By now Owl readers have heard about Richard Rorty, the Professor of Philosophy from Princeton University and author of Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Probably his most famous dictum is this: Truth is made, not discovered. In other words, it is not the job of philosophy to describe the world in one overarching vocabulary. Instead, we creatures make it up (including our own personalities) on the fly. We have the power and responsibility to create and re-define it every step of the way. Rorty is no theist, but his teachings are tantalizingly compatible with Christian teachings against idolatry and (2) the freedom of a Christian as obedience to the free God.
But both philosophy and self-re-definition can still be done, and will have to be done from an unstable platform. For there is no permanent, irreducible nub of human being. Our language, owing to our contingency, cannot possibly speak about God with certainty. There is no pre-linguistic Truth to be spoken, and about that of which we cannot speak it is best to keep silent.
Continue reading “Hazardous Language”
The Owl wishes to acknowledge a great debt of gratitude to one of his teachers, the Rev. Dr. Harvey Guthrie, erstwhile Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, who generously took him under his personal tutelage and introduced him to Richard Rorty, of whom more below.
Operating as a philosopher, let it be noted, not a theologian, Richard Rorty denies the necessity of a god who made the world with some intent of his own, which it is our task to discover. As philosophy, this is perfectly correct Down that path lie only the pretentious creations of human minds—in other words, idols. In Rorty’s famous dictum, truth is made, no discovered. As far as we think we have the truth of God in hand, we made it up. But God’s truth is a thing of a different order, wherefore we say—or rather, we hear God say he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is not a valid philosophical utterance; it is not philosophy at all.
Continue reading “Philosophy meets Faith”
Elsewhere in these writings we have asked whether it were not better for us to avoid theological language, at least when talking outside our own coterie of committed Christians. With those whom we would like to reach to make disciples, it is repugnant. Doctrine is not simply teaching, it is dogmatic; not authoritative but authoritarian. The talk that is expected of us, and we too often give, is counterproductive.
Yet surely there is a proper place for theological language, if it can be used judiciously, understanding its peculiar grammar. Richard Rorty understands and fails to understand this. In his terms there is nothing to be said about the nature of man, or the nature of God. It is simply absurd to put predicates behind “God.” Yet we take very seriously a sentence like “God is love,” “God is good.” and “God is truth.” How can this be?
Continue reading “The Grammar of God-Talk”
In From Dawn to
Decadence (2000), Jacques Barzun discusses the scientific revolution that
occurred between the seventeenth century and the present. In his description,
this is not just a matter of learning to observe natural phenomena. Our
medieval forebears were meticulous observers of their world—it takes only a
look at their exquisite engravings of plants to convince oneself of this. But
until a certain intellectual shift they could not derive general laws from what
they saw. We moderns do this every day, rising from raw observation to
abstraction. Then we treat the abstractions as things in their own right. Note
the word rise.
Scientific language is equipped to treat of geometry, physics,
chemistry, biology, and more. Finding meaning in the world is another matter. That
belongs to poetry, morality, belief, and faith. Its operant language is not
merely descriptive, but constitutive of reality. The two things do not operate
wholly independently, which is why we have a postmodern debate about how much
of science, especially the studies of human being, is comprised of social
constructs. However that may be, when western culture developed a scientific
world view, we found ourselves in a world divorced from many of its previous meanings.
Continue reading “Science and Religion”
Richard Rorty is the author of contingency, irony and solidarity, a concerted philosophical challenge to faith. But on thoughtful consideration, it seems the best Rorty can do is show us where we would be had we not the faith. Thus he forces us to ask: Since we do have it, what is its true foundation? Read this way, he performs a very great service.
Rorty denies there is any permanent, pre-linguistic essence that
defines human nature. Opposing his view, one might adduce the Augustinian
gnawing in the bowels, the unrest which will not be quiet until we find rest in
God. (Confessions 1:1)
Continue reading “Fundamentals”