Philosophy and Aesthetics: 3 Variations

I couldn’t come up with 5 varieties like I did with history and theology some weeks ago. In any case, here’s an attempt at delineating modes of interplay available to the fields of philosophy and aesthetics.

Philosophical Aesthetics. Or philosophy of beauty. This is a branch of philosophy. Typical analytical modes of evaluation will be deployed to interrogate the adequacy of the prevailing conceptual apparatus used to frame how we talk and argue about art, beauty, etc. Consider Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment.

Aesthetics of Philosophy. A branch of rhetoric (?) Something like the study of philosophy as literature. Here rhetorical and literary categories of description and evaluation will be deployed to bring to view how the presentation of a philosopher’s authorial voice complements content, projects a model of reasonableness, and cultivates a taste for the charms (and thereby reinforcing the persuasiveness) of its modes of appeal. For instance, consider how the operative aesthetic sensibilities informing Wittgenstein’s Tractatus control his thought and expression—how W.’s prose show us a glimpse of a beauty of which we cannot speak. Related is Clifford Geertz’s Works and Lives, or nearly anything by Wayne Booth.

Aesthetic Contemplation. This is not a branch of philosophy but an approach to the pursuit of truth. Let’s call it imagination seeking understanding. Or perhaps the study of literature/art as a philosophical stimulant. Works more by an appeal to the imagination as the basis of its rhetorical strategy. It isn’t trying to steamroll you by way of its incontrovertible rationality, so it doesn’t wear its logic on its sleeve. Instead it proceeds by exploratory insight and life-like description, so its leverages of persuasion are less coercive and more invitational. Consider Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

History and Theology: 5 Variations

The following is an attempt at a typology of the various ways in which history and theology may cross pollinate and inter implicate one another’s domains of study.

  • History of Theology. This is a branch of history. Its object of study happens to be theological discourse, but it deploys broadly critical-historical tools of analysis in order to generate a narrative of the past. For an example consider Jaroslav Pelikan’s magisterial 5 vol. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Univ. of Chicago Pr. (1975-1991).
  • Theological History. This is not a branch of history but an approach to historical narration in general. Its object of study is not limited to theological discourse; it can survey any domain of life amenable to historical modes of representation. What’s distinctive here is its willingness to deploy theological categories of description, such as admitting of God as an agent in its causal plot lines . Think the New Testament’s Luke-Acts, Eusebius’ Church History, or Augustine’s City of God.
  • Historical Theology. This is an approach to theological inquiry. It attempts to offer constructive theological proposals on the basis in part of its accounts of the past. Can be contrasted with an approach to theology such as Analytic Theology which tries instead to establish constructive theological proposals primarily on the basis of the acuity and rigor of its conceptual analyses and demonstrations of logical cogency. Think Ephraim Radner’s A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church, Baylor Univ. Pr. (2012).
  • Theology of History. This is not an approach but a branch of theology, a limited subset of its sphere of inquiry. It endeavors to offer a theological description of specific matters like the nature of time, the legibility of the past, the place of history within God’s scheme of revelation and the outworking of his purposes. May partially overlap with another branch of theology, i.e., Eschatology. Think Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation as a soteriology of history. Or think Hans Urs von Balthasar’s A Theology of History or Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Revelation as History.
  • Theological Historiography. This is the interface of theology and philosophy of history. Theological categories will be deployed to evaluate historiographical categories, procedural axioms, and criteria of legitimation. Think Joel B. Green’s “Rethinking ‘History’ for Theological Interpretation,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 5.2 (2011), 159-174.

Caricatures of Christianity

It takes all kinds to make a … church.

The following typology juxtaposes caricatures of three kinds of Christians. More could probably be devised. I call them caricatures because they are exaggerations. No actual Christian will fit neatly into just one of these categories. We’re all more multi-dimensional than our conceptual representations give us credit for. That said, it might be the case that you recognize yourself more in one type than others. It’s not a bad thing if you’re able to admit that to yourself, especially if you use that self-awareness as a diagnostic tool for determining your competencies and deficiencies. Not only would such an exercise potentially help round you out as a Christian, but also it would enhance your capacity to understand and sympathize with Christians of different types. A big part of this will simply be a matter of coming to recognize orientations different from your own as equally authentic expressions of Christianity.

This typology was inspired by a similar effort from Telford Work, who was himself fleshing out George Lindbeck’s typology of theories of religion. Note, though, that my third type does not correspond to Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic account of religion. I’m not trying my hand at the same explanatory endeavor. Whereas Lindbeck is adjudicating between competing accounts of the essence of religion, I am only trying to describe three complementary impulses within Christianity. Whatever Christianity is, it’s some kind of thing that has proven itself able to motivate and coordinate such various distinct forms of the expenditure of human energy and attention as the following.

  The Scholastic The Pietist The Social Gospeler
Gospel as worldview corrective emotional experience societal policy
Salvation ignorance→knowledge antipathy→enthusiasm loss of agency→ its restoration
Evangelism apologetics testimony advocacy
Conversion assent to beliefs surrender to feelings compliance to vocation
Discipleship education spiritual direction service
Pastor teacher spiritual director community organizer
Sanctuary classroom site of experience rallying point
Sermon lecture vehicle of experience call to action
Bible encyclopedia devotional anthology manifesto
Favorite Bible Passages Pro 1:7; Ro 12:2; 2 Cor 10:5; 1 Peter 3:15 Psalms Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17-18; Leviticus 19:34
Favored Genre of Literature polemic treatise autobiography open letters (as acts of protest)
Temptations dead orthodoxy; arrogance anti-intellectualism; preoccupation with self eclipse of God’s agency; preoccupation with the secular, the immanent, and the present

Pictures of Doctrine

Pictures of Doctrine A picture held us captive. (Wittgenstein, PI §115) Doctrines as Propositions A. Unrestricted. Thesis: Doctrines explain reality. Doctrinal supply should meet explanatory demand. Advocate: Alister McGrath Within the context of a scientific theology, the Christian network of doctrines is conceived as a response to revelation, in the belief that such doctrines will possess explanatory potential. [136] The […]