Monday, 28 February 2011

Hauerwas and MacIntyre

Stanley Hauerwas seems to have learnt from MacIntyre on virtue ethics: see "Virtue Ethics," as of 1 March 2011.

A good author for an MPh dissertation - he happens to be a theologian, though. 

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Thomas' virtue ethics

Thomas' virtue ethics: just a glimpse from Ashley's notes, but quite wonderful.

Morality begins in love, works through desire, and is completed in joy.

Interestingly, Thomas gives a central place to the passions and affections in his account of the moral life. Passions empower moral growth and transformation. Becoming good is a matter of learning to love the right things in the right way.

Thomas' ethic is an ethic not of duty, or of law, but of virtue. His primary concern is not just good decisions, but good persons. Virtues are moral skills that make both actions and persons good. They are transforming activities [are virtues activities? are they not rather habits?] that sculpt us into people capable of finding bliss in God.

But Thomas also holds that virtues make us good, but not good enough. What make us 'good enough' are the gifts of the Spirit. The moral life begins with a gift and ends with a gift: it begins with the gift of God's love poured into our hearts, and ends with God's love completing our virtue with a goodness that we could never achieve by ourselves, but only receive.

I found interesting Thomas' distinction between affective (concupiscible) emotions and spirited (irascible) emotions. The affective emotions are love, desire, joy. These are  basic. The spirited emotions are hatred, aversion, sadness. They enable us to be resolute in our pursuit of the good when we face difficulty or are getting discouraged.

If the vibrant language is Ashley's, I think we have a very good article here...

Friday, 25 February 2011

Charles Taylor

Among Taylor's influences: Hegel, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty. ["Charles Taylor (philosopher), Wikipedia, 26 Feb 2011.]

Taylor is part of the neo-Aristotelian revival, arising out of the perceived failure of ethical thought in the post-Enlightenment world. [He is therefore far from being 'modernist.'] His specific approach to neo-Aristotelianism is marked by a firm and constant rejection of what he calls 'naturalism' - 'that the nature of which he is a part is to be understood according to the canons which emerged in the seventeenth-century revolution in natural science' (Philosophy and the Human Sciences). [Dene Baker, "Philosopher of the Month: May 2003: Charles Taylor" at, on 26 Feb 2011.]

In taking on naturalism, Taylor challenges 'the modern malaise' - an excessive centering on the self that flattens and narrows our lives, making them poorer in meaning and less concerned with others and with society (The Ethics of Authenticity). [His earliest writings seem to be leftist; his political affiliation was to a left-leaning, social democratic party.] [Baker]

He is associated - together with people like Alaisdair MacIntyre, Michael Walzer, Michael Sandel, and Gad Barzilai - with a communitarian critique of liberal theory's understanding of the self. Communitarians emphasize the importance of social institutions in the development of individual meaning and identity. [Wikipedia.] In his 1991 Massey lecture, "The Malaise of Modernity," he argued that political theorists from Locke and Hobbes to Rawls and Dworkin have neglected the way in which individuals arises within contexts supplied by society. 

The self is essentially defined by the framework of goods that define the good life in the Aristotelian sense. These moral frameworks are presided over by hypergoods - 'goods which not only are incomparably more important than others but provide the standpoint from which these must be weighed, judged, decided about'. (Sources of the Self) [Baker]

Taylor is described as a 'post-analytic' philosopher - someone who retains the clarity of the analytic tradition but goes beyond the analytic-continental divide. His efforts at 'philosophical archaeology' in Sources of the Self is a good witness to his desire to go beyond the ahistorical tendency of the analytic tradition (he studied in Oxford under Isaiah Berlin and G.E.M. Anscombe). [Baker]

While rejecting the tendency of certain forms of political liberalism to promote homogeneity, he upholds multiculturalism, but also argues that not all cultures are - or perhaps not everything in a culture is - intrinsically valuable, and that we must work towards a fusion of horizons. [Baker]

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Sean Doyle's Synthesizing the Vedanta: The Theology of Pierre Johanns, S.J.

Yesterday I received for review from Peter Lang, Sean Doyle's Synthesizing the Vedanta: The Theology of Pierre Johanns, S.J. (2006).

This is a truly welcome book, because up to now Johanns has not received the attention he deserves - even though there have been a few small attempts here and there, as for example the two articles and one book by Mattam.

Johanns was one of the leading lights of the so-called 'Calcutta School' of Catholic, mostly Jesuit, Indologists. The School took its inspiration from Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. William Wallace, SJ, convert from Anglicanism, was impressed by Upadhyay's attempt to Indianize Christianity, and urged his Belgian Jesuit province to set aside gifted men for the study of the Hindu texts. Among the results of this vision were stalwarts like Johanns and Georges Dandoy, co-founders of the innovative monthly The Light of the East.

Johanns' articles on the Vedanta, originally published in The Light of the East, were published in book form by UTC, Bangalore, edited by Theo de Greef, under the inspiration and advice of the later Richard De Smet.

Doyle, who is himself a Protestant and has lived in the US and the UK, helpfully fills in Johanns' background, enabling the contemporary reader to understand just why Johanns was such a great pioneer in the field of the dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity. The one false note is when Doyle keeps calling Johanns a neo-Thomist - unaware that this term is reserved for the likes of Maritain and Gilson. Johanns is better classed as a Transcendental Thomist, or perhaps a Marechalian Thomist. He was certainly influenced by Pierre Scheuer, who De Smet has called a prince among metaphysicians.

In his opinion, Johanns' work has still to be surpassed, in the sense that no Christian has yet given as much attention to the three major strands of Vedanta - Sankara's advaita, Ramanuja's visistadvaita, and Vallabha's suddhadvaita - as Johanns has done. (Strangely, Johanns does not seem to have given as much attention to Madhva's dvaita, which people often assume to be the closest to Christianity.) In fact, according to J. Patmury whom Doyle quotes, Johanns work on Vallabha has still to be surpassed among Christian scholars.

We have to be grateful to Doyle for his path-breaking work on Johanns, marked by competence, thoroughness, openness and fairness. I think we should look forward now to similar work on the other members of the Calcutta School - beginning with Dandoy and De Smet. De Smet has produced a significant body of work on Sankara. Last year, 2010, Motilal Banarsidass brought out a collection of his essays on the personhood of Brahman (Brahman and Person: Essays by Richard De Smet, ed. Ivo Coelho). Currently I am working on a similar collection of his essays on Sankara. Since 2009, Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education has been serializing De Smet's cyclostyled notes for students, Guidelines in Indian Philosophy; hopefully these too will be made available in book form. Negotiations are on with George McLean, who holds the rights, for the publication of De Smet's doctoral thesis, The Theological Method of Samkara.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The happening of a work of art

"It is precisely in great art - and only such art is under consideration here - that the artist remains inconsequential as compared with the work, almost like a passageway that destroys itself in the creative process for the work to emerge." (Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art," Cooper 237)

See Bhagavan Shree Rajneesh / Osho in The Messiah commenting on something similar: some works simply emerge from the artist - like Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (and, I would add, Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things which, she says, just rolled off her typewriter with hardly any corrections). Osho also says that usually this happens once - perhaps the first time. The subsequent works betray effort, and never measure up to the first. This happened in the case of Gibran as well as Roy.

Note also that Heidegger - like Hegel - refuses to have anything to do with aesthetics as concerned with beauty. 

Sunday, 6 February 2011

De Smet, one of India's great advaitins

George McLean, in an email to me of 7 April 2010 (spellings corrected): 

What excited me about Fr. De Smet's original work was that it enabled the richness of Shankara and the Hindu tradition of the interior path to the divine to be re-related to the material world from which it has been separated.
Father De Smet pioneered this re-relation by opening the connection which the advaitin scholarship had severed in the interpretation of Shankara.
I see this as the key to the present need not to abandon the sacred but to show it to be the real foundation of the sense of the material life, and hence for us of the scientific world in which we now live.
I saw with my own eyes the excitement this caused at a meeting at the University of Madras when two key people jumped up at the end of his talk, which summarized the first part of his dissertation, to say that this was the way Hindu philosophy needed to be done and that he was one of the greatest advaitins in India, indeed in the whole world.”