Thursday, November 23, 2006

What is the object of deconstruction? Derrida and Universality

A while back I posted some quotes on philsophy and universality. These had been promted by reading James Smith's book on Derrida. Here are some belated thoughts on Derrida and universality.
There is an interesting, and perhaps not unequivocal relationship between Derrida’s earlier and later work with respect to the philosophical problematics of individuality/particularity and universality. It is of cause fashionable to talk of later and earlier periods in a philosopher’s thought, obvious examples being Heidegger and Wittgenstein, and Derrida has not escaped such division in his corpus. There often follows, after the early/late thesis has established itself, a defence of the unity within the development of the given philosophers thought. James Smith’s Jacque Derrida Live Theory presents such a defence using the theme of “the Other” as the interpretive key to the continuity at the heart of Derrida’s work. Nevertheless I will use Smiths exposition as a starting point for exploring the Derrida’s relation to the issue of universality in Philosophy which suggests, at the very least, an intriguing shift.

Derrida’s early critiques of Husserl and logocentrism focuses on the way that philosophy has historically excluded materiality in favour of the spiritual/rational. In particular when dealing with language philosophy has conceived it in terms of writing (as material) in opposition to speech which is thought of as more spiritual. Derrida challenges this by showing how what is excluded or denigrated in philosophical discourse - materiality in the form here of language and history - is actually a necessary condition for what philosophy elevated, purity given here as geometrical thought. So in his introduction to Husserl’s Origin of Geometry Derrida writes:

“Whether geometry can be spoken about is not, the extrinsic and accidental possibility of a fall into the body of speech or of a slip into a historical movement … The paradox is that, without the apparent fall back into language and thereby into history, a fall which would alienate the ideal purity of sense, sense would remain an empirical formation imprisoned as fact in a psychological subjectivity – in the inventors head. Historical incarnation sets free the transcendental, instead of binding it (IHOG, 77)” (quoted in Smith p.24)

In other words pure universality (absolute ideal objectivity) is deconstructed on the basis of a materiality which reasserts itself within a philosophical system that seeks to exclude it, and does so “as the very condition of possibility of what philosophy want” viz. pure objectivity (Smith p.25).

Later Smith discusses Derrida’s turn to issues of ethics, justice, hospitality and religion. Here Derrida turns deconstruction in the opposite direction criticising current particular configurations (i.e. “the fall back … into history”) of justice, hospitality, and so on, in the name of a pure, unconditional, undeconstructible justice, hospitality etc. This gives Derrida’s ethics a Kantian feel to it in its formalism. So Derrida talks of ‘the formality of a structural messianism’ that is without messianism, “an idea of justice – which we distinguish from law or right or even human rights – and an idea of democracy – which we distinguish from its current concept and from its determined predicates today” (Spectres of Marx 59 quoted in Smith p.86). “This critique” that Derrida’s project of deconstruction is now engaged in “belongs to the movement of an experience open to the absolute future of what is coming, that is to say, a necessarily indeterminate, abstract, desert-like experience that is confided, exposed, given up to its waiting for the other and for the event” (SM, 90 quoted pp.87-88).

This suggests an important shift, paradoxical perhaps. Where at first Derrida seems to target ideas of purity, of absolutes beyond any materiality, because their condition of possibility involves determinate materiality, later it is this determinate materiality that becomes the focus of deconstruction because there is always the future to come. If it could be said that early Derrida held that “purity is always deconstructible,” Derrida’s later claim is that “content … is always deconstructible” (SM, 90 quoted p.87)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Vollenhoven's Problem-Historical Method

I have been meaning to post something on Vollenhoven's "Consequent Problem-Historical Method" for a long time. Since this post by Gideon Strauss to be exact. One of the things that has delayed this is I wanted to take seriously the criticism that Vollenhoven's method is a mere "pigeon-holing" exercise. I could just quote Seerveld, one of Vollenhoven's students who has creatively employed his method. He writes:
"The objection to Vollenhoven's "pigeon-holing" complex philosophies misunderstands his problem-historical methodology, which is deeply concessive toward all manner of thinkers from a radically christian standpoint: every slanted philosophy, from whatever "bad" neighbourhood it operates, is wrestling with God's world and cannot help but uncover matters God's children may also need to notice and realign within our own servant (not "master"!) narrative being written" ("Christian Aesthetic Bread for the World" Philosophia Reformata 2001 no.2)
I think Seerveld makes a good point, but it will only make sense when we see more analysis like his own "Pedagogical Strength" article and less like Vollenhoven's elaborate charts, meaningless to all but a few experts. I doubt the following will do much to amend this situation, but I post it anyway.
Those who would see Vollenhoven’s method as ripe for re-evaluation face the difficulty of several overlapping complexities. First and most obvious is the 80 odd conceptions and 60 odd time-currents. Secondly is that both types and time-currents, not being a priori, undergo modification and sometimes, thought not always, connected with this is that Vollenhoven's interpretation of individual thinkers also undergoes revision.

Just a cursory glance at the Schematische Kaarten (2000) raises a number of such issues: different versions of the same chart, names crossed out, names with question marks next to them, names in brackets etc. This means that the various Vollenhoven material now available do not all match up (especially the Runner translation). Bril has helpfully annotated the Kort Overzich (1956) and other material in the Vollenhoven translations to highlight these changes.

To go back a little to the types/currents complexity. 80times60=4800, the Schematische Kaarten has about 1,600 thinkers charted. So if we are to get anywhere in understanding the CPHM we have to start to simplify. There seems to be two options. The first is to follow Wolters "grid" example which gives equal weight to the three main problems (Myth/non-myth, monism/dualism, Universal/individual) and so gives us 18 conceptions. However Vollenhoven seems to order things differently, giving us a second option. A philosophers conception concerning the "vertical structure of the kingdoms" is approached according to four problems, to quote:

[1] In the first place one must consider whether someone has approached the intended structure via myth, or whether one has considered structure (while rejecting myth as a source of philosophy) in a cosmogonic-cosmological or purely cosmological way. [2] Fur­thermore there is the question of dualism and monism. In other words, one can think that everything is based on the eternal correlation of the transcendent and the non-transcendent, such that any unity must be explained in connection to these two categories with the result that unity is derivative. Alternatively, one can postulate that everything is at bottom a unity and consequently that any difference must be ascribed to divergence. [3] In the third place there is the problem of the vertical relationship, in dualism between the transcendent and the non-transcendent, and in monism between the higher and lower species of the original unity. [4] Finally we must determine the site within which a dualist posits the boundary between the transcendent and the non-transcendent, and in which the monist posits the single origin of everything. ("conservatism and progressiveness in Philosophy" 1959)

What we can notice is that the third "dimension" of the box is missing and is replaced by further refinement of problems arising out of the monism-dualism problematic. However this is not quite true as the issue of partial-universalism comes back, with a vengeance, in purely cosmological dualism in its attempts to solve the third problem of relating the higher and the lower. Working down these four problems then gives us, if I have worked it out correctly, 27 main types.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bob Goudzwaard and Climate Change

WYSOCS are putting on a day conference featuring Bob Goudzwaard and Sir John Houghton called Climate Change and Global Economy Bob Goudzwaard has developed a critique of goal-orientated action. In an interview with Bruce Wearne he says:
“As a Christian I worry about extreme goal-orientation dominating our lives, as if our self-set goals produce ‘meaning’ for our lives. Meaning does not originate from self-chosen goals, but from walking on God-given ways, like the way of love, peace, justice and stewardship.”
“… all too easily we assume that self-generated growth is the way ahead. But if we see ourselves as ‘the people of the way’ we see themselves as sent on our way - in our Western liberal culture we are told that we need to send ourselves, to keep on extending ourselves further and further, pushing the limits of our comfort zones. Such growth is idolatrous. ‘People of the Way’, on the other hand, implies a relativity of all self-set targets, and that includes the targets of growth and development. It is God who has sent us on His way”
Bob Goudzwaard spoke on Uprooting Poverty this time last year at WYSOCS where he outlined a proposal based on The Way and The Spirit. Andrew Basden has written a short review here where he summarizes thus:
“Goals have become our nemesis. We would do better to substitute for our goal-oriented solutions (so much change by 2015 A.D.) a step-by-step orientation to "The Way". Each step would be a re-alignment to the norms of justice and care in obedience to God. We shall find horizons open out as we do so. Today we are powerless to change this evil system - but the Holy Spirit, who comes to convict and heal, does occasionally destroy whole systems that enslave (e.g. Apartheid). Let us pray, and cast ourselves on God's salvation.”
I am sorry not to be able to attend what is sure to be an excellent event. If you are able to get there do.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Danielson: a Family Movie

'Danielson: a Family Movie' is being shown at Grace Church Hackney on Sunday 26th November, 8pm (Doors 7.30pm). Free Entry (with a whip round for the director). According to the flyer it is
a documentary about unbridled creativity vs. accessibility, Christian faith vs. popular culture, underground music vs. survival, and family vs. individuality. The film follows Daniel Smith, an eccentric musician and visual artist, as he leads his four siblings and best friend to indie-rock stardom, mentoring the then unknown Sufjan Stevens along the way. The Danielson Family performs in white nurse costumes to symbolize the healing power of the Good News, a recurring subject matter. Though tepidly received by the Christian music world, they are widely embraced by the mainstream independent music community. Highly recommended viewing for anyone interested/involved in music or art business, even if you’ve never heard of Danielson.
There is a review of the film here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Blessings and Humour

I guess we reformationals are not well known for our vivacious good humour, but there was plenty of laughs in Leeds and this photo gives a sense of how much we genuinely enjoyed our time together. Two of my favourite moments came from very dead pan, and self-effacing response by Steve Bishop to a question about his presentation, and Gareth Jones' magical realist account of his spiritual journey from mountain top epiphany in Wales to Dooyeweerdian philosophy in Manchester.
As to the title, I've used this as an occassional alternative to the more traditional "God Bless" at the end of an e mail. I was told Bob Goudzwaard often uses it and I think its wonderful. We reformationals need to be all about blessings and humour.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reformational Colloquium in Leeds

I had a great time in Leeds over the weekend meeting lots of reformationals. There was much to inspire and be positive about and hopefully this marks an important moment for the reformational movement in the UK. It was particularly good to meet some people for the first time.
Steve Bishop has given a good sketch of the event. He spoke about his wonderful website All of Life Redeemed and will be pleased to know that it comes top of the list on the new English language section of the Association for Reformational Philosophy's website.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Technology and Abstraction: Follow Up

I asked some questions a while back about the relationship between technology and abstraction in response to a series of posts by Kenn Hermann. Now Kenn has offered a partial reply with more promised.

Let me add a little more to the questions I originally asked. Abstraction is usually associated with theoretical thought, it is an important feature of such thought that nevertheless can play a problematic role in theory formation. Gerrit Glas gives a concise account of this in his discussion of contemporary philosophical accounts of neuroscience and the implications drawn for the problem of the mind-brain relation.* Before engaging in the theories of Churchland and Kandel he highlights the issue of abstraction using the term to refer to “the cognitive process of scrutinizing a particular aspect (or aspects) of the object under investigation”. What so often happens is that this epistemological or methodological form of abstraction is equivocated with ontological abstraction leading to substantializing and even absolutizing the results of scientific analysis. This slide towards the various –ism’s appears to be an almost inevitable consequence of scientific theorizing. Again Glas writes of “the elusiveness of the distinction between reduction (or abstraction) and reductionism and … the inevitability of absolutizing and reifying tendencies in science.” Glas sees the contribution of christian scholarship as consisting, primarily, of analysis of central concepts in relation to these absolutizing and reifying tendencies.

The negative consequences of theoretical abstraction are Glas’ main concern but if we return to his original definition of abstraction as “the cognitive process of scrutinizing a particular aspect (or aspects) of the object under investigation” there is undoubtedly much that is positive resulting from such activity. Indeed the development of scientific theorizing has greatly extended our understanding of the world and our power over it. So theoretical abstraction contains both promise and danger. Would it not be fair to say something similar of technological abstraction?

Going back to my earlier questions about technology one could answer that all (modern?) technology is abstractive, and that such abstraction always has harmful consequences. This seems to strong, yet Kenn has not excluded this possibility. I wonder how he might respond to the criticisms that his critique of technology of just a result of romanticising rural life? If abstraction is not always malignant then how do we judge in an individual case whether the technology is adequately responsive to appropriate norms, or what are the appropriate norms to which (abstractive) technology must respond? There is also the question of the influence of modern technology on the systems and structures of modern society. Even if the overall effect of technology has been negative, are there not possibilities, perhaps already partially actualized, of transforming these structures in a more responsible way, or is a return to an agrarian society the only way forward? (How would one respond then to the criticism that a "way forward" solely based on a "return" is dangerously reactionary?)

Does not the development of the internet (which makes this discussion possible), of kitchen appliances, of technologies that harness solar energy and such like have some positive consequences? I look forward to further elaborations of a reformational ontology of technology from Kenn Hermann.

Gideon Strauss has also just blogged on a lecture by Egbert Schuurman given at Redeemer University College.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Van Riessen and the limits of criticism

I found this an interesting observation:

Perhaps it is not in order but at this point I feel constrained to acknowledge that in criticizing certain opinions of another, one always has the disagreeable feeling of not doing full justice to the whole of the other’s viewpoint. There is, after all, no alternative. The reader will have to keep the fact as well as
the inevitability of such one-sidedness in mind, especially in the choice of illustrations. (The Society of the Future p.103)

I like the modesty apparent in this statement, but I also think that it says something true about criticism. Each thinker has his or her insights and in criticising them one aims to show how such insights are limited, malformed, partly in error or contain certain dangers. To do this one generally has to interpret their views in a way that goes beyond what they in fact say, in other words the danger, or error, or whatever, has to be highlighted creating a tension between what was originally stated and the problem that the criticism attempts to deal with. Another way of putting this is to say that all criticism involves over-interpretation which, more often that not, involves (an element of) misinterpretation.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

First Fruits: An urban harvest festival

My church is putting on an urban harvest festival tomorrow. It should be really intersting with artists (including Henningham Family Press), doctors, musicians and others sharing their first fruits. It is a little late to invite people, but do drop in if you are in the area.

My contribution will be on philosophy. Here is a little piece I wrote for the event (thanks to Gregory and Paul for reading through it and suggesting improvements)

What does it mean to practice philosophy as a christian?

It might reasonably be asked why one would offer up philosophical work as first fruits to God. Is it really appropriate? I want to try and answer that question as briefly and simply as I can. My starting point is that of every Christian: “Jesus is Lord”. I find no reason to restrict this confession, leaving certain areas of my life outside Christ’s lordship. That certainly does not mean that my life is perfectly submitted to Christ! But it does mean that I have thought about what the significance of his lordship over my life requires from me in the area of philosophy.

One of the fullest expressions of Christ’s lordship is found in Colossians 1:15-20. Here Paul states that “all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (vv.16-17). This is important for philosophy, as since its inception it has sought to explain the origin of things and how things hold together. So, first off, a christian approach to thinking philosophically will reject all and any attempt to find the origin and coherence of our world within itself. Such attempts are forms of idolatry (see Romans 1:21-25). Perhaps the various forms of materialism, often touted as the results of scientific thinking, are amongst the most conspicuous attempts to do this today.

On the more positive side philosophical thinking along christian lines will emphasise the richness of God’s world, beyond any human attempt to comprehend it (see Job 38-41, Psalms 19 & 104).

To put things in more technical, though hopefully still understandable, language, philosophy involves and reflects on theoretical thinking. Now the development of theories often, if not always, depends on analysis, or in other words taking things apart in thought. We separate out an aspect of reality and focus on it, ignoring other realities with which it is connected; in a word we employ abstraction. Through an act of thought we leave the fullness of reality and investigate an isolated piece of data. If there is a faith in theoretical thought that leads one to believe it gives us the true picture of reality, against the ambiguities (and richness) of everyday experience, then the result of theoretical thinking will be equated with true reality. Given the nature of abstraction to isolate and focus on an aspect of the world, the equation of theoretical data with true reality tempts one to posit that aspect of reality as the independent and fundamental basis of all reality. All isms that one encounters in the different fields of scholarship, rationalism, behaviourism, psychologism, organicism, historicism, physicalism etc., give evidence of the seductiveness of this temptation.

One of the tasks of philosophy, conceived christianly, is to combat the tendency to reduce reality to one or two basic realities on which all else depends or through which all else can be explained. It also has the task of exploring the richness of God’s world as uncovered by the many fields of scholarship by giving a theoretical overview that remains open to further surprises. As with all cultural tasks this should be done in obedience to the two great commandments to love God and serve ones neighbour.

That was the summer that was

So now I'm back to the joys of teaching and those summer days in Italy are fading from memory. On Thursday I arrived in school at 8am and left at 9pm! That's not typical, but the demands of teaching and having a young family are what make this blog a brief and occasional intermezzo.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Philosophy and Universality

I recently read an article on abstraction by Peter Osborne called “The Reproach of Abstraction” (thanks to Tony for lending me this issue of Radical Philosophy). At the start of the essay he situates it within the task of rescuing “the idea of philosophy as a discourse of universal mediation from the corrosive critiques of its claims to an absolute universality, familiar in recent years in various pragmatist, historicist, contextualist and deconstructivist forms.” He then provides this quote from Paul Ricoeur:

Philosophical discourse achieves universality only by passing through the contingence of cultures … its rigour is dependent upon equivocal languages … its coherence must traverse the war between hermeneutics. (Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation p.47)

I really should make more of an effort to read some more of Ricoeur’s work.

Anyway my interest in the issue of universality was tweaked again on reading James Smith’s Jacque Derrida Live Theory. Rather than say anything more about this at the moment I’ll add two more suggestive quotes on this theme.

First off Alain Badiou in the first essay of his book Infinite Thought outlines “the present state of philosophy” in terms of three principles tendencies or orientations: a hermeneutic orientation, an analytical orientation and a postmodern orientation. Each of which in their own way (though all because of a linguistic turn) have been obstacles to the desire of philosophy for truth and universality. In other words he too bemoans the corrosive critiques that Osborne alludes to, and this is why:

“If the category of truth is ignored, if we never confront anything but the polyvalence of meaning, then philosophy will never assume the challenge that is put out to it by a world subordinated to the merchandising of money and information.” (p.36)

And finally J.P.A. Mekkes at the end of his article “Methodology and Practice” talks of an integral norm rather than universality, and distinguishes between positing a norm and finding the way towards that norm:

An integral norm of life obtains for the direction of scientific thought, a norm reaching beyond every dialectic of practical and theoretical reason no matter how modernized, or camouflaged, and that norm subjects our ‘Bildung’ to it. It is here that reformational philosophy, persisting in dia­logue along immanent philosophical lines, wants to help find the way towards that norm, and wants to consider the consequences too, with every­one else. Reformational philosophy cannot, in typically western philoso­phical fashion, accepting the traditional philosophical and special-scientific pretensions to originality, posit a norm because this philosophy along with everyone and everything remains subject to the norm that has been set, for as long as it is allowed us to speak of LIFE.” (Philosophia Reformata 1973 Vol. 38 p.96)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

More links

I should also add Jonathan M. Wellum's inaugural speech as senior fellow of the Work Research Foundation on "short-termism". The WRF has an online journal called Comment which covers a lot of ground from a neocalvinist perspective. Its most recent article is on Pete Steen a feisty, itinerant pioneer of the neocalvinist movement in North America.

Reformational Politics: some links

My own interest in reformational thought has generally been philosophical, however I am now trying to educate myself a little more on the political thinking that is a strong part of this tradition. So as an encouragement to myself I will list here some links of stuff I have either read or intend to read soon. Further recommendations welcome.

David Koyzis on Christian Democracy and the welfare state in response to an article by Lew Daly which appears to have now become a book .

Paul Marshall on the Problem with Prophets (HT to Kenn Hermann )

Gregory Baus on Sphere Sovereignty

Chris’ recent blog entries on 9/11, terrorism etc.

Bruce Wearne’s reviews of two books by James Skillen and one by David Koyzis.

James Skillen’s Lecture “American Statecraft: A new art for the 21st Century

The Centre for Public Justice’s Guidelines

And finally, not an example of reformational political thought but something to compare and perhaps engage with, the statement of aims and values of the British Conservative Party called Built to Last.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Trilogy: Weeping Meadow

Trilogy: Weeping Meadow is the latest film by Greek film director Theo Angelopoulos. It begins in 1919, as Greek refugees fleeing the Bolshevik revolution return to their homeland and settle at the estuary of a vast river in the north of the country. The man who leads them brings with him his wife, his young son Alexis, and a girl, Eleni, found lying next to her dead mother. The next scene moves us forward in time by when a small town has developed next to the river. Eleni has been discovered to be pregnant with twin boys and sent off secretly to a relative. Next, again moving forward in time, Eleni is married to Alexis' father but runs off with Alexis (the father of her children) just as the marriage service ends. They are helped by some musicians who Alexis joins as an accordionist. The rest of the film follows their travels, the separations and deaths that befall them due to the difficult social circumstances of Greece before, during and after the second world war.

Theo Angelopoulos is said to be a difficult director, and while I am usually very patient with films I found Weeping Meadow to be difficult for several reasons. The most striking is the way the film keeps skipping several years without explanation and leaves you to catch up on what is happening with the merest of hints, and sometimes barely even that. I don't mind so much the slow pace as the effect this fragmentation of the narrative has on understanding and empathising with the characters.

Secondly it is beautifully shot with some quite incredible images, but the way the camera moves, always incredibly slowly either zooming in or out or moving from left to right, seems to constantly hold the main characters at a distance. They either become overwhelmed by the choreographed setting or come into focus only at the end of the shot. This contrasts somewhat with the films of Ozu which are made up of totally static impeccably framed shots which situate the characters within their living spaces, or the mobile camera of Kieslowski's Three Colours Red mysteriously linking the destinies of the, as yet, unrelated protagonists. My disappointment with the film was that despite its aching beauty, the tragedy that unfolds left me cold.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Technology and Abstraction

Kenn Hermann has an excellent blog called Radix Perspectives earlier in the year he wrote an interesting series on technology called “It’s just a tool”. One of his main claims was that
technologies are abstractions since they ‘abstract’ or lift out certain dimensions from the fullness of human experience and amplify them to the exclusion of virtually all other dimensions of life.
The problem with this abstractive characteristic of technology is that it makes it very difficult to fit such technology back into the rich normative fabric of human experience. Instead each technological devise, having been given a quasi-independent existence, begins to draw us into different rhythms and habits without us having thought though the implications it has for the many obligations integral to our total life.

This is an enlightening series; however I do have some questions: Is technology necessarily abstractive? Are other human artefacts abstractive in similar ways, or is this unique to technology? Is this abstractive quality a wholly negative feature of technology, or can it have its own benefits?

Some of Hermann’s language is reminiscent of Marxism using terms such as: Abstract, Alienated, Total. So perhaps reading some Marx will give me the opportunity to think about these questions.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Book Meme

Macht @ Prosthesis has done the book meme. Gadamers Truth and Method was a book I planned to read for a long time and finally read a year or so ago. Perhaps I should get round to reading Feyerabend's Against Method.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What is Reformational?

It might be helpful to clarify a little what is meant by ‘reformational’. I linked in my first post to the wikipedia entry on reformational philosophy and then latter mentioned neocalvinism providing a corresponding link, however these pages need some work done on them and “reformational” includes much more than just a philosophical movement.

A while ago there was some discussion about the relation of these terms (see here and here). I personally like Seerveld’s definition of reformational; it saved me worrying about whether I was neocalvinist, neokuyperian, neodooyeweerdian, or perhaps even neoseerveldian!

“Reformational” identifies (1) a life that would be deeply committed to the scriptural injunction not to be conformed to patterns of this age but to be re-formed by the renewal of our consciousness so that we will be able to discern what God wills for action on earth (cf. Romans 12:1-2); and (2) an approach in history to honour the genius of the Reformation spearheaded by Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth century, developed by Groen van Prinsterer and Abraham Kuyper in the nineteenth century, as a particular christian tradition out of which one could richly serve the Lord; with (3) a concern that we be communally busy reforming in an ongoing way rather than standing pat in the past tense (ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est). (How to Read the Bible to Hear God Speak p.39)

I take the term 'Dooyeweerdian' in the restricted sense of “the philosophical systematics of Herman Dooyeweerd”, with 'reformational philosophy' being more broadly “philosophical thinking in the line of Dooyeweerd, Vollenhoven and other sundry saints”

Friday, September 01, 2006

Essential Online Resource

Over the last year or so Steve Bishop has been developing the All of Life Redeemed website which is now the best online resource for reformational thought. He has recently added the C.T. McIntire pages, an essay by Paul Otto on the various editions of Herman Dooyeweerd's In the Twilight of Western Thought, and an interview with two Japanese Professors.

C. T. McIntire is best known in reformational circles for his sympathetic critique of Dooyeweerd’s views on history. While his critique suffers from some misunderstandings of Dooyeweerd’s modal theory (for some clarity on this see DMF Strauss’ article “The best known but least understood part of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy ," it has played an important role in keeping Dooyeweerd’s notion of historical disclosure and differentiation under critical review. McIntire poses the question as to whether Dooyeweerd’s theory of societal differentiation is not just a baptism of current western society along with its self-legitimizing story of progress.

It has to be said that the best defense of Dooyeweerd on this point is probably to agree that he suffers from this danger and to develop his ideas further in a more critical direction. Bob Goudzwaard’s Capitalism and Progress is one useful resource as is Calvin Seerveld’s essay “Dooyeweerd’s idea of ‘Historical development’: Christian Respect for Cultural Diversity” in Westminster Theological Journal 58 (1996) 41-61. Jonathan Chaplin has started to address the need for a more critical development of Dooyeweerd’s politics in his workshop presentation “‘Public Justice’ as a critical political norm”. It appears to me that there is still the need, and indeed the potential, for further work in this area.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Book Meme

This has been going around for a while. Paul Otto’s disclaimer applies.

1. One book that changed your life:
Hans Rookmaaker Modern Art and the Death of a Culture
This was the book that introduced me to reformational thinking and it transformed my outlook on life.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once
Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
I think I might go for the complete works of Shakespeare. I haven’t read Shakespeare for ages and I would miss reading philosophy, but I think it would give me enough to think about and plenty of entertainment. Also a fair few plays I have been, very feebly, meaning to read.

4. One book that made you laugh
Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards!

5. One book that made you cry:
Since I don’t really read fiction much I will go for a film. I found Nanni Morretti’s La Stanza del Filgio (The Son’s Room) a very simple and moving film, and that despite a women screaming hysterically and abusively at someone behind us and having to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the auditorium, not a usual occurrence at the NFT.

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Currents and Connections: Tracing the history of philosophy by Calvin Seerveld & J J (Ponti) Venter

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
A.J Ayre Language, Truth and Logic

8. One book you’re currently reading:
How to Read Karl Marx by Ernst Fischer in preparation for teaching Marx and Engels The German Ideology.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Jurgen Habermas The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity

10. Now tag five people
Since I’ve come to this late I’ll link to some who have already done this: Paul Robinson, Gideon Strauss, Gregory Baus

And I’ll also tag David and Ping, Kenn Hermann and Prosthesis

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Meaning is the being of all that is created

Baus has put up a list of Reformational and/or Neocalvinist Bloggers at Honest2Blog. A few I don’t recognise so I should find time to have a look and add to my links. In the comments the issue of meaning is raised with Paul Robinson indicating that he rejects the notion. I actually considered using Dooyeweerd’s famous quote at the head of this blog:

“Meaning is the being of all that is created and the nature even of our selfhood. It has a religious root and a divine origin.” New Critique I 4

Each of the three volume’s of Dooyeweerd’s magnum opus starts with the notion of meaning very much at the centre. At the start of Volume Two we find this statement:

The specific modal sovereignty of the different aspects of reality (with their various modal law-spheres) appeared to be founded in this cosmic order and at the same time made relative by it. Founded: for the specific modal sovereignty proved to be only possible in the temporal splitting up of the religious fullness of meaning, which in its turn is only given in the transcendental root of our cosmos. Made relative: for the modal law-sphere as a specific aspect of the meaning of temporal reality, proved to have no independent existence in itself, but rather to be interwoven with the temporal coherence of meaning (NC II 3)

A little later Dooyeweerd claims that:

If created things are only the bearers of meaning, they themselves must have another mode of being different from that of the dependent creaturely existence referring beyond and above itself, and in no way self-sufficient. (NC II 31)

The third volume may not start with a similar statement concerning meaning, however one of the main concerns that Dooyeweerd has in the opening pages of this volume is a critique of “the metaphysical concept of substance as a speculative exaggeration of a datum of na├»ve experience” (see the heading of the first section). This becomes particularly clear in his discussion of H.G. Stoker (NC III 62-76) where he states that: “philosophical thought which tries to discover a substantial being of created things as the independent bearer of meaning, must always land in meaningless absolutizations of theoretical abstraction” (NC III 69)

So Dooyeweerd sees his characterization of created reality as meaning, as pivotal for his transcendental critique of theoretical thought, his theory of the modal spheres and his theory of the structures of individuality.

Given this centrality* I am intrigued as to the nature of Paul’s critique and his own positive suggestion (I assume it is more substantive than Danie Strauss’ suggestion that the term “meaning” while legitimate in itself is given priority in a way that evinces a linguistic turn in Dooyeweerd away from his earlier use of organic metaphors). He has also indicated skepticism concerning the idea of law in Dooyeweerd (see here and scroll down to the bottom). I think that this could be potentially very positive as careful criticism is vital if the legacy of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is to remain reformational rather than fall into an arid Dooyeweerdian-ism. I hope Paul considers publishing something on this before acquiring tenure as an academic philosopher as his suggests.

* This centrality appears to concern Dooyeweerd rather than Vollenhoven who uses the term “subject” for creation as non-self-sufficient. Perhaps Paul is therefore more on the Vollenhoven side of things reformational (at least on this issue).
Paul is clearly not Vollenhovenian on this point as Vollenhoven's notion of 'subject' is based on his view of the law of which Paul is skeptical.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Another motivation

I should warn readers of this blog, if such I have, that my literary output has always been irregular. I cannot write reams. Also - searching for a more convincing excuse - I have various commitments that I do not always carry out with the care and dedication that I should and that have a greater priority than this little venture. As such this blog will happen in-between such commitments while not being disconnected with them, hence: intermezzo.

These have been reasons why I did not start a blog earlier. So why start one now? Well in addition to the reasons given in my first entry I must confess that one of my main motivations for starting a blog was the thought of having an internet page that would link to a lot of the sites I read thus clearing up my increasingly unwieldy favourites list. Hopefully the discipline of writing up my thoughts as well as the responsibility of having an audience, however slight, will do me good. And who knows, maybe something I write will be of worth to others.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Reformational for 10 years

I have been reading reformational books for just over ten years now. After a slowish start I discovered Richard Russell’s Christian Studies Unit, just in time for those formative years at university and so followed a period of fairly intense reading within this thought tradition.

I do my best to keep reading and thinking along reformational lines and this blog will seek to promote such thinking. I am hardly alone, as new reformational (or as some prefer neocalvinist) blogs are appearing all the time. Perhaps a motivation for starting this blog was to continue such a trend. I certainly hope that more people will come to learn of this tradition, especially here in the UK.