Thursday, 9 November 2017

Nominalism

Joshua Lim's essay Post Tenebras Lux?: Nominalism and Luther's Reformation has this summary of nominalism of which I want to keep a record:

"Nominalism, as it is commonly understood, is the philosophical view in which universals are regarded as having no objective weight, and no intrinsic correspondence to individual, concrete things. For instance, according to Nominalism, to say that Peter has a human nature and that John has a human nature is simply to say that both have extrinsically predicated of them a common name (nomen), which happens to be “human nature.” To predicate the same ‘human nature’ to both John and Peter is not to say that they share any metaphysical reality or nature in common; it is simply to say that we predicate something common to both on the basis of observation. The common features that are shared by John and Peter (e.g., intellect, will, arms, legs, nose, etc.) do not and cannot, from a Nominalist point of view, be understood to be based upon a common shared ‘human nature’ except in name. There is no ‘human nature’ that transcends or norms what it means to be human in anything more than an extrinsic sense; in other words, human flourishing is not based on an objective human nature that exists apart from the collection of individual beings called human, but can be only something imposed onto this group of individuals without any inherent reason that corresponds to their given nature (e.g., for vegetative beings, flourishing would be to grow physically and to do it well, while for rational beings, flourishing would pertain not only to physical growth, but also growth in knowledge and love of truth and goodness—this based on the objective nature of the being in question).


A common illustration used to explain Nominalism is found in the use of paper currency. Unlike coins that may be made out of silver or gold, carrying a value that corresponds to its ‘nature,’ paper currency, has a value imputed to it extrinsically. On this basis, a $100 bill would be identical to a $10 bill in nearly everything except for the fact that one is deemed to be worth several times more than the other—solely on the basis of what some authority judges. There is nothing intrinsic to the paper bill that gives it its value. The problem arises when this mode of understanding of the nature of things is applied across the board to human nature and other universals.1 According to Nominalism, observations are made, a name is given from said observations, but this name has nothing to do with a shared nature or ‘essence’ of the thing, as such.2 Such a process of exclusively extrinsic denomination stems from a radical emphasis on the reality of the particular accompanied by an explicit denial of an objective universal shared reality inherent to things.3


According to classical philosophy, by contrast, given the link between particular, concrete things and corresponding ideas or universals (whether these ideas or universals were thought to exist independently of the concrete individual or in conjunction with it), the ideal was seen to be something objective, rather than a result of extrinsic imposition. From a Nominalist perspective, focusing as it did solely on concrete and individual realities to the exclusion of the immaterial aspects of material things, and a fortiori anything purely immaterial, metaphysics as the study of being qua being (i.e., not necessarily material and therefore distinguishable from the empirical or sensible reality) could only appear as the height of speculative arrogance.4 Such a view of metaphysics in the traditional sense remains today, not only within Protestantism, but also pervades our post-Enlightenment setting."5


1 And even in the case of paper currency, problems arise if there is no real corresponding value; the absence of an objective correspondence leads to problems like inflation. So this example is also imperfect as the extrinsic denomination is not based on pure will, but on some objective value.



2 This is not to say, however, that realists, such as Thomas, for example, believe that there is a separate form existing somewhere that is human nature (a view typically associated with Plato). Rather, it is simply to say that the shared nature between John and Peter corresponds to something inherent to both, and this shared nature is objective. Its existence is not the result of merely an extrinsic recognition followed by an arbitrary naming process; on the contrary, the name follows from a reality discovered to be present in both Peter and John.



3 Cf. with Aquinas’s treatment of man’s knowledge in ST I, q. 94, a. 3, s.c., where he asks whether the first man knew all things. Aquinas argues from the fact that Adam named the animals that he had to know the very natures of the animals, “Nomina autem debent naturis rerum congruere.” That is, the names should be congruent with the nature of the thing. This is a way of thinking about creation that is absolutely foreign to the view of Nominalism.


4 And the logical outgrowth of this is evidenced in later thinkers such as Hume and Kant, who have influenced all of subsequent philosophy, for better or for worse. Cf., Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, NY: 1995), 166-79. As Bainton recounts: “The Occamists had wrecked the synthesis of Thomas Aquinas whereby nature and reason lead through unbroken stages to grace and revelation. Instead, between nature and grace, between reason and revelation, these theologies introduced a great gulf. So much so indeed that philosophy and theology were compelled to resort to two different kinds of logic and even two different varieties of arithmetic” (169).



5 For varied accounts of the relationship between Nominalism, the Reformation, and secularization cf., Bradley Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2012), Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2007), Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007), and Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2009).

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

A New Old Translation of Genesis 1-11

“Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride through a veil.” ― Haim Nachman Bialik
“Traduttori traditori” (translators [are] traitors) but linguists are also lovers and this came to mind as I finally get to read more of Samuel L. Bray and John F. Hobbins, Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation For Readers, Scholars, and Translators (GlossaHouse, 2017). The book oozes love for the biblical text and love for the English as well as the Hebrew language. It is appropriate that it should become the first book to be warmly commended to the readers of my blog.
This is a new translation of Genesis 1-11 (actually, 1:1-12:9 for reasons explained in the notes) which aims to hold together the virtues of old translations, namely staying close to the form and structure of the original language rather than aiming for smooth, thoroughly colloquial English, giving preference to traditional renderings, and being attentive to the aural quality of the text rather than optimised for silent reading. “It is true that some of the newer translations embody one or another of the old virtues. But the unity is gone.” (p5) This step forward is therefore also a step back. Hence the use of “New Old Translation” in the title.
The actual translation is on pp. 19-38 and makes for a very enjoyable reading of these chapters. The translation is preceded by remarks to the reader which outline and briefly defend the principles behind it and followed by remarks addressed to “the persistent reader” (pp. 41-64) which elaborate on a number of issues, e.g., why the Masoretic Text is the basis for the translation even in places where we are able to conjecture an earlier text and why it is desirable to follow the ancient paragraph divisions. There is a discussion of how to deal with “fronting” in the Hebrew text. Sometimes the subject or object of the clause is placed unusually early in the Hebrew text, e.g., to introduce a new topic or for emphasis. Such “fronting” cannot easily be replicated in English where the subject usually comes first anyway and word order is more fixed. The authors introduce the various ways in which they sought to bring out this feature in translation. The knotty issue of gender is discussed and the question of how to deal with conjunctions. I am familiar with these issues and share the translation philosophy of the authors but enjoyed reading about them anyway. One aspect that had not been sufficiently on my radar is the use of double translation to solve some tricky translation problems. I am grateful to be made to think about this, and about the question what it means to call Genesis the first book of Moses.
In short, there is a great deal here that persistent readers can learn about the task of translation. This is by no means of interest to scholars and translators only but should prove useful to anyone who wants to be a careful reader and the authors have made sure to keep the discussion accessible. The persistent reader will not need much by way of prior knowledge to benefit from this section.
One of the authors, Sam Bray, has published several items in the Washington Post which relate to this:
But that’s only the first part of the book! It is followed by almost 150 pages of annotations (pp. 65-200) which offer notes on nearly every verse, explaining the translation choices made in interaction with both ancient translations (Greek and Latin in particular) and modern ones (Roman Catholic, ecumenical, Protestant, Jewish). You will not get any closer to having the veil lifted to kiss the bride! Needless to say that there are plenty of insights here and studying these notes will both enhance understanding of the biblical text and an appreciation for the challenges of translation and the principles adopted here. “The arguments are consistently put in ordinary language” (p65) and, again, should be accessible to a wide readership.
And there is more to come: a list of dramatis personæ in Genesis (pp. 201-206), a glossary (pp. 207-222), with entries on, e.g., important (ancient and medieval) Bible editions and scholars, a note “Of the Making of Books” (pp. 223-225) which offers suggestions for further readings, a list of abbreviations (pp. 226-234) and one of works cited (pp. 235-267) and no fewer than five indices (subjects, ancient sources, translations, authors, and “stories & genealogies” in Genesis).

I hold in my hands the paperback version. It is well produced. The pages do not stay open on their own, as they might in the hardback version, but the binding gives the impression that it will last a long time. I find the layout of the pages very pleasing on the eye. An impression can be gained from the publisher’s sample and Amazon’s “Look inside” function (e.g., on the UK page).
Take and read!

Disclosure: I have known John Hobbins for a good few years although we have only met once or maybe twice in person. He had sent me a pre-publication manuscript for comments and subsequently a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Year C Psalmody in Second Sunday Service

A full index for the Psalmody in the second service lectionary for Sundays, including Epiphany and the Presentation, is on this page, on which there is also an explanation of the use of square brackets etc. The following is a list of the psalms used in year C. Red colour indicates psalms or passages used only in year C. 


Psalm [1]
Proper 1AC
Psalm 2
Sunday before Lent B, Proper 1C
Psalm 5
Proper 1B, 2C
Psalm 6
Proper 2BC
Psalm 9* [9.1-8]
Advent 1AC
Psalm [11]
Advent 2A, Lent 3B, [Proper 3C]
Psalm 12
Advent 3A, Lent 3BC
Psalm 13
Proper 2A, Lent 4B, Proper 3C, Lent 3C,
Psalm 16
Easter 2C
Psalm 30
Lent 5A, Lent 4C
Psalm 33.1-12
Pentecost (Whit Sunday) C; Epiphany 3A [or whole psalm]
Psalm 34* [34.1-10]
Epiphany 4 ABC, Lent 5B
Psalm 35*
Proper 4B [35.1-10], Lent 5C [35.1-9]
Psalm 39
Proper [5A], 6B, 4C
Psalm 40
Lent 3A, 3 before Advent C
Psalm 44* [44.1-9]
Proper 5C
Psalm 46
Baptism of Christ ABC, Proper 7A, 3 before Advent B
Psalm 47
Baptism of Christ ABC, Easter 7A
Psalm [50]
Proper 7C
Psalm 50.1-15
Lent 1A
Psalm 50.1-6
Advent 3C; Lent 1A [50.1-15], Proper 8A [whole psalm*]
Psalm 52
Proper 6C, [8B]
Psalm [53]
Proper 8B, [6C]
Psalm 57
Proper [9A], 7C
Psalm [59.1-6,18-20]
Proper 8C
Psalm 60
Proper 10A, 8C
Psalm [62]
Advent 3C
Psalm 65
2 before Lent B, Proper 9C
Psalm 66.1-11 (alternative) 
Easter Day ABC; Proper 10B [whole psalm or vv. 1-8]
Psalm 68* [68.1-13,18-19]
Easter 7C; cf. Advent 3B [vv. 1-19 or vv. 1-8]
Psalm 69.1-20
Palm Sunday BC
Psalm [70]
Proper 11A, 9C
Psalm 72* [72.1-7]
Christ the King BC
Psalm 73.1-3,16-28
Trinity Sunday C; cf. Proper 11B [whole psalm or vv. 21-28]
Psalm 75
Proper 12A, Advent 2C
Psalm [76]
Proper 12A, Advent 2C
Psalm 77* [77.1-12]
Proper 10C
Psalm 81
Proper 11C; cf. Easter 4B [81.8-16]
Psalm 86
Proper 14A, Easter 3C
Psalm 88* [88.1-10]
Proper 12BC
Psalm 89.1-18* [89.5-12]
Sunday before Lent C
Psalm 93
Trinity Sunday A, Christ the King A, [2 before Advent C]
Psalm 96
Epiphany 2ABC, Easter 5B
Psalm 97
[Christ the King A], 2 before Advent C
Psalm 98
The Epiphany ABC, Easter 5C
Psalm 100
The Epiphany ABC, Proper 15B
Psalm 105 (alternative) 
Easter Day ABC
Psalm 107.1-32* [107.1-12]
Proper 13C
Psalm 108
Proper 18A, 14C
Psalm 113
Advent 4ABC
Psalm 114
Easter 4C
Psalm [116]
Proper 14C; Proper 16B [whole psalm or vv. 10-17]
Psalm 119.1-16
Proper 25C, Bible Sunday BC; Proper 17B [or vv. 9-16]
Psalm 119.17-32* [119.17-24]
Lent 1B; Proper 15C
Psalm 119.49-72* [119.49-56]
Proper 16C; cf. Proper 19A [vv. 41-48 or 41-64]; 19A [vv. 41-56 or 49-56]
Psalm 119.73-88*
Lent 1C; Proper 19B [or abbreviated to vv. 73-80]
Psalm 119.81-96* [119.81-88]
Proper 17C; cf. Proper 25A, Bible Sunday A [119.89-104]
Psalm [120]
Proper [21A,] 21B, [18C]
Psalm 121
Proper 21B, 18C
Psalm 122
The Presentation ABC
Psalm 123
[Proper 21A], Advent 4C
Psalm 124
Proper 21A, 19C
Psalm 125
Proper 22B, 19C
Psalm 126
[Advent 4A], Proper 22B, Easter 6C
Psalm 127
Proper 23B, Easter 6C
Psalm [128]
Proper 23B, 20C
Psalm 129
Proper 20C
Psalm [131]
Advent 4BC
Psalm 132
Christmas 1ABC, The Presentation ABC, Dedication Festival ABC
Psalm 134
Proper 21C
Psalm 135* [135.1-14]
Christmas 2ABC, Lent 2ABC, Proper 21C
Psalm 142
Proper 24A, Easter 3B, Proper 22C
Psalm 144
Proper 23C
Psalm [146]
Proper 24C
Psalm 147* [147.13-21]
2 before Lent C; cf. Easter 5A, Easter 7B [147.1-12]
Psalm 148
2 before Lent A, All Saints’ Sunday ABC
Psalm 149
Proper 24C
Psalm 150
Trinity Sunday A, All Saints’ Sunday ABC