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

Notes on Kant and Aquinas Against Anselm

“Thus when I think a thing, through whichever and however many predicates I like (even in its thoroughgoing determination), not the least bit gets added to the thing when I posit in addition that this thing is. For otherwise what would exist would not be the same as what I had thought in my concept, but more than that, and I could not say that the very object of my concept exists” (Critique of Pure Reason, A600/B628).   
It is important to note the context of Kants rejection of existence as a predicate, which is his criticism of the ontological argument. Kant, as he says above, took Anselm to be arguing that predicating the concept ‘being’ of anything added something to the concept of a thing. This is not entirely correct, however, when we look at Anselm, who says that something which exists only in the understanding is not as great as something which exists in reality. Thus, a god which actually exists is greater than one which exists merely in the understanding.
So having noted that Kant is not a terrific reader of Anselm, is he in fact wrong? Lots of folks have argued that being is not a predicate or a property of individuals. Russell is probably the most well known – he argued that existence or being is a second-order concept. So, to say that X doesn’t exist is just to say that the property of being X is not instantiated. This makes more sense if you look at his debate with Meinong, which really turns out to be a debate over whether existence is equivocal or univocal. Meinong held to the former, Russell the latter (Frege as well). Russell took it to be the case that everything exists, while Meinong too it to be the case that not everything that exists exists. If existence is a predicate, then the problem of negative existentials really looms large, which is probably the main reason Russell held to his view. That is, if existence is a predicate, it becomes quite easy to argue from, say the existence of donkeys to the existence of, say, Eeyore (there’s actually issues here, but bracket those for the moment).

The fundamental disagreement between Aquinas and Anselm, IMO, occurs in the SCG, where Aquinas says that

‘No difficulty, consequently, befalls anyone who posits that God does not exist. For that something greater can be thought than anything given in reality or in the intellect is a difficulty only to him who admits that there is something than which a greater cannot be thought in reality.’

Obviously, this is in direct conflict with Anselm’s invocation of the Fool, but to me it also shows that the Ontological Argument is more logical than metaphysical. Anselm is basically interpreting negative existentials as being both about something ‘in the understanding’ that does not exist in reality: Anselm is trying to derive a logical contradiction or absurdity here. In other words, Anselm is trying to show that ‘There is no God’ or ‘God doesn’t exist’ is a contradiction. But this is easily avoided if we employ something like Russell theory of definite descriptions: we can say that ‘God’ = ‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’. The fool can be taken to be saying that ‘there is nothing which fits the description ‘‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’. To avoid the contradiction, all we have to do is translate that to ‘For any given thing, in the understanding or in reality, a greater than it can be conceived’, and, since Anselm’s argument doesn’t require the Fool to know that his statement is true but only to state it without contradiction, we have avoided Anselm’s contradiction. Aquinas’s quote above is basically the same as what I just laid out.

‘We Willingly Spoil Ourselves’: or, the Impact of Justification by Faith Alone on Man’s Natural Knowledge of God

Perhaps no more familiar conflict exists in the wide world of theology than Barth’s conflict with natural theology. Summarized by the title of his (in)famous reply to Emil Brunner, this has often been taken as a conversation-stopper. And yet, as is so often the case with familiar stories, there is, in fact, more to the story. While Barth never swayed from his negative instincts towards natural theology, it is exceedingly important to pinpoint exactly what he felt and exactly what he felt that about. Torrance went a long way towards clarifying what Barth mean in his rejection of natural theology though himself was somewhat inconsistent in his own positive articulation of the doctrine; however, both give pride of place to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Torrance fleshes out a good deal of all this in his essay on the Scots Confession, and makes a few key moves that are absolutely crucial to both his and Barth’s thinking on this subject. Continue reading