Friday, June 17, 2005

Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005)

MADRID, Spain, JUNE 16, 2005 ( Paul Ricoeur, a leading philosopher of the 20th century, died serenely in his sleep May 20 in Chatenay Malabry, Paris, at the age of 92.

Ricoeur's death occurred as he would have liked, sources close to the French thinker told ZENIT. He died at home, not in a hospital. He was spared traumatic suffering and did not lose consciousness. His funeral took place as he requested: It was discreet, and held in his Protestant parish.

Carlos Diaz, founder of the Mounier Institute and professor of phenomenology of religion at Madrid's Complutense University, knew Ricoeur personally. Diaz said that with his death has silenced one of the last Christian voices of major influence in present-day philosophy.

In July 2003, Pope John Paul II awarded Ricoeur the Paul VI International Prize and acknowledged that the philosopher's research "manifests how fruitful is the relationship between philosophy and theology, between faith and culture."

Q: What has been lost with Paul Ricoeur's demise?

Diaz: With Paul Ricoeur's death, has gone one of the last Christian voices of greatest reach and authority in today's world of philosophical thought.

His acceptance is due essentially to the hermeneutic character of his discourse, which was open to all systems, and sought the best in each.

The negative aspect of this attitude is that it pays the price of a certain non-assertiveness, namely, a certain desire "not to stress reason." In contemporary thought this approach to problems is more acceptable than one that is more open and emphatic.

Q: For what will his legacy be noted and who will carry it on?

Diaz: His legacy -- given what was said earlier -- will not be disputed exclusively by anyone; rather, he will be remembered as a friendly and kind thinker.

He will not appear with striking signs anywhere. In my opinion, the fact that Ricoeur is one of the important philosophers of our time does not mean that he will mentioned in histories of philosophy, although he will undoubtedly be known by those who are more specialized.

This will be the case because, in my opinion, Ricoeur is more analytical than propositional.

Q: Personally, what aspect of the thinker fascinates you most?

Diaz: First, the faithfulness of his friendship and the recognition of the influence Emmanuel Mounier's teaching on him.

At a purely human level, when I had the good fortune to meet him, I was impressed by his friendliness, his delicate manner, combined with a certain humorous capacity, which was not expressed, however, in biting criticism. In addition, his humility -- I would venture to say his tenderness -- to converse with anyone, including the most conceited ignoramuses.

With reference to intellectual dimension, what most impressed me about Ricoeur was his capacity to understand any author in any language; his ability to dissect problems analytically seemed to me almost unsurpassable.

Q: Are we being left orphans of great Christian intellectuals of the stature of Ricoeur?

Diaz: No, not at all. First, because I have already said that his contribution to Christianity as such was not very thematic, and then because, how can we not expect the emergence from the Christian milieu of more theologians, namely, of those who think of the Lord by leaning their head on him?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A discussion about metaphorical language (continued)

A trope (used rhetorically) = a figurative use of speech. Metaphors, similes and metonymic sememes are rhetorical tropes. A sememe = a linguistic sign (i.e. a word). A metasememe = Figuren der semantischen Deviation or metaphor, that is, a linguistic sign that undergoes some type of change (based on the etymology for "meta"). Cf. the German "Ubertragung." According to the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric edited by Thomas O. Sloane, a metaphor is a metasememe that is characterized by a substitution involving similarities. Is that a little more helpful? Sorry if some of this STOFF or my expressing of this STOFF comes across in an opaque manner. I do take pains to define terms in my dissertation.
Well, HELL, my friend, why didn't you jes' SAY SO!? Like I've always been tellin' ya, you could have just used everyday words, couldn't ya have? I mean, if a "sememe" means, in your own words, "a linguistic sign (i.e. a word)," then why in hell not just say "word"? Nothing like a good expensive edjumacation to complexify your speech, eh!

But thanks for the definitions. Now at least I KNOW yo jes puffin 'n' crappin'! (That, by the way is a metasemene (i.e., a Figuren der semantischen Deviation) used by Prof. Von Dohlen with a wide range of semantic meaning and broad manifold of diaphonic allusiveness and expansive acoustical space. (How am I doin'? ...)
On [the point that God is appropriately called "Father" rather than "Mother"], we agree. My only beef with you, it seems, is that we part ways on what "Father" communicates with respect to determinate concepts. I hold that no ontology of gender is implied by the expression "God the Father." You seem to think at masculinity is conveyed by the noun phrase above concerning the putative first person of the Trinity.
Something like that. Why, I wonder, would the divine Author of Sacred Scripture have insisted on having Himself portrayed so consistently in masculine terms in relation to us, even where He so clearly includes everything that is imaged in His creatures? As Genesis 1:27 says -- "So God created man in His own image ... in the image of God creatd He him; male and female created He them" (KJV). On the one hand, I since God is in some sense humanly incomprehensible, I agree that He is beyond gender as we understand gender. On the other hand, I believe He is portrayed in masculine terms for a good reason, and that this reason has to do with something in His nature.

Analogies are of limited use and I'm bad at them, but let me give a try: If puppies could talk and, in describing their human master to their young, say that he is a "doggie dad," there would be some tropological figurative truth in that statement. It wouldn't be literally true that the human master, an ordinary man, is a "doggie dad"; but it would be true in some sort of analogical sense.

But here is where I come to my point. Instead of being something LESS than a "doggie dad," wouldn't the human master be FAR MORE? Wouldn't the human master, assuming he is a human father, be far more a "daddy" than in any sense comprehensible to a doggie? That's how I picture God as "Father." Of course I can't prove that, since we're talking about the incomprehensible Holy Mighty and Immortal One here, but I think it pays due homage to the inspiration of Scripture and makes sense of biblical and Christian "God talk."

I don't want to be cornered into a position where I have to say that by calling God "Father," I'm making use of a figure of speech that has no more truth value than, say, speaking of the "Ground of Being," if you see what I mean. When I say God is our "Father," I want to be able to say that this means something not just subjectively for me but objectively about who God IS -- who He is in His relationship to us, yes, but also who He is in Himself (for He is eternally Father, just as the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, at least in my creed).
Metaphors are "as-if structures." The tropic expressions "Father" and "Mother" (when employed with reference to God) only say that God is a quasi-Father or quasi-Mother. It is as if God were a mother or father. In answer to your challenge, you won't hear me calling Jesus "mother" in corporate worship since that would violate our "liturgical" custom. But I'm sure that if any of my religious brothers or sisters heard me employing such nomenclature, they would assume that I had either gone bonkers or was speaking in a metasememic fashion.

While pursuing my studies, I've consulted linguists, philosophers of language, cognitive scientists, literary critics and I can only proffer a stipulative definition for the term "metaphor." Much of what I've read makes sense, whereas some of it does not. But I think there are good reasons for the mass confusion vis-a-vis metaphor.
Which mass confusion?
One reason is the irreducible phenomenon itself; another reason is the limited and fallible noetic structure that we all possess. There is also the problem of competing presuppositions and agendas amongst metaphor theorists. I'm sure you can think of yet other reasons linguists and philosophers have problems defining "metaphor" with any adequacy.
Truth-conditions are what obtain when a sentence or proposition is true. For example, truth-conditions
>obtain for the proposition "S is F" iff "S is F."
Permit the following humble translation: "Truth-conditions mean that if something is true, then it's true. In fact, its true only if it's true. . . . Profound . . .
Richard Swinburne argues that truth-conditions may obtain between complex metaphors and similes that express the same element of claim or assertion. Therefore, Swinburne contends that there is no real difference (respecting truth-conditions) between the famed metaphor "Life is a tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" and the simile version "Life is LIKE a tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." My contention, however, is that the same truth-conditions may also obtain between non-complex metaphors and similes, so that "God is light" and "God is like light" communicate the same truth.
While I might be able to say the same for the Shakespearian reference, I would argue that the two statements "God is light" and "God is like light" are not reducible to the same truth. "Like" sets up a relationship of resemblance within a context of difference between God and light, whereas "God is light" does not do so in the same way. Granted, it's what we call metaphor, but I think anyone can recognize the difference in how the statement feels. Further, granted the simplicity of the divine Nature, I would argue that there's a profound if incomprehensible sense in which God is all His attributes, which would mean that light (whatever the metaphorical meaning) IS the essence of God. That's different from "like," is it not? We could say the same for "God is love," or "God is life," or "God is goodness itself." A faithful Christian would hardly want to settle for the pale admission that God is "like" goodness, would he, especially when our Lord has said that "only One is good." Just some thoughts.
Moreover, one cannot forget about metaphorical entailments, wherein a set of figurative terms entail other tropic concepts (e.g. "Father" entails "Son" or suckling entails "mother" as in the Israelites feeding on the overflowing breasts of YHWH).
I think that almost goes without saying, even though I always find that mamory reference rather bizarre out of context. These terms, like "Father" and "Son" are ineluctably relational, just like the Persons of the Trinity are essentially "relations" in St. Thomas (although that term has to be finessed more carefully than many do, to avoid the impression of impersonal abstractness).
The problem I have with your "George is a teddy bear" example is that it seems to be based on what Max Black calls, "associated commonplaces" or what Aristotle refers to as ENDOXA. I could say, "Man is a wolf," and because of certain ENDOXA subsisting in a given Sitz-im-leben or koinonoetic context (i.e. shared presuppositional pool), some folks might conclude that I believe "man" is ferocious or carnivorous (in a metaphorical sense). But am I really saying anything about the inherent nature of men when I utter the claim about wolves? Am I not rather coining a metaphor based on certain ENDOXA? The same could be said for Schopenhauer's "A geometrical proof is a mousetrap."
"Koinonoetic context" ... That takes the cake! But let's work with that a moment. Granting the existence of a "koinonoetic (hey, we're on a roll: let's add "doxastic"!) context" in which the phrase "George is a teddy bear" means something to those sharing that context, the question may be asked: Does this mean the proposition asserts nothing about George or his own nature? I think not.

The statement "Man is a wolf" differs in not being person-specific but in referring to the genus "man." Given this fact, the statement might seem to make sense only where a certain ENDOXA or koinonoetic doxastic social context subsists -- where, for example, one is dealing with gang members in the inner city slums of Los Angeles or Chicago. Perhaps the meaning is specific to these violent individuals, in this case.

Still, couldn't one also generalize and say that given the fallen nature of man, the statement also communicates something true about man's fallen nature, the "in cuvatus in se" of his wolf-like violent heart? Whether metaphor or simile, the tropological semiotic locution (how am I doin'?) could still be understood as communicating something truthful about the nature of fallen man, could it not? Perhaps there's no significant difference over this little point.
A "mind-independent" property is simply an objective characteristic that obtains whether a given subject affirms the given property or not. A mind-independent property of water, it seems, is H20; a mind-independent property of heat, on the other hand, is molecules in motion. Whose mind? The mind of a rational creaturely entity or non-rational creaturely entity. In other words, there are evidently some properties of created entities (e.g. trees, lakes, stars, planets) that would obtain even if rational subjects did not exist on earth to apprehend or perceive them.
Oh, so you mean the objective property of a thing? Fair enough. That isn't so hard. But I do have a question. When you say that a mind-independent property of water is H2O, it sounds like you are calling the formal substance of a thing its "property." Isn't H2O WHAT water is, at least from the point of view of its chemical composition? I don't get how that's a property.

That aside, I think I understand what you mean. It sounds a lot like the Lockean distinction between primary and secondary qualities of a thing -- the primary properties belonging to the thing objectively (like weight), the secondary properties belonging to the thing as perceived subjectively (like sweetness).
My family and I concur with your words here. We too refer to Jesus' Father when we utter the Pater Noster. I certainly am not referring to God as mother or Aunt Bea when I say the prayer. On the other hand, I don't think I'm praying to a heavenly masculine figure either. As for your "innocence," it is refreshing. We need more of that in today's world.
At the risk of belaboring an earlier point, I would agree with your statement that we're not praying to "a heavenly masculine figure" only in the sense that God's Fatherhood has the property of being masculine in a sense that incomprehensably exceeds any of our pathetically girly-boy notions of what masculinity consists in. Which means, of course, that I can't help sensing when I pray to the Father what C.S. Lewis hints
at by calling a "rough male taste of reality."

A discussion about metaphorical language

Earlier, I merely sent you the prayerful invocation uttered by Anselm, while purposely making no comment regarding his prayer because I was anxious to see what you had to say. Now I will point out that I too think his words are metaphorical. Since I know that is your position as well, it is now time to unfold the implications of your view.
You're erudition is surpassed only by your charm, my friend.
We agree on how "mother" was used by theologians like Anselm or Bernard in the Middle Ages. One thing that I don't understand, however, is why your view appears to lack consistency with respect to the metaphors "Father" and "Mother." For instance, when calling God "Father," you insist that the paternal trope (assuming it is one) informs those who encounter it via writing or speech WHAT God is. On the other hand, when medieval theologians address God as "Mother," you say that it does not tell us WHAT God is. I, however, believe that neither metasememe ("Mother" or "Father") tells us WHAT God is but only what the deity is like.
Hey, my friend, do you remember where Zaliv Kara Bagaz Gol is? No? Well, I don't rememember what a trope or a metasemem is. See if you can C.S. Lewis-ize your lingo a wee bit.

Well, I agree that both terms can be used to tell us what God is like, but, for whatever reason (I can't exactly say why), it's proper to call God our Father, but not proper to call Him our Mother, perhaps because the Bible tells us He's our Father.
Metaphors are "as-if structures." The tropic expressions "Father" and "Mother" (when employed with reference to God) only say that God is a quasi-Father or quasi-Mother. It is as if God were a mother or father. In answer to your challenge, you won't hear me calling Jesus "mother" in corporate worship since that would violate our "liturgical" custom. But I'm sure that if any of my religious brothers or sisters heard me employing such nomenclature, they would assume that I had either gone bonkers or was speaking in a metasememic fashion.
Well, like me, they probably wouldn't have much of a clue what your were talking about and might doubt whether you did either ...
As I mentioned earlier, Paul Ricouer argues that metaphors also dialectically preserve the tension between the "is" and the "is not," even if "is not" or "like" or "as" do not appear in metaphorical propositions. In another helpful study on religion and metaphor by Janet Soskice, we are told that metaphors are figures of speech that speak of one thing in terms suggestive of another thing. The key to remember here is that metaphors (as George Caird further points out) are linguistic assertions, not ontological pronouncements. They are literally false, but figuratively true. They assert unfamiliar identity syntheses, not create them. In short, I'm trying to say that whether one says "God is our Mother," "God is like a Mother," or "God fed the Israelites from his overflowing breasts," we are pretty much asserting the same thing. The truth-conditions for all three propositions are identical, even though not all metaphors assume the syntactical form "S is P" or "A is B."
Of the "historical-critical" approach to the Bible, C.S. Lewis says that at first sight it is very convincing. I think I should be convinced myself, he ways, but that I carry about with me a charm -- the herb MOLY -- against it (you may know the classical reference to the herb Hermes gave Odysseus against the wiles of Circe).

I sometimes feel thus about some of the experts in linguistic theory. They seem to find ways of twisting things around so that they no longer make any common sense.

I can see the angle of your argument. I understand the inferences. But I don't think I can buy it. I just do not see the "truth-conditions" (whatever that means) as "identical."

You distinguish between linguistic assertions and ontological predications, what is literally false and figuratively true. On one level, I agree with these distinctions as you apply them to metaphor. It's literally false that George is a teddy bear, though figuratively true. In that sense it's not an ontological predication, granted. But I don't want to follow those, like Tillich and many others, who want to make "metaphor" and "figurative" reducible to or translatable into something that can be re-stated "more accurately" in more "scientific" terms. How would we do that with "George is a teddy bear"? Try it. It doesn't work. Somethng is lost rather than gained by the attempt. So I want to say that George's "teddy bear-ness" does predicate something about his being even if it does
so in a non-literal way. It doesn't mean nothing (or just anything) to call George a "teddy bear." For those of us who know him, it has a very precise recognitional Wesenheit (that was for your benefit)! One thing for sure, George ain't no "chihuaha."
Repeat after me, my friend and instructor. :-)

Metaphors do not literally synthesize or create identity: they assert it. They create meaning or new significances by stating that "S is P." I don't think what I'm suggesting diminishes the referential significance of terms such as "Father" "Shepherd" or "King." Nor am I sure that by "symbol," Tillich means to say that there is no actually existing referent for terms such as "Son" or "Mother." I could be wrong here, though. The bottom line is that when I predicate paternity or maternity of God metaphorically, I may be referring to God, but I am not asserting that he has the mind-independent properties of maternity/paternity.
"Metaphors do not literally synthesize or create identity: they assert it." I would also add that, when properly ("fittingly") used, metaphors assert identity based on the discerned nature of a being.

As for poor, schizoid Tillich, it all depends on which genre of his works you read-- his pastoral writings or his systematic writings. In the former it sounds like his metaphors and symbols actually refer to something. In his systematics works, it's not clear that they couldn't refer to just about anything, or nothing in particular. But that's another story.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say that when you call God "Father" you aren't asserting that He has "mind-independent" properties of paternity. Can you give me an example of a mind-independent property? Whose mind? What property?

As for my humble household, when we say "Our Father, which art in Heaven ..." we're referring to our Heavenly Father. Not a mother hen. Not Aunt Abbey. Not Boy George. Not even God the Son. But to His Father and ours. But of course my "innocence" must be quite frustrating here. Sorry about that.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Kierkegaard against feminism

Beautiful Words About Women

by Alice von Hildebrand

To write on Kierkegaard's thought is an act of daring. In a way this is true of many philosophers. One only need think of the various interpretations given to Aristotle.

Those acquainted with the voluminous literature written about the greatest Danish philosopher (and Kierkegaard remarked wittingly that "there is only one") will face a similar difficulty. Who was he? One thing is certain: Soren Kierkegaard seemed to derive an impish pleasure from putting us off track. To my knowledge, no other thinker has written a series of works under various pseudonyms. When he published Either/Or [1: Kierkegaard's Writings, Vol. 3] (a work which unlike most of his publications enjoyed great success), it was rightly suspected that the witty young man might be the author. He denied it in very strong terms, but later acknowledged his authorship. He made this confession at a time when he simultaneously claimed that none of his early works contain a single word which is his! Yet, Walter Lowrie, a devoted admirer of Kierkegaard, argues that several of them contain valuable biographical information.

In a remarkable book published posthumously, The Point of View for My Work As an Author, Kierkegaard informs us that his intention from the very beginning of his career as a writer was religious -- something which is surprising indeed if one reads such works of his as Either/Or. He intimates that, given the secularized nature of Denmark, the indirect way of communication was the one which had a chance of catching the attention of "this individual who is my reader" and bringing him to Christianity (later, however, he changed his mind). Kierkegaard was definitely a committed Christian.

It is not my purpose here to discuss some of the contradictory interpretations of his thought that scholars have offered; such would call for a whole book. In the framework of this article, my modest concern is to shed some light on Kierkegaard's views on women. His position is ambiguous; he has written about them both beautifully and spitefully. Deal Hudson, in his book An American Conversion, tells us that he did not like Kierkegaard because the latter "did not like women -- a remark likely to attract the sympathies of the fair sex.

I am going to take to Kierkegaard's defense and show that the few regrettable things he wrote about women are largely compensated by the beautiful things he wrote about them, and that his insights into the female personality and role in human and religious life could only come from the pen of someone who has loved.

That Kierkegaard loved Regina Olsen [pictured below right] is something no one can deny, for he says so explicitly and unambiguously. It is true that a German "scholar" by the name of Schrempf contested this fact. But Kierkegaard was in a privileged position to know his feelings for his fiancee; I find it wiser to trust him.

The Soren Kierkegaard-Regina Olsen love story is certainly one of the most tragic in the history of great love affairs. He fell in love with her; he conquered her; he got engaged to her and was hoping to marry her. Then, to his horror and despair, he realized that he could not achieve the universal, tread the common path, and marry the girl he loved. Kierkegaard was a penitent; he had received a special calling which was not compatible with marriage. He often refers to the tragedy of Abraham, who was called upon to sacrifice the son he loved. To read about how he broke off his engagement, about her despair, about the humiliation to which her proud father submitted himself by begging him not to abandon his daughter, and the qualms of conscience that Kierkegaard suffered make at times painful reading. To the end of his life, he makes reference to this drama. At times, he hoped he could, after all, make her his wife. All these hopes were dashed when he found out that she was engaged to a previous beau that his ardent courtship had eliminated from the picture. That this was a serious blow, that he probably had to fight against a certain bitterness and disappointment, is not unlikely. He left her his literary bequest -- this was rejected by Regina's husband, and it fell into the hands of Kierkegaard's older brother, Peter. But this is not my concern here.

My claim is that someone who has written so beautifully about the love between man and woman, who has tasted its sweetness and enchantment, cannot be a misogynist. Someone who has never been deeply moved by the sublime beauty of a sunset would be well advised not to give a course on aesthetics.

What does Kierkegaard have to say on the topic of women? We shall examine his observations in The Woman Who Was a Sinner, an "Edifying Discourse" he composed shortly before his death, and in Either/Or, a book in which the young Kierkegaard etches two radically different conceptions of life: Either is sheer hedonism; Or is an ethical conception of life and marriage. We shall purposely omit the unflattering remarks that he puts in the mouth of characters etched in The Banquet, and those clearly influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer, the misogynist par excellence. My exclusive aim is to show that the sublime things he has written about women prove that the true Kierkegaard - the fiance of Regina -- had deep insights into the mystery of femininity and the crucial role that women play in both human and religious life.

He refers to "that unspeakable blissful feeling, the eternal force in the world - earthly love" (Or). He puts the following words in the mouth of Judge William, the defender of love and marriage in Or: "For what would all my love and all my effort avail if she did not come to my aid, and what would I avail if she did not arouse in me the enthusiasm to will?" How profoundly has Kierkegaard understood that feelings -- powerful as they may be -- have little chance of survival if they are not backed up by the will, which gives them their full reality and validity (ibid.). Dietrich von Hildebrand, in his Ethics, calls this "sanctioning" valid feelings, just as one is called upon to disavow "illegitimate feelings." How far Kierkegaard is from cheap romanticism and the dangerous wallowing in one's own emotions sought for their own enjoyment and in which the object motivating them is purely instrumental to achieve this self-seeking purpose.

Kierkegaard addresses himself to the perennial topic, the weakness of the female sex, so strikingly formulated by Shakespeare: "Frailty, woman is thy name." Kierkegaard comments: "Woman is weak -- no, she is humble, she is much closer to God than man is. Hence it is that love is everything to her, and she will certainly not disdain the blessing and confirmation which God is ready to bestow upon her .... Man is proud,he would be everything, would have nothing above him (Or). These are certainly not the words of a misogynist!

Kierkegaard understands the crucial role that God intends to play in a woman's life. The degradation nurtured by the feminist movement is to convince women that their greatness resides not in love -- a self-giving abandonment -- but in rivaling males in creativity and exterior accomplishments. It is a repeat of the sin of Esau, who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. A woman's mission is essentially a religious one. The noble role of women is religious, "for to a woman it belongs essentially to pray for others" (Ibid.).

That it is easier (or rather less difficult) for a woman to be humble finds its expression in the following words: "A first love is humble and therefore rejoices that there is a power higher than it. If only for the reason that it has someone to thank. (It is for this cause one finds a pure first love more rarely in men than in women)" (Ibid.).

Kierkegaard has also intuited that love is the crucial factor in a woman's life. It is the value that unifies her, that makes sense of her existence. It is easy for her to grasp the meaning of the famous sentence in The Canticle of Canticles that he who gives up everything for love would consider this donation as nothing. He writes: "It would be very difficult to convince a woman that earthly love in general might be sin, since by this affirmation her whole existence is destroyed in its deepest root" (Or).

That many women betray this calling is, of course, true, just as it is also true that many men lose sight of their noble mission to help and protect the weak. But a philosopher's approach is not sociological. He is not -- or should not be -- concerned with statistics, but with "essences" -- the metaphysical "secret" of a being, unveiling what it is called upon to be. How profoundly has Kierkegaard grasped the admirable complementarity which God has established between man and woman: "It ennobles the whole man by the blush of bashfulness which belongs to woman but is the corrector of man; for woman is the conscience of man.... His proud wrath is quelled by the fact that he turns back constantly to her. Her weakness is made strong by the fact that she leans upon him (Ibid.).

Wrath is weakness under the appearance of strength; to acknowledge one's weakness and call for help is true strength. This is why St. Paul writes, "It is when I am weak that I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). Man needs woman; woman needs man. (this is an admirable teaching of Catholic theology, illuminating the role that Mary -- the woman par excellence -- played in redemption).

Kierkegaard remarks that, according to Genesis, it is the man who leaves his father and mother, not the woman. This certainly indicated that the Bible does not look down upon the woman: "A man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife" (2:24). We would expect it rather to say that woman shall leave her father and mother and shall cleave unto her husband, for woman is in fact the weaker sex. In the scriptural expression there is a recognition of woman's importance, and "no knight could be more gallant toward her" (Or).

Kierkegaard rejects the view that marriage is exclusively the necessary means to procreate. But one should not draw the conclusion that he would favor artificial birth control or abortion. He sees the child as a fruit of love, and not as the exclusive purpose of marriage, which, if it were so, would render love an unnecessary addition: "And yet such a marriage [exclusively for the sake of procreation] is as unnatural as it is arbitrary, nor has it any support in Holy Scripture. For in the bible we read that God established marriage because 'it is not good for man to be alone,' hence in order to give him company (ibid.). And: "it is always an insult to a girl to want to marry her for any other reason than because one loves her" (ibid.).

That Kierkegaard understands the dignity of a child is expressed in the following words: "the highest thing one person can owe another is ... life" (ibid.). And: "Children belong to the inmost and most hidden life of the family.... every child has a halo around its head.... the father will feel with humility that the child is a trust, and that he is in the most beautiful sense of the word only a stepfather" (ibid.).

Kierkegaard has a keen sense of the mystery of love. How far it is from a cold, rational calculation in which one makes a careful list of desirable qualities that a spouse should possess.

An objection that could be raised to what Sheldon Vanauken calls "the wrinkled of heart" (A Severe Mercy) is that the Church does not ask the Bride and the Bridegroom whether they love each other, but whether they are willing to bind themselves with the bonds of marriage. Kierkegaard has a prompt answer: "If the Church does not ask if they love one another, this is by no means because it would nullify earthly love, but because it assumes it" (Or). He adds: "all the talk about the disparagement of love by the Church is utterly unfounded and exists only for him who has taken offense at religion" (ibid.).

These quotations should be read in connection with Kierkegaard's claim that, for women, love is everything. He sheds light on the role she is to play in marriage -- a communion that should always be lit by the light and warmth of love, for marriage is the pillar of society.

Not only is the woman the heart, but because the affective sphere is her anchor, she is given a great talent to read into the soul of her mate. Kierkegaard writes: "who is such a judge of men as is a woman?" (ibid.).

The importance of women is often downgraded or even denigrated because she is called upon to deal with the small and indispensable tasks of human life -- the tasks that the French poet Verlaine calls "les travaux ennuyeux et faciles" (the boring and simple tasks). But Kierkegaard's sharp glance makes him understand that a special loving talent is required to elevate small things through the loving attention given them. A little French girl (St. Therese of Lisieux) who became a saint and died some 40 years after him would unveil a secret of sainthood: Do everything with love, even small tasks such as cleaning or cooking. Kierkegaard writes: "She [woman] was created to deal with the small, and knows how to give it an importance, a dignity, a beauty which enchants. Marriage liberates one from habits, from the tyranny of one-sidedness, from the yoke of whims" (ibid.).

One of Kierkegaard's deep insights is his understanding that "habit" is a deadly enemy. To say one's prayers by rote while thinking about something else; to kiss one's spouse out of habit, or to go to church because one has always done it is to inject a poison into meaningful things. This is why he writes in Works of Love [Kierkegaard's Writings, Vol 16] that "one hundred cannons should warn us against the danger of habit." Habit puts dust on everything it touches. It kills poetry; it freezes the buds of spring.

Kierkegaard has also grasped the paradoxical character of women, a paradox which some men find so difficult to understand, that a man is best equipped to understand a woman -- and vice versa. But this presupposes a deep mutual love. St. Claire of Assisi was no doubt the best disciple of St. Francis of Assisi; St. Jeanne Francoise de Chantal had a unique understanding of the holiness of St. Francis de Sales. This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself.

The mysterious side of women is expressed by Kierkegaard in the following words: "It belongs to her nature to be more perfect and more imperfect than man. If one would indicate the purest and most perfect quality, one says 'a woman'; if one would indicate the weakest, and most feeble thing, on says 'a woman'; if one would give a notion of a spiritual quality raised above all sensuousness, one says 'a woman'; if one would give a notion of the sensuous, one says 'a woman'; if one would indicate innocence in all of its lofty greatness, one says 'a woman'; if one would point to the depressing feeling of sin, one says 'a woman.' In a certain sense, therefore, woman is more perfect than man, and this the scripture expresses by saying that she has more guilt" (Or).

Kierkegaard confessed on his death bed that his life had been a long suffering. He knew its bitter taste and he also knew its purifying effect if properly accepted and embraced. No doubt, this gave him a deep insight into the fate of women to give birth in pain and anguish; he knew that it is probably easier for a woman to understand that there is a deep bond between suffering and love, suffering out of love. "Is she not as close to God as you? Will you deprive her of the opportunity of finding God in the deepest and most heartfelt way -- through pain and suffering" (ibid.).

It also was his conviction that women have a religious mission toward men. Whereas Eve was a temptress who led her husband to a fall, she finds in Christianity her true role -- to help him toward God: "above all have a little more reverence for women," Kierkegaard wrote, "believe me, from her comes salvation, as surely as hardening comes from man.... It is my conviction that if it was a woman that ruined man, it was woman also that has fairly and honestly made reparation and still does so; out of a hundred men who go astray in the world, ninety and nine are saved by women and one by immediate divine grace....You can easily see that in my opinion woman [when she restores a man to the state] makes due requital for the harm she has done" (ibid.).

Kierkegaard is a radical enemy of feminism. He views it as a diabolical plan to ruin both femininity and the salvific role women are called upon to play. He writes: "I hate all talk about the emancipation of woman. God forbid that ever it may come to pass. I cannot tell you with what pain this thought is able to pierce my heart, nor what passionate exasperation, what hate I feel toward everyone who gives vent to such talk" (ibid.).

Prophetically, Kierkegaard foresees the horror of a unisex society: "But the poor wretches known not what they do, they are not able to be men, and instead of learning to be that, they would ruin woman and would be united with her on terms of remaining what they were, half-men..." (ibid.).

One could object that I am contradicting myself: I have mentioned about that Kierkegaard claimed that his early works do not reflect his own views. But the same thing can be said of The Banquet, which contained some very unflattering remarks about the weaker sex.

This is why I shall conclude by referring to an "Edifying Discourse" to his Training in Christianity that Kierkegaard wrote shortly before his death and which I consider to be his "last will" on the question of femininity. It is titled The Woman Who Was a Sinner. No one reading it could possibly draw the conclusion that Kierkegaard was a misogynist.

The Woman Who Was a Sinner contains a sublime eulogy about woman -- the match of which is not easy to find. It should be read by everyone who has a sincere interest in Kierkegaard's thought. No commentary upon this text can be satisfactory, for what Kierkegaard writes is so admirably formulated that grateful receptivity alone is called for. The "ungodly rage" of feminists might have been somewhat quelled had they been acquainted with the insights of a thinker who through prayer and suffering had undertook the noble mission of those who are told to "keep silent in the churches" (1 Cor. 14:34). The calling of women is to piety and godliness. This is precisely what it means to remain silent -- for to keep silent in front of God is to drink at this holy fount of wisdom which teaches one godliness.

The danger of many men -- be they professors Kierkegaard hated so much, be they contemporary theologians who want to explain everything and irreverently tear the veil concealing holy mysteries - is that they raise questions about things that God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen not to reveal. Instead of reverently dwelling on the rich fullness of revealed truths, they want to conquer by reason "the secrets of the kingdom" (Mt. 13:11). The result being that because of their proud lack of receptivity toward the content of divine revelation, they arrogantly want to teach God -- and become very foolish in their worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 1).

How different from Mary's attitude. And because of her faith and silence, her holy receptivity, she was granted to become the mother of the Savior. Kierkegaard had already mentioned in Or that "woman believes that with God all things are possible." Now, his theme is to praise Mary, the blessed one among women who "kept all these things in her heart" though not understanding. No doubt, for him, Mary was the model of femininity, and Mary Magdalene, the sinner, who was also at the foot of the cross, learned from her that "one thing alone is necessary" (Lk. 10:42).

Feminism manifests its evil genius by offering a caricature of femininity and misreading the order of St. Paul that women should "keep silent in the churches." To feminists it seals their inferiority. In fact, the very opposite is true: To remain silent is to accept being fecundated, and to be fecundated by God is to be blessed. It is written in the Gospel that men will be held responsible for every unnecessary word they have uttered. One shudders at the thought of the endless perorations of some pompous theologians who inundate libraries with "theories" that are at odds with God's revelation, which as Kierkegaard writes, should be read on one's knees -- as one reads a letter from one's fiancee.

Just as one thing alone is necessary, Mary Magdalene teaches us that there is one source of great sorrow: grief over one's sinfulness. Real contrition is a response of profound grief because one has offended the Holy One whom one now loves with every fiber of one's being. Mary Magdalene has -- through God's grace -- ascended very high on the scale of perfection, but the higher she finds herself, the more she will recall that she is "the woman who was a sinner." The more miserable she sees herself to be, the more she loves the One who has come not for the righteous but to save sinners. Mary Magdalene will not be forgotten because she did not forget -- and did not want to forget -- that she was a sinner who has been forgiven.

Kierkegaard grants us that man is stronger than "weak woman." But this very weakness is compensated -- as he emphatically underlines - by the fact that she is "unified." Man has many thoughts; Mary Magdalene has but one. She has one sorrow, that she is a sinner. She has only one burning desire: to be forgiven. This burning desire to be forgiven is expressed by her tears, and the gift of a precious perfume poured on the Holy One. The fact that she dries His feet with her hair, expresses her religious "seriousness," for, Kierkegaard tells us, this is precisely what seriousness means. Mary Magdalene's sorrow over her sinful life does not drive her to despair -- the "sickness unto death" -- but to loving confidence that He who is love and mercy will cleans her of her sins. Responding to the "offense" taken by the disciples that money spent on this precious ointment should have been given to the poor, Christ says that there will always be poor among us, and that wherever His Gospel will be preached, her deed of contrition and love will be proclaimed. This precious perfume symbolizes an act of adoration -- the only adequate response to God. Mary Magdalene teaches us that this response to His holiness is the liturgical act par excellence. This is what the Holy Liturgy teaches us. This is what is being forgotten today.

Mary Magdalene's loving repentance makes her scorn shame, disgrace, and humiliation: She is publicly acknowledged to be a sinner. But all this she tramples under foot because she loved Him who is love, and knows that there is greater joy in Heaven for a repentant sinner than for one hundred "just" who have no need of repentance.

Kierkegaard tells us that Mary Magdalene (a model for all women) experiences "infinite indifference" -- an indifference which is at the antinodes of the cynical, diabolical "nothing matters" attitude which has gained currency in some modern literature. What does it matter what people think of her or say about her? She has conquered this holy indifference because she knows that men tend to be chatterboxes who make noise but say nothing. She loves, and trust that much will be forgiven her because she has loved much.

To conclude, let me refer to Pastor Boesen's testimony about Kierkegaard, he who was Kierkegaard's closest friend. Boesen tells us that Kierkegaard was the purest man he had ever known, that he "stood in a finer, purer and higher relationship to women" than other men. It is impossible to be pure and not to respect women.

In light of this, it should be evident that to compare Kierkegaard to Nietzsche -- who, brutally, advises men never to forget their whip when they go to a woman -- is not only unfortunate but very unjust.

Man-haters and woman-haters are to be pities indeed because they are blind to the biblical teaching that they are made for each other and are called to help each other to love the One who is the source of all love.

[Alice von Hildebrand [pictured left] is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is the author, most recently, of The Soul of a Lion (Ignatius), about her late husband, the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand [pictured right]; The Privilege of Being a Woman (Sapientia Press); and By Love Refined [Letters to a Young Bride] (Sophia Institute Press). She has written extensively for many Catholic periodicals and appears frequently on Mother Agelica's EWTN. This article is reprinted with permission from New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Best introductions to Aristotle and Thomistic metaphysics

Anyone wishing to master or even gain an elementary acquaintance of Aristotelian thinking or Thomistic metaphysics must begin by learning what amounts to a new language--the language of Aristotle (the teacher of Alexander the Great). In many ways this is analogous to learning the language of computers, where one must learn about "hard drives," "USB ports," "gigabytes," "CD-ROMs," and so forth. In the case of Aristotle and Thomistic metaphysics, you have to become familiar with the vocabulary that includes words like "substance," "accidents," "quality," "relation," "essence," and so forth.

One of the best and most painless introductions to this Aristotelian language is Mortimer Adler's popular classic, Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy. Adler follows the divisions of learning found in Aristotle (theoretical, practical, and productive) and divides up his book into corresponding parts, beginning in reverse order with the most easily accessible and progressing to the more difficult: (1) making, (2) doing, (3) knowing. Adler is exceptionally gifted at simplifying difficult concepts, and makes use of extensive practical illustrations which bring Aristotle's concepts readily to life. He also appends an annotated bibliography guiding the reader where to find specific passages in Aristotle's writings catalogued by topic.

When it comes to Thomistic metaphysics, one of the best introductions is Peter Kreeft's annotated anthology of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, entitled A Summa of the Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of st Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica Edited and Explained for Beginners. Kreeft's footnotes are invaluable for the beginner in St. Thomas Aquinas's writings. Of course, there are numerous commentaries and synopses of St. Thomas's philosophy and theology available. Among the best are G. K. Chesterton's classic, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. The "Dumb Ox" is not intended as a slur on St. Thomas but refers to the biographical facts of St. Thomas's shyness and portliness as a student, when he acquired the sobriquet, or nickname. Chesterton's book is remarkably well written and insightful. Also good is Josef Pieper's Guide to Thomas Aquinas, as well as Etienne Gilson's more scholarly and excellent study, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Anyone wishing to make their way thence into the deeper waters of metaphysics proper would do well to start with the clear and indispensably important introductions by Etienne Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers and The Unity of Philosophical Experience. The author is clearer than any other writers to be found in English, and will prevent the reader from chasing down blind alleys and undue confusion. Gilson also offers constant reference to the historical development of metaphysical ideas, which helps to furnish the rationale for the development of various concepts in their original context. Also excellent is the work of Gilson's pupil, Joseph Owen, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, which is neither elementary nor "Christian" except in the sense that the metaphysical concepts are employed, among other things, in application to the Christian theology of God. Owens' detailed historical footnotes are invaluable for intermediate and advanced students. Those who would profit from a discussion by a philosopher equally acquainted with classic Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics and contemporary physics may enjoy reading Means to Message: A Treatise on Truth by Stanley L. Jaki, a Hungarian-born Catholic priest of the Benedictine Order who has doctorates in both philosophy and physics, the author of almost forty books on philosophy and science, and the recipient of the Lecomte du Nouy Prize for 1970 and of the Templeton Prize for 1987, and was invited to give the prestigous Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh in both 1975 and 1976, as well as the Fremantle Lectures at Oxford in 1977. His books may be purchased at a discount directly from the author at
Rev. Stanley L. Jaki
P.O. Box 167
Princeton, NJ 08542-0167
Tel. 609-896-3979 (call around 8 pm.)
A full catalog of Dr. Jaki's books is available online at his homepage, and his books may also be purchased through his major distributor at Real View Books Shipping Office.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Matrix, and faith that the world is more than five minutes old

You'll recall that for the guy who wanted to be put BACK into the Matrix that the beef and the red-dress woman were real enough. What was really real wasn't relevant to him. Sadly, knowing the beef is real might mean that in reality it's just moldering, fatty hamburger. Knowing the woman is real might mean knowing that you had too much to drink the night you thought she was pretty or that her dress was red.
True. The philosophically relevant point is that not caring about existence, but only for essence (actually accidents of taste and appearances of the womanish phenomenon in what looks like the red dress) corresponds to "essentialism," while caring about being corresponds not only to "existentialism" but the classical metaphysical position of, say, Thomas Aquinas, that the principal features of reality are "esse," "act" and "perfection."

While it may be true for Kant that "being" isn't a "real predicate," and therefore can't be a content of simple apprehension (the first act of the mind), nevertheless it's also true that we apprehend things as "existing" in our everyday acts of judgment (the second act of the mind) in a complex synthesis of a formal (non-material) judgment that things either exist or don't: like "I'll take the real $100 over the imaginary $100 dollars, please."
I suspect G.K. Chesterson, were he pressed on the issue, would have to concede that there's faith and then there's faith. There's the faith that, based on one's past experiences, one can reasonably predict future happenings, such as the daily rising of the sun or that roses will continue to smell like roses. Then there's axiomatic Faith which needs no independent verification because it is, definitionally, a matter of faith. To confuse the two, in my humble opinion, is bad epistemology.
If I understand you correctly, you're distinguishing between what is (1) evidentially probable and (2) matters of blind faith-- the former having some sort of basis in empirical facticity, the latter none.

I am impressed that anyone whose seen and thought about the Matrix as you certainly must have would think the matter so simple. As my favorite atheist Bertrand Russell
points out, for example, how do we know that the world did not come into existence
five minutes ago with all the appearance it now has of age? Is there any piece of
factual empirical data that you could point to that would make it any more probable
than not that the world did so?

Of course, like you I think it's perfectly "reasonable" to believe that the world has had a long history, that memory is generally reliable, that the deliverances of our sense experience are generally reliable, that we have minds, that we have free will, and so forth. But I don't for a moment suppose that any of these things can be known apart from something very much like faith or trust-- of the sort that would utterly confound anyone who tried to demonstrate these things to a Humean skepic.

You might enjoy reading a chapter called "The Suicide of Thought" by Chesterton in his delightful little booklet for closet atheists entitled Orthodoxy. It's hilarious.
I never said either faith or knowing were so simple. When you assert that by Faith (using the big "F" to denote religious faith) I mean "blind faith," you are making a subtle two-pronged argument, which respectfully both miss my point.

Prong 1) Infer and imply that TC has argued that all Faith equals the sort of faith that is blind and irrational and generally unsupported by anything other than stubbornness or ignorance.

But this characterization misses the fact that I concede and even applauded the fact that that for many people Faith is rarely blind and unsupported. Instead, it comes from having a feeling in your gut (your soul?) that this thing is correct. Faith very often comes from an experience - real or perceived - of God. I am not in a position to evaluate what this experience is or its validity in individual people, but I acknowledge that it is there.

What I won't accept, however, is the proposition that this basis in experience is somehow a self-evident axiom upon which all sorts of logical conclusions can be reached. All too often, such a view leads people down the primrose path of moral and spiritual certainty by which they unknowingly fall in to ignorant and narcissistic condescension. It's one thing to poo-poo moral relativism; it's quite another to lay the down the full of canon of Natural Law. Speaking of which, has the Church articulated all of the rules that comprise Natural Law yet?
Fair enough. Several things here. Though I haven't the time for it now, your characterization of Faith calls for some sorting out. First, I would want to distinguish (a bit differently than you do) between "faith" (as a subjective act) and "Faith" (as an objective content, usually of the Christian Faith). Second, I would want to define "faith" in God as an act of "intellectual assent" in which the will is moved not by an intellectual object (as in "knowledge") but by God's grace, making faith a supernatural gift rather than a natural achievement. Third, one would have to distinguish between such religious "faith" and other acts of "belief" in which one's assent is moved by an act of will (such as trust in one's wife or friends, or the proposition that the world is more than 5 minutes old), etc. Fourth, though I do not doubt that the religious convictions of people may rest to some extent on some sort of "gut feeling" (or feeling of "certitude"), or even that this feeling may be one of the by-products of faith, but I would not want to argue (and I'm not claiming that you do) that this constitutes the only basis for such convictions or that a "self-evident axiom upon which all sorts of logical conclusions can be reached." Fifth, I would want to distinguish from the subjective act of "faith" the objective appeal of rational arguments that may be adduced in support of The Faith (only the latter constitute a basis for "intellectual conclusions"). Sixth, I would want to stress that "knowledge" and "rational proof" are person-relative and situational, and that most of what we reasonably claim to "know" we could not conclusively demonstrate that we know to a sufficiently tenacious skeptic. Seventh, no, the Church has not made any declarations laying out the content of Natural Law since it is not an article of faith and no part of Church dogma.
The very point of Faith and faith (meaning faith in sensory perceptions) is that an experience - a knowing - is incomplete. By themselves, Faith and faith are just bridges between what we think we know and what is. If a thing is experienced and understood in its entirety - putting the limits of sensory perception aside for now - then Faith and faith are no longer necessary. If Faith and faith change, then in both cases it is because what they are bridging has changed.
Agreed. I would add that there is very little that we could be said to understand in its entirety, and that confidence in reason (our faculty for making sense of experience) is itself a matter of some sort of faith.
But what I was getting at in my last email when I used the term "axiomatic Faith" was that all too often people are unwilling to allow Faith to be changed in light of new information, even though they allow faith to regularly be changed by new perceptions. The only way I could account for this difference is that Faith must be, to some extent, a matter of belief and knowing that is beyond mere sensory experience. It's a matter of faith.
I agree that this is true not only of many groups of people of religious faith, but also of many groups of people unwilling to allow their political convictions to be changed in light of new information, for example. Or, for that matter, the excessive and nearly "axiomatic" confidence the public seems too often to repose in television and the western media. Here I love Alasdair MacIntyre's reference to "the readership of the NEW YORK TIMES, or at least to that part of it which shares the presuppositions of those who write that parish magazine of affluent and self-congratulatory liberal enlightenment ...." (Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, p. 5).
Prong 2: Conclude that because even the simplest of "evidentially probable" events can't be known in an absolute sense that Faith, as a way of knowing, is perfectly valid. In other words, because you can't prove that the world wasn't created five minutes ago my Faith is valid.
Why should one believe that I make such an inference? Isn't the import of what I wrote here simply that a probabilistic argument is never more than a probabilistic argument? I don't see (any more than you) how the fact that one can't furnish conclusive arguments for conclusions in one sphere would make the conclusions of another sphere (where one similarly can't furnish conclusive arguments) any more intellectually credible. It simply shows that the situations are similar, does it not? Namely, that many things we reasonably believe cannot be supported by conclusive argument. The Matrix comes to mind, as a possible film for a future course in philosophy and film.
The problem with this prong is that a lack of absolute certainty about sense perceptions in no way bolsters arguments about Faith. To crib from Aristotle, ordinary sensory perceptions really only deal with everyday events which occur lower down the chain of being. Faith , on the other hand, has always claimed to be about things higher up the chain. The two really should be unrelated, except to the extent that a person claims sense perceptions as basis for Faith, in which case they may very well be talking about something other than mundane perceptions.
Your first sentence is answered by my foregoing paragraph. As to the distinction between the realm of senses and the realm of religious faith, I would say this: while it's true that physical sensation is one thing and the intellectual assent involved in faith is another, I would not want to say they are unrelated. It is an act of faith, for example, to believe that your sensations offer access to a real external world at all, is it not? Like the religious faith, trusting the deliverances of our senses involves an intellectual assent that involves an act of will, does it not?
I'm reading an interesting passage in Thomas Merton's Zen and the Birds of Appetite that somewhat addresses this point. From the Zen and Buddhist points of view, everyday perceptions - even the perceptions of one's own thoughts and cravings - are always objects observed by the omnipresent subject "I." Zen cannot be adequately described in subject-object terms because it strives to describe the perception of the world as simply existing, no subjects, no objects. The Zen master does not deny the existence of subject and objects. His experience, however, tells him that this is simply not how the universe is.
Tucker N. Callaway's equasions (in Zen Way--Jesus Way) are to the point as well: for Zen Buddhism, "everything is mind, and mind is no-thing." But isn't that as much an act of willed intellectual assent as believing the world is more than five minutes old or believing in God? I don't see how "experience," as such, teaches us anything. As C.S. Lewis observes in one essay, "Experience by itself proves nothing. If a man doubts whether he is dreaming or waking, no experiment can solve his doubt, since every experiment may itself be part of the dream. Experience proves this, or that, or nothing, according to the preconceptions we bring to it."
All I meant by Chesterson having to concede that there's faith and then there's Faith is that the former allows me to wallow around in my day-to-day life, while the latter is my link to the higher parts of the chain of being. In an objectless world, the two would be the same. But I'm no Zen Master. I'm just a due admiring the pretty red dresses.
Well spoken, Sensei!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Metaphor and gender in theological language (continued ...)

[A continued development of the discussion on terms such as "Father," "He" vs. "Godself" in theological language.]

After reading [Martin Heidegger's] Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) again, I tend to agree [that his language is turgid]. I also sometimes wonder if Heidegger wasn't pulling a fast one on us all. Does HE even know what he's talking about in S & Z?
Good question.
I employ "Godself" because it is standard terminology in the Trinitarian literature I regularly assimilate, plus I believe the nomenclature does full justice to Origen's concept of autotheos.
Well, I suppose as a technical translation of 'autotheos' in Origen studies, it's excusable, at least, if barely. =)
My point is that Justin viewed the title "Father" as a "form of address" that humans have coined based on God's benefices and works. Justin indicates that "Father" (as a designation for God) does not imply God is masculine IN SE or immanently: the term "Father" does not tell us anything about God's essence or what God is like AD INTRA.
I agree that it's a form of address, though I wouldn't want to say that it's (merely!) coined by humans. Isn't God the primary cause of His revelation? Also, I'm hesitant to say that this doesn't reflect in some way on God's nature in the following sense: even if we say that God is not masculine IN SE [in Himself], but only in His relationship AD NOS [to us], why is it that we do NOT say that He is feminine AD NOS? There must be a reason. What's the status of that reason? That's what I would want to explore.
I, as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, have no problem with believing God has a proper name (NOMEN PROPRIUM). Isa 42:8 suggests that YHWH is God's proper designation and so does Ps 83:18 along with Exod 3:14-15. This is elementary in Judaism and Christianity. However, Justin does not believe God has a NOMEN PROPRIUM nor does he think that words such as PATHR or PANTOKRATWR are ONOMATA (in the strictest sense). Rather, they are ways in which humans invoke God based on the almighty deity's special and general revelatory works. For Justin, "Father" not only fails to function as a proper noun, it is not even a name, but a form of address that is a product (in part) of human language.
I am now speaking about what Justin believes, not myself.
Fair enough. I would also hesitate to say that he speaks for me at this point.
I have no problem calling God YHWH or "Father" or Creator. Nevertheless, with Justin, I too must say (as the Martyr implies) that the Bible writers do not ontolgoize God's gender when they call God "Father." There is nothing being said about God as Godself when one speaks of the Christian deity as "Father," IMHO.

Let's keep Origen out of this. I personally find really offensive the use of "GODSELF" for the reasons mentioned in the earlier email [such as preemption by New Age gnosticism: see book right]. How about "autotheos" if we're talking about Origen's theology, and otherwise, "God Himself"?

As to your assertions, I have utterly no confidence that one can surmise whether or not a biblical author was or was not "ontologizing" anything. Certainly they were not philosophers.

But who knows what they were assuming about God's own nature? Do we have any solid reason for assuming they DIDN'T think of God as masculine, even if that
were mistaken?
With Minucius Felix, I'm not denying that God is (in some sense) Father or King or Lord. However, Minucius Felix seems to believe that none of these figures of speech truly tell us what God IS. Take away these designations, Minucius Felix argues, and then one will have a clear portrait of Godself. God may be a Father in a metaphorical sense. This does not mean that God is masculine, however, any more than the metaphorical proposition "Juliet is the sun" indicates Romeo's lover is a gaseous fiery blob of helium and hydrogen located at the center of our solar system. In other words, the proposition concerning Juliet doesn't tell us a thing about her ontology or secondary substance.
Doesn't it? Does it tell us only about Romeo's perception of Julia? Or does it not tell us also something about her. If I say Julia is "bright" like the sun, as opposed to "dark," couldn't this tell us that she's not gloomy and moody but cheerful and positive? Just a question.
If what Schoonenberg says is true though, one cannot legitimately reason from God's soi-di-sant fatherhood to human fatherhood. The philosopher or natural theologian must reason from the divine economy to the divine being, from the phenomenal to the noumenal realm.
With all the due qualifications about God being the ultimate initiator of communication to man, via Revelation, etc. Speaking of man's taking the initiative in seeking God, Lewis says, is like speaking about the mouse's search for the cat.

Metaphor and gender in theological language

In the continued discussion on metaphor between the doctoral candidate at Glasgow University (Edgar Foster) and myself, we turn to questions of linguistic simplicity vs. turgidity, then to question of gender in theological language (e.g., calling God "Father," "Him," vs. "Godself," etc.):

Your suggestion regarding simplicity is well taken. The apostle Paul also indicated that speech not easily understood is akin to enunciating or articulating in the air (ESESQE GAR EIS AERA LALOUNTES). On the other hand, I recall reading about Etienne Gilson (pictured left) being moved to tears by a speech that Martin Heidegger gave. But since I don't want old ladies to be perplexed nor French guys to be extremely moved (VALDE COMMOTUS)--I'll simplify my presentation. :-)
Perhaps Gilson was moved to tears because of Heidegger's unutterably turgid teutonic unintelligibility.
I don't want to suggest that "metaphors" such as the divine title "Father" are strictly arbitrary. Nevertheless, like Justin the Martyr (right) and Minucius Felix, I believe such terms aptly delineate God's functions but not what God is in Godself. We evidently derive terms like "Father" or "King" from both general and special revelation. Justin writes:
"But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten, there is no name given. For by whatever name He be called, He has as His elder the person who gives Him the name. But these words Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and Master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions" (2 Apology 6).
My friend, for the life of my I cannon understand how you can stomach using "words" (I use the term lightly) like "Godself." The only people besides you whom I know who use that "word" (and others like it) are dissident Catholics under the influence of prevailing "PC" and Femi-Nazi ideologies. Whatever your rationale, it has all the appearance IMHO of something analogous to trying to Christianize the profession of prostitution.

I'm not sure what your point with Justin is beyond the obvious fact that "God" as usually understood in English is not proper name. Orthodox Jews, of course, believe that God does have a proper name, which they won't pronounce, and therefore won't even write out the English word "God" but only "G-d," since they take it to symbolically stand in the place of His holy name, YHWH, to which they refer with the word "Ha-Shem" ("the name"). I don't know what they'd say about Justin's comments. They might simply say God names Himself.

But why not simply refer to God as He refers to Himself in His inscripturated Word? Why try to finesse that?
Minucius Felix reasons:
"If I were to call Him [i.e. God] Father, you would judge Him to be earthly; if a King, you would suspect Him to be carnal; if a Lord, you will certainly understand Him to he mortal. Take away the additions of names, and you will behold His glory" (Octavius 18).
All of these make good points, of course, but should hardly be seen as decisive reasons for denying that God is Father, King, Lord, etc., for He reveals Himself to be all those. But I know you'd agree in some sense, and I'm not making any really contrarian point.
A modern voice [Piet Schoonenberg] states:
"All our thinking moves from the world to God, and can never move in the opposite direction."
I tend to agree, with qualifications, of course.
Ditto. Just as Thomas would.
Max Black's notion of "associated commonplaces" could well explain why some metaphors are more fitting than others. The account given by Kevin Vanhoozer (pictured right) of speech-act theory might also explain why the Christian deity is generally addressed as "Father" rather than mother or why Christ is the "Lamb" rather than the "Piggy" of God. I know you're familiar with Saussure's distinction between LANGUE and PAROLE or John Searle's distinction between brute facts, institutional facts and constitutive rules. Vanhoozer presses these distinctions into service when he develops his own take on illocution and perlocution. See Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, Publishing Company, 1998).

Biblical metaphor and the "ontologization of gender"

My basic question [is] whether the "Jerusalem above" mentioned in Gal 4:26, which Thomas Aquinas identifies
with the Church militant (in the first place) and the Church triumpnant (in the second place), is a religious metaphor and, if so, how does Paul's speech function metaphorically. If Paul's words are not to be taken metaphorically, why not?

What difference would it make? Well, I am trying to see if viewing "Jerusalem above" as a metaphorical "mother" will shed any light on what we as Christians might mean when we address God as "Father." It appears to me that in both cases, "ontologization of gender" is or should be intended. Calling God "Father" does not address what He is immanently. It only has reference to what He is QUOAD NOS or PRO NOBIS.
I take it you intend "immanently" in the second-to-the-last sentence above as meaning "within God Him-self."

The key to this sort of business, where you're drawing a sort of boundary like Kant drew between that which is phenomenal (and apparant to us) and that which is noumenal (and lies beyond us), I should think, lies in whether or not we can sort out how metaphor can mean anything at all without meaning anything in God Himself. My hunch is that in many cases it may be mistaken to say that the metaphor means something only for us and not for God in Himself, because that may end up making the metaphor rather arbitrary.

My own approach to trying to answer this sort of problem would be to follow Wolterstorff's suggestions about objective qualities in things that make them
appropriate or inappropriate (fitting or unfitting) to serve as metaphors, via his notions of relative cross-modal similarity. Thus there are objective reasons why
"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" is appropriately imputed to Jesus while "Behold the Piggy of God who takes away the sin of the world"
isn't. Etc.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

More on metaphor

I've made use of Ricoeur in my research and I'm also gonna get my hands on the work by Sokolowski which you reviewed. I read his intro to phenomenology recently and really enjoyed it. He also had a little something to say about metaphor in that work. Moreover, I learned what a dative of manifestation or disclosure is, by reading his intro.
His works are consistently substantial. Check out his numerous other titles as well.
I like that nomenclature--ambiguous identity synthesis! If I decide to employ it in my dissertation, I'll give you due credit for introducing me to the expression. :-)
I need all the credit I can get!
Concerning "meaning creation," if you have not done so already, you might enjoy perusing what Max Black has written, here and there, regarding the Tenor and Vehicle of a metaphorical construction creating meaning through Tenor-Vehicle interaction.

Black contends that metaphors such as 'man is a wolf' do not create meaning by means of the lexical definitions for "man" or "wolf." Meaning is primarily created via the qualities that those hearing the metaphor associate with a wolf, in this case. The
soi-di-sant "associated commonplaces" that metaphors evoke do not have to be true, only capable of being readily evoked (according to Black).
Sounds interesting and promising. Thanks for the tip on Mr. Black.
Walter Kasper also writes that metaphors and similes "offer a new and creative description of reality" by combining "a dialectic of the familiar and the strange." I agree with what you also observe regarding "God the Father." The literature I've been reading calls these constructions "dead metaphors."
Yes, dead metaphors, as in the "foot of the mountain," or the "leg of the table." We don't even think of them as metaphors anymore.
Have I hugged my "teddy bear" today? No, cause I don't think I still got one.

Seriously, [on the metaphor issue ...] What made Jesus suggest there was something similar between Herod and a fox? What made Bill Shakespeare perceive some type of similarity between the world and a stage? These are questions that metaphorologists seem to tackle often and they usually come up with sundry and disparate answers to such queries.
Fascinating business. Thomas Howard's book, Chance, or the Dance? is wonderful on the metaphor issue, particularly with examples, though not in a typical "scholarly" context--for the better, in my opinion!

I love Hannah Arendt's treatment of this topic in The Life of the Mind. Based on her reading of Aristotle and Kant, Arendt prefers to define "metaphor" as "the transition from one existential state, that of thinking, to another, that of being an appearance among appearances." That is, metaphors make concealed thought exposed, bringing it out into the open to be
observed. One uttering a metaphor thus putatively makes the existential transition from the notional state to the empirical state by positing analogies in relation to one another, such that A is to B as C is to D ("e.g. Juliet is the sun").


Edgar Foster, currently writing a dissertation on the patristics, offers the two following paragraphs on Lactantius and the question of metaphor from the current draft of his dissertation. He also appends some observations by Ralph Earle. Foster:
Modern-day metaphorologists have developed terminology that attempts to clarify descriptive discourse concerning metaphorical utterances. For example, I.A. Richards introduced the nomenclature 'Tenor' and 'Vehicle' to metaphor theory in 1936. Tenor refers to the 'principal subject' in a metaphorical construction, Vehicle to the 'subsidiary subject' or concept that further describes the Tenor. Therefore, in the proposition 'God is the Father of Jesus Christ,' the constituent 'God' functions as the Tenor while 'Father' is the Vehicle. Of course, the Tenor-Vehicle method is limited. Yet, it has produced much fruitage in cognitive research.
I haven't researched as much as I'd like in the "serious" scholarship about metaphor, though I have some of it on my shelves, such as Ricoeur's study, and the work of Sokolowski's that I've recently reviewed. Phenomenologically, a metaphor is sometimes called an "ambiguous identity synthesis," and there are some fascinating features of it that can be isolated and analyzed, though the overall feature of metaphor that fascinates me is the way in which it seems to be a locus of meaning creation--one that Amy is particularly good at and which makes conversations with her particularly delightful. To work effectively, metaphor often seems to require a certain degree of strangeness or novelty; otherwise they become "unthinking" metaphors, like "God the Father," instead of delightfully engaging metaphors, like "Edgar the Teddy Bear" (Have you hugged yours today?).
Another important expression in modern metaphor theory is 'point of similarity,' or common domain factor, which refers to the intended focal point of a metaphorical utterance. To illustrate how the point of similarity differs from the Tenor or Vehicle, we can turn to the Sermon on the Mount. While recounting that famous discourse, Matthew records Jesus of Nazareth employing a metaphor wherein Jesus describes his disciples thus: 'You are the salt of the earth' (Mt 5:13). In this passage, the disciples are the Tenor, the Vehicle is 'salt' and the point of similarity (i.e. common domain factor) is evidently the preservative quality of salt and possibly its potential to accentuate the taste of food. In other words, just as salt may function as a preservative or enhance the taste of food, making it more palatable for consumption (Job 6:6; Col 4:6), so the disciples of Jesus (it would seem) are to preserve human lives by means of the Gospel and utter words of graciousness to both Christians and non-Christians alike. Regardless of what Jesus' intended-speaker meaning in Mt 5:13 is, his words illustrate the three distinctions (tenor, vehicle and point of similarity) that metaphor theorists commonly implement."

Fascinating. Another thing I've recently become interested in, though I forget to whom I've talked about this and may therefore be indulging your patience (!), is the connections between metaphor and what Wolterstorff (Art in Action, remember?) means by "fittingness" as "cross-modal similarity." Intra-modal similarity is similarity with respect to one modality-- say, speed, where you are comparing two cars: so the similarity is with respect to speed. Cross-modal similarity is where two things are being compared in different modalities (like color and heat in the metaphor "Red is a hot color") with respect to something else-- potency, preference, or--as in this case--activity. I'm not sure if Osgood's studies of the 1950s get at the root of all the relevant issues here, but the ability to compare ping and pong with ice cream and warm pea soup seems to me to involved a kind of "ambiguous identity synthesis" similar to that involved in metaphor. What is it, for example, that makes it fitting to suggest that there is something similar between Edgar and a Teddy Bear? The possibilities are delightfully endless here, and the surplus of meaning grows exponentially with brainstorming.
From Ralph Earle's Word Meanings in the NT:
"In the Greek comic writers the verb ARTUW, 'season,' referred to the seasoning with the salt of wit. But too often this degenerated into off-color jokes. Paul says that the Christian's speech should be 'with grace' or 'gracious'" (p. 362).

"Let your conversation be always gracious, and never insipid; study how best to talk with each person you meet" (Col 4:6 NEB).
I say we season our speech not only with that which is 'gracious', but that which exhibits "ambiguous identity syntheses" that are delightful and charming with respect to their cross-modal similarities.