"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, January 12, 2007

The latest development in the development discussion

Brandon, the philosopher who blogs at Siris, has posted a lengthy and thoughtful commentary on the discussion between me, Scott Carson of An Examined Life, and Zippy Catholic on the nature of the development of doctrine. He provides all the necessary links, and I find his entire discussion illuminating. Here I shall respond only to the points where I believe clarification or criticism on my part is in order.

1. He writes:

...it's perhaps not so clear what the discussants mean by 'doctrine' when they talk about 'development of doctrine'. A doctrine, after all, is just something taught; but necessarily there are different modes or levels of things taught, differentiated by how they are taught, and what the properties of the teaching are. For instance, a doctrine like the Chalcedonian definition is rather different from a doctrine like the limbo of children, and necessarily so; they are both things taught, but what is being done in teaching them is radically different. I think any discussion of development of doctrine has to make very clear what sort of doctrines are being discussed...

I think I can speak for both Scott and Zippy when I say that the doctrines whose development has been discussed, at least so far, are those whose development issues in dogmas. At least, all the examples have been of such doctrines. Nevertheless, I did not stipulate as much for two reasons.

First, I did not use the phrase 'development of dogma' because it raises too many hackles. In my experience, what too many people take one to be naming by that phrase is a process of development undergone by dogmas precisely as dogmas. That is not what I mean at all. Dogmas, which are "articulations" of the faith, can be "explicated" or "elucidated"; but in the standard case a dogma is a development only in the sense that it is the term, rather than the subject, of a process of development. Once a given doctrine is defined as a dogma, it is irreformable: not in the sense that the formulation in question could not be improved in principle, or even integrated into a broader whole, but in the sense that what the formulation affirms may never be negated. Yet, to many people, the suggestion that dogmas develop implies denying that dogmas are irreformable. Since we we all want to forestall such a reaction, the phrase 'development of dogma' has been left to the side for rhetorical purposes. But that is not to deny that doctrines other than dogmas develop; nor is it to imply that dogmas can never be better understood than they were when first formulated.

Second, developed doctrines that became dogmas have occasioned the most controversy. That is because dogmas are meant to be irreformable formulations of aspects of the depositum fidei—i.e., articles of faithnot merely theologoumena that some pope or council happens to want to make unquestionable. Yet it is precisely the objection of the Orthodox to certain distinctively Catholics dogmas, such as the Immaculate Conception, that they purport to make what are only allowable theologoumena into dogmas. In the case of papal infallibility, it is said that a demonstrably false theological opinion has been made a dogma. So, for apologetical purposes, it's worth focusing our initial discussion of development on dogmas that some do not recognize as genuine developments, in Newman's sense of the term 'genuine'.

2. Brandon writes:

While the dispute has been framed in terms of the nature of development, it seems to me that this is not quite the right way to frame it. After all, the nature of the development is purely historical, and to discover it you simply look at how the doctrines did, in fact, develop it. Rather, what the discussion has been looking at is the nature of anticipation or intimation in development of doctrine....what distinguishes a development from other changes is that what we have before internally anticipates or intimates what we have after. The change is not imposed from without, and the relevance between before and after is not merely a common substrate....This link of relevance between the before and the after in a case of development I will call, for lack of a better term, intimacy.

However, even intimacy is not enough to make a development in the strict sense, because there is another form of change involving intimacy (that therefore is development in a broad sense of the term) that is not development in the strict sense. This is deterioration, or decay, or corruption. In deterioration or decay, the before internally anticipates the after; but the change is not progressive. It is, so to speak, the development of the dying rather than the development of the living.

It is noteworthy that virtually the whole of Newman's discussion in An Essay on the Development of Doctrine is devoted to this distinction between development and deterioration. The reason is not hard to find; Newman is not so much interested in development of doctrine for its own sake, as for the light it sheds on an important question: Why is it important and worthwhile to consider the history of the Church from its origin to the present time in order to clarify current matters of dispute?...It is for this reason that Newman denotes so much time and space to the seven notes of development: they provide "tests" or signs (albeit "of varying cogency, independence, and application") that help us decided when something is development or decay. (It is also why it doesn't matter to Newman's discussion which development of doctrine we have in mind.)

This is quite right, and a real advance on our earlier discussion. The point of discussing DD is not to establish, in general terms, that there is such a thing; that is a matter of historical fact. The point is to learn, to the extent possible in theory, to distinguish between instances of "genuine" DD and corruptions or "deterioration." In genuine DD, the relation between the relevant normative sources and the developed dogma is, as Brandon, says, on of "intimacy": more like how an oak tree is related to an acorn than how a chair is related to the stump of wood it's made out of.

Yet the question remains how to understand the normative sources in such a way that the later developments being defended as genuine can be shown to bear such a relation of intimacy to those sources. I can't speak for Scott and Zippy here, but I don't think that's just a matter of figuring out what sorts of inferences—deductive or inductive—we can make directly from texts. The normative sources are far broader than texts, and both Brandon and I have given instances of them. Beyond indicative statements, many are practices (e.g., the liturgy), instructions (e.g., moral precepts), metaphors (e.g., God the "Father" and "Son"), experiences (say, of miracles or private revelations), or images (e.g., the Cross).

3. Here's where I think Brandon doesn't get me quite right. He writes:

The discussion here, however, seems to me to be very different; the focus is on the nature of the intimacy between the beginning and the end of legitimate development, or, to put it in other terms, the question is: given that B is the result of A, what constraints on A's anticipation of B make A's growth into B a development rather than a deterioration of some sort.

Michael's basic idea is that the process of understanding divine revelation recapitulates (in at least a general way) the unfolding of divine revelation. The unfolding of divine revelation, however, is ampliative -- new revelation does not merely clarify or work out the implications of the previous content, it (also) adds new content. His standing example is the way in which Isaiah's prophecy about an almah, became understood as about a parthenos, and this as suggesting a virgin birth. However, Scott has argued that the unfolding can't be ampliative: nothing can be contained in the conclusions that is not contained in the premises collectively. He argues that the Isaiah 7:14 example shows not an inference at all but an interpretation; and interpretation is common to ampliative and non-ampliative inferences alike....

Where I think a problem arises with both accounts is that they both end up talking about development of doctrine as if it were an inference. Clearly it is not; development of doctrine is a dialogue involving many different people, and what is more, it is an extremely complicated dialogue involving hundreds of thousands of inferences of many different kinds relating to each other in many different ways. This is not a trivial point; you can have both ampliative and non-ampliative inferences reaching the same conclusion, for the obvious reason that whether the inferences in question are ampliative or non-ampliative has nothing to do with the conclusions reached but only with the principles with which you started, which may be different in different contexts in which the conclusion in question is important. So the intimacy involved in actual development of doctrine can't simply be one or the other, but must be characterized in a different way; it must be as much richer than inference as the reasoning of a wild, living intellect is richer than paper logic.

First, I believe that what I'm doing is "different" from what Newman did only in the sense that I am trying to supply a bit more analytical rigor to the process of evaluating developments according to Newman's seven notes. I am not seeking to give an account of how the developments actually took place historically; they took place pretty much as Brandon says. I seek, rather, to say what form of reasoning would justify a given development, which would also and as such trace the intellectually fruitful path of the collective activities Brandon describes. That's why I've suggested that the way to see a development as genuine is, standardly, to see it as ampliative inference. As inference to the best explanation of the sources, it is a kind of abduction and thus a kind of induction; and it is just such a process that the "wild, living intellect" of the Church uses to arrive at genuine developments yielding articles of faith.

4. Brandon concludes:

Of course, what is tricky here is how we should characterize it if we are not going to characterize it inferentially. I hope to say more about my (somewhat embryonic) ideas about that in some future post.

As I eagerly await that post, I shall point out that we must all be careful to distinguish between describing what actually went on in various processes of development, which was indeed far wider and richer than logical inference, and describing what it was about the various processes that enabled them to yield genuine developments. I suggest that the latter is the kind of inference I've already described.
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