Saturday, 2 July 2016

Reality as Limitation

I've recently been working through the scholarship of John Knox and Douglas Campbell on Pauline chronology, and have been struck by an odd phenomenon. In procedural term, I couldn't be further removed from Knox and Campbell. They seek to establish a Pauline chronology exclusively on the basis of the data found in the Pauline epistles, whereas I am persuaded that this simply cannot be done (not least of all because in point of fact this is not how Knox and Campbell themselves proceed, as they quite readily refer to data from Josephus and other historians of the first and second centuries). Bracketing out the Acts data, Knox and Campbell came to the conclusion that 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans must have been written in that order (1 Cor.--2 Cor.--Romans) within the span of approximately a year. Working independently, without consulting Knox and Campbell (as it is my habit to work as much as possible with the primary data before turning to the secondary literature), I came to much the same conclusion by working with the Pauline and the Acts data: 1 Cor.--2 Cor.--Romans, over the span of approximately a year. There are of course some differences in our conclusions. For instance, I provisionally allow for up to two years between 1 Corinthians and Romans, but would be altogether open to saying that it's closer to one year; for another instance, due to a number of differences in procedure and supposition we arrive at different absolute dates (although the difference is in fact minimal, only about four years: and when dating biblical texts four years is really within what we should normally consider a reasonable margin of error. And interestingly enough: although I tend to date the New Testament texts consistently earlier than most scholars, I would in fact argue that Campbell dates the undisputed Pauline texts a tad too early).

The phenomenon that intrigues me: independent inquiries utilizing disparate procedures have arrived at a remarkably similar set of results. In my mind, this is only possible if in fact reality imposes strong limitations upon the possible attentive, intelligent, and reasonable judgments that can be drawn on the basis of extant data. I use the qualifiers "attentive, intelligent, and reasonable" because, although I disagree ultimately with their procedure and a number of suppositions and judgments that they make along the way, no one can accuse Knox and Campbell of failing to pay careful attention to the data, to thinking intelligently about what we might infer from the data, and working to generate controls that can differentiate reasonable inferences from unreasonable ones. This idea, that reality places limitations upon possible attentive, intelligent, and reasonable judgments, lies at the very heart of Lonerganian critical realism. It is, in a certain sense, the "realism" referenced by the term. The role of the "critical" in the term is to distinguish which statements about reality are reasonable from those which are not, and then to adjudicate between those designated as reasonable to determine which it is most reasonable to affirm. It is this recognition that reality limits what can be considered to be reasonable judgments that makes Lonerganian critical realism more than idealism, whilst the recognition that judgment is integral to the work of knowing is what makes it more than empiricism.

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