I am delighted that Gary Cooper came to my defense with such honesty, passion, and insight on the question of “enchantment.” Yes, this is exactly what I had in mind.
But before I say more on that, I’d like to settle things up with Jim F. . . .
Jim writes that “The world for Heidegger . . . [is] not empty. [It is] infinitely rich.” He then goes on to dismiss the “American reading” of Heidegger that “turns infinite richness into a kind of arbitrariness.” Leaving aside this latest example of him describing the position I’m taking in terms of its cultural pedigree (as if the fact that many American scholars hold something like my view means that this view is a prejudice I’ve unreflectively taken on as my own), I have a question: Could you list some of the content of the Heideggerian world? Not just the purely formal existential structures of Being and Time, Div 1, and not just the even more purely formal “thing” (the “jug” etc.) of his early 1950s essays, but actual, concrete content — like, for example, Aristotle’s virtues or regime types? I doubt you can. And why? Because Heidegger provides no such content; such content is and must remain (for the purposes of Heideggerian “thinking”) radically (even absolutely) indeterminate. The “world” is ANY world, Provo, 2004 precisely as much as Freiburg, 1933 — if you take my meaning. The point is that Heidegger has absolutely nothing to say in answer to the question that motivated philosophy from its Socratic starting-point: How should I live?
Now, perhaps you’ll reply that Heidegger’s texts are filled with pronouncements judging (negatively) how modern man lives (technologically): Don’t these statements imply some positive standard? Indeed they do. But there is, in Heidegger’s thought, no coherent basis or ground for those standards. Not nature, not reason, not even convention. And if Being is the standard — well, then that means that Heidegger simply “saw.” But how are we to share in this vision? To know that he’s not just the most brilliant of the anti-modern intellectuals running around Germany in the middle decades of the twentieth century? As far as I can tell Heidegger is a godless prophet — and that’s an odd kind of prophet indeed.
Two concluding (and quick) comments on Heidegger:
1. I’m surprised that you (Jim) say “the other beginning occurs over and over again in the history of philosophy.” But surely you know that Heidegger himself never speaks this way. Heidegger de-constructs (better: takes apart) the history of Western philosophy in order to think his (and our) way out of the (ever deepening) error in which that tradition has been mired for over two millennia. The 1936-38 Contributions and the lectures of the same period [GA 37/8, for example], when talk of the “beginning” is most pronounced, accord precisely with my “historicist” interpretation. Or so it seems to me.
2. To the extent that Levinas, Gadamer, Ricoeur, Marion, Taylor and other Heideggerians do appeal to concrete standards, they have left their teacher behind in this decisive respect. Good for them.
Now, to enchantment. Before reading Gary Cooper’s comment on my post, I was prepared to add to what I wrote yesterday by pointing out what all of you know very well: Mormons believe, for example, that every human being who has ever lived is the literal spirit child of an embodied God who actually resides on a planet in the visible universe — and that after we die we will literally be reunited with Him. If that’s not an enchanted world, I don’t know what is.
But Gary did such a marvelous job of “testifying” to what I had in mind that I’m tempted not to add to his remarks. But, alas, I won’t give in to that temptation.
I agree with Jim F that the term “enchantment” is precisely the right word to use for what Gary describes. And I’m glad that Jeremy mentioned Marcel Gauchet in this context. For those unfamiliar with his rich and profoundly intriguing (and vaguely Heideggerian) argument, Gauchet claims (in a book titled “The Disenchantment of the World”) that what modern, secular thinkers call “disenchantment” actually began with Christianity itself (for Mormons, the apostasy), which placed God in a different ontological dimension from the temporal, mundane world. Unlike the world of the pagan gods, for example, the Christian world is one in which the divine has been erased or expunged or purged or withdrawn — it is an absence, deriving its meaning and purpose only from its status as a negation of God’s eternal fullness and perfection. In such a scheme, God is very distant (most distant in the nominalist theories that proliferated in the late medieval and early Protestant eras) — so distant, in fact, that it is merely one short step to the view that there is no God at all, and the world is meaningless and purposeless — in other words, “disenchanted.” It is to this condition that modern (or, rather, anti-modern) thinkers rebel.
What’s interesting to me about this account in light of Mormonism is how the LDS avoid the problem altogether. I don’t mean “avoid” in a negative sense, by the way. When I taught a Nietzsche seminar at BYU I was fascinated by how the students responded to him; it was as if he were railing against something utterly foreign when he attacked “Christianity.” This was because, I think, Mormon Christianity is so far removed from the supposedly world-denying character of the Augustinian/Lutheran Christianity that Nietzsche associates with its essence. Likewise, in relation to Gauchet’s story of disenchantment, the LDS account of the apostasy, combined with its emphasis on a profound continuity between this life and the next, between the world that we know today and the one that awaits us, grants Mormons an entryway to a world that looks surprisingly like Gauchet’s “pagan” world — in which gods and humans interact almost on a daily basis. So, as it is with Nietzsche, the LDS manage to emerged unscathed in their confrontation with the profound and protracted modern problem of disenchantment. “But you’re not talking about us,” is a remarkably apt response for Mormons to quite a lot of challenges.
Now, I’ll leave you today with a provocation. Of course if you’re a believing Mormon you’re likely to respond to these last few paragraphs with a bit of self-congratulation at the accomplishment of JS and his successors in bypassing so many of the problems that have grown up around the Church of the “apostasy” and its progressive disintegration in modern times. Yet, I’d like you to consider another possibility — one linked, I suspect, to some defensiveness I detect on the part of some readers of my initial post on enchantment.
One of Mormonism’s considerable strengths, which grows out of its “nearness” to everyday life (which I’ve tried to highlight in my first few posts), is the extraordinary “good news” it has to share: unlike for Catholics or Protestants, a Mormon need not worry or be confused about how or in what way he will be reunited with those he loves in an afterlife. (Often this worry or confusion takes the following form: “How will I be ‘me’ and my loved ones be who they currently ‘are’ if they have no bodies, which must be the case in a purely spiritual heaven, which is what must await us, since to think otherwise would be to assume that I’ll have a penis in heaven, and that’s ridiculous and shameful because I know that sexual passion flows from original sin, which will be overcome by grace in heaven, if I’ve made myself worthy of receiving such grace, despite the fact that I know that to assume that one can earn grace is to prejudge God’s will which is utterly inexplicable to me, yet the Bible says our bodies will be resurrected at the Second Coming,” and so forth). For a Mormon, I am this body, this wife is my wife, her body is hers, and I’ll see and “live” with her for “eternity” (a really, really long time) after I “die.” In other words, for a Mormon death isn’t really death at all. Of course this is true to some extent for all believers in biblical religion, but Mormon emphasis on the profound continuity of this life and the next, and human beings and God(s), makes this even more so for them. No doubt this contributes to Mormonism’s extraordinary missionary successes: everyone wants to hear such “good news.” But this also leaves Mormons uniquely vulnerable to the charge that has always been leveled against biblical religion — namely that it’s just wishful thinking, fairytales, Santa Clause writ large, Disneyland Christianity, etc., through lots of things I’m sure all of you have thought about and heard said about you by non-Mormons.
The question is: How to respond to the charge? . . .