Ontology: A Historiographical Sketch

Ontology is all the rage right now in philosophy (as much as anything in philosophy can be, anyway). New volumes on ontology and metaontology are popping up with increasing frequency, but there’s a bit of a lack of studies of ontology from a historiographical perspective, which is a shame, because it’s a fascinating thread to unravel (if anyone knows of any, please, point them out!).

Aristotle, in the ‘Metaphysics‘, said of metaphysics:

There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature. Now this is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences; for none of these others treats universally of being as being. They cut off a part of being and investigate the attribute of this part; this is what the mathematical sciences for instance do. Now since we are seeking the first principles and the highest causes, clearly there must be some thing to which these belong in virtue of its own nature. If then those who sought the elements of existing things were seeking these same principles, it is necessary that the elements must be elements of being not by accident but just because it is being. Therefore it is of being as being that we also must grasp the first causes.

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Wright, Wisdom, and the Return from Exile to Zion

In ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’, N.T. Wright spends a good number of pages developing his return-from-exile theme. There’s a lot to this and I think most of it is spot-on. Some time ago, however, I read an interesting blog post, where the author noted a lack of textual support for one of Wright’s claims – namely, that in Ben Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, the mode of YHWH’s return to Zion was that of Wisdom (let’s call this the Wisdom Return Thesis – WRT). What I want to do is look closely at Wright’s claim from a textual standpoint as well as from more of a meta-level, since he grounds a good deal of WRT in its prevelance in second-temple literature, and these two books in particular. What is Wright’s specific claim? On page 655, he lays it out  clearly: Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Thomas F. Torrance and the Church Fathers: A Reformed, Evangelical and Ecumenical Reconstruction of the Patristic Tradition’, by Jason Robert Radcliff

Thomas F. Torrance and the Church Fathers: A Reformed, Evangelical and Ecumenical Reconstruction of the Patristic Tradition‘ by Jason Robert Radcliff

Pickwick Publications, 248 pp. $22.40

I was extremely excited about reading this book – there’s no way around that. This is also an extremely important book – there’s no way around that either. Quite simply, this is an essential volume if you read Torrance – and as far as I know, is one of the, if not the only, full-length treatment of Torrance’s appropriation and reconstruction of Patristic theology, and this alone makes it noteworthy.

Radcliff presents us with five chapters on various aspect of Patristic theology and Torrance. The first chapter is a brief (perhaps ‘concise’ is a better word here) historical overview of the reception and use of consensus patrum  in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, early Protestantism, later Protestantism, and 19th/20th century Protestantism. While concise this overview is thorough and heavily footnoted, and sets the tone for the rest of the book in two ways. The first way is that doctrines and names are surveyed in a historiograph-ical manner, focusing on the development and reception of doctrines and less on the substance of the doctrines themselves. Thus, for example, Radcliff, in looking at Roman Catholicism’s reception of the consensus patrum, focuses on the Catholic interpretation of the Fathers through Augustine and Aquinas, as opposed to specific doctrines. The same goes for the various other traditions in this chapter. The second way is seen in the conclusion, where Radcliff notes that Torrance (a) rooted his idea of the consensus in  the doctrine of the homoousian and (b) is giving a thoroughly evangelical and Reformed reconstruction of the consensus. This latter notion is fleshed out a bit more in the next chapter, where it’s set in contrast to the more typical Protestant rediscovery of the Fathers. Continue reading

Augustine’s Worldy Goods

My working thesis in this post is roughly this: while Augustine was indebted to Platonism (or neoplatonism, to be a bit more precise), to regard him as a ‘dualist’ in any simple sense of the word is wrong. Augustine certainly makes use of neoplatonic thinking and definitely makes a distinction between the sensible and the intelligible – but he also is quite willing to attack the (as he calls them) the platonists. But what clinches it for me is his ethical thinking, in which he affirms worldly, mutable things as good and worthy of of being objects of our love and emotion.
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Book Review: ‘The Unassumed is the Unhealed: The Humanity of Christ in the Christology of T.F. Torrance’, by Kevin Chiarot

The Unassumed Is the Unhealed: The Humanity of Christ in the Christology of T. F. Torrance, by Kevin Chiarot

Pickwick Publications, 244 pp. $27.00

‘The unassumed is the unhealed’ is in all likelihood Gregory Nazianzus’s most famous saying, and it’s the driving force behind much of T.F. Torrances theology, and in short articulates the idea that Christ assumed ‘fallen human nature’ in the Incarnation. In this book, Kevin Chiarot explicates, analyzes and critiques Torrance’s use of this maxim in his christology. For such an important aspect of Torrance’s thought, the non-assumptus (Christ’s assuming of a fallen human nature) hasn’t received as much attention of this kind (and by that I mean monograph-ical treatment) as it should, and so Chiarot’s book is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature of Torrance’s theology. Chiarot focuses on a few key aspects of the non-assumptus in Torrance: the place of Israel in Torrance’s theology, the hypostatic union, the virgin birth, and the cross. Each of these aspects is thoroughly drawn out and examined in detail before turning to more critical analysis.
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Barth and Torrance, Epistemology and Methodology

Karl Barth and T.F. Torrance are known for their scientific realist approach to theology and methodology. Here I want to subject their methodology to close scrutiny, and in doing so, I’m going to argue that, at a formal level, Barth/Torrance’s theological epistemology is implicitly built on both a kind of dualism and that Torrance’s method is a priori committed to a specific interpretation of realism that hindered his own engagement with both the sciences and the theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Here I want to see if the Barth/Torrance thesis can be illuminated by way of the McDowell-Dreyfus debate, and then examine Barth/Torrance’s realist methodology for doing theology by looking at Torrance’s own critical engagement with the natural sciences.
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Ruminations on Quine and Quantifying

Quine is well known for his aversion to universals – his ontology of existential quantification rules out commitment to the existence of universls such as rednesstallness, etc. For Quine, first-order existential quantifier is ontologically committing, and it is this quantifer which quantifies over objects, of which properteis are predicated. Thus, to use a stock example, if we say ‘Socrates is mortal’, we can ‘quine’t it by translating it into a formal logic sentence – ∃x M(x), where M is mortal and x is Socrates – which tells us just what we are ontologically committed to. In this sentence, the domain of the existential quantifier includes x, therefore, we are ontologically committed to x. Thus, we can predicate properties of objects without being ontologically committed to universals.
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Book Review: ‘An Introduction to Metametaphysics’, by Tuomas E. Tahko

An Introduction to Metametaphysics‘, by Tuomas E. Tahko

Cambridge University Press, 266 pp. $29.99

At first glance, the term ‘metametaphysics’ can be a little off-putting. For most folks, I imagine, the term ‘metaphysics’ is off-putting, and to add an extra ‘meta’ may seem to border on self-parody. For those of a more ‘scientific’ mind or those who view metaphysics with some suspicion (for which there are both good and bad reasons), ‘metametaphysics’ might as well say ‘armarmchair’ speculation. Slightly awkward terminology aside, metametaphysics is actually what those suspicious of metaphysics should be thinking about, and Tahko’s book is a brilliant guide to a broad and often complex topic that anyone, suspicious of metaphysics or not, should read.

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A Rather Simple Concern

This is a post about the doctrine of divine simplicity – or, more precisely, a meta-post on the doctrine of divine simplicity. I’m not going to defend or critique any given model of simplicity (there are plenty of models, critiques and defences) but I’m going to try and unearth that which the doctrine of divine simplicity is concerned with from a theological standpoint. The point here is to identify why one would want to hold to simplicity – in order to move forward in a constructive (or de-constructive) way.
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Book Review: ‘T.F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy: Theology in Reconciliation’, eds. Matthew Baker and Todd Speidell

T.F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy: Theology in Reconciliation‘, eds. Matthew Baker and Todd Speidell

Wipf & Stock, 360 pp. $33.60

With any luck, if you’re reading this blog, T.F. Torrance doesn’t need any introduction, but I’ll do a quick one anyway. Torrance was, quite simply, ‘the man’. That should suffice, I think.

Torrance’s proficiency in church history, philosophy, science and theology is well known, but if there was one thing that stands out about him, it’s his ecumenical work, and it’s that particular aspect of his accomplishments with which I am least familiar, so for me, this was a quite a fun learning experience.

This is an important volume, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a collection of substantial, critical, appreciative and respectful engagement. There has been lots of engagement with Torrance, but to have a single book with so much engagement is, to me pretty significant. Second, it’s critical. While it’s appreciative, it points out some serious issues in Torrance, ranging from theological to scientific. For my money, it’s this aspect that is the most important, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.
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