After a lapse of several years, I am a renewed listener to Mars Hill Audio Journal, having received a subscription as a Christmas present. I can assure you: whether you acquire the issues of this audio journal as MP3 files or CDs, you’ll be able to savor the wide-ranging interviews and commentary with host Ken Myers in various contexts. My favorites are while exercising and driving around doing errands.
One of several fascinating interviews in the latest volume of MHJ (#115) was with Adrian Pabst, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Kent, a Fellow of the Center of Theology and Philosophy, who has written a new book: Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy (Eerdmans, 2012).
From the Mars Hill Audio Journal website we learn the following about the interview:
Adrian Pabst discusses the theological nature of metaphysics. He begins with addressing why metaphysics came to be dismissed by public intellectuals in wider society. Thinkers like Comte, Nietzsche, and Marion viewed metaphysics as a straitjacket, an obscuring obstacle and constraint upon our minds in pursuit of the truth. Pabst takes issue with this disregard of metaphysics, often based on misunderstandings of philosophers, foremost among whom is Plato. He discusses common misreadings of Plato focusing on dualism, and explains how Plato understood the relationship between the unity and multiplicity of the reality we all experience. Pabst highlights the notion of participation as key to this relationship, as well as the fundamentally relational and self-giving nature of truth, goodness, beauty, justice, and other transcendental ideas. While premodern philosophers were able to discover much of the metaphysical nature of reality, Pabst argues the personal and relational nature of the Creator in the Biblical tradition as necessary to explain the most basic questions of matter and reality that Plato could not answer. Pabst explains how a truer understanding of metaphysics would make “the common good” a coherent concept and aid in the cultivation of an alternative modernity.
Midway through the interview, Ken Myers both summarizes and editorializes upon what he and Adrian Pabst had just finished discussing. Says Myers:
At the beginning of this segment I said that modern politics typically excludes discussion about the nature of things from political debate. The political debate about good policies must be grounded in some idea about how to define the common good. And behind visions of the common good there are usually unstated assumptions about “the good.” Perhaps one of the reasons our political conversations are so rancorous and so deadlocked is that we falsely assume that we can talk about things like creating wealth, or promoting justice, or redefining marriage without any discussion about what these things really are.
Our deepest disagreements are finally metaphysical, which is to say that they’re finally theological. But we’re not allowed to bring such fundamental questions into public debate, even though metaphysical and theological assumptions are regularly smuggled into our policies.
In short: we cannot talk about “the common good” without defining “the good,” and we cannot define “the good” apart from metaphysics—which is to say: we cannot define “the common good” apart from theology, and without reference to God.