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January 17, 2007

Due to inclement weather, Texas A&M University closed its campus on Tuesday, which meant that my first day of philosophy graduate studies was cancelled. To substitute for what would have doubtlessly been a vigorous and rigorous discussion today, I thought I’d make a list of my favorite contemporary philosophers and post a few comments on an April 2006 article in First Things.

You may notice that many of my thinkers number among those “continental philosophers”. While I do not consider myself “captive” to them I do believe that their ideas and philosophical contributions are far more amenable to theology than R.R. Reno would admit. Continental philosophy is much broader and much more pluralistic than Reno portrays it, and while the likes of Nietzsche, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and Lyotard (perhaps we could add Caputo to this list) dominate the genealogy and deconstruction branches of continental philosophy, they most certainly do not dominate the tree. Phillip Blosser has already noted Reno’s selective attention toward the continent here.

Consider the phenomenological tradition that extends from Husserl and its colossal contributions to spirituality and theology made through his heirs: Dietrich von Hildebrand, (St.) Edith Stein, Max Scheler, Emmanual Levinas, Adolf Reinach, Karol Wojtyla and Robert Sokolowski. Think of the dividends the hermeneutics tradition has paid to theology through the work of Paul Ricoeur and David Tracy. And what about the fascinating work of Jean-Luc Marion (whom Reno mentions only in passing), James K.A. Smith (who helps dispel the non-foundationalist myth that Reno entertains), Merold Westphal and Richard Kearney, all of whom borrow extensively from phenomenology, hermeneutics and post-modern theory? In light of these exciting, innovative and thoroughly religious trajectories out of continental thought, why would Reno wish to make analytic philosophy the prime heir to the maidenhood of scholastic philosophy?

When books such as Myron Penners edited volume, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn, James K.A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard to Church and Hent de VriesPhilosophy and the Turn to Religion are being pumped out of the publishing houses, how can there be a question over the contemporary theological use of continental philosophy? I question whether Reno can actually chew the bite he’s trying to swallow.

In short, if the merits of continental philosophy were to be found only in the likes of Lyotard, Foucault and Derrida, then Reno would have a case. But because Reno highlighted only one branch while virtually ignoring the edifying and invigorating work of most other areas of continental philosophy, his article, while interesting and provocative, ultimately fails to convince many us that ours is, indeed, a captivity to the continent. We have not been captured; we are, instead, enraptured.

Anyhow, here’s my list in no particular order…feel free to construct your own in the comments section:

Edmund Husserl
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Jean-Luc Marion
Alasdair MacIntyre
Maurice Blondel
Soren Kierkegaard
Mary Midgley
Max Scheler
Karol Wojtyla
Maurice MerleauPonty
Étienne Gilson

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