JiscMail Logo
Email discussion lists for the UK Education and Research communities

Help for MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Archives


MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Archives

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Archives


MEDIEVAL-RELIGION@JISCMAIL.AC.UK


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Home

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION Home

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  January 2002

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION January 2002

Options

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password

Subject:

Re: hermeneutics of suspicion

From:

Dennis Martin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 23 Jan 2002 09:13:41 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (47 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

I do not wish to engage in a long point-by-point debate with Richard Landes.  Some of his points I would agree with, in some instance I think he has indeed misunderstood my argument, as I undoubtedly at points have misunderstood his.  For the sake of clarity, I think the key issue he raises occurs in his comments about Augustine and power/love. 

From a Jewish/Christian perspective, in a _fallen_ world, yes, power, lust for power, dishonest, deceit etc. _seem_ to make the world go round.  I believe Augustine would say that this is not right and not good and, in the end, not as real as justice, truth, honesty and love (including the courtesy I argued for) making the world go round.  But that of course requires faith in an allpowerful God of love, which also raises the terrible problem of "whence evil" if such a God exists.

Hobbes, Nietzsche etc. in varying ways are saying that, of course, since no such allpowerful and loving God exists, one has to take the brutish, power-lusting world as the only world there is.  Am I wrong to think that Plato would disagree?  Even Aristotle?  For this reason, putting Augustine in the same category as Hobbes and Nietzsche is mistaken, in my view.

So, we are back to the clash of worldviews.  Christian (and Jewish) faith in an allpowerful loving God, despite the problems (not insoluble, I believe, but very difficult) of theodicy that raises, permits a hermeneutic of at least conditional empathy.   Enlightenment faith in Justice and Reason also permits it at least those in polite society and affluence managed to live that way for a while.  Kant provided a temporary synthesis and Nietzsche blew it to smithereens.  My own view is that in the long run impersonal Reason and Justice can't sustain the faith and hope required to entertain conditional empathy under really severe conditions of poverty, injustice etc.  That, I believe would also be Augustine's reasoning in the _City of God_.  Nietzsche, it seems, would agree, except that he could not believe in an allpowerful loving personal God, so he felt obligated to sign on with Hobbes, making what Augustine would call the _fallen_ world into the only real world.

In response to the question (perhaps raised by Professor Kline) as to why I'm insist that a hermeneutic of suspicion is "dehumanizing"--this is based on the premise that humans are made for relationships/love (which follows from the Jewish and Christian believe in a personal God of love), so failure to entertain trust for others, at least until evidence of untrustworthiness appears, is an inhuman act.  (The same understanding of the person as made for love means that certain limits are placed on how one may treat even a person who has proved untrustworthy.)

Finally, Professor Kline asks why it has to be either/or.  I was saying it has to be either trust or suspicion.    I laid out a continuum, insisting one has to start with trust to be fair and humane, unless one has contrary evidence.  One has to be fair and just in assessing evidence, not prejudge even the evidence etc.  This is not naivete nor simplistic but very complex.  I was, however, protesting against starting from the principle that all people are fundamentally self-deceived or dishonest and untrustworthy, hence their self-presentations must be handled with suspicion.  Even in world full of obvious injustice and untrustworthiness, a response of complete suspicion is  dehumanizing because prejudging--unless, indeed, no such thing as Love truly exists and life is _merely_ survival of the fittest or and nasty, brutish and short.  More polite variations of this exist--rational choice theory etc.--which argue that all human interactions are essentially contacts/bargains and caveat emptor.  I think this is really Hobbes warmed over, but I could be wrong.

It all turns on whether Hobbes or the rational choice folks or Nietzsche are correct about human nature.  If they are, then it would not be dehumanizing to prejudge suspiciously or to jump to conclusions and railroad evidence out of preexisting suspicion.  It would merely be intelligent self-interest and self-defense.  If Augustine (and John Paul II, perhaps the leading exponent of persons-made-for-love philosophy today) is right about human nature, then throwing in the towel to a fallen world's libido dominandi would betray the best and finest of human nature and settle for a mess of pottage.  But it does require religious faith in a loving allpowerful God to do that.  (Whether faith in Justice along Enlightenment lines is still credible to anyone, I don't know.  Some people probably do operate with something of that philosophical system.  It has become very difficult, though to many it might seem an easier choice than the soft and degenerate and irrational, counter-intuitive [Nietzsche] Christian-Jewish belief in a loving omnipotent God.

Richard Landes agrees in principle that it's not either/or and rejects an total hermeneutic of suspicion, but believes, if I understand him correctly, that _evidence_ shows that a very far-reaching hermeneutic of suspicion is warranted.   He reads the evidence differently, and along Hobbeseian rather than Augustinian lines, though he assimilates Augustine to Hobbes.  He may be right about human nature, he may be right to insist that what Augustine and Christianity calls a _fallen_ world is the only world we have and that lust for power simply has to be accepted as a fact of live, that it would be naive and very dangerous to explain things now as having fallen away from a good origin and that Justice/Love/God can and is engaged in restoring justice, love, truth to a fallen world.

I hope it is clear that I respect those who hold other worldviews even though I think they are wrong to hold them, just as they think me wrong to hold the one I hold.  I do try to entertain conditional empathy.  I do not assume they are self-deceived and that their self-explanations must be second-guessed.

My purpose in this thread and in the earlier one on canonization is to point out the way our worldviews do influence how we read the past--certainly in complex ways.  I believe that Professor Landes's response actually illustrates that basic point, even as my posts also do.

Finally, I hope it is clear that I from the start have acknowledged my worldview commitments and how they influence the way I read history.  Too often, even in this thread, perhaps, people assume that while I point out how others (e.g., those who attacked  the canonization causes of Pius IX or Pius XII) are influenced in their reading of history by their commitments, I am somehow free of such commitments and more "objective."  I do believe the religious worldview I hold to be the Truth, otherwise I would not hold it (and, if I believed truth were ultimately unknowable, then I'd hold that religious/philosophical worldview).

My effort here is to debunk those who casually take as self-evident the superiority of their worldviews, whether Hobbesean or Nietzschean or Enlightenment Rational.

And yes, even the response that, well, it's all complex and one ought not make it so either/or or so systematic--let's just recognize that we ought to be more ecclectic, that we in fact are, most of us, rather ecclectic in our methods and our underlying philosophies, so why get your knickers all twisted over this?  Even that response is a based on a worldview/philosophy/religion: that Reality is ecclectic, that a mixture of them major religious/philosophical approaches is probably best, that we can't be real sure, but we can muddle through.  That's a respectable way to view reality, but it is a philosophy because it denies the degree of knowability of Truth and Justice (and Love) that the other major systems, even while they argue with each other, assert.

I happen to believe that it helps to be more, not less, explicit about one's commitments, whether Hobbesean or Christian, Platonic or Buddhist, not because they're all more or less the same in the end, but because only by being clear about oneself can one overcome self-confusion, self-deception and express oneself more clearly to the other guy so that he stands a ghost of a chance of understanding me.  Of course, only if he has clarified to himself his commitments and how they might affect his hearing and interpretation of me, will he have a remote chance to understand me.

Thus, it is in the interest of increasing communication and clarity of conversation that I raise these issues.  If I have done so in an excessively either/or way, I apologize.  My philosophical commitments push me to start with the big picture, the basic priniciples and achieve clarification and nuancing based on the basic principles rather than starting with nuances.  But that may be the result of my religious/philosophical commitments to the existence and knowability of Truth.  In conditional empathy I could see how someone who believes otherwise about the knowability of Truth would want to start and stay with the nuances, since the Principles are, in the end, unknowable, for sure.

Dennis Martin 
 

**********************************************************************
To join the list, send the message: join medieval-religion YOUR NAME
to: [log in to unmask]
To send a message to the list, address it to:
[log in to unmask]
To leave the list, send the message: leave medieval-religion
to: [log in to unmask]
In order to report problems or to contact the list's owners, write to:
[log in to unmask]
For further information, visit our web site:
http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/medieval-religion.html

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

JiscMail Tools


RSS Feeds and Sharing


Advanced Options


Archives

June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
June 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999
September 1999
August 1999
July 1999
June 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
December 1998
November 1998
October 1998
September 1998
August 1998
July 1998
June 1998
May 1998
April 1998
March 1998
February 1998
January 1998
December 1997
November 1997
October 1997
September 1997
August 1997
July 1997
June 1997
May 1997
April 1997
March 1997
February 1997
January 1997
December 1996
November 1996
October 1996
September 1996
August 1996
July 1996
June 1996
May 1996
April 1996


JiscMail is a Jisc service.

View our service policies at https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/policyandsecurity/ and Jisc's privacy policy at https://www.jisc.ac.uk/website/privacy-notice

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager