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In academic year 2020-21, we’re hosting a nine-part virtual lecture series on the subject of modernity, made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Various modern thinkers—reflecting upon the Holocaust, instrumentalized reason, and transformations of religious faith—have interpreted modernity as “crisis.” In view of its critical significance, how might we think about modernity in itself, and in relation to the human spirit? How could these ideas illuminate how we think about the power and limits of reason in advancing our knowledge of being and the beyond, existence in the moral & political community, and progress in science & technology? Other thinkers have observed that after the “death of God” and “death of metaphysics” in Western societies, we still have beauty. Should we then reorient ourselves around beauty—rather than religion or speculative philosophy—in hopes of entering the highest possibilities of knowledge and experience? Or, as Weil says, is this experience of beauty inseparable from the holy? 

In this lecture series, we will explore these questions through a study of the structure and meaning of being, reason, and communion, as interpreted in modern (largely continental) philosophy and theology. We shall consider human being on three ascending levels: ontological, rational, and intersubjective. Of central interest will be the possibility of a relational metaphysics (*). If human being is substance in relation, how might we envision areas of common life such as law and ethics? We shall also consider the role of metaphysics more generally in seeking to understand the relationships among science, religion, and the structure of reality. 

The nine lectures will address some but not all of the texts below; the list is provided as suggestion for further reading.

Being – Fall Quarter

“In the impotent failure of our broken attempts to draw near to God and in the desolation of our being cast back upon the finite by the ‘poverty’ of non-subsistent being, we experience the bright darkness of God’s intimacy.” –Ferdinand Ulrich, Homo Abyssus: The Drama of the Question of Being

  • *Clarke – Person and Being (Marquette University Press, 1993)

  • Schelling – Philosophy of Revelation (Munich Lectures, 1831-32)

  • Stein – Finite and Eternal Being: An Attempt at an Ascent to the Meaning of Being (ICS Publications, 2002, first edition (German) 1950, posthumous)

  • *Tillich – Systematic Theology I, Being and God (University of Chicago Press, 1951)

  • Ulrich – Homo Abyssus: The Drama of the Question of Being (Humanum Academic Press, 2018, first edition (German) 1961)

  • *Whitehead – Process and Reality [Gifford Lectures 1927-28] (Free Press, 1979)

  • *Wilhelmsen – The Metaphysics of Love (Routledge, 2015)

Reason – Winter Quarter

“The depth of reason is the expression of something that is not reason but which precedes reason and is manifest through it . . . It could be called the ‘substance’ which appears in the rational structure, or ‘being-itself’ which is manifest in the logos of being, or the ‘ground’ which is creative in every rational creation, or the ‘abyss’ which cannot be exhausted by any creation or by any totality of them, or the ‘infinite potentiality of being and meaning’ which pours into the rational structures of mind and reality, actualizing and transforming them.” –Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology I

  • Lonergan – Insight (University of Toronto Press, 1992)

  • Maritain – Degrees of Knowledge (Geoffrey Bles, 1937, first edition (French) 1932)

  • Nasr – Knowledge and the Sacred [Gifford Lectures 1981] (SUNY Press, 1989)

  • Tillich – Systematic Theology I, Reason and Revelation (University of Chicago Press, 1951)

  • Voegelin – “Reason: The Classic Experience,” Anamnesis, trans. and ed. Gerhart Niemeyer, University of Notre Dame Press, 1978

Communion – Spring Quarter

“While subscribing to Levinas’s analyses of the face, exteriority, alterity, even the primacy of the appeal emanating from the other over the recognition of self by self, it seems to me that the most profound ethical request is that of the reciprocity that institutes the other as my likeness and myself as the likeness of the other. Without reciprocity or, to use a concept dear to Hegel, recognition, alterity would not be a matter of one other than myself, but the expression of a distance indistinguishable from absence.” –Paul Ricoeur, “Approaching the Human Person”

“For millennia we have struggled with the meaning of the imago Dei, a formulation whose importance has been continuously sensed yet whose indispensable meaning has constantly eluded us. The metaphor of image has hardly assisted us in grasping what it says, for persons are an image of what cannot be imaged. Nor has the narrowing to the faculty of reason that persons possess illumined what it means to possess what cannot be possessed. It is only slowly and, in part, under the threat of looming instrumentalization, that it has begun to dawn on us that thought does not provide the horizon for thinking of persons. The case is rather the reverse. The personal is the horizon of the disclosure of persons for there is nothing higher, not even God.” –David Walsh, Politics of the Person as the Politics of Being

“The question of what we base our value judgments on, how we know what is Good and what is Evil, may seem remote and academic in an age which has witnessed Maidanek and Hiroshima. Confronted by such gross violations of the most modest ethical code, may we not take it for granted that there is general agreement that such things are Evil, and instead of splitting hairs about metaphysical questions like the nature of values, devote ourselves rather to the practical implementation of this universal agreement? In a word, when Evil is so patent, is our problem not a scientific one (devising Means to an agreed-on End) rather than an ethical one (deciding what Ends we want)?

This is ‘just common sense’ — which means it will not stand close examination. That extreme Evils are committed today, with no large-scale opposition, by the agents of great nations — this leads me to conclude not, with the liberals and the Marxists, that the peoples of those nations are horrified by these Evils, groaning under the bondage of a system which permits such things to happen, and waiting expectantly for a practical program to be put forward which will eliminate them; but rather that, on the contrary, these Evils are rejected only on a superficial, conventional, public-oration and copy-book-maxim plane, while they are accepted or at least temporized with on more fundamental, private levels. How deeply does modern man experience the moral code he professes in public? . . . The fact that ‘everybody’ agrees that war, torture, and the massacre of helpless people are Evil is not reassuring to me. It seems to show that our ethical code is no longer experienced, but is simply assumed, so that it becomes a collection of ‘mere platitudes.’ One does not take any risks for a platitude. Ask a dozen passersby, picked at random, whether they believe it is right to kill helpless people; they will reply of course not (the ‘of course’ is ominous) and will probably denounce the inquirer as a monster for even suggesting there could be two answers to the question. But they will all ‘go along’ with their government in World War III and kill as many helpless enemy people as possible . . . Good and Evil can only have reality for us if we do not take them for granted, if they are not regarded as platitudes but as agonizing problems. Thus the easy, universal agreement that war is Evil is a matter for suspicion, not congratulation.” [footnote from later edition: Since I’m no longer a pacifist, I could no longer write this eloquent paragraph.] –Dwight Macdonald, The Root is Man

  • Arendt – The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 1958)

  • Bloch – Natural Law and Human Dignity (MIT Press, 1986, first edition (German) 1961)

  • Buber – I and Thou (Scribner’s, 1970, first edition (German) 1923)

  • Caputo – The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event (Indiana University Press, 2006)

  • Fuller – The Morality of Law (Yale University Press, 1965)

  • Habermas & Ratzinger – Dialectics of Secularization (Ignatius Press, 2007)

  • Honneth – The Struggle for Recognition (MIT Press, 1996)

  • Levinas – Alterity and Transcendence (Columbia University Press, 2000)

  • Levinas – Of God Who Comes to Mind (Stanford University Press, 1998, first edition (French) 1982)

  • Løgstrup – The Ethical Demand (University of Notre Dame Press, 1997, first edition (Danish) 1956)

  • Macdonald – The Root is Man (Autonomedia, 1995, first edition 1946)

  • Marion – Prolegomena to Charity (Fordham University Press, 2002, first edition (French) 1993)

  • Mounier – Personalism (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989, first edition (French) 1949)

  • Niebuhr – An Interpretation of Christian Ethics (Harper’s, 1935)

  • Ratzinger – Caritas in veritate (2009)

  • Ratzinger – Deus caritas est (2005)

  • Ricoeur – “Approaching the Human Person” (Approches de la personne), Revue Esprit, 1990

  • Ricoeur – “Work and the Word” (Travail et parole), Revue Esprit, 1953

  • Rosenzweig – The Star of Redemption (University of Notre Dame Press, 1985, first edition (German) 1921)

  • Simon – The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher’s Reflections (Fordham University Press, 1965, 1992)

  • Tillich – Systematic Theology III (University of Chicago Press, 1963)

  • Voegelin – The Nature of Law and Related Legal Writings, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 27 (Louisiana State University Press, 1991)

  • Walsh – Politics of the Person as the Politics of Being (University of Notre Dame Press, 2016)

  • Weil – The Need for Roots (Routledge, 1952, first edition (French) 1949)

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