‘Authority Under the Word’: or, a Brief Thought on Why a Critical Attitude Ought to be Maintained Toward Tradition

In and of itself, tradition has zero normative force. Take the term ‘tradition’ to encompass things such as the ecumenical councils, received dogmas, things of that nature. These things have normative force only to the extent that they are correct and not in virtue of their status as tradition. Because the normative force derives from the correctness of tradition, it has to be shown that the tradition is in fact correct, and there cannot be a presumption of this correct-ness. This doesn’t mean an attitude of skepticism or suspicion towards tradition; it is helpful to think of tradition as our theological older brother/sister . We listen to them and to their wisdom before we say they are wrong, but we nonetheless validate what they say. In the case of tradition, this validation comes through exegesis and submission to the Word. One should not thumb their nose at the collective wisdom of the tradition: if one takes it to be the case that the tradition is wrong then it must be proved. However, to reiterate a point above, this does not mean that the presumption of correctness is on the side of tradition. Tradition can and has been wrong; there is no a priori reason to think that tradition ought to be given the benefit of the doubt simply because its status as tradition. Continue reading

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Against Pure A Priori-ism

In a recent article for Aeon magazine, Prof. Bruce Russell argues that all our justified beliefs ultimately rest on a priori justification. At first glance, this appears to be quite a claim, for surely some of our justification is a posteriori – how can empirical propositions such as, say, the sun will rise tomorrow, because it has risen in the past (the inductive proposition par excellence) turn out to be justified a priori? Russell argues that even induction is justified a priori – a contentious claim, to say the least, but not an indefensible one. The question of its viability, then, hinges on the quality of the arguments given in its defence. It is important to note at the outset and keep in mind Russell’s definition of a priori justification – this will prove significant later: Continue reading

Assorted Thoughts on Whether or Not Chalcedon is Doing Metaphysics or Commits Us to Classsical Metaphysics (it probably isn’t/doesn’t)

It seems that the the idea that the metaphysical language of Chalcedon itself gives us a normative description of reality, or commits us to a specific metaphysic, is mistaken. While the creeds language is highly metaphysical, are all these terms, substance, person, nature, essence, about the person of Christ to be taken in the strictest metaphysical terms? Are we committed to a broadly classical metaphysic by Chalcedon?

 

Upon closer inspection, however, Chalcedon itself doesn’t appear to commit us to any such thing (the assertion that it does would probably only have any force if it was assumed that such a metaphysic was already the case) nor is it required to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy. It is absolutely possible, for example to construct a fully orthodox christology without metaphysics on the ‘basis of the narrated history of Jesus’ ( such as that of Bruce McCormack). But there’s a few significant things about Chalcedon that, to me, put a few nails in the overtly classical  concept of Chalcedon (a lot of this comes from Sarah Coakley’s essay on Chalcedon ‘What Does Chalcedon Solve’ in ‘The Incarnation’) Continue reading

(Partially) Enchanted Amphibians: or, What Kant, McDowell and Aristotle Have to Teach Us About Our Second Nature

Modern philosophy can be characterized by two things: a deep hostility to any idea of ‘enchantment’ and a deep forgetfulness of the idea of ‘second nature’. Properly qualified, the former is acceptable (there need be no overarching enchanted metaphysical scheme underlying nature), but the latter is the source of some of the key problems of modernity, the most prominent of which might very well be the problem of the naturalness and mindedness of man. This is the axis on which German Idealism turned, and the answers the idealists struggled for continue to fund contemporary discussions; it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the question of naturalness and mindedness encompasses nearly every aspect of philosophy. The problem itself will be discussed first, then the idea of ‘second nature’. Continue reading

A Dialectic of Crisis: The Protestant Identity in Light of the Protestant Principle

Paul Tillich, in The Protestant Era, took the Reformation insight of justification by faith and embedded it, as a principle of criticism, into the sociological fabric of the universe: ‘Protestantism as a principle is eternal and a permanent criterion of everything temporal’, (The Essential Tillich, ed. F. Forrester Church, p. 69). Put another way, this means that nothing has a claim on the absolute, and anything that claims to have such a claim ought to be protested against and resisted – this may be one way of expressing the rallying cry of ‘Semper Reformanda’. The classic example of this was the Protestant critique of the office of the Papacy, who could claim to speak truth; in fact, it was Truth with a capital T. This Truth can’t ever be reached by man: it can only come to man: Continue reading

Rational Freedom: or, a Short Exploration of the Place of Reasons and Causes in Action

Consider any given action, X, performed by any agent S. Consider a description of X: such a description will have a largely causal story (S X’d), while an explanation will feature a belief/desire story, and most significantly for our purposes here, a reasons story (though the causal story will be significant as well). The overall point here will be to show a couple of things: that reasons figure prominently in a rational explanation of action but in a non-causal way, reasons point to a conception of freedom that is positive, as opposed to negative (being free from causal forces, for example), and that the causal and reasons stories are distinct but not opposed to each other – an agent can be caused to have a reason to X, in other words, without the causal story being the figuring more prominently than the reasons story. Continue reading

Grounds with no Foundation: or, a Brief Look at Whether or Not Fichte and Kant Were Foundationalists and What Relevance that Might Have for Us Today

Foundationalism has had a really rough time in the last few centuries. Starting with Thomas Reid‘s attacks on ‘the way of ideas’, finding perhaps their most sophisticated articulations in Sellars and his attack on the ‘myth of the given’ (both Reid and Sellars are concerned with the foundations of empirical knowledge here) and continuing with Rorty and his attack on the ‘mirror of nature’, powerful arguments have been leveled at what has been, according to the received wisdom, the reigning theory of knowledge for most of history. Alvin Plantinga has rather famously given classical foundationalism a final kick. Now, a perusal of these links will show that foundationalism is indeed a many splendored thing: there are epistemic and metaphysical articulations to be found, ranging from Descartes to the British empiricists to Russell, but the overall moral is this: the idea that knowledge requires foundations (of any of the kinds listed above) in order to be rational is at the very least open to serious doubt. Now, the fact that foundationalism is in doubt doesn’t negate the idea that knowledge may have foundations more generally. Plantinga is a good case study here, since while he objects to classical foundationalism he is still a sort-of, or a modest, foundationalist. It may be more helpful to put it this way: while the requirement for foundations for knowledge to be rational may be called into question, the question of grounds for knowledge is still alive and well. Continue reading