Saturday, 21 April 2018

Inter-traditional Antagonism

I've been reading Kieran Allen's excellent little book, Weber: Sociologist of Empire. Allen rightly addresses Weber's antagonistic relationship towards Marxism, an antagonism generally reciprocated by Marxist scholars. This intersects quite neatly with David Pavón-Cuéllar's Marxism and Psychoanalysis, which more extensively treats the at times mutually ambivalent relationship between Marxist and psychoanalytic thought. I'm sure it wouldn't take much work to find tensions between Weberian and psychoanalytic thought also. Following upon my post of the other week, this raises a legitimate and urgent question: how can intellectual traditions that have often stood in tension be thought to mutually enrich one another?

Here I am reminded of the first pages of Lonergan's Method in Theology, in which Lonergan identifies three "channels" in which method can run. First, it can run in the channel of the Great Teacher: one finds a mentor and aims to more or less slavishly follow her or his example. This mentor might be a living person, in the case for instance of a doctoral supervisor, or it could be someone from the past, such as a Marx or a Weber or a Freud or an Aquinas or a Calvin. Frequently--but hardly always--this is the methodological channel followed by those most vigourously identify themselves as Marxist or Weberian or Freudian or Thomist or Calvinist. A second channel seeks to identify those disciplines or schools of thought that have been particularly successful in one's time, and again to more or less slavishly follow their example. This often takes the form of faddism. Whether it was imitating Wolf's Homeric source criticism in the formation of Pentateuchal and thus Synoptic, or folkloristics in the formation of form criticism, or the linguistic turn in the formation of (the new) literary criticism, or postmodern suspicion in the development of biblical minimalism, biblicists have long been inveterate band-wagon jumpers.

None of the above should be taken to deny that insights haven't emerged from (say) Marxist biblical scholarship or Pentateuchal source criticism. Quite the opposite is the case. It is to say that insights that emerge from work undertaken in the first two methodological channels will tend to suffer from a lack of coordination with insights that emerged from Great Teachers or various sciences. The above points us towards the need for a third methodological channel, which is precisely what Lonergan proposes. This is a transcendental channel, in that it aims to transcend both particular Great Thinkers and Great Traditions, and also particular sciences. This however is an inclusive transcendence: it does not dispense with these thinkers and traditions and sciences, but rather seeks to operate at a level that methodologically allows us to first identify genuine insights in their work, and to second integrate these insights into a coherent whole. The movement to the third methodological channel often consists in deciding that one aspect of our collective existence is particularly foundational. For instance, Marxist thought at its best has always aimed towards such a transcendence, and when people talk about "reductionism" in Marxism what they very often mean is that they object to the Marxist decision to foreground material conditions as the foundational principle of a transcendent view of human existence.  Likewise the psychoanalytical decision to foreground personality structures and unconscious impulses, often at the expense of material conditions, or the Weberian decision to foreground cultural values. Such decisions apprehend genuine albeit partial insights into reality, and properly objectified can open and facilitate discussions about the nature of transcendental method.

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