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.