Classical Theism Doesn’t Really Compete (tautologically)

  • Chance or necessity?
  • Chaos or order?
  • Paradox or pattern?
  • Random or systematic?
  • Asymmetric or symmetric?
  • Discontinuity or continuity?

We approach reality’s in/determinacies with no final analytical adjudication of how many & which of them arise from methodological or epistemic in/determinabilities versus various in-principle occultings of certain in/determined ontic realities.

Some tautologies imagine a wholesale indeterminedness, a thoroughgoing realm of merely ephemeral forms, a tehomic abyss of nominalistic turtles all the way across. Others, a pervasively determined reality of only eternal forms, a pantheon of essentialistic turtles all the way down.

Neither of these monistic tautologies requires mereological whole-part distinctions, although, ontologically, the former type usually admits materialist presuppositions, the latter – idealist. Explanatorily & causally, the former takes reality to be brute, the latter conceives it as ultimately explicable & absolutely caused.

Might there be more than turtles?

Could they be arranged with more than horizontal & vertical directionality, perhaps both? without

  • dichotomizing them into matter or mind, perhaps both?
  • imagining that turtlehood’s at least partly intelligible even if at bottom still wholly incomprehensible?
  • conceiving it as adequately determined & sufficiently reasoned rather than either absolutely so or pervasively indetermined?

What alternative tautology could accommodate that cluster of presuppositions?

None has presented.

Rather than formal, syllogistic arguments that employ root metaphors & metaphysical dichotomies between chance & necessity or advancing pure deductions, humankind has long taken refuge in common sense abductions, informal reasonings that rely heavily on reductiones ad absurdum.

Without root metaphors & exhaustive definitions, instead employing only vague & general phenomenological categories of meta-ontological significance, our reasoning must resort to a fallibilist triadic cycling of abductive hypothesizing, deductive clarifying & inductive testing, which will converge on the truth, even when we can only make successful references to reality.

Classical theism, Thomism, Scotism, Neo-platonism, Palamism, Augustinianism and such do not compete on tautological terms with either a materialist monism or pantheism, either a thoroughgoing nominalism or essentialism, both which take rather naïve a prioristic approaches with a pretense of comprehensively accounting for reality, mereologically, exhaustively defining its objects, epistemologically, neatly arranging its turtles, ontologically.

Rather, distinctions like being, reality & relations; essence, existent, act-potency; quiddity, haecceity, formal distinction; ousia, hypostasis, energeia; and so on, suffice to “meaningfully” relate realities via successful references & abductive inferences, even when successful definitions otherwise elude us.

As Christians encounter paradox, we don’t rush to closure, imagining a priori that it must necessarily be

  • resolved, dialectically in synthesis;
  • dissolved, paradigmatically via perspectival shift;
  • maintained, creatively in tension; or
  • evaded, practically, via reductiones.

Our abductive hypotheses regarding a putative Ens Necessarium tend to evade radically nominalistic & essentialistic tautologies, which devolve into atheological & pantheological stances that wreak conceptual havoc on our

  • common sense experience of a human free will,
  • common sense notions of causality,
  • common sense presuppositions of metaphysical reality & first principles of reasoning.

Our abductions regarding reality’s ultimates & reductiones regarding its proximates don’t a priori recommend themselves as metaphysical verities without having first proved themselves, a posteriori, as indispensable methodological stipulations.

A Dionysian-like approach gets to the point:

  1. God is | x | is true analogically and kataphatically.
  2. God is | not x | is true literally and apophatically.
  3. God’s neither | x | nor | not x | is true unitively.

When we approach classical theisms without this logic, we fall into confusion because we project onto them our own implicit nominalisms & essentialisms and materialisms & idealisms. We imagine we can

  • synthesize them in an Hegelian-like dialectic (like some dipolar theisms),
  • dissolve them paradigmatically through some Kuhnian-like shift (like some panentheisms), or
  • maintain their creative tensions (methodological principle of sufficient reason but a metaphysical materialism).

That’s not what classical theism does!

Instead, it evades such tensions altogether, refrains from proving too much, from saying more than can possibly be known, from telling untellable stories.

Some pejoratively caricature as an ad hoc mysterianism

  • such apophasis,
  • such reliance on successful references,
  • such bracketing of root metaphors,
  • such an inescapably fallibilist approach,
  • such a practical reasoning under speculative uncertainty.

Our defense, though, is robust.

This is no dissolvent mysterianism, but the exuberantly hopeful epistemic optimism of a nuanced, negative mysterianism, which posits that –

  • if our indispensable methodological stipulations derive from timeless metaphysical truths,
  • then, our acting as if these propositions, however tentative, are true,
  • will more likely provide us more beautiful, good, unitive & liberative value-realizations than alternative stances can.

Now, it may well be that, too many of us aren’t always the best exemplars of such transcendental imperatives, piously voicing firm beliefs, while practically responding to life with nihilistic tendencies. Mea maxima culpa!But that’s why we so fulsomely celebrate our hagiographic traditions, taking account of how other persons, once similarly situated and as flawed as us, have nevertheless plumbed the depths of solidarity & scaled the heights of compassion, miraculously so, both in virtue and in visible signs like sanctifications, spectacular healings, unitive realizations & transformative liberations – all that remain otherwise inexplicable, both physically & psychologically.

The practical takeaway is that what can often seem rather meager, propositionally, can still impart enormous significance, dispositionally, normatively justifying an eminently actionable way of living, existentially.

As we reflect on the

  • primal emptiness at the Father’s origination of the Trinity,
  • empty manger of the Advent at the Incarnation,
  • empty tomb of the Resurrection,
  • empty space of the Ascension
  • all now filled with the utter fullness of Pentecost …

Let us hope that, whenever we encounter that much beauty, that much goodness, that much unity & love, that much freedom, the Truth will, more likely than otherwise, at least, be nearby.

The kerygma doesn’t finally lend itself, propositionally & with complete definitions, to a competing tautology. It’s a category error to approach our Creeds, Scriptures & Traditions that way. It accommodates itself, rather, to a practical reasoning under speculative uncertainties, where successful references must suffice, commensurate with the Subjects on both Hands of the Father.

If we open ourselves, dispositionally, follow through, existentially, then our abductive propositional apprehensions will grow ever more comprehensive until our vision is Beatific.

Augustinians & Thomists, Nature & Grace, Politics & Religion

The following notes are in continuity with & supplemental to:

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/06/18/maritain-murray-macintyre-milbank-a-medieval-integralist-walk-into-a-bar/

https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/the-pre-political-grounding-of-both-liberal-illiberal-regimes/

For responses to Nouvelle Theologie, Feser lists:

1) Lawrence Feingold’s The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas & His Interpreters

2) Steven Long’s Natura Pura

3) Ralph McInerny’s Praeambula Fidei

4) Bernard Mulcahy’s Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac

5) Serge-Thomas Bonino’s edited volume Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought

I would add as a meta-critique of all the schools:

Don Gelpi’s The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature & Grace

He names fallacies of Christian thinkers that have in the past skewed theological understandings.

In The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature and Grace, Gelpi argues that Charles Sanders Peirce’s philosophy avoided those fallacies & provides a novel frame of reference for rethinking the theology of grace. While he eschews any artificial extrinsicism, he doesn’t underestimate secular conversions in the gratuity of creation.

In my (eisegetic?) take, Gelpi’s view is consonant w/both a faithful Augustinianism, the best of Existential Thomism & sympathetic to Nouvelle’s Communio, rejecting transcendentalist anthropologies (e.g. Whig Thomism) or those flirting w/depravist tendencies, as do some integralists (e.g. Political Augustinianism) & Augustinian radicalisms (Radical Orthodoxy & Benedict Option).

Per Thaddeus Kozinski: Both classical & new traditions neglect four realities:

1) mutually dependent relation of speculative & practical reason

2) subjectivity-shaping role of social practices

3) tradition-constituted-&-constitutive character of practical rationality

4) indispensability of divine revelation in ethical inquiry & practice. <<< end of Kozinski critique from Brandon Watson

While some may be justly criticized re 1-3, many feel caricatured.

Regarding #4, it mustn’t be coupled w/an ecclesiocentric exclusivism at odds with Nostra Aetate.

Elsewhere, Kozinski presses his critique vis a vis #4 against Maritain (& Rawls).

Among those claiming caricaturization, Feser responded to Kozinski.

Re: Macintyre’s criticism of Maritain, Ralph McInerny well notes that, even inadequate & false justifications have embedded in them an implicit recognition of the true ends of human nature & thus of the true basis for practical precepts.

We can thus distinguish between the natural law as operative in a plurality of largely theocentric societies (functionally personalist & communalist) & its theoretic grounding, both implicit & explicit. The operative is ontological, the theoretic — gnoseological.

Over against Alasdair MacIntyre’s social philosophy, Bryan Turner suggests its pessimistic view of the collapse of a common moral vocabulary is unfounded.

For one thing, MacIntyre creates a nostalgic picture of the coherence of past communities, & for another, MacIntyre neglects the growth of human rights & international law as instances of a shared moral system that is not based on emotivism.

Alasdair MacIntyre on morality, community & natural law, Journal of Classical Sociology 13(2) 239–253, 2013

We mustn’t overestimate natural law accessibility as we descend from the more general precepts to increasingly specific concrete norms, or underestimate its operative efficacies in, at least, provisioning a modicum of public peace, order, justice & morality.

So, there’s no reason that our world’s largely theocentric vision can’t explicitly, even if sometimes inchoately, affirm that freedom’s inherent duties are objectively & communally ordered to realize the aretaic & deontological ends (teloi) of eternal & natural laws.

Or that we grow in freedom through a formative & liberative process of learning, which will necessarily include the increasingly habitual practice of these duties.

While I am sympathetic to the rhetorical strategy regarding exaggerated “rights talk,” in & of itself, it’s not philosophically bankrupt as some suggest, for freedom’s rights remain correlative with & inseparable from its duties to be/come who & do what we ought. They are, therefore, rather precisely implicated.