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The Experience of Value and Theological Argumentation

by Philip E. Devenish

Philip E. Devenish is Coordinator of Ministry Studies and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637. He is the co-editor (with George L. Goodwin) of Witness and Existence: Essays in Honor of Schubert M. Ogden (Chicago, 1989) and is currently working on a book on the theology of Christian worship. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 103-115, Vol.19 Number 2, Summer, 1990. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


As I understand my assignment for this conference, it is to represent a "methodological alternative in process theology" that has been given the name "rationalist" so as to facilitate its distinction from two other such alternatives, the empirical and speculative so-called. Instead of attending to features that might be thought to distinguish particular theological approaches, I propose to examine two basic types of argumentation that I believe must play a role in any such approach that claims to be fully critical. Furthermore, in a fissiparous situation in which the desire to assimilate what is new seems increasingly more important than the need cumulatively to build on what might still be defended as true, I believe we do well to attend to basic procedures that are constitutive of any and every critical theological alternative worthy of the name. For only as we do so are we likely to discover both a basis for theological consensus in principle and the extent to which such a basis may be exemplified in fact.

One basic type of argumentation I shall consider is that first-order procedure of presenting the data of experience as evidence for the validity of one’s theological interpretation. The other is the second-order procedure of analyzing the presuppositions of such a presentation and interpretation.1 I have chosen to illustrate how these types of argumentation function in the work of Schubert Ogden, because I find them combined there in a way that is congruent with the constructive proposal I shall put forward here.2

Some starting point is required for the discussion of any issue. I assume, then, that any developed theology must offer at least an analysis both of what it claims as known (what I will call "the ontic pole") and of wherein its being known consists (what I will call "the noetic pole").3 While there is, I believe, no logically compelling reason to begin at one pole rather than the other, there may well be strategic reasons for doing so.4 Since not only the character, but even the status of ontology, the theory concerning the ontic pole of the basic theological relation, are evidently two of the issues precisely at stake in the deliberations of this conference, and since I judge there to be a greater agreement among the participants concerning the character (if not necessarily the structure or content) of experience, I will begin from a consideration of the noetic pole, that is, with what has traditionally been called "epistemology." Moreover, whatever "rationalist" or "speculative" flavor one may take my constructive proposal to have, such a noetic starting-point and basis will, I hope, insure its "empirical" cast.

I. Presenting the Evidence of Experience

According to Whitehead, "The word ‘experience’ is one of the most deceitful in philosophy" (S 16).5 As Ogden observes, it is a "field-encompassing word" we use to refer to "a whole range of observings, encounterings, and undergoings, from perceiving the world through our senses to becoming aware of the beautiful and of the claim of the good" (PP 650.

I want first to consider what I shall call the "hermeneutical analysis" Ogden employs in his discussion of the senses in which theology might be understood to be broadly empirical or experiential. He distinguishes three types of empiricism, what we may call the "classical" empiricism of the modem philosophical tradition, and two more or less revisionary forms thereof. I shall focus here on the interpretive analysis whereby he distinguishes these as ideal types. First, he distinguishes from classical empiricism a revisionary description of experience according to which sense perception is neither the only nor even the primary mode of experience, but is rather derived from a still more elemental awareness both of ourselves and of the world around us" (PP 78).6 On Ogden’s analysis, both the classical and this first type of revisionary empiricism "assume that the sole realities present in our experience, and therefore the only objects of our certain knowledge, are ourselves and the other creatures that constitute the world" (PP 79)7 With these "two more conventional types of empiricism" he contrasts a "comprehensive" type of revisionary empiricism distinguished from them by its consideration of the possibility (and then also by its claim) that the internal awareness it asserts together with the former revisionary type is "the awareness not merely of ourselves, and of our fellow creatures, but also of the infinite whole in which we are all included as somehow one" (PP 87, 80, 85). In other words, Ogden’s analysis of various descriptions of experience is informed by two distinctions, both of which apply to the noetic pole of experience: a twofold distinction between nonsensuous and sensory modes of experience and a threefold distinction of what Whitehead calls "the feeling of the ego, the others, the totality," that is, of self, other, and whole (PP 84).8 This comprehensive hermeneutical grid then permits an explanation of what he claims is a "sense of ourselves and others as of transcendent worth," as precisely an "awareness of ourselves and the world as of worth to God" (PP 86f)Y Ogden notes that such an evidently theistic explanation is not open to empirical or experiential confirmation on either of the two more restrictive descriptions which, as he observes, must either "refer the word God’ to some merely creaturely reality or process of interaction, or else., must deny it all reference whatever by construing its meaning as wholly noncognitive," if they seek experiential illustration for such a sense at all (PP 80)10

I turn now to the types of argumentation required for the critical theological appropriation of such a preliminary interpretation of the data of experience, taken as evidentially relevant for theology. The first general type of argument intended to lend credibility to such a description we can call the appeal to experience which, in turn, can comprise an appeal either to individual experience or to communal experience (or to what we may equally well call the history of ideas).

Consider first Ogden’s citation of Whitehead’s observation that, in support of such an experiential description, "the only mode of decision can be by an appeal to the self-evidence of experience" (PP 87). Such an appeal to individual experience is designed to convince others that one has properly described the evidence of their own experience in the relevant respect. This broadly phenomenological type of argumentation is necessary to the sort of "explicit" conviction that depends on direct and first-hand evidence, even while it properly recognizes that "our thought unavoidably moves within a hermeneutical circle which excludes any simple resolution of fundamental differences" (PP 87).11 Since it makes immediate reference to the evidence of one’s own experience, a description of which is at issue, and only then is extended to all others one sympathetically imagines to be like oneself, it is essentially an autobiographical type of argumentation.

A second type of appeal to the evidence of experience is the appeal to communal experience or to the history of ideas. Again. Ogden cites Whitehead to this end. "Where is the evidence?" Whitehead asks and he replies, "The answer is evidently human experience as shared by civilized intercommunication," what he speaks of elsewhere as "the directed activities of mankind" (TPT 73, PP 87). This type of argument is again broadly evidentiary in nature, although it reflects not the "turn to the subject" characteristic of the appeal to individual experience, but rather a "pragmatic" or "linguistic" turn, as illustrated by Whitehead’s observation that the evidence of human experience as shared by civilized intercommunication "is also diffused throughout the meanings of words and linguistic expressions" (cited in TPT 74).12 Such an appeal is an essentially historical form of argumentation.

The appeal to communal experience invokes a different sort, if also a broader range of evidence than does the individual appeal. By invoking, where possible, primary sources of what others have done and said, one appeals to data that require interpretation by someone other than their author and thus permit only and precisely "inferential" knowledge.13 However, doing so brings these others into court to testify on their own behalf, thereby broadening the scope of first-hand evidence and transforming the warrant for generalization from sympathetic imagination to inference from direct testimony. Where one appeal to the evidence of experience is weak, the other is strong.

It is worth pausing to take note of the logical character of the claims such appeals produce as their conclusions. The appeal to individual experience seeks to produce agreement that, "This account properly describes my experience (and that of anyone like me in the relevant respect)," the appeal to the history of ideas in its broadest form to elicit the claim that, "This describes everyone’s experience." Both conclusions are contingent or factual claims, however broad a scope of generalization one may make for them. The point is that human experience does, in fact, happen to be like this. Because individual and communal appeals are identical with respect to the logical character of the claims they propose to warrant, if different with respect to the epistemic procedures they employ, they may properly be taken to provide tests of each other and, thereby, to offer the possibility of mutual corroboration.14

Finally, we should consider the proper role of appeals to experience in theological argumentation. In the nature of the case, such appeals already assume that the experiential data invoked are relevant as evidence to the issue at hand. Thus, it is only if one is already convinced that the term "God" has to do with questions concerning the value or worth of human life that one appropriately invokes the experience of value as evidentially relevant to proposals regarding this term.15 Appeals to experience do not, therefore, establish relevance, they rather assume it. Their purpose is then to invoke experience as illustrative of a theistic explanation one has to propose for it.

If we return now to Ogden’s treatment of the three types of empiricism, we can see how, while he does not explicitly invoke it, the hermeneutical analysis we have identified is nonetheless clearly at work, implicitly shaping Whitehead’s description of experience that he is recommending there. However, this can scarcely be surprising when we realize that some such analysis is unavoidable for, because strictly presupposed by, any such description. Furthermore, even the identification of the putative content of experience proves to be normed by whatever hermeneutical analysis is employed, for one can only imagine, much less recognize as present, what one can come to identify somehow.16 Finally, some hermeneutical analysis is also presupposed by and, therefore, normative of any argument from experience, whether of the individual or the communal type, since it is only experience as interpretable in terms of some description or other to which one can ever appeal either for the mutual corroboration of such descriptions or for their illustration of a theistic interpretation. Such a hermeneutical aspect of experiential argumentation is not, therefore, distinctive of any particular "methodological alternative," but rather ingredient in them all. The question is not whether, but only how well such hermeneutical analysis will be employed with its inevitably normative implications.

We must now insist that any hermeneutical analysis not only permits, but even demands what, in another context, Charles Hartshorne calls a method of "elimination from an exhaustive division" or a statement of "the formally possible doctrines" concerning the issue at hand, in this case, that of the character and content of experience (CSPM chap. XIII, esp. 364; MVG chap. I). For the claim implicit in any such analysis is that the interpretive concepts employed therein are not only sufficiently clear to make possible their being regarded as exclusive of each other, but also of adequate range of application to comprehend the relevant options. Far from the imposition of an alien rationalism, such a demand for clarity and comprehensiveness is therefore a necessary desideratum of any interpretive theory, whether in epistemology or in the history of ideas.17 Recognition of the need for such comprehensive and mutually exclusive concepts need not restrict, but can rather uncover possible, if perhaps neglected schemes for both historical and constructive presentation. Indeed, only such a statement of formally possible doctrines can insure, to the extent such formality can be attained, that the relevant alternatives have been canvassed. I suggest that Ogden’s presentation of Whitehead’s truly "radical" and "comprehensive," indeed, "neoclassical" empiricism proves to be one such scheme. 18

Having emphasized the inherently normative significance of hermeneutical analysis for appeals to experience, we must also recognize that the relation between the description and the inspection of experience is not one-way only. The consideration of already interpreted individual and communal experience as the evidence to which one is finally responsible in the search for corroboration of one’s account can also function to shape and to criticize further hermeneutical analyses. Indeed, while it is only by virtue of some interpretive description or other that one can identify and interpret the relevant evidence, it is also only as the result of some ‘inspection of experience that one has any data to claim as relevant for interpretation in the first place.

Nonetheless, the conceptual scheme employed in interpretation has a normative character which experiential appeals logically cannot have. For while autobiographical appeals to individual experience introduce what one takes to be relevant based on one’s own experience, and appeals to the history of ideas invoke what has been taken to be relevant based on many others’ experience, the hermeneutical scheme employed determines what can be taken to be relevant to any discussion of experience at all. The presentation of experiential evidence which is a constitutive feature of any serious "methodological alternative" in theology thus proves necessarily to involve in quite distinct ways features one might variously call "empirical," "rationalist," and "speculative." For if it is experiential or broadly empirical description one seeks, and if this is always of the character, structure, and content of experience as one must somehow speculatively entertain them, such imaginative entertainment can only ever occur in fully critical fashion on the basis of a rational analysis of the possibilities relevant thereto. These features do not, therefore, so much distinguish alternative theological approaches as they do constitute complementary features of any such approach that can hope to make reference to and appeal to experience.

II. Analyzing One’s Presuppositions

A second basic type of argumentation that both can and should be brought to bear on the critical theological assessment of the relation of experience to valuation and evaluation is what I have called the analysis of presuppositions.19 will once more prove helpful to identify two versions of this type of argumentation, the "conceptual" and the "correlational" or, less aptly, "foundational." Whereas both types of analysis apply to existential, rather than to merely logical claims, it will be useful to take the former to apply within either the noetic or ontic poles of theological and philosophical discussion, the latter to the relation between them.

Consider as an example of strictly conceptual presuppositional analysis Ogden’s claim that "To exist as a self at all is possible solely on the basis of faith, so that the statement, ‘Unless you believe, you shall not understand,’ is true in a sense not only of the Christian or the religious believer but of every human being simply as such" (TPT 69, emphasis added). That there is a constitutive relation of asymmetrical dependence of the evaluative features of specifically human experience on its valuational features such that something like what Ogden calls "existential faith" is invariably involved in human existence is a conceptual observation (TPT 71f). Because, it is claimed, evaluation presupposes valuation as a condition of its possibility, any merely "disinterested" or "value-free" understanding of human reflection is of necessity excluded.20 Any consideration of the evidence of experience could only in the nature of the case ever illustrate, but logically could not falsify what must always necessarily be the case, even if such a consideration could well force a limited reconstrual of the hermeneutical analysis always itself presupposed in the strictly conceptual presuppositional analysis which uncovers the necessity of such elemental valuing.21

Again, consider Ogden’s similarly strictly conceptual refutation of the notion of the "absurd hero," who affirms life in spite of its ultimate meaninglessness. As he points out, "If all our actions are in principle absurd, the act of heroically resisting their absurdity must also be absurd" (RG 41). That all acts are thus absurd implies that any such act is similarly absurd. The function of such analysis of presuppositions is to exclude alternatives whose truth or falsity is neither a factual nor an observational, but rather a strictly conceptual matter.

Granted that one intends to take seriously the implications for theism of such claims as those to uncommitted reflection or committed resistance against absurdity considered here, such a strictly conceptual form of presuppositional analysis is not optional, but mandatory.22 For only the demonstration of incurable vagueness or self-contradiction will refute a position which is either not clear enough to be shown to be cognitively meaningful or at least sufficiently lucid to be demonstrably meaningless and, therefore, necessarily self-contradictory. This strictly conceptual type of presuppositional analysis is not, therefore, a feature of any particular "methodological alternative," but rather belongs to any theological approach which engages the full range of options for belief.

The final type of theological argumentation that falls to consideration is what I have called the correlational analysis of presuppositions. While widely controverted, such argumentation is actually as unavoidable for a fully critical theology as are the other types we have considered. Recall my earlier claim that such analysis has to do with the relation between the noetic and ontic poles in theological discussion and is, therefore, constitutive of theology as such. Indeed, even if one begins with broadly epistemological considerations, as I have done here, one can only avoid asking and answering the question wherein the ontic correlate of such a noetic pole consists by a failure to be fully critical in taking account of what one always already presupposes. For "experience" is always "experience of." "Experience" is an inherently relational concept. Therefore, to engage in correlational analysis of presuppositions is nothing more, but also nothing less, than to make explicit the understanding of the character of the ontic correlate presupposed in speaking of experience in the first place.

Consider Ogden’s claim in support of what I have suggested we call Whitehead’s "neoclassical empiricism" that, "Just as we are never aware of our own existence except as related to the being of others, so our sense that both we and they are important is our sense of the encompassing whole without which such importance could never be" (PP 85, emphasis added). Note that the point of this observation is not to make a factual claim either about our noetic experience in itself, namely, that we do have a sense of the infinite or encompassing whole, or about ontic reality in itself, namely, that what we do experience is the encompassing whole. It is rather to make the claim concerning the relation between these two poles that we could have that noetic sense of our own and others’ importance Ogden here takes for granted we do experience if and only if there were an infinite or encompassing ontic whole to be experienced.23 The point is that the existence of such an ontic whole is a necessary condition of the possibility of our noetically experiencing the worth we do experience.24 Strictly speaking, such a claim asserts the "hypothetical necessity" that if we do experience value, there must be, as the condition of its possibility, an ontic correlate thereof.

To recap the argument as a whole: Having begun with mutually corroborating individual and communal appeals to experience to establish what he takes to be a fact, namely, that our twofold noetic experience of ourselves and others is valuational, Ogden then argues for a further noetic sense of an encompassing whole in addition to such a twofold sense of the worth of self and others.25 Finally, he argues in correlational fashion that such a threefold noetic experience of valuation presupposes as the condition of its possibility an ontic whole to be experienced.

While an adequate conceptual analysis of Ogden’s argument here is necessarily complex, the basic point concerning its specifically correlational component is extremely simple. This is that the noetic pole of theological analysis, that is, our inherently relational experience of value, logically presupposes as a condition of its possibility an encompassing ontic whole.

In view of the current brouhaha over foundationalism, so-called, it seems advisable to address the issue of wherein what I have grudgingly called foundational analysis consists, at least as it is practiced by Ogden.26 Again, the point is a simple one. Consider Ogden’s well known argument in The Reality of God that "the primary use or function of ‘God’ is to refer to the objective ground in reality itself of our ineradicable confidence in the final worth of our existence" (37). If we bracket only the assumption of an axiological feature for the attribution of the term "God," the basic point here is clear and straightforward. If fidelity of description demands that we take experience to be inherently valuational, then the very concept of such a noetic pole, understood as existent, presupposes an ontic correlate. As Ogden puts it, "Once we presuppose the mode of reasoning proper to religion, however -- and not to presuppose it is to leave religious issues in principle undecided -- the question whether God is real at once becomes pointless" (RG 38f). If a noetic pole is what is under discussion, an ontic correlate for it is presupposed as well. This, and only this, is what the phrase "objective ground in reality itself" or the much-vaunted term "foundation" means in this discussion. The rejection of "foundationalism" may be much ado about something, but about this particular thing there need be very little ado at all. Again, either to reject or to bracket such correlational or foundational analysis of presuppositions is thereby inevitably to leave implicit that which a critical or fully reflective theology is responsible to make explicit.

In light of this discussion of presuppositional analysis, it is perhaps worth making one final point concerning the relation between such a second-order type of procedure and the foregoing discussion of the first-order procedure of presenting the data of experience as evidence. Because first-order theological argumentation does and must presuppose the second-order assertions that presuppositional analysis uncovers, such presuppositional assertions invariably shape the hermeneutical analysis employed in any first-order presentation of experiential data. Thus, we can see that and how Ogden’s critical appropriation of Whitehead’s comprehensive empiricism as a hermeneutical grid for presenting in first-order fashion the content of experience as a sense of worth that requires the threefold distinction of self, other, and whole in order to describe it both is informed by and illustrates his second-order analysis. According to this twofold analysis, such a comprehensive empiricism proves conceptually to presuppose existential noetic faith in the ultimate worth of life and correlationally to presuppose an encompassing ontic whole. It is in such illustration that the "coherence" of argumentation may properly be said to consist. Mutatis mutandis, proponents of more conventional forms of empiricism presuppose a twofold distinction of self and contingent others only as adequate to their first-order presentation of experience of value. In any case, only that theological interpretation in which both types of argumentation are combined in their respective roles will constitute a fully critical type of inquiry.

III. Conclusion

We can conclude our consideration of argumentation in theology with respect to issues of experience and value by summarizing its main points. The purpose of presenting a description of the experience of value in theology is to bring it to bear as a factual generalization that is evidentially relevant to theistic interpretation. Appeals to individual and to communal experience function to corroborate each other with respect to both the access to and the scope of evidence deemed relevant to this purpose. Such experiential appeals presuppose the hermeneutical analysis they employ in describing the structure, character, and content of experience as they do. By analyzing one’s presuppositions, one seeks either to clarify in strictly conceptual fashion what is presupposed by the account of the noetic or the ontic pole of the constitutive theological correlation or to make similarly explicit the relations between them. Because each type of argumentation plays a distinct and necessary role in a fully reflective or critical theological analysis of the relation of experience and value, only that "methodological alternative in process theology" which employs them for their respective purposes and to the highest degree can properly be regarded as adequate. Moreover, since Schubert Ogden’s work proves to do so to the degree of testability that the present analysis permits, it can only be so judged.

 

References

CSPM -- Charles Hartshorne. Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method. London: SCM Press, 1970.

MVG -- Charles Hartshorne. Man’s Vision of God. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964.

PP -- Schubert Ogden. "Present Prospects for Empirical Theology." The Future of Empirical Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969.

RG -- Schubert Ogden. The Reality of God. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

TPT -- Schubert Ogden. "The Task of Philosophical Theology." On Theology. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986.

 

Notes

1So far as possible. I shall prescind from issues concerning both the character of specifically Christian theology and the relation between the approach I take here and that appropriate to it. In the nature of the case, as I understand it. it does not prove possible to avoid the question of the character of what is usually called "philosophical" or, less happily, "natural" theology. I address this point briefly in note 6. I have relegated a good deal of such supporting argument as I can provide here, as well as the direct polemic, to the notes.

2I shall make reference only to a small selection of Ogden’s work at that. My main interest here is in the structure and the demands of theological argumentation as such, not in an interpretation of Ogden’s theological argumentation. However, on the assumption that my constructive proposal is an appropriate interpretation of Ogden’s work, to the extent that it is independent of it, it evidently corroborates that work and builds cumulatively upon it. Moreover, to the extent that it stands up to criticism, it is itself to be regarded as precisely that sort of critical theological argumentation in which I am interested.

3 In speaking of the two basic elements as "poles," I mean to accept the classical distinction of subject ("noetic") and object ("ontic") rather than any so-called dialectical analysis such as that provided by Paul Tillich in speaking of "polarities," (Systematic Theology, vol. I [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951]). The point here concerns the structure of experience, which is to say, the relation between noetic and ontic poles, its character, and its content. I shall address the first point here with reference to the second and then develop the second and third points in the course of the argument to follow.

The issue of the structure of experience is often discussed as a choice between two epistemological theories: "realism" (in which "the known creates the knower" or the noetic pole depends on the ontic) and "idealism" (in which "the knower creates the known" or the ontic pole depends on the noetic). However, the issue is slightly more complex than this, and its solution depends on an adequate account of the character of experience. I take it for granted that this company of readers insists on the distinction, drawn in one form or another, between abstract features or aspects of immediate awareness and mediated cognition as necessary to describe the character of experience. On the basis of such a distinction, it is open to one to understand the structure of experience in the following way: With respect to the immediate relation of awareness to its data, experience is to be understood as an asymmetrical relation of dependence of the noetic upon the ontic pole, whereas, with respect to the mediated relation of cognition and its data, experience is to be understood as the asymmetrical relation of dependence of the ontic on the noetic pole. There are, in other words, moments of both "realism" and idealism" in experience, from which follows what we may call a "moderate" or "approximating" correspondence theory of truth, such as that proposed by Charles Hartshorne in reply to Richard Rorty’s polemic against the "Mirror of Nature." As Hartshorne puts it, following and clarifying Karl Popper, "We cannot simply capture the essences’ of things; but still we eliminate erroneous views of them and thus make our pictures of the world more nearly correspondent with the realities. The two extremes: We know exactly what things are. We know nothing of what they are, are both unjustified" (Creativity in American Philosophy, [Albany: State University of New York Press, 19841, p. 261).

Such a proposal seems to me to credit the understanding of the character of experience accepted by Bill Dean, while making room for an understanding of its structure that recognizes elements of both "mimesis" (as, in his view, alone constitutive of the old historicism) and "creativity" (as, in his view, alone constitutive of the "new"). Whether Dean has analyzed the "old" historicism accurately or not, what he calls the "new historicism" is not so much "new" as it is one-sided in its apparent identification of experience with idealistic creativity. In this sense, the "new idealism" would be a more accurate name for the movement he describes. (History Making History: The New Historicism in American Religious Thought [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988], chap. 1).

4 In my judgment, it is as possible to argue from the meaning of theism (the ontic pole) to its truth for human existence (the noetic pole) as it is to argue from the meaning of human existence to the truth of theism. Moreover, in my view, each approach turns out to imply the other as a condition of the possibility of its own validity. The argument of this paper as a whole is intended as partial justification for these claims.

5As cited in PP 65.

6Ogden also distinguishes a more primal level of valuing awareness and a derived and specifically reflective, evaluative level of cognition (RG 74). It is important to note that Ogden is distinguishing highest-level abstract features, not separating concrete components, since so many arguments that emphasize cultural differences consist either in claims to produce falsifying examples or in ruling out such features from the start. These, however, seem to me invariably to invoke lower-level abstractions with greater concrete cultural content and so to involve a metabasis eis allo genos.

As Ogden himself explains, "What I mean by ‘basic confidence’ is, in Heideggerian terms, [an] ‘existential’ (Existenzial)" (RG 128, n. 32). Such a view receives nuanced corroboration in the work of the philosophical anthropologist Michael Landmann. He writes, "The anthropina of anthropology correspond to Heidegger’s ‘existentials.’" According to Landmann, "As elemental common structures, the anthropina have a merely formal character. By anthropina we mean the unchangingly fixed, ‘timeless’ basic structures of human existence. Their power of achievement must not be overestimated. They apply to the whole; they cannot explain particulars. They do not, for example, tell us why society is structured now so, now otherwise." (Fundamental Anthropology [Washington, D.C.: Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology & University Press of America, 1982], pp. 126, 125.) On the validity of some such appropriately philosophical anthropological version of what Charles Hartshorne calls "Some Empty Though Important Truths" hangs the possibility of a philosophical theology distinct from that of any particular religious tradition as the twofold abstract anthropological structure is distinct from those relatively less abstract specifications thereof found in the various religious traditions (The Logic of Perfection and Other Essays in Neoclassical Metaphysics [La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1962], chap. XII.) On such a possibility, see TPT 69-93. For the purposes of this paper, I shall regard any theology whose claims are not taken from a particular religious tradition as a philosophical theology.

7Regarding this assumption (and its constitutive denial), the advice of Charles Hartshorne seems to me sound: "In studying memory, perception, or imagination one needs to distinguish between (1) What is observably present in the experience; (2) what is not observably present; and (3) what is observably absent. The conversion of (2) into (3) is justified only if it is known that the factor in question must, if present at all, be so in perceptible degree or magnitude" (CSPM 79). Of those whose empiricism is of the second, or less than comprehensive type, one wants to know precisely whether their claim is that, as Whitehead puts it, an "awareness not merely of ourselves, and of our fellow creatures, but also of the infinite whole in which we are all included as somehow one" (as cited in PP 85), (2) is not observably present, or (3) is observably absent.

8Leaving open, of course, whether "the totality" is to be interpreted in nontheistic fashion as "world" only or in theistic fashion as somehow more than this.

90n the significance of such a grid, see note 18 below.

10The former course is evidently that chosen by Dean in History Making History.

11This sort of argumentation and conviction is discussed in classical dogmatics under the headings "explicit faith" and "internal testimony of the Holy Spirit" (cf. Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3rd ed., rev. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961], pp. 415, 86).

12So far as I can see, phenomenological, linguistic, and pragmatic appeals to experience can only be at odds with each other when they are misunderstood. So long as individual experience is understood to be intrinsically social in character (and so as to involve both language and praxis) and under the hermeneutical proviso referred to in note 4, there need be no such problem.

130n this point, see Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer (New York: Macmillan Co., 1966), p. 41. This is called fides historica by the Orthodox dogmaticians (cf. Schmid, Doctrinal Theology, p. 411). While fallibility and, therefore, dubitability, are ever-present in both individual and communal cases, in that of the individual appeal, it is a fallibility in the context of introspectively hermeneutical access to the evidence of one’s own internal, nonsensuous experience that one is attempting to identify, to describe, and to explain, whereas in the case of the communal appeal, it is a fallibility in the context of sensorily hermeneutical access to the evidence of others’ attempts to do this.

14For this notion of corroboration and its difference from one of "confirmation" in the sense of being rendered firm by experience, see Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), especially p. 251, fn. 1, and Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (New York: Harper & Row, 1968).

Moreover, it takes some care to specify in what sense, if any, experience can properly be said to "confirm" theism at all. If, as is evidently the case, appeals to experience must have the logical character of factual generalizations, they can only properly be taken to have directly probative force in relation to claims of the same logical character. Thus, only if claims regarding the existence of God are understood as logically contingent or factual can appeals to experience be said either probatively to "confirm" or to "disconfirm," which is to say, to "corroborate" or to "falsify" them. However, if such theistic claims are understood not as logically contingent or factual, but as logically necessary or modal in character, appeals to experience are properly to be regarded as having not such directly probative, but rather illustrative and, therefore, at most indirectly probative force. For while what is taken to exist contingently and, therefore, as partially restrictive of existential possibilities can be shown to be excluded by other such contingencies, what is taken to exist necessarily and, therefore, as completely nonrestrictive of existential possibilities, can be shown only to be illustrated by any and every such contingency. And a reality, the existence of which could never be negatively directly falsified or disconfirmed but only positively indirectly illustrated by experience is scarcely to be said to be confirmed thereby, either.

Finally, the necessarily interpretive character of all appeals to experience makes clear that there are no "uninterpreted facts" either to "confirm" or to "disconfirm" any theistic interpretation of them. Thus, for example, "facts" that have often enough been taken as evidence against theism (such as "the facts of evil") may prove to have falsificatory character in relation to theism not, however, directly, in their character as contingent facts, but rather indirectly, as illustrations of the implicitly self contradictory character of such an interpretation, contradicted by any and every fact, and now made explicit by being shown contradictory with specific (and always interpreted) facts. In other words, contingent facts may be probatively relevant to theism in an indirect way, but not as a function of their factual character. I have argued this case at length in my dissertation, "Evil and Theism: An Analytical-Constructive Resolution of the So-called Problem of Evil," Southern Methodist University, 1977.

In light of these considerations, and in view of the rarity of explicitly and self-consciously factual interpretations of the divine existence in comparison with either explicitly or implicitly modal interpretations, I am inclined not to speak of appeals to experience as having probative significance for the issue of the divine existence at all. (For the interpretation of contingency and necessity in terms of restrictiveness employed here, see Hartshorne, CSPM, chap. VIII, "Non-restrictive Existential Statements," pp. 159-72.)

15Whi1e it is probably the rare theistic proposal that ignores what we may call such an "axiological" feature concerning value in ascribing the quality of divinity, it is all but rare for such proposals to make clear how such a consideration relates to other, particularly to broadly "cosmological" considerations concerning causality. Thus, for example, consider the argument of Thomas Aquinas: "Again, in every genus the simpler a being, the more noble it is. . . . That, therefore, which is at the peak of nobility among all beings must be at the peak of simplicity. But the being that is at the peak of nobility among all beings we call God, since He is the first cause [a ‘cosmological’ feature]. For a cause is nobler than an effect [an ‘axiological’ feature]. God can, therefore, have no composition" (in Summa Contra Gentiles: Book One: God, trans. with introduction by Anton G. Pegis [Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975], p. 104). I have treated the general issue of the "criteria" or "standards" for regarding something as an appropriate candidate for the attribution to it of the quality of divinity at greater length in "Divinity and Dipolarity: Thomas Erskine and Charles Hartshorne on What Makes God ‘God’" Journal of Religion 62 (October 1982):335-58. We may note that, in the history of theistic argumentation or "proofs for the existence of God," axiological considerations find expression above all in the tradition of "ontological," "aesthetic," and "moral" arguments, cosmological considerations in "cosmological" arguments. The two features prove to be combined in "teleological" arguments from design or order. I should now be willing to suggest that it is a willingness to take the axiological feature as ultimately determinative for the attribution of divinity that characterizes all modern forms of so-called ethical theism and distinguishes them from the classical tradition. Where such ethical theism explicitly takes both considerations into account and relates them to each other in a fully critical way, we may speak of a "neoclassical" logic at work. Such a procedure characterizes quite precisely Hartshorne’s approach to the theistic proofs.

16To hold otherwise is to suppose a form of "immediate knowledge," an absurdity if, as Hartshorne among many others holds, "human consciousness is essentially linguistic" ("A Philosopher’s Assessment of Christianity," in Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Paul Tillich, ed. Walter Leibrecht [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959], p. 178, as cited by Ogden, "The Experience of God: Critical Reflections on Hartshorne’s Theory of Analogy," in Existence and Actuality: Conversations with Charles Hartshorne, ed. John B. Cobb, Jr. and Franklin I. Gamwell [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984], p. 32). As Hartshorne also points out, "The supposition that our power of ‘introspection’ is absolute, so that, unless we can consciously detect a factor in an experience it does not contain the factor, is one of the many forms of the supposition that man is as God would be -- equipped with infallibility" (CSPM 79). The suppositions of immediacy of knowledge and infallibility of introspection seem frequently to accompany each other and to result in that of the indubitability of conclusions.

17To speak of concepts as "clear" and options as "conceivable" is simply (if also surely) to give one’s theory the highest degree of the relevant sort of "refutability" or "testability" possible -- in this case, that of a hermeneutical character (cf. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, p. 36).

18The weakness of so much historical theology is precisely the merely conventional and insufficiently critical character of its hermeneutical analysis. It is just the indeterminacy of such key concepts as "historicism" and "empiricism" in the conceptual grid of Dean’s History Making History, for example, that weakens its analysis and interpretation. We may speak by analogy with Hartshorne’s "neoclassical theism" of Whitehead’s neoclassical empiricism" precisely because it is a self-conscious revision of the classical tradition on the one hand and can be seen to consist in an analysis of the formally possible doctrines regarding the character and content of experience on the other.

19For a brilliant, if truncated discussion of "The Concept of Presupposition" and "Logical Analysis of Presuppositions" see Anders Nygren, Meaning and Method: Prolegomena to a Scientific Philosophy of Religion and a Scientific Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), chaps. VII and VIII.

20This is not, however, to say that all interest is "biased" or "ideological" in the sense that it expresses, in Ogden’s words, "a more or less comprehensive understanding of human existence, or how to exist and act as a human being, that functions to justify the interests of a particular group or individual by representing these interests as the demands of disinterested justice" (The Point of Christology [San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982], p. 94). To claim that some one of the class of particular human interests is necessarily exemplified in all human activity, even, perhaps, that what we might call a distinctively "soteriological" or "existential" feature consisting in a desire for self-fulfillment or authenticity is necessarily exemplified in all such particular interests is one thing, the characterization of any and all such features and interests as "ideological" another.

21How what must be described somehow, we might say, might be redescribed; what must necessarily be described cannot properly be either ignored or denied. See note 7.

22Of course, the reverse holds true as well. Theism has implications for these views, too!

23That Whitehead refers to the whole indifferently as "infinite" and "encompassing" here in his last work is itself warrant to look for the sort of conceptual analysis of such a whole that Charles Hartshorne has spent a lifetime providing.

24Ogden has, of course, argued at length what I have assumed, given the makeup of this group, namely, that we can experience at all if and only if our experience involves a sense of worth, that is, that evaluation presupposes valuing. While Ogden argues to the existence of an ontic whole as the condition of the possibility of our valuing, it not only can be, but also has been argued with similar care that such a reality, understood as the supreme instance" of that "comprehensive moral principle" required to account fully for human evaluation is thereby likewise necessarily presupposed by such evaluation (Franklin I. Gamwell, Beyond Preference: Liberal Theories of Independent Associations [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984], chap. 4, "A Formal Condition for Political Theory," and p. 151; The Divine Good: Modern Moral Theory and the Necessity of God [San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990]).

25I am not certain whether Ogden takes this argument to be a factual one made with reference to experience as exhibited individually and communally in its threefold valuational form of self, others, and the whole, or a presuppositional one based on a conceptual analysis of the conditions of the possibility of the twofold form of experience of the value of the self and others and then illustrated by such experience. He writes, "[Whitehead’s] argument then makes the second and crucial point that this sense of reality which underlies all our experience comprises infinitely more than is sometimes supposed. . . . The very nature of our experience, Whitehead argues, is such as to compel recognition of this third essential factor" (PP 85). But does he take it to "compel" such recognition as a matter of fact (that our experience does include the sense of it) or as a matter of conceptual necessity (that a description of our experience must include the sense of it in order to be coherent)? On the analysis presented here, both are entirely proper, indeed necessary forms of argumentation for various contexts and purposes.

Moreover, a third approach is possible, namely, one which employs what we may call a "strictly metaphysical" analysis concerning neither the matters of fact at issue in appeals to experience, nor the hypothetical necessity at issue in the correlational form of presuppositional analysis, but rather the strict necessity that pertains to the character of factuality as such. Indeed, such a form of argumentation ultimately proves to be as much required for a fully critical theology as are the others we have discussed, intended as it is to clarify what they necessarily presuppose concerning the applicability or capacity for existential illustration of the concepts they employ. On this point, see Ogden, "The Criterion of Metaphysical Truth and the Senses of ‘Metaphysics,’" Process Studies 5 (Spring 1975): 47-48. Indeed, this third type of argumentation is suggested by Ogden’s citation of Whitehead’s claims implying precisely such an approach that, "Also the dim meaning of fact -- or actuality -- is intrinsic importance for itself, for the others, and for the whole," and "Apart from this sense of transcendent worth, the otherness of reality would not enter into our consciousness" (PP 84f. emphasis added).

260f course, if "the new historicist theology" consists in nothing more definite in this regard than a vague "denial of extrahistorical foundations," of "foundations in a God beyond history," it does not demand to be taken seriously as an intellectual option (see Dean, History Making History, p. 18).


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