Swinburne on analytic vs. continental philosophy

SwinburneHere’s a gem of a passage from a little-read paper by Richard Swinburne, from this book.

This is part of talk he gave at a 2001 conference in Moscow, Russia, co-sponsored by the Society of Christian Philosophers and the Russian Orthodox church. So he’s explaining the wider context of analytic philosophy to them.

Sometimes, when we have to explain things to those outside the camp, we are forced to pare things down to essential points, and Swinburne does that beautifully here.

Over the past sixty years there have been two very different streams of “Western philosophy.” The stream which we call “continental philosophy” is philosophy as it has been practised in France and Germany and many countries of continental Europe, including both pre-Revolutionary and Marxist Russia. It has roots in Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. Very different though these philosophers are from each other, they have given rise to a kind of philosophy which has a certain common terminology and unity of approach to philosophical problems. Contemporary continental philosophers paint very vague and general pictures of the world. Their writings are more like literature than science. It was from the continental stream and especially, I guess, from the work of Heidegger and Nietzsche that the form of scepticism known as post-modernism emerged. The vast majority of contemporary Wester theologians, including Bultmann, Barth, Tillich, and Rahner, and almost all Anglo-American theologians have written under the influence of continental philosophy.

The kind of philosophy which is taught and written in English-speaking countries is called “Anglo-American” or “analytic” philosophy; and this is closer to science than to literature. It has its more remote roots in the British empiricists of the eighteenth century – Locke, Berkeley and Hume. Its more immediate source is the logical positivism of the physicists of the Vienna circle of the 1920s, which was widely disseminated in Britain through the publication in 1936 of A.J. Ayers’s Language, Truth and Logic, and developed in the U.S.A. though the writings of the logician W.V. O. Quine. (pp. 13-4, emphases added)

He then explains the agonies about the “verification principle” that Ayer propounded and later (correctly!) rejected. Eventually,

…a number of teachers in philosophy faculties in Britain and America (not, I emphasize, theology faculties) who were Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) began to think that the philosophical tradition founded on the physical sciences which contemporaries value so highly, could be our ally and not our enemy. And so working in the spirit of Anglo-American philosophy, some of us saw it as our task to clarify what means to say “God exists,” or what the central doctrines of Christianity mean, in such clear and precise words… that even atheists would have to admit that the Christian creed expressed a clear world-view. (p. 15)

There’s a lot more to be said about philosophy, and about Christian philosophy, of the last 60 years or so, but this is a good start.

About Dale

Dale Tuggy is a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.

11 Responses to Swinburne on analytic vs. continental philosophy

  1. This reminded me of an article by Russell Reno in the April 2006 issue of First Things: Theology’s Continental Captivity.

  2. villanovanus says:

    @ Dave

    I see the book from which you too your quotation is The Trinity: East/West Dialogue (Studies in Philosophy and Religion – M. Stewart Editor), 2004/2010. So it makes sense that it is quoted in this blog, although your quotations from Swinburne’s section, “Modern Anglo-American Philosophy of Religion” (pp. 13-22 – BTW, immediately followed by Dale Tuggy’s section, “The Trinitarian Dilemma”) have nothing to do with the question of the “trinity”.

    So, my question to you here is, do you feel that your approach is more inspired by “continental philosophy” or by “analytic philosophy”?

    Thanks,

    MdS

  3. Dale says:

    Oh, it has plenty to do with recent trinitarian theology, I assure you! The paper in that book, btw is an earlier version of my 2003 “Unfinished Business” paper.

    As for me: analytic. But my interests and approach have also been conditioned by the large amounts of historical philosophy I’ve worked on.

    Fr. Kimel – thanks for that reference: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/theology8217s-continental-captivity—18 It’s long, but worthwhile.

  4. villanovanus says:

    @ Dale [#3, February 25, 2013 at 4:05 pm]

    [a] … it [quotations from Swinburne’s section, “Modern Anglo-American Philosophy of Religion”] has plenty to do with recent trinitarian theology …

    [b] As for me: analytic. But my interests and approach have also been conditioned by the large amounts of historical philosophy I’ve worked on.

    [a] Sorry, but, as I do not have access to that book, and I am not satisfied with your “assurances”, I can only confirm that those quotations, at face value at least, have nothing to do with the “trinity”. Perhaps you would like to expand and explain …

    [b] I am not surprised. Perhaps you would like to explain if there is any link between your preference for “analytic philosophy” and your take on the “trinity” …

    MdS

  5. villanovanus says:

    @ Dale

    P.S. Do you consider this “argument” of Swinburne’s …

    I believe that there is overriding reason for a first divine individual to bring about a second divine individual and with him to bring about a third divine individual…[L]ove is a supreme good. Love involves sharing, giving to the other what of one’s own is good for him and receiving from the other what of his is good for one; and love involves co-operating with another to benefit third parties. [Richard Swinburne, The Christian God, p. 177-178]

    … of any value? Surely you are aware of Brian Leftow’s objections, viz. why perfect love shouldn’t be satisfied with two, or, vice versa, why should it stop at three rather than four or more.

    Besides, Swinburne is a “social trinitarian” and a de facto Subordinationist. Are you, by any chance, trying to save scriptural monotheism with the escamotage that “Subordinationism is Unitarianism”?

    MdS

  6. Dale says:

    “escamotage”?

    No, I don’t have time to expound on how being an analytic philosopher affects how one approaches Trinity theories.

    About Swinbure’s argument that it is impossible for there to be only one divine being, I dispute such arguments in this paper: http://trinities.org/dale/SinglePerfect.pdf

    While 2nd c. apologists are in fact unitarians, as I define the term, Swinburne is not, for he identifies the one God with the complex, not strictly divine thing which has the three as parts. This is, by my definition, still not trinitarian either, for these persons, as you note, are not equally divine – s and h exist because of f, in his view, and h because of s too. But then, only f exists a se.

  7. villanovanus says:

    @ Dale [#6, February 26, 2013 at 9:44 am]

    [a]“escamotage”?

    [b] … I don’t have time to expound on how being an analytic philosopher affects how one approaches Trinity theories.

    [c] About Swinbure’s argument that it is impossible for there to be only one divine being, I dispute such arguments in this paper: http://trinities.org/dale/SinglePerfect.pdf

    [d] While 2nd c. apologists are in fact unitarians, as I define the term, Swinburne is not, for he identifies the one God with the complex, not strictly divine thing which has the three as parts. This is, by my definition, still not trinitarian either, for these persons, as you note, are not equally divine – s and h exist because of f, in his view, and h because of s too. But then, only f exists a se.

    [a]Escamotage is a French word, which is often translated in English with the (much more crude) word “trick”, like the … trick that “Subordinationism is Unitarianism”, because it preserves the “aseity” of the Father.

    [b] … likewise I have no time to consider your personal “assurances” that Swinburne’s essay, “Modern Anglo-American Philosophy of Religion”, has “plenty to do with recent trinitarian theology” …

    [c] Thank you, the point of Leftow’s objection, though, is about the “necessity of the threeness”. Anyway I see that you confirm that Leftow’s objection is “not properly addressed” by Swinburne.

    [d] Care to explain how you define unitarians? Would Justin Martyr, for instance, who explicitly filches from Philo the notion of deuteros theos, be a “unitarian”? Would Irenaeus? Clement? Origen? Who?

    If, according to you, Swinburne is neither unitarian nor trinitarian, what kettle of fish is he?

    Finally, do you consider aseity an essential attribute of God? How do you interpret Philippians 2:9-11 (including a clear quotation of Isaiah 45:23 echoed by Romans 14:11)? How do you interpret 1 Corinthians 15:28?

    Thanks,

    MdS

  8. Dale says:

    ” Care to explain how you define unitarians?”

    http://trinities.org/blog/archives/3767

    Would Justin Martyr, for instance, who explicitly filches from Philo the notion of deuteros theos, be a “unitarian”? Would Irenaeus? Clement? Origen? Who?

    Yes to all.

    “If, according to you, Swinburne is neither unitarian nor trinitarian, what kettle of fish is he?”

    Inconsistent trinitarian.

    “Finally, do you consider aseity an essential attribute of God?”

    Yes.

  9. villanovanus says:

    @ Dale [#8, February 26, 2013 at 5:06 pm]

    So, for you:

    A unitarian is “someone who believes that the one God just is (i.e. is numerically identical to) a certain self and not to any other self”;

    An Abrahamic unitarian is “someone who believes that the one God just is (i.e. is numerically identical to) a certain self, namely the Father, and not to any other self”;

    A Christian unitarian “would be defined as an Abrahamic unitarian who accepts the this one true God’s Messiah is the man Jesus”;

    A ditheist like Justin would be a “unitarian”;

    Subordinationists like Irenaeus, Clement, Origen (maybe even the inventor of the Latin term trinitas, Tertullian?) would be “unitarians”;

    Jehovahs Witnesses (whose take on Jesus’ pre-existence is essentially no different from that of Arius) would be “unitarians”;

    Even Mormons may “possibly” be “unitarians”.

    OTOH, Swinburne, who is OBVIOUSLY a subordinationist trinitarian, would be an “inconsistent trinitarian”.

    In conclusion, while you have extended “unitarianism” so that it has nothing to do with its historical meaning, with Servetus and Socinus, you have so restricted “trinitarianism” as to make it coincide with Latin Trinitarianism.

    Millions of Eastern Christians, according to you, would not be “inconsistent trinitarians” because they affirm that the Father is the “fountainhead of the godhead”.

    Fascinating …

    MdS

  10. villanovanus says:

    Correction:

    Millions of Eastern Christians, according to you, would not be “inconsistent trinitarians” because they affirm that the Father is the “fountainhead of the godhead”.

    MdS

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