All posts tagged: philosophy

The Resplendent Completion of the Liberal Arts

Prolegomena of Meaning We live in a world mediated by meaning.[1] I begin with a well-worn phrase, one that you may never have seen worn thin, and one that cannot be immediately understood. I know that you read it and wonder what on earth I mean by it. Still, you know it is meaningful somehow. At the least you know that I mean something by it, whatever that might be. In other words, in reading it, you know and do not know. This is how the first minutes of the day strike each of us: there, already somehow present to our bleary-eyed consciousness, brimming with an unannounced something. I cannot say what. I can say only that I am awake, and that the morning is not nothing to me. We live in a world mediated by meaning. I begin here and I will explain what it means, though I know it is not readily apparent. I begin here in part because “knowing is not like taking a good look,”[2] is not like staring and seeing, …

The Post-Liberal Spirituality of John Rawls

The discovery and publication of John Rawls’s senior thesis can be compared to the impact of the early writings of Karl Marx. It was only with the appearance of the latter that readers could gain an appreciation of the humanist roots of Marxian thought that, in its mature formulation, was centered more narrowly on economic theory. A similar pattern applies to the ever more rigorous elaborations of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice that, despite their prolixity, never quite capture the inspiration from which his thought springs. The relatively recent publication of A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith[1] enables us to glimpse the long submerged origin in one of its most touchingly unguarded moments. We are led into the inner hidden Rawls, and begin to see a whole new way of perceiving this emblematic figure of contemporary liberal political thought. Of course this is not to suggest that the “discoverer,” Eric Gregory, or the editor, Thomas Nagel, have let us in on a secret that ought not to have seen the light …

The Birth of Scholasticism from a Series of Fortunate Mistakes

Stephen M. Metzger, in a brilliant and provocative piece, entitled “We Have Never Been Medieval,” rightly points to the unfulfilled promise of the Leonine program, which “held up the Middle Ages as its official response to the challenges and deficiencies of the modern world.” He notes the central place of Saint Thomas Aquinas in that program, brought forth by Leo XIII in fitting medieval fashion as a sort of champion to combat modernity’s thinking and ills. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of that choice and the outcome of that program—there are many Catholic scholars who believe that the almost exclusive emphasis on the thought of Thomas Aquinas in our study of the Middle Ages has narrowed and arguably even stunted our understanding of the Catholic theological tradition—Metzger’s notion that there may not be such an antinomy after all between our medieval predecessors and ourselves merits serious consideration. As a sort of sequel to that thought, it seems fitting to recall to mind a great medieval thinker who was, unlike Thomas, decidedly not a saint: …

Must Catholics Hate Hegel?

Among the vanishingly few things that command agreement among Catholics is that Hegel is a bad idea. Divergent, even mutually antagonistic, Anglophone Catholic circles such as Concilium, Communio, and paleo-Thomism hate Hegel because they see him as dodgy, corrosive, or just plain heretical. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a figure at once more disdained and less read by Catholics than him.[1] A recent piece by C.C. Pecknold offers a near perfect object lesson.[2] Its title, “The philosopher who poisoned German theology,” blazons its intentions. The German Church’s problems—empty pews, a vocation shortage, administrative tumescence, liberal bishops—are, Pecknold argues, in large part the consequence of a theological decision. German theology summoned the wrong doctor to its bed to dress trauma-wounds inflicted by the Enlightenment: none other than G.W.F. Hegel. But Hegel’s salves only deepened the damage. And German theology’s wounds fester still. To be sure, Pecknold’s not altogether interested in Hegel. He is rather interested in genealogy, in locating the poison tree who bore German Catholicism’s bitter fruit—particularly certain elements of its prelates’ proposal on …

Emmanuel Falque: Eucharistic Crossings Between Philosophy and Theology

This paean to Emmanuel Falque was delivered by Professor O’Regan over dinner after the Profiling Religious Experience: Notre Dame Systematic Theology Colloquium. I would like to speak with gratitude, of it, and in a certain sense also to it as the impossible ground or circumstance of belonging and coming together. “With” insofar as I want to express my thanks to Emmanuel Falque of the Institute Catholique for being with us—twice with us—this is his second coming this week and thus a profoundly eschatological gesture. I wish to thank him specifically for the intellectual nourishment he provided all of us in his diverse ruminations that covered historical, theological, and philosophical subject matters and their various “betweens” and borders which variously allow and disallow crossing. I want to thank him for sharing with us not only his thoughts, but his embodied incarnate bodily thinking, and not only his thinking, but its joyous quality which seems substantive rather than accidental and very much like the meal that we have shared, indeed, continue to share, genuinely Eucharistic. I am grateful …

Let’s Not Ignore Scientific Faith

The great project of modern scientific positivism has been to establish all that can be known with absolute certainty—to isolate that knowledge which is purely objective and provable by experiment, and to hold this alone as truth. Michael Polanyi explains this clearly in The Tacit Dimension: “The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating” (20). Ideally, this knowledge is not in any way influenced by human personality—despite the fact that it might be discovered and articulated by humans, it stands entirely on its own. Such a project has been and generally continues to be held as unquestionably valid and worth pursuing. And, if academia has begun to reject this positivist project, it still lingers on in government, media, education, and the popular imagination. The seemingly obvious question that often goes unasked is whether such a project was ever even possible. On what basis can it be assumed that science might …

The Eschatological Marian Image

In sharp contrast to the multiple-viewpoint technique and elongated figures dominating the old, Byzantine-influenced paintings, the new Western 15th century religious images are distinguished above all by an “increasing realism” embedding conspicuous moments in biblical narrative within landscapes or interiors of great spatial and symbolic complexity. Moreover, the increased availability of panel paintings and, by the mid-15th-century, woodcuts, naturally facilitates their acquisition as quasi-spiritual tokens for the purpose of private devotion. Hans Belting writes: “Individual citizens did not want an image different from the public one so much as they needed one that would belong to them personally. They expected the image to speak to them in person.” Jeffrey Hamburger notes that the transition from aniconic to an image-based vision is characterized by “the increasingly important role of corporeal imagery in spiritual life.” In this development, spanning from the late 13th through the 15th century, “the process of vision is detached from the process of reading [Scripture].” Less the focus of sustained exegesis or affective vision than a deposit of possible allusions and increasingly fungible …

The Virgin Mary, Birth, and Philosophy

Everything begins with the question that Nicodemus asks Jesus: “how can a man enter anew into the womb of his mother and be born?” (John 3:4). It is an excellent question, if not the best question that could be asked. For Nicodemus is not one who fails to understand the “birth from above,” but rather he understands perfectly that one cannot understand the “birth from above” without relating it to the “birth from below.” It is in coming back and describing the significance of “being born from the womb of his mother” (by means of paths “from below”) that one will be able to decipher what it means “to be reborn by water and spirit” (by means of paths “from above”). It is not a question of thinking that Christ’s response is an opposition—“that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6)—but rather thinking of it as an analogy: just as that which is born of flesh is flesh, so that which is born …

The “Gift” of Modernity

It takes just a little education, perhaps an education that involves a nod to Plato and perhaps a wink in the direction of modern French philosophy, to realize there are at least two senses of “gift” currently in operation. There is the ordinary straightforward sense of gift being something good, so that when someone uses the phrase “the gift of modernity” we have good reason to believe that modernity is being construed positively as an unqualified good bringing benefits to us that are plausibly different in extent to what was provided in the pre-modern world and perhaps also different in kind. The referendum would then be on: you could either accept or reject the claim. Acceptance or rejection might simply be an index of personality: you are a sunny type and well-disposed to the commonplace diktats of how wonderful it is for us to enjoy such material comfort and to have such a fabulous menu of choice in and through which to construct a life. Or, you are more brooding and choleric (which may or …

The Exemplary Clarity of the Five Proofs of the Existence of God

Edward Feser has a definite gift for making fairly abstruse philosophical material accessible to readers from outside the academic world, without compromising the rigor of the arguments or omitting challenging details. As scholarly virtues go, this is one of the rarer ones—in part because it takes considerable patience both to acquire and to practice, and in part because it requires a genuine desire to entrust difficult ideas to those from whom they are typically withheld. Perhaps the best example of this gift in action hitherto was his 2006 volume Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide (at least, speaking for myself, I have both recommended it to general readers and used it with undergraduates, in either case with very happy results). But this present volume, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, is no less substantial an achievement. In it, Feser has undertaken to explain and defend several of the most demanding traditional arguments for the reality of God, as thoroughly as possible, in a way that communicates their internal coherence to readers who may have no …