Doubt sweet doubt (cont.)

02.23.2013, 11:04 AM

In The American Conservative, my friend Jeremy Beer writes about the Catholic philosopher David Schindler.   Schindler is an interesting man (I’ve met him a few times) — a wide-ranging and serious thinker.  He’s also difficult to read, and so part of what Beer does in this essay is try to “translate” Schindler for those of us (and I include myself) who experience trying to read him straight-on as pretty heavy sledding.  So here is Beer on Schindler on epistemology:

Specifically, liberalism fails to apprehend that “love is the basic act and order of things.” Love brings all there is into existence, it is through love that all there is continues in existence, and it is for love that all things exist. Reality is in this sense triadic: all things are in, through, and for love. Being might therefore be said to be an order or “logic” of love.

… In Schindler’s account of reason—one shared by Popes Benedict and John Paul II—faith does not narrow reason, nor does faith exist alongside reason as something “added” to it from without. Rather, faith enlarges reason from within, helping it to function better precisely as reason.

… Perhaps no theme emerges more consistently in Schindler’s metaphysical reflections as a target of criticism than that of “extrinsicism.” The neo-Thomists, in the Communio view, held to an “extrinsic” model of the nature-grace relationship. In such a model, nature is self-subsistent and in principle knowable in its totality without the aid of the supernatural—without, that is, grace. Grace adds to nature but is fundamentally “outside” of it; Christian revelation therefore adds nothing to our knowledge of nature as nature. To Communio thinkers like Schindler, this model is an unnecessary and indeed catastrophic capitulation to Enlightenment ideas about nature that are not just secular, but secularist.

… As a metaphysical alternative to extrinsicism, Schindler argues analogically from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Here the idea of “distinction-in-unity” becomes a key concept. The secular and the sacred, faith and reason, nature and grace, are indeed distinguishable, but they simultaneously and at their core relate to one another in the terms of an inseparable unity—“circumincession” is Schindler’s term for this relationship. We see such a relationship, again analogically, in the bond between husband and wife, who are distinct persons yet “one flesh,” or in the relationship between the Father and the Son, distinct persons yet one God. Distinction-in-unity is enabled by and is the form of love …

Now, Schindler is a serious man whose thought deserves attentiveness.  And Schindler has much to say about how a “philosophy of love” pertains to close-to-the-ground contemporary issues, such as the current U.S. culture wars.  All of this merits attention.  But here I only want to make two quick observations about Schindler’s epistemology, in part because they touch upon my current interest (obsession?) with the issues of doubt and the concept of goods in conflict. 

The first observation is that Schindler’s view appears to be strictly monistic.  There is one truth, one idea, one reality, one Word, from which all else in the universe is derived and around which all other aspects of human meaning and experience are (can be, should be) harmoniously ordered.   There are no “goods in conflict” here (e.g., gay equality is good; customary marriage is good; the two are not entirely compatible or the same); instead, everthing is of one piece.  Or so his thought appears to me.   

The second is that Schindler’s world view appears to depend decisively on the belief that one thing can be two or more things at once.  Faith is faith, and reason is reason, but faith and reason are also one inseparable unity (i.e., one thing).  The natural is the natural and the supernatural is the supernatural, but neither, properly understood, is “extrinsic” to the other.  The married couple is two but also and to the same degree one; the godhead is three but also and to the same degree one.  And so on.  G. K. Chesterton wrote hundreds of essays (many of them quite lovely), and in nearly every one of them, as I can recall, we find this idea (or at least this rhetorical strategy) stressing that one thing is also one or more other things.  Now, when Isaiah Berlin insisted over and over again in his lectures and writings that “the thing is only the thing,” this contrary assertion about reality – the idea that one thing is also two or more things at once — is exactly what he meant to be disagreeing with. 

I can’t and won’t even try to solve these controversies here (though patient readers know that, as it were, “Ich bin ein Berliner”).  I only want to adumbrate two of the conceptual issues that jumped out at me as I read Beer’s interesting essay.

15 Responses to “Doubt sweet doubt (cont.)”

  1. Tristian says:

    I’m not familiar with Schindler’s work, so take this with a grain of salt.

    I’m not sure Schindler is meaning to point to so many examples of “one thing being one or more other things.” God the father is not both the same as and yet distinct from God the son. Rather, they are distinct yet related in a unity–in their relationship with each other and the Holy Spirit they constitute one God. Similarly, in their relationship husband and wife constitute ‘one flesh’, a married couple. (There is a disanalogy here, in that qua an individual man a husband doesn’t constitute a marriage, while each person of the Trinity is wholly God even when considered individually. Let me know when you’ve got that figured out.)

    I take it this would be Schindler’s answer to Berlin. Yes we can distinguish diverse goods, and often we have to choose between them–there are times when single minded pursuit of good of scholarship comes at the price of failing as a parent. But in principle the various human goods can be put in a relationship with one another so as to realize a single, unified good, namely love. Let’s just say I’d love to see the details.

  2. maggie gallagher says:

    If God exists as he is understood in the Christian tradition, as the all powerful, all-knowing, all loving, principal of creation, then there is a principle around which the universe is in fact ordered.

    Is there any way to escape from philosophical monism without rejecting this God?

  3. maggie gallagher says:

    Jeremy Beer also begins with a caricature of the view of Christians who participate in politics. I’m not sure what a metaphysic of love tells you about whether your should vote for politicians who believe abortion is a constitutional right for example. (Does peacefully “letting be” include “letting kill?”–where is it legitimate to use the law and where not?) At that level of abstraction, we are blissfully removed from “the culture wars” by declining to engage in the practical questions.

    The desire to be removed from the negative branding and the hatred generated against those who contest the liberal moral consensus is very real. But I’m not sure its epistomelogical.

  4. Maggie:

    One thing is a loving God. Another thing is a body of monistic philosophical thought created by human beings. It is possible to accept the former but not the latter. Why? Because — back to Berlin — the thing is only the thing; to say the one thing is not at the same time by definition to say the other thing. I realize that, contrary to what I’m saying, the church’s teaching is that, resulting from a series of events, the monistic philosophy created by men is also and at the same time God’s specifically preferred way of telling all human beings what He, God, wants us to know about Him; and whether that could possibly be true or not is an argument for another day; but for now all I want to say is that, for me, we are talking about two things here, not one.

    Also, I did not read Beer as suggesting — and I certainly do not believe that Schindler is even remotely saying — that Christians should not oppose abortion, or that they should exit themselves from difficult issues in the culture because of liberal disapproval, or due to fear of being hated by elites. I think you may simply be reading all of that into them; I don’t hear them saying that at all.

  5. maggie gallagher says:

    Fair enough. However, exactly what the “overemphasis on politics”of which Beers complains consists of is not clear, even though he framed his essay as an “antidote to the religious right.”

    If one believes in the Christian God one believes there is in truth, one true principle in the universe that orders the good. Whether human beings can know it or not, especially in its practical raminification is not the same thing.

    I suppose the relationship of theology to philosophy is a rather large topic to handle. But Schindler is not claiming human philosophical monism. But rather rejecting the idea that we can simply “bracket” the truth of God, act as if He didn’t exist, and thereby relate with out fellow human being on neutral ground.

    That’s not neutral ground. Its a theologically charged ground. There is no procedural republic.

    He’s seeking some other grounding for the achievements of liberal society.

  6. maggie gallagher says:

    In my limited understanding of course, based on one essay! I should not sound so confident I know what Schindler thinks.

  7. “He’s seeking some other grounding for the achievements of liberal society.”

    I agree, that appears to be his project.

  8. Jeremy Beer says:

    David and Maggie — Thanks for the thoughtful engagement. Just to clarify: the “antidote to the religious right” language was not mine, but the TAC editors’. And it is definitely true that neither Schindler nor I think Christians shouldn’t oppose abortion (for example) via political means. I don’t want anyone to be misled.

    Nor should anyone put too much trust in my interpretation/translation of Schindler, since it is highly telescoped and I’m sure quite inadequate. I just hope that a few folks who wouldn’t have read him, or known about him, otherwise are now drawn to his work. If nothing else, it helps to illuminate the theological/philosophical matrix out of which Pope Benedict’s own thought arises, and is therefore important.

  9. Teresa says:

    David, what a delightful Post; and, one that will be hard not to bring particular faith belief into our comments. :) :)

    Tristian: (Let me know when you’ve got that figured out.)

    Yes, Tristian, meditation on the Trinity, while always fruitful, can never really be understood. Our analogies (the three leaf clover) while sometimes helpful, are woefully inadequate to the grandeur of this mystery.

    Tristian: There is a disanalogy here, in that qua an individual man a husband doesn’t constitute a marriage, while each person of the Trinity is wholly God even when considered individually.

    The rub here, Tristian, and I’m sure you know this; is that each Person of the Trinity cannot exist alone, as God. Here’s a piece from the old Preface for the Trinity:

    … not in the oneness of a single person, but in the Trinity of one substance. … distinction in persons, oneness in being, equality in majesty.

    This is a wonderful analogy to marriage, as Blessed John Paul II so aptly described.

    Tristian“(in that qua an individual man a husband doesn’t constitute a marriage)”

    I would argue, Tristian, that an individual husband or wife does in fact constitute a marriage. Because marriage does have oneness in being, the husband or wife is never apart from that ‘being’. The husband and wife become new partakers in being, in a sense, grounded in oneness … and, they no longer exist as an individual man or woman. They are now, always ‘a part’ of … and, never ‘apart’ from.

    As one opposed to ssm, this analogue of marriage to the Trinity is, for me, the philosophically best definition of classical marriage: distinction in persons: a singular man and singular woman bringing their unique and complementary gifts. Oneness in being: the two are now one, at an intimate and existential level. Equality in majesty: the husband and the wife are equal in dignity. Add the third person, the child, to all the preceding … or, at least the potential of a child. Even in the abstract, the child is always present in marriage.

    Remember, this is my belief (not opinion) only. I well understand many others will find this wrong on many levels.

  10. Teresa says:

    Maggie wrote:
    The desire to be removed from the negative branding and the hatred generated against those who contest the liberal moral consensus is very real. But I’m not sure its epistomelogical.

    Maggie, what do you mean by this, in particulars? Are you arguing that theological principles are not within the realm of epistemology, or simply this one issue you’ve mentioned?

    St. Thomas, who stated that Theology is the Queen of the Sciences, would argue that First Principles are never matter for voting. First principles are … knowably are … as such, we submit to them. They are not matter for debate, argumentation, consensus building, compromise, or voting upon.

    Is a position, which implicitly concedes that First Principles are, indeed, matters for debate, and he who dies with the most votes wins; an intrinsically sound position? Is it not embedded with its own demise?

  11. maggie gallagher says:

    Teresa, its not a comment about anything except human motivation. A certain distaste for the religious right is certainly understandable among Christians. I’m questioning how much of it reflects the kinds of things Schindler is addressing: how do we reconcile faith, reason and justify the good created by liberal society?

    And how much of it reflects the fact that when people enter politics in ways that disrupt the dominant (liberal) elites conception of what is true and good–you get branded by the same dominant culture creators in ways that make you uncomfortable–and Christians in particular dislike and want to break through and re-brand themselves.

    I don’t know the answer but it has nothing to do with First Principles as I see them.

  12. Karen says:

    It’s not just practicing Christian’s that have this concern.

  13. Teresa says:

    Thanks, Maggie, for your response. OK, I get it.

    Yes, I agree, that going against the cultural grain cannot help but make people feel uncomfortable. I admire persons who can accomplish this with seeming aplomb and charity.

  14. Teresa says:

    Doubt for me is two-fold. One, I continue to be troubled by the overuse of the words liberal and conservative. There use pigeonholes persons in unfair ways; and, immediately arouses prejudice based on one’s own definition of the words. These classifications place us in a position of interacting with our construct, and never the person. Communication ceases.

    I’m conservative on issues surrounding marriage and family; but, I fall into the liberal class on social justice issues of the environment (fracking, Keystone XL Pipeline, etc.) immigration, unjust war (which I happen to think is mostly what’s afoot today) and preserving third-world countries’ rights to their own resources. So, I doubt that most of us are simply widgets aligned by left and right.

    Second, doubt for me becomes personal when I step out of my head-based, beautifully constructed, logical, faith-based position and actually interact with people. It is at this intersection of my thought life with actual, living, breathing persons that doubt arises. Doubt arises because I care what others think. I care to listen and really hear what life is about for them. In doing so, the carefully arranged furniture in my head seems to shift a bit. I’m always about tidying up the room.

    Doubt, living in the tension of firmly held beliefs and, yet, loving people where we meet them; and, being enriched by these interchanges. The large vs. the small, the whole vs. the part … messy.

  15. Mark Diebel says:


    I’m still having a problem with what you mean by philosophical monism.

    Here is what the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says about it:

    “Modern forms of Monism (E. Haeckel) are often esp. concerned to eliminate the dualism of the physical and the psychical by postulating a reality transcending these, of which both are modes. Materialism is another form of Monism. All forms of Monism are in conflict with the Christian belief in a radical distinction between the various grades of being.”

    You are using the word in a different sense than this.

    When you say that philosophical monism is “God’s specifically preferred way of telling all human beings what He, God, wants us to know about Him” I think you are getting at a declarative procedure: God’s word is pronounced by His agents in an unquestionable way.