An Open Letter to Mormon Thinkers

May 2, 2013 | 21 comments
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Speculative GraceLast week I published something in a prominent series at a first-rate university press. It is, I think, the most rigorous, speculative, and systematic attempt at a professional take on Mormon philosophy, ever.

In close dialogue with Bruno Latour, the book is a thought experiment in which I reframe what “grace” means in a non-classical ontology that begins by assuming the existence of an irreducible and eternally co-existent multitude of full-blown agents.

Mormons aren’t committed to such an ontology, but we might be. And there is certainly more than one way to skin even that cat — but what I offer is, I think, one way.

Some might see my failure to mention Mormonism in this book as a deficiency when it comes to doing Mormon philosophy. I can see that. And I welcome work that does otherwise.      

But, for my part, the move is intentional. Here is a book that conducts, in plain view of the world of professional philosophy, a field test of key Mormon ideas about the structure of reality and then re-reads Christianity itself in light of the results.

Further, untethered from any explicit connection to Mormonism, the ideas are left to be evaluated, borrowed, or adapted on their own merits. This is a kind of open-source, non-proprietary approach to Mormon philosophy. 

But whether this book turns out to be even locally influential will depend on whether anyone feels compelled to understand and disagree with it.

And whether this book turns out to be influential for Mormons will depend on whether any Mormons feel compelled to understand and disagree with it.

The measure of influence is response, not agreement.

If you’re interested in rigorous, speculative, systematic work on Mormon ideas in the context of big questions in professional contemporary philosophy, then I may have something for you.

I hope you’ll take the time to disagree.

21 Responses to An Open Letter to Mormon Thinkers

  1. Dave on May 2, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Adam, everything about this project and book looks impressive. I look forward to reading it.

  2. Joseph Smidt on May 2, 2013 at 11:46 am

    “I think, the most rigorous, speculative, and systematic attempt at a professional take on Mormon philosophy, ever.”

    Wow! Now you have me interested.

    “assuming the existence of an irreducible and eternally co-existent multitude of full-blown agents.”

    Yeah, I think this is Mormon’s strong suit. God might not be the only necessary Being and so many issues can be addressed. Well I am happy to read this book now.

  3. smb on May 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I will order my copy now. My only concern, and maybe it’s not actually a concern, is that I think you’re a much better thinker than Latour by several orders of magnitude.

  4. clark on May 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Adam, I’ve not yet started reading it yet. I figured I should reread Levi Bryant’s work on OOO first in order to grapple with yours. I’m very happy you were able to get Fordham to publish it. I wonder to what degree you see it primarily a book about OOO and to what degree you see it as addressing Mormonism (rather than perhaps using Mormon themes as a metaphor to discuss OOO)

    I’m starting my blog back up and hope to have a review within a couple of weeks.

  5. DLewis on May 2, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    It’s on my shelf at home; I’m looking for a particularly warm Sunday afternoon to dive in.

  6. BHodges on May 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Finished reading it yesterday. And by that I mean I finished looking at all of the words in consecutive order for the first time, and now need to go back and do it again several times. If it is saying some of the things I think it is saying, then, yes, it promotes a fascinating Mormonism without ever using that word.

  7. Thomas Parkin on May 2, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    I’d like to register my preemptive disagreement. *wink*

    I probably won’t have a chance to read till later this summer, but I’m looking forward to doing so then.

  8. Robert C. on May 2, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I’m anxious to read the final version of this, Adam — I loved your draft manuscript. I won’t have major disagreements, but I do plan to reread it over the next year (well, or two), and engage with whatever has (or hasn’t) been written about it then (I can promise at least a few minor disagreements…).

  9. J.A.T. on May 2, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    I’m impressed by your humility.

  10. Riley on May 2, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Crap… Where does that leave us Mormon non-thinkers?

  11. WVS on May 2, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for the notice, Adam. Looking forward to the read.

  12. Niklas on May 3, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Riley, I think internet is full of open letters for non-thinkers.

    Good thing that there are some thinkers among us too.

  13. ji on May 3, 2013 at 9:53 am

    It will be interesting reading — I’ll look forward to it. For me, at first pass, I’m glad Mormonism isn’t mentioned — I’m often troubled when people, including Mormons, try to explain “Mormon” beliefs, as if their version or perspective is THE version or perspective normatively held among the faithful. As we’ve seen in internet location like this, there is no single “Mormon” belief on grace or almost any other subject matter.

  14. Rameumptom on May 3, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I look forward to reading it, Adam. I look forward to seeing Mormon thinkers’ comments on the book, and how it applies to LDS beliefs.

  15. Jacob J on May 3, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Congrats Adam!

  16. Riley on May 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Niklas,

    R. Gary’s blog – NDBF – is my homepage.

  17. Eric Palfreyman on May 3, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    “Some might see my failure to mention Mormonism in this book as a deficiency when it comes to doing Mormon philosophy. I can see that. And I welcome work that does otherwise. But, for my part, the move is intentional. Here is a book that conducts, in plain view of the world of professional philosophy, a field test of key Mormon ideas about the structure of reality and then re-reads Christianity itself in light of the results.Further, untethered from any explicit connection to Mormonism, the ideas are left to be evaluated, borrowed, or adapted on their own merits. This is a kind of open-source, non-proprietary approach to Mormon philosophy.”

    I’ve just started it. It will be interesting to read an argument relative to mormon ideas that doesn’t mention mormonism. The ideas will be there, but not the labels? Your opening paragraph is pretty boldly stated. Quite the challenge. The idea of a grace that doesn’t come from a source external to the object…I need to mull over that if it is seen as a theological, rather than a philosophical, argument/explication. But I definitely look forward to being challenged and congratulate you on your success.

  18. RW on May 5, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    I have only read part of the Amazon preview. I am a fan already. I have always thought that we live by all the graces of all the life upon which we are the thinnest crust. The grace of God is just the final archetype of this plenitude of grace which is our life.

    The grace we have inherited we should, in turn, pass on. After all the grace of God would be of no effect without the grace of some ancient H. erectus, whose free will sacrifice of love has helped bring all this to be.

    Mormonism is humanism elevated to the eternities and related backwards to all precursor life here and in the eternities. God’s grace is not so much different from the grace we, each of us, extend to each other.

    (I hope I have not misinterpreted your work.)

  19. Jason U on May 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Looking forward to this. Thanks for the notice Adam.

  20. BP on May 9, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I am very eager to read this, as it sounds right on many levels; although, if pushback is sought, one might hope for a very different sense of grace than that served up by the second sentence. In particular, I wonder, how can a book pursuing a broad-minded grace toward objects not account for its own graceful relationship to the many books speaking to the Mormonism without using the word, regardless of how narrowly defined “professional philosophy” may or may not be? Eager for more of everything, except that line.

  21. Mark A. Clifford on July 23, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Speculative Grace is spectacular.

    Just for fun, I framed my conversation on Agency in terms of Resistance and Availibility on Sunday when I spoke on High Council assignment. Why not? Might as well get it out there.

    The Atheist Materialist that sits by me in the pews happens to be my 17 year old son. He is bright, but not amenable to typical CES methods of LDS instruction. However, he is willing to talk to me about what I read. So, we discussed Speculative Grace and OOO in FHE. In the midst of our conversation, he said something like this:
    “So I guess it is not quite correct to say that the universe does not have plans, intentions, hopes, and love. Because we have these things. And we seem to be in the universe. So, the existence of other people may allow for the existence of God.”

    Rock on, Brother Miller.

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