Saturday, November 17, 2007


Steve Bishop has very generously tagged me, despite the fact that it has been over a month since I last posted. Nevertheless, far more worthy of cheer is the fact that Kenn Herman has returned to his radix perspectives with a tantalizing piece on technology and abstraction, reviewing and taking a few steps further his previous analyses.

Kenn's take on abstraction in relation to traditional reformational work on "individuality structure" comes from the same mold as what Goudzwaard writes in "Religion and Labour". Under the heading "reduction of man to animal" he writes:
Essentially, we are dealing here with an animalistic view of life, a view which we meet almost everywhere. It is a view which tries to convince us that ultimately politics is nothing but a power struggle, that ultimately the wife-husband relationship is purely a matter of sex, and that ultimately work is only a means of making money. In such a vision the trade union as a mere power machine fits very well.
He then argues that what has happened here is that the qualifying functions of social structures have been stripped away leading to a reduction to the qualifying function. As Kenn notes this abstracts human artifacts from their normative framework.

I look forward to further radix reflections.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Of Interest

Some things that may be of interest:

James Skillen has a good piece on just markets in the latest Capital Comentary.

Susan George expresses scepticism on the EU Reform Treaty here.

There is a short piece on Fiji and the rise of its military since taking on UN peacekeeping duties after the British left in 1970 in the latest edition of the Economist.

Peter Heslem on Anita Roddick.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Christian View of Everything

A little while ago there was a discussion on a Christian view of everything. See here, here, here, here and here.

I had intended to write something in response, but, as often happens, time elapsed faster than expected and nothing got written. Now Joel has wondered out loud, as it were, about reformational philosophy asking “what is essentially christian (i.e., gospel-shaped) about it”. While these are different questions they are related. So I will use his prompting to respond to the earlier issues and hopefully get round to reformational philosophy later.

Firstly I would agree with many of the comments that express concern about the use of the title “Christian”. It is easy to give something the title “Christian”, much harder to live up to such a designation. Given this gap, is it not right to feel a certain reticence even disapproval towards labeling all sorts of activities and ideas as “Christian”? After all it can only do great damage to the gospel when a so called “Christian” political party turns out corrupt, a “Christian” school fails Ofsted or a “Christian” business goes bankrupt. Nevertheless, if we accept this line of reasoning then it must be applied just as readily to Christian families, Churches and Theologies. Cannot these also bring the name of Christ into disrepute?

Here Rube makes the suggestion that in light of the all-pervasive character of sin, we should shift the distinction of Christian/non-Christian to that of sinful/sinless, or more accurately we should ask the question “what aspects of my baking (or whatever profession) are sinful?” Indeed this is exactly the kind of thing reformationals are thinking of when they talk about a Christian approach to X. More fully we tend to first ask “what is it about my profession that gives it a distinct task in this world and that when done well brings blessing to those nearby?” before going on to think self-critically about the pervasive influence of sin, this is what is meant by the Structure/Direction distinction.

There remains the ready reply that there are some tasks that only a Christian could do, for example Church leader or Christian missionary and that these alone merit the title of Christian. There may be something to this, however it is illegitimate to draw the further conclusion that the Gospel does not touch on the vast majority of human activities. It is this conclusion that is being rejected by those who talk of a “Christian view of everything” and they/we do so for good reason. Apart from the fact that such a conclusion renders Christianity irrelevant to the greater part of our existence - not a happy result - it is in stark contrast to the claim that Christ, as Lord of all, has over our whole life. Colossians 1:15-20 does not seem to me to leave much space for a neutral area of life, not even a square inch! As Kuyper would say.

Indeed the Gospel, and here we start to touch on Joel’s question, is like yeast working its way through the whole warp and woof of life (Matthew 13:33). The call to repentance is a call to turn our life around and do things differently (see for example Luke 3:7-14). Those who do not “see” any connection between the Gospel and the “Christian view of everything” approach that neo-calvinists and reformationals advocate will need to either, show us at what points we depart from the Gospel and so help us get our view of everything more in-line with it, or ask themselves honestly whether they have not reduced the Gospel to something less than the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” a power that has the whole of creation waiting in eager anticipation for its completion (Romans 1:16 & 8:19).

Friday, August 31, 2007

It's not a blog but ...

Bruce Wearne may not have a blog, but over this month just ending he has published six pieces in his Nurturing Justice series. This is a regular broadsheet on Australian politics which gives much to ponder for all concerned with the Christian task of promoting and nurturing justice in our various polities.

Have a read.

9. The Impoverishment of Political Entitlement 3 August

10. John Howard's Republic? 9 August

11. After the Election 14 August

12. A Way Out of Electoral Spin16 August

13. Public Justice: On the Path to Political Life 21 August

14. On the Regional Path to Political Life 30 August

Monday, August 06, 2007

Kirby Laing Newsletter

The first Kirby Laing newsletter is now on-line here.

There are two lectures given by the new Director Jonathan Chaplin that are now on-line.

Speaking from Faith in Democracy

A Christian Political Response to Religious Pluralism

Chaplin has been fairly busy since arrive in Britain. He will be in Leeds at the beginning of September for the FAITH IN THE ACADEMY conference co-sponsered by WYSOCS and the Christian Academic Network.

Two great film directors die on the same day

Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman both died last week on 30th July.

Here is an article on Antonioni and one on Bergman.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Loads a' money!

I'm a poor teacher right? I can't afford to buy my own house, or own a car. I certainly can't afford to go part-time and study for a PhD. And worst of all, that guy sitting opposite me on the bus, I bet he earns so much more than me.

In a society that defines how wealthy you are by your material possessions, and then sets the standard at around the level of the Beckhams, it is rather easy to get our perspectives all wrong. To see just how wrong you are go here.

Turns out that I am the 213,648,696 richest person in the world! Which puts me in the top 4%.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Turkish Elections

The citizens of Turkey head for the polls tomorrow with the ruling Justice and Development Party expected to be returned to power.

There is a good article by Richard Falk on secularism in Turkey which is the main question underlying the election here.

James Skillen also wrote on Turkey's struggle with secularism earlier in the year, see here.

There is a full account of the background to the election in the Economist here.

Monday, July 02, 2007

More on van Prinsterer

Thanks to Steve Bishop I have a copy of Sander Griffioen's "Origins and Growth of Revolutionary Thought: An Outline of Lectures". Griffioen discusses Groen van Prinsterer's thought and makes a similar point to that made by Goudzwaard quoted in my earlier post. He writes:

For Groen history is irreversible; one cannot go back to pre-revolutionary days, and he introduces the distinction of counter- and anti-revolutionaries. The former desire a return to the pre-revolutionary period, the ancien regime, whereas the latter can decry the revolutionary spirit but accept the revolutionary status quo as a point of departure and as material for acting. Contrary to this, the counter­revolutionaries somehow refuse to acknowledge the revolu­tionary reality. Groen tried to find his own, position between the revolutionary and the counter-revolutionary position, in that he attempts to deal with the real situa­tion in order to transcend it. There are norms for the actual historical situation, without accepting the situa­tion as a norm in itself.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Reformational Website

There are quite a few reformationals scattered across the UK, and a fair number of us are represented on the Web in various ways. Now a small group of us have put together a site to try and provide a focal point for our activities and to promote reformational ideas.

Please check out and log on to Reformational UK.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Anti-revolutionary not contra-revolutionary

The term 'anti-revolutionary', as Groen Van Prinsterer said many times, may not be narrowed down to protection of governmental authority against anarchistic threats. For the term includes an openness to any criticism which has as its aim a more responsible functioning of authority as true service; and it also includes an active working for the realization of that kind of authority.

When for examle, active resistance grows aganist governments of certain South American countries which allow social injustices to exist and afford protection only to the strong, then this resistance may very well be an expression of the upholding-in-deed of governmental authority, even if it manifests itself in the sharpest possible criticism of those in power. In circumstances such as these the words of Groen become fully actual again, even for 'anti-revolutionaries': "I must even be jealous of the title revolutionary, as soon as revolution means a just reformation according to the demands of the time and circumstances" (1847). One who blocks the reformation of authority under these circumstances must be called-using Groen's own words- a contra-revolutionary, not an anti-revolutionary because he doesn't choose the side of a just but of an unjust exercise of authority.
Bob Goudzwaard A Christian Political Option p.37

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Choice and the market

“It’s true that the market can be formidably, ruthlessly efficient and do many things well. But it should not be allowed to make social and environmental choices in our stead. Through democratic debate, society has to set limits on the market, determine what goods and services should or should not be bought and sold in the marketplace and decide who pays the costs now externalised. These are political questions in the deepest sense because they touch upon the power to dictate the circumstances of everyone’s life.” (Susan George Another World is Possible If … page 36 )

There are similar problems with this reference to “society” to those pointed out in my previous post. On the positive side though is the emphasis given to the need for responsibility in our choices against the fatalism of “the market”. The very character of making choices requires us to move along a normative path and that in turn presses the question as to who has the responsibility to lead the way. In a complex and highly differentiated world we need to recognise different kinds of actors, James Skillen has helpfully set the tone on this point. It is a shame that Susan George misconstrues this question fundamentally and appears to take us down a pragmatic tunnel as she continues:

The real debate of our time, which almost never takes place, should concern these limits and, above all, who has the power to make the rules (my emphasis p.36)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Multidimensional Critical Theory

I have been reading Best and Kellner’s Postmodern Theory lately, it gives very clear exposition and critique of a number of important postmodern thinkers in relation to social theory. No doubt an important reason for their clarity is to be found in the development of their own position in the areas dealt with. In their last chapter they begin to outline this view which is described as multidimensional and multiperspectival.

Here’s what they say about its multidimensional character:

A multidimensional critical theory will provide an analysis of the relative autonomy of the various levels or domains of social reality and the ways in which they interact to form a specific mode of social organization. A multidimensional critical theory is dialecti­cal and non-reductive. It conceptualizes the connections between the economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions of society and refuses to reduce social phenomena to any one dimension. A dialectical theory describes the mediations, or interconnections, that relate social phenomena to each other and the dominant mode of social organization. (page 263)

Despite their admirable emphasis on a non-reductive social theory, their notion of a “social organisation” strongly suggests the presence of a whole-part scheme. Throughout the book, Best and Kellner have expressed their appreciation for the development of ‘micro-level’ analyses of society, yet time and again they bemoan the loss of a ‘macro-level’ analysis. One of their constant refrains is the “under theorization” of intersubjectivity/political economy/social hegemony and domination and other macro-level phenomena. This is why they need a notion of ‘social organisation’ to function as the ‘whole’ that substantiates macro-analysis, the “social dimensions” are the elements or parts that are the object of microanalysis, these then get connected dialectically in the macro-analyses to give a view of the ‘social organization’.

Reformational social theory rejects any view of society as a whole; there is no social community that encompass the whole of human life. Instead it insists on the plural structure of society with a differentiation of limited social tasks and responsibilities. The diverse social institutions that take up these tasks, as well as having a limited kind of competence, should be arranged non-hierarchically because they have their meaning within the temporal horizon of creation. An analysis of these diverse social tasks, with the relationships and institutions that respond to them should highlight their qualitative difference wherein is found a diversity of specific norms integral to the carrying out of the specific tasks.

While Best and Kellner recognise an irreducible diversity of social relations their whole-part scheme doesn’t allow them to discern the differentiation of social norms, so while they hold to a normative approach the norms they appeal tend to be quiet general: progressive-regressive, domination-liberation, justice etc.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Al Wolters on the meaning of "reformational"

I have been rereading Al Wolters Creation Regained. He spends some time discussing the meaning of the word "reformational" which compliments nicely the Seerveld quote I posted a while back.

Wolters notes two important connotations of the word ‘reformational’:

The first is this; reformation means sanctification, not consecration. Both words mean "making holy," but they are not strictly synonymous. To sanctify (or hallow, to use an Anglo-Saxon word) means "to make free from sin, to cleanse from moral corruption, to purify." To consecrate, on the other hand, generally means simply ‘to set apart, to dedicate, to devote to the service or worship of God.’ Consecration therefore means external renewal; sanctification means internal renewal. The word reformation refers to sanctification in this sense of inner revitalization (p.89)

A second feature of reformation is that the avenue of this sanctification is progressive renewal rather than violent overthrow … God calls his people to a historical reformation … to a sanctification of creational realities from sin and its effects. (p.91)

Negatively Wolters contrasts this strategy with revolution; the positive meaning of reformation, he states:
entails that the normative elements in any distorted situation (and every situation is distorted to some extent) should be sought out as a point of contact in terms of which renewal can take place … reformation always takes as its point of departure what is historically given and seeks to build on the good rather than clearing the historical terrain radically in order to lay an altogether new foundation. (p.93)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Zizek a hypothesis

David’s lecture the other night was really good and has had me thinking about Zizek’s ideas a lot. What follows is, in platonic terms, art, or in other words imitation of imitation.

Zizek is involved in a battle of ideas against Buddhism and all neo-paganisms. Such ideas give absolute priority to unity so that diversity comes to be seen as illusory and possibility even evil. Our individual existence itself and all that it is caught up with will return as in a cycle to the unity from which it came [in Vollenhoven’s terms this is Universalism or Mysticism]. Zizek however is an advocate for difference. He sees an ontology of unity as having terrifying moral consequences, even going so far as to evoke the Holocaust as an example of the kind of loss of moral conscious that such an ontology brings.

Zizek is interested in Christianity for a number of reasons. He believes that the “Christian experience” is necessary to being an atheist and he sees the “Judeo-Christian logic” as the best defence against Buddhism. David focused more on the former but said enough on the latter to provoke my hypothesis. It draws on the reminder that David gave us part way through his lecture. With the focus firmly on religion, and Christianity in particular, David reminded us that Zizek’s starting point is, nevertheless, as a materialist in the Marxist sense.

Now there seem to be two elements to the “Christian logic” that attracts Zizek. The first is that redemption means breaking the cycle of sin, Christianity is therefore a religion of rupture, of the Event or of the Other. His analysis of Jesus’ death is, however, mainly taken up with his claim about the “Christian experience” and atheism rather than redemption. David pointed out that Zizek disappointingly dismisses Jesus’ resurrection as a group hallucination, spiritualising the very material centrepiece of the Christian faith. The second element to the “Christian logic” that Zizek appeals to is the Holy Spirit as a force which brings community, Zizek though has no time for the church.

My hypothesis then is that Zizek is a Young Hegelian. Despite his avowed materialism Zizek has lost faith in the revolutionary community of the proletariat and fears Buddhism rather than capitalism. His appropriation of Christianity consists of an abstracted revolutionary logic, a dematerialised resurrection and an idea of community striped of its material embodiment. Might it not be the case that Zizek is only fighting phrases with phrases?
I expect this hypothesis is a little over stated, but it will be interesting to test it when I get the chance to read some of Zizek's work.
Later: David has posted on his lecture here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Who the Heck is Zizek?

Well he is the fellow on the left.
David Henningham is giving a short lecture on Zizek as part of the Universettee series. David has just attended some master classes lead by Zizek so is now the local expert. He is also a rather bright fellow, so should be good.
David has written some interesting posts on the master classes 1, 2, 3 & 4

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wilberforce and Normative Politics

As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to see the film Amazing Grace. I must say I enjoyed it, perhaps it was just the novelty of going to the cinema, or even seeing a film which I haven't done much of lately. I liked the way Wilberforce was shown to have a broad range of political concerns beyond his driving passion to end slavery. There was a scene where Thomas Clarkson tries to persuade Wilberforce to embrace the revolutionary politics then going on in France, but Wilberforce is quite adamantly opposed to such an approach. I am hoping that The Wiberforce Connection might give further insight into his approach to politics. My fear is that the "Wilberforce model", while inviting prophetic opposition to the many injustices in the world, lacks the kind of positive normative vision that is needed to confront the complex issues we face today.

A really helpful starting point would be to ask what the task of the state is. This is vital if we are to hold the state to account as a servant of God, while also giving due regard to the responsibilities of other social institutions like families, businesses, schools and churches as well as the role of individual citizens. I just don't see Christians in Britain asking these kinds of questions. Hopefully Jonathan Chaplin will be able to prompt such necessary thinking. Without a view that clearly differentiates the kind of responsibility and authority that is proper for the state we will end up with all sorts of unrealistic expectations and muddled thinking.

An example of this is Julia Manning's contribution to The Difference on "Health and Stewardship" where she writes that "The government has the responsibility to provide for the health of the nation. Yet it also has the responsibility of maintaining economic vibrancy". While the government has some kind of responsibility towards public health, it is a limited and specific kind of responsibility that needs to be viewed along side the responsibilities of health care institutions, families, schools etc. which each have an important role to play. So we need some positive delineation of these diverse, but reinforcing social responsibilities.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Christian Political Thought in the UK

While in Exeter I came across this new magazine. They have a blog here. I also saw the film Amazing Grace, so I am thinking about the nature of Christian political thought here in the UK. What can I, as a novice reformational political thinker, contribute?

As a start here are some critical notes on Kay Carter's editorial:

She presents the issue of Christianity and politics in terms of a relationship falling apart, employing the metaphor of a divorce, but the terms of this relationship are very unclear. She begins by saying that "Britain and Christianity have grown apart", then refers to the growing gap between the "statute books" and "Christian values" and by the beginning of her second paragraph is addressing "the Church" as the divorcee with a choice to make. There are then real questions as to who we are to have a dialogue with, and who "we" are that might participate or instigate this dialogue.

One possible answer is that the dialogue is between church/es and state, but such a dialogue is already going on and The Difference is non-denominational. Perhaps it is best to read "the Church" not institutionally but as the body of believers. The implication then appears to be that 'Christianity' and 'politics' are, at least potentially, self-contained spheres that should nevertheless talk to each other. Now it may well be true that such an implication was not intended, but it is there nevertheless and until Christians start to think through and discuss politics as an integral and specific part of our responsibility to love God and serve one’s neighbour we will be stuck with a purely external moral approach rather than an internal normative one.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Reformational Philosophy and Critical Theory

What do reformational philosophy and critical theory have in common? On reading James Boham’s article in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy a few things come to mind.

Critical theorists have seen a close link between philosophy and the social sciences. This link is seen mainly in terms of linking normativity and empirical research, which is different from the way Reformational philosophy sees the link. For reformational philosophy the special sciences, of whatever sort, require, or better, have, philosophical presuppositions. There is no distinction between norms and facts that need to be brought together by philosophy (actually critical theory may accept this or at least point in this direction), instead the special sciences should become more aware of their philosophical assumptions, which themselves point beyond any theoretical view to basic religious commitments.

Returning to the issue of normativity, this appears to be another area of similarity. Both emphasis the importance of norms and their universality, but also both seek to see these norms contextualised within different spheres. For critical theory these spheres are different sorts of empirical social research, for reformational philosophy these are basic “life spheres”. This contextual kind of normativity must also, for both, be understood in relation to specific historical circumstances without being reduced to such.

To finish with a third similarity it seems to me that the critical theorist's desire to help effect social transformation of current circumstances is also shared by those in the reformational tradition.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Marx and Critical Theory

This year I am teaching Marx and Engels The German Ideology. So I have been doing some reading on Marx. I seem to be gaining an interest in political philosophy, so with my background in European Philosophy I guess it's not surprising that I am also reading around in Critical Theory. In particular critical theory provides an interesting discussion partner with so called "postmodern" philosophy.
All this makes me anticipate the publication of the following two books even more keenly.
Bob Goudzwaard Hope in Troubled Times
Lambert Zuidervaart Social Philosophy After Adorno

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

James Skillen and Dooyeweerd publishing

I seem to be quite busy these days. On Saturday I was up in Leeds for a meeting about the project to publish Dooyeweerd's collected works. Jim Skillen is overseeing a comprehensive reassessment of the whole project. It was good to meet with people who share an interest in Dooyeweerd's work, unfortunately Jim was delayed in getting to Leeds and I needed to catch a train back to London.

I had been looking forward to meeting Jim, not just to hear about the current state of the publishing project but also because I have been readings his recent two books on politics.
As always, I came back to London convinced of the vital importance of the work that David and Ruth, along with the WYSOCS team, are doing and wanting to find more ways to play my part. It was also in Leeds that I first learnt that a certain novice philosopher will be ending his noviciate here in London with the LSE. There seem to be a number of things coming together ...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Reformational Publishing Project

This is an exciting new venture to keep an eye on. Kerry Hollingsworth annouced the project at the international symposium on Ethics in 2005, so it is good to see things progressing. The criteria for selection of titles is that the work in question demonstrate a clear utilization of the systematics of the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea, with the first work to appear being Egbert Schuurman's Technology and The Future. This work will be followed by the Collected Writings of H. Evan Runner, with other works currently in preperation including Willem Ouweneel’s Heart and Soul and Marcel Verburg's intellectual biography of Dooyeweerd entitled Herman Dooyeweerd: The Life and Work of a Dutch Christian-Philosopher. More information here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Christian Studies Unit

I have just recieved some papers and a book from Richard Russell's Christian Studies Unit. It takes be back to my university days when I was discovering reformational thought and often ordered books and papes from Richard. There are a lot of people out there who owe Richard a lot for the work he has done promoting "reffie" books. If your not one of them, then take a look and you soon will be.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Visual Encounters and Artistic Practice

WYSOCS are keeping up their good work in this their 21st year. I believe this is the first residential course they have put on.
Here's some infomation:
Encourage students to develop their artistic work imaginatively in relation to God’s creation and their individual talents.

Support and encourage those thinking about careers in art and design through teaching, networking, sharing of resources.

Help students think through their position in relation to current debates within art colleges and the arts in general.

Drawing and mark-making, observation and interpretation are central to the course, which is suitable for students, whether engaged in degree studies at art college, or on pre-degree courses such as Foundation, Access or A levels. Recent graduates/art teachers would also find this helpful in relation to their thinking as Christians.
More infomation here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Vollenhoven's Problem-Historical Method: A Bibliography

Following Steve Bishops good example, here is a bibliography of English-language work related to Vollenhoven's Problem-Historical Method:
Brill, K A. "A Comparision between Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven on the Historiography of Philosophy" Philosophia Reformata 60:2 (1995)

Brill, K A. Vollenhoven's Problem-Historical Method: Introduction and Explorations (Dordt College Press, 2005)

Olthuis and DeGraaff. Models of Man in Theology and Psychology (ICS, 1978)

Seerveld, Calvin. Benedetto Croce's earlier Aesthetic theories and Literary criticism (J.H. Kok, 1958)

Seerveld, Calvin. "Biblical wisdom underneath Vollenhoven's categories for philosophical historiography" Philosophia Reformata 38 (1973)

Seerveld, Calvin. "The Pedagogical Strength of a Christian Methodology in Philosophical Historiography" Crosscuts and Perspectives Koers 40:4-6 (1975)

Seerveld, Calvin. "Towards a cartographic methodology for art historiography" Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 39:2 (1980)

Seerveld, Calvin. "Mythologizing Philosophy as Historiographic Category" Myth and Interdisciplinary Studies (Pretoria, 1993)

Seerveld, Calvin. "Vollenhoven's legacy for art historiography" Philosophia Reformata 58:1 (1993)

Steen, Peter. The Structure of Herman Dooyeweerd's Thought (Wedge, 1983)

Runner, Evan. The History of Ancient Philosophy (1958) a partial translation of Vollenhoven, D.H.Th. Geshiedenis der wijsbegeerte I

Runner, Evan. The Development of Aristotle Illustrated from the Earliest Books of the Physics (J.H. Kok, 1951)

Wolters. A. "On Vollenhoven's Problem-Historical Method" in Hearing and Doing
(Wedge, 1979)

Vander Stelt, John. "Kuyper's semi-mystical conception" Philosophia Reformata 38 (1973)

Van der Walt. B.J. "Historiography of Philosophy: the consistent problem-historic method" in Heartbeat (Potchefstroom, 1978)

Vollenhoven, D.H.Th. "Lecture notes on Kant (1958-9)" Translated by Bill Rowe (ICS, 1977)
Vollenhoven, D.H.Th. Ancient Philosophical Conceptions in Problem-historical Lay-out, 6th Century B.C - 6th Century A.D. Edited with an introduction by A. Tol

­­­Vollenhoven, D.H.Th. The History of Ancient Philosophy (1958) a partial translation by Evan Runner of Vollenhoven, D.H.Th. Geshiedenis der wijsbegeerte I

Vollenhoven, D.H.Th. The Problem-Historical Method and the History of Philosophy Edited by Kornelis A. Bril (De Zaak Haes, 2005)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Amazing Grace

This year marks the 200th annaversary of the Slave Trade Act which abolished slave trade in the British empire.

In commenoration of this a film has been made about William Willberforce. Here's the description for the film:

Amazing Grace is based on the true story of William Wilberforce, a British statesman and reformer from the early part of the 19th century. This feature film chronicles his extraordinary contributions to the world, primarily his 20-year fight to abolish the British slave trade, which he won in 1807. Wilberforce was also instrumental in passing legislation to abolish slavery in the British colonies, a victory he won just three days before his death in 1833.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Urban Christian

A group from my church are reading through The Urban Christian by Ray Bakke. It is part of Grace Church Hackney's vision to be an urban church. Number Four of the five "Things we think are important" is:
The Gospel leads us to love the city. Therefore we will seek to be an urban church celebrating all that is good about the city and working to change all that is not good. We hope to partner with chritians already involved in social projects and to be a church where people are encouraged to engage with the culture of the city, particularly the arts.
This has got me thinking about what reformational resources are there for thinking about the city, and what kind of questions should guide our reflection.
Resources that come to mind are:
and Wolterstorff's "A City of Delight" in Until Justice and Peace Embrace
I'll have to think more about the questions that need asking.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Johann Hari on the Enlightenment

Johann Hari writing in the Independent on Monday appears to be rather enamoured of the enlightenment. The enlightenment philosophers argued that “instead of relying on divine revelation, we should closely observe the world around us and base a rational world-view on the empirical evidence we gather.” This is, so Hari believes, a truly wonderful vision. Those who oppose it like the Chapmans, whose work Hari rightly deplores, are basically in league with the “fascists and priests” who have sort to puncture and destroy it for the past 300 years. So unequivocal is Hari’s enthusiasm that he confidently declares that “Everything good about our world … comes from this project”.

This leads him to dismiss “post-modern” philosophy, of which the Chapmans work is apparently the “pure expression”. According to Hari “When you strip away our Enlightenment defences against psychosis” all you are left with is “immoral anger, celebrating injustice and cruelty as ‘transgression’”. This raises a number of questions. Can enlightenment thought really be neatly separated from all the bloody revolutions, fascisms, imperialisms and totalitarianisms that were a feature of modernist Europe? Was it really Hitler’s failure, as Hari seems to suggest, to “scrupulously adhere to fact, evidence and reason-based inferences” that produced the Nazi monster?

Hari is obviously not aware of the thesis of the dialectic of enlightenment where instrumentalized reason becomes irrational. Nor does he seem to realize that the kind of faith in facts and empirical evidence that he so applauds in enlightenment thought actually undermines his own moral critique of post-modernism. David Hume divorced facts from values and A.J.Ayer's philosophy of “scrupulous adherence to fact, evidence and reason-based inferences” led to the claim that moral judgements are strictly meaningless – a bit of a pain if you want to condemn the torture and destruction of human life.

So while Hari is right to criticise the facile rejection of the enlightenment expressed in the Chapmans work, he would do well temper his rather extravagant faith in the facts alone.

Speaking from Faith in Democracy

Jonathan Chaplin's inaugural lecture for the Kirby Laing Institute "Speaking from Faith in Democracy" is now available on-line.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The end of Philosophy of Mind?

Does this mean I won't need to teach philosophy of mind next year?

Ice Day?

No photos today, as I don't seem to be able to find any ice. Nevertheless, arriving at school this morning fully equipped with my football kit for the customary Friday-after-school game, I was rather surprised to find the gates all locked and notices that the dangerous icy conditions meant the school was closed.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Snow day!

School was closed today due to snow, Hurrah! It doesn't take much to disrupt life here in London.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Some Links

Joel Hunter on Derrida here.

Gideon Strauss has an excellent piece on postmodernism here.

Richard Mouw has just started to blog.

Macht on Emergent Properties, Abstraction and Reductionism.

And some study guides on Dooyeweerd’s :

Christian idea of the state ,

Twilight of Western Thought,

Roots of Western Culture ,

and New Critique.

So there are no excuses now!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"In my judgement ..."

I read a comment the other day in a weekly that noted how politicians often use phrases that ‘real people’ never use. One of the examples given was “In my judgement …”. The comment was obviously put critically while not offering any actual critique. Perhaps the implication was that such an opening to a sentence unduly inflated the statement which followed.

Whatever the un-stated reason for the writer’s antipathy, I want to suggest, in contrast, that we (‘real people’) start using this little phrase more. It should be brought in for the far more popular “in my opinion …” which is caught in an unhappy paradox. First off the statement acquires an unchallengeable, absolute status; you may dislike or reject my opinion, but you can’t criticise it. Any attempt to offer criticism can be dismissed as merely your opinion. In other words the paradoxical other side of the coin is the sheer relativity of opinion. The result is that “my opinion” escapes any responsibility precisely because it is mine, and over what is mine, so the liberal assumption goes, you can have no say. Giving ones judgement suggests that your point is being made after some thought which could be challenged, revised or rejected. It deliberately puts ones views under the scrutiny of others, exactly where politicians, but also ‘real peoples’ views should be. Opinions, on the other hand, are private affairs; while you are free to reject them and have your own, it is in bad taste to challenge them and suggest they might be wrong.

It seems to me that a good start in combating the almost ubiquitous relativism that characterises modern liberal societies would be to start taking responsibility for the claims we make by prefacing them with “in my judgement …”

Monday, January 22, 2007

Grace Church Lectures

At Grace Church people are encouraged to give lectures on areas where they have some interest or expertise. Next Sunday 28 January 7.30pm Dr James May will give a lecture on "The God Delusion: Is Richard Dawkins right?" It will last Approx 1hour including time for questions.
Previous lectures have covered topics such as the "history of conflict" between science and Christianity, bio-ethics and obscure indie bands. You can find an example on-line by Tim Murray, who runs the Film Club, his lecture was titled “Is Hollywood’s Art in the right Place”. Hopefully there will be a lecture on the reformational worldview in the not too distant future.

The relationship between individuals and society

I have started to look at Mill's arguments in On Liberty with my philosophy students, and to set some context we looked at three views on the relationship between individuals and society: Individualism, Collectivism and Pluralism. Here's how I outlined each view:

Individualism makes the individual the basic unit of society. This is based on a view of the individual as essentially independent and self-sufficient and so takes the social dimension of being human as secondary. Individualists argue that society could not exist without individuals and so individuals are more basic than society. Individualism has contributed greatly to a sense of the importance and uniqueness of each person, yet each person is not fundamentally alone but is rather always involved in a web of social relationships. Individuals are always parents/children, students/teachers, sellers/buyers, employers/employees etc.

Collectivism in contrast emphasises the organic wholeness of society, and tends to see one institution (usually the state) as the most essential expression of the unity of the whole. Collectivists argue that individuals could not survive without society. Individuals are merely parts of the whole, and the "lesser" institutions are subgroups that only have a purpose in the way they support the primary unifying institution. Collectivism emphasises the need for belonging, and for working together for the benefit of everyone, however it is also prone to disregard the views of dissident individuals, and tends to obscure the identity and integrity of the many different social structures that coexist with the state.

Pluralism is no mere compromise between these two views for it adds an important reality, that of a plurality of associations and institutions. Pluralism holds that neither the individual nor society can exist without the other, both exist in co-dependence. This view against individualism denies that there are pure isolated individuals because each person always stands in a variety of social relations. Against collectivism it denies that there is an all embracing social structure. Instead it recognizes that there are different institutions with their own distinct identity and sphere of influence, authority and responsibility. With individualism it accepts that these institutions are made up of individuals and with collectivism it agrees that the state plays an important role in balancing the interests of the various institutions. In pluralism there are no individuals totally outside of such structures however marginalized, nor does the state have either the authority or responsibility to fulfil the functions unique to each institution.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Blair on air travel and climate change

This is a little old now, but still worth commenting on. Tony Blair is not willing to give up his long-haul flights. Here is the reason why:

Britain is 2% of the world's emissions. We shut down all of Britain's emissions tomorrow - the growth in China will make up the difference within two years. So we've got to be realistic about how much obligation we've got to put on ourselves. The danger, for example, if you say to people 'Right, in Britain ... you're not going to have any more cheap air travel,' everybody else is going to be having it. So you've got to do this together in a way that doesn't end up actually putting people off the green agenda by saying you must not have a good time any more and can't consume. All the evidence is that if you use the science and technology constructively, your economy can grow, people can have a good time, but do so more responsibly.

I think that James Skillen’s comments on international justice in 1975 have relevance to this attitude. Skillen wrote:

The ready reply that such a thing will never happen, given modern nationalism and human selfishness in general, can only have the value of warning us that the world's doom is certain. One who believes that the pragmatic response of "It isn't possible" can itself serve as a norm for "realistic" action is only fooling himself. Any pragmatic effort to "work with" national, self-interested politics puts itself in the service of that nationalism and can lead only to the deadend of injustice

The hope that market mechanisms together with science and technology will fix the problems of climate change is a dangerous faith that fosters the avoidance of responsibility, "we don't have to worry or change our way of life, the scientists will fix things", while fatalistically accepting the status quo.

I should point out, or perhaps confess, that I take regular trips by plane to Italy to visit my in-laws. So the point is not to make a moralistic, and possibly hypocritical, judgement on the Blair's lifestyle. We all have reason to reflect and confess out failings with regard to our lack of stewardly living. Instead the point is to question the pragmatic and responsibility evading self justification. My own feeble attempt to reduce the amount of meat I eat is not to off-set the flights to Italy, nor the growing energy consumption of China! God has not tasked me with saving the world, just to love mercy, justice and to walk humbly before God.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chaplin on Liberalism and Toleration: Part Two

As mentioned in the previous post Chaplin focuses on situations where student groups on university campuses affiliated to the student associations have been disaffiliated on the basis of discrimination due to their position on homosexual relations. The "individualistic regime of tolerance" would put racial discrimination and discrimination against homosexuals on the same level, however Chaplin demurs:

those who place racial identity and views on sexual morality in the same category are simply not comparing like with like. As a biologically determined trait, racial identity is wholly outside someone's choice, while also being profoundly implicated in someone's social identity. This is the basic reason why we have rightly come to insist that racial discrimination is arbitrary. Views of sexual morality, by contrast, are elective: we adopt them, either through individual choice or by remaining within a community that upholds them. And for some, the views they hold on this question are profoundly connected to their own moral or religious identity, such that being required to suspend or disavow them is experienced as deeply compromising.

Unfortunately Chaplin has himself failed to compare like with like. He compares race, the object of discrimination, as a biologically determined trait, not with homosexuality, but with “views of sexual morality”. Chaplin should have compared views on race with views on sexual morality, or, race and homosexuality themselves. If he compared the latter the immediate question would be is homosexuality “a biologically determined trait” or at least akin to such a trait (i.e. not merely a free lifestyle choice). This seems to be one of the key points at issue.
The issue has again been in the news with the new "Sexual Orientation Regulations" which form part of the Equality Act 2006 just come into force in Northern Ireland and to be law in the rest of the UK later this year. There have been protests outside Parliament, mainly made up of Christians. Those against the new law have opposed it on grounds of the conscience and free speech of Christians and others who object to homosexual practice, with a distinction drawn between homosexuals and homosexual practice. The first should not be disciminated against, but Christians want the freedom to refuse providing services to homosexuals that would condone homosexual practice. The example given is that of Christian Hotel refusing to provide a room to a homosexual couple.
In response to these kinds of arguments Lord Smith said: "I am somewhat puzzled by the arguments that have been advanced. It seems to me, in my simplistic way, that what they (the opponents of the regulations) are arguing for is quite simply the right to discriminate and the right to harass. And those arguments are being made in the name of Christianity."
What this suggests is that Chaplin still needs to present an argument to explain why “those who place racial identity and views on sexual morality in the same category are simply not comparing like with like”.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Chaplin on Liberalism and Toleration: Part One

Comment have been running a series on “living with liberalism”. A recent piece is by Jonathan Chaplin’s who discusses liberalism and the issue of tolerance. Halfway through his discussion he makes an interesting suggestion:

A hypothesis worth pursuing (further than I can here) is that the new liberal regime is expanding its remit at the same time as—and perhaps because of—its decreasing capacity to deliver the wide-ranging social services it used to think of as essential to its mandate. If there is truth is this, the irony is rich: as liberal states, under pressures from increasingly globalized economic exchanges, are less and less able or willing to resist the progressive marketization of civil society, and the consequent dismantling of their welfare systems, they simultaneously pursue the progressive politicization of civil society. As the power to restrain business corporations slips through their fingers—indeed, as they all too willingly cede it—they grab hold ever more jealously of the reins of voluntary associations, which are easier targets. A diagnosis of this new apparent twist in the pathology of late modern liberal states awaits.

Part of this politicization of civil society is the “monopolistic enforcement of an individualistic regime of tolerance”. What this means is that "arithmetical equality, understood as identical treatment for individuals across a wide range of institutional practices within all societies" is given priority with no, or little, concern for the internal beliefs and purposes of diverse associations. That means that associations are not given freedom to set their own limits to tolerance within their sphere of action and competence. This is a problem because there has to be differently set limits to tolerance within different societal spheres. Parents, teachers and leaders of political parties have to set different limits to toleration for their children, students and cabinet members, limits that may be inappropriate in different contexts.

To illustrate the inappropriate enforcement of an individualistic regime of tolerance Chaplin focuses on situations where student groups on university campuses affiliated to the student associations have been disaffiliated on the basis of discrimination due to their position on homosexual relations.

Yesterday a similar issue hit the news here in the UK. In my home town of Exeter the Christian Union (which has now been “democratically” forced to change its name to the Evangelical Christian Union) has been suspended from the student guild and had a bank account frozen (see here and here). Not on the basis of a position taken on homosexual relations, but because members are asked to sign a statement of belief in Jesus as their God and saviour and officials to sign a more comprehensive statement of belief.

The declaration which members have to sign includes the phrase: "In joining this union, I declare my faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour, my Lord and my God". The Guild of Students President Jemma Percy said the requirement to sign the declaration meant "participation in the society was not open to every student".

This is clearly a case where the individualistic regime of tolerance has over stretched itself to the point of self-contradiction, undermining freedom of association.

Petition Blair

There is a new way of petitioning Prime Minister Blair called e-petitioning . I discovered this through a “rule of law” petition set up by Alan Storkey saying “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to observe the rule of law by reinstating the BAE- Saudi Arabia criminal investigation by the SFO”.
Among the most popular petitions are:
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards."
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to champion the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, by not replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Launch of New Institute

This summer Jonathan Chaplin left his position at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto to become director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics in Cambridge, England. The institute is having its official launch on 24th January with Chaplin giving his inaugural leture ‘Speaking From Faith in Democracy’. Despite Cambridge being a simple train journey from where I live in London, 5pm on a Wednesday is not possible. I hope that future events may be at a more workable time.

Happy New Year!

Well it's been over a month since I last blogged, so it only seems appropriate to start the new year with a post. I certainly won't be revealing all my new years resolutions. However one that I have made is to try and reduce my ecological footprint (see here to find out yours). Since I don't drive a car there appear to be two main possibilities. One is to stop visiting my in-laws in Italy by plane, the other is to reduce the amount of meat I eat. I have decided to go for the second. Since I eat a fair amount of meat it will be both hard but possible. I know it probably sounds obvious but rather than cutting meat out of my diet I intend to increase the amount of vegetarian meals I eat and enjoy. Any suggestions welcome.