Monday, July 04, 2022

Grounding Ethical Vision and Mission Statements

Some of us at the Institute of Lutheran Theology will soon be engaged in consulting work to institutions and businesses to aid them in casting their own ethical mission and vision statements. The increasing use of sophisticated algorithms by companies and institutions have created new situations in which the institution or business ends up treating managers, employees and customers in new ways, yet ways that are not the result of individual people making decisions to treat these managers, employees and customers in new ways. 

People who write computer code construct algorithms that function as decision procedures. For instance, in writing an algorithm for a self-steering car, the coder has to program the car to do certain things given certain inputs. The idea is that the program will give an output as a function of the present state of the machine and relevant inputs it has while in this state. The car would not presumably move to crash into the motorcycle to its left, if it had not already been in states of danger for some time, and if this option had not been coded in as the best response to a certain sequence of danger states given some new driving inputs.   

It is very clear to me that thinking about helping businesses and institutions do ethics on the ground is a different activity than teaching ethics to students at the university. In some ways, it is much more challenging because we deal here not with hypothetical scenarios, but with real flesh and blood human beings. 

When teaching ethics at the university, I always tried to deal with the standard normative ethical theories and the meta-ethical challenges to those theories. This meant that I always dealt with Aristotelian-inspired virtue theory, utilitarianism, Kantian-inspired deontological theory, and divine command or divine will theory.  

Standardly, I treated as well the meta-ethical challenges to normative ethics: ethical subjectivism, ethical emotivism, psychological egoism, and ethical relativism. I introduced ethical intuitionism in light of the Open Question argument proffered by G.E. Moore, and discussed the non-natural intuition of the good in Moore and the non-natural intuition of the right in Ross. There is not much time in one ethics course to do all of this, however, so I made sure to cover the standard four normative ethical approaches.   

Aristotelian-inspired virtue theory is an ethics of self-actualization or realization which attempts to understand the excellence of human beings in terms of human dispositions to behave, that is human habits. In a society like ancient Athens where there was deep agreement on what the good is, there was agreement on what traits or characteristics human beings ought to have to be good. If the telos of human beings is their happiness, that is their "total human flourishing," then one should seek to cultivate those intellectual and moral virtues, that is, those "powers of the soul" whereby human beings together can profoundly flourish. To grow the intellectual and moral virtues is to increase in human excellence and to realize the good.   

Utilitarianism espouses a consequentialism; it claims that the goodness or badness of an act is a function of its likely consequences. There are many kinds of utilitarians. One can be a hedonistic utilitarian who understands the good in terms of crude pleasure, or perhaps a eudaimonian utilitarian identification ing the good with higher human values.  Accordingly, the good is not simply pleasure, but the happiness of human flourishing in general. One can be a global or universal utilitarian claiming that the act should bring about the greatest happiness for everyone in general, or could be a regional or local utilitarian claiming that the utilitarian calculation should privilege some particular group or community. One must also distinguish between an act and a rule utilitarian in that while the first holds that the direct consequences of the particular concrete act are what is ethically relevant, the second argues that it is the rule that the particular act falls under that ultimately determines its goodness or badness.  

The deontological perspective claims that acts or good and bad of themselves apart from their consequences. Kant most famously argued for the categorical imperative, a formal principle by which an act's moral properties obtain apart from any hypothetical antecedents. Kant claimed two subjective maxims of this categorical imperative: 1) so act such that your act could in principle be universalized, and 2) so act such that you always treat the other as an end-in-themselves and not as a means to your end.  

Finally, divine command or divine will ethics claims divine primal intentionality determines the rectitude of an act. It is incumbent on S to do P if and only if God wills P (to be done be S). Divine will ethical theories must then give an account both of the nature of the divine will itself and of our epistemic access to it.  

But none of these normative theories work very well in our present context actually to inform ethical decision-making. The problem is that people disagree rather profoundly on the presuppositions upon which such theories are based. 

For instance, the plausibility of virtue ethics famously depends upon a basic agreement in the community about what the good life is.  Aristotle said that a good person is one that does the good and that the good is that which good people do. This makes sense if there are not competing moral visions within a society. Notice, however, that even if their is near unanimity about what the good is, the theory does seem prone always to the critique launched by Luther and others. Focussing on virtue-building places the action on the self. Cultivating our moral virtues as part of self-realization towards maximal human excellence puts the action on the side of the subject. She or he must train themselves to evince the suitable dispositions to behave, and such training is ultimately the result of what James once called "the dull heave of the will." 

But part of what it is to live morally, it seems, is to be not reflecting upon oneself all of the time.  Yet the ethic of self-realization places the focus of the self on the self as that self endeavors to cultivate the proper dispositions that constitute character,  those general habitualizations that constitute our moral excellence.  
There are deep problems with utilitarianism as well. As it turns out, calculating likely consequences from an act or rule utilitarian perspective makes many positions questionable because we really don't know what the real consequences of our actions are. Claiming that it is probable that act X issues in consequences P is not granular enough it seems.  Would we not need to know precisely what that probability is in order to do the utilitarian calculus rightly?  Moreover, discriminating what the good is, e.g., pleasure, cultivation of virtue, human flourishing, is itself not amenable to utilitarian calculation.

Recall that Bentham claimed that the Principle of Utility need not be argued for because, as it turns out, the principle objectively obtains, and that we humans simply do act in accordance with it. While this is plausible if one is a universal hedonistic act utilitarian perhaps, it is not the case if one is a regional eudaemonistic act or rule utilitarian.  We need some independent philosophical argument, it seems, to say with Mill against Bentham that it is better to be a dissatisfied human being than a sated pig.  Moreover, while the move to rule utilitarianism seems to protect utilitarianism in general from crude counterexamples, it might be asked whether rule utilitarianism does not abandon utilitarianism altogether.  Clearly, the claim that S ought to do act X if and only if X were in accordance with rule R that, if it itself were universally instantiated, would conduce to the maximum distribution of happiness is itself consistent with act X itself causing great pain or unhappiness to S. But this seems like an abandonment of utilitarianism entirely.  

Notice as well that utilitarian calculations place the moral action in our own reasoning. We must calculate the likely consequences of an act or rule, and only after such calculation can we determine how to treat the person standing in front of us. Again, it seems like this kind of moral reflection places the action within the echo chamber of our subjectivity. We do X because we have done the suitable calculus and, on the basis of the kind of utilitarian we are, we can determine that it is rational to do X.  How my doing X impacts Bob who stands before me, is relevant only insofar as I can describe the doing of X in ways that take into consideration the consequences for Bob of my doing of X. 
Our friend Kant gets us to consider the noumenality of duty, and asks us if we can conceive that one ought to do X in the absence of one's freedom to do other than X. We are then told that we should treat others as ends in themselves and not as means because others are denizens of the same kingdom of ends we ourselves occupy. He argues that we must not act in ways that end in moral contradiction. For instance, if I were knowingly to lie, then I must accede that it might be a general moral law that people could lie. But if this were a general moral law, then dissimulation itself could not be specified, because there would be no institution of truth-telling from which lying diverges. This is all pretty heavy stuff, but it is what pure reason does when it is concerned with the practical.  Pure practical reason is human reason set free to investigate what we ought to do mostly unimpeded by historical and cultural conditions.  
Finally, there is divine will theory of either the static or dynamic variety.  Since the latter is demonstrably incoherent, this leaves the former, and clearly it is a matter of reason to discern what the divine command is, and whether we have a duty to do it. One cannot in our post-Christian context simply assume that there is a divine being whose primal intentionality on creation is objectively the case, and whose intentional objectivity is epistemically accessible to human beings.  
In other words, if we want to cast ethical mission and vision statements in the business world by getting people to affirm the objective reality of the ethical and getting them to see that it is rational to accept that they have epistemic access to it, then we shall have a very steep hill to climb in accomplishing our ethical work. 

In Lutheran fashion, one might think that ethical theory provides the light by which the law confronts us as a curb on what we would otherwise want to do, a mirror by which to apprehend our own moral inadequacies, and a guide as to how we should comport ourselves. The light clearly is where the action is. In classical theology it is the primordial divine intentionality manifesting itself in the eternal law, the light of the universe itself. One can connect this light to Wisdom as it was prior to the creation of the world and ultimately to the logos.  
When I was a graduate student, I studied meta-ethics because I already did not believe one could do normative ethics without first getting clear on the sources, grounds, and methods of ethical adjudication.  My meta-ethics class one summer was with an excellent professor whose constructive contribution to the course was to point out that the only motive one could possibly have to do X from a meta-ethical standpoint was that the doing of X was conceptually tied to the desire to do X. From the standpoint of analytical ethics, he might be right. In other words, we are left with a psychological egoism functioning underneath meta-ethical reflection.  
I think I was a pretty good ethics teacher for undergraduate students because I could generate scenarios quite easily on the spot and I was able to keep their attention. The problem, of course, was that normative ethics is unfortunately today in many respects a fool's game. I don't mean that the theories are necessarily wrong, but rather they are all inadequate either when confronting complicated ethical situations we presently face or when they are placed against our moral intuitions. The longer I taught ethics, I found myself actually asking students to consult their moral intuitions as a way to test the normative theories we introduced. I straightforwardly suggested to them that their moral intuitions should function as data for ethical theory-making.  
But I knew that this gets it all wrong. Isn't normative ethics supposed to tell us what is the case? Ought it not trump moral intuitions altogether? Should it not function pedagogically to teach us what moral intuitions are worth having?  We don't form ethical theories in order to be applicable and adequate to ethical data, but rather to give us the principles by which we might act and value.  
Towards the end of my teaching of ethics I developed a rather elaborate way to think about normative ethics, replete with suitable defeaters. Additionally, I would argue that when there was a conflict between utilitarian and deontological perspectives, one had to go outside theory and evaluate the situation from a standpoint external to either theory.  Of course, here one could not help but privilege one's own moral intuitions again. If such a view from above the normative ethical conflicts is not to be a view from nowhere, then that view must be informed by something concrete.  But what could this be if not our moral intuitions? 
Often in teaching ethics, I would discuss G.E. Moore's famous Open Question argument that purports to show that any analysis of the good in terms of natural properties -- actually any properties -- leaves us in the situation of asking with sense if it is good that the good is so analyzed.  G. E. Moore was an ethical intuitionist because of this argument, and I do confess to believing that his comparing the instrinsicality of yellow with the the intrinsicality of the good a first-rate philosophical move. Just as we can identify yellow without conceptually stating its necessary and sufficient conditions, so we might identify the good without being able to give an analysis of it in terms of something more basic.  
It strikes me today that a new approach is needed if we are ever going to get outside of the philosophy classroom when contemplating the ultimate grounds for corporate ethical vision and mission statements. Emmanuel Levinas' notion of the immediacy (and transcendence) of the Other, despite its philosophical complexity, might actually be able to be explained simply to people today-- people within institutions and corporations alike -- who have lost their way among the endeavor to justify what it is that is good and right.  Most of the people we shall speak with in framing corporate ethical vision and mission statements will not seriously ask for the philosophical grounds why the torturing of children is wrong. They will already know it wrong.

Levinas' notion of the exteriority of the ethical, the demand of the Other upon us through the immediacy of the face can provide a way to adjudicate simple ethical questions like the torture of innocent children. Looking into the face of a child and torturing him or her is for most people simply unthinkable. One does not need to plunge into one's own subjectivity -- Levinas called the self and its ontology the realm of the same, the realm of totality -- to ground a demand not to torture. The demand needs no grounding in ethical principles that themselves presuppose ontology, rather the demand is simply given in the face and eyes of the Other.  
Maybe the light we seek in the doing of ethics can be found in the face of the Other, the face which places a demand upon all of us, including managers of algorithms and writers of code. Maybe we don't have to get much deeper than that with people with whom we work. If pushed we can say we are committed to the view that the social situation with its concomitant primacy of ethical demand needs no further justification.  Wittgenstein said, of course, that the spade must stop somewhere.
We can use Levinas' starting point and build defendable, albeit somewhat superficial, but ultimately communicable ethical positions for institutions and businesses. In certain contexts we can do what Levinas does: connect the face of the Other with God through the notion of a trace.  We can always say we could go deeper if we have to. By emphasizing the exteriority of ethics we guard ourselves from falling into some totalizing project of justifying the very nature of ethics to ourselves or whoever might listen before we can deal with the concrete person standing before us. This will get us to the practical much more quickly, and give our audiences a sense that we know what we are doing as consultants without taking them through a 300 level class in philosophical ethics.  

At the end of the day in phenomenology generally one either sees the phenomena described or one does not. If the face of the child before us does not move us out of our own freedom to a position of responsibility for that child, then it is doubtful that an appeal to normative ethical theory will do so. At the end of the day, it seems, the demand of the Other upon us cannot be given an analysis in terms of some set of necessary and sufficient conditions.  While the word 'Infinite' would not have been used by Moore to characterize this non-natural intuition of the good, his claim of the irreducibility of the Good is of the same spirit as Levinas.  Both were, after all, inspired by Plato, whose Good was the presupposition both of the forms and our access to them.  

Plato's Good constitutes, with Levinas, the priority of metaphysics over ontology. The latter is ultimately an affair of the self, but the former points away from the self and towards the divine.  Levinas and Plato document that "invisible desire" towards that which is other than the self, a desire not born of a need or lack within the self, but an ecstatic desire to transcend entirely the self and its machinations. Ultimately, both knew that salvation consists not in a being otherwise, but rather in that which is otherwise than being

Monday, June 20, 2022

ILT Commencement Address June 2022

It was an honor to offer the first commencement address for the Institute of Lutheran Theology's graduates from Christ School of Theology and Christ College on Thursday, June 16, 2022.  There were 14 students who walked last week.  Congratulations all!  


Grace and peace to you in the Name of the Risen Lord! 


You made it!  Some of you made it just this last semester, and some semesters long ago.  Regardless of when you completed your programs, we are proud of you!  


We just completed the ILT Board Meeting this morning. We talked about operations, policies, budgets and the future.  And we talked about you!  You are so very important to us, and I want you to remember this throughout what I shall say today. 


This summer some of my PhD students are reading two very important books from the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995): Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being.  Levinas in these texts does something bold and new. He claims, in fact, that most of the western intellectual tradition has simply missed what is completely obvious: There is much more to things than just our thinking about them, our categorizing, explaining and knowing of them. 


There is the Other, he argues, that which is truly not-I, but is irreducibly more than merely not being I. Levinas claims, in fact, that the Other is infinite; we can never think deeply enough or sense precisely enough to be able to grasp the Other as other than my grasping of it. We have an inexorable Desire for this Other, says Levinas. We want to escape our world and flee into it.   


This Other, declares Levinas, resists the Totality of the Same. It halts every effort to comprehend it. It confronts my life of freedom with demand.  I encounter the Other though the human Face. The Face and eyes of the Other place a demand upon me that limits the freedom of the world I have built and in which I dwell. According to Levinas, the Face of the Other is a trace of God. Accordingly, religion pertains to the irreducible, unbridgeable gap between my activity and my projects and the Face of the One whose meeting cannot be comprehended in and through my activity and my projects. 


The Other meets me as demand, but every fiber of my being wants to deny the pull of the Other and to make the Other into the Same, that is, into more of me. Accordingly, I who am drawn to the world of the Other, want a world without an Other, for I can dwell comfortably in such a world. I am quite at home in the sameness of my world until the Other’s nomadic sojourn, until this Stranger arrives. The Other announces itself to me in and through my discomfort. Now I, who am no longer at home, must have a face-to-face encounter with one who is not of my world. 


Levinas has a particular take on the philosophical notion of transcendence.  His teachers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger thought mightily on this topic. Husserl believed that the I transcends itself when it knows what is not it. Because consciousness is directed toward an object, conscious life is ecstatic.  To be conscious, to be self-conscious, is to be conscious of that which is not the self.  In Husserlian talk, every noetic act has noematic content, and all noematic content presuppose a noetic act.  


His student Heidegger too was concerned with transcendence.  Human being is that “being-there” which is being-always-already-in-a-world.  To be is to have a world in which to be.  Human existence for Heidegger is thus ecstatic.  To be is to be always already outside oneself. There is no bare identity to the self.  The self is the self in being other than a mere self. It is what it is in the world which it is not.  


Levinas thought that both Husserl and Heidegger were not bold enough in conceiving transcendence.  He argued that both philosophers ultimately tried to understand the Other on the basis of the same, and thus never really go to the Other at all. Instead Levinas opts for a real encounter with the Other, an Other that can be no part of the Same.  We live, dream, plan and execute in the Totality of the Same.  Our lives, dreams, plans and deeds are the deposits of our own freedom.  We are comfortable. Then comes the Other from a place outside the Same, an Other that pushes us beyond ourselves, beyond the boundaries of the Same. We transcend toward the Other.  


In the Face of the Other, in the vulnerability of his or her eyes, I am lifted beyond my own projects. I am no longer the one I seemingly inescapably am, no longer the one trapped in the freedom and comfort of my self-narrative. The Other grants me an ecstasis beyond being all I can be, beyond being who I authentically am, beyond being the one who in its being lives the possibility of no more being. The Other seizes me and all my dreams of self and Same are shattered.


So what does the relation between the Same and Other have to do with you who graduate from ILT?  Why have I started my commencement speaking by speaking in such a way? 


You have all been to graduations, and you know the drill. Graduation day is the day to talk about the graduates, their lives as students, their overcoming of adversity, their accomplishments, skills, dreams, and opportunities.  Graduation Day celebrates the student after years of emphasizing the professors.  Graduation day is pregnant with future possibilities.  


But the President of the Institute of Lutheran Theology cannot talk about you in this way. Why?


Because you are neither your possibilities nor your actualities. You are, in fact, not you. You are beings who in your being are ecstatically connected with something not of your world. Accordingly, you are beings who shall preach and teach without a career. You are beings who shall pray and serve in denial of searching for or finding yourselves.  You are beings who are not who you are, but are only in pushing beyond to what you are not.  


Let me make this clear. ILT has not prepared you to live fully, but rather to come and die. ILT has not offered you opportunities to get ahead in life, but has pushed you to the edge of life.  ILT has not given you courage to be yourself, but has robbed you of the illusion of self.  Why say such things on this day of days?  


When Christ calls a person, He calls that person to come and die. This death is the death of the self, the end of the Totality of the Same, the abnegation of the creaturely life of enjoyment within the Father’s creation. This Call from the Stranger, from the One who perpetually sojourns, is a call to live outside the self and upon the boundary, it is a call back from the monotony of being into the rupture of meta-physics, a call to that which is beyond physics and all its being. 


Let me make this even more clear. ILT is not about its students, its faculty, its curriculum, its staff, its Board, its alumni or its donors. ILT is not about ILT. ILT is not at all about the Totality of the Same, but rather about the ecstasy of the Other. ILT is about that which ruptures all of its own projects.  ILT is in the call toward what is not. ILT is about the Christ.  


Graduates of ILT, you have been called to extraordinary lives, because you are called to a life that ends your life. You have a serious task at hand, a task much more serious than your life. Your task is witness to that Other who displays His traces in the eyes and faces of those you encounter. The master lives in his own house, but the servant lives in another’s. You servants who face Faces of divine traces, have ultimately one and only one otherworldly task. You must listen!  


You, whose lives are not your own, you, who have no careers, you, who live the discomfort and displacement of all that makes you you, you must listen to a Word that cannot be your word, a Word that destroys your illusions to lead, a Word that  annihilates the deepest pleasures of Creation itself, a Word that seizes you,  strangles you, and suffocates the last vestiges of your own freedom, a Word otherly distant but proximately fascinating. 


What advice can I give graduates of ILT?  


Live in the ecstasy of this Word. Dwell not in the meadows of the Same, but rather in the desert of the Other. Listen to this Word from that place beyond being that calls you to a deep service of your neighbor, a call not built upon the reasonability of such service, but rather gifted by the absurdity of the call itself.  Live, hearing the Word that propels you to the ultimate boundary of this world, live the Word that demands, but loves in and through those demands.  

What advice can I give to graduates of ILT?  “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom.12:2), a renewing that can never be of this world, but can be only in being otherwise than being, can be only through the free grace of Jesus the Christ.  What I am saying should now be clear. Hear the Word that loves, graces, frees, transforms, and renews; hear this Word not as words about the Word but as the Word itself, as the Word that assumed flesh and dwelt among us.  Hear the Word whose doing in you drives you away from yourself and towards the Spirit, the Holy Spirit who will ultimately equip you for ministry.


Graduates, we have learned from you and have been changed by you.  Your faces among us have made us more than we are. Your time here was precious for us. We know that you are not ours, but His. We now wait, listening for the Word that words in and through your words. We wait as you preach, teach, and witness to that Other, an Other that sounds forth from where we ought to be, but can never find ourselves.  We wait as the Word that words in your words reclaims the Same for service of the Other, an Other who is wholly holy.  


We are created as nomads who profoundly prefer to wander in the labyrinths of the Other than settle in villages of the Same. But we have exchanged our birthright for a mass of pottage (Gen 25:29-34) and have become squatters upon the Same, thus erasing and defacing the Other. But then the Word spoken by your lips, graduates, speaks Truth. You are not your own, but His, so you need no longer worry about being you. 

So what ultimate good could come from the goodness of life when compared to wandering in the wilderness of the Holy? 


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.