Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Buddho-Nietzschean Response to Nihilism

Nietzsche and Buddhist Philosophy. By Antoine Panaïoti. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. 244. Hard Cover $95. ISBN: 978-1-107-03162-3. 

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Antoine Panaïoti’s Nietzsche and Buddhist Philosophy is perhaps a different book than you might expect. Rather than simply an exercise in comparison and contrast—which could indeed be extremely useful in itself—the book is mostly an effort to combine insights from both Nietzsche and Buddhism into Panaïoti’s own positive response to what he calls the “challenge of nihilism.” For Panaïoti, philosophers today work in a world where reification is a dead prospect. Being is a fiction. All that’s left is flux, and the problem is how to respond to it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Religion and the Renaissance

Philosophy of Religion in the Renaissance. By Paul Richard Blum. Farnham; Burlington: Ashgate, 2010. Pp. ix+211. Hard Cover £65, ISBN: 978-0-7546-0781-6. 

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The area of Renaissance philosophy seems to gain attention from historians primarily, thereby suffering from neglect by those interested and specialized in philosophy. One reason for this is that the Renaissance seems to lack ‘great thinkers’ who typically define those broad historical categories in philosophy known as Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. The Renaissance has neither an Augustine nor Descartes, an Angelic Doctor nor a Kant—so far as concerns typical syllabi in philosophy curriculum, at any rate. Renaissance thought is typically seen from one of two angles, both employing broad strokes: in the first instance, it is simply a continuation (for some, perhaps a stale continuation) of the medieval traditions with some help from rediscovered Antiquity; alternatively, some aspects of the Renaissance are seen as  precursors to enlightened Modern thinking, even if only in a confused or seminal form. One of the arguments running in the background of Paul Richard Blum’s Philosophy of Religion in the Renaissance is that “modern philosophy originated in the Renaissance as a rupture and a beginning,” all the while never denying that Renaissance philosophy has its origins in the Middle Ages (1).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Lesson in Platonic Interpretation

Socrates and the Gods: How to Read Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito. By Nalin Ranasinghe. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2012. Pp. 256. Cloth $28. ISBN: 978-1587317798.

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Like many authors of serial texts, Nalin Ranasinghe did not anticipate that his work, The Soul of Socrates (Cornell University Press, 2000) would become the first text of a three-work series on the life and death of Socrates; yet, two events inspired him to pen sequel works. The first event, Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Address, led to a first sequel, his Socrates in the Underworld: On Plato’s Gorgias (St. Augustine’s Press, 2009).1 Ranasinghe writes, “I wanted to show how the model of the cosmos and the anti-sophistical political art set forth in the Gorgias was the antidote to the plague of voluntarism-based consumerism and valorized violence that afflicted the West” (5). In his final sequel, Socrates and the Gods, Ranasinghe explores Plato’s Apology using two supporting dialogues: the Euthyphro and the Crito. In his treatment of these works, Ranasinghe continues to investigate the theme of voluntarism, or the belief that morality need not align itself with what is good according to reason. Yet, as Ranasinghe tells it, a second event provoked this last publication within the series. He recalls that, during a conversation with his distinguished teacher, Stanley Rosen, Rosen recounted his disappointment upon learning that his own teacher, Leo Strauss, did not possess the “final answers to the ultimate questions” (6). This encounter with Rosen serves as a good introduction to Socrates and the Gods, for it indicates an essential and often-misunderstood feature of Socrates’ character—the understanding that Socrates, too, did not possess the final answers guides Ranasinghe’s interpretation. Rather, in Ranasinghe’s Socrates, the reader encounters a man who simultaneously understands the limits of the human condition yet recognizes the divine gifts bestowed upon him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Caputo and Divine Insistence

The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. By John D. Caputo. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013. Pp. xxi+307. Paper $30, ISBN: 978-0-253-01007-0.

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As a leading philosopher and thinker in the field of Continental philosophy of religion, Caputo’s latest book represents an important contribution to scholarship in this field. This book will receive wide reception as well as careful theological and philosophical reflection. The old adage notwithstanding, we learn much from the artwork selected for the cover of his book, Jan Vermeer’s “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary.” It depicts Jesus’ visit to Martha’s house found in the Gospel of Luke 10:38–42. The standard interpretation emphasizes Jesus’ criticism of Martha for preparing him a meal—for tending to his animal needs, as Caputo says—instead of sitting, like Mary, at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teachings. Though we cannot know from the painting that Caputo will reverse this interpretation, we soon learn that he follows Meister Eckhart’s interpretation of this passage. Caputo writes, “Eckhart’s Martha is a clue to everything I say” (20). In Caputo’s repetition of Eckhart, Martha is the pivotal figure in the painting because she recognizes that the presence of Jesus in her home is a calling or solicitation that requires a response. Martha provides the principal concern for Caputo’s text around the ideas of insistence and existence. Caputo, in attempting to advance beyond other contemporary philosophical approaches to theme of the event, characterizes insistence as the action of the event underway in the name of ‘God.’ The event calls or insists1 in the name of ‘God.’ As such, insistence does not exist. He argues, in turn, that existence names our response to the demand of this calling, through which we make actual the solicitation of the event. So, Martha, to use Caputo’s trope, “knows that insistence requires existence” (45). With this, Martha’s hospitality for Jesus’ animal needs indicates the kind of realism and materialism that Caputo advocates at the chiasm of God and humans, and humans and the non-human animal. Caputo’s concern here is not ethics but the role of responsibility in religion. God insists and leaves “the existing to us, where the question of ‘existing’ is a matter of human responsibility” (15). Eckhart’s Martha is his hermeneutic key for this responsibility.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kant on Critique

Kant and the Subject of Critique: On the Regulative Role of the Psychological Idea. By Avery Goldman. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2012. Pp. 249. Paper $27.95, ISBN: 978-0-253-22366-1.

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Kant needs little introduction. No doubt, the significant influence of his Critique of Pure Reason (1781/87) alone stands to testify to his monumental stature in philosophy, not the least of which because of the widespread reception the text continues to receive. These varying accounts cause diverging rifts in the interpretation of Kant’s philosophy, often due to the highly technical nature of Kant’s writing. One problem that continues to hover over Kant’s text concerns the nature of criticism itself. Commentators have suggested that if the critique intends to expel the dogmatic use of reason, then there should be a method in place to ensure that this criticism is also safeguarded from such abuse. Avery Goldman’s Kant and the Subject of Critique: On the Regulative Role of the Psychological Idea proposes that such a method has been discovered. His book opens with a problem: the purported cognition of appearances requires a metaphysical claim regarding the status of finite cognition (1). As readers of Kant will recall, Kant argues that the claims of dogmatic metaphysics regarding the determination of the objects in themselves are completely unknowable. While Kant aims to criticize previous metaphysical theories by arguing that we can only determine objects of sense insofar as they are appearances, Goldman argues that, nevertheless, there must be an unconditioned idea of reason that guarantees this determination. The method of criticism employed by Kant halts these kinds of dogmatic claims, and yet, Kant never actually tells us what this so-called method of criticism entails.