Friday, August 24, 2012

Visiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

About an hour ago, I left the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis.

As one grabs the huge wooden doors, one's anticipation is overthrown as the door opens way too easily. As one proceeds into the doorway, an immediate aura of gold showers one's skin. The tiles reflect the light as I enter from the busy street outside. An older man, a volunteer of the Basilica, in a bow tie and older raspy voice tells me that the intricate tile work took 74 years to complete from 1914-1988. Soon, it is apparent. The walls shimmer in various sparkles of opulent tile work. A staggering 21.5 million tiles surround the observer; the walls are adorned with various mosaics: Jonah and his whale, Thomas Aquinas and the beatitudes.

True to medieval form, various images of the Holy stand in to symbolize various tales and saints alike. In medieval times, the image was a substitute for understanding, and this sets it apart from the pristine lightly colored chapels of Protestant churches. The Protestant experience avoids iconography, preferring instead to understand the intangible word literally within the mind's eye. For the Catholic, the image is everywhere, and it is hard to decide if opulence and magnificence are leftover strategies set to work in the illiterate class, or something else for the 20th century born. Leftover strategies become something else, or as I will contend, one possible way of understanding the Holy (I am not committed yet to the exhaustive nature of my own opinions opting for a open humility to put them forward for examination).

The image is a transacted symbol, a type of gateway for the imagination to conceive the possibility of the depicted subject. A literal and naive imagination will simply take the image as is, as if the entire depicted Virgin Mary stands only for the miracle of Jesus's birth. I have explained many times before how much I deplore biblical inerrancy and literalism. Such strategies keep people from attending to the true complexity and richness of historical interpretation at work in history. Rather, I think, we should encounter the questions such richness pose when we stand at the threshold of inquiring for ourselves what tradition means to us.

Now, why talk of the Image as a way of opening up the imagination to conceive the possibility of the depicted subject in its richness. The pictorial form is not literal. To think of it as literal is to operate with a limited imagination, and operate as one might conceive a French peasant viewing the story of creation. The pictorial form is meant to carry us. The intricate symbols above force and inspire our eyes upward. I glanced up and saw the saints, the disciples and various ensconced metaphors for the divine. They held my attention in sheer brilliance and they gestured me to look onward and upward. My eyes track the roundness of the various middle sections of the roof that mirror the literal shape of a cross. As I look about, I feel like stretching out my arms in wonder and simultaneously feel like I want to take the beautiful images into myself.

The images overwhelm in silence contrasting against the occasional whisper and spoken voice. The resonance of the voice echoes throughout chiming and then vanishing with a reverberation meant to instill us to listen for it again. This reverberation manifests an aesthetic quality of manifesting the word, and is the general reason that all churches maximize the resonance of sound. Inside, people walk and sit in silence. They prostrate themselves before the saints, Mary or Christ. The respectful silence of the Cathedral snap us back into ourselves at the very same time the images are set to work on us. We start imagining the very possibility and form such images depict. We bow before their sheer awesome opulence, beauty and leave with a profound reverence. This reverence is an earthly feeling. Reverence can only be felt in contrast to the sublime Image of the Holy.

Within the Cathedral, I tried to pray today. I folded my hands in supplication, bent down on my knees, and I could not reach any quite in prayer. Instead, my mind wandered to questions it has always wrestled with about the Images surrounding me. In truth, I reach a quiet more silent than prayer affords. This quietude is reached when I think about philosophy as a difficult passage or when I write. If I of  am attempting to penetrate the depth of Aristotle, Husserl or Scheler, I reach a quiet of reflection more sacred than when I pray. The sacredness is a product of the quiet silence wherein I am alone before myself. In this solitude, I experience the cessation of the constant shifting of thought from one thing to another. There is only being in this "philosophical" silence. When I pray, I experience a restless quiet, an anxious encounter at being alone with myself before another. This is comparable to the nerves before going on stage or talking in large groups. In this way, it is a reactivation of an old social disposition of being before others. At this point, the possibility of God feels like an intrusion in my breast, a provocateur sent to stir trouble than the calm overwhelming presence of love. There is no loving presence when I pray to a personal God, and I speculate that this love is an unexpressed implicit want to be judged favorable before others. This is why I am more comfortable with a Cartesian God, an impersonal God subsumed in Descartes' metaphysical obsession of projecting geometry onto the world or Kant's postulate of practical reason. The experiences of the Holy that engender sacred silence and restful quiet are found in philosophy, and this is why philosophy is a religious experience for me.

The Images around me literally "throw me." They put the literal and the metaphorical at work within us such that the experience of God, the experience attempting to conceive the divine are re-constituted in a way to serve as a contrast of the countless other banal experience of daily life. Even the light of the Basilica captures the silence somehow. The candles shine in memory, the voices reverberate resonating and trailing off into the silence form which they came, and the visual images carry an allure that makes me look upward. As the lived-body is the zero point of orientation in physical daily life, we never look downward except in shame at what we have done or the want to ignore others and everything else. We ignore the concrete facticity of the ever-present others of social life. When we look upward, we look on alongside others doing the same thing. In this way, I speculate that in looking up, this gesture reveals the intersubjectivity of religious life to which something greater than all of us can be experienced in common. In William James, this is the "unseen order" to which we "harmonize" and it is within the symbol that we are thrown back upon realizing the benefits of religion in life rather than inventing ways to ignore the unfamiliar in Protestantism (Protestant churches are very adept at taking care of their own). We can also see the effect of the Image within ritual found in the gesture of looking up. The religious communal experience is a ritualistic symbol of our interdependence in human life. This is why we share in silence with others in mass, and interrupt that silence in mass by welcoming those next to us. In the middle of mass, we shake the hands of others. We invite the complete stranger around us and embrace their hands. The silence shared and its interruption between is the only intimate time where we hold the hands of those we may never know.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

William James, Absolutism and Dogmatism

In Lecture II of The Varieties of Religious Experience, James says

The theorizing mind tends to the oversimplification of its materials. This is the root of all absolutism and one-sided dogmatism by which both philosophy and religion have been infested (p. 37)
I like this a lot. It is short, concise, and above all very true.

I have a friend. He works in the metaphysics of causation. When I pointed out long ago, that he presupposed the principle of sufficient reason prior to proving PSR, he flipped his lid. He became irritable, and we have not talked about philosophy for some time. I challenged him to a knockdown argument as to why I might regard PSR as true. Whenever he would frame an argument in its favor, PSR had been presupposed in some way. That was the point of the challenge.

This is not a "knock against him." Rather, this is a confirmation about what Gadamer said long ago. Gadamer claimed that we all have pre-judgments, or what we would find as the root of prejudices. During the Enlightenment, human beings were to achieve a standard of objectivity and avoid prejudices. Prejudices should be embraced, and we should see how they play a part in constituting how we engage the world.

Beyond anecdotes, dogmatism and absolutism are the same side of the coin. Given the limits of human reasoning, I cannot apprehend reality or form a system of metaphysics so complete that the feebleness of reason does not enter into its construction. Try as I might I cannot draw a perfect system of metaphysics anymore than you can draw a perfect circle. These limits are abandoned in the self-confirmed wishful thinking of those that maintain the experience of religion or philosophy as having "all the answers." Such alleged "perfection" of a system is evident to the delusion of a master concept, one concept or category that can overgeneralize the complexity of many into one. For Calvinism, it was the doctrine of the elect, and in Evangelical Christianity that others are motivated by "the Enemy." In Islamism (not to be confused with the actual Islam), it is the "infidel." In every example, the master concept that excludes others for the sake of internal perfection is the root of all evil. When people can dismiss others either through metaphysics or religion, then religion becomes self-undermining enterprise and loses all claim to that which grounds the experience of the ethical.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ruminations and the Criteria for Metaphysics

For me and Heidegger, theology can never be a true science, or deeply reflective as philosophy. Theology always presupposes the validity of its object even prior to its study whereas philosophy questions and undermines even itself. Thus, theology is forever ontic, but can never be truly ontological. And the question facing me is would we truly want theology to be ontological?

Given that I said yesterday there is no such thing as constitutive reasoning, and I am opening up the possibility of ontology, an adept reader would pose the question if I am contradicting myself. How can we have an ontology without speculation? Of course, such an objection would have me if by ontology I meant to arrive at the most basic categories of being through speculation alone. However, I do not mean ontology through speculation. Instead, I mean ontology through the analysis of experience in terms of what is revealed within experience itself, and how the essence revealed in experience meshes with human action. In this way, I want to explore two criteria about how ontology of experience can be pursued. First, the phenomenological reduction can open up the constitutive layers of a phenomenon by tracing back our experience of a phenomenon within the natural attitude and revealing the necessary genetic development of a phenomenon. Thus, the essence of an experience peels back the natural attitude and shows the concatenations of constitution. These concatenations open up socio-historical life, and reveal the intersubjective and communal nature of experience of individuals.

Next, the intersubjective field now revealed must not only pinpoint how it is that a phenomenon acquires its constitutive development in socio-historic life. Instead, the intersubjective field is opened up, clarified, and the structure of human action incorporates the discerned essence into the person. The discerned essences become internalized and therefore projected upon the world. In this way, the discerned structure discloses the possibilities of projected interest, and these possibilities either affirm the intersubjective valence of the disclosure or takes hold of new possibilities. When new possibilities are generated from this internalization, the socio-historic life becomes illuminated and given possibility anew. This is largely a pragmatic structure in which we can internalize the possibility and reconstruct possibilities for the future and it is an open question whether we maintain the same continuity of experience into the future or change. Either option is an event in which the greater the valence of the disclosed possibility will be a reverberation for an individual's person/al life and possibly the life of others. This might come in the form of internalizing a norm, creating a new habit individually or disclosing a created possibility in socio-historic life that permeates human culture. One might call this last one the annunciation of the possible, and takes on a uniquely felt religious dimension. In fact, the Annunciation to the Blessed Mother might be one such event, an event so earth-shattering that the consequences of it are important for us all. There can be secular moments of this as well, such as the alleged Peace of Westphalia in which the first moment of human history successfully encounters collective security of the modern state.

Now, I have not thought this through in any great length of time. I am attempting to merge two criteria for ontology and respect the boundaries of a regulative conception of reason, although I interpret this Kantian injunction loosely. In phenomenology, we identify the form of constituting-consciousness that plays out in genetic and static analysis. In pragmatism, we test the form by exploring the manner in which content could vary in the opening up of possibility suggested by phenomenological description. In this way, we synthesize the role both phenomenology and pragmatism share.

Culture is the reification of the dynamic unfolding of internalization and projection of socio-historic life, and when Christian theologians base a metaphysical opinion stemming from a literal reading of the Bible, we must remind them of how literal and naive such readings are; they invoke a passive mind in relation to the world, taking it only on faith that the object of their speculation is present. This problem is worsened by a Biblical-only theology that eschews the hermeneutic constitution and historicity of interpretation. Such naive readings run very close to constitutive reasoning (or it is a species thereof to which Kant's critique still remains salient). Instead, the Bible should be taken as expressing no ontological language at all. The Bible only establishes itself as a field of common symbols and narratives that help us adjust our orientation towards others (by this one might read into the phrase "towards others" a Levinasian otherness as a notable influence in my thought). The Bible provides an intersubjective richness of meaning that gives rise to a shared culture of possibilities.

What will not jibe with the extremely religious orthodox is that this structure that is the same for Christians, at least as I see it, is the same for other religious orientations as well. Each tradition resonates in the same way. As a philosopher, I do not immediately discount learning from other wisdom traditions. For instance, Buddhist thought describes the problem of human desire more intricately than Aristotelian-Thomist accounts do. Moreover, this does not immediately mean that I subscriber to faith or belief in Buddhism in relation to the stock of my other opinions concerning the world. But let me get back to

On the Divinity of Christ Part 3: The Religious Turn

I have really forgotten where I am now in this long story. Obviously, by now, you have a sampling of my thoughts, and how I approach the world. I have not given a long treatment of phenomenology, nor of those thinkers that I have listed as an influence. As such, if you do not know philosophy, you might get a tad bit lost, and at this point, it is a little too late "not to be a philosopher." As I am defending my dissertation this year and going on the market, I am very much the philosopher, and I am at the highest point I have ever been as a scholar in training. Soon, the training wheels come off. Much of what I will say here presupposes familiarity with the content of philosophy. I will attempt to make it as approachable as I can. 

I approach my philosophy of religion through Kant. Kant wrote his most famous work, The Critique of Pure Reason. In that text, Kant distinguishes between two types of reasoning. First, he called what Descartes had been doing a constitutive form of reasoning. Constitutive reasoning is an extension of pure concepts that make no reference to experience itself, but they move beyond it and take the speculated object as real. This is what we do when we speculate. Descartes speculated that there were two substances, an extended substance and thought substance. With this constitutive reasoning, Descartes concluded there were two substances that comprised all reality. In fact, reason is taken as a faculty that can speculate about the truths of reality. For Kant, this is bullshit (the reasons being too large to explain here). 

To free us of the false illusion and pretension of constitutive reasoning, Kant defended a different conception of reason. Kant defends a regulative use of reason. In regulative reason, we look to how reason regulates the knowledge we already have, and how to give that knowledge unity. In this way, regulative reason says nothing about reality, but the conditions under which we achieve knowledge. Regulative reason does not posit any content about what constitutes reality; it only serves as an evaluation of how we know the appearance of reality. We can never gain knowledge of how the world is in itself for Kant, but only make sense of the way in which reality appears to us. Thus, it is fair to say that the constitutive use of reason was presumed whenever anyone engaged in metaphysics. Kant supplants the metaphysical use of constitutive with the epistemological regulative use of reason. Plainly put, Kant's first critique devastates metaphysics and attempts to replace metaphysics with epistemology. 

Given this distinction, we can now say something about how we cannot know God with a constitutive use of reason. Put plainly, God is not available for metaphysical speculation. Kant brilliantly shows the futility of speculating about God in a section of the Critique of Pure Reason entitled the Antinomies of Pure Reason. Speculation can generate two logically consistent proofs. Reason can affirm God's existence, and it can also disprove God's existence at the same time. If constitutive reason can prove both with equal precision, then the problem is not with either proof. Instead, the worry is about constitutive reasoning itself. Put plainly, constitutive reason just assumes a power of reasoning we don't actually have and if we were to follow that conception then we will just be chasing our tails. Round and round we would go so to speak. 

This is the reason why I am against the extremes of the culture wars when it comes to creationism versus evolution. Both camps talk past each other all the time, assuming and asserting their point of views as someone might defend with a constitutive use of reason instead of a regulative one. Moreover, Kant did say that he wanted to "make room for faith". This room for faith is made possible by delimiting reason to be strictly about the appearances of the world and securing limits to knowledge. Kant, therefore, in my eyes opens up the possibility to have faith and abandon the tedious task of metaphysical speculation. The implication is that we abandon apologetics altogether as much as defending physicalism in the sciences. Both reify their opponent, commit the strawman fallacy against the other and finally commit to a use of reason we don't actually have access to whatsoever. By extension, we give up on trying to defend a literal account of Biblical passages and we also give up on attempting to prove God's divinity. The want for certainty about God's divinity in Christ is the misplaced thought that religious matters should be as certain as sensory knowledge. I know with a lot of certainty that I am writing this post on vacation at my mother's house in Pennsylvania. 

Now, you might be bothered. I am simply about having faith in something I cannot know with certainty. If I sought out certainty for my beliefs, I would be walking in a Cartesian fog. For Descartes, certainty is truth-entailing about the particular belief this attitude corresponds, yet this association arose out of conception of reason we don't have or will ever have. On this score, Kant is brilliant, and I have never looked back at the want to do metaphysics. In practice, this means that philosophers like Richard Swinburne have spent a lifetime under the delusion that Christianity warrants a defense of its most sacred doctrines. Usually, these philosophical defenses amount to clever tricks of reasoning, assume a lot of rationalism about the world, and lastly commit to constitutive reasoning. 

Given that we have no constitutive reasoning, or ability to speculate about reality's content, the positive story is a bit messy. On my score, we might do several things to philosophize about religion. Like James, we can study the practical effects of religious experience, and see how such concepts play out in human action. We can say a lot about how we experience the world, and how we find the consequences of an ideal meaningful in our experience. We just can't affirm if they correspond to an inherent reality. This is how I read Kierkegaard's defense of the subjective orientation to the experience of religion. It is not a form of irrationalism that Kierkegaard defends, but he elucidates the concepts of what such a stance would entail. Likewise, we might engage in a phenomenological description about religious experience and see exactly what that might entail. From Kant's defense of the limits of reason, I look to both phenomenology and pragmatism as ways to explore how we experience the world. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On the Divinity of Christ Part 2: The Rock Years into the Masters

The summer that I decided to transfer, I drove up to Slippery Rock, PA. It was 30 minutes from my house. I found Spotts World Culture Building, and trudged through the whole building. With Platonic irony, the philosophy department is in the basement with obviously no parapets or torches in the hallway. I came across the man that would be my advisor, Dr. Ted Kneupper. He wore a beard neatly trimmed and his glasses framed his whole face. As geek, he appeared like an elder elf, and he wore Tibetan prayer beads around his neck. I talked to him about God. I do not remember the conversation, but I do remember the substance of our conversation ending on a deeply troubling question. Do we need to personify God in order to understand Him/It? Or were we the source of that personification? I had been blown to the floor. He gave me John Hicks, an analytic philosopher of religion to read.

Ted taught me the religions of the world over the next few years. I took his Eastern religions class, and his Mysticism class. I read translations of the Vedic scriptures, scriptures from both the Theravadan or Mahayanist schools of Buddhist thought. I read excerpts from the Torah, Koran and the Bible. Because of Ted, I read too much Krishnamurti, and for a time, the only conclusion that I could reach is that if God truly existed, then God must be known in different ways throughout each of these traditions. Religions became, for me, sedimented possibilities of encountering the divine--a position sometimes described as religious pluralism. Mystical religious experience is filtered through all these traditions, and represented one possible overall object of analysis.

Meanwhile, I had been influenced in a number of fascinating directions. I had taken courses in political theory, studied lots of Arendt, and Heidegger. I had been schooled unbeknownst to me in Continental and history of philosophy. I had taken one course in analytic philosophy as an undergrad, and I absolutely thought it was silly. Part of me still resonates with this earliest attitude though I realize the contribution to 20th century analytic thought since I read for my Masters in it.

I had not really thought about God for a while. I did meet my wife, however, and decided that we should be married with all the appearances of Christianity. My officiant was an ex-Methodist minister. He had suffered a lot being raised in a very Conservative Christian household. Now in his 40s, he had completely left the Methodist church. I had gone to a unitarian church in Youngstown, Ohio, and my wife while inclined to spirituality thought it best to feign Christian appearances. She had already received some comments about being married outside the Catholic Church. We were to be married outside Stambaugh Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio in the garden. We met with him, discussed our troubles, and he proposed that we take out God in the Methodist doctrine of ceremony and replace it with something else. I forget what the substitution was, or just an elimination of those sentences. My wife and I had created our own vows, had friends read from Jane Austen and the Tao Te Ching. Later on, my bestman and best friend read a passage from the Bible prior to his speech. To this day, it is still the best speech I have ever heard.

I read for my Masters in Canada at Simon Fraser University. The department's faculty had gone to the best schools in analytic philosophy. I had been taught by people who went to Michigan, Cambridge, and UCSD. As one may know, philosophers can be a tad bit rebellious and within the halls of SFU, I had let others know that I thought moral properties were non-natural. I had a proclivity for ethical intuitionism and started to explore the religious epistemology of William Alston. I read some Alvin Plantinga and his name had been held in some reverence even despite his religious persuasion. The positions I had started to adopt and explore in dialectical relationship to others involved non-natural elements, and I had been prone to forms of rationalism in epistemology. Christopher Peacocke and Robert Audi's philosophies were heavily explored, and it is at this time, I discovered W. D. Ross with fascination. At this time, I discovered Husserl as a way out of the analytic bubble encircling all of Vancouver.

My wife and I continued along the "something hypothesis." For us, God was an ineffable reality, barely understood or put into words. We did not like the idiotic things done in the name of Christianity and when we grew irritated with Conservatives, often our irritation grew out of the ideology surrounding why such idiocy arose. We laughed during the time when we heard literalists build a Creationist amusement park and museum. We also attended very briefly the Unitarian Church. My wife felt it was "floosy" and we were invited to a Sociologist's house at a nearby college. He was part of the Social Justice Committee at the Unitarian Church. We felt a little out of sorts with that bunch.

Now, I cannot say enough good things about Simon Fraser. Several of my colleagues have gone on to Harvard, Brown and McGill. It is a good place to get one's MA from, and it made me a better philosopher. However, I had been reading a lot of Heidegger in secret. Many people did not know that I would put Heidegger down when they came into the office, and I read what I supposed to read for class rather quickly. Other than moral philosophy, I just wanted to read Husserl and Heidegger. I relished swimming in the sea of phenomenology. The attention to phenomenology subsumed my explorations of non-natural ethics and epistemology. Although within phenomenology, the same attraction to rationalism could be explained with the shared features between Husserlian phenomenology and the larger epistemological world, especially his LI and Idea of Phenomenology.

For me, phenomenology had been the ultimate way of putting us into relation with experiencing the world firsthand. In so doing, Husserl had created an architecture to map our firsthand direct experience through his concept of intentionality. To this day, you cannot have persons without intentionality, and I shutter every time I hear analytics talk about "aboutness" or "representational content" without considering the modes of givenness to which such ideas first emerge. They never really get that they assume a third-personal level of analysis to analyze first-personal elements of experience. Now, it may be appearing that this is a distraction, but most of my philosophical engagement with the world is phenomenological. It's a big part of the story.

After TAing an additional year, I came to Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Several professors are spiritually inclined and I met peers that were Catholic, Wesleyan and Methodist. Another professor had been raised Unitarian, and another professor specialized in Buddhist thought with reading knowledge of Chinese and Sanskrit. Once again, I started going to feel a little better; my weirdness could flourish a little more. I had internalized my naturalistic environment at Simon Fraser University and found it stifling. I pushed the boundaries of non-natural ethics as far as I could. I had always assumed William James' approach to freedom without realizing it. I had learned that my engagement with philosophy had been better suited to the study of phenomenology than ever thinking that I could reach any conclusions about the divine as if it were a problem to be solved in metaphysics or epistemology. However, one can already see that at this point, I had reached an agnostic wall. I had read the great texts of the world's religions. I had pursued God's existence as an analytic philosopher might in philosophy of religion. I had spent way too much time reading phenomenology and moral philosophy. Still, I felt that it needed addressed. I would finally address it during my PhD studies....

Monday, August 6, 2012

On the Divinity of Christ Part 1: The Origins of My Philosophizing

A recent paper made me reflect that it is about time, I start a reflection on the divinity of Christ. This is a hard one. It is not hard for me to decide; the harder part consists in philosophizing on the very divinity of Christ to such an extent that it opens up oneself before others. I violate something deeply sacred by subjecting the divinity of Christ to reflection. There is an unfortunate social cost in America about rejecting Christ's divinity, or seeing it as something else. Let me first start with a long history of my beliefs.

Years ago, I was baptized in the Catholic Church. My mother's family had immigrated from Southern Germany. My father's family had been Roman Catholic. As such, I made my first holy communion in the Church. Then, my parents left the church. We did not attend mass regularly, and my family moved to Michigan. I am unsure why my parent's left the Church. My father had worked for GM his entire life, and contract negotiations and labor disputes often stole his attention from many matters in life. Moreover, I simply saw Sunday as one more day to do something with my father, or to play with my friends. Sunday never seemed sacred.

Years later, we lived in Pennsylvania. I had several friends attend a youth group. I joined the youth group at Northminster Presbyterian. My parents were slightly taken aback when I asked to be confirmed in this church, and so they let me decide my own spiritual fate. I joined the Presbyterian church having been baptized and making my first holy communion in the Catholic Church.

One night at the youth group, Northminster brought in a speaker, and the speaker started speaking bad about evolution. We all sat politely, but something in me sparked. I recall with great irritation the distortions of Potassium-Argon dating of volcanic tuft, the distortion of Carbon dating and the distortions inherent in the factual presentation about the science. With fondness, I recall this as my first memory of being Socratic and regard this as the moment that sent me down the philosophical path I have traveled today. I openly questioned his presentation in the company of my peers. I left that night very confused as to how someone might criticize a science without ever really knowing about the mechanisms of that inquiry. That very same year, my science teacher had singled me out and invited me to a science fair on the nearby campus of Grove City College. She said I had a knack for it and might want to go.

Unbeknownst to me, I had rebelled. The Youth Director had privately told me she was not pleased with me. I did not go back for some time. Throughout high school, I became an atheist. I once yelled at a kid  for prostyletizing me before home room. I demanded that he should have scientific proof before asking me to assent to the truth of his belief. Instead, I had been reading about Buddhism. I had picked up books by Alan Watts at our local library. I read Thich Nhat Hanh's Living Buddha, Loving Christ. The fascinating thing about Buddhism is that at its root Buddhism is empirical. Buddhists seek to cultivate the same experience of an altered-state of consciousness the founder had achieved, and the long lineage of its tradition repeated the same state over and over. In this way, I thought that Buddhists had repeatably confirmed this altered-state of consciousness like one does with scientific experimentation. 

Meanwhile, I had been an art student all throughout high school. I enjoyed photography, water coloring and charcoal drawing. At Edinboro University, I decided on art education as my major, and I spent my freshman year locked away in buildings drawing. In addition, I took Elliot Wreh-Wilson's Introduction to Philosophy, and the question that bothered me was: What is love and where is it? We had just discussed Platonic forms, and I thought that was not a likely solution. We, then, talked about reducing love to its material parts, a neural mechanism perhaps, or a series of cognitive mechanisms that direct an evolutionary adaptive behavior for human pair bonding. Yes, I thought! That's it!

I had left the Presbyterian church, became atheistic, but I wanted something like God to be true. I had worried about the naturalistic reading of love, and then been reading about the mind-body problem. I had read Descartes, and found solace in his arguments. I could have an immortal soul; God existed because I already possessed an idea of perfection, and given that perfection implies existence, God certainly existed. In the same chapter, we started to read about physical explanations of mind, and the week I found solace in Descartes' arguments. This was a shortly lived peace. I recalled with great irritation that I found arguments for materialism more convincing. Descartes could not adequately explain how a nonphysical mind interacted with a physical body.

I would walk at 3 am around campus. I would sit on the bench overlooking "Fake Lake" (a glorified retention pond). Since I was not approaching my art anymore with vigor, I decided to become a philosophy major. This seemed more comfortable given that I would worry about God's existence. I then read Paul Churchland's Engine of Reason, Seat of the Soul. I found it to be a strange but fascinating work. Churchland described in intimate detail how stereoscopic vision works, and lauded the science behind it. He would put in plain language how such science should inform our philosophizing. At this point, I am still persuaded in the materialist arguments.

For other personal reasons, I left Edinboro. I transferred to Slippery Rock University. To this day, they are my alma mater, and my experiences with religion and God would finally culminate in a trajectory they inspired. I am almost done with my dissertation and entering my final year of philosophy graduate school, but given the complexity and fondness of the Rock, I will leave this story unfinished.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Synthetic Philosophers

In this post, I will offer a manifesto of procedural thinking. This is extremely "off the cuff" so to speak, and I do not apologize for its presentation.

At its core, philosophy is an awareness of the contingency of existence. Many facets of existence are opened up, explored and mined and then synthesized together in hopes of adding new insight to new or old concerns. These concerns may be practically resounding in the old Deweyan adage "felt difficulties" of the "problem of men" or the more erudite and theoretical. For instance, I am interested in the old proposals of ordinary language philosophy and the naive ontologies assumed in metaethics. While some might find this work "un-practical" and therefore not concerned with immediate practical ends, certainly the fallout of these ontologies will impact how we conceive of existence later on, and so I hold out on some theoretical concerns for the promise of their pragmatic relevance. Opening up and creating spaces for articulation, I draw both from history and problems, old and new. I do not feel situated on any line.

Years ago, I started this blog with the want to build bridges, and it was a creative outlet to express my more creative side. I conceived of philosophy very much as a chasm, a gulf between analytic and Continental camps completely ignorant of the radical exclusion often felt by my Americanist colleagues. At first, this seemed plausible and even anecdotally confirmed. However, even now as I proceed on the job market, I am aware of how strange the term Continental philosophy is. Now, the Southern Journal of Philosophy has commissioned a volume with very good essays on the relation between Continental philosophy, analytic philosophy and the prospects for the future. In Iain Thomson's contribution, he calls for an end to both Continental and analytic philosophy. "The future in other words, belongs neither to the traditional Continentals nor analytics but, instead, to the synthetic philosophers."

Levinasian spill

To love another is at its core to let the other be in their own fullness of being, and if in the fullness of the other, we realize that to love another can only be for a short time, or at most a human lifetime. Love's risk of disclosing the fullness of our being manifests as human frailty. I am disclosed as a wholly other vulnerable 'I' before the other, and if the other loves me as much as I love them, then the other stands in as much vulnerability as I do. In the vernacular, the singular vulnerability of my disclosure to the other cannot be exhausted in their representation of me. However, in so doing, the other has more access to my non-objectifiable personhood than anyone else. As Scheler has said, the person is "the unity of acts" and this unity is only disclosed in the execution of acts. Otherwise, the person stands aloof, barely present even if the person stands there before me. The other is perpetual mystery. In love, I disclose my personhood more so than regular since in the loving relationship, I "let someone into my heart." The perpetual relationality of my self to the other discloses my unique habits and expectant style of quirks, behaviors, and preferences. I "let my guard down" and allow more contact with the unity of acts exhibited in each and every act of mine--this is the phenomenological basis for the growth of intimacy with a partner on the side of the lover, and the source of expectant hope that one's beloved returns in kind. Love's orientation opens the disclosure of the execution of all acts given that in relation to my beloved.

At the same time, the person is a structure that can never be encapsulated, represented and known with any precision. The other may wish to know me in full, and even if they have a better idea as to whom I am, the beloved can never be certain about me, or I any more certain about the beloved. We may even honestly both have let our guards down, yet the hope of knowing the other becomes a point of fixation. The beloved is still inexhaustible in their richness and fullness, and this holds for me in relation to the beloved as well. This inability to represent the other is the phenomenological form of love. If the lover regards the beloved in a way in which the lover thinks that they can encapsulate the excess of the other's spirit, then the lover devalues the inexhaustible richness of the other and turns that inexhaustible richness into some-thing other than spirit. For example, a possessive man may fixate on the sexual beauty of his beloved and jealously guard his lover. In jealously guarding his lover, he is not loving the person, but neurotically guarding what he feels is his, her body. Such a man does not love the person of the woman, but loves possessing her body in the sexual act itself. The woman may be valuing the person of her lover such that she cannot experience her own devaluing in his eyes. Instead, the sexual act is about facilitating the growth of intimacy in which the unity of acts is embodied in the physical union achieved.

Sexual union also reveals the physical frailty and finitude of love. Let us say that both value the personhood of the other. They increasingly disclose themselves not only in the sexual act but in the sphere of intimate relations. Two lovers may live together, share in economic fate and socialize in the same circles. They may even consecrate the Holy value of the other person through the sacrament of marriage. Yet, the time of this love is short. As I have claimed, love's risk comes at the expense of human frailty. Love is all that more special because of our finitude, and for me that finitude expresses the deepest sincerity of whom we are, this vulnerable unique "I" before the beloved. This vulnerability is the source of the risk in love. For the term vulnerability expresses the conditions under which I disclose my person to the beloved. Even I am sick, I can only my person is made manifest before my beloved as in need. I am called in responsibility in this very Levinasian way.

Yet, while vulnerability may condition the disclosure of my person to another person in love, vulnerability only taints the condition of the disclosure of my person. Vulnerability does not limit the perspective of love to the other. Instead, love is infinitizing, and allows us knowledge of a depth beyond the vulnerability of the body. Scheler calls this the person. In Scheler's thought, vulnerability is something that produces anxiety within us, and anxiety only occurs at the realization of the vital sphere's relation to the environment. Instead, love takes on a relation to the other. The other is given in so much excess that no prefigured ontology can encapsulate the other's spontaneity. They are given as inexhaustible, mysteriously present, and above all absolute.