Friday, April 29, 2016

The Future of Critical Theory

1 comment:
by Ben Fulman

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.

When I saw the chapter list of Lambert Zuidervaart’s new book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy (2016), there was no doubt that I would comment on his essay "Macrostructures and Societal Principles: An Architectonic Critique." This is because it contains what seem to be the blueprints for the future of critical theory. By this I mean Zuidervaart has provided us with an infrastructure—and I deliberately use concepts borrowed from construction, since what Zuidervaart is offering us is succinctly put forth as an architectonic critique of macrostructures. In the following passages I will give an overview of what I perceive to be the novelty of Zuidervaart’s theory and show how it tackles the relevant problems of current social philosophy.


If we take Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse as the main representatives of the first generation of the Frankfurt School, then their insistence on the prevalence of instrumental reason, identity thinking, the totally administered society and the one-dimensional man will without doubt lead the social theorist into an abyss of cultural pessimism, and even worse into a sense of apathy about the possibility of practical action. However, much has changed since the time in which these wonderful thinkers worked out their thoughts and theories: true, some things remain the same, but others only got worse. Current social theories in the tradition of the Frankfurt School have moved on from the negative and pessimistic rendition of society that the first generation held steadfast. However, they lack the core ingredient that gave a particular flavor to the Frankfurt School’s social theory—that of the emancipation of society and people. Following this tradition, I believe that Zuidervaart’s social theory—explored in the above-mentioned essay—does justice to the aroma of the Frankfurt School (negative dialectics as the starting point for critical thinking), and the notion of emancipation from oppression. I hope to touch on several aspects of Zuidervaart’s essay and show why I think we must proceed and elaborate on the structures he provides.


Zuidervaart’s social theory engages with Adorno’s famous articulation of the relation between theory and praxis in the opening of Negative Dialectics (1966), namely that “[p]hilosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed. The summary judgment that it had merely interpreted the world, that resignation in the face of reality had crippled it in itself, becomes a defeatism of reason after the attempt to change the world miscarried.”[1] However, Adorno's insistence that theory in his time can do nothing other than take the form of critique—“Having broken its pledge to be as one with reality or at the point of realization, philosophy is obliged ruthlessly to criticize itself”[2]—becomes the starting point for Zuidervaart’s social philosophy. The seeds of Zuidervaart’s social philosophy can be found in Reformational philosopher Abraham Kuyper’s notion of the ‘Creational Ordinance.’ As Zuidervaart remarks, Kuyper’s social philosophy offers a “normative vision” and a critique of existing society: “in addition to descriptions and explanations, and in the very process of describing and explaining, we need to evaluate a society’s organization and point out how it can be improved” (253). The main question that Habermas bequeathed us, and later scholars in the tradition of the Frankfurt School have been tackling ever since, regards the normative foundations of critical theory. Zuidervaart, faithful to the first generation of the Frankfurt School, attempts to articulate a social theory that encompasses Adorno’s negative dialectics with the utopian horizon of Marcuse and Habermas. Zuidervaart views creational ordinance as “the notion that the divine Creator has mandated from the very beginning, and continues to mandate, how society should be organized, and that these mandates are given in the very structure of creation” (253). However, according to Zuidervaart, this articulation does not emphasize strongly enough the contradictions in society that gave rise to atrocities and inequality.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Probing the Contours and Foundations of a Reformational “Architectonic Critique” of Society

by Jonathan Chaplin

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.

Chapter 13 of Religion, Truth and Social Transformation is probably the most succinct overview available of the “architectonic” (as Kuyper famously termed it) reformational social philosophy that Lambert Zuidervaart has been developing for many years, laying out all its main contours and foundations in one fell swoop. My response explores three foundational moves I see Zuidervaart making pursuant to his project of a “critical retrieval” of reformational thought: from “sphere sovereignty” to “macrostructural analysis;” from incremental institutional reform to society-wide “transformation;” and from “creational structural principles” to “historical societal principles.”
From “sphere sovereignty” to “macrostructural analysis”

Zuidervaart claims that classic reformational thinkers, by being overly preoccupied with identifying and shoring up the “sphere sovereignty” of individual (types of) differentiated societal structures, “do not ask whether distinct social institutions, for example in the areas of art, education, economy, polity, kinship, and faith life might themselves belong to larger patterns of social organization.” They thereby fail to confront the depths of contemporary societal distortions,[1] or to permit a sufficient engagement with contemporary social theory. “For claims about societal differentiation and advocacy of structural pluralism will come to little if in fact contemporary society…does not fit the projected pattern of multiple differentiated spheres” (258).

I take this to mean that if an inherited social theory can’t shed adequate light on the most palpable structural dynamics and distortions of contemporary society, then it must be significantly revamped.[2] Zuidervaart’s revamping proposes that these features need to be explained in terms of three dominant “macrostructures” – “large-scale structurations of contemporary social life” (259): the “proprietary economy;” the “administrative state;” and “civil society” – resulting in a “triaxial model” (257ff.).[3] The arrival of these distinct macrostructures in modernity is in itself a significant achievement (267), but the contemporary operations of, and interactions between, them disclose deep distortions.

The first two macrostructures are “formal” while the third is “informal.” “Formal” means “systemic,” in the sense of being “operationally self-contained,” i.e., following their own “logics” and having their own “steering media” (money for the proprietary economy, power for the administrative state) (258-9). Such a “systemic mode of organization” has the advantage that these two macrostructures “can proceed without continual communicative interaction by human agents” while its disadvantage is that they are prone to crisis tendencies and “resistant to normatively motivated critique and resistance” (259).

By contrast, civil society is “informal,” consisting of a “diffuse array of organizations, institutions and social movements” lacking those systemic properties. This informality allows for communicative interaction among participants but leaves civil society vulnerable to “systemic pressures” from the other two macrostructures (259). His account of the economic dimension of civil society is the part of the chapter I found most illuminating and persuasive (so I won’t say much more about it).[4]

Let me simply pose one question intended to invite further clarification. I wonder what concept of “societal system” underlies the idea of a formal macrostructure. How does it actually serve to explain the highly complex and diverse societal phenomena under scrutiny? Systems theory is, of course, widely employed in contemporary social theory. It was developed in sociology extensively in the work of, e.g., Talcott Parsons (on whom, I recall, Habermas depends).[5] It has yielded highly suggestive results and today is operating at a high peak of sophistication in areas such as complexity theory and risk analysis. But as I understand it, it first emerged out of the discipline of cybernetics (a branch of engineering) and, notwithstanding its huge theoretical advances since then, I wonder whether it has entirely shed its original mechanistic and deterministic traits.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pluralism in a Multicultural Civil Society: Losing My Religion?

1 comment:
by Ruthanne Crapo

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 am honored to contribute to the generative conversation surrounding Lambert Zuidervaart’s recent work highlighting the nascent and formative value of reformational philosophy, past and present. I want to weave my own comments in alignment with the valuable remarks already made. Jonathan Chaplin’s detailed and probing analysis of this same chapter to which I am also responding covered the expanse of Zuidervaart’s argument and details, the promise and possibilities of his work, within the broader scope of political theory. Given such a lucid account of the theoretical poles of Zuidervaart’s argument, I feel free to make mine more narrative.

In the analysis of the first chapter on social transformation Clinton Stockwell noted, “We live in a radically changing pluralistic world that is becoming even more urban, global and culturally diverse daily. So, how can I approach the question of what makes for a ‘good city’ as a Reformed Christian in the context of radical pluralism?” In my own contribution, I want to extend Stockwell’s query toward the question Zuidervaart points us toward in this second chapter on social transformation, namely, to what extent should religion be a part of the state, the public sphere, and is it good in these spaces? In this post I will flesh out such possibilities with the concerns of my own students and how to engage the dialectic Zuidervaart so aptly proposes. I suggest that Zuidervaart’s work in this chapter is most compelling because it analyzes religion broadly, or as a universal human phenomenon, and offers a distinctly philosophical engagement, resisting a facile public/private relegation of religion. Such a natural account of religion permits individuals and groups from an extensive array of religious and non-religious commitments to dialogue with his work. I offer such an engagement with the particular microcosm of my own institutional setting.

Like Clinton’s multicultural neighborhood, I teach philosophy to disparate groups of religious and non-religious students at an urban two-year state college in Minnesota. With an average age of 28, our students speak over 86 different dialects, nearly half are Pell eligible (meaning they qualify in the U.S. as low-income) and one third are first generation college students. Like many of our growing urban communities, the diversity is truly global: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Protestants, Sikhs, Buddhists, shamanic practices, pagans, and atheist/agnostics all study, work, and collaborate on shared projects of social transformation via the institution of state sponsored higher education. Much of the philosophy of our department is centered appropriately on the concerns of our students, meaning our philosophical queries tend to contextualize the propositional nature of the discipline as embedded within issues of social and political struggle. I typically select readings and assignments that probe critiques of institutional racism, sexism, classism, post-colonialism, global inequity, environmental justice, mass-incarceration, GLBTQ rights, Islamophobia, and the rights of global migrants. In other words, we investigate the ways that “let suffering speak,”[1] particularly injustices that the state’s power and purview complicate. Even in a state as “nice” as Minnesota, my students typically do not agree on the problems or solutions to these issues and concerns, and inevitably, they vary in their commitment that religion could be part of any public benefit.

Even in a state as “nice” as Minnesota, my students typically do not agree on the problems or solutions to these issues and concerns, and inevitably, they vary in their commitment that religion could be part of any public benefit.

Recently a student stated, “Religion is intrinsically oppressive, irrational, and dangerous.” Another added, “There seems to be something especially wrong with the Christian religion in particular.” While I disagree, I can sympathize with these remarks. We had just concluded a unit on the Dakota genocide and the role of Christian missionaries in separating Dakota children from their parents; these same missionaries quipped that they needed to beat the “savage” out of the children in order to “save” their souls.[2] Even the mention of religion and students may reflexively regurgitate the new atheist’s familiar warnings of institutional religion as a “dangerous meme”[3] citing well-trodden examples: its collusion with colonialism and empire building; its justification of slavery and sexism; its decidedly homophobic stance; its lackluster response to environmental degradation; violent conflicts like the crusades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Bosnian genocide; and fanatical movements such as Jonestown, Boko Haram’s abductions, and the ISIS caliphates.

Zuidervaart’s characterization of religion acknowledges Hegel’s notion of inwardness or subjective rationality (as opposed to the objective rationality Hegel associates with the state), but he adds, religion is also “a distinctive array of or practices and organizations . . . already institutionalized . . . they are thoroughly intersubjective” (238). The intersubjective quality of religion moves it beyond the personal and the private. Given this conception of religion as intersubjective, I am wondering if Zuidervaart’s religious intersubjectivity entails a rationality of its own—an intersubjective rationality or “logic”. Could this intersubjective rationality necessitate an objectivity of its own—namely, good ethics? Philosophers like Emanuel Lévinas and Luce Irigaray have highlighted the intersubjective and ethical capacity of religion, its ability to recognize others as subjects in their own right, and the respect for others that an intersubjective religion ought to augur.[4] Zuidervaart engages the social and cultural quality of subjects with or in the world as a normative feature of religion. Therefore, he lifts religion away from its “other-worldly” caricature and normativizes it as a human phenomenon, such that religiously diverse people can critically engage it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Speaking Truth to “Power”, Calling “Truth-Tellers” to Account: Probing the “Dialectical” Relationship Between Religion and the State

by Jonathan Chaplin

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.

It’s a pleasure to respond to Lambert Zuidervaart’s latest example of rigorous, fertile, reformationally-inflected philosophy. While all his work bears the impact of that tradition, this book gathers his reflections on core reformational commitments in a single volume, places them front and centre and subjects them to instructive critical exploration and development. It is a major contribution to reformational philosophy and will usefully stir up fresh debate about what a “critical retrieval” of the tradition might amount to.

  In chapter 12, Zuidervaart uses a dense passage from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right  as a springboard for wider reflections on the contemporary relationship between religion and the public realm. In 15 pages he succeeds in framing lucidly much of the disputed territory in current (western) debates on this relationship. I agree with many of the claims in the chapter: his critique of Hegel’s conception of the “subjective” character of religious truth claims (as mere forms of “subjective rationality,” as opposed to the “objective rationality” actualized in the state);[1] his insistence on the vital distinction between “spirituality” as all-encompassing orientation and “religion” as institutionalized worship and faith;[2] his affirmation of the critical public role religious communities should assume in the face of societal injustice. Here I’ll focus on his remarks on religion’s relationship to the “state” and the “public sphere” (in the hope of returning to “civil society” in my response to chapter 13).


Zuidervaart’s definition of religious truth is highly compressed, assuming detailed work done elsewhere. By being somewhat elusive it may invite misunderstanding. Religious truth, he proposes, is “a process of worshipful disclosure in dynamic correlation with human fidelity to the societal principle of faith as hopeful trust” (239) – hardly a standard definition. The reader would need to understand how key words in that sentence – “disclosure,” “correlation,” “fidelity,” “societal principle,” and “trust” – function as load-bearing terms of art in his larger conception of truth. I won’t say much on that larger conception here since other contributors to this blog have been tasked to do so. I’ll comment on the notion of a “societal principle” in my response to chapter 13.

But let me try to pre-empt one possible concern which might legitimately arise were we to approach the question of religious truth from a primarily theological or confessional standpoint. Zuidervaart’s goal in this chapter is not to give an account of the epistemological status or substantive content of Christian religious truth claims (aspects of such an account appear elsewhere in the book). Still less is it to argue, in apologetic mode, for their truth.[3] Rather it is to offer a philosophical account of the universal human phenomenon of religion. This is not a uniquely reformational project (it goes back to Augustine) but it is a quintessentially reformational one (and reformational thought is deeply indebted to Augustine on the point). Reformational philosophers have typically framed the project in terms of an “ontology of religion,” resolving ultimately on the “created structure” of religion – its foundational, orienting role in the very constitution of what it means to be human. Zuidervaart does not discuss such a framing in this chapter although he does in others (e.g. 1, 3, 6, 10). In fact in chapter 3 he criticizes Dooyeweerd’s particular account as falling into the error of a “structuralizing” of religion, i.e. construing it as a fixed ontological “structure” rather than a matter of spiritual “direction” (64ff).[4] Yet he still endorses the admirable reformational aspiration to give a philosophical account of religion as a universal phenomenon of human creatureliness.

In any event, given that his focus is on religious truth as a human and historical phenomenon, with all the necessary hermeneutical provisionality thereby entailed, we can readily see why he would reject Hegel’s claim that religious truth is “absolute” (239). This also helps explain what to some observers may appear to be a “subjectivist” definition of “revelation”: “If ‘God’ speaks in [a religious community’s] stories of faith and in their retelling…and shows up in the rituals of worship and their re-enactment, then such stories and rituals are media of ‘God’s’ being revealed” (240) – he might have added, “for such a community.” And in the same vein: “Doctrines are attempts to render explicit the significant meaning of a community’s stories of faith and rituals of worship” (241).[5]

[G]iven that [Zuidervaart's] focus is on religious truth as a human and historical phenomenon, with all the necessary hermeneutical provisionality thereby entailed, we can readily see why he would reject Hegel’s claim that religious truth is “absolute” (239).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Homeless God

No comments:
by Caleb Ratzlaff

Westview Christian Fellowship is located in the Queenston neighbourhood, a district in St. Catharines that has abnormally high rates of poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy. Westview has become a strong community partner through sharing its resource and expertise with a women’s Centre, Westview Centre4Women. The Centre provides refuge, community, and a variety of services for women living in the Queenston neighbourhood. Although the Centre was initiated by the church as a response to a need in St. Catharines' downtown context, the Centre, in turn, responded to needs in the church when some of the participants became involved in leadership and support. Last year a number of women from the Centre expressed interest in an introductory course on Christianity. After trying the Alpha program, an evangelistic program which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith, we decided to create our own curriculum to better suit our situation.

While considering this neighbourhood and the request for a course on Christianity, I was struck by one of the many compelling arguments found in Nik Ansell’s most recent book, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann. Simply stated, Nik argues that Scripture is a story about the work of God and humanity making a home, a place in this world defined by care, respect, and love—something many struggle with in Queenston. This got my imagination turning: if creation is God’s domestic homemaking skills at work, was God homeless before he turned on the lights? Does God experience similar feelings and challenges as those associated with homelessness?* It’s a strange speculative thought, that creation emerges out of a God forsaken space, a space Moltmann argues is within God, akin to a woman’s womb.

This got my imagination turning: if creation is God’s domestic homemaking skills at work, was God homeless before he turned on the lights?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Beyond Political Augustinianism

No comments:
by Clinton E. Stockwell

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.

It is a privilege and an honor to have the opportunity to respond to one of the chapters in the forthcoming collection, Religion, Truth and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy, by Professor Lambert Zuidervaart of the Institute for Christian Studies. On the surface, this is a daunting proposition. While I did minor in philosophy as an undergraduate, and I find myself always coming back to it, I must confess first off that my graduate level training was in theology and church history, and later in the social sciences, history and sociology. Even so, there is much that dovetails over that which I feel somewhat qualified to make some provisional comments. Provisional, because I do not feel that I have the final answers on these matters, and because I am anxious to hear from the author, or from other readers if what I have to share is close to being on target.

A few preliminary comments. First, I am taking the author’s title of the book seriously, that fundamentally the thematic emphasis that ties the essays together is the question, what makes for or contributes to “social transformation?” But, how would the goal of social transformation be justified or explained by religious faith, particularly the brand that is most operative at ICS--“Reformational philosophy?” Further, and more specific to our task, is the question that relates to the article, “Good Cities or Cities of the Good? Radical Augustinians, Societal Structures and Normative Critique.” What is it that makes for a “good city,” and how might this “good city” be achieved, not just theoretically, but concretely in practice?

A few comments about my background and discipline are in order, so that the reader might know what to expect and what my perspective is on these matters. I am an Emeritus Director of Chicago Semester, an off campus urban internship program sponsored by six colleges in the Reformed tradition, of which at least three of them are intimately familiar with the “Reformational” tradition (Dordt, Calvin, and Trinity Christian Colleges). I completed, many years ago, a doctorate in theology, and my dissertation topic was the “Ecclesiology of Emil Brunner.” So, the wedding of theology, church and society is something for which I have had a long interest. Second, upon joining the staff at Chicago Semester, I became interested in the Neo-Calvinist thought of Abraham Kuyper, and was able to have an essay entitled: “Abraham Kuyper and Welfare Reform: A Reformed Political Perspective,” published by Dordt College’s journal, Pro Rege (September 1998). More recently in 2013, I presented a paper at Princeton University for the Kuyper Center for Public Theology on the theme of creation and the environment, entitled: “Abraham Kuyper and the Diversity of God’s Creation.” Finally, I have a second doctoral degree that explored urban social movements, particularly, Protestants social justice organizations in the early history of Chicago. It was called, “A Better Class of People? Protestants in the Shaping of Early Chicago, 1831- 1873.” I also completed a Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. So, when you put all this together, my academic interests have been the attempt to utilize aspects of a Reformed theology to assess what makes for a “good city,” especially cities that are faced with the usual range of perplexing urban problems.

What is it that makes for a “good city,” and how might this “good city” be achieved, not just theoretically, but concretely in practice?

I have been excitedly provoked by Zuidervaart’s article on cities, and his commitment to find a philosophical perspective that is both rooted in the Reformed faith, yet connected to the pursuit of social justice in the real world. I share these values! In reading this piece more closely, I am aware that my orientation to the question of what makes for a “good city” is more likely shaped out of theology and the social sciences, and less from the standpoint of academic philosophy, so this too may be a limitation and will dictate my focus in this post.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Vollenhoven: Base Camps and Expeditions, Chemistry and Alchemy

by Dean Dettloff

D. H. Th. Vollenhoven
Last week was the final class of our Interdisciplinary Seminar (IDS) on the “problem-historical method” of Dirk Vollenhoven, a major figure in the tradition of reformational philosophy that funds the work done at the Institute for Christian Studies. Junior members were asked to provide a formal reflection on the ground covered in the class and our relationship to Vollenhoven and his method. Given ICS's placement in the ongoing transmission of reformational philosophy, I thought I might offer an adapted version of my reflection to a wider audience so as to demonstrate the kinds of conversations that are still being had at 229 College Street. I should preface this reflection with two caveats: first, the picture I present of Vollenhoven and his method is not necessarily orthodox and serves as a kind of perverse and optimistic attempt to make Vollenhoven palatable to my own interests and concerns. That is, I suspect Vollenhoven and hard-line Vollenhoveans might wince at some of the connections and liberties I take in my interpretation here; I take it for granted that if there is a future for Vollenhoven, it is a future that takes off from different lines of flight made available by Vollenhoven's method, rather than a future marked by a slavish or overtly faithful preservation of Vollenhoven (incidentally, I presume Vollenhoven would not have much of a problem with that latter point). Second, I admit to having some outstanding reservations with respect to Vollenhoven's method, but I have chosen to present his approach as positively as possible, thereby suggesting lines of flight for those charitable enough to take them.

* * *

In You Must Change Your Life, German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk introduces a distinction between what he calls “base camp” thinking and “expedition” thinking, corresponding to “horizontal” and “vertical” tendencies, respectively. Among his examples of base camp thinkers are the later Wittgenstein, middle Foucault, and late Heidegger. “They perform,” Sloterdijk explains, “each in their own way and for very different reasons, a sort of resignatio ad mediocritatem. The playing of language games, the repeated study of the discourses of earlier power games and the late pietistic waiting for a new sign of being - these are all attitudes in a camp where the path evidently comes to an end, even if the authors have preserved some leftover aspirations to ascent” (178). Another way of putting it would be to say these “performances” are all topological, either concerned with mapping out certain rules (Wittgenstein) and discursive terrain (Foucault) or maintaining the topos of the clearing for being (Heidegger). By contrast, Nietzsche and the more heroic moments in Foucault (among others) are presented by Sloterdijk as moments of vertical thinking, climbing to new heights for thought and being, heights that sometimes give grounds for new base camps and other times remain the privileged sights of virtuosos.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Beyond Humanism and Posthumanism: On Hendrik Hart’s Philosophical Anthropology

By Peter Wing-Kai Lok

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 am honoured to comment on Lambert’s new anthology, Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation, which covers many important topics ranging from philosophical anthropology to aesthetics to reformational philosophy to critical theory. This anthology definitely demonstrates Lambert’s great achievement in his academic life, showing us a good model of being an engaging Christian philosopher today.

My response has two parts. In the first part, I will summarize the basic argument of Lambert’s paper, entitled “Defining Humankind: Scheler, Cassirer, and Hart,” especially its critique of Scheler and Cassirer’s humanist notion of human beings with reference to Hendrik Hart’s philosophical anthropology. Hart is one of the important thinkers of the Toronto School of reformational philosophy. His work, Understanding Our World: An Integral Ontology serves as an important, though not the only, source for Lambert’s discussion here. Lambert argues that Hart’s reformational anthropology can break with some hierarchical aspects of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven’s philosophical anthropologies by offering a more lucid account of how the entire human being is both body and spirit.[1] In the second part, I will show how Hart’s philosophical anthropology can also pose a challenge to the contemporary discourse of posthumanism, especially its notion of "becoming-animal."

In his essay, Lambert criticizes the problem of Scheler and Cassirer’s essentialist notion of human beings. He argues that while Scheler and Cassirer correctly replace “substance” with “function” so as to distinguish human beings from animals, they still make a mistake by confusing differences in function with differences in kind.

For Scheler, human beings differ from animals because the former are spiritual beings. But he does not view “spirit” as “substance” but “function.” Human beings are those who actualize spirit and sublimate life. For Cassirer, the spirit, which indicates cultural forms and functions, enables human beings to have symbolic systems that distinguish them from animals. For Scheler and Cassirer, bodily life holds no difference in kind between human beings and animals since they both have some similar functions like reproduction or practical intelligence. What makes human beings unique is their possession of spiritual and cultural functions.

However, Lambert poses three critical comments to their approach:

1. They fail to consider the unique human quality of our physical, organic and sentient functions. While animals and human beings possess certain kinds of similar functions (reproduction, memory or practical intelligence), this does not mean that these functions have the same quality.

2. Emphasizing the exclusive cultural/symbolic function of human beings ignores our reciprocity with animals in certain cultural dimensions. Although human beings differ from animals in terms of their unique power of symbolic communication, this does not mean that they completely fail to communicate with animals in certain cultural/symbolic aspects.

3. Their functional definitions of human beings are ambiguously full of irresolvable tensions. While both  Scheler and Cassirer tend to construct a unified notion of human beings, their definitions of human beings mixed with animal/inhuman elements generate these irresolvable tensions.

As a result, Hart’s transfunctional model can remind scholars not to use a single discipline, but inter-disciplines, to view the world and human beings.

Instead, Lambert proposes Hendrik Hart’s transfunctional definition of human beings as a more reasonable and coherent option than Scheler and Cassirer’s models. The strength of Hart’s transfunctional model of human beings is that his model spans all the functions and dimensions of human beings in which no one function/dimension is privileged over the other (more human than any other) and thus both the natural and cultural dimension are affirmed. As a result, Hart’s transfunctional model can remind scholars not to use a single discipline, but inter-disciplines, to view the world and human beings. For Lambert, this can generate a more holistic understanding of the world, a kind of horizon “without which humanity unity, uniqueness and cosmic position would remain unintelligible.”[2]

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Possibilities of Authentic Philosophical Histories

By Ben Hampshire

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 am honored that Lambert Zuidervaart has invited me to respond to a chapter of his book, Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation, for this symposium. I am also grateful for the opportunity to reflect on his work and share it with those reading this symposium. In the spirit of this symposium, my summary and reflections are simple, straight-forward, and fairly informal.

The issue in chapter 9, “Metacritique: Adorno, Vollenhoven, and the Problem-Historical Method,” is how philosophy and history might be combined in a way that is both genuinely historical and genuinely philosophical. As I am not at all familiar with reformational philosophy (but am familiar with Theodor Adorno), please forgive me for any misinterpretations or misunderstanding in the following. Being unacquainted with reformational thought, this problem as presented by Zuidervaart is quite foreign to me. In fact, even as a philosophical issue outside of reformational philosophy, such as in Adorno’s thought, it is not something I have given any attention to. Therefore, I am grateful for this chapter making me aware of a philosophical problem that deserves attention. Zuidervaart’s analysis of this problem is especially useful for me as a philosopher who works in Catholic thought. This chapter has prompted me to new reflections on some of the works that have had a significant influence on me such as Thomas Aquinas’ commentaries on the works of Aristotle and the nine-volume A History of Philosophy by Frederick Copleston, SJ.

The following will briefly summarize the chapter, highlighting some of the salient points, and end with a couple questions/reflections.

Zuidervaart’s analysis of this problem is especially useful for me as a philosopher who works in Catholic thought.

In Section 1 of chapter 9, Zuidervaart explains that many attempts at combining philosophy and history, such as commentaries and intellectual histories, tend to end up as deficient as “philosophical” works. That is, for Zuidervaart, they are inadequate to the task of drawing “philosophical attention” to a philosopher’s contributions (Zuidervaart cites the work of Adorno, but I assume he thinks this is true of all philosophers) because these approaches are not “fully philosophical” as they often are incomplete in their treatment of a thinker’s work and tend to relativize the claims of a philosopher, particularly the most controversial ones (184). How then is philosophical historiography to avoid these problems and produce a truly philosophical history? Zuidervaart answers that philosophical historiography must “develop and present philosophical positions on the philosophical writings and issues they examine” (184). This must necessarily be coupled with an understanding of what philosophy’s tasks truly are. For Zuidervaart, the adoption of the method of metacritique in the writing of philosophical history ensures its adherence to reflection on the legitimate tasks of philosophy and is a “crucial link between history as history and philosophy as philosophy” (185).

The following sections of the chapter describe metacritique and provide support for its necessity for philosophical historiography.