Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Is Being Meaning? Plantinga and Dooyeweerd

By Joshua Harris

No less than 57 years ago, The Reformed Journal published an interesting little article by a promising 25-year-old philosopher named Alvin Plantinga—the same Alvin Plantinga who would be finishing up his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Yale University later that same year (1958). Plantinga, who needs no introduction now, is one of (if not the) most prominent, well-respected philosophers of religion in Anglo-American philosophy. And even though his work is and continues to be foundational for the decidedly “analytic” movement of “Reformed Epistemology” in the English-speaking world, he does maintain some intimate ties with ICS’s own “continental” Reformational tradition. One of the clearest cases in which these ties are evident is the aforementioned article published in The Reformed Journal entitled “Dooyeweerd on Meaning and Being.”

As the title suggests, Plantinga’s article concerns the Reformational philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd’s famous dictum in the prolegomena of his magnum opus, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought:Meaning is the being of all that has been created” (I.4). With an analytic rigor and clarity of thought that would be known eventually as characteristic of Plantinga’s impressive oeuvre, the Michigan-born philosopher sets out to find a sensible interpretation of this claim. According to him, Dooyeweerd’s position appears to be revolutionary, since the great Christian philosophers of the past have all been in agreement that the created order does, in fact, have both “meaning” and “being” (and that these two are distinct). Yet, Plantinga continues, upon closer examination, the dictum ends up yielding one of two equally unsavory interpretations: as (1) a simple “truism” which is wholly quotidian with respect to the tradition of Christian philosophy; or as (2) a thoroughly obscure dictum which leaves us “in the dark about its precise implications for important Christian doctrines” (15).

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Walking Dead Meets the Resurrection

By Nik Ansell

The following piece comes from a chapel talk I gave at ICS on April 10th, 2012—almost exactly three years ago. The theme, echoed in the title above, was designed to appeal to fans of a certain TV series on AMC, The Walking Dead (the sixth season will air later this year), and to serve as a backdrop for some thoughts related to Easter.
Just before I spoke, we watched a clip from Season 1, Episode 6. Here our band of survivors find temporary reprieve from the Ultimate Zombie Apocalypse by entering the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA: the perfect place, one might think, for analyzing the disease and finding a cure. Needless to say, although the men and women in white coats are still on site, a cure is not forthcoming—indeed it turns out the basement generators are about to run out of fuel; for the characters in this show, reprieve is only ever temporary! Nevertheless, they (and we) do get some scientific analysis, courtesy of a computer playback featuring TS-19—a former scientist-turned-test-subject who, despite being infected by a plague that had already reached ‘ep(idem)ic’ proportions, still had the foresight to ask his colleagues to record What Happens Next. . . !

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Feasible and the Possible

1 comment:
“What [humanity] needs is not just the persistent posing of ultimate questions, but the sense of what is feasible, what is possible, what is correct, here and now. The philosopher, of all people, must, I think, be aware of the tension between what he claims to achieve and the reality in which he finds himself.”

— Hans Georg Gadamer, Foreword to the Second Edition of Truth and Method, p. xxxviii.

As a philosopher, this quote has always filled me with hope. That may seem odd, given that it appears to be reining in philosophers, reminding us to keep our feet planted in reality, and naming the tension between what we want to achieve and what we actually can. But it is precisely in the realm of the possible, rooted in the here and now, that life in all its concrete, stubborn vividness emerges. Sometimes reality seems bleak or disappointing and one is tempted to head for the hills of theoretical abstraction instead of working with the tools one has to construct practical and possible solutions to messy concrete problems. And yet, time and again, I have found that the bleakest setting can harbour unexpected life anew. (This is of course a lesson that any Christian who has spent time thinking about the juxtaposition between Good Friday and Easter Sunday intuitively knows, but it holds true in many areas.)

Boethius, considering Lady Philosophy
What, then, is “the sense of what is feasible, what is possible, what is correct, here and now”? To know what is “feasible” and “possible” and “correct” one must first get to know the materials one is working with: reality in all its mud and muck, cold Springs and delayed rainy seasons. One has to move out of the realm of the abstract, and into the realm of concrete issues. As philosophers, so often we get addicted to those “ultimate questions”: What is truth? What is thought? What does it mean to be human? And in trying to pose those questions honestly—and they are certainly good and worthy questions to ask—we can lose sight of the here and now. The best philosophers, I would argue, are those who understand that “ultimate questions” are tied to “underlying questions,” without which they would not have meaning. Universals are senseless without the concretes that ground them.