Monday, May 09, 2022

Luther and Heidegger: Modeling the Destruction of Metaphysics

The International Luther Congress beckons this summer and I am thinking about doing something on Luther and Heidegger in the seminar on Luther and Philosophy. I am old enough now to remember Luther Congresses 35 years ago and more where this topic was not of deep interest. Having written a dissertation on Luther's theological semantics, I was from my first Luther Congress interested in these matters, and remember being introduced to the Finnish work in this area in Oslo in 1988. 

The following is the abstract for my paper on Luther and Heidegger this Sumer.  The seminar headed by Jennifer Hockenbery asks participants to relate Luther to the philosophical tradition through consideration of the notion of freedom. 


Much has been written about Heidegger’s indebtedness to Luther (along with Paul and Augustine) in the development of central themes of Being and Time e.g., death, fallenness, guilt, sin, freedom, etc. Heidegger breaks here with Husserl and western philosophy’s dream to frame a consistent and coherent theory adequate and applicable to all the facts, both physical and metaphysical. In the early 1920s Heidegger was interested in the phenomenology of Christian life, what it was to-be-unto-the-Parousia. He discerned in Luther a friend in uncovering the meaning of factical Christian existence, that primordial self-understanding from, and through which, any talk of theological “facts” can emerge.  

But the parallels between Luther’s critique of late medieval Scholasticism and Heidegger’s critique of Catholic theology in his time -- both are interested in the destructionof the abstract metaphysical in favor of the phenomenology of concrete lived existence – can occlude what profoundly differentiates the two approaches: Luther’s “Christian being” cannot be conceived apart from an encounter with the Other, an encounter that cannot be interpreted either as Zuhandensein or Vorhandensein. One must not confuse the experientia of Luther’s theologian with the experience of the peasant or particle physicist. The phenomenological ontological approach “laying bare” the being-in-the-world of both occludes the “stand on being” assumed in the approach itself, an approach that itself finally must stand before God

In this paper, I review the research into Luther and Heidegger with an eye toward towards an appropriation of the start differences between them, particularly with respect to the question of freedom. What is constructive here is my employment of model theory to show the truth-conditions of the sentences used in the analysis. Clarity on the semantics of sets of sentences about Luther’s experientia, Heidegger’s phenomenological ontology of Christian life, and the enterprise of their comparison provides greater precision and accuracy in evaluating the differences in their respective projects. 


I have for some time thought that theologians should know the basics of model theory so that they might gain greater clarity into their own theological and ontological assertions. I will endeavor to provide a brief introduction to model theory in this summer's paper, and use it to clarify the difference between Luther and the early Heidegger's project of disclosing the primordial factic life of the Christian prior to the making and evaluation of abstract theological assertions.  

Sunday, April 24, 2022

ATS Fall Headcount and FTE for Lutheran Institutions and an Update on Progress at Institute of Lutheran Theology

It is time for my yearly update on the growth of the Institute of Lutheran Theology with respect to Lutheran Seminaries in North America. 

ILT had a combined headcount of 101 in the F 2021 and a FTE of 81.26. The graduate school alone, Christ School of Theology, had a headcount of 79 with an FTE of 68.72.  This places ILT in ninth place in size among the 21 Lutheran seminaries. Below are the numbers for the fall of 2021, with the first number reporting headcount and the second in parenthesis giving the student FTE. ATS schools numbers are easiest to find, and I must confess to almost guessing on some of the other institutions.   

Of real interest is that the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary is now ATS accredited and claiming to have a FTE and headcount of 174. This would make it the sixth largest Lutheran institution in North America. 

ILT's Christ School of Theology is beginning the process of ATS accreditation, having had its first ATS visit in February. I am very optimistic the partnership we will have with ATS going forward. 

  • Concordia Seminary (LCMS) 603 (377)
  • Luther Seminary (ELCA): 476 (330)
  • Concordia Theological Seminary (LCMS): 307 (217)
  • Warburg Seminary (ELCA): 231 (198)
  • United Lutheran Seminary (ELCA): 342 (184)
  • Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WELS): 174 (174) 
  • Martin Luther University (ELCIC): 134 (110)
  • Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (ELCA): 129 (103) 
  • INSTITUTE OF LUTHERAN THEOLOGY: 101 (81.26), 79 (68.72) grad school alone
  • Trinity School of Ministry (where the NALS is housed): 152 (65)
  • Lutheran Theological Southern (ELCA): 57 (46.3)
  • Trinity Seminary (ELCA): 43 (35)
  • Bethany Theological Seminary (Brethren): 55?
  • Pacific Lutheran (ELCA): 49 (40)
  • Lutheran Brethren Seminary: 40?
  • Free Lutheran Bible College: 25?
  • ALTS (AALC): 25??
  • Bethany Lutheran Theological Sem (ELS): 16?
  • Concordia Lutheran Ontario (LCC): 19 (14)
  • LTS Saskatoon (ELCIC): 17 (11)
  • Concordia Lutheran Edmonton (LCC): 7 (7). 
  • Friday, April 15, 2022

    Levinas and the Transcendental Project

    In anticipation of the Levinas readings course this summer at ILT's Christ School of Theology, I have written this brief summary below on some of Levinas' most salient themes. 

    Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) is surely one of the more important philosophers of the twentieth century.  He is thinker whose influence in many ways continues to grow. His readings of Husserl and Heidegger are profound for they point the way to "post-modernity" generally and Jacques Derrida in particular. So what is the fundamental insight that Levinas has? Why is he such an important thinker?  

    There is much one could say here, but I think his fundamental significance rests upon his realization that the ethical relationship between self and other is irreducible, that is, that the ethical relation as primary. Levinas knew that the immediate, concrete relationship of responsibility between self and other is more fundamental than the self's subjectively-articulated theory about any putative relationship between the self and the other.  Levinas, the philosopher of ethics, understood profoundly that the reality of other  -- the other person -- is irreducible to subjective, transcendental structures or categories of the self.  

    Accordingly, instead of ethics depending upon human reason and cognition, it is the other itself that brings the self into being, for it is the other itself that calls the self to responsibility and service. The other cannot be reduced to a congeries of concepts, it is not constituted by its placedness within an ethical theory. Rather, it confronts the self with a justice that transcend's the self's freedom. This other reveals itself to the self in a demand or call to responsibility, a demand or call to serve it as other. With this call to serve the other the self now locates itself with respect to itself and to other others. In so doing, the immediacy of the ethical thus grounds and motivates concerted reflection upon the other. 

    All of this means that to become wholly who I am, to achieve self-determination, I must be called by the another into a responsibility for  that other. Accordingly, the other calls me out of self-isolation and into self-determination.  This self-determination includes the coming into being of discourse, the revelation of my separation from that which is other, and the founding of a common world that I share with the other. 

    Levinas first and perhaps most important work appeared in French in 1961, and was soon translated as Totality and Infinity. In it Levinas shows how most traditional philosophy went about a "totalizing task" of trying to understand all of reality on the basis of a comprehensive system that humans might know. 'Totalizing' connotes control and possession, fundamental activities by and through which the controlling self tries to maintain its separation from all other things. The self always wants to be both complete and self-sufficient.  

    But such totalizing strategies suppress and displace that upon which they themselves are founded. In the immediacy of our experience with the other we encounter traces of that which is not us. This otherness is not projected by a self-identical subject, but is rather a condition for our own efforts at self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction.  

    For Levinas, the face of the Other is not a projection of the subject. It is rather that which is encountered, and in whose encounter the self is confronted by the givenness of a world that is not finally its own. It is only in this world -- a world that cannot be merely mine -- that true freedom can emerge. Were the world to be merely my projection, it would be impossible  to define what doing x over and against doing ~x could even mean. Specifying identity conditions for freedom in a world without essential limitation is not possible. Moral choices and moral freedom only make sense on the basis of an already-encountered other. The presence of the other in its vulnerability as Face calls me to service and responsibility; its presence calls me to freedom.  

    The world common to the other and me can arise only if the other is truly other and not a projection of myself. The "exteriority" of this world calls into being my own interiority. The confrontation with the other's face calls me into differentiation from the world. The call of the other to serve the other calls forth language itself, language in and through which the world can be shared and communicated. 

    Since the other is irreducible to my conceptualizations, it is other than the process of determination, finalization, and ultimately, finitization.  It is thus without bounds, and being without determinacy, must be admitted to be infinite. Accordingly, the other produces in me an idea of infinity, an infinity other that the determinacy of my conceptions of, or my trajectories of service towards, the other.  My obligation towards the other is primitive and has a phenomenological basis. I am always already confronted by an other, and always already called towards serving that other. The demand of the other is not the result of abstract do ut das ethical considerations within a constituted ethical theory, but is simply primordial. My obligation towards the other always proceeds and likely exceeds any obligation that other might have towards me.  

    Levinas argues that the condition for the possibility of differentiation is indeed the difference of the other from me. While the difference of the other cannot be accounted for on the basis of the sameness of the self in its enjoyment, experience, knowledge, etc., the determinacy of the self can be conceived on the basis of the difference of the other. While the self and all of its activities are understood as a totality, the transcendence of the other is infinite. This other is no mere memory or projection of the self-- its "echoes" -- but is that by and through which the self can speak, that it can be concerned with justice, goodness and truth, that it itself is made precious by the irreplaceability of its ethical response to that other, an other that is finally a trace of the Divine itself. 

    Levinas claims that ontology recapitulates ethics, that the specificity of being itself rests upon the prior ethical relation with the Other. To be in this way is to be for the Other. Accordingly, to be is to be called beyond being, to be other than being, to be unbounded by being and thus infinite. 

    The primal ethical relationship between self and other cannot be understood from a position outside the relationship. This ethical relationship must be lived in the first person, a living that eschews totalization. The ecstatic nature of this relationship means that any attempt to understand it sociologically, politically, economically or historically is doomed to failure, for the relationship is itself irreducible.  The irreducibility of this relationship, and the supervenience of the cognitive and ontological upon it, entails that cognitive-ontological explanations themselves rest upon upon the ethical, for ultimately to explain to an other is to always already have an ethical relationship with that other.  

    While Levinas' starting point might appear prima facie refreshing, it does produce disquiet for anyone engaged in the project of transcendental reflection. What if such reflection finally has ethical roots? What if meaning encountered in the self's relation to other is meaning that is not synthesized by the self? What if there is a Sinn to things that is not worked out on the basis of intentionality or language? What if the "traces" of the Divine are not the murmurings of our own heart, i.e., our own displaced alienations? What if being a self finally depends upon the immediate meaningfulness of that which is not a self?  

    Levinas argues that difference ultimately precedes identity. But is this true? Discerning readers of Levinas must decide this for themselves.  

    Monday, April 04, 2022

    Transcendental Reflection and the Divine Other


    Transcendental reflection investigates those conditions necessary for there to be the kind of experience that we have. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) famously inquired into the "transcendental conditions for the possibility of experience as such," finding that pure priori forms of sensibility and pure a priori concepts of the understanding are both necessary to deliver the world as it is: one filled with objects having properties causally related to one another. Without these, the universality and necessity of Newtonian physics could not obtain.  

    Kant inaugurated a type of thinking that has in many respects dominated theology for the last couple of hundred years.  Kant argued that in order to have a unity to experience there must be a transcendental unity of apperception, a unifying activity that is itself possible to reflect upon. In writing the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant was thinking about his own thinking, about the way that thinking grants unity to experience.  His thinking about thinking was neither an empirical thinking, a thinking of mathematics or geometry, nor a thinking about the ultimate nature of things as Leibniz and Wolff would have thought.  It was a reflective thinking that offered insight into how the unity of experience is possible, a thinking that sought the truth of this unity of experience.  It was not a metaphysical thinking of the transcendent, but a transcendental thinking that brought into the light of day those structures employed but not noticed, a thinking that sought a hermeneutical retrieval of that which is closest to us but remains unnoticed. 

    Fichte, Schelling and Hegel were convinced of the profundity of Kant's project which reflected upon, and ultimately coaxed into the open, those transcendental structures making experience possible. A transcendental unity of apperception did not commit one to Descartes' "thinking substance'; such a unity of thinking that did not entail old school metaphysics. Fichte and followers followed Kant's lead after pointing out that the good philosopher could not sustain his famous distinction between things as they are in themselves and things as they appear for us. 

    If thinking is that which unites our experience, then why must such thinking be turned back by a putative thing-in-itself? This too could be thought, and thinking this actually dissolves problematic dualisms. Of course, there is something one bumps up against in experience (Anstoss), but such a bumping does not entail that that what is bumped is of a wholly disparate ontological lineage.  Perhaps nature which, as Kant pointed out, is already the result of the synthesizing activity of the transcendental unity of apperception, is not a joint product of something out there and our synthesis.  Perhaps it simply is the result of our synthesis, a synthesis that does not have to hook to the disparate, but can simply connect to itself in appropriate ways.  And so it is that the I posits the very world with which it must deal, the world that it can know, the world that serves as the backdrop to the moral life and all the loftiest of the human heart.  

    Transcendental reflection is born in the security of the transcendental unity of apperception, a security that finally cannot admit the Other, for to admit that is to destroy the very grounds upon which transcendental reflection is based.  To posit the Other is to return to the problematic between things as they appear and things in themselves; it is to bark up the Kantian tree and return to an aporia once thought solved and vanquished.  Thinkers in the Kantian tradition knew that this could not be progress.  After the Kantian critique of old-style metaphysics, the security of the transcendental provided a felicitous place for the narrative of God and His incursion into history to took place.  


    At the risk of oversimplification, I claim that in the days prior to Kant, the days running from the Old Testament prophets through Plato and Aristotle to the steppes of the Enlightenment, the alterity or otherness of God was simply taken for granted by the Church and society generally. Although one could not know the nature of God, the regnant assumption was that God did have a nature that was not dependent upon human awareness, perception, conception or language.  God's being did not depend upon human being, particularly not upon human thinking.  

    The story of how Neoplatonic thought forms gradually gave way to Aristotelian categories is important to tell, however, for our present purposes, I will just remark that both types of thinking generally assumed that the Being of God is externally related to human being.  Whether God is regarded as being itself or as the highest being, the tradition acknowledged that God is causally related to the universe.  God's creation of the universe is a causing of the universe to be. Without God's act of creation, the universe would not have being.  Divine power is needed to bring being out of non-being.  Accordingly, the theological tradition was generally committed to the reality of God apart from human being -- the thesis of theological realism -- and the possibility of causal connections between God and the universe -- the thesis of theophysical causation.  

    At the dawn of the Reformation, there were a number of differing theological schools that read Augustine, Plato and especially Aristotle in different ways, ways that reflected differing philosophical positions on the ontology of universals and the relationship of these universals to particulars.  While it is an oversimplification to say that Aristotle had become the philosopher of the Christian tradition, many theological traditions assumed with him that there were basic things in the world (substances) and that these substances had properties, some of which were necessary for the substance itself, and some which were accidental to the substance, that is, some of which could either be had by the substance or not possessed by it  without changing the being of the substance. God's creation was a creation of substances with properties.  These substances were the effects of God's creativity activity.  Adam and Eve were individual substances bearing the kind-identifying properties of being both rational and animal. The contour of Adam and Eve's particularity was due to the contingent properties each possessed.  

    All of this is important for Christology. That God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself meant that the particular entity Christ had both divine and human properties and that Christ had causal power.  The miracle stories suggest all of this, of course.  The being (or substance) Jesus caused it to be the case that 5,000 men (plus women and children) were fed with two fish and five loaves of bread. This being caused it to be true that the man Lazereth was no longer dead.  

    Christ was the God-man, He is the second person of the Trinity that had assumed human flesh.  The Second Person eternally existed; there was never a time when Christ was not.  This means inter alia that Christ is simply other than any human who might think, love or trust in Him.  Christ is not a category of human thinking, but a name for a being that exists apart from human awareness, perception, conception or language.  To say that Christ is externally related to anybody ether accepting or rejecting him is to assume that Christ is other that anybody either accepting or rejecting Him.  

    When it came time for Enlightenment rationalists to do theology, it was very natural to do it in a metaphysical key. God who is other than worldly being or human thinking must ultimately be seen as the sine qua non of the created order. The principle of sufficient reason claiming that for anything that is there must be some reason why it is, when applied to the universe seemed to point univocally to God.  

    One might claim that the time before Kant's Critique of Pure Reason was a "pre-critical" time where the primary objects of religious thought and experience were not yet dissolved into the fog of rational doubt.  Reason, properly applied in discovering many truths fully consonant with the Bible, attested to the same reality as the Holy Scriptures themselves.  

    While Kant himself seemed to leave room for there to be a God that is other than human thinking, this God could not be known, and accordingly, the enterprise of rational theology had to be profoundly rethought. The idealist tradition following Kant wished to think God within the security of transcendental subjectivity. Reason had found a place for God that could protect God from the contingencies of the other.  When one thinks about it, the post-Kantian theological tradition can be read in part as an attempt to rescue theology from Lessing's "broad ugly ditch."  Clearly, this theological tradition could insulate the "necessary truths of reason" from the "accidental truths of history."  


    Martin Heidegger knew the tradition well, understood Kant, and had read Martin Luther.  In the Freiburg lectures from 1919-23, Heidegger shows himself increasingly dissatisfied with a thinking in theology that leaves out the life of the one thinking.  Heidegger's early attraction to Martin Luther (and fueled by Kierkegaard) was his attempt to find a way out from the security of the transcendental project.  For Luther, death was part of the very life of the theologian, an experienced life.  Luther famously uttered "experiential macht die Theologum".  There is nothing secure about finitude, about the life of the believer beset with "sin, death and the power of the devil."  The reality of all three is part of the experience out of which and in which theology is done.  Theological thinking must always be tied to the Otherness of God and the divine project of the salvation of the sinner.  It is a bold thinking of infinite things done by flesh-and-blood finite human beings whose thinking always happens under the Cross.  

    Human thinking can never be wholly secure, because the otherness of sin, death and devil is always already besetting it. Such thinking is ecstatic, it is a thinking that is "outside oneself" because it is a thinking in the light of the Cross, a thinking that is a trusting in a Savior that is not a projection of one's own being, not an aspect of the nobility of human being with its cultivated intellectual and moral virtues, not a thinking that is grounded in reason.  Luther, who lived 250 years prior to the heyday of transcendental reflection, already knew that such reflection, if possible, could not end in human salvation.  To be saved is to be saved by that which is other than oneself.  Salvation happens in a world of flesh-and-blood believers dying and sinning.  Thirty-year old Martin Heidegger understood that if theology is to be a serious discourse, this discourse must not hide what is basic to the theologian: The theologian in her now is always already running ahead of herself in encountering that possibility of their being no more possibilities.  The theologian in her now is always already living death, sin and the power of the devil.  This triumvirate does not allow for calm, calculating thinking on the wonders of the grace-filled life.  Life is filled with death.  Our lives, like Christ's life, are lived in the shadow of our crucifixion.  We are now the not that we shall once be when we are no longer being the one for whom the not of the future is no longer.  

    Heidegger wanted to bring reflection upon ultimate things back to the phenomenological-ontological-existential ground from which all metaphysical reflection arises. He wanted to call us back from the forgetfulness of this ground, a forgetfulness of being which gives rise both to our absorption in the world and our flights into metaphysical abstraction.  Heidegger's reading of Luther buttressed his conviction that it was time for philosophy to rediscover again the one for whom philosophy means, the one who in its being, has be-ing at issue for it.  With Heidegger, the spector of the Other comes into sight.  We are in our be-ing, beings for whom and by whom the question of being and meaning arise.  This questioning of be-ing by that being who cares about be-ing, is a questioning that opens to the Other of being, a questioning done over the pit of non-being, a questioning that itself is the conduit of the presencing of the absence of being.  Death, after all, cannot be taken up into the life of being; it is the boundary of being that establishes the conditions of being itself.  


    But the early Heidegger did not get to the Other.  His project remained curiously within the province of transcendental thinking and subjectivity.  Laying out (interpreting) the existential-phenomenological-ontological roots of our reflection upon being is at some level a continuation of transcendental subjectivity. In our thinking, we think Dasein which is open to its Other, but we can only think this alterity as part of the transcendental existential-ontological conditions for the possibility of ontic engagement with an Other, an Other that may for Dasein have profound existentiell significance.  No longer does the transcendental thinker lay out the unity of the categories of human thinking by which the world is known, now this thinker is engaged in highlighting the unity of the existential structures themselves by which and through which the unity of care is possible, a caring that grounds any thinking in the first place.  

    The problem is clearly seen in Heidegger's treatment of other Daseins.  They are Mitsein for Dasein who can have Fuersorge for them, but they themselves in their otherness from Dasein cannot be be in themselves other.  The early Heidegger is simply unable to bring the world into focus.  He can and does get to the world from a certain position in the world, but cannot get to the world itself.  Being cannot ultimately be refracted by considering profoundly being as it is da (there).  What gets thought when considering Da-sein is Dasein, not Sein.  Ironically, Heidegger finds himself in the position of Leibniz.  One has a take on the world within any monad, but monads are windowless, and the world itself can only be reconstructed as describable above the fray of the monadic descriptions themselves.  To get to that world, one needs theological commitments not presenting themselves within the metaphysics of the monad.  

    So wither comes the Other?  Can it be brought into focus beyond the security of the transcendental project?  Did Levinas accomplish its encounter with the face? Can phenomenological encounter ground the Other?  Can it give a basis for a radical theological of the Cross where one finds oneself living without metaphysical and ontological nets, as it were?  Can alterity be thought of ontically in the way of those of the Reformation, as an otherness of being toward being?  Must we finally admit that it can only be shown and never said, but that in its showing that we discern the real ontological position of human beings eviscerated by sin, death and the power of the devil as they live their lives in the shadows of the hidden divine.  The Theology of the Cross is about showing, but not about a metaphysics of presence.  Showing here cannot be said without the said Showing turning into such a presence. Wittgenstein knew that showing happens in words, but not in truth-claims. To say what can only be shown is to turn preaching into a dogmatics that must always miss the glimpse of Divine alterity.  

    Bringing this Other into the open will demand an overturning of the very identity that has grounded the security of our theology of glory project of transcendental reflection.  At the end of the day, human beings cannot save themselves.  Salvation demands an overturning of the ontological of identity, an identity that has closed the clearing of the divine other, a clearing that finds in God's traces its own footsteps. At stake is the fundamental question: Can otherness show itself as what it is, or must if always show itself as what it is for us.  At stake is the fundamental question of the Garden: Did God really say?  

    Sunday, March 20, 2022

    Curb, Mirror and Light


    Lutheran theology has always been interested in the usus legis ("uses of the law"), and has argued passionately as to whether there are two usus legis or three.  

    Luther oftentimes limits the law to two uses, its civil use in curbing sin, and its theological use in showing one's sinfulness and driving one to Christ.  In later Lutheran theology a third use was highlighted, a use consonant with some of what Luther sometimes said about the law.  In the second edition (1535) of his Loci, Melanchthon explicitly suggests a third use, one that functions as norming the contour of the believer's sanctified life.  

    But while what I have thus far said sums up what many say about Luther and Melanchthon on the uses, neither theologian actually standardly employs the terminology of usus, preferring instead to use other phrases, e.g., Luther's use of officium legis in the 1537 Smalcald Articles connoting "office" or "function."  As a matter of fact, it was only in the wake of the Formula of Concord that usus legis became standard language in Lutheran theology.  Generations of theology students, both Reformed and Lutheran, have since learned the usus legis in this tripartite way: The one law functions in three ways: (1) to curb sin within civil society, (2) to mirror to us our sinfulness before God, and (3) to light our way in living out the sanctified life. 

    Controversy about the putative "third use of the law" within Lutheran theology has centered on the issue of whether the law whose essence it is to accuse can remain law while yet being being properly employed as a guide. If the law as God's left hand always accuses, then how can it function in the grace of God's right hand to guide Christian living. One can freely adopt rules of thumb for Christian living consonant with Gospel proclamation, but these rules are not the law qua law.  

    While the controversy between two or three uses of the law in Lutheran theology seemingly continues unabated, it is not my desire here to engage the historical issue further. I am rather interested in appropriating  the metaphors of curb, mirror and light spawned in the usus legis discussion for use in the context of establishing and justifying ethical standards and positions.  


    Imagine a scenario in which Doctor Jack must make the decision as to whether to disconnect his patient Bob from life support.  Jack knows that Bob's recovery is unlikely, and realizes that as a rule of thumb, the hospital could likely not afford to keep patients like Bob on life support when the chances of recovery are so dismal.  Still Jack is reluctant to unhook Bob.  Why? 

    When Fred later asked Jack why he did not unhook Bob, Jack grew pensive a moment and said the he was guided by the Hippocratic Oath and its admonition to do no harm to the patient. Since unhooking Bob seemed to Jack as an effecting of harm on Bob, Jack allowed Bob to remain connected.  He was surprised two days later to learn that, against all odds, Bob's condition had improved and he would likely survive. Dr. Jack was happy that he had not unhooked Bob, glad that he took the Hippocratic oath seriously, and relieved that Bob's condition did not simply worsen as anyone familiar with the relevant medical literature would have predicted.  Indeed, Jack felt like he had dodged a bullet, and the he himself was no less fortunate than Bob. 


    The example illustrates the position that we often find ourselves within when reflecting about morality and ethics. In the concrete ethical situation we often find that we do start with some moral or ethical principles seemingly incumbent upon us even when we don't reflect upon them. These unthought principles do often strike us as something true to which we must conform. One might say that they strike us immediately as a curb upon are possible action.  

    Jack unthinkingly affirmed keeping Bob hooked to life support, and only later in conversation with Fred tried to clarify why.  That which ought to be done simply confronted Jack, and Jack's actions were clearly curbed by that which stood over and against him.  While Doctor Jack is no philosopher, he experienced the principle of "do not harm the other" as something real, as something given to him and not constructed by him.  The principle not to harm came upon him in its otherness as law. Accordingly, one can imagine a code of such laws defining what is permissible, prohibited or obliged for a set of people in similar concrete ethical situations.  Moral and ethical codes do often successfully curb behavior. Social contexts in which they are present often appear better ordered and more efficient than when they are absent. 

    But the immediacy of the encounter with this ethical other does not sustain itself over time. The curbing function of the code pushes in upon the self, exposing to the self that it has chosen the curb that curbs.  When this happens the curb becomes a mirror, a reflector of the self.    

    In standing over and against the curb, the one curbed comes to know herself as part and parcel of establishing and sustaining the curb.  The curb for others becomes a mirror to the self; one recognizes one's own hand in the establishment of the curb and its perpetuation. After all, how could a curb be a curb if it is not permitted to be so? 

    Clearly, one must afford recognition to the curb as Other in order for one to be curbed by it.  But in reflecting upon the putative alterity of the curb, one notices that the curb qua curb wears a human face.  Just as there are no self-identifying objects, properties, relations, events or states of affairs apart from human consciousness, neither are there self-identifying ethical norms governing our behavior without our cooperation and tacit agreement.  On closer reflection, the heternomony of the curb reveals itself as a posit of our own autonomy!  It is we after all who project curbs into nature. In staring at the face of this putative external curb, we come to recognize our face in the curb. Unfortunately, when we recognize the curb to be a projection of our own subjectivity, the power of the curb to curb is undercut. That which appeared to be objective has now become subjective, and with this we touch our own freedom. It is we who create the ethical world in which we live; it is we who are the rule makers.  The law in its externality has now become an expression of our own subjective desire, and the problem presses down upon us: How could that which we create come to judge the one who creates it?  

    All of us implicitly realize that the efficiencies produced in codes that curb can last only as long as people grant the possibility that the curbing code is not merely an arbitrary and capricious projection of some arbitrary and capricious subject or subjects. 


    When the immediacy of the curb has been broken by the mediacy of the mirror, one is left with the question regnant in our time: How is it possible to use terms like 'good', 'evil', 'right', and 'wrong' without admitting that these appellations are deployed on the basis of my own desires, my own pleasure, and my own happiness?  How can saying 'John is bad' mean something more that I disapprove of John? 

    It is here that the metaphor of light is necessary. Once one realizes that ethical properties are not baked into the universe in the same way that chemical interactions, one has a choice: Either admit that the subject devours any putative objectivity of ethics, or look for those deeper conditions that give rise to ethical predicates in the first place.  The metaphor of light points to the back-and-forth movement of reflection that is ultimately responsible both for the curbs and the mirroring that exposes such curbs as subjective.  The light of ethical reflection drives more deeply into the ultimate grounds for the law that binds.  It recognizes that the recognition of this law as driven by the subject is itself short-lived and ultimately irrational.  How indeed could it be that that ethical reality that seems so close to me, that reality that governs my behavior with respect to others, simply is a projection of me? 

    After the heteronomy of the code is seen to rest in the autonomy of the subject, the subject realizes finally that there is no longer otherness, that the ought has been vanquished, and accordingly, that the deepest experience of human beings being confronted by what they ought to do -- and their not living up that ought -- is wholly counterfeit. What an irrational world the projecting self inhabits! The very experience of ought that seemingly separates human beings from the higher beasts is itself grounded upon nothing.  It tokens nothing deeper.  It is simply an unfortunate result of not taking mirroring seriously enough.  \While men and women can reason from what they want to how to get it, reason does not operate at all in establishing what they ought to want.

    But here again the light shines forth. It is a light that takes up the immediate code and its negation into a higher synthesis.  It is a light that allows reason to operate not as a cipher of the self's desires, but as the logos speaking a divine order.  The light draws us more deeply into conversation.  It makes us ask how parts of the code fit together and for whom parts of the code are privileged. It asks us questions of moral theory and ethics. It distinguishes types of consequentialism and compares these types with deontological perspectives. The light seeks a comprehensive theory to stand behind the curb, a theory which points to the incapacity of the self to account ultimately for the experience of the curb. 

    In the reflection of the light, we are drawn into the deeper questions of morality and ethics, questions that drive us to admit that we are not who we ought to be, and that we are not ultimately who we now are -- questions that cannot be entertained without entering deeply into the tragedy of our current situation of not being able to affirm deeply that Ground and Abyss that we cannot finally deny.  '

    Human beings find themselves in fields of meaning, purpose and value that point to the Divine deeply hidden within the fissures of broken experience itself.  The light which lightens the curb and its mirror is a light whose reason is ultimately ontological, it pertains to the Being of the hidden God whose absence is present in a forgotten Cross on a lonely hill, a Cross in which time itself briefly nested.  And so it is that Curb and Mirror unite in that light that shows itself as Word.  The heteronomous and autonomous have both been cancelled yet preserved in a uneasy theonomy.  Ultimately, the Curb and Mirror must be understood from the standpoint of the Light, a light forever constituting itself as the divine in, under, around and beyond human life itself.

    Sunday, January 23, 2022

    The Heideggerian Engine: A Glimpse Under the Hood

    In four days I shall begin taking another group of students through Heidegger's epic book, Being and Time.  What should they know when beginning the journey?  What words of wisdom do I have as they embark?

    I think that the best thing I might say is that reading Heidegger is not about imparting knowledge at all. It is not a book fundamentally about things, but a book that happens in its reading. One might say that it is a text that happens in the happening of reading itself. 

    The philosophy of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) is often thought to be exceedingly difficult to grasp. Heidegger is a philosopher using the language of the philosophical tradition, but using it in ways that many regard as strikingly idiosyncratic. Clearly, we all know what being is, or at least we thought we knew before reading Heidegger. In fact, prior to reading Heidegger we might be tempted to believe some explanation is occurring in the following: 

    • X asks, "What is being?" 
    • Y responds, "That which is."  
    If we have read Plato and Aristotle, we perhaps are prone to contrast the realm of being somehow with that of becoming. Plato thought being was stable and eternal, the kind of thing that can be known as something discrete and definite.  Aristotle regarded primary substances as the locus classicus of being. There are things that are, that are stable enough to carry properties, sometimes contrary properties over time. This particular cat is now hungry and later is sated. Bill is in Florence and now in Athens. The United States once had 13 states and now has 50. This seems simple enough, but Heidegger exposes the complexity of such simplicity.  

    As a boy on an Iowa farm, I went into the barn and experienced life with animals. I experienced animals eating, drinking, congregating and defecating. Often they would be curious or frightened by me. Their life was part of the life of my five-year-old self.  I had not yet come to regard these animals as having some being apart from their basic intelligibility to me in the little world in which I dwelt. 

    I don't know when it happened exactly, but at some point I came to recognize the animals in my world as beings existing apart from me with particular properties that didn't depend upon me.  Heidegger would say that I now had fallen, that I had, in fact, adopted a pretty complex and ultimately unsupported view on things.  But I knew nothing then about the Verfallenheit in which I now found myself.  

    My father taught me that steers and heifers had to achieve a certain rate of gain in order for their lives among us to be profitable to us.  After all, we were farming, and we had to cashflow the animals.  Somehow we needed the market price of our animals to be greater than the feed we fed them, plus the labor we expended upon them, plus the costs of medical treatment for them, and some percentage of the cost of barns, fences and feeding mechanisms, manure spreaders, tractors and all of the rest of it. 

    Farm kids soon learn that different breeds of animals have different properties, e.g., temperaments, disease resistance, ease of birth, propensities to convert feed into weight gain. It is important in livestock husbandry that one knows the properties animals have apart from us because the very profitability of one's enterprise depends upon such knowledge. I learned many things on the farm about animals, machinery, tilling practices and efficiencies, mechanical qualities of machinery, and the nature of the greatest variable for successful farming: the weather.  

    I learned about cold and warm fronts, low and high pressure systems, and the related possibilities of precipitation and storms when lows, highs and fronts were located in particular places and had particular qualities. I thought about the conditions leading to drought and the possibilities of those conditions manifesting themselves given the current macro conditions. I wanted to know about the processes of weather in themselves. I had adopted a view of things, in which things were the more real the less meaningful they were to me. 

    Maybe all of this led me to want at an earlier time in my life to be a scientist, actually I dreamt of becoming a physicist. I was deeply intrigued about the in itself of things, and believed that mathematics could describe that in itself and predict future changes in it. I remember watching the Feynman Lectures on Physics in my Honors Physics class as a college freshman.  I was intrigued about special and general relativity, about cosmology, about the fundamental laws of nature that determine the very contour of the in itself.  

    Perhaps all of this made my first reading of Heidegger difficult.  Although I did not know it, I was deeply committed to a substance ontology quite early in life.  I thought the world consisted of objects that somehow self-identify as the objects they are, and I believed that these self-identifying objects (substances) could possess modifications while still being the substances they were.  In other words, I believed that substances could contingently take on differing properties while remaining what they essentially were.  

    Early on in life, I already bought the distinction between necessary essential properties and contingent accidental properties. There was something that made me who I was -- or so I thought -- and that which made me who I was continued to perform its function apart from whether I wore my hair long or short, or whether I even had hair.  

    It seemed the most natural thing to me that the world would be what it is apart from me, and that my dealings with the world, particularly my knowing of it, did not change the world. The worldhood of the world was, accordingly, logically, ontologically and epistemically independent from my subjective apprehension of it -- or so I assumed. 

    Accordingly, I was from a rather early age committed to the subject/object dichotomy.  As a knowing substance, I was that upon which the objectivity of the world manifested its effects.  The world was filled with substances being themselves, I was a substance being myself, and my substance was the subject in relationship to objects apart from me being substances in themselves.  As I said, all of this made my early reading of Heidegger difficult.  

    What, after all, was Heidegger getting at in his phenomenological description of the world? Was he not finally describing the color, the projection of my subjectivity on the objects of a quite colorless world?  When I first read Heidegger I thought, "How can he escape idealism?  How can he not be committed to the assertion that the properties of my substance -- of the substance if one is an objective idealist -- are what they are, and that these properties determine the contour of the world so encountered?  Is this not simply another rerun of Kant's "Copernican Revolution?" 

    But I will admit that I missed what was fundamental. By looking for something profoundly transcendental, I simply could not see what was before my eyes.  The mystique of Heidegger, the engine propelling his thinking, is nothing transcendental or profound at all. I could not see under the hood in those days, and had I seen I might have judged then that the car had no engine at all! 

    I had to go back to my five-year-old self to see it, and those steps backwards did not seem to me to be steps forward at all.  I struggled with Heidegger's technical German vocabulary, hoping to find in his technical philosophical terms something foundantional, some ground upon which his philosophy was based. I searched for some deep ontological commitment or some fundamental presupposition that would explain what he was saying and why he was saying it. In all of this, I simply overlooked the fact that my five-year-old self would not have searched for, nor understood, what an ontological commitment or a fundamental presupposition even was.  

    What Heidegger was inviting me to do in Being and Time was simply to look around me and notice everything I constantly overlooked and ignored. If there is any fundamental presupposition he has, it is simply this: Notice where you are and what you are doing. Even at five, I knew the way of the farm; I knew the smells, the rhythms, the places I could walk and the things I could do. These comprised my world, the world in which I found myself and the world in which I dwelt. I knew the way to the house, to the table, to my bedroom. When it rained I found myself under a roof, and when it snowed I wore my boots and mittens. String from mom's sewing box was that which made the barn cats excited. Barn hay was that in which new kittens were encountered.The rock on the barn ledge next to the milk cow was that by which ice in the pan was broken.  

    How effortlessly I navigated the complexities of it all! I could "get around" on the farm; I knew how to deal with things. Of course, I did not abstractly know that there was a context that allowed my dealings, and I did not conceive that this context was part of my culture which itself was related to history.  My five-year-old self had neither read Dilthey nor Troeltsch -- I did not read much in those days -- so was unaware of the "historical problem" as a problem, but that did not matter.  I had agency, I could act and somehow my actions made sense in my farm world.  

    My reading of Being and Time began to give me language to talk about my more primordial "gettings around" in the world, my facility to deal with the wholly meaningful world in which I found myself.  Heidegger taught me that human be-ing is that be-ing in and for which be-ing is at issue.  The word 'Dasein' even connotes this; I am being 'there' or 'here'.  Prior to any grown-up conception of the world in which I am a subject confronted by objects, I live a world of meaning and purpose.  It is only when reflecting on this world of meaning and purpose that I am aware of the clearing that is my being and the world's worldness all together. Heidegger calls all of this being-in-the-world, meaning that my be-ing, is a be-ing that already has a world. There is no world without be-ing in it, and there is no be-ing without a world to be in.  The 'in' is not a spatial term, but is what Heidegger terms an existential.  I am a being, who in my be-ing, is be-ing-in-the- world.  Accordingly, my being is being-in-the-world.  

    Before I read Heidegger seriously, I had read books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the Crack in the Cosmic Egg.  It is probably the case that I never did understand exactly what it was to "overcome the subject-object dichotomy" recommended in those books because I simply already knew that there were subjects and objects.  How does one overcome that which is?  I had also read Eliade on Eastern religious traditions and knew that moksha and nirvana got us to places where we were no longer isolated subjects, but could somehow become simply a "drop in the cosmic ocean."  But none of this actually dislodged my own commitment to substance ontology. One might say that such a commitment only dies with violence.  These texts were not violent enough. 

    But I see it, and Heidegger wants you to see it as well. He wants you to look under the hood of your commitments about being, to the be-ing that is be-ing in and through your commitments about being. Heidegger wants to give you an "a ha" experience, and the koan he chants is substance ontology itself. So what is the sound of one hand clapping? So how can an isolated subject build a bridge to the external world?  How indeed?  

    Read Being and Time freshly by taking off your glasses of substance ontology. Look and see what it is to be.  To be is actually everything we do in the everyday.  We get around pretty well, and there must be some structure to this getting around. What are then the ontological possibilities of our being which allow any of our concretely actual gettings around in the world?  It is here, I admit, that the smell of the transcendental returns.  

    Heidegger is a philosopher, after all, and his description of getting around in A-fashion or getting around in B-fashion finally must lead him to ask what is common to A-fashion getting around and B-fashion getting around.  In a faint echo of Kant who asked about the transcendental conditions for the possibility of experience as such, Heidegger asks about the ontological conditions which make possible the actuality of what he calls the ontic, the actual and concrete what is in which one deals in one's world.  What might it be to uncover the conditions for the possibility of any dealings, conditions which are endemic to experience as such, conditions which are deeper than person X or Y or fashion A or B?  

    I will write more later, but for now simply enjoy reading Being and Time, my students, and be ready for adventure! 

    Saturday, November 13, 2021

    Transcendental Self-Reference, Spirit and God

    I remember distinctly my first reading of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I had learned about the semantic distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments, and the epistemological distinction between a priori and a posteriori judgments. Kant famously asked in the Critique about the legitimacy of synthetic a priori judgments, that is, judgments that are not dependent upon empirical experience in which, nevertheless, the meaning of the predicate is not included in the meaning of the subject. Traditional metaphysics consists in such synthetic a priori judgments, and for a host of reasons, Kant concludes that traditional metaphysics built on synthetic a priori judgments is wholly dubious. No amount of thinking things through conceptually can add to knowledge. For knowledge to occur, intuitions (that which is given through sensibility) are necessary. Kant does argue, however, that geometry and arithmetic has recourse to the pure forms of intuition, i.e., space and time, and that both are justified as synthetic a priori endeavors. 

    Kant thus admitted that there are analytic a priori judgments, propositions that are analytically true, and he allowed for synthetic a posteriori judgments, empirical propositions known on the basis of experience alone.   He denied that analytic a priori judgments exist, and was thus left with the question of the synthetic a priori. The results of the Critique are that the traditional synthetic a priori judgments of metaphysics are  unwarranted, but that the synthetic a priori judgments appearing in geometry and arithmetic are permissible. 

    I remember being troubled the first time I read The Crique of Pure Reason by the transcendental analysis he undertakes. He is writing a book, after all, that is making claims about the transcendental structure of things, a book seemingly claiming a transcends structure that might be known. Clearly, this knowledge is neither empirical knowledge constituted by synthetic a posteriori judgments, nor is this knowledge merely dealing with the  conceptual, that is, the results of analytic a priori judgments. So what is this knowledge? Prima facie, Kant believes these transcendental structures hold, that he (and we) are justified in holding they exist -- he speaks often of the warrant for his claims about the necessary conditions for the possibility of experience as such -- and that we should believe they obtain.  

    Knowledge of the existence and structure of the transcendental unity of apperception must be a matter of synthetic a priori propositions, I thought, but this seems incorrect, because Kant had just proved that synthetic a priori judgments are legitimate only in the fields of arithmetic and geometry, and the structure of the transcendental unity of apperception is neither a matter of arithmetic or geometry. So what is it?  Clearly, it is not traditional metaphysics either. Kant spends much ink in showing that traditional metaphysics dealing with the transcendent is bankrupt because it employs synthetic a priori judgments beyond the realm of possible experience. It is clear that the transcendental structure Kant explores is  prior to the transcendent, for it is through his exploration of the transcendental that we are warranted in drawing the limits of the synthetic a priori

    German philosophy after Kant clearly understood the great philosopher's critique of metaphysics, but also grasped the transcendental conditions for the possibility of this critique. Kant knew that there was no warrant to claim that the "I" was a substance as Descartes had supposed. But his transcendental investigation had indeed uncovered the presence of a transcendental unity of apperception, a unity of experience that was not an experience of unity as Descartes had thought. So what is the ontological nature of this transcendental unity that is not a unity within the transcendent? How can we know it? What language can speak about it? 

    Questions of epistemology, ontology and semantics arise immediately with regard to putative transcendental structures. The German Idealists strove mightily to bring into focus the dynamism of the transcendental. Hegel's critique of Shelling was based not upon which philosophical system was more felicitous, but rather on which was true. It is clear to anybody reading Hegel that he is making truth claims, claims that are presupposed in his treatment of absolute knowledge. Obviously, these claims cannot be divorced from questions of being and meaning. 

    The problem of knowing transcendental structures involves self-reference because it is an act within the transcendental unity of apperception to know that transcendental unity. The phenomenologists were also acutely aware of the problem of intending structures of consciousness that are utilized in intentionality itself. Although the 20th century positivist tradition attempted to leave behind these problems of self-reference by limiting knowledge to the positive sciences, their attempt to limit such knowledge to these sciences clearly was not something that could be known factually through these sciences. In divers and sundry ways, the intellectual tradition, since the days of Descartes, has had to do with paradox. We might say that the paradox of self-reference has been at the center of all the paradoci generated by the Enlightenment: After all, how is it possible to know X, when knowing X seems ultimately to rest upon what X is? Simply put, what is the epistemic and ontological status of the form of thinking, when that form seems to deal with the very matter of thinking.  

    The German tradition understood that the Geisteswissenschaften differ from the Naturwissenschaften.  While in the latter, we can safely assume that the thinking form independently grasps (and structures) the matter of the thing thought, in the former the grasping is of that which itself grasps; it is a grasping through forms that it itself is! It is nature of spirit to relate itself to itself in these ways. When grasping what is the nature of human being, human be-ing is involved in the grasping. Martin Heidegger famously spoke of Dasein -- which includes human be-ing -- as that being, who in its be-ing, has be-ing at issue for it. There is no view from the outside when it comes to examining the basic structure of human be-ing, for asking the question belongs to the basic structure of human be-ing. Any asking of the ontological question is immanent to the ontology of the questioner.

    So it is that we talk about the spirit that constitutes human be-ing. It is the nature of this spirit to question and seek to know about itself. To know who we are means to know the one who seeks to know who we are. To know ourselves is to know ourselves in the process of knowing ourselves, and knowing our knowing of ourselves. This knowing of ourselves as the knowers of ourselves constitutes the spirit that is us. Aristotle conceived God as thought thinking itself. Human beings are beings who are be-ing in their relationship to their own be-ing. It is the nature of spirit to be itself subjectively when relating to itself objectively. Spirit in-itself is being ultimately in-itself when spirit is being for-itself, that is, spirit is that relation between subject and object that can neither be described either as subject or object. Spirit in-itself takes up the subjective spirit in-itself and the objective spirit for-itself.  Hegel was clearly not wrong on any of this, if we have the perseverance and patience to think what he thought. 

    So if the paradox of self-reference pushes towards human beings being spirit, trinunely constituted as beings forever what they are in relationship to what they are in-itself and for-itself, then why would we think God to  be otherwise?  It is the nature of the Triune God to relate Himself to what God is in Himself and how God expresses Himself as other than that self. We use the word "Spirit" to talk about the life of God, a life forever relating God to God. Divine knowledge involves the same dialectics of self-reference that confronts human beings. God is God in relating God to God. We are who we are in relation to ourselves. We know ourselves dynamically as we find ourselves in that which is other than ourselves.  God too finds His full divine life in relating to that which is other than God. 

    There is much here about which to be careful in its saying because I do not want to fall victim to the historical heresies in thinking or speaking God.  However, it is clear that the life of both human beings and the divine is a spiritual life, and that these parallel lives have something to do with the problem of self-reference: Where can one find a position outside of the life of God or human beings from which to describe the life of God or human beings? Any attempt to find that position outside of the life from which to describe the life is an illusion, a fallacy of aseity. Such a fallacy ignores the paradox of self-reference. Gods and human beings have a similar spiritual structure. To grasp them as objects means not to so grasp them. Both are objects, whose being it is to be subjects forever related to themselves objectively. 

    Given that human beings are spiritual beings, and the God they seek has spiritual divine life, how might it be that God and human being might relate to each other? Clearly, the answer is that the relationship is a spiritual one. While human beings in their be-ing can have their own be-ing at issue for them, they cannot in their own being have divine be-ing at issue for them. The life of God cannot be reflected in human spiritual life without human spiritual life being gifted with a new subjective standpoint, a subjectivity that is provided different capabilities, a subjectivity that can now grasp (however obliquely) the objectivity of God -- not a human projection or chimera -- a subjectivity that is a divine subjectivity gifted to human beings. Human access to God demands the elevation of standpoint that is best characterized as a human participation in the life of God.  

    The deepest paradox of human life is that the standpoint we must employ in the grasping of our lives is always underdetermined by the life we grasp.  In this position, there could never be hope that human beings might relate to God. But as the theological tradition has always taught, it is God's Spirit that constitutes the conditions for human beings to relate to God. Clearly, as Luther said, "it is not by our own reason or strength that we might believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and come to him . . . "