Monday, November 13, 2006

Hope and Philosophy

I have been wrestling with the value of modern philosophical pursuits. Most every “big name” in the history of modern philosophy tends to be reduced in large part to the question of relationship, namely our position in the world in relationship to other people and objects. Some maintained that reality exists in the mind as it provides the organizing principles to interpret the influx of non-meaningful sensory perception (I believe this is basically Kantian). Others argued that the human mind and body exist as a clean slate onto which external objects inscribe reality and meaning (Hume?). I understand this to be the difference between empiricism and idealism. Both of these approaches had a confidence that either the mind itself or the ordering of the material world offered the possibility of stable consistent truth. Derrida appeared to undermine the possibility of a stable or accessible core of truth. All reality is mediated linguistically and words are only understood in relationship to other words and so meaning or access to the world around us remains deferred in its difference. Recently Slavoj Zizek, working from Jacques Lacan, states that,

It is not that we need words to designate objects, to symbolize reality, and that then, in surplus, there is some excess of reality, a traumatic core that resists symbolization – this obscurantist theme of the unnameable Core of Higher Reality that eludes the grasp of language is to be thoroughly rejected; not because of a naïve belief that everything can nominated, grasped by our reason, but because of the fact that the Unnameable is an effect of language. We have reality before our eyes well before language, and what language does, in its most fundamental gesture, is – as Lacan put it – the very opposite of designating reality: it digs a hole in it, it opens up visible / present reality toward the dimension of the immaterial / unseen. When I simply see you, I simply see you – but it is only in naming you that I can indicate the abyss in you beyond what I see.

I admit that these are immature images of these thinkers but I am quite certain that lurking beneath all this technical language remains that basic urge for knowing ourselves and the world around us. I am enjoying my brief tour of philosophical literature but I foresee that I may be wearied if I do not find a vulnerability towards the Real which these writings border on smothering. I am sure that my approach to reality could be quickly classified and dismantled by any rigourous thinker in any of these camps, however the force of authority that I once gave this views is beginning to wane (and perhaps not even enough yet).
The result so far is a renewed vision for the need of witnessing to a personal God. I mean this in no modern evangelical sense of the word. Rather I am coming to recognize that we are in essence relational beings, limited yes, but appropriately equipped nonetheless.
My early response to such stirring is hope.
I hope to return to the poetic which seeks out the cracks and possibilities of language.
I hope to return to the holy which pours through these cracks.
And approaching advent may we look in hopeful expectation to Mother Mary who lived both the intimacy of the incarnation and the experience of shame and the inability to communicate the reality within her (and really who could believe her?).
And finally I hope to find myself in a state of worship which I believe is the only posture in which we may truly participate with Triune God, Creator and Sustainer of our reality.


hineini said...

admittedly, I have kinda turned into a predictable disciple of his but promise me Dave that before you do away with philosophy you read Levinas' "Is it righteous to be?" If you can't find it, send me your address and I'll mail you one for christmas. Yes, its that hopeful! Well, at least for me it was.

Unknown said...

no, i don't intend on giving up on philosophy. there were a couple things going on in this post. one thing was most likely the realization that i am not equipped to engage with philosophy at the level i would like to. there is a reason people do their phd in it, and i shouldn't assume that i can just jump in at that point.
also, i am beginning to reexamine my concept of authority and not allow myself to be swayed to by every strong wind. so i am trying to identify my place within the various discourses. in this process i find that i do not want to far from images of worship and the sacred in what i consider true, good, and beautiful.
i have found hopeful philosophy as well, particularly in the work of Kierkegaard and i know there is much more to pursue.
yes between you and jay i should find the time to read some levinas.

Jason said...

I see exactly where you are coming from with this post. This will be the perennial concern of my thought for the rest of my days, I’m sure of it. That is, the relationship between philosophy and theology. Where does one end and the other begin? Which one deserves priority? Etc.. Much of what I am doing now is trying to develop my version of what Franz Rosenzweig calls “the new thinking,” the thinking that takes place between philosophy and theology; the thinking that can do away with neither. Rosenzweig has his own way of discerning this interdependent relationship – where theology, having gotten so caught up in the concern with “revelation,” has lost sight of “creation” and thus requires philosophy; the new thinking brings “redemption” into view. I am trying to go about this in my own way. I am working with several assumptions here:

1. I take as an axiom the “infinite task” of thinking.
2. Thinking proceeds, in different moments, by knowledge and by faith – and modern philosophy attests to this in different ways.
3. When thinking proceeds according to knowledge (“pure speculative reason” as Kant would say) it works according to calculation and certainty.
4. When thinking proceeds according to faith it deals in the incalculable, the undecidable, the novel, the transcendent.
5. Thought can do away with neither and still be called thinking: to do away with knowledge is to fall into fideism, obscuranticism; to do away with faith is to reduce thought to technics (technique, technology) or instrumentalism.

A question that remains is which is first? Does knowledge precede faith such that faith is the supplement that comes to fill the holes in knowledge? Or, does faith precede knowledge such that knowledge is the work of calculation or deduction in the wake of the new, forming it into a piece?

In terms of Hope: Hope has everything to do with faith. Indeed, to hope in a foreknown future is not to hope but to calculate. But hope also has to do with knowledge: we can only hope for what we don’t yet have, what knowledge has identified as lacking. Hope falls within the realm of thought.

All this is to say that I find the separation not one that should be maintained – the one between philosophy and theology, knowledge and faith. Theology, in its logos, is marked by the Greek and thus by philosophy. Philosophy, is haunted by the new, the incalculable.

Levinas recognized that philosophy (as the love of wisdom) could not allow for the other that calls me primordially to responsibility because it forms an impenetrable totality; but philosophy (as the wisdom of love) could attest to it in the disruptions or breaks that plague the totality. Philosophy in the second sense would be the formation of a discourse (a new kind of, penetrable totality) of disruptions. Religion on the other hand is always already open to the other. Levinas maintained the need for both.

This doesn't say much about the practicallity of engaging with the texts of philosophy and the texts of scripture -- it is really to thematize the problem from within the discourse of knowledge. What I do know is that there are those who do not engage deeply in work of philosophy and yet still penetrate to the level of thought (

Unknown said...

great response j, thanks. how you articulated the work of rosenzweig was very helpful. i guess the onging question for myself is the form of language or expression that is most appropriate for me to adopt in this pursuit. are there specific roles for philosophical, theological, poetic, or scientific articulation? does it depend on the author/audience? does every form of discourse have the same access to the various questions that we as humans ask? should we rather explore a concept of integrity (as opposed to discourse classification) that aids in discerning the worth of various expressions?

Unknown said...

and then as i look down at the picture on the post below it makes me wonder if i am really onto anything at all . . .

hineini said...

Its odd that Jason would post a Brueggemann link above. Wasn't this the same question we asked Breuggemann when we went to see him Dave? I remember being dissatisfied with his answer then and I guess I am still a bit dissatisfied but its better than being comfortable I guess.

Jason said...

As I remember Dave reporting it to me, the unsatisfactory Brueggemann response had more to do with the academy-street divide than the theology-philosophy one. But that doesn't really get him off the hook. As far as I am concerned thinking proceeds not only according to faith and knowledge, but also according to theory and practice; thinking is not identical with theory, it necessarily concerns practice as well. So it is fair to be dissatisfied with the old guy, I am too, but not as dissatisfied as I am with my own engagement with practice -- not since leaving the DTES.