The "Biola Turn" in Christian Philosophy (Or, a return from relativism)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by BayouHuguenot, Sep 5, 2019.

  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Goal: to critique variants of postmodernism, provide an argument for epistemic realism, and conclude with observations on Protestant conversions to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

    I have several goals in this paper. I utilize Dallas Willard’s metaphysical realism to rebut post-Kantian idealism. I also challenge James K. A. Smith’s quasi-Derridean view of interpretation.

    In “How Concepts Relate the Mind to its Objects: The God’s Eye View Vindicated,” Dallas Willard defends a robust realism in the face of various post-Kantian proposals. While criticisms of Kant are common and always welcome, this paper takes a different turn. It is a response to the various “creational hermeneutics” by men like James K. A. Smith who appear to posit an endless deferral of meaning. To be fair, Smith doesn’t advocate a strict Derridean view. He assumes meaning is possible. Rather, he advocates that every hermeneutical event is always (already?) situated by our finitude. We never approach the realm of “pure interpretation.”

    Further, Smith isn’t a Kantian. He isn’t saying (as far as I am aware) that our minds create reality. In this case, many of Willard’s remarks won’t directly apply to him. There are some parallels, though. Both Kant and Smith function as though there is a “wall” between our minds and reality.

    On one level that seems true enough. I don’t even know what a pure interpretation unsullied by presuppositions would look like. I think there is something more, though. It’s not enough that Smith wants to avoid a Derridean relativism or something like an endless deferral of meaning. Well and good. I fear, though, that his epistemology is underdeveloped and if pursued consistently, will in fact lead to relativism.

    In a new chapter to Fall of Interpretation Smith responds to criticisms of Derrida. He says Derrida does affirm that communication takes place. However, it only takes place within “communal discernment” (Smith 215-216). Indeed, communities “fix meanings.” We will come back to this claim later.

    Dallas Willard’s article provides a summary of how the mental process works. He discusses what a concept is and how the nature of a concept (which always includes intentionality, relations, etc) avoids what he calls the “Midas touch” of post-Kantianism. Followers of Kant see the concept as an activity of the mind. As Willard explains, “It [the Kantian view] always turns the ‘mediation’ of the relation between the mind and world into a form of making: the object which comes to stand before the mind is in some essential way made by a ‘grasping’ of something other” (Willard 2-3).

    The Structure of the Knowing Act

    While Willard’s article decisively rebuts Kantianism, it does have a small payout for the “Derridean Christian Philosophers.” If what Willard says is true on how the mind knows, then it doesn’t matter if we posit that our knowledge is “mediated” or “structured” by communal knowings.

    Survey of the Material

    Kant: what comes before the mind as objects are products of the action of the mind (Willard 4). Evidently, there is some amorphous sludge that is present before our mind. Our mind then categorizes it and “out comes the perceived object.”

    Beginning of the Case

    Willard’s main argument is that all knowing acts involve “intentionality,” which is the “about-ness” or “of-ness” of something. If I know a dog, this dog, then “there must be something about each of the terms (my thought of my dog, my dog) that my thought of my dog is “together with” or pairs up with my dog” (5).

    What is a Concept?

    A concept is acquired, applies to or is “of” something (extension), has intension (inherent properties), is transpersonal. If there is anything that “mediates” between our minds and the outside objects, it is concepts, not endless linguistic deferrals or “communal” interpretations.

    Further, concepts are properties, not acts or events. As such, they don’t “do” anything. A concept also has a “nature.” This means it has properties, relations, and an overall place “in the scheme of things” (8). Since it is a universal, it is exemplified in time and space but itself is not in time or space.

    With all of this in mind (no pun intended), we can see that intentional properties are concepts which form a bridge between thought and its object. I do not think of the intentional properties but “of what is before my mind through them” (10). The intentional properties of a concept are not identical with “the properties which things must have to fall under the concept” (11).

    We can try to say it another way: there is an intentional affinity (the of-ness or about-ness of a concept) between the concept and the properties of the concept. They are related in such a way that the intensional properties “always come to mind upon the instancing of the property which is the concept, but not by being instanced in the thought along with the concept” (12). In other words, the concept is before our mind, not simply the inherent structure of the concept. The following diagram might help:

    Thought of a dog (exemplifies) concept of a dog (has natural affinity with) properties making up caninity (exemplified in) Dogs (Fido, etc). (Willard 13).

    Thought --> concept --> properties of caninity --> dog-exemplification

    The Pay off

    If the above is true then the objects of thought do not take on any character. They aren’t changed in structure from an amorphous sludge to a dog. Therefore, we are not “locked inside language” (14).

    How does this work with the Radical Orthodox type crowd which posits an intermediate communal meaning? At the most basic level it makes it irrelevant. Let’s take the concept of a dog. I read about a dog in a text. How does placing “the communal interpretation of the faith-community” between myself and the dog “make” the text correct?

    That might be somewhat trivial. Let’s take a theological dictum. If all the RO guys are saying is that we must read in conjunction with fellow believers, then there really isn’t a problem. A more hard-line approach would be “the church’s interpretation is our interpretation.” Only Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy say anything that silly. It’s common enough, though. Let’s look at it. What mediates the church’s reading of the text and the text itself? It doesn’t work to say the church, for that is no different from their own characterization of Protestantism writ-large. Further, it’s no different from the very foundationalism they eschew.

    But if the church doesn’t mediate between the church’s interpretation and a given fact of experience, then who does? We are then thrown back to the individual believer’s responsibility to interpret the world, receive data, and make judgments. These judgments aren’t infallible, but they are still warranted. He can accept many of them as basic beliefs (in the absence of overriding defeaters).
     
  2. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    If a concept is a property, can it also have properties?
     
  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Generally, no. Only a concept that is also a substance would. I don't think the "relations" within and among concepts count as properties.
     
  4. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Interesting. I have to admit that rather undermines my feeling that I understood the section, What is a Concept?
     
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    And some of my own thoughts could be underdeveloped. This was a particularly dense essay by Willard.
     
  6. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    It sounded pretty dense from your review!
     
  7. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Great post! I do have to object to the linguistic stuff. After all you had to know language to post it.
     
  8. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    In Smith's defense I don't think "pure interpretation" is an actual thing. It's like an "essence", merely a confusing linguistic device.
     
  9. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Also I don't know what epistemic realism has better than postmodernism, other than conceptually. I don't know, do any of these questions make sense post Wittgensteinian's later philosophy? Postmodernism at least got us to step back and reevaluate our thinking. Great post though.
     
  10. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    I don't see the problem with being "locked inside language". Also didn't Derrida mean by infinite deferral that we have to use words to describe what we mean by other words, and then other words to describe the description and so on and so forth.
    Also how does the quoted post you wrote get beyond communal meanings of words in a postWittgensten era?
     
  11. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    To elaborate here the linguistic problem is I have to use language to describe a nonlinguistic state of affairs. So it's a self referential problem, "there's nothing outside the text" or more appropriately the "context", hence we're stuck in language.
     
  12. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Language isn't the same thing as consciousness. If we are locked inside language, then we can either (a) not have access to essences or (b) identify language with the essence.
    No one is saying not to use language.
    Paul Helm illustrated the problem in Faith and Understanding. “For [the communalist] religion is essentially a practice or set of practices, a way of life, and the beliefs that are religious are identified by such practices, and can only be understood in relation to, this form of life” (Helm 65).

    So what is the problem with it? We can try to list several:

    1) It is impossible to critique any other position, as one would necessarily be outside that position and not sharing in its liturgical practices.

    2) We do not have so much a religion, but a set of religious practices.

    2.1) What about prayer? This is the most basic of religious practices. Yet, as Helm notes, could we even expect an answer to prayer, since that would involve empirical issues (69ff)? Indeed, petitionary prayer “connects the activity and value of religion with how things go.”
     
  13. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Ok my point is, albeit tongue in cheek, is you can't describe conciessness without language. A child's first lesson in getting along with the world is learning to talk. We are locked in language but who cares it's how we survive. I don't see it as a problem.
     
  14. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    That's neither what the linguistic turn guys or their critics are saying. Locked-in means we don't have access to an extra-linguistic world. Jesus' human nature isn't simply a function of language. It really exists. True, we describe it with language, but that's not the same thing.
     
  15. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    That's not what the linguistic turn was saying. No one ever denied a real world out there, they denied that we aren't stuck without a linguistic way of describing it. Its a self referential paradox, you have to use language to describe a non linguistic state of affairs. Hence stuck in language, there's nothing outside the text.
     
  16. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Being locked inside language doesn't mean you can't have access, whatever that means, to essence (if they exist). I'm highly critical of traditional metaphysics outside of a functional or pragmatic use in describing things.
     
  17. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I hope essences exist, like Jesus' two essences. Or his two natures which exemplify the essences of humanity and divinity.

    If the linguistic guys deny essences (which Quine did), then it is not clear what language is referring to.
     
  18. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Yeah but the language has a functional or pragmatic role. Essence language refers to something what that something is who knows?
     
  19. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    That's ambiguous. Are you saying:

    (1) We can't know what the term essence means.
    (2) We can know what the term essence means, but not what it means RE God.
    (3) Similar to (2), we can know that God has an essence but not what it s.

    (1) is clearly false. The Christian church has always known what it meant by substance. It is a subject with properties.

    (2) is unclear and can go either way.
    (3) is the historic Christian position.
     
  20. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Good reply and good questions. Anyone can know how the term essence is used, without having to give an approximate explanation. Yes i wholeheartedly affirm the creeds and their language but that doesn't that mean as a Christian i cannot do metaphysics or theology without first affirming Greek metaphysics. I view the language as useful tools in affirming and explaining the doctrines that the creeds use.
    I also do not agree with changing the creedal language because of the tools they use. We can know God's as he has revealed it to us, albeit as a creature. Human language is just that human. We pick the most useful words to describe these great mysteries.
    Since we know the meaning of words based on how they are used we can know how the term essence is used without having to have a grand substance metaphysics to go along with it.
     
  21. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The problem is that the Fathers more or less held to a substance metaphysics. They didn't always see the need to go with Aristotle on his distinction between primary and secondary substance, but substance metaphysics (of some sort) was the game in town. I outlined the analytic here. You really can't understand Chalcedon without embracing its substance metaphysics.

    Ousia: Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.

    Physis: Nature, make up of a thing. (In earlier Christian thought the concrete reality or existent.)

    Hypostasis: The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)

    Prosopon: The observable character, defining properties, manifestation of a reality.

    Even at first sight it is clear that the words bear a range of meanings that overlap in some areas so as to be synonymous. This is particularly so with the terms Physis and Hypostasis which in the fifth century simultaneously bore ancient Christian meanings and more modern applications.. In relation to Physis, Cyril tended to use the antique meaning, Nestorius the modern. In relation to Hypostasis the opposite was the case.”

    McGuckin, 138-139.

    7. “Ousia is the genus of a thing. Once can think, for example of the genus ‘unicorn.’ Such a genus exists, but only theoretically, not practically or concretely. It does not exist, that is, ‘in reality’ as we would say today. Nonetheless, it makes sense to talk of the necessary characteristics of a unicorn such as its magical horn, its horse like appearance, its whiteness, its beard and lion’s tail, and so on. Thus the genus of unicorn is the ousia, that which makes up the essential being of a thing.. The notion of the physis of our unicorn is intimately related to this. It connotes what we might call the palpable and ‘physical’ characteristics of a unicorn such as outlined above-but always understanding that his possession of a physis-nature still does not necessarily imply that such a creature is real…In some circles, especially those represented by the Christian thinkers of Alexandria following Athanasius, the word physis signified something slightly different from this sense of ’physical attributes’ and had been used to connote the physical existent-in the sense of a concrete individual reality. In the hands of Cyril the word is used in two senses, one in what might be called the standard ‘physical usage where it connotes the constituent elements of a thing, and the other in which it serves to delineate the notion of individual existent-or in other words individual subject. This variability in the use of a key term on Cyril’s part goes some way to explaining Nestorius’ difficulties in following his argument over the single Physis of the Incarnate Word (Mia Physis tou Theou Logou Sesarkoene). By this Cyril meant the one concrete individual subject of the Incarnated Word. Whereas Nestorius heard him to mean the one physical composite of the Word (in the sense of an Apollinarist mixture of fusion of the respective attributes of the natures of man and God.)

    McGuckin, 139-140.

    “The prospon is the external aspect or form of a physis as it can be manifested to external observation and scrutiny. It is a very concrete, empirical word, connoting what appears to outside observation. Each essence (ousia) is characterized by its proper nature (physis), everything that is, which makes it up, and in turn every nature that is hypostatically real presents itself to the scrutiny of the senses in its own prosopon-that list of detailed characteristics or ‘propria’ that constitute this thing individually and signal to the observer what nature (physis) it has and thus to what genus (ousia) it belongs. In the system Nestorius is following, every nature has its own prosopon, that such of proper characteristics (idiomata) by which it is characterized in its unique individuality and made known to others as such. The word carried with it an intrinsic sense of ‘making known’ and appeared to Nestorius particularly apt in the revelatory context of discussing the incarnation.”

    McGuckin, 144.
     
  22. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Well correct me if I'm wrong but are you suggesting that someone who is critical of substance metaphysics denies the creeds de facto, even if they affirm what it says? Two do you feel that substance metaphysics is the best and/or only metaphysics that a Christian should look too, because the church fathers utilized it? All this despite massive critiques and abandonment of it long ago? I know these questions sound harsh but they're not meant to be but only to narrow down where we stand for the sake of good conversation.
     
  23. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The creeds affirm two natures. If you think "natures-metaphysics" isn't good, it's not sure that you can honestly recite the creeds.

    The Shorter Catechism says, "Same in substance, equal in power and glory." So, when it says substance pertaining to God, do you agree with the Shorter Catechism or disagree? If you agree, you affirm substance metaphysics in practice. If you disagree, well......

    Yes, but not because the Fathers utilized it.
    I remain unfazed.
     
  24. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Fair enough. I see no problem with affirming the creeds and confessions while at the same time being critical of substance metaphysics. Its a tool and it has its uses. Unfazed of what?
     
  25. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Do you mean what Westminster means when it speaks of the persons as "same in substance?"
    Criticisms of classical-based metaphysics. It's possible to read Kant and Derrida and think they are wrong. I have done so.
     
  26. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Well yes I affirm the creeds and confessions. How that means I must affirm substance metaphysics is beyond me considering I asked questions you didn't answer.
    But in all fairness if you answer the questions I laid out I will give you my critique of substance metaphysics. If a person tragically gets cut up into pieces does that mean their substance gets divided as well? Considering a substance can't be divided, how does that work?
    Is their substance tied to their physicality and it gets divided or is it some ideal picture in someone's mind and so persists? Plato vs Aristotle. Also what exactly does accidents imply about Essence? As Sartre pointed out my essence is what I do. 10 years ago my essence was a construction worker, today it is a dollar tree employe. Did my essence change?
    Accidents are always relative. Where does the line stop and become essence, or substance? Also as Hume and Berkley pointed out substance is merely an a priori assumption we lay on reality to make sense of it.
     
  27. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    A substance is a subject with properties. They retain there essence. They retain their soul. Some of the faculties' powers then go dormant.
    The unity of a substance isn't simply an aggregate of the parts. Your objection presupposes some form of nominalism.

    Modern defenses of essentialism use "properties" instead of accidents. We have essential and non-essential properties. De re and de dicto.
    That's an assertion. If applied consistently then we don't have identity through time.
    Essence and substance aren't the same thing. A substance is a subject with properties. Essence can be that but it can also be a universal. Here's a thought experiment: apply Hume's comment to Jesus.

    Hume cannot escape the reality of universals, as Bertrand Russell pointed out (Russell 96ff). If we deny, for example, the universals of “whiteness” and “triangularity,” we will still, in order to form an idea of a triangle, imagine a patch of whiteness and a three-sided figure and say that anything meeting these criteria is white and a triangle--we say that the resemblance must hold. We will also say that the resemblance must hold among many white 3-sided things. We will say that the resemblances must resemble each other. We have made “resemblance” a universal.

    As Russell pointed out, Hume failed to note that not only are qualities universals, but so are relations.

    Modern philosophy has also given some devastating defeating-defeaters to Hume. Samuel Johnson's refutation of Berkeley is a legend in philosophical studies.

    But seriously, you raise some questions dealing with mereology. I want to address those but it might take another thread.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2019
  28. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Ok then what is a substance? Traditionally it is a sub stratum of some kind that undergirds reality, either collectively or individually (Plato vs Aristotle). But how do "know" it's there? If your assuming it for some metaphysical reason than you're arguing transcendentally for it.
    If you're making a distinction between traditional and modern substance metaphysics than fine but how does modern attempts beat critiques of traditional theories? If there the same than it doesn't really matter.
    As far as Jesus goes, does his two distinct substance have a bear substance with properties attached in some way to it?
     
  29. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    A subject with properties. I've stated that about 3 or 4 times.
    Strictly speaking, he doesn't have two substances, but essences or natures. A substance is that which has properties but itself is not a property.

    Simple. I take myself. I am a subject with properties.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2019
  30. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    What exactly is the difference between a subject with properties vs a sub stratum with properties? A subject isn't an object and since objects are what we're talking about lets stick with that language.
    About Jesus are you saying that he has two nature's but no substance's? I have no problems with different nature's but how must i subscribe to substance metaphysics to affirm that?
    What happens when you strip away all the properties of an object, what are you left with? Essence or bare substance? If you say anything about it than your talking about a property.
    Subject object distinction, which one are you?
     

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