Arcadi on Green

March 11th, 2016 by

Adam Green, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at nearby Azusa Pacific University, provided us with an excellent example of the kinds of things I like about Analytic Theology. Green takes a theological issue, Teresa of Avila’s somewhat opaque and dense reflections on prayer, then a presentation of some contemporary analytic philosophy, Richard Moran on the nature of self-knowledge and the first-person perspective, and then mashes them up to paint a clearer picture of both. His thesis might be summarized as, “Prayer provides us with a unique and privileged path to self-knowledge.”  Let me sketch a few of the key moves and ideas, as I understood them.

Teresa sets up an image of the soul as a castle, an interior castle as she calls it. In the depths, the nooks and crannies, of one’s interior castle is where one comes both to the deepest knowledge of one’s self and the most intimate knowledge of God. At the center of the castle is the “chiefest mansion” wherein “the most secret things pass between God and the soul.” So, it seems to me, that there is this intimate relationship between self-knowledge and God-knowledge, such that in going into the depths of one’s self is where one goes to know God as well. For Teresa, the route to get at this deepest part of our soul is through prayer and meditation. Green helpfully showed that these ideas from Teresa are like those that Augustine explored in his Confessions. In that work, Augustine remarked to God, “You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself.” So, in this sense, the image ends up being not so much a castle that one had to break down to get to God, but rather the soul as a temple, housing God’s presence within it.

Now, for me, this is a nice picture in and of itself. Maybe it’s my wild imagination or watching too many versions of Robin Hood, but I rather like thinking of my inner self as a medieval castle on the English countryside, fully equipped with mansions and thatch roofs (and probably a moat and a dragon to boot!). But, as nice as the picture is as an analogy, I have to wonder, how does that actually help me know myself (other than remember to feed the dragon)?

Green then shifted his discussion to contemporary philosophical work on how we know and reflect upon ourselves. And it might be supposed that we either know ourselves like something along the lines of an internal perspective or an external perspective. For instance, Green uses the example of two questions that are clearly formally different, but our answers to them show that they really aren’t:

Will there be a third world war?

Do you think there is going to be a third world war?

(I think you could plug in less military examples, like, “Will the Golden State Warriors win 73 games?” And “Do you think the Golden State Warriors are going to win 73 games?”). Even though it might seem that the former asks something of an objective question and the latter a subjective one, really one answers those questions the exact same way. The point here is that we can’t get away from the “Do you think…” preface to a question, because we always answer from our “think,” our first-person perspective. This is to illustrate that one doesn’t get outside of themselves when thinking about the world, one addresses the objective from one’s subjective perspective.

But this, then, might lead one to think that there is no “something” inside ourselves that we can turn our attention to. One can’t get behind one’s self to think about one’s self. But rather, the dilemma arises, that when one does take an external approach to the self, it is because one has become alienated from certain parts of the self, the self becomes divided against itself … and that certainly doesn’t seem healthy. So it seems as though adopting an “external” perspective to the self would produce the fragmentation of the self, but in emphasizing the “internal” perspective it might seem as though we can never engage critically with ourselves to improve our perspective.

So this is where Green’s mash-up brings Teresa back into the conversation. The journey into the interior castle is begun externally, because by sin humans are alienated from themselves and from God. But it is in the internal perspective that one becomes more integrated in oneself and more integrated with an “other” that is God, for God is at the very core of the castle. At this core, then, one can actually come to share agency and perspective with God. So, it is like in getting into the innermost of oneself through prayer, one comes to find an “other” (God) with which one can share perspective. This gives something of both an internal and external perspective. We see ourselves as we really are because we are seeing ourselves as God sees us. If this picture is helpful, it will probably mean I will need to let my drawbridge down so I can cross my own moat to find myself and God.

James M. Arcadi is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Analytic Theology Project at Fuller Theological Seminary and a Templeton Research Fellow in the Jewish Philosophical Theology Project at the Herzl Institue. He completed his PhD in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Bristol where he focused on a philosophical explication of the doctrine of the Eucharist.

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