Future Experience as Possible: Recent Deaths as an Opportunity to Think about Death

“There will be no future experiences that will be related, in certain ways, to these present experiences” is a compelling remark about death. It comes from Derek Parfit, renowned Oxford philosophy prof, who died only a couple of days ago, on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2017. It’s a lovely description he coined that gave him incentive to live meaningfully in a world where death is guaranteed, effectively closing the door on life and any thought deemed credible concerning an afterlife. However, where Parfit negotiated his existence without belief in a future self, I’ve always intuited his sentiment as a means of being open, in principle and in belief, to the possibility of such a future X.

Philosophers as Parfit model their answers to what matters in life—to use his expression—based on reason, namely, what falls within the parameters of reason. It’s a Promethean form of self-transcendence that is laudable and which I find magnanimous of Parfit to hold. I mean, by eliminating discussion of any future X, Parfit could easily embody a stance that is completely minimalistic—nihilistic, we might say—affirming nothing but the value of affirming nothing. To what end, one only knows! Parfit is recognized as great, however, because he shuns such an understanding. He uses his insight about death as an aqueduct for minimizing the needs and concerns of the self and affirming those of the other. He writes,

My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.

As a philosopher, I am prone to agree. But as a philosopher of religion, I am also prone to see things differently. My bible doesn’t end or begin with the Enlightenment (which is not to suggest that Parfit’s does). There is wisdom (potential reasonable reasoning?) in the symbols, beliefs, practices, thoughts of religions. Self-validation and self-authorization, in other words, is not exclusive to religion. Parfit’s desire to see things otherwise suggests as much. The philosophical tradition is no stranger to self-centered concerns, self-legitimization, and what have you. Religions’ affirmations about the importance and/or insignificance of present X’s aren’t always trumped by some imagined future X. As many argue, religions’ future X or future presents, besides providing an existential tourniquet, also provides alternative means of seeing things; to deconstruct false assurances, limiting, self-aggrandizing perceptions. It is not without reason that philosopher Max Horkheimer turned to the Jewish tradition and its idea of God as a rational way to critique society:

Jewish religion allows no word that would alleviate the despair of all that is mortal. It associates hope only with the prohibition against calling on what is false as God, against invoking the finite as the infinite, lies as truth. The guarantee of salvation lies in the rejection of any belief that would replace it: it is knowledge obtained in the denunciation of illusion.

Of course, Horkheimer wants an idea of God released from a positive religious framework. Perhaps like Parfit, he can’t imagine religious or metaphysical claims as offering anything more than a self-validating logic. At the risk of name-dropping, the idea of a modal logic, espoused by my colleague, Joseph McLelland, also recently departed, escapes their imagination. The claims of religion, even if absolute in nature, are incomplete, that is, they envision a state of affairs that cannot be limited to planet earth, as oddly “sci fi” as this sounds. Their logic attends to “possibilities on a cosmic scale” (his words). Standard forms of logic fail here. The modal form, by contrast, aims at a path through the dilemmas provided by standard paradigms, the not-I in death, for example, and its trans-terrestrial I eluding present experiences. Parfit’s idea of death contains a limit principle for focusing on present experiences. Modal logic exploits what in principle Parfit’s principle may accordingly exclude, but for no other reason than it is unknown and unrelated to present experiences. “There will be no future experiences that will be related, in certain ways, to these present experiences.” There may be no future relatable experiences, that is, those experiences, if they “exist,” transcend standard categories of logic; however, to say there will be no future experiences, and moreover because they are unrelatable, begs their possibility.

Modal logic cultivates this space in thinking. Yes, another interstice! Religious and metaphysical ideas are its playground. They offer avenues for thought we are wont to consider. Our reflex to recoil from thinking past our noses is mitigated. We are encouraged to explore states of affairs, from which dilemmas typically bar us. The call is nothing short of what McLelland describes as “a renewal of youth.” Parfit’s call is, as I said, more than honorable. But I wish to keep my options open. Modal logic dictates that imagining future experiences can be related, in certain ways, to these present experiences. Lucky for Parfit and McLelland, they no longer need to bother about such things. RIP.

Why I’ve Grown to Dislike Facebook

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I don’t wish to establish the view that technology is neutral, that is, that its value is determined by its use. This makes it a question of the intention of the user rather than any inherent quality or function in the technology itself. I personally find the idea problematic, but that’s tertiary to my main concern.

Let’s get all the necessary fanfare out of the way first. Facebook has done wondrous things. It reconnects people in long-lost relationships. It does for this generation what the Yellow Pages did for mine, only more effectively. Facebook also serves as a meaningful forum to make new relationships of whatever kind. It is an outlet to express opinions on a matter or herald beliefs that guide one’s outlook and life choices. (Heck, I’m announcing this blog on Facebook!) It’s a place where one can be silly, share videos and pictures that demonstrate that reality visually and aurally. It can even function as a professional medium communicating some skill or service individuals, groups, and organizations can offer. It is useful for other reasons, too, but, like my point about the neutrality of function, these reasons are immaterial here.

There are at least two levels of complication that have fed my growing distaste for the technology. There’s the surface level of how, through comments, Likes, and even indifference (e.g., creepers who stand on the sidelines), the technology furnishes scenarios, sometimes real, sometimes imagined—and for that latter reason gratuitously detrimental. “Jane habitually Likes Sarah’s and Bob’s posts but purposely avoids mine”; “I’m sure Frank is trying to communicate X through his activity Y and Z”; “OMG! Another selfie! What a narcissist!”; “My post has had only a couple of Likes. It’s obviously off-putting. I’ll take it down so as not to make a further spectacle of myself!”; insert your own scenario here. (Disclaimer: names and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental!) The possible truth factor here is what tips the scales, in my opinion, in the direction of disservice to the self. (I’m leaving out here the element of users being overtly mean, smug, or dismissive. That’s just too obvious to demand attention.)

The second level of complication is somehow more sinister bedevilled by factors creating scenarios less sensible, less whimsical (?). These are completely disruptive to life. Here the conscious activity of the first level meets an unconscious subterrane of meaning. The sheer availability, accessibility, of actants pulls us into a play of unconscious curiosity, of our self-worth and value to others. The subterfuge of the Timeline, and possible meanings in our first level, slips into the background, into Messenger, as it were: from public interaction and meaning to the more private. This is not to say that all activity behind the veil is untoward; that would be sheer nonsense, if not sheer paranoia. It is to say, however, that it opens a Pandora’s box that can suck one into a vortex of feelings and associations we all know has been responsible for the demise of otherwise healthy relationships in the creation of others, not necessarily healthy either. As in level one, here too the imagination can overwhelm, not only of those immediately interacting but also of those imagining an interaction. I’ll leave specific examples to your imagination this time.

Mostly for these reasons I have significantly limited my use of Facebook. Its drawbacks, potential and real, outweigh for me its benefits. Whether these reasons are indicative of immaturity or acute pathology fails to exercise a hold on me. They are a reality, one which I’d rather understand and act on accordingly. Make no mistake: Facebook is here and—as its number of users seems to suggest—it’s here to stay. Facebook, among other social media, has come to define how we, as a society, choose to interact. It is literally, as I like to say (in homage to one of my favorite philosophers), a technology of the self, a modern iteration of it. However, in the making and caring of my self I have come to prefer to face my significant others than Facebook them.

Resurrection in a new but still “religious” key

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With Orthodox Easter fast approaching, resurrection is on the brain. This reminded me of a Facebook note I wrote in April 2014. A meme was floating around at the time on Google+ with these inspiring words by Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist:

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than the atoms in your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about the universe: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements (the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, all the things that matter for evolution) weren’t created at the beginning of time, they were created in stars. So forget Jesus. Stars died so you could live.”

Krauss’s persuasive sentiment embodies an anti-metaphysical triumphalism rather widespread nowadays, thanks to so-called New Atheism. But how non-metaphysical is this anti-metaphysicalism? Thankfully, not much. In fact, Krauss’s assertion is simply a physicalist statement of a metaphysical belief. It’s powerful, effective, because it uses concepts we believe nowadays drawn from science to address matters of a spiritual nature, the human need for belonging. It’s interesting, too, that it uses a traditional religious metaphor, in negative register, to communicate the same existential idea: that we owe our being to the death of another in whose form we are resurrected. I no more believe that this cancels the religious sentiment than creationist nonsense cancels evolutionary theory. In other words, in trying too hard to dismiss one set of metaphysical metaphors by another, it gives one pause regarding the dismissal itself. It’s been said that in the past were it not for theologians desperately trying to prove god’s existence it wouldn’t have occurred to anyone to doubt god’s existence. Today scientists and new “metaphysicians” may need to fear the obverse: in trying to deny god and religion, they are providing fodder for the revivification of their nemesis. I personally welcome the practice.

The person, a scientist himself, who posted the meme based on Krauss replied:

“It is the truth of reality and it doesn’t need religion.”

I couldn’t resist:

“It doesn’t need religion because it is a new form of ‘religion’. It argues for ‘the truth of reality’ with the same fervour and conviction as religious persons did in the past and, I suspect, with the emergence of new metaphors and discoveries, will continue in the future. I’m not sure why that’s a problem.”

To which the good scientist (closet metaphysician or theologian, if you will) replied:

“People will attempt to hijack anything but the reality is that the universe just wants you to learn, love, explore and live a happy life.”

Amen to that!

Visceral Intellect

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I have an idea. Visceral intellect, I call it. I’m sure it’s formulated somewhere out there in better terms, but I’m not interested in producing that kind of scholarship here. (My blog, as I announce somewhere, is an outlet for creative thinking and self-indulgence. Apologies in advance, if this is off-putting.)

The idea connects with the phenomenological tradition in philosophy that emphasizes the fundamental role experience plays in thinking, a peculiar kind of thinking, mind you. Moreover, it doesn’t simply connect with thinking as a base component superseded (“sublated”) by other operations of consciousness like understanding and judgment, where some might feel so-called real thinking takes place. Visceral intellect, as Robert C. Solomon (1988, 43) says about feeling in Kant’s third Critique, “has its own intelligence; it is akin to judgment, not just a biological reaction.” And so placing these two terms together, visceral and intellect, subverts your run-of-the-mill definition that opposes visceral, as instinct or “deep inward feeling”, to thinking. As a thinking, visceral intellect is a certain kind of feeling, one that orients and suffuses thought. It possesses—no: it is—thought but as rhythmically distinct from what usually passes as thought. The connecting insight here, which binds judgment to sensory experience, is far more artistic than intellectual or systematic in nature. The kick drum of this particular intelligence propels one in a different direction.

“Visceral” points to that element in consciousness that some describe as immediate and fluid, raw and vectorial. The imagery is fine as far as imagery goes but technically it is flawed, not only because what usually passes as thought possesses an immediacy of its own but also because immediacy, as Hegel and Wittgenstein later showed, is a term riddled with problems. We might want to qualify, then, this vectorial immediacy as mediate in so far as we recognize that visceral intellect is, as a hyper-transcendental, irreducible to either pole of the binary distinction: immediacy/mediacy. It occupies—yes, you guessed it, if you’ve been following this blog!—an interstice, one of functional consciousness. Traces of it are discovered, appropriated, in the mediate immediacy of one’s experience. A singularity is another way of putting it; that part of us, our individuality, that eludes because it grounds generalizations like immediacy and mediacy. The experience is one we conveniently like to think is pre- or non-conceptual. With all due deference to Jacques Derrida, this dimension to our singularity, among others, is formed in and by language, in and by concepts, even if it is “outside” language in the sense that it is irreducible to a specific language or language game, mine and even yours, a tradition’s, etc. It is a space I would insist that is unique to your person, which I can’t inhabit, even though my influence in pointing it out gives it form. Alas, the dangers of hegemony are inescapable in this or any other intellectual adventure. That is why I consider this particular jig a partnership, a give and take, on the road to self-discovery and critical reflexivity.

Visceral intellect, as I hinted at earlier, is artistic, always on the cusp of particular kind of discovery and design. To perform it requires the inculcation of certain habits, a skill, a thinking. It achieves new visions of the world, one’s own world, which involves subverting what Heidegger calls the present-at-hand (Vorhandenheit) and ready-to-hand (Zuhandenheit), the so-called ready-made world, the world of utility and meaning that constitutes our everyday life—put simply: the way we see and function in the world. If you happen to be a musician or artistically inclined, you know exactly what I mean. But when attaching visceral to intellect I mean to suggest a type of being-in-the-world that differs from, say, that of the abstract artist who seeks a spontaneity of creation through shapes and forms relatively independent of objects in the world. On the contrary, I mean a deliberate form of creativity, attentiveness, where the thinking involved is immersed in the vibrancy of the moment, as it were. It is the place between experience and objectification, calculation, where one negotiates a scalar world of meanings, not all of which require subversion but a lot of which requires personal reaction and cogitation. Because language binds description to object, mental and sensate, it is impossible to relate the experience as such. Further complicating matters is the fact that it is your experience, not mine or anyone else’s. And yet, like Derrida, I would insist, again, on the importance of thinking the possibility of this impossible event. Singularity also suggests that no one can do it for you. For this moment or period of time is your compact world of meaning in which you suspend, while working toward, self-objectification, and in which you negotiate the objectification of self by others.

Elsewhere I describe this as the enecstatic space of personal involvement (Kanaris 2013). It comprises standing (stasis) in (en) a world, your world, of meaning cognizant of the fact that this world transcends even you. And so we must simultaneously stand out (ek) of this world—in Heidegger’s sense of standing-in care in the openness of that which gives. We attend to that world as we negotiate all that comprises it: one’s intellectual, moral, religious, political, etc. foundations. To be a visceral intellect is to learn a peculiar dance, one that feels the thrust of thinking in one’s own time and space.

Works Cited

Kanaris, Jim. 2013. “Enecstasis: A Disposition for Our Times?” In Polyphonic Thinking and the Divine. Ed. Jim Kanaris. New York, NY: Rodopi, 97-104.

Solomon, Robert C. 1988. Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Philosophy of Religion Religious Studies Style

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Philosophy of religion, at least as a university exercise, comes in different sizes and shapes. As a practice that evolved from ancient Greece through medieval Europe to modern and contemporary empiricisms and rationalisms, the preoccupation has tended to be with fundamental topics such as proofs for God’s existence and theodicy brought to bear through issues of logic, language theory, and cosmology. This analytic approach continues to be the dominant form of “philosophy of religion”. One finds it commonly in philosophy departments, also embodied in the more normative discourse of philosophical theology practiced in professional schools of theology. A younger development stems largely from German schools of thought in the nineteenth century, to which contemporary French forms are indebted in their significantly less topical, political-hermeneutical restructuring of the field. Conveniently dubbed continental, one finds this approach in philosophy departments in both Europe and North America, although in Europe one senses an indifference to identifying with a subfield of philosophy of religion as such. It is also the more dominant form of philosophizing found in religion departments, a fact that is hardly surprising when one considers that continental reflection birthed comparative religion.

What philosophy of religion offers the modern university is an arresting question. How one answers it will depend on the type of philosophy of religion one practices, which is usually shaped by the environment in which one teaches it and the professional communities with which one associates. Philosophy of religion in a philosophy department, for example, will have an aim different from philosophy of religion in a theology department or religious studies program. In one context the aim is to introduce students to epistemological issues such as whether religious language is properly understood in, say, realist or nonrealist terms. In another context the aim will differ slightly, developing the normative claims of a specific tradition philosophically, either in terms exclusive to that tradition or in comparison to other traditions. In still another context the aim may be to critically assess religious beliefs and practices as one siphons off issues surrounding humanity’s existential plight or as one connects them to some social-political reality. In my estimation all the positions in this admittedly broad taxonomy possess a legitimacy, especially if our aim is to avoid parochialism. Be that as it may, philosophers of religion have their preferences, the more responsible ones aim to address a divided field.

For the purposes of this blog, I wish to bracket these boundary questions and focus instead on my own teaching environment, which happens to be religious studies. This forces me to think differently about philosophy of religion. Ironically, in my desire to avoid parochialism, my contribution to this question does seem dangerously close to being parochial. Nevertheless, its application is, I believe, transdisciplinary.

One thing is certain: there is a deep wedge between the student demographic in religious studies and the concerns and procedures of the card-carrying philosopher of religion. The specificities of the intellectual culture and history surrounding those procedures are no longer privileged in glocal consciousness. The inclusion of diverse perspectives, whose religious worldviews are assessed in terms of their logical weight, continues to have remedial value. But the extension of this analytic procedure is simultaneously too specific and general to be wholly effective in religious studies. It’s too specific in the sense of being bound to a tradition of philosophy whose aims have been quite apologetic and modelled on western scientific ideals. It’s too general in the sense that this approach tends to essentialize religious traditions. Ever since at least modern classics as Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s Meaning and End of Religion (1962) and Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), to mention only two examples, students of religion have become rather dyspeptic toward the analytic mien. Issues of power, status, and identity tend to take precedence displacing the traditional platform of knowledge while extending it to the problem of representation (Carrette 2010, 277).

In this environment the role of philosophy can be both object- and subject-constitutive. That is, in a revamped form of “epistemology”, philosophy links up here with an issue-based attention to “socio-economic disparities, environmental degradation, and ongoing biases linked to race, sexual orientation, or colonial exploitation” (Rodrigues and Harding 2009, 104). This object-constitutive approach replaces the systematic scholastic and analytic orientations of pre-modern and modern epistemology with the critical cultural strategies of contemporary theorizing about religion. Philosophy holds much promise in this regard for critical scholarship attuned not so much to the cognitive dimension of religious beliefs as to the historicality (Geschichtlichkeit) of diverse religious phenomena. A hybrid form of such philosophical-methodological interests exists already in religious studies represented in diversified forms by Donald Wiebe, Mark C. Taylor, David Chidester, Jonathan Z. Smith, Russell McCutcheon, Ivan Strenski, and Talal Asad.

The subject-constitutive emphasis dovetails with these interests but emphasizes subjective agency in the task. It joins with the “artistic thinking” of Pierre Hadot and Alexander Nehamas who have reinstated the ancient practice of philosophy in the academy as a way of life and art of living. (Elsewhere I describe an aspect of this thinking in terms of “visceral intellect”.) The position is a live option today thanks to the pioneering work of Friedrich Nietzsche and his contemporary disciple Michel Foucault—one could throw in Søren Kierkegaard for good measure; and Heidegger? Why not! My own sense about this artistry harks back to the transcendental tradition. It manages philosophical issues broadly in terms of self-critical reflexivity. The singularity of the self is its guiding principle, an irreducible hyper-transcendental that ensures that the individuality of the inquirer is not lost in object-constitutive discourses. In religious studies this means that one’s own intellectual, moral, religious, and political horizons become an explicit means to arbitrate an objectified relationality of concerns: text to self, politics to self, transcendence to self, alterity to self, and what have you. One wouldn’t be wrong to call it personalism, although my preference is to call it “enecstatic”, a disposition that signals a post-Heideggerian ontic preoccupation. In addition to those just mentioned, the thinking of Bernard Lonergan and what he calls self-appropriation has been particularly serviceable. Self-appropriation means precisely what it says, taking possession of one’s self but in the sense of taking responsibility to engage the self as one engages and is engaged by the other, whether that other is an object or a subject. It’s a decisive and personal act that is uninterrupted. An important outcome is to recognize that “[g]enuine objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity” (Lonergan 1972, 292). I translate what Lonergan means by “authentic subjectivity” in a context that reflects the current non-foundationalist climate in philosophy of religion and religious studies.

Enecstasis provides an opportunity for students to negotiate their own sensibility regarding objects that they are often (rightly) encouraged to examine dispassionately. Nevertheless, in this epoché of the personal, the desire to be engaged attaches to an object that disenfranchises students from self-awareness and involvement. Their voice is never really lost, of course, but it resonates as though from another room. Taking possession of it is not something students of religion think of because the room they’re in invariably averts their attention. And yet the alienation is experienced deeply, often viscerally, confusedly. Enecstasis, then, disrupts ideological commitments in religious studies whose object-constitutive presuppositions and methods marginalize a holistic and personal mediation of meaning. As such enecstatic analysis provides a space for participants to decide for themselves how to implement the level and relevance of their engagement. A sociologist will have a different appreciation of how he is implicated in the construction of a religious phenomenon from the historian constructing religious meanings. A philosopher of religion will have to decide for herself how her understanding of mystical experience impacts and is impacted by her being-in-the-world. Theologians must do the same but vis-à-vis the norms of their tradition and the scales of dislocation embodied in the God before whom they learn to dance.

Enecstatic philosophy of religion is ultimately philosophy of religious studies. It includes—indeed, has been generated by—the issues and concerns of analytic and continental philosophies of religion. However, enecstatic philosophy of religion transcends the particularities of these philosophies in providing a space for the personal negotiation of one’s intellectual, moral, religious, and political foundations. Philosophy of religion, religious studies, and theology provide the content and methods of such a focus, enecstasis the contemporary ability to sense their relevance in a personally appropriated subjectivity formed by academic concerns. In an age where student indifference is at an all-time high the importance of such an exercise in the modern university seems beyond question. I see it in undergraduate and graduate students each term as their eyes light up in the realization that they matter, that they have a voice and ought to develop it critically, that is, with a heightened sense of self-awareness.

 

Works Cited

Cantwell Smith, Wilfred. 1962. The Meaning and End of Religion. New York: Macmillan.

Carrette, Jeremy. 2010. “Post-structuralism and the Study of Religion.” In The Routledge Companion to the study of Religion, 2d edn., edited by John Hinnells, 274-290. London and New York: Routledge.

Lonergan, Bernard. 1972. Method in Theology. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Rodrigues, Hillary and John S. Harding. 2009. Introduction to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

Said, Edward W. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books Edition.

 

Theorizing as self-care

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2rjkwtt7ro30vafxiicnIt’s pretty common to think that method and theory are abstract means of understanding. Unless simple or limited to an instrumental role, the tendency is to see them as disconnected, cut off from the reality they hope to explain. If they don’t reveal something “concrete” about the world and our dealings with it, the argument goes, method and theory should be relegated to the dustbins of society.

This is not a very hopeful scenario for someone like me whose livelihood depends on teaching theories and methods courses. I’m often bemused by my disgruntled students: “Why do we need to know this?” “These ideas are passé at best, abstract at worst!” “What does this have to do with real life [read: me]?” “Patriarchal BS!” “Scientistic bullying!” etc. etc.

Let me offer a few points for a different perspective. First, a theory, or a method that helps us to get to theory, is not real life gone on holiday. It explains and organizes our views of “real life” (a dreadful term, by the way. Sorry!) Take the pedestrian example of Freud. Not only did Freud put us on a different footing from his predecessors when it comes to viewing ourselves. He also provides the ether in which we communicate. Think about screenplays today. There’s no shortage of Freudian references as narrators relate to audience and characters relate to one another. Rolling one’s eyes at all the references to this or that neurotic tendency, this or that unconscious motive, this or that complex, only proves the point. Freudian theory is not only important historically but it has become part of the scaffolding by which we dress our existential edifice.

Second, theories and their methods can heighten the sense of our place in history. Too many focus on the objects of theories and methods, which dulls this sense. We learn about how X was understood by Y, which becomes unfashionable once theory Z replaces it. If we are even willing to recognize the legitimacy of such a procedure, a sense of superiority is created in us as we close the book on X. Rather than close the book on X (or anything for that matter), we might do well to focus on Y and what our position with regard to Y’s theory reveals about a developing understanding of X and Y. More importantly, I believe, we should focus on Y and what it reveals about Y’: us as participants in the analysis. Here an understanding opens up with regard to our embodied role in theorizing, which, it is crucial to note, is provided by our beliefs and values.

A connecting point is how this worm’s-eye view makes us feel as participants in an emerging world of understanding. This “historicality” (if I may) connects us with a past in deep appreciation, hopeful that it connects us with our present, with an ability to reshuffle things, to reconstitute them, in accordance with a self-awareness tugged by a future. We are not spectators in this arena. That luxury is not afforded us, as if that were even desirable. We are participants. We are involved. We learn. Theory is speculation (speculatio), a “seeing” constituted by judgment and self-affirmation. It is birthed by a method of self-care. Own that and you may find yourself enticed by the concrete dividends of theorizing.

Random thoughts on Transcendental Philosophy

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It seems quite naïve to me now how the transcendental turn functions as constitutive in the minds of some without taking wholly seriously the constitutive role of language. It possesses a logic oblivious to the view that language is creating and not simply relating what is ‘actually’ the case. Within the logic of the pre-linguistic turn is thus an obscurity. The clarity it communicates is real, impressive, convincing even, if one considers language to be incidental, accidental, merely expressive, or what have you–instead of constitutive and narratival. This is the ever-present obscurity in the clarity of transcendental logic, which I happen to love. It is easily neglected when one shores up the actuality it delivers as though independent of the language that delivers it. We may believe this age of innocence is behind us, and there is a way in which it is. But there are also other ways in which it isn’t and ways in which it shouldn’t be. Managed through vigilance might be a way to care for it with reserve.

I’m struck by how much transcendental “logic” is narrative, a story by which consciousness, begun in the 19th century, communicates self-consciousness. As meta-discourse it sees itself as doing more than narration. It aims to parallel the modality of science ‘explaining’ reality and the mind’s relation to it. This may be fine for science, which focuses on explaining the behavior and function of objects. However, that discourse begins to break down when self-description and -explanation are involved, i.e., when discoursing about Geist. It’s tantamount to reading the Divine Comedy as a tractate on ontology. (I number myself among those who find these discourses as equally important but which do different things.)

To be continued …

Book Announcement

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It’s been some time since I’ve blogged. That’s because I’ve been working hard on two books. This is a brief description of one of them with the tentative title Personalizing Philosophy of Religion: An Enecstatic Treatment, a theme important to this blog:

Philosophy of religion is a discipline beset by problems of nomenclature and history that has vexed philosophers, theologians, and scholars of religion since the 19th century. An original ideal was to achieve a disengaged perspective on the phenomenon of religion that made sense of the world philosophically. Philosophy of religion sorted through matters of morality and metaphysics, epistemology and world religions, which even comparative scholars of religion, in their philosophizing, had difficulties detaching from Christianity. As a result philosophical theology came to manage basic normative themes in theistic traditions that would eventually frame ways in which one would also approach non-theistic traditions philosophically. This problem, culturally speaking, set apart the philosophy of religion of philosophical theology from the form that looked more generally at religion as an important human dimension to be assessed social scientifically or hermeneutically. In both cases philosophizing religion has been haunted by a problematic difficult, if not impossible, to shake: philosophizing about religion, that is, objectifying religion, whether the emphasis is on subjective or objective poles of investigation.

This inheritance of Enlightenment origins has always been in a precarious relationship with rationality in one form or another. The element of the personal equation in particular has been a special issue. It has ridden on the back of impartiality as though a dead weight, to be tolerated or vetoed. When vetoed it has assumed a strong form of realism that sees subjectivity as non-constitutive, as practically incidental to objective knowledge. When the personal equation is tolerated the form transmogrifies into a special discourse that no longer considers personal engagement in terms apropos of the positive sciences. Think Heidegger’s early ontology and the preoccupation with Dasein. More radical strains of philosophy commonly known as “postmodern” have brought together these two general dispositions forming politically charged ideas of engaged reflexivity with a strong undercurrent of normative theorizing. I call this a concern with the self that is object-constitutive, that is, it arbitrates an objectified relationality of concerns: text to self, politics to self, alterity to self, and vice versa. This has given rise to what is properly understood as philosophy of religious studies, a meta-methodological preoccupation with the problems of nomenclature and history surrounding philosophizing religion with which I began this overview.

Postmodern developments in philosophy of religion, which have broached the issue of subjective involvement in object-constitutive terms, now beg the larger question concerning subject-constitutive analysis in religion. Such a focus is “enecstatic”, a term I have coined that tweaks Heidegger’s “ecstasis” to signal a post-Heideggerian ontic preoccupation. It pertains to a disposition that lurks in Poststructuralism that points back to the early Greeks. It connects with Foucault’s “care of the self”, Hadot’s “philosophy as a way of life”, Nehamas’s “art of living” as melded by Derridean concerns. However, this study surfaces this disposition in terms that reflect the explicit preoccupation with what philosopher-theologian Bernard Lonergan calls subject as subject. It reworks his idea of self-appropriation, an outcome of which recognizes genuine objectivity to be the fruit of authentic subjectivity. I translate what he means by “authentic subjectivity” in a context that reflects the current nonfoundationalist climate in philosophy of religion and religious studies. It is in this that the uniqueness of this study consists. I know of no other work that does the same with the notion of the subject or, for that matter, what I am calling philosophy of religious studies.

Just a heads up. I hope it’s available soon!

Faith Kant always do what reason wants

In reaction to a recent article by John G. Messerly of Seattle University on “the shaky intellectual foundations of faith”, I wrote the following in social media:

“It’s folklore now that it would never have occurred to anyone to doubt God’s existence if the theologians had not tried so hard to prove it. We’re on the cusp of a reverse trend where philosophers’ ‘knockdown’ arguments against God’s existence is creating a worm of doubt in the minds of many concerning what has been presumably eliminated intellectually. The debatability of God’s existence is never settled any more than the debatability of all things metaphysical, the scientists’ and philosophers’ horizons included. For every argument there’s a counter-argument. What irks me is the confidence I see in so many of these debates that assert the matter closed hiding behind the mantle of open (scientific) inquiry. The question of God is never answered definitively intellectually because the term ‘God’ itself is a vista, not a villa. (And no, this isn’t an argument in favor of God’s existence.)”

This prompted an interesting question on LinkedIn by a colleague at Norwalk Community College, NY, who writes: “Kant covered the reason why your statement is correct, yes?”

My response brings out some of the presuppositions in my initial statement:

“I would love to say I rallied so august a figure as Kant to support my claim but I (pardon the pun) can’t. I suppose the statement can find support in Kant’s epistemology. But without getting into the nitty gritty of all that, I’m not sure whether I’d equate the statement’s ‘correctness’ with his frame. I think I find more utility in the art of proof making than Kant when it comes to God. Proofs are a useful exercise in our society for expressing as rigorously as possible why what we believe may not be ridiculous. But that’s not the same thing as saying what we believe, especially when it comes to God, is always reasonable or even knowable. I appreciate the idiosyncratic, heuristic position of someone as Lonergan who takes God to be the interminable horizon of intelligibility. Still, it’s a position grafted on a specific form of reason that I, for one, never assume to be a knockdown way of eliminating questions and/or doubts. I gravitate to the deconstructionist strategy that cultivates the interstice of doubt and certainty, another name for which can be ‘faith’.”

A charming Facebook exchange about Authenticity, if you “care”

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The following is an exchange I had with a friend on Facebook about a status that I posted. It’s tangential and spotty but it touches on an interest of mine to think in and/or from the interstice of a specific issue. This time the issue is authenticity, as opposed to last time when the issue was time (https://jimkanaris.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/a-charming-twitter-exchange-on-time-if-you-have-the-time/)

The status in question: One of the most difficult things to be in life is yourself. For how can one “be” what one’s always en route toward? And yet …

The conversation that ensued:

Janet: Very true. What we can do is be the authentic self we know ourselves to be at this moment.

JK: I’m afraid my authentic self is always in a state of becoming.

Janet: Yes, it’s supposed to be!

JK: Right, but that’s the conundrum: I’m thinking that authenticity, because always already inadequate and in a state of becoming, isn’t something known as such. It (is) a quality of heuristic yearning, an irreducible je ne sais quoi, “knowledge” of which is impossible but necessary and therefore always deconstuctible, always on the way. It is in the interstice of decision to be X and not Y without the comfort of certitude. God help us!

Janet: Inadequate?

JK: Yes, inadequate in the sense of lacking the quality of plenitude. The essence of authenticity is inadequate to authenticity itself. This is what allows us to be self-critical with respect to our given paradigms of authenticity.

Janet: Certitude is not possible.

JK: “Certitude is not possible” and yet we are made nervous by statements that we can’t know what it is to be an authentic self.

Janet: Because we wish for certitude. It is hard to be aware of living with paradox.

JK: Indeed, and yet “authenticity” depends on it (i.e., on the paradox and living with it).

Janet: Hmmm.

JK: Mind you, I’m simply pointing out a dimension for thinking authenticity, not living it. In the every day, we must act practically in connection with the hopefully tried and true paradigms of being authentic. The interstice is for thinking, a strategy for development and creativity. Life is for being–hopefully as informed by thinking.