Franz Rosenzweig, the religious existentialist, was born in Cassel, Germany. From 1905 to 1912 he studied natural sciences, modern history (under Friedrich Meinecke), and philosophy (under Heinrich Rickert) at the universities of Göttingen, Munich, Freiburg, and Berlin.
At Berlin he earned a doctor of philosophy degree in 1912 with a dissertation on G. W. F. Hegel's political doctrines; later, he expanded this study. In the fall of 1913, after a spiritual crisis, he turned to religious, especially Judaic, philosophy.
In 1918–1919 he wrote Der Stern der Erlösung (The Star of Redemption), a three-part religio-philosophical system; in 1920 he founded the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus (Independent House of Judaic Studies) in Frankfurt.
|Der Stern der Erlösung|
Two years later he was appointed lecturer for Jewish religious philosophy and ethics at the University of Frankfurt, but the onset of progressive paralysis prevented him from accepting the appointment. Despite his affliction, he continued his scholarly work until his death in Frankfurt.
Hegel und der Staat (Hegel and the state), completed in 1914, for which Rosenzweig used both published and unpublished materials, analyzes the development of Hegel's concept of the state and its place in the philosopher's system. For Rosenzweig, the reasons motivating the successive changes in Hegel's political theories are to be found in the philosopher's intellectual progression.
In "Das älteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus" (The earliest systematic program of German idealism; written in 1914), Rosenzweig established that young Friedrich von Schelling was the author of a treatise preserved in Hegel's handwriting. This treatise is Schelling's sole attempt at formulating a unified system, a feat most perfectly realized by Hegel.
Rosenzweig's own philosophy may be defined as religious existentialism. The Star of Redemption begins with a critique of the Western philosophic tradition and, especially, of Hegel. Rosenzweig rejected as contrary to experience the attempt to reduce to one basic essence the three elements of reality: God, the world, and man.
In German idealism it is human consciousness and thought from which both God and world are deduced. In addition, consciousness is understood as "consciousness in general," which reduces to insignificance the individual being and his separate consciousness.
But thought, Rosenzweig argued, is only one of the components of existence; it does not precede existence. The significance of the individual man stems from his being alive; he is more than a part of nature or the world.
|individual man stems|
In this affirmation of the concrete person in his particularity Rosenzweig resumed the anti-Hegelian revolt of Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche, with its concern for the individual. The experience (Erfahrung) of the thinker, intent upon the value and significance of things, must guide him in confronting existence. Experience offers knowledge of God, the world, and man.
Under the influence of the later Schelling, and, to a certain degree, of Hermann Cohen, Rosenzweig links his theory of experience with a theory of conceptual construction; this linkage helps him to discover the interrelationship and interaction of the elements of God, world, and man.
By way of an intricate logical construct he arrives at the following statement of relationships in terminology borrowed from theology: creation denotes the action of God upon the world; revelation, the encounter of God and man; and redemption, the relation of man to the world.
In pagan imagery God, the world, and man are separated and independent of each other. The hero of Greek tragedy is isolated from men and alien to the gods; the plastic cosmos is unrelated to man and the gods, who, in turn, have no concern for the world or man.
Only biblical religion teaches the interaction of the elements of reality; in this concept, added to what he calls experience, lie the roots of Rosenzweig's existentialism. According to this view, creation is the process through which God, hitherto hidden in the mythical beyond, appears to give the world reality.
But creation implies transitoriness, finiteness, death; the process of creation is renewed and perfected in revelation, through which God, in his love, turns to man; the experience of this love evokes in man the consciousness of being a self and accords man reality.
Now his original isolation and dumbness are overcome; his response to God's love is his own love. Man translates his love for God into love for his "neighbor," and by so doing participates in leading the world toward redemption. Through the deeds of love the temporality of life and the finality of death are overcome.
Ultimate redemption is anticipated, and a sense of eternity in time experienced, primarily in the rhythm of the days that constitute the sacred calendar in the religions based on revelation, Judaism and Christianity. Both these religions represent, under the aspect of faith, authentic, though different, manifestations of reality, and both are concerned with the existential situation of individual man.
The ideal representative of the "new thinking," as Rosenzweig called his view, is a philosopher-theologian who, while maintaining scholarly objectivity, accepts the subjective, unique self as the new point of departure. The new theology should be existentially orientated, and theological problems should be translated into human terms.
In contradistinction to abstract, timeless, purely logical, solitary thinking, the new existential thinking is "grammatical": Human language, the word, the name, dialogue, are keys to the understanding of reality; the speaking thinker thinks for someone and speaks to someone.
In such language-bound thinking, utmost importance is accorded to time; past, present, and future are actively involved in the process of thought, a notion found also in Martin Heidegger's philosophy. In the Judaic field, Rosenzweig advocated a revaluation of the thought of classical Judaism. With Martin Buber he undertook to translate the Old Testament, faithfully transposing into German the style of the original.