A philosophical reader writes: Anti-foundationalist

I was quite happy to read a second one of your books, “A Generous Orthodoxy.” I just wanted to comment though on the anti-foundationalist aspect of your thinking in application to scripture. I personally think that the anti-foundationalism of Richard Rorty and Cornel West based on the neo-pragmatism of Charles S. Peirce is better than the post-modernism of the structuralists. Peirce rejects the Cartesian starting point for knowledge and says that all knowledge is mediated by signs (words in part) which go in an unending direction toward no beginning foundation. One concept is understood only in terms of other concepts. But Peirce also adopts an epistemological realism which means that signs do point to something real in the world and in certain areas of knowledge, we need to be exact, particularly in the physical sciences. Paul Ricoeur, the French Christian philosopher who wrote extensively on Biblical Hermeneutics while writing other works on philosophical hermeneutics said that the sign and symbol of the text speaks to the Jungian archetypes in the unconscious and unleashes power. I would add to this that this is unlike structuralism which sees all knowledge as socially constructed and a kind of myth-making not necessarily pointing to anything real in the world. My final comment is that to filter ancient Hebrew thinking through a Greek-influenced progression of philosophical thinking in the West does a disservice to the text even though I just did that. The midrash of the ancient Hebrews, including during Jesus’ time, was non-literalist enough and yet in some areas literal enough to stand on its own.

Thanks for your comments. I agreed with everything you wrote except your assumption that I am “anti-foundationalist.” I’m not sure what you mean by that. I would be more comfortable with “post-foundationalist” – the approach described so well in the work of theologians John Franke and Stan Grenz, and practiced online by John Sobert Sylvest. Post- is not anti-, but rather seeks to work in light of, but not necessarily within the limits of, what has gone before. Not sure which of my other books you’ve read, but in my more recent works, you’ll find me joining you in an attempt to read Hebrew texts without filtering them through later categories of Greek philosophical thought. I’m not a professional philosopher, obviously, but I try to be as informed philosophically as I can be – and the philosophers you mention (from Pierce to Ricoeur) have been of great help to me. If you haven’t read Dan Stiver’s Theology After Ricoeur, I think you’d enjoy it a great deal.