Derrida and Theology

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Jacques Derrida: a name to strike fear into the hearts of theologians. His ideas have been hugely influential in shaping postmodern philosophy, and its impact has been felt across the humanities from literary studies to architecture. However, he has also been associated with the specters of relativism and nihilism.

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Some have suggested he undermines any notion of objective truth and stable meaning. Derrida is now increasingly seen as a major contributor to thinking about the complexity of truth, responsibility and witnessing. Export Citation. User Account Log in Register Help. Search Close Advanced Search Help.

Show Summary Details. More options …. Open Theology. Editor-in-Chief: Taliaferro, Charles. Open Access. Online ISSN See all formats and pricing Online. Prices are subject to change without notice. Prices do not include postage and handling if applicable. The Numinous, the Ethical, and the Body. Volume 4 Issue 1 Jan , pp. Volume 3 Issue 1 Jan , pp. Volume 2 Issue 1 Jan Volume 1 Issue 1 Jan Previous Article.

  1. Phenomenology’s Rejects: Religion after Derrida’s Denegations : Open Theology?
  2. The Experience of Silence.
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Next Article. How Does it Fit? Jason W. References Alvis, Jason W. About the article Received : Accepted : Published Online : Published in Print : Related Content Loading General note: By using the comment function on degruyter. In the CM, the Other's body is interpreted as the phenomenal place where the otherwise inaccessible sphere of a foreign subjectivity can be apperceived and thus indirectly experienced.

Nevertheless, Husserl's principal concern is clearly not the perception of foreign corporeity as such, but its essential role for the establishment of a relationship between one's own ego and the ego of the Other as equally primordial origin of intentional acts of consciousness and rational actions. Husserl's conception of consciousness as an invisible but apperceptible centre of organization and orientation of a living being also accounts for the fact that he pays relatively little attention to the immanent differentiation of the body i.

This fracture of the ontological categories is therefore not the result of an inner-logical, systematic consideration, but has its roots in a radically pre-objective affection of the subject that calls for an equally pre-objective linguistic paradigm. In his eyes, mysticism amounts not only to the disappearance of true alterity, but also to an experience of plenitude that renders the language of solicitation superfluous.

The Experience of Silence

That this is not the only way to avoid a monolithic conception of the ego , and that one can define mysticism otherwise than in terms of disappearance of all differences in pre-logical and pre-ethical darkness shall become clear in the course of our following analyses. In Time and the Other , as well as in Totality and Infinity , Levinas refers to the father—son relationship as paradigmatic example of an experience of the radically Other above and beyond the ontological categories of identity and difference.

In the case of the father—son relationship, however, this phenomenon of exteriority is radicalized insofar as the engendering and birth of a previously non-existing child marks an additional de-possession of the subject with regard to the temporal horizon of its consciousness. As paradoxical as it might seem, the Levinasian subject partakes of immortality to the precise extent that it ceases to insist on its own self-preservation and permits itself to be drawn outside the boundaries of its own selfness.

Although the son owes his very existence to his father, the possibility of the younger generation to outlive their elders marks a discontinuity between them, which can no longer be overcome from the viewpoint of theoretical constitution. This is a point we shall return to later when dealing with Meister Eckhart's philosophical approach. Second, Levinas limits himself to contrasting the classical conception of transcendental subjectivity with those contingent aspects of human existence that exceed the realm of traditional philosophical conceptuality and transcendental consciousness e.

In doing so, however, he tacitly presupposes without any further proof that the unilateral aspects of traditional ontology cannot be corrected and overcome from within the sphere of philosophical thought itself but only from an external point of view. Third, Levinas apparently takes for granted that Occidental philosophy is a more or less homogeneous totality, dominated from beginning to end by the objectifying, naturalistic categories established by Greek philosophy.

This presupposition too is questionable, because it repeats the anti-ethical gesture of assimilation, justly criticized by Levinas in the context of intersubjective relationships, with regard to the heterogeneous phenomenality of philosophy itself. His approach proves that well before Levinas, certain Occidental philosophers and theologians have already recognized the ontological paradigm of natural objects as inapplicable to subjectivity in general and the relationship to the Other in particular. And third, Eckhart's speculative interpretation of the relationship between ego and alter ego is accompanied by the development of a transcendental syntax and grammar that pre-figures Derrida's analysis of the Husserlian notion of alter ego as expression of true exteriority and non-accidental difference.

At first sight, the highly speculative orientation of Eckhart's thought seems rather surprising, because for the most part his Scholastic opus comprises exegetical commentaries on different books of the Bible. A closer look reveals, however, that the contents belie the literary form, for Eckhart is clearly much less concerned with the historical sense of the biblical text than with its systematic interpretation in accordance with certain philosophical principles.

Eckhart claims, by contrast, that Holy Writ and Aristotelian first philosophy teach exactly the same contents, albeit in different ways, 32 and makes no secret of the fact that he owes the idea of a perfect coincidence between the Bible and Aristotelian philosophy to the Jewish thinker Maimonides. The Maimonidean influence on Eckhart's thought is particularly visible in his interpretation of those passages of the Bible that deal with God's self-revelation and the related problem of the adequate or inadequate rendering of the divine names in human language.

Despite the conspicuous presence of Aristotelian concepts and topics throughout his works, the German Dominican does not adopt the peripatetic notion of substance as the ultimate fundament of his own metaphysics. More precisely speaking, Eckhart radicalizes the Aristotelian definition of ousia , which is essentially inspired by the paradigm of natural objects tainted with divisibility and contingent existence.

In Aristotelian terms, the unity of natural substances is only a relative one, because it still allows of a multiplicity of accidental properties. What is even more important is that their unity and identity is something that can be recognized and predicated upon from outside , but not something the substance itself could be consciously aware of. Hence, the unity of the ousia is, properly speaking, a function of the intellect, which consists in singling out certain elements from the perpetual fluctuation of the phenomenal world and considering them as accidental properties of a certain substrate.

The difference between, on the one hand, the mode of being of the intellect, and on the other hand, the sphere of natural things is not only a question of degree, but implies an ontological quantum leap. Eckhart does not consider the intellect as one albeit the highest faculty of the human soul among others, but locates it in the same sphere of uncreatedness as the divine intellect itself. This particular conception of the relationship between the intelligible sphere and the sphere of natural beings is mirrored in the ontological hierarchy Eckhart establishes between the different transcendental properties.

While Thomas Aquinas and most other Scholastic thinkers teach the horizontal convertibility of ens , unum , verum and bonum , 35 Eckhart reserves the unum and the verum for the sphere of uncreated reality and relegates the ens and the bonum to the level of created beings. This vertical hierarchization of the transcendentals entails a restriction with regard to the applicability of other philosophical principles, especially the four Aristotelian causes. Because the sphere of the verum is not subject to change, it is beyond the realm of efficient and final causality, both of which are proper to natural beings.

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Only form and intelligible matter apply to the sphere of the intellect, which means that its dynamism cannot be conceived in terms of exterior, physical causality. The first principle of the cosmos is the supreme good only insofar as it is the ultimate goal all other beings tend to, but it is not overflowing goodness that generously communicates its own internal richness and intellectual bliss to the rest of reality. To be true, the Aristotelian notion of the divine can be seen as a paradigmatic example of the arrogant attitude of cognitive self-absorption and unethical self-centredness Levinas sees at work in virtually all the Occidental philosophers.

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Eckhart's philosophical and theological project, however, manages to escape this criticism. To be precise, these two aspects are one and the same inasmuch as the creation of the sensible, material world is nothing else but the result of the groundless dynamic of the divine origin that recognizes and pronounces itself in the Word.

Rather, what appears to us as the autonomous, extra-divine sphere of nature is part and parcel of the overflowing dynamic in which God engenders his Other from all eternity. Without the generation of the Son, i. What distinguishes nature from God himself is therefore no more than a particular perspective, i.

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Although firmly centred on the idea that God is intellect in its highest and purest form and that man's beatitude consists likewise in a specific form of intellectual knowledge, Eckhart's metaphysics manages to avoid the pitfalls of traditional Greek ontology by conceiving rational subjectivity according to a completely different paradigm than the world of natural objects.

God's overflowing, creative potency is, in fact, not some anonymous principle we only can infer a posteriori from the structure of the created world; rather, it is intellectual selfness in its utmost purity, which addresses itself to the human intellect in order to be recognized as such.

Eckhart analyzes the corresponding Latin sentence Ego sum qui sum by examining first, the meaning of each word separately and then, the structure of the sentence as a whole. Above and beyond the objectives of traditional biblical hermeneutics, Eckhart's interpretation of the aforementioned verse has a highly philosophical thrust, for it aims to develop a transcendental grammar that exceeds the classical subject—predicate logic of Aristotelian metaphysics. Concerning the first term of this sentence, Eckhart claims that the pronoun ego does not merely replace the subject i. The purely deictic nature of this expression does not indicate a lack of predicative determination but rather its excess, because the self-consciousness of the ego is the transcendental condition for any subsequent affirmation or negation concerning objective states-of-things.

On the contrary: ego stands for the highest principle of subjective identity insofar as it marks the breakthrough-point of intellectual spontaneity and liberty that can neither be deduced from, nor reduced to, natural causes and determinations. It is important to notice that there is a marked difference between Eckhart's conception of the ego and the modern Cartesian philosophy of subjectivity. Whereas the latter considers the human ego from a minimalistic viewpoint as the ultimate residue of methodical scepticism, the German Dominican does not admit of any true egoity beside God himself.

His ego is the plenitude of reality at its highest, whose absolute singularity is rich enough to forgo the mechanisms of monolithic self-conservation.

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  • For Eckhart, the formulation Ego sum qui sum is not a mere tautology, but the expression of the divine self-engendering, where the monadic origin i. The alter ego engendered by the divine ego is therefore not a mere accidental addition or modification but a radical, co-original form of alterity that allows the being-origin of its origin to become manifest. As far as the intra-divine life is concerned, Eckhart's interpretation of the Father—Son relationship in terms of reflective intellectual self-recognition is, for the most part, in conformity with contemporary Scholastic teaching.

    Jacques Derrida

    Because for Eckhart, there is no true self besides the divine ego , the relationships between human persons too have to obey the Trinitarian schema of absolutely original, non-contingent intersubjectivity. As long as I consider the other person according to their qualities, properties, abilities, bodily appearance, etc. Like Levinas, Meister Eckhart considers the relationship of the ego with its Other not as a mere corollary of the relationship with inner-worldly objects, but on the contrary, as the primordial origin and transcendental ground for any experience of the natural world.

    In the relationship between the ego and the alter ego , the alter is therefore no accidental addition to the self-same subject, but marks the space of primordial exteriority, in which egoity accedes to itself as groundless, non-objectifying distance and otherness. This kind of intersubjective relationship is the exact opposite of an objectifying assimilation by means of theoretical thought, for the universality of the intellect is of a completely different nature than the mere logical generality of created genera or species.

    Being strictly incapable of receiving any property whatsoever, one intellectual ego can, by definition, never ap- propriate the other. This is the ultimate reason why Eckhart's thesis of the non-natural, uncreated character of the intellect does not equal metaphysical richness and power, but on the contrary, extreme poverty and nudity. In Eckhart's approach, it is precisely thanks to its non-empirical mode of being that the fruitful, generative nature of intersubjective relationships can extend to all human beings alike, beyond the limits of empirical familial bonds.

    As much as our biological generation is responsible for the individual differences between human beings, as much our uncreated dimension of pure egoity unites us in the one eternal generation in which the Father engenders the Son, and in him, all intellectual beings. The perfect reciprocity of this relationship can be literally interpreted as an-archy insofar as neither of the persons involved can dominate the other as their derivative product but only recognize them as co-original reflection of the generative origin in the absolute sense, i.

    What the French philosopher takes from the German Dominican is not so much the theological or, more precisely, Trinitarian background of his egological approach, but rather his subtle speculative grammar, which allows the encounter between ego and alter ego to be articulated according to a non-Aristotelian but nevertheless highly intelligible logic. The explicit references to Eckhart's writings occur only in the part of his essay dealing with Heidegger, and focus mainly on the aspect of negative theology. His defence of Husserl's conception of alterity, by contrast, draws implicitly on one of the central aspects of Eckhart's transcendental egology without so much as mentioning the fact that for Eckhart, these two topics are intrinsically connected and therefore often expounded in the same sermons.

    Whereas Heidegger considers Eckhart's Gelassenheit merely as an alternative to the Occidental definitions of subjectivity in terms of power and complete technical objectification of the world, 56 Derrida is visibly more interested in Eckhart's idea of introducing primordial difference into God himself. Although Derrida's reading of Eckhart does admittedly more justice to the theological dimension of the German Dominican's thought than Heidegger's interpretation, he still fails to recognize the whole extent of his originality with regard to the mainstream of Occidental philosophical tradition.

    The crucial point is Eckhart's interpretation of the Trinity, which is precisely not identical with the God of onto-theology, 60 but rather synonymous to quelling life itself, conceived as the primordial dynamic of thought. Derrida writes:.

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