Thursday, March 16, 2006

Analytical Philosophy and Theology

R.R. Reno has an essay in the latest First Things that seems, on first read, a doubtful thesis. His argument is that most theologians look to Continental philosophy (Heidegger and his offspring) for their philosophical conversation partners on "the big questions," when in fact it is analytical philosophy, especially Quine, that can provide a resource theology that is foundational in the way Reno intends the term foundational to be used.

If you've ever read any analytical philosophy, you'll understand why it is hard to get your head around the idea that Reno is onto something here. He lifts up Bruce Marshall's book Trinity and Truth as an exemplary piece of theology in the vein (analytical rather than continental) he is encouraging. With all respect to Marshall, that book, though interesting, isn't particularly readable.

I further note that Reno and Marshall both recently converted to Roman Catholicism- within the last 12 months. One from Anglicanism, the other from Lutheranism.

So Quine is, apparently, on the road to Rome.

Reno is not the first theologian in America to preference analytical philosophy. Hauerwas read Wittgenstein, and became Hauerwas, and now everybody reads Wittgenstein. But then, Wittgenstein dealth aphoristically at times with "the big questions" in a way comparable to Heidegger and his offspring, so you can see how temptation lies that way. But Quine?

I myself am often enamored of continental philosophy. As obfuscating as the prose often is, I have enjoyed reading Levinas, Zizek, Foucault, and Derrida. They do make you think in directions that seem fruitful, rather than captivating.

But on this point I think Reno is right. They are more distracting than they are actually helpful. I just don't agree that analytical philosophy is the way forward. I'll read his essay again, nevertheless, to see if I can be convinced.


  1. Hi clint,

    Your Blog is very interesting. Why do you mean when you say that analytical philosophy cannot be the way forward? Are you talking about progress?


    I invite you to my blog, if you are interested in the supervenience these.

  2. No, not progress really. I'm just not convinced analytical philosophy is going to be, in a general way, the primary resource for helping theology speak in the 21st century.