Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Monday, November 14, 2022

David Bradshaw on Faith and Reason


In this 2018 article published in Touchstone Magazine, Dr. David Bradshaw (University of Kentucky) explores the relationship between faith and reason, and the views of various philosophers as to how Truth is perceived.

Related reading: David Bradshaw on the Relationship Between Philosophy and Theology

Monday, September 19, 2022

Of His Blood and Eternity


Joan Violet Robinson said, "Time is a device to prevent everything from happening at once." To this, someone quipped, "Space is a device to prevent everything from happening in Cambridge."

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Humans today tend to think in terms of linear history. Events of history appear to have a beginning, a middle (climax or denouement), and an end. However, all events have complex etiologies and some of the forces at work are never recognized by historians.

Linear thinkers tend to view the progression of history as either positive and upward or negative and downward. The obsession of some Fundamentalists with the End Times is an example. They speak of moral corruption, crime, famines, earthquakes, pandemics, wars and rumors of wars as absolute proof that we are living in the last days and that Jesus Christ's return is near.

The secular positivists speak instead of the progress made through technology, medicine, and the sciences. They grow excited about the possibility that humans could live forever (transhumanism) or that human settlements on other planets could insure an eternity for the species. They embrace the concept of evolutionary progress over time.  

Spiral found on ancient petroglyphs in what is today Sudan.

In the ancient world it was common to think of time as cyclical and to equate the various cycles to patterns such as the seasons or the location of stars and constellations in the night sky. The cyclical view of time and the Fundamentalist view of time were challenged and eclipsed by the evolutionary mindset of the Twentieth Century.

That mindset became a template through which data was interpreted. In the study of religion, it was assumed that primitive humans were superstitious, animistic, and polytheists. This equates primitive to a brutish nature. However, this evolutionary conception of religion simply does not stand up when closely evaluated. Rudolf Otto wrote a book about this: The Idea of the Holy (1923). He believed that early humans responded to the "numinous" out of emotion rather than reason. That does not seem to be true when we look at all the data. Early humans were great observers of patterns in Nature, and they drew rational conclusions based on those observations. That is why Paul states that all are without excuse in Romans 1:20.

In reality, time is a great mystery. We cannot apply the term "time" to the eternal because the eternal is timeless. "Eternal” means outside of time. Time and space were created for humanity because humble clay needs fixed boundaries or external pressures to keep its shape.

The Triune God is not bound by time and space. The co-eternal Son is said to fill all things, seen and unseen. This means that the Blood of Jesus Messiah establishes a timeless covering for those who are "in Christ" or who "put on" Christ. Those living before His Incarnation and those living after His Incarnation are covered by the same Blood if they find communion with the Creator who seeks to be the God and Father of all.

Paul uses the term "pleroma" in his epistles when speaking of Christ filling all things. For Paul, the pleroma is the manifestation of the benefits of Jesus’ timeless blood. The Apostle Paul refers to the blood of Jesus no less than twelve times in his writings. Because God makes peace with us through the Blood of the Cross, he urges “Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together” (Ephesians. 4:3).

Paul explains that Jesus Christ is the fullness (“pleroma” in Greek) of all things in heaven and on earth, both invisible and visible. The term “pleroma” was used among the Gnostics to describe the metaphysical unity of all things, but Paul uses the term to speak about how the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ in bodily form (Col. 2:9).

Paul’s use of the term pleroma, as well the appearance of this term in other First Century writings, suggests that the concept was widely circulating in apostolic times. Against the Gnostics, the biblical writers used it to explain that the mystical Body of Christ fills heaven and earth; that He is sovereign over all and in all. For the Gnostics, the pleroma is vague and undifferentiated, but for Paul the pleroma is about the Son of God and the benefits of the blood of Jesus. Paul hoped to prevent the early Christians from wandering from the Blood of Jesus that brings forgiveness and eternal life.

The Cross is central for Paul, but its benefits are not bound by time. Doubtless, the reader will have heard about the cross as an especially excruciating form of execution invented by the Romans. That is true. However, the efficacy of the Blood of Jesus does not rely on the existence of the Roman empire.

Reality is the deposit of the fullness of all things hidden and revealed in Christ. Paul wants his converts to understand that they are “entrusted with the mysteries of God” so that they may faithfully proclaim the Gospel; so that hearers “may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (I Cor. 4:1, Eph. 3:9; Col. 2:2). The pleromic Blood of which Paul speaks constitutes a single reality. One is either in Christ or not in Christ; connected to the Life-giving eternal reality or not connected. Abraham was connected. His Faith was not of a different dispensation because Paul reminds the Gentile believers that they are grafted into the faith of Abraham (Rom. 11:17). 

Paul articulated his understanding of the pleroma as early as his second missionary journey when he preached to the Athenians that, “in Him [Jesus Christ] we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) However, Paul’s thoughts on this developed further as he continued to reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures, prayed and fasted, and received greater illumination by Christ. We find the fullest expression of the pleroma in his latter writings, especially in Romans and in Ephesians.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)

Paul's confession of the pleromic Blood of Christ informs his understanding of the Body of Christ. He writes: “There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all” (Eph. 4:4-5).

Lest we presume that the pleromic understanding of the Blood of Jesus is an invention of St. Paul, we should consider also these words from St. John:

Who can overcome the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? He it is who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with water alone but with water and blood, and it is the Spirit that bears witness, for the Spirit is Truth. So there are three witnesses, the Spirit, water and blood, and the three of them coincide. (I John 5:5-8)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Is "Complementarianism" a Biblical Concept?


The king is shown with Sun-darkened skin. His queen appears with Moon-whitened skin.
This expresses the gender distinctions and binary reasoning of the Nilotic Hebrew.

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Among Evangelicals the roles of males and females are prescribed by a doctrine called "complementarianism." This belief maintains that God created men and women equal in dignity and personhood, yet different and serving complementary roles in Church, Home, and Society. The male is the head of the home and the lead authority in the Church. 

The book of Genesis states that both male and female are made in the imago Dei. In the egalitarian mindset this is often articulated dualistically. Males and females are equally in the divine image. They are equally qualified for all jobs. Women can do anything men can do. Men can do anything women can do. 

Except this is not true. In the order of creation women cannot impregnate with sperm. Men cannot conceive and give birth. When it comes to reproductive processes, there is mutual dependence, but no equivalent function.

To impose egalitarianism on the canonical Scriptures is to distort the biblical view of the order of creation which denies dualism. The yin-yang may be equal and inseparable entities in Asian thought, but in biblical thought one entity of a binary set is always observably superior in some way to its partner. This is expressed in statements of the obvious. In the binary set of Sun-Moon, the Sun is the greater light (Gen. 1:16). The light of the Moon is refulgent. The male is larger and stronger than the female. 

Is complementarianism the same as the binary view of Scripture? 

It cannot be the same because Evangelicals omit an important feature of the binary worldview: the unique contribution of the Virgin Mary as the mother of Jesus the God-Man. Unless she be venerated (not worshipped) the binary balance of Righteous Manhood and Righteous Womanhood is absent. Why is Mary declared the most blessed among women? Because she did what only a woman could do. She brought forth the God-Man! Mary shines with the refulgent brightness of her son, Jesus Messiah.

Archaeological, anthropological, and linguistic research provides many examples of the binary reasoning of the early Hebrew from whom we received the Messianic faith we call "Christianity." This reasoning extends to the metaphysical: Life is greater than death. However, it does not apply to the Godhead which is uncreated.

The God-Man would not be considered a binary set in the biblical sense because 1. this is unique, 2. in Christ these are of one being/substance/essence, 3. in Christ the Man has been made God, 4 in Christ God has been made Man. So the mystery of the Trinity does not meet the requirement that one entity of the set be superior to the other in an observable way.

Binary reasoning in the Bible pertains to the order of creation and the God-Man is not created.

The bishops, priests, and deacons who came together at the early ecumenical councils struggled with the created-uncreated distinction, and after more than one difficult and costly convocation, began to resolve the Christological and Trinitarian questions.

Until the Anglicans recognize the unique nature of the priesthood as a divine ordinance which began with the biblical Hebrew, the question of women's ordination will not be resolved to anyone's satisfaction. The Evangelical approach is to speak of the priesthood as a generalized "pastoral ministry." This obfuscates the historic nature of the priesthood as being about the Blood. It comes close to denying the blood work of the Cross. Among the biblical Hebrew, blood work was observed as binary: the bloodwork of males and the blood work of females. The first involved war, hunting, and animal sacrifice. The second involved reproductive processes. That is why women were never priests. The two bloods could not be present in the same locale. 

Related reading: The Athanasian Creed; The Binary Distinctions of the Horite Hebrew; Binary is a Bad Word These Days; Why Women Were Never Priests; Blood and Binary Distinctions; Rethinking Gender Equality; What Christians May Safely Disbelieve

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Popular Fallacy to Suppress Dissent


Michael LaBossiere

While the Leave It fallacy can be seen as a type of Ad Hominem because it involves rejecting a person’s claim based on an irrelevant attack on the person, it has two distinguishing features.

First, the person is attacked because they are being critical of something. This attack often involves asserting the critic is motivated by a secret association or agreement with a disliked group. Second, rather than refuting the criticism, the attacker only tells the target to “leave.” There is, however, the implied conclusion that the person told to leave is thus wrong in their criticism. The fallacy has the following general form:

Premise 1. Person A makes critical claim X about Y.

Premise 2. Person B attacks A (usually for an alleged association/agreement with a disliked group G) and says that if A does not like X about Y, then they should leave Y (usually for G).

Conclusion: Therefore, X is false.

This argument is a fallacy because attacking a person and telling them to leave does not prove their criticism is false. The fallacy draws much of its psychological power from the cognitive bias of groupthink and ingroup bias. Groupthink is the tendency to try to minimize conflict and form a consensus by suppressing dissent and avoiding outside influences. Ingroup bias is the tendency to see one’s own group as superior and outsiders as inferior. Someone who is critical of a group can easily be presented as a threat and people in that group can be motivated to reject that criticism out of anger and dislike. These biases do not, of course, have any logical weight.

Care should be taken to not confuse the Leave It fallacy with the False Dilemma “love it or leave it.” The idea in this False Dilemma is that one has just two options: to love something (typically a country) utterly and never criticize it or leave it. There are obviously many other options. The difference between the two is that the Leave It fallacy involves using an attack on the person to “argue” that their criticism is false while the False Dilemma “love it or leave it” is intended to silence criticism by wrongly asserting that one has only the two choices. It can often be hard to distinguish the two because people often combine them and those attempting these fallacies often do not know what they are doing themselves.

Defense: The defense against this fallacy is to try to reason through any negative feelings one might have and ask if any relevant refutation of the criticism has been offered. If it has not, then the “argument” gives no reason to reject that criticism. This does not mean that the criticism is therefore true—it just means the fallacy does not provide any reason to reject it.

Example #1

“These woke liberals claim that America still has systematic racism. But their brains have been corrupted by the foreign philosophies of the Frankfurt School and Cultural Marxism. If they hate America so much, they should just leave!”

Example #2

“These conservatives claim that America has Marxist elements. But their brains have been corrupted by the foreign philosophies of fascism and Nazism. If they hate America so much, they should just leave!”

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Yoram Hazony on the Enlightenment


(Left to Right)
Diderot, Descartes, Voltaire, Hegel and Rousseau

What Was the Enlightenment?

Yoram Hazony

Modern science, medicine, political freedom, the market economy—all of them, we’re told, are the result of a sort of miracle that took place 250 years ago. That miracle is called the Enlightenment, a moment in history when philosophers suddenly overthrew religious dogma and tradition and replaced it with human reason. Harvard professor Steven Pinker puts it this way: “Progress is a gift of the ideals of the Enlightenment.”

There’s just one problem with this claim. It isn’t really true. 

Consider the U.S. Constitution, which is frequently said to be a product of Enlightenment thought. But you only need to read about English common law—which Alexander Hamilton and James Madison certainly did—to see that this isn’t so. Already in the 15th-century, the English jurist John Fortescue elaborated the theory of “checks and balances,” due process, and the role of private property in securing individual freedom and economic prosperity. Similarly, the U.S. Bill of Rights has its sources in English common law of the 1600s. 

Or consider modern science and medicine. Long before the Enlightenment, tradition-bound English kings sponsored path-breaking scientific institutions such as the Royal College of Physicians, founded in 1518, and the Royal Society of London, founded in 1660. 

The truth is that statesmen and philosophers, especially in England and the Netherlands, articulated the principles of free government centuries before America was founded. 

So why give the Enlightenment all the credit? Apparently because it doesn’t look good to admit that the best and most important parts of modernity were given to us by individuals who nearly all held conservative religious and political beliefs. 

The claim that all good things come from the Enlightenment is most closely associated with the late-18th-century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. For Kant, reason is universal, infallible, and independent of experience. 

His extraordinarily dogmatic philosophy insisted that there can be only one correct answer to every question in science, morality and politics. And that to reach the one correct answer, mankind had to free itself from the chains of the past—that is, from history, tradition and experience. 

But this Enlightenment view is not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Human reason, when cut loose from the constraints imposed by history, tradition and experience, produces a lot of crazy notions. 

Short Videos. Big Ideas. .com The abstract Enlightenment philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau is a good example. It quickly pulled down the French state, leading to the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and the Napoleonic Wars. Millions died as Napoleon’s armies sought to rebuild every government in Europe in light of the one correct political theory he believed was permitted by Enlightenment philosophy. 

Today’s cheerleaders for the Enlightenment tend to skip this part of the story. They also pass over the fact that the father of communism, Karl Marx, saw himself as promoting universal reason as well. His new “science” of economics ended up killing tens of millions of people in the 20th century. So did the supposedly scientific race theories of the Nazis. The greatest catastrophes of modernity were engineered by individuals who claimed to be exercising reason. 

In contrast, most of the progress we’ve made comes from conservative traditions openly skeptical of human reason. The Enlightenment’s critics, including John Selden, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke, emphasized the unreliability of “abstract reasoning” and urged us to stick close to custom, history, and experience in all things. 

Which brings us to the heart of what’s wrong with today’s idolization of the Enlightenment. Its leading figures were not skeptics open to what history and experience might teach us. Their aim was to create their own system of supposedly infallible truths independent of experience. And in that pursuit, they were as rigid as the most dogmatic medievals. 

Anglo-Scottish conservatives had a very different goal. They defended national and religious tradition, even as they cultivated what they called a “moderate skepticism”—a combination that became known as “common sense.” 

I think a lot about common sense these days, as I see American and European elites clamoring for “Enlightenment Now.” They rush to embrace every fashionable new “ism”—socialism, feminism, environmentalism, and so on—declaring them to be universal certainties and the only “politically correct” way of thinking. They display contempt towards those who won’t embrace their dogmas, branding them “unenlightened,” “illiberal,” “deplorable,” and worse. 

But these new dogmas deserve to be greeted with some of that old Anglo-Scottish skepticism. Enlightenment overconfidence in reason has led us badly astray too many times. 

I’m Yoram Hazony, author of The Virtue of Nationalism

From here

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Beyond Anglican Identities


Fr. Charles Erlandson is a professor of Church History and Pastoral Theology at Cranmer Theological House. He holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (U.K.)

Alice C. Linsley

In his book, Orthodox Anglican IdentityThe Quest for Unity in a Diverse Religious Tradition, Fr. Charles Erlandson explores orthodox Anglican identity in the context of an ongoing identity crisis within the global Anglican Communion. Erlandson recognizes that Anglicanism is “a microcosm of the entire Christian church,” because its identity reflects its diversity. He notes that religious traditions are not immune to identity crises, and orthodox Anglicans have been struggling to define their identity since the 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson, a partnered homosexual.

The Anglican Communion is a theological mutt with adherents who identify as Protestant, Reformed, Catholic, Evangelical, Rationalist, Empirical, and Mystical. If you seek an Anglican religious identity, you can find it here.

Reformed Catholicism can be experienced in parishes of the Anglican Province of America, The Anglican Catholic Church, The Anglican Church in North America, The Traditional Anglican Church, and The Orthodox Anglican Church. They uphold catholic doctrine and discipline, hold a high view of the sacraments, and have male priests only.

Revisionists are comfortable in most Episcopal churches where theology and practice accommodate contemporary culture and resource in Modernism. Though some of the leaders of liberal revisionism have died - Louie Crew, John Spong, and Desmond Tutu - the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Australia, and the Anglican Church of Canada are largely allied in this innovative Anglican identity with its acceptance of women priests and same-sex unions.

Evangelical Anglicans in America find a place of comfort in most parishes of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Some of their heroes - John Stott and J. I. Packer – also have passed to their reward, but their legacy remains strong among the Evangelical Anglicans globally. Charles Erlandson is among the rising Evangelical Anglican voices.

Some Evangelical Anglicans identity themselves as “Protestant” while others prefer the term “Reformed.” In my thinking, "Protestant" refers to Christian denominations that emerged after the Continental Reformation. These groups are removed from catholicity. They claim Sola Scriptura, ignoring the fact that the Scriptures themselves reflect a very ancient Messianic tradition. While Scripture is said to be their foremost authority, they invent doctrines that do not align with the whole counsel of Scripture: Young Earth Creationism, Antinomianism, Preterism, Pentecostalism, and the Rapture.

American Protestants show evidence of being confused about the substance of the Gospel, often posing it as a self-help message, a higher moral code, or an enlighten ethics. I rarely hear Protestants speak about the Trinity and the two natures of Jesus Christ.

They ignore the seasons of the Church year and rush to Christmas and Easter celebrations without periods of preparation. Most deny the sacramental nature of Baptism and Holy Communion, and the very ancient office of priest is disdained.

The Communion of Saints appears to be a foreign concept to Protestants. That the justified living and the justified at rest are united in Christ and not separated by death is regarded by some as heretical. The iconoclastic Puritans under Cromwell did a great deal of damage and in that same spirit, many Protestant churches do not have a cross in the sanctuary.

The Incarnation is barely spoken of, and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is generally misunderstood and usually misrepresented as idolatry. This reveals how poorly most Protestants understand Genesis 3:15 and other biblical references to the promised “Seed” or Son of God.

The attitude of "reformed and always reforming" leads to continual efforts to update worship, preaching styles, and congregational structures to make them relevant. This expresses itself in contemporary praise band music, largely passive audiences, a consumer mindset, and sermons that tickle the ears.

A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that “only half of Millennials (49%) describe themselves as Christians; four-in-ten are religious ‘nones,’ and one-in-ten Millennials identify with non-Christian faiths.”

As Gracey Olmstead wrote in a 2014 article that appeared in the American Conservative: “America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose ‘unaffiliated’ when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.”

It appears that the search for meaning has turned some from shallow and enculturated Christianity to the sacred mysteries experienced only through the full sacramental life of the Church. They want to belong to the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" Church.

At least there is a consensus today among Anglicans that the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles of Religion constitute essential characteristics of Anglicanism. One answer to the question "What is an Anglican" was given in an address at Canterbury House in Dallas by George Sumner: "In fact the most concise and compelling answer to the question What is an Anglican? is a prayer book Christian." Most would also agree on the necessity of the priesthood and the importance of Apostolic Succession. In that, we have made progress since the 19th century.

In his 1866 treatise “Catholic Orthodoxy and Anglo-Catholicism”, the English Churchman Julian J. Overbeck wrote: "First of all, what is the Anglican Church? The definition is more than difficult. For if I say, it is that Christian Denomination, the basis of which is the Bible, the Prayer-book, and the Thirty-nine Articles, at once the Evangelical party will rise and cry: "The Bible, and the Bible only is our foundation. We disapprove a great deal of what the Prayer-book retained from Popery. No Ritualism, no Sacerdotalism! No sham of Apostolical Succession! We all are priests. There is no Hierarchy divino jure, clergymen and laymen are not essentially different, there is only a distinction for order's sake.”

The Limits of Sola Scriptura

Having experienced different cultures while living abroad, and after teaching for many years in Protestant institutions, I could not embrace the trappings of Protestant enculturated religion or fully ascribe to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

The Reformers themselves recognized the limits of Sola Scriptura. The original intent was to assert that the Bible is the final and infallible authority and arbiter, rather than the Pope, the Roman Catholic Magisterium, or ecclesial councils. The doctrine upheld the role of reason in understanding what is clearly stated in Scripture concerning “all things necessary for salvation.”

Martin Luther placed the authority of the Bible over the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. He stated that "a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it". Luther recognized that some biblical texts are difficult to understand, and he attempted to elucidate these in his sermons.

The 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 1, Section VII) spoke of "the ordinary means" used to understand Scripture and these include turning to learned pastors and teachers. “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

Luther’s intention was to correct abuses that arose in the Medieval Church. He clearly did not deny the role of tradition as he observed many practices such as oracular confession and the veneration of the Virgin Mary.

Today we approach the Bible less polemically. We can understand difficult passages because of the work of learned Bible scholars, textual criticism, biblical archaeology, biblical anthropology, and the study of biblical languages and biblical populations. Today the available “ordinary means” are vastly greater and more diverse.

Nevertheless, the attitude of many to church authority is indifference, and traditions, especially those regarded as “Christian” are disdained. The cultural context of our day is very different from that of the Reformers. We are heirs to the empiricism of the 20th century, and we can legitimately draw on that heritage when investigating the Scriptures as objectively as possible. As Francis Bacon reminds us, “Prudent questioning is one half of knowledge.”

The Anglican Way relies on the faculty of reason in opposition to sensation and emotion. It is a reasonable faith that finds expression in the works of great thinkers such as Anselm of Canterbury, Richard Hooker, and John Keble. Empiricism flourished in the British Isles among members of the Church of England, and though British Empiricism took an anti-Church turn, it owes much to the Anglican intellectual environment.

Those Anglicans who hold the Bible as a first authority and those who hold Scripture and Tradition together are obligated to read it thoroughly and regularly. Daily reading of the Bible characterizes The Anglican Way. It is a fundamental spiritual obligation that pertains to all Anglicans regardless of how they self-identify.

I am not advocating return to the Bible as the remedy for all conflict within the Anglican Communion. That would be as reductionist as the reductionism I object to in Protestantism. Rather, I believe that the Bible informs the mind and shapes the inner person; that it is a book that profoundly changes people. We will never change the Anglican Communion, but the Holy Spirit changes people who read the Bible, and changed people form a more perfect union. Dostoevsky was converted in a Siberian prison after reading the only book he was allowed: the New Testament.

Related reading: Review of Erlandson's Book; Anglican Communion in Crisis; Anglicans Divided

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Divide Opinion as Derrida Did


By Peter Salmon

There have been few thinkers in the history of philosophy who have divided opinion as completely as Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). For some, he is one of the great philosophers of the 20th century, whose brilliant analyses of the text of philosophy and literature overturned many of the fundamental assumptions of each. To others, he is a charlatan: his honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1992 was opposed in a letter to The Times that accused him of not meeting accepted standards of clarity and rigour. His work, the signatories argued, consisted in no small part of elaborate jokes and puns, making French philosophy ‘an object of ridicule’.

Handsome, charismatic, pipe-smoking, Derrida looked like everything a French philosopher should. Pop songs were written about him, films were made in which he played himself, while his aphorisms appeared on T-shirts and coffee mugs: ‘There is nothing outside the text’; ‘To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend’; and ‘I always dream of a pen that would be a syringe.’

He was born in Algeria on 15 July 1930, and his real name was, in fact, Jackie – named after Jackie Coogan, star of the film The Kid (1921), by his Charlie Chaplin-loving parents. Jewish, French, Algerian, Derrida’s identity was complicated, and he strove to apply this complexity to all he touched. Part of thinking like Derrida involves taking those things we take most for granted – such as our identity, such as our language – and looking for unexplored assumptions, contradictions and absences. Thinking like Derrida is a form of close reading, not just of texts, such as those of philosophy and literature, but of everything – art, religion, politics, even ourselves.

Read it all here.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Four Women Revived Metaphysics


A young Elizabeth Anscombe

Metaphysical Animals: How Four Women Brought Philosophy Back to Life by Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman looks at Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, Mary Midgley and Philippa Foot, women who studied philosophy at Oxford in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

In the late 1930s, British philosophy, at least at Oxford, was dominated by AJ Ayer, whose groundbreaking book Language, Truth and Logic was published in 1936. Ayer was the chief promoter of logical positivism, a school of thought that aimed to clean up philosophy by ruling out large areas of the field as unverifiable and therefore not fit for logical discussion.

In a sense, it sought to rid philosophy of metaphysics, those abstract questions of being and knowing that students have traditionally liked to explore late at night after one too many stimulants. It also rendered much of moral philosophy as little more than an expression of emotional preferences.

Anscombe, Murdoch, Midgley and Foot were not fans of logical positivism dogmatism or conclusions. Fortunately for them, if not for the world, the second world war intervened in their studies, removing Ayer and his acolytes from Oxford, and bringing a large influx of European émigré philosophers.

Suddenly metaphysics was back in fashion, or at least no longer frowned upon. The four women all committed to establishing themselves as philosophers, and sought to refute Ayer and his ilk.

Read more here.

The philosophical movement of Logical Positivism can be traced to the Vienna Circle (1922), a group of philosophers in Austria who held that experience is the only source of knowledge, and logical analysis using symbolic logic is the proper method for solving philosophical problems. This approach was popularized in Great Britain by A. J. Ayer and in America by Rudolf Carnap.

Logical Positivism held two key beliefs: (1) absolute confidence in empirical experience as the only source of knowledge; and (2) logical analysis performed with the help of symbolic logic is the single method for solving philosophical problems. This group of philosophers attempted to exclude metaphysics from philosophical investigation in favor of strict logical and mathematical analysis. They also stripped ethics of aspects considered important from the earliest time: conscience, intuition, emotion, etc. The result was a materialist and empirical skepticism about all truth claims. Some Logical Positivists were atheists, though this represents an opinion which cannot be proved by even the strictest logic. Others regarded the existence of God as impossible to verify and would be considered agnostics.

Logical Positivists were skeptical about truth claims that were mathematically reducible, yet optimistic about the potential of science to better the human race and life on earth. These shared a commitment to Unified Science, that is, the construction of a system in which every legitimate statement is logically reduced to a direct experience. The Vienna Circle’s Manifesto stated that “The endeavor is to link and harmonize the achievements of individual investigators in their various fields of science.”