T. Scott Ferguson

Junior Fellow
2019

I'm hugely excited to be participating in this year's Marty Seminar. My dissertation work is a historical analysis of the proofs for the existence of God; I tell the story of why the proofs took on such prominence in Descartes and afterwards and how they function within modern metaphysics, with the goal of understanding what effects their tradition continues to have on the ways we today conceive of religion. The analysis proceeds particularly by way of rereading Kant's approach to rational theology as it developed throughout his career, and with reference to contemporary phenomenological ; I claim that Kant's final account, that the proofs manifest as a kind of theoretical symptom of more fundamental "needs of reason," provides a model that answers these questions (a model usefully augmented by theories of "ontotheology" found in Heidegger and others). As a pair of "codas" to this main argument, I also suggest 1. that most of the classical theories of religious studies also fit this same model, and 2. that rereading Kant and modern metaphysics in a far more practical key presents serious new challenges as well as opportunities for the interpretation of traditional religious concepts (I use "revelation" as an example).

This project is already completed in very long rough draft form, and my ambition over the next year is to rework it with the help of others into something sharper and more accessible. From the beginning I intended this work to have relevance to our discussions of religion beyond philosophy, and I believe that much of what I have gained in the process will be of benefit to the other scholars in the Seminar. On the other hand, I hope their individual perspectives, histories, and questions will help in turn to make my efforts better. It was sprawling interdisciplinary Swift Hall dialogue fueled by too much Div School coffee that suggested this project to me in the first place, so it is fitting that the same process will now refine the final results.