14 December 2009

On becoming a hermeneut. . .not a hermit!

Some very observant HancAquam readers have noticed and commented upon recent changes in the WISH LIST.

Once stocked with a healthy selection of philosophy of science books, the List is now populated by tomes on divine revelation, epistemology, and hermeneutics.

Have I abandoned philosophy of science for theology?  No.

Writing the thesis has revealed to me a number of deficiencies not only in self-discipline but also in my general understanding of science.  My thesis subject, the Rev'd Dr. John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest and quantum physicist, frequently uses examples from his scientific specialty to illustrate philosophical and theological insights.

So long as he remains mostly on the side of theology, I can follow his argument.  However, when he lapses into the arcane  yet beautiful world of mathematics and quantum theory, I am lost. . .completely lost.  The only way I could be any more lost would be if he were writing in Tang Dynasty Chinese. . .with his left hand.

A license thesis is a fairly straightforward review of the literature and critical evaluation of the chosen topic.  Seventy-pages.  A dissertation, however, is a 250-300 page project that exhibits competency in the relevant literature and makes an original contribution to the field.  If I have trouble subtracting 39 from 46 w/o a calculator, I have no business trying to contribute anything original to the field of philosophy of science.

I would feel confident teaching the basic concepts and methods of the philosophy of science to undergrads, but conducting a graduate seminar would be a test of my intellectual limits and a test of my students' patience.

So, I am not abandoning philosophy of science; rather, I am shifting my focus to philosophical theology, more specifically, to those questions raised by the epistemology of divine revelation.  The most exciting questions (to me anyway) in this field involve explorations of divine hiddenness and how philosophers can help theologians navigate the rocky seas between faith and reason in the development of doctrine.  Imagine for a moment delving into the philosophical assumptions of the "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation" (Dei verbum) promulgated by Vatican Two!  I know, right?

This is where philosophical hermeneutics comes in. . .and my training in literary theory and poetry.  Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation.  The general field of hermeneutics is as old as poetry itself.  Think of Aristotle's Poetics.  The early Church Fathers spent a great deal of time thinking and writing about how to interpret scripture (Origen, Augustine).  After the Nicene Council in 325 A.D., theologians and philosophers argued about how to interpret the creed, etc.  Philosophical hermeneutics is a more recent development (mostly Germans:  Scheliermacher, Dilthy, Gadamer).  Rather than prescribing fixed interpretative models for finding and extracting meaning from texts, P.H. pulls interpreters back from the reading process and challenges them to think about themselves as readers in philosophical terms.  For lack of a better term, P.H. is about meta-interpretation:  what are your assumptions about texts, readers, meaning, language, communication, etc.?

A shaky analogy:  as philosophy of science is to scientists, philosophical hermeneutics is to philosophers/theologians.  I wonder if theologians and philosophers are any friendlier to P.H. than scientists are to philosophy of science. . .

Bottom-line:  without abandoning philosophy of science, I am expanding my interests to include philosophical hermeneutics and at the same time narrowing my focus to religious epistemology.

Now, time for more coffee!  This post burned up all my stored caffeine. . .


  1. Fr. for your next post I would request that you write it in English please


  2. ...picky, picky, picky. . .

  3. I realise my education has been sadly lacking when I read your blog!

  4. Dear Father,

    Would you mind letting your readers know about the December issue of our twice-yearly journal 'CHRISTVS REGNAT', which tries to bring something 'new' to the field of thought and study of Catholic heritage, biography, history, music, spirituality and liturgy here in Ireland - especially in the light of Pope Benedict XVI's 'Summorum Pontificum':


    It would also be very kind of you of you could link/follow/blogroll our blog:


    Please pray for me!

    God bless you!

    St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association

  5. Anonymous3:36 AM

    why you love all those googly-eyed comments from the young folk.

    humility is a virtue. blah blah blah

    you are ridiculous. Gee Willikers FATHER
    u r soooooooooo schmart

  6. Am I sniffing a tinge of envy in the air this morning...why, I think so!

    Name, Anon. Or no more posting for you.

  7. Makes perfect sense to me - I can do the same thing with philosophy only when it is HISTORY of philosophy. If we're talking interests and influence I can follow....

  8. I'm rather sure I understand what you have posted here. And I hope you will, from time to time, share with us what you are learning as you venture down this path of learning.