Chris Insole

Project leader:

Prof. Chris Insole (Durham University and Australian Catholic University)
with Dr Ben DeSpain (Australian Catholic University)


Negative Natural Theology: Freedom and the Limits of Reason


Walter Benjamin wrote that, ‘much late modern philosophy is an eleventh-hour flight from the honesty of Kant’s dualism between nature and freedom’. In his reflections on ‘nature and freedom’ Kant is concerned with the confrontation that arises when we regard ourselves from the perspective of (mechanistic) nature, and from the perspective of (transcendental) freedom. Kant’s formulation of the problem is the originating source for a whole tradition of post-Kantian philosophy, centrally concerned with the irreconcilable confrontation and tension between the internal and external perspective upon our lives. The same problem can be variously formulated: as the tension between the subjective and objective perspective, or the agential and observer perspective.

The central question of this project will be the relationship between the concept of the divine, and this irresolvable tension between the subjective and objective perspectives, which tension flashes with particular intensity when thinking about freedom. Specifically, the project will test the following hypothesis: that a distinctively religious moment can arise when one attempts to reach towards a hope for a tessellation, or a harmony, or an overcoming and transformation of the sense of alienation of the internal and external perspective upon our lives.

There is an urgent intellectual context for this project. In academic circles where there is a preparedness to engage with this confrontation of the subjective and objective perspectives, there is a similarly ardent attempt to avoid altogether the category of religion and theology. This comes at a cost: philosophy misses out on a vital conversation partner, and theology fails to spread its wings, and to address an audience who could be gripped by its traditions of enquiry. In the face of this intellectual crisis, the insights of continental philosophical theology are a vital resource.