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March 16, 2009


Spirit of Vatican II

I see that Jean Grondin has the same reaction to JLM's treatment of metaphysics. But Grondin seems to misunderstand what Heidegger means by the overcoming of metaphysics. One can love metaphysics and agree, as Heidegger does, that metaphysics is true, yet at the same time see the need to recover what the metaphysical mode of thinking occludes. Like Radical Orthodoxy, Marion and his disciples seem to see metaphysics more negatively than Heidegger and to associate it with easy to target figures such as Scotus and Suarez (or Jacques de Venise, whoever he was). Heidegger tackles the overcoming of metaphysics in a body-to-body wrestle not only with Hegel and Kant but with Plato and Aristotle; it is a gigantomachia peri tes ousias, and it is regrettable that French phenomenology seems to be doing the work of theologians very often at the expense of thinking into the wind of the matter of being -- hart am Wind der Sache:

"Il estime toutefois que cette pensée n’a rien à voir avec la métaphysique. Certes, Augustin ne connaissait pas le terme de métaphysique, né au XIIe siècle, et ignorait tout de la séparation, plus tardive encore, de la metaphysica generalis et specialis. Mais à ce compte-là, il n’y a pas non plus de métaphysique chez Platon, Aristote, Plotin ou Anselme. Ici, je pense qu’il y a lieu de se méfier du fétichisme fatal qui entoure le vocable de métaphysique et qui a tout à voir avec notre nominalisme primaire : ce n’est pas parce que le mot ou le concept n’est pas présent que la chose n’y est pas.

"Si ce débat importe à Marion, c’est que le caractère non (ou pré-) métaphysique d’Augustin inviterait à le lire comme un auteur « post-métaphysique », qui deviendrait ainsi notre « utopique contemporain ». Mais que gagne-t-on par là ? Moins qu’on pense, je crains, car on contribue surtout de cette manière à accréditer et perpétuer une lecture de la métaphysique, héritée de Heidegger, mais trop docilement suivi ici, qui tend à faire d’elle et de son « langage » le « régime » à combattre à tout prix ? Pour être courante, il n’est pas sûr que cette hantise (qui ne sera peut-être pas reconnue comme telle, mais de facto, c’est le résultat produit) de la métaphysique, et de la question de l’être, permet vraiment de comprendre ce qu’elle fut. Tout n’aurait-il commencé qu’avec Jacques de Venise ? Ou Suarez ?

"L’ironie est qu’Augustin fait partie de ces rares maîtres qui peuvent nous aider à mieux voir ce que fut et ce que reste cette formidable aventure de la pensée métaphysique, qui s’est interrogée sur l’être (ou son don, si l’on préfère), son sens et ses raisons, et dont on peut difficilement sortir si l’on n’a pas de bonnes raisons de le faire, ni une meilleure intelligence de ce qui est. En clair : Marion reconnaît trop peu que sa belle et amoureuse pensée de la donation demeure une intelligence de l’être, et de l’être ut donatum, et que sa propre pensée, comme celle d’Augustin, reste régie par un principe « théologique », l’Amour. S’agissant d’Augustin, Marion n’a pas tort de soutenir que le discours de louange qu’est la confessio est moins un discours sur Dieu (au sens de ce qu’il appelle « la » métaphysique) qu’un discours adressé « à Dieu », mais si « le louer signifie que je monte en mon lieu, que je remonte là d’où je suis et vers celui dont je proviens » (p. 37), c’est avec grand-peine que l’on fera croire au lecteur que cette pensée n’a rien de métaphysique. Plutôt que de voir dans les Confessions un « au lieu » de la métaphysique, il reste tout à fait conseillé d’y découvrir un de ses hauts lieux. Contre peut-être son intention avouée, l’ouvrage de Marion y contribue puissamment, amoureusement."



This is a brilliant review of this exciting new book of Marion's. If not already, you should submit this for publication somewhere. I have not read the book (I imagine it is being translated as we write) but it seems to me, based on my previous readings of Marion, that he is a very careful historian of sorts. His work on Descartes is a piece of historical philosophy par excellence as well as is his work on Husserl and Heidegger. This may seem simplistic, but Marion seems always to revert back to 'causality' when defining metaphysics. The great 'causa sui' represents the God the philosophers whereas love signifies the God of revelation. Perhaps because he views Augustine as the consummate thinker of love (philosophy is not the love of wisdom but the wisdom of love as Levinas says), then maybe, just maybe, he associates Augustine more with the erotic reduction rather than with the metaphysics of causality. Something to think about, and again, I applaud you on an engaging little commentary on Marion and Augustine.

Spirit of Vatican II

Joe, thanks for your comment. Heidegger summed up the God of onto-theo-logy as Causa Sui in his "Identity and Difference" in 1957, and in line with his general argument that ontotheology, strictly defined, is a modern phenomenon (or at the very oldest something inaugurated by Avicenna) Marion says that Causa Sui is an idea of Descartes, unknown before. Historically this is untenable, as Narbonne, a profound connaisseur of Plotinus pointed out. In his Augustine book Marion sees Augustine's rejection of the idea of God as causa sui as a preemptive refutation of Descartes. But it is patent that Augustine is rejecting Plotinus (Enneads VI 8) and Marius Victorinus, Yes, Marion is a superb historian in his seven or eight books on Descartes, but less so in dealing with antiquity. On Heidegger he overemphasizes the Dasein-centeredness of the early philosophy and never seems to recognize how much the later Heidegger is, like himself, a thinker of givenness (actually less subject-centered than Marion remains).

I think I'll insert this text on Marion into the second chapter of my "Art of Judgment in Theology" (translation of "L'art de jugement en theologie" forthcoming from Cerf) where I already have a page or two in criticism of the Marion school's account of ontotheology.

Wisdom of love

Prof. O'Leary thank you for this great review and your other wonderful postings. I admire your generosity in sharing these reflections.

Larry Baker

I am currently reading Marion's book on Augustine I have found your blog to be an exceptional guide. I appreciate the depth of your knowledge of Augustine. I think that you are right to point out a methodological difference between your approach and Marion's since he is concerned with the way in which Augustine turns to revelation (even) within the limits of his own socio-historical context. This turning (or, better, responsal) for Marion is Augustine chief desire. I wonder if there is not more to say about this. Isn't Augustine consciously working against a synthesis? At least, working against a synthesis that would subordinate the revelation of Jesus Christ to the 'limits' of Platonism (or any other philosophy). I think this is Marion's argument. What do you think?

Spirit of Vatican II

Larry, yes, I think this is a good insight. The writings on Grace are very much working against a 'synthesis' in the form of a synergy of free will and grace and a fortiori against a subordination of grace to free will. In doctrinal theology Augustine strongly subordinates his quest for Intellectus to the obedience of faith, which it can never replace or sublate.

However, Augustine accepts the idea that the God names himself 'Ego Sum' in Exodus 3:14 and this leads him to develop a quite elaborate theologal ontology. This is not in itself bad, actually it is very good -- but it may occlude or be in tension with more primordial aspects of Augustine's thought, or of biblical thought, and thus call for an 'overcoming'.

Marion thinks that Augustine easily vaults beyond this tension and attains a pure biblical position. But I would say that things are not so simple. The Idipsum itself is not purely biblical but recalls Plotinus's ineffably simple One; Augustine's caritas is not pure biblical Agape but is shaped by Greco-Roman ideas of eros and amicitia.

And of course there are no pure biblical phenomena in any case, any more than there are pure 'saturated phenomena'. Phenomenology is lamed by the elusiveness of its subject-matter. We should cultivate instead 'orientations' of thought.

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