Review of Frame’s Western Philosophy

This review is dedicated to Kevin Johnson.

I won’t give a whole review of each thinker in this book.  I’ve done some of that here.
https://patristicevangelism.wordpress.com/category/john-frame-2/

What new material can a survey of Philosophy cover? I was wrong.  Frame’s text has numerous ‘lagniappe’ that you won’t find in other texts (links to audio, references to modern Reformed thinkers, etc).  In other words, it’s fun. But more importantly, it’s conducive to piety.  Frame defines theology as the application, by persons, of God’s word to all of life (Frame 4).  Sure, there is a Kuyperian thrust and that can be abused, but on the whole I appreciate it.

He reduces metaphysical discussions to: Is reality One, Many, or Both?  (Hint: It’s both). *God is absolute tri-personality (16-17).  He relates to his creation in terms of Lordship.  Lordship is explained as authority (normative), control, and presence.

I think this is a good move, but there is a subtle anti-substance metaphysic involved.  Substance metaphysics would usually say that reality is “cut at the joints,” meaning a universe of parts, whole, etc.  That’s fine as far as it goes and few would disagree.  Traditionally, though, that concept would get applied to God.

Frame (perhaps subconsciously) does not allow that.  We aren’t now speaking of God’s transcendence in a way that he is spatially “above” or separated from the universe (though certainly not identical with it).  The language is no longer spatial, but covenantal.

Perspectives on Human Knowledge

*Our knowledge is related to God in 3 ways (19):

  1. Control (our situation governed by his providence)
  2. Authority (what God reveals in his Word and Creation)
  3. Presence (Covenant)

Frame’s account is light on early philosophy and focuses more on early modern and recent philosophy.  

His thesis: The two renaissance themes–humanism and antiquarianism–couldn’t be integrated.  Do we gain knowledge by reflecting on the past or do we gain knowledge by using our autonomous reason divorced from tradition (167)?

The Reformation

Presented alternatives in metaphysics and epistemology. Luther: in his metaphysics he turned away from the NeoPlatonic “One” and back to the absolute and personal God of revelation (169).

Calvin marks a new move: he begins his Institutes with the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is never apart from reverence and love towards him.  This also determines man’s self-knowledge: “how can we imagine knowing anything without knowing ourselves, that is, knowing our knowing” (Frame 173 n16)? Calvin’s epistemology breaks with Renaissance and medieval models. Correlated with Calvin’s absolute personal theism.

After the Enlightenment, Frame makes the rather strange suggestion that the two worst heresies the church faced are Deism and Liberalism (220).  I…um…don’t know about that.  But it does explain much of the book.  He defines liberal as anyone who doesn’t submit to the authority of Scripture (216ff).  This definition of liberalism is very important for Frame’s text and it allows him to misinterpret a number of key thinkers.

Frame has a magnificent chapter on Kant and Hegel.  Without explaining Kant’s philosophy, it allows Frame to make another important observation: the conservative drift in liberal theology.  Liberals began to use more conservative language while retaining liberal constructs.

His chapter on Barth is just bad.  I’ve blogged on it elsewhere.  His take on Pannenberg is slightly better, though ruined by Frame’s definition of liberal theology.  Pannenberg is not a liberal just because he doesn’t hold to inerrancy.  

But when Frame sticks to material in which he is an acknowledged authority, such as linguistic analysis, he shines. The chapters on Russell and Wittgenstein were outstanding.  He ends his text with a survey of recent Evangelical theologians.

Evaluation

Should you buy this text?  I think so.  It has a number of drawbacks and he only rarely engages in more than a surface-level analysis, but it is better than most one-volume treatments.  Frame includes annotated bibliographies, pictures, diagrams, and links to audio lectures.  

 

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Frame: Neo-Orthodoxy

I can only deal with Barth in this post. Others will follow.

If there is one single chapter in this book that is just bad, it is this one.  I am not trying to defend NeoO (in fact, I share Frame’s problems with Tillich and I can take it a step further), but he took cheap shots on Barth and failed to get at the heart of the matter.

He says the critics “Must face the task of explaining away what Barth appears to say in my quotations” (Frame 366).  This is easy: we don’t agree with Barth on all points.  Further, we can acknowledge Barth said this, but he said this under specific horizons.

He advances the typical rejection that Barth says the Bible becomes God’s word “from time to time.” Let’s try to look at something first.  When we see the phrase “revelation” or “God’ Word” in the Bible, does it univocally means the enscripturated canon?  Of course not.  This should take some pressure off of Barth.

But here is a bigger point:  Can “God’s Word” be a predicate of a creaturely entity?  No, it cannot it–otherwise you divinize that creature.  Not surprisingly, Barth’s Reformed Christology controls his doctrine of Scripture–as it should.

Frame calls Barth “an extreme nominalist” (367).  This is just false.

When Barth talks about dialectical unveiling, it means that God is indirectly identical with the medium of his self-revelation.  God makes himself present in the Word, but there is also a veiling of God in the flesh of Christ.

Frame writes: “This view of Scripture encourages us to hear  the Bible tentatively, selectively, critically” (370).  This is just silly.  It encouraged Bonhoeffer to die.

When Barth talks about Geschicte, he doesn’t mean a gnostic “not-quite-real” history.  He means that salvation and revelation come from God’s realm of reality and do not arise from within creaturely reality.  In other words, Pelagianism is false.

In conclusion, Frame focuses all of his attention, with a few exceptions, on CD I.1.  This leads to a distorted picture of Barth.  The reader is encouraged to read any random essay by Bruce McCormack for a better picture.

Frame: Hegel

I’m always skeptical when people talk about “Hegel” for the large reason they have no clue what they are saying.  He isn’t an easy philosopher and his system has been sidetracked by facile interpretations.

Frame does a good job, though.

Anti-Kant

Hegel asks “if we cannot know anything about the noumenal, then on what ground should we affirm its existence” (Frame 270)?

Frame is further correct in noting, contra to conservative bloggers, that Hegel never said “Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis.”  What he means is that whenever you posit or examine something, it will always be somehow contradicted by another facet of reality, thus making way for a new positing.

The key terms here are aufheben (passive participle) and aufgehoben, which can mean something like “canceling” or “sublimating.”

Self-Alienation

The dialectic means God’s own coming to consciousness.  God himself is being, but whenever we think of being we also think of non-being.  To know being we have to distinguish it from nonbeing.  So to posit being (God) is also to posit nonbeing (God’s shadow).

Thus, God’s thought leads inevitably to a self-alienation (Frame 275).  When God announces “I Am” he divides his subjectivity from his objectivity.  Thus, God always has a negative side. (Frame doesn’t mention it, but this is why Hegel is an occultic thinker).

A slight break: Pavel

One of Pavel’s better books. He does a better job in this book of explaining his “high tension” philosophy. It is certainly better than his longer (and over-priced) *Beyond Bodybuilding.* I generally agree with his outlook. This book does suffer from some self-limitations, though. Most people, while they say they might not want to bulk up, do in fact want to look good and not look flabby. Pavel’s reassurances that “you won’t bulk up,” while technically true, tend to convey the impression that you want gain any size at all, which is simply not true. Your body will grow proportionately and you will look good, albeit not like a Roid Monkey.

602300

A lot of women say, “I don’t want to get huge.” Well, you won’t. It’s actually very hard. It requires a consistent over-intake of calories while doing lots of sets at 6-8 reps, training larger muscle groups over a long period of time (translation: lift heavily and often and eat like a hippo every chance). Most people can’t do that, if only for money reasons.

Following Pavel’s outlook, I’ve cut down on injuries, gotten A LOT stronger but only gained 9 pounds in a year (if I could afford heavier kettlebells, the gains would be even bigger; I can easily do lots of cycles with a 45lb bell. I simply can’t afford to buy heavier at the moment).

I like the book. It is worth reading and it is better than a lot of his material (and it’s funny. I chuckle every time he pokes fun of modern American pop MTV culture: heroin-emaciated beauty models and Ken and Barbie weights)

Frame: Kant

Most important chapter in the book.  I will have to break this into several posts.

Noumena and Phenomena

“our most basic knowledge comes…by the mind’s impressing it on the world” (Frame 256). The mind structures the concepts of experience.

Kant’s Assembly Line

The assembly line is the mind.  It receives the raw stuff/noumenal.  The transcendental aesthetic adds the ingredients that make it suitable for sense perception.

The transcendental analytic allows us to understand.  Similar to Aristotle’s categories.

These categories  are like the divider in an ice cube tray.

The transcendental unity of apperception says all of the above is meaningless unless held together by a unified experience.  This is a presupposition of experience, not an item of it.

The transcendental dialectic

God is a regulative concept, not a constitutive one.  He is necessary for morality but not for belief.

Frame argument: liberal theology often moves more conservative in language but not content (264).

Problems with Kant (p. 266ff)

  1. To live “as if” God exists is incoherent.  Part of the “acting as if” includes belief, going to church, worship, etc, the very things Kant doesn’t include.  Epistemology is a part of ethics
  2. The human mind replaces Plato’s Forms.
  3. “Kant seeks to interpret an unknowable, unstructured world (the noumena) by applying a knowable structure of categories supplied by autonomous reason (phenomena)(p. 268).
  4. Kant’s knowledge isn’t even a knowledge of the real world.  It is a knowledge of its own structure, “a knowledge the categories imposes on the real world.”
  5. The medieval nature-grace becomes nature-freedom (Dooyeweerd).

Frame: Theology in the Enlightenment

In this chapter Frame refocuses his argument and explains why he spends more time on modern, rather than ancient thought.

A biblical metaphysic dictates an epistemology and ethic in which divine “revelation is the supreme authority” (Frame 214).  The problem for the Greeks–and I suspect for most of autonomous thought– is “that the object of knowledge–the world–is irrational,” which means the goal of knowing is to impose (violence?) a rational order on irrational chaos.

Frame says the two worst heresies the church faced are Deism and Liberalism (220).  I…um…don’t know about that.  But it does explain much of the book.  He defines liberal as anyone who doesn’t submit to the authority of Scripture (216ff).

He notes that Pascal is one of the first thinkers “to take seriously the subjective or existential dimension of knowledge, not as a barrier to understanding, but as a necessary basis for it” (231).

Jonathan Edwards

Edwards held to biblical revelation but he did not react hysterically to the Enlightenment.  Edwards also allows us to examine some aspects of ontology:

Substance: God is the only true substance.  Hints and charges of pantheism.  I don’t think Edwards intended this but it is hard to escape the charge.  See Oliver Crisp’s works on Edwards.

understanding: faculty of the mind.  Arises as God supplies us with impressions and ideas.

Will: the seat of passions and affections.  (JBA: this is true but Edwards said MUCH MORE on the will).

Thomas Reid

Surprisingly good section on Reid.  Van Tillians as a whole have been very sloppy in their scholarship on Reid.  Frame summarizes Reid’s first principles (243):

  1. Consciousnesss is reliable in showing us what exists.
  2. Conscious thoughts reveal a self, mind, or person.
  3. Memory is generally reliable.
  4. Personal identity continues through time (Ship of Theseus).
  5. Sense perception is generally reliable.
  6. People intuit that they have free will.
  7. Natural faculties (reason) are generally reliable.
  8. Others have life and intelligence similar to ours.
  9. Physical expressions and actions of people reveal their minds.
  10. Human testimony is generally reliable.
  11. People’s actions are more or less regular.
  12. The future will be generally like the past.

Frame has a problem with (6).  But for the rest these can’t be proven.  Their are prior to proof.  They aren’t absolute and one can find exceptions to them, but they are generally the case for everyday life.  They “force assent.”

Frame: Early Modern Thought

This is the densest chapter so far and represents the thrust of the book.  Frame’s text is lighter on early and medieval thought and more weighted towards the modern era.  Not a criticism.  Just an observation.

Thesis: The two renaissance themes–humanism and antiquarianism–couldn’t be integrated.  Do we gain knowledge by reflecting on the past or do we gain knowledge by using our autonomous reason divorced from tradition (167)?

The Reformation

Presented alternatives in metaphysics and epistemology

Luther: in his metaphysics he turned away from the NeoPlatonic “One” and back to the absolute and personal God of revelation (169).

John Calvin

Calvin marks a new move: he begins his Institutes with the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is never apart from reverence and love towards him.  This also determines man’s self-knowledge: “how can we imagine knowing anything without knowing ourselves, that is, knowing our knowing” (Frame 173 n16)?

Calvin’s epistemology breaks with Renaissance and medieval models. Correlated with Calvin’s absolute personal theism.

Secular Philosophy

No point in examining each individual thinker, except where I think Frame is more than usually clear.

Descartes:  doubt is an activity of the mind.  I cannot doubt my mind’s doubting.  Decent discussion on mind-body dualism.

Spinoza: “substance is that which is in itself and is conceived through itself” (183).  Thus, “God” is the only substance (though there are an infinity of modes of that substance). God is nature naturing.  The world is nature natured.

Leibniz: idealist atomist.  Mind is the most basic category of reality.  These monadic minds have no windows but they are mirrors towards the other.  While there are problems here, some have suggested that Leibniz anticipated modern computer languages.

British Empiricism

Too much ink has been spilled on these guys. I won’t go into it here.