Skepticism is, DC Schindler argues, self-refuting ( Plato’s Critique of Impure Reason: On Goodness and Truth in the Republic ). Pointing that out, though, doesn’t convince the skeptic, who is not so much a hater of reason but someone who “has simply grown numb to the claims of reason” (12). What Schindler calls “misology” ruins reason “because it allows a momentary claim, but always only within a willingness to relativize this claim the next moment, ‘whenever necessary.’”

What distinguishes philologues from misologues, then, is not the momentary affirmation of truth, even of absolute truth. It’s a persistence over time. As Schindler says, “Fidelity represents a being bound by some ‘more-than-momentary’ claim, and comprehensiveness represents an aspiration to, and responsibility for, the whole beyond the fragmentariness of parts. It follows, conversely, that the most decisive mark of misology is precisely a lack of fidelity, an inconsistency, or the absence of any felt need to integrate particular claims into a coherent whole” (13). And this implies something also about the form in which truth emerges: “the ‘truth of truth’ cannot come to adequate manifestation through a single claim or argument, a proposition or even an intuition, insight, or inspiration, but only through some form of a dramatic narrative.” Reason must be ordered to a “whole,” or otherwise it is ordered to utility: “whatever works.” It becomes a tool of power (14).

Much to admire in Schindler. But his book puts the theological question of faith and reason to the side, except to criticize Luther for subordinating reason to faith and revelation. He rejects any effort to “measure reason by some criterion external to it, a criterion that is therefore by definition nonrational” (13). He understand the difficulties of giving reasons for reason:

Summarizing Nietzsche, he writes, “What reason could one possibly give for reason? If reason itself is not compelling a priori, it has no resource upon which to draw in order to prove itself compelling. Apriority would seem to be essential to something’s being compelling: ‘compellingness’ can never simply be lent to something, since that implies it can just as easily be demanded back. And reason without any intrinsic necessity is not reason.” For Nietzsche, reason is “at root irrational; truth is a subspecies of falsehood that has been elevated above the other falsehoods for ‘reasons’ that cannot be measured against the standard of reason itself. We cannot get outside of reason to judge it, and even if we could we would by the very same stroke lose the criterion by which to judge” (3). Schindler also accepts some of the postmodern critic of Enlightenment rationalism, its instrumentalization of reason and its equation of reason and power. He disputes the conclusion that this is inherent in reason itself, claiming instead that “the tyrannical will to dominate” is a “symptom” of reason’s “internal collapse” (22). He agrees that reason can only grasp “the whole” by renouncing the desire to dominate it.

Where he departs from postmodernism is his conviction that “a genuine modest in rationality is possible only if we recover reason’s natural ordering to the comprehensive whole.” And that’s a problem. Schindler says that despite surface disagreements relativism and dogmatism are in fact kin, since “both deny that the natural telos of reason is the comprehensive whole .” Both accept “a partial or fragmented view of reason, one that does not feel any intrinsic obligation to understand something as a whole or in the totality of its parts or to get to the heart of the matter” (14). But if reason imposes this obligation, then reason is a tease, because we’re simply not going to understand anything as a whole or in the totality of its parts. Human knowledge is, necessarily, finite. (I’m put in mind here of Van Til’s constant point against idealism, the assumption that that knowledge is impossible unless it is omniscience.)

It seems that these conundrums can only be resolved theologically. Christians distinguish the rationality of humans (which is by definition creaturely, hence relative) from the logos of God, one substance with the Father. Judging human reason by this external criteria (which is what Luther is all about, of course) is not a move from logos to alogic, but a move from fragmentary and fallen human rationality to the Word of the Father. And to this we of course have to add the notion of revelation, which claims that this Word has become flesh and text and come among us.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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