lundi 23 octobre 2017

'Jerusalem & Athens’: Dooyeweerd to Van Til (1): 'transcendent' and 'transcendental' distinguished.

My good friend, 

You have from the beginning expressed your sympathy with the reformatory tendency of the philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea. It is no wonder that, as a professor of apologetics, you are especially interested in the transcendental critique of theoretical thought, which this philosophy has laid at the foundation of every further philosophical investigation. No wonder, indeed, since this critique has been presented as the only critical way of communication between a really reformatory Christian philosophy and philosophical schools holding in one sense or another to the supposed autonomy of theoretical thought.

It is this very method of communication which could be also of fundamental import for a reformatory apologetics that seeks to avoid any compromise with the traditional scholastic conception of the relative autonomy of human reason with respect to so-called "natural knowledge." You have tried to develop such an apologetics in a consistent way in your book, The Defense of the Faith.

In your class syllabus on “Biblical Dimensionalism,” which was kindly placed at my disposal, you have dwelled at length on the question about whether my transcendental critique can indeed clear the way for a real communication with philosophical trends that hold to the autonomy of theoretical thought.

From your critical comment on this discussion it appears that you are not satisfied with the way in which I have applied this critique in the dialogue with neo-thomistic and other philosophers. Your main objection is that, in your opinion, I do not carry through my reformatory biblical starting point in such a dialogue in a consistent manner. This failure would already appear from my distinction between a transcendental and a transcendent criticism of philosophical views.

I am afraid that you have misunderstood what I mean by this distinction. You think that by transcendental critique I understand a critique that starts from the (transcendent) “fulness and unity of truth accepted on the authority of Scripture.” 

By my opposing such a transcendent critique to the transcendental one, as the “dogmatical” to the “critical” method of communication, I am supposed to forget “that the whole point of transcendental criticism is lost unless it is based upon transcendent criticism.”

In the syllabus this latter statement is wrongly ascribed to Berkouwer. I suppose it is, in fact, your own as appears from your explanatory addition: “That is to say, the entire transcendental method hangs in the air except for the fact that it rests upon the fullness and unity of truth accepted on the authority of Scripture.”

But by a transcendent criticism, as opposed to the transcendental critique of theoretic thought, I understood something quite different from what you suppose. I meant by transcendent criticism, the dogmatic manner of criticizing philosophical theories from a theological or from a different philosophical viewpoint without a critical distinction between theoretical propositions and the supra-theoretical presuppositions lying at their foundation. 

In A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, I have explained in detail why I reject such a transcendent critique, which in scholastic theology has been repeatedly applied to condemn scientific and philosophical ideas that did not agree with traditional scholastic views. In view of this state of affairs I remarked: “Besides, there is another ever present danger” (viz. in transcendent criticism). “What is actually a complex of philosophical ideas dominated by unbiblical motives, may be accepted by dogmatic theology and accommodated to the doctrine of the church. The danger is that this complex of ideas will be passed off as an article of Christian faith, if it has influenced the terminology of some confessions of faith.” (Vol I, pp 37-38). 

Among the Reformed confessions I am reminded of that of Westminster, which renders the Christian belief concerning human nature in terms of the dualistic Thomistic-Aristotelian conception, just as the Council of Vienne had done before. To clear the way for a reformatory philosophy it was necessary to subject this traditional scholastic view, inclusive of its whole Greek metaphysical background, to a transcendental critique from the radical biblical standpoint.

This criticism laid bare the unbiblical ground-motive lying at the foundation of this metaphysics. Valentine Hepp, the late professor of dogmatic theology at the Free University of Amsterdam, was of the opinion that rejection of the traditional scholastic view of human nature was a deviation from the Reformed confession; and the theological faculty of that time shared this opinion. We are confronted here with a transcendent critique in optima forma.

I guess that you will gladly agree that this kind of criticism is rejectable. But the point at issue is whether, and if so, how, the transcendental critique meant in the sense of the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic idea is able to join issue with philosophical trends which do not share its radical biblical starting point, but rather in one sense or another hold to the autonomy of theoretical human thought.

To understand the true meaning and purport of this transcendental critique, it is necessary to realize that its primary purpose was to institute a radically transcendental inquiry into the inner nature and structure of the theoretical attitude of thought and experience, and into the real nature of the presuppositions lying at the foundation of every possible philosophical reflection.

This inquiry was necessary to answer the question whether the traditional dogma concerning the autonomy of theoretical thought may in some way or another be based upon the inner nature and structure of the latter. This critical investigation was concerned with philosophical problems of a primordial transcendental character, for these problems arise from the inner nature and structure of the theoretical attitude of thought and experience itself.

The task of a transcendental critique, which makes this theoretical attitude as such a critical problem, is quite different from that of a theological apologetics. It does not aim at a “defense of the Christian faith” but at laying bare the central influence of the different religious, basic motives upon the philosophical trends of thought. 

For that purpose it was necessary to show the inner point of contact between theoretical thought and its supra-theoretical presuppositions which relate to the central religious sphere of human existence. This is why this transcendental critique is obliged to begin with an inquiry into the inner nature and structure of the theoretical attitude of thought and experience as such and not with a confession of faith.

In this first phase of the critical investigation such a confession would be out of place. Not because the first question raised by our transcendental critique might be answered apart from the central religious starting-point of those who take part in the philosophical dialogue, but because the necessity of such a starting-point has not yet come up for discussion. 

For, so long as the dogma concerning the autonomy of theoretical thought has not been subjected to a transcendental critique, adherents of this dogma who enter into a dialogue with the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea might rightly confine themselves to the simple statement that theoretical philosophy has nothing to do with questions of faith and religion. In other words, the dialogue would be cut off before it could start.

The confrontation of the biblical and the non-biblical groundmotives of theoretical thought belongs to the third and last phase of the transcendental critique. Only in this phase the transcendental problem crops up concerning the possibility of a concentric direction of theoretical thinking to the human ego, as its central reference point, and concerning the inner nature of the latter.

This problem, too, arose from the inner nature and structure of the theoretical attitude of thought and experience itself. For, this attitude turned out to be characterized by an intentional antithetical relation between the logical or analytical mode of theoretical thinking and the non-logical modal aspects of human experience within the horizon of cosmic time.

Both this theoretical antithesis and the intermodal theoretical synthesis, necessary to gain a conceptual insight into the modal structures of the non-logical aspects of our temporal horizon of experience, bind theoretical thought to a divergent direction. Nevertheless both of them presuppose the human ego as the central reference point of our consciousness which as such must transcend the modal diversity of the temporal horizon of human experience.

This means that the third problem of the transcendental critique, though it be evoked by the transcendental critical turn of theoretical thought to the thinking ego, cannot be solved within the boundaries of theoretical thought and experience.

Self-knowledge is here at issue and true self-knowledge is, as you so rightly remark, completely dependent upon true knowledge of God, which is to be obtained only from his Word-revelation fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This central knowledge is, however, certainly not of a theoretical conceptual character.

In his high priestly prayer Jesus says that this knowledge is eternal life in the love-communion with the Father and the Son. In his earthly life in which the Christian is still subject to the consequences of sin, he can have only a principle of this religious knowledge. The latter presupposes the opening up of his “heart,” i.e., the religious center of his existence, by the Holy Ghost to the moving power of the Word-revelation.

Since man has been created in the image of God, the religious impulse, as Calvin rightly observes, is an innate impulse of the human heart. He calls it “semen religionis.” It is a natural disposition which in itself is unable to lead man to true self-knowledge and knowledge of God. But it brings about the restless longing for communion with the absolute upon which he may concentrate all the relative, primarily his own self as the creaturely religious concentration-point of his existence. The religious impulse was, from the beginning, thrown on the central motive power of God’s general Word-revelation, which alone could give it true content and a right direction.

By the fall into sin it got an apostate trend. Turning away from the Word of God and lending ear to the temptation to be like God in his self-sufficiency, man directed his innate religious impulse towards idols originating from an absolutization of creaturely meaning-structures of the temporal world.

Hence the necessary ambiguity of the term “religious” in the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea. It always refers here to the central sphere of human existence and consciousness in its active relation to God, and to the central motive power operating in it. But Holy Scripture teaches us that this central dynamis may be that of the Word-revelation leading us into the Truth, as well as that of the spirit of apostasy who leads the innate religious impulse of the human heart in a false direction.

Naturally it is possible to eliminate this ambiguity of the terms "religious" and "religion" by ascribing to them only an idolatrous or a Christian sense respectively. Karl Barth did so in the former sense and consequently opposed all religion, including the Christian, as a supposed product of the apostate human nature, to the Word of God and the life out of grace alone. But this arbitrary restriction of the meaning of the term, which is in line with Barth's antithetical conception of the scholastic basic motive of nature and grace, is unacceptable.

The innate religious impulse of the human heart does not result from man's apostate nature, but, as we observed above, from his creation in the image of God.

(Excerpt from the chapter 'Herman Dooyeweerd: II. CORNELIUS VAN TIL AND THE TRANSCENDENTAL CRITIQUE OF THEORETICAL THOUGHT, in the book Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til, Edited by E.R. Geehan, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974, pp 74-78)