Monday, February 29, 2016

Art in the Real World

by Tricia Van Dyk

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 Zuidervaart opens his chapter “Fantastic Things: Critical Notes toward a Social Ontology of the Arts” by explaining that what follows is really only half a conversation. The whole conversation would link Martin Heidegger’s essay “The Origin of the Work of Art” to Herman Dooyeweerd’s discussion of art. Both were written, as Zuidervaart points out, around the same time. Examining Heidegger’s and Dooyeweerd’s discussions of art from each other’s perspectives would demonstrate what is illuminating and fruitful as well as what is obscuring and reductive about each conception, Zuidervaart suggests. In particular, he wishes “to find a path through Heidegger to a normative but de-mystified conception of artistic truth, and through Dooyeweerd to a social and ontological but de-personalized conception of artistic production” (111). This chapter, first articulated more than 20 years ago, is the Dooyeweerd half of the conversation; for the Heidegger half, readers would need to wait for the 2004 publication of Zuidervaart’s book Artistic Truth.

Thus this chapter could be seen as the foundation that Zuidervaart later builds on in his social ontology of art. In other words, he is working from (and toward) a full and specific understanding of art, but don’t look for that here. His personal life has given him a perhaps unusually comprehensive experience of art, but this chapter is not where he sets out that understanding systematically. Thus in this post, rather than looking for points of theoretical contention, I offer a brief meditation on the conditions of possibility, so to speak, for a normative, down-to-earth social ontology of art.

In this chapter, we find what happens when a deep experience of art meets an inadequate theory of art. The result is not an immediate systematic exposition of an adequate theory, but a place to begin from theoretically that does not betray or reduce what one has already experienced. Thus, Zuidervaart immediately recognizes a tension in Dooyeweerd’s conception of art by where it is placed in A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Rather than putting his treatment of art within his discussion of societal structures in Part II of the third volume of the New Critique, Dooyeweerd uses his account of art (which largely consists of an analysis of a marble statue of Hermes by Praxiteles) as a way to present some of his important categories (subject/object relation within the plastic horizon of experience, enkapsis). He does this by treating art as a thing-structure in Part I. Right away, then, Zuidervaart notices that Dooyeweerd is thinking of works of art more as natural things (like linden trees and rocks) than as part of a historically and socially constituted realm.

Thus, Zuidervaart immediately recognizes a tension in Dooyeweerd’s conception of art by where it is placed in A New Critique of Theoretical Thought.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Dooyeweerd's Modal Theory: Hermeneutics in Action

By Dan Rudisill

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 Zuidervaart’s essay “Dooyeweerd’s Modal Theory: Questions in the Ontology of Science” is an examination of Dooyeweerd’s modal ontology with an emphasis on the role hermeneutics played in Dooyeweerd’s method of determining just what a mode is and how these modes fit into a modal hierarchy. This examination primarily aims at the second volume of Dooyeweerd’s New Critique of Theoretical Thought where his theory of modes becomes fully enfleshed.

The reason for the part of the title that reads “Questions in the Ontology of Science” demonstrates the importance of a modal ontology for the differentiation and non-reduction of the sciences, both within the humanities and in the so-called “hard” sciences. Zuidervaart discusses this in detail in both the introduction and post-script to the essay.

Zuidervaart takes as his guiding question, “What are the criteria that must be met during any analysis of the modes of a coherent, referential, and law-bound creation?” (83) There are four facets to this question which guide the bulk of the essay:
  • What are the criteria for describing the irreducible nuclei of the modes?
  • What are the criteria for distinguishing a mode not previously distinguished?
  • What are the criteria for eliminating an incorrectly distinguished mode?
  • What are the criteria for proposing a certain irreversible order of modes?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Spectres of Nature-Grace: On Dooyeweerd’s “Religious Truth”

 By Josh Harris

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 his essay “Dooyeweerd’s Conception of Truth: Exposition and Critique” Lambert Zuidervaart considers Herman Dooyeweerd’s concept of “religious truth” and its consequences for the project of a properly Reformational account of truth in general. Zuidervaart remarks that Dooyeweerd’s conception of religious truth is “the very fullness of Truth without which no true knowledge of any sort would be possible. . . . All of human knowing (kennisactiviteit) is directed either toward ‘the absolute Truth’ or toward ‘the spirit of falsehood,’ thanks to ‘the transcendent religious subjective a priori of . . . cosmic self-consciousness’.”[1] These primordial dispositions—namely, the disposition towards (1) “the absolute Truth” or (2) “the spirit of falsehood”—form the most basic horizon of Dooyeweerd’s rich, multiform conception of truth in its pre-theoretical and theoretical varieties.

In what follows, I explore this notion of religious truth and Zuidervaart’s criticisms under the aspect of Dooyeweerd’s well-known analysis and critique of the so-called “Nature-Grace” ground motive which constitutes the “spiritual driving force that acts as the absolutely central mainspring of human society,” and of medieval Christendom in particular.[2] I want to suggest that Zuidervaart’s criticisms of religious truth may subtly implicate Dooyeweerd in the very dualism he so arduously strove to overcome in his rendering of medieval synthesis philosophy. Put simply, I want to argue that Dooyeweerd is “haunted” by the spectre of Nature-Grace, which runs more deeply than even he could know.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Criticism after Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven

by Bob Sweetman

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 this short reflection, "Reformational Philosophy after Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven," Lambert Zuidervaart examines the task of Reformational thinkers vis-à-vis their own tradition, narrowly defined, and vis-à-vis the philosophical tradition as a whole. He argues for an orientation to both traditions that he names critical retrieval. He positions this stance as a virtuous middle between two vicious extremes: “following” and “rejecting”. Zuidervaart is saying that philosophy in its proper sense is to be a critical project; this is as true for the practice of Reformational philosophy as it is of philosophy as a whole. Moreover, criticism or a sifting of what one receives from the passing on (traditio) one participates in can never be a pure act of rejection, on the one hand, nor a wholesale acceptance, on the other. To sift is to trust that there is much in the passing on that will bless one going forward. It is equally to anticipate that there will be things in the passing on that would be better left behind.

In all of this Lambert Zuidervaart is arguing for a shift in focus from philosophical criticism as an externally focused responsibility that the participant-beneficiaries of one philosophical tradition have toward the participant-beneficiaries of other traditions. This responsibility can be thought of as the “diaconal” thrust of both the thetical/antithetical critique of Vollenhoven and the transcendental criticism of Dooyeweerd. Characteristic of this diaconal thrust is a dichotomizing understanding of the relationship between one’s own tradition and the traditions of others. While there is a recognition that they all participate within the cultural form we call philosophy, that unity is overshadowed by the differences constitutive of each tradition in its discrete identity. The foregrounding of difference creates an illusion for any participant-beneficiary of any tradition. The content of one’s tradition constitutes an identity “A” to which all other traditions and their contrasting content relate in an important respect as “not-A”. Zuidervaart is not comfortable with that illusion and that is presumably in part because he is uncomfortable with the rhetorical emphasis upon real difference at the expense of real communion or solidarity.

Zuidervaart is not comfortable with that illusion and that is presumably in part because he is uncomfortable with the rhetorical emphasis upon real difference at the expense of real communion or solidarity.

Zuidervaart’s suggestion is to shift toward criticism as an internally focused responsibility to sift one’s own tradition in virtue of answering the legitimate questions that are being asked of it. The name for such an internal focus is immanent criticism; the effect, critical retrieval. Indeed, the internal way is so important that one ought to centre one’s participation in the wider philosophical endeavour by examining other traditions as if an insider, that is, via immanent criticism, so as to ask legitimate questions of them that “true” insiders could take on via immanent critique and critical retrieval in the way one takes on the legitimate questions of others in one’s own immanent critique and critical retrieval.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Generative Problems or Dynamic Limits? Retrieving Dooyeweerd's Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought

by Jazz Feyer Salo

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.

"The Great Turning Point," the first chapter in Lambert Zuidervaart's Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation, stands as an object lesson in the spirit of critical engagement practised at the Institute for Christian Studies: at once a fidelity to the tradition out of which it emerged and a critical eye and ear toward the Creation that tradition holds in such high regard. The result of such a critical engagement is what Lambert calls "critical retrieval" -- whereby we acknowledge valid objections to the philosophies local to our tradition and, in light of such objections, provide a redemptive critique. The impetus behind such a critical engagement is a non-oppositional cross-pressure between a firm commitment to the goodness of Creation and the recognition that all claims rest upon an ontology that is never all-together apparent to those making the claims. This cross-pressure is the catalyst for what should be called a "faithful divergence" not only by the subsequent generations but by figures within the generations themselves.

In "The Great Turning Point", we see this "critical retrieval" being practised in a focused discussion of Herman Dooyeweerd's (henceforth HD) Transcendental Critique. The question being addressed is the relationship between faith and philosophy in HD's thought. However, as Lambert makes clear, this question is ill-equipped to address the subtlety with which HD addresses this problem. Lambert proceeds by correcting those who read HD in light of this simplistic distinction between faith and philosophy and the misreadings it propagates. Only after correcting these invalid objections and making clear HD's philosophical positions and their merit does Lambert move on to the objections to HD that "warrant criticism". These objections are summarised by Lambert in the closing paragraphs of the essay:

Any attempt to salvage Dooyeweerd's project must address both the logical slippage in his transcendental argument and the conceptual confusion in his account of religion. [...] These puzzles merit the attention of anyone who thinks seriously about the relation between faith and philosophy. They remain generative challenges for the tradition of reformational philosophy that Dooyeweerd helped create. (47)

How appropriate it is for a Reformational philosopher to close an essay that explicates the "puzzles" or "challenges" of his philosophical tradition with a claim that those very puzzles or challenges constitute the productive power of the tradition itself. Such a closing is a crystallisation of the cross-pressure mentioned above.