Updating Mortimer Adler’s Classical Reading List

I’ve gotten rid of a lot of titles on here because I just don’t see how…well, I’m not going there.  And I’ve changed some works by some authors.  I think Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is far more powerful and infinitely more relevant to FEMA-Camp America than are his novels.  I’ve BOLDFACED the ones I have already read.

    1. Homer – Iliad; Odyssey
    2. The Old Testament
    3. Aeschylus – Tragedies
    4. Sophocles – Tragedies
    5. Herodotus – Histories (I’ve read it but I need to reread it)
    6. Euripides – Tragedies
    7. ThucydidesHistory of the Peloponnesian War
    8. Hippocrates – Medical Writings
    9. Aristophanes – Comedies
    10. Plato – Dialogues
    11. Aristotle – Works
    12. Epicurus – “Letter to Herodotus”; “Letter to Menoecus”
    13. EuclidElements
    14. Archimedes – Works
    15. ApolloniusConics
    16. Cicero – Works (esp. Orations; On Friendship; On Old Age; Republic; Laws; Tusculan Disputations; Offices)
    17. LucretiusOn the Nature of Things
    18. Virgil – Works (esp. Aeneid)
    19. Horace – Works (esp. Odes and Epodes; The Art of Poetry)
    20. LivyHistory of Rome
    21. Ovid – Works (esp. Metamorphoses)
    22. QuintilianInstitutes of Oratory
    23. PlutarchParallel Lives; Moralia
    24. TacitusHistories; Annals; Agricola; Germania; Dialogus de oratoribus (Dialogue on Oratory)
    25. Nicomachus of GerasaIntroduction to Arithmetic
    26. Epictetus – Discourses; Enchiridion
    27. PtolemyAlmagest
    28. Lucian – Works (esp. The Way to Write History; The True History; The Sale of Creeds;Alexander the Oracle Monger; Charon; The Sale of Lives; The Fisherman; Dialogue of the Gods; Dialogues of the Sea-Gods; Dialogues of the Dead)
    29. Marcus AureliusMeditations
    30. GalenOn the Natural Faculties
    31. The New Testament
    32. PlotinusThe Enneads
    33. St. Augustine – “On the Teacher”; Confessions; City of God; On Christian Doctrine
    34. The Volsungs Saga or Nibelungenlied
    35. The Song of Roland
    36. The Saga of Burnt Njál
    37. MaimonidesThe Guide for the Perplexed
    38. St. Thomas Aquinas – Of Being and Essence; Summa Contra Gentiles; Of the Governance of Rulers; Summa Theologica
    39. Dante Alighieri – The New Life (La Vita Nuova); “On Monarchy”; Divine Comedy
    40. Geoffrey Chaucer – Troilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales

Leonardo da VinciNotebooks

  1. Niccolò Machiavelli – The Prince; Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy
  2. Desiderius Erasmus – The Praise of Folly; Colloquies (I’ve read different parts of Erasmus
  3. Nicolaus CopernicusOn the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
  4. Thomas MoreUtopia
  5. Martin Luther – Table Talk; Three Treatises
  6. François RabelaisGargantua and Pantagruel
  7. John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion
  8. Michel de MontaigneEssays
  9. William GilbertOn the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies
  10. Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quixote
  11. Edmund Spenser –; The Faerie Queene
  12. Francis BaconEssays; The Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum; New Atlantis
  13. William Shakespeare – Poetry and Plays
  14. Galileo GalileiStarry Messenger; Two New Sciences
  15. Johannes KeplerThe Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Harmonices Mundi
  16. William HarveyOn the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals; On the Circulation of the Blood; Generation of Animals
  17. GrotiusThe Law of War and Peace
  18. Thomas HobbesLeviathan; Elements of Philosophy (It’s on the Shelf)
  19. René Descartes –  Discourse on the Method; Meditations on First Philosophy
  20. Corneille – Tragedies (esp. The Cid, Cinna)
  21. John Milton – Works (esp. the minor poems; Areopagitica; Paradise Lost; Samson Agonistes) (In progress)
  22. Molière – Comedies (esp. The Miser; The School for Wives; The Misanthrope; The Doctor in Spite of Himself; Tartuffe; The Tradesman Turned Gentleman; The Imaginary Invalid; The Affected Ladies)
  23. Blaise Pascal –  Pensées;
  24. BoyleThe Sceptical Chymist
  25. Christiaan HuygensTreatise on Light
  26. Benedict de SpinozaPolitical Treatises; Ethics
  27. John LockeA Letter Concerning Toleration; Of Civil Government; An Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Some Thoughts Concerning Education (Currently reading)
  28. Isaac NewtonMathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Opticks
  29. Gottfried Wilhelm LeibnizDiscourse on Metaphysics; New Essays on Human Understanding; Monadology
  30. Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe;
  31. Jonathan SwiftThe Battle of the Books; A Tale of a Tub; A Journal to Stella; Gulliver’s Travels; A Modest Proposal
  32. William CongreveThe Way of the World
  33. George BerkeleyA New Theory of Vision; A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (On the shelf)
  34. Alexander PopeAn Essay on Criticism; The Rape of the Lock; An Essay on Man
  35. Charles de Secondat, baron de MontesquieuPersian Letters; The Spirit of the Laws
  36. Voltaire – Candide
  37. Henry FieldingJoseph Andrews; Tom Jones
  38. Samuel JohnsonThe Vanity of Human Wishes; Dictionary; Rasselas; Lives of the Poets
  39. David HumeA Treatise of Human Nature; Essays Moral and Political; An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding; History of England (Currently on the shelf)
  40. Jean-Jacques RousseauDiscourse on Inequality; On Political Economy; Emile; The Social Contract; Confessions
  41. Laurence SterneTristram Shandy; A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy
  42. Adam SmithThe Theory of Moral Sentiments; The Wealth of Nations (Currently on the shelf)
  43. William BlackstoneCommentaries on the Laws of England
  44. Immanuel KantCritique of Pure Reason; Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals;Critique of Practical Reason; Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics; The Science of Right; Critique of Judgment; Perpetual Peace
  45. Edward GibbonThe History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire;(Currently reading)
  46. James BoswellJournal; The Life of Samuel Johnson
  47. Antoine Laurent LavoisierTraité Élémentaire de Chimie (Elements of Chemistry)
  48. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James MadisonFederalist Papers (together with the Articles of Confederation; United States Constitution and United States Declaration of Independence)
  49. Jeremy BenthamComment on the Commentaries; Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation; Theory of Fictions
  50. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Faust
  51. Thomas Robert MalthusAn Essay on the Principle of Population
  52. John DaltonA New System of Chemical Philosophy
  53. Jean Baptiste Joseph FourierAnalytical Theory of Heat
  54. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich HegelThe Phenomenology of Spirit; Science of Logic;Elements of the Philosophy of Right; Lectures on the Philosophy of History (I’ve read most of these)
  55. William Wordsworth – Poems (esp. Lyrical Ballads; Lucy poems; sonnets; The Prelude)
  56. Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Poems (esp. Kubla Khan; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner );Biographia Literaria
  57. David RicardoOn the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
  58. Jane AustenPride and Prejudice; Emma
  59. Carl von ClausewitzOn War
  60. Lord Byron – Don Juan
  61. Arthur SchopenhauerStudies in Pessimism
  62. Michael FaradayThe Chemical History of a Candle; Experimental Researches in Electricity
  63. Nikolai LobachevskyGeometrical Researches on the Theory of Parallels
  64. Charles LyellPrinciples of Geology
  65. Auguste ComteThe Positive Philosophy
  66. Honoré de Balzac – Works (esp. Le Père Goriot; Le Cousin Pons; Eugénie Grandet;Cousin Bette; César Birotteau)
  67. Ralph Waldo EmersonRepresentative Men; Essays; Journal
  68. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Scarlet Letter
  69. Alexis de Tocqueville – Democracy in America (Halfway through reading)
  70. John Stuart Mill – A System of Logic; Principles of Political Economy; On Liberty;Considerations on Representative Government; Utilitarianism; The Subjection of Women;Autobiography
  71. Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species; The Descent of Man; Autobiography (Currently reading)
  72. William Makepeace Thackeray – Works (esp. Vanity Fair; The History of Henry Esmond;The Virginians; Pendennis) (On the shelf)
  73. Charles Dickens – Works (esp. Pickwick Papers; Our Mutual Friend; David Copperfield;Dombey and Son; Oliver Twist; A Tale of Two Cities; Hard Times)
  74. Claude Bernard – Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine
  75. George Boole – The Laws of Thought
  76. Henry David Thoreau – Civil Disobedience; Walden
  77. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – Das Kapital (Capital); The Communist Manifesto
  78. George Eliot – Silas Marner
  79. Herman Melville – Typee; Moby-Dick; Billy Budd
  80. Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov
  81. Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary; Three Stories
  82. Henry Thomas Buckle – A History of Civilization in England
  83. Francis Galton – Inquiries into Human Faculties and Its Development
  84. Bernhard Riemann – The Hypotheses of Geometry
  85. Henrik Ibsen – Plays (esp. Peer Gynt; Brand; Hedda Gabler; Emperor and Galilean; A Doll’s House; The Wild Duck; The Master Builder) Currently reading
  86. Leo TolstoyWar and Peace; Anna Karenina; “What Is Art?“; Twenty-Three Tales (Currently reading)
  87. Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; The Mysterious Stranger
  88. Henry AdamsHistory of the United States; Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres; The Education of Henry Adams; Degradation of Democratic Dogma
  89. Oliver Wendell HolmesThe Common Law; Collected Legal Papers
  90. William James –  The Varieties of Religious Experience; (Currently reading)
  91. Henry JamesThe American; The Ambassadors
  92. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; On the Genealogy of Morality; The Will to Power; Twilight of the Idols; The Antichrist
  93. Georg CantorTransfinite Numbers
  94. Jules Henri PoincaréScience and Hypothesis; Science and Method; The Foundations of Science
  95. Sigmund FreudThe Interpretation of Dreams; Three Essays to the Theory of Sex;Introduction to Psychoanalysis; Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego; The Ego and the Id; Civilization and Its Discontents; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
  96. George Bernard Shaw – Plays and Prefaces (Have on shelf)
  97. Max PlanckOrigin and Development of the Quantum Theory; Where Is Science Going?; Scientific Autobiography
  98. Henri BergsonTime and Free Will; Matter and Memory; Creative Evolution; The Two Sources of Morality and Religion
  99. John DeweyHow We Think; Democracy and Education; Experience and Nature; The Quest for Certainty; Logic – The Theory of Inquiry
  100. Alfred North WhiteheadProcess and Reality; (I have on shelf)
  101. George SantayanaThe Life of Reason; Scepticism and Animal Faith; The Realms of Being (which discusses the Realms of Essence, Matter and Truth); Persons and Places
  102. Vladimir LeninImperialism; The State and Revolution
  103. Bertrand RussellPrinciples of Mathematics; The Problems of Philosophy; Principia Mathematica; The Analysis of Mind; An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth; Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits; History of Western Philosophy
  104. Albert EinsteinThe Theory of Relativity; Sidelights on Relativity; The Meaning of Relativity; On the Method of Theoretical Physics; The Evolution of Physics
  105. James Joyce“The Dead” in Dubliners; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man;Ulysses (Have on shelf)
  106. Jacques MaritainArt and Scholasticism; The Degrees of Knowledge; Freedom and the Modern World; A Preface to Metaphysics; The Rights of Man and Natural Law; True Humanism
  107. Franz Kafka – Metamorphoses (Currently reading)
  108. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Gulag Archipelago, vol. 1-3.  Currently reading.

A non-Platonic Platonism

I have been a savage critic of Platonism, and I stand by those criticisms.  Still, I fear a rejection of Platonism–which the Resurrection demands at some level–may lead to a reaction against it.  By non-platonic platonism I mean the following in favor of what Plato was trying to get at:

  • The reality of universals.
  • The Mind-Body problem.   In short, the mind isn’t the body.  Notice I didn’t call this the body-soul problem (which is similar).  I believe in the soul, but by phrasing it around “mind-body” I am forcing the discussion at a different angle.

However, here is the non part of the definition:

  • Universals on Plato’s scheme simply can’t work and for largely the same reason as his Being-Becoming dichotomy.  How can the realm of being interact with the realm of becoming?  On Plato’s scheme it’s hard to see.
  • An affirmation of mind-body problem does not mean that the body is a prison.  I am aware of some of Plato’s exegetes’ trying to get around that, but I find their readings unconvincing (as has most of intellectual history, whether Christian or heathen).

Logic as a spiritual discipline

This is from Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission.  I don’t really recommend the book, but one chapter was pure gold.

It requires the will to be logical (182).

  • freedom from distraction
  • willingness to follow truth wherever it takes

Committed to logic as a “fundamental value” (183).

Jesus uses enthymemes.

And if anyone says, “Logic kills spiritual experience,” or “that is a Western thing,” all I can respond is you are not being faithful to the example of Jesus.  Take it up with him.


ePistemologian’s Progress

Courtesy to Bunyan,

This list was taken from Craig and Moreland (2003): 627-639.  It’s a specialized list of technical works in philosophy and theology.  The theology section was kind of soft, so I didn’t spend too much time transmitting those titles.  I only listed works that a) are in LC’s library or b) I otherwise must have, assuming they weren’t in LC’s library.

I hope to have this finished by 2020.

This list doesn’t include a lot of previously read philosophy (Coplestone, Gilson, Bahnsen, Van Til et al)

Books that have an (*) by them are books I’ve added to Moreland’s list.

Chapter 1: General Philosophy; History of Philosophy; basic issues

*Coplestone, Fr. History of Philosophy (about four volumes). (read)

*Russell, Bertrand.  A History of Western Philosophy (read).

Chapter 4: The Problem of Skepticism

Slote, Michael.  Reason and Scepticism (1970).

Chapter 5: The Structure of Justification

Audi, Robert.  Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction (1998).

Chapter 6: Theories of truth and postmodernism

Groothuis, Douglas.  Truth Decay.  (Have read); mostly fantastic, but DG has since rejected the presuppositional outlook in this book.

Willard, Dallas.  “How Concepts Relate the Mind to its Objects: The God’s Eye View Vindicated?” Philosophia Christi, 2nd ser., vol 1, no.2 (1999): 5-20.

*Stackhouse, John.  Humble Apologetics.

Chapter 7: Religious Epistemology

Alston, William.  Perceiving God (1991).

Plantinga, Alvin.  “The Foundations of Theism: A Reply.”  Faith and Philosophy 3 (1986): 298-313.

——————.  Warrant: The Current Debate.

——————.  Warrant and Proper Function (currently reading).

——————.  Warranted Christian Belief (have read).

Plantinga, Alvin, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.  Faith and rationality (have read).

*Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  Reason within the Limits of Religion. (read)

Chapter 8: What is Metaphysics?

Chisholm, Roderick.  On Metaphysics (1989).

*Hasker, William.  Metaphysics (1983) (read)

Plantinga, Alvin.  The Nature of Necessity (1974).

van Inwagen, Peter.  Metaphysics (1993).

Chapter 9: General Ontology: Existence, Identity and Reductionism

Craig, William Lane, and J. P. Moreland, eds. Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (2000).

Suarez, Francis. On the various kinds of distinctions.

Chapter 10: General Ontology: Two categories–property and substance

Chapters 11 and 12: The Mind-Body Problem

Kim, Jaegwon.  Mind in a Physical World (1998).

Moreland, J. P.  and Scott Rae.  Body and Soul: Human Nature and the crisis in ethics.

Chapter 13: Free Will and Determinism

Fischer, John.  The Metaphysics of Free Will. (1994).

Kane, Robert.  A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (2005).

Rowe, William.  Thomas Reid on Freedom and Morality (1991).

Chapter 14: Personal Identity and Life After Death

Hick, John.  Death and Eternal Life (1976).

Chapter 15: Scientific Methodology

Moreland, J. P.  Christianity and the Nature of Science (1989).

Chapter 16: The Realism-Antirealism Debate

Chapter 17: Philosophy and the Integration of Science

Chapter 18: Philosophy of Time and Space

Craig, William Lane.  God, Time, and Eternity: The Coherence of Theism II.

———————–.  Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time.

Einstein, Albert.  Relativity: General and Special Theories.

Chapters 19-22: Issues in Ethics

Geisler, Norman.  Christian Ethics: Issues and Options.

*Feinberg, John and Paul. Ethics for a Brave New World (2010) (have read)

*Holmes, Arthur.  Ethics.

Pojman, Louis.  Ethics: Discovering Right from Wrong.

Chapters 23-24: The Existence of God

Barrow, John.  The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.

Beck, David.  “The Cosmological Argument: A Current Bibliographical Appraisal.”

Craig, William Lane.  The Kalaam Cosmological Argument.

Craig, WIlliam Lane and Quentin Smith.  Theism, Atheism, and Big-Bang Cosmology.

Denton, Michael. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.

Ganssle, Gregory.  “Necessary Moral Truths and the Need for an Explanation.”

Hackett, Stuart.  Resurrection of theism.

Hume, David.  Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Martin, Michael.  Atheism: A Philosophical Justification.

Plantinga, Alvin.  The Nature of Necessity.

—————–.  The Ontological Argument.

Rowe, William.  “Circular Explanations, Cosmological Arguments and Sufficient Reason.”

Vallicella, William. “On an Insufficient Argument Against Sufficient Reason.”

Chapters 25-26: The Coherence of Theism.

Adams, Robert.  “Divine Necessity”

Craig, William Lane.  God, Time, and Eternity: The Coherence of Theism II.

Creel, Richard. Divine Impassibility.

Hasker, William. The Emergent Self.

Helm, Paul.  Divine Commands and Morality.

Leftow, Brian.  “God and Abstract Entities.”

Molina, Luis de. On Divine Foreknowledge

Nielsen, Kai.  Ethics without God.

Plantinga, Alvin.  Does God Have a Nature?  (read)

————–.  “How to be an Anti-Realist.”

—————.  The Nature of Necessity.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  “Divine Simplicity.”

* ——————–.  Divine Discourse (1993) (read)

Chapter 27: The Problem of Evil

Hick, John.  Evil and the God of Love

Plantinga, Alvin.  God, Freedom, and Evil.

—————–.  The Nature of Necessity.

Rowe, William.  “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.”

Chapter 28: Creation, Providence, and Miracle

Craig, William Lane.  “Creation and Conservation Once More.”

Freddoso, Alfred.  “The Necessity of Nature.”

Helm, Paul. The Providence of God.

Hume, David. “Of Miracles.”

Morris, Thomas.  Divine and Human Action.

*Strobel, Lee. ed. The Case for a Creator.

Suarez, Francisco.  On Creation, Conservation, and Concurrence.

Chapter 29: Christian Doctrines (I): The Trinity

(see other sources)

Chapter 30: Christian Doctrines (II): The Incarnation

Bayne, Tim. “The Inclusion Model of the Incarnation: Problems and Prospects.”

Freddoso, Alfred. “Human Nature, Potency and the Incarnation.”

Morris, Thomas.  The Logic of God Incarnate.

Chapter 31: Christian Doctrines (III): Christian Particularism

Internalism and Warrant

Some notes in Reformed Epistemology.   Helps to know these ahead of time before reading Plantinga. Parenthetical citations are from Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function.

Internalism in epistemology sees warrant as justification.

    • justification is necessary for warrant.
      • satisfaction of epistemic duty.
      • Descartes: epistemic deontologism.
        formation of belief; hence, internal
      • involves a view of cognitive accessibility (36).

Warrant: Objections and Refinements

  • Gettier:  knowledge cannot be just justified, true belief.  A fourth condition is necessary.  Internalist accounts of warrant are fundamentally wanting, thus the continuing epicycles added to the Gettier problem (32).
    • an externalist account of warrant would also take in the “epistemic credentials the proposition you believe has from the person whom you acquired it” (34).
    • credulity is valid when it operates under certain conditions:
  • Gettier’s problems show that even if internalism meets all of its conditions for knowledge, it can still fail to give knowledge.  If my internal cognitive faculties are working, and they arrive at a belief, there are still a number of counters- (ala Gettier) that show it can’t reach knowledge (36-37).  As Plantinga notes, “Justification is insufficient for warrant” (36).

My non-existent neo-Plantingian Interview

This interview never happened.  It is between me and myself.  On a more serious note, I have noticed that my philosophical readings do not fit into any specific category.  That is good, I suppose, since “joining a school” is not the best start.

Question: You read Van Til, doesn’t that make you a Van Tillian?

Answer:  Not really.  I don’t find all of his apologetics convincing, but I do appreciate his reading of Greek and medieval theology.  I think he has a lot of promise in that area.  More importantly, Van Til, better than anyone else at his time, showed the importance of God as a Covenantal, Personal God.

Q.  But didn’t you used to promote Thomas Reid’s Scottish philosophy?  All the Van Tillians I know reject it.

A. There are two different “Van Tillian” answers to that question, and his reconstructionist disciples only knew one of them.  In Survey of Christian Epistemology (p. 132-134) he notes that if the Scottish school takes man’s cognitive faculties as a proximate starting point and not an ultimate one, then there is no real problem.  Further, we see Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga saying exactly that.   Elsewhere, however, Van Til was not as careful in his reading of Reid, and the reconstructionists read him as condemning Common Sense Realism.

Q.  So, is there a contradiction between the two schools?

A.  If the above distinction is made, I am not convinced there is.

Q. You keep mentioning Alvin Plantinga.  Are you a Reformed Epistemology guy?

A. I’ve read quite a bit of Wolterstorff and Kelly James Clark.  I like what they have to say.  I am not an expert on Plantinga so I have to demur at that point.  I do think there is a dovetailing between Thomas Reid and Plantinga, and if that convergence holds there is an exciting opportunity to unite Reformed guys along different epistemological and even geographical lines.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The guys in Westminster (either school) claim Van Til.  There is a debate on how well they understand him, but that’s beside the point. I think I have demonstrated above that there is no real contradiction between the two at least on the starting point.  This means that guys who hold to some variant of Common Sense epistemology and/or Van Tillian presuppositionalism do not have to be at loggerheads.

Q.  There is still one other Dutch giant you haven’t mentioned.

A.  You mean Herman Dooyeweerd, right?

Q. Correct.

A.  If you trace the development of the Reformed Epistemology school, you can find something like Dooyeweerd at the very beginning.  When Wolterstorff and Plantinga edited Faith and Rationality, they were at that time strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that’s where they are today.   However, I do believe that Dooyeweerd’s contention that all men have a pre-theoretical “faith commitment” from the heart is in line with what Kelly James Clark and Van Til say about pretended neutrality.

Notes on Ricoeur

I am not going to do a chapter by chapter analysis of Figuring the Sacred.  Not every chapter was equally good.   Some of his musings on Heidegger and Kant were interesting but not germane to narrative theology.

“Philosophy and Religious Language”

Understanding a text is always something more than the summation of partial meanings; the text as a whole has to be considered as a hierarchy of topics” (Ricoeur 38).

This makes me think of chiasms.  The structure of a chiasm reinforces meaning.  Meaning unfolds from narrative.

“Not just any theology whatsoever can be tied to narrative form, but only a theology that proclaims Yahweh to be the grand actor of a history of deliverance.  Without a doubt it is this point that forms the greatest contrast between the God of Israel and the God of Greek Philosophy” (40).

I’ve long expected the above paragraph to anger Anchorites.  I was surprised when it started angering Reformed folk.

Manifestation and Proclamation

This is the most important essay in the book and the one that causes much offense.   Ricoeur opposes a philosophy of manifestation (ontotheology) with a philosophy of proclamation (Yahweh speaks).


The “numinous” element of the sacred has nothing to do with language (49).  Another key element is theophany–not moments in the biblical narrative, but anything by which the sacred shows itself (icons, relics, holy places).   This means that reality is something other than itself while remaining itself.

There is a correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm (54).  This brings to mind the Luciferian “as above, so below” dictum.  In short, ontologies of manifestation always focus on “reality/grace/etc” emanating from the thing or the place.


There is a rupture–violent in the case of the prophets’ war against Baalism–between manifestation and proclamation.  The word outweighs the numinous (56).  Israel’s whole theology–and identity–was formed around discourses.

Per idols and icons:  “We may say that within the Hebraic domain they (hierophanies) withdraw to the extent that instruction through Torah overcomes any manifestation through an image.  A Theology of the Name is opposed to any hierophany of an idol…Hearing the word has taken the place of vision of signs” (56).  God’s pesel is the Ten Words. It is the only pesel he commanded.

Communal Readings

In “The ‘Sacred’ Text and the Community” Ricoeur gives a neat deconstruction of the concept “sacred,” especially when applied with a book.

For us, manifestation is not be necessity linked to language.  The word ‘sacred’ belongs to the side of manifestation, not to the side of proclamation, because many things may be sacred without being a text (71)

Ricoeur the Hermeneut

His reading of Genesis 1:1-2:4a is interesting, but more for the method than the conclusions. His essay on the Imagination is quite valuable in showing what “goes on” in a narrative.   Many narratives in the Bible, particularly Jesus’s parables, employ intertextuality which always forces an expansion of meaning from the text. In other words, it is “an object with surplus value” (152).  Assuming that the Holy Spirit didn’t write chaotically and randomly, isolated texts are now seen in a pattern and signify something else, something more (161).

Ricoeur then moves to a section on biblical time, which is useful for meditation.  He summarizes von Rad, Cullman, and others.  I won’t belabor the point.

His essay “Interpretive Narrative” offers his famous distinction between “idem” identity (the god of sameness, the god of Greek metaphysics) and ipse identity (the God who is constant to the Covenant).  He expands this motif in “Naming God.”  God’s identity is seen in his historic acts.


While magnificent, it is in many ways a difficult read.  He assumes a familiarity with Continental Philosophy (itself a daunting task) and even then some essays don’t seem to have a point.  But when he unloads on narrative he truly delivers.

Notes on Hegel

Taylor frames his book in order of several of Hegel’s main works. He does an excellent job outlining difficult terminology and highlighting key points which will serve as hermeneutical loci later.

Front Cover

Self-Positing Spirit

This introduces Hegel’s “identity of difference and identity.” Starting slowly, following Taylor, here is what I think he means. Hegel is trying to overcome the Kantian duality. Hegel wants to overcome this with his notion of “overcoming oppositions.” Therefore, identity cannot sustain itself on its own, but posits an opposition, but also a particularly intimate one (80). In short, Hegel married modern expression with Aristotle’s self-realizing form (81).

Following this was Hegel’s other point: the subject, and all his functions, however spiritual, were necessarily embodied (82-83).

The Contradiction Arises

Contrary to mindless right-wing bloggers, Hegel did not form the “dialectic” in the following way: we posit a thesis (traditional community), then we negate it (cultural marxism), which allows for the “synthesis” (our pre-planned solution all along). Here is what Hegel actually meant: there is reality, but the very structure of reality already contains a contradiction. The subject then must overcome that contradiction.

Taylor notes, “In order to be at all as a conscious being, the subject must be embodied in life; but in order to realize the perfection of consciousness it must fight and overcome the natural bent of life as a limit. The conditions of its existence are in conflict with the demands of its perfection (86).

Taylor has much more to say but that will suffice for now. Of course, I radically disagree with Hegel’s conclusions. That does not mean Hegel is value-less. On the contrary, one can see key Augustinian and Origenist points in his outlook.

Taylor seems to structure his discussion of Hegel along the following lines: Phenomenology of Geist is a sort of preparatory stage for the Logic. At the end of the last discussion, Hegel said that Spirit (Geist) comes to know himself, and that finite spirits are the vehicles of this self-knowledge. This is partly why Hegel says that Geist must be embodied.

We start off with an inadequate notion of the standard involved; but we also have some basicaly correct notions of what the standard must meet. However, we see the inadequacy of both when we try to realize it. Obviously, Hegel is simply following Plato on this point.

What if we are just arbitrarily positing some standard of knowledge? No big deal, for upon reflection we will find out that said standard is likely faulty and we will have to “re-think it.” When we re-think it we get closer to the truth. Thus, “the test of knowledge is also its standard” (136).

Hegel ends this discussion with the suggestion that consciousness inevitably posits self-conscious, which will be taken up in the next chapter.

I’m skipping the section on “self-consciousness” because I really didn’t understand it.

One thing I do appreciate about Hegel is that his worldview really is unified. His discussions on “ontology” (the study of essence) are directly connected to his politics and views on religion (and to show how “real-life” this really is: when Karl Marx read Hegel he kept a few elements but mainly despised the man and his system. He negated Hegel–pun intended. Following his negation, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao took this negation of Hegel and murdered 200 million people. Philosophy really does matter).

In the Formation of Spirit Taylor notes that Hegel idealized the ancient Greek polis: he saw a complete unity between citizen and society (171). Unfortunately (or inevitably) this had to break down. Spirit cannot become universal if it is confined to the walls of one particular city. This is an important, if somewhat abstract point. I will develop it further in my final reflections on Hegel.

Taylor remarks, somewhat side-tracking the discussion, that sin is necessary for salvation in Hegel’s view (174). Of course, as a Christian this is completely unacceptable, but it also shows my appreciation for Hegel. Hegel can be seen as the consistent high-point of a certain strand of Western thought. We saw the same type of thinking in Origen (for God to be Lord, there must be something for him to be Lord “over”).
Essentially, what Hegel is saying is that men feel a basic attitude of alienation–their substance lies outside them and they can only overcome it by overcoming their particularity (donum superadditum? 179). Unfortunately, that is what Hegel calls a “contradiction.”

This part of Hegel’s Phenomenology is dealing heavily with social life, which I will cover in greater detail in the chapters on politics.

This next section of the book, and presumably the logical outflowing of Hegel’s thought, deals with “manifest religion.” I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, partly because it is the most atrocious aspect of Hegel’s thought, and partly because I want to get to the politics. However, Hegel is nothing if not consistent, and it is important to see how one section implies the next (which is exactly how his later Logic is set up). And as always, even when wrong Hegel has some excellent insights on the human dynamic.

Building on Hegel’s premise that God/Geist/Spirit, which is the ultimate reality, must be embodied in history, it follows that one must ask in what manner is it embodied? One of the most fundamental modes, Hegel posits, is in religion (197). Briefly stated, Hegel sees each epoch in human history as manifesting religion, but always in a contradictory way. The Greeks were able to apprehend “the universal,” but they could only do so in a finite and limited way (and thus the infinite/finite contradiction). This contradiction is not a bad thing, though, for it opened up the possibility of the Christian religion (with a detour through the Hebrews). Hegel sees the ultimate religious expression in the Incarnation.

What do we make of this?

Like anything Hegel says, much of the surface-level language is quite good, but once you get beyond that you see the truly bizarre theology. Hegel has a strong emphasis on community and will say that is where the true Christian expression is found. From our perspective, this sounds a lot like saying Christ is found in the church, and that is true. Unfortunately, Hegel was not using that in the same way we are.

At this point in the narrative we are beginning the discussion of Hegel’s two-volume Logic. While this is the hardest of his works to understand (and I certainly don’t understand them beyond a fourth-grade level), it will be easy to discuss them. His main points are clear and tied together.

A Dialectic of Categories

When one is studying reality, Hegel says, one can start anywhere in the system, for each facet is ultimately tied together (226). If we start with “Being” then our method will proceed dialectically. What he means by that is the very structure of reality has a contradiction, and in overcoming that contradiction Being moves forth to something else. Throughout the whole of this discussion, Hegel is starting from Kant and reworking the system along problems he sees in Kant.

To avoid confusion, and to silence the right-wing conspiracy bloggers, Hegel’s idea of contradiction is this: he has a two-pronged argument, the first showing that a given category is indispensable, the second showing that it leads to a characterization of reality which is somehow impossible or incoherent (228).

In developing the above contradiction, Hegel assumes the Plotinian dialectic: a Something can only be defined by referent to another with which it is contrasted (236).

Hegel says a lot more on these topics, but I will not. Throughout Taylor’s analysis he reveals interstesting facets of Hegel’s thought, showing him to be a true heir of Augustine and Plotinus. We’ll discuss these topics later. The next discussion, Lord willing, will focus on the Essence.


Most right-wing bloggers think that Hegel’s view is the Illuminati finding its ultimate expression in world-government. Actually, what Hegel means is that communities become vehicles of the “Spirit.” This can (and has) been taken in numerous ways. I see it as communities organically expressing a common spirit, common values (see Augustine, City of God Book 19.4).

Hegel is trying to overcome the dilemma that social life poses: per man’s subjective life the important thing is freedom of spirit. However, man also lives in community and the norms of the community often bind his freedom of spirit (it is to Hegel’s credit that he recognized this problem generations before Nietszche and the existentialists).

Hegel suggests the form man must attain is a social form (366). It is important to note that what Hegel means by “state” is much different than what Anglo-Americans mean by it. Hegel means the “politically organized community” (387). Let’s explore these few sentences for a moment. Throughout his philosophy Hegel warns against “abstractions,” by which he means taking an entity outside its network of relations. With regard to politics, if abstraction is bad then it necessarily follows that man’s telos is in a community. Man comes into the world already in a network of relations.

Reason and History

Given Hegel’s commitment about the fulfillment of spirit, it follows that communities grow. As seen above, Hegel’s applies to history the problem of self-fulfillment. How does man realize the fulfillment of the Idea?

Jews: realization that God is pure, subjective Spirit. Ends up negating finite reality.

Greek: opposite of Jewish mentality. Harmonizes God with “natural expression.” Ends up with idolatry. Greek polis is pariochial. Each state his its own God. A universal realization of spirit is thus impossible. Men were identified with Greek state. Democracy natural expression. There is a necessary contradiction within the Greek polis: only represents a part of finite reality.

Romans: Origin of the idea as “Person,” bearer of “abstract right” (397).

Christianity: the finite subject and absolute spirit can be reconciled. The task of history is to make this reconciliation public–this is the Church.

Germans: they were to take it to the next stage.

The rest of European history is a working out these processes, a transformation of institutions. It is hear that we see feudalism, etc. At this point we need to correct a mistake about Hegel: Hegel is not saying that world history climaxes with Prussian Germany. There is no sensible way he could have believed that. Germany was weak and defeated when he wrote (it would have been interesting and perhaps more perceptive to say that Russia was the bearer of the World Spirit). Nonetheless, as Hegel notes and as his critics routinely miss, history did take an interesting turn in the 19th century and the force of ideas does not simply stop because the historian wants them to stop.

The Foundations of the Modern State

Monarchy as the Representative Individual: consistent with his earlier points, Hegel notes that there must be some way for the individual to retain his subjective right, yet at the same time freely and fully identify with the community (Staat). This happens by way of monarchy. Beneath the monarchy are Estates, who mediate the King to the people. Nowhere does Hegel mean representation according to our usage today. The King does not “represent” the will of the people, but through his kingly majesty allows the people to identify (399).

The French Revolution: Political Terror

Hegel defines it as “absolute, unlimited freedom.” Complete freedom means that outcome should be decided by me. Of course, since I am in society it is not decided by me alone. Therefore, complete freedom is decided by the strongest individual.

Charles Taylor is embarrassed by Hegel’s rejection of the principles of the French Revolution. I think the reason is that if Hegel is right and one should view the Modern Narrative as a continuation of the French Revolution, then the only moral alternative is to reject said narrative. He notes (if not likes) Hegel’s challenge to modernity: the modern ideology of equality and of total participation leads to a homogenization of society. This shakes men loose from their traditional communities but cannot replace them as a focus of identity” (414).

Translation: all natural societies organically flow from a unified belief system/ethnos (cf. Augustine, City of God, 19.4). Modernity is the negation of this. Without this unified system of belief, men cannot “connect” to one another. Thus, no real community. Thus, no real unity and society is held together by force (ala Hegel on Rome) and terror (ala Hegel on France).

Modernity is nominalism of politics.

Hegel’s conclusion, which Taylor rejects, is a rationalized monarchy. Hegel was a monarchist but he was not a traditionalist, and for that reason he was not a conservative. He agreed with the older conservatives that society must be founded on authority, estates, and a strong monarch; Hegel, however, based these spheres, not on divine right or tradition, but on reason. In this sense Hegel stands firmly in the Enlightenment.

According to Hegel France is utterly lost in terms of a political future. England is better, but she is not far behind in spiritual rot, for England (like America today) is run riot with an excess on particular rights. And in this chaos of individualism, special interest groups backed by powerful elites have taken control (like America today).

Taylor notes that for Hegel,

“The only force which could cure this would be a strong monarchy like those late medieval kings which forced through the barons the rights of the universal. But the English have crucially weakened their monarchy; it is powerless before Parliament which is the cockpit of private interests (454).

I first found this line of reasoning from Fr. Raphael Johnson’s take on Russian history. I guess Johnson got it from Hegel himself since he wrote his Master’s thesis on Hegel.

Taylor continues to the conclusion,

Hence the vehicle by which rational constitution could best be introduced and made real was a powerful modernizing monarchy…Hegel had hopes for the future based on the climate of his times. Germany had been shocked into reform by the Napoleonic conquest. It consisted of societies founded on law in which principles of rational Enlightenment had already gone some way and seemed bound to go further. It had a Protestant political culture and hence could achieve a rational constitution unlike the benighted peoples of Latin Europe, and it was not too far gone in rot like England. It held to the monarchical principle and the monarchs retained some real power unlike England, and yet the societies were law societies (454-455).

This paragraph warrants some reflection:

  • Although I am a traditionalist, and Hegel is not, I agree that a modernizing monarchy is much preferred than unreflected claims to “Throne and Altar.” Many monarchists today naively think that “restoring a king” will return the land to justice. Ironically, this tends to lead to the same problems that Republican government leads: you have the vision of a few determining the fate of the whole. Rather, a strong monarch who enforces Republican structures in the land, arising from the will of the ethnos (shades of Johann Herder), existing primarily to reign in the excesses of the free market, is one who is both authoritarian yet the people are still free.
  • while we are at it, I actually encourage one to read the thoughtful positions by N. T. Wright and Oliver O’Donovan on monarchy. However, most Protestant political forces have been confessedly thoroughly anti-monarchist, and it is no surprise there are few Protestant Monarchies left. Happily, though, there are examples of good, Protestant monarchies.


In many ways Taylor’s book is essential. One has to know how Hegel is using terminology and Taylor is a reliable guide in that regard. Taylor cannot square himself with Hegel’s politics, though, since Hegel is a rejection (negation?) of modernity.