This essay places some conceptual pressure on the model of a “learning process” in Jürgen Habermas’s Auch eine Geschichte der Philosophie, and it asks whether this model introduces a subtle asymmetry into the relationship between religion and secular philosophy. Such an asymmetry would seem to obtain insofar as religious tradition is granted a privileged or unique status as the source of normative insights that are then available for rational scrutiny and translation into secular life. The essay also draws a comparison between Lessing and Habermas: Lessing, like Habermas, saw revelation as a source of instruction for humanity, and affirmed that religion could thereby play a role in the Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts. But Lessing was careful to say that no valuable normative contents are found in religion that could not also be derived by secular reason alone. Habermas’s genealogy of post-metaphysical thinking does not seem to confirm Lessing’s idea; instead, it appears to confirm an asymmetry in the relation between religion and secular philosophy.
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