Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Argumentum ad "ea quae parent" (1 Sam 16:7)

     Appeal to "those things that appear" (1 Sam 16:7 Douay-Rheims).  I.e. appeal to "the outward appearance" (RSV) of a man, or argument from "outward appearance" (argumentum ab eis quae parent).  As in (of Cardinal Raymond Burke on the dubia), "I'm sorry, but how can you take someone seriously who adorns himself like that?"

"The issues are . . . as substantial as the issues that came to the fore in the Nicene controversies in the fourth century".

"those who adopt a 'progressive' agenda in response to the novelty of gay consciousness should be set free [via a 'Mexit'] to work out their own confessional and theological commitments without the constraints that currently muzzle their endeavors.  What is at stake here minimally is a theological and moral research program that should be implemented by those who think that the future of the church rests with them. . . . by my own lights I do not think that this research program will bear the fruit its adherents promise; on the contrary I deem it to be a serious mistake that represents a further schism in the history of the church.  The issues are for me as substantial as the issues that came to the fore in the Nicene controversies in the fourth centur[y], in the division between East and West in the eleventh century, in the debates about justification and grace in the sixteenth century, and in the rejection of divine revelation in the nineteenth century."

     William J. Abraham, "In defense of Mexit:  disagreement and disunity in United Methodism," a paper presented at the GBHEM/AUMTS theological colloquy entitled "The Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness," 10-12 March 2017, and published also in the 2018 book of that same title.
     The quotations of Albert C. Outler (who invented "the Wesleyan quadrilateral" in order to make room for the theological pluralism represented by the United Methodist Church of 1968) that Abraham provides from the early 1970s (way back then!) are unforgettable.  "we are being asked to vote for or against antinomianism, in an acid test," etc.
     See also Pannenberg, Yeago, and others on this blog.

"If we cannot be relatively sure of what God has revealed to us then revelation is an empty concept."

     William J. Abraham, "In defense of Mexit:  disagreement and disunity in United Methodism," a paper presented at the GBHEM/AUMTS theological colloquy entitled "The Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness," 10-12 March 2017, and published also in the 2018 book of that same title.
The issue here is not the need for intellectual humility, or the need to be open to further evidence and light; the issue is whether revelation is essentially opaque and needs one more commission to set us straight on what God requires of us.  If theology is yet one more theological seminar overseen by church officials and scholars—aided, of course, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit—then I, for one, dissent from this analogy with the life of the church.  If we really want to resolve matters in the conciliar manner proposed by O’Donovan, then the train to take is the train to Rome.  Vatican II supplies exactly the medicine that is needed to get us out of this dead end in moral theology.  However, Rome alone is no more a solution than scripture alone.

"I would provide a more robust role for intuition in the epistemology of ethics" than Oliver O'Donovan

     William J. Abraham, "In defense of Mexit:  disagreement and disunity in United Methodism," a paper presented at the GBHEM/AUMTS theological colloquy entitled "The Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality: Toward a Faithful United Methodist Witness," 10-12 March 2017, and published also in the 2018 book of that same title.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The transhuman being as means, not end

"By th[is] characterization of excellence in terms of [(sur le mode de)] power, the transhumanist being connects up with the superman of Nietzsche.  But this is nearly all the [two] have in common.  For the aspiration to the transhuman is anything but [(tout sauf)] the cult of the genius whose spontaneous [(primesautière)] superiority impresses his will on the ages of the human epoque.  The transhuman is in large part a product of the human.  The technological [imperative of] improvement [(perfectionnement)] that determines its contours does not come from nowhere.  It is the result of a human action.  Now, the instrumental[izing] thought that presides over its conception cuts into its autonomy.  One is [here] far from the Kantian dignity of a quality that pertains to a being who can never be considered as a pure means, but always also as an end in itself.  The transhuman being is the means of the realization of a certain concept of the human [(un certain concept humain)] in a beyond-the-human subject [(au subject d’un au-delà de l’humain)], a fabricated being (whatever the euphoria of progress and pathos of self-surpassment that one puts into its fabrication).  In this sense, transhumanism poses the same basic problems as every selection [made] prior to the conception—as much ideal as biological—of a human being."

     Otto Schäfer, “Travail de construction ou de sape?  Le chantier humain du transhumanisme,” Foi et vie 114, no. 4 (décembre 2014):  87-88 (80-94).  I'm not entirely comfortable with his endorsement of Teilhard de Chardin, though (93-94).

Sunday, February 17, 2019

"We make no large claims"

"in the social world of corporations and governments private preferences are advanced under the cover of . . . the findings of experts. . . . .  The effects of eighteenth-century prophecy have been to produce not scientifically managed social control, but a skilful dramatic imitation of such control.  It is histrionic success which gives power and authority to our culture.  The most effective bureaucrat is the best actor.
     "To this many managers and many bureaucrats will reply:  you are attacking a straw man of your own construction.  We make no large claims, Weberian or otherwise.  We are as keenly aware of the limitations of social scientific generalizations as you are.  We perform a modest function with a modest and unpretentious competence.  But we do have specialized knowledge, we are entitled in our own limited fields to be called experts.
     "Nothing in my argument impugns these modest claims; but it is not claims of this kind which achieve power and authority either within or for bureaucratic corporations, whether public or private.  For claims of this modest kind could never legitimate the possession or the uses of power either within or by bureaucratic corporations in anything like the way or on anything like the scale on which that power is wielded.  So the modest and unpretentious claims embodied in this reply to my argument may themselves be highly misleading, as much to those who utter them as to anyone else.  For they seem to function not as a rebuttal of my argument that a metaphysical belief in managerial expertise has been institutionalised in our corporations, but as an excuse for continuing to participate in the charades which are consequently enacted.  The histrionic talents of the player with small walking-on parts are as necessary to the bureaucratic drama as the contributions of the great managerial character actors."

     Alasdair MacIntyre, After virtue (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 102 ("The character of generalisations in social science and their lack of predictive power").  "the alleged laws . . . all turn out to be false and . . . so unquestionably false that no one but a professional social scientist dominated by the conventional philosophy of science would ever have been tempted to believe them" (84).  "the generalisations and maxims of the best social science share certain characteristics of their predecessors — the proverbs of folk societies, the generalizations of jurists, the maxims of Machiavelli" (99).  "the notion of social control embodied in the notion of [socio-scientific] expertise is . . . a masquerade.  Our social order is in a very literal sense out of our, and indeed anyone's, control" (101).

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Not a project, but a task; not a promise, but an undertaking

"if the program of modernity is thus already sketched at the end of the ancient world and in the texts that founded the medieval world, in what sense does the modern project merit the adjective 'modern'?  The answer is found in the fuller phrase:  it is modern to the extent that it is, precisely, a project.  For it is not at all necessary that the human enterprise should conceive itself as a project.  The genus 'enterprise' in fact contains, alongside of project, another species that one could call task.  And task is opposed point for point to the three characteristics of the project that I laid out above.  Each in fact changes its sign:  with a task, (a) I receive the mission to do something from an origin I cannot control, but must discover; (b) I also must ask myself if I am up to my task, agreeing even to divest myself of what has otherwise been irrevocably entrusted to me; and finally, (c) I alone am responsible for what I am asked to accomplish, without being able to outsource it to an instance that would guarantee its success.
     "Now, with this idea of task, we are able to distinguish the Bible from modernity.  All the biblical images invoked above, including the idea of 'straining forward [epekteinomai] toward what lies ahead' (Phil. 3:13 NRSV), need to be understood in the light of task, not that of project.  The passage to modernity therefore can find its symbol, if not its symptom, in the evolution of literary genres from the epic, where the hero is invested  with a mission he must accomplish, to the novel, in which he departs seeking adventures, and hence following his fancy.
     "The relationship of humanity to nature can know many models.  It is not necessary that it be a conquest, nor that this conquest be connected with the idea of a 'kingdom of man,' nor, finally, that it take on the aspect of a domination realized by technology."

     Rémi Brague, The kingdom of man:  genesis and failure of the modern project, trans. Paul Seaton (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2018), 5.
     This reminds me so much of the distinction Philip Turner made between the undertaking and the promise ("Undertakings and promises:  sexual ethics in the life of the church:  the 1990 Zabriskie Lecture series," Virginia Seminary journal (March 1991):  3-27; First things (April 1991):  36-42; Studies in Christian ethics 4, no. 2 (August 1991):  1-13).