Facticity

It is the responsibility of every Christian to understand and actualize him/herself as an individual. One cannot properly serve God without understanding what it means to be, what a self actually is, biblically speaking; but we also have to “actualize” this information by putting it into practice. In other words, for all of our philosophizing, it does us no good if we cannot apply it to our lives. This is precisely why existentialism is the most necessary starting-place in philosophy, if I may be so bold; and we find the same emphasis in the Scriptures, when man is constantly “called out” of his context, his sin-saturated situation, to walk by faith. The primacy of individuality does not negate the call to community, but it is on the other side of the invitation’s divide that we come together; one cannot truly belong to the body without first having been separated from former binding ties.

One of the steps towards this necessary individualizing is recognizing the importance of facticity, in both a positive and negative sense: how it helps us make sense of God’s purposes, and how it can prevent us from obedience to Jesus Christ. 

What is facticity? Simply put, it is the concept of an individual’s context. It is the sum total of the facts about myself, the situation I find myself “in the middle of” when I engage in self-examination. These facts are my race, my gender, my age, my family situation, my particular point in the timeline of my ancestors and descendents. Facticity is the “factualness” of my existence in the world. I cannot change its facets, cannot alter them except through some kind of violence to my body or mind. 

We see facticity in the Scriptures when God approaches humans and speaks to them in their context. These details are always mentioned, sometimes to demonstrate God’s mercy, sometimes to show the faithfulness of the called. But they are unalterable realities in each case.

Facticity is heightened through the Incarnation. When God enters the world, He enters into a particular context, born to a certain family, taking on a particular occupation. Jesus was not a Chinese farmer or an American businessman, but a Jew living in the shadow of Rome’s occupation. It was as such that He lived and died. 

We see facticity, too, in our everyday lives. So much of our context simultaneously liberates and limits us. Many decisions — our birth parents, our initial geographical locations, where and how we are educated — are outside of our control. Even when we enter into the relatively wider freedoms of adulthood, we still find ourselves confined: our race and gender, for instance, may preclude us from certain privileges, or our intelligence may limit us from comprehending particularly difficult concepts in certain academic fields. 

It is worth noting that facticity is different from the concept of “intersectionality,” (1) which essentially reduces all socio-political interactions to degrees of oppression. Facticity is not inherently negative, as intersectionality is often perceived to be (and usually is): it is simply a “tallying up” of facts about myself that exist despite my decisions. 

With all of that said: what of it? Facticity at first seems to be a fancy way of pointing out the fairly obvious, and hardly seems like a concept worthy of stealing our time. However, a more detailed examination will evidence how facticity has some powerful theological and philosophical implications for the understanding and actualizing of the self. Particularly, we need to look at how facticity interacts with freedom, God’s sovereignty, and our obedience to him.

Facticity and Freedom. The first important lesson of facticity is a negative one: it exposes to me the limits of my freedom. Despite the abilities of the human spirit to exist beneath incredible psychological and spiritual pressure, the lengths to which people have gone to grow and gain new abilities, facticity stands as a guard against the autonomy which would have man become a little god. There are certain doors that remain slammed shut and locked against my endeavors, no matter how hard I strive. I, for example, would never succeed as a nuclear physicist; my brain is wired to tackle more linguistic, literary, and philosophical matters, and I struggle with material that is (to me) excessively technical, mathematical, or scientific. This is because of facticity, the genetic make-up of my psychology that I cannot escape. 

Of course, facticity must not be used to negate the power of choice. I always must choose: I have the responsibility to do so, before both God and people. What facticity does is establish the limits. There are not “boundless choices” in every moment, even if there are several, including those which I cannot properly perceive. 

Facticity and Sovereignty. The relation of facticity to God’s Divine purpose is closely tied to its relation with freedom: it is because of His sovereignty that my freedom is limited. We could even say that facticity is the “human” side to God’s sovereignty: we are in our particular context because He has so decreed it, always without explanation to us, for we are owed no answer from Heaven. All of Scripture, as said above, points to this contextualization of existence: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman…”

Recognizing facticity, then, is recognizing His sovereignty. It helps me to see the context into which I have been placed as my context, in which God desires to use me for the furtherance of His kingdom. Rather than complaining and kicking against the limits of my existence, I accept them, even with gratitude, as the lines of demarcation which implicitly guide me through my life. Of course, in this sense, facticity is difficult to understand “in the moment.” One can never step outside his or her context, and can only review it from a healthy distance. What may seem like a limit established by my facticity at the time may simply be a missed opportunity which, if approached again, would yield different results. 

What should also be recognized is that facticity does not equal fatalism, and should not lead to a state of infinite resignation. The person who takes facticity as a resounding cosmic “no” to his or her endeavors has misread the limitations of context. Humility should flow from us when we realize that God, in His wisdom and unalterable purpose, has fashioned the boundaries of our lives; but we should not take this as a sign to avoid action.

Facticity and Obedience. With all of that said, there is a negative side to facticity: if a proper attitude towards it is not cultivated, it can become an excuse to avoid obedience, to justify compromise and spiritual laziness. It can even lead to a loss of passion for life itself, a lack of drive, and contentment with that loss and lack that sediments and becomes integral to one’s personality. 

Any good hermeneutics will demonstrate that all of the ethical demands of the Gospel are situated in a context. Of Paul’s thirteen letters, only two of them appear to be unprompted by a specific crisis with the believers to whom he was writing; in the Gospels, Jesus is always speaking to a particular audience, in a particular time and place. With all of that said, however, the moral imperatives of the New Testament are just as applicable to us as they were to the original readers because they are concerned with the kinds of people that God has called us to be, regardless of our circumstances. While the situation in which I am called to be patient, for instance, may be quite different from the situation of a first century believer in Thessaloniki, the characteristics of patience as a virtue will look remarkably similar because patience as an eternal quality of genuine faith has not shifted in its appearance or characteristics. 

Therefore, facticity can never be wielded as a weapon to obedience. In fact, the call of Christ specifically transcends facticity, as we see in the Gospels when He calls the disciples and they leave their careers, their families, and their hometowns to follow Him. I must consider my context when I am considering obedience, because ethics always interacts with the environment. But the environment is not a true barrier to obedience. God always calls me in my context, often out of my context, in order to transform it. He who is Eternally Unfactical became facticity itself, that we may transcend the facts our existence, that which is merely earthly, and walk in the Spirit, undetermined by anything but the Divine will. 


Footnote:

(1) This is not to say that there is no legitimacy to some ideas put forth by intersectionality. Societal oppression is a reality for many people. The Scriptures constantly address caring for those who are at a disadvantage. Intersectionality becomes problematic when it only wants to view a person in terms of how they are oppressed. It is, in that sense, a negative spin on facticity, and does not recognize the ability to obtain freedom despite one’s circumstances. Not everyone who argues for intersectionality takes this line of thinking, but it is a danger, and it does occur.


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TGP Podcast: Ecclesiastical Dogmatism: Abuse in the church 1

This episode features host Aaron Lague, Dirk Petterson, and Patrick Steckbeck. Unfortunately, it does not contain an introduction due to processing problems and the editing is sub-par. Nonetheless, we hope you benefit from the discussion about Dogmatism, particularly in the church, and Dogmatism’s practical outflow in the form of manipulation and abuse.

Wisdom: Comparing Aristotle and Ecclesiastes

Aristotle’s Wisdom-Prudence Distinction and Qoheleth’s Use of Wisdom

I. Introduction

In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, two virtuous lives are presented, characterized by two distinct virtues: the contemplative and active lives. These two lives are respectively characterized by wisdom and prudence. While wisdom is defined as a virtue of the speculative intellect which allows one to perceive the truth of things, prudence is defined as a virtue of the practical intellect which allows one to act in accordance with right reason in particular situations. Aristotle’s relation between these two lives is heavily debated by contemporary philosophers: some think that the two lives are inherently opposed and that Aristotle gives emphasis to the contemplative life, others the active life. While I think that Aristotle’s account is itself one of reconciling these two virtuous lives, my thesis here is that Ecclesiastes’ (hereafter referred to by its Hebrew title: Qoheleth) understanding of wisdom (Hb. hokmah) presents us with a synthesis of the two intellectual virtues and provides a way forward in understanding how to reconcile the contemplative and active lives. My argument hinges on two points: first, that wisdom has a dual function in Qoheleth—it corresponds, loosely, with Aristotle’s wisdom and prudence distinction—and second, that the synthesis between these two virtues is predicated on the connection between ‘is’ and ‘ought’.

II. Aristotle on Wisdom and Prudence

Previously I stated the distinction in Aristotle between wisdom and prudence, the intellectual virtues which are characteristic of the contemplative and active lives, respectively. The difference between them, however, needs to be made more explicit in order to appreciate Qoheleth’s synthesis. Wisdom (Gk. sophia) in Aristotle is that virtue which is characteristic of seeing or perceiving the truth of things—for this reason it is often seen as the chief of the virtues, as in Plato’s Meno, and often characterizes the ideal of the philosopher. [1] Wisdom, then, is concerned with the universals or generals: things predicated of many or all. Aristotle says, “in contemplative thinking…thinking well or badly consists in the true and the false respectively,” because “wisdom is a science and intellectual grasp of the things most honorable by nature.” [2] Prudence (Gk. phronesis), however, is the virtue which is characteristic of knowing what action is in accordance with right reason and will, therefore, lead to the human telos in the utmost particular, namely, the situation. While prudence involves knowledge of the universals (implied by sight or vision towards the telos of human nature and judging actions accordingly – i.e., by right reason), its distinctive character lies in its capacity to evaluate the absolute particular in view of the end, and no merely any end but the end in accordance with human nature qua human nature. This is what distinguishes prudence from mere cunning. Since, “good deliberation simply is that which guides us toward the end simply,” but prudence “is what guides us correctly towards some particular end.” Thus, “prudence is characterized by the giving of commands: its end is what one ought or ought not to do.” [3]

III. Hokmah in Qoheleth

Hokmah (wisdom) in Qoheleth functions, I argue, in two ways: first, in seeing the truth of things; second, in prescribing both an end to be sought an offering itself (i.e., wisdom) as means to achieve that end. Since these two functions of hokmah loosely correlate to wisdom and prudence, respectively, there is, implicitly, a synthesis of these two. Let’s first look at the two ways hokmah functions.

A. Twofold Function of Hokmah

First, wisdom functions as perceiving the truth of things. This is clear in Qoheleth’s hebel insight, that is, the incongruity-inequity of human existence under the sun. He describes all as hebel (1:2) and demonstrates the absurdity which penetrates through human wisdom (1:12-18; 2:12-17), human activity and agency (2:18-26), human experience of justice and injustice among the righteous and the wicked (3:16-22; 4:1-3; 8:14-15), and seemingly every other aspect of human existence. In this, Qoheleth perceives the underlying quality of things whose acknowledgement is painful. This is why he says, “he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (1:18) Hokmah in this function, loosely, corresponds to Aristotle’s wisdom, since it involves a proper perception of reality according to its general and/or universal truths—in this case, hebel. The hebel insight of Qoheleth is an insight of wisdom, the perception of the cosmic effects of fallenness: “See, this alone I have found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” (7:29)

Second, wisdom functions as perceiving proper actions towards the proper end of human nature: this is clear in his persistence insistence on the enjoyment of temporal goods and the fear of the Lord, despite the hebel of life under the sun. He repeatedly says, “I perceived that there is nothing better than for [mankind] to be joyful and to do good as long as they live” (3:12; cf. 3:22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10; 12:13-14). Here the upmost particulars are considered and evaluated in light of the end (both in terms of final causality and final judgement) as either conducive towards or detracting from it. This is why Qoheleth speaks of doing good and fearing the Lord and keeping His commandments with virtual synonymy (cf. 3:16-17; 12:13-14). It is also important to note that this second function of wisdom depends on the first function: the proper knowledge of the truth of things contextualizes the particular considerations. The pervasiveness of incongruity-inequity, designated by the term hebel, properly contextualizes the worth of things and various activities.

B. The Is-Ought Connection

In this twofold function of hokmah, we see Qoheleth arriving at prescription from description—even, in spite of it. The description of hebel contextualizes the prescription of enjoyment and doing good; even so the empirical observation that everything has its season or time grounds the later assertion of divine judgement against evil (see 3:16-17). Contra Hume, Qoheleth understands that any predication of ‘ought’ necessarily derives from ‘is’ since it is only intelligible on the assumption of a connection with and contextualization by ‘is’. This is-ought connection is predicated on the two functions of hokmah, since it seems proper to the one to describe the truth of things and proper to the other to prescribe actions conducive to the end in the context of the real. As Aristotle says, “prudence is not concerned with the universals alone but must also be acquainted with the particulars: it is bound up with action, and action concerns the particulars.” [4]

IV. Reconciling the Contemplative and Active Lives

From this I think we can begin to see how the contemplative and active lives may be understood in such a way as tends towards a synthesis. In Qoheleth, wisdom is one thing; while I argue it functions in two different ways, it remains a singular. Aristotle makes the distinction between these two functions and calls each by a name: wisdom and prudence, respectively. However, these two go hand in hand, as even Aristotle admits. Now, if these two virtues go hand in hand, it is reasonable to assume there is some congruity between the lives that these virtues characterize. The contemplative life of continually seeking to know the true is still a form of activity. The active life of seeking the good corresponding to action and choice is only possible if the individual possesses both knowledge and moral virtue: both contextualize the end in view of choice and action. The difficulty to this is the presence of hebel: the incongruity and inequity experienced under the sun. However, the synthesis of the active and contemplative lives, ironically, results from the uniting of human experience: connecting ‘is’ with ‘ought’ and thereby bringing coherence despite the absurdity of life under the sun. This gives us as Christians and as human beings a way forward in properly understanding the relation between orthodoxy and orthopraxy: ‘is’ leads to ‘ought’; there is no naturalist fallacy. What we are, when we find ourselves (i.e., factual statements) are what contextualize our pursuit of the good. We must never assume the reality of our being does not bear hold on our telos or morality. We must attempt to live coherent lives: ones where in our being imago Dei is united with natural virtue, where our being en Christou is united with theological virtue.

Endnotes:

[1] The task of the wise man is to order, this ordering is according to wisdom as per Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles I, c. 1; Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, I, lectio. 1-3

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 1139a27-29, 1141b3-5.

[3] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Bartlett and Collins, 1142b30-33, 1143a8-10.

[4] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Bartlett and Collins, 1141b15-17.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Ultimate Proof of Creation

The Ultimate Proof of Creation

“It is time to get to the real heart of the issue and rationally resolve the origins debate.” Dr. Jason Lisle

Overview: It is a bold claim, Dr. Lisle confesses in his introduction, to assert to be in possession of the ultimate proof of creationism. Does such a proof even exist in that it can claim to be ultimate? Dr. Lisle’s book sets out to prove biblically, rationally, logically, and scientifically that there is such a thing as this proof. This book is a wonderful primer to presuppositional apologetics, and whether you are educated, curious, or skeptical about presuppositionalism, this work serves as an extensive introduction to the methodology and reasoning behind this more hotly-contested apologetical approach.

Appraisal: I would be remiss if I did not mention the easy-to-read style with which Dr. Lisle writes. One of the most immediate things that struck me while reading was the style and eloquence that so visibly flows from his pen. He presents the aspects of presuppositionalism in a manner that the newest inductee to apologetics may comprehensively grasp the points of his writing. If the reader in himself contains the slightest ability or desire to think rationally and logically about his beliefs, this book’s clarity and conciseness is a treasure. Among the writing, Dr. Lisle also includes several graphics that also help to condense the themes of that section or chapter into an easy-to-remember visual. In my opinion, the two most beneficial sections of this book are his two chapters upon logical fallacies that the evolutionist often commits (and sometimes even the creationist). He provides many examples and ways of recognizing and refuting both formal and informal logical fallacies in conversation or debate. These sections were an eye-opener for me, and his lists and explanations of fallacies are sure to be useful to me in my future apologetics. The end of the book was also incredibly helpful, as Dr. Lisle includes a wealth of examples of threads of emails from actual critics and his responses to them. Reading these, I was able to practice identifying almost every sort of fallacious thinking the unbeliever will commit, along with learning how to respond in a firm yet righteous manner.

Criticism: I understand that this book is not meant to be an explanation of all the existing methods of apologetics that have ever existed. However, one thing that I wish had been included in this work is perhaps a chapter on other types of existing apologetics that are employed by other believers. Besides evidentialism, there is not much explanation or refute of other ideologies. However, I recognize that in his deep analyzation of presuppositionalism, other method’s inconsistencies and failures can be logically inferred. I simply wish that these other forms and types (such as classical apologetics) had been identified and described on at least a surface level.

Recommendation: Nevertheless, there is an abundant trove of other resources on the countless methodological approaches to evangelism and apologetics, and Dr. Lisle did not set out to provide an encyclopedia covering them. His work is a marvelous introduction to presuppositional apologetics, and can easily serve as a primer into other presuppositional heavy thinkers such as Greg Bahnsen or Cornelius Van Til. If you are interested about the mindset behind, or are looking to improve your apologetic skills, this book will not let you down. I with utmost clarity recommend Dr. Lisle’s book, and firmly believe it will be a relied upon resource of mine for years to come.

Grade: 9/10


Book Link: https://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Proof-Creation-Jason-Lisle/dp/0890515689


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Solicitude and Golgotha: A Good Friday Meditation

“Care, as a primordial structural totality, lies ‘before’ every factical ‘attitude’ and ‘situation’ of Dasein, and it does so existentially a priori; this means that it always lies in them.”

Martin Heidegger

In the Incarnation, we see the embodiment of God’s solicitude, which is at the center of Who He Is for others — and at the center of who we are, created in His image to be primarily relational beings.

Sin inevitably involves a falling away from this solicitude. So each man becomes an island, isolated and alienated, no longer concerned with the interests of others but only with his own. But to be turned in on one’s self is to slowly implode, spiraling downward into a deteriorating despair that limits vision and prevents awareness.

The man who has lost his solicitude has lost his sense of purpose. He cannot see the threads that unite him to others; he cannot understand the impact of his actions, how the environment is transformed by even the most miniscule of his decisions. He does not see the interconnectedness of the world around him, and his orientation becomes so inwardly turned that even the good he does is tainted with ultimately destructive self-absorption.

By taking upon Himself our nature, the Son demonstrated the fullness of His outward orientation, the fundamental constitution of humanity. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve: His focus outward, His eyes set to serve, His hands poised for the miracle needed to transform the lives of the broken and undone.

This solicitude is seen the most transparently on Good Friday. It is there, on Calvary, that solicitude is exemplified through action, most particularly through sacrifice. But this sacrifice is more than simply a giving up; it is a complete expenditure of self, accompanied by a bearing of an otherwise unbearable weight. What Christ pours out is His own life; what He takes upon Himself is the complete gravity of our transgressions, past, present, and future, borne through the agonizing hours until death steals the last breath from His lungs.

Beyond the atonement secured through His death, what do we learn from the crucifixion? We learn how to restore the fundamental orientation of personhood: solicitude. For Jesus Himself has done this, His own life both a model and the source of strength we require to enter into this state of concern, readily available to us when we ask in faith.

To walk in Golgothic solicitude is to spend ourselves for others. It is to orient our perception of every facet of reality towards the question of how we can utilize our energy, our volition, for the upbuilding of other persons. Solicitude teaches us that all of life is intention and movement, and we were created for that intention and movement to be primarily directed towards others and not ourselves.

Immediately we hear this, and thoughts of self-preservation enter in. We feel weak; we do not have the strength to sustain this kind of life, even if it gives us purpose and meaning. We are aware of the necessity, perhaps even as unredeemed persons: phenomenologically, our consciousness is always directed out from us (even our thoughts exist, in the structures of experience, separate from ourselves). Yet the awareness of our self’s deterioration compels us to retract, to deny the impulse of solicitude.

Yet Jesus tells us — “he who seeks to save his life will lose it.” To seek preservation is to, quite literally, cause the dissolution of self. Here is a universal paradox: that we only become more fully ourselves when we engage in solicitude. An isolated self begets entropy; it prevents growth, which must always be outward, and thus intentional.

This is what we learn on Good Friday. The truest self is that self which is constructed from concern, consistently oriented outward to bear the emotional, psychological, and spiritual weight of others. In so doing for us, the God-Man teaches us to do it for others. Only then is our existence restored to reflect His goodness and present His image in the world.


P.C. Joshua Eckstein