NDPR Review of Oliver D. Crisp, Michael C. Rea (eds.) – Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology – Reviewed by Gordon Graham, Princeton Theological Seminary
July 2, 2009 — 6:54

Author: Jon Kvanvig  Category: Books of Interest  Comments: 2

Here. Graham complains about the structure of the work but seems to like the individual essays for the most part. The complaints concern the notion of analytic theology, in particular how it is different from plain old philosophical theology. Worth a look.
Graham ends the review by claiming:

In his essay Oliver Crisp employs the ancient dictum of “faith seeking understanding”. This is not the same as faith seeking truth. Given its “ineradicable pluralism”, however, philosophy is not plausibly interpreted as seeking truth anyway. What it seeks is a distinctive kind of understanding, a profoundly intellectual one that can only be gained through an exercise of strictly intellectual virtues.

I applaud the idea that truth is not the only goal of cognition, and also the focus on understanding, but I also note problems here. This passage has a bad argument (inferring that philosophy isn’t seeking truth because of a pluralism explained earlier as involving ineradicable disagreement), but that’s not my central concern. Nor is the second mistake in the passage my primary concern: it is simply false that understanding can only be gotten through the use of the intellectual virtues (it can be a “gift of the gods”, one would expect, given a decent account of what understanding is). No, my real concern is about the purported contrast between truth and understanding, since if philosophy isn’t after truth, it’s going to have trouble getting understanding. There is of course the affective side of understanding, involving the wonderful feeling of seeing things finally falling into place, but that alone isn’t sufficient. Understanding is factive when propositional and quasi-factive when objectual, and I hear there are some neat arguments available in print for such a view! (Lamarck understood his own theory quite well, but he didn’t understand how the inheritance of characteristics works, since he was wrong about that.)

  • Mike Rea

    Though it’s not strictly pertinent to the issue you raise, Jon, I’ll take this opportunity to comment on a different aspect of the review: One of Gordon’s main criticisms seems to be that we haven’t sufficiently differentiated analytic theology from (analytic) philosophical theology. But that strikes me as a rather bizarre objection, at least given what I say in the introduction. As I see it, analytic theology overlaps analytic philosophical theology–in fact, there’s not a whole lot included in the latter that wouldn’t also be included in the former. Gordon notes that if that is true, then “analytic theology is nothing new, and has been carried on with vigor for the last four decades or more”. Fair enough, but I never claimed that analytic theology is anything new. As I see it, the most important (intended) contribution of the volume is just to get people reflecting on this already-familiar enterprise as a legitimate way of doing *theology* rather than simply as a form of applied *philosophy*. And even this idea (i.e., that what analytic philosophers of religion have been doing for decades is a perfectly legitimate form of theological theorizing) isn’t really new either–as anyone can see by looking at systematic theologies from the early 20th Century and before.

    July 2, 2009 — 10:01
  • Jon Kvanvig

    Mike, exactly! Just because A.T., or A.P.T. has been around since the mid-60’s or so doesn’t mean there is nothing left, that everything from now on will be old-hat. In a way, as you acknowledge, nobody can say what “analytic” means anymore, and my own preference is to view it as a term that isn’t useful anymore–there really was such a thing as analytic philosophy, but it hasn’t been around in any significant way since the 1930’s. But some still use the term, and there is a coarse sociological point to be made about its scope, of the sort you point to in the introduction, and that’s fine. But what is strange is to think that unless A.T. or A.P.T. isn’t completely new, different from, say, the early Plantinga or Adams or Alston, then it isn’t new enough to need defense or discussion. That’s simply not true, as any attention to citation patterns outside of philosophy will reveal: scientists cite philosophers of science regularly, linguists cite philosophers of language, etc., but those in religious studies and theology departments cite at a sparse rate in comparison. And to a discipline with any sense of history, 40 years is a speck on an enormous landscape!

    July 5, 2009 — 19:58