Chapter 9: The Metaphysical Target and the Theological Victim by Malcolm L. Diamond
From The Journal of Religion, XLVII, 3 (July 1967). Used by permission of The University of Chicago Press and Malcolm L. Diamond. Malcolm L. Diamond was educated at Yale, Cambridge, and Columbia Universities. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Princeton University. Among his publications is Martin Buber: Jewish Existentialist.
The revival of serious work in philosophical theology that has been spearheaded by the work of Charles Hartshorne is most welcome.1 It represents a radical change in the theological atmosphere which, for many years after World War II, was dominated by existentialism. During this period, Hartshorne’s efforts to introduce logical consideration into theological discourse were constantly turned aside with variations on Kierkegaardian themes. He was accused of using an "objectifying" approach to God, that is, he was accused of excessive reliance on philosophical techniques and of excessive concern for metaphysical issues. Kierkegaard himself had scornfully dismissed the objectifying approach by saying that those who used it were bound to find themselves in the situation of the traveler who asked an Englishman if the road they were standing on led to London. The Englishman replied that it did indeed go to London. Despite this, the traveler never reached that city because the Englishman had neglected to tell him that he was proceeding in the wrong direction.2
We have learned a great deal from the religious existentialists, especially about the nature of faith. They contrasted the vitality and strenuousness of authentic faith with the sterility of prefabricated responses to arid dogmas. In elaborating the notion of authentic faith, religious existentialists relied heavily on categories drawn from relations between persons, for example, love, trust, and hope. In transferring these to man’s relations to God, there was the obvious problem of providing a conceptual system for coping with the fact that God, by contrast with human partners of such relations, is nonsensible. However, the religious existentialists turned this sort of theological problem aside by stressing the elements of trust and risk involved in authentic faith and by noting that a true lover does not seek "objective" validation of the worth of his beloved. As a result, for thinkers whose problem is: "How can a philosophically self-conscious individual — believer or not — understand what is meant by God?" the emphases of the religious existentialists are apt to seem very much beside the point. In light of the many contradictory and absurd things that have been said about God through the ages, a person worried about the intellectual problems has to confront the central problem of philosophical theology: the formulation of a conceptual scheme that is capable of discriminating between possible ideas of God and nonsense. No one in our time has made more significant contributions to this issue than Charles Hartshorne.
It is a tribute to Hartshorne’s work that some of the best religious thinkers are dealing with these metaphysical issues. Furthermore, many of them have absorbed the lessons of the religious existentialists, which should prevent a repetition of some of the errors of the past. One of his leading disciples among contemporary philosophical theologians, Schubert Ogden, in two essays which have appeared in this Journal, has tried to set up ground rules for work in philosophical theology, and he has commented on the possibilities for dialogue between philosophers and theologians.3 Much as I applaud his efforts — indeed, my own realization of some of the limitations inherent in the existentialistic approach to theology owes much to his influence — I must register a basic disagreement with one aspect of Ogden’s work: his reading of the contemporary philosophical scene.
Ogden thinks that the demise of logical positivism has initiated a pluralistic era in philosophy and that this provides good grounds for hoping that fruitful discussions between theologians and philosophers are again possible. On the surface, Ogden’s rather optimistic estimate of the possibilities for dialogue between theologians and philosophers is not unreasonable. Both the logical positivism which played a prominent role on the philosophical scene for a long time, and the religious existentialism that dominated the theological scene for such a long time, were vehemently anti-metaphysical. One would therefore expect their decline to enhance the prospects for the production of significant work in philosophical theology, work that would be taken seriously by post-positivistic analytic philosophers, and especially by those analysts who are again engaging in metaphysics. Therefore, Ogden chides Paul van Buren for stating (in The Secular Meaning of the Gospel) that a new analytic consensus has succeeded the positivistic one and that this new consensus rules out serious consideration of the concept of transcendence by those philosophers who adhere to it.4 Despite the surface plausibility of Ogden’s position, I think that his view is over-optimistic.
Positivism is dead; on that all are agreed. Furthermore, I would agree with Ogden, against van Buren, that no simple and all-embracing consensus has succeeded it. Adherents of the broad movement that might be called "philosophical analysis" displayed an intricate tangle of methodological tendencies, tentative hypotheses, and personal alliances. Nevertheless, I would side with van Buren against Ogden in maintaining that with regard to the issue of theological transcendence a consensus still prevails. Contemporary analysts are no more hospitable to this concept than were their positivistic forebears. Since analytic philosophy still dominates the scene, anyone interested in doing significant work in philosophical theology ought to have a clear picture of this analytic attitude and an understanding of the thinking that underlies it.
It was metaphysics and not theology that was the primary target of the logical positivists. They were concerned to purge philosophy of meaningless assertions and of the idle disputes that were engendered among philosophers who advanced them. Theological discourse came into the picture only by way of providing incidental illustrations of what positivists regarded as meaningless statements masquerading under the cloak of technical profundity. Contemporary analysts have turned away from the positivistic pattern by (among other things) once again engaging in an austere form of metaphysical discourse. However, this has not led them in the direction of renewed concern with transcendental concepts — theological or otherwise — but in the opposite direction. The drift of post-positivistic analysis is (as I shall try to show in Section IV) toward the ever more detailed analysis of phenomena whose character is familiar, whose reference is relatively clear, and whose operations can, at least in principle, be precisely charted.
I. The Metaphysical Target
The anti-metaphysical impetus of logical positivism was not an unprecedented chapter in the history of philosophy. It had its roots in the sense of futility engendered by the recurring cycles of speculative affirmation and skeptical criticism that have characterized the interaction of the traditional philosophical schools. The impatience felt by many thinkers who compared the performance of metaphysics with that of the natural sciences was well expressed by Kant: "If it (metaphysics) be a science, how comes it that it cannot, like other science, obtain universal and permanent recognition? . . . Everybody, however ignorant in other matters, may deliver a final verdict (on metaphysical issues) as in this domain there is as yet no standard weight and measure to distinguish sound knowledge from shallow talk."5 The logical positivists were concerned to provide this standard weight and measure. However, despairing of the prospects of advancing philosophy by making metaphysics scientific, they decided to achieve philosophical progress by eliminating it.
The positivists attempted to eliminate metaphysics by providing reliable criteria of cognitive assertions, that is, of statements which represent claims to knowledge on the part of those making them. They insisted that metaphysicians could not rival scientists in the matter of providing information about the world we live in. Metaphysicians of the past offered conceptualizations whereby they claimed to tell us some necessary truths about the world or about certain phenomena in it. The positivists initiated new departures of considerable force by means of which they tried to show that either the metaphysicians were not telling us anything about the world or they were not telling us the truth. "All men are rational" seems to be a necessary truth about a species that inhabits this earth. However, positivists claim that if it is a necessary truth, it is so only because it expresses our determination to use words in such a way that we will refuse to call anything a man unless it measures up to certain standards of rationality. Therefore, they hold that when it is understood in this way the statement does not tell us anything about what the world is like independently of our language, but only about our linguistic conventions. The other option they present is that the statement "All men are rational" is a generalization about men based on empirical inquiry. In this case, they insist that it is not necessarily true; in fact, it is not true at all, but patently false.
To gain a better understanding of what the positivists were up to in their effort to eliminate metaphysics, we must come to appreciate the way in which they assaulted metaphysics by means of two dichotomies: (1) analytic-synthetic and (2) meaningful-meaningless.
I shall introduce the first dichotomy by means of a consideration of analytic statements. They are known to be true independently of any observations, a good example being, "Either it is raining or it is not raining." Statements of this kind are necessarily true, but positivists maintained that this is the case because they are uninformative. They merely tell us about the logical relations of the terms we use and not about any actual state of affairs. The example just given is helpful; it does not say anything about the actual state of the weather, but demonstrates the way that the logical connective "or" (disjunction) operates in the assertive context. However, not all analytic statements are (to use a term of C. G. Hempel’s) so shatteringly trivial. Positivists claimed that mathematical statements are also analytic. It is obvious that the complexities of mathematical demonstration and of logical theory permit of a vast number of disclosures which are non-informative, but which are not at all trivial. They are even informative in the limited psychological sense of making us aware of things that we may not have realized such as the statement that 523 X 1,745 = 912,635. For this reason, analytic statements — far from being scorned by positivists — were highly valued as important sources of insight into formal aspects of thought. Statements were only dismissed by them as metaphysical nonsense if the positivists found that a smokescreen of obfuscating technical language was released by metaphysicians in the effort to suggest that some statements were informative (about some actual state of affairs in the world) as well as necessary. The "synthetic a priori" as used by Kant and subsequent philosophers is a good example of this particular target of positivistic analysis.
According to the positivistic dichotomy, if declarative statements are not analytic, then they are putatively synthetic, that is, they are intended to convey information about some actual state of affairs. However, the positivists claimed that some statements which seem to be synthetic are not really so. It is at this point that the second dichotomy — meaningful-meaningless — comes into play. Prior to the development of logical positivism, declarative statements for which synthetic status was claimed were pretty much accepted at face value, and, after investigation, they were regarded as being either true or false. The positivists regrouped these statements. If they were capable of being true or false, they were regarded as meaningful, and they were bracketed together on one side of the dichotomy. If not, they were classed as meaningless. In this context, oddly enough, the term "false" has a somewhat complimentary ring; it characterizes a meaningful assertion that really is synthetic and which, therefore, might be true. It merely happens to be false. By contrast, the term "meaningless" designates a statement which seems to be synthetic but which, on analysis, turns out to be masquerading. A statement of this kind cannot conceivably be true or false and is, therefore, unworthy of further serious investigation.
An obvious question arises at this point: "How does one determine whether a putatively synthetic statement is capable of being true or false?" In answering this question, the positivists sounded their most distinctive note by proposing the test of verifiability as the crucial test of synthetic meaningfulness. It is often called "the empiricist criterion of meaning." In deploying this test as an anti-metaphysical weapon, the positivists thought that they were able to determine — in advance, and without the consideration of specific metaphysical arguments — whether a metaphysical statement could be meaningful. This made the positivists’ assault on metaphysics the most threatening one that had been launched in the history of philosophy. The positivists were not attempting to defeat the metaphysicians in the philosophical arena; they were trying to deny them the status of legitimate combatants.
II. The Verifiability Principle
The story of the bold launching of "the verifiability principle" and of the sober second thoughts that succeeded it has been told many times over.6 It is worth repeating here, even in truncated form (which, for example, omits considering the issue of specially designed empiricist languages) because:
1. It was the main anti-metaphysical weapon in the positivist’s arsenal.
2. Ogden alluded to it without giving any details as to what was at issue.7
3. In general, the authors who have contributed essays on this subject to journals of religious thought have generally given the results of philosophical reflections on the verifiability principle while noting that they do not have the time to go into the details. This procedure underscores the weaknesses of positivism while shortchanging the self-critical candor and the methodological power of the analytic thinking that succeeded it.
4. Examination of some of the specific arguments involved will show us the kind of considerations that have led to the reformulations of the principle, and in many cases, to its abandonment.
5. Reflection on these arguments will enable us to see just how alien the spirit and method of post-positivistic analysts are to the spirit and concerns of the philosophical theologians who employ transcendental concepts.
The bete noire of positivistic analysis is the type of metaphysical statement whose form leads us to suppose that it is telling us something about a possible state of affairs when analysis shows that it is not, and, what is more could not, be doing anything of the kind. The point was driven home by means of their most famous illustration (now as dated as the movement which spawned it), the statement, "There are mountains on the far side of the moon." The point of the illustration was that this statement, which cannot be verified in fact because of technical limitations, is verifiable in principle. Anyone who understood it would be clear as to just the sorts of observable phenomena that would count for and against the truth of the statement and would, therefore, know how to proceed to check it out if he were in a position to do so. The statement, "There are angels on the far side of the moon," is grammatically similar to the one about the mountains; but positivists insist that the similarity is fatally misleading. The blanket invocation of non-sensible characteristics that are used in the definition of angels renders sensible experience irrelevant to establishing the truth or falsity of the assertion. The fact that sense experience is irrelevant to it in principle, shows that the statement, "There are angels on the far side of the moon," is not entitled to the relatively elevated status of falsity, but, rather, it is worse off than a false statement, it is meaningless. Therefore, a philosopher who spent time examining arguments for the existence of angels, or any of the other non-sensible entities ("forms," "essences," and so on) that philosophers contrive, would be in the idiotic position of Kant’s man who held a sieve underneath a male goat while another man milked it.
The sort of thing that the verifiability principle was designed to exclude was formulated succinctly by Walter Stace: "The word ‘metaphysical’ may, of course, be variously defined, but in this context what is meant by it is evidently any type of thought which depends upon the distinction between an outer appearance and an inner reality, and which asserts that there is a reality lying behind appearances, which never itself appears."8 The transcendent God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is certainly an instance of "a reality behind the appearances which never itself appears." Thus the application of this seemingly reliable and quick "litmus paper test" to metaphysical assertions seemed to eliminate this God in addition to "the absolute," "substance," "the thing-in-itself," and countless other traditional terms. Here was an unprecedented phenomenon: "Pandora’s box" in reverse. The havoc that had been unleashed by the metaphysical tradition could now be rectified. Positivistic literature abounded with examples of one sort of metaphysical "howler" after the other being exposed, folded up, and packed back into a bottomless bin labeled "meaningless"! The transcendent God of the Judeo-Christian tradition was another victim of this wholesale application of the verifiability principle, but he was not the major target.
The sketch of the verifiability principle that I have presented is ample enough to serve as the basis of an examination of some of the problems associated with it.9 They will be considered under three headings: (1) the status of the principle itself; (2) the excessive restrictiveness of the principle; and (3) the excessive permissiveness of the principle.
The problem of the status of the verifiability principle was avidly seized upon by non-positivists. They claimed that since the verifiability principle was itself neither analytic nor synthetic it should — according to the positivists’ own canons — be dismissed as a piece of nonsensical metaphysics. This, of course, would destroy it as an anti-metaphysical weapon. Positivists were not overly concerned about this criticism. They felt that it showed an absence of understanding of the central issues on the part of the non-positivists who invoked it. They handled it in a variety of ways. Their most frequent defense was to concede the point that the verifiability principle was not a statement (and that it was therefore neither analytic nor synthetic), but they claimed that is was a useful proposal for discriminating between meaningful and meaningless assertions. The justification for it would then be that its use eliminates the inadvertent nonsense put out under the name of metaphysics, while highlighting the characteristics that endow synthetic statements with meaning.
It was precisely the ineffectiveness of this pragmatic justification of verifiability that put the principle under fire even among philosophers who were sympathetically disposed toward its anti-metaphysical intent. The application of the principle seemed, on further analysis, to be excessively restrictive because it branded as meaningless all sorts of synthetic propositions whose meaningfulness the positivists themselves had no desire to call into question. In limiting the exposition of this point, I propose to focus on the way in which the "logical" side of logical positivism put its "positivistic," that is, anti-metaphysical, side under pressure. Consideration of universal synthetic statements will enable us to get at the issues. "All crows are black" is not the kind of statement whose meaningfulness (as opposed to its truth) anyone, positivist or not, wants to attack. However, when tested by the verifiability principle, it turns out to be meaningless because it can never — in principle — be verified. No matter how many instances of black crows have been tallied, there is always the possibility of a yellow one turning up. And, apart from casting unwonted aspersions on the meaningfulness of statements of the kind just cited, the rampant application of the verifiability principle had the even more regrettable consequence of catching scientific laws in this same net because they too had this universal form. Positivists, because of the excessive restrictiveness of the principle, found themselves in the embarrassing situation of throwing out scientific babies with the metaphysical bath.
Karl Popper’s discussion of "falsifiability" was initiated in response to this problem. He noted that although universal statements are not, in principle, verifiable, they are, in principle, falsifiable. One exception to a scientific law is enough to falsify it because it shows that the law does not hold universally (at least it shows this if the exception to the law is accepted as a genuine one; that is, as long as it is not regarded as the result of faulty experimental work or of other peculiar circumstances that rule it out as a genuine exception to the law).10 I should note that Popper’s relation to positivism and his particular purposes in pressing the issue of "falsifiability" is too complex a matter to discuss here, but the appeal to it did seem to offer positivists a chance to salvage their enterprise of formulating a clear and effective criterion for distinguishing scientific from metaphysical assertions. For some positivists insisted that, by contrast with scientific laws, such metaphysical assertions as, "The Absolute is Perfect" are not falsifiable even in principle11. However, the test of falsifiability suffered from a major defect with which Popper himself grappled, namely, that no existential statement, that is, no statement which asserts that something exists, is ever conclusively falsifiable. No matter how long one has gone on fruitlessly searching for the Abominable Snowman, there is always the possibility that one will turn up. In light of this discussion, the coup de grace to both conclusive verifiability and to conclusive falsifiability is administerable by means of a statement, such as the one offered by J. 0. Urmson that contains both a universal ("every") and an existential ("some") element: "Every person who walks under a ladder will meet with some misfortune."12
One way out of the difficulty that has been suggested is the abandonment of the demand for conclusive verification and falsification. A statement would then be synthetically meaningful if some specifiable observation statements would tend to confirm or to falsify it.13 The suggestion has much to recommend it, but it will not serve as a means of neatly separating scientific wheat from metaphysical or theological chaff. To appreciate this point, let us consider Basil Mitchell’s parable of the partisan and the stranger.14 In an occupied country, a partisan meets a stranger. In a night of intense communion between them, the stranger reveals himself as the leader of the resistance. The partisan, overwhelmed at this disclosure and impelled to trust the stranger, promises to keep on trusting him, whatever happens. His faith is soon put to the test because the stranger reappears as the head of the local unit of the Gestapo. The partisan keeps his trust and assures his comrades that the man is really one of them. After that, when members of the underground who have been taken into custody are unexpectedly released, the partisan’s faith in the stranger is confirmed; and when members of the underground are unexpectedly taken prisoner and are then executed, the evidence seems to go against his belief in the identity of the stranger. However, persevering in his faith, the partisan assures his doubting comrades that the stranger really is one of them but that he cannot intervene too openly on the side of the underground or his role as the leader of the resistance would be discovered by the Nazis. By means of this parable, Basil Mitchell claims that events in this world do count for and against transcendental theological assertions, for example, "God loves us"; but he also claims that we can, like the partisan, retain our faith even in the face of strong evidence that counts against it. Therefore, he insists that no amount of negative evidence can ever count conclusively against it. Thus theological statements are held to be partially verifiable and partially falsifiable, but not conclusively so. However, if conclusiveness is to be jettisoned from the empiricist criterion of meaning, then (if the line of thought illustrated by means of this parable is effective) theological statements ought to be included in the lists of meaningful assertions. From the standpoint of the positivists, the floodgates would then be open.15
Logical probing into the nature and operation of synthetic statements uncovered further difficulties. One of the basic distinctions between analytic and synthetic statements concerns their logical status. An analytic statement is necessarily true or necessarily false. If it is true, then, its negation, which is necessarily (that is, under any circumstances whatever) false, is self-contradictory. By contrast, a synthetic assertion and its negation are both possible, and both are meaningful; one is true, the other is false, and it is observation that determines the issue.
The next problem we shall consider unfolds in the following way: "There exists at least one black swan" is clearly, by any criterion, including the most stringent application of the verifiability principle, a synthetic assertion which is patently meaningful. Therefore, its negation ought to be equally meaningful. Yet, when we analyze its negation, namely, "There does not exist at least one black swan," we find that it is logically convertible to the universal proposition that "Nothing that is both a swan and black exists." However, we have noted that universal statements can never, in principle, be verified, and so this denial of an unquestionably meaningful synthetic proposition turns out to be meaningless an utterly paradoxical result.16
The positivistic reaction to these difficulties was predictable enough: they qualified or "weakened" the verifiability principle in the effort to make it permissive enough to allow for the validity of scientific assertions, while still retaining enough strength (restrictiveness) to exclude metaphysical assertions. This is the theme of Ayers Introduction to the second edition of his Language, Truth, and Logic (1948) which was published some twelve years after the original. With these difficulties in mind, he proposed the following, "weaker" version of the principle, "A statement is verifiable, and consequently meaningful, if some observation-statement can be deduced from it in conjunction with certain other premises, without being deducible from these premises alone."17 The sort of thing that Ayer wanted to allow for by means of this reformulation of the principle is clear enough. A statement about electrons is not verifiable by direct observation. Nonetheless, when tied to all sorts of observations of photographic plates, meter readings, and the like, statements about electrons functioning in the context of scientific theories — enable physicists to deduce further observation statements that could not be deduced from the exclusive consideration of the empirical data. The scientist then runs experiments to see whether the deduced observation statements are experimentally verified. Here then (if for the sake of argument, we refrain from raising further difficulties), we have an example of an effective application of the weaker, that is, the more permissive version of the principle, which permits the sobriquet "meaningful" to be attached to the sort of scientific statements from which the older and tougher versions withheld it.
We have already noted the point that the logical relation of negation raised problems for the restrictive tendencies of the verifiability principle. We must now note that the logical relation of the hypothetical, "If . . . then . . .," plays just as damaging a role with regard to the permissive tendencies of the weak version of the principle. Ayer himself (drawing on a critical essay by Isaiah Berlin) presents a reductio ad absurdum argument, which I shall somewhat modify.18 The first premise is: "If the Absolute is perfect then this is white." The second premise is: "The Absolute is perfect." Taken together, they yield (by means of Modus ponens) the conclusion: "This is white." This conclusion is clearly a meaningful synthetic statement; indeed, it could serve as a prime example of one. By contrast, "The Absolute is perfect" might serve as prime example of the kind of metaphysical or theological statement that positivists wanted to label meaningless. Yet by the application of the weak version of the verifiability principle, the statement that "The Absolute is perfect" emerges as a meaningful instance of a synthetic assertion. Why? Because one could not deduce the conclusion, "This is white," from the first premise when taken by itself, nor could one deduce it from the second premise taken by itself; but we have seen that we can deduce the observation statement "This is white" from the two premises together. And Ayer notes that the procedure can be generalized. If we accept the weak version of the verifiability principle, any metaphysical statement which is set in a straightforward indicative form can, by conversion into the "If . . . then . . ." form, be endowed with synthetic meaningfulness.
It is now clear that no consensus regarding the verifiability principle is to be found within the broad spectrum of philosophers whose thinking may be classed as analytic; rather, there are two basic approaches to it. The first of these is to keep on modifying the statements of the principle in the effort to attain an adequate version of it. Rudolf Carnap and C. C. Hempel are outstanding representatives of this tendency. The latter, at the end of his survey of the problem has written: "Indeed, it is to be hoped that before long some of the open problems encountered in the analysis of cognitive significance will be clarified and that then our last version of the empiricist meaning criterion will be replaced by another more adequate one."19 His openness to criticism and his constructive efforts to uncover the principle underlying meaningful synthetic assertions make Hempel’s hope a laudable one; but, insofar as it runs athwart an important emphasis of contemporary analytic thought, it is somewhat suspect. Analysts today are concerned with the formulation of ever more precise questions and with the detailed analysis of fine points that are relevant to answering them. They react strongly against large-scale generalizations that are expressed in terms of what Gilbert Ryle calls "smother words." "Reality," "truth," "experience," and the like, are words that can be misused to blanket hosts of disparate phenomena and important distinctions. Many analysts would now regard "verifiability" as a smother word because they suspect that undue rigidity is involved in the very effort to subsume the wide variety of synthetic assertions under the two categories "meaningful" and "meaningless." While no one who has read Hempel can accuse him of simplicism in his recent work on this issue, the very refinement displayed in these essays makes verifiability ineffective as the kind of instant metaphysical purgative it was originally intended to be.
The other, more common, approach to verifiability on the part of contemporary analysts is to regard it as an activity rather than a doctrine. They abandon the search for an adequate version of the principle that could be defended against all corners, and use it instead as an important move in philosophical argument. Analysts who take this tack concede the ineffectiveness of verifiability as a "litmus paper" device for eliminating metaphysics. Therefore, if a philosopher stakes out a traditional metaphysical position, such as the "substance view" of the self, analysts of this kind do not dismiss it out of hand as a species of metaphysical nonsense. Instead, they examine the arguments one by one and challenge the metaphysical to make his claim good. The nature of this challenge has been succinctly stated by Elmer Sprague, "philosophical debates are hottest between those philosophers who want to make certain entries in the list of what there is in the world and other philosophers who do not want to let them get away with it."20
One important feature of this story is the negative one. Positivists and their successors have not produced an adequate version of the verifiability principle. However, their ability to nail down the inadequacy of the various formulations of it provides impressive evidence of their rigor. This contrasts sharply with what goes on in theological circles where theologians cannot seem to agree as to what does not "go." Nevertheless, there is some good news for theologians in this story of the quest for the verifiability principle, because the failure to make any particular version of it stick does mean that theology cannot be ruled out of court without examination. However, a word of caution is in order: To stand for an examination is no guaranty of passing it.21
III. The Abandonment of Positivistic Dogma and the Analytic Turn to Metaphysics
An aspect of logical positivism that has carried over to the contemporary analytic scene is the orientation to the natural sciences; as manifested today, it probably owes as much to the pragmatists’ emphasis on the method of scientific inquiry as it does to any of the emphases of the positivists. Earlier many philosophers were inclined to take the positivists at face value and to regard their enterprise as a vigorous manifestation of the scientific spirit within the philosophical camp; later, they began to wonder whether the positivists were not merely partisan. There was, after all, something prejudicial and dogmatic about the tortuous efforts of the positivists to achieve a version of the verifiability principle with the right combination of permissiveness ("science-in") and restrictiveness ("metaphysics-out"). A scientific inquiry into meaningfulness should have been more open-ended. In a genuine inquiry, one might well begin with a sense of the meaningfulness of certain types of statements and of the meaninglessness of other types, but one would be open to the possibility that things might not turn out just that way. The positivists, on the other hand, held their favorite metaphysical whipping boys — Platonic, Heideggenian, and theological statements — constant. These were branded as meaningless, come what may! They then tried desperately to find the broadsword that would eliminate them at one blow without injuring any innocent "scientific" or "common-sense" bystanders.
Now that we have examined the kinds of arguments that analysts have used in attacking the dogma of verifiability, it will be useful to quote an anti-positivistic polemic written by Morton White, a contemporary analyst. It strikes at a number of other dogmas as well. This will help us to appreciate the extent to which the positivistic consensus (if there ever was one outside the confines of the Vienna circle) has broken down among contemporary analysts.
The early Platonism of Moore and Russell, the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, the attempt to formulate a criterion of cognitive meaning, the emotive theory of ethics, the pragmatic philosophy of science all of them were at one time liberating forces in the philosophy of the twentieth century. They helped divert philosophical attention from a number of pseudo-problems; they increased respect for logic and exactness in philosophy; they encouraged a laudable degree of self-consciousness among philosophers which led to a healthy reexamination of philosophical methods and philosophical aims.
But . . . ideas that were once liberating and which helped puncture the inflationary schemes of traditional philosophy were soon collected and composed into a tradition. . . . The terms "analytic," "meaningless," "emotive," and ‘naturalistic fallacy" — to mention only some — became empty slogans instead of revolutionary tools; the quest for meaning replaced the quest for certainty; orthodoxy followed revolt. Logic, physics, and ethics were assigned special and unique methods of justification; ancient metaphysical generalizations about everything being fire or water were erased and replaced by equally indefensible universal theses, according to which all logical statements are like this, and all physical statements are like that, and all ethical statements very different from both. . . . Whereas their metaphysical predecessors, whom they regarded as benighted and befuddled, made startling generalizations about all of existence, analytically minded philosophers (and those who were pragmatically minded too] defended apparently sober but equally dubious claims about linguistic expressions or their meanings.22
This statement reflects the anti-dogmatic spirit that has been manifest among contemporary analysts at least since Quine published his assault on "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" in 1951.23 It may also be taken as an earnest of the willingness of contemporary analysts to address themselves to philosophical issues that the positivists thought they had buried; metaphysics is certainly one of these. One reason for this concern with traditional issues is that once the "litmus paper" view of the verifiability principle has been abandoned there is no simple way of distinguishing what analysts of today do from that which was done by metaphysicians of the past. Traditional problems of philosophy are then found lurking in the sophisticated formulations of the present. An instructive example of this is the question of "essences." Philosophers had traditionally operated with the assumption that the use of common nouns was regulated by the essential characteristics that underlay the maze of accidental features that a given phenomenon displayed. In the effort to rid philosophers of this obsession, Wittgenstein introduced the notion of "family resemblances." He urged philosophers to abandon their "essentialistic" preconceptions and to use this notion as an aid in paying the most careful attention to the nuances of words in their manifold relations to the phenomena they stand for.24 In his well-known illustration of "games," he noted that games (board games, card games, sports, and romping children) display a complex network of crisscrossing characteristics that resemble the way characteristics of parents get scrambled among their children. There is no one "essential" characteristic which is common to all. If one applied this approach to a complex phenomenon such as religion, one would resist the temptation to search for an "essence" of it; instead, one would study as many instances as possible and map out the resemblances. This is the point of Wittgenstein’s admonition: "Don’t think, but look!"
The effort to eliminate fatuous quests for non-existent essences is liberating in some contexts, but the problems that exercised the philosophers of the past cannot be lightly dismissed. For one thing, to apply the technique of family resemblances to all common nouns would run counter to the resistance to dogmatic generalizations exemplified by contemporary analysts and certainly by Wittgenstein himself. Some words are inextricably tied to certain fundamental characteristics, for example, as "brother" is to "male." In addition, the conceptual considerations that agitated the "essentialists" of the past re-emerge in the context of family resemblances when one has to cope — at the fringes — with the problems of determining the limits of consanguinity.
It would, however, be a mistake to suggest that the concern with metaphysics manifest among contemporary analysts is inadvertent or that it is evoked under duress. P. F. Strawson, Wilfrid Sellars, W. van O. Quine, Gustav Bergmann, and other contemporary analysts unblushingly engage in metaphysical discourse as they tackle such traditional problems of philosophy as the metaphysics of experience (the conceptual preconditions of significant experience), the philosophy of mind, and the basic ontological questions (what there is), as well as questions of ethics. To them they bring the resources of the recent developments in formal logic, the linguistic self-consciousness induced by recent work in semantics, and an impressive mastery of the achievements and problems of the sciences.25 Yet a qualification may be called for; in an important essay on the "Metaphilosophical Difficulties of Linguistic Philosophy," R. M. Rorty claims that these resources are employed in a way that makes it misleading to say that these analysts are doing metaphysics, if the term "metaphysics" retains its traditional associations.26 The issues they deal with may be traditional, but they construe their task in a radically different way. They follow the positivists in rejecting the claim — characteristic of traditional metaphysicians that philosophy can add to our knowledge of the world. In this domain they do not believe that philosophical conceptualization can supplement scientific inquiry. They regard their job as that of providing a "clean" conceptual framework for the knowledge we actually acquire through science and common sense, that is, a framework that will be expressed in precise and controllable forms and one that will be free of the confusions of purpose and the turgid jargons that scarred the metaphysical systems of the past. If Rorty is right, then from the standpoint of philosophers who are still oriented toward the traditional approaches to metaphysics, the post-positivistic era in analysis is not all that different from its predecessor, and the analysts’ turn to metaphysics is deceptive. The main difference would seem to be that contemporary analysts have been chastened by the abandonment of the dogmas that inaugurated the "revolution in philosophy," so that they ought to be less disposed to summary dismissals of metaphysical theses — regardless of the orientation of the thinkers who propose them.
In any event, whatever may be the case regarding their approach to such inescapable issues as the philosophy of mind or ontology, it is clear that contemporary analysts remain most inhospitable to transcendental metaphysics and theology. These analysts (metaphysical or not) are responsive to a point made many times over by C. F. Moore: There are all sorts of things which can be known to be obviously true but which are very difficult to analyze ("analysis" in this context means to offer a satisfactory theoretical account of how these obvious truths are known to be true). Included in the list of truisms which he regarded as certainly knowable, were such matters as the existence of his body and the contact it has with other bodies.27 When assertions of this kind prove hard to analyze, and when scientific assertions whose truth is relatively obvious also prove hard to analyze, the analysts of today are not disposed to excursions into transcendental realms in order to analyze statements about "the Absolute," "Being-Itself," or God." In these cases, it is hard to determine just what it is that one is supposed to be analyzing, much less how one would ever agree on procedures for resolving conflicts about these transcendental matters.
Again and again, religious thinkers invoke the Tu Quoque in dealing with analytic philosophers. Religious thinkers point to the difficulties involved in the efforts to formulate the empiricist criterion of meaning by means of the verifiability principle, or they point to the difficulties of determining the precise character of the analytic-synthetic distinction. They then say something like, ‘We philosophical theologians may have our difficulties, but you analysts have yours too, so that there’s little to choose between us on that score. Therefore, considering the ultimate importance of the issues we deal with, you ought to abandon your trivial epistemological pursuits and get to work on our field."
Analysts who are confronted with this sort of appeal might well respond with the argument that Reinhold Niebuhr directed against Lewis Mumford. In one of his books, Mumford was sharply critical of the United Nations and, because of the obvious limitations of this organization, he urged that it be abandoned and that the World Federalist Program be adopted in its place. In answer, Niebuhr said that this was like a man who was crawling along the narrow ridge high up on a cliff, holding to the rocky side for dear life, being told that since the progress he was making was so tortuous and since the danger of his making a false step and plunging into the abyss was so great, the only thing for him to do was to let go and fly.
IV. The Theological Victim
It should now be clear that philosophical theologians can take scant comfort from the revival of interest in metaphysics manifested by some philosophical analysts. To be sure, analysts are by no means the only contemporary philosophers, but they remain the dominant group among English-speaking philosophers of our day; and, if philosophical theologians are concerned to deal with the contemporary philosophical scene, they had better read them straight.
A qualification to the pessimism that I have expressed concerning the possibility of fruitful discussion between theologians and analysts is the point (already noted) that the anti-dogmatic tendencies of contemporary analysts ought to preclude the possibility of their reading any positions out of court. Yet there are special problems concerned with the theistic concept of the transcendent God that make the resurrection of this victim of philosophical analysis far less likely.28 The problem I have in mind may be explicated by reference to J. N. Findlay’s examination of the implications of worship and to Paul Tillich’s examination of idolatry.
In his essay, "Can God’s Existence Be Disproved?"29 Findlay attacked a dogma of the religious existentialists, namely, the dichotomy between the God of the philosophers and the God of the patriarchs. He did so by bypassing the usual philosophical point of departure, the quest for rational consistency, and by beginning instead with reflection upon the most distinctive act of religious men, the act of worship. He claimed that an implication of this act is that its object ought to be utterly unlike any being whatever that we normally encounter; a mere quantitative difference would not do because the utter adoration that characterizes the act of worship would be an inappropriate response to a being who merely differed from us quantitatively. Therefore, the God we worship must be conceived as one who does not merely happen to exist, to be good, to be knowing, or what have you. A God appropriate to the act of worship must exist necessarily and possess all attributes necessarily. This guarantees the absolute qualitative distinction between God and man, but the problem that this poses for philosophical theology is that we neither have experience of a Being of this "necessary order nor is our conceptual apparatus equipped to handle it. Therefore, a God who is religiously appropriate would seem, "necessarily," to be conceptually contradictory.
In no other domain known to me is there as great a non-philosophical stake in setting a subject beyond the range of our conceptual apparatus. Tillich — in updating the prophetic protest against idolatry and rendering it in philosophical terms insisted upon this point throughout his career. God cannot be treated in terms of our normal conceptual apparatus because any effort to do so results in setting God as one item alongside others, and this reduces God to the status of an idol.30 However, there is no road from unqualified uniqueness to the language of men. To grant to God that conceptual status that the act of worship and the protest against idolatry demand is to render the concept of God transcognitive as well as transcendent; and the method of systematic silence is not one to be commended to a philosophical discipline, not even to philosophical theology.
A further barrier to fruitful discussion between theologians and analysts is that, whereas the analysts focus on method, theologians are thinkers whose major purpose is to reflect on a specific body of traditional assertions. Philosophical theologians can hardly be expected to "sit loosely" to teachings concerning God and his nature, while letting their method carry them where it will. That is one of my reasons for maintaining that, although an austere form of metaphysics has already risen phoenix-like from the positivistic ashes to play a role in analytic discourse, theological discourse is still pretty much confined to the role of a horrible example of how not to proceed.
Yet we do not live by our accomplishments alone, no more in philosophy than in life. Our faith in the meaningfulness of the task at hand often derives its potency from hope. Nor are hardboiled empiricists immune to this; witness the following statement by Israel Scheffler which concludes his brilliant survey of the problem of verifiability: "It appears, in sum, that even a modest empiricism is presently a hope for clarification and a challenge to constructive investigation rather than a well-grounded doctrine, unless we construe it in a quite trivial way. Empiricists are perhaps best thought of as those who share the hope and accept the challenge — who refuse to take difficulty as a valid reason either for satisfaction with the obscure or for abandonment of effort."31
If analysts can take this sort of line without being branded as irrational and wishful thinkers, why cannot philosophical theologians take the same tack? After all, one thing that we should have learned from Kierkegaard’s use of the "Leap" is that rational considerations regarding matters of this kind do not play the sort of clearcut and decisive role that enables us to determine with precision just when clinging to hope becomes unreasonable. An element of arbitrariness enters into decisions to say, "It is no longer reasonable to work at the task of producing an adequate version of the verifiability principle," or "It is no longer reasonable to hope that additional effort will result in the production of a conceptual scheme adequate to the task of philosophical theology." The cut-off point will vary from one individual to the next, and it will depend upon all sorts of cultural factors. With this in mind, philosophical theologians might well think that they need not be cowed by the enormity of the problems. Indeed, this attitude of "work and hope" was commended to theologians by the philosopher Richard Brandt. At a conference of philosophers (mainly analysts) and theologians, he was discussing the question of the significance of theological statements and the possibility for meaningful disagreement between skeptics and believers. He noted that we would not expect them to have the same judgments regarding the meaningfulness of a set of religious concepts because there is no mechanical routine for grading the meaningfulness of concepts.
Furthermore, and very important, sceptics and theologians can differ on how well a system might score, if only it were improved in ways in which excellent minds and time might enable it to be improved. The believer will be more optimistic, the sceptic more pessimistic, on this [scoring]. . . . Even if the contemporary believer must in candor rate religious concepts lower . . . than they would have reasonably been rated six hundred years ago, he might claim that they do not score too badly considering the problems, and he may construe his job to make the system clearer so that it scores better.32
While nothing, in principle, prevents theologians from adopting the optimistic attitude that Brandt describes, it may be useful to underscore the difficulties involved by bringing out the sort of problem to which he alludes. Let us reflect on the following sequence of problematic issues:
1. The analysis of statements about material objects, for example, a stone.
2. The scientific analysis of the phenomenon of light that leads to the paradox of the "wave" and "particle" theories.
3. The analysis of the claim, I am now in conversation with another person.
4. The moral problems involved in analyzing statements about the justice of a given set of social arrangements.
5. The problems involved in evaluating the worth of two different recordings of Mozart’s "Clarinet Quintet."
6. The problem imbedded in Robert MacAfee Brown’s assertion that "Christian statements will always be vulnerable, because they are such a far cry from the real thing. But the real thing is never vulnerable because the real thing is not man in his stumbling statements, but the living God himself, whose reality is not dependent upon the adequacy or inadequacy of our statements about him."33
In the first five cases, a common pattern prevails: Analyze as much as you like, but the phenomenon being analyzed remains palpably (i.e., "invulnerably") present to you. Dr. Johnson’s crude answer to Bishop Berkeley certainly did not resolve the difficulties inherent in analyzing statements about material objects, but they could both, nevertheless, be certain that whatever the outcome of the analysis, the stone would still be there to be kicked, and the kicker would still be in danger of stubbing his toe. In similar fashion, whatever the outcome of the scientific analysis of light, the sun will still shine. Continuing down the list, we note that, regardless of the outcome of philosophical analysis, the reference to persons is inescapable. Analyses that attack the "ghost in the machine" may, if we accept them, alter our understanding of persons, but the reference for these analyses is relatively clear. Indeed it is to persons that such analyses are addressed. We may now continue to the next item and note that, regardless of the outcome of ethical analysis, people will continue to order their social arrangements in various ways and to seek moral standards for doing so. Finally, it is clear that, at the application of the stylus, records will emit their sounds and that this does not depend on the outcome of our aesthetic analysis.
The item dealing with the living God breaks the pattern. The wording suggests that here too we have a phenomenon unquestionably present over against us, a phenomenon that demands analysis in one form or another. And Brown’s remarks suggest that the main difficulty is that of hitting on the right analysis. However, this is deceptive. With regard to the "living God," we can reasonably raise the issue of whether there is anything there over and above the ‘stumbling statements" about him. When subjected to analysis (of many kinds, and not merely of the contemporary philosophical variety), it appears that the transcendent God is "vulnerable" in ways that the other phenomena are not, because the only sensible references for theological statements about "The God who acts" are the actions of men, the regularities of the natural order, or some other wholly immanent phenomena that are present. Furthermore, in the other cases listed we might, on analysis, discover that what we were actually up to was a very different affair from what we had thought it was, but our jumping-off point would still be there to be pointed out. In the case of the transcendent God, when analysis induces a changed perspective, we may find ourselves unable to try for a better analysis because we would no longer be able to locate the object of it.
A final note: In cases 1-5, a person who denied the reference — in practical terms and not merely by way of pointing up the inadequacy of a particular analysis — would be a likely candidate for confinement to a mental institution. This is clearly not the case with regard to a person who denies the existence of God.
The loss of a meaningful "reference" for talk about the transcendent God, can, nevertheless, leave theologians with an obvious object of analysis: Religion in its vast ramifications. This is the sad end product of the "Death of God" theology that received its initial impetus from the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His bold claim was that God so much wants men to be free and mature that he wants them to dispense with the crutch of religion, even with the crutch of the "God of religion." Bonhoeffer regarded the "God of religion" as a crutch because this "God" is the all too knowable and all too available "God" of the kind of conventional piety that treats the Ultimate as an idol. The "Death of God" theologians — aware of the challenge of contemporary analysis to the notion of transcendence, and finding themselves incapable of meeting it — claim to be following Bonhoeffer’s lead when they jettison the transcendent God. Christianity is thus cut off from relation to the incomprehensible deity who is, as we have noted — whatever the difficulties of formulation involved — the only worthy object of worship. The "Death of God" theologians then try to convince themselves and their readers that what remains is authentic Christianity. They do this by driving an illusory wedge between Christianity and religion by means of "persuasive definitions" of both "Christianity" and "religion." These definitions are calculated to show that Christianity is not, and never really was, a "religion" and that it never essentially depended on belief in the transcendent God. Actually, what they present is that most pernicious form of idolatry: religion without God. The emergence of the "Death of God" theology, which is certainly not the best theology being done today, nevertheless well illustrates the considerations that lead me to say that the theological victim of contemporary analysis is in the worst shape of all. If you take the problem of transcendence seriously, while maintaining a Christian form of what Paul Tillich called "ultimate concern," you can be driven to this sort of thing.
V. A Disturbing Parallel
It may well be objected that what I have presented in this essay is not an accurate description of the contemporary philosophical scene but propaganda on behalf of one particularly active segment of it. Evidence could be cited to show that not only is there an absence of consensus among contemporary analysts but that there has also been some defection from their ranks to other and more traditional philosophical approaches. Findlay, whom I have cited on more than one point in this essay, is a good example of this. His recent Gifford Lectures document his shift from philosophical analysis to his own synthesis of Hegel and Husserl.34 In addition, many philosophers dedicated to the defense of traditional metaphysical positions are professors at important universities; they publish many books, and there are journals devoted to publishing their articles. Furthermore (to quote Findlay again), "there can be nothing really ‘clinching’ in philosophy: ‘proofs’ and ‘disproofs’ hold only for those who adopt certain premises, who are willing to follow certain rules of argument, and who use their terms in certain definite ways."35 Indeed, we have noted that even among the analysts, who do pretty much adopt the same premises and standards of arguments, the central doctrines of one generation have proved to be the scornfully rejected dogmas of the next. Therefore, a theologian who rejected my account of the contemporary scene could claim that I must be surveying the prospects for meaningful confrontation between theologians and philosophers with a jaundiced eye.
I would not know how to go about refuting this charge in a conclusive way. So much depends on the perspective with which we study the material that an evaluation of the state of something as complex and variegated as the current philosophical scene is bound to be affected by all sorts of subjective considerations. In light of this, the best I can do by way of replying to the charge that I have presented a "party line" on the current philosophical situation is to call attention to a parallel that I find more than a little disturbing.
Fundamentalists today reject descriptions of the contemporary theological scene that report the triumph of the critical approach to the Bible. They claim that this judgment, which treats all modes of the literal interpretation of the Bible as passe, represents the biased view of one party to a live dispute. In advocating this position, Fundamentalists can certainly marshal a good deal of evidence. Fundamentalism, they can insist, is far from dead as a social force. Furthermore, intellectually speaking, they can point to the many schools, seminaries, and journals which are dominated by the Fundamentalist outlook, and to the many articles and books published by Fundamentalist professors.
Apart from that, Fundamentalists can press the point that there has been no conclusive disproof of the "Dictation Theory" of the verbal inspiration of the Bible or of the "Supernatural Incursion" theory of miracle. All the arguments against these views have, after all, been advanced by thinkers who assume the very point at issue, namely, the intrinsic impossibility of certain types of occurrences and the utter implausibility of the evidence on behalf of possible, but highly unlikely, occurrences (the transcendent and infinite God talking directly and audibly to men being an instance of the first sort of thing, and the instant healing of a totally paralyzed man being an instance of the second).
Furthermore, when they move to the attack, Fundamentalists point to the great changes that have taken place in higher criticism over the decades. The "Documentary Theory" of the Pentateuch and the multiplication of sources of such prophetic books as Isaiah have been replaced by theories which manifest far more conservative tendencies. What is more, no responsible higher critic could assert that a consensus on important issues, such as "The Quest for the Historical Jesus" now prevails. In light of this, Fundamentalists vehemently protest the fact that in so many great centers of theological learning the validity of the critical perspective is simply assumed and not argued for.
Higher critics used to spend a good deal of their energy arguing with Fundamentalists. Now they just get on with their work and concentrate on developing better tools, such as carbon tests, for advancing the scope of their field.
It is clear that the situation in philosophy, insofar as it pertains to the openness of philosophers to the meaningfulness of theological discourse, is not that far along, but it is well on its way. As one who is concerned (in the Tillichian sense) with philosophical theology, I find it, as already noted, a disturbing parallel.
The abandonment of the Positivistic crudities and the fluid state of analysis today open two possibilities to philosophical theologians: (1) Retreat like the Fundamentalists and say that, since analysis itself has problems, "Who are they to write us off? We can now be quite certain that no philosophy has the answers and so we can go back to where we were before, to a pre-positivistic philosophical outlook in which freewheeling appeal to the synthetic a priori and all sorts of other devices is the fashion." (2) Work in and through the contemporary, analytically dominated, philosophical scene and struggle for conceptual adequacy.
The extent to which philosophical theologians can work in terms of the second option will determine the extent to which the parallel will prove misleading and irrelevant.
VI. A Question for Hartshornians
One of the leading contemporary analytic philosophers has written that "our practice is a very fluid affair. If we are to speak of linguistic rules at all, we ought to think of them as rules which everyone has a licence to violate if he can show a point in doing so."36 This might be taken as a slogan for theologians who follow through on the impetus that Charles Hartshorne has provided for philosophical theology. Hartshorne has called for, and executed, a radical revision of our conceptual apparatus in order to give to God, understood in terms of the concept of Perfection, the centrality that is his due. However, the points that Hartshorne has made in doing so have all been pretty much confined to his central theme: the adaptation of Whitehead’s metaphysics to the purposes of philosophical theology.
Hartshorne’s work in philosophical theology has been successful to a degree that more than justifies the interest shown in his work. He has shown that logical considerations, soberly expressed in the context of theological discourse, have a great deal to tell us about the religious impetus of theology. On logical grounds, Hartshorne maintains that the classical theistic treatment of the attributes of God is incoherent. He insists that the view that an omniscient God is nevertheless changeless in every respect whatever is a view that will not stand up under examination. In a world in which change is real, it is not conceivable that an omniscient being could know future events as actual in advance of their actual occurrence. Therefore, as events unfold in time, the state of knowledge of an omniscient God must change, and this is to say that God changes in respect of his knowledge.
However, Hartshorne also insists that the utterly changeless God of the classical theistic tradition is a religiously inadequate God. In evidence of this, he cites the fact that, within the framework of our experience of the contingent beings we encounter in everyday life, we find that the superior being is the being that changes in response to others, not the being that is unaffected. If a man sees a tree, the tree is not conscious of the man, whereas the man is aware of the tree and changes as a result; this is one of the things that makes the man superior to the tree. Hartshorne regards the classical view of an omnipotent and omniscient God who rules the world absolutely without being affected by the events that transpire in it as rooted in the concept — which he finds religiously unpalatable — of the Oriental view of the absolute potentate. Thus religious grounds supplement his logical ones for urging the purgation of the classical theistic view of the attributes of God.
Hartshorne’s criticisms of the doctrines of classical theism are the most thoroughgoing and potently expressed since Hegel’s. Furthermore, close attention to their religious content discloses the surprising phenomenon, to which Ogden has called our attention, that this theology is a startling complement to existentialistic anthropology.37 Hartshorne’s doctrine of God — expressed in logical symbols and, usually, without reference to the emotional overtones of religious language — captures the note of personal striving and creative freedom that is central to existentialistic concerns.
Yet at many points, his achievement is more a matter of pointing to the major tasks of philosophical theology than of executing them. The most important work that Hartshorne published in recent years was his lengthy essay on the ontological argument in which, placing heavy reliance on techniques of formal logic, he offered what seemed to be a "hard" proof of its validity, and so raised the hope that this statement of the proof might be the "real thing," that is, a cornerstone for the sort of conceptual revision that Hartshorne was calling for in his work. Hartshorne himself stated that this proof was not up to the job of dealing with the positivistic criticisms of religious language.38 This ambitious and important task is, presumably, bequeathed to his followers.
The work that Hartshorne has done in adapting Whitehead’s metaphysics to theological purposes and in criticizing and revising the doctrines of classical theology is an important contribution to philosophical theology but, in and of itself, this sort of thing will not evoke a new phase of the discussion between theologians and philosophers. Ogden has noted that "The ‘new vision’ (Hartshorne’s) . . .has not yet enjoyed anything like the response — either from philosophers or from theologians — to which it is entitled."39 As we have seen, despite the new openness of contemporary analytic philosophers, speculative metaphysics, in the traditional sense of the term, is still suspect, and rejected. Theological language regarding the transcendent God is even more emphatically written off. The buttressing of one questionable enterprise (theology) by means of an appeal to the insights of another questionable enterprise (Whiteheadian metaphysics) is not likely to compel attention from thinkers who are not already involved with one or the other of them. Since the analytic philosophers, who dominate the philosophical scene in the English-speaking world, are not involved with either, it would seem that prospects are not bright for discussion along the lines thus far pursued by Hartshorne and his followers.
To gain the attention of analytic philosophers, it would be necessary to come to grips with such current philosophical issues as Quine’s "nominalism" and to show the fruitfulness of Whiteheadian metaphysics for areas other than theology. It might be objected that this would be equally unpersuasive. Analysts, it will be said, are so biased against speculative metaphysics that they would not pay attention to applications of it to any field whatever. Against this I would urge the example of Reinhold Niebuhr. He launched his critique of contemporary culture from the perspective of original sin, a perspective to which the climate of opinion of the day was deeply hostile. Yet he gained the attention of the non-theological and non-believing world — including many philosophers — by means of the power of his insights into politics, labor relations, international affairs, and the rest. Theologians may have been interested in his arguments with Augustine et al., over the interpretation of Christian doctrine; but if he had confined himself to this sort of thing, he would not have gained the attention of the uncommitted.40
In a remarkable essay on "What We Can Say about God," Fred Summers provides a survey of the ontological options available to philosophical theologians. At the end of it, he makes a brief reference to the work of Whitehead and notes that its prospects for relevance are closely linked with work in the biophysical sciences.41 This is the sort of extrinsic reference that would give a cutting edge to the work of Hartshorne’s followers; and, if it were well done, analysts and others would listen whether they wanted to or not. In philosophy as in science, the fruitfulness of a theory is in direct proportion to the variety of kinds of circumstances to which it finds application. For this reason, I hope that the thinkers who are engaged in the revival of philosophical theology will not confine themselves to reflection on theological language. If they do so, they will wind up in a rut in which they talk to no one but themselves. This would be an irony of theological history because they would then be doing the very same things that the Barthians did; and surely one of the major factors underlying the renewed interest in philosophical theology is a reaction against the Barthian’s tendency to restrict intellectual confrontations within the cozy confines of religious in-groups.
1. Thirty authors contributed essays to W. L. Reese and E. Freeman, eds., The Hartshorne Festschrift, Process and Divinity (LaSalle, Ill., 1964).
2. Philosophical Fragments, 2d ed. (Princeton, N.J., 1962), n. 1, pp. 79ff.
3. "Theology and Objectivity," Journal of Religion, XLV (; "Theology and Philosophy: A New Phase of the Discussion," Journal of Religion, XLIV (1964].
4. "Theology and Objectivity," 187ff. For the "consensus" that Ogden rejects, see P. van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel (New York, 1963), Part I, chap. iv.
5. Prolegomeno to Any Future Metaphysics (Chicago, 1949), 2.
6. I begin my account of the verifiability principle with the statement found in the most publicized work on the subject, A. J. Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic (London, 1936), but it should be noted that in this work Ayer refined the cruder operationalistic versions of it that had been advanced by members of "the Vienna circle." The most wide-ranging historical survey of the issue is to be found in J. Passmore, Philosophical Reasoning (New York, 1961), chap. v. In Logical Positivism (Glencoe, Ill., 1959), Ayer, in the "Editor’s Introduction," and C. G. Hempel, in "The Empiricist Criterion of Meaning," present historical surveys of the issue that are contributions to its advancement. A detailed survey and contribution are also to be found in Parts I and II of I. Scheffler, "Prospects for a Modest Empiricism," Review of Metaphysics, Vol. X (1957). In chap. v. of Reason and Analysis (London, 1962), Brand Blanshard presents a survey of statements of the verifiability principle and criticizes them from the standpoint of his metaphysical idealism.
7. "Theology and Philosophy," 2.
8. "Metaphysics and Meaning," Mind, XLIV (1935), 417.
9. For an examination of the important issue of "translatability" into a specially designed empiricist language, an issue that I have ignored in this essay, see, Scheffler, op. cit.
10. Logic der Forschung (Vienna, 1935): revised English version, ‘The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London, 1959], see especially, 34-42, 64-72, 78-92.
11. A. Flew, "Theology and Falsification," in A. Flew and A. McIntyre, eds., New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London, 1955), 96ff.
12. Philosophical Analysis (Oxford, 1956), 113.
13. C. G. Hempel, "Studies in the Logic of Confirmation, I and II," Mind (1945), reprinted in, Hempel, Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York, 1964); R. Carnap, "Truth and Confirmation," in H. Feigl and W. Sellars, eds., Readings in Philosophical Analysis (New York, 1949); W. P. Alston, Philosophy of Language (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1964).
14. "Theology and Falsification," in New Essays in Philosophical Theology (see n. 11 above), 103 ff. For comments on Mitchell’s position see, W. T. Blackstone, The Problem of Religious Knowledge (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963), 108-112; and H. R. Burkle, "Counting Against and Counting Decisively Against," Journal of Religion, XLIV (1964).
15. Alston, 72.
16. Hempel, "The Empiricist Criterion of Meaning," 114.
17. "Introduction," Language, Truth, and Logic, 2d ed. (London, 1948), 11.
18. Ibid., 12; I. Berlin, "Verifiability in Principle," Proceedings Aristotelian Society (1938-39), 232ff.
19. "The Empiricist Criterion of Meaning," 126.
20. What Is Philosophy? (New York, 1961), 29.
21. For a sustained statement of the issue involved see, W. B. Hartley III, Retreat to Commitment (New York, 1962).
22. Toward Reunion in Philosophy (New York, 1963), 290ff.
23. Reprinted in W. van 0. Quine, From a Logical Point of View (New York, 1963).
24. Philosophical Investigations (New York, 1953), secs. 46ff. A discussion of the broader issue is found in G. Pitcher, "The Attack on Essentialism," The Philosophy of Wittgenstein (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1964).
25. For an important survey of American work in this field, see chap. iv of Manley Thompson’s essay, "Metaphysics," which appears in R. M. Chisholm et al., Philosophy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.. 1964).
26. This essay is the "Editor’s Introduction" to an anthology, The Linguistic Turn (Chicago, 1967).
27. "In Defense of Common Sense," Philosophical Papers (London, 1959), 23ff.
28. See F. Ferre "The ‘Elimination’ of Theological Discourse," Language, Logic and God (New York, 1961), for an important survey of analytic criticisms of theology, including a good number, which are not discussed here.
29. New Essays In Philosophical Theology, 50ff. The fact that Findlay no longer holds the views he expressed in this essay (for his later view, see "Reflections on Necessary Existence," in Process and Divinity) does not detract from its usefulness in helping to define the task of philosophical theology in our day.
30. Systematic Theology (Chicago, 1951), I, 235-241, contain a good statement of his views on this issue.
31. 0p. cit., p. 625.
32. In J. Hick, ed., Faith and the Philosophers (New York, 1964), 152ff.
33. The Spirit of Protestantism (New York, 1961), 52.
34. The Discipline of the Cave (London, 1966).
35. "Can God’s Existence Be Disproved?" in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, 71.
36. P. F. Strawson, Introduction to Logical Theory (London, 1952), 230.
37. S. Ogden, "Bultmann’s Demythologizing and Hartshorne’s Dipolar Theism," Process and Divinity.
38. "What the Ontological Argument Does Not Do," Review of Metaphysics, Vol. XVII (1964).
39. "Theology and Philosophy," 3.
40. See W. K. Frankena, "Ethical Theory," in Philosophy, op. cit. for a statement of the way in which Reinhold Niebuhr and other Christian thinkers took over the cultural and intellectual role of James, Royce, Dewey, Santayana, and Whitehead.
41. "What We Can Say about God," Judaism, XV (1966), 72ff. For an example of the sort of thing that I have in mind (and Sommers too, I should think), see S. Wright, "Biology and the Philosophy of Science," Process and Divinity, 101-125; 114-124 deal explicitly with panpsychism.