Truth and Method (review)

This is one of those great moments where a great student follows his master (Heidegger) yet gives us a new product and not simply a repetition of his master. In short, for Gadamer language is the horizon of being. As Kant was wrong to seek a thing-in-itself, so we also should beware of a “meaning-in-itself.”

Gadamer begins and ends his work on a strange note: the aesthetics and interpretation of art. It’s not that art determines how we interpret text, but art allows Gadamer to illustrate (no pun intended) the tension given that great works of art are considered “timeless,” yet they were produced in historical, finite circumstances. This tension points to the horizon, a key Gadamerian term.

Every experience has implicit horizons of before and after and finally fuses with the continuum of experiences present in the before and after to form a unified flow of experience (246). Df. horizon = not a rigid boundary but something that moves with and invites one to advance further. Everything that is given as existent is given in terms of a world and hence brings the world horizon with it. As a horizon phenomenon “world” is essentially related to subjectivity, and this relation means also that it exists in transciency.”

Hermeneutical circle: possesses an ontological positive significance. We have already fore-projected before we even approach the text. This creates an openness which situates our meaning with other meanings. Understanding is a participation in the event of tradition and not so much a subjective act (302).

Horizons are temporally-conditioned. Time is not a gulf to be crossed by a supportive ground in which the present is rooted. We cannot stand outside of our situation. “All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pre-given, what Hegel calls “substance’” (313). Horizon: every finite present has its limitations. Every situation represents a standpoint that limits the possibility of vision. Horizons move with us. When we understand something, we fuse the horizons between text and interpreter. Fusion of horizons: We regain concepts of a historical past in such a way that it also includes our own comprehension of them (382).

This will go down as one of those truly great books. Ground-breaking works. It’s not super-hard to read simply because it is well-written. However, he does presuppose a good bit of Hegel and Heidegger, so keep that in mind.

Phenomenology of Spirit (Review)

Where to begin a review on a book of this magnitude? While this might seem like a difficult question, the easiest answer is also the most Hegelian: start anywhere, for you will end up in the final moment of the dialectic. (Any parenthetical citations in this review refer to the paragraph numbers in the Miller translation) With that said, let’s begin:

Preliminary notes from Charles Taylor (Cambridge, 1975)

The problem in Hegel’s time:  man as the knowing subject faced a number of divisions.

  • separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact
  • what can bridge the gap between mind and world?
  • self-consciousness leads the individual to distinguish himself from his community.
  • opposition between finite (free will) spirit and infinite (fate) spirit.

The goal: philosophy is to understand how these divisions overcome themselves. Oppositions arise out of an earlier identity.  An entity cannot be utterly distinguished from its “Other” because it cannot exist on its own.  Taylor:  “It is not related to an other but to its other, and this hidden identity will necessarily reassert itself in a recovery of unity” (Taylor 80).  

Hegel rejects Greek dualism and almost stumbles upon a biblical Hebraism.  He sees the Cartesian project as inherently mechanistic and incoherent (what connects mind and matter?  Cartesians have never really answered this).

Unfortunately, Hegel still sees the idea of a mind/soul in a body as a “dualist temptation.”  He does admit, though, that it is foreign to Greek thought (81).  

Hegel is drawing upon Herder’s expressivism.  Thought, language, etc does not exist without a medium.  Thus for Hegel, the subject, no matter how spiritual, is necessarily embodied.  This is true up to a point, but runs into problems in two areas:  God/Geist is not embodied (at least not God the Father and the Holy Spirit, though Hegel gets around that) and the soul exists in a disembodied state after death.
[1] What does phenomenology suggest? Something like the external world appears to me in a certain way and/or my mind constructs these categories. If so, how would a phenomenology of spirit be possible, since spirit is usually not associated with the external world? This is why Kant’s noumenal distinction is wrong. Just what is it that appears in appearance? Appearance is the showing forth of what something is.

[2] The short answer: Reason recapitulates itself. It doubles back. Take the category of abstract being or reason or spirit. In the abstract it is an empty category. To say that something is says nothing specific about it. Yet, it is not Nothing. Therefore, oscillating between this “Being” and “Nothing” is Becoming, which can account for particularity.

[3] Therefore, Reason must Reflect upon itself and become self-consciousness. As Glenn Magee notes, “Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (Magee 88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

[4] This leads to the infamous Master-Slave dialectic: simple awareness of objects cannot produce consciousness of self. We can’t just know objects. We must act and overcome on them. Self-consciousness is only achieved when our desire is directed on other desires: when we see ourselves in the other. The master is actually serving the slave because he depends on the recognition from inferiors. His identity is based on what inferiors think of him.

[5] We come finally to Absolute Spirit. It manifests itself in three modes: Art, Religion, and Philosophy. The first two are inadequate because they use sensuous images and can only approach from finite vantage points. But philosophy is able to give self-knowledge that doesn’t depend on picture-thinking.

[6] Substance becomes Subject. It retains self-consciousness’s own self and can now be a predicate. Spirit is the unity between Subject and predicate. When Spirit remains just substance, it remains an object to itself. Spirit must become subject by uniting and sublating the object.

[7] Being is no longer an abstraction, as in [2]. It is now Being-as-Spirit. Its previous determinations [read: those moments when x is contrasted with y] have since been sublated. Hegel gives us a reversed chain of being (cf Magee, The Hegel Dictionary).

[8] If Spirit is now universal self-consciousness, then it is community (Hegel 781). Logos has now been refracted outward.

[9] If [6] holds then we have something like Gnosticism: Spirit empties itself of itself and falls into substance. As Subject, though, it goes out of that Substance and cancels out the difference between objectivity and content (Hegel 804). Like some strains of Gnosticism, this is a “fall into otherness and multiplicity and a return by means of “finding myself.”

The Good in Hegel:

*He has a good epistemological insight that the knower is always involved in the known object.
*Hegel anticipated all of the good insights made by communitarians. We do not possess our identity intrinsically, but only in relation to something else. Identity will always involve difference because identity consists of relations.
*His stuff on community is very good.

The Bad

~From a theistic standpoint Hegel appears irreconcilable with traditional theism. Much of what he says, if on the level of created reality, is quite good, but when you move this to the nature of God we have all sorts of problems: process theism, open theism, patripassianism.

Works Cited

Magee, Glenn. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
—————–. The Hegel Dictionary. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, 1975.

A Tale of Two Metaphysics

To wax hippie and postmodern for a moment, this is a “journey” of a post, more than a philosophical one.  Every year I go back and forth between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.  This seems to correlate with my reading of Barth.

Ultimately, I don’t care which school is right.  They are tools, not goals.  Which one advances the kingdom better?  Which one gives a better picture of God (oops, Wittgensteinian slip)?

And I don’t have a good answer. But maybe I can point out strengths and weaknesses and show where the church can be spiritually bettered.

Continental Philosophy

To navigate modern discussions, you have to deal with Hegel.  Plain and simple.  This doesn’t mean you are a “liberal” or a “pantheist.”  It just means you are doing responsible scholarship. And it means you have to engage a certain vocabulary (the “Other,” “positing,” etc).  Nothing wrong with that but not necessarily easy.

One of the advantages is that Continental Philosophy seems to merge easily with other disciplines, like literature.  This gives it an immediate relevance that analytic philosophy seems to lack.  On the other hand, I am not always sure I know what they are saying.30665548

Analytic Philosophy

Analytic philosophy is clear, precise, and similar to doing mental exercise. I just feel sharper when I am done reading guys like Plantinga.  And I didn’t always know that analytic philosophy of today is not the same thing as of earlier generations.  Earlier analytic models thought reality (or clarity or meaning) was obtainable simply by asking the question, “Well what do you mean by that?”  Ask it enough and you arrive at meaning (or get punched in the face).

The more dangerous implication is that things are truly knowable only in the abstract and not in systems of relations.  This is deleterious for Christian theism.

But even guys like Ayer realized that was a dead-end.

After the Plantinga revolution, Christian philosophers started using many of the tools of analytic philosophy, without necessarily committing themselves to earlier conclusions–and the results are often amazing.  See especially Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil.

One of the problems, though, is that analytic guys are perceived (whether this is fair or not) as having a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to the history of doctrine.  I will come back to that point.

Biola and Calvin College:  Can They Meet?

I single out Biola and Calvin as two respective representatives of the above tradition.  Biola boasts of luminaries like JP Moreland and William L. Craig.  The “Calvin tradition” is represented by James K. A. Smith.  And both streams have done outstanding work. Even more, analytic guys like Moreland are able to tie philosophical analysis in with the “spiritual disciplines” movement, Renovare.  Here is great promise but also great danger.


This is the brainchild of Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline.  On a practical level, much of it is quite good.  The idea that bodily disciplines break bad habits is just good, practical psychology (I got accused by a powerful Gnostic Magus on Puritanboard of denying the gospel for that sentence).

But…there is almost zero discernment in these guys.  They will take handfuls of Pentecostal, Quaker, Catholic, and Reformed spirituality and just mix ’em together.

Nevertheless…My prayer life improved from following Moreland’s advice.

Calvin Cultural Liturgies

James K. A. Smith has found himself the sparring partner of what is known as the “Biola School.”  Smith’s thesis–which I think is fundamentally correct–is that we aren’t simply “brains on a stick.”  We are embodied and liturgies, to be effective, must engage the whole person.  (I also got accused of denying the gospel on Puritanboard for that statement.  )

We will come back to that statement.

Smith, however, takes his apologetic in a different realm.  While I agree with Smith that “postmodernism” doesn’t just mean “Denying absolute truth” (what does that statement even mean?), I fear that Smith’s cultural applications do not escape the worst of postmodern, low-brow culture. Further, Smith is weak on the doctrine of the soul (in some of his cultural liturgies books he uses “brain” when he should be saying “mind”).

Is that evident at Calvin College?  Rumors abound that Calvin is gutting some of its biblical language programs, and Calvin has invited homosexual speakers in the past.  Make fun of Vineyard and Biola all you want, but I don’t think that has happened.

It is not that Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project is wrong.  I think much of it is quite insightful and I eagerly await his volume on Augustine, but I am nervous where the applications are going.

To be fair to Smith, though, and to Continental Philosophy, they have been more attentive to the history of philosophy (and perhaps, history of doctrine)

Possible Overlap

I do see some areas of overlap with Smith and Moreland

  1. Both believe in Jesus’s Kingdom Power for today
  2. Both believe in the body’s importance in spiritual disciplines

What should we do?

In the end, I side with Moreland.  We need analytic philosophy’s discipline and precision.  While both Smith and Moreland believe in Kingdom Power and bodily disciplines, the latter’s “cultural” applications are far more responsible.