Friday, January 30, 2015

meaning = structure / structure = meaning

Take a second to read this paragraph. (Yes, I know it is hard and that there are no images or movies associated.)

"The structure of a compound sentence sends certain messages to readers, no matter how you fill in the blanks. First, it tells readers that the sentence contains two relatively important ideas, each one deserving its own independent clause. Second, it tells readers that these two ideas are approximately equal in importance, since they are balanced as a pair. And third, it alerts readers to the relationship between the two ideas, depending on the connector. For example, and suggests that the two ideas are being added together, but indicates that they are being contrasted, and or tells us that they are alternatives. A semicolon suggests balance between two similar or sharply contrasting statements." (Diana Hacker and Betty Renshaw, Writing With a Voice, 2nd ed. Scott, Foresman, 1989)

Meaning dictates sentence structure. That's why it is important.

Meaning dictates structure. Structure tells you how the author understood his or her message.

Meaning dictates structure. So when you figure out what something means, you'd better not emphasize something that the structure deemphasizing (e.g. no taking your main idea from a dependent clause).

Meaning dictates structure.

Meaning dictates structure.

Find the structure; find the meaning.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Erich Przywara, Analogical Deliverer

I read with excitement First Things magazine's January 27, 2015 article about Erich Przywara's analogia entis today. The article by Stephen Webb is clearly written and includes as solid a description of Przywara's metaphysical insight as I have read. "Przywara," he says, "finds the formula for the analogical foundation of the Catholic Church in the Fourth Lateran Council's 1215 decree that, 'One cannot note any similarity between Creator and creature, however great, without being compelled to note an even greater dissimilarity between them.' . . . The 'ever greater,' for Przywara, signifies an ongoing, never complete, and always expanding process. The analogy of being is not an analogy of inequality, as if God and creation could be compared even if only for the purpose of demonstrating how dissimilar they are. Instead, [it] denotes a dynamic disproportionality, so that whatever characteristics we attribute to God must be continually dis/qualified on the basis of a difference that has no limit or end."

As I read it, what Przywara has done is to locate a basis for speaking philosophically about God outside of metaphor. Instead of metaphor, which I identify (perhaps incorrectly) here with the approach of natural theology (in that metaphor compares without discrimination), Przywara chooses analogy as his metaphysical foundation because, as a kind of argumentation (rather than a figure of speech) it is careful to discriminate.

Okay. So let me try and make some sense of what I'm babbling about here. The point is pretty esoteric. It has to do with theological language and the general problem of talking about God at all. I won't elaborate on that now. Nevertheless, the question is whether metaphor is a suitable device for talking about God. Listen, we can't name God and godself directly. There is no one-to-one relationship that would make our language even closely suitable. So god talk has to be rhetorical in nature. It has to be a function of moving from the known to the unknown. And this relationship is not going to be explicit, but implicit, so simile is out and metaphor is in. Unfortunately, metaphor is still not up to the job. And this is where I need to define metaphor more clearly.

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied, implicit, or even a hidden comparison is made between two different things that are poles apart from each other but nevertheless have one or more characteristics in common. In other words, a resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is made based on some common characteristics. Its comparison is implicit or hidden, not explicit as in a simile. We speak, write, and think in metaphors.

A metaphor works by taking a primary subject and applying it to a secondary subject, with the primary likened to the secondary. A metaphor suggests some point of comparison between primary and secondary subjects, so that the primary subject is seen differently in a new light (e.g. my heart is an open book). Thanks to the metaphor, our understanding of the primary subject (called the tenor) is enriched and expanded in some way by the second (the vehicle). And, again, this is accomplished by bringing to light some hidden connection between them, even a hiddenness that is superficial or vague. Yes, sometimes the connection between primary and secondary is very hard to work out. But this is done on purpose in that audiences find pleasure in the working out of the the thing.

Theologically speaking, then, the problem is the relationship between primary and secondary. Theologically, the primary is always God, because God is what theologians are about, and the secondary is always nature, whether phusis, the natural world, or anthropos, the human world. Is there a direct one-to-one here, even if hidden? Can I say something like "God's wisdom is far higher than human wisdom" and mean the same thing by wisdom? Is it the same word for the same thing, different only in degree, or the same word for different things? And if the latter, how do I talk about this?

Przywara says I can talk about this using analogy. By using analogy, we commit comparison but it is an open sin. We know that there is a gulf between the two; that wisdom is the same word for two incomparable things. Nevertheless, analogy allows us to confess the truth and boldly commit the error--a kind of rheotorical simul iustis et peccator.

Now why an analogy can do this, I am not sure. Technically, an analogy is an argument whereas simile and metaphor are rhetorical figures of speech. All three are involved in comparison, but the latter are short, equative moves, whereas the former is a longer worked-out system of connections. Because analogies are built logically and by means of argumentation, anything that is not connected is openly unconnected. Therefore, analogy always leaves open the door of dissimilarity. Metaphors are not interested in leaving that door open. Metaphors gesture at truth through some connection but do not simultaneously work to remind the reader that primary and secondary subjects are as different as they are similar.

So because analogy is more transparent in scope, it provides a clearer foundation for theological discourse. At least I think this is what is being said.

I need to do more reading of this in historical dogmatics, and particularly in Aquinas. Przywara is in dialogue with Aquinas on this, and a quick Google search suggests this thing called "Thomas Aquinas's doctrine of analogy."
the goodness of a creature is different from the goodness of God insofar as the divine goodness is universal and good in itself whereas created goodnesses are particular and good only by reference to something else (secundum aliquid). We see the divine goodness or truth in particular good or true things in the same way we see an exemplar in something derived from the exemplar. This example asserts something important of the participation of creatures in God: the form of “good,” “true,” “being,” etc. which creatures receive from God is not the same as God. For God is being, good, etc. per essentiam, whereas creatures only possess these forms per participationem by reference to God.
Let me quote at length here from the Summa Theologica q13a5:
whatever is predicated of various things under the same name but not in the same sense, is predicated equivocally. But no name belongs to God in the same sense that it belongs to creatures; for instance, wisdom in creatures is a quality, but not in God. Now a different genus changes an essence, since the genus is part of the definition; and the same applies to other things. Therefore whatever is said of God and of creatures is predicated equivocally.
Further, God is more distant from creatures than any creatures are from each other. But the distance of some creatures makes any univocal predication of them impossible, as in the case of those things which are not in the same genus. Therefore much less can anything be predicated univocally of God and creatures; and so only equivocal predication can be applied to them.
I answer that, univocal predication is impossible between God and creatures. The reason of this is that every effect which is not an adequate result of the power of the efficient cause, receives the similitude of the agent not in its full degree, but in a measure that falls short, so that what is divided and multiplied in the effects resides in the agent simply, and in the same manner; as for example the sun by exercise of its one power produces manifold and various forms in all inferior things. In the same way, as said in the preceding article, all perfections existing in creatures divided and multiplied, pre-exist in God unitedly. Thus when any term expressing perfection is applied to a creature, it signifies that perfection distinct in idea from other perfections; as, for instance, by the term "wise" applied to man, we signify some perfection distinct from a man's essence, and distinct from his power and existence, and from all similar things; whereas when we apply to it God, we do not mean to signify anything distinct from His essence, or power, or existence. Thus also this term "wise" applied to man in some degree circumscribes and comprehends the thing signified; whereas this is not the case when it is applied to God; but it leaves the thing signified as incomprehended, and as exceeding the signification of the name. Hence it is evident that this term "wise" is not applied in the same way to God and to man. The same rule applies to other terms. Hence no name is predicated univocally of God and of creatures.