Theological Territories (Hart)

Hart, David Bentley. Theological Territories: A David Bentley Hart Digest. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020.

This collection of essays reveals David Bentley Hart at his extreme best and extreme worst. In other words, it’s like everything else he has written.

Early Notes

Description of phenomenology: it always evokes a prior metaphysical deduction “because it always already assumes a metaphysical premise: that there is a real correlation between the givenness of the phenomena and the intentionality of the perceiver” (28).

Barthian theology sees God as a “Wholly Other,” thus reducing him to an aliud who is now posed “over against” creation. And if God is always “Wholly Other,” then he is always posed against the Other, which means creation is eternal. This is why Barthianism has always been caught in a dialectic of creation either being eternal or fallen.

Nicene metaphysics: abandoned the Middle Platonic hierarchy.  In this case Logos is no longer a lesser manifestation of a God who is beyond all manifestation. “It is in fact the eternal reality of God’s manifestation of his own essence to himself” (37).  The essence is a movement of infinite disclosure. He doesn’t relate to creation through a hierarchy of hypostases, but he is the “infinite act within and beyond every finite act.”

Bulgakov, Metaphysics, and Christology

This is where Hart’s reputation as a classical theist is on full display.  If Hart’s view of capital punishment is him at his worst. This is him at his best.  Of interest to Reformed readers is Hart’s interaction with Barthian scholar Bruce McCormack. While we have a proper distaste for Barth, McCormack is probably the sharpest Reformed thinker on Christology. The fact that McCormack is wrestling with Bulgakov and has appeared on Hart’s radar is something of note.

Sergius Bulgakov was a Russian theologian who was exiled by the Communists. He was easily the most profound thinker of the 20th century regarding God, creation, Christology, etc. Bulgakov realized that arbitrariness in “our understanding of the relation between divine transcendence and creation’s contingency” threatens both (58). This hinges on actuality and passivity.  God is an infinite God of pure act. He cannot be determined by unrealized potentiality.  

Hart summarizes the divine moments quite eloquently: “that infinite donation and surrender, that infinite receiving that is also the eternal constitution of the giver, that infinite outpouring in the other that is also the eternal being of God” (59).

Hart wants to avoid any conception of God as having a “gnomic” or deliberative will. If God has to deliberate, then creation constitutes for him a real relation, and therefore “a pathos that modifies his nature.”

God is pure actuality. He is “the source of every act of being” (61). “God does not require the indeterminacy of the possible in order to be free because he is not some particular determination of being, some finite reduction of potency to act.” 

Freedom and Universalism

You would expect me to argue against Hart that universalism is wrong.  That’s not my argument, though.  I’ll grant him the point for the time being.  I won’t even say, “Yeah, but what about Hitler?”  I’ll make it worse: will Hart and his disciples concede that Donald Trump will be in heaven?  I’ll take my leave then.

We should look at his comments on freedom, though.  He’s not entirely wrong and despite his sheer hatred of Calvinism, he sounds very Augustinian at times. Hart’s argument is that someone cannot freely and rationally choose the evil.  A purely libertarian act cannot be one of sheer chance or mechanical impulse (this is also Jonathan Edwards’ argument).  A truly free will, by contrast, is oriented towards the good.

Let’s not dismiss this argument too quickly.  While he hates Calvinism, Hart is not giving the same arguments that your typical free-willer does.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Science and Mind

This section is also quite good.  Even if I am a physical system, I am an intentional physical system, which is problematic for hard naturalists since intentionality is not a physical process.  Even worse, assuming evolution to be true, it cannot be reduced to pure physicality.  Evolution is unintentionally (pun, maybe) hierarchical, with more complex systems superimposing on less complex ones.  In short, I have reasons for being here and those reasons aren’t physical processes (131).

Science as science cannot tell us anything about science.  It engages in what Heidegger calls “ge-stell,” or framing: reducing the world to a collection of objects.  There is no ontological participation between the objects.

Intentionality: the mind knows by being actively disposed toward what lies outside of itself (169).

On Capital Punishment

This is Hart at his worst.  His essay is full of invective.  He comes across sneering.  This is doubly unfortunate since he actually scores some points on Greek vocabulary. His main argument is that the Christian is forbidden from retributive justice per the Sermon on the Mount.    That’s just the plain meaning of the passage, says Hart.  He does not allow similar hermeneutical charity to those who would go to the “plain meaning” of Romans 13.  I just want to focus on a few points:

1) I will grant to him that machairos doesn’t mean “sword of capital punishment,” but more like a police symbol.  Okay, that might be true.  The rest of the passage, though, does not admit Hart’s desire for “rehabilitative justice.”  This “state as police” is to be a “terror to evildoers.”  It cannot do that and rehabilitate them at the same time.

2) I can’t find the exact passage, but somewhere Hart says that Jesus never imagined the death penalty being used.  I can only plead Matthew 13.

3) Hart’s petty childishness comes out when Feser quotes Hart’s more Anabaptist view of state punishment: “Again and again, the New Testament demands of Christians that they exercise limitless forgiveness, no matter how grievous the wrong” (Hart, quoted by Feser).  Feser then gives the rhetorical counter: “We also have to refrain from punishing rapists, bank robbers, embezzlers, etc….The jails should be emptied” (quoted on p. 208).  Feser has correctly cited Hart’s beliefs.  How does Hart respond: “Twaddle…balderdash…I don’t need to explain a d*mned thing” (Hart 209).

Does this sound like an adult in control of his rational faculties?

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom should be more than just the negative freedom to say what I want.  It should be the freedom to orient the will towards the Good and True. There is an intrinsic good to which the mind strives.

Beauty and Being

Whatever else Thomas Aquinas meant by beauty, he was correct that Beauty is pleasing just simply by being seen.  A beautiful object must be complete and not lacking, its parts must be in proportion to each other, and it must be radiant (247).

Hart wants to go beyond this, and borrowing from Heidegger, he suggests a distinction between beauty and the event of beauty. Heidegger assimilates the event of beauty to the event of truth (249).  “This is one of those rare moments in Heidegger when the light momentarily breaks through the clouds and he not only asks the right question but comes close to giving the right answer.” We understand beauty in the same way that we understand how the distinction between being and beings is made manifest. Beauty is the excess of Being as being gives itself to us, like in a Bach concerto.  It is “a nimbus of utter gratuity” (250). This is also the language of “gift.” Beauty “shines out” as the sign and gift of that which transcends discrete beings.

This is similar to a Nicene ontology. As the other persons of the Trinity are coequal with the Father, there is no interval or gap that requires the Logos to be a lesser manifestation of the Father (252). “God’s eternal identity is convertible, without any reduction of degree, with his own manifestation of himself to himself.” As a result, creation becomes a free gift instead of a diminished manifestation.

On another note, while I generally don’t approve of Hart’s translation idiosyncrasies, I think he is quite close to the original context when it comes to the spirit realm.  In any case, he is far more accurate than those who think in the traditional manner of “angels vs. demons.”  There is a “realm of powers pervading this cosmos and mediating between it and the exalted, supercelestial realm of the truly divine, to theion.  The secondary, more proximate divine orders of daimones–genii, longaevi, aerial sprites, the ethereal and spiritual forces pervading nature, the rulers of the planetary spheres, the angelic or daemonic governors of nations….composed a whole unseen hierarchy” (365-366). We, on the other hand, are so numb to it we just call everything “angel” or “demon,” when usually they are neither.

I also like “vale of Abraham” (367). Hart runs into problems elsewhere on exactly where the “rich man” is, if not in torment.  Still, he marshals a number of classical sources that translate kolpos as vale or valley. His comparison with the Greek of 1 Enoch 22 is very interesting.  It is a series of four koiloi separated from each other.

Other notes:
Soul–life principle (374).

Spirit–able to exist outside the body.  Hart rejects a pure incorporeality, if only because soul and spirit are irreducibly local.  They aren’t physical, but we need to avoid later Cartesian readings.  It can be spatially extended without having physical magnitude.

Conclusion

This book gives you a “taste” of almost everything Hart has written, both good and bad, very good and very, very bad. Whenever Hart comes against a Christian tradition he doesn’t like, he dispenses with argument and just starts making fun of them. Ironically, this is a caricature of the very fundamentalists he so disdains.

There are some legitimately funny moments.  In critiquing an author for engaging in psychoanalysis, Hart writes, “Dilworth gratuitously [interjects] the observation that, in regard to this or that aspect of Jones’s life, ‘A Freudian might say…’ That is a sentence that need never be completed” (300).

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Cambridge Companion to Husserl

Smith, Barry and Smith, David Woodruff. Eds. The Cambridge Companion to Husserl. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Husserl is interesting because he was a continental philosopher who believed in universals and a mathematician who rejected later analytic approaches. His thought never achieved the profundity of a Hegel nor the clarity of a Russell.  Nonetheless, his comments on intentionality and essences have potential for a huge pay off in the mind-body problem debate.

Intro and Terminology

Phenomenology: deals with acts of consciousness in which objects are given or experienced (Smith and Smith 3).

Psychologism: the attempt to conceive all sub-disciplines of philosophy as branches of empirical psychology.

Functionalism: the mind is the software to the brain’s hardware.  Husserl would have rejected this (10).

Intentionality: this is the most important of Husserl’s concepts. It is the of-ness.  We are always thinking “of something,” conscious of something. Most importantly, it is not a spatial relation.  There is no “of-ness” you can touch.

Noema: “The sum total of what is thought or meant of an object in an act” (Hintikka 88). Each noema “has a kernel or nucleus which consists of three elements: a substratum, a set of qualitative moments, and modes of fulfillment of these qualities” (Simons 127).

Epoche: we bracket everything in the noema which is not given to us in immediate experience.

Key point: “we grasp in phenomenological reflection that consciousness is intentional in the sense of being directed towards an object: consciousness is consciousness of something” (11).

Knowledge

Knowledge entails fulfilment.  Fulfillment is knowing as finding.  It is the process of “getting a better view” (Willard 146).  We have a structure of the act of knowing: a sequence of representations of the same object in an arrangement of greater “closeness.”

Imagine it this way: you are walking down the road and you see what looks like a tree in the distance.  The closer you get, the more “fulfillment” obtains. You see that it is indeed a tree. Of course, most knowledge-cases are far more complex than this.

The Knowledge Act

A sign appears before me.  This can be an image, word, or physical object.  It exemplifies the property (concept) “to which it directs us” (141). The sign is “given” before us and it  tends beyond itself. We can think of it this way. When I see a tree, the tree is not *in* my mind. It tends towards my mind and my mind reaches out towards it.  This is the process of fulfillment.

Most non-postmodernists hold to some form of representational thinking. Husserl would say these representations “Merely intend a content or object” (145).  Therefore, the act of knowing is a sequence of representations. 

Essences

Herman Philipse has a learned chapter arguing that Husserl was not a metaphysical realist, but a transcendental idealist.  I lean towards the realist view, but Philipse makes a number of pointed criticism of traditional Aristotelian thought. One of Husserl’s initial problems was he held to some form of naturalist empiricism.  However, one cannot be both an idealist and a naturalist. You can’t say the world is constituted by our consciousness, yet have our consciousness dependent on part of the world.

I agree with idealists in that mind is the basis of matter.  They just confuse our minds with God’s.

Some metaphysical schemes just don’t work with modern science.  “Because Descartes identified matter and extension, his physics excluded the possibility of a vacuum” (Philipse 291). Enter Pascal’s experiments that barometers implied a vacuum.   Further, it isn’t necessarily true that all scientific laws are a priori and purely rational–science is empirical and hypothetical.

Mind-Body

The body is “the carrier of the point of orientation,” the “zero point” which plays “an important role in the constitution of the spatial world” (65). It is the field of my free volition. It is what Dallas Willard calls “our personal power pack.”

David Woodruff Smith argues that Husserl’s ontology is a “monism of substrata and a pluralism of essences” (Smith 323).  Within this monism there appear to me many moments of consciousness. This substrata is the realm of essence. It is a monism because consciousness is spread out, yet not divided up, in the form of a “stream of experiences” (339).  Each experience is intentional. That is the dualism.

Some remaining problems

How much of a Kantian was Husserl?  Pinning down his transcendental idealism is fraught with danger. I don’t think he went the Berkeleyan route and said we create the physical world (if indeed Berkeley said that).  Jaako Hintikka suggests, rather, that for Husserl there was an “interface” of consciousness and reality (Hintikka 82). If we explore Husserl’s thought further, his claim is much stronger.  There is a “level of consciousness in which reality forces itself on us, which is the interface (not to say overlap) of reality and consciousness” (89).

That last sentence is a warning on spiritual warfare.  When we read something, it is a reality that presents itself, even forces itself, upon our consciousness.  If someone was inspired by a demon, say like Crowley, then your mind is in contact with a demon’s mind.

 

Heidegger on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Image result for heidegger hegel phenomenology of spirit pdf

This was a helpful book. It is Heidegger’s running commentary on key passages in the Phenomenology of Spirit. It illuminates Hegel and provides a entry point to Heidegger’s larger work.

In this post I will briefly give an overview of the book and then show how Hegel (and Heidegger) are fully within the Greek, Hellenic position.

Heidegger reads Hegel as arguing that being is being-present. It is the manifestation of a thing. Being is always being Par-Ousia–manifestation. From there we see an interplay between Being as the real and the Absolute as the real. If the Absolute is the real, and our knowledge is not yet at the absolute, it is then relative to the absolute.

Knowledge is relative to a thing.

Like a good Greek Hegel/Heidegger privileges sight over hearing as sees knowledge as manifestation (Heidegger 57). The ultimate goal, though Heidegger never clearly states it as such, is unmediated knowledge–the Absolute which has fully come into being [arrival?] as Absolute.

The book contains some useful observations on reflection and the subject-object distinction. What I found helpful is how the book easily lends itself as a foil to Revelational thought. Revelational thought (what I have elsewhere called Hebraic Christianity) is verbal. Reality is verbal. God speaks and a thing is. For onto-theo-logy, reality is manifestation and appearance. It seeks to transcend mediation.

**For a useful introduction to Heidegger and modern Continental Philosophy, see Gayatri Spivak’s preface to Derrida’s of Grammatology

Husserl: Crisis Phenomenology

I am not enough of an expert to comment whether this is a good introduction to Husserl. It is, however, a good preparation to reading Husserl’s student Martin Heidegger. Husserl also introduces the reader to numerous key moves in phenomenology which have payoff potential in later discussions of philosophy of mind. Nonetheless, many of Husserl’s ideas are undeveloped.

Phenomenology is a study of essences only. Essences belong to the ideal sphere and are grasped in intuition. Absolute knowledge is contained in the phenomena. Phen. reveals essences and reverses the standard correspondence theory model. The real world corresponds to true thought. It reveals consciousness. Husserl’s goal: overcome the wall of separation between being and consciousness (47).

Husserl’s most important moment is his discussion of intentionality. Intentionality is to give meaning to an expression. It is a movement of consciousness towards something; thus, it is objective (109). When we perceive an object, we perceive it in its givenness-to-us. What I think Husserl means is that the object’s essence is related to its being a determinate object (114). At this early point in Husserl’s career it seems he is positing a real relation (and relation is a category of essence) between object and perception. As the editor comments in a footnote, to know the thought is to know what is thought about.

Improving upon Descartes: the cogitatum is given with the same immediacy as the cogito itself. Thus, there is an intentionality to consciousness (59). To be is to be-given-to-consciousness. The essential is the ideal, and the ideal is located in acts of consciousness. Therefore, subjectivity = objectivity.

Husserl ends with a lecture on the crisis of European man. It’s interesting, though he doesn’t advance any substantial ideas. The book isn’t perfect but it does contain valuable insights. In short, I wonder how natural bracketing out ideas in an epoch really is. If an object is an object in its givenness-to-us, then what exactly does the epoch advance?

Hegel: Phenomenology of Spirit

Where to begin a review on a book of this magnitude? While this might seem like a difficult question, the easiest answer is also the most Hegelian: start anywhere, for you will end up in the final moment of the dialectic. (Any parenthetical citations in this review refer to the paragraph numbers in the Miller translation) With that said, let’s begin:

Preliminary notes from Charles Taylor (Cambridge, 1975)

The problem in Hegel’s time:  man as the knowing subject faced a number of divisions.

  • separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact
  • what can bridge the gap between mind and world?
  • self-consciousness leads the individual to distinguish himself from his community.
  • opposition between finite (free will) spirit and infinite (fate) spirit.

The goal: philosophy is to understand how these divisions overcome themselves. Oppositions arise out of an earlier identity.  An entity cannot be utterly distinguished from its “Other” because it cannot exist on its own.  Taylor:  “It is not related to an other but to its other, and this hidden identity will necessarily reassert itself in a recovery of unity” (Taylor 80).

Hegel rejects Greek dualism and almost stumbles upon a biblical Hebraism.  He sees the Cartesian project as inherently mechanistic and incoherent (what connects mind and matter?  Cartesians have never really answered this).

Unfortunately, Hegel still sees the idea of a mind/soul in a body as a “dualist temptation.”  He does admit, though, that it is foreign to Greek thought (81).

Hegel is drawing upon Herder’s expressivism.  Thought, language, etc does not exist without a medium.  Thus for Hegel, the subject, no matter how spiritual, is necessarily embodied.  This is true up to a point, but runs into problems in two areas:  God/Geist is not embodied (at least not God the Father and the Holy Spirit, though Hegel gets around that) and the soul exists in a disembodied state after death.
[1] What does phenomenology suggest? Something like the external world appears to me in a certain way and/or my mind constructs these categories. If so, how would a phenomenology of spirit be possible, since spirit is usually not associated with the external world? This is why Kant’s noumenal distinction is wrong. Just what is it that appears in appearance? Appearance is the showing forth of what something is.

[2] The short answer: Reason recapitulates itself. It doubles back. Take the category of abstract being or reason or spirit. In the abstract it is an empty category. To say that something is says nothing specific about it. Yet, it is not Nothing. Therefore, oscillating between this “Being” and “Nothing” is Becoming, which can account for particularity.

[3] Therefore, Reason must Reflect upon itself and become self-consciousness. As Glenn Magee notes, “Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (Magee 88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

[4] This leads to the infamous Master-Slave dialectic: simple awareness of objects cannot produce consciousness of self. We can’t just know objects. We must act and overcome on them. Self-consciousness is only achieved when our desire is directed on other desires: when we see ourselves in the other. The master is actually serving the slave because he depends on the recognition from inferiors. His identity is based on what inferiors think of him.

[5] We come finally to Absolute Spirit. It manifests itself in three modes: Art, Religion, and Philosophy. The first two are inadequate because they use sensuous images and can only approach from finite vantage points. But philosophy is able to give self-knowledge that doesn’t depend on picture-thinking.

[6] Substance becomes Subject. It retains self-consciousness’s own self and can now be a predicate. Spirit is the unity between Subject and predicate. When Spirit remains just substance, it remains an object to itself. Spirit must become subject by uniting and sublating the object.

[7] Being is no longer an abstraction, as in [2]. It is now Being-as-Spirit. Its previous determinations [read: those moments when x is contrasted with y] have since been sublated. Hegel gives us a reversed chain of being (cf Magee, The Hegel Dictionary).

[8] If Spirit is now universal self-consciousness, then it is community (Hegel 781). Logos has now been refracted outward.

[9] If [6] holds then we have something like Gnosticism: Spirit empties itself of itself and falls into substance. As Subject, though, it goes out of that Substance and cancels out the difference between objectivity and content (Hegel 804). Like some strains of Gnosticism, this is a “fall into otherness and multiplicity and a return by means of “finding myself.”

The Good in Hegel:

*He has a good epistemological insight that the knower is always involved in the known object.
*Hegel anticipated all of the good insights made by communitarians. We do not possess our identity intrinsically, but only in relation to something else. Identity will always involve difference because identity consists of relations.
*His stuff on community is very good.

The Bad

~From a theistic standpoint Hegel appears irreconcilable with traditional theism. Much of what he says, if on the level of created reality, is quite good, but when you move this to the nature of God we have all sorts of problems: process theism, open theism, patripassianism.

Works Cited

Magee, Glenn. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
—————–. The Hegel Dictionary. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, 1975

The Hegel Dictionary

Rarely do you find a book that covers a dense topic in a remarkably lucid manner. This is such a book. The book is, as it says it is, a dictionary. It covers *some* terms in Hegelian studies. It does not cover all of them (being around 300 pages). Further, it is aimed at undergraduates, not specialists. With that said, I have found this the most useful introduction to Hegel. Below are some of the highlights.

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Overview of Hegel’s Thought

“For Hegel human beings are the self-consciousness of existence itself” (Magee 2). Hegel inverts Aristotle’s chain of being. The lower gives way to the higher. The highest form of consciousness will include self-reflection. The goal of the Absolute is to posit enough in order for it to be an “idea of an idea,” all previous ideas having been sublated.

Earlier philosophers used absolutum to mean “God,” but god defined as a “coincidence of opposites” (Magee 19). Hegel: when the Absolute is conceived as the transcendent unity of all things (cancellation of differences), it is really an empty concept. The Absolute is the whole.
existence exists in order to achieve consciousness of itself (20). Perpetually gives rise to conditions for it to overcome. The final moment is when self-relatedness is achieved through self-consciousness.

For Hegel universals and particulars are not separate “things.” Nor are universals “in” particulars. Rather, “particulars are within universals” (61). The universal has no reality apart from its concrete realization.

Spirit as self-consciousness has a dual object: the thing out there (given in perception) and itself, which is in opposition to the thing. The subject is moved to transform the object out of the desire to confront itself. When a subject wishes to know itself, it must split into a subjective side (which knows) and an objective side (known). Since we desire total self-reflection, this means transforming the object into a mirror of myself (70). This leads to postmodern violence.

Analysis and Conclusion:

Magee focuses on Hegel’s key works (each book given at least a two page treatment), with *most* of the key terms in the book. Key philosophers (Kant, Schelling, Marx) receive substantial treatment.

There is some repetition, but I suppose that can’t be help. Magee concludes with a short but useful bibliography.