Chapter II. Section 2: Plato

27 Oct

Colin Gunton declares, at the very beginning of this second section of the second chapter of «The One, the Tree and the Many», that he wants «to enrich the discussion of the historical roots of modernity begun in the first chapter by taking soundings in the history of ideas» (p. 46).

In order to do so, he recalls two main points. The first one is that Plato, however he tried to oppose to the Sophistists’ philosophies of disengagement, elaborating a engaged philosophy, eventually propitiated the roots for modern disengagement. The second one is that because of the thought of William of Ockham, «there developed a belief in the redundancy of the doctrine of creation and the displacement of the source of rationality from God or the universe to the human mind» (4p. 6).

Said so, it’s necessary to explain that the purpose of the section is to clarify how that came to be, bearing in mind «that we abolish or ignore particularity and distinctiveness in so far as we reduce the richness and complexity of things to the mere sharing of common characteristics» (p. 47). He declares then that his «opponent in all this is the Parmenidean drive of modern rationalism, which too easily forces diversity into uniformity and homogeneity» (p. 47).

He is sure that «it is in the ancient world and Plato as its representative that we shall find the root of the modern inability to do justice to particularity» (p. 47). Indeed, in a context, like ours, of loss of confidence in social, religious and political institutions, appeared the Platonic philosophy, which cares nothing for material particulars or individual things. Particularly interesting is the platonic anthropology, which influenced «the main direction of ancient anthropology, including that of the Western Christian tradition» (pp. 47-48), specially the anthropology contained in two of Plato’s dialogues, the Phaedo and the Symposium.

In those dialogues, Plato identifies the person with the soul, being the body a prison that prevents rather than facilitates the relationship with each other. But all this has its consequences. First of all, appearance and reality are clearly distinguished. Secondly, «we do not really have our being in relations of mutual constitutiveness with each other» (p. 49), something that is vital for Colin Gunton. «Our particular reality is not shaped by all aspects of our relatedness to each other, merely by the inward or narrowly rational dimensions of our being» (p. 49). Consecuently, «the person is pared down to abstract qualities supposedly held in common. Our personal distinctiveness, our human particularity and individuality, so manifest both from what appears and from our bodily constitution, become irrelevant to who and what we truly are»  (p. 49).

The outcome, for Colin Gunton, is clear, and is that «we are related to each other more really by our minds than [as it will be more convenient] by any other aspect of our personal being» (p. 49). Now, «rationalism, in the light of the discussion in the first chapter, involves a tendency to premature unification: the reduction of the many to the one that in political terms spells totalitarism» (p. 49). And it adds that all this «means a tendency to conceive the rational capacities for the human being at the expense of other dimensions of being, especially [and however the efforts of Aristoteles] the aesthetic and material. We truly are when we think, but not when we love or make music» (pp. 49-50).

Therefore, the conception of the human being as essentially soul, it’s the first problem of the Hellenistic philosophy. The second one is «the rationalizing of the human relation to the rest of the world» (p. 50), with the consequence of establish the relations with the minimal of materiality. The outcome is the «Plato’s disqualification of the particular from being the bearer of truth» (p. 50) and, for that, the disqualification of the art, as well. In a way that Colin Gunton will explain in the next chapter, all this has as consequence the fragmentation of the culture, this is, the fact that the various sciences and knowledge are in no relations with each other.

This gives Colin Gunton the occasion to make a statement about the main idea of the chapter: «that the modern discomfort with particularity (…) has its roots in the Platonic –and ultimately Parmenidean- suspicion of the world of matter, plurality and becoming» (p. 50). «But», continues the author, this «also enables the repetition of a point made at the end of Section I, that this is a matter of the doctrine of creation: of the conception of the nature of things and of human culture that our theology makes possible» (pp. 50-51).


Chapter II. Section 1: The loss of the particular in modern life and thought

24 Oct

Colin Gunton starts the chapter two of his work «The One, the Three and the Many» by summarizing the content of the chapter one, namely, that modernity is characterized by disengagement and displacement: being the Western theological tradition signed by the idea of the «one», modernity rebelled against God in the name of the many, thus operating a disengagement and displacement of the divine. But doing so, the outcome paradoxically has been that it has come a worse slavery to the one, being God substituted by other secular forms of divine: «the room swept bare and garnished has been invaded by the deities of immanence, so that for every advance achieved in the modern world there appears to be a destructive and demonic counterpart» p. (41).

Other conclusion is that «the two eras, antiquity and modernity, in so far as they can be distinguished, are in certain respects more in continuity than sometimes appears. Neither has adequately held in tension the concerns of the one and the many, of unity and diversity, of social cohesion and individual independence» (pp. 41-42).

Now, Gunton says that in the discussion about the social order, done in the former chapter, it appeared a fundamental question, which is that of the particulars, question which the autor wants to examine more closely in this second chapter: «in this [second] chapter (…) we turn to the many and to an examination of the status of individuality and particularity» (42). Why? Because for the reason that «the modern world is able to do justice neither to the one nor to the many, it is also uneasy with those people and things wich make up the manyness of reality» (p 42). Now, «this is very much the case with the theory and practice of social reality» (p. 42).

He is conscious that by doing so stands at odds with the modern pretention of finding a general law which explains everything (it’s the case, for instance, of the Theory of Everything), reason why modern thought pays little attention on distinctiveness and particularity: «according to this still higly influential ideal, the generalizing influence smooths away all distinctiveness and particularity» (43). That is consequence of the platonic idea that timeless universals are more important in the nature of things than the world of particulars that we observe and experience.

Yet it is needed to distinguish accurately between particularity and individualism, «which only appears to do justice to particularity» (p. 44), being the distinction «essential both for our understanding of what it is to be a human person and for the way we treat each other» (44). Particularity «is the locus of distinctiveness and variety –where the many truly are many, for everything is what it is and no another thing» (44). On the contrary, individualism brings a paradox, because while individualism «often reveals a genuine and powerful concern for the particular (…) in practice achieves the opposite, and the anti-particularist logic of individualism has been pointed out recently by a number of writers» (p. 44-45) That is due to the fact that individualism has «an inadequate conception of relationality, that is, of how we are each distinctive and different by virtue or and not in despite of the fact that we are related to each other» (p. 45). In fact, one «further characteristic of  the modern condition is homogenizing abolition of particularity» (p. 46)

Chapter I. Section 7: Conclusions

24 Oct

Colin Gunton starts his conclusions on the first chapter of his book «The One, the Three and the Many» saying that «central dimensions of the thought and practice of antiquity and modernity share a common failure in conceiving and practicing relationality» (37), a question that is decisive, because it’s precisely in relationality that lays the true being and understanding of the many. Said that, the question then is «which forms of relatedness are heteronomous, because they offend against the law of our being, and which tend toward a true autonomy» (38)

The author continues saying that a preliminary conclusion «is that displacement is the chief symptom of the pathos of modernity. Rightly rejecting monist forms of belief, the modern world has simply displaced them into immanence, where they are more monistic, more heteronomous in their outworking» (38). Nothing has really changed, because the many continue indeed to be submerged to the one, as «where the true one is displaced, false and alienating gods rush in to fill the vacancy» (38)

Commenting R. J. Neuhaus’ The Naked Public Square, Colin Gunton says that «when God is expelled from the public square (…), from public discourse and thought about the development of political institutions, the outcome is not freedom, but a form of displacement that can only be called demonic. The room swept clear of one devil is replaced by seven far worse. We might say: the transcendent and apparently oppressive single deity is swept away only to be replaced by the demonic alternatives we have met. In place of the deity conceived personally, albeit inadequately so –and that is where modernity is right to question- there appear immanent impersonal forces which mercilessly, like all idols, devour their devotees» 38-39)

The solution then is to recall the theology to its own Trinitarian rooms, because at the end the real problem is that God’s unity has been stressed at the expense of his triunity.

Chapter I. Section 6: The pathos of the modern condition

24 Oct

In the six section of the first chapter of «The one, the three and the many»’s Coling Gunton work, entitled «The pathos of the modern condition», the author claims that modernity has tried to found the freedom by neglecting of God: «one of the roots of modern developments was the belief that human liberation was to be found in disengagement from any external grounding of life, whteher in God or some metaphysical philosophy such as Platonism» (34). But instead to found the searched freedom, it has appeared new forms of slavery or, in other words, of heteronomy (because modernity has tried to reach the autonomy against the heteronomy of certain philosophies of the past). However, Colin Gunton says that «modernity has its own distinctive forms of servitude, indeed of heteronomy», too. Thus, it follows that «modern ideology tends to obscure the truth, which is that here ancient and modern show many signs of continuity, for there is a heteronomy in modernity, a form of servitude, whether the master take the form of history, materialistically or idealistically conceivd, or the market» (34-35).

The consequence it’s that «the attempted liberation from cosmic and theological heteronomy has resulted in the emergence of new forms of cosmic heteronomy, for the fragmentation of experience which is the outcome of modern displacement is alienating and heteronomous, not liberating» (35). The outcome it’s that «the one reasserts itself as a worse, because impersonal and often unrecognized, medium of control» (35). The old God is replaced by new gods: «for example, evolutionism and other forms of scientism such as sociobiology and psychological behaviourism; or reference could be made again to modern faith in history or the market» (35). As Colin Gunton says, «when God is no longer the one who holds things together, demons rush in to fill his place. An impersonal one replaces the despised one of traditional theism, and the slavery is greater than before» (36).

All this it has its repercussions in the field of theology, too. Theology, in effect, «conniving in the displacement of deity» (36), has tried to locate God not outside, but within the world, and by doing so, modern theology has become a theology of immanence, instead of a theology of transcendent (which was the theology practiced in the past) «Such a move», however, «is based on a mistaking of the real enemy, which is not, as is supposed, a God conceived in terms of transcendence, or, better expressed, of otherness, to the world» (36). Instead, it will be necessary to realice that actually «theologies of transcendence allow for human independence and freedom by leaving a space between the divine and the human» (36), and that inmanence «is the source of the problem, not its solution» (36). In fact, «by opting for a theology of immanence (…) modern theology opted for slavery by virtue of the fact that an immanent one is more subversive of the being of the many than a transcendent deity. It is not transcendence that is the enemy, but forms of the one that fail to give due space to the many» (36-37).

Summarizing: «the modern world is wrong in so far as it conceives of otherness as necessarily heteronomous, believing that a god standing over against us in judgement and grace is an offence to independence and freedom» (37). On the contrary, inmanence leads to servitude: «the modern servitude of the immanent is a mark of our alienation from that which makes us what we are. That is the form that displacement takes, and depends upon the mistake of failing to recognize the fact that freedom requires otherness. Immanent forces, even more than the supposedly heteronomous deity of the tradition, deprive us of the very otherness without which we are not what we should be» (37)

Welcome to my blog!

21 Oct

Welcome to “Colin Gunton’s thought”, a blog I’ve created to discuss about Colin Gunton’s theology.

My main purpose is to do a doctoral thesis on the thought of Colin Gunton with the collaboration of all you who are interested in this issue.

I’ll often write here -my english, as you can see, is not perfect., but I’ll do my best- in order to share with you my ideas, discoveries, perplexities, etc. I hope you’ll help me to understand better what Colin Gunton has said about the issues i’ll write in this blog. For that reason, feel free to leave your comments.