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Lash on Commitment

In ethics, irrationalism, justificationism, wittgenstein on 14/07/2011 at 11:08 am

I cannot suffer fools, and Nicholas Lash is an educated fool–the worst kind by far, for his words can beguile those with less learning than he. And by Jove, Lash has a way with words. His All good reasoning comes from prior commitments and beliefs, published in the “Comment is Free” section of the Guardian, is a strangely enticing word-salad.

And what of Lash? He is, according to the press release by Durham University on the occasion of Lash receiving an honorary degree, “regarded as one of the most influential Roman Catholic philosophical theologians of our time.”

… all good reasoning expresses and proceeds from prior commitments and beliefs and relies, at every step along the way, on believing – however cautiously and critically – the testimony of others engaged in this and similar collaborative enterprises.

The article is, in brief, a case-study of the Wittgensteinian attempts by the learned to protect religious conjectures from criticism. With a quick bit of Googling, it turns out that Lash is indebted to Wittgenstein’s approach. That attitude throws up hastily built walls to keep trespassers at bay–while simultaneously legitimizing all other ‘forms of life.’ While such a conclusion may have sat well with Wittgenstein, how can Lash dare say anything critical of other ‘forms of life’? Everyone is already committed. No rational argumentation–and thus no change, except for the religious conversion on par with Saul on the road to Damascus–is permissible.

But is that the case? Don’t people often change their minds when confronted with criticism from without the community? Of course; however, Lash’s attitude, and his perplexing language, do little more than hinder those that may in due time change.

It follows (and O’Collins’s definition brings this out so well) that serious theological investigation is never purely a matter of inference and deduction; never merely a matter of the reasoning mind. It is also a matter of the mind and heart at prayer. There is a sense in which all good theology is done on one’s knees.

In sum, rather than a raging a war of words between intellectual ‘nations,’ Lash would have us all live in little herme(nu)tically-sealed cocoons. Thank you, but I’ll pass on the offer.

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  1. It’s the ultimate anti-irrational meme, because it disguises itself as the definition of rationality. One may have the most humble and critical attitude, and yet still become ensnared in its logical chains and be none the wiser.

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