Philosophy and Theology

Volume 10, Issue 1, 1997

Brian F. Linnane
Pages 199-226

Categorical and Transcendental Experience in Rahner’s Theology
Implications for Ethics

Karl Rahner’s theory of fundamental option has been criticized in recent years due to a perceived discontinuity between categorical actions in history and their transcendental implications. Jean Porter, for example, argues that such a discontinuity undermines any usefulness of the theory for the moral life because it is unable to generate a substantive account of the life of virtue. This essay disputes such claims, arguing that Rahner’s reluctance to definitively connect particular actions with a positive or negative fundamental option is simply in keeping with the Roman Catholic tradition of being tentative with regard to subjective judgments about the relationship between particular actions and the state of one’s soul. Further, it is argued that an examination of Rahner’s understanding of the unity of love of God and love of neighbor will serve to generate paradigmatic behaviors which are potential “sites” for a fundamental option. In this regard, the essay focuses on Rahner’s discussions of conscience and Ignatian discernment as well as on the relationship of fundamental option to “dying with Christ” or Christian witness.