2014-02-26 From Ancient Greece to Augustine-libre

The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology David S. Koonce, L.C., S.T.D. Required course in dogmatic theology, Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum Academic Year 2013-2014, second semester PART I The Fragmentation of Experience: From Antiquity to the Modernist Crisis LECTURE 2. THE NOTION OF EXPERIENCE: FROM THE ANCIENT GREEKS TO AUGUSTINE February ! #$% 1. The notion of experience in Ancient Greek culture and philosophy. 1 There is scarcely a term in philosophy
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  The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology David S. Koonce, L.C., S.T.D. Required course in dogmatic theology, Pontifical Athenaeum  Regina Apostolorum  Academic Year 2013-2014, second semester PART I The Fragmentation of Experience: From Antiquity to the Modernist Crisis LECTURE 2. THE NOTION OF EXPERIENCE: FROM THE ANCIENT GREEKS TO AUGUSTINE February ! #$% 1.   The notion of experience in Ancient Greek culture and philosophy. 1   There is scarcely a term in philosophy or theology that does not feel the influence of Ancient Greece, and the word ‘experience’ is no exception. For the ancient Greeks, the notion of experience was defined by a cluster of terms, both nouns and verbs, built upon the root πειρ -, such as the verbs πειράω and πειράζω , as well as the nouns πεῖρα , πειρασμός , and especially εμπειρία . Among poets and writers, from Aeschylus onward, the noun πεῖρα is used to mean a trial, experiment, attempt  . The phrase πεῖραν λαμβάνειν τίνος , equivalent to attempt something,  or to make trial of a thing or a person, is a common one in secular authors, such as Xenophon, Plato, Josephus, Aelian, and Polybius. The corresponding verb  πειράω was common  in Greek writings from Homer onward, in the sense of to try , to make a trial, to attempt, to assay. In post-Homeric usage, πειράω often appears with the accusative of a person, with the meaning of to test, to make trial of someone, to put someone to the proof  , in order to know someone’s mind, sentiments, and temper. 2  Among the philosophers, the language of experience began to revolve around various notions associated with the εμπειρία [henceforth transliterated as empeiría ]. In the dialogues of Plato, the word empeiría  is used disapprovingly to designate practices which he denies to be skills or crafts because they lack a theory; hence, in the Gorgias  (463b), Socrates attacks rhetoric as practice based on experience, rather than a skill ( ouk estin techné all'empeiría kai 1   One of the most complete yet concise surveys of lexigraphical usage of both secular and Biblical authors, which was of indispensable value in researching this section is the old but still reliable volume of J.H.   T HAYER ,  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament  , Harvard University, Cambridge 1889 2   See, for instance, cf. P LUTARCH ,  Brutus , 10 in cf. B.   P ERRIN , Plutarch's Lives,  VI., Loeb Classical Library 98, Macmillan, New York 1914-1926.   Lecture 2. The notion of experience: From the Ancient Greeks to Augustine 2 tribé), while in the  Laws, (857c), it is used of those physicians who practice medicine relying on experience instead of a rational basis  (iatros ton tais empeirías aneu logou ten iatriken metakheirizomenon ). 3  Despite Plato’s scorn, in the field of medicine some physicians readily accepted the name empeirikoi  in opposition to the dogmatic and methodical schools of medicine; hence Sextus Empiricus was a skeptic in philosophy and an empiricist in medicine. 4  Aristotle’s use of empeiría  does not correspond exactly with modern senses of the term ‘experience’. In Aristotle’s thought, it is possible to distinguish the process by which empeiría is formed and the product which results. Aristotle locates the formation of empeiría  in the imagination (  phantasía ), which lies between sensations and perceptions, on the one hand, and intellectual thought, on the other. Experience is one step removed from perception, for just as many sensations make up a perception, many perceptions constitute empeiría . Experience, therefore, is a product of time, resulting from many perceptions, yet it is more than simply the sum of repetitions; it implies the acquisition of a new mental habit that comes about from a privileged and frequent association with some special order of facts. 5  It is 'through' experience, according to Aristotle, that humans acquire art ( techne ) and science ( episteme ). Accumulating experience is largely a matter of holding in habit what one has done and holding in recall what one has observed and heard others report. What constitutes science, on the other hand, is a grasp of the systematic structure ( katholou , according to the whole) which it is possible to discern in experience, the structure which makes it possible to explain why things are the way they are. 6  Concerning the product that is formed, Kenneth L. Schmitz identifies three clusters of meaning of the word empeiría  in Aristotle: the sapiential, the evidential, and the probative. 7  The first cluster of meanings, the sapiential, has an intimate connection with the process of forming empeiría, in which a kind of thinking is already distilled which is first of all practical, tending towards the practice of some skill or a directive for action. For Aristotle, as for Plato, empeiría  is characterized by the absence of a reasoned grasp of the principles and causes of why a thing is one way and not another. For this reason, Aristotle says that those who are experienced ( émpeiroi ) know only the simple fact ( tò ‘otí  ) but not the reason for it. 8  Nevertheless, Aristotle attributes to persons of experience a sureness of judging and acting in the practical order by virtue of some skill or practical wisdom. 9  Hence, in ethics, one should attend to the unproved sayings and beliefs of the experienced and the wise, for through their 3   cf. J.O.   U RMSON , The Greek Philosophical Vocabulary , Duckworth, London 1990, 52.For a further discussion of Plato’s treatment of empeiria in the Gorgias, see:   C.   J ANAWAY , “Arts and Crafts in Plato and Collingwood”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism  50/1 (Winter, 1992), 47-48. 4   cf. J.O.   U RMSON , The Greek Philosophical Vocabulary , 52. 5   cf. K.L.   S CHMITZ , “St. Thomas and the Appeal to Experience”, CTSA Proceedings  47 (1992), 2-3. Although the focus of Schmitz’s paper is experience in St. Thomas, as the title suggests, he nevertheless offers valuable insights into Aristotle’s use of empeiría. As Schmitz himself states, “When treating philosophical terms in Thomas, it is well to begin by checking in  Ibid. , 2. 6   J.E.   T ILES , “Experiment as Intervention”, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science  44/3 (Sep., 1993), 464, cf. A RISTOTLE ,  Metaphysics , 981b 6. 7   cf. K.L.   S CHMITZ , “St. Thomas and the Appeal to Experience”, 4. 8   cf. A RISTOTLE ,  Metaphysics , 981a. 9   cf. K.L.   S CHMITZ , “St. Thomas and the Appeal to Experience”, 3.   Lecture 2. The notion of experience: From the Ancient Greeks to Augustine 3 experience, they have an eye and see correctly. 10  Furthermore, “Aristotle leaves no doubt that in practical affairs experience without reasoned grounds is superior to the bare thought of rational principles empty of the experience required to apply them appropriately.” 11    Empeiría  is thus a kind of ‘know how’, and for that reason Aristotle does not hesitate to associate it with wisdom ( sophía ) and prudence (  phronêsis ). 12  The sapiential sense of empeiría  covers a range of activities, including technical expertise, political shrewdness, ethical discernment, and the general wisdom acquired from the lessons of life. 13  Whereas Plato scorns empeiría for lacking a grasp of the reason why things are so, Aristotle sees in this very same imperfection a guarantee of the integrity of empeiría  as a source of evidence. Precisely because empeiría  is a stage in the process leading towards conceptualization and properly intellectual activity, it is the starting point for more general understanding, furnishing the evidence from which intelligence draws its concepts and frames its judgments. Unlike the moderns, Aristotle does not contrast experience with thought; for him, thought is the completed experience of objects, but since experience does not grasp its own unity, remaining within the confines of production, practice, and science, experience remains simply a source, or material element for a fixed body of knowledge that surpasses experience. 14  This, then is the foundation for the evidential sense of empeiría. The third sense of empeiría  in Aristotle is the probative sense, and it is derived from association of empeiría with the verb  peiro , meaning ‘to pierce through’. 15  “To experience in this sense, then, is to make proof or trial of someone or something by a probe that penetrates.” 16  Thus, to summarize, in Ancient Greek culture and philosophy, the notion of experience was primarily associated with knowledge acquired by trial and testing. Plato held such knowledge in low esteem, even in practical affairs, because it merely obtained results without attaining the reason for achieving such results. Aristotle held a more favorable view of experience as an initial stage in the process of knowledge. In all cases, experience is a chiefly cognitive category, usually pertaining to practical affairs, or to practical wisdom concerning persons or things acquired through trial and testing. Thus  peira and empeiría are antecedents of the modern notion of the objective experiment, rather than the subjective experience. Thus, the semantic usage of these two Greek words is narrower than the modern notion of experience; consequently, for a more complete vision of ancient notions of what is now referred to as experience, further research should be done on other semantic fields. 2.   The witness of experience in Sacred Scripture The witness of experience in Sacred Scripture can be seen from two points of view, one semantic and the other conceptual. Both can prove fruitful; furthermore, precisely because of 10   cf. J.O.   U RMSON , The Greek Philosophical Vocabulary , 52. cf. A RISTOTLE ,  Nicomachean  Ethics , 1143b 11. 11   K.L.   S CHMITZ , “St. Thomas and the Appeal to Experience”, 3-4. 12   cf.  Ibid. , 3. 13   cf. K.L.   S CHMITZ , “St. Thomas and the Appeal to Experience”, 3. 14   cf. K.   L EHMANN , “Experience”, 307. 15   cf. K.L.   S CHMITZ , “St. Thomas and the Appeal to Experience”, 4. 16    Ibid. , 4.   Lecture 2. The notion of experience: From the Ancient Greeks to Augustine 4 the limited meanings of πεῖρά and related words, the semantics of experience should be supplemented by a conceptual or thematic study. As in secular Greek usage, the noun πεῖρά is used to mean a trial, experiment, attempt  , though the derivative verb form πειράζω is found far more frequently in the Bible, meaning to try whether a thing can be done, to attempt, or to endeavor  , as when Saul attempted to join the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26). More commonly πειράζω is used as to try, to make trial of, to test    someone, usually for the purpose of ascertaining his quality, or what he thinks, or how he will behave. Such testing can be done for good intentions, as Jesus tests Philip in John 6:6, though more frequently it is done for malicious intentions (cf Mt 16:1; 19:3; 22:18,35; Mk 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Lk 11:16; 20:23; Jn 8:6). Sometimes, the testing of someone’s faith, virtue or character comes by way of the enticement to sin; thus, in some contexts πειράζω is the equivalent of to solicit to sin, to tempt, such as in the temptations of Jesus in the desert (Mt 4:1,3; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:2) as well as in other passages (cf Jas 1:13; Gal 6:1; Rv 2:10; 1 Cor 7:5; 1 Thes 3:5); for this reason, the devil is often referred to as ὁ πειράζων  , the tempter (Mt 4:3; 1 Thes 3:5). Picking up on an Old Testament theme, such as the testing of Abraham (Gn 22:1), of the people of Israel (Ex 20:20, Dt 8:2, Wis 11:10; Jdt 8:25), and of the just (Wis 3:5), πειράζω is used in the New Testament of God permitting trials to befall someone in order to prove the steadfastness of his faith or of his character; thus, the author of  Hebrews recognizes that because Jesus was himself tested, he is able to help those who are being tested (cf. Heb 2:18) and is able to sympathize with human weakness (cf. Heb 4:15); likewise, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to bear with trials, for God will not allow them to be tested beyond their strength (cf 1 Cor 10:13), and in  Revelation, Jesus promises the angel of the church of Philadelphia to keep him safe in the coming time of trial (cf. Rv 3:10). Men, on the other hand, put God to the test ( πειράζειν τόν Θεόν ) when they exhibit distrust, when by wicked or impious behavior they test God’s patience and justice, or when they challenge him to give proof of his perfections, as the people of Israel in the desert (cf. Ex 17:2,7; Nm 14:22; Ps 78(77):41, 56; Ps 105(106):14, etc). In the New Testament, the stubbornness of Israel is seen as an example of behavior to be avoided (cf. Heb 3:9; 1 Cor 10:9); Peter reproaches Sapphira for testing the Spirit of the Lord (cf. Acts 5:9), and he accuses the Judaizers of putting God to the test by requiring the Gentile converts to observe the Law (cf. Acts 15:10). Corresponding to the verb πειράζω is the substantive πειρασμός , rendered by the Vulgate as tentatio, and which can mean an experiment, attempt, trial, proving. The range of meanings is similar to that of πειράζω , and referring especially to the trial of man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy,   , as in 1 Pt 4:12, or in the sense of a temptation as an enticement to sin, arising from either external circumstances (as in Lk 8:13, 1 Cor 10:13, and Jas 1:12), from internal impulses (cf. 1 Tm 6:9), of from the promptings of the devil (cf. Lk 4:13). It too can refer to a trial sent or allowed by God for the purpose of proving one’s faith, character or holiness, as well as to a trial of God by men  ,  amounting to a rebellion against God. The noun empeiría, experience, does not appear in either the Septuagint or the Greek New Testament.
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