A Life Most Divine: Karl Barth and Divine Simplicity

At a crucial point in his discussion of the perfections of God, Barth says something which struck me as odd. After tracing what he takes to be nominalistic understandings of God’s essence and attributes – where God’s attributes are really only distinctions in our knowledge of God as opposed to things that God actually has – Barth gives three propositions in which he explains how he understands God’s attributes over against nominalism. While all three of these are important in understanding just how Barth thinks of God’s attributes, the second proposition gave me pause (or, to be more precise the ending of the second proposition):

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Heidegger and Searle Make for Strange Bedfellows: or, What Analytic and Continental Philosophy Combined Might Tell Us About A.I.

Mark Okrent notes an interesting phenomenon: though Heidegger effectively never explicitly interacted with anything close to what we today would recognize as the philosophy of mind or the cognitive sciences or artificial intelligence, it is nearly obligatory to reference Heidegger when one writes on the topic of artificial intelligence. This is largely due to Hubert Dreyfus’s reading of Heidegger. John Searle, by contrast, has interacted extensively with the cognitive sciences, artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind. Heidegger and Searle together, however, are an unlikely pair, but I think that implicit in Heidegger is what is explicit in Searle, especially in his (in)famous Chinese Room Argument.

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A Situated Historicity: or, a Brief Explanation of Why We Are Actually Able to Know Things

There is, floating about in the space of reasons, a family of arguments (or something like arguments) that has caused no shortage of ink to be spilled in the last century. This family of arguments turns on a simple principle: since we can only know things as they appear to us, we cannot know things in themselves. Let ‘appear to us’ cover a multitude of theses: falling under our concepts, our historical condition, forms of perception, their historical relation to us. In one way or another, things in themselves are closed off from us by the very things that make them knowable. There is just a whiff of pop-postmodernism here in that there is no vantage point outside of the ‘appear to us’, no final, a priori court of appeals. The only vantage point is within the condition in which we find ourselves, and this condition is a firmly historical one. All the theses mentioned above – concepts, relations, perception – are historical and since any knowledge we have comes by way of these theses, all our knowledge is historical. Thus, if all our knowledge is historical, then there is no fixed, necessary, immutable principles by which we may know – no detatched, disemboided a priori, context-free, unconditioned knowing.

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The Emergence of the Freedom of the Subject in a World of Objects

Roger Scruton, in his Gifford Lectures entitled The Face of God, argues that human beings cannot be understood properly if they are not conceived as subjects in a world of objects. What I want to do here is to argue along those same lines, but flesh out what exactly is entailed in subjecthood. Subjecthood, I maintain, consists primarily in rational freedom. This defintion brings together the classical definition of person as an individual substance of a rational nature together with the more modern definition of a person wherein the fundamental human property consists in the freedom of self-determination. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘The Word Became Flesh: A Rapprochement of Christian Natural Law and Radical Christological Ethics’, by David Griffin

The Word Became Flesh: A Rapprochement of Christian Natural Law and Radical Christological Ethics‘, by David Griffin, Wipf and Stock, 290 pp.  $35.00

In this volume, David Griffin attempts to bring traditional natural law ethics and radical christological ethics together to form a super-ethic: one that has the universal normative force of classical natural law while also retaining the focus on Jesus Christ that more radical ethics has sought to bring to the fore. There is a large range of conversation partners here: Cicero, Aquinas, Calvin, Barth, Torrance, Bonhoeffer, Chalcedon and confessional Anabaptism all make appearances here in Griffin’s attempt to synthesize the best of all these voices together. The book is divided into three sections: part one deals with classical natural law ethics, part two with radical ethics (drawing principally from confessional Anabaptism), and part three attempts to reconfigure both of these under Chalcedon. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Protestant Metaphysics after Karl Barth and Martin Heidegger’, by Timothy Stanley

Protestant Metaphysics after Karl Barth and Martin Heidegger‘, by Timothy Stanley, Cascade Books, $35.00 296 pp.

I must confess that of all possible reactions that seemed likely for me to have towards this book, being very impressed with it was not one I anticipated. After reading it and spending some time reflecting on it, however, I think it’s safe to say that this is a very important work. There is a lot of ground covered in these pages, at times in a fairly dense manner, but it is worth working through in a slow and steady manner. Interestingly enough, this book may be more of an exercise in Luther interpretation than of Heidegger-ian/Barth-ian metaphysics: the trajectory of both Heidegger and Barth is shown to turn on their respective interpretations of the German Reformer. This, to me anyway, shows that the interpretation of Luther is of primary importance for the question of Protestant metaphysics. Put differently, the question of Protestant metaphysics appears to be a question of Luther interpretation.

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A Life Lived for Us: The Righteousness of God and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ in Wright, Torrance and the Reformation

Deep within his Big Paul Book, N.T. Wright (foot)notes his disagreement with the classic Reformed doctrine of the active and passive obedience of Christ. More precisely: it’s not so much that he disagrees with the fact that Christ was both actively and passively obedient – this is to my mind beyond dispute – but rather that he disagrees with Christ’s active obedience as something which merits righteousness which is then reckoned, credited or imputed to believers. Actually, even more precision is called for here, because Wright doesn’t especially really disagree with the idea that believers are reckoned to be righteous (this is, again, not really disputable). What he disagrees with is how that conclusion is reached, which, for the classic Reformed, is the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.

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