Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Heidegger and 'being right'

This morning I was reading Heidegger's thoughts on essence for my lesson on Being and Essence. It was only a summary, from the Historisches Worterbuch der Philosophie article on Wesen, but it was interesting all the same, the type of things the man can do with words and with language. Terribly evocative, his use of language. No wonder he is so attractive.

I was saying at the Lonergan Reading Group this afternoon: Gadamer corrects Heidegger in significant ways, but without a doubt Heidegger is greater than Gadamer. One does not have to get it all right to be a great philosopher, and one does not always have to be the greatest philosopher in order to be right! Many great philosophers have been wrong in very significant ways, and yet they have contributed significantly to the unfolding of thought and the self-discovery of the human being.

And I guess thoughts on right and wrong might not even make sense to a Heideggerean. But.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Blondel, Balthasar...

The other day Abp. Felix Machado said that Balthasar was a powerful name these days; almost all the big positions in the Vatican were being held by Balthasar people, and to study Balthasar, to be an expert in Balthasar, is to have a shortcut to the Vatican.

John Misquitta, SJ, said that Balthasar seems to be used as a stick to beat Rahner with; there has been, over the last few years, a concerted effort to discredit Rahner.

In fact, Balthasar is a big name even at the Gregorian these days; Rahner is hardly spoken of.

Of course, I think the names of Balthasar and Ratzinger were never even uttered in our theology days here in India... For some reason, these two names are not beloved on the Indian subcontinent, unless things are changing now.

But there was / is also a Blondel influence on the Gregorian. In my time there (1990-94) there used to be Peter Henrici, world-renowned Blondel scholar, as well as Xavier Tilliette, who is also in his own right a Blondel scholar, besides some others too. Henrici is a nephew of Balthasar's from his mother's side, and I think I remember him saying that Balthasar was influenced by Blondel.

So Blondel, Marechal, Balthasar, and so on: would be interesting to study those connections.

Bob Doran is of course trying to bring Lonergan and Balthasar people together; he himself and some of his students seem to be writing stuff on Balthasar. Fred Lawrence does not seem to be that keen on this particular connection. I think he feels Balthasar remains somehow too much locked up in the metaphorical, the figurative, the descriptive.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Being, on, sat

Working on the text for the IGNOU philosophy course (Being and Essence), I became aware that I have been concentrating so much on essence that I have quite forgotten being. Of course, the whole thing starts with being, with Parmenides who used various forms of einai (to be) to speak of stable, unchanging being. Still, it would be interesting to follow up not merely the Platonic crystallization of what Parmenides began in terms of ousia, but also the vagaries of the Greek word einai and on. Heidegger, of course, famously concentrated on this, and on Aristotle's observation that being is used in a variety of ways...

Then of course I have not looked at all at Indian thought. That is a different history altogether. I suppose I would have to look at the Sanskrit sat and its derivatives. Sat is, like ousia, a derivative and a substantive of as, which is the infinitive to be. So there is a prima facie similarity in the original development. Also, just as Parmenides and Plato concentrated on the unchanging aspect of being, so also in India there is this fascination with the unchanging, the permanent, the stable....

What about essence? That will require some work.

What resources are available for the Indian side? I know there is the Marathi Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Any other reference work like that?

And how much time do I have for all this? Till 27 July. 28 we leave for the Rectors' retreat.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Being and Essence

I am busy this month composing a note on Being and Essence for the new IGNOU course on Philosophy, at the behest of George Panthanmackel, MSFS. I think the CBCI / CRI have managed to persuade IGNOU to offer a philosophy course that would be largely designed by Catholic philosophers, and would be meant to serve Catholic philosophy students - while being open, naturally, to all. This would be a way for our seminarians to have their philosophical studies validated as a civilly recognized degree.

Panthanmackel has been released to supervise the work for 6 months. I believe he is based in Delhi, from where he coordinates especially the writing of notes for the course.

Being and Essence has never been a topic I have been interested in. With a largely Thomist / Lonergan background, one tends to be more interested in esse and existence, rather than essence. I took up the challenge, however, with the intention of seeing how the discourse about being and essence could be led to the recognition of the capital role of esse and existence.

The study has proved to be interesting, however. I discovered that I - and perhaps others - tend to read Plato and especially Aristotle through the lens of Thomas, assuming that Thomas' distinctions are to be found in Aristotle. I am discovering that ousia / being, essence and substance are not at all as clear as they seem to be. It seems that with every book Aristotle has a slightly different meaning of ousia, and substance. And in the middle of it all is his to ti en einai, which Thomas rendered quite literally as quod quid erat esse, and which Lonergan explains as the form or the formal cause, not the essence. What Thomas calls essence is Aristotle's to ti estin, says Lonergan.

But I have to check all this.

I must confess that, thanks really to Panthanmackel, I opened Aristotle's original works for the first time in my life. I am really ashamed about that, but there is always a first time... So.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Francisco Vaz de Guimaraes' Khrista Purana

This evening Diego Nunes produced a printed copy of the Khrista Purana. I got a shock: I thought Nelson's translation was finally in print. It turned out instead to be Simon Borges' version of the Khrista Purana, unfortunately without proper acknowledgement of authorship. But there are reasons for this, as will be indicated below.

So what is this Borges' version of the KP? It seems it is the KP in the language of Vasai-Bassein and Uttan, which Borges refers to as 'East Indian boli.' The author, I am learning, is not Thomas Stephens but rather a Fr Francisco Vaz de Guimaraes. However, Vaz wrote it in Portuguese; an unknown person translated it into East Indian boli. In that sense, then, the 'authorship' is really a complex matter.

But whatever: one more item for the Indian Christian Bibliography. Simon Borges' Khrista Purana. Or Francisco Vaz de Gimraes' Khrista Purana according to Simon Borges. An important historical record of the devolution of a great work into the purposes for which it was meant: catechesis of the 'Rudes' .
From Borges' Introduction:
According to available information, the first Khrista Purana was written by Fr Francisco Vaz de Guimaraes in Portuguese. This seems to have been first published in 1551 in Portugal, according to the historian Fr. Antonio Lerte. This was subsequently translated into East Indian dialect and published in the Roman script in Lisbon in 1659. The translator's name however is not mentioned. The book was published, once again in the Roman script, in Bombay in 1876. It seems to have been published repeatedly, despite the fact that Thomas Stephens' Khrista Purana had been published in 1614 and had attained great popularity and renown. Thus Vaz' Khrista Purana was published in the Devanagari script by Thomas Carvalho of Manickpur in 1922, and reprinted in 1927; in the Roman script by Luis Francis Gonsalves of Thana; and in an abridged form in 1960 by John D'Mello of Manickpur.
I need to note, however, that Nelson Falcao has problems with some of the information given above....

Heidegger and Lonergan

Heidegger and Lonergan: that is a work that remains to be done. But there are tantalizing openings: the theorem of knowing as identity, and the 'overcoming' of the subject-object split; understanding as pati, and the decentering of the subject; and so on. I guess some of these themes were mentioned in my article on Fred Lawrence. It is certainly Fred who has opened up these pathways for me.

Nelson Falcao was just telling me that the second chapter of his dissertation on Thomas Stephens' Khrista Purana was largely dependent on Heidegger's understanding of understanding. Francis de Sa is, of course, a Heidegger and Gadamer and Pannikar enthusiast. Johnson Puthenpurackal used to say that Panikkar is not original, which I gather is a way of saying that he has drawn much of his original insights from Heidegger and Gadamer: remember logos and mythos, the Spirit bearing witness as the 'third' speaking in us and inspite of us, and so on. But a rather fascinating 'inculturation', I must say. I find both Heidegger and Pannikkar fascinating in a way that Gadamer and Lonergan are simply not. Lonergan gives precious little foothold to the imagination, which is his bane. He cuts the umbilical cord tying man to the maternal imagination with a vengeance that most of his readers have still to forgive.

And of course I cannot help remembering De Smet's story of how Panikkar had sent him the manuscript of the first edition of The Unknown Christ. De Smet had taken time out and sent back 30 pages of Indological corrections, none of which were incorporated into the published text.... I think I have a copy of those corrections. It would be a fascinating study. That says nothing about the originality and the apport of an author such as Pannikkar, of course. One does not have to be an interpres fidelis in order to make a contribution or a mark. One puts things into one's pot, and one speaks in oratione recta; without footnotes, as it were.

Or else, one allows Being to speak through. So I said to Nelson this evening: perhaps the Khrista Purana emerged like that through the instrumentality of Thomas Stephens. Perhaps it just flowed out, from his deep familiarity with his own tradition, with the Hindu puranic tradition, and certainly from a deep communion with God....