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The Utopian Forms of Religious Life. Ernst Troeltsch's The Social Teachings of the Christian Church / Formes Utopiques de la vie religieuse. Les « Soziallehren » d'Ernst Troeltsch. - article ; n°1 ; vol.65, pg 121-143

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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1988 - Volume 65 - Numéro 1 - Pages 121-143
23 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.

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Publié le 01 janvier 1988
Nombre de lectures 27
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

Harry Liebersohn
The Utopian Forms of Religious Life. Ernst Troeltsch's "The
Social Teachings of the Christian Church" / Formes Utopiques
de la vie religieuse. Les « Soziallehren » d'Ernst Troeltsch.
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 65/1, 1988. pp. 121-143.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Liebersohn Harry. The Utopian Forms of Religious Life. Ernst Troeltsch's "The Social Teachings of the Christian Church" /
Formes Utopiques de la vie religieuse. Les « Soziallehren » d'Ernst Troeltsch. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions.
N. 65/1, 1988. pp. 121-143.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1988.2462
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/assr_0335-5985_1988_num_65_1_2462Sc soc des Rel. 1988 65/1 janvier-mars) 121-144 Arch
Harry LIEBERSOHN
THE UTOPIAN FORMS OF RELIGIOUS LIFE
Ernst
The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches
Ernst Troeltsch 1865-1923 redécouvre le motif utopique qui sous-
entend le christianisme et en fait un thème de son chef oeuvre
sociologique Thé Social Teachings of the Christian Churches
Ses catégories bien connues glise et de Secte ne sont point
de type statique contrairement ce qu on pourrait croire lorsqu elles
sont isolées de leur contexte mais elles contiennent une tension entre
le statu quo et utopie religieuse le Royaume de Dieu
Le statut social de Troeltsch en tant qu intellectuel membre de la
Bildungsbürgertum allemande la classe moyenne fait il est
pas lui-même attiré par utopisme Dans une certaine mesure il
obscurcit utopisme du christianisme primitif afin éviter que son
interprétation ressemble trop la critique marxiste du christianisme
faite par Kautsky Toutefois par rapport la théologie libérale de
Ritschi ou celle de orthodoxie luthérienne de son époque il aura
implicite ses travaux une reconnaissance hérétique un élément
réprimé de histoire religieuse occidentale Le fait avoir traité
glise et Secte comme phénomènes sociaux refoulant ainsi
intention utopique originale du christianisme revient faire des
Social Teachings un précurseur qui anticipe le discours utopiste
hommes de réflexion tels que Bloch Benjamin et Mannheim
Ernst The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches does it have
anything left to teach us The two chief social types that it introduced church
and sect have long been assimilated into the vocabulary of religious studies And
the work is so massive covering the ethics of Western Christianity from its
beginnings that it hardly invites casual reading Whatever it was that Troeltsch
had to say one is tempted to go to Max Weber on the assumption that
famous friend and colleague said it better Certainly half-forgotten old classics do
not deserve to be read nor do articles about them merely out of ritual piety
toward the past If we are to return to it at all then work of this kind must speak to
us in its own right
121 ARCHIVES DE SCIENCES SOCIALES DES RELIGIONS
Social Teachings does just that single thesis sustains it that the
history of Christian ethics and institutions was shaped by disappointed eschato-
logical expectations Trained as theologian Troeltsch married mastery of his
native discipline to the perspective of the sociologist and made his thesis fruitful
though of course not as he himself knew conclusive for epoch after epoch of
Christianity His book reveals history of utopianism within the history of
doctrines and institutions close reading of the book establishes its indepen
dence from Max Weber whereas Weber in The Protestant Ethic focused on
individual anxiety as the motive for social behavior The Social Teachings focuses
on social groups and the logic of their collective impulse toward new heaven and
earth alternative merits closer look
Difficulties stand in the way of renewed appreciation of the book however
Troeltsch does not have an engaging style His polemical attacks on religious
dogmatists and socialists have lost their poignancy He too often lets cliches and
mechanically produced judgments carry his narrative there something
profoundly suspicious about book whose theme is hope for an end to
secular time but which rambles on as if author and audience had all the time in
the world Perhaps ambivalence toward his story made him muddle it
he viewed eschatology as great historical illusion and reserved his admiration
for the system and institution-builders who integrated eschatological expecta
tions into the existing social order The unprepared reader may find it hard to
keep sight of the underlying eschatological dynamic as Troeltsch recounts the
ideological and repressive roles performed by organized religion
It takes some historical imagination to recapture the hidden drama of The
Social Teachings Troeltsch was acutely aware of the utopian dimension of the
social and theological debates of his own time and his comments on them
especially during his formative and little-known years before 1900 will alert us to
utopian themes in his mature sociological work Far from just being study of
past experience or formal abstractions The Social Teachings assessed the fate of
utopianism in the age of Capital
early years are evidence for the strong survival of local traditions
in many parts of XIXth century Germany The Troeltsch family had belonged
since the late XVIIth to the middle-class elite of Augsburg This old
Imperial city was one of centers of commerce during the XVIth
century rising with the fortunes of the Fugger banking house It was also one of
the intellectual centers of the Reformation here Luther met with the Roman
emissary Cardinal Cajetan in 1518 and here the Augsburg Confession the
central credo of the Lutheran church came into being in 1530 Although Augsburg
belonged to the network of Central European cities that declined after the Thirty
Years War and the shift of trade from inland to the Atlantic its middle class
maintained its self-assurance and its control over local institutions The
Troeltsch family at the end of the XIXth century had lost much of its wealth but
still had benefit society Ernst father was physician who had
married daughter from Nürnberg Troeltsch later recalled the
scientific atmosphere of the paternal household with ironic affection It was full
he wrote of skeletons anatomical charts electric machines botanical books
122 ERNST UTOPIANISM
handbooks of crystals etc So it was that from the start learned to see all
historical-cultural problems in the context of scientific outlook and felt that the
relationship of both worlds was burning theoretical and practical problem.
At the time however this incipient conflict of values may have mattered less than
the fact that the father had flourishing practice was well-known and well-liked
in the town could afford to move to large house in 1867 and seems to have been
devoted family head toward Ernst and his three younger siblings There was
little reason to wander far from the example of family which harmoniously
blended tradition and openness to the modern world
Troeltsch praised his secondary school for its thorough training in the
classics and recent research has underlined how true he later remained to the
special traditions The Studienanstalt bei St Anna traced its heritage
back to the pedagogy of Hieronymus Wolf librarian and private secretary to
Hans Jakob Fugger from 1551 to 1557 had been student ofMelanchthon
great ally and assistant who had systematized the thought by
synthesizing it with the resources of classical humanism and who fixed the idea of
the German university until the late XVIIIth century Troeltsch proclaimed the
special tradition of Christian humanism at his graduation ceremony on
August 61883 when he was eighteen The study of antiquity becomes more than
just idle amusement with beautiful works of poetry or history through the study of
religion not just curiosity and entertainment but the search for truth for moral
truth. This was dig at the militant idealization of Greece and Rome that
went on at other schools Education at the Studienanstalt bei St Anna stood some
what apart from the German norm and closer to the Victorian British and
American ideal of the Christian gentleman
At home Troeltsch grew up in mildly religious atmosphere defined more by
standards of behavior than by dogma or demands for show of personal piety
The minister of the local parish Julius Hans who confirmed Troeltsch on April
1879 was highly educated theologian in the liberal tradition Friedrich Boeckh
religion teacher for five years at the Gymnasium and friend of the
family was religious rationalist This sweet-tempered religiosity was remar
kable in region soured by confessional conflict In the early XIXth century the
Bavarian monarchy had been so repressive toward its Lutheran subjects that it
had denied their internal independence or even their right to designate themselves
as Protestants in response Lutherans had developed fierce neo-orthodoxy
emphasizing personal piety and strict adherence to dogma This intolerant
religiosity only made negative impression on him to judge by the lofty disdain
with which he later dismissed orthodox Lutheran critics of his work
higher education began in an almost anachronistic way one
introducing him to the encyclopedic tradition of the pre-modern university in
1883-1884 he spent two semesters at the Royal Lyceum in Augsburg Catholic
institution whose main purpose was to provide general education for priests
His curriculum included courses in philosophy philology art history and
physics He spent the next year at the University of Erlangen where again his
curriculum remained broad and included and psychology as well as
theology 10 Erlangen was one of the best-known faculty of neo-orthodox
Lutheran theologians and although Troeltsch later spoke of his cool respect
toward his professors they gave him first-hand knowledge of the undiluted
confessional tradition General education continued the next year in Berlin
where he studied history with Treitschke) art history and physical anthropology
123 DE SCIENCES SOCIALES DES RELIGIONS ARCHIVES
alongside three courses each semester in theology 12 Altogether
early course of study confirms his later description of his longing for universal
learning 13)
After these years of preparation came three formative semesters at Göttingen
from 1886 to 1888 One figure dominated the theological scene there and chal
lenged all others either to acknowledge his mastery or to repudiate it with an
alternative Albrecht Ritschi Equally gifted as historian and systematician
Ritschi wrote with the consciousness of continuing the great tradition of theolo
gians reaching back to the Reformation and indeed beyond to the early Chris
tian Church Fathers He hoped his work would provide normative foundation
for the German Empire and was disappointed when it failed to do so it had only
the more modest effect of setting the course for the next half-century of Protestant
theology His successors had either to modify the thrust of his system as did
Troeltsch and Adolf von Hamack or to revolt against it as did Karl Barth 14
When Troeltsch came to Göttingen and heard his lectures on doctrine and on
ethics Ritschi was sixty-four and his work was virtually complete with his
major works written and his fame at its height Later quarrels separated Troeltsch
from more faithful disciples but he continued to acknowledge Ritschi as
his master in theology prefacing The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches
with words of thanks to Ritschi when it appeared as the first volume of his
collected writings in 1911 15)
The look backwards was critical one indicating how the unity of
own thought sprang from the completeness with which he rejected It
named two components which fit together to create an overarching system
distinct conception of traditional dogma by means of which modern needs and
problems were met and just as decided conception of the intellectual
and religious situation by means of which it seemed possible to accept and carry
forward the teaching of tradition understood in the Ritschlian sense 16
Ritschi bridged the gap between tradition and modernity but only in
view by ignoring the real nature of the divide separating them Before beginning
the work of reconstruction he needed to point out where Ritschi had lost touch
with reality and to survey the territory he had ignored Let us examine in turn the
notions of tradition and of modernity that Troeltsch confronted in Ritschl
In The Justification and Reconciliation 1870) Ritschl made Christianity
palatable to the modem middle class by playing down the drama of sin and
redemption and shifting the focus of religious conscience to the work ethic Every
Christian according to Ritschl had been saved from divine judgment through
redemptive work and needed only to participate in the life of his community to come to consciousness of his reconciliation with God
Luther had freed Christianity from its medieval preoccupation with salvation in
which the individual retreated inward in search for signs of grace and had
redirected the Christian life to where it belonged in the public realm The true
Christian life rediscovered by Luther was one of service in the world One
fulfilled obligations to God by meeting daily duties toward
occupation the family and the state 17 This was happy arrangement for both
the modern citizen and the reputation of Luther The citizen in good standing
discovered that merely by being himself he was behaving like an exemplary
Christian and Luther turned out to be the prophet of Bismarckian Germany
sanctifying its ethic of hard work and social conformity
first book Reason and Revelation in Johann Gerhard and Melanch-
thon 1891) contradicted equation of Luther and modernity and esta-
124 ERNST UTOPIANISM
blished wholly different line of interpretation that later entered into his and
sociology 18 It argued that Luther was wholly un-modern in the
distinction he drew between supernatural revelation and natural reason For
Luther the authority of Scripture was absolute it was the living word of God the
foundation of the church and the Christian life Reason was completely separate
from it and subordinate to it successors Gerhard and Melanchthon
accepted this disjunction as they developed teachings into an orthodox
body of thought Philosophy in the broad sense including all the sciences was
the handmaid of theology and whenever the two were in conflict it submitted to
the authority of its mistress without regard to logic or evidence This relationship
was untroubling so long as naive religious faith was intact But in the modern
era natural science and historical analysis had challenged the authority of
scripture
Nature now revealed its autonomy and its indifference to the claims of
theology 19 Philosophy freed itself from theological considerations as did the
individual sciences society emerged as natural realm in its own right indifferent
to religious ethics All revealed religions confronted an independent secular
world but the disjunction of reason and revelation was more radical in Luthera-
nism than anywhere else The very thoroughness of its dualism originally made
in order to assert the sovereignty of theology now left it helpless in the face of
secular realms which had emancipated themselves from it The import of
book was that any modern would have to confront
thoroughgoing un modernity only after doing so and recognizing the fissures
inherent in the entire Lutheran tradition could it begin the work of reconciliation
with modernity
original interest was the conflict between religion and modern
natural science From the beginning however he was sensitive to social issues as
well and here too he discerned in approach an avoidance of the real
difficulties Ritschi had followed the typical pattern of the mid XIXth century
German middle class constitutional liberal in 1848 he had grown conservative
in the 1850s and 1860s after 1866 he was an uncritical admirer of his native
Prussia and its works 20 Instruction in the Christian Religion 1875) the manual
he wrote for Gymnasium students preached acceptance of social injustice
loyalty to station in life and obedience to the state as the God-given order of
things 21 As early as his theses for his dissertation defence Troeltsch hinted at
his dissatisfaction by including brash thesis calling for new manual for
Gymnasium religious instruction 22 speech of July 1895 to the
Learned Society of Protestant Pastors in Baden on The Historical Foundations
of Theology in our Century contained an open critique of Prussian authorita-
rianism and its effects on religion In his broad overview of the factors affecting
religious life during the XIXth century Troeltsch placed special emphasis on
reliance on the Protestant Church as bastion of counter-revolution
since the reign of Frederick William IV 1840-1861 Other problems facing
theology he noted had been unavoidable the loss of church control over
secondary and higher education the conflict between religion and science But
the manipulation of the churches to secular ends had gratuitously estranged
many of those who were interested in genuine religious worship 23 In conclusion
Troeltsch praised the smaller German states especially Baden for avoiding
interference in the inner life of the church 24 In contrast to celebration
of the modem state treatment of it was critical he assumed that its
interests were different from those of religious faith and liked it best when it kept
respectful distance
125 DE SCIENCES SOCIALES DES RELIGIONS ARCHIVES
An essay of the same year on Religion and Church pointed the way from
theology to sociological conception of religion and church 25 In
theological perspective there was no clear difference between them The modern
church was supernatural institution descended directly from Christ and the
apostles and the individual had religious life only through his membership in
it Troeltsch on the other hand viewed religion and church as antithetical The
church was worldly institution which had the function of accommodating
religion to the demands of secular authority and giving it stability it otherwise
lacked Religion originated in individual experience and the true religious
community had nothing to do with external organizational structures but arose
from the spontaneous feelings of individuals for one another 26 Troeltsch thus
opened the way to secular analysis of the church one which would take an
entirely disabused look at its pact with secular power politics Such an analysis
would have liberating effect on religion by calling attention to the corrupting
influence of the state and the temporal imperfections of the church Troeltsch
drew back however from the potential for radicalism in his formulation and
posed the relationship between religion and church in the form of paradox
rather than contradiction To be sure religion and church could never exist in
uncomplicated harmony one followed the rule of feeling the other the rule of an
impersonal organization Yet Troeltsch called for acceptance of this antinomy If
the burden of external organization became too oppressive he was sure that
new arrangment would arise and allow greater freedom to spirituality 27)
By the mid-1890s Troeltsch had arrived at fundamental sociological
insight an irreconciliable antagonism between individual and institution under
lay the tension between religion and church He viewed the relationship of church
and religion as just one example of general pattern of social relations The
source of all authentic life was the inner experience of the individual In the
theological language of the time the individual formed by such an experience was
Persönlichkeit whose values set him above nature and enabled him to transform
it 28 But all societies required organizations and modern society in particular
was made up of organizations that threatened personal autonomy Troeltsch did
not expect to end the antinomy of Persönlichkeit and society but hoped that
forthright confrontation could at least ameliorate it He denied that traditional
dogma could meet modern needs and problems as Ritschi imagined but he
thought that religious tradition in broader sense open to critical scrutiny and to
contemporary culture would remain an important source for educating Persön
lichkeiten He denied conception of the modern intellectual and religious
situation and pointed out the social and political conflicts repressed in
utopian fantasy but he believed that Persönlichkeiten could penetrate the social
and intellectual structures of the modern world and improve them
theological substructure continued to inform thought even
after he repudiated sacralization of society if society was secular
Persönlichkeit was potentially its religious counterpart This was the promising
starting-point for an encounter between religion and modernity in which in the
end each would receive its due granted its relative autonomy and poised in an
equilibrium with the other
At Göttingen Troeltsch belonged to student generation that strove for
more realistic grasp of religion than by situating Christianity in its social
and historical context 29 His closest student friend Wilhelm Bousset made it
his work to trace the Jewish and Hellenic sources of unim-
126 ERNST UTOPIANISM
peachable on their scholarly merits his books were so scandalous in their
historicization of the divinity of Christ and other doctrines that he had to wait
until 1916 just four years before the end of his life for full professorship 30
Troeltsch and Bousset developed their ideas in close exchange with several other
students William Wrede Alfred Rahlfs Heinrich Hackmann who completed
their academic work in the late 1880s and early 1890s The group called itself the
little Göttingen faculty phrase supposedly coined by contemptuous
faculty member and promptly adopted by Troeltsch and his companions an
indication of their solidarity and temerity in the face of their elders 31)
One of their central interests was topic charged with political overtones the
historical meaning of the Kingdom of God Ritschi had not hesitated to identify it
with the apostolic church and with present-day society the Kingdom of God had
progressively unfolded in history from the time of the apostles to the present
when economic productivity signified transformation of nature into
spirit 32 The little faculty wanted to check the accuracy of usage
against the original meaning of the phrase in ancient Palestine One redefinition
came from Göttingen student who finished his studies slightly ahead of
Troeltsch Johannes Weiss own son-in-law In 1892 Weiss published
short book on Proclamation of the Kingdom of God which argued that Jesus had
intended something more objective and material than XIXth-century Protestants
usually supposed The Kingdom of God as Jesus thought of it he wrote is
never subjective inward or spiritual but is always the objective
messianic Kingdom which usually is pictured as territory into which one enters
or as land in which one has share or as treasure which comes down from
heaven 33 This statement suggested an irruption of the transcendent into
history of kind alien to immanent evolutionary way of thinking Such
an objective messianic Kingdom had never come no messiah had abolished
the reign of Roman Emperors or later Kaisers) ending injustice and establishing
the rule of the righteous Taken to its logical conclusion book would have
amounted to flat denial of equation of Kingdom of God and history
Weiss was devoted to his father-in-law and disavowed any such intention In this
way he limited the impact of his own book 34 Yet it raised the question of the
meaning of the Kingdom of God pointedly enough to trouble readers accustomed
to an eschatological reading of the Gospels 35)
In his dissertation defence of 1891 Troeltsch boldly placed
expectations of the end of history ahead of every other article of faith Thesis
number thirteen read To the extent that it is worthwhile at all to systematize the
Christian faith die christlichen Glaubensvorstellungen eschatology must form the
midpoint of the relationships 36 The first phrase with its at all in the middle
Soweit es sich überhaupt empfiehlt.. breezily scoffed at the whole game of system-
making The second part of the sentence subordinated every other aspect of belief
to eschatology the teaching of final things Whereas eschatology virtually ceased
to matter in system Troeltsch organized his conception of theology
around it with the force of lines drawn toward single vanishing-point With its
demand for regrouping of systematic theology around this idea
thesis went beyond the cautious and limited tone of the book Weiss published the
following year
In other respects however Troeltsch clung to more conservative tradi
tionally Lutheran position than Weiss He was upset by the way he thought Weiss
had vulgarized Jesus teaching in letter of July 231895 to Bousset he defended
more spiritualized reading of the Gospels in which Jesus had only used the
127 ARCHIVES DE SCIENCES SOCIALES DES RELIGIONS
promise of his return for pedagogical purposes Jesus apocalyptic pronoun
cements were exaggerations intended to strengthen the believers inward per
sonal community with God 37 Three years later he admitted to Bousset his
uncertainty over how to deal with Jesus messianic claims and blamed the early
Christian for inventing them 38 The Kingdom of God would
always remain an inward realm in interpretation it would refer to
religious mood and an ethical attitude and would at most involve political and
social change as an extension of Protestant Innerlichkeit In this respect he
remained true to conservative social and political instincts On the other
hand from the very beginning of his career he doubted whether the Kingdom of
God as inner realm had been fulfilled in history The history of Christianity
would in his mature view be the story of moments of anticipated fulfillment
alternating with moments of disappointment over the failure to come of the
promised Kingdom Against historical continuity he would argue for
repeated changes in the perception of the idea against identification of
it with the present he would argue for widening breach The tension between
Kingdom of God and history theme taken from theological debates of the 1880s
and 1890s would provide the underlying structure of his sociology after the turn
of the century
II
On arriving in Heidelberg in 1894 Troeltsch was dismayed to find little of the
intellectual stimulation and personal companionship he was used to Göttingen
had brought lifelong friendships and intellectual tasks Bonn where he spent two
years on the theological faculty after finishing his dissertation provided
pleasant interlude and in no way prepared him for his difficulties in the town on
the Neckar 39 Most bizarre in its make-up and no pleasure was his reaction
to the faculty in letter to Bousset of 12 October 1894 40 Adalbert Merx he
wrote was vain and pedantic Ludwig Lemme pious fool Adolf Hausrath
brooding and irritable 41 The two other professors Carl Holsten and Heinrich
Bassermann were personally likeable but neither they nor the one Privatdozent
Georg Grützmacher had anything to teach him 42 Four years later however
tone had changed new arrival to the theological faculty Adolf
Deissman was fast becoming close friend and there were more than enough
interesting colleagues in other faculties to make Troeltsch feel at home 43 As
Troeltsch sensed the stagnant atmosphere he encountered on first coming was
lifting and giving way to brief brilliant episode in which Heidelberg would
make its lasting contribution to XXth-century social thought 44)
One of the newcomers mentioned by Troeltsch in 1898 was Max Weber who
had left Freiburg the year before Marianne Weber recalled Troeltsch as the
closest of their Heidelberg friends at this time cherished for his ebullience
humor and warmth 45 Troeltsch for his part remembered Weber for his easy
familiarity with social and economic issues that were relatively new to him and
were beginning to rival theology for his attention 46 The two men enjoyed
warm friendship until the First World War they traveled to America together in
1904 and in 1910 the Troeltsch couple moved into the upper story of the house
across from the university which the Webers had just bought and occupied 47
Troeltsch has sometimes been seen as the junior partner of the relationship his
128 ERNST UTOPIANISM
sociology of religion merely reflection of vision Both men however
emphasized the independence of their research and there is no reason to doubt
their testimony on this point 48 Well before he met Weber writings
of the 1890s studied the social conditions of religion the church as sociological
type and the medieval character ofLutheranism all important components of
his and theorizing Weber on the other hand turned attention
to Marxism and deepened his insights into the psychology of Calvinism More
important than the exact share of each man was the complementary broadening
of their perspectives beyond the bounds of their training in theology and the
social sciences to new understanding of the relationship between religion and
modem society
Troeltsch and Weber belonged to larger milieu crystallizing around the turn
of the century and their similarities are inseparable from their shared acquain
tances and readings For their methodology both Troeltsch and Weber drew on
Heinrich Rickert whom Weber knew from Freiburg and who came to Heidelberg
in 1916 49 major work The Limits of Concept Formation in the Natural
Sciences appeared in 1896 and 1902 just in time to inform and
sociology at decisive moment 50 It was one of the first books Weber read in
1902 after long period of illness and inactivity and directly shaped the metho
dology of The Protestant Ethic written over the next three years 51 Troeltsch wrote
long complimentary review recommending it to theologians who sought
modem philosophy compatible with their historical and cultural research 52
Born in 1863 Rickert was almost identical in age with Weber and Troeltsch and
shared their cultural outlook giving philosophical justification to their revolt
against Naturalism while retaining the sober spirit of an academic philosopher
great achievement for his contemporaries was critical one he disputed
the claim of natural science to be universal method and in this way created room
for an independent method of cultural interpretation His own conception of such
method although helpful was not decisive for them and we shall see how
Weber and Troeltsch went their own ways in establishing their methodology of
interpreting culture
Rickert argued that natural science grasped the world through process of
abstraction reducing the infinite complexity of the to manageable propor
tions by singling out common denominators between objects By means of it made mathematical equations expressing laws of universal validity
But the more it abstracted the less it captured the world as human beings actually
experienced it 53 Rickert spoke of the historical or in his earlier work cultural
sciences as the disciplines with method for grasping the experience of specific
time and place Their method consisted in relating the object to its context instead
of abstracting it showing how the same cause brought forth different effects in
different historical contexts and revealing the element of unpredictable change
over time 54 Two realms of knowledge each with its own task and
form of representation existed side by side in place of the monistic notion of
science that regarded society as continuation of nature 55)
Rickert did not simply leave the two realms of knowledge unreconciled
however but also offered suggestions about how to combine them One of the
most important points of his book was that natural science and historical science
analyzed one and the same world There was in his view no mysterious human
essence which resisted scientific generalization and could only be approached
through an intuitive humanistic method he dismissed this as form of defen-
129