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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K115-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved January 21, 2018, from

Article Summary

‘Ontotheology’ has two main meanings, one arising from its usage by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and a second from its usage by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Though Kant’s influence on Heidegger suggests at least a loose connection between these two senses of ‘ontotheology’, they are largely independent of one another.

For Kant, ‘ontotheology’ describes a kind of theology that aims to know something about the existence of God without recourse to scriptural or natural revelation through mere concepts of reason alone, such as the concept of the ‘ens realissimum’ (the most real being) or the ‘ens originarium’ (the original, most primordial being). Ontological arguments for the existence of God such as those offered by Anselm and Descartes are paradigm cases of ontotheology in the Kantian sense.

For Heidegger, ‘ontotheology’ is a critical term used to describe a putatively problematic approach to metaphysical theorizing that he claims is characteristic of Western philosophy in general. A metaphysics is an ‘ontotheology’ insofar as its account of ultimate reality combines—typically in a confused or conflated manner—two general forms of metaphysical explanation that, taken together, aim to make the entirety of reality intelligible to human understanding. These are an ontology that accounts for that which all beings have in common (universal or fundamental being) and a theology that accounts for that which causes and renders intelligible the system of beings as a whole (a highest or ultimate being or a first principle). Traditionally interpreted, Platonic metaphysics is a paradigm case of ontotheology in the Heideggerian sense insofar as it explains the existence of particular beings by recourse to universal forms (ontology) and explains the origin and intelligibility of the whole of beings by recourse to the Good as that from which everything else emanates (theology).

It is this Heideggerian sense of ‘ontotheology’—and, in particular, Heidegger’s influential critique of the approach to metaphysics it describes—that animates contemporary discussions of ontotheology, especially in ‘continental’ history of philosophy and philosophy of religion. The main problem with ontotheology, according to Heidegger and his heirs, is that it is driven by a desire to ‘master’ reality that masks a deeper anxiety over the challenge of existing as finite beings vulnerable to a world that resists and confounds our life projects. Critics maintain that this existential mood of stability-seeking angst disposes humanity to experience the world primarily as something to be subordinated to human intellect and will. They contend that this mood so pervades ontotheology that, within its purview, reality is reduced to what can be calculated, measured, and manipulated: beings are understood predominately as consumable resources, God is depersonalized into a first cause, and opportunities to experience awe and wonder at the indeterminate, inexplicable, mysterious, or holy aspects of reality are diminished or occluded.

Citing this article:
Halteman, Matthew C.. Ontotheology, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K115-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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