- C. S. Peirce & Nested Continua Model of Religious Interpretationby Gary S. Slater
Gary S. Slater's C. S. Peirce & Nested Continua Model of Religious Interpretationcomes to readers in the Oxford University Press series Oxford Theology and Religion Monographs. Before I say more about Slater's complex book, a story: Much philosophical scholarship on C. S. Peirce tends either to neglect the religious dimensions of his work or to secularize, demystify, and detheologize it. These secularized interpretations alienate those who read Peirce within the Christian and Jewish theological traditions and estrange the Transcendentalists within American Philosophy who rely on religious language to talk and think about the natural world and personhood.
There are significant divisions among Peirce scholars: the secularizers tend to be in Indiana and Toronto; those who attend to the theological aspects of Peirce tend to be students of Doug Anderson and Peter Ochs; and those who attend to the naturalistic and Transcendentalist Peirce are found throughout the pages of this journal—namely Randy Auxier, Robert Corrington, and Robert Neville. Corrington and Ochs taught at Drew University together and developed distinctive readings of Peirce. Ochs left Drew for the University of Virginia (in the 1990s), where the Religious Studies program now provides a place to receive training in the relation between American Philosophy and the Abrahamic (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) theological traditions. When I was a doctoral student, Ochs encouraged me to read Corrington's work—even placing all of Corrington's writings on Peirce on my American Philosophy comprehensive exam reading list.
I mention this scholarly landscape because Slater's C. S. Peirce & Nested Continua Model of Religious Interpretationteases out the connections among these alternative ways of reading, studying, and using Peirce's philosophy. It is the best published attempt at bringing together Ochs's theological traditionalism with Corrington's Transcendentalism and Neville's naturalism.
Slater claims that his book is a "work of theology" and not philosophy. He offers three reasons for this: (a) his book requires thinking about big questions, and theology is the "discipline [that] asks the biggest, deepest, most important questions we can ask" (4); (b) his book involves making difficult distinctions, [End Page 225]and theology is the discipline that "demands distinctions of enormous gravity" (4); and (c) his book considers the determinate and the ultimate, and theology is the discipline defined as what "draws from that which is determinate … to orient attention and action toward that which is ultimate" (4).
I find these reasons unconvincing. Philosophy serves as the discipline that provides the wisdom needed for all three of these tasks: asking big questions, making difficult distinctions, and moving from the determinate to the ultimate. Claiming that theology takes on these three tasks does not mean that the discipline of theology achieves these tasks with wisdom. Philosophers certainly have not always showed wisdom in relation to these tasks, but Peirce rightly points out that theology consistently fails the standards of logical and scientific thinking: "But, as far as I can penetrate into the motive of theology, it begins in an effort of men who have joined the Christian army and sworn fidelity to it to silence the suggestions of their hearts that they renounce their allegiance. … Nothing can be more unscientific than the attitude of minds who are trying to confirm themselves in early beliefs. The struggle of the scientific man is to try to see the errors of his beliefs—if he can be said to have any beliefs." 1Peirce's philosophy can and should be implemented to repair theological reasoning, but doing this requires beginning with the wisdom found in the discipline of philosophy—not theology. Given that Slater develops a "nested continua model of religious interpretation," I read his book as a work of philosophy on theology's behalf.
What is this "nested continua model of religious interpretation"? Slater's nested continua model of religious interpretation gets its fullest development in chapter 1 when he outlines the rules for the model (46-56). The...