Friday, April 17, 2009

A controversy in Reformational philosophy

Last year, the following article appeared by Lambert Zuidervaart, "After Dooyeweerd: Truth in Reformational Philosophy" (Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, 2008). In it, Zuidervaart makes some interesting claims about the nature of truth and interpretations of the late, great Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, that have been controverted.

J. Glenn Friesen, "Standing in the Truth: A Response to Lambert Zuidervaart" (2008) argues:
Zuidervaart says that he wants to transform the idea of truth by “critically retrieving” Dooyeweerd’s conception of truth. He explicitly abandons Dooyeweerd’s ideas of transcendent truth, the supratemporal selfhood, and numerous other ideas. He claims (p. 12) to be a “loyal critic” of Dooyeweerd, and says he wants to preserve the holism and normativity of Dooyeweerd’s conception, and that he is introducing the idea of “authentication” to appropriate insights from Dooyeweerd’s emphasis on “standing in the truth.”

Although Zuidervaart’s article is an interesting example of what reformational philosophy might be like if it continues to reject Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, Zuidervaart’s suggestions cannot be said to be in any way a continuation of or an appropriation of Dooyeweerd’s ideas. In fact, Zuidervaart sets out exactly the kind of philosophy that Dooyeweerd opposed: a temporalized view of our experience and existence, or what Dooyeweerd calls “immanence philosophy.”

This article will examine how Zuidervaart’s article (1) is itself based on immanence philosophy, which Dooyeweerd opposed; (2) is itself based on the self-sufficiency of thought; (3) misinterprets Dooyeweerd’s view of “standing in the truth”; (4) makes simplistic and misleading comparisons of Dooyeweerd to other philosophers such as Husserl and Heidegger, and fails to address recent research regarding the history of Dooyeweerd’s ideas; (5) makes other fundamental errors of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy.
Issues of accuracy are highly important in the tradition of Reformational philosophy, as Friesen suggests, and it is impossible to build upon a philosophical legacy until it has been properly understood. Otherwise, the reformational movement would be merely building on the errors of the past, instead of building upon what Dooyeweerd actually said.

Friesen says elsewhere that in the past year alone, his articles were viewed more than 50,000 times by people from 161 countries, and that a previous article, in which he criticized Zuidervaart’s interpretation of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of aesthetics, has been viewed more than 3,550 times, and continues to be viewed about 20 times per day.

Zuidervaart, like some other reformational philosophers, holds the view that Dooyeweerd’s philosophy changed radically over time, and that Dooyeweerd's so-called "transcendental critique" was a new development. Friesen, however, referring to an interview by Dooyeweerd in 1974, argues that there was never a fundamental change or revision in his philosophy. Dooyeweerd suggests in his 1974 interview that his later transcendental critique was nothing more than a "sharpeing" of his earlier critique, which was always transcendental:
"From the very beginning, I subjected these views to a radical critique, which I called ‘the radical transcendental critique.’ And now they [Dooyeweerd’s critics] suppose that there has been a fundamental revision in the Philosophy of the Law-Idea, which they date from the first publication of the English edition, in which I sharpened the way—or the method—of the transcendental critique. I did this by not proceeding from particular views of philosophy, namely that it must be a total view of reality (a view which I did not give up). But in order to have a discussion with an opponent, to maintain contact with him, to engage in a broader and sharper way of analysis, I therefore subjected the theoretical attitude of thought and experience, in itself [zonder meer], to a transcendental critical investigation." [Friesen's translation, "Interview of Herman Dooyeweerd by Magnus Verbrugge, September 23, 1974"]
In his De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (The Philosophy of the Law Idea), says Friesen, Dooyeweerd began with particular views of totality. His sharpening of the transcendental critique proceeded from general ideas of totality (Totality is the second transcendental idea. The three ideas are Origin, totality and coherence. Origin is eternal, totality is supratemporal, and coherence is temporal). Friesen's claim, then, is that those, like Zuidervaart, who do not accept any idea of supratemporal totality, cannot be said to accurately understand Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique. While they are free to believe whatever they wish, and while they are free to reject Dooyeweerd's idea of totality, along with the transcendental critique that depends on it, this does not grant license to misinterpret what he has said, or try to divide Dooyeweerd's own thought into distinct developmental phases which he himself rejected.

By contrast, Friesen endeavors to interpret Dooyeweerd's thought in a unified way, which, he believes, preserves the integrity of his views. That is what motivated him to write his “95 Theses on Herman Dooyeweerd,” to which a forthcoming issue of the Reformed philosophical journal, Philosophia Reformata, might be devoted.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fr. Stanley Jaki, OSB (1924 - 2009)

Benedictine Father Stanley Jaki, died quietly in the company of friends, from complications after suffering a heart attack without knowing it, on 7 April 2009 [13:15 Spanish time], at Clinica de la Conception in Madrid, Spain where he was visiting friends following a lecture series in Rome for the Master in Faith and Science of the Pontificio Ateneo Regina Apostolorum.

As Paul Zalonski writes in the Communio obituary, "He was a monk and priest of the Archabbey of Saint Martin, Pannonhalma, Hungary. He entered the archabbey in 1941, professing solemn vows in 1944 and was ordained a priest in 1948. Like many other Hungarian priests, Jaki immigrated to the USA during Soviet persecution." Father Jaki was first and foremost a faithful priest and scholar -- a physicist as well as a theologian -- and a prolific writer. He had served as Distinguished Professor of Physics at Seton Hall University, New Jersey, since 1975. As Zalonski notes:
Jaki earned a doctorate in theology from Sant'Anselmo (Rome) in 1950 and another doctorate in (astro)physics from Fordham University in 1957. Since 1965 he has taught at Seton Hall University and honored as Distinguished Professor of Physics in 1975. After retiring he kept active by holding court, giving lectures and writing, often cantankerously.

Father Jaki was well-known for his writings on science and religion. He delievered the prestigious Gifford Lectures from 1974-1976, later published under the title of The Road of Science and the Ways to God. In 1987 Dom Stanley was award the Templeton Prize. He is considered one of the best scholars on the thought of Cardinal John Henry Newman in the U.S. His publishing record show he published 7 books and numerous articles on Newman.
Fr. Jaki was one of the premier contemporary minds in the fields of philosophy of science and theology, as well as on inter-disciplinary issues. He authored innumerable books, articles and essays covering everything from the metaphysics of the Eucharist, to Petrine primacy, to exactly where and how Charles Darwin went woefully wrong. In short, Fr. Jaki was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century and his contributions to Catholic thought and culture will be difficult to quantify.

As one G.K. Chesterton fan comments: "In addition to so many other things, Father Jaki was also a beloved and much-sought after Chestertonian, and a true follower of the Rule of St. Benedict in every way imaginable; he was always teaching. He only had to be invited to speak once to the annual American Chesterton Society Conference....after that he would simply call Dale Ahlquist in advance and announce his topic! Such graceful moxie is very rare these days and those of us who have known him, learned from him, and love him have all been blessed and bettered by his initiative; it will be a palpable loss not to have this spiritual and intellectual giant in our midst any longer."

I am amused that Zalonski mentions that Fr. Jaki could be "cantankerous." A couple of friends of mine report that in conversations with him he would without any hesitation simply declare: "You are no physicist!" or "You are no philosopher!" I say amused, because he was usually quite right in his judgments, even if a trifle tactless. Socrates keeps good company.

Another feature of Fr. Jaki that goes unmentioned, however, is how he was almost always peddling his personal publications. One friend of mine mentions that he met Fr. Jaki at a conference on the East coast. My friend mentioned that Fr. Jaki recruited him to the task of helping him cart books (and flyers promoting them) from the trunk of his automobile and to help market and distribute to those assembled. I have to confess that in phone conversations with him, Fr. Jaki was a persuasive salesman and managed to sell to me about two dozen of his books and publications he warehoused in his basement. I should add, however, that he gave me a significant discount and that I have profited immensely from the books I have read, though I have yet to tackle his huge tome on physics!

Fr. Jaki will be missed. Let us pray for the merciful repose of his soul.

[Hat tip to Fr. Zuhlsdorf and Chestertonian, Miki]