Category Archives: Philosophy

Absolute and the Divine

The absolute paradox would be if the Son of God became man, came to the world, went around in such a manner that absolutely no one recognized him; if he became an individual human being in the strictest sense of the world, a person who had a trade, got married, etc. . . . In that case God would not have been God and Father of mankind, but the greatest ironist. . . . The divine paradox is that he becomes noticed, if in no other fashion, then by being crucified, by performing miracles, etc., which means that he is recognizable, after all, by his divine authority, even if faith is required in order to solve its paradox.[1]


[1] From Kierkegaard’s journals as quoted in Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography, p. 265, emphasis mine.  C.f. Kierkegaard, Point of View, p. 16.

When I first read this, I missed the difference between absolute and divine. Wow. If this is a real difference, and I think it is, this is an extremely illuminating passage from Kierkegaard’s journals. I only wish that there were better citations in Garff’s biography so that I could find this passage easier for the full context. Although journals are often fragmentary, so maybe there is not much more (?).  Those are Garff’s ellipses above though, not mine, so I dunno.

“Kierkegaard” and the collapsing of ironic distance?

In an article, Kierkegaard says that if the second edition of Practice in Christianity were being published for the first time, it would not

have been by a pseudonym, but by myself . . . Earlier, my idea had been that if the established order could be defended, this was the only way of doing so: by poetically (therefore, by a pseudonym) passing judgment upon it. . . . Now, on the other hand, I am completely convinced of two things: both that, from a Christian point of view, the established order is untenable and that every day it exists is, from the Christian point of view, a crime; and that one may not call upon grace in this manner.  Therefore, take the pseudonymity away; take away the thrice-repeated preface and the ‘Moral’ to the first section—then, from a Christian point of view, Practice in Christianity is an attack on the established order (As quoted in Joakim Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography, trans. Bruce H. Kirmmse [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005], p. 751, emphasis mine).

Nonetheless, prior to this, Kierkegaard appended an unpaginated “A First and Last Declaration” to the end of Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments–where he ‘outs’ himself as the author behind the pseudonyms–which contains the request, “If it should occur to anyone to want to quote a particular passage from the [pseudonymous] books, it is my wish, my prayer, that he will do me the kindness of citing the respective pseudonymous author’s name, not mine.”

However, as Garff points out, when Practice in Christianity was originally sent to press, it was veronymously written by Kierkegaard.  It was only at the last minute that Kierkegaard changed the authorship to Anti-Climacus, “because Kierkegaard’s own ‘existence’ did not live up to the radical Christian requirements in the work” (p. 630-2).  As Garff points out, this change was fueled more but personal concerns regarding Kierkegaard and not maieutic considerations concerning the reader.

Even if Kierkegaard wants us to now read Practice in Christianity with the pseudonymity ‘taken away’, ultimately, Anti-Climacus’ point remains concerning indirect communication in the section on the “Categories of Offense.”  If we take Anti-Climacus off the title page and replace it with the original “S. Kierkegaard,” the case holds that we are still receiving a communication from an indirect communicator—the God-man.  Kierkegaard had exhausted—in fact literally and ironically emptied—the tool of pseudonymity of its usefulness.  Garff also states that toward the end, “Kierkegaard continually adjusted his [pseudonymous] writings so that they corresponded as precisely as possible to his own position.”  As Kierkegaard stated in the conclusion to his dissertation, “Irony as the negative is the way; it is not the truth but the way.”

[This has been adapted from part of my in-progress MA thesis.]

Judging a Cover by Its Book

I am no stranger to book covers. Having designed the covers in two book series, this has sparked some fun discussions with my friend Kaz over the evolution of cover design, especially in theology and philosophy books.

Most book covers until recent times have been about careful text placement on usually a single-color background. To illustrate just a few examples, see, for instance, the bright red cover to the Krell-edited Basic Writings of Heidegger; the simple large text upon white of Charles Taylor’s Hegel and Modern Society; the original cover to Hauerwas’ The Peaceable Kingdom, which ups the ante a bit by applying a radial orange-yellow gradient; the highly recognizeable two-tone covers of Princeton’s Kierkegaard Writings series with SK’s portrait at the two-tone intersection. And from here, more multi-tone and pictures are introduced so that there really does not seem to be much of a limit in design any longer, outside of the usual printing costs.

Enter Continuum Press, namely, their Continuum Impacts series. These are reprints of well-known philosophical texts that have already established themselves in the history of philosophy, most of them being within the wider contintental tradition, with plenty of exceptions, theological and otherwise (Erasmus and Luther on Free Will, Barth, Schillebeeckx, Gandhi, et. al.). To see a slapdash view of all of the covers in this series, click here (after quickly extracting all the ISBN’s, I whipped up a short PHP script to display all the books in the series).

I’m curious, what do you think about the covers in this series? What say you?!

Update: Anthony has alerted me to a post he wrote three years ago on the same subject, with funny and appropriate commentary worth checking out.

The Grandeur of Reason: Religion, Tradition and Universalism

This is the upcoming Centre of Theology and Philosophy conference called The Grandeur of Reason: Religion, Tradition and Universalism. I’ve put in a lot of work into making this conference page so let me know what you think! (special nod to Mootools for creating such a nice javascript framework!)

Also, if you’re interested in attending, we are now accepting reservations for the conference as well as paper abstracts for panels. All the information you need is on the site.

Discussion on Jonah Goldberg’s Book

There is a good discussion going on between Dan and Dr. Craig Carter on Carter’s blog (although it seems to have stopped by now).  It concerns Jonah Goldberg’s book called Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.  Be sure to read the whole discussion.

Like Dan, I was a bit baffled that Carter, in light of the fact that he has written rather approvingly on John Howard Yoder, would find so much to affirm in Goldberg, especially considering that Goldberg has been an apologetic neo-conservative and a shill for the Republican party for some time now.  He is able to be ‘Augustinian’ enough to discover Goldberg’s own Augustinian distrust of humanity as well as being able to plunder the good amongst the ridiculous in Goldberg, but is seemingly unable to do the same when it comes to the Marxist critique, which Dan very helpfully points out.

Additionally, I also agree with Dan’s Augustinian emphasis on worship (which I think can also work in conjunction and exchange with desire) over the other ‘fundamental’  causes of history that they mention.  To lean too much toward family as Carter does neglects the words of Jesus that tell us that we may need to forsake parent-child relationships in service of the Kingdom as well as Paul’s words about celibacy.  In other words, Carter seems to implicitly reject monasticism (or at least doesn’t consider it) as a reality that has been with us as a strong witness throughout most of the Christian Church.

Interview with Marcus Pound

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My friends over at The Other Journal have just posted an interview with Marcus Pound, recent author of Theology, Psychoanalysis and Trauma in the Veritas series.  Knowing Marcus from a few conversations at various conferences (and enjoying his ability to rock out on some folk songs), his responses are as lively and enlightening as he is in person.

Books Read in Fall ’07

As my good friend Rusty is wont to do, here is my list of books reading during this last semester. Not all of these were read for class, but most were either assigned reading or read for papers. Some of these books were read over the Christmas break, making this more of Fall ’07 semester through yesterday reading list. This is, of course, in addition to a big handful of related journal articles to these topics. The only books not listed (because I did not have time to read them in full, but of which considerable sections were read) were a couple works by Graham Priest, notably In Contradiction: A Study of the Transconsistent, and An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic, not to mention Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which I am still working through.

Immanuel Kant: Wrong for America

(via la nouvelle théologie)

The Paradox of the Preface

gp2.jpgTaken from here:

Many authors introduce their books with a caution: it is inevitable that somewhere in this book there is an error. This is a common claim in prefaces. But do the authors that write these claims believe them or not?

If the author is asked of each specific claim in the book Is this an error? then he will say No. For each individual claim that the author makes, he believes that it is true.

If the author believes that each claim is true, though, then mustn’t he believe that every claim is true? A collection of claims, none of which is an error, contains no errors. The author believes that his book is a collection of such claims; he believes that it contains no errors.

Yet the author also believes that somewhere in the book he will have made a mistake. Aware of his fallibility, he believes that not every claim in the book is true, that somewhere in the book there is an error.

What is really odd about this is not that authors have inconsistent beliefs, it is that the author is being perfectly rational in believing both that his book does and does not contain errors.

In Graham Priest’s article “What Is So Bad About Contradictions?” Journal of Philosophy vol. 95 (August 1998), he cites this paradox, which is a perfectly acceptable example, as proof that “Rational belief is not, therefore, closed under logical consequence.” Otherwise, if it was, every author who has a claim like the above would think their book contained a contradiction, but they do not.

And yes, that man in a Karate-style pose pictured above is Graham Priest!

(pseudo-)Paul and the Liar’s Paradox

“Paradoxes have not been handed down through the generations solely by virtue of their intrinsic interest.  Often they hitch a ride on some weightier matter.  For instance, the liar paradox owes some of its currency to the fact that Paul unwittingly packed it into the Bible.” – Roy Sorensen, A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind (New York: OUP, 2003), p. 83.

After reading this statement, re-reading the opening line from Kripke’s “Outline of a Theory of Truth” seemed a lot less ridiculous than I first thought:

Ever since Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John XVIII, 38), the subsequent search for a correct answer has been inhibited by another problem, which, as is well known, also arises in a New Testament context.  If, as the author of the Epistle to Titus supposes (Titus I, 12), a Cretan prophet, “even a prophet of their own,” asserted that “the Cretans are always liars,” and if “this testimony is true” of all other Cretan utterances, then it seems that the Cretan prophet’s words are true if and only if they are false.  And any treatment of the concept of truth most Somehow circumvent this paradox. (Saul Kripke, “Outline of a Theory of Truth,” Journal of Philosophy, vol. 72 no. 19 [November 6, 1975], p. 690).

Liar’s paradox modification in Labyrinth

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Top Red Guard: “You can’t ask us. You can only ask one of us.”
Top Blue Guard: “It’s in the rules, and I should warn you that one of us always tells the truth, and one of us always lies. That’s a rule too.” Gesturing to the TRG, “He always lies!”
TRG: “I do not! I tell the truth!”
TBG: “Oh, what a lie!”
Sarah:
“Alright,” to the TRG, “answer yes or no: would he [TBG] tell me that this door leads to the castle?”
TRG: “Uhhh…yyyes?”
Sarah: “Then, the other door leads to the castle, and this door leads to certain death.”
Both Guards: “oooOOoooh.”
TRG: “How do you know? He could be telling the truth!”
Sarah: “But then he wouldn’t be. So if you told me that he said ‘yes’, I know the answer is ‘no.'”
TRG: “But I could be telling the truth!”
Sarah: “But then he would be lying. So if you told me that he said ‘yes,’ then I know the answer would still be ‘no.'”
TRG: “Wait a minute,” to the TBG, “is that right?”
TBG: “I don’t know –I’ve never understood it!”

Radical Orthodoxy Colloquium

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[Click for larger jpg | Click for Full PDF]

traditio presents:

RADICAL
ORTHODOXY
A C O L L O Q U I U M

Tuesday 13 November
2:30 pm
Ratio Studiorum:
How the Jesuits Invented Modern Higher Education
John F Montag SJ
St. Louis University

 

Wednesday 14 November
2:30 pm
If Jesus is Fully Human, He Must be God
Patrick Aaron Riches
Centre of Theology and Philosophy
University of Nottingham

 

Thursday 15 November
2:30 pm
Nihilism, Art, Theology and the Prodigal Son,
Or, There is no Sex outside Marriage

Conor Cunningham
Centre of Theology and Philosophy
University of Nottingham

 

Thursday 15 November
4:00pm
Panel Discussion on Radical Orthodoxy
with
John F Montag SJ
Patrick Aaron Riches
Conor Cunningham
Peter Candler
Tony Baker
Robert Miner (chair)

Treasure Room
Armstrong Browning Library

Sponsored by:
THE OFFICE OF THE VICE PROVOST FOR RESEARCH
THE HONORS COLLEGE
THE INSTITUTE FOR FAITH AND LEARNING
WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHERS
SCM PRESS

Worthwhile Responses to the ‘New Atheism’

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In the recent years, a new brand of atheism has emerged represented mainly by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Their critiques of Christianity and religion in general are really nothing new, but what is new is the way in which they are very loudly proclaiming their polemical message. Also, it seems, especially in the case of Dawkins and even more so in Hitchens, their critiques descend into really sloppy messes of just-plain-getting-things-wrong.

Below are a good handful of links I’ve gathered over the past year in response to the various books that have come out by these writers. Absent from this list is any response to Sam Harris’ work. With that, if anybody has any good responses they’ve found to Harris’ work, I will add it below; likewise, if I’ve missed some worthwhile engagements with Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens, I will also append them to the lists. Lastly, a special hat-tip is in order to Lee, from whom I culled most of these links! ;)

Responses to Dawkins’ The God Delusion:

Responses to Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything:

Responses to Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon:

Of charitable conversations:

Forthcoming essay and book responses to the new atheism and naturalist crew:

  • Naturalism (Interventions), co-authored by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliafero
  • “Trying My Very Best to Believe Darwin: The Supernaturalistic Fallacy: From Is to Nought” by Conor Cunningham in Belief and Metaphysics (Veritas)
  • Evolution: Darwin’s Pious Idea (Interventions), by Conor Cunningham. This is slated for a late 2008 release, I think.

Leithart on Augustine

The fires are still raging in San Diego. We are safe, but many are not. Meanwhile, life continues and so I am in a Panera Bread right now finishing up what will probably be 11-page take-home essay exam for my Metaphysics and Epistemology class. Tomorrow, I go back to work.

So, as I am continuing to read Augustine (I finished the Confessions last week and have continued in De Trinitate) and read secondary material, I found the following blog post by Peter Leithart helpful:

In Defense of Augustine

Such efforts continue to be important, especially considering that in the last month in the Radical Orthodoxy group on Facebook, somebody posed a question prefaced with the following statement: “From what I have read about radical orthodoxy, Milbank and others want the church to go back to the neo-platonism of St. Augustine.” There are so many assumptions in this question that need to be addressed, but the first of which is what, exactly, is the kind of ‘neo-platonism’ held by Augustine? I know Michael Hanby’s book tackles this (I haven’t read it, but will in the next couple weeks), but Leithart’s post is also a good place to start in beginning to answer this question.

Augustine and Onto-theology

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In many theological circles, people who have done some reading in Heidegger have often thrown about the term “onto-theology.” Briefly, this term has to do with philosophers/theologians who think being before God, thus making God a part of being. In other words, we make God an idol because we do not put God first in our “system,” or whatever it may be. From such a concern, Jean-Luc Marion wrote God Without Being, for instance, where he cites Heidegger in the intro on this score– it is the underlying motivation for this early theological work of Marion.

However, as Merold Westphal mentions in the introduction to his Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith, far too many people are eager to wield this phrase as another bullet in their holster of theological “take-down” phrases. While I do think this phrase has its adequate uses (e.g. see Conor Cunningham’s re-casting of this as the ‘meontotheological‘), some have cast this accusation not only on medievals such as St. Thomas Aquinas, but even Augustine, who both refered to God as ‘being’. (note: Marion initially made this claim against Aquinas, but later recanted.) However, I do not think it is the case that Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are “onto-theologians” by any means.

Sean McGrath, who has an essay in the soon-forthcoming Belief and Metaphysics on “Heidegger’s Approach to Aquinas,” has an excellent earlier article called “Young Heidegger’s Problematic Reading of Augustine” where he contests these claims. It begins, echoing Westphal:

1. It is a lamentable situation that Heidegger’s critique of Scholastic ontology is now better known in continental circles than Scholastic ontology itself. The Heideggerian critique of “onto-theology” has hardened into a dogma, an unreflectively repeated formula that has lost its moorings in its original sources. We all know that the Scholastics forgot being because they reduced ontology to God. By defining being in terms of that which never comes to be nor changes, that which excludes temporality, the Scholastics made it impossible to think the being that we are. Philosophical theology precludes phenomenological ontology.

2. So the formula goes. . . .

What I did want to draw attention to, though, is the following paragraph:

11. Notwithstanding the brilliance of his interpretation of Augustine, Heidegger’s critique of onto-theology never touches the heart of the medieval notion of God. It works best when dealing with proofs for the existence of God, God as efficient cause, first and highest being etc. Yet this was not the core of Scholastic theology, certainly not the core of Augustine’s theology. The essence of Augustine’s theology is the notion of simplicitas Dei. God admits no composition. Yet every thinkable being is a composite of act-potency, essence-existence, matter-form. This does not relegate God to a dimension of religious experience of no concern to metaphysics. God is the primum analogatum, affirmed to exist, but never conceptualized or grasped as a content. We can know that God is, we cannot know what God is. God is infinite meaning, the fullness of esse. Limitless esse offers theory no content. The doctrine of divine simplicity acts as a speculative speed bump in Scholasticism, a crucial reminder that at a decisive point every proof fails to articulate the being of God, and therefore, the meaning of being itself. Ipsum esse cannot be characterized as a being. In the unknowing that surrounds it like a blinding light, ipusm esse is incalculable, uncontrollable, and indefinable. In a mystical-Scholastic philosophical theology like Eckhart’s, the simplicity of God and the relational-sense of Augustine’s search for the vita beata come together: an absolutely simple being cannot be thematized and defined, but it can disclose itself relationally in the how of mystical discipleship, detachment (Abgeschiedenheit). “God” does not name a content, but a life tendency, a possibility for being-in-the-world in a different way. Augustine’s “axiologization” is his effort to work out the details of how the God-relation is to be enacted: we only “have” God in turning away from transitory pleasure and embracing the pain of a life without God. The move is entirely practical because the God relation has no theoretical sense.

McGrath also shows in the beginning of his article that Heidegger attempts to secularize some of Augustine’s conceptions, or at the very least, talk about terms such as ‘care’ “in general” such that they have no reference to God:

…In the 1921 lecture course, Augustinus und der Neuplatonismus, Heidegger discovers an essential disclosure of the being that we are in Augustine’s Confessions: the how of being a historical self is care, trouble, and self-problematization.1 In the Confessions the disclosure of the self is concomitant with the self’s discovery of its ontological directedness to God, the eternal and non-historical ground of being. Nothing in the text of Augustine suggests that this disclosure could happen in a non-theistic context.

Additionally, in the helpful appendix to his Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I., Hubert Dreyfus shows that Heidegger does the same move with some of Kierkegaard’s concept’s, namely that of angst. Dreyfus shows that Heidegger’s articulation of these terms falls flat exactly where he leaves out that the way in which these terms were always already (and not just “for the most part”!) tied in with Kierkegaard’s theological conception of sin and God. [For now, I forget Dreyfus’ specifics on this, unfortunately, but may make another post on this later.]

Telling God’s Story

I have blogged on the first chapter of my pastor John Wright‘s recent book called Telling God’s Story over on the Church and Postmodern Culture blog.  It interacts with the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer a bit, with an emphasis on preaching.

Follow-up conversation

David at Ipsum Esse has followed up on my post from a few days ago on creationism.  He asks some good questions–questions which I left a bit too open-ended–and there is a good discussion that follows.