Thursday, June 30, 2005

I can't believe I'm quoting Susan Sontag

I must be experiencing a major shift to the left because I find myself agreeing with the late Susan Sontag. In an interview republished in May's issue of PAJ: Performing Arts Journal, Sontag is quoted in the following exchange.

You have written in one essay that "the history of art is a series of succesful transgressions." If, as you say, the ante of shock and surprise is always being upped, what is left to transgress?

The idea of trangression, perhaps. . . . Trangression presupposes successful notions of order. But transgressions have been so successful that the idea of transgression has become normative for the arts--which is a self-contradiction. Modern art wished to be--maybe even was, for a brief time--in an intractable, adversary relation to the established high culture. Now it is identical with high culture, supported by a vast bureaucracy of museums, universities, and state and private foundations. And the reason for this success story is that there is a close fit between many of the values promoted by modernism and the larger values of our capitalist consumer society. This makes it difficult, to say the least, to continue thinking of modernist art as adversary art. And that's part of what lies behind the disenchantment with modernism I spoke of earlier.

You seem discouraged by this situation.

Yes and no. Rebellion does not seem to me a value in itself, as--say--truth is. There's no inherent value in transgression, as there is no inherent value to being interesting. My loyalty is not to the transgression but to the truth behind it. That the forms of life in this society, having become increasingly permissive, corrupt, vulgar, and disgusting, thereby deprive artists of the taboos against which they can, comfortably, heroically, rebel--that seems far less dismaying than the fact that this society itself is based on lies, on untruths, on hallucination.

What should artists do now?

In a society that works and enriches itself by means of organized hallucination, be less devoted to creating new forms of hallucination and more devoted to piercing through the hallucinations that nowadays pass for reality. (9)

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Why is preaching so bad?

Why is preaching so awfully bad? A decade at seminary, and longer than that in pews and (sometimes) in a pulpit, coupled with a stint or two in choosing pastors and locating pulpit supply all add up to this one odd question: why is preaching so awfully bad?

It isn't that the training is not available; it most certainly is! There are as many preaching manuals as preachers, and many of these offer fine advice. Further, the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree has exploded over the last 15 years into a major cash cow for every religious institution that can scratch up a program. When this net is widened out to encompass training as basic as college speech classes and high school debate teams, the question assumes even more poignancy: why is preaching so awfully bad?

Some of the blame rests squarely before the drooping eyes of parishioners. If that adage is true that expectations govern results, then certainly our expectations are low. We listen to a sermon like we read Reader's Digest's Quotable Quotes on the john, and many times are more impressed with the latter. But, from a preaching perspective, audiences complain when they are shaken. Mention a theologian or brush up on a technical term and expect you have lost most of your audience. It is a sign that the assumption of what a sermon is for - indeed, what Christian worship is for - has gone wide the mark of its Creator's intention.

Nevertheless, preachers themselves heap on most of the load. Rudderless, aimless, uninteresting, poorly read, disinterested and bored with their own words. They have barely tried to wrestle with the text before them. Most don't even realize that there is a problem. They aim at bagging a lion by wandering around telling a few jokes upon the face of whatever continent their space craft has managed to land upon. Easy enough for they and their hearers to become food for the lion.

How many times have I stirred in excitement when the speaker of the moment has actually cited a text! How many times have my eager fingers turned quickly to said passage, waiting to be swept into an examination that removes the distance and brings me face to face with the argument of the creator Holy Spirit! How many times has this happened, only to discover that the citation was merely a bullet point, a Quotable Quote dangling at the head of some feeble, pop-psychology like a whore vulgarly trapsing around the pulpit, dragging the bloodstained garment of Christ behind her, and stepping and tripping on it as she goes.

Now here are two responses that one might receive upon such a complaint. (1) You can't expect everyone to have gone to seminary. I don't, but I do expect mature Christians to know the pittance it takes to determine the marriage-words of Christ from the pillowtalk of the whore. This excuse is a lie, and those who use it should examine themselves. (2) Perhaps this is a sign that you yourself are called to preach. Churches are forever doing this. The minute some soul shows an ounce of common sense--religious or otherwise--they try and foist them into a position of leadership. The assumption here is that laypeople just don't ask questions. Despite the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy that the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon everyone so that all are priests (who read and interpret Scripture, intercede for the elect and encourage the progress of godliness and the obeyance of the law of Christ), the assumption is that only preachers and those in leadership can be informed in the tiniest way about the things of God. What is this but the Hebrew cry for a king and the ecclesial cry for an elected, priestly class? Is this why Luther, hiding under threat of death within the walls of the Wartburg, translated the Bible into colloquial German? Is this why Tyndale was hunted like criminal every day and night of his life even as he translated the Scriptures? Is this why Huss was betrayed and burned alive, tied 20' up the pole? Is this why Anglican Separatists and Puritans, fleeing persecution, died from disease and starvation on the shores of Massachusetts? Further, the minute one gives into this system and becomes an officer in the church, paid or unpaid, then the amount of influence possessed diminishes accordingly. Make us a king (so we can rebel and ignore him). Give us priests (so they can go off and do their priestly thing and leave us alone.)

So here is what I want. I want (1) the text read and explained; (2) the obvious questions dispensed with quickly; (3) the real issues brought to the foreground, whether these are problems of language, interpretation or culture; (4) those issues sent to war against the philosophies and idolatries which the Scriptures call "The Spirit of the Age" so that I am forced to realize my faults and accept and praise God for his remedy for them. Maybe this seems like a good deal. I don't think it is. Even something approaching it would significantly lighten the tepid abuse which is normally suffered upon both the text and the hearers. Why is preaching so awfully bad? I do not know. It would be so easy for it not to be, but it is.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Summary of Husserl's 1927 Brittannica article - pt 2

II. Phenomenological Psychology and Transcendental Phenomenology
6. Descartes' Transcendental Turn and Locke's Psychologism

Husserl's aim is to discover an a priori method that will finally deliver the certain, scientific objectivity required to realize the Enlightenment dream of a City of Man. This method is phenomenology. Whereas before it had led to a phenomenological psychology (though Husserl did get ahead of himself in the concluding section), Husserl goes on to say that it can also "open the essence of a transcendental phenomenology." The problem is obtaining the transcendental, that is of arriving at a perspective which is not wholly limited by the senses and escaping the cell of solipsism (re: subjective relativism)

The central problem that lies before Husserl is transcendental subjectivity, and this section is largely an archeology of the same. In his epistemological pursuit, Husserl is following the developments of eighteenth century empiricism, and specifically how the transcendental problem was developed by George Berkeley and David Hume from the original insights of John Locke and Renee Descartes. Husserl provides a paragraph on Descartes that is too good not to quote at length. It reads:

"In Descartes' Meditations, the thought that had become the guiding one for "first philosophy" was that all of "reality," and finally the whole world of what exists and is so for us, exists only as the presentational content of our presentations, as means in the best case and as evidently reliable in our own cognitive life. This is the motivation for all transcendental problems, genuine or false. Descartes' method of doubt was the first method of exhibiting "transcendental subjectivity" and his ego cogito led to its first conceptual formulation."

Now John Lock, Husserl goes on to explain, took over Descartes' epistemological problem with alterations. "Descartes' transcendentally pure mens is changed into the "human mind," whose systematic exploration through inner experience Locke tackled out of a transcendental-philosophical interest." Locke, then, founded psychologism, and it is psychologism that must be overcome if Husserl's project is to succeed. But what is psychologism? What is this "transcendental philosophy founded through a psychology of inner experience"?

Psychology at the end of the nineteenth century was the golden child of German epistemology. Psychology suggested a solution to perplexing problems of logic and the theory of knowledge, as well as affording either a substitute or supplement to philosophical idealism. Many felt that in psychology they had found the fundamental discipline which would ground all logical (philosophical) pursuit. Psychology it was felt clarified the subjective elements in all philosophical reasoning and made them certain. As John Stuart Mill wrote, "[Logic] owes all its theoretical foundations to psychology, and includes as much of that science as is necessary to establish the rule of the art."

Such proponents of psychology took their cue from empiricism (thus Husserl's address to John Locke). Knowledge was believed to arrive only through the medium of experience - an absolutely psychological medium. This is what psychologism is: the belief that knowledge arrives only out of subjective experience. Husserl disagreed.

In Prolegomena to First Logic, the first volume of Husserl's Logical Investigation, Husserl rejected any notion of logical rationality (knowledge) that could be explained by individual, contingently subjective processes (psychologism). Psychology could not support the epistemological certainty Husserl desired. Whereas logic detailed "thinking as it should be" (normative laws of thinking), psychology could only offer "thinking as it is" (natural laws of thinking.) Psychology investigates the facticities of consciousness. Logic, on the other hand, is an a priori science which doesn't depend upon any subject, its subject exists atemporally and apart from the need for factual reality. "Because of the scientific and empirical characteristics of psychology, it failed to understand the essence of things and to reach apodictic knowledge. It was only concern with doxa, not episteme. Only logic, which is “a priori”, and whose laws are “atemporal” and not actual, has the means to know the Truth based on reason."[1] Natural laws cannot be a priori, but are only arrived at by experience. Psychological laws arise from the generalization of experience, and thus are subject to probabilities. Not so the laws of logic, which are "established and justified, not by induction, but, by apodictic inner evidence" which gives logical laws an absolute exactness. Thus, psychologism, which weds the philosophical (logical) pursuit of certainty with the method of psychology in a way characteristic of empiricism, confuses logical laws with natural laws, and then claims the former is as probabilistic and relative as the latter. This confusion plays into Husserl's treatment of John Locke.

Husserl claims that the power and attraction of Locke's psychologism arises from the ambiguity that surrounds subjectivity. To raise the transcendental problem is to invoke the ambiguity of the subjective. Locke's psychologism draws its influential staying power from this ambiguity, and that is why it must be eliminated at its root.

Husserl's strategy for overcoming the ambiguity surrounding the subjective - eliminating Locke's psychologism at the root -- is twofold. First, he must treat in parallel phenomenological psychology (the scientifically rigorous form of a psychology based in pure inner experience) and transcendental phenomenology. Second, having dealt with them in parallel, he must completely separate the two from each other. In doing so, he will also justify the previous claim of this article that psychology is the means of access to true philosophy - a claim that apologetically resonates as established truth at the time qua psychologism but which cannot be. Husserl's argument is nuanced here as to sound like the one but actually be another. We proceed with curiosity, and go right into Husserl's doing what every philosopher does at the beginning of an argument: clarifying terms, in this case the transcendental problem.

7. The Transcendental Problem

The transcendental problem "places in question the world and all the sciences investigating it." (One could even go so far as to argue that it is the central problem of philosophy, as it is said that Greek philosophy began with the admission that the senses lie.) The transcendental problem discovers itself (Auftreten) as we begin to question what our sense tell us, or, rather, when we become aware of the foundational role our senses play in relationship we have to the world. It is an astonishing reversal of common experience. We realize that "the 'world' is for us precisely which is present to us." Every sense the world has for us is something generated and formed in a process Husserl calls subjective genesis. What we used to call the world we now call our sense of the world (weltlichen Sinn). "Every acceptance of something as validly existing is effected within ourselves; and every evidence in experience and theory that establishes it, is operative in us ourselves, habitually and continuously motivating us."

Husserl's language invokes David Hume. Where Hume reduced the iron certainty of causation into a subjective mental habit, Husserl finds that in the light of the the transcendental problem "the world in its whole mode of being acquires a dimansion of unintelligibility, or rather of questionableness." Just as with Hume, self-investigation results in a profound loss of confidence. "As human creatures...we ourselves are supposed to belong to the world." "Unintelligibility is felt as a particularly telling affront to our very mode of being [as human beings]."

Of course, Husserl hasn't yet advanced on Locke and psychologism. He has only stated the problem, in its origin and extent, as well as in its effect upon human place-holding. The first trumpet of assault announces itself by the word, How. He writes:

One's first awakening to the relaedness of the world to consciousness gives no understand of how the varied life of consciousness, barely discerned and sinking back into obscurity, accomplishes such functions: how it, so to say, manages in its immanence that something which manifests itself can present itself as something existing in itself, and not only as something meant but as something authenticated in concordant experience.

In other words, his critique is going to focus on how the seeming randomness and subjectivity of meaning-making in a world governed by the transcendental problem actually produces a world which we believe and can share in that belief with others. Further, interrogation must also begin with ourselves and our conscious life-process, because it is there that the "sense [of the everyday world] is first formed" and it is there that "it has gained and can gain its sense and validity."

Husserl goes on from here to discuss possible worlds. This is, at first, an odd step. But given the all-encompassing nature of the transcendental problem it makes perfect sense. If the world is what our senses tell us it is, then our world is one possibility among many. Any world is but the negotiatied product of our senses. Thus, Husserl writes:

If we vary our factual world in free fantasy, carrying it over into random conceivable worlds, we are implicitly varying ourselves whose environment the world is: we each change ourselves into a possible subjectivity, whose environment would always have to be the world that was thought of, as a world of its [the subjectivity's] possible experiences, possible theoretical evidences, possible practical life.

This problem is not dissimilar to Descartes' problem of brains in vats. How do we know that our world is not the world assigned to us? How do we know there are other worlds, or, if there is a correct world, that ours is, in fact, that correct one?

The solution to all this, writes Husserl, rests in those things which are untouched in variation. Invariable essences (Identitäten) which, in his language, "have their existence in eidetic universality" remain untouched by the whirl of possible worlds. They are like higher platonic forms. They relate to each subjective consciousness in a direct intentionality that transcends variation. Thus, they provide a solid place for Husserl's interrogation to stand, and dictate that the method of investigation needed into the transcendental problem is eidetic.

8. The Solution by Psychologism as a Transcendental Circle

Husserl's previous work, outlining the ability of a phenomenologically pure psychology to identify the essential structures of consciousness in a subject, seems ready-made to serve as the vehicle which will overcome the transcendental problem outlined in the previous section. Alas, no. Phenomenological reduction, when applied to the subject, does not truly leave the natural attitude. "Even in eidetic research, the psyche retains the sense of being which belongs in the realm of what is present in the world; it is merely related to possible real worlds." The only way to escape the transcendental problem is to escape the situation which gives rise to it, the spatial world. A natural attitude takes its assumptive definitions for words such as "mind" "I" and other subjects from the presence of a possible spatial world. Instead, the transcendental interest must be decisive. For transcendental philosophy, the subjectivity of consciousness can no longer serve as the beginning point of our interrogations. The regions of the transcendental and the subjective must be clearly defined from each other.

Now the theme of transcendental philosophy is a concrete and systematic elucidation of those multiple intentional relationships which, in conformity with their essences, belong to any possible world whatsoever, where said possible world serves as the one practically and theoretically accessible for any corresponding subjectivity. Again, for any subjectivity that is related to a possible world, transcendental philosophy systematically and concretely details the multiple intentional relationships which would, in conformity to their essences, belong to that world, and any other possible world.

This subjectivity must be assumed as beyond question. This anonymous subjectivity cannot be put into question by the transcendental problem. Otherwise, the question could not be asked, nor the solution sought. Yet this does not mean that a good deal is put into question. Indeed, whatever is associated with or takes its subject from the whole realm of the natural attitude must be subjected to an epoche. This would include, then, psychology. And this is exactly why psychology cannot answer the transcendental question, whether it be empirical psychology or eidetic-phenomenology. But then we have discovered a new insight. We cannot base transcendental philosophy on psychology - to do so would be to create a transcendental circle - and yet the transcendental question occurs to some subjectivity. This subjectivity, then, the subjectivity that asks the transcendental question, must be other than the consciousness with which psychology deals.

9. The Transcendental-Phenomenological Reduction and the Semblance of Transcendental Duplication

more to come....

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Read the entire summary via Google Docs.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Summary of Husserl's 1927 Brittannica article - pt 1

Review of Edmund Husserl's article "Phenomenology" in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 1927.


The term "phenomenology" can mean one of two things: (1) an epistemological methodology which claims a degree of certainty beyond Descartes' Cogito in the examination of pure experience; (2) philosophical phenomenology, being the a priori "scientific philosophy" derived from this method which "makes possible a methodological reform of all the sciences."

The aim of this article is to explain philosophical phenomenology, but Husserl believes the best way to do this is to begin by explaining phenomenological psychology because it is a pure psychology and "nearer to our natural thinking." Phenomenological psychology developed in parallel with philosphical phenomenology. It sought to provide the best methodological foundation for empirical psychology.

I. Pure Psychology: Its Field of Experience, Its Method, and Its Function
1. Pure Natural Science and Pure Psychology

Psychology is a psychophysical discipline, meaning that it treats the psyche as a part of what human beings and animals are. Thus, it finds its home under the umbrella of anthropology, or, rather, zoology. It understands that what happens in a psyche always occurs within a circle of possibilities and limitations unique to each organism as it participates bodily in its natural environment.

What must first be done, then, when seeking to discover a phenomenological psychology is to ask whether such a thing is even possible. Can one study the immaterial psyche wholly apart from considering its connection to an all-too-material biology? Should one even want to? How far is a pure psychology - as a necessary and legitimate science developing parallel with the physical sciences - possible? These questions must be addressed at the very beginning.

2. The Purely Psychical in Self-experience and Community Experience. The Universal Description of Intentional Experiences

So then, pure psychology will investigate the purely psychical phenomena which are revealed in immediate experience. As we reflect upon our own psychic life, we realize that the things to which we direct our attention appear to us as phenomena, be they real objects, ideas, values, goals, or even figures of our imagination. Phenomena are the subjective experiences a mind contains when it is engaged in conscious activity. These subjective experience are identified through (self)reflection. They are not the things themselves but "appearances-of" or "consciousness-of" those things. The branch of psychology which deals with these phenomena should then be called phenomenological psychology.

Now intentionality is a word which derives from Scholasticism. It describes a basic character of being, which is consciousness of something. In the unreflective holding of some object or other in consciousness, we are turned or directed toward it: our intentio goes out toward it. Therefore, intentionality is fundamentally involved in our every experience.

Turning again to phenomenon. Every phenomenon has its own total form of intention (intentionale Gesamtform). For example, starting from a perception of something, like a die, phenomenological reflection leads to a multiple and yet synthetically unified intentionality. There are continually varying differences in the ways objects appear which are caused by way we change our orientation to and perspective of them, for example right and left, nearness or farness. There are further differences in appearance between the "actually seen front" and the "unseeable" (unanschaulichen) and relatively undetermined reverse side which nevertheless goes along with that object. Observing the flux and modes of appearing and the manner of their synthesis, one discovers that every phase and portion of this flux is certainly a consciousness-of, but in such a way that each observation is put together into a synthetically unified awareness of one and the same object. This is that object's intentional structure. The intentional structure of any process of perception has its fixed essential type (seine feste Wesentypik) which must necessarily be realized in all its extraordinary complexity just in order for a physical body simply to be perceived as such. This kind of analysis can be applied to any phenomena. Our everyday perception is a river awash in changing sensation. Objects constitute themselves to us in fixed essential forms in a flowing intentionality.

The task of pure psychology is, then, to investigate systematically the elementary intentionalities, and from out of these [unfold] the typical forms of intentional processes, their possible variants, their syntheses to new forms, their structural composition, and from this advance toward a descriptive knowledge of the totality of mental process, toward a comprehensive type of a life of the psyche.

Further, psychic life doesn't just occur in our own heads, but in the heads of others. Each person has something to bring to the table, establishing differences between as well a properties in common within the psychic life of a community. We can then posit the task of making phenomenologically understandable the mental life of a community, with all the intentionalities that pertain to it, thus approaching a universal typology of psychological experience (Gesamttyplts eines Lebens der Seele).

3. The Self-contained Field of the Purely Psychical: Phenomenological Reduction and True Inner Experience

Coming after the rapturious vision of his last section, Husserl admits that the creation of a phenomenological psychology completely free of psychophysical data may be impossible. Difficulties lie in the way which frustrate his efforts and force him to carefully consider his fundamental methodology. The method he comes up with is called "phenomenological reduction." It is a method appropriate to the type of being to be interrogated (human beings). Indeed, phenomenological reduction is the foundational method of pure psychology by which the absoluteness of the intentional world is reduced to that which exists only in consciousness.

The greatest inhibitor of the construction of a pure psychology is the ever-assertive self-experience of the psychologist. Everytime one's awareness is directed toward something out there in the world one must completely resist the temptation to assume the knowing of the already there. The phenomenologist, says Husserl, must elide (epoch) herself if she is ever to break through to her own consciousness as a pure phenomenon, which is the totality of her own purely mental processes. No objective judgments can interfere. Every specific experience of something - of this house, of this body, of this world - must be separated into an absolute judgment of things and the impressions in consciousness made by the things themselves. The former must be elided (epoche), and the latter "put in brackets."

That which is put in brackets is the world as it is given in consciousness (Bewusstseinssinn). For an example of this, think of the impressionists who desired not to paint the habitually recognized world of things, such as a table, fruit or clouds, but only the light coming from those things. Only the meaning which each thing makes in consciousness is allowed to make up the phenomenological field.

Thus, Husserl arrived at his method for obtaining pure phenomenon: phenomenological reduction. This method, he says, is the basis of any well-grounded science of psychology. It is a method constantly moving toward the pure phenomenon (the purely psychical.) It consists of (1) the methodological epoche of the absolute objective part of each experience, followed by (2) the careful and scientific description of things as they appear in consciousness. Such description makes a twofold judgment between the noetic and the noematic.

The former (noesis) is the "real object." Going back to the example of the impressionists, the noesis is that judgment which says "that is a tree," or "that is a building." The latter, the noematic, is the experience of the patterns of color, light and shadow. The noema is achieved as the "real", noetic world is put aside. By nature, it is something achieved after-the-fact, in a backward glance, a retroactive effort. One desires to become aware of the experience of seeing apart from the nearly immediate judgment of what is seen. Every perception, every intentionality (for, where Husserl is concerned, perception is intentional, even if understood as passive intention. Perception is the intention to receive) must be parsed into its component parts. This is the method of phenomenological reduction. This is the method of "bracketing." Bracketing frees us from errors of prejudgment, disentangling the "intentional object" (noema) from the "realm object" (noesis) so that we obtain scientific knowledge of the object’s activation of our sensorium. As Husserl says, "we must abide by what is given in pure experience." Michael Sicinski of U. C. Berkeley describes this method as such:

Husserl’s phenomenology is able to separate the experience of sense data from the conceptual recognition of objects, particularly as those objects fill out our preexisting categories of understanding. By distinguishing between these two analytical moments, it becomes possible to see shape, form, and motion as discrete entities in themselves. This in turn becomes a single moment in a dialectical tension, as "content" (understood broadly as any meaning not fully immanent to the sensual presence of an artwork) inevitably impresses itself upon consciousness. In actual experience, neither of these categories exists separately, nor does either of them arrive before the other. And so, in order to consider one and not the other, a significant degree of effort (that is, intention) is necessary on the part of the viewer.

Phenomenological reduction is the template for the new, pure psychology, which should begin in earnest and be carried out in infinitum. Further, it should be applied not only to self-experience, but also to the experience of others, insofar as there can be applied to the envisaged (vergegen-wärtigten) mental life of the Other the corresponding bracketing and description. The psychologist constantly asks "how" things appear, and parses out in each appearance what corresponds to noesis and noema. In this way, community experence is not broken up into mentally particularized intentional fields, but assumes a connected mental community life in its phenomenological purity. [When applied to a larger community, Husserl's method of phenomenological reduction is called intersubjective reduction.]

Indeed, to every mind there belongs not only the unity of its multiple intentional life-process (intentionalen Lebens) with all its inseparable unities of sense directed toward the "object." There is also, inseparable from this life-process, the experiencing subject, the I, which is the gravitational centre of all all specific intentionalities, and point of origin for all habitualities growing out of this life-process. Likewise, then, the reduced intersubjectivity, in pure form and concretely grasped, is a community of pure "persons" acting in the intersubjective realm of the pure life of consciousness.

4. Eidetic Reduction and Phenomenological Psychology as an Eidetic Science

What is phenomenological reduction really after? Simply this: the eidos. Every potential form of mental being, every synthetic combination and self-contained wholes, has within it a same-thing. It must have an essential part, otherwise how could any of these things even be thinkable? This necessary thing held in common across all perceptions and relations, this invariant in variation, is the eidos, the essential form without which perception of an object or act is impossible. The method which gets at these eidoi underneath all perceptions, the method which perceives their essential structures, is eidetic reduction, or reduction to the eidos. Therefore, because eidetic reduction gets at the very essence of perception, it is an a priori science and grants assurance that phenomenological psychology, as a field of pure psychology resting upon phenomenological experience, is possible.

5. The Fundamental Function of Pure Phenomenological Psychology for an Exact Empirical Psychology

In this summary section of part 1, Husserl proclaims his radical allegiance to the Enlightenment project, namely the discovery of a certainty so foundational and absolute that from it may be constructed the foundation for a new and glorious City of Man developing on the foundation of epistemological certainty promised by the Cartesian method of doubt (read: reason and the scientific method). He, thus, proposes an "exact" (certain) empirical (mathematical/geometrical) psychology as in inner science operating in parallel to the outer, physical sciences.
Psychology, like every science, can only draw its "exactness" from the rationality of the essence.
The exactness of this pure psychology derives from its foundation in the a priori essential forms of experience. Psychology, he says, like every other science, can only draw its rigour and exactness from the objective study of that which is essential. Taken together with systems deduced from the study of other essential forms as they are distributed throughout the natural sciences, the result is an inductive, empirical Science which has all the force of a priori eidetic necessity! As an example of such a "joining of the sciences at the meeting of their forms" to form a pure and exact Science, Husserl demonstrates that the a priori set of types discovered through eidetic reduction produces a field of exactness which can be brought to bear on research of the psyche. At that point, it should by synthesized with a priori "sets" of results from other investigations, so that pure psychology, psychophysical psychology and those of physical scienceis combine to form an a priori, empirical psychology. The steps of such a method are as such:

(1) There must be a careful description of intentional mental processes
(2) These descriptions should be assembled into a typology of their essences: both those that are discrete and those that are continuous with others, the finitely closed and those continuing into open infinity
(3) The eidetic description (Wesendeskription) of the total structure (Gesamtgestalt) of "stream of consciousness" mental life
(4) Further investigation into the "I" as subject of lasting beliefs or thought tendencies, personal habits, trained knowing and certain character qualities
The above "static" description of essences must further be pursued as to their dynamic origins. Just as David Hume traced causality to the customary, the "I" must be traced back to what develops it. An account should be given, then, of the a priori genesis out of which a real spatial world constitutes itself for the mind in habitual acceptance. Then, afterward, the development of personal habituality and consciousness-of-self in habitual coming to being and as always being transformed. There is, thus, the static and then, on a higher level, the genetic phenomenology of reason, these developing according to eidetic laws (eidetischen Gesetzen).

Husserl does not stop here, though. One would think this vision alone would be enough to end part 1, but, no, he cannot avoid the verbal nature of reality. "The static description of essences," he writes, "leads to problems." It cannot explain the nature of reality, which is heraclitic and always moving (Husserl calls this movement genesis). Therefore, he sees further development in his programme.

From a static phenomenology, comes a dynamic or genetic phenomenology at a higher level. This all-embracing eidetic phenomenology of association, which investigates passively the way that a spatial world passively and habitually constitutes itself to the mind. From there, Husserl believes a personal step should be taken and attention be given to the way an personal "I" develops, becoming concious of itself as a continuing and constantly transforming subject. Finally, upon that platform, Husserl envisages two more: first a static and then a dynamic (genetic) phenomenology of reason. In short, beginning with a pure psychology, Husserl proposes a new, yet better foundation that will ultimately clarify and envigorate that crowning tool of the Enlightenment: reason.

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Read the entire summary via Google Docs.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The danger of substantial faith - pt 2

As stated, I have always had a problem with the misuse of Hebrews 11.1, a misuse given legs by misunderstandings implicit in the English translations themselves. This series of posts is an attempt to get at the truth.

The task before me progresses in three stages. First, I listed the three major groups of English translations as they present the text of Hebrews 11.1. In this post, I turn to the Greek text and provide both a translation and an accompanying paragraph or two of simple historical and contextual exegesis which will serve as a platform for comparison with the aforementioned English translations. This comparison will then be used to construct a conclusion based in dialogue with Paul's description of the faith of Abraham in Romans chapter 4.

The Greek text of Hebrews 11.1 is as follows:

Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων.(NA26)

which I translate:

Now faith is that state of being which results from being made absolutely certain that the things hoped for will be obtained, and this apart from being given the whole truth about them. [1]

What we have here is not a complete statement, but one coming on the heels of some previous discussion (and for this reason alone, its continued citation as "the definition of faith" is irritating.) Now, the author of Hebrews writes to encourage his readers - either Jews themselves or well-informed Gentile God-Fearers - to persevere despite persecution. In order to follow the rhetorical flow in which verse 11.1 sits, one has to go back to Chapter 2.1, 18: "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away," and "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Note, too, the warning in verse 3, "how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" These three elements: not drifting away from sound teaching; taking comfort in Christ's co-suffering; and warning against apostacy, come together in a dense, multi-layered doxology.

more to come...

[1] I am well aware that my translation sounds too philosophical and complex, as if I'm padding it to support my own preconceived opinion. Not so. Rather, the Greek itself is quite complex, referring both to a singular reality (our experience) and to the plurality of God's promises. We are certain. They are hoped for. We are convinced. They are being accomplished, and yet are unseen. The three participles - hoped for, being certain of and unseen - are passive. We aren't hoping, we are being given to hope. We aren't certain, but are being given certainty. We aren't not seeing, but are being kept from seeing, or not being allowed to see. Further, these are in the present tense, meaning that the action they describe is ongoing, describing the ongoing living of our everyday life. Combined with the modal verb "to be", which also suggests the ongoing and habitual, I felt it best to posit faith as a state of being, or, going one further, a state of human being-ness.

[2 (or some other number)] "Men are also admonished that here the term "faith" does not signify merely the knowledge of the history, such as is in the ungodly and in the devil, but signifies a faith which believes, not merely the history, but also the effect of the history—namely, this article: the forgiveness of sins, to wit, that we have grace, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins through Christ....the term 'faith' is accepted in the Scriptures not for knowledge such as is in the ungodly but for confidence which consoles and encourages the terrified mind." Augsburg Confession XX.23, 26
Cf. the previous post in this series: The danger of substantial faith - pt 1

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The danger of substantial faith - pt 1

A long-standing pet-peeve of mine has been the use of Hebrews 11.1 to affix divine authority to silly or even dangerous projections of human psychology. I have personally heard three completely different interpretations of this text preached from church pulpits as the will and word of God, with widely different, and often damaging results. Certainly, people have always desired to affix Scripture to the coattails of their own ideas. Yet, Hebrews 11 presents a special problem.

Unlike other examples of eisegetical zeal, in which people import a product of their own imaginations into their reading of the text, the problem is right there in the translations! The translations themselves encourage interpretive license when it comes to Hebrews 11.1! Philosophical categories have so informed the way this verse has been understood over time that the English result is often misleading. What is obscured is the Jewish, covenantal context.

Now, in the cluster of translations most commonly used by English-speakers, three interpretations are easily discovered. These three interpretations match up to the three major ways this verse has been interpreted over time. My task here is to use these translations to describe these three interpretations, to compare the translations against a simple exegesis of the Greek text, and to argue for one of them based on Paul's description of the faith of Abraham in Romans chapter 4.

First, then, I will define the three interpretations to be considered. Each "group" of example translations below represents one of these three interpretations. Here they are:

  • Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV & NKJV)

  • Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (NIV)

  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (ESV, NAS & NRSV; also, Tyndale's 1534: Fayth is a sure confidence off thynges which are hoped for, and a certayntie off thynges which are not sene.]

It does not take long to see that the first group suggests that faith is something of itself. Faith is a substance. Faith is evidence. There is a thing among things called "faith". Consider B. W. Johnson's remarks in The People's New Testament (1861): "The old meaning of substance, as well as of Hupostasis, the Greek word here used, is "stand under," that is to be a foundation. Faith is the foundation on which all our hopes for the future are built."

The second group, represented by the NIV, is more existential. This group suggests that faith is a mode of human being-ness. I am being sure. I am exercising faith. Faith is an act of will whereby I choose to hope. The evidence for my confession is then the public strength (passion, fanaticism, political radicalism, etc.) of my advocacy.

Unlike its predecessors, the third group takes a more passive approach. In this third group, faith is the passive product of some outside influence. One does not become assured or convinced by oneself. Rather, there is something that assures, something outside the self. There is something that makes its case so that I become convinced. Faith is then not a personal state of being evoked by the intent and action of my will. It does not originate from me. Rather, faith is a creature's appropriate response to something God has done. Faith is the God-ward expression of human trust.

Now I will turn to the Greek text and provide a translation with an accompanying paragraph of simple exegesis.

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