The problem of philosophical theology

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Charles E. Winquist


Philosophical theology, Ontotheology, Levinas, Emmanuel, Emmanuel Levinas

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Philosophy | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Redefining ontotheology is the main objective of this dissertation. This objective is accomplished by examining twentieth century philosophical and theological thought, specifically with regard to the problem of philosophical theology. What this problem reveals is that both contemporary philosophy and contemporary theology have been driven by a desire to overcome ontotheology, when, in fact, as the contemporary history of the problem of philosophical theology consistently demonstrates, ontotheology is the constitutive origin and legacy of Western thought. From this respect, ontotheology is not a problem to be overcome, but rather the inevitable, if not necessary, condition of thought.

This understanding poses yet another problem, however, which is simultaneously the central irony and chief responsibility of this work as a whole--namely, if the strategy of overcoming is a problem where ontotheology is concerned, then how is it possible to overcome overcoming without falling into the same preestablished patterns of thought which themselves were fundamentally problematic? The answer, as suggested by the work of the Emmanuel Levinas and as explored in the final chapter of this dissertation, is the development of a strategy of thought that is "otherwise than overcoming," one that might recognize in the ontotheological condition the necessary site of the ethical relation. This recognition is an affirmation of responsibility. But not only a responsibility for those actions and thoughts of which one is conscious, but even more, an infinite responsibility that exceeds intentionality altogether, a realization that one is responsible for the other, and by extension, that one path of thought, whether philosophical or theological in nature, is complicit in, and stands in a necessary relationship to, the other. Thus, the recognition of the ontotheological condition of thought points beyond the problem of philosophical theology to the very conditions of its possibility. As a result, philosophical theology might redirect its attention away from questions of its own nature and possibility and towards its more urgent task of a meaningful engagement with, and critical analysis of, the world.


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