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BOOK REVIEWS Nonfoundationalism. By JOHN E. THIEL. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994. Pp. 123. This work initiates a new series entitled Guides to Theological Inquiry edited by Kathryn Tanner and Paul Lakeland. The guides, which will include topics such as herme.neutics, critical social theory, and postmodernity, are meant neither as simple surveys nor as exhaustive monographs. They seek, rather, to provide "reliable, programmatic statements" of the main lines of central contemporary issues and "assessments of their theological impact." The present work on nonfoundationalism proceeds in three chapters: nonfoundationalism as a philosophical movement; the impact of nonfoundationalism on contemporary theology; and critical questions addressed to nonfoundationalist thought. The author makes clear from the outset that the nonfoundationalism envisioned here is not of the deconstructive variety, but of the more moderate position holding that one cannot speak of ontological or epistemological foundations for knowledge that serve to ground other claims. The ultimate point of nonfoundationalism is to show that foundationalism promises "an epistemic security, completeness and stability that knowledge does not possess" (12). While acknowledging that foundationalist thought extends back to Plato and Aristotle, Thiel begin his story with the modern epistemological quest for certitude. The Cartesian search for self-justifying first principles was continued by the British empiricists, Locke and Hume, who turned toward sense experience as a ground for philosophy, and by the German idealists, Kant, Fichte, and Schelling, who stressed the a priori first principles provided by human cognition. But it is precisely this idea of a prima philosophia that is now called into question by nonfoundationalist thought. Thiel sketches, briefly and deftly, the pragmatic precursors of philosophical nonfoundationalism who are currently enjoying a renascence: James, Peirce, and Dewey. Central here is the reservation of these thinkers about the modern search for Archimedean starting points and their concomitant celebration of a consensual notion of truth issuing from the network of beliefs and social contexts of the community of inquiry. This unmasking of universal perspectives and methods is echoed and developed in the work of Wittgenstein. Moving beyond the early positivism of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein later argued that various socio-cultural circles comprise specific "grammars" 141 142 BOOK REVIEWS shaping the contingency and particularity of meaning. Meanings and logical rules thrive only within unique and untranslatable frames of reference determined by convention and social circumstance. The postpositivist empiricism of Sellars and Quine is another important pillar of contemporary nonfoundationalism. The former's Myth of the Given calls into question the foundational and authoritative givenness of sense data, while the latter's Myth of the Museum reproaches the notion of a fixed, objective meaning separable from conceptual and linguistic formulation and usage. Meanings are so enmeshed within original contexts and coordinate systems that any alleged transferability is simply unfounded. Thiel concludes the chapter with discussions of the well-known thought of Davidson, Rorty, and Richard Bernstein. In chapter two, Thiel takes up the theological implications of nonfoundationalism . For the most part, nonfoundationalism is used by certain theologians in confrontation with mediating theology or Vermittlungstheologie. Since Schleiermacher, there have been attempts at reconciling Christianity and post-Enlightenment culture. These "mediating" theologies seek to establish common ground between theology and secular culture by using such bases as "general human experience," a particular anthropology, or an epistemological or communicative theory (46). Nonfoundationalist theology, however , opposes mediating or apologetical theories because they often seem to compromise the absolute truth of the Christian gospel. Thiel discusses the work of several nonfoundationalist theologians: Barth, Lindbeck, Thiemann, Tanner, and Frei. The central themes of their works are now familiar. At its worst, mediating theology can: justify revelation before the bar of modem philosophy and culture; subordinate the Word of God to finite, sinful human experience; abandon theology's specifically ecclesial context; and, ultimately , reduce theology to anthropology. Mediating theologies, nonfoundationalists conclude, are simply another ploy of fallen human nature seeking to justify itself. In their place, Lindbeck proposes the specificity and normativity of the cultural-linguistic model, arguing that it must be the religion proposed in Scripture that defines being, truth, and beauty. All non-scriptural exemplifications of these need to be transformed by the gospel (59). Similarly, Ronald Thiemann's polemic against mediating theologies is based on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 141-145
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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