Mihi magna quaestio factus sum: The Privilege of Unknowing* Jean-Luc Marion

i. “what is man?” In the final analysis, why and by what right would one admit into the field of university disciplines something like a philosophy of religion? In one view, it actually deals with religion, and not philosophy; and what is more, according to the most radical but also the most widespread hypothesis, it deals with a religion that asserts itself as revealed. But this in turn means that it will define its object with complete autonomy, as the organized collection of articles of belief (credo, creed). In such a case, we might do best to turn to sacra doctrina, which is to say to scientia theologica, or if need be, outside of the exemplary case of Christianity, to appeal to any body of doctrine that would offer the stability and referential quality (whatever these may turn out to be) of a collection of things believed and held as true. Or, one could request for an alleged philosophy of religion a place within philosophy proper. But, in this case, could religion claim a status particular enough to become the object of a separate philosophy, one that would be reserved for it alone? In fact, does all that is summed up in this “religion” in question not simply reduce to one of the three objects of metaphysica specialis, without any more special particularity than its other objects (the soul and the world)? Does religion likewise not belong to the secondary philosophies, such as rational psychology, rational cosmology, physics, and so on? In this sense, every “philosophy of religion” would be reduced to one of the secondary philosophies, inscribed within metaphysica specialis, which is itself subjected to metaphysica generalis, that is, ontologia, and thus to the system of metaphysica as such.
* Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. This article is the text of Professor Marion’s inaugural lecture as the John Nuveen Professor of the Philosophy of Religion and Theology at the University of Chicago School of Divinity. 2005 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0022-4189/2005/8501-0001$10.00


The Journal of Religion
Or, finally, one could understand by “philosophy of religion” the science of the cultural and ritual behaviors that provoke in every human being (including those who profess atheism) the inevitable and irreducible instance that in the end must be named “God.” But, in this case, it is fitting to renounce the a priori of metaphysica specialis in order to develop a posteriori a historical science, under the polymorphous and constantly renewed figure of a history not of religion, but of religions. And in this latter case, that of our era more than any other, the “philosophy of religion” to be sought should at once renounce its identity and unity as a mere remainder and index of an ethnocentrism that cannot be justified, in order to take its place more modestly, alongside other sciences, within what is more simply named anthropology. This recourse to anthropology allows, moreover, the second hypothesis finally to join up with the first, for it is true that, according to Kant, the three questions that sum up the whole system of philosophy (meaning metaphysics)—namely, “What can I know?” or, in other words, metaphysica generalis reduced to the science of the first principles of human knowledge; followed by “What ought I to do?” which is to say, morals; and, finally, “What may I hope?” namely, religion itself— “could reckon all of this as anthropology, because the first three questions relate to the last one.” In short, the final question, “What is man?” would become the first question all over again.1 Thus the metaphysical meaning of the term “philosophy of religion” joins up with its empirical acceptation, that of a simple “history of religions.” So, in front of revealed theology, there stands opposed only the double meaning of a singular anthropology. How should we understand this anthropology? Quite clearly as the science of man; or rather, because every science reverts by definition to man (as science by and for man, as “human science” according to the first historical meaning of this syntagma), anthropology will take shape as the science taught by man on man himself. Kant formulates it clearly: “The most important object [Gegenstand] of culture, to whom such knowledge and skill can be applied, is Man because he is his own ultimate purpose. To recognize him, according to his species, as an earthly being endowed with reason [mit Vernunft begabtes Erdwesen] de1 Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Logic (Ak. 9:25), trans. J. Michael Young (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 538. See the parallels in the Critique of Pure Reason, A 804/ B 832, and the “Letter to Staudlin,” May 4, 1793 (Ak. 11:429), in Correspondence, trans. and ¨ ed. Arnulf Zweig (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 458. Martin Heidegger’s commentary reads: “The Kantian laying of the foundation yields this conclusion: The establishment of metaphysics is an interrogation of man, i.e., it is anthropology.” See Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (§36, GA 3, p. 205), trans. James S. Churchill (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962), p. 213.


Or rather. above all. this is to say that. even though he is only one of all the creatures on earth. Kant responds directly to these questions. which supports the first question and determines it in advance. translation modified). indeed. know myself as an object that is thought [gedachtes Objekt]. or can and should make of himself as a freely acting being [Wesen]. like every other phenomenon [gleich anderen Phanomen]. “I [Ich]. rational psychology demands and. “from a pragmatic point of view”. by virtue of this rank as “thing. 1996).”3 In other terms. and. to which he belongs without remainder. p. that of the philosophy of religion) comes down to understanding whether I know myself and. 3 . 1965). the sole knower). the entire question (as much the question of anthropology as. which he will deploy. to a simple empirical knowledge. even if it acts freely in a different sense. 3 Kant. but in so far precisely as I am simply 2 Kant. the issue is less about knowing if I know myself. in the event that I were to know myself. an object ¨ of intuition and of inner perceptions.The Privilege of Unknowing serves particularly to be named knowledge of the world. The question thus becomes one of knowing if man can apply to himself his own knowledge in order to become his own object and. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. translation modified). For. solely and exactly.” this anthropology aims at “what man makes.” All the more at issue here is a knowledge held by man of himself in the most radical sense. introduction to Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Ak. trans. through it. whether man can and must know himself. Victor Lyle Dowdell (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. p. because his knowledge becomes (and remains) particularly that of this very world. says Kant. namely.” another question. insofar as I am given to myself in intuition. as intelligence and thinking subject. by what right I know myself. as it is about understanding. as the sole thinker. in opposition to an anthropology from the physiological point of view which “aims at the investigation of what nature makes of man. In this situation. let us note. 24.” man inscribes himself entirely among beings in the world. Martin’s. “Transcendental Deduction” (sec. what status (and thus what mode of being) would be mine. 167 (my emphasis. only as I appear to myself. 8:119). trans. of knowing by what right he can make of himself something at all. Thus are we led to substitute. claims knowledge of man all the more. for the question of a definition of “philosophy of religion. in Critique of Pure Reason. I do not know myself insofar as I know (following the singular privilege of being. ¨ not as I am to the understanding—these are questions that raise no greater nor less difficulty than [that of knowing] how I can be an object to myself at all [uberhaupt ein Objekt]. more generally. 3 (my emphasis. B 156). more particularly.”2 This knowledge of man by himself cannot be reduced.

4 . as well as the inverse in a thought that is thought. Which is to say. like a fragile sandcastle. in Fruhe Hauptwerk. pp. p. obliterated by the rising tide. trans. as the me-object. 1 of Gesammelte Werke ¨ (Stuttgart: Evangelisches Verlagswerk. vol. 126–27. which is to say as any other object. precisely because this I becomes “the same” as an object—“here. Rather than giving me access to the man that I am. Lowered to the rank of a simple object of anthropology.4 Not only does man split into two irreconcilable tendencies. ‘the Same’ signifies therefore an identical intentional object of separate conscious processes. 1959). and thus as an object. as everywhere else. philosophy faces an object that refuses to become an object for philosophy. “man. but the only one that is knowable. as far. Dorion Cairns (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. “Religionsphilosophie” (1925). defines him precisely by ignorance of the most extreme and inalienable property belonging to the being that I am: the property that exercises a thinking thought. and thus of objects known—manifests nothing of my specificity (the property of knowing) and puts into evidence precisely that which does not characterize me (the status of known). 5 Paul Tillich. the empty form that accompanies every other knowledge but remains itself neither representable nor knowable.The Journal of Religion known.” this recent invention. the fundamental problem of philosophy of religions: with religion.” Cartesianische Meditationen V (Husserliana 1:154–55). I thus never know myself as I know. could very well have inevitably disappeared. in fact and by right the object of the empirical me substitutes for man the very definition of objecti[vi]ty. as in Husserl. The resulting distinction—between on the one hand the transcendental I. as Foucault used to say. and thus by the same right as any other known. Here we should pay careful attention to Paul Tillich’s strong advice: “The object of the philosophy of religion is religion. he already has disappeared. this distinction between the I and the me forbids me from drawing near to the man that I am and disfigures the very stake of anthropology—the self of each human being. for example. and on the other the empirical me that belongs to the world of phenomena. Strangely.”5 4 Such an application to the I of the processes of knowledge appropriate to objects alone (as empirical me) is often found elsewhere too. 297. where “there is no longer any difficulty” in knowing that which thinks from any other object. but always only as a me who is known. hence an object immanent in them only as something non-really inherent. And in fact. But this very simple explanation already signifies a problem. the object of the empirical me. Thus am I masked and lowered to the dishonorable rank of an object. I only know myself as that which I am not. 1993).

of my knowledge of myself.4. would my access to this I that I alone recognize for myself require that I acknowledge that I do not appear to myself as knowledge (an object). thereby sinning within the very heart of prayer.The Privilege of Unknowing ii. that of a pure thinker who thinks without becoming one who is thought. I experience myself insofar as I discover myself to be unintelligible to myself. the Psalms (“me amplius cantus. for the context. it could never confuse itself with a thought object. but on the contrary because I know him only too well as an object. James J. Augustine states that the disappearance of a very dear friend makes him hate what he loved before (his town and paternal home) and leads him to see nothing around him but death (“quidquid aspiciebam mors erat” [“everything on which I set my gaze was death”]). in short unless it could not know itself? Put another way. 1:36. “In your [God’s] eyes. ed. gives it a precise meaning. trans.9. on the contrary. I have become a question to myself” [“mihi quaestio factus 6 Augustine. 1998). citations of this work will list in parentheses the O’Donnell page numbers first. Confessiones 4. quam res. but instead as a definitive question (without any corresponding object)? As surprising as it may seem. 57 (translation modified). this hypothesis may allow us to reach the sense of a paradox rehearsed by Saint Augustine: “Factus eram ipse mihi magna quaestio” (“I had become to myself a huge question”).. this loss of another thus provokes nothing less and nothing other than the loss of self. p. Confessions (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Thus. moveat”). unless. which it replaces with my putting myself into question. But must we then conclude that the I would not have access to itself as singular and unique. (Hereafter. Another formulation confirms this occurrence: even after his conversion (“in primordiis recuperatae fidei meae”). 1992). O’Donnell (Oxford: Clarendon. on the contrary. this results not because I do not know him.6 We are not dealing here with a mere throwaway line.) 5 . augustine’s quaestio The aporia marked out here nevertheless offers more than a deadend—it allows a paradox to appear. English translation in Henry Chadwick. Man escapes me to such a degree that the very mode of his possible knowing (which makes of him a mere thought object) contradicts and conceals his very first feature. followed by the Chadwick page numbers. quae canitur. he says. Augustine notes that he allows himself to be attracted and touched more by the singing itself than by what is being sung. while listening to the chants resonating in the church (perhaps the hymns of Ambrose of Milan?). If the man that I am (me) remains inaccessible.

as it would be to claim that oblivion remains in my memory so that I do not forget it like I have forgotten what I forgot there. I become a question for myself. There thus remains for me nothing else but to admit that I have kept in memory the image of the forgotten. and I can only conclude from this that my memory. 8 “Intravi ad ipsius animi mei sedem. and that “factus sum mihi terra difficultatis” (“I have become for myself a soil which is a cause of difficulty”). 220. where this “region of destitution” defines my alienation from myself (at the time of the first theft) through the power of the group of wicked friends.17. Chadwick. 7 above). Chadwick. 128–29. nonetheless. but not that which I have forgotten. and question God: “Hoc animus est.36 (O’Donnell. 3. cited in n.9 Thus if my own memory renders me a stranger to myself. This split within myself even serves as a conclusion to bk.18): “et factus sum mihi regio egestatis” (“I became to myself a region of destitution”) (O’Donnell. since the mind also remembers itself”). if my own prayer and perception. 22. indeed an aporia for myself.The Journal of Religion sum”]. Confessiones 10. escapes me. refers in a note back to the text of 4. how could I not also become other than myself in the experience of my will? Indeed. p. 139.9.4. Chadwick.10. Deus meus? Quae natura sum?” (“This is mind. in my dreams at night. my very inner being. this quaestio. 6 . 208. p. p. Chadwick. because I discover that I cannot order my own prayer and thus my own perception correctly. this is I myself.9 and 2.” “ipsam oblivionem meminisse me certus sum”)? It would be just as absurd to reply that I have forgotten what I have forgotten in another memory than my own. but (and how would I know it otherwise?) remember that I have forgotten that which I have. which is to say.18. et hoc ego ipse sum. which define my innermost depths. p. Nothing defines me more intimately than my memory (“ipsum me non dicam praeter illam”). quae illi est in memoria mea. quoniam sui quoque meminit animus” (“I entered into the very seat of my mind. pp. Quid ergo sum. when in the waking state I am able to push aside erotic images? There is only one answer: “Numquid tunc ego non sum? Et tamen tantum interest inter me ipsum et me ipsum intra momen7 Confessiones 10. O’Donnell’s commentary rightly refers this argument to the two previous passages (4. p. my God? What is my nature?”). see n.16. which is located in my memory. 193–94).33. voluntarily.8 how then can I not only forget. p. What then am I. forgotten? How do I remember that I have forgotten what I no longer remember (“mihi certum est meminisse me oblivionem.25 and 10. 2 (2. 34).26 (O’Donnell. two other texts confirm just how much it renders me alien to myself. pp. Concerning this split within myself. and have retained memory of oblivion in my memory. the commentary provided in vol. how can I involuntarily give in to actual pleasure. 6. escape my control. 133. 200). then they make me become a question to myself. 9 Confessiones 10. translation modified). p. so that I can only question myself.50 (O’Donnell.

ni de ses modifications” (“We therefore have no clear idea either ˆ of the soul or of its modifications”)?11 This purely negative interpretation would. it would be preferable that I know it by such a “clear idea.10 In a single moment I clearly discover myself to be someone other than my self. Olscamp. trans. 3:168. 1964). p. then the quaestio that Saint Augustine sets against it would become not an aporia but a way toward a totally different mode of conquest of that which I am as such. if by chance it proved possible? If. be valuable under only one condition: that. ed. in the style of Malebranche: “L’on n’a point d’idee claire de ´ l’ame.The Privilege of Unknowing tum” (“During this time of sleep surely it is not my true self. I become a quaestio for myself. however. Chadwick p. The Search after Truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. or. must be accomplished by the same and univocal concept? Confessiones 10. 636. in other words. if in doing so he lost his humanity or. translation modified). his soul? And. on the contrary. such an attempt in the end contradicted and destroyed the very I to be attained. if he only gained access to himself through the mode of incomprehensibility? Is it really self-evident that all knowledge. and ed. A. he must know himself as just one more object? What would it serve a man to know himself with a concept. p. in the case of man’s I.30. admissible. what would a man lose.” or. by a concept. nor in the pure identity with self. 135. and even the knowledge of that which has the privilege to exercise knowledge instead of submitting to it. Now this condition raises not only the question of possibility—can I know my I by a clear and distinct idea. inversely. in order to do so. which alone understands (and produces) concepts. The experience of self ends neither in the aporia of substituting an object (the self. Nicolas Malebranche. For what would it serve a man to know himself through the mode by which he knows the remainder—the world and its objects—if. which follows. What import lies in this impossible access of the self to the self? Is the issue here a failure of knowledge. and desirable to know the I with a concept. but in the alienation of self from self—I am to myself an other than I. I am not what I am. an anticipation of the usual critiques of the cogito. 1997). or by a concept?—but also and first of all the question of legitimacy. the me) for the I that I am. or a limitation in the consciousness of self.. Lord my God? Yet how great a difference between myself and myself in a [single] moment”). with one of these very concepts? And next: would it be licit.41 (O’Donnell. in short. English translation in Thomas M. First. 11 10 7 . Lennon ` and Paul J. Robinet (Paris: Vrin.” in Œuvres com´ ´ ` ´ pletes. in two senses. “Recherche de la verite: XIieme eclaircissement. 203. is it possible or contradictory to claim to attain the I.

ut de eo. 1691). 2:3 (translation modified). can be thought and said”). III. trans. in order to found the then new science of ontologia. Descartes: Selected Philosophical Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. in such a manner that no doubt about it subsists. he posed as fact the strict equivalence between being and the thinkable: “Ens est quicquid quovis modo est. 6 and 4. . nulla prorsus dubitation relinquatur” (“a concept so clear and distinct. produced by a pure and attentive mind. to the point that being and thought are identified with one another in a single and unique ens cogitable. but it is a consequence drawn explicitly by Johan Clauberg. English translation in John Cottingham. the condition of a being’s Being understood as an object is no longer 12 Regulae ad directionem ingenii. 8 .. 14 Johan Clauberg. what amounts to the same thing. AT X:362. this is a radical consequence. is defined as an object. a Cartesian of strict observance. 1988). in whatever manner may be. lines 11–14. about obtaining “mentis purae et attentae tam facilem distinctumque conceptum. when.13 From this it follows that what cannot be known as an object. p. 1). AT X:368. through this idea. II.12 What can thus be known (by virtue of idea and representation). .The Journal of Religion iii. Metaphysica de Ente. ad quorum certam et indubitatam cognitionem nostra ingenia videntur sufficere” (“We should attend only to those objects of which our minds seem capable of having certain and indubitable cognition”). secs. everything that should be known What do we really understand by the verb “to know”? Whether we admit it or not. Berkeley will simply radicalize this decision (if it can be radicalized any further). such that no doubt remains about what we are understanding”). quae rectius ontosophia [dicitur] . The title of this Regula can be compared with that of Regula III. Robert Stoothoff. and Douglas Murdoch. cogitari ac dici potest” (“Being is all that which. lines 15–17. . Accordingly. on the contrary. does not oppose what is to what is thought (as the real to the ideal) but. lines 2–4 (Cottingham et al. Citations of this work will be listed hereafter with page numbers from the English translation in parentheses. AT X:366. and we mean this not because we necessarily accept the Cartesian theory of science but because we share with it its finality: knowing seems to us to be without value if it is not. one may only admit into science that which offers an object that is certain: “Circa illa tantum objecta oportet versari.14 This radical thesis. respectively. or.. everything that can be known. which by the way exhausts the only historically documented meaning of ontologia. 13 Regulae ad directionem ingenii. we mean by “to know” the taking (or producing) of what Descartes called a clear and distinct idea. in Opera omnia (Amsterdam. is worthy neither of our knowledge nor quite simply of being. quod intelligimus. poses their strict equivalence. Yes. 1:283. and thus what cannot be according to the mode of being of objects.

” Thus nature transforms itself into “a realm of names. Anything else is unintelligible and thus does not come under knowing. p. which has lost its being in order to receive it from the I: “the object is not what it is .” becomes “something spiritual. vel sonis. ad Mathesim [sc. trans.. man substitutes for its immediate being and its qualities of sensible representation “a name. because the knowing mind constructs this being’s concept.15 It follows that the object is never defined in itself. who keeps an eye on and watches over that which henceforth remains under his dominion: the object. Cottingham et al. 88. Hegel.”18 The being of the object only consists in receiving its being from man. Leo Rauch (Detroit: Wayne State University Press. one could say that there is only that which can satisfy the conditions of possibility fixed by the Mathesis Universalis—namely. p.. nec interesse utrum in numeris. Crapulli according to text H [critical edition. shapes. 5). 1983). 89–90 (translation modified). F. talis mensura quaerenda sit” (“I came to see that the exclusive concern of mathematics is with questions of order or measure and that it is irrelevant whether the measure in question involves numbers. the guard who makes sure and places under security. IV. but always by the thought that knows it in constructing it. 16 G. stars. but this name that is not the immediacy of the thing. not a neutral vision. 17 Ibid.” because “the external object itself was negated in that very synthesis. sounds. In naming a thing. who alienates it in so 15 See the Regulae ad directionem ingenii. a gaze that is active and on the lookout. or any other object whatever”) (my emphasis. following the correction of G. but in and by the mind that knows it. something entirely different from what [the thing] is in intuition”. In Cartesian terms. “man speaks to the thing as his. aliove quovis objecto. the thing is not what it is. 9 . a sound made by [his] voice. and ed. AT X:377. And this is the being of the object.”16 The object appears henceforth as such—as alienated being. in quibus aliquis ordo vel mensura examinatur. 18 Ibid. something altogether different. The Hague: 1966]. pp. nor by itself. W. this name into which the thing “withdraws. Hegel and the Human Spirit: A Translation of the Jena Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit (1805–6). Universalem] referri. vel figuris. order (whatever it may be) and measure. More essential to the being as object than the being is to itself is the ego. It falls to the intuitus to accomplish concretely this alienation of the object: in-tuitus rather than intuition. with Commentary. p. which fixes the being’s conditions of objectification and makes of it an alienated being—alienated from itself by the knowledge of another. . 90. . lines 23–378: “illa omnia tantum. vel astris. No one exposed this alienation of the thing by the concept that precedes and reconstitutes it into an object better than Hegel.”17 Thus. because it only exercises its view according to the mode of a guard (-tueri)..The Privilege of Unknowing decided in or by this being itself.

”19 Hegel obviously alludes to the Biblical episode in which God gives to man power over the animals by giving him the right to name them: “[He] brought them to the man to see what he would call them” (Gen. and not himself. 1949). Adam has the power thus to name only that which can legitimately become for him an object: the animals (and the rest of the world). and thus a definition to the animals. Therefore there is no contradiction between. See also System of the Ethical Life (1802–3) and First Philosophy of Spirit (Part III of the System of Speculative Philosophy. pp. . “by means of the name . . “The first act. Harris and T.). H. . pp. he claimed to name them. knowledge of man as the object of anthropology and. possibly animated. However. In the name the self-subsisting reality of the sign is nullified. am the insurmountable difference between the two sides of the cogitatio. 135 ff.e. “Hegel a Iena. by which Adam established his lordship over the animals. 2:19). Meiner. p.” Gesammelte Werke. because in general all knowledge by concept reduces what is known to the rank of object. This is the primal creativity exercised by Spirit. which is to say define man. Adam thus names in the manner by which the I knows—by concepts of objects. (and also Alexandre ` ` Koyre. the object has been born out of the I [and has emerged] as being. but always alienated. 89. 6: 288. the ego and the object. . moreover. Adam gave a name to all things. 1803–4). on the one hand. 1975). Du ¨ssing (Hamburg: F. which alone knows objects and thus opposes itself to them. Adam gives a name. but not God. If. either this name would have no validity. H. the impossibility of this knowledge within the reflexive self-consciousness. For knowing the me as an object. 221–22. Knox (Albany: State University of New York. 326 ff.. on the other. what he named would not be man as such (as the unrivaled thinker) but merely a thought-object like all the others. I follow here the classic interpretation of Alexandre Kojeve. will in fact not be one and will not be able to make himself be recognized as 19 Ibid. is this. constituted by alienation like all objects. M. if it had validity. a human being. From this there immediately and necessarily follows another conclusion: if one is unaware of or neglects this distinction—that is to say if one persists in claiming that man can (and therefore must) become an object for man (homo homini objectum)—one only displaces this very distinction: for that which will be known as object.The Journal of Religion very far as he names it. i. or. Introduction a la lecture de Hegel (Paris: Gallimard. and made them into ideal [entities]. even when dressed up with the title of man. ed. trans. and perhaps the angels. . that he gave them a name. This distinction shows itself simply in the case where I. except by reducing him to the rank of a simple concept. Put another way. which thus become subject to him. S. he nullified them as beings on their own account. Thus it follows from the characteristics of knowledge by concepts that man cannot name man. and ed.” Etudes d’histoire de la pensee philosophique [Paris: 1961]. 1979). ´ ` ´ ´ 10 . in no way opens access to the I. thereby knowing not a man but an object.. pp. Kimmerle and K.

For instance. because he could not be classified any other way than according to an order and a measure (models and parameters) that come to him from elsewhere. Soon I will no longer feel the fact that I feel myself: anesthesia will not only deliver me from my pain. I become a medical object. and thus from my self’s self-suffering. even and above all if we do not give it an answer. We experience it directly.The Privilege of Unknowing one. which is to say the mind that thinks him according to the mode of comprehension. because it asks. much more threatening question. beginning from one other than him. truly] a man?” To claim to know and to define man with a concept leads inevitably to a decision about his objectification. transfer to surgery. from the mind that defines him by alienating him. Or. transforming it into a final question. but it does fill the first condition required to eliminate all that does not fit this definition. and comprehended human being fall to the rank of a simple object. submission to treatment). the treatment of my sick body will lead to its interpretation according to the parameters of physical bodies (size. “What is man?” This simple question. Under the gaze of medical personnel. Not because he would no longer be thought. when I find myself in a medicalized situation (e. Or more precisely. etc. instead. “What is a man?” More threatening indeed. in order to put forward a definition by concept of man it is first necessary to dare to ask the question. or rather to a decision about his humanity according to the objectification that we will have produced. every time we end up admitting that. which makes the defined. removal of clothing. because one thinks him without beginning the thinking from him himself but. Next. the reading of test results. in various ways. the hospital technology’s inevitable hold of power over me eliminates in me anything that will not reduce to a medical object. have this experientia crucis: defining a man is equivalent to having done with him. we nevertheless easily authorize ourselves to use the question negatively. in all the applications of its objectification. classified. as a clear possibility. The danger—having done with some among men because we can define “man”—is not exaggerated or nonsensical.g. but also from my suffering self. namely. with the result that my living flesh will disappear. Indeed. each of us can. Defining man with a concept does not always or immediately lead to killing him. “Is this [still. but precisely because one thinks him by not thinking of him. which is to say from the workings of my rationality.. because even and above all if we cannot give an answer. every non- 11 . admittance to the hospital. to classify a man is to downsize him as a human being. already includes within it another.). We take notice of this alienation. quantification. and very soon under my own gaze. measurements.

through the determination of one’s identity (of his name. “Mobilization” is understood here in the sense used by Ernst Ju ¨nger in Der Arbeiter (Hamburg. let us consider directly the definition of the human being not only as social animal (social living being). and thus the life and death. at the very least. I. biology. 1932) and in “Die totale Mobilmachung. credit cards. of other human beings—because these human beings have become simple human objects. etc. then more fundamentally. such as it ratifies and perfects the “mobilization” without remainder of the humanity of man. passport) according to number: dates (from birth to death). which is to say strict exchange according to the iron law of a selfishness that is no longer moral. electronic addresses. Thus is opened the fearful region in which man can make decisions about the normality. commercial operations (bank account numbers. In particular.” supposedly summed up by the calculation of my needs.” Philosophie 78 ( June 2003): 3–32. 1930). but which doubtless makes them possible and flows over them in every direction: the gift and all the forms of social gratuity that have not yet been rendered economic. cell phones. gratuity economizes on economy itself.20 Without lingering over other processes of objectification (psychiatry.). etc. and my flesh. For if economy economizes on the gift. trips. etc. Thus there disappears from economic analysis everything that escapes exchange and commerce. will become an animal-machine.” in Krieg und Krieger (Berlin. Another example of objectification occurs when I am defined as an object reduced to the parameters seen by economic theory—when I become the famous “economic agent. this stage-by-stage reduction assumes that choices are made according to the laws of exchange and thus that the economic agent proceeds strictly according to self-interest. See my analysis in “La raison du don. in short.21 The political determination of man is not summed up by his sociability. local as well as long-distance communications (sound and visual recordings.The Journal of Religion objective function will disappear from this self (me). and finally by the purported rational calculation of a correspondence between the costs of the objects of the needs and this purchasing power.D. In order to attain even an approximation of rigor.). or that which is animated within me. work. by the evaluation of these needs in numbered costs and the balancing of these costs against purchasing power. but epistemological. health. 21 20 12 .. politics imposes upon that sociability a technological treatment. This medical definition of my body as an object will also allow for the distinction of health from sickness in terms of norms.). all become numbers. but. that I only know and practice business. etc.). but as political object. such that the identity thus “digitized” according to limitless parameters erects a comprehensive definition of the citizen. places (residence.

p.The Privilege of Unknowing And inevitably this comprehensive definition ends up by authorizing. and thus for the stigmatization of the nonman (the Jew). He is not called anything except that. Failing such resistance. having become the most efficacious tool for the definition (in this case ideological and racist) of man. Every political proscription. as an animal. et determinatio negatio est” (“figure is nothing but limitation. indeed demanding. the maladjusted. the outcome. 1987]. “figura non aliud quam determinatio. every racial extermination. or indeed to the extermination of the submen or nonmen thus identified. and thus can or ought to die. it is first necessary to be able to deny to such and such a human being (the well-named “So and So”) his or her face and thus his or her humanity. or more exactly (because in the event the issue is extension alone). Zero Eighteen. there will be no end of ideologies or racisms that produce definitions of man and. it is necessary to have the permission to kill. while not good.22 A frightening consequence thus imposes itself: to claim to define what a man is leads to or at least opens the possibility of leading to the elimination of that which does not correspond to this definition. and illegal immigrants. the homeless. And once the name of a man is abolished. or embryos reputedly not yet humanized. Political wisdom consists first in resisting such an outcome. and limita22 Primo Levi lived and described perfectly the moment when the number. Here a metaphysical proposition in appearance perfectly neutral takes on the aspect of a silent threat: every determination is a negation. without this claimed guarantee. through an inverted outcome. by fixing its limits and. silences the name of a man by substituting itself for that name: “He is Null Achtzehn.). the last three figures of his entry number. as a “dog” or a “pig”—in other words. etc.” beginning with the jobless. no one could put such political programs into motion. before moving on to the arrest. proscribe those who do not fit in. Even the worst of modern tyrants needs reasons and concepts. as if everyone was aware that only a man is worthy of a name. Here we find a new experientia crucis: in order to kill a human being. trans. every ethnic cleansing. discovering the one who cannot claim humanity. and ending with the mentally ill. delinquents. 48). The Truce. the separation of men according to those who satisfy the political conditions of this citizenship and those who are excluded or ought to be (“exclusion. is nonetheless possible. and rapid. easy. in this way. and his humanity thus denied. 13 . and one gets there by defining and comprehending humanity through concepts. it becomes possible and even quite easy to put an end to him physically. or supernumerary. and that Null Achtzehn is no longer a man” (If This Is a Man. every determination of that which does not merit life—all of these rest upon a claim to define (scientifically or ideologically) the humanity of man. From the identity card to the list of interdiction. But in order to have that. Stuart Woolf [London: Abacus.

). when such knowledge instead destroys it or. and only for as long as he thus remains. that is. this experientia crucis can be confirmed by inverting it: I can only love (the contrary of killing) another that. P. then. 3:172. Land (The ` Hague. threatens it. it would be necessary to add a derivative consequence: nothing that I know. but to preserve it as a privilege to reinforce. but above all that he can do this because he comprehends what man is. for. Determining the humanity of man thus amounts to making an end of him. philosophy would have for its task not to correct man’s incomprehensibility. and ed. that in the particular case of man. p. which is to say as long as I will not have finished with him.23 Determining amounts to denying (and not the inverse. If then I want to maintain that. in any case. The Correspondence of Spinoza (London: Frank Cass. trans. much less defend it. Thus there appears the definitive weakness of every humanism: not only does it claim to comprehend as a matter of fact what man can and ought to be. 3d ed. English translation in Abraham Wolf. It follows. Jalles. J. the depths of incomprehensibility Thus nothing of what I understand tells me of the humanity of the Other or gives me access to it. an alienated thing. by turning on myself any such definition of humanity. Moreover.d. And consequently. 14 . being a human being. at least in the sense of being able to comprehend him or her as an object and define him or her by a concept. ed. For every de-finition imposes on the human being a finite essence.. an object comprehended by a concept. precisely. N. can reveal the dignity of the human being. van Vloten and J. iv. The weakness of humanism’s claim consists in dogmatically imagining not only that man can hold himself up as his own measure and end (so that man is enough for man). I can only love him who remains for me without definition. as if it were a defect to overcome. can we indeed preserve the incomprehensibility of man 23 Baruch Spinoza. following from which it always becomes possible to delimit what deserves to remain human from what no longer does. I cannot know myself as such. for if determination is sufficient for denial. I would substitute for the man in me something other than me.The Journal of Religion tion is negation”). 1966). n. a negation does not always suffice to determine). I do not know. Epistula 50. precisely. when on the contrary nothing threatens man more than any such alleged comprehension of his humanity. nothing human is or ought to be foreign to me (Terence). in this case too. 270. a J. beginning from a comprehensive definition of humanity. But for all of that. but above all it assumes that such a knowledge reinforces the humanity in man..

[and] likeness” of God (Gen. too. Augustine quotes. But why is it that man does not name himself? No interdict is brought to bear here. 196. 12:2 and Gen. Confessiones 13. finally. This paradox receives a precise commentary from Saint Augustine: “be renewed in the newness of your mind. by his creature. 26). How do we do this? Let us return to Hegel’s interpretation of Adam’s privilege in the book of Genesis. 1:24.’ so we may prove what your will is. man resembles nothing. emphasis added. because he resembles nothing other than the One who is properly characterized 24 Augustine. and thus to dominate. Rom. or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above” (Exod. For you did not say ‘Let man be made according to his kind’ [secundum genus]. does it not always just vanish? In short. to understand. since such an unknowing either disappears into a definitive ignorance or disqualifies itself as a poorly formulated question.”24 Man remains unimaginable. translation slightly modified). But is man. There. Nothing more than the second commandment is necessary. p. That is not a making according to kind [secundum genus]. which forbids making “for yourself a graven image. therefore. By right. 292. “in heaven above”? Most certainly—for this is the decisive paradox—because that which is fitting for God (of whom no name. successively. . that would claim to represent God through comprehension. was created not “according to [his] kind” but “in [the] image . never upon God or upon himself. and he alone among all the living. the domination of man? That God would escape is conceived without any difficulty: the Creator is not easily understood. the proof. Chadwick p.32 (O’Donnell. 15 . man has the power to name. no image. does a de jure incomprehensibility not lead finally to a simple de facto unknowing? And. and thus named. and the guarantee of his humanity? How do we avoid the confusions and contradictions implied by this demand? And first and foremost. . can one maintain for very long the comprehension of such a fragile incomprehensibility? In order to surmount these difficulties.22. it would be necessary to found and legitimize the impossibility of defining and comprehending man—and thus to envisage such an impossibility within a new positivity and no longer as a pure and simple defect. but ‘Let us make man according to our image and likeness. 1:24 and 26. and no concept can claim comprehension) is also fitting for man: man.The Privilege of Unknowing as the sign. because he is formed in the image of the One who admits no image whatsoever. 20:4)—anything. Why do these two escape naming and thus escape the comprehension and. but Adam exercises this privilege only upon the animals. as if renewal were achieved by imitating a neighbour’s example or by living under the authority of a human superior.

27 Martin Heidegger. since one of the attributes we contemplate in the Divine nature is incomprehensibility of essence (t` o ’akata lhpton th ou j´ a ). which is according to the icon of the Creator (tq kat’ i ko na tou kt´ janto ). p. p. pp. 118. 234. Hermeneutics. 26 According to Emmanuel Levinas. il est l’incontenable. evades our knowledge.The Journal of Religion by incomprehensibility. 80–81. 85–86. while the archetype transcends comprehension. Was ist Metaphysik? in Wegmarken. 245. En ce sens. Brief uber den “Humanismus. which your thought would embrace. See Ethique et infini: Dialogues avec Philippe Nemo (Paris: Livre de Poche. Man’s face bears the mark of this borrowed incomprehensibility in so far. Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. will also bear the mark and the privilege of His incomprehensibility. .Y. 16 . 1994). No longer does the human being distinguish him. pp. que notre pensee embrasserait. 342. Put another way: the human being belongs to no kind whatsoever. il vous mene au-dela” (“the ´ ` ` face is signification. p. GA 9. GA 9. the nature of the icon were comprehended. “le visage est signification et signification sans contexte.. (San Francisco: Harper Collins. 1993). the contrary character of the attributes we behold in them would prove the defect of the icon. who resembles nothing other than Him. as he too reveals himself as invisible. ed. English ¨ translation in Krell. man. ´ .” in Wegmarken. Basic Writings. but since the nature of our mind. . . 106. it is clearly necessary that in this point the icon ´ i should be able to show its imitation of the archetype.”25 Or again. 54.or herself from the rest of the world as the “Platzhalter des Nichts” (“lieutenant of the nothing”)27 or the “Hirt des Seins” (“shepherd of Being”). In this sense one can say that the face is not ‘seen. 1985). like God. it is uncontainable. he appears immediately within the light of the One who surpasses all light. Delivered from every paradigm. English translation in Richard A.26 Man is thus radically separated from every other being in the world by an insurmountable and definitive difference that is no longer ontological. and Church (Maryknoll. 28 Martin Heidegger. is not comprehended by any definition of (in)humanity. This argument is found explicitly formalized in this manner by Gregory of Nyssa. English translation in David Farrell Krell. it leads you beyond”). p.’ It is what cannot become a content.’ Il est ce qui ne peut devenir un contenu. 1982). . Man’s invisibility separates him from the world and consecrates him as holy for the Holy.: Orbis Books. pp.. on peut dire que le visage n’est pas ‘vu. On Naming the Present: God. Cohen. . For if. . precisely. 2d ed. trans. . but holy. if God remains incomprehensible. N. ˛ ´ i it keeps an accurate resemblance to the superior nature. the One who David Tracy has named “the Incomprehensible-Comprehensible God. refers to no genus.28 but as the icon of the incomprehensible. and signification without context. among other authors: The icon is properly an icon so long as it fails in none of those attributes which we perceive in the archetype . retaining the imprint 25 David Tracy. therefore.

for you made humanity”). citing at the end Psalm 89:8 (O’Donnell.’ But you.31 But above all. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Grand Rapids. Deus meus. I do not know until such time as my darkness becomes ‘like noonday’ before your face”). Series II. man 29 Gregory of Nyssa. For what I know of myself I know because you grant me light. 129. Gerrish has superbly demonstrated. vol. know everything about the human person. p. qui in ipso est. p. A strong and frightening echo of such a horror is found in both Luther and Calvin. pp. he should not comprehend. Lord. Let me confess too what I do not know of myself. quia eum fecisti” (“yet there is something of the human person which is unknown even to the ‘spirit of man which is in him. comes to this conclusion: whereas Saint Paul. 121. Et hoc animus est et hoc ego ipse sum. scis ejus omnia. quod nec ipse scit spiritus hominis. who is nevertheless known by another—God alone—it is necessary to make use of the process of confessio. And this is mind. for his part. ed. William Moore and Henry Austin Wilson. pp. Augustine does not hesitate to write on the contrary that “tamen est aliquid hominis. . 2:11) and thus assumed that man comprehends the secrets of man. Chadwick. my God? What is my nature?”).7. let me confess what I know of myself. etc. . or rather the constitutive duality of a doubly oriented confessio. Mich. a power of profound and infinite multiplicity. 396–97 (translation modified). What then am I. writes that no one “among men knows the secrets of man except the spirit of man which is in him” (1 Cor. tu autem.The Privilege of Unknowing of the incomprehensible [fixed] by the unknown within it (tq kav‘ ˛ ’agnqjtq).30 Man differs infinitely from man but with a difference that he cannot comprehend. see his “‘To the Unknown God’: Luther and Calvin on the Hiddenness of 17 . p. an awe-inspiring mystery. Not only does man know that he does not know himself.5. Quid ego sum Deus? Quae natura sum?” (“Great is the power of memory. oriented toward my ignorance of self and toward another’s knowledge of me.17.26 (O’Donnell. Augustine. profunda et infinita multiplicitas.” in Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises.: Eerdmans. 31 Confessiones 10.. “Confitear ergo quid de me sciam. this is I myself. by virtue of man’s being its image and likeness. and what I do not know of myself. 30 Confessiones 10. Chadwick. even if this were only because within his most intimate depths he discovers an unfathomable memory: “Magna vis est memoriae.29 ´ ˛ auto n ´ Knowing man thus requires referring him to God the incomprehensible and thus by derivation to grounding incomprehensibility in the incomprehensible. as B. confitear et quid de me nesciam . 182–83). too. 1965). 5 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. 194). Beginning from this unknowing of myself. my God. nescio quid horrendum. in order properly to respect it. ” (“Accordingly. A. “On the Making of Man. trans. and which. Domine.

the speculative Emmanuel. In this matter I know myself less well than I know you. the one whose image he bears. in short that “l’homme passe infiniment l’homme” (“man transcends man”). but disfigures himself by taking on the figure of something other than himself. et me ipsum mihi indica” (“Whether I am one or the other I do not know. Krailsheimer. p. 1995). translation modified). because man only reveals himself by revealing. 34. 131–49. namely.The Journal of Religion understands. within this impasse. 131). and rather than be like him by his gift it wants to be what he is by its own right. I beseech you. English translation in A. Minus mihi in hac re notus sum ipse quam tu. wants to claim them for itself. nec ei quicquam sufficit recedenti ab illo qui solus sufficit” (“instead of staying still and enjoying them [the good things of God] as it ought to. 1982). according to a strict consequence. only the infinite and incomprehensible can comprehend man. 144. themselves). p. it can find satisfaction neither in itself nor in anything else as it gets further away from him who alone can God.. Not only is it true that “Je est un autre” (I is another).33 Finally and above all. God: “Utrum ita sim. 33 Blaise Pascal. trans. man’s incomprehensibility to himself thus takes on yet wider and vaster dimensions. volens ea sibi tribuere et non ex illo similis illius. . quod putat amplius et amplius. Deus meus. nescio. this incomprehensibility tells man that he goes beyond and exceeds himself. which is to say.” in The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. This is the definition of sin: man thinks he attains unto himself by choosing to resemble less than God. 32 Confessiones 10. following the formulation of an exemplary Augustinian: in a word. but this other calls himself God within man. Thus the soul. pp. that the one who is alone in knowing him remains for him another.32 Under Augustine’s analysis. avertitur ab eo. man passes beyond his own means. . Next. . as in the Greek fathers. Obsecro te. and thus tell him of and show him to himself. and. the analysis points out not only the image and likeness of God within man’s incomprehensibility but also a unique privilege held by the human being with regard to all other creatures (which only resemble their genus. The dissimilarity in the image devalues him short of God. only God can reveal man to man. show me myself”). movetur et labitur in minus et minus. ´ 18 . Quia nec ipsa sibi. So it turns away from him and slithers and slides down into less and less which is imagined to be more and more. my God. which is to say by allowing himself to resemble something other than God. absent God. Pensees (Lafuma sec. Henceforth. barring God. To begin with. man loses the human face. ´ Pensees (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. “cum stare debeat ut eis fruatur. man can no longer appear as such. without knowing it. 216. Chadwick. J. sed ex ipsa esse quod ille est.37.62 (O’Donnell. man lives above his means.

trans. this entire movement unfolds within the similitudo—“non ex illo similis ejus”— which is to say.Y.. p.30. sec. except through the image that another gives to me—in no way signifies a flaw or defect in my knowledge. precisely by never himself knowing what. rather. De Divisione Naturae.34 I shall make only two remarks as commentary on this powerful phenomenology of sin. PL 122. in short in denying the ` character of the gift—scorning the given as gift. or rather whom. but. sin lies in wanting to enjoy them by oneself and not through God. 292. “The Negative Element in the Anthropology of John the Scot. p.R. p. Rene Roques (Paris: Editions du C. 203. Chadwick p. ` ed. one by which man. those of God.. De Trinitate.41 (O’Donnell. arrives at recognizing.7. God alone knows and preserves within his own secret the secret of man. IV. like every human being (and it is precisely in this that we recognize a human being). ed. See the standard-setting paper by Bernard McGinn. v. after Malebranche. First. 315–25. 81. O.N. exposed in a more systematic way and at length. because this body is affected by every other body. in wanting to appropriate them for oneself in the first person (as in Phil.S. 23. 1992). 771 ff. N.. or rather the one who alone (taking up Leibniz’s formulation) is able to say ego. Thus my unknowing of myself—otherwise called the impossibility of my gaining access to myself through any idea. 19 . the idea 34 Augustine. the mind would thus know itself as this very body and. English translation in Edmund Hill. sin does not consist in wanting to enjoy the supreme good things.. 2:6: ‘arpagmo n). Ethica II. and Seymour Feldman.” in Jean Scot Erigene et l’histoire de la philosophie.36 This is a problematic thesis in every respect. within the image and likeness. no one can know me and tell of me except. col. if only because it implies that by knowing the ideas of what affects its body. concept. Second. nisi quatenus corporis affectionum ideas percipit” (“the mind does not know itself except insofar as it perceives ideas of affections of the body”). translation modified). as metaphysics has so often claimed. for example. English translation in Samuel Shirley. 36 Baruch Spinoza. The Ethics (Indianapolis: Hackett. it is that he resembles.35 Baruch Spinoza’s belief that he can hold that “mens se ipsam non cognoscit. for they are given by God without jealousy. the privilege of positive self-unknowing Man’s incomprehensibility to himself thus designates a privilege. trans. Take. 1992).P. 135. pp.: New City. or image whatsoever that I may produce. 7. I cannot define myself.The Privilege of Unknowing satisfy it”).. who it is who preserves his identity and can name him—none other than the One who created him. 1975). 10.5. may be found in John Scot Eriugena. eventually. the one who creates me. The same argument. On the Trinity (Hyde Park. ´ 35 Confessiones 10. within man’s incomprehensibility to himself.

and 348). Lafuma sec.The Journal of Religion that the mens would have of itself would thus coincide with that of the complete extended world. 20 . Critique of Pure Reason. Similarly. 39 Pascal.. p. the impossibility of assigning him any definition at all fixes the only correct definition of man. 331. multiform. other than those of “monstre incomprehensible” (“a monster that passes all ´ 39 understanding”). that of showing forth (monstrare) in oneself the incomprehensible. become possible. trans. p. Nietzsche here inherits directly from a tradition that goes back at least to Pico della Mirandola: “homo variae ac multiformis et desultoriae naturae animae” (“man [is an] animal of diverse. beyond the question concerning the knowledge of man. variable.” what does he deny to man?37 Quite clearly. and Heptaplus (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. Tonion and O. Man. Far from this absence of knowledge doing harm to man’s dignity. p. Miller. because it attests to him precisely as “das noch nicht festgestellte Thier” (the animal that is not yet stabilized). On the Dignity of Man. and On Being and the One. 336. 12. for himself. it appears as the first bulwark. insofar as they conform to the conditions of intuition. 121. 6. ed. 1974).38 The nature (and definition) of man is characterized by instability—man as the being who remains. 32). to be decided and about whom one never ceases to be astonished. and Douglas Carmichael. which is to say. 6. thus loses himself if he claims to decide about himself. subjected to an intuition and inscribed within the common experience of the world. 38 Friedrich Nietzsche. W. and destructible nature”). Nachgelassene Fragmente (1884). Paul J. Let us not be mistaken: Pascal here designates a privilege. ed. A 346/B 404. But are there not objections to be made? For example. 2004). and also pp. by its ceasing to be that through which the objects of experience. De dignitate hominis. the question of what such knowledge would make of man imposes itself. English translation in Charles Glenn Wallace. A 354. for. Werke VII/2. p. Kant denies man what the I can become only by its disappearing as such. ColliMontinari (Berlin and New York. one could assimilate the biblical definition according to image and likeness to the Greek definition according to the possession 37 Kant. In this way we would instead have to confirm that what man would know of himself would precisely not be himself. He remains himself only as long as he remains without qualities. 130 (Krailsheimer. and A 372. 25 (428). See also Pico della Mirandola. following Heidegger. Boulnois (Paris. man is denied the status of object. 1965). when Kant underscores that the transcendental I has of itself only a “ganzlich leere Vorstellung” ¨ (“completely empty representation”) and thus that it has “no experience” of itself and that “the transcendental object is equally unknown [gleich unbekannt] in respect to inner and to outer intuition. pp. but anything other than himself. G. 4. respectively (Smith. Indeed. undecidable to man.

without seeing that this distinction doubtless contradicts the incomprehensibility of the image and likeness? Does he simply want. etc. are created by Him. . 48. English translation in Gregory Fried ¨ and Richard Polt. on the contrary. anything having to do. p. trans. 74. before it is asked: beings. introduced by Duns Scotus through to Suarez. 7–8. in God and thus in man. Brief uber den “Humanismus. He can act only ‘as if’ [nun so tun ‘as ob’] . sec. From a reverse perspective. 21 . Being and Time (San Francisco: Harper & Row. by invoking creation.’”42 This argument presupposes in its turn that. because “one who holds on to such faith as a basis can. GA 40. . p.: Yale University Press. its revelation of man as created in the image and likeness of God institutes an unknowing that is all the more radical in that it is founded in the incomprehensibility of God himself. 319. pp. unacceptable. 1963). Heidegger believes. just as he denies it that of responding to the question. . however. emulate and participate in the asking of our question in a certain way.. Introduction to Metaphysics (New Haven. precisely. perhaps. does he not take up. with Being as subsistence (vorhanden)? Unless. 10. but he cannot authentically question. that is.” This remains. the metaphysical distinction par excellence of the ens into finitum and infinitum. would it not be he who assumes from the outset that the question of man is inscribed in advance within the horizon of Being and determines man as the being in whom what is at stake is Being? Would it not be someone like this who would here be seeming to think the incomprehen40 Heidegger. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” by holding that “anyone for whom the Bible is divine revelation and truth already has the answer to the question . with the exception of God Himself. English translation in John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. p. because faith certainly tells him. p. to deny theology the right to tackle the question of man’s status. line 32. the definition by lo go could fall under reproach. 2000). . 1962). Sein und Zeit (Tubingen: Niemeyer.41 But there too. as if it goes without saying. Einfuhrung in die Metaphysik.40 But what proof does Heidegger give of the equivalence between these two definitions? If necessary. that what the Scripture says here establishes nothing certain and procures no clear and distinct knowledge whatsoever. . in the end. in the beginning God created heaven and earth. Conn. trans. 41 Heidegger. It is precisely the case.” GA 9. Heidegger includes neither definition in the division of finite being from infinite being. God Himself ‘is’ as the uncreated Creator. the believer confidently knows and thus comprehends what man is.The Privilege of Unknowing of logo in order to understand both as imposing upon man the mode ´ of Being “im Sinne des Vorhandensein” (“in the sense of subsistence [occurring and Being-present-at-hand]”). 5. . . ¨ 42 Heidegger. but does the ´ definition according to the image of God not exclude..

. in qua Dei idea continetur. unfolds this piety. And we know well that the Cartesian cogito has no other importance than to assure the ego its comprehension of itself and thus to impose itself as the first principle of every other science. metaphysics has indeed replied (whether it should be allowed to or not) to the question concerning man’s definition of himself. And above all. it would be more fitting to doubt this vulgate of Cartesianism. .The Journal of Religion sibility of man? For it could be that Scripture fails to pose the question “Why something rather than nothing?” not out of ignorance. even that of Being. because it alone leaves forever free and intact the questioning of its question. illamque similitudinem. line 24. but rather in order not to presume a horizon. 1. by the same faculty which enables me to perceive myself”). what the Scripture gives as answer to the question it poses remains by definition a bottomless question. respectively. dialogical (with the Deus qui potest omnia. because it perpetuates nothing less than the incomprehensibility of God. See my study “L’alterite ´ ´ originaire de l’ego. contradiction occurs because the ego of the cogito recognizes that its finite thought culminates in a faculty of will that is paradoxically infinite. If questioning defines the piety of thinking. line 2 and 8:22. “ratione cujus imaginem quandam et similitudinem Dei me refere intelligo” (“in virtue of [which] . to the point that the faculty of self-knowing is simply one with the faculty of knowing God: “ex hoc uno quod Deus me creavit. pp. per quam ego ipse a me percipior” (“but the mere fact that God created me is a very strong basis for believing that I am somehow made in his image and likeness and that I perceive that likeness. Contradiction occurs first of all because the ego’s very performance of its existence unfolds within a space that is. which includes the idea of God. for the question of man and because it questions the world and man in a way that is yet more radical than would ever be allowed by the thinking of Being. respectively). and above all the common understanding of the comprehensibility of the ego is contradicted because the ego identifies its faculty of thinking of itself with the image and likeness of God within it. from the outset. too. 22 . lines 18–23. AT 8:21. then Scripture. AT 4:57. 101 and 98. . valde credibile est me quodammodo ad imaginem et similitudinem ejus factum esse. lines 14–15 and 2:51. 1996). Nevertheless.43 Next. because the texts of Descartes so often contradict it. a me precipi per eandem facultatem.44 Let us consider 43 See Meditationes.” in Questions cartesiennes II: Sur l’ego et sur Dieu (Paris: Presses universitaires ´ de France. respectively (Cottingham et al. I understand myself to bear in some way the image and likeness of God”). chap. 44 Mediationes. with the genius aliquis malignius). Despite this.

Ve Responsiones. nullo modo debet comprehendi. confirms this impossibility. we must conclude that. It thus accepts. Philosophy must know. from his holiness. ut sit vera. English translation in Elizabeth S. strictly speaking. to treat of the incomprehensibility of God. 1967). quonima ipsa incomprehensibilitas in ratione formali infiniti continetur” [“the idea of the infinite. trans. lines 2–4. because he exceeds the field of every horizon and of every system of categories. through other paths. Nevertheless it does not 45 Meditationes. 2:218. a formal nonobject—as revelation. but rather as a grace and a privilege: man remains incomprehensible. but in the image and likeness of the incomprehensible par excellence. man appears to himself as a phenomenon that he cannot constitute. Which can be formulated as: man appears to himself as a saturated phenomenon. T. above all. AT 6:368. and thus also not cease to will to know. only the divine can reach the point of thinking its own thinking and knowing itself absolutely. such as it results directly from his infinity and. Haldane and G.. to the point of merging them within the space opened by the image of and likeness to God. And man has neither a definition of nor access to this knowledge.45 The power and profundity of man’s incomprehensibility is such that even the ego cogito is inscribed therein and confirms it. vi. the question without a response According to Aristotle. it is bound up with theology. he thus holds a derived and gracious excellence: that of knowing himself as incomprehensible. in order to be true. The incomprehensibility of the human being remains.The Privilege of Unknowing this extraordinary text: founding the thinking of self upon my thinking of God. remains incomprehensible also to itself. The Philosophical Works of Descartes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. at the risk of degrading the one who knows (himself) to the status of what he knows. the ego. Even more: because Descartes at the same time does not cease to underscore the fact that remaining incomprehensible belongs to the very definition of God (“idea enim infiniti. cannot by any means be comprehended. Put another way. R. Founded and required by the incomprehensibility of the One whose image and likeness man bears. And yet. Ross. or rather claims as its highest epistemological necessity. since this very incomprehensibility is comprised within the formal concept of the infinite”]). the one who knows. image of the incomprehensible. The theology of revelation. 23 . Theology in the strict sense recognizes its object—in fact. it no longer understands this impossibility as something forbidden.

to theology. Let us recall here Paul Ricœur’s brilliant statement: “the claim by knowledge to constitute itself raises the most formidable obstacle to the idea of revelation. 46. man’s incomprehensibility comes under the domain of philosophy. and preserving it in front of.” in La Revelation. the incomprehensibility of the human being can be seen to define the proper domain of what I willingly call the philosophy of religion. In this regard. or even foremost. because man must comprehend this very incomprehensibility. p. in its relation to both philosophy and (revealed) theology. every other comprehension that he gains over every other thing—things that can become objects. ed. Daniel Cop´ ´ ´ ´ ´ ´ pieters de Gibson (Bruxelles: Facultes universitaires Saint-Louis. 1977).The Journal of Religion belong entirely. 46 Paul Ricœur. which it skirts by opposition. ´ 24 . Husserl’s transcendental idealism potentially contains the very same atheistic outcome as Feuerbach’s idealism of self-consciousness. or rather denegatory. which is first of all negative.”46 In this sense. by opposing it to. “Hermeneutique de l’idee de Revelation. Thus.

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