Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Critical Retrieval in Community

No comments:
by Allyson Carr

This post is part of an ongoing symposium interacting with Lambert Zuidervaart's book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. For more responses to the book, see our table of contents.

In many ways, the essay “Unfinished Business: Toward a Reformational Conception of Truth” both exemplifies and questions what is at the heart of this collection: the Reformational tradition.

The essay begins narratively, with Zuidervaart recounting how, at a March 2005 book symposium and again a bit later in a Philosophia Reformata review, the question was raised regarding the relationship of his project on truth to “the main lines of reformational ontology.” He details as well that some of the same important reformational thinkers who raised that question also wondered whether Artistic Truth, which had just come out, and which contains what Zuidervaart called his preliminary sketch of a wider project on truth, “lacks the depth of criticism and structural insight that comes with the reformational project of transcendental critique” (277, both citations). This particular essay, then, is both a demonstration and an apologetics. It is meant to do two things: to make explicit the reformational ground and roots enabling Zuidervaart’s theory of truth to grow, and also to be an argument addressed to the reformational community for inclusion. It seeks to elucidate the case that Zuidervaart’s wider project is reformational, contributes to to reformational resources, and seeks to critically but lovingly develop the reformational project.

In addition to these two aims, the essay also gives an excellent and succinct explanation of Zuidervaart’s unfolding theory of truth, and so it is to that we will first turn. Zuidervaart tells us, “I propose to think of truth in its most comprehensive sense as a dynamic correlation between (1) human fidelity to societal principles and (2) a life-giving disclosure of society” (281). In this, Zuidervaart notes that his work on truth is similar to reformational scholar Dooyeweerd insofar as it is not a static structure, but that he departs from Dooyweerd’s conception because Dooyeweerd understood truth as a proper relationship, religious in character, that is supra-temporal. Zuidervaart regards truth as a historical process, however, which is a significant difference from his reformational forebearer, Dooyeweerd.

At this point, Zuidervaart fills in what he means by a phrase like “societal principles.” These are those things (such as solidarity, justice, and resourcefulness, he notes) that are “commonly held and holding,” but they too are historical in nature; that is, Zuidervaart characterizes them as “historical horizons that people learn, achieve, contest, reformulate, and ignore in the midst of social struggle” (283). Zuidervaart notes that this characterization also differs somewhat from Dooyeweerd. He is drawing on Dooyeweerd’s conception of the “law side” of the modal aspects, but does not separate that law side from the subject side, as Dooyeweerd did--this means that Zuidervaart’s “ontology of principles” differs from Dooyeweerd, leading to an even bigger difference, which Zuidervaart lays out for his readers: “An ‘ontology of principles’ is an account of the status and meaning of the conditions that obtain for normative practices and institutions. ‘Normative practices and institutions’ are ones that can be better or worse for human flourishing and can be experienced as better or worse for human flourishing. Many reformational philosophers, like Dooyeweerd, wish to anchor such conditions in God’s creational ordinances. By contrast, I describe such conditions as ‘societal principles’ and call attention to their historical embeddedness, their eschatological openness, and their vocational character” (283.)

All this entails that Zuidervaart revises the cosmonomic notion of norm in three important ways: 1) societal principles are “not in effect prior to their formulation by humans”; 2) societal principles are “not simply given or fixed” at some origin, but “emerge” and “could change” and 3) societal principles “manifest God’s instruction and invitation and guidance, God’s call to love” (283, all three citations). These principles then are not static, not set (but ever-changing) and are responsive--both to human needs/circumstances and to God’s call, centered on God’s call to love.

Zuidervaart regards truth as a historical process, however, which is a significant difference from his reformational forebearer, Dooyeweerd.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Responding Wisely to Earth’s Lament

1 comment:
by Doug Blomberg

This post is part of an ongoing symposium interacting with Lambert Zuidervaart's book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. For more responses to the book, see our table of contents.

I was privileged to be present when Dr. Zuidervaart delivered his Inaugural Address at Knox College Chapel in 2004. As he says, it was designed to be readily accessible to a broad audience, as indeed it was. He noted that his mother (very alert indeed, despite her advancing years) was in attendance, and he hoped and expected his presentation to be intelligible to her. It is a great challenge to philosophers to descend from the heights, but Lambert achieved this admirably, notwithstanding the opening simile, in which he compared himself to a trapeze artist (though thankfully still preferring his academic “costume”).

Key to what Lambert said was the imperative that the suffering experienced by all in God’s creation – non-human as well as human creatures – was a reality to be addressed forthrightly in philosophy, but in recent centuries rarely has been. As a community acknowledging its embeddedness in the Creation/Fall/Redemption ethos (or “ground motive”, as befits the present context), the suffering inherent in living in a fallen world must be a prime topic for reformational philosophers (and not only them). And of course, it must be similarly so with respect to the reality of redemption.

Lambert’s address was not only accessible, but brief, the latter certainly aiding the former; hopefully, my post will be likewise. When I presented my Inaugural Address a year ago, the theme of bringing healing to the world – through philosophy and myriad other ways – was prominent; I mention this not to celebrate my “shining moment”, but to honour Lambert’s significant contribution to my thinking in this respect (and much else besides). Indeed, when he congratulated me on my speech, I thanked him both for this and for the debt I owed him. It is a debt owed also by ICS.

The heart of Lambert, philosopher, is rooted in the Scriptures, not (so Evan Runner pithily put it) as a light into which we stare but as a light illuming the paths we walk. He is explicit about whence his direction comes. I have sometimes wondered why the account of the Fall comes so quickly upon the heels of the wondrous story of creation in Genesis. We should not be dismayed, eternally disappointed as we are. Suffering has pervaded the Earth since almost the beginning of humankind. Nonetheless, the hope of redemption quickly unfolds, the clothing and banishing of Adam and Eve being for their salvation, as indeed was the mark God placed upon Cain to protect him, the Ark that rescued our ancestors from the waters, and the Tower destroyed so that people would disperse to care for the world entrusted to them.

The heart of Lambert, philosopher, is rooted in the Scriptures, not (so Evan Runner pithily put it) as a light into which we stare but as a light illuming the paths we walk.

Lambert implores us to let suffering speak. I cannot ignore the resonance with Parker Palmer’s autobiographical account, Let Your Life Speak. Palmer freely acknowledges the deep depression he has often suffered and implores readers to live their lives from the ground up, rather than the head down (which he sees as all too common). This is not at all to disparage thinking carefully about how we mind our lives, but to confess that who we are bodily, in the fullness of our humanness, is the gift God has given us to live out, the riches he has bestowed on us as bearers of his image, sufficient enough to the task for which he created us, however daunting, painful, grievous the wounds we gather along the way. How can we speak truly, without speaking the truth of suffering? As the Hebrew nephesh connotes, we are ever “needy” and vulnerable, not in any way self-subsistent “souls”, as the Greek psyche suggests in its philosophical garb.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Hope Without a More Primary Hopelessness?

No comments:
by Farshid Baghai

This post is part of an ongoing symposium interacting with Lambert Zuidervaart's book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. For more responses to the book, see our table of contents.

Let me start with a confession: I know almost nothing about the tradition of reformational philosophy. Hence, this brief note is more a way of learning my first lessons about this tradition than an informed engagement with the epilogue of Lambert Zuidervaart’s book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformations: Essays in Reformational Philosophy.

The epilogue of Zuidervaart’s book – “Earth’s Lament: Suffering, Hope, and Wisdom” – is indeed a prologue. Not simply because it is an inaugural address. The epilogue is primarily concerned with sketching the key elements of a philosophy that hopes and strives for a different future, i.e., a new Earth. The epilogue reflects on the virtual absence of traces of human and non-human suffering in the history of philosophy and highlights the implications of this absence for philosophy today. It asks why and how philosophy suffers from an indifference toward or conscious suppression of human and non-human suffering. In response to this indifference or suppression, the epilogue offers a sketch of a transformative philosophy—a philosophy that is responsive to suffering and aims at “global healing” (p. 323) in a transformed world.

Zuidervaart’s insights into the state of contemporary philosophy and his redemptive suggestions are of particular significance for our time. They highlight the need for and contribute to the development and elaboration a kind of philosophical thinking that steps into the distress of human existence today. That is why we should take these insights and suggestions seriously and think through them one by one.

In this brief note, I would like to focus on and then raise two sets of questions about one of the central ideas at work in the epilogue: patient hope. One cannot overstate the significance of this idea for Zuidervaart’s conception of transformative philosophy: “Western philosophy has largely lost its speculative moment” and “does not think out of hope…” (p. 319). Thus, “patient hope for a new Earth” (p. 318) is indispensable for a philosophy that is to meet its contemporary challenges. I engage with the idea of patient hope particularly in terms of its relationship to “the promise of God’s future” (p. 318).

In this brief note, I would like to focus on and then raise two sets of questions about one of the central ideas at work in the epilogue: patient hope.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Deflation and Deliberation: Some Notes on Science in Public

No comments:
by Michael J. DeMoor

This post is part of an ongoing symposium interacting with Lambert Zuidervaart's book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. For more responses to the book, see our table of contents.

Lambert's paper "Science, Society, and Culture: Against Deflationism" covers some of the same concerns as his other reflections on truth, but here uses the occasion of Joseph Rouse's interpretation of Heidegger as an opportunity to examine the question of truth in the sciences. Since Rouse's work is likely unfamiliar to many readers, it may be worth beginning by saying a few words about why Rouse matters and so also why his interpretation of Heidegger matters.

Rouse is a philosopher of science working out of the pragmatist tradition whose various important works attempt to uncover the ways in which the practice of science is shot through with social power and structurally folded toward technological power, rather than being a “pure” or “neutral” method for uncovering the unvarnished truths of nature. On this view “scientific truth” does not stand outside of culture and politics, safely immune to their vices and limitations, but is rather implicated in them even as a primary means in our culture for legitimating the power of the powerful and hence the subjection of the marginalized.

It is worth saying that he says this with “emancipatory” intent – to offer a perspective from which to critique and resist the ways in which science is used to oppress, marginalze and exclude. I take it to be part of Lambert's response that, whatever the intent, Rouse's vision (like Foucault's regarding power and knowledge) ends up undermining the aspiration for social transforamtion and justice by undercutting the possibility of authentic appeal to binding principles and truths.

For Rouse, then, Heidegger – at least on his “deflationist” reading of Heidegger – offers an ontological grounding for this critique of scientific “objectivity.” If “science” claims its disinterested transcendence of politics and culture in the light of the “objective” truth of its assertions, Heidegger, on Rouse's reading, undermines this possibility by showing that the truth of assertions (“assertoric truth”) is both grounded in and limited by “concrete situations, embodied in an actual tradition of interpretive practices...and located in persons shaped by specific situations” such that “understanding is not a conceptualization of the world but a performative grasp of how to cope with it.” (301, quoting Rouse) As such, the truth of scientific assertions (theories, “facts,” “laws” etc.) is inseparably connected to the local situations (including the social situations) that shape those who formulate and those who interpret such truths.

...the truth of scientific assertions (theories, “facts,” “laws” etc.) is inseparably connected to the local situations (including the social situations) that shape those who formulate and those who interpret such truths.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Beyond Belief? Reflections on “God, Law, and Cosmos: Issues in Hendrik Hart’s Ontology”

No comments:
by Ronald A. Kuipers

 This post is part of an ongoing symposium interacting with Lambert Zuidervaart's book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. For more responses to the book, see our table of contents.

Reading this essay has been a somewhat uncanny experience for me. For starters, it’s a real blast from the past. In it, Zuidervaart launches a thorough critique of key themes in Hendrik Hart’s Understanding Our World: An Integral Ontology (1984). I can only imagine what a former professor should have made of such a critical response from a former student, just one short year after the publication of a major work. I wasn’t around for the fireworks, if there were any, as in 1985 (when this essay was first published) I was only 16 years old, and too busy riding my skateboard, listening to hardcore punk rock, watching the Edmonton Oilers pummel the Philadelphia Flyers on their way to a second Stanley Cup, and otherwise tormenting my excellent teachers at Edmonton Christian High School, to pay too much attention to philosophy, let alone Reformational philosophy. All the while, unbeknownst to me, Lambert was a mere 6 kilometres east of my location (thanks Google Maps!), down 107 Avenue, holding forth philosophically at The King’s College (now King’s University, and in a very different part of town!). I would enroll at King’s as a freshman in the Fall of 1987, declaring a philosophy minor that would later become a major, only missing by two years having Lambert, my faculty colleague at the ICS for the past 12 years, become my first philosophy professor (Lambert took a faculty position at Calvin College in the Fall of 1985).

With my BA in Philosophy from King’s in hand, I arrived at ICS in the fall of 1992 as a first-year Masters student, ready to study with Henk Hart as my mentor. As I was struggling to decide upon a paper topic for my first philosophy seminar with Henk, I will never forget his suggestion: He said, “Why don’t you take Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (which I had just finished reading with him) and use it to critique Understanding Our World? Specifically, see if you can find anything like what Rorty calls a “permanent, neutral framework” for inquiry in Understanding Our World, and discuss what might be problematic about the existence of such a framework.”[1] Basically, Henk was encouraging me to deconstruct a book he had published only eight years earlier, clearly signalling to me that his position on key philosophical issues contained therein had changed decidedly in the interim. So I wrote that paper, giving it the title “The Rhetoric of Order: Realism, Rorty, and the Reformed Tradition.” (Another fun fact: later I would present this paper at the Eastern Regional Meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY—my first such academic presentation—riding shotgun to a fellow ICS student, James K.A. Smith, who would also give his first academic presentation at the same conference.)

One of the main issues Hart struggles with in Understanding Our World is how best to conceive of the human experience of order, a treasured concept in reformational philosophy. In the first two chapters especially, he is concerned with articulating an ontology that does justice to the fact that we live in an ordered world and that we ourselves are not the origin of this order. To say that we live in an ordered world, Hart explains, is to profess that individual existence is subject to universal “nomic conditions” (or laws). In other words, subjective existence is made possible by laws that describe the space of creaturely flourishing for all individual existents, and destructive deviation results when creaturely subjects flout the laws that condition their existence.[2] For Hart in Understanding Our World, everything that exists, exists subject to these conditions. The logical wrinkle this claim introduces is not lost on Hart: If everything that exists is subject to conditions, and it makes no sense to say conditions are so subject, it follows that conditions themselves do not exist. They are not creaturely existents like all other subjective creatures are (‘subjective’ because subject to nomic conditions). Yet there is still something nomically conditional about life as we experience it, says Hart, and it is this conditionality that he seeks to describe in Understanding Our World. He summarizes the philosophical complex he proposes to unpack in one brief sentence: “Conditions, though not existing, will nevertheless be real” (UOW 57).

One of the main issues Hart struggles with in Understanding Our World is how best to conceive of the human experience of order, a treasured concept in reformational philosophy.