Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Kant's Distinction between the Transcendent and the Transcendental

According to Kant (1781), immanent principles are those whose application is confined within the limits of possible experience, while transcendent principles are those whose application transgresses the limits of possible experience. Transcendental principles are those concerned with our mode of cognition of empirical objects, insofar as this mode of cognition is possible a priori. Thus, transcendental principles do not transcend or transgress the limits of possible experience, but rather make knowledge of experience possible.
      A.C. Ewing (1938) describes the distinction between the transcendent and the transcendental by saying that the transcendent refers to what is not a possible object of experience, and that transcendent knowledge is therefore impossible. The transcendental, on the other hand, refers to the necessary conditions of experience, and transcendental knowledge is therefore certainly possible.1
      Transcendental idealism, as described by Kant, is the theory that all objects of possible experience are merely representations having no self-subsistent existence apart from human thought. Transcendental realism, on the other hand, is the theory that objects of possible experience are things subsisting in themselves, which are real independently of their representations in human thought.2
      Faculties of cognition, according to Kant, include intuition, understanding, judgment, and reason. Intuition is a lower faculty of cognition, while understanding, judgment, and reason are higher faculties of cognition. Intuition is the faculty of receiving impressions. Understanding is the faculty of producing rules or concepts. Judgment is the faculty of determining whether a rule or concept is subsumed under other rules or concepts. Reason, the highest faculty of cognition, is the faculty that produces principles.
      While the categories (of quantity, quality, relation, and modality) are conceptions of pure understanding, transcendental ideas are conceptions of pure reason. While the objective employment of pure conceptions of understanding is always immanent, the objective employment of pure conceptions of reason is always transcendent.3 Reason never applies directly to experience or to any empirical object. Its object is rather the understanding, to the manifold cognition of which it gives unity a priori by means of conceptions.4
      The principles of pure understanding are immanent but not transcendent principles, insofar as they are applicable to objects of possible experience, but not to objects beyond the limits of experience.5
      Thus, transcendental illusion may occur when immanent principles are mistaken for transcendent principles.
      The pure conceptions of understanding apply a priori to (empirical or non-empirical) objects of intuition.6 Transcendental ideas, on the other hand, are conceptions of pure reason whose objects are not empirical, but are objects of pure understanding.7 Transcendental ideas are also transcendent, insofar as they transgress the limits of possible experience. Their objects are cognitions to which no actual experience ever fully attains. No object can ever be perfectly adequate to a transcendental idea.
       Thus, the transcendental employment of reason is not objectively valid, since all a priori cognitions are given their objective validity by their possibility of experience.8
       When we mistakenly regard transcendental ideas as conceptions of actual things, their mode of application is not only transcendent, but also delusive. However, it is not a transcendental idea itself, but only its application, in relation to possible experience, that is immanent or transcendent. A transcendental idea is applied immanently when it is applied only to an object within the limits of experience. It is applied transcendently when it is applied to an object beyond the limits of experience or to an object falsely believed to be adequate with, and to correspond to, it.9
      Principles of pure understanding may be classified as (1) axioms of intuition, (2) anticipations of perception, (3) analogies of experience, and (4) postulates of empirical thought. While the first two classes may be described as mathematical, the second two may be described as dynamic.10 The mathematical principles are constitutive principles of understanding, while the dynamic principles are regulative principles of understanding.
      Transcendental ideas may be regulative principles of understanding, but they are not constitutive principles, since they are not based on empirical intuition. Indeed, contradictions may arise when they are confused with constitutive principles. However, they may still guide our understanding of the empirical world, and pure reason may therefore act as a regulative principle to guide the production of rules and concepts.


1A.C. Ewing, A Short Commentary on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1938), p. 25.
2Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by J.M.D. Meiklejohn (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1990), p. 278.
3Ibid., p. 205.
4Ibid., p. 191.
5Ibid., p. 205.
6Ibid., p. 61.
7Ibid., p. 205.
8Ibid. p. 97.
9Ibid., p. 360.
10Ibid., p. 114.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

François Laruelle, on Non-Philosophy

François Laruelle is a French philosopher who was born in Chavelot, France. He studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and at the École Normale Supérieure de Saint-Cloud, and completed his doctoral dissertation on the general economy of hermeneutics at the Université de Paris X (Nanterre), under the direction of Paul Ricoeur. He taught at the Université de Paris X (Nanterre) from 1967-2006, and was a program director at the Collège International de Philosophie from 1986-1989. He is the author of many books, including Une Biographie de l'Homme Ordinaire (A Biography of the Ordinary Man, 1985), Philosophie et Non-Philosophie (Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, 1989), Théorie des Étrangers (Theory of Strangers, 1995), Principes de la Non-Philosophie (Principles of Non-Philosophy, 1996), Dictionnnaire de la Non-Philosophie (Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, 1998), La Lutte et l'Utopie à la Fin des Temps Philosophiques (Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy, 2004), Les Philosophies de la Différence (Philosophies of Difference, 2010), Philosophie Non-Standard (Non-Standard Philosophy, 2010), and Théorie des Identités (Theory of Identities, 2016)
      According to Laruelle, non-philosophy is viewed by philosophy as the judgments of common sense, or as whatever is other than philosophy and remains to be thought, or as the presuppositions of philosophy itself, which are themselves philosophizable.1 But philosophy is, or has become, a utopia of the past. "It is impossible to elaborate a new practice of the future without dealing with philosophy as a whole as a failed or worldly utopia," he says. "Philosophical practice has become the archaeology of its own ruins, an archaeology of utopias without a future."2 Why is this? Because philosophy is governed by a principle superior even to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, the Principle of Sufficient Philosophizability.3 This principle expresses the pretense of philosophy to occupy a position of absolute autonomy in deciding and determining the real. Non-philosophy, on the other hand, interrupts the philosophical trajectory of the real (identified as Being, substance, unity, multiplicity, etc.),4 because the faith-in-the-real of philosophy is in fact merely the philosophical hallucination of the Real.5
      Non-philosophy is undecidable by philosophy. It "possesses a 'radical,' albeit relative, autonomy of thought," says Laruelle, "that it receives from the non-sufficiency of its cause"6 (because it isn't governed by the Principle of Sufficient Philosophizability). "Vision-in-One" is what makes this suspension of philosophical sufficiency possible.7
      Some axioms of non-philosophy include (1) the One is radical (but not absolute) immanence, not associated with a transcendence or a division between immanence and transcendence, (2) the One is in-One, or in vision-in-One, but not in Being, or in Difference, and (3) "the One is the Real, insofar as it is foreclosed to all symbolization (thought, knowledge, etc.)."8
      Non-philosophy, according to Laruelle, is "the style of radicality enacted against the absolute...the style of uni-laterality against convertibility, the style of heresy against conformity."9 It is neither philosophy's negation, nor an attempt to deconstruct philosophy. It is rather a pragmatics that ensues from the One.10 It is, by its very essence, Vision-in-One.11
      Laruelle argues that the transcendental Unity proper to philosophical decision is a unity associated with a prior division between the immanent and the transcendent. In non-philosophy, on the other hand, the transcendental is pure transcendental identity, an undivided identity.12 Thus, "non-philosophy does not go from the transcendental to the Real...like philosophy, but from the Real to the transcendental."13
      The Real is immanence-without-transcendence, and is simple identity, says Laruelle.14 The Real is radically immanent, the One, neither capable of being known nor capable of being thought.15 It's non-conceptual and radically immanent, regardless of any possible conditions of thought. "The essence of the Real, resides neither in Being nor in the Other, but in the One."16
      The One is indefinable and undecidable, and has no ontic or ontological content. It neither is nor is not, because it is not One-Being, it is One-in-One.  "Insofar as its essence saves it from philosophical decision," says Laruelle, "it is not Difference and has no need of [Difference]." Difference, on the other hand, is a philosophical interpretation of the One, and has need of the One.17
      "The One is not 'transcendental Unity,'" he says. "It has no specific essence of Unity, which is always a blend of immanence and transcendence."18 Thus, non-philosophy is a practice that's no longer founded on philosophical faith, but "is established within the limits of the bracketing of this faith."19 Its goal is to save the human from the superhuman. Humanity, the One-in-person, then becomes the radical subject of non-philosophy.20
      The style of non-philosophy is uni-laterality, says Laruelle. "Uni-laterality is the essence of the One-in-One that, separated from philosophy by its own immanence, is Other-than it."21 Thus non-One and non-uni-laterality are not modes or accidents of the One in relation to Being, but rather the essence of immanence separated from the One.22
      Two basic problems with which non-philosophy is concerned are (1) "the limitotrophic status of the One that, whether explicitly or not, associates by proximity with Being and the Other without either being able to grant it radical autonomy," and (2) the theoretical status of philosophy, "which is a theoreticist impulse without being a theory, which has practical aspects...without being a practice."23 The limitotrophic status of the One in philosophy renders the One just as much Other as One, and just as much divisible as indivisible. But non-philosophy is a practice of thinking according to the One, rather than thinking of the One (as a final object related to Being or the Other).24 The theory and practice of non-philosophy are derived from Vision-in-One, which is uni-versal in the sense that the One is foreclosed to division by philosophical world-thought.25


1François Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, translated by Taylor Adkins (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2013), p. 99.
2Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy, translated by Drew S. Burk and Anthony Paul Smith (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012), p. 12.
3Ibid., p. 28.
4Laruelle, Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, p. 127.
5Ibid., p. 39.
6Ibid., p. 56.
7Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy,  translated by Taylor Adkins (Minneapolis, Univocal, 2013), p. 4.
8Ibid., p. 166.
9Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia, p. 13.
10Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, p. 4. 
11Ibid., p. 31.
12Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, p. 148.
13Struggle and Utopia, p. 38.
14Ibid., p. 29
15Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, p.125.
16Laruelle, Theory of Identities, translated by Alyosha Edlebi (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), p. 80.
17Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, translated by Rocco Gangle (New York: Continuum, 2010), p. 22.
18Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, p. 43. 
19Ibid., p. 10.
20Ibid., p. 30.
21Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia, p. 29. 
22Ibid. p. 33.
23Ibid., p. 27.
24Ibid., p. 28.
25Dictionary of Non-Philosophy, p.167.

Monday, August 19, 2019


      Metatheory may be the study of a given theory and of its foundations, aims, limitations, and relations to other theories. It may also be the study of the nature, form, and meaning of a given theory, and of its properties and applications. it may also be an analysis of the rules according to which the components of a given theory are linked or combined, and an evaluation of the principles of reasoning or methods of argumentation on which a given theory is based.1
      Metatheory may also be a study of the truth, validity, coherence, and completeness of a given theory. Every theory may be an object of study for a corresponding metatheory.
      Metatheory may include the study of formal, scientific, mathematical, philosophical, political, legal, and social theories.
      Examples of formal theories include formal aesthetic, formal ethical, formal epistemological, and formal ontological theories.
      Examples of scientific theories include cosmological theories (e.g. the Big Bang theory, multiverse theory, and superstring theory), biological theories (e.g. cell theory, gene theory, and the theory of evolution), and physical theories (e.g. quantum theory, the theory of relativity, and string theory). 

      Examples of mathematical theories include computability theory, model theory, number theory, and set theory.
      Examples of philosophical theories include virtue theory, value theory, critical theory, theory of mind, and theory of truth.

      Examples of political theories (or ideologies) include anarchism, socialism, capitalism, communism, and totalitarianism.
      Metatheory may be engaged in by a variety of metadisciplines (disciplines involving the study of other disciplines). Every discipline may be an object of study for a corresponding metadiscipline.

      Philosophy may be a metadiscipline, insofar as it includes philosophy of science, philosophy of medicine, philosophy of technology, philosophy of religion, philosophy of education, and so on. But philosophy itself may be an object of study for a metadiscipline (metaphilosophy), whose themes and concerns may include the origin, aims, methods, and limits of philosophy.
      Nicholas Rescher (2014) distinguishes between descriptive or historical metaphilosophy, which describes how philosophy has historically been conducted, and prescriptive or normative metaphilosophy, which describes how it should be conducted. Rescher says that while these two dimensions of metaphilosophy differ in their priorities and emphasis, they aren't completely separable.
      In addition to having metadisciplinary (or interdisciplinary) branches, philosophy may also be divided into other metadisciplines, such as metalogic, metaethics, meta-aesthetics, metaepistemology, metametaphysics, and metaontology.
      Metalogic (or the metatheory of logic) may be the study of the syntax and semantics of the formal languages used to express logical truths, properties, and relations.
      Metaethics (or the metatheory of ethics) may be the study of the origin, nature, and meaning of moral attitudes, opinions, or judgments, and the study of the language, methods, and modes of reasoning employed in ethics.
      Meta-aesthetics may be the study of the origin, nature, and meaning of aesthetic judgments, and the study of how aesthetic judgments are made.
      Metaepistemology may be the study of the origin, nature, and meaning of epistemic judgments, and the study of how epistemic judgments are made.
      Metametaphysics may be the study of the language, aims, concerns, and methodology of metaphysics.
      Metaontology may be the study of the nature, aims, and concerns of ontology. It may also be an analysis of the nature of ontological commitments, such as what a given ontology says about the kinds of things that exist or do not exist. An example of a metaontological question might be "What are we asking when we ask 'What exists?'"
      Metamathematics may be the study and analysis of the symbols, conventions, rules, principles, theorems, and proofs of mathematics.
      We may be engaging in metatheory whenever we examine the adequacy, consistency, completeness, explanatory potential, or practical applicability of a given theory. Any theorizing we do may thus require us to do some metatheorizing as well.
      Are we almost always or only occasionally aware we're thinking about whatever we're thinking about? If the latter is the case, then metathinking may be something we often do without truly being aware we're doing it.
      Metacognition may be an object of study for cognitive science, neuroscience, linguistics, and the philosophy of mind. It may be described as awareness, evaluation, and understanding of our own cognitive processes and the cognitive processes of others, or as reasoning about our own reasoning and the reasoning of others. It may also be an awareness of the extent or limits of our own knowledge and of our ability to understand, modify, and control our own cognitive processes.
4 Aspects of metacognition include metathinking, metareasoning, metalearning, metaknowing, metamemory, and meta-emotions. 
      Metaknowledge may include knowing that (what, how, or why) we or others know or don't know something. It may also include knowing about some domain of knowledge, e.g. about its relevance or applicability to solving a particular problem or illuminating a particular field of inquiry.
      Metaknowledge may also include knowing what we know that others don't know, and what they know that we don't know. Thus, it may also include knowing how much more or less we know than they know.
      It may also include knowing how to access various knowledge domains. Metaknowledge tools or techniques may include tagging sources or references by means of keywords and search terms, using bookmarks, indices, and bibliographies, and doing literature reviews, abstracts, and meta-analyses.
      Michael T. Cox and Anita Raja (2011) formulate a model of reasoning according to which doing is at the ground level, reasoning is at the object level, and metareasoning is at the metalevel. They describe metareasoning as the process of reasoning about the action-perception cycle, whereby doing at the ground level leads by means of perception to reasoning at the object level, and reasoning at the object level leads by means of action selection to doing at the ground level, Thus, metareasoning consists of both the computational control and introspective monitoring of reasoning. According to Cox and Raja, distributed metareasoning requires coordination of metareasoning by multiple agents. Each agent in a multi-agent setting must coordinate their control and monitoring of their own reasoning with other agents' control and monitoring of their own reasoning, if they are to collectively participate in problem solving and decision making and are to successfully engage in a dynamic interaction at the metalevel.5
      Meta-emotions may be emotions about our own emotions or the emotions of others. Thus, in some cases we may be remorseful that we were jealous, or we may feel vaguely disquieted that we felt unsympathetic to someone else's being disappointed, or we may even be pleased that someone has been embarrassed or humiliated (schadenfreude may be a meta-emotion). Our own meta-emotions may be concordant or discordant with those of others, depending on whether they feel the same as or different than we do about our emotions and about their own emotions. Meta-emotions may also be integrated into complex emotions whose components may be concordant or discordant with one another.
      Other metaphenomena include metajudgments, metacriticisms, metainterpretations, metatexts, metadata (descriptive, administrative, and structural), metacontent, metainformation, meta-analysis, meta-argumentation, and metamodeling.
      Language as an object of metatheory may, at the object level, be an object or target language, and at the metalevel, a language about that language (a metalanguage). At the mixed level, it may be both an object language and metalanguage. 
A metalanguage may have its own syntax (metasyntax), semantics (metasemantics), and pragmatics (metapragmatics). 
      A metasyntax may be a set of rules or principles that govern the integration of words and phrases into the well-formed sentences of a metalanguage. A metasemantics may be a set of rules or principles that govern the meaning of words and sentences of a metalanguage. A metapragmatics may be a set of rules or principles that govern the use of the words and sentences of a metalanguage in order to fulfill desired social or communicative functions in a given (sociocultural, linguistic, or discursive) context.
      Examples of metalinguistic utterances include the sentences: "What I meant to say was 'I wasn't ready.'" "What I thought you meant to say was that you weren't really sure." "Did you say you weren't going to be there?" "What I'm telling you is that you have nothing to worry about." and "That's a very roundabout way of saying something that could be said very straightforwardly." 


1"Metatheory," in Wolfram MathWorld (Wolfram Research, Inc., 2019) online at http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Metatheory.html.
2Nicholas Rescher, Metaphilosophy: Philosophy in Philosophical Perspective (Lantham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014), p.xi.
3Peter van Inwagen, "Meta-Ontology," in Erkenntnis, 48 (1998), p. 233.
4Donald Meichenbaum (1985). Teaching thinking: A cognitive-behavioral perspective. In S. F., Chipman, J. W. Segal, & R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills, Vol. 2: Research and open questions. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
5Michael T. Cox and Anita Raja, Metareasoning: Thinking about Thinking (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011), pp. 4-7.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Thin vs. Thick Theology

What distinguishes "thin" from "thick" theology? What makes some theologies "thicker" than others? What makes some moral directives, commands, prescriptions, or permissions theologically "thin," and others theologically "thick"? Where does the "thickness" in thick theology come from? 
      Thin theologies may make rather easy or simple demands on us, while thick theologies may make complex or difficult demands on us. It may often be easy for us to know when we've fully complied with a thin theology, but it may be difficult for us to know when we've fully complied with a thick theology. Thick theologies may not bring us the kind of moral certainty that thin theologies may bring us. 
      For thin theology, truth may be absolute, but for thick theology, it may be relative. Thick theologies may allow for the possibility of doubt, but thin theologies may see doubt as unnecessary and indicating a lack of faith. For thick theologies, however, there is no faith without the possibility of doubt. If doubt were impossible, then there would be no need of faith.
      Thin theology may be monistic, exclusionary, and reductionist in its outlook, aims, and methodology. Thick theology, on the other hand, may be pluralistic, inclusionary, and nonreductionist. For thin theology, there may be only one valid or legitimate way of looking at the world, but for thick theology, there may be many valid or legitimate ways of looking at the world.
      A theology may have both thin and thick components. Theologies may therefore be classified as "thin" or "thick" depending on which components predominate. The thinness or thickness of the components of one theology may, in theory or practice, be greater than, less than, or roughly the same as those of some other theology.
      Thin theologies may be more dogmatic, rigid, and ideological than thick theologies. So when does a theology become an ideology? Are all theologies actually religious ideologies?
      What's the difference between theology and ideology? If one possible definition of an ideology is that it's a system of ideas, beliefs, or opinions that serves to articulate or legitimate a particular political, economic, social, or cultural agenda (or program, social structure, set of institutions, or system of power), then some theologies may indeed be political, economic, social, or cultural ideologies.
      The more politicized and ideologized a theology is, the thinner it may be. To the extent that a theology becomes merely a political ideology, it may lose whatever thickness it may have had.
      Fundamentalist theologies may be thin insofar as they don't recognize the possibility of uncertainty or doubt, but they may also have thick elements that can have a powerful influence on the religious, moral, social, or cultural imagination.
      Michael Freeden (2003) distinguishes between thin and thick ideologies by saying that thin ideologies have a restricted morphology (or internal structure) and are limited in aim and scope. Thick ideologies are macro-ideologies that have broad aims and scope, but thin ideologies are micro-ideologies that have limited aims and scope.1 
      Bernard WIlliams (1985) describes thick ethical terms or concepts as those that are both factual and evaluative in describing and appraising various modes of behavior. The way in which such terms or concepts are applied depends on a factual situation, such as how a person has behaved in a certain set of circumstances, but also involves an evaluation that provides reasons for action.2
      Simon Kirchin (2013) explains that the distinction between thin and thick concepts may apply not only to ethical, but also to aesthetic, epistemic, and other kinds of concepts. The difference between thin and thick concepts may be that thin concepts are primarily evaluative, with little descriptive content, while thick concepts are both evaluative and descriptive.3 
     Examples of thin ethical terms (or concepts) that function primarily to indicate approval or disapproval of various kinds of conduct include the terms "good," "bad," "right," "wrong," "permissible," and "obligatory." Examples of thick ethical terms or concepts, which have descriptive as well as evaluative content, include the terms  "selfish," "unselfish," "kind," "compassionate," "honest," "deceitful," "cruel," "greedy," and "generous," Thick terms aren't simply arbitrary edicts or dictatorial pronouncements about certain modes of behavior; they are more nuanced and balanced evaluations that allow for the possible complexity of motives behind that behavior. Thin ethical terms may express our approval or disapproval of various modes of behavior, but they don't explain exactly why we should approve or disapprove of those modes of behavior. 
     Kirchin (2017) also distinguishes between separationism and nonseparationism with regard to thick terms or concepts, explaining that separationism holds that all or most so-called thick terms or concepts have separable thick or thin components, while nonseparationism holds that they do not.4 Nonseparationism may be cognitivist in asserting that thick evaluations are cognitive evaluations of facts and that they have the same cognitive status as beliefs (which can be shown to be true or false). Separationism, on the other hand, may be noncognitivist in asserting that the evaluative components of thick terms or concepts merely express our approval or disapproval of certain kinds of behavior and are not actually cognitive evaluations of those kinds of behavior.
      Judith Jarvis Thomson (2008) distinguishes between normative judgments (such as "A should move his rook") and non-normative judgments (such as "A is playing chess"). She also distinguishes between evaluative normative judgments (such as "A is a good tennis player" or "B is good at doing crossword puzzles" or "C is good as Ophelia in Hamlet") and directive normative judgments (such as "A should be kind to his little brother" or "B should try to more punctual" or "C should get a haircut").5 
      (Thin or thick) moral normativity may thus be described as the ability or tendency of something to be (thinly or thickly) morally normative, or as the ability or tendency of something to (thinly or thickly) establish a moral norm, standard, or ideal of behavior,
      Thick theological concepts may be those that are densely connotative or deeply metaphorical and capable of engaging and taking hold of our imaginations. Thin theological concepts, on the other hand, may be only weakly connotative and starkly literal, and may therefore be relatively resistant to changes in interpretation and application.
      Thick theological concepts may include those we have to spiritually, intellectually, or philosophically struggle with, those that challenge, disquiet, trouble, or inspire us. Thin theological concepts, on the other hand, may be relatively rigid and inflexible, fixed and incontrovertible, coercively inculcated, "set in stone" to be unquestioningly accepted, and strictly enforced by religious or social sanctions.
      There may be thin or thick readings of religious, ethical, literary, and other kinds of texts, depending on how literal or metaphorical, closed or open, monologic or dialogic, univocal or multivocal, and finalized or unfinalized those readings are. Thick readings may allow for many levels of meaning within a single text, while thin readings may attempt to reduce the meaning of a text to something that is unequivocal, easily interpretable, and readily summarizable.
      Sallie McFague (1982) explains that the tasks of a metaphorical theology include seeking an understanding of the centrality of models of God in religious language, analyzing such models as mediators between metaphors and concepts, criticizing literalized and exclusive models, and investigating the possibilities for transformative and revolutionary models.6 The goal of such an analysis is to challenge the rationale for conforming to the didacticism of traditional orthodoxy, as opposed to adopting the more flexible, open, kerygmatic (proclamatory) point of view epitomized by the parables of the Gospels.7 It's also to recognize that in order to develop truly meaningful theological models, a metaphorical theology must avoid literalism and idolatry of all kinds.8
      Is thick theology merely a kind of postmodern theology, insofar as it questions universalist notions of truth, the reliability of claims to absolute knowledge, and the possibility of objective certainty? Conservative theologians may see postmodernism as a threat to traditional orthodoxy, insofar as it questions the notion of truth as absolute, objective, eternal, and universal. If postmodernism is an attitude of incredulity toward metanarratives9 (grand or overarching narratives that serve to legitimate knowledge claims and to explain the meaning of various events), then it may view religious narratives as metanarratives, and postmodern theology may be viewed by conservative theologians as an attempt to challenge or deliberately subvert the narratives of religious faith.
      But thick theology is not in itself an attempt to question or deconstruct reassuring myths and beguiling metanarratives. Rather, it's an affirmation of religious faith in the face of the kinds of metaphysical, philosophical, social, and cultural challenges posed by postmodernism. Thick theology is thick because, like Keat's "negative capability" (1817),10 it's a capacity to reconcile ourselves with uncertainty, mystery, and doubt.
      The distinction Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1937) makes between "cheap grace" and "costly grace" may also be the distinction between thin and thick theology. Bonhoeffer says, "Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves...the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance...absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross."11 Costly grace, on the other hand, is "the gospel that must be sought again and again, the gift that must be asked for, the door at which we must knock. Such a grace is costly because it calls us to follow...It is costly because it condemns sin, and is grace because it justifies the sinner."12 
      Vincent Lloyd (2014) distinguishes between thin and thick theology in terms of their political and social perspectives by saying that thin theology tends to have a more secular viewpoint, while thick theology tends to offer a more distinctively theological vision. The question then is whether theology must be "thinned" in order to have greater social appeal or whether it can be "thickened" and still be heard in the public square. Lloyd concludes there is sufficient space for thick theology in public discourse, and that it can explicate a variety of ideas, themes, and practices that can promote and guide public action.13


1Michael Freeden, Ideology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 98. 
2Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1985), p. 129.
3Simon Kirchin, Thick Concepts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 2.
4Kirchin, Thick Evaluation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 2.
5Judith Jarvis Thomson, Normativity (Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 2008), p. 2.
6Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), p. 28.
7Ibid., p. 28.
8Ibid., p. 19.
9Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), p. xxiv.
10John Keats, The Letters of John Keats, Volume 1, edited by Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), p. 193.
11Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, translated by R.H. Fuller, with some revision by Irmgard Booth (New York: Macmillan, 1959), p. 36.
12Ibid., p. 37.
13Vincent Lloyd, "Thick or Thin? Liberal Protestant Public Theology," in Journal of Religious Ethics, Volume 42, Issue 2, April 14, 2014, pp. 337-338.