Rahner, self, and God: The question of the Cartesian ego in the theology of Karl Rahner

Cheryl Ann Riggs, Marquette University


Is the Rahnerian agent, the subject of the Vorgriff auf esse, a vestigial Cartesian ego? This is a major contribution of Karl Rahner's theology offered by George Lindbeck, Nicholas Lash, and Fergus Kerr. These theologians all draw in some way on the work of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. This dissertation attempts to respond to Lindbeck, Lash, and Kerr by bringing Wittgenstein's questions and issues to Rahner's texts in a more sustained examination than any offered by his critics. I conclude that the Rahnerian subject is not Cartesian and that Rahner's concept of self-transcendence can be understood as an historically sensitive process. Chapter One introduces the problem of the Cartesian ego in British philosophy, which provides the context for understanding Wittgenstein's work, and shows how the human subject in Rahner's most systematic expositions of his anthropology (Spirit in the World, Hearer of the Word, and Foundations of Christian Faith) is "always already" physically embodied and socially embedded. Chapter Two presents the criticisms of Lindbeck, Lash, and Kerr and finds them wanting for lack of any sustained dialogue with Rahner's texts. Chapter Three presents three test cases to show that Rahner's understanding of transcendental is always intertwined with the historical; the argument shifts the point of entry to Rahner's thought to his theology of the symbol and away from transcendental philosophy. Chapter Four introduces Wittgenstein's later writings as a methodological resource to discern the specific questions to bring to Rahner's texts. Chapter Five begins that encounter and argues that Rahner's treatment of Absolute Mystery provides his project with a nonfoundational epistemology and that his thought is shaped by his christology and his sacramental theology. Chapter Six extends the discussion to a cluster of issues associated with the problem of the Cartesian issue. The Conclusion brings these issues together in an historically sensitive understanding of self-transcendence and a Vorgriff that determines reciprocating grammars for God and self in socially mediated images that convey ultimate meaning and value.

Recommended Citation

Riggs, Cheryl Ann, "Rahner, self, and God: The question of the Cartesian ego in the theology of Karl Rahner" (1998). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9842437.