Monday, 1 December 2008

Lonergan Reading Group

We will soon be starting a Lonergan reading group here in Divyadaan. Yesterday, during the NASA meeting, I floated the idea, which we have been mulling over for some time, and fixed a time. The meetings will be 1300-1400 hours, Mondays, in the Staff Room in the New Academic Block. Not the best time to read Insight, but there it is. A small beginning.

The group will, for the time being, be restricted to the Divyadaan staff. But in principle we should be able to open it up to all men and women of good will... I look forward to this: a dialogue between equals. Several staff members have been telling me: I've never had a chance to get into Lonergan, or to read Insight. Lonergan reading groups exist all over the world. I am excited that something is starting here in Nashik.


I came across this lovely little incident revealing the fragility of us all, including the great ones:

In May 1975, I attended a lecture by Bernard Lonergan at the Thomas More Institute for Adult Learning in Montreal. I listened as he spoke about Healing and Creating in History, understanding little and feeling confused and disappointed at the end of the evening as I watched him walk slowly out of the large hall. I stoo behind a pillar to get a better look. As he passed, our eyes met, he nodded, and I found myself reaching out to shake his hand and saying: Thank you, Father Lonergan. Some of my best teachers have been inspired by your work. His mouth dropped open in apparent surprise, and then the blue eyes sparkled as he said: Thank you, my dear, I needed to hear something like that tonight.
I am not sure why I feel compelled to share this story with every group of students that I now introduce to Lonergan's thought. Perhaps I want them to understand something of the fragility of the man who wrote... even with talent, knowledge makes a slow, if not a bloody entrance. To learn thoroughly... calls for relentless perseverance. To strike out a new line and become more than a weekend celebrity calls for years in which one's living is more or less constantly absorbed in the effort to understand. Perhaps they will agree with me that the questions that move us to make the effort to learn something new are usually stirred into life by another human being. Perhaps they too will marvel at the mysterious effect we have on one another as we struggle to find meaning as we create a life for ourselves. (Moira Carley, Creative Learning and Living: The Human Element, Montreal 2005, 10-11)

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The eye of faith

In Regis 1962 (Lecture 7, section 3.4: The Light of Faith) Lonergan says that, by lumen fidei, he does not mean something like Rouselot's les yeux de la foi, because Rousselot does not have (Lonergan's) sharp distinction between What is it? and Is it so? Faith, Lonergan goes on, does not involve understanding anything. We believe, not because we understand, but because of the authority of God.

But in Method in Theology, faith is no longer assent to truths, and Lonergan does go on to speak of faith as the eye of love.

Is there something to be deepened here? What kind of shift is that? Anything substantial?

Religions and the supernatural

In my paper on Francis Xavier and the missions (Boston 2006), I pulled in an older reflection / comparison between Christianity and Islam. There was much discussion on that. I said that Islam was a religion that could easily fit into what we used to call natural or philosophical theology, because there was nothing in it that 'exceeded the natural capacity of the human mind.' In that sense, Islam was not a 'supernatural' religion.

Scholars like Pat Bryne and also Fred Lawrence, I think, were not so sure about that. They said that all religions were supernatural.

I have still to get to the bottom of that. However, I think it is a question of defining 'supernatural' very clearly.

In Regis 1962, Lonergan seems to be distinguishing supernatural acts from supernatural objects. He says, for example, that de facto, because there is need of gratia sanans, and because of the way grace is granted in this order, there will normally be supernatural acts before one reaches the reflective act of understanding (which is supernatural when it is a question of divine faith). Still, he goes on, the objects prior to that reflective act of understanding need not be supernatural. (Lecture 6, Section 3.3: Human and Divine Faith).

So maybe in one sense (as far as acts are concerned) the religions are all supernatural, while in another sense (as far as objects are concerned) they are not all supernatural.

But I need to master here the distinction between acts and objects: how can an act be supernatural, when the object is not? And what does supernatural mean in the case of the act here?

In fact, I might have misunderstood Lonergan above. He says, for example: "it is at the point of specification of the act by a supernatural object that per se, that is, in every case, one is having a supernatural act." And again: "There would be nothing supernatural quoad se, quoad substantiam, in any of the acts and, consequently, not in the praeambula."

Heidegger and truth

I am reading Lonergan's Regis course on the Method of Theology (1962), and the section on immanentism in that course. He points out there that Husserl is certainly an immanentist, but perhaps also Heidegger. Heidegger, he says, may be heading towards realism, but he is still heading...

So it just struck me that what I have been saying about Heidegger in my Hermeneutics course may be quite wrong. I have been saying there that Heidegger has shown us the way beyond the subject-object split, that he has shown how we are always already beings-in-the-world. That, it seems to me now, is true as far as it goes, but the problem is that it does not go far enough. Heidegger rejects the presumption of enclosed subjectivity, and that is fine. But does he reach truth as something more than aletheia? Does he truly get beyond phenomenology, experience? Lonergan seems to be saying: as long as he does not acknowledge the significance of true judgment, he does not reach truth.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Conflating finitude and falleness

Unlike Heidegger, Caputo speaks well of Aquinas and seems to be far less negative about the history of Western thought. That is why it is suprising that, like Heidegger, he also seems to conflate finitude and fallenness in some way. Thus he can say:

Grace perfects nature. As a Christian with an Aristotelian streak, Aquinas thought that our nature was wounded by sin but not that it was vitiated and corrupted all the way down and that we should fall back on faith in desperation. That particular idea broke out with a fury in the Reformation and it went back to Augustine, not to Aquinas. Aquinas thought that our senses and our rational faculties were made by God and they were capable of working very well, as is anything God has made, but that as natural and human faculties they were limited and imperfect, and this imperfection is made up for by grace, thanks be to God. (Philosophy and Theology 17, emphasis mine)
Caputo does not seem to know about the distinction between gratia sanans and gratia elevans. He does know about grace, but he thinks grace is needed only to make up for the natural imperfect and limitation of human faculties.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Wittgenstein, Newman and Lonergan again

I have just been browsing through the Kienzler article. My impressions: Kienzler's interpretation of Newman might leave much to be desired... He calls Newman an empiricist, a rationalist, and so on. If Lonergan's reading of Newman is right, he is no such thing!

But this is a large question of interpretation - a fine example of one's basic philosophical commitments radically interfering with one's understanding of an author... and a great case for the practice of the Functional Specialty dialectic... put all interpretations in line, find out the radically conflicting points, and reduce them to their roots in basic philosophical positions.

Despite that, Kienzler has done a great job.

Some good work in store for a Lonergan/Wittgenstein enthusiast?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Lonergan on philosophy and theology

Lonergan uses three devices to help him describe the new relationship between philosophy and theology: the moving viewpoint, sublation, and the two vectors of human development.

The first device is predominant in Insight. It is exemplified within elementary arithmetic when new rules have to be found to handle negative numbers, fractions and surds: these rules are able to handle not only the old numbers but also the new. Again, it is exemplified in the shift from elementary arithmetic to algebra, and from Newton to Einstein: Einstein’s theories account for Newton’s laws as well as what those laws could not account for, so that the latter become a subset of the former (see Lonergan, CWL 17:410). The moving viewpoint is therefore not a logical device, for logic can only bring out the virtualities inherent in the initial set of premises, but the moving viewpoint is able to take into account emergent novelty, and it does so only by modifying the initial premises. Thus the shift from philosophy or the ‘purely humanist viewpoint’ to the viewpoint of faith and theology is a movement in the viewpoint: faith and theology go beyond philosophy without disturbing what is proper to philosophy.

The second device emerges in the post-Insight years: theology is an Aufhebung or sublation of philosophy. But Lonergan is quick to specify that Aufhebung here is to be taken in Rahner’s sense rather than Hegel’s. (This would have to be clarified with all the observations Lonergan makes about the difference between his own position and that of Hegel: Lonergan's position is intellectualist rather than conceptualist, non-necessitarian, etc.)

The third device emerges in the post-Method years. The first two devices indicate clearly that theology goes beyond while respecting the competence of philosophy (and here Lonergan is far clearer than Caputo). The third device, however, without denying such sublation, exemplifies the intricate and intimate relationship between philosophy and theology better than the first two – for in the concrete we are often at the vectorial intersection between faith and reason, between what is received and what is personally appropriated.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Newman and Wittgenstein (and Lonergan)

It does not seem to be very well known that, in the very first paragraph of his On Certainty, Wittgenstein mentions Newman: Dazu eine komische Bemerkung H. Newmans – On this a curious remark by H. Newman.

P.J. FitzPatrick has a small comment on this remark with the same title: “Dazu eine komische Bemerkung H. Newmans.” Wittgenstein and His Impact on Contemporary Thought: Proceedings of the Second International Wittgenstein Symposium, 29 August - 4 September 1977, Kirchberg / Wechsel, Austria, 2nd ed., Elizabeth Leinfellner and others, eds. (Holder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1989) 42-45.

The remark is curious. If, as FitzPatrick says, Wittgenstein’s position on certainty is similar to that of Newman, there arises the antecedent probability that it is also similar to that of Lonergan, who is supposed to have read the Grammar of Assent five or six times during his early philosophical studies, and who claimed to have transposed Newman from the commonsense to a more ‘systematic’ mode of writing and style of thought….

Curious indeed. Komisch, in fact. Matter for a little dissertation.

H. Danny Monsour of the Lonergan Research Institute, Toronto, passed on to me the following reference: Wolfgang Kienzler, "Wittgenstein and John Henry Newman on Certainty," Grazer Philosophische Studien 71 (2006) 117-38. The abstract reads:

Wittgenstein read and admired the work of John Henry Newman. Evidence suggests that from 1946 until 1951 Newman's Grammar of Assent was probably the single most important external stimulus for Wittgenstein's thought. In important respects Wittgenstein's reactions to G. E. Moore follow hints already given by Newman.
More and more komisch.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Lonergan, Caputo, Benedict XVI on faith and reason

Lonergan, Caputo, Benedict XVI: three takes on faith and reason, and there is surprising resonance...

Benedict XVI broadens the picture in several ways. He points out that the Septuagint was a great rapprochement between the best of Greek enlightenment and the faith of the Hebrews. He brings in Liberal Theology and Modernism.

Like Lonergan and Caputo, he mentions Scotus and his voluntarism for the sundering of the Augustinian-Thomist synthesis. He links it to Islam and to the Protestant Reformation. He traces the consequences in contemporary scientism.

Derrida, religion, the slippage

Derrida speaks of 'my religion about which nobody understands anything' 'any more than does my mother,' 'but she must have known that the constancy of God in my life is called by other names.' Caputo comments: God, the name of God, is not dismissed by Derrida, who would not have the authority to dimiss a word that belongs to such a deeply inscribed vocabulary that goes back to time out of mind... (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 62.)

When we say God is love, does that mean that God is one of the best names we have for love, or that love is one of the best names we have for God? Augustine might have opted for the latter. As for Derrida, "there is an irresoluble slipping back and forth between these names and no place to stand that would give us the leverage to arrest this play." (Ibid. 62-63.)

Here is where the atheist thing comes in. 'So that I quite rightly pass for an atheist.' Why not say outright, I am an atheist? Because that would be to arrest the play, and would amount to what Derrida called 'atheistic theology,' meaning dogmatic atheism. (Ibid. 63.)

And Caputo: there is always an atheist within me contesting belief, and there is always a believer within me contesting my professions of unbelief. That is why Derrida says that the name of God is the name of a secret that is withheld from him. Still, he 'rightly passes' for an atheist - by the standards of the local priest or rabbi. Rightly enough. But Derrida does not want that to harden into a dogma. Echoes of Kierkegaard: I do not pretend to be a Christian; I am only trying to become one. (Ibid. 63.) - Yes, true: our authenticity is bound to be ever a withdrawal from unauthenticity.

Derrida even lets slip that he prays, that his life has been a long history of prayers, that he has lived constantly in prayer, in tears. 'Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.' (Ibid. 63-64.)

He shares Augustine's restless heart, but, unlike Augustine, he cannot bring it to rest upon a singular object of love, like Augustine's God. (Ibid. 64.)

He would speak of a 'pure messianic,' the pure form of hope and expectation, in contrast to the concrete messianisms, both religious and secular. (Ibid. 65.)

So what is the difference between Augustine and Derrida? Not in their faith, nor in their prayer, says Caputo. But Augustine is able to say You, meaning the historically identifiable God in a concrete tradition of faith; and further, he is able to pray within a community of faith, with the words and prayers and stories of that community. Derrida does not have this, does not want to have this; it would be determining the undeterminable, naming the unnameable, arresting the play. (Ibid. 65-66.)

Caputo dares to say: if prayer is a kind of 'wounded word,' then Derrida's Circumfession is even more prayerful than Augustine's Confessions, because he lacks the community and the assurances of Augustine. (Ibid. 66-67.) In another key, Sartre had said: we atheists are the real heroes, for we do good with no assurance whatsoever and without hope of any reward... In fact, it is a poor faith that will act solely for the reward. The parable of the workers of the eleventh hour and the indignation that it provoked and still provokes... Or Tony De Mello's story of the indignant Lay Brother...

So Derrida would have a religion without religion, more heroic, mpre precarious, more pure... (Ibid. 67.) My question is: so is that ultimately a choice? Or is there not the unprogrammable initiative of an Other, the irruption of the Other?

True, as Caputo says: the difference between Augustine and Derrida is not the difference between faith and faithlessness, but between two kinds of faith. But I would add: a world of difference, anyway. True, maybe, as Augustine said, you would not be seeking me if I were not already drawing you to myself... But it is a difference between grace and human effort, human choice. One cannot make it into a theory that the play cannot, should not, be arrested. That cannot be an option.

At any rate, Caputo says that what the author of the letter to the Hebrews called 'the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen' (11:1) is not only the principle of our lives but also a principle of a postmodern faith, of a philosophical theology or of a theological philosophy, that is as old as the Scriptures. (Ibid. 67.)

Derrida and Augustine

From Caputo's Augustinian meditation on Derrida (both, strangely, born in Numidia/Algeria, both attached to their mothers and sons of their mothers' tears, both leaving their provincial places for the great city...):

'So that I quite rightly pass for an atheist.'
Why not simply say, 'I am an atheist?'
Because that would be to arrest the play.

But perhaps here one is committed to the play itself?

To arrest the play: or to let the play be arrested?
'I will pluck out the heart of stone, and put in a heart of flesh.'
The heart of stone does not want to be replaced by the heart of flesh...

And yet the play remains. The play between grace and freedom, between two freedoms. 'Authenticity is ever a withdrawal from unauthenticity.'

Distinction between faith and reason

Caputo's take on the distinction:
The distiction between philosophy and theology is between two kinds of faith, by which I mean two kinds of 'seeing as.' (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 57.)
The distinction is between a common or philosophical faith, which is the complex web of presuppositional structures built into every human enterprise,and another, specifically religious faith. This is a distinction between two kinds of interpretative slants.Faith is an elemental form of human life, a basic ingredient in our existence, as necessary for philosophy as for theology. (Ibid. 57-58.)

Perfectly acceptable. In the 1962 course on Method, Lonergan makes much the same kind of distinction between a common faith, and the light of faith; and he is not saying anything new, but merely recalling (probably) Thomist doctrine. Still, I think he would distinguish the two in a way Caputo has not (yet) done.

Postmodernism and theology

This is interesting, Caputo's own take on postmodernism and theology:
A lot of the postmodern philosophers are thorough-going secularists and their nineteenth-century hero and predecessor is not Kierkegaard but Nietzsche. Their interest in defusing the intimidating prestige of the natural sciences and in gaining a hearing for other forms of discourse is aimed at promoting their interest in art and literature, not religion. But the clear and unmistakable result of what even these very secular thinkers did, the unavoidable implication of what in my view they very successfully accomplished, was to gain a hearing for - God help us - religion and theology, a point that discomforts secularizing postmodernists every bit as much as it discomforts modernist critics of religion. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 52.)
He ends like this:
When philosophers really have an axe to grind about theology, that axe trumps the distinction between modern and postmodern. When it comes to theology, some philosophers take no prisoners. (Ibid.)

Postmodernism, scepticism, relativism

Caputo notes that Lyotard put the word postmodern on the map when in 1977 he defined it in The Postmodern Condition as 'incredulity to meta-narratives.'
The French phrase Lyotard used that got translated as 'meta-narratives' was grands recits, 'big stories,' that is, large overarching accounts, 'totalizing stories' (he was thinking of Hegel) that claimed things like 'history is nothing but the unfolding of the absolute spirit,' or 'nothing but the unfolding of the laws of dialectical materialism,' or nothing but the displaced desire for your mommy, or nothing but the resentment of the weak against the strong, or nothing but this, that, or the other thing. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 49)
So the debunking even of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, the masters of suspicion!
Caputo goes on:
Postmodernism thus is not relativism or scepticism, as its uncomprehending critics almost daily charge, but minutely close attention to detail, a sense for the complexity and multiplicity of things, for close readings, for detailed histories, for sensitivity to differences. The postmodernists think the devil is in the details, but they also have reason to think that none of this will antagonize God. For are not the modernists rather like the Shemites, furiously at work on the tower of Babel, on the 'system,' as Kierkegaard would say with biting irony, and are not the postmodernists following the lead of God, who in deconstructing the tower clearly favors a multiplicity of languages, frameworks, paradigms, perspective, angles? (Ibid. 50.)
Whatever the opinion of other postmoderns, Caputo for one seems to allow place for God and in that sense God's point of view. It would be interesting to compare this with the way Lonergan brings together classical and statistical intelligibility in God in chapter 20 of Insight - his transposition of Aquinas' synthesis of the biblical and the Aristotelian worldview.

The postmodern turn

Caputo explains that the postmodern turn is made up of three turns: the hermeneutical turn, the linguistic turn, and the revolutionary turn taken in a Kuhnian analysis of science. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 49.)

The first two turns here are probably one and the same. As Fred Lawrence notes:
Years ago Don Ihde spoke helpfully of two different orientations within phenomenology. The first type of phenomenology takes its bearings from sense perception, and is oriented towards some 'pure' perception. It is typified by Husserl ... and by the early Merleau-Ponty. The second takes its bearings from language, and is oriented toward language-in-use and dialogue. Heidegger, Gadamer, the later Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricoeur are key representatives of this type, which is actually hermeneutic philosophy. ("Martin Heidegger and the Hermeneutic Revolution," Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 19/1-2 [2008] 15.)
Being-in-the-world is being in a linguistic world. One is able to begin appropriating and creating (what Lonergan would call experiencing, understanding, judging, deciding) only within the context of the way down.


When Heidegger insists that we are being-in-the-world, it means that there is no presuppositionless starting point. When Descartes wrote his Meditations, he was already writing.
[O]ne of the presuppositions that escaped Descartes' notice when he set out to put everything in doubt, when he tried to clear the slate of his consciousness and start out from scratch, was that the entire work of doubt relied upon language. By using a word that he had borrowed from his Jesuit teachers, 'meditations,' he was trying to suggest a kind of inner soliloquy of the soul with itself, a solitary, world-less, naked and - here's the punchline - pre-linguistic contact of the soul with itself. But of course, everything he said, and I mean everything he said, every last word of it, was deeply embedded in the words he used that he had inherited from the Jesuits, and from the scholastic philosphers before them, and from his mother and father, and from the books he had read in school, and so on. [...] As Ludwig Wittgenstein [...] said, there is no such thing as a private language. Wherever Descartes starts his Meditations, it will be in the middle of a public language. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 46.)

The postmodern as postsecular

Caputo notes that there are both theological and anti-theological motives behind the emergence of the postmodern, the former having roots in Kierkegaard and the latter in Nietzsche. Whichever way, however, if modernity led to secularization, the postmodern is also the postsecular, and so reopens the space for religion and for theology. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 44.)

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Heidegger's antecedents

I think there is a book about Heidegger called The Rumour of the Hidden King. Heidegger appeared on the philosophical scene as if from nowhere. But he certainly has antecedents and forbears, and I think getting familiar with them is indispensable for understanding Heidegger: Husserl certainly; the dominant Neo-Kantians of the time (Cassirer included? certainly Natorp); Dilthey; Graf von Yorck; but also Karl Barth, and his appropriation of Kierkegaard; therefore Hegel; and certainly Scotus.

Kierkegaard and the postmodern

I like this:
Along with Nietzsche - who also made a jest of German metaphysics, those pale morticians, those conceptual embalmers, those chalk-dusty dabblers in the last cloudy evaporating streaks of reality, as he called them - Kierkegaard set the stage for the twentieth-century critique of 'totalization,' of totalizing reason, be it pure or historical, that eventually gave the word 'postmodern' its currency. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 43)
Here, the problem is important - far more important - than the answer. The question, stupid! The problem set by Hegel. Hegel's type of totalizing.

"Every philosopher fights against his own demons."

Understanding by application.

Data becomes an answer only when the question is discovered to which it is answer.

Hegel and Aquinas on history and totality

The first whiff of a possible divergence: Caputo faults Hegel for clinging on to a central idea of the Enlightenment, that reason forms a 'system,' a comprehensive whole, that it seeks an ultimate goal or end (telos) that governs all particular elements in the system.
That kind of thinking became part of the problem, not part of the solution, for it only served to perpetuate pretty much the same 'totalizing,' all-encompassing grip of 'reason,' now in the form of a historical reason that the Enlightenment had first proposed. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 39)
I am thinking: Caputo is right in what he is criticizing here. He has great respect for the achievement of Thomas Aquinas. But perhaps he does not really grasp the way Thomas brought together the Biblical and the Aristotelian worldviews, how he integrated the contingent and the particular and the event and so history into the universal, something that Lonergan has so brilliantly recovered in his Grace and Freedom, and that Pat Bryne has so well brought together in a long article in volume 6 of the Lonergan Workshop...

There, in that achievement of Aquinas, lies I think a 'permanently enduring achievement' that needs to be recovered, one that is of great significance in the movement out of modernity into post-modernity...

Hegel's Sittlichkeit vs Kant's abstract morality

Sittlichkeit: it would seem that it was Hegel who gave coin to this word, by placing it against the pure abstract 'morality' of Kant, what Caputo calls "the formal universality of doing yourself only what can be universalized into a rule for everyone." Caputo translates Sittlichkeit as 'ethical life,' talks about it in terms of concrete universality, and describes it as "the real rules and rich customs and concrete practices of cultural and social life in which rational morals are actually embodied.

So that just might be the context against which to understand Droysen's Sittlichkeit, translated by Grondin and others as the 'moral life'. Caputo's description brings out the meaning better, also by its contrast to the abstract and universal morality of Kant. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 39)

Note that Caputo upholds Hegel as the first great philosopher of history, the philosopher who put history on philosophy's map:
Hegel insisted against the Enlightenment that the ideas and ideals of 'pure reason' have a coefficient in time and history where they are embodied in the flesh and blood, the sweat and tears, of concrete peoples. So Hegel introduced a distinction beetween what he called Verstand, abstract understanding, and Vernunft, the more concrete embrace of a robustly historical reason. Abstract understanding is one-sided, purely formal and ahistorical, and how right he was. (Ibid. 38-39)

Don Bosco and Reason

Don Bosco was brought up in the age of the Italian Restoration which was attempting to do away with the excesses of the French Revolution and get back to simple, more orderly, hierarchical and religious times. He was, therefore, deeply conservative in upbringing. That is why it is all the more surprising that he chose to enshrine 'reason' as one of the three pillars of his Preventive System of Education. We Salesians here in India have perhaps still to unpack the full meaning of this choice, by setting it back into its context, and perhaps into the widening circle of contexts that places the Restoration within the context of the French Revolution as well as the ideals of the European Enlightenment.

Faith and reason

Caputo makes a passionate plea for faith and reason. He notes that the American Right keeps praying for a return to the religious vision of the American founders, but says they should be careful lest their prayers be answered, for the founders "were men of the Enlightenment who would have been appalled by the strident sectarian agenda of the Christian Right and by its way of riding roughshod over the differences of opinion that the founders set out to protect from oppression." He ends this way:
In the widest and most generous sense of (uncapitalized) 'enlightenment,' there are many lights, and the light of reason and the light of faith are among our leading lights. God bless both of them together. God bless the 'and' and keep it safe. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 36)

Scotus and the separation of philosophy from theology

Caputo continues to surprise me! See, for example, this note:

When historians look around to determine where to point the finger for this disaster [the sidelining of faith and theology and the rise of atheism, cf. Caputo 33] even Thomas Aquinas, who gave reason its own play, became suspect. But if the idea was to pinpoint the precise moment when philosophy, and hence reason, began to twist free from theology, John Duns Scotus (d. 1308), the great Franciscan master, is a still more interesting suspect. That is because Scotus was the first philosopher to hold that both God and creatures come 'under' the common idea of 'being,' which is at root the same sort of thinking that led Descartes to say that both God and creatures both come 'under' the principle of causality. That implies a certain shrinking down of God to fit under the canopy of reason and hence the subordination of theology to the jurisdiction of philosophy. Thomas Aquinas, however, was a deeply theological thinker from this point of view because he held that compared to the very being of God, the idea of being in general was just an abstraction. (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 76, n. 5)
Will Caputo go the whole hog and trace the influence of Scotus on Heidegger, and perhaps cast light on Heidegger's diatribes against 'onto-theology'?

Incarnate religion

With Kant's kind of natural or rational approach to religion, what went out of the window were things like sacraments, dogmas, liturgies, hymns, candles, miracles, sacred stories... in short, what Peter Lourdes likes to call the 4 C's: creeds, codes, cults, communities - what he also calls the 'external trappings of religion.'

Peter is not the only one to demote the 4 C's in favour of what is 'truly significant' - the inner core of religion, perhaps described as 'religious experience.'

Two comments. First, it is good to be aware that this kind of (now very common attitude within the Indian Church) has roots in the Enlightenment championing of a rational religion, a religion within the limits of reason alone. Second, this kind of a religion just forgets that we human beings are more than reason, and certainly more than 'pure reason' - that we are flesh and blood, embodied, incarnate as well as spirit... The 4 C's are very much part of the wholeness of being human. But not even Heidegger, that champion of the return to the concrete, saw his way to affirm such a religion - though, enigma that he was, he did manage to evoke powerfully and beautiful some of what he had spent his life excluding, in his very beautiful and poetic later reflections on poetry, on poets, and so on.

Natural or rational theology

If the separation of philosophy and theology had its (unwitting) origin in the piously Catholic Descartes' option to put all philosophy on the soundest possible footing, the canonization of natural or rational theology seems to have been done by Kant. Kant it was who excluded God from the reach of pure reason, and made place for him as a merely regulative idea or ideal... Kant it was who wrote of Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. And though Catholic seminaries have long been passing critical remarks about Kant's critical enterprise, they have also been unwittingly subscribing to his views by running courses under the name Natural Theology or Philosophical Theology or Philosophy of God...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Aquinas, faith and reason

Extraordinary chapter by Caputo on Aquinas' "delicate equilibrium" between "theology (reasoning down from faith) and philosophy (reasoning up from the senses)- but either way using reason." (Caputo, Philosophy and Theology 17.)

Amazing that he even talks of the way 'down' and the way 'up'... Familiar to anyone familiar with the late Lonergan.

He even mentions Intelligent Design, and points out how a person like Aquinas would have been most uncomfortable with such an argument, simply because he had a healthy understanding of how God works through secondary causes, and how he has no need to micromanage the world... (p. 18).

Pure reason again

Caputo account of the 'common account' of philosophy: "Doing philosophy is a matter of being a keen observer and having a bit of a head for logic... and anybody from San Francisco to Singapore is welcome to try it." (Philosophy and Theology, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006, 5.)

He goes on to point out: "Western philosphers tend to say very Western things about death and individuality that are of interest mainly to Western people and that differ markedly from non-Western traditions." (Ibid.)

Is that Rorty's point when he talks about the inevitable 'ethnocentrism' of whatever might today be called philosophy?

I am remind of - was it Croce or Gentile? - who said famously: We are not Catholics. But we can hardly call ourselves non-Catholic.

And see Caputo again:

Indeed, religious ideas sink down so far into the roots of a culture that they persist even after a person or a group or a culture disavows the religious faith that spawned these thoughts to begin with. That is what is behind much of the 'church and state' debates we have today. What we take to be public consensus and secular common sense, that each individual has inalienable rights, are ideas with biblical roots held in the secrecy of our hearts, e.g., that God knows and loves each one of us. That is an idea that holds on even if faith in God does not. (Caputo, 75 n. 2.)

Pure reason

It seems to be becoming clear that neither Plato nor Aristotle seemed to have worked on the basis of the abstraction called 'pure reason.'

'Pure reason' is probably one of the (bastard?) children of the European Enlightenment.

One is always part of something, some community, some tradition... And one is governed by the practical ends: how to live the good life, and what is the 'good life'...

So a MacIntyreish type of postmodernism?

The prejudice against prejudice...

By a curious turn, it would seem to me, we are back at the beginning... or at a beginning.

Gadamer is said to have rehabilitated tradition, with his talk about the Enlightenment 'prejudice against prejudice.'

With Derrida's type of inveighing against logocentrism (all logocentrism, but please don't take the all too universally), there is new reason to be suspicious of the tradition.

But then, yes, not that we should swallow tradition alive. It needs its share of deconstruction, it needs a hermeneutic of suspicion - but also a hermeneutic of recovery - if it is indeed the stuff of our lives, what constitutes us, what carries us along.

My question is: have Christian theologians in India assimilated enough this constitutive role of meaning, of tradition, of history? Or are they not sometimes in danger of ignoring this when they want to simply jump across 2000 years of history - all those inconvenient dogmas, all that hellenization, conceptualization, dreadful logocentrism - and get back to the gospels pure and simple?

Does not the ghost of Descartes continue to haunt us, despite the best efforts of Heideggereans and Derrideans? Are we not somehow all children of the European Enlightenment? (That too, in fact, is part of our historicity... And what a strange way things continue to affect us.)

Theology and method

Broadening of horizon can be done by dealing with new immediate objects, or by operating on new mediated objects, or else through the mediation of operations. On the third way, Lonergan comments:
Fr Eric O'Connor, who is quite a mathematician, remarked to me that he would never have gotten anywhere in mathematics if he had not stopped and asked himself just what he was doing. (Lonergan, The Method of Theology, Institute at Regis College, Toronto, 1962)
This might shed light on Lonergan' repeated insistence that theologians would benefit by knowing just what they were up to when doing theology...

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Philosophy as hermeneutical

Lonergan says that he wants philosophy to become existential and concrete, but keeps repeating that he conceives of philosophy as arising from answers to three basic questions: what am I doing when I am knowing, why is doing that knowing, and what do I know when I do that. These answers, he says, are cognitional theory, epistemology, and metaphysics.

This kind of statement is, of course, baffling to anyone who has not waded through - or should I say braved the crossing - of the 700 odd pages of Insight. Fred Lawrence's way of putting it might be more accessible: Lonergan's existential and concrete philosophy is really a question of a hermeneutics of cognitive, existential, and religious interiority.

Heidegger and Lonergan

I find it extremely interesting that both Heidegger and Lonergan seem to have been set on the path of thinking by a similar, if not the same, problem: the relationship between faith, scripture and doctrine.

Heidegger was searching for a new and adequate language for the christian faith. He did not find it, and thought intellectual honesty demanded that he depart from the faith. Ever the enigma, of course, he asked for a Catholic funeral service.

Lonergan put it this way: "All my work has been introducing history into Catholic theology." Crowe has an article on this topic, and just today I read Lonergan talking about "the as yet unfinished task" of effecting the synthesis of historical and theological aims "so that we have neither history without theology nor theology without history, but both." ("Theology and Man's Future," A Second Collection, 1974, 136.)

One of the factors in this divergence needing further exploration is the role of Scotus: Heidegger did his second thesis on Scotus.

Lonergan and foundationalism

In Lonergan's thinking it was when philosophy became abstract, based on 'pure reason in a state of pure nature', that the search for foundations in terms of unassailable premises began.

He, instead, wants philosophy to become concrete and existential. This he expresses in terms of a shift from logic to method, where method is understood not so much as a recipe or a set of rule to be followed by any idiot, but as a thematization and objectification of what is going on when we feel, know, decide, fall in love.

Philosophy and theology

I am working on my paper for Yercaud on the topic, a new relationship between philosophy and theology.

At the back of my mind is the suggestion or admission by Lonergan - or perhaps it was McShane - that, after his method in theology, the way of doing philosophy would itself have to undergo a change.

Lonergan has, of course, the 3 lectures that were subsequently published under the title, Philosophy of God, and Theology.

My reading so far has corrected one particular assumption of mine: where I thought all philosophy would have to be hermeneutical in the sense of 'mutual self-mediation through a tradition' or Research - Interpretation - History - Dialectic - Foundations, it would seem now that philosophy would remain cognitional theory - epistemolgy - metaphysics, with perhaps the addition of existential ethics. Of course, Fred Lawrence holds that this itself is a hermeneutical appropriation of cognitive interiority. Something to be verified or falsified from the data...

It is clear, at any rate, that Lonergan wants philosophy to move from functioning on the basis of pure reason in statu naturae purae, to becoming an existential, concrete affair - being-in-the-world type of thing, I guess.

How did (Catholic) philosophy end up becoming the abstract affair, antiseptically separated from theology and based on pure reason? What is that story?

Intriguing here is the fact that Heidegger removed some of the fetters from reason, but not all. So he went from Husserl to being-in-the-world in the direction of greater concreteness, but he conflated finitude with fallenness, as Lawrence says. He attributed to finitude what people like Augustine had attributed to fallenness. So Heidegger moves away from philosophy done on the basis of pure reason in statu naturae purae, but he does not really move into Dasein in its fallen state. There is an ambiguity there which, according to Lawrence, is properly dispelled only in Lonergan.

Monday, 22 September 2008

A new evaluation of Schleiermacher

These days we are reading Schleiermacher in the Hermeneutics course.

Since Grondin, of course, we have been aware that Gadamer seems to have misread Schleiermacher, and that there is a new, far more charitable interpretation of the man.

Andrew Bowie confirms this new interpretation and also indicates that it has by now become consensual. He cites Manfred Frank, Richard Palmer, Stephen Prickett, Christian Berner and of course Grondin himself as part of this consensus. Cf. Bowie, “Further Reading,” Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism and Other Writings xxiv-xxv.

Schleiermacher and Heidegger

Kisiel has shown that Heidegger arrived at his idea of ‘being in the world’, which is prior to any epistemological attempt to ground knowledge in an account of the relationship between subject and object, and at his desire to deconstruct previous metaphysics, in part via his reading of Schleiermacher's On Religion.

- Kisiel, The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time (Berkeley / Los Angeles / London, 1995), as indicated in A. Bowie, “Introduction,” Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism and other writings, ed. Andrew Bowie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) xvi.