Month: August 2008

England Update – 3

After a long, drawn-out process, and one expensive phone call later, our visa applications were completed and sent to the British Consulate in Chicago.  They arrived in their hands around 9:00a today (15-Aug).  In many ways, we have been kicking ourselves for not submitting the applications sooner; but in other ways, we realized that we would have been unable to do so.  Much of what we needed to complete the applications were unavailable to us until after July–e.g., my final transcript, more stable financial assets, a full unconditional letter of acceptance from the University of Gloucestershire, etc.  While this is definitely not the way in which we would have liked things to happen; they happened nonetheless, and we dealt with the whole process to the best of our ability.  So now, it’s a waiting game to see if our applications are acceptable or if we will be delayed.  

In a more positive light, we are close to having our house completely packed so that we can move back to Atlanta before finally moving to Cheltenham (England).  We were astounded to discover just how much “stuff” we have amassed in just two short years of living in Cincinnati.  I unashamedly confess that the bulk of the “stuff” is a compounded library.  One of my guilty pleasures is finding old, rare books; and Cincinnati has several stores that sell such things at wonderfully low prices; so the temptation is nearly impossible to resist.  But recently, much to the surprise of those who know me, I decided to slim down the shelves and sell some of my collection–110 books, to exact.  The majority of these were books that I’ve already read or books I no longer need.  This left me with just over 1000 books to choose from–i.e., which go to England and which ones stay in the States.  I now have that lot down to one bookshelf, which comes out to be around 150 books.

Hans-Georg Gadamer review (2)

My time has recently been spent packing our house so that we can move home to Atlanta, and then make move to Cheltenham (England) as soon as possible.  My time has also been spent reading a much larger book by David Ford (Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love) so that I can right a “proper” review of it for possible submission.  As a result, my free time for reading other books has been somewhat limited, and my posting on such texts has been equally affected.  This post will (obviously) continue my review of Gadamer’s work, The Beginning of Philosophy, which I began here a short time ago.  I also hope to return to Kyle Fedler’s text on Christian ethics, which I started here last month.  Until then, here is more of Gadamer.

Chapter 2: “Hermeneutic Access to the Beginning”
In this chapter, Gadamer, building on the established semantic and conceptual range of the term “beginning” (German: Anfang), extends the discussion by assessing the methodological tendencies generally associated with his sort of quest.  Since Gadamer is concerned with abstractions (i.e., the history of ideas), he rightly introduces (and critiques) the default Hegelian approach for plotting the trajectory of such abstractions.[1]  In what appears to be an intentional move, Gadamer adopts his own methodology–the one he seeks to employ for his Presocratic investigation–and applies it to understanding the development of Hegelian logic.  He does this by critiquing the contributions made by two philosophers who stand in Hegel’s wake: Eduard Zeller and Wilhelm Dilthey–the former being more Hegelian than the latter.  

Zeller, Gadamer maintains, is one who is at once part of the Hegelian tradition and not entirely bound to it–his “conceptual basis is a moderate Hegelianism” (p. 21).  Zellar’s allegiance can be traced to his implicit dependence on Hegel’s (modified) dialectical approach, which is found in the insistence that all ideas are interconnected and are in a state of constant, dependent change.  This simple–almost unconscious–allegiance is what Gadamer finds difficult, because it implies a rigid commitment to a methodological approach that is fraught with obstacles and whose (universal) application is generally forced onto historical ideas and texts.  

Dilthey, Gadamer suggests, is one who appears (to change Gadamer’s metaphor) to be standing on the shoulders of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Immanuel Kant.  This dependence is most clearly seen in Dilthey’s structuralism, which professes to be a system that sees ideas (or, the effects of ideas) as organic rather than hierarchical (see, pp. 22-23).  In this way, the harmony of ideas and the interplay shared between them are quintessential, and the reality that such a harmonious interplay exists necessarily implies structure.  Gadamer rightly questions this approach as it pertains to the investigation of the Presocratics, simply because locating a harmonious interplay between the Presocratic writings is nearly impossible.  

Gadamer intriguingly–though implicitly–points out that Hegelian dialecticism and nearly all forms of structuralism share one thing in common: each are dependent upon the Cartesian methodological revolution, which spawned the (fairly rigid) scientific formula for conducting experimental investigations.  For Gadamer, foisting these pre-Enlightenment (and later post-Enlightenment) developments onto the methodological framework of the Presocratics is simply misguided and reveals a tendency of not distinguishing between science and philosophy (see, pp. 25-27).  Thus, to understand the Presocratics and the development of their thought, one must investigate such things on their terms and by using their categories–not ones anachronistically applied for the sake of convenience.

The methodological approach that Gadamer espouses for his critique of the Presocratics is at the same time sober and ambiguous.  The ambiguity is that no clear system is mentioned–there are only admitted presuppositions; but that may be the heart of the issue.  Within these admitted presuppositions are the points of sobriety: he confesses that there is no objective position from which anyone is able to conduct a historical investigation–especially one oriented toward the development of ideas (see, pp. 28-29); and he also suggests that the very term “method” should be understood in its ancient form–a form that allowed flexibility and incompatibility with respect to dialogical concepts (see, pp. 30-31).  The investigator must situate himself or herself right in the midst of what is being surveyed and also express a willingness to dialogue with the cultural, social, and ideological milieu about which he or she desires to learn.  

Or, to allow Gadamer to state it more succinctly:

We are not observers who look at history from a distance; rather, insofar as we are historical creatures, we are always on the inside of the history that we are striving to comprehend (p. 28 )

[1] To oversimplify matters, the Hegelian approach for plotting the development of ideas is threefold: first, determine a given, controlling idea (thesis); second, locate the competing–if not contradictory–idea (antithesis); third, determine the outcome (synthesis) that arises from the clash between the controlling and competing ideas.  What is vital to note is that the “synthesis” that emerges itself becomes a new “thesis”; thus, the entire approach becomes a practice in a type of conceptual evolutionary theory.

Too funny. . .

Every now and again I like to indulge my curiosity by taking random “quizzes” on various topics–just to see where I stand or fall.  A while ago, I took a quiz on which eschatological view I most likely espouse.  I participated in this quiz simply because I always wondered how my beliefs on such things would be categorized–if they could be.  (Now, I know that this short little quiz is not going to give a definitive answer on this; but I do think it is able to give a basic overview of where certain tendencies reside).  After taking the quiz, I was given the following result: 

You scored as a Moltmannian Eschatology

(ratings compared to the other eschatological views):

Left Behind………………..5%

Explanation: Jürgen Moltmann is one of the key eschatological thinkers of the 20th century. Eschatology [for Moltmann] is not only about heaven and hell, but God’s plan to make all things new. This should spur us on to political and social action in the present.  

I found this to be rather intriguing given the fact that, at the time of taking the quiz, I had never read a single thing by Moltmann.  I have since read through a couple of Moltmann’s works, and I have come to see where the above eschatological results make (some) sense.  There is a lot in Moltmann where I find myself in agreement; but there are portions where he and I simply part ways.  

I must admit that I was a bit surprised by the post- and pre-millennialist numbers; but the ambiguity in some of the questions most likely contributed to those figures.  I was, however, deeply and utterly shocked by the presence of any percentage related to Dispensationalism and especially the Left Behind theology position.  I felt as though I needed to go and dip myself seven times in the Jordan River. 

This morning, I found a new quiz which equally piqued my interest: Which Theologian Are You?  I took this quiz for much the same reason as I did the eschatological one–I wanted to see how I would be categorized based on my beliefs about various issues.  For those of you who know me–especially my theological tendencies and allegiances–the results of this morning’s quiz are far too humorous not to mention:

You scored as a John Calvin

(ratings in comparison with theologians)

John Calvin………………………..60%
Jonathan Edwards……………….60%
Karl Barth………………………….53%
Jürgen Moltmann………………..53%
Friedrich Schleiermacher……..47%
Paul Tillich………………………..40%
Charles Finney…………………..33%
Martin Luther…………………….27%

Explanation: Much of what is now called Calvinism had more to do with his followers than Calvin himself, and so you may or may not be committed to TULIP, though God’s sovereignty is all important.

I painfully admit that I have read nothing from Charles Finney (nor do I even know who he is), and I have only looked through a smattering of Paul Tillich’s work.  However, having read through much of the other theologians listed, I can see how such figures would emerge–primarily because there is much in such writers that I thoroughly enjoy and many of their thoughts have certainly been influential on my thinking. (It was interesting to see Moltmann on the list, given my prior “association” with him with regard to eschatology).

The reason this quiz was humorous to me–and possibly to those who know me–is because I am adamantly opposed to much of what Calvin concludes (especially in the areas of “predestination” and “divine foreknowledge”), and I am even more opposed to the tight categories of TULIP theology (much of which is developed by later Calvinist writers).  If anything, I find myself to be more in agreement with a somewhat lesser recognized theologian named, Luis de Molina.[1]  Regardless of the agreements or disagreements, seeing such results is always interesting and rather enlightening.  

Feel free to take either or both of the quizzes and let me know how you stand or what you thought about them.   

[1] For more on Molina, see this entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia; for more on his theological contributions (and why I tend to agree with him), see the article by William Lane Craig (“Middle Knowledge, A Calvinist-Arminian Rapprochement?”) in, The Grace of God and the Will of Man (1989), 141-64.

Hans-Georg Gadamer review (1)

On our 2nd wedding anniversary (05-Aug), my wife and I treated ourselves to some of our favorite places to visit in Cincinnati.  Because she knows that I enjoy books–especially books that I can buy for discounted prices–our second to last stop was the Half-Price bookstore where I made two wonderful finds.  The first is the complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which is an enormously funny read–even though I am only part way through the second volume), and the second was this little gem by the German thinker, Hans-Georg Gadamer.  It will be this second book that will receive due attention in this post and subsequent postings.  

Some Preliminary Thoughts
I first encountered Gadamer’s thought and method during an early graduate course on the history of interpretation–with an emphasis on New Testament interpretation.  One of the requirements of the course was to read through a (slightly dated) synopsis of how interpretive methods have evolved since the time of the apostolic era.  Near the end, this book dedicated a fair amount of time to Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics–an approach that focused primarily on the dialogical method of reader-response interpretations.  Since this was my first encounter with such things, I was immediately overwhelmed not only with the terminology but also the concepts foundational to such approaches.  There were occasions when I had to read the same page multiple times before feeling comfortable in moving forward with the argument. 

As time progressed, and as I got deeper into my studies, I thought it best to return to Gadamer’s thoughts on and contributions to the study of hermeneutics.  Instead of rereading the abovementioned course text, which only summarized Gadamer’s methodology (with a few scattered [yet significant] quotes from his writings), I thought it best to let Gadamer speak for himself.  I was able to track down an older copy of his, Philosophical Hermeneutics and I began to make my way through its many profoundly insightful pages.  The more I read, the more Gadamer began to make sense; and the more he made sense, the more I began to appreciate his thinking and his approach to hermeneutics.  (It was an experience that seemed to prove “Schleiermacher’s spiral” [or, circle] to be a viable theory for knowledge and understanding). 

Chapter 1: “The Meaning of Beginning”
In this present work, The Beginning of Philosophy, the content is far more palatable for the novice reader of Gadamer,[1] for it is simply an introductory exposition on the basic tenets of early philosophical thought–mainly those from the so-called Presocratics up to the time of Plato and Aristotle.  However, in this first chapter, Gadamer explains why he chooses to reverse the typical approach to such studies by beginning from the opposite end of the spectrum–i.e, he starts his investigation with those who stand in the wake of those who have gone before; or, to change the metaphor, he begins by surveying the construction project before interviewing the architects.  Gadamer justifies this seemingly odd methodology by initially doing what most philosophers initially do: he defines his terms and concepts; although, ultimately he confines himself to one term and concept, and that is “beginning.” 

Two quotes from this opening chapter will suffice to lay the groundwork for why Gadamer approaches the study of philosophy in the way he does:

Between these two, beginning and end, stands an indisoluable connection.  The beginning always implies the end.  Whenever we fail to mention what the beginning in question refers to, we say something meaningless.  The end determines the beginning, and this is why we get into a long series of difficulties.  The anticipation of the end is a prerequisite for the concrete meaning of beginning. (p. 15)


But there is yet a futher meaning of “beginning,” and, for our purposes, it seems to me that this one is the most productive and the most suitable.  This meaning is brought out when I speak not of that which is incipient but of incipience.  Being incipient refers to something that is not yet determined in this or that sense, not yet determined in the direction of this or that end, and not yet determined appropriate for this or that representation.  This means that many eventualities–within reason, of course–are still possible. (p. 17)

In many ways, this approach for doing historical reconstructions of ideas and concepts is both provocative and fruitful; yet, this approach must be tempered with an awareness for the potential of anachronisms.  Thankfully, Gadamer is astutely aware of such eventualities and proceeds accordingly.  Ultimately, at as far as this beginning chapter is concerned,[2] Gadamer’s approach is one of taste.  The goal of ascertaining the progression of ideas and concepts can be reached by either starting at the beginning and moving forward–tracing the alterations as they are encountered; or by starting with the end and moving backward–peeling away the layers that have grown up around the intellectual core.[3]  Again, the only caution with the latter option is to be aware of anachronistic conclusions about the intellectual core found at the end of the investigation.

[1] To begin with his Philosophical Hermeneutics or Truth and Method would be like trying sip water from recently opened fire-hydrant.
[2] Maybe I should read the end first in order to confirm my thoughts.
[3] This latter option certainly smells like Bultmann.

Loss of a Great Mind

I happened upon this story earlier this evening and was sad to hear the news that Alexander Solzhenitsyn had died.  He was one of the first great thinkers I read when I was starting to engage with cultural concerns and how to balance such concerns with a theological worldview.  I always knew that the connection between the two should be sustained; at the time, I just never knew how to do it–or better: how to begin doing it.  Solzhenitsyn’s depth of thought and clarity of exposition opened many intellectual doors for me in this regard, and I will be forever indebted to him.  His mind, his spirit, his life, and his person will be sorely missed.