26 October 2004

hart on philosophy

In his The Beauty of the Infinite, David Hart provides a thumbnail sketch of the history of philosophy from the pre-Socratics through the rise of Christian thought. He begins by writing about:

...the pre-Socratic inability to separate wonder at being from brutish awe before nature and fate, part and whole, becoming and totality--that is, the pre-Platonic indistinction between being and sacrifice.

Hart sees Heidegger as returning to just such a pre-Socratic vision. But Western philosophy never stayed with that vision, instead moving past it. Hart writes:

Western thought had attempted to rise from this superstitious subjugation to the world's mere event: Plato and Aristotle, however imperfectly, were both shaken by that effulgent moment of wonder that can free reflection from mere anmal dread--the one could not quite transcencd the irresoluble tensions between change and changeless essences, the other the immanent dialectic of finite form and unrealized potency, and neither could overcome the still "sacrificial" economy of finitude, but both stood within an opening in Western thought that theology could transform into a genuine openness before the transcendent God. Original Stoicism was a step back, in some ways, toward the vision of the universe as sheer fated economy, an order of placement and displacement, as well as a precocious step toward "eschatological" nihilism, the consummation of the sacrificial vision in a cosmic mythology of eternally repeated ecpyroses, of the entire universe as an eternal sacrificial pyre; but even Stoicism was profoundly marked by a kind of wonder before the imperishable goodness of the world's being, and soon drew water from other philosophical streams to enliven its metaphysics. Late antiquity, in its syncretism, opened the Platonic tradition yet further to a possibility beyond the metaphysics of the totality, and Christian thought, with its Jewish doctrine of creation, shattered the totality altogether and, for the first time ever, caught sight of being's splendid otherness, within the immediacy of its mysterious presence--within the gratuity of the gift. (227)

That's a very helpful summary, I think, of the development of western ontology.