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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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Bill,

Thanks very much for this post. These conversations are fascinating to me, and I’ve been enjoying thinking about all this. I am looking forward to seeing you in person soon.

As for your arguments in this post, I would make a first, more formal point. If we were to think in a Hegelian fashion, any synthesis presupposes two contradictory theses. It would not be a “synthesis” if it were simply a matter of conjoining insights without at the same time transforming them. Any synthesis implies a certain evolution and development of the synthesized elements, and this implies that they are not initially or prima facie compatible. So also, Thomism and phenomenology certain seem at first glance to be incompatible with each other. But this is precisely what makes them prime candidates for synthesis.

The second formal point I would make is this. Synthesis presupposes a prior incompatibility between two theses. But the synthesis also implies discerning the “core” or “essence” of each thesis and combining them in a creative fashion. That also implies leaving certain things behind which are deemed (rightly or wrongly) inessential. The synthesis is always a step beyond either of the synthesized elements, which from the point of view of the synthesis are seen to have been at best partial articulations of the whole truth. So also, a synthesis of Thomism and phenomenology would involve identifying certain essential elements of both positions and finding a way of combining them in a creative and potentially fruitful way, leaving the inessential stuff behind. I would also add that there is no scientific method to be applied here. It is a hermeneutical venture that can only be evaluated once it is completed and “put into practice,” so to speak.

These are admittedly merely formal points. I will address your specific critiques tomorrow. The material point I intend to make then is that phenomenology is capable of being interpreted in a more Thomist-friendly way than you write here. For now I wanted only to make a general point about the nature of synthesis, in response to the conclusions of your arguments as they are stated in the post above.

Steven,

And I thank you for getting me going on Husserl again. My desk is now piled high with those big black Husserliana volumes. I am having a blast working out with these tomes.

Interesting and a somewhat surprising response. So you mean synthesis in the Hegelian sense?

That if course is not the only sense. I don't think you would say that the Thomistic synthesis is of the Hegelian type.

I look forward to your specific responses.

Bill,

I understand the function of the epoché, the relation of the phenomenological attitude to the natural attitude, and the nature of constitution somewhat differently from you.

To my mind, the purpose of the epoché is to make possible a shift in focus from the natural attitude to the phenomenological attitude, so that the reduction can be practiced. But the precise manner in which this shift is to be accomplished can differ. The epoché of Ideas I, with its apparent world-denial, is one way, but it need not be the only way. I try to show in my dissertation that one can accede to the phenomenological attitude without setting aside the mind-independent existence of the world. This is accomplished by defining that which appears in experience as not first and foremost the individual object but all of being, oneself included, and all at once. Everything, oneself included, contributes to the total appearance which is given in consciousness. Once the appearance of any particular object is seen as only a part of the greater self-showing of all that is, oneself included as a part of this greater "all", then one has attained to the phenomenological attitude. Everything is seen as correlated to consciousness -- though not because it could not exist apart from consciousness, but precisely because it is taken as showing itself to consciousness without holding anything back.

If this is a legitimate way to the phenomenological attitude, -- and I think it is, -- then it is possible to engage in phenomenology without abandoning the conviction of the independent existence of things which is taken for granted in the natural attitude. And in general, on such an interpretation as I am proposing here, reflection from within the phenomenological attitude does not radically compromise or contradict the natural attitude, but rather makes it more precise and exact. It is not essential to the position of phenomenologist that one reject the natural attitude as false.

Finally, I think of constitution as a way in which consciousness "focuses" itself so that a given object can become visible. Constitution is something like a categorial intuition, only what one intuits is not a state of affairs like "S is P", but rather an object of a certain kind. An object is constituted in consciousness when one intuits a given object as being of a certain type, e.g. when one sees that "this is a cat." Now, obviously not everything can be constituted in the manner of bodily objects such as cats and dogs. These are constituted on the basis of the natural and proper mode of disclosure of these bodily objects to the senses. But the prior condition of constitution is that a thing show itself, not necessarily that it show itself in a sensory way. So I do not see why the Thomist arguments could not be interpreted phenomenologically as attempts to aid in the constitution of God as "that in virtue of which things exist."

As for the idea that Thomism is a worldview philosophy whereas phenomenology must be rigorously scientific and thus proceed from the things themselves, I suppose I would say that I would not be a Thomist of sorts if I did not think that its descriptions of things were adequate to the way they show themselves. On the other hand, even Thomas himself was willing to admit that all he had written was straw once something greater showed itself. So I do not think that this is a substantial argument against the synthetic project.

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