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Marist Bulletin - Number 184

 

Brother Evilázio, thinks modern and post-modern time, indicates their characteristics and opens a dialogue between faith, culture and science
03.03.2005

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Brother Evilázio Teixeira fms, has Bachelor degrees in Philosophy and Theology and a Masters degree in Philosophy from the Pontifícia Universidade do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS). He is also a Master and Doctor of Theology from the Pontificia Università Gregoriana (Rome) and Doctor of Philosophy from the Pontificia Università San Tommaso DAquino (Rome) where his research topic was: Weak thought and hermeneutic nihilism: the philosophical provocation of Gianni Vattimo. He has taught philosophy and theology at PUCRS; he was the Director of the Pastoral Centre at PUCRS (2002-2004) and he is currently Vice-Rector of the same University. Included among his works published in Brazil are: O gemido de Jô, gemido do povo, (The Lamentation of Job, the Lamentation of the People) Paulinas 1997; Educação do homem segundo Platão, (Education of man according to Plato) Paulus 1999; e Imago Trinitatis. Deus Sabedoria e Felicidade, (Imago Trinitatis. God of Wisdom and Happiness) EDPUCRS, 2003.

Brother Onorino Rota

What is weak thought?
The philosophical thought of Gianni Vattimo is synthesised in the formula weak thought. Why weak thought? Because we find ourselves at the end of the metaphysical adventure of thought; because thought cannot exhibit this strength that we always believed must be attributed to it due to its privileged access as the foundation of being. What is changing, in synthesis, is the image of rationality. Surely the expression weak thought is the most characteristic for speaking of the philosophy of the philosopher of Turin. He calls it also ontology of decline, decadent ontology and weak ontology. Even though Vattimo differentiates himself from other post-modern authors, he describes his thought inside post-modernity.
The author considers Nietzsche and Heidegger as the precursors of post-modern philosophy. The theorising of post-modern thought has gained vigour and philosophical dignity only with Nietzsches contention of eternal recurrence and the Heideggers provocation of the surpassing of the metaphysical. The principal reason why Nietzsche and Heidegger are considered as the parents of post-modern thought is especially because both ideas of foundation, which had been essential throughout all of western history, disappear. Not only do metaphysical foundations disappear, but also all other foundation. According to Heidegger, for example, foundation is replaced by event (Ereignis) With Heidegger and Nietzsche, the idea of history as a Unitarian process thus is annulled. All of that, according to Vattimo, entails a weakness of the being.

What ideas characterise weak thought?
Vattimo characterises weak thought by four principal ideas: the first concerns the fact of taking seriously Nietzsches and perhaps Marxist idea of the connection that exists between metaphysical evidence and the dominant relationships at the interior and the exterior of the subject; the second wants to throw a friendly look and without metaphysical worry on the world of appearances, discursive procedures and symbolic forms, seeing in them the place where there can be a possible experience of the being; a third idea, related to the previous one, invites one to not fall into the glorification of Deleuze, which would be equivalent to returning to an ontos on; finally, a fourth idea stresses that it is necessary to consider the being and language, that hermeneutics according to Heidegger is not a way of meeting (again) the original and true being, of which he has forgotten the metaphysical, but rather as a way of meeting the true and the being as impressions, memories of the weakened being.

Gianni Vattimo speaks of ontology of decline. What is this ontology?
Ontology of decline has nothing to do with a pessimistic or decadent sensitivity, not even with that which we call the decline of the west. Such ontology is formed, not so much on the immobile objectivity of objects of science, but on life, which is a game of interpretation. In weak ontology, the being is nothing other that that which happens. One can elucidate more by saying that Vattimo presents weak thought as practices, games or techniques with a local value as different languages of reason. Truth is attained through ways of proceeding; truth has this way of occurring. The Philosopher of Turin follows the traces of Nietzsche: There is no data, there is simply interpretation. The true world is converted at the end into a fable.

To what would philosophy be restricted?
Philosophy would be reduced to teaching us and to displacing us in the confusion of these messages, by living each individual message and each individual experience in its indissoluble link with all others, and also in its continuity with them; the meaning of experience depends on that. Another question that one cannot avoid is the following: what is the relationship between weak thought and praxis? Would not weak thought run the risk of total passivity? Our author takes account of this problem. His response seems vague. He supports that an ultra-metaphysical thought can be born of a new relationship between philosophy and society and he adds that the remembered thought is a plan that can justify commitment.

What relationship can one trace between weak thought and hermeneutical relativism?
This concerns a real problem, still today, of the hermeneutical koiné: it is a matter of finding a radical settlement of accounts with historicity and the finiteness of pre-comprehension. That which reduces hermeneutics to the generic philosophy of culture is the pretension of all metaphysics of being presented as a finally true description of the interpretative structure of human existence. Hermeneutics is not only a theory of the historicity of truth; it is itself a radically historic truth.
The reasons for preferring a hermeneutical conception to a metaphysical conception are found in the historic heritage for which we risk an interpretation and to which we try to respond. The clearest example of this way of arguing is Nietzsches account of the death of God, which is not a way of expressing poetically a metaphysical thesis through images. Nietzsche does not claim to say that God is dead because we finally agree that he does not exist objectively, but because the reality is such that he becomes excluded from it.
The God of metaphysics was necessary for humanity to organise a socially ordered and secure life that is not continually exposed to threats of nature - fought victoriously with a social hierarchical and ordered work - and internal impulses - subdued by religiously sanctioned ethics. But, today, this work of secularisation is practically concluded. We live also in a social world formally ordered, disposing of a science and a technique that allows us to be in the world without feeling the fears of primitive mankind. In these conditions God appears as a hypothesis that is very distant, barbaric and excessive. Besides, this God who functioned as a principle of stabilisation and of security is also the one who has always forbidden the fallacy.
The evocation of Nietzsches account takes us close to the thematics of nihilism. If hermeneutics, as a philosophical theory of an interpretative character of every experience of truth, is thought of in a coherent way only as interpretation, will it not be found inevitably imprisoned in nihilist logic, which is proper to the hermeneutics of Nietzsche? In other words, it does not seem possible to try the truth of hermeneutics that is represented as a response to a history of the being seen as an element of nihilism.
Nietzsche had made the relationship between the theory of interpretation and of nihilism. Nihilism means for Nietzsche the depreciation of supreme values and the fabrication of the world. It does not exist of facts, but simply their interpretation. Up till the present philosophers have believed in the possibility of describing the world; now the time for interpreting it has arrived.

And the religious question? God?
The decisive point of the question of God crosses the territory of contemporary theology, by rending it a paradigm of a necessity and of an instance. This necessity is to do with the growing metaphysical tightness of theological thought; it consists of an instance of reflexion capable of making the elusive character of the concept of God emerge as a condition of the thought of the difference. A more powerful element concerns the impact of secularisation. It throws light on the understanding of mystery adopted by theist objectivism. It could only fall into the anthropological indetermination of the revelation and in its indifference regarding existence.
In other words, the referential reversal of the name God, whose suspicion of insignificance and alienating significance leads to an emptiness in the name itself, causes the idea to emerge that the crisis of modernity, on the threshold of contemporaneousness, carries in itself, as a consequence, the impossibility of thinking God. To use an expression of Karl Rahner, a new task is returning to current theology: that of taking with a great rigour the tragedy of modern man who experiences (though it be in an erroneous way) the absence of God. To all of this one must add again the change of paradigm of questions of God for history and for society.
It is worth the trouble of asking the question of the need for God in the world. That would thus put the perspective of the human experience into evidence, since one speaks and when on must speak of God. Can one still claim the word God? In this sense, the theory of secularisation can mean the tracking and the way of a search capable of showing that the term God is presented to us as a proposal and as a requirement of the response to primordial questions of man on the foundation and on the ultimate meaning of his existence and of his reality.
The loss of the sense of the transcendent leads to a Promethean dialectic of emancipation. It becomes a metaphor for an anthropocentric project that seems incompatible with a history of salvation. The heart of the demythologised question of secularisation displaces the interrogation in a certain manner: since man is the one who merges the act of meaning, since he is the source of meaning of his own actions, it is still important to question himself on the fact of renouncing God. Or, is it simply a matter of putting God aside from the metaphysical, guaranteeing an apparent and inadequate cosmos to the emergence of chaos and to the creative desire of man?
In a certain sense, in a world that has been made adult, a religion based on the metaphysical is incapable to taking into account the real and the significance of its quest for meaning. The excessive attachment to the earth and the desire to participate in the destiny of the world finishes by opening a non-religious interpretation of God, a-theist. For this reason, a God religiously conceived opens a religiosity of consolation and anachronism for an adult world.
Gianni Vattimo is convinced that the message of Christianity is of self-secularisation, at least in that which concerns the distance of the sacred in relation to violence, sacrificial victims and the systems of primitive civilisations. In this sense, an authentic reading of Christianity will necessarily pass through secularisation. For Vattimo, the secularisation-religion relationship, and in this case it must include Christianity, is despite its ambiguity a point of no return for modernity.
The advent of nihilism, according to this vision, and the event of the death of God accomplish the process of secularisation by means of an irreversible and progressive fragility-decline of the strong structures of western thought. The impact of secularisation is thus responsible for the de-potentiation of the metaphysical violence of identity, by permitting the emergence of difference as an interpretative key of history.

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