reflection on the self‑expressive and self‑knowing activities of God allows us to see that the reasoning that comprises the ontological proof discovers a trinitarian divine ontology.

 Hegel argues that his discursive form of proof is necessary for accomplishing his goals since the resulting knowledge is not a product of our own subjective consciousness superimposed on the object of God, but instead grows out of and depends on God's self‑revelation. This discursive proof, therefore, is the development of the intrinsic qualities of the object of the proof. Consequently, this kind of proof does more than simply demonstrate that God exists; through this proof we come to know the inner life of God through our comprehension of what is logically entailed by the concept of God. And since we come to know God's nature by means of his self-expression through the same concepts that comprise God's essence, we come to know God himself, and not simply about God. The result is that Hegel offers a proof that is an "elevation" of our minds to God, in which we think God's essence.

 Finally, we discussed the role of human consciousness in divine ontology. We saw that, since the truth of God and of all being is conceptual, the God who expresses himself in nature is present in human consciousness in our knowledge of God. We also saw that humans, as a part of creation, are concrete expressions of God and so partially instantiate God's nature. In the ontological proof in which humans come to know God, we have God's self-articulation in the form of humanity knowing itself as an othering of God. Since it is through humanity's awareness of its shared being with God that God comes to know himself in his self‑articulation in creation, in the reasoning of the ontological proof human consciousness completes the extrinsic Trinity. As part of this discussion, we observed that the ontological proof corresponds to the basic structure of Hegel's system in which the concept of God externalizes itself in the world and then returns to itself in the self‑knowledge that it develops through human consciousness. And, because humans are within the extrinsic Trinity, this thinking of the ontological proof is part of the activity of the Trinity. The result is an elevation of human consciousness to God in which humans participate in an essential way in the divine life of the Trinity.

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