Thursday, April 30, 2009

Writing Schedule

The other documents that I submitted for my Panel Review this year (see here for the thesis summary I also handed in) included my annotated thesis plan (a detailed run down of the contents of each chapter, section and subsection of my thesis) and a writing sample, which was just over 12,000 words setting out part of the central thesis of chapters three to six of my thesis. As I can't very well replicate those documents here I thought I would post the gist of my writing schedule for the next few months along with my expected submission date.

I have already written the first final draft of chapter two, "Methods," and completed some sections of my "Introduction" and chapters one, "Contexts," and three, "Truth(s)."

So, from May 4 - 10, 11 - 17, I hope to complete the remaining sections of chapter three so that I've got a first final draft of it. During this time I'm also planning my workshop, "Studying Religion and the Internet," for a postgraduate day at Birkbeck (May 16).

I've got another London workshop (for Aspiring Academics) on the 19th, and my Panel Review on the 20th, so during May 18 - 22 I hope to finish the first draft of the section of chapter six, "Justice," that completes part of the thread of the argument begun in chapter three.

After taking Sim to see Anthony and the Johnsons in Birmingham on May 22, Sim is taking me to Paris for a little break (it's his halfterm holiday) from May 23 - 27, so I won't get that much done from May 23 - 31, although when Sim starts having to prepare lesson plans again after we get back I imagine I'll get something done.

June 1 - 7 I'll try to get a first draft of chapter four, "World," done, and the same for chapter five, "Event," from June 8 -14.

June 15 - 21 I'll finish the remaining sections of chapter six, "Justice."

The "Towards a Philosophy of Life" conference runs from June 26 - 28, so if my submission gets accepted (see here for my abstract) then I'll need to have been working on this before now. However, the argument of the paper slots nicely into chapter seven, "Poetics," so I can be writing this chapter around about the same time, June 22 - 28, with any revisions after the conference, June 29 - July 5.

During the week of June 29 - July 5, I'll also start writing my "Conclusions."

Then, after having completed the remaining sections of my "Introduction" and chapter one, "Contexts," I can edit for about a month (July 6 - 12, 13 - 19, 20 - 26, 27 - August 2) until either submitting before our summer holiday to Andalucia (August 13 - 29) or, after having had a nice break to get away from it all, looking through it once more and submitting at the beginning of September.

Looking at this, it seems like a lot of work to do in not a very long space of time. But maybe writing it here will motivate me to try to stick to this schedule - even if by the time I've submitted my brain has leaked out of my ears.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thesis Abstract - April 2009

For our annual Panel Reviews (here and here for posts on last year's panel review process and here for this year's comments!) we have to submit a number of documents for the panel to read and evaluate prior to the review itself. One of the things they ask for is a one page summary of your thesis, the title of which is (at the moment) going to be Emerging Truth/Justice: Towards a Poetic Understanding of (Christian) Truth, focusing on central arguments and main findings. I thought I'd post my one page summary here, so you can see what I'm hoping to argue and also compare it to another thesis abstract I wrote only a few months ago (here) to see how it is changing as I continue to write up. So it's a little longer than an abstract would be but it's been really helpful for me to write - I now know that not only do I know what I want to say in my head, I can actually get it out onto a piece of paper for other people to see!!! Along with the central argument, I decided to try to hone my keywords:

This thesis explores how the notion of truth is conceptualized within the UK emerging church milieu, a diverse network of individuals and communities connected by the Internet and often particularly interested in the relationship between Christianity and the postmodern turn. Participants’ post- or late modern context of religious pluralism and individualism has impacted the ways in which the truth claims of the Christian religion are understood. Further, the theological turn of contemporary philosophy has also brought participants in contact with thinkers like Nietzsche, Derrida, Marion, Lévinas and Žižek, whose work in relation to religion raises questions of the nature of truth. This project therefore sought to discover not only what the philosophical, theological and ethical implications of participants’ conceptualizations of truth might be for Christian belief and practice, but what these notions of truth reveal about the viability of academic theologies like Radical Orthodoxy and deconstructive theology for the UK emerging church milieu.

Qualitative data was gathered from emerging church literature, emerging church blogs and interviews with a variety of UK milieu participants. This data displayed a conceptual pluralism about truth: truth is not only a concept that could be manifest differently in particular propositional domains, but is also understood non-propositionally as an event of truth itself. Participants identified both this truth-event and the truth of religious and spiritual propositions with the transformation of subjectivity and behaviour.

The author distinguishes between two strands which arise within the UK emerging church milieu regarding the truism that truth is transformative.

For the first, religious/spiritual propositions are true just when the transformation they evoke conforms to the norm of justice, a norm that itself coheres with a durably coherent framework of moral judgements towards which human beings aim in community and dialogue with each other. This conclusion has implications for collaboration across religious/secular boundaries. Those participants within this strand often, but need not, assume a theologically realist ontology. It is, however, difficult to overcome the objection that transformation here is merely a response to truth and not inherent to the concept itself.

In relation to religious/spiritual propositions, the second detectable strand within the data connects transformative truth not to propositional content but to the way in which propositions are believed. This is a consequence of their emphasis upon transformative truth as the non-propositional event of truth itself. Here, participants endeavour to keep religious/spiritual propositions open to the auto-deconstructive event at the heart of all language. Deconstruction is therefore intrinsic to religious propositions, traditions and institutions, to all the ways in which humanity names the event. For these participants, the language of truth is often supplanted by that of the other words used for the undeconstructible event, including justice and kingdom of God, which are understood as transformational rather than representational notions. Conceiving truth in this way places transformation within the concept itself, rather than as a response distinguishable from the truth that caused it.

These findings regarding truth in the UK emerging church milieu enable the author to assess theologies that have been suggested as apt for the milieu, James K.A. Smith's Radically Orthodox 'postmodern catholicism' and John D. Caputo's deconstructive 'weak theology.' It is argued that Radical Orthodoxy needs to become more generous towards other religions if it is to be welcomed by participants, and that weak theology becomes more practically viable when communities also emphasize how beliefs are held above what beliefs are held. The author assesses Smith’s criticisms of Caputo, arguing that he overlooks the latter’s differentiation between representational logics and transformational poetics. I use this distinction to argue that an interpretation of the kingdom of God as a concept that corresponds to a reality that will either arrive (Smith) or never arrive (Smith’s reading of Caputo) mischaracterizes it as representational rather than transformational.

Key words:
  • John D. Caputo,
  • Christianity,
  • deconstructive theology,
  • emerging church,
  • justice,
  • kingdom of God,
  • poetics,
  • Radical Orthodoxy,
  • realism,
  • James K.A. Smith,
  • truth,
  • transformation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Truth Conference

I've just come across details of this conference on truth (Truth: Current Debates) being held at the University of Connecticut (where Michael P. Lynch is based) from May 15 - 17 2009. Too late for me to register and get reasonably priced flights. Darn. Anyway, the questions around which the event is organized are very interesting and should make for a fascinating conference (and hopefully follow-up publication!). The conference site reads:

"Some of the most basic questions concerning truth ask for its nature: in what does truth consist? Does it even have a nature? And is that nature one or many?

"The objective of this conference is to foster discussion that will shed new light on the nature of truth. A particular emphasis will be placed on how one might oppose traditional approaches to truth according to which the nature of truth (i) is to be accounted for in terms of a substantive property (such as correspondence or coherence) and (ii) is uniform across all truth-apt domains. Among the issues to be addressed in relation to this question are the following:
  • What is the most viable way of rejecting (i), i.e. what is the strongest version of deflationism about truth?
  • What is the most viable way of rejecting (ii) i.e. what is the strongest version of pluralism about truth?
  • What is the most viable way of combining a rejections of (i) and (ii), i.e. what is the strongest version of deflationary pluralism about truth?
  • How does a commitment to deflationism, pluralism or a combination of the two impact our understanding of other philosophically important concepts, such as meaning, content, representation, valid inference, knowledge, and the normativity of truth? Depending on one's commitments, must such accounts be "deflated", "pluralized", or abandoned altogether?
  • What, if any, is the relationship between pluralism about truth and pluralism about logic?
  • What, if any, is the relationship between pluralism about truth and pluralism about ontology?
  • What objections are there to pluralism? To deflationism? To deflationary pluralism?"

The line-up of speakers is particularly impressive and includes JC Beall (Connecticut), Marian David (Notre Dame), Pascal Engel (Geneva), Patrick Greenough (St. Andrews/Arché), Max Kölbel (Birmingham), Michael Lynch (Connecticut), Vann McGee (MIT), Gila Sher (University of California at San Diego) and Crispin Wright (St. Andrews/Arché, NYU).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pluralism about Truth and Thesis Structure

Michael Lynch’s recently published Truth as One and Many (2009) has helped me crystallize my thoughts on pluralism about truth, and so will be particularly useful in helping me structure my third chapter (“Truth(s)”). As a result, I’ve also reordered my last three chapters (now “Justice,” “Generosity” and “Weakness” – instead of “Generosity,” “Weakness,” and “Justice”), the contents of which I blogged about a bit the other day. In this post, I’ll summarize Lynch’s argument, and then show how it has affected my thesis structure.

Following Lynch (but also some stuff I’ve read by Ralph Walker), I’m going to argue that most theorists of truth are monists about truth; that is, they assume that the notion of truth has one nature that is unchanged when the concept is applied to diverse phenomena, and seek to encapsulate that singular essence in a global theory of truth. However, the scope problem throws up numerous counterexamples across diverse domains of phenomena – the truth of which one theory of truth has difficulty explaining. For example, a correspondence theory of truth cannot account for propositions that are non-representational but are intuitively true (such as, murder is wrong). Hence, the move from global theories of truth (such as correspondence, coherence, or deflationism) towards a pluralism about truth that might include such conventional theories of truth but will apply them locally rather than globally.

Lynch’s thesis begins with what he calls the ‘folk’ concept of truth, which ‘embodies our preconceptions [about truth], the way we tacitly think about it in our ordinary life – even if, normally, we don’t even recognize ourselves as doing so’ (Lynch 2009:7). According to Lynch’s presentation of our folk concept of truth, it includes a number of truisms about truth:

  • Truth is objective (the belief "p" is true if, and only if, with respect to the belief that "p", things are as they are believed to be);
  • Truth is the norm of belief (it is prima facie correct to believe that "p" if and only if the proposition that "p" is true; or ‘truth is belief’s basic norm of correctness,’ Lynch 2009:11); and
  • Truth is the goal of inquiry (true beliefs are a worthy goal of inquiry; truth is pursued indirectly through the direct pursuit of reasons and evidence; the processes of questioning have truth as their aim).

Lynch maintains that truth itself is a singular concept, identified with these three core truisms (there are other, intimately related concepts that I won’t go into here). A theory of truth is only a theory of truth if it incorporates these core truisms (or else it is changing the subject) and is only a theory of truth if it explains them (or explains away those it does not hold). According to Lynch, the correspondence and coherence theories of truth are only viable under certain additional conditions. Only in a propositional domain in which mental states “respond” to external environments, such that propositions either represent or misrepresent reality, the correspondence theory of truth is viable. Similarly, the coherence theory of truth is only viable in a propositional domain that imposes epistemic constraints on the truths of the domain (it must be in principle possible for someone at some time to have warrant for believing any given proposition), and these propositions must be non-representational in character. This problem of scope leads Lynch to advocate pluralism about truth, according to which neither correspondence nor coherence are global theories of truth but are instead theories of how truth is manifest locally in particular domains.

Truth remains singular, but is manifest pluralistically. Truth is one concept (exhibiting core truisms about truth essentially, or, as Lynch also phrases it, playing the truth-role as such), but truth is multiply realizable (in propositions that have a property accidentally that manifests truth). The concept “truth” remains singular but there are multiple properties of propositions that might manifest that singular concept in different ways. The property that manifests truth or plays the truth-role in a particular domain is dependent on the nature of that particular propositional domain. In other words, Lynch’s thesis is not that “truth” correctly applies to correspondence here or coherence there (suggesting two concepts of truth) but rather that truth is one concept that is manifest in correspondence in one domain and coherence in another.

Lynch applies his theory of truth as one and many to the domain of morality. He holds that ‘a property constructed of our epistemic norms for morality could serve to manifest truth for our moral judgements’ (2009:185). He demonstrates that the epistemological norms for the domain of moral judgements demand that propositions within this domain are non-representational, i.e. do not correspond to externally existing entities (‘It is difficult to know how to “locate” something like moral wrongness amongst the furniture of the physical world,’ Lynch 2009:1). Therefore, he argues, the correspondence theory of truth cannot act as a global theory of the manifestation of truth in this domain. Instead, Lynch supplies a theory of the manifestation of truth for the moral domain based upon coherence and concordance. Our folk concept of truth in the moral domain suggests that ‘we see our moral inquires as aiming at constructing frameworks of concordant judgements. Such systems, were there every to be any, would be durably improving coherent frameworks of judgements, some of which – the non-moral judgements – are true in virtue of corresponding t the facts, but others of which – the moral judgements – are true by supercohering to that very framework, that is, by durably belonging to the framework itself’ (2009:175-176).

What I think it is important to grasp here is Lynch’s methodology: we move from our folk concept of truth for a particular domain towards identifying the property that manifests these truisms for this domain. By the same logic, then, a property constructed out of the UK emerging church milieu’s epistemic norms for religion might serve to manifest truth for religious propositions in the religious or spiritual domain (or, at least, for the UK emerging church milieu's religious/spiritual domain). If truth is manifested by a property of propositions because that property plays the truth-role in that particular domain, then my own work needs to answer the following questions:

  • What is the truth-role or truism about truth for the religious/spiritual domain? and
  • What property of propositions plays this role (thereby making propositions true, for this particular domain)?

In Chapter Three (“Truth(s)”), then, I’m going to argue that:

  • Lynch’s initial discussion of what constitutes our everyday folk concept of truth neglects the spiritual and religious dimensions to everyday life;
  • my empirical data from the UK emerging church milieu suggests that the truth-role in the spiritual/religious domain is transformation and call;
  • the property of propositions that enables transformation, call and response therefore manifests truth (for this particular domain), true propositions in this domain do not necessarily therefore have to be representational, and the truth of propositions are judged not by their ability to represent, but by their ability to transform; and
  • the property of propositions that manifests truth in the religious/spiritual domain is the norm of justice.

My previous thesis structure (see post here for details) had closely followed my research questions:

  • How is the notion of truth understood in the UK emerging church milieu? (chapter 3, “Truth(s)”) [Therefore, also, What is the UK emerging church milieu? (chapter 2, “Emergence”)] and
  • What are the philosophical (chapters 4, “Inaccessibility” and 5, “Undecidability”), theological (chapters 6, “Generosity” and 7, “Weakness”), and ethical (chapter 8, “Justice”) implications of these notions of truth?

Now, however, I have decided to reorder things a little.

Chapter 2 morphed into “Contexts” a while a go, so that it more closely answered the question of not only what the UK emerging church milieu is but also why it is important to study it academically.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 stay in the order they were but are more clearly focused on 3) arguing why pluralism about truth is a useful notion, suggesting that Lynch’s work needs to be supplemented through a study of the notion of truth as it operates in the domain of religion or spirituality, and arguing that the truism that truth is an event that transforms and calls is key here; and 4) and 5) documenting what the diverse philosophical structures of this domain are in order to demonstrate what property manifests truth in the spiritual/religious domain. This therefore leads on to Chapter 6, which is now “Justice,” having been moved from the end of the thesis. Here, I hope to be able to argue that the property that displays the truism of transformation (and therefore manifests truth) in the spiritual domain is the norm of justice.

This argument then informs the debate between Radically Orthodox ‘Catholic Postmodernism’ (James K.A. Smith, see posts here and here) and ‘religion without Religion’ (Jack Caputo, posts on Weak Theology here, here, here, here and here), thus shifting the “Generosity” and “Weakness” chapters to the end of the thesis. The gist of these last three chapters is contained in the paper I hope to give at the Towards a Philosophy of Life conference in Liverpool in June (see post the other day). I’m trying to write this chapter at the moment (in time for the deadline for Panel Review documents, April 27th) so more on this in the next little while as I bang out my argument in more detail. In the meantime, I hope the post here has given a few ideas of how chapters 3, 4 and 5 might go!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Philosophy of Life Abstract

So I submitted my abstract for the Towards a Philosophy of Life conference today: "Making Good on the "Good" of Life: Emerging Logics and Poetics of the Kingdom." The gist of it is basically the argument of my last three chapters (having now rearranged the order of my chapters - "Justice," "Generosity" and "Weakness" - which I'll blog more about tomorrow). Hopefully it'll get accepted, but even if it doesn't the words will go straight into my thesis so no real harm done... but it would be great to present this stuff to Jack Caputo and John Milbank as it directly relates to the rebate between elements of their work (see particularly my posts on James K.A. Smith's Radically Orthodox 'Postmodern Catholicism' here, here, here and here). Here's the abstract then:

This paper begins by illustrating how the deconstructive theology of John D. Caputo is embodied in the life of the UK emerging church milieu. Caputo’s theological project, articulated more recently as a Weak Theology, proposes both an ‘historical association’ with the determinate religious traditions’ visions of and hopes for life, and a ‘messianic disassociation,’ in order to refuse such traditions’ exclusionary, violent and unjust closure towards the other. Using interview and ethnographic data, I suggest ways in which this difficult tension between particularity and alterity might be lived out. I show why Caputo’s notion of the kingdom of God as a repetition or recreation of God’s generative proclamation that life is “good” is helpful as participants seek to live their lives as a form of “making good” on this original “good.”

In the process of exploring his notions of creation and kingdom, I defend Caputo’s theology against recent criticism by James K.A. Smith. In contrasting his Radically Orthodox ‘Postmodern Catholicism’ with Caputo’s work, Smith distinguishes between his own logic of incarnation and Caputo’s logic of determination. According to Smith, the consequences of the Derridean/Caputian logic include the translation of Derrida’s impossible, undeconstructible, un-present-able justice into an indeterminate, not specifically Christian, kingdom that is similarly structurally always to-come. However, I believe this is to overlook Caputo’s differentiation between representational logics and transformational poetics. I use this distinction to argue that an interpretation of the kingdom of God as a concept that corresponds to a reality that will either arrive (Smith) or never arrive (Smith’s reading of Caputo) mischaracterizes it as representational rather than transformational. These divergent notions of the kingdom are also present within contemporary Christian belief and practice. This paper therefore further unpacks the differences between these two understandings of the kingdom, as I see them emerge both in the work of Smith and Caputo, and in the UK emerging church milieu.