Selfhood and Relationality

In Joel Rasmussen, Judith Wolfe & Johannes Zachhuber (eds.), Oxford Handbook for Nineteenth Century Christian Thought. Oxford University Press. pp. 127-142 (2017)
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Nineteenth century Christian thought about self and relationality was stamped by the reception of Kant’s groundbreaking revision to the Cartesian cogito. For René Descartes (1596-1650), the self is a thinking thing (res cogitans), a simple substance retaining its unity and identity over time. For Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), on the other hand, consciousness is not a substance but an ongoing activity having a double constitution, or two moments: first, the original activity of consciousness, what Kant would call original apperception, and second, the reflected self, the “I think” as object of reflection. Both are essential to the possibility of an awareness of a unified experience. Such an awareness is achieved only insofar as the self is capable of reflecting on its activity of thinking. As such, the possibility of self-consciousness, or the capacity to reflect on one’s own acts of thought is essential to the constitution of the self. This new model of the mind became the starting point to the thought of central 19th century figures such as Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), J. G. Fichte (1762-1814), Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). This chapter will explore their reception of Kant’s model of self-consciousness, the controversies surrounding its development and exposition, and the advantages of this model for theological reflection. The idea of mind as essentially capable of reflection provided an account of how the self can stand in an ontologically immediate relation to God constitutive of the self, while at the same time allowing that the self’s consciousness of itself is distinct from this original moment, so that a limited or false consciousness of self is possible. As such the task of the self is to recognize (that is, to realize in and through self-consciousness) who it most truly is, both in relation to God, and in relation to self and other.
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