Volume 21, Issue 2, Autumn 2016
Schmalenbach on Standing Alone before God
A Philosophical Case-Study in Ontologico-Historical Understanding
This article explores the clarificatory potential of a specific way of approaching philosophical problems, centered on the analysis of the ways in which philosophers treat the relationship between ontological and historical forms of commitment. Its distinctive feature is a refusal to begin from any premises that might be considered “ontologistic” or “historicistic.” Instead, the relative status of the two forms of commitment is left open, to emerge in the light of more specific inquiries themselves. In this case the topic in question is furnished by an essay from the early twentieth century German philosopher Herman Schmalenbach, entitled “Der Genealogie der Einsamkeit” (somewhat problematically translated as “On Lonesomeness”). The aim is to show how the import of Schmalenbach’s historicophilosophical treatment of certain features arguably central to the spiritual practices and religious beliefs of Christianity can be more effectively grasped when approached in these terms. The first part provides an overview of the key points of Schmalenbach’s essay, while the second presents some conceptual-analytic considerations as a basis for exploring relations between ontological and historical forms of commitment as these figure in his text. Some possible broader implications for Christianity and its relationship to modern society are then also briefly sketched.