Sunday, April 30, 2017

What is Truth?

Truth is the kind of thing that doesn't make for anti-imperialist programs. For if something is true, it is so independent of whatever you might think about it. It requires a kind of humility towards the thought that one has the truth already, locked and sealed; it makes it so that one has to revise ones' reasons. Realist conceptions of truth therefore imply falsifiability--not by virtue of ones’ peers, necessarily--but by virtue of revelation itself. Thus, truth and justification are at odds, to some kind of degree, as we note in the definition of knowledge as justified true belief, which opposes mere justification.

The possibility that something might be be false and yet fully justified entails that some proposition might fail utterly in being justified, and yet still be true. Thus, truth is not the kind of thing that depends on justification, not even in the sense that it could be justified by some audience, pace Richard Rorty. This was Bertrand Russell’s realist point about truth. The gloss that makes better sense while avoiding Kant’s ding-an-sich is just that truth is not dependent on what we do make of it, which contains the reminder that it is not dependent on whatever we make of it; for truth might very well rupture our justifications, even to the point of being without justification. It might then be unverifiable. We might say truth is sovereign in the sense that it is free to come and go as it pleases. It is therefore unlike the Form that is contrary to the instances; it is instead like the form in Avicenna that is indifferent to being justified or unjustified. Therefore it is not that it cannot be justified, like the ding-an-sich.

William James had truth of a different order in mind when he described it as bearing fruit. In particular, what he had in mind was the notion of truth that attends the creation of the kingdom of God, which we might very well find to be useless (at least for the moment) for our own self-constitutive desires. If God makes something true, it bears fruit, as the wheat is discerned to be unlike darnel seed in the instantaneous harvest. “I am the way the truth and the life”, then, just means “I can be tasted to see that I do in fact bear fruit.” And this doesn't mean, necessarily anyway, that the justification will be objective; it might very well be subjective. It is a path through the thicket of failed efforts that seek to correspond to the good; but what is good is not the kind of thing that seems good to anyone: Christ was notorious at shielding the kingdom of heaven from anyone that would fail to hear it. “He who has ears, let him hear…” And yet, this cannot be exact because there is also the sense that one will see the kingdom, the face of God. So it would seem anyway, that the secret is seeing the truth, is seeing the kingdom of heaven, of hearing it, of understanding it, despite the doubt and sin that would draw us onto a different path. 

The order of the kingdom of heaven is impossible to figure in its entirety; and similarly, I would say that truth is impossible to discern by standards of the world. Therefore the secret order of truth is always of a different sort of thing than the order of objective discernment. It is important to understand, fully, that justification and truth are at odds like the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the world (two orders of truth). Sometimes these worlds collide and the kingdom of heaven is built, as Christ was executed without cause--innocent, yet guilty (cf. Agamben, Pilate and Jesus); other times it is left to the secret, as Christ continuously ran from town to town and specified that spreading the good news (of this or that healing) was often times to be avoided (kept secret). Pilate wanted to know the truth but couldn't hear it, and so he handed over Christ to be crucified, after deliberating in a way that was visibly uncomfortable, after being allured beyond his own conception of justification...

It is because truth is not completely hidden that the truth can be seen, here and there, for a taste; but the fact that it is secret makes everything difficult to hear. Truth is easy as disquotation and (mere) justification under the kingdom of the world (the demonic); truth in the kingdom of God, which adequately bears fruit with respect to anti-worldly values, is of a different order that will always be counterintuitive for those without ears to hear, and with those that are human  and so, cannot have perfect ears. The kingdom will forever rupture our expectations because the order of truth resists being ours. The important intuition of realist conceptions of truth, finally, is that the final cause of truth is God himself; therefore, anything on the way, anything justified, might be spoiled and fail the order of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of truth (heaven) is beyond justifiability as the sky is beyond the sea. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Form-of-life: Affirmation!

It is well known that Stirner and Nietzsche—first the former—were opposed to Christianity for the paradox contained causally by its demonology. The paradox of Christian life is that one is free insofar as one is a slave (to Christ). It is enough to say that being a slave, in any sense, is improper for the concept of freedom, for Nietzsche. For as he amplified tirelessly by way of a series of enthymemes in his AntiChrist: all that is life denying is bad; all that is life affirming is good. If we string along Nietzsche’s definitional meanings, it seems obvious that he contains a set of propositions that are almost Stoic, or perhaps Epicurean. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, life just means “the instinct for growth, of permanence, of accumulating forces, of power”, while Good just means “all that enhances the feeling of power, the will to Power, and power itself in man.”

For anyone familiar with the therapeutic tradition in philosophical ethics (eu-daimonia) the idea here is that one ought to return to oneself in order to overcome weaknesses. In the Christian monastic tradition the idea is that one ought to return to God in order to overcome weakness. For Nietzsche, of course, this is weakness; and yet, for the Christian, relying on oneself is weakness. Strength is good if supplemented by God; strength is bad and leads to vice if supplemented by anything opposed to God (including the self). 

The Christian demonology caught up in mystics like Eckhart, Francis, the desert Fathers, and monasticism would articulate that the meaning of life-affirmation is precisely what’s up for grabs. More specifically, Christian demonology wouldn't take issue with such a distinction between life-affirmation and life-denial, only, it would articulate that true life begins only in the folds of God; for God releases us from death (sin), or more specifically, God releases us from having been abandoned by God. Life affirmation in Nietzsche is precisely to reject the folds of God; and, for Paul, Nietzsche’s trajectory puts us on the way to slavery to sin. 

The point is that Nietzsche is rhetorical and depends on already agreeing. Our terms make it impossible to speak. For Nietzsche, the term “life affirmation” is, for the Christian, slavery to sin. For Nietzsche, Christian slavery, which we said was freedom, is obviously “life denial”. How we understand our opponents terms depends on our capacity to relate; and yet the Christian cannot see Nietzsche as having produced a desired concept; and for Nietzsche, the Christian will always appear a fool for Christ. And so it goes, back and forth. 

Nietzsche gains the upper hand by keeping his intention closed. The whole rhetorical narrative, powerful as it is, depends on not disclosing freedom. That is, we don’t exactly know what Niezsche means by freedom; but we think that what St. Paul meant was obviously false. That is, we have a concept of God that makes it so that determinism is true in some sense if God is involved as first cause, and that somehow if blind forces and the return of the same are the metaphysical underpinnings of reality, these leave us free(er) to take responsibility. If we live in a moral universe, we have to accept a correspondence theory of moral truths (however hazy); if the world is amoral, if we simply create the law as we see fit, given our perceptual approximation on the common good, nothing stops us from seeing the matter differently, of redescrbiing the moral Good. (And of course, if the latter is what we want, it is not clear how negative theology doesn't give us the same possibilities).


Of course, taking issue with the idea of God in general depends on clarifying concepts of what we take God’s revealed messianic word to be. If we take the Christian word on the messianic to be our desired focal point, the most interesting notions are those that are spelled out in his beatitudes. The most promising conception of the messianic Christ is the word against punitive justice (Matthew 5:38-42): not returning evil for evil, but good for evil. Thus while we are told to refrain from stealing (because the promise is that such is failing to trust God—and so, how often do we fail to not idolize in how we make our own plans, thereby fail to have faith), if someone steals from us, we are to give more; to see to their needs independently of the punitive aspects of the law. Imagine the insanity of having someone break into your house and you send them on their way with more, or you let them take and you go further and cook them a meal. Such is the radicality of mercy and forgiveness in opposition to the evil of punitive justice. 

The Christ here would make us indifferent to our things, indifferent to the vicious desire for retribution and wrath—which can easily get out of hand and become something very undesired, indifferent to revenge, perhaps; all this in order to seek out a transformative moment, whereby everyone involved is altered according to a different economy. This is slavery to producing the good with the help of divine assistance in the in-breaking messianic word that fulfills the law. Slavery to sin would be to follow the world. Slavery to Christ is far more than simply following a set of rules. How the messianic word operates in hearts is unwritten and non-legalistic. Such is why it is Messianic. And yet it, too, starts from a kind of character.


Let us say that one is never absolutely bound by vices or virtues; and yet that we are bound by our characters. (Aquinas never tires of reminding us that one moment of vicious behaviour doesn’t destroy the character that one has.) It would seem to follow, then, that while one is not bound to do X, one might be likely given to a predictable character. Given this naturalist outlook, it is hard to see what God has to do with our being such that we are. By way of choices and decisions, we have come to develop moral habits, upon which we are ready and disposed to act, but not necessarily. Thus, prima facie, that idea that we are slaves must have something to do with the likely disposition to act. The Christian prediction is that if we follow our own desires, continuously rejecting God, we will harden our characters (developing hardened hearts), and our own drives will be lost for their uniqueness insofar as they fall under the yoke of the World. Never completely, of course.

In Christian freedom, the messianic existence, how the word lives in us, implies that one is predictable perhaps at the beginning of the act, or at the outset; and yet how these words operate in love is unspecified; for the infusion of the supernatural theological virtues (faith, hope and love) open us to a world that is curious. The everyday Christian that doesn't spend time defining how Christian life is better and opposed to the life of the world will not experience the infusion of these virtues. Christianity will always remain legalistic and very much of and in the world. Paul was a willing servant (slave) of Christ because he espied that the world had nothing to offer in comparison to the taste of God and the messianic inbreaking in its overall crescendo; and by this he meant he wished never to choose otherwise than God, making himself always nothing (Paulos) (cf. Agamben, The Time That Remains). The infusion of the supernatural gives the capacity to become otherwise than what is predictable given the world. Does it make us predictable otherwise? Is this not necessarily a legalistic question?

A lot of what Christ says is negative and defined in opposition to what is expected from human characters structured according to the world. It would be a mistake to see the economy of God as a similar kind of thing because the legalistic repetition of Christ’s life (memesis) is only the starting point; the ends to which we are suffused in willful submission to God bring us forever outside, into the open, into freedom from Worldly desires that bog us down and make us incapable of making a unique event. 


Uniqueness is always retained in the freedom to reject what our characters, or what our bodies dictate. The desire to be independent of the yoke of God says nothing to the problem of being thereby yoked to the world—Nietzsche’s blindspot. From this angle, it would seem that monastic Christianity is evidently iconoclastic in the messianic question: What does this living word do?—What life is it capable of?