Monday, September 26, 2005

The Liberal, Hermeneutic Arts of Learning and Communication

These are the questions for Lecture 4. This segment focuses on the liberal arts as defined by Aristotle and the beneficial role they play in the task of the theologian.

Explain why "fundamentalist" interpretations of the Bible or any other text run the danger of misunderstanding the author's real thought?

Fundamentalist interpretations tend to view the text in their own contemporaneous culture as opposed to the culture from which the text comes. They also often ignore aspects such as idiomatic usage, authorial intent, and literary genre. Such readings assume that the received translation rectifies no such ambiguities or has no compromises to the original imagery or meaning of the scriptural text. Hence, such interpretations say more about the subject than they say about the author's intent.

That said, many postmodernist schools of thought would argue that a dead author's intent is irrelevant or at least unknowable (Whimsatt & Beardsley's intentional fallacy). I don't recall their argument for why this rises (or falls) to the level of a fallacy. I'll need to dig out my lit. crit. books before I can make a satisfactory answer. Prior to that investigation, I'll poison the well and say that I find the idea that the author's intent is unknowable without the author's explicit proclamation to be simply a ludicrous attempt to wrest the hermeneutic process away from legitimate scholars. I wonder if proponents of sola scriptura recognize their strange bedfellows.

Why does rhetorical moralizing ruin a novel or drama?

The question itself betrays a bias that the rhetorical and the poetic do not belong in the same sphere (or at least in a single work). This belief assumes that devices used for rhetorical purposes cannot also be used to evoke beauty, or that contemplation of beauty cannot move one to action. I think the problem here is not with the definitions of rhetoric and poetic (which can use various methods for different ends) but with the assumption that an abstraction such as "rhetorical moralizing" has a locus of meaning that excludes the evocation of beauty or enjoyment. In small, subtle doses, it can be quite evocative. In larger quantities (in the form of satire), it can evoke laughter.

So I think the real question is "when does 'rhetorical moralizing ruin a novel or drama'?"

It does so when the passive intention of persuasion supersedes the active intention of entertainment.

What is the difference between a "discussion" and a "demonstration"?

Discussion or dialogue requires a back and forth passing of information, which shouls allow the parties involved to way facts and reformulate ideas to come to a common agreement. Demonstration is used to resolved impasses, to show that an utterance contradicts fact or that a series of statements does or does ot lead one to an inevitable conclusion.

Illustrate how a theologian uses dialectical and demonstrative modes of discourse in systematic theology?

In discourse, a theologian uses dialectic to gauge the understanding of the other party and to restate the doctrine of faith in a way that takes into account the perspective of the external or dissenting party. The discourse on faith begins with a statement of our belief, followed by either a dispute of that belief or a question that seeks additional information. Both dispute and question can act as a springboard for the theologian, who can then use those ideas to redirect their explanations to address the pertinent issues.

Demonstrative modes are most useful to present a series of premises and show that they lead necessarily to a conclusion. Prior to showing syllogistically that premises lead necessarily to a conclusion, demonstrative modes can reveal assumptions in premises that are false or definitions that are inadequately defined.

Do you think theologians need to know mathematics?

Yes.

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Nothing like a boolean to kill a conversation.

I can't speak to how knowledge of mathematics could assist a theologian because my own knowledge of math is defective. What I can say is that all discussion about physical sciences dwells in reductions unless you understand mathematics. Without the formulas, a nonmathemetician must rely on the distilled understanding of another.

I remember in my senior year of high school when I dropped analytical geometry and calculus to take a creative writing class. My junior English teacher, Mrs. Mims, actually pulled me aside and castigated me for taking a creative writing course. I think Rutha understood the need for liberal arts education far better than the humanities teachers of my senior year (who taught me all about Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle). I love them all, but Rutha Mims was looking far beyond the feel-good moment of my literary awakening.

I would love to understand chemistry or physics at the level of formulae. I might get there someday, but I short-circuited that process on my own. What knowledge of mathematics provides to a theologian is the ability for him or her to understand and discuss science in the language of science.
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