Ebnerian Personalism And Its Influence Upon Brunner’s Theology -- By: Paul K. Jewett

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 14:2 (May 1952)
Article: Ebnerian Personalism And Its Influence Upon Brunner’s Theology
Author: Paul K. Jewett

Ebnerian Personalism And Its Influence Upon Brunner’s Theology

Paul K. Jewett

“The guarantee, however, that the world of our experience is real and not merely dreamed, a projection of the self, is contained in the fact that the I is dependent upon a relationship to the Thou.”

—Ferdinand Ebner


THE reorientation of the ontological problem which was given its initial impetus by Kierkegaard, the “father of existentialism”, received its complement in the Personalism of Ebner and Buber. From its earliest beginnings, Western thought has revolved about the question, What is the true essence of reality? While there is truth in the asseveration that the Renaissance was the “discovery of man” and while the cogito ergo sum of Descartes views the thinking self as the solid point of knowledge and reality, this is not, for the Neo-personalists, a satisfactory solution to the problem of where true reality is to be found. They point out that, in the post-Cartesian development, individual, accidental selves were lost in the supra-individual, absolute Self, a development which culminated in the Pantheism of Hegel, in which, as Kierkegaard complained, the human ich confused itself with the divine Ich.1 To remedy this situation, Kierkegaard, in the interest of the individual, attacked Idealism in the name of an ontology that would preserve concrete human existence; hence the name Existenz.

The Neo-personalists, following the lead of Kierkegaard, sought to overcome this development toward abstract monism in that they

regarded the I as placed a priori in a concrete context, the life of fellowship, the I-thou relationship. The I as an individual is an abstraction; only when the I stands in a concrete relationship to a thou, does it possess concrete content. This train of thought, which has strongly influenced the development of the dialectical theology, lies at the bottom of Grisebach’s Presence-Philosophy, as well as Heim’s “dimensional” explanation of reality.2

It is Cullberg’s contention that the “thou-problem” constantly made itself felt on the rim of the idealistic tradition as a disturbing factor, aggravated by the fact that it was per se unsolvable so long as one remained with the idealistic point of departure. He cites in this connection Plato’s use of the dialogue, Fichte’s acknowledgement of the necessity of recognizing our relation to other rational beings outside ourselves in the “legal relationship”, Dilthey’s argument that the recognitio...

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