Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Enthusiasm Over a Philsophic Sighting: David Walsh's "The Modern Phhilosophical Revolution"

I think I’ve found something. I must write it down before I lose it by time constraints, the movement of the earth and the wash of the river Lethe (forgetfulness: Homer) over my brain.

This present blog that you are reading is a record – at least for me – of the attempt to record the two epistemological levels of “knowing:” the experience of the senses and abstraction that forms concepts, propositions and judgement; and the experience of the “I” as Being that becomes consciousness. The first is the experience of individual “things;” the second is the experience of the self (“I”) in the free act that is being-in-relation.

I sighted this distinction for the first time reading Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity” on the notion of person in the Trinity (pp. 131-132 in the old edition). There, “Being” was presented in the revolutionary terms of relation, and was daringly presented as tolling the death knell to the category of substance as the primary meaning of “Being.” had been brought up on througThe entire book from faith to Christ, to heaven, hell and redemption was re-presented in terms of Being-as-relation.

This gave me the insight into John Paul II as philosopher Wojtyla. His enormous insight was the recovery of the self (“I”) as Being and as subject, not by reflection (which would render the subject as object), but precisely as "unreduced" subject. Wojtyla did this via the deployment of phenomenology (acquired through the reading of Scheler) to describe the free act of faith in St. John of the Cross, and wed it to thomistic metaphysics. The double discovery of Ratzinger and Wojtyla overturned my whole mental world whereupon I proceeded to attempt to reconcile to be = to-be-in-relation with the esse realism in Maritain, Gilson, Fabro, Pieper, etc.

That began in 1989. I immediately published a secondary piece in Communio (Fall 1990) together with a translation I had done (it had to be redone by Waldstein) on Ratzinger’s “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology.” The piece Schindler published was entitled “Relation, The Thomistic Esse And American Culture: Toward a Metaphysic of Sanctity.” That was his title for it, not mine. As time went on, I kept trying to tease out the implications of a constitutively relational being that is the “person” with the dynamic of the thomistic esse that I had seen some 35 years prior to 1989. I lost hope after I wrote a piece for a Festschrift for Frederick Wilhelmsen after his death in which I became convinced that the way to a new metaphysic was not by squeezing the thomistic esse on the level that it was offered to us by Thomas, i.e. on the level of theoretical intelligence and objective truth, but rather on another level, that of practical experience of the subject in free action. That is, instead of reaching the “really real reality” of Being (esse) through sensible experience and propositional knowing, I was convinced that Ratzinger had it right in his “theological epistemology” that one can know the reality of the Person of the Son of God – Who is the “really real reality” only by entering into a like act of self gift that is prayer with Him, and thus “know” him by experiencing the self by the self-transcendence that is prayer and transferring it to Him. I have loaded this blog with tons of postings on this.

I have also had the fine opportunity to try to teach modern philosophy. By reading some of the original works of Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Locke, Kant, Herder and Hegel – and the secondary work of Charles Taylor on them, I began to see that the key to insight in modern thought is the notion of experience that takes place on the two levels: sense and self, which has been copiously presented in both Wojtyla and Ratzinger. The most telling and novel was Wojtyla’s use of Scheler’s phenomenology to disclose faith in St. John of the Cross as an act of the whole person, and therefore the most important of all experiences that had been hidden and disguised as consciousness (purely mental). Add to this, the mind of Ratzinger that modernity is not to be defended against and dismissed; but to the contrary, it is to be taken up as something immensely positive and purified by the experience of the Christian faith.

I have labored in many postings in this blog on same. In a word, what I had seen was that Descartes was to be thanked for the turn to the subject; Kant was to be appreciated for his attempt give an account of the autonomy of freedom and the absoluteness of truth; Herder was to be commended for his discovery of the experiential (and therefore “empirical”) reality of the “I” in the use of language. Taylor was huge for me in presenting Hegel as attempting to put the two together. That is, Hegel was trying to connect the experience of Kant’s radical freedom in the categorical imperative with the expressive fullness of Herder. Taylor expressed it like this: “

“These were the oppositions which expressed most acutely the division between the two ideals of radical freedom and integral expression.

“These were: the opposition between thought, reason and morality on one side, and desire and sensibility on the other; the opposition between the fullest self-conscious freedom on one side, and life in the community on the other; the opposition between self-consciousness and communion with nature; and beyond this the separation of finite subjectivity from the infinite life that flowed through nature, the barrier between the Kantian subject and the Spinozist substance.

“How was this great reunification to be accomplished? How to combine the greatest moral autonomy with a fully restored communion with the great current of life within us and without? In the end, this goal is only attainable if we conceive of nature itself as having some sort of foundation in spirit. If the highest spiritual side of man, his moral freedom, is to come to more than passing and accidental harmony with his natural being, then nature itself has to tend to the spiritual.”

Add to this the fact that Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) has been insisting in four major presentations over the last two years that there must be a “broadening of reason” whereby we can escape from the dungeon of reduction to mere objectiveness and facts, and enter into the subjective, but ontological, reality of the Word of God in Person.

* * * * * * * *

That said, consider my joy when opening David Walsh’s new book “The Modern Philosophical Revolution” and finding the following contents:

· 1. Kant’s ‘Copernican Revolution’ as Existential
· 2. Hegel’s Inauguration of the Language of Existence
· 3. Schelling on the Beyond of Existence
· 4 Nietzsche: Philosophy as Existence
· 5. Heidegger’s Achievement Despite the Betrayal of Philosophical Existence
· 6. Existence Without Refuge as the Response of Levinas
· 7. Derrida’s Dissemination of Existence as Differenance
· 8. Kierkegaard’s Prioritization of Existence over Philosophy
· Epilogue: Modernity as Responsibility

When Walsh gets into his Preface, he makes the point that Ratzinger made in challenging us to face up to philosophically. He said in his interview with Robert Moynihan: “It seems to me that this was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to go beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith.”
[2] Walsh remarks: “Based on a conscientious rereading of eight major figures, from Kant to Derrida, it (the book) argues that there is a remarkably consistent unfolding within this philosophical development. Studies of individual figures or periods within this time frame have often gone a considerable distance in dispelling the fog of conventional misjudgments. But the achievements as a whole have not come into focus; indeed, the era of philosophy from Kant to the present has hardly been conceived of as a whole, because we have lacked an overarching interpretative hypothesis. That is what the present volume seeks to provide. It suggests that Philosophy, beginning with Kant, has explicitly shifted from an account of entities and concepts to an existential meditation on the horizon within which it finds itself. So while metaphysics in the propositional sense may have become defunct, it is not by any means the case that our orientation within metaphysical openness has disappeared. The death of metaphysics in thought has meant the return of metaphysics in life. God, immortality, and freedom, as well as the unsurpassable exigency of goodness in its unending struggle with evil, not only remain real but have acquired an existential force that is all the more powerful for our inability to contain them within discursive limits. No surprise is prompted by the return of religion or the echoes of Greek philosophy in contemporary thought. But if we are to make sense of these strange reverberations in a context that has understood itself apart from all theological and metaphysical reference, we must be prepared to understand why the transcendent can surface only within this profoundly mysterious mode. It is not that we in the modern world have lost faith, but that philosophy has come to understand the meaning of faith in a very different way.

Let me hasten to add, what Walsh is talking about is the recovery of being (which is Greek metaphysics) and the real as “I.” Consider Benedict’s presentation of “reality” as the Word of God, that is “I Am.”

He continues: “Now whether that way of faith is continuous with the tradition of faith that is descended to us is for the reader to judge. All that the present study can offer is a way of reading the development of modern philosophy as an opening to the possibility of faith. Of course, it is more than the opening of sheer possibility that Kant announced. It is more like the practice of faith that his own philosophical odyssey evidenced, even while he sought to assimilate his project to the authority of science.”

Let me insert here: In the section on Kant, Walsh has a section entitled “Existence as Knowledge.” It reads: “The reason Kant marks the beginning of the modern philosophical revolution is that he sees existence, practical reason, as providing the deepest access to being.”

Comment: This is precisely the burden of Vatican II, Dei Verbum #5, and the mind of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. This is the “New Evangelization.” As Benedict said in Brazil in May o 2007: “Only God knows God.” I.e. one has to enter into the Trinitarian dynamic of relation as self-gift in order to be “like” God and therefore know Him. I.e. one has to pray as Christ prayed in order to be able to say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16). We do not God only by concepts whereby we know “about” God. Rather, we must “experience” God in Christ through Scripture and prayer. Walsh sees that Kant was philosophically on this same track. I repeat, “(Kant) sees existence, practical reason, as providing the deepest access to being.” Walsh continues:

“This interpretation is in contrast to the prevalent view that originates in considerable measure from his own estimate of the scientific character of his work. There is a tension between the existential Kant and scientific-critical one, although he may no have considered it as such. Ultimately they cannot be reconciled, because the existential meditation reveals the extent to which the theoretical perspective cannot include itself. The process of objectification cannot include objectification. Kant reassured himself that he was thereby advancing a critical approach to philosophy, although he was rather opening philosophy to the unfathomable mystery of its own source. While holding onto the lifeline of the latter provide no theoretical knowledge, he nevertheless insisted that the existential enlargement furnished all the knowledge we need. Kant’s greatness as a thinker lies in his realization that to be scientific we must step outside the boundary of science. The implications of this recognition were not fully absorbed by Kant, just as they have not yet been digested within the history of modern philosophy, but he is clearly the one who made the issue visible. His insistence on the primacy of practical reason is the recognition that existence discloses essence. What remained to be determined was the status of that existential knowledge. The authority of scientific knowledge remained so strong for Kant that it still monopolized the claim to knowledge, even though his own critical philosophy had already exposed its relativity” (42-43).

I stop. Time and Tide overcome me. I think the book (and others before, like “The Third Millennium”) are a must read to complement what Benedict and John Paul have been up to in this moment of Nihilistic relativism. It’s a new metaphysic of the “I.”

[1] Charles Taylor, “Hegel and Modern Society,” Cambridge University Press (1979) 8-9.
[2] Benedict XVI – Robert Moynihan, “Let God’s Light Shine Forth,” Doubleday (2005) 35.
[3] “Even more, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our notion that matter, solid things, things we can touch, is the most solid, the most certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. He who builds on sand only builds on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will vanish. We can see this now with the fall of two large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. Who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is he who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is he who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life;” Benedict XVI “Opening Address of the Synod,” October 7, 2008.

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