Since I finished my Quals, Tripp’s been bugging me to begin posting on 19th and 20th century philosophical-theology. I gotta be honest, here: I’m really tired of reading and writing that kind of stuff. The truth of the matter is that I think Tripp just wants me to put my exams online so he doesn’t have to study for his. Instead, I’m going to continue posting a bit on my dissertation and where I’m going with it. Even though it’s general wisdom that only 3 people will ever read a dissertation, hopefully a few of you will find it interesting enough to be willing to converse with me on the topic.
To begin with, I’d like to make a statement about my last post. My basic premise in that post is quite simple: whatever the advertising world latches onto and uses for selling consumer goods sheds light on the ways in which that culture thinks and values. Because, in these previous commercials, advertisers latch onto a desire in our culture to form what we would consider “authentic” identities, we must take seriously as both a philosophical and theological category the notion of “authentic identity-formation,” or what I will simply call “authenticity” from here on out.
In this regard, I have been doing a lot of studies in Charles Taylor (the philosopher not the dictator) who takes up this notion of authenticity from a cultural and philosophical perspective. According to Taylor, the ideal of authenticity as a contemporary ethical standard has emerged from several historical idea sources, all of which have been taken over and setup as standards in their own right. So, the invention of individualism, the development of what will be called by Rousseau the ‘inner-voice of nature,’ and emergence of Romantic understandings of originality (none of which I will try to do justice to here) have all grounded the idea of authenticity. So, for Taylor, the idea of authenticity is latently understood and lived by us as drive to become an original expression of humanity through our making explicit what is potentially within us. To put it a bit differently, we’ve all been imbued with different and unique “talents,” and the ethic of authenticity moves us to strive to make actual these talents, both becoming and forming for ourselves what we already are to some degree.
At a properly philosophical level, Taylor develops this idea in an interesting direction. Philosophically, Taylor is highly critical of certain of our cultural appropriations of the idea of authenticity. Our appropriations tend to be solipsistic, narcisstic, self-centered; persons who explicitly desire to become authentic often do so in such a way that they use others and the world surrounding them to make for themselves who they are and want to be. But, according to Taylor, this appropriation of the ethic of authenticity is an aberrant one. To become authentic is never to become such at the expense of the rest of the world, especially our fellow human beings; to become authentic rather, is to become so in light of, and in conversation, with the world and our fellow human beings (what Taylor calls our ‘dialogical horizons’), especially our direct communities and cultures. To translate this critique in somewhat of the direction I want to take it, then, selfhood and the formation of individual identity depends on structures outside of the self that are irreducible to the self. And to become truly authentic, for both Taylor and me, is to create oneself with a cognizance of these structures.
I will not move, here, into the possibility of all these structures; such a task would have to match Hegel’s attempts to unify knowledge and being in his Encyclopedia (a task that I think impossible in the first place). But it is possible to say that there are certain of these structures that are contingent, for instance, that I was born in the Northwest of U.S. and was formed and formed myself in light of the possibilities afforded to me in that culture; There are, however, also such structures that are necessary (that if I’m born, I must die; death is a necessary structure in human existence). The question I’m explicitly interested pertains to God and God’s necessity, namely, does God form a necessary identity structure such that, if I am not cognizant of God, I cannot be an authentic human being. For reasons that I will explain more later, I’m answering no: authenticity is possible without cognizance of God precisely because God must be understood as that which is more than necessary.
At any rate, I hope these cryptic statements are at least of some interest to you; if not, I’m afraid that conventional wisdom is right: that only my committee and one other person will ever actually read my dissertation 🙂