Monday, February 12, 2018

Skrignovian Skepticism

A friend of mine, who just passed his comps in Philosophy, is going to be thinking about Free Will for his dissertation. He sent me an interesting essay that explains the issues he'll be writing on. Here's the opening:

Are our choices unavoidable, given our reasons for making them? If our choices follow our reasons strictly, one might worry about whether our reasons proceed from sources that do not depend on us, such as our innate dispositions, our upbringing, and particular events that happened to us shortly or long before we made a choice, determining the choice unavoidably. In contrast, if our choices do not follow our reasons strictly, then they are irrational. In either case, free will is threatened, and apparently moral responsibility with it. These concerns are one way of approaching the traditional problem of free will and determinism, which we call the problem of intellectual determinism.

I have to admit I never considered having reasons for choosing as grounds for doubting my free will in choosing. But how exciting, once the idea is raised! Whereas the ordinary objections to free will seem obviously self-defeating -- that from brain science or physics we must deduce that events including all our actions are determined by material forces and arrangements of matter, asking one, on the basis of observation of natural phenomena, to reject an even more basic natural phenomenon on which the latter observations rest -- this one works from the other direction...

Scene: A corner of a country bar or inn, two chairs drawn up to a fire in the hearth.

Skrignov (tapping his pipe on the arm of his chair): ...I will concede, if only for the moment, that fMRIs do not show that the clusters of molecules arranged in the forms of "me" and "Old Harry" delivered the pint of bitter into my glass rather than the stout, without any power of will on his or my parts. (As a philosopher myself I am not, after all, a registered congregant at the First Church of Science!).

Simplicius (warming his hands around his mug of vin chaud over the fire); I am very glad to hear it, dear boy. I don't see how you do that consistently of course, given your long and frankly embarrassing flirtations with David Hume.

Skrignov (ignoring this unfair and snide remark): But I put before you the following problem in which, unlike in the case of the materialist determinists, it is up to you and not me to defend your position. (Takes a long, deep draw from his pipe). You claim to choose freely, that you are the one making decisions as to your actions, deserving praise or blame in proportion to their being attributed to you and your will. For example, you wish to attend the Erasmus Lecture in Manhattan: you deliberate whether to drive or take the train, considering the monetary costs, the difficulty of finding parking, walking distances, amount you would be permitted to safely drink, and so on, at the end of which you "choose" to take the train. (The footman will await your return to the Peapack-Gladstone Station).

Simplicius (raises eyebrows): My good man, I'm not quite sure you've not forgotten which side your arguing for here.

Skrignov (smiles beneath his bushy mustache): Indeed. But--

Simplicius: Ah...

Skrignov: But! the very story you have accepted does not seem to me to narrate a choice that was all that very free.

Simplicius: The elasticity with which you tie your own reason into knots never ceases to amaze me. How do you arrive at this, er, flexible conclusion?

Skrignov: Be honest, sir, if not civil. Who has a higher regard for Reason than I? I even capitalize it, and not just at the beginnings of sentences. But consider: have you chosen well, chosen rationally, I mean?

Simplicius: I suppose so...

Skrignov: Then the resulting decision followed inexorably from your reasons. Your will played no part in the matter that I can see. (A satisfied draw-and-puff follows from this).

Simplicius: Oh that's very neat, sir, very neat indeed. Now let me think. (Rolls some wine about in his mouth).

Skrignov: An excellent change of plan, if you will permit me to commend your new resolution.

Simplicius: Now who is being uncivil? But hang on a minute. You're making it out that my own reason constrains my choices, and so I don't have free will?

Skrignov: You, my good man, are the one claiming to have this power. I merely and politely ask you to articulate just how it works. You will note that this time, I have made no recourse to materialism of any kind, nor even asked you to doubt the existence of your self or other persons? (Puff).

Simplicius: (A longish pause). Not bad, old thing. But I believe you've missed something, or craftily left it out apurpose. My choice of the train over the car was not an automatic calculation.

Skrignov: Oh no?

Simplicius: No indeed. How would a calculator weigh the value of money against the value of time saved, or convenience, or the feeling of being able to leave at one's leisure? The scale wouldn't work because it is being asked to weigh different kinds of value. 'Tis a qualia thing, not a quantity thing.

Skrignov (his mustache accentuates his frown): Pray, explain.

Simplicius: My reasons didn't lead inexorably to my decision. Or at least that is an insufficient narrative. In fact--that is, in this fiction--I chose particular aspects to consider based upon their value to me. I may not have considered all possibilities, or even all values. In fact, with my limited mental capacity (Skrignov sniggers). Oh you know what I mean.

Skrignov: Believe me, I do!

Simplicius : Aaannyway,...The fact that I use my ratio on a limited number of considerations, in part because I am unaware of the possibly unlimited number of factors and in part because I attend to the ones I think most valuable (and the ones that I am able to remember during the process of consideration) -- as I say, this fact of limited considerations does not occlude the operation of a free will. Rather, I deliberated, I assembled the relevant reasons, and chose that which seemed to me best. Therefore the calculation presupposed the willing. I used my will, because in deliberating I actually calculated not only means but also ends: I considered the means to the end of listening to the Erasmus Lecture (itself perhaps toward further ends of truth and joy), but also other ends of stewarding my property in order to care for my family, of the uses to which I could put the time driving vs. riding the train, and even of using my time for an entirely different profit that night -- as in doing a bit of gardening back home instead of going into the City at all.

Skrignov: I'm not sure you've quite wriggled free, dear boy. Quite apart from your ridiculous proclivity for wallowing in filth out in your garden, there are two places, I think, where you invite us to skip a step on the staircase. First, the various qualia you weigh in your deliberation -- the value of money, of time, of liberty to indulge in the libations -- are not after all arbitrarily chosen. Even you would concede as much being a hylomorphic realist. Granting for the present that there's a "you" there and that the mind-independent world exists and is intelligible, your reason allows you to grasp the most relevant qualia. This is, again, not an arbitrary choice. The mind-independent relation of these quantities and qualities to your end of reaching the Union Club in time for the lecture leads you of necessity to your "choice." The fact that your powers of reason is a complex scale capable of weighing irreducibly distinct qualia needn't worry us here.

Simplicius (eyes his now-empty mug with mild disappointment): A fair rejoinder, even if I think we could return to it and investigate whether or not you use terminology to freely and loosely. But you said I skipped a step in two places. What was the second?

Skrignov (smiling not unwickedly): The second, my bibulous convinion, is that in asking us to grant that for any given end, there may be multiple reasons assembled and even perhaps to speak of these as different ends, you simply push the problem back a step. These other ends -- are they too not provided to you by nature--that is, by the sum total of your nature and history as well as of all other people and things involved in your trip to Manhattan? It is, I believe, an analogy in time of how you cannot help but grasp mathematical and geometric truths. You don't choose to see that, given two angles of a triangle add up to 120 degrees, the third measures 60; in an analogous way, you didn't choose to attend the Erasmus Lecture.

Bartender: Gentleman, I'm afraid you'll have to finish your percolations another time. The bar's closing.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Followup on Lewis

In Nancy
November 12, 2017

After so recently reading the post-conversion Evelyn Waugh, and only some months after Fr. Ronald Knox’s works, it can be tempting to absorb their brilliant (and often casual) dispensations with Protestantism (in A Spiritual Aeneid, Knox notes how he came to regard the Protestant Reformation as “a great disaster” long before he thought of leaving the Church of England). With Lewis’s authoritative critique of modern thought and of the great, insouciant arrogance that in his telling has marked the outlook of the forward-thinking intelligentsia of Western Civilization ever since the Renaissance, I find it easy to take in stride, almost without realizing, a view that places Protestantism easily within the fold of modernism. Like the moderns today, like the self-named “enlightened” philosophes in the eighteenth century, like the (again, self-named) men of the “rebirth” (renaissance) in the sixteenth, Protestants mis-read their forebears and misguidedly attacked what came before while in the same manner failing to realize how much of what they valued was handed on to them.

Since it was helpful for me, I share here more of Lewis’s illuminating historical commentary, this time on what made the New Religion so attractive in the sixteenth century.
“Even more important, if we are to understand why the Reformers, whether rightly or wrongly, felt that they were escaping from a prison, is Fisher’s conception of purgatory. A modern tends to see purgatory through the eyes of Dante: so seen, the doctrine is profoundly religious. That purification must, in its own nature, be painful, we hardly dare to dispute. But in Fisher the pain seems to have no intrinsic connexion with the purification at all: it is a pain which, while it lasts, separates us from God. Since even in this life pain ‘will not suffer the soul to remember itselfe, moche lesse therefore it shall haue ony remembraunce abydynge in tourmentes, for cause also the paynes of purgatory be moche more than the paynes of this worlde, who may remember God as he ought to, beynge in that paynfull place?....’ Thus the pains which in Dante were genuinely purgative have become, it would seem, merely retributive. Tyndale’s reaction to such a doctrine can be gathered from a sentence in his answer to More, ‘To punish a man that has forsaken sin of his own accord is not to purge him but to satisfy the lust of a tyrant’. Perhaps Fisher might not mean exactly what he said: or, meaning it, might not do justice to the doctrine of his own church. That is not here our concern. We want to know how people in England felt; we shall not succeed if Dante’s picture dominates our minds” (163-164).
“The second book [of St. Thomas More’s Supplication of Souls (1529)] … illustrates a further degradation of the idea of purgatory. In Fisher the pain had been separated from any spiritual purification, but the torments had at least been inflicted by angels. In More this last link with heaven is severed. The attendants…are now devils. ‘Our keepers’, say the imprisoned souls, ‘are such as God kepe you from, cruell damned spirites, odious enemies and despitefull tormentours, and theyre companye more horrible and grieuous to vs than is the payn itself and the intollerable tourmente that they doo vs, wherewith from top to toe they cease not to teare vs’. The length of the sentence has thus become the sole difference between purgatory and hell…. I make the point not to disgrace a man before whom the best of us cannot stand uncovered, but because the age we are studying cannot be understood without it. This sort of thing, among others, was what the old religion had come to mean in the popular imagination during the reign of Henry VIII: this was one of the things a man left behind in becoming Protestant” (172-3).
It is true that recent historical research has shown that the emancipatory quality of Protestant Reform is largely a perception handed down in Protestant countries from polemical sources – the historian Andrew Gow has shown that vernacular Bibles were already quite widespread by the time of Luther’s translation, so the notion that Luther delivered the people access to scriptures that had ‘til then been walled away was a later invention of the polemicists. All the same it is important to be aware that there were genuine Christians for whom accepting the reforms in doctrine or practice was experienced as a liberation. You have Thomas Cranmer, whose political career and worldly success was based upon his support for the king’s divorce; but you also have William Tyndale, whose early acceptance of Protestantism opened no appointments but forced him into a life of exile as a hunted man, who opposed the king’s divorce, and who was finally caught and executed (the fate of a disconcertingly large number of controversialists at this period!).

It is striking at today’s vantage to see this point about genuine experience of emancipation. As regards actual right doctrine, it is likely the case that, as Lewis notes, “In all this we may be sure that what Tyndale is attacking is a mere travesty of what his best opponents held; as what they attack is also a travesty of his own view. In these controversies each party writes best when he is defending what (well considered and in a cool hour) the other did not really deny” (190); but if it was so easy to draw the wrong conclusion about what right doctrine was (even as defended by More or Fisher, the doctrine of Purgatory would not be thus presented today), then that also says something about the Church’s teaching at the time. It seems a tragedy more than anything else. Lewis again: “one sees how tragically narrow is the boundary between Tyndale and his opponents, how nearly he means by faith what they mean by charity” (189).

As I stated at the outset, I share this mainly as a “here’s-something-that-struck-me”; if there is any point to be made, it is the very old one, the caution (to myself) to humility. When one sees clearly where a certain error or logical inconsistency lies, one can wish to always draw the conversation back to that point: “What the 2016 election was really about was [insert your analysis of the bottom-level causes, forces, etc.].” Today’s controversies within Christianity do indeed turn upon non-negotiable fundamental dogmas and doctrines, but it is also necessary to listen to how ordinary people describe their own perceptions. I don’t know that this is advice per se – I’ve hardly even had a conversation with someone with a terrible misperception of Church teaching who was also willing to a nuanced response. Just a more accurate interpretation of the Reformation.


A last quote to be shared is rather delightful piece of crabbiness coming from Dean Colet, a learned schoolmaster, a Catholic humanist who thought both that the Latin of the “classical” period was the only style and vocabulary one could use and also that the paganism of the classical literature was deplorable. In one of the statutes of a school he started, he barred all those texts which “more rayther may be called blotterature thenne litterature” (160).

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Thoughts prompted from reading CS Lewis

By happy constellation I discovered an American Library in France, supplying (free) books I couldn’t pack because of the austere weight requirements of Norwegian Air. This library was formed by books left behind by American GIs stationed in postwar France, so it’s heavy on authors popular at mid-century: Graham Greene, Thomas Merton, Norman Vincent Peale, and—land, ho!—C.S. Lewis, whose English Literature in the 16th Century I had never read before. As usual, the lucidity of his thought and the clarity of his communication are astonishing. His introduction, a historical essay setting the scene, should probably be published as a standalone short book. It shares a lot of the themes in The Discarded Image, Studies in Words, and several essays in the Selected Literary Essays edited by Walter Hooper.

Needless to say, it’s an awesome essay, spurring lots of thoughts and actually prompting me to write. I urge you all to find a copy.

At the moment I mainly want to share a musing from a section of the introduction where he describes the early English Puritans (not gloomy ascetics but avant-garde intellectuals; he compares them to Marxists in his day). He begins by sketching the “experience” of the Reformation shared by the Puritans and the broader Anglican group, and his description of the way in which purely theological issues got entangled in quite different matters suggested a connection to certain controversies in the Catholic literary circles today. Here’s a short excerpt; you’re coming in just as Lewis has led us from Luther’s early cloudless dismissal of works to the totems of the faith/works controversy ending up in popular comedies:

   “The real reason why any reference to faith and works (or merit) is sure of a response in the theatre is that this topic touches men’s pockets: one of the seats of laughter[:]…he who cries up merit…is probably going to ask for money…. And he who cries up faith…is probably going to refuse money…. Shakespeare uses either jibe impartially.”
   “The process whereby ‘faith and works’ become a stock gag in the commercial theatre is characteristic of that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation. The theological questions really at issue have no significance except on a certain level, a high level, of the spiritual life; they could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure…. In fact, however, these questions were raised at a moment when they immediately became embittered and entangled with a whole complex of matters theologically irrelevant, and therefore attracted the fatal attention both of government and the mob. When once this had happened, Europe’s chance to come through unscathed was lost. It was as if men were set to conduct a metaphysical argument at a fair, in competition or (worse still) forced collaboration with the cheapjacks and the round-abouts, under the eyes of an armed and vigilant police force who frequently changed sides.” (37)

(Side comment: have you ever met an author so artful in inventing the perfect analogies?). Any-hoo, this description of a “tragic farce” put me in mind of a lot of headlines I’ve seen, sighed, and ignored recently that have sprouted up around Amoris Laetitia and Fr. Martin’s new book. (Not to mention the identical process which I’m reading in the archives of the religious schism that occurred during—and helped shape—the French Revolution). A tricky properly theological question arises (even if not from properly theological seeds) which could “be fruitfully debated between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure.” Instead because the questions are tied to principles of authority and jurisdiction, generations of articles proliferate from Catholic journalists who share with their secular fellows the chief skills and values of their craft—namely, irony, cleverness, the smugness of having secured one’s position above the fray and so preserved oneself from being taken in. (I grow sick of irony—in our newspapers, our supposedly “fresh” Netflix shows and podcasts and NPR programs). And “below” this level of the venues reserved for commentators who’ve mastered the ironic art, the myriad militant blogs and internet newspapers of the various camps put up their standards and banners and raise the call to arms.

Is genuine conversation, genuine disputatio, possible? Of course. Perhaps the more pertinent question is, Is there a way to prevent the various habits of our literary cultures, which seem perversely co-ordinated toward Babel, from causing grave harm to the Bride of Christ?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Persons, Nations, Princes, Moving People

Well met indeed! 'Twas an excellent entmoot gathered the other night (June 16, 2016) -- a good showing of faces familiar and new to our circle; conversation flowed and bourbon added to the flavor and wit. I came away feeling we had only just begun -- and with that feeling in mind, I write here to reflect on some of the points that have stuck with me.

I came into the night having read the addresses of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and thinking that they had laid out rather clearly some basic boundaries to allow Christians to discuss the topic of immigration fruitfully* -- namely, that Christians and bishops in particular have a duty of charity towards immigrants, meeting their physical needs and assisting their coming into conformity with the laws of the receiving country. Thus, for a serious Christian investigation of the parameters of immigration policies, it is possible to dispense immediately with approaches that do not meet these minimal requirements.

* Although, as Dom pointed out early on, it is significant that the first of these talks was given before 9/11, which has arguably changed the global migration game.

At the end of the night, I still largely agreed with this view, and had not necessarily gained very much illumination -- nothing, at least, like a practical policy that we had agreed upon -- but it was substantially informed by several points that I will try and remember.

I. Several people emphasized this, but Jason was helpfully insistent on the practical reality of the persons in need. Rather than a simple minimum moral requirement as I had it, the real, immediate need of immigrants as people already here and already in desperate conditions is an ongoing priority existing even while policy-makers (and bourbon-sharing philosophers) search for principles. As Jason and others pointed out, there is at least the possibility -- and perhaps, for Christians, a prejudice toward this position -- that the response charity to these immediate needs requires risking great harm be suffered by the receiving nation. (On this last question of harm, significant questions arise that we did not cover -- if I don't get to them in this post, someone should in the comments).

II. Having the conversation when we did, the question of Muslim immigration in particular came in and out of our discussion. Pete made an important point on this that may not have gotten its due consideration as some of us on one end of the table did not comprehend immediately -- but I'll try and remember his words anyway: any category of persons is bound to raise problems when it is used as a basis for decisions on how to act toward members of the category. I.e., it's never actually practical to treat another person based on the broad category, not only because each of us is a member of many categories at once (the "bearer of multiple traditions" as MacIntyre would have it) but also because what determines our treatment of others is their nature as human persons before it is any other fact about them. (Did I get this sort of right, Pete?)

III. Anthony and Jason called attention to the ugly underbelly of the motivations driving some of the talk about keeping out the dangerous Other. Anthony's students have made subtle and sophisticated defenses of Candidate Trump. I think Matt's report on Utah's reapplication of the firing squad technique is relevant here as well. This is perhaps a redirection again toward practical rather than theoretical aspects, or a recognition that theory can be a distraction from people's true motivations.

To this in part John responded with historical examples from U.S. history in which the melting pot / march-of-progress tale passes perhaps too quickly over the ways in which the fears of the "xenophobic" nativists were realized (e.g. Boss Tweed, the composition of the Supreme Court today).


I think I will close this post by simply suggesting a way of talking about immigration law. Whatever their theories of legitimacy, nearly all inhabited territories and particularly the destination areas today are organized in cooperative forms of governance in which certain individuals hold their powers for promoting the common good. Whilst the inhabitants of the receiving countries meet the needs of refugees and immigrants, those holding powers of government have an obligation to provide laws regulating the receipt of persons from foreign lands. (Even lack of regulation -- completely open borders -- is a policy)

So far so good?

Next -- I would think that the question of who is included in the common good is necessary to answer. One of the most basic responsibilities -- tied to the most basic powers of governance -- is that of protecting the people. Is it a failure of this responsibility for those holding that power to choose to allow people from outside the territory to enter when some among those outsiders intend harm to the native people?

On the other hand, is it in keeping with the demands of reason and of charity to let the "common good" of the people of one territory be pursued in an exclusive fashion, while outsiders who are also full members included in the common good of humanity? (I think this question, or this kind of question, is what led so many thinkers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (including Herder, Kant, and Hegel, and to some extent Smith, Marx, and Bentham [though not of course Burke, Tocqueville, or Acton]) to expect and welcome the development of a world-wide government (Look! See Progress March!).


Monday, January 18, 2016

Jerusalem & Athens

I would like to get your takes on this question which has been vaguely in my mind; we'll see if I can articulate it well enough to be understandable.

In theory, it is quite clear why "fideism" is false; but what is our ultimate source of certainty? (I imagine that for certainty in different kinds of knowledge there may possibly be different sources). But let's take moral knowledge for example, and the question of violence. I get a pretty clear set of reasons in natural law philosophy for when violent acts against another human being are justified -- e.g., when necessary as a means to defend the innocent from harm, when other measures are unavailable. This is the answer from Athens.

But on the other hand, there is the example of Jesus, who allowed himself to be "led like a sheep to the slaughter," along with this ethic of non-violence (found in various examples from literature and history -- Alyosha, Gandhi, Jeremy Irons' character in The Mission, etc.). Refusal to strike another is (possibly) the answer from Jerusalem.

The positive law of states to defend their territories and control the admittance of immigrants is perhaps another example where the role and rights of the prince/State are more clearly cut for the Athenian than for the Jerusalemite, on whom the alien can lay a strong claim.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

History and Theodicy

          “If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent one,” said Voltaire. One cannot help but think of this line out of the French age of lights as one considers the maturation of the scientific discipline of history within the German academy during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This is not the place to argue for the general importance of this cultural phenomenon, or its connection (with or without hints of causal importance) to the political unification of Germany, or indeed to see in German historicism the intellectual foundations of kaiserist aggression or—even worse—of the Third Reich.[1] No, here I wish merely to consider the role played by God—or the absence of God—in the philosophy of history of that period. At a time when human knowledge came to be based upon new foundations, certain questions of meaning and man’s place in the cosmos that had previously been answered by Christian knowledge now required other explanations, and drew reflection from some of the dominant thinkers of the era.
In this discussion one must begin with the Enlightenment, for it was the conceit of the philosophes that in their time, at last, humankind was beginning to use reason to free itself from superstition.[2] “Dare to know,” as Kant put it (channeling Horace). And in keeping with the rational skepticism given voice by Voltaire, Hume, et alii, the German-speaking philologists of biblical exegesis applied a hermeneutic of rationalism, slowly beginning to strip away components of the traditional content of Christian faith (the historicity of the Old Testament, then miracles, then even the historicity of the New Testament).[3] Apart from any impact of this kind of exegetical interpretation upon theology itself, the “dropping out” of the Incarnation from history had deep implications for other sciences as well, indeed for the basic relation of human beings to the world and to God.
In this context, the meaning of history could not but change, but the change was to come about almost reluctantly, at least in terms of the ethos of Christian history. One does not need to engage the whole corpus of Christian theological reflections upon time and history to appreciate that the basic fulcrum of Christian history—God entering into a particular point in time—could no longer have the same significance. But even beyond the narrative arc of history, the Christian gospel message told a history that gave a meaning to time and to every human individual. With impressive scholarly theorists such as Augustine and Bonaventure, but also from the very earliest Christian writings of Paul, Christian tradition handed down a comprehensive story about the world which (in tandem with the medieval cosmology, its counterpart in space) provided an explanation for historical events and human affairs as parts within the whole. That is, it provided a theodicy, a justification of the ways of God to men (to borrow Milton’s line).
Theodicy for “Enlightened Christians”: Herder and Kant
            This theodicy persisted into the modern era in German philosophical meditations on history, despite the loss of certainty in the biblical accounts. Two examples of what may be called “Enlightened Christianity”[4] are found in the writings of Johann Gottfried Herder and Immanuel Kant, who though they had differing conceptions of the laws of history, nevertheless both took steps in the same theodical direction. Herder’s influence upon the development of so many fields of knowledge demonstrates the enduring draw of his powerful intellect, which subjected so many aspects of human life to its inquiry. Thus when he turned to history, in his Ideas toward a Philosophy of the History of Man, it was as one more subject of humanity to be probed by reason. In accord with the enlightened natural science of his day, Herder looks to natural causes for historical events, and especially to natural circumstances of development. “In natural philosophy,” he writes, “we never reckon upon miracles.”[5] Instead, he uses the metaphor of cultivation to consider the rise and fall of civilizations, in which particular human endeavors are subject to the confining influences of time and place. Then Herder directly considers the theodical component: faced with this apparently meaningless succession of vicissitudes, “man doubts, and redoubts.”[6] But it immediately becomes clear that Herder is no nihilist: the order in nature which he already accepts leads him to accept order in history, and God is saved, because without curtailing free will he has placed laws within human nature that allow humankind in all its variety to pursue its end of “humanity” (though not in a unilinear progress).
Kant’s philosophy of history is different from Herder’s, yet one will see that his theodical instinct is the same. In contrast to Herder’s centerless variety,[7] Kant’s view of history takes shape into a recognizable form. In his essay “Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View,” he argues that although at the individual level human actions are impossible to predict and appear to obey no natural law, yet at the aggregate level “a regular march” of human history can be discerned.[8] Like Herder, Kant reasons from nature to history, using more-or-less Aristotelian observations of teleology to deduce a directedness in human action. However, from this point the argument unfolds without recourse to a specific historical narrative but by abstract proposition. On his view, human society is directed toward “enlightenment,” and progresses toward this by developing social institutions that tie people together in dependence despite their desire for independence and finally—solving the “greatest practical problem for the human race…the establishment of a civil society, universally administering right according to law”—by “the establishment of a universal cosmopolitan institution” which regulates the peaceable relations among states which intern regulate the individuals.[9]
In terms of theodicy, Kant’s approach to history is in full agreement with his famous definition of Aufklärung. The enlightened thinker no longer needs the tutelage of religious dogmas, but he does not discard all belief. Rather he is able through reason to discern the ethical truths learned by humankind through history, even through the old religious dogmas. Thus one arrives at his astonishingly bold claim that it is possible “to work out the universal history of the world according to the plan of nature.”[10] This claim to knowledge arises not from the basis of divine revelation, but merely from a confidence in the powers of reason to not only understand the world but to provide the ethical foundations for human life—which are, again, deeply tied to meaning. Thus, Kant is able to justify the world to his readers by means of the ethical evolution visible in a world that had progressed from barbarism and despotism to federations of German states or of American states with the potential for laws to begin to be based on foundations of reason and justice.
Does Theodicy Need God?: Ranke and Hegel
In the first decades of the nineteenth century, German scholarship progressed in its specialization and rigorous methodology—the new University of Berlin was a site for experimental ideas and methods—all with important implications for the theodical “witness” of history. Leopold von Ranke held the chair of history at Berlin, where he laid important groundwork for an apparently scientific practice of history, distinguishing it from the philosophy of history and explicitly rejecting attributions of causal power (whether of divine Providence or a Weltgeist) working behind the scenes to guide history in one direction or another. This historicism, somewhat like Herder’s view, interpreted changes in history by attending to growth that is organic (e.g., of a state within a particular culture), but with less cosmopolitan results. Regardless of whether Ranke deserves the reputation he has,[11] his theory and methodology were in accord with the mythos of modern science that has had tremendous staying power even to the present. It is a natural counterpart to advances in astronomy, physics, etc.
Now, Ranke may have dispensed with theories of active guidance from above, but he actually mentioned God a fair amount in his scattered theoretical writings and lectures. Paradoxically, it was commitment as a historian “merely to stick to the facts” which required him to maintain the eternal presence of God.[12] Unlike the philosopher, the historian “recognizes something infinite in every existence…something eternal, coming from God.”[13] For Ranke, every epoch and event had intrinsic interest (rather than instrumental value as a stage on the path toward some historical singularity) because “every epoch is immediate to God.”[14] This is a generous theodicy, recognizing historical developments but not bound to explain them as divine rewards, punishments, or pedagogical tools. Ranke thus offers a history whose internal changes have internal causes, but which still includes God as a guarantee of universal importance (of every event) and objectivity.[15]
Another towering figure at Berlin who built upon the ideas of Herder and Kant was of course G.W.F. Hegel. Hegel specifically chose the approach of a philosophy of history, which for him meant the application of “the thought that Reason rules the world” to the world’s history. Reminiscent of Kant’s emerging pattern above the interplay of free will, Hegel’s famous theory holds that there is a Weltgeist operating in world history which proceeds toward its end by means of “world-historical individuals,” whose passions serve the Geist even as they frustrate the goals of those very individuals: The “cunning of Reason…allows the passions to work for it, while what it brings into existence suffers loss and injury.”[16] The Weltgeist is certainly no Supreme Being of the Enlightenment, yet it still functions to render a form of theodicy: the “slaughter-bench” of historical evils is not justified, but they are given a place in a larger whole. The tumult and suffering caused by world-historical heroes pursuing their wills (before they are discarded) are sacrifices made by Reason moving toward self-consciousness and toward freedom.[17]
Beyond the Gulf: Marx and Nietzsche
            With Hegel, theodicy stood upon the brink of a chasm, and perhaps even stepped out in faith over the abyss. Quite distinct from even Kant’s “enlightened Christianity,” Hegel’s metaphysical system showed human history being pushed forward by a Weltgeist in a “forward” that only really has meaning for the Weltgeist (unlike Kant’s progress, which could be measured against universal ethical norms). For the individual and even for a historical nation, there is less “justification” going on, and it is unclear whose ways are being justified in any case.[18] Here then the departure was complete; it would be for other thinkers to look at a history that was post-theodical, that is, for whom no justification is available. Marx and Nietzsche provide excellent examples of how to face history beyond theodicy, the condition of the German academy in the mid-nineteenth century.
            Marx offers the path of confident atheism—or, to be more accurate, of doing scholarship when God no longer poses a question. Yet history is still important; the current economic conditions of humanity are developed historically, and so the science of political economy requires a historical context. It was not for rhetorical effect alone that Marx opened his most famous book with the words “The history of all hitherto existing society…”[19] Moreover, in an almost Aristotelean fashion, the present can only be defined by the future development, its final form. Thus a historical story gives the present a meaning by its place within the story. Perhaps most importantly, Marx retains from Hegel a view of a single story within history: “world-historical existence” is defined in reference to what is ultimately the one story of history.[20] Thus, even now one is provided with a need to give a comprehensive accounting of human history; there is no justification of God’s ways, but the individual can at least find his place in the progress of successive levels class conflict. Nietzsche offers no such comforts.
            There are many writings of the quotable Nietzsche that could be summoned to tear down any remaining walls of the old edifice of ethics based on the Christian dogmas, but his early essay, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, serves to highlight the place and function of history. Describing one of his later concerns, the “last men,” Nietzsche already strongly criticizes the rational men of his civilization, even the scholars. Nietzsche scorns the products of the advanced, enlightened, rational and scientific German education system, who will have been cut off from life, loaded down by his “inwardness,” and rendered incapable of  living.[21] In Nietzsche’s own narrative of history, there is no triumphant march of human reason, not even of an impersonal Spirit, and past events will offer no consolation that one is safely a part of the cosmic whole. Nevertheless, there is a place for history if only insofar as it stands “in the service of life.”[22] Nietzsche distinguishes three kinds of history (monumental, antiquarian, and critical), each of which can help a person or society to live but can also have stifling, paralytic effects if allowed to draw one away from one’s own present. For the present purposes however, all three types with their uses reflect the stark admission that for humankind after the death of God, theodicy is gone: man must make his own way in this new world.
*   *   *
            The impulse to offer a comprehensive explanation, or theodicy, for history has had a long staying power. In 1989, Francis Fukuyama suggested the world was seeing “the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”[23] But such a claim was based on certainties too few intellectuals of the Enlightenment/academic tradition seem willing to take hold of. The danger that historians have no sure access to the past, or even worse, that “it doesn’t matter” and that they are, like other humans, only keeping themselves busy is a depressing option and one that historical practice as such is ill-equipped to face. The ‘linguistic turn’ in historiography has reflected this epistemological critique of the methods of history. But for all the attractive edginess of such sweeping criticisms, historians seem able to follow Ranke (and perhaps, in part at least, Herder as well) in rigorous attention to sources, satisfied in answering small questions without feeling the need to provide an all-encompassing theodicy to themselves. Whether this is a viable stance remains an important question; the way in which works are couched in either humanist-utilitarian terms (advancing “our” knowledge) or in the terms of righting wrongs (giving voice to the voiceless, giving agency to the weak, or showing how the weak were unjustly deprived of agency) suggests that most historians understand their writing not only in terms of truth but also as a kind of justification.[24]

[1] See Georg Iggers, The German Conception of History (Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1968), for a classic discussion of these questions of the influences of German historicism.
[2] Weber would of course tie the particular rationalization associated with the “spirit of capitalism” to the Protestant Reformation and to Puritan theology in particular.
[3] In this context, Thomas Jefferson’s version of the New Testament, stripped of all miracles, is an example of such Enlightened Christianity.
[4] Even if Kant would be better described as a Deist, Enlightenment Deism received a particularly Christian inheritance.
[5] Herder, “Ideas toward a Philosophy of the History of Man,” in Theories of History, ed. Patrick Gardiner, pp. 34-49 (NY, 1959), 39.
[6] Herder, 43.
[7] “[H]istory is a spider’s web…while its melancholy center, the spider by which it was spun, nowhere appears” (Herder, 44).
[8] Kant, “Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View,” in Theories of History, ed. Patrick Gardiner, 21-34 (NY, 1959), 22.
[9] Kant, 26, 32.
[10] Kant, 32.
[11] Cf. Georg Iggers, The German Conception of History, 63 and following.
[12] Leopold von Ranke, The Theory and Practice of History, 56.
[13] Ibid., 38.
[14] Ibid., 53.
[15] Interestingly, Kathrin Maurer, in Visualizing the Past, associates Ranke’s method with the panorama, saying that both aimed for a God’s-eye-view. But a panorama is the perspective of a human being, rooted to one spot and looking all around. Indeed this can be associated with Ranke; for him the fact that God’s perspective was outside of time and space was the essential condition that man’s limited perspective was still seeing a part of something real.
[16] Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History (Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 1988), 35.
[17] Contra Rousseau, Hegel sees the state and its limiting laws as prior to human freedom and “the condition from which emancipation proceeds” (Hegel, 44).
[18] The relation of the Weltgeist to theodicy resembles, if anything, the nominalist theories of Medieval Christian and Islamic theology, which denied that humans could know God’s nature, only his will as communicated in revelation, and thus had no assurance of the truth of God’s words or even of his goodness.
[19] Karl Marx, “The Communist Manifesto”, Selected Writings (Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 1994), 158.
[20] Marx, 121.
[21] Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 1980), 26-27.
[22] Nietzsche, 21.
[23] Francis Fukuyama. “The End of History?” The National Interest (1989). Fukuyama’s suggestion offers a theodicy only as a provision of place; no purpose is provided for the whole or for the individual.
[24] This may be taking the analogy too far, but Weber’s insight into the need of Puritans to testify to themselves their own certainty seems to find a measure of correspondence with post-belief philosophers (including historians) and their need to establish grounds for meaning (perhaps most often in the cause of social or economic justice).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

De Ioannes-Iacobus Russulus: Transparentia et Obstaculum de Jean Starobinski

De Ioannes-Iacobus Russulus: Transparentia et Obstaculum de Jean Starobinski

‘The Lord God said: It is not good for the man to be alone.’
‘The Lord God then called to the man and asked him: “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.”’

In the beginning of his Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Ratzinger approaches the question of faith by way of the experience of doubt, of uncertainty, which he identifies as a characteristic of our time.[1] In the same post-war milieu the literary scholar and medical doctor Jean Starobinski wrote a dissertation on Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Ratzinger discusses the common difficulty facing believer and unbeliever today: neither one can claim the certainty of “being possessed of full knowledge.” The believer “is always threatened by the plunge into the void,” while the unbeliever who “may assert that he is a pure positivist, who has long left behind him supernatural temptations and weaknesses and now accepts only what is immediately certain,” is also afflicted by doubt about whether positivism really has the last word…. In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man.”[2]
In addition to the shared concern for “immediate certainty,” engaging the theologian’s contemporary voice is important because Starobinski’s interest is “anthropological in the broadest sense of the word,” exactly like Rousseau’s, and therefore both (Starobinski and Rousseau) are fundamentally religious thinkers, in the Christian sense of that term with its Hellenic and Hebraic roots.[3] Starobinski observes that Rousseau’s oeuvre represents “a continuous treatise on man”[4] as opposed to a great philosophical system. And in this continuous treatise Starobinski has rightly withheld from distilling a series of syllogisms or Questions along the lines of Thomas’s great Summa Theologica; rather he has identified a motif that helps to understand the unity of Jean-Jacques’ search for freedom. That motif is transparency and obstruction. Thus, Rousseau’s fundamental concern is with overcoming the media between the self and the other which prevent certain, immediate knowledge.
In his multi-work treatise on man, Rousseau is a participant in a very long tradition, and his concerns reflect his place in that tradition, his proximity to and distance from other writers and other concerns. But the fundamental questions are immediately recognizable: 1) the search for true knowledge, which for Rousseau is characterized by immediacy; 2) the relationship between man and his neighbor, between I and thou; 3) the place of God and of physis or kosmos. These three questions are obviously interrelated, and the answers to them have ever played upon one another, from Plato and Aristotle, through the Stoics, Augustine, Aquinas, and down to Rousseau.
Starobinski begins be leading us (or by letting Rousseau lead us, in his Confessions) to Rousseau’s earliest memories, in order to introduce us to transparency and to the veil of obstruction. At Bossey, Rousseau writes, he experienced a loss of transparency, with implications for his relationship with Nature (physis), with reality (kosmos), and with other persons, and, by the language he uses, we may suggest that this veil also had implications indirectly for his relationship with God:
“From that moment paradise is lost, for paradise was the state of transparent communication between mind and mind, the conviction that total, reliable communication is possible.”[5]

The allusion to paradise is telling: in the book of Genesis, paradise was the place of the right ordering of God’s creation, with his plan for the human person in his proper sphere. In Genesis, the fall of the man and the woman by their disobedience leads to a rift between them and God (from whom they hide), between one another (as they begin to hide their nakedness), and between them and Nature (as they are cast out of the garden and forced to till the soil by the sweat of the brow and to labor in great pain to deliver new life). The experience of alienation expressed through the biblical language has begun for Rousseau: “Before the self senses its distance from the world, it experiences its distance from others.”[6] Thus the motif of transparency is immediately followed with that of obstruction—the veil—covering others, covering the world, covering oneself through memory (as one’s innocence and happiness is lost to the past).[7]
            By this notion of obstruction Rousseau is engaged in a common theme. Morrison notes that Starobinski, making use of the contrast between paraître and être, appearance and being, is drawing upon the tradition of phenomenology: Starobinski recognizes that Rousseau’s thirst for true, immediate knowledge—particularly in regard to nature, when he leaves the company of men for solitude and experiences a lifting of the veil—is a reaching for being, for fundamental reality and not merely for correct facts. Given Rousseau’s milieu, this is an important point. The trajectory of the philosophic “mythology”—Reason lifting the veil of superstition from man’s face, allowing him to see true knowledge—involved a prizing of knowledge of the natural world (consider the apotheosis of Newton or the popularity of Franklin) and at the same time a dropping away of concern with being as such, with the ground of all being. (I suppose in Aristotelian terms, the final cause of the whole and of man fell away in favor of close application of the first three causes). But Rousseau remained concerned with être; his moral education and political philosophy are part of the treatise on man that consists in his study—explicitly in his latter works—of himself.[8] Starobinski identifies as the common feature across Rousseau’s works his goal of a “restoration of transparency”.[9]
            If Rousseau is set apart from the philosophes he lived among (broadly speaking), what about the more distant voices in the tradition “on man”? The removal of obstruction in the way of true knowledge is as old as Plato in the Greek tradition (and as we have seen goes back to Genesis in the Hebrew tradition, though in a covenantal rather than epistemological relation). It would seem Rousseau shares in the platonic epistemological structure: he can see true realities behind or above the level which the mass of mankind knows, and he places great importance upon memory and distant origins of man, which is reminiscent of platonic nostalgia. Moreover, his inner conviction, articulated by his character Julie as immaterial, “immediate communication” with no need for speech or writing (or even bodies), is suggestive of platonic knowledge-as-participation. The connections are there perhaps, yet Rousseau’s is not platonic philosophy: his are intensely personal, individual concerns (think of his descriptions of the love affairs in his own life, and the relationships in La nouvelle Héloïse). Furthermore, for that classic figure of the sage, whether for Plato or Aristotle or (especially) the Stoics, control of the passions and obedience to Reason was essential.[10] Consider Aristotle’s three kinds of life described in Book I of the Ethics: the life spent in pursuit of pleasure, the life of public affairs, and the life of contemplation. All those who are ruled by their emotions and have no self-control are “choosing the kind of life lived by cattle.” Aristotle considers the vast majority of men to be “absolute slaves.” If Rousseau also holds that men are everywhere in chains, the cause lies in society itself, not in the common man’s ignorance of philosophy.
            In fact, for Rousseau, emotions are of entirely different import: “In these extraordinary moments immediate feeling is immediately expression. To be moved and to display emotion are one and the same.”[11] In philosophizing itself, in making judgments, one participates in the veiling rather than in unveiling. That is why for Rousseau childhood and origins are so important. “Sensation is always correct,” and, with Condillac: “if error enters in, it does so only insofar as we presume to judge.”[12]
            It becomes clear thus that Rousseau is a thinker who is firmly situated after or within Christian thought, and also that his position is closer to that of Augustine than that of Thomas Aquinas. Rousseau’s concern with universal human dignity bear the mark of Christian influence, yet his experience of alienation which is so fundamental for him is strongly at odds with the great stability of Aquinas’s system. Indeed, it is the confidence of scholastic (and classical) thought in its own judgments which is so lacking in Rousseau. If Aquinas distinguished between the rational and sensitive souls in sober statement of man’s place at the summit of the material world, Rousseau is confident in sensation and emotion, but distrusts ratio.
            Rousseau is in a conundrum: he has the same concern with être, but not the same confidence in reaching it. Josef Pieper describes the scholastic/classical position:
“The spiritual being is [in Aquinas’s words] ‘capable of grasping the whole of being’… That is the tradition of Western philosophy: to have spirit, or to be spirit, means to exist in the midst of the whole of reality and before the whole of being… That is what is meant by the proposition omnes ens est verum (everything that is, is true)—though we have almost ceased to understand it—and by the complementary proposition that being and truth are interchangeable concepts. (What does truth mean, where things are concerned, the truth of things?) ‘A thing is true’ means: it is known and knowable, known to the absolute spirit, knowable to the spirit that is not absolute.”[13]

Starobinski puts Rousseau’s goals thus: “To be oneself and to see the truth: he wants both, and he wants each by means of the other.”[14] The problem is that Rousseau is distrustful of communication itself, and therefore of the means of knowing. Society did not see the truth of him, and his own attempts through writing to convey himself fail as well (forcing him to try again and again). He therefore withdraws from society.
            In Rousseau’s final withdrawal to inaction (as well as his request to be imprisoned) we are reminded of comparisons: Albert Camus and his rebellion, Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, and Boethius and his consolation. His struggle to maintain authenticity is intensely individualistic, always returning to himself and always questioning his relationship with society as a whole and with other actual acquaintances. Unlike Camus, his rebellion cannot involve actual brotherly charity. Unlike the Underground Man, his isolation can achieve some measure of meaning and even of freedom.[15] But unlike Boethius, philosophizing can offer no remedy.          
* * *
The religious element (especially the Fall) would seem to generalize Rousseau’s strivings into an a-historical tradition of the essential condition of man, and to some extent this is proper as such is the domain claimed by philosophy in the broad sense in which Rousseau participated. But on the other hand, Rousseau is asking timeless questions in a very particular time and place. And to the extent which he critiqued the evils of history, which place man “everywhere in chains,” he speaks to a particular experience of alienation and isolation in the midst even of society that is the condition of the human person in the modern age. To the extent that he strongly criticized the project of the philosophes, he remains a defiant rebel today, as the iterations of the Enlightenment project are continuously generated. In this way in particular, he speaks to the post-modern doubt that characterized the milieu in which Starobinski worked and in which Ratzinger wrote his Introduction.
Thus we return to the beginning: Christopher Bertram says that Rousseau’s primary concern throughout is to preserve human freedom, yet he is at the same time “consistently and overwhelmingly pessimistic that humanity will escape from a dystopia of alienation, oppression, and unfreedom.”[16] As Starobinski well demonstrates, Rousseau’s pessimism was grounded for him in the very experience of his own inability to convey his true self to others immediately. But perhaps a path exists to break beyond Rousseau’s veiled “I” (even if he himself never took that path). In his tales of the unveiling statues (Galatea and the wicked idol), Rousseau provides the “initial gift, given unconditionally” (of existence [Galatea] and truth [from Christ]).[17] But does not that unconditional gift describe the place of each person—of Rousseau himself? In contrast to the identity of man as having a freedom of unrestrained volition which has been the achievement of the Enlightenment, this “givenness” precedes the will in both the order of time and that of existence. Rémi Brague has raised this point in the context of his call to return from Aristotle to Plato and be confronted by ontological goodness. Brague asks, “How can I tolerate not having created myself?...If and only if I come from some utterly good principal”[18] The soul of Descartes’s disembodied ego may be faced with insurmountable isolation, obstructed by a veil that may hide nothing at all. But that is not in fact the condition in which man finds himself. Man is from first to last in relationship.
In this way, Rousseau is closer to Augustine than to Aquinas. At the time of his conversion, Augustine looks for God along the path of (platonic) philosophy, in his dialogic Soliloquia. How can I know that I know God? But much later, in his own Confessiones, Augustine reveals to us one side of his cor ad cor loquitor with God. Less Greek and more biblical, Augustine is in a covenantal relationship rather than an analytic epistemological act: You have made me for yourself. Though the idea of personal relationship to God remains at most in the background in Rousseau, inter-personal communion, communion personarum, does in fact arise as at least an ideal of overcoming the obstruction. Rousseau, then, for all his pessimism, is not a nihilist; there really is être behind the paraître, and the way to reach it, as for Augustine, is through love. And so we return to the milieu of Starobinski and of Ratzinger (perhaps not so different from our own today) in the relevance of Rousseau’s thought. Ratzinger suggests that the article of the creed that “expresses the unparalleled experience of our age” is the descent into hell—the absence of God. This absence is for Rousseau the very experience of human beings in their condition of living under a veil and participating in the covering over of transparency. But perhaps Rousseau, in his internal convictions, hinted at an Augustinian path beyond doubt through love:
“God has drawn a veil across his face, but Julie penetrates the veil that separates matter from spirit, life from death.”[19]

Works Cited
Aristotle. Ethics. In The Philosophy of Aristotle. Trans. J.L. Creed and A.E. Wardman. New York, NY: Signet Classics, 2003.
Augustine of Hippo. Confessions. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Classics, 1968.
——. Soliloquies. Trans. C.C. Starbuck. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Ed. Philip Schaff.(Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Rev. and ed. for New Advent by Kevin Knight. .
Brague, Rémi. “Necessity of the Good,” in First Things No. 250 (Feb 2014): 47-52.
Pieper, Josef. Liesure the Basis of Culture. Trans. Alexander Dru. London, England: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1952.
Ratzinger, Joseph. Introduction to Christianity. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2004.
Starobinski, Jean. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

[1] He wrote this book in 1967.
[2] Ratzinger, 45 (emphasis mine).
[3] Starobinski, xxxiv.
[4] Starobinski, 273.
[5] Starobinski, 8.
[6] Starobinski, 10.
[7] Starobinski, 11-12.
[8] “Rousseau was totally preoccupied with one affaire: his own” (Starobinski, 22).
[9] Starobinski, 13.
[10] Aristotle, Ethics I, 317.
[11] Starobinski, 138.
[12] Starobinski, 26.
[13] Joseph Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture , 115-116.
[14] Starobinski, 80.
[15] “Rousseau, unlike most previous moralists, is not content merely to criticize external things: he incriminates the external in his very definition of evil. This condemnation is merely the counterpart of an exculpation that claims, once and for all, to save man’s inner essence” (Starobinski, 20).
[16] Bertram, Christopher, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
[17] Starobinski, 78-79.
[18] Rémi Brague, “Necessity of the Good,” in First Things No. 250 (Feb 2014), 52.
[19] Starobinski, 118. It is true that Starobinski reads this as a “triumph of the veil” in the inevitability of death. But may one not question his reading of the gaze of the Judge (God) and his opposition between community and salvation? For Augustine and Aquinas, and perhaps also for Rousseau, to the extent that he received the Christian tradition, the gaze of the beatific vision is salvation is communion. As John has it, “I and the Father are one” and  “If you remain in my word…, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” and “this is eternal life: that they know you” (10:30, 8:13, 17:3).