Version: v1, Published online: 2015
Retrieved March 31, 2023, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/transcendence/v-1
The concept of transcendence has its primary home in philosophical theology. Drawing on symbols of height that are widespread in prereflective religious life, it suggests that God or the gods are above and beyond the worlds of nature and history and thus above and beyond ourselves as individuals and communities. In philosophical reflection the spatial metaphors are translated into the concept of difference or alterity. Thus, as Rudolf Otto puts it, the holy is that which is ‘wholly other’.
We can distinguish three modes of divine transcendence. Cosmological transcendence, by which theism is distinguished from pantheism, signifies that, while there cannot be the world without God, there can be God without the world. The world does not emanate from God out of necessity; creation is a free act of purposive choice. Epistemic transcendence signifies that God is mysterious and incomprehensible, in two ways. First, God’s being exceeds our ability to bring it without remainder into our conceptual and linguistic frames of reference. Second, God’s knowledge of the worlds of nature and history and thus of ourselves as individuals and communities is qualitatively superior to our own knowledge and self-knowledge. Ethical-religious transcendence signifies that God’s transcendence is that of a person who sees us and speaks to us in a voice not our own. The prereflective background here is the biblical experience of covenant in which the speech acts by which God defines our identity and agenda are promises and commands. The philosophical concept correlative to this experience is that of inverted intentionality. Human consciousness is not just its own directed attention to whatever ‘objects’ it can perceive, think, remember, imagine, desire and so forth. In addition, we are aware of being addressed by a voice not our own and called to a vocation we did not initiate. We can welcome this calling as a divine gift or defend against it as a threat to freedom and autonomy.
Westphal, Merold. Transcendence, 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K3585-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/transcendence/v-1.
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