Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ancilla theologiae ?

A word of clarification re. my theological posts. The subtitle of this blog is Open Letters on Philosophical Praxis. I take it for granted that philosophy is aimed at the cultivation of experience of a particular kind. There are plenty of snide ways of saying what philosophy is not (yawn yawn "grammatical analysis," "footnote-chasing," etc.), but it is obvious to me that these just name strategies of thought that have on occasion got out of their bottles; I'm not interested in breaking them on the wheel. What I [want to] do here is understood as keeping open the question of philosophy's status as ancilla theologiae. If it were not for the issue of "whose theology?" I would say there is no "question" about it; but theology proves itself to be both the willing and the unconscious handmaid herself of so many ideologies that considerable reticence is called for. In some moods, I would say that philosophy opens onto theology, that theology is the silent culmination of philosophy; but that leaves a great deal of talk which is certainly understood as theology, and this is the stuff I worry about.

In another mood I would suggest that, at least in our postmod situation, the handmaid is like Gorakhnath, and the onetime queen of the sciences is like Matsyendranath. These two sages from Medieval Indian lore are disciple and master respectively, but Matsyendranath once entered into a trance and is eventually found by Gorakhnath as an amnesiac prisoner in the retinue of the enchanting Queen of Ceylon (or is it 1,600 different queens? the stories differ). A brief recounting of this myth is found in a paper by Mircea Eliade here (reprinted as chapter VII in his book Myth and Reality.) The disciple disguises himself as a dancing girl and in a long and symbolic dance he recalls his teacher, by hints and gestures, to his right mind. (There is a whole range of hermeneutic and historical issues that this legend raises--questions about the roles of sex, sexuality, and gender in Indian religion, about the lineages of the Natha Sampradaya [an initiatic tradition, ascetic and in some cases tantric], its relation to Buddhism, and so on. You can see some of that explored in this post by Mike Magee, but I'm not getting into any of it here.) My illustration simply means; theology has forgotten itself. Philosophy is (in this analogy) a disciple; but its role today is in part to raise the issues that theology itself ought to; to convene theology; to call theology to itself.

This sets me apart from plenty of people whose work interests me quite a lot, I know. And there is of course a further tension: of its very nature, philosophy encounters aporiae which can be addressed by the response of faith, but to take this step is in some sense to leave philosophy behind. The philosopher would therefore always in some manner be aspiring to leave his own mode of existence qua philosopher. I do not think this tension can be resolved, at least not on its own level--the level (at least) of discourse. But it can be exploited, and exploited philosophically--that is, for the purposes of cultivating philosophical experience. By this phrase I mean, among other things, the entry into such tension or aporia fully, so that they inform ones whole life. This means, n.b., tha tone continues to "live"--to act politically, socially, and so on--i.e., without the caricature of "paralyzed thought" which supposedly skepticism brings on--though this may be a requisite stage, Socrates' stingray numbness (and let's face it, in one of its modes philosophy just is skepticism). Philosophy in the way I mean it (and this is the way the tradition going back--yes, pretty much continuously--to Plato means it) never lets go of the question quid sit deus?--but for philosophy at least, it remains a question.

1 comment:

  1. "The price of denying that God exists is to relinquish the idea that there is such a thing as how reality is in itself." An observation by Michael Dummett who whatever else you may think about him was not a stupid man. Flatland thinkers who command the scientistic heights at the moment impugn this natural theology!! Wittgenstein interpreted in a narrow way might be thought to hold that what can’t be used or referred to is meaningless. It is clear that for him meaning has a wider scope than the useful. The apophatic expression ‘neti, neti’ (not this, not this) in the Upanishad : Brh.Up. II.iii.6

    “Now therefore the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this’. Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this.’ Now its name: ‘The Truth of truth’. The vital force is truth, and It is the Truth of that.”