Wolterstorff: Fides Quaerens Intellectum
Noted Christian Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff addresses the Biola community on the love of learning and distinguishes between the love of understanding and the love of production. He argues that the love of true understanding is essential to Christian scholarship and keeps professional scholarship alive. He warns of the potential pitfalls – like frustration – associated with the, often grueling, task of scholarship.
Over the years, many students have come into my office to discuss career choices. Should they set their sights on becoming a professor or should they go into some other line of work. And if they do set their sights on becoming a professor, should they go into philosophy or into some other discipline. Rather late in my career, I took to putting three questions to students contemplating some particular career choice.
Do you love it? Are you good at it? And is it worthwhile? Do you love it? Are you good at it? And is it worthwhile? I always made a point of adding that they might not find a position that satisfied all three criteria, but that they should look for one that does. I did not suggest that they should ask that they ask themselves whether they felt obligated to go into the career they were considering.
For over the years, I learned that almost always, when a student felt obligated to go into some career, it was because his or her parents had made them feel obligated. I never once in my entire career did I suggest that they ask whether the career they were contemplating was likely to yield fame or fortune. I suggested that they asked whether they loved it and if they did love it, whether it also fitted their talents and was something worthwhile doing.
So let me begin my talk today with some comments about that specific form of love which is love of learning. Now, I know that there are many people in the academy who don’t love learning or don’t love that particular branch of learning in which they find themselves. But that’s not how it should be. What should be is that we are engaged in learning, scholarship and teaching are in it for the love of it. From the first half hour of my first philosophy, college philosophy course, I found myself in love with philosophy.
I remember saying to myself after those first 30 minutes that I had no idea whether I’d be any good at this stuff but if I did prove to be good at it, this was it. So the agonies expressed by many students when they come to my office asking for advice and counsel was not an agony that I could, well, I could empathetically share but not personally. So that first level philosophy has never grown cold. What sort of love was that? The love of philosophy that I experienced in that first half hour. Love comes in many forms.
What form is love of learning? And what is it about learning that leads some of us to love it? I suggest that love of learning comes in two main forms. Start by noticing how often those of us engaged in scholarship use the language of doing and making. We speak of gathering evidence, of constructing theories, of developing arguments, of conducting research, of writing books, all highly activistic language.
Love of learning when it takes this form is the love of producing something of worth. A well-crafted essay, a new theory. This form of love of learning resembles the woodworker’s love of crafting a fine cabinet and the poet’s love of composing a fine poem. It’s a species of craftsmanship. When talking to students about writing philosophy papers, I often told them to think of it as blending craftsmanship with intellectual imagination.
Early on, I used a metaphor for craftsmanship. I said the dovetail should all be tight but I soon learned that most of them had no idea what a dovetail is. How many of you people know what a dovetail is? Raise your hand. Okay, I would have had some response but. Love of learning understood as the love of crafting a fine specimen of scholarship. Images the love manifested in God’s work of creation.
But that was not the love of learning that I experienced in that first half hour of philosophy, for the obvious reason that producing philosophical essays was still well in the future for me, nor was it the love of learning nor was at this form of love of learning that I discerned in my father, then my grandfather and quite a few of my aunts and uncles.
We, my grandfather, we, my grandfather was a farmer on the prairies of Southwest Minnesota but he didn’t love farming. He disliked it, maybe even hated it. What he loved was reading theology. So as much as possible, he neglected farming and gratified his love of theological learning to the intense exasperation of his children, my aunts and uncles.
But his love of theological learning did not eventuate in any works of theology, though he certainly talked a lot of theology. So love of learning takes a form in addition to the love of producing worthy pieces of scholarship. More than 60 years after that first half hour of that first philosophy course, this other love of learning remains alive in me.
So what is this other love of learning that my grandfather had, my father and my aunts and uncles, myself in that first half hour? I think it’s the love of understanding. Previously one was baffled, bewildered, perplexed or just ignorant, now, one understands. And some of us love gaining understanding. I’m inclined to think that all human beings do though it’s evident that some human beings don’t like putting much effort into it.
This second form of love of learning, the love of understanding is as I see it not merely in addition to the love of producing worthy pieces of scholarship, understanding is the point of the enterprise, scholarship is for the sake of understanding. We produce works of scholarship in order to articulate, record and communicate what we have understood. When I listened to deconstructionists and postmodernists, I do sometimes get the impression that they never think in terms of understanding, gaining understanding.
For them, the academic enterprise consists entirely of producing essays that others will find interesting, that’s an operative word and or provocative. And some take the radical next step of insisting that there’s nothing there to be understood. Production goes all the way down, it’s all there ever is. Though it’s worth noting that even those who say this that there is nothing to be understood tend to get upset when they think that they themselves have been misunderstood. They don’t want their own works treated as the occasion for a play of imagination.
So I think it’s the love of understanding that ultimately keeps scholarship alive. If that love were extinguished, scholarship would die out. What would be the point? You can make more money elsewhere. For the benefit of those of you just entering a career as scholar, I should add that this love of understanding carries along with it a dark side, namely frustration. You are baffled by something. You want to find something out, you want to understand but you’re unsuccessful. Reality won’t yield its secret.
The mystery won’t part so you’re frustrated. A good deal of what goes into being a scholar is being able and willing to live with the frustration, for the time being anyway, of wanting to understand that which, for the time being, resists being understood. So a blend of exhilaration and frustration, that’s the experience of those who are gripped by the love of understanding. And why do we human beings wrong for understanding when we don’t have it? Why do we relish it when we do have it? Sometimes, we prize understanding because what we have learned enables us to causally bring about certain things, enables us to change the world and ourselves in certain ways, it’s what Brad was talking about.
But this reason, prominent though it certainly is in the modern world, cannot be the only reason for prizing understanding. It was not the reason my grandfather prized theological understanding and it’s not the reason that some of us prize philosophical understanding. As the old saw has it, philosophy bakes no bread. There are forms of understanding that are to be prized wholly apart from what they enable us to bring about causally. And why is that? Why prize learning that’s not abused for changing things?
The only way of answering this question that is available to the secularist is to identify or postulate some factor within the psychological makeup of human beings. Aristotle thought that is characteristic of human beings, some of them, just to wonder about certain things, to wonder why projectiles fall to earth, for example.
For an answer of a very different sort, not incompatible but different, an answer that points away from the self, I invite you to turn with me to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. “How great are your works, O Lord!” exclaims Israel’s songwriter. “Your thoughts are very deep. “How manifold are your works, “in wisdom you have made them all. “The Earth is full of your creatures.” Over and over the theme is sounded, the cosmos in which we find ourselves is not just here somehow, nor are we just here, both we and the cosmos were made. We’re works, works of God, made with wisdom which the New Testament invites us to identify with Jesus Christ.
The Lord by wisdom founded the Earth, by understanding, he established the heavens, by his knowledge, the deeps broke open and the clouds dropped down the doom. The response of the psalmist to this vision of the cosmos and ourselves as works, works of God made with wisdom, is to meditate reverentially on these awesome manifestations of divine wisdom and to praise the one by whose wisdom they were made.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praise to my God while I have been. And not only are we in the cosmos works of divine wisdom, so also is Torah, God’s guide for Israel’s life. It, too, is a work of divine wisdom. The Torah of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul, the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple, the precepts of the Lord are right rejoicing the heart, the commandments of the Lord are clear and lightening the eyes.
The response of the devout Jew to this vision of divine wisdom embodied in Torah was to meditate with delight on Torah. So as in this case too get some glimpse of the wisdom embodied therein. Happy are those whose delight is in the Torah of the Lord, on his Torah, they meditate day and night. Oh how I love your Torah. It is my meditation all day long. Your commandant makes me wiser than my enemies for it’s always with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my daily meditation.
The orientation that I’ve been all too briefly describing of meditating with odd and reverential delight on God’s works of creation and redemption, who has to get some glimpse of the wisdom embodied therein has, so far as I can tell, virtually disappeared from the modern world. Rejected by secularists, of course, but also I think neglected by Christians who if they pay any attention at all to the divine wisdom embedded in creation tempt to turn it into a doctrine that they hold along with other doctrines. So I invite you to do some imagining.
Imagine that those of us who are Christian scholars recovered this vision. Imagine that for us, it became an orientation towards reality rather than one doctrine among others. Then we would see it as the point of the natural sciences, not only to produce theoretical constructs worthy of admiration but to enhance our understanding of the cosmos. And we would regard the cosmos, not as something that’s somehow just there, but as a work of God and fused with divine wisdom. love of learning, so understood, would lead us to revel in all at these works of divine wisdom and to praise their maker, some of whose wisdom we had now glimpse by virtue of natural science. I think there’s something deeply defective about the student or the scholar who has never felt that awe. Scholarship should have that emotion at spaces.
Cell biology of the past 50 years is an extraordinary scientific construct, admirable both for its intrinsic worth and for its technological utility but more than that, it has reviewed to us some of the astounding intricacy of this part of creation. In coming to understand that intricacy, we get a glimpse of divine wisdom. We both praise the great achievements of the cell biologists and we stand in awe of the divine wisdom that cell biology has opened up to us. Some of you will have been asking yourselves whether the orientation that I’ve been describing and commending is it all relevant to the humanities.
Those disciplines in which we study not what God has made but what our fellow human beings have made. Works of literature, of visual art, of music, of philosophy and so forth. I’ve asked myself the same question so let me suggest an answer. There were powerful currents of thought in the 20th century that urged us to treat texts and works of art autonomously. Urged us, for example, not to ask what Augustine said in the Confessions but to ask what the text says.
Not to ask what Milton said in Paradise Lost but to ask what the poem says. Powerful movements, in short, towards removing authors and artists from the scene of the humanities. Instead of regarding oneself as engaged with Augustine when reading the Confessions, one is to regard oneself has engaged with the text called the Confessions. Instead of regarding oneself is engaged with Milton when reading Paradise Lost, one is to regard oneself as engaged with that impersonal artifact which is the text titled Paradise Lost and so forth.
Such a removal of persons from the scene, such a deep personalizing of the humanities has gone hand in hand with the emergence in psychology and sociology of ever new reductionist accounts of being human. J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin are, of course, abstract sound patterns but they’re more than that. They are musical intelligence and imagination of an utterly extraordinary level embodied into sound, wisdom embodied into sound. To listen to them is to engage J.S Bach, to insist on removing Bach from the scene is an act of dishonor. So here’s my suggestion. If one sees the cosmos not as something that’s just there but as a work of God made in wisdom, then I think one will naturally also see poems, symphonies, bridges, churches and the like not as found objects, but it’s works made by persons with one and another degree of wisdom, made because the maker thought, love and imagined.
And in so doing, imaged God the Creator. Before such embodied wisdom, we should also stand in awe and not just rush past as we do before scientific theories. Awe at the incredible gifts that God has bestowed on humankind. I introduce these reflections on wisdom by noting that learning is to be prized both for the sake of what it enables us to bring about causally and wholly apart from that. Since it’s the latter reason that gets neglected in the modern world given our infatuation with technology, I began with that. But now let me make just an extremely brief comment about the utility of learning.
Here to the Jewish and Christian believer will have a distinct take on things. That distinct take being rooted in the conviction that as creatures of God made in his image, we human beings are not here just to act as we please but we have a calling. The calling to be agents of shalom and good stewards of the Earth and its creatures and that conviction will guide both the direction of our learning and as Brad was indicating, our employment of what kind has learned. We will pursue and employ learning for the sake of authentic development, development of the potentials of creation that promotes shalom. And we will pursue and employ learning for the sake of bringing out justice, bringing about justice.
We will, in the words of Isaiah, employ learning “to loose the bonds of injustice, “to undo the thongs of the yoke, “to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke.” Obviously, a great more could be said indeed cries out to be said about the pursuit and employment of learning for the sake of shalom but on this occasion, I’m going to move on. I’ve been talking about the two forms of love that do or should animate the Christian engaged in scholarship.
The love of understanding which motivates scholarship and is its yield and the love of the craft to good scholarship. I want now to move on to some remarks in the second part of my talk on how, as I see it, the Christian engages in scholarship. Let me proceed by first offering a compact formula and then unpacking its content. Here is the formula.
The Christian scholars should think and act with the Christian mind and speak with an appropriate Christian voice as she engages in her particular discipline and participates in the academy generally. Let me begin the unpacking with some remarks about how I understand the academic disciplines. Recently, I listened to a talk in which the speaker argue that teaching intelligent design is incompatible with the nature of natural science and that if intelligent design is to be taught anywhere in the curriculum, he said, “It has to be in philosophy courses.”
In those arguing the speaker assumed that natural science and philosophy both have a nature or an essence, and was assuming, of course, that he knew what that essence was in each case. And he was claiming that the discussion of intelligent design is incompatible with the nature of natural science but is compatible with the nature of philosophy.
The speaker’s assumption about nature or essence is a common assumption, though less common nowadays, I think, than it was 40 years ago. The idea is something like this. The natural science came to birth in the early modern period at the hands of people like Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and alike when the so-called scientific method became established and the idea is that what preceded it was not science but the prehistory of science.
And so too for economics, for psychology, for sociology, for the scientific study of history and so forth, they all have a, if you will, a platonic essence that gets manifested in history at a certain point after millennia of preparation for this manifestation. Without arguing the point on this occasion, this assumption came out in Al Plantinga’s talk when he was quoting people who said that methodological naturalism was just of the, belonged to the essence of natural science. Let me say that I think of the various academic disciplines very differently.
I think of them as social practices. Some like philosophy with a long ancestry, some like molecular biology, a very recent origin. These practices are constantly changing as a result of developments both within and outside the discipline. So I think what happened in the early modern period was not that the essence of natural science finally descended from the platonic heavens after millennia of preparation, finally putting in its appearance in history, I think what happened was that the long enduring social practice of forming theories to explain the workings of physical nature underwent a truly dramatic alteration.
A social practice is a tradition. It’s a way of doing something that gets handed on to newcomers who are thereby inducted into it. The newcomers learn the goals of the discipline and its framework of concepts. They acquire the skills necessary for engaging in the discipline and along the way, they pick up ways of assessing products of the discipline is better and worse. These evaluations often, but I think not always, connected to various specific goals of the practice. Here’s the point.
Social practices, and in particular, the disciplines, academic disciplines are norm-infused. Often, it turns out that newcomers envisage new goals for the practice and new modes of evaluation. When that happens, it will seldom be the case that all the old comers instantly, all the old guys instantly rally around these new goals and modes of evaluation, instead, the practice becomes the site of controversy. In the penultimate chapter of his essay, Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke makes the point with telling whimsy, a little bit old English here but you’ll catch it.
Would it not be in, oh, a novelist here is not somebody who writes novels but you’ll later, okay? “Would it not be an insufferable thing “for a learned professor, and that which his scarlet “would blush at, to have his authority of 40 years standing, “wrought out of hard rock, Greek and Latin, “with no small expense of time and candle “and confirmed by general tradition and a reverend beard, “in an instant overturned by an upstart novelist? “Can any one expect that he should be made to confess, “that what he taught his scholars 30 years ago “was all error and mistake, and that he sold them hard words “and ignorance at a very dear price?”
The social practice that is some particular academic discipline is a shared human practice, not a practice reserved for Christians, not a practice reserved for naturalists but a practice for all of us together. The social practice of philosophy, my own discipline, belongs neither to Christians nor to naturalists nor to idealists but to all philosophers together, and so for all the other academic disciplines, they belong to all of us together, just as the government belongs to all of us together. And the Christian participates in those shared human practices which are the disciplines.
You should do so, I said, thinking and acting with a Christian mind and speaking with an appropriate Christian voice. What do I mean by speaking with an appropriate Christian voice? For one thing, the Christian voice, whether within the academy or elsewhere, will always be a voice that pays due honor to the other person. “Honor all human beings,” says the writer of the New Testament epistle, 1 Peter. The Christian voice will be firm and forthright of that is what the occasion calls for but it will never be abusive.
There’s a great deal of abusive and demeaning talk that takes place in the academy. The Christian will refuse to engage in such talk. The Christian voice will never demean, abuse or ridicule fellow scholars or indeed, anybody else. But there’s another and more subtle point that I want to make here. The voice with which the Christian scholars speaks must be a voice that can be genuinely heard by one’s fellow scholars in the discipline. A voice such that it contributes or least potentially contributes to the dialogue of the discipline.
Every now and then when teaching at Yale, I would have a student who didn’t know, hadn’t learned how to speak in the voice appropriate to the Yale philosophy classroom. Invariably, this was an evangelical student and always a male. He would ask a question or make a statement in a voice appropriate to a Bible camp rather than to a philosophy classroom. The philosophy classroom in this case, including non-Christians, Jews and Muslims and so forth as well as Christians.
As Jesus says in John 5:16, you know what. I knew the students, some of the students, by then, the Jewish students would be looking at each other and, I mean, where did this guy come from and so forth. Evangelicals often interpret a hostile response to something they’ve said as indicating hostility to Christianity or maybe more specifically, hostility to evangelical Christianity. Sometimes, it does indicate that. But sometimes, the hostile responses do instead to the fact that the speaker is not learned to make his point in a voice appropriate to that shared human enterprise which is the discipline in question.
He hasn’t learned how to speak in this context. Those were comments, all too brief, about speaking with an appropriate Christian voice. Now, what do I mean by thinking and acting with a Christian mind in the practice of one’s discipline? Let me introduce my explanation by mentioning some things that, surprise, that for me don’t count as examples of what I have in mind. Thinking and acting with the Christian mind does not consist of developing some Christian addition to one’s discipline. In particular does not consist of developing a theology of one’s discipline, a theology of music, a theology of sociology, a theology of history or whatever. Those are not bad things, they’re good things but they’re not what I’ve got in mind.
Thinking and acting with the Christian mind and the practice of one’s discipline is not additive in character. Nor, secondly, do I think it consists of integrating one’s Christian faith with the results at one’s discipline. The image evoked by the term integration is that there being two things, one’s faith and the results of one’s discipline. The project then being to tie these things together in some way, to integrate them.
To think and act with a Christian mind in the practice of one’s discipline is not to tie together in some way one’s faith and the results of the discipline. It’s to be guided by one’s faith in the practice of the discipline. Nor, thirdly, does thinking and acting with a Christian mind consist of doing this sort of thing that Dorothy Sayers does in her book “Mind of the Maker”.
Sayers takes R. G. Collingwood’s theory of art in one hand, the traditional doctrine of the Trinity in the other hand and points out similarities. But that’s not thinking and acting with the Christian mind within the discipline of philosophy of art. It’s taking Collingwood’s philosophy of art for granted. And as a matter of fact, with a bit of imagination, one can always point out some similarities between some Christian doctrines and certain results of some discipline.
Last, thinking and acting with the Christian mind in the practice of one’s discipline is not to be identified with coming up with different views from those at one’s non-Christian colleagues. It’s not defined by difference. The fact that some of my non-Christian colleagues agree with me on some point does not, to my mind, establish that I was not thinking and acting with the Christian mind and arriving at my conclusions. Truth is I should hope for agreement and be gratified when it occurs. So, thinking and acting with the Christian mind in the practice of one’s discipline is none of those things, what’s left for it to be?
The first thing I want to say here is I’m using the term mind and this is really important metaphorically. It carries the same sense for me here that it does for St. Paul when he speaks of the mind of Christ. Though it has intellectual content, it’s content goes well beyond beliefs and doctrines. In that sense, I admit, it’s misleading metaphor. We, human beings, do not just react to what we experience, we interpret it as we do the experience itself in reality more generally. And to some of our experience, we ascribe value of worth of one kind and another as we do to some of what we experience and to some parts of reality more generally.
We, let me say, we’ve valorize these. Some of our interpretations and valorizations are apparently innate to us, they’re part of our nature but most are not like that, we acquire them. Consider, for example, our engagement with music. We don’t just react to music, we interpret music and we valorize both the music we hear in our modes of engagement with it. Both the interpreting and the valorizing being for the most part, the consequence of learning. We learn what to listen for, what to attend to, we acquire concepts that apply to what we hear.
These concepts not only enabling us to describe what we hear but shaping our auditory perception so that we don’t just hear some passage of music but we hear it as so and so, hear it as a fugue, for example, or as a rondo. And we learn to evaluate one passage of music as better in certain respects than another passage. We acquire capacities for delight, we learn, yeah, we learn to love certain works of music. Whereas, initially, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was, for us, an inscrutable cacophony. Now, we love it. All of these and more goes into our learning to interpret and valorize music.
We acquire what I shall call a musical mind or maybe better, a musical formation. That is a formation for interpreting and valorizing music and one’s experience of music. Call it, for short, one’s musical IV formation. I realize that IV is short also for intravenous injections. One’s musical IV formation includes thoughts about music but as we’ve just noted, it includes a lot more as well, habits of attention, modes of perception, habits of evaluation, capacities for delight and love, on and on.
And what we learn in talking to others is that one’s own musical IV formation is similar to but also different from that of others. Sometimes, radically different. Now, just as we each acquire a particular way of interpreting and valorizing music and our experience of music, so those of us who are Christians have acquired a Christian mind, that is, a Christian way of interpreting and valorizing what we experience, our experience itself and reality more generally. We have acquired what I’ll call a Christian IV formation, interpreting valorizing formation. Such a formation includes doctrines, principles, views, true but I want to insist that as not to be identified with those and in particular, is not to be identified with what is nowadays often called a Christian worldview.
It’s more than that, much more. It includes habits of attention, modes of perception, habits of evaluation, capacities for delight and love. We call my earlier discussion about the awe that and the Jew and the Christian experience and getting a glimpse of the divine wisdom embedded in creation. A Christian mind includes that, and I think it also includes the capacity for sheer horror in the face of what human beings have done to each other.
It includes those emotional contents. So it’s like a musical mind. And just as one person’s musical formation is similar to but also different from that of others, sometimes, radically different, so too the Christian formation of one person is similar to but also different from that of others. They differ, of course, in the particular interpretations and valorization that they incorporate but they also differ, and this for me is important, they also differ in scope.
Some Christian formations are narrow and constricted in scope. Including little more than embrace of a few Christian doctrines, a little more than perhaps valuing the Bible as the good book or maybe a little more than enjoying listening to praise songs and Sunday worship services. Of the various modes of IV formation which shapes such a person’s life as a whole, his Christian formation plays a minor role. Nowhere near as influential in his life as a whole as say his formation as a lawyer or as his formation as a devoted follower of the Chicago Cubs.
Other Christian formations are wide in the scope. Being more influential than any other formation in shaping one’s life as a whole. Of course, never will a person’s Christian IV formation shape her entire life, the life of each of us is also shaped by the formation we acquire as a member of, for example, a particular national culture.
And those social practices which are the academic disciplines are likewise ways of interpreting and valorrizing experience. To be inducted into one of these practices is to inquire a mind and IV formation structurally similar to a musical mind, one acquires a mind of a physicist, the mind of a literary critic, the mind of a philosopher. The mind of a physicist includes thoughts, of course, theories, ideas for experiments, memories of experiments and the like. But it also includes habits of attention, modes of perception, habits of evaluation, capacities for delight.
So my thesis once again is that the Christian scholars should think and act with the Christian mind, a Christian IV formation when engaging in his or her particular discipline. In propounding that thesis, I am making two controversial assumptions that now, I’m bringing my discussion to a close, I must now articulate and defend as best as I can in the brief time remaining. First, I’m assuming that the Christian mind of a scholar is, in fact, relevant to engaging in his or her discipline. I’m assuming that it speaks to the ways of interpreting and valorizing that take place in that discipline.
If it is, in fact, irrelevant to those ways of thinking, those ways of attending, those ways of perceiving, those ways of valuing and loving, then my thesis assumes that the scholar who is a Christian should try to acquire a Christian mind that would be relevant, have relevance to engaging in the discipline. And why do I assume that a scholar’s Christian mind either is or should be relevant, have relevance to engaging in the discipline? I do so because I believe that the person who is a Christian should seek to conform his or her mind, Christian IV formation, his ways of attending, of perceiving, of thinking, of valuing, of loving and so forth to Scripture and to the core tradition of the church.
And I believe that a mind so conformed will in fact be relevant to matters that arise within the disciplines. Scripture does not just speak about the transcendent leaving us free to form our interpretations of valorization of experience as it will. It speaks to our experience and to the reality that we experience. Defending this thesis require citing plausible examples, in this case, the proof is in the pudding so let me offer a few.
My opening remarks about wisdom provide us with an example. I think that someone who’s Christian mind has been shaped by the Scripture will regard the intricacy and immensity of the world that the natural sciences open up to us as God’s wisdom embedded in creation and with praise and in awe, he or she will dwell on these glimpses of divine wisdom. Here’s another example of a rather different sort. Over and over in history, biography and social theory, one comes across writers who operate on the assumption that religion plays no role in explaining why people act as they do, or on the assumption that if it does play a role, its role is so insignificant as to not be worth paying any attention to.
An example, two writers, Cohen and Arato, and a big fat book in discussing the anti-Communist revolution in East Germany in their book called “Civil Society and Political Theory” pay no attention whatsoever to the role of religion and of religious leaders in that uprising. The impression one gets from reading the book is that leaders who just happen to be Christian pastors held meetings and buildings that just happen to be churches and use language that just happened to be rather religious in order to motivate the people to rise up and get the boot off their necks. Another example at the same point. In his otherwise fine biography of John Adams, David McCullough pays no attention to Adams’ religion. Unless readers know otherwise from other sources, they will come away from the book with the impression that religion played no role in Adams’ life.
Here’s another example. There’s a book out narrating the revolution in South Africa which pays no attention, I mean zero attention to the role of religious leaders but says that it was entirely led by the trade unions. I could give lots of other examples of the same point. A Christian whose Christian mind conforms to Scripture and the main Christian tradition will not neglect the role of religion in human life and history. Here’s another example of yet a different sort. For more than two centuries now, thinking and writing about the fine arts has been conducted within what I have called in some of my own writings, the grand modern narrative of the arts.
And a prominent component in that narrative is the claim that the act of creating works of art is socially other and transcendent as are the works themselves. Here’s the idea. Instrumental rationality, it said, pervades modern society and it destroys all the old ancient unities. That’s modernity. Artists, by contrast, employ imagination rather than instrumental rationality and the works they create possess organic unity rather than disunity.
So they are socially transcendent. And the social transcendence commonly attributed to art has led a great many writers in the modern period until about 50 years ago with Jonathan, then for some reason, it changed. As a led a great many writers in the modern period to take the next step of ascribing religious import of various different sorts to art. A fairly typical passage is the following from one Wilhelm Wackenroder riding in the late 1700s, but it could have been written in the 1800s as well and early 1900s. Here it goes.
Art galleries ought to be temples where, in still and silent humility and in heart-lifting solitude, we may admire great artists as the highest among mortals with long steadfast contemplation of their works. I compare the enjoyment of nobler works of art to prayer. Works of art, in their way, no more fit into the common flow of life than does the thought of God. That day is, for me, a sacred holiday which I devote to the contemplation of noble works of art.
I submit that a person whose Christian mind conforms to scripture and the main Christian tradition will think highly of art, to be sure, but will not make of it an idol as Wackenroder does. Let me move on to the second assumption that I’m making when I propound the thesis that the Christian scholars should think and act with a Christian mind when engaging formation, when engaging in his or her discipline. I’m assuming that there’s nothing about a Christian mind, and nothing about the academic enterprise that obligates the Christian scholar not to do so. And this assumption is contested on a number of grounds.
One ground of contestation is that religion is irrational and should, for that reason be kept out of the academy. As one of my Yale colleagues once put it, religious people suffer from what she called a rationality deficit. I cannot, on this occasion, engage this charge. Let me simply say that over the past 30 years or so, there’s been extensive discussion by philosophers concerning the rationality of religious belief and I think I can safely say that anybody who’s worked through that literature will conclude that this charge of irrationality cannot be sustained.
Fairly late in his life, Richard Rorty, after recalling that he, along with many others had charged religion with irrationality remarked that he had changed his mind and that he had come to the view that the charge was pure bunk. Pure bunk is a quotation from Rorty. Another ground of contestation is that religion proves always to be a source of intolerance and that for the peace of the academy and of society in general, it must be confined to the private lives of people. On this occasion, I can also not engage this charge.
Let me simply remark that if it were true in general that religious people are less tolerant than non-religious people, we’d have to consider whether that’s a good reason for trying to confine religion to the realm of the private. But I don’t know of any careful studies of the matter and for what it’s worth, when I look back on my own experience in the academy and when I recall what others have told me about their experience, it is by no means evident to me that religious people are less tolerant of non-religious people than are non-religious people of religious people.
There’s a third ground of contestation that I do want to spend just a bit of time discussing. Deep in the mentality of modernity has been the assumption that engaging in the academic disciplines is, or should be, an exercise of our generically human rationality.
Here, rather than allowing our various religious or comprehensive philosophical formations to shape what we do, we should go to the things themselves by employing our shared perceptual capacities, our shared introspective capacities, our shared capacities for apprehending necessary truths, our shared capacities for making inferences. As John Locke put it, instead of appealing to tradition, we should appeal to reason by which he includes perception and introspection and so forth.
Now, one is initially inclined to say that on this view of how the disciplines are to be practiced, we are to work from consensus and toward consensus but that can’t be right. If some colleague stubbornly hangs on to some favorite theory in the face of mounting evidence against it, recall Locke’s learned professor and his reverend beard. If some colleague stubbornly hangs on to some favorite theory in the face of accumulating evidence, that cannot be allowed to function as a brake, B-R-A-K-E, on the endeavors of the rest of us. So I think the root idea is something like this. In the academic disciplines, we are to aim at basing our views solely on arguments and evidence that all competent practitioners of the discipline would accept.
If those arguments and evidence were presented to them, if they understood them, if they had the relevant background information and if they freely thought about them, reflected on them, these arguments and these evidence at sufficient length, is that sort of counterfactual consensus.
They would agree if rather than actual consensus that we are to work from and toward. Now, parenthetically, be it noted that thinking and acting with a Christian mind as one engages in one’s discipline is not really incompatible with conforming to this counterfactual consensus requirement. Suppose that a sociologist is led by his Christian formation to conclude that the understanding of the human person that dominates sociology are all deficient in some important way.
He might then try to defend this conclusion with arguments that satisfy that counterfactual consensus requirement. And there’s no reason in principle why he couldn’t succeed. But the question I want to press, however, is this. What does he do if he doesn’t succeed? He tries to find considerations that all competent practitioners of the discipline who understand what he’s claiming, who thought about it, who have a relevant background information would accept, what if he tries that? And he doesn’t succeed in finding such evidence and arguments.
Given the counterfactual character of the requirement, it will often not be easy for him to determine whether or not he has succeeded. Actually, sometimes, it will be difficult to determine actual agreement or disagreement. I propound some philosophical thesis and everybody I know just agrees with me but how do I know what some philosopher in New Zealand thinks about the matter? Note, however, that even if I do discover disagreement, that does not establish that I haven’t met this counterfactual consensus requirement because now I’ve got to take the next step okay, he disagrees. I’ve got to take the next step of figuring out why he disagrees.
Might it be that he hasn’t fully understood my arguments? And that if he did, he would agree. Might it be that he lacks sone crucial piece of background information? Might it be that he hasn’t thought long and hard enough about it? We should not overlook the arrogance implicit in judging that one’s colleagues are deficient in one or another of these respects. If you understood my argument, you’d agree.
If you had the background information, you’d agree. If you just thought longer and harder about it, you would agree with me. That’s arrogant. Difficult though, it will sometimes be to determine whether one has met the counterfactual consensus requirement. Let us suppose that our sociologist concludes that he hasn’t, he hasn’t done it.
Try as he did, try as he would, he did not succeed in finding arguments and evidence that meet the requirement. His fellow sociologists have not all rallied around this position, some have, but not all. Yet, at least some of them who disagree appear to understand what he’s saying, appear not to be ignorant of any relevant background information, and appear to have taken seriously what he said and thought about it at some length, but they disagree. So what does he do now? What does he do now? Does he abandon sociology? Alternatively, does he put his own views about the human person in cold storage while doing sociology? And go along with one or another of those dominant views that he thinks is mistaken?
To adopt the latter strategy makes no sense. He understands those alternative views. He thought long and hard about them, he possesses all the relevant background information but he disagrees. So his disagreement is proof that those who espouse those views have also not met the counterfactual consensus requirement. In fact, nobody has met it. So what does he do? What do any of them do?
Before I answer that question, I’ll do so very shortly, let me highlight the fact that our example shows that there have to be sources of disagreement among scholars in addition to those that the counterfactual consensus requirement highlights. Scholars who understand each other’s arguments who thought long and hard about them and who share the relevant background information still disagree. Let me put the point more crisply. Rational, intelligent, well-informed and reflective scholars often disagree.
Now, recall a comment I made when I was talking about social practices. I said it’s typical of social practices that there are disagreements among competent, well-informed and reflective participants in the discipline. So such disagreements need not mark a breakdown in the practice, a failure to live up to certain requirements. To the contrary disagreements like that are essential to the vitality of the practice.
The counterfactual consensus requirement is not just, in my view, a mistake, it’s deeply misguided as to what goes on in the disciplines. Given the disagreements within every academic discipline, scholars often disagree because they’ve had different formations in the academy, formed by different schools. But I submit that we, who are scholars, also disagree because of the different formations that we bring to our practice of the disciplines.
From our life in the everyday, we bring with us what we’ve been formed to be, Americans, participants in a capitalist economy, political conservatives, anti-religious, hardcore naturalists, humanists, Christians, you name it. So what to do? What else can one do but engage in one’s discipline as the person one has been formed to be.
With whatever one’s formation, religious, anti-religious, whatever, one participates in the dialogue intrinsic to one’s discipline. listening carefully and openly to serious objections posed one’s interpretations and valorizations, changing one’s mind when that seems the right thing to do, posing as compellingly as possible one’s objections to alternative interpretations and valorizations, probing the sources of disagreement, sometimes bracketing with one’s disagreement with a fellow scholar, so as to explore together the implication of points of agreement.
Working out one’s own position to see where it goes, if possible, doing this in cooperation with others. That’s so it seems to me how one ought to engage in one’s discipline. I have sometimes called it dialogic pluralism, or pluralism of positions in dialogue with each other. So let me state my basic theses one last time.
It is the calling of the Christian scholar to think and act with the Christian mind, met formation, and to speak with an appropriate Christian voice as she engages in her discipline. Fides quaerens intellectum. She does this out of love. Both love the craft of scholarship and love of understanding and she loves understanding, both for the wisdom of God and God’s creatures that it reveals and forge utility and the pursuit of shalom.
Attendee: Thank you. I wanted to ask you to elaborate on something you mentioned at the beginning about no discipline particularly belonging to Christians or any other group but to everyone who participates in the discipline. I wanted to ask how broadly or narrowly you define discipline and how we draw boundaries around disciplines because if it’s specific enough, I can imagine disciplines that have been studied in the past like eugenics that are, in principle, off-limits for a Christian but you could also broadly construe eugenics as just part of the broader science of genetics in which case, it would not be so. So how do you draw those boundary lines?
That’s a good question. We philosophers would love to have identity criteria for disciplines, like criteria for identity and differentiation which I don’t have. So yeah, so, there will be some, let me call them sub-disciplines that should just be out for Christians and I suppose Christian theology is not something that many other people are gonna share in. So I can’t give you, there would be some disciplines, sub-disciplines, whatever that should just be out for Christians, yep. I had more general things in mind like biology, philosophy, chemistry.
Attendee: First of all, thank you so much for just your contribution to Christian philosophy. As someone who’s just been working through your book this last semester in Dr. Crisp’s class, I’ve greatly benefited just from the text and just your views on justice. I’ve really caused me to do a lot of deep thinking about the subject so I wanted to say thank you for that. My question, I guess, has to do with maybe like an advice or practical question.
For those of us who are seeking to make a career in philosophy as Christians, what advice would you give to us who are in this position? So it seems that to get to the place where you can do writing and influence people from writing or teaching as a Christian in the field of philosophy, you have to get through graduate school and you have to get into graduate school and you have to be around places that are not friendly to the Christian environment and that sort of seems to me like it would limit what you could write on or choose to specialize in up front or what you would wanna include on your, what you would wanna include in your applications to graduate school as far as what you would wanna specialize in. So what would you advise for students wanting to apply to graduate school?
There seems to be a limit on their ability to exercise or speak with the Christian voice early on when you’re trying to get your PhD, when you’re trying to get a tenure job, when you’re trying to get accepted, is there a sense in which we would have to kind of play the game and keep explicit Christian views on writing quiet until we’re in a position to exercise them? Does that make sense?
Sure, your question makes really good sense but I don’t have a equally flying answer to it. Let me give you my experience in grad school. I was a grad student at Harvard in the mid-50s. Logical positivism was in its heyday. I didn’t know at the time exactly what, I thought it was desperately wrong but I didn’t know how to show, I had no idea how to show to, more or less, the satisfaction of my colleagues in general, Christian and non-Christian what was wrong with it.
Arguments, good arguments against it, well, actually, in this case, the positivists themselves proceeded to provide good arguments against positivism so that eventually became very helpful but at the time, so at the time, my attitude was I don’t believe a word of this. I’m not going to a comment, try to, I’m not gonna try to be a Christian positivist or any, I’m not gonna jump on the bandwagon but I’ve just got to be patient.
So I didn’t write papers for my Harvard profs charging into logical positivism on the ground that I, as a Christian, could not accept it and so forth. I didn’t do that. Was I concealing myself? No, they knew who I was, they knew I was a Christian. So sometimes, you don’t always have to say everything you think.
In fact, I’ve known one or two people who it seems to me come close to saying everything they think and [laughing], and it’s a sheer horror being around them. [attendees laughing] So get the best training you can in the central disciplines of philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology and so forth. Political philosophy, may be, so for that, aesthetics. Get the best training you can and you’re gonna find yourself in situations where you don’t know exactly what to say. In such a situation, you maybe don’t have to say anything.
So I said that part of being a scholar is living with frustration, part of being a scholar is also patience. Feeling in your gut that there’s something mistaken, wrong here but not knowing at the moment how to pinpoint it or even if you know how to pinpoint it, how to construct arguments that would be more or less impressive or weighty, have some weight with your colleagues, who are non-Christians, you have to be patient. I sometimes think of it as finding the pry points, the point where you can locate a pry bar to pry on the position that you disagree with and you may just have to live for a while with not knowing it.
But I guess an important part of my advice is don’t jump on bandwagons. It seems to me that one of the horrible features of a lot of scholars who are Christians is they jump on bandwagons. So logical positivism, so there’s a spate of essays asking can one be good Christian and a positivist? John Rawls publishes his “Theory of Justice” and there are hundreds of articles. Can one be a good Christian and a Rawlsian?
Derrida comes out there are hundreds of articles, can one be a good Christian and a Derridean? And so forth, bandwagon, I find it nauseating, just absolutely nauseating. Think for yourself. Those people thought for yourself, think for yourself, don’t just jump on these bandwagon. That’s part of my [chuckles].
Attendee: Nick, I have nothing but admiration for your talk and for what you say here.
So that’s the end of your comments? [all laughing]
Attendee: But first, I wanna ask Tom, is one limited to one comment or can one have two comments? Okay, great. Well first, I just wanna make a little trouble. I mean Jonathan Anderson late earlier on was telling us about how a work of art, he said, maybe that particular when he was talking about Pentecost or some other, has a certain meaning. In a certain context, it has a certain meaning. Maybe the artist has no idea what that is, maybe the artist really doesn’t have a whole lot more to say about that than anybody else and in many cases, maybe less.
Now, my question is how does that fit in with your suggestion that, your opposition to the idea that what should engage is a text, forget the author and we’re not talking about the author says, we should just engage the text. You think that’s a bad idea. I would like to see you and Jonathan straighten this out. [attendees laughing] That’s one comment. I’ll make my other one too and then you and Jonathan can straighten it out but.
You say speaking with an appropriate Christian voice within the social practice that is one’s discipline means that one will never demean one’s colleagues, amen. I do think once in a while, it’s okay to ridicule something. [attendees laughing] A little gentle ridicule is okay, I think, on occasion, anyway but then you say it also means that one will speak in a voice that can genuinely be heard by one’s colleagues and that certainly seems right too but I’d like to raise a question, has to do with a question someone back here raised about the sort of unity of a given discipline.
I mean it might be then in a given discipline, like say philosophy or as far as that goes, many other disciplines, one doesn’t expect to be heard by all of one’s colleagues. In physics, for example, if you’re working in particle physics, you might not expect to be heard by people working on many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics or something like that.
And in particular, it might be that by virtue of your thinking with a Christian mind, as you put it, you’ve got projects that many others in the academy in your particular discipline will have no interest in. It doesn’t seem to me then that then you’re obliged to think, well, I’d like to put it like this. You should think about these different groups of one’s colleagues differently. To some, you’re talking directly, to others you’re saying something I may or may not be interested in, if they want to, they can listen in but you’re not really addressing them on that particular topic.
Yeah, good point. and even apart from Christians, there will be certain disciplines like psychology in which there are just groups, the psychotherapist or a declining group in any case, I guess, but the psychotherapist, when they were thriving could not speak in a voice that the behaviorist could hear in any genuine sense and vice versa.
So yeah ,so what I said should be qualified. So I do think… Well, my reflections on it do arise from this experience of teaching philosophy of religion course at Yale with about 80 students and though there were section, discussion sections, I allow discussion in the class and almost every year, and the class would consist of Yale undergrads of all sorts of students from the divinity school and from some grad students and from around Yale, generally.
And almost every year, it would happen that there’d be some students who graduated from an evangelical college who would ask a question in the language appropriate to a Bible camp. I’m thinking of David, you don’t know who David is but I’m thinking especially of David. So afterwards, I call David aside and David, as Jesus says in John 5:17 and then David quotes whatever it is that Jesus says in John 5:17, I’m not actually sure that Jesus is speaking in John 5:17 but, take it as an example. So I know who the disbelievers were more or less by then and the Jews and they’d be looking at each other and so forth. So I took David aside afterwards and said David, you can ask approximately that same question but you have to learn and you have to ask it in a voice such that the other people in the class say, hmm, I see what he’s getting at. Then David says to me, “And what sort of voice “should I have asked it in?” Whereupon, I felt utterly helpless and all I could say is, “Well, you seem bright. “Why don’t you hang in there? “And I bet after three, four weeks, you’ll catch on,” and he did, he was. So but one’s best that seems to me, Al, to speak in such a way to some parts at one’s discipline such that they can genuinely hear the point you’re making but you might fail and you don’t have to try it with all parts of the discipline, true enough. That’ll be true in general, correct. So good qualification.
It was just that, I think if I hadn’t talked today that he might very well have emerged. I mean he sort of noticed the weight of the, I don’t know how to describe the reaction, the sort of people staring at their neighbor reaction. He noticed that and he might just have, if I hadn’t talked to him, he might just have come away like they’re all hostile to evangelical Christians. That’s just not what was going on. He was a wheaten student, okay? He was talking in the language appropriate to a wheaten Bible study.
Attendee: Oh, yeah.
About the what? Oh, Jonathan. So, I think the meaning of things is, what Jonathan was not arguing that just this artifact all by itself carries meaning. He was arguing that the meaning is not determined entirely and maybe sometimes hardly at all by the author but then by how it’s understood, understood, I suppose the right word, in context. So he’s not arguing for this purity artefactual approach. Right? [laughing] Not to put you on the spot, Jonathan. So I feel quite strongly on that.
There are human beings behind these texts. Once again, I gave you an example from, this is a Yale grad seminar, we’re studying Augustine and a person in the class make some utterly quick dismissive comment about what Augustine said and this really… Is this being recorded? I was really pissed off. So I said to her, “Would you’ve said “that if you were sitting, “would you have said that if Augustine “were seated right across the table from you?” And she said, “Oh no, no, no, no, no, “I wouldn’t have said that.”
But that shows that she’d been cultivated into this, acclimated into this culture in which we’re just dealing with texts. I think we’re dealing with Augustine. I mean we’re dealing with the text that Augustine wrote but it’s not just impersonal things and so, I tried to get my students to treat even dead authors with some honor. I think Augustine deserves honor, I think J.S. Bach deserves honor. His Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin also do but. Yeah.
Attendee: Well. And in that, I mean, do you see, because I see the problem with just treating a thing as a text is that it actually leads to really thin readings where we do whatever we want without really appealing to evidence in the text. I mean, it actually becomes a strange way of reading texts poorly.
I wonder if your emphasis on the author, Augustine, what would Augustine think here if that’s a way, I mean, I certainly honor that, I certainly honor what Augustine meant to say in the text but does appealing to Augustine point to the underlying internal coherency of the work, of the text? Does that makes sense for you?
And furthermore, let me pick up on a point you made. I think my aim in reading Augustine is to find out what Augustine said. Now, that may be different, here’s a point you made, that may at some points be different from what Augustine intended to say.
There can be slippage there. Happens all the time as you observed, that we say things that we didn’t intend to say and don’t intend and vice versa. So the goal is what did Augustine say, not what he intended to say and to find out what he said, I’ve not only got to know the language or reliable translations and so forth, I’ve thought, who knows what sort of cultural context I have to know to figure out what he said? Yeah, so your point that cultural context plays a significant role in determining, in the case of works of art, what they mean, in the case of texts, what the author was saying by way of this text.
Attendee: First of all, thanks again for being here. It’s really, really great to have you. Echoed everything Wesley said before. My question was about your identification of this interpretive valorization formation with Paul’s use of the term mind. So, I mean it was really attractive, first of all, and I could definitely see how there’d be all these interpretive dispositions and Paul, I could see all these sort of valorizative dispositions.
But when I think of like Paul’s mind, I’m always thinking of agape being central there, that Paul’s mind is at least a mind of agape and I’m having trouble seeing how that sort of a mind would reduce to this interpretive valorization formation. I wanna include also certain, like active dispositions, dispositions to respond with certain actions as well, or I guess I’m just curious as to why the active dispositions were left out of, out of your picture there.
Yeah, I am… They may be were left out. I didn’t mean to leave them, like I gave a very long list but it should have been longer, yeah. So active dispositions. So I think it’s, agapic love is a central component in the Christian formation. But I’ve also come to think that awe, just awe in the face of the astounding intricacy and immensity of God’s creation is an important part of Christian formation.
I also think that horror, to be horrified at what human beings do and have done to each other is an important part. It’s not so clear to me that those are covered by agape. So, I wanted something broader. The trap was my use of the word mind because my main point was to get across, it includes thoughts, yes, it includes doctrines, all of that but I want to insist that includes more than that, it includes dispositions and modes of enjoyment and modes of awe and horror and all of that, and all pack.
I think all of that should be part of who we are as Christians and operative, whenever relevant, and how we practice philosophy or sociology or whatever it be. I’m implicitly, I think I gave devoted one sentence to it or clause to it, I’m implicitly opposing the worldview people. I think that to reduce it to, to say the Christian education tries to impart a Christian worldview. I mean in the first place, the people devised this worldview but I think it should be much more than that. My rethinking art was… I mean starting in the 18th century, virtually, all the writers about art focus on art for disinterested contemplation, for aesthetic contemplation.
My reason for bucking that, starting 30 years ago, maybe more than that was liturgical art. What that implies is a putting down of liturgical art and I found that I could not say as a Christian that the liturgical way of engaging artists somehow inferior to standing in front of a painting and admiring it aesthetically. So this was the liturgical side of my Christian formation. It wasn’t a worldview, it was… So someone’s whole Christian self should be allowed to be in play.
Attendee: Dr. Wolterstorff, as I listened to your presentation–
Where’s? Ah. Yeah, okay.
Attendee: So, as I listened to your presentation, I get the general feeling that there are some differences between your view of Christian scholarship and maybe a view which someone like Dr. Moser from yesterday would have given. In particular, when you say that the Christian needs to speak in a voice that can be heard by one’s colleagues and you give the example of your student, David.
When you gave your example of David, I almost wondered if that was actually Dr. Moser because, because it seems like what he was saying is that we shouldn’t leave out our Christian commitments and we shouldn’t leave out the love we have for Christ and we shouldn’t leave out our evangelization and spreading the gospel, we shouldn’t exclude that from our philosophy. So I wonder if what he was saying was inconsistent with what you have to say.
Be really good if he were still here, right? So what Paul Moser focused on was Pauline Christology and my view is part of Christian formation should be Pauline Christology. He didn’t say anything about one’s liturgical formation, for example, or or awe delight in the intricacy and immensity of creation, so in all candor, it was wonderfully passionate and his emphasis was important but it still felt too narrow to me.
When I reacted against the standard way of going about philosophy of art because I felt it was a put-down of liturgical music and so forth. Would that fit Moser’s paradigm? It’s not obvious there it would. So I think one’s entire formation, including one’s Christological convictions and ones being inhabited by Christ and so forth, all of that. I wish he were here so he could talk about it.
Attendee: There is a envy of hard science and a tremendous progress that it is made and I think there’s emerging a sense that because I’ve measured it, it is, and that descriptive ideas are no longer welcome and specifically, won’t find the light of day in peer-reviewed journals. I think your concept of awe, for example, that you’ve just mentioned in this lecture and in answering the questions is terribly important but I can’t imagine quantifying it. And I think this has become almost a touchstone of the faith in modern abstract science is we’ve got to measure it, otherwise, it doesn’t exist. If it’s purely descriptive as I think all would remain, it doesn’t exist or it’s a private fantasy.
Yeah, I think we should all do all we can to oppose that reductionist view. Say it as loudly and try to find arguments that other people will find compelling, admitting that it’ll take a while and so forth but yeah, I find it. I mean it would kill off my own discipline of philosophy, right? What’s to measure in philosophy? The length of articles but that’s about it. [all laughing]
Attendee: Hello, Dr. Wolterstorff, my name is David. [all laughing] Oh, okay. Yeah. Hopefully my. [speaking faintly] Yes. Hopefully, my question is better formed. I don’t wanna talk into afterward.
You said that you would be inclined to reject the counterfactual consensus requirement for the acceptance of some kind of theory or idea on the grounds, that it kind of cuts both ways, right? Both for the people rejecting the theory and also for the person proposing it. And I’m just wondering then, I mean what other criteria would you propose, I mean should we just, even if after careful examination, it still seems to us that I’m right even though all of my peers and colleagues seem to be saying something to the contrary or believing something to the contrary? I mean how far does this go? How tight should I hold on to it?
Yeah, so I think its one’s obligation in the academy to listen as carefully as one can with as open as mind as one can to serious objections to one’s views. I put the word serious in front of there because not everything said by academicians should be taken seriously, it seems to me. To serious objections, and if at the end of that, you find none of them compelling, then you have a perfect right and indeed, what else can you do but to continue believing what you believe.
That’s how it goes. Hungarian-English philosopher of science, Imre Lakatos, thought that in fact that natural science advanced by people, by some theorists rather stubbornly hanging on to their theories in the face of what looks like counter evidence and suitably qualifying them and so forth. So sometimes, stubbornness may even have a positive role to play. But you listen as carefully as you can with an open mind.
If you don’t find the objections compelling, you stick with what you believe. You try to convince others. They haven’t convinced you, you try to convince them. In very few disciplines where you succeed in convincing everybody, but that’s how it goes. So I think this ideal of this what I call this counterfactual consensus requirement or ideal, I think it’s a fantasy. It’s never going like that. In the disciplines, perfectly intelligent, competent, well-informed reflective people disagree.
So what do we do? We don’t rule them all out, we don’t rule one of them out, we say let’s keep talking and maybe something will turn up and one of the positions will, 50 years from now, 25 years from now, proved untenable because of something, somebody hadn’t thought of earlier, that happens sometimes. Happened with positivism, in that case, the positivists themselves finally thought of something that they could not handle to their own satisfaction.
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