Just a quick response to Alec's well written piece on the implications of analytic methods for the value of human reason. Will try to keep it to three points!
- I think it probably worth clarifying that analytic enquiry in and of itself doesn't have a view of human reason at all. As has come up several times on this blog, it's important not to make sweeping statements (positive or negative) about certain disciplines on the basis of purported general features, not least because those general features need not have specific necessary consequences. This holds true here as well: though analytic enquiry aims at a certain sort of precision, this needn't commit the person pursuing analytic enquiry to any particular valuation of human reason. Analytic philosophers and theologians, meanwhile, can think many different things about the possibilities of human reason. Russell, for example, can have a fairly high estimation of it. Alec and Bill, meanwhile, can just as consistently hold analytic discipline to be something important for the fallen intellect to accept as capable of preventing it from falling into certain sorts of error.
- Within this, however, it is also worth noting that there can be a particular sort of pride attached to asceticism, whether one dealing with appetites or reason. For a full rundown on this, I'd advise reading Busch's 'Karl Barth and the Pietists', which includes a survey of Barth's most penetrating critiques of the Pharisaism of (among other things) the tax collector. Briefly though, one can become prideful as an ascetic in assuming that one has somehow overcome bodily weakness by human means: even insofar as the practise assumes bodily weakness, it presumes enough strength on the part of the body to overcome that weakness through specific practises, which is its own type of self-glorification. This is also possible on an intellectual level, and we can actually conflate the trust we place in our reason's corrective abilities with trust in Christ. I don't accuse Alec of this (he doesn't go this far), but it is worth making explicit the fact that asceticism in itself does not entail humility. It is also worth noting that what ultimately saves us is grace, not logic: after all the Logos was not revealed in the form of first or second order propositional logic! (This is not to say that logic and reason have no role to play in our theological reflection: I mean, I'm pretty sure I'm a fideist (if that word means anything), but contrary to popular belief I see no reason why fideism means we should thereby think we can throw reason out the window.)
- To this end, I would also make the point again that non-analytic methods of philosophy are not actually characterised by imprecision and unclarity: they are characterised by their different understandings of what constitutes precision and clarity in certain cases. I entirely agree with Alec's assessment of Milbank's writing, but I would claim that its laxity stems not from its being non-analytic, but from its being a poor example of its own style (just as Williamson picks up on the poor practise of analytic philosophy. And in any case, can we please pick someone other than Milbank: I mean, what if I were to only focus on John Searle as the sole representative of analytic thought?). And I would also claim that these different understandings of precision and clarity can be helpful when analytic asceticism does veer towards pride, e.g., when the need to clearly define what one is trying to say stops being an attempt to avoid unnecessary error and starts manifesting itself as the claim that human reason is capable of laying its hands on a very concrete and very non-existent form of definition.
In general conclusion, I agree with Alec that analytic theologians can use their methods in the spirit of humility and responsibility. I think that this humility is undermined, however, if it is thought to follow necessarily from analytic methods in and of themselves, and not the spirit in which the individual employs them; that it can become a false humility, much as fasting can become a source of pride. Finally, I think that this is consistent with there being other forms of philosophy which can serve as possible correctives against a potentially hubristic asceticism, sometimes by reminding us that clarity and precision are not the sole preserves of nor necessarily guaranteed by analytic methods. As confessional (though, for my part, amateur) theologians, moreover, we can always make recourse to prayer, something hinted at in Alec's other excellent post from today. And this is something I think Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, and maybe even Swinburne can agree on.