Metaphysics and Meaning of James Davison Hunter

Milliner’s characteristically incisive remarks today include this graph from James Matthew Wilson:

The meaning of the world that we usually describe as constituting culture, or a culture… does not depend primarily upon our social conventions. Rather, the signs of a culture are founded on natural signs, and, indeed, are themselves natural signs in whose fashioning our intellects cooperate, and for whose knowledge and joy they exist. Given how destructive the wars and social changes of the last century have been—above all the change in thought that has tried to reduce even the human person to a fungible fact for exploitation—we should take great comfort in that fact.

Though Milliner’s dealing with the question in an artistic context, metaphysics comes in different forms.  I’m not in the same league as the fellow he mentions, but I’m trying.  The refrain–which was O’Donovan’s before it was mine– “there is an objective order of goods in creation” is simply Milliner’s point in different clothing.

Either a natural order exists, or we impose it.  Either the meaning is tied to the structure of things, or we make it up.

And if the order exists, our options are conformity or rebellion.  There is no middle ground here, despite the ambiguities and uncertainties that we experience in our confrontation with it.  But if we reject metaphysics, our only resource for ethics is our will, and God’s.

And we only need to read James Davison Hunter to see how that turned out.

(Apologies for simply repeating a point I’ve made before, and Milliner’s point.  However, I’m increasingly convinced that this is the notion on which Christianity in the modern world stands or falls.  Which means if I wear myself out trying to make it in different ways and places, well, count it as my attempt at establishing a faithful presence.)

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  • http://www.firstthings.com Joe Carter

    ***Either a natural order exists, or we impose it. Either the meaning is tied to the structure of things, or we make it up.***

    You sound like you’re becoming a Dooyeweerdian.
    (http://www.dooy.salford.ac.uk/summary.html)

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Christopher Benson

    Matt: Sometimes we become so acquainted with the jargon of scholars that we assume everyone knows what we mean when we invoke certain words or expressions. For my benefit (and probably the benefit of others), what do you (or O’Donovan) mean by “natural order,” “structure of things,” and “objective order of goods in creation”? Is “reality” an acceptable substitute? If “this is the notion on which Christianity in the modern world stands or falls,” then this vocabulary needs to be defined. Due to our exchanges, I’m compelled to read Resurrection and the Moral Order, but referring to a book doesn’t help me at the moment.

    Operating with only a vague notion of what you (or O’Donovan) mean by “natural order,” I affirm that “reality” (a word that’s familiar to me) exists. Where you and I seem to differ is on the question of whether access to that reality is direct or mediated. My apologies if you feel compelled to apologize “for simply repeating a point I’ve made before,” but I’m just trying to gain clarity.

    If you posed the question to him, do you think Professor Hunter would say he rejects the existence of a natural order?

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  • casey

    I echo Christopher’s questions. I’m intrigued but the terms and concepts are way too vague for me to interact with.