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Many times, when it comes to issues regarding governance, whether inpolitical statecraft or church polity, it will seem to me that we are not so muchdealing with theoretical differences vis a vis our essentialistic ideals but moreso with practical differences in strategies regarding their existential realization.For example, classical liberalism might be reconceived as a pragmatic critiqueof anarchism, for “limited governance” does not compete with “nogovernance” as a theoretical ideal but, rather, as a practical accommodationto human finitude and sinfulness. If we were angels, we would require andcould justify no governance. In the same way, when we employ distributistand redistributist strategies (e.g. antitrust laws & social safety nets orentitlements), it needn’t imply classical liberalism’s theoretical capitulation tothe social democratic critique but may, instead, simply represent the creativetensions playing out in our practical application of subsidiarity principles.What has often gotten in the way, seems to me, is the introduction ofdistinctions that do not make a descriptive difference and therefore should notimply a normative difference, whether grounded in the overly optimistic andrationalistic metaphysics of the (often) catholic analogical imagination or theoverly pessimistic and biblically fundamentalistic anthropology of the (often)protestant dialectical imagination.To say this concretely, there is no, so to speak, “religious” epistemology or“theological” anthropology. In a radically incarnational and profuselypneumatological interpretive stance toward reality, epistemology isepistemology is epistemology and anthropology is anthropology isanthropology. And, best we can tell, thus far, they are evolutionary. We areneither angels nor demons but animals.Among the animals we are differentiated as the symbolic species (call itensoulment if you must) and thus enjoy an unparalleled degree of freedom(call it inspirited if you like), which is love’s very horizon. And, as if that werenot true enough, beautiful enough and good enough, we’ve been “interrupted”with some very Good News to which both individuals and peoples can onlyrespond in developmentally-appropriate ways. Through our evolutionaryepistemology and anthropology, it has been revealed (by the Spirit, no less?)that an emergentist perspective is indispensable and must be brought to bearon our practical responses to this Good News (ecclesiastically, evangelically,catechetically, liturgically, etc) as well as our theoretical reformulations andinculturations (theological, Christological, pneumatological, soteriological,eschatological, etc). And this will inevitably invite a plurality of expressions, adiversity of ministries and a great variety of spiritualities while, at the sametime, advancing our singular unitive mission.In the Hauerwasian Spirit of offering gratuitous provocations: 1) It may well bethat, other than being an implicit rather than explicit response to the Spirit, thesecular, itself, has often comprised a distinction without a difference vis a visthe religious (historically, culturally, socially, economically & politically). 2)Humankind has always fancied itself as progressing theoretically from oneschool or system to the next when, mostly, it has bumbled and fumbledpractically from one method or strategy to the next. Most of its modernist,postmodernist, liberal, orthodox, radically orthodox & other “schools” haveissued forth from an unconsciously competent pragmatic semiotic reealismthat corrects our inveterate over- and under-emphases (except, of course, for 1
us consciously competent but contritely fallible Peirceans).+++Good questions, complex issues - One might distinguish betweenthe merely moral norms of justice and the robustly unitivenorms of charity, which exceed the demands of justice.Also, governments generally lack sufficient means to even meetthe most fundamental needs that might be demanded bylegitimate social justice ends and, hopefully constrained bysubsidiarity principles (grounded in basic human dignity), areto be about merely providing for the basic public order andnot otherwise co-opting the rights & responsibilities ofindividuals in meeting all the other demands of justice(beyond merely maintaining the public order), much less thoseof charity.Even if the members and/or subjects of a government shouldhappen to share the same desired ends as a religion (motivatedby charity), still, governments and religions would differinsofar as the former employs coercive means, by definition(govt is inherently coercive), while the latter does not,again, by definition (charity is inherently free).Ironically, though, many who resist statist economic impulsesotherwise embrace a moral statism and vice versa. This is notto say that such leanings may not lead to virtue; arguably,they may even provide so-called schools of virtue. But suchvirtues advanced through coercion are not what I would call"theological" or charitable; instead, they are merely moral,merely an enlightened self-interest?Except for certain complex moral realities, ordinarily wemight reasonably be able to stipulate that politics remainsthe art of the possible and that political dispositions lessso differ vis a vis their moral outlooks but more so regardingpractical strategies. With human dignity as our compass,principles like subsidiarity, the common good & a preferentialoption for the marginalized then guide our strategic decisionsemploying what are proper biases toward limited government andconservative approaches.Our biases toward legitimate established authorities and theconservation of accumulated human wisdom are weakly truthindicative,though, and not strongly truth-conducive. That isto say that just because thats how something was done in thepast is no guarantee that it will necessarily be the best wayto do it in the future, but it is a wise way to start out!Sometimes we must conserve; sometimes we must progress. We donot know a priori via rationalistic deductive logic groundedin ideology which approach will be the most helpful. Rather,we learn a posteriori via inductive testing which will work,so to speak, pragmatically.I prefer, then, to view conservatism and progressivism as 2
charisms, with some folks being gifted with the talents ofsettlers, who maintain the homefront, with others being giftedwith the talents of pioneers, who strike out on new frontiers.This is not to suggest that people thus self-identify,politically. Unfortunately, they treat what are merely properdefault biases of limited government and conservatism asabsolutes, turning them into ideologies and ignoring thecreative tensions of the subsidiarity principle. Or they treatthe proper socialization impetus of the subsidiarity principleas an absolute, turning it into an ideology, forgetting thatit is otherwise merely a necessary evil that should revertcontrol and self-determination back to the lowest levelpossible at the earliest practical opportunity.As you wisely observe, this transcends political partydivisions. Still, I affirm the value of our two party systemand prefer to view its advocates as exercising differentlygifted practical charisms rather than as they imaginethemselves, which is as being in sole possession of absolutetruths ;)Jacob re: the word "charism" 1) It was not employed analogically. 2) It has asecular meaning in social psychology. 3) Even when used theologically, it hasboth broad and narrow conceptions.Jacob re: the Spirits presence or absence from politicaldiscourse, an incarnational (catholic) perspective wouldrecognize the Spirits influence in this or any country -historically, culturally, socially, economically, evenpolitically - as all good gifts flow from above, this despitepersonal and social sin and human finitude.Jacob - It is good that you recognize the prominent roleplayed by prudential judgment. As I mentioned earlier, mostgovernmental activities do not involve explicitly theologicalor even moral positions but, rather, practical strategies.Even regarding grave moral realities, people can agree on theontological descriptions, metaphysically, the deontologicalprescriptions, morally, the canonical codifications,ecclesiastically, and the legislative remedies, legally, whiledisagreeing regarding the best practical strategies,politically --- asking what is the best way to achieve thegoals we all share and which can we most likely advance now vslater? Of course, engaging facile caricatures of others viewsand employing broad sweeping generalizations of politicalparties, which are all comprised of diverse multifacetedcoalitions, is not helpful either.Well, Jacob, I do traffic in nuance. And I have not addressedany moral realities. So, good observation there. :)And. more importantly, I note your uniform and thank you foryour service! (My son is in the Navy.)What I am trying to do, however, is to introduce some 3
important distinctions and to break open some new categoriesthat, in my view, could help discover some additional commonground between the many divergent political viewpoints as wellas more precisely locate this or that political impasse. Ofcourse, it is also important to establish agreement on basicdefinitions, avoiding broad generalizations and disambiguatingcritical concepts. Finally, in a pluralistic society, we mustalso translate what are explicitly religious positions intoarguments that are transparent to human reason.All of that may be too abstract. So ...Concretely, for example, roughly a third of republicans and GOP-leaningindependents support legal abortion, while the samepercentages apply to democrats and demo-leaning independentswho self-describe as pro-life. Further, since the question ofwhether or not the criminalization of abortion wouldeffectively reduce abortion is empirical, a matter ofjurisprudence and social science, where one stands on itslegality is not necessarily dispositive of ones moral stance.What we do know is that MOST people, regardless of theirreligious, moral or political beliefs, which are manifold,varied and heavily nuanced, want to reduce the number ofabortions, therefore, it is helpful to come together anddevise practical strategies to accomplish that shared goal. Onthe other hand, it is not helpful, in my view, to assume thatpolitical and legal and prudential judgments necessarilyreflect anyones moral reasoning regarding this or any othercomplex moral reality. It is especially unhelpful, then, tocharacterize what are essentially political movements andprudential judgments as evil or to apply sweeping categorieslike "the left," "progressives" or "the right" to groups ofpeople whose underlying rationales are already known todrastically differ within the various factions and coalitionsthat comprise those groups.My contributions to this thread are not theological. Im notanalyzing moral realities here either. And Im not advocatingany given political approach. Im trying to introduce somecategorical distinctions to help parse and frame politicalconversations at such a point where I think folks may havealready stipulated to a significant level of agreementregarding certain political goals. I do resist the prevailingtendency among so many in our society, across the politicalspectrum, who insist on reflexively characterizing allpolitical positions in terms of moral dispositions, demonizingothers (and idolizing their own). You are spot on in that I dohold the view that what is good and moral is transparent tohuman reason without the benefit of special revelation and Ido resonate with catholic social justice methodologies.To be fair to you and your articulate and spirited appeals,Jacob, please dont be frustrated that I am not engaging thosespecifics. It is because I have a personal policy of notengaging political and moral debates on facebook. (I do thatat forums.philosophyforums.com from time to time.) My 4
contribution here is philosophical, specifically metapolitical.So, were talking past each other a tad because of this.For reasons stated above, I still have not discussed the moralangle. Sticking with prudential judgment angles: Beyond thisfacile caricature --- "I morally object to abortion, but thelaw should not prohibit it" --- is a much more complex set ofconsiderations having a lot less to do with whether the lawSHOULD prevent it and a lot more to do with with whether thelaw CAN prevent it. Again, regarding THAT the number ofabortions should be reduced, even eliminated, I hold that mostwould agree; it is HOW to best realize that most worthy goalwhere most people seem to differ. The statistics I havestudied are readily available in Pew Forum, Gallup and otherpolls. Even then, in trying to devise legislative remedies,beyond the matter of trying to figure out what will work,there is also the extremely problematical matter of what ispolitically feasible? If one ignores that dynamic, as have somany ardent social conservatives for decades, there will be no"fruits" to show either due to ineffectiveness. Finally, alack of bipartisan agreement regarding MEANS and STRATEGIES isnot evidence against a broad consensus regarding ENDS andGOALS.Oh, btw, Jacob, I cannot imagine why you would suspect that a distinctlyRoman Catholic approach would necessarily change either your moralstances or recommended political strategies. In my view,you might welldiscover that it would only bolster your arguments by making them both morephilosophically rigorous in the public square as well as theologically informedfrom a faith-based perspective! ;)Jacob, since you have politely expressed an interest and I happen to have thetime and inclination, presently, I will respond to: "it is likely you are a Catholic,and have studied your philosophy and theology. I caution you against usingthese studies to rationalize away the need for responsible, faith informedcitizenship."There are so many aspects of being catholic (lower case) in ones approachto reality and those with which I most resonate are found - not only in Roman,but - Anglican and Orthodox and other catholic faith expressions throughoutthe world. The both-and/universality of a catholic stance, because of aprofoundly incarnational outlook (and what is called an analogicalimagination), sees God at work in the world --- in science, culture andphilosophy, as well as religion. It places faith and reason in a properrelationship.This is an oversimplification but one could say that 1) sciences probe realityand asks descriptive questions: What is that? 2) cultures probe reality andask evaluative questions: Whats that to us? 3) philosophies probe reality andask normative questions: Whats the best way to acquire or avoid that? 4)Religions probe reality and ask interpretive questions: How might we tie all ofthis back together? or re-ligate that?Each of these sets of questions are distinctive, which is to say that they askdistinctly different questions of reality. So, we could say that they aremethodologically autonomous and each is necessary in its own right. But, 5
none of these methods are, alone, sufficient to mine realitys values, both thetranscendentals like truth, beauty, goodness and love, as well as lessergoods. So, we could say that they are axiologically integral (axiological havingto do with value). Science thus remains science; philosophy remainsphilosophy. We thus seek to "inculturate" our theologies and so on. Reason,alone, does not yield such value-realization; that would be rationalism.Religion, alone, doesnt either; thats fideism.Catholic perspectives do believe that we can reason from an is to an ought,from the descriptive to the prescriptive, from the given to the normative, overagainst any, as you say, moral relativism. And they do affirm that moralreasoning can proceed without the benefit of special divine revelation. We dohighly value special divine revelation, though, because its consolations andunitive norms allow us to move much more swiftly and with much lesshindrance on this pilgrimage of life. And we want to share that Good News!So, no, you wont find a Catholic version of science or philosophy or even aparticular type of culture, much less political stance. But you will find catholicperspectives thriving in our nations primary & secondary schools anduniversities, hospitals, orphanages, relief organizations and we ourjurisprudential skills have been highly valued by all faith perspectives andlegal persuasions (check out the Supreme Court, for example).I hope this helps. Thanks for your patience and willingness to dialogue.I hope it is the last word on postmodernISM! For, as I see it -The postmodern "critique" (not a "system") recognized that methodsprecede systems, that science, philosophy, culture and religion weremethodologically-autonomous (each necessary, probing reality withdistinctly different questions) even though otherwise axiologically-integral (none,alone, sufficient for human value-realizations).Now, humanity had so long been immersed in systematic approaches thatsome just could not bring themselves to JOTS (jump outside the system) to properlyenjoy this paradigm shift and so, ironically, perverted this critique into a system,postmodernISM, which celebrated these new-found methodological autonomieswhile forsaking their axiological integrality, "gifting" humankind with a faux apologeticfor a practical nihilism, which, itself, was nothing new insofar as its always been abad apple from which humanity has occasionally taken a bite.Some intuited a wisdom in the critique and thus retreated from whatwas a terribly naive realism to a self-congratulatory "critical" realismbut, for similar reasons (having to do with an inveterate system-ism), could not fullyaccomplish the paradigm shift and, instead, embraced a "weakened"foundationalism, unable to even conceive how a nonfoundational epistemology coulddeliver value (axiologically). Hence, because they were now - not onlymethodologically, but also- axiologically divorced, different people (perhaps due totemperamentor even aptitude?) desperately sought epistemic refuge in one methodor another (largely to the exclusion of the other methods) "gifting" humankind withscientism (science), rationalism (philosophy), provincialism (culture) and fideism(religion).Some not only tasted but saw the wisdom in the critique and were able 6
to JOTS into a nonfoundational epistemology that articulated -not a departure fromhumankinds unconditional, existential orientations to such transcendentalimperatives as truth, beauty, goodness and love, but- a new theory of knowledge,which expressed a new understanding of our autonomous methodologicalapproaches even while maintaining their axiological integrality. A paragon ofnonfoundational accounts can be found in the contrite fallibilism of the pragmaticsemiotic realism of Charles Sanders Peirce, who provided an "emergentist"explanation of human knowledge properly consistent with an evolutionaryanthropology and epistemology.Interestingly, throughout the history of Christianity, this type ofapproach has always enjoyed at least a minority status in practice as well as someinchoate expressions in theory, practices and expressions that, in my view, havebeen well chronicled by Phyllis Tickle, well explicated by Brian McLaren and wellpreserved by Richard Rohr and his Franciscan ancestors, all who, per my intuitions,resonate with other "minority reports" throughout history (that its been neither the"dominant" discourse nor power structure, more so esoterica than exoterica, may bemuch of the point?) dating back to the Kabbalah (Jewish) and Plotinus(Neoplatonist), Origen and Pseudo Dionysius and John Scottus Eriugena, MeisterEckhart and John Duns Scotus and John of St. Thomas (Poinsot), and CharlesSanders Peirce, as well as some of our contemporaries like Thomas Merton andWalker Percy.Now, many will resist such accounts as ours because they have a subversive ring tothem. But that nagging gong they hear comes from their own systems, which areself-subverting!In a rather predictable way, there have always been personsand even peoples at early stages of development (intellectual,moral, aesthetic, social and/or religious) who have pervertedthe meanings of humankinds latest authentic insights,inevitably twisting them to their transparently selfish (andpuerile) ends of either avoiding pain (and fear) or pursuingpleasure (and security), above all other goals (otherwise,theres nothing intrinsically unworthy about those ends). Towit: Science sometimes devolves into scientism, faith intofideism, philosophy into rationalism, culture intoprovincialism, ritual into ritualism, law into legalism, dogmainto dogmatism, common sense realism into fundamentalism(s)and the postmodern critique into postmodernism.What the critique had suggested is that the categories of ourmodal ontology be changed from possible, actual & necessaryto possible, actual & probable and that our correspondingepistemic categories reflect a new semantical vagueness wheresuch first principles as noncontradiction [NC] & excludedmiddle [EM] alternately hold or fold for each of thosecategories: possible [NC folds, EM holds], actual [NC & EMhold] and probable [NC holds, EM folds].What postmodernism did is to change our modal ontology topossible, actual and whatever and, in doing so, broke open anew epistemic category: huh? [undecidability]. Now,undecidability is a valid working concept, proven, in fact, by 7
Godels incompleteness theorems, which tell us that we canhave either consistency or completeness but not both. But, aseven Stephen Hawking would later come to believe and point out- the good moneys always been placed on consistency, whileabiding with incompleteness. That is to say that postmodernismerred in betting all its chips on inconsistency, as if thatwere the complete non-answer.The postmodern critique properly (& hygienically) challengedour theory of knowledge, leaving our theory of truthuntouched. Postmodernism challenged truth, itself, but onlyfor all practical purposes, for there is no challenge to truthon theoretical grounds, employing logical arguments. However,while there is no logical adjudication of these alternateapproaches, the normative sciences have always had other toolsat their disposal, measures such as the practical and theabsurd. 8