Reconstruction?

Had a lecture from Craig Detwiler of Fuller Seminary this week on a staff retreat.  Very provocative thoughts on the state of the contemporary church.

So…a strain of thought in the history of philosophy:

Plato and Aristotle are portrayed as having divided on the fundamental approach to knowledge, Plato insisting on the eternal forms that conceptually define all particulars, Aristotle debating that it is only in and through the particulars that we can come to construct universals.  school of athens

Augustine inherited Plato through the neo-platonists, and in turn translated Paul through his quasi platonic lens.  Thus a thousand years of Christian theology ultimately leaned on Plato.

Descartes, for all of his functional agnosticism, declared that certain knowledge rested on rational universals (undergirded by the lower-case-g god of philosophy).

Derrida, as exemplar of the project of deconstruction, said that he lived in the place where forms are stamped into particulars.  That is to say, at exactly that point where we try to force our universalizing (translated moralizing or absolutist) standards onto specific situations, Derrida was there to say, “No you don’t.”  I like the way Foucault said it somewhere, that “Truth is the error which is irrefutable because it has been hardened by the long baking process of history.” Again, to translate, that is to say, concepts we accept as universally true and binding actually have a genealogy which expose them to be situational constructions.

So…deep breath…in the postmodern era, universals, whether they be religious, scientific, moral, or political, are unilaterally suspect, which doesn’t leave you anywhere to hang your hat.

A few people have taken a stab at “reconstruction” after a century of deconstruction.  Robert Nozick proposed that there are “invariances,” or temporary moments where two subjects connect in a mutually agreeable objectivity.  What I’m suggesting in my dissertation, which we can only hope is not as longwinded as this, is that in the act of preaching an invariance is created, but only for the fleeting moment of the sermon.

What I’m wondering is how offensive-to-impossible it is to revive teleology in a postmodern world.  Every schmo walks around wanting to be “healthy,” physically and mentally.  But health suggests a biologically predetermined end to humanity.  Does that exist?  And if so, can we wrap our arms around any concrete vision of what that is?  If not, we’re wasting a lot of money on counseling.  Is it, as Freud said, the ability to work and love effectively, or is it something more?  And is “healthy,” subjective and nebulous as it is, metaphysically different from heavenly?  Because if we accept that as a nominal lateral, then reconstruction happens whenever two or three people choose to build the kingdom of heaven on earth.

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3 thoughts on “Reconstruction?

  1. yahoo! you are an emergentist, and so am i! (i think) i like studying really small groups of people and seeing how they develop social forms, anyhow.

    so, in sociology & anthropology, if you study very small groups of people, especially groups of 2 or a few, there’s a thought that the ideas that arise from your data may tend to resolve themselves into a postulation of emergence. a couple people do something together, and then they do it again, and their repeated activity becomes a way of doing things. erving goffman is the father of such a type of social science method, called symbolic interactionism. (and btw, that mcroberts book i sent you relies to some extent on goffman.) you might like him. ‘interaction ritual’ is a nice book of goffman’s. it is super, super dry, but really worth it. i hear ‘presentation of self in everyday life’ is better but i haven’t gotten to it yet. like a lot of social science theorists, i am beginning to think, goffman doesn’t evaluate his philosphical assumptions, but he works out a theory that really nicely links to descriptions of what people are actually doing – it’s somewhere between philosophy and the everyman’s description of what he’s doing.

    i also think…and i totally reserve the right to recognize dumbassness in this statement later –

    i wonder if foucault only applies really well to marginal cases. he writes about prisons, mental institutions, and medicalization of deviance…these are important things, but i think he struggles with how much of a role power plays, and maybe overemphasizes it in the end. power only has some influence on what conceptual categories people are allowed, don’t you think? there is some correspondence with truth out there in what we say, at least in some cases – maybe in particular when we are recognizing things that are not ‘social facts.’ (so you know, since god is not a social fact, but some other kind of fact, i am excited to see you distinguish this emergent form of communication from the actual type of fact it’s seeking to convey) foucault also, as i think you’re saying, doesn’t work so well when you try to explain how individuals manage to come up with ideas of their own. his “discourses” don’t explain where innovation comes from, or how people manage to struggle against power – even though he enjoins people to struggle.

    and i don’t know doodle squat about derrida, so pfft on him!

    ps star trek was completely awesome. i might see it again next weekend, i think.

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