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Collingwood, Lonergan, etc.

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  • Don Denton
    This is a response to Bob Schacht s post of 3/16. Sorry for the delay. ... [Ok, you asked for it :)] I have entitled the dissertation Historiograpy and
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 27, 2002
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      This is a response to Bob Schacht's post of 3/16. Sorry for the delay.

      Bob wrote:


      >Please give us some details on your dissertation, and where copies might be obtained.

      [Ok, you asked for it :)] I have entitled the dissertation "Historiograpy and Hermeneutics in Jesus Studies: An Examination of the Work of John Dominic Crossan and Ben F. Meyer." I examine the entire HJ oeuvre of both Crossan and Meyer, trying to trace their development and distill their approaches to both historiography and hermeneutics. In short, I present Crossan as the apotheosis of a long methodological tradition in Jesus studies, which Crossan has described as the "classic methodological model" of tradition criticism followed by application of criteria of authenticity to discreet data (individual sayings or narrative materials). My thesis is that Meyer offered something of a methodological advance on this, in certain ways. I describe the role of Lonergan and Collingwood in Meyer's thought in some detail, and the idea of a reciprocity between "controlling the data" (as Meyer called it) and interpreting them, a la Collingwood, was one of Meyer's major contributions. I round it all off with a description of some recent Jesus scholars who are to some degree indebted to Meyer's methodological proposals, which I categorize as "holism" (e.g., Bruce Chilton, J.D.G. Dunn, Sean Freyne, Dale Allison, N.T. Wright). I offer my own assessment of some of the strengths and weaknesses of a holistic approach, and give an outline of a methodological proposal for Jesus studies that stipulates beginning with the narrative context of the sources in which the data are found, as the necessary *first* (but definitely not the *only*) context in which to understand the data. The latter I base partly on the "narrative realism" (my word, not his) of philosopher-historian David Carr.
      Besides examining the significant and distinct methodological options presented by two contemporary Jesus scholars, I believe a selling point of the study is that I try to engage contemporary historiographic discussion, outside the confines of Jesus studies. I think it is easy to lapse into special pleading when discussing method in Jesus studies, and attending to discussion of method in the wider world of critical history helps keep the discussion historiographically honest.
      The dissertation is still undergoing the approval process, but I anticipate sending it off to Bell and Howell (formerly UMI) by mid May. I'm not sure how soon thereafter it would be available for purchase from them; probably a few months. But who knows; with any luck maybe I could find a publisher (though I'm not holding my breath).


      >So, Crossan sez you can make decisions about what the "data" of the historical Jesus are, based on >source criticism, redaction criticism, form criticism, and tradition criticism (BOC, p. 96f), before >deciding how those data are to be interpreted, and Collingwood sez you can't do that. The test here in >part is, does anyone think that Crossan really put together his Inventory with nary a thought about the >implications?

      I think not many people believe Crossan has actually determined his database of authentic material based on stratification and multiple attestation alone. The problem is, he claims to be doing just that, and this method allows him to disregard large portions of material without a thought for how they may be historically significant on some basis other than whether they are attested in the earliest stratum and are at least doubly attested. And seems to say that a truly critical, honest historical method will do something like what he proposes: handle the data in a two-stage process of determining authenticity by means of rules of thumb, and then decide how to interpret the authentic data. He shares this perspective with many other Jesus scholars. On this perspective, objectivity (or at least honesty) in investigation means that authentic data will be identified by means of some procedure such as application of criteria, before the work of interpretation of the data begins.

      >Furthermore, it really is not as though the results of source criticism, redaction criticism, form >criticism, and tradition criticism were well known and agreed upon. There is consensus about some >things, e.g. the 2SH, but even with many of those things there are significant dissenters. Crossan is >willing to accept as "facts" things that are still a matter of debate. And it seems to me that such >debate often has one eye, at least, on the implications for interpretation.

      Certainly. And I think we can take from Collingwood that there is always much more than "one eye" on interpretation when trying to settle on historical "facts," whether the historian acknowleges this or not. What is necessary is that we recognize that our judgments of authenticity of data are bound up with judgments of interpretation of the data, so that what we offer in support of authenticity of any particular datum is an argument that includes description of the role the datum plays in a cogent account of the historical object. This contrasts with a method that *claims* that decisions of authenticity are based on application of rules of thumb or other procedures (e.g., stratification and multiple attestation) that are supposedly interpretation-free, but that actually have a tacit interpretation already at work (for all decisions of authenticity have interpretive judgments at work, be they explicit or tacit). The former method makes its *interpretive* rationale public, part of the total argument for including or exluding the datum, and thus subject to scrutiny.

      >>When a detective investigates, e.g., a homicide, she does not, in fact >>is not able to, determine *what* data in the crime scene are useful >>before she determines *how* they will be useful.


      >Doesn't this mix procedures somewhat? At this early point, in detective work as elsewhere, one does >not yet know what facts will be significant, so the smart detective gathers as many facts as possible, >whether they look like they'll be useful or not. The character of Sergeant Joe Friday is imprinted >indelibly in my brain ("Just the facts, ma'am"). I think this is what Crossan was attempting to do, and I >hope that he wasn't being disingenuous about it.

      I wouldn't want to confuse a general "data gathering" task with deciding which data are authentic or useful. At the earliest of stages, the detective and the historian both assemble a large pool of "potential data." The point on reciprocity of authenticity determination and interpretation is simply that, among the mass of potential data, what are finally determined as useful data depends on how those data do or do not play a role in an overall historical account.


      >On the other hand (I'm switching sides now, playing both sides of the fence), every good detective also >knows that some things are more probable than others. For example, the odds are that someone shot >by a handgun will have been shot by someone he or she knows. Therefore, not everyone in the phone >book is equally suspected. The line from Casablanca has the ring of truth: "Round up the usual >suspects." This side of the fence favors Collingwood.

      Good point. Both the detective and the historian are guided in their handling of the data by certain general principles. I like to use the example of the woman as homicide victim: her spouse or romantic partner is usually a suspect. But such principles do not alone bear the weight of determining what data are useful. The detective (at least the competent one) does not handle the homicide strictly on the assumption that the woman was murdered by her husband, considering only the data that support this scenario. That generalization is operative, but it is only *one* factor in the handling and interpretation of the data. It can be overruled by other factors and other data that compel a more cogent account of what happened.
      In Jesus, studies, the implication is that things like criteria of authenticity and rules of thumb, though they represent legitimate historiographic principles, cannot serve as the sole means of determining authentic data, apart from interpreting the data in the context of a historical account. In Crossan's case, the rules of thumb are of course first-stratum attestation and multiple attestation. I have argued in my study that these rules reflect the legitimate work of comparisons that is at the heart of critical history, but they cannot bear the weight of data authentication that Crossan says they must.

      >>The result is that there is a genuine reciprocity between determining >>what data are useful and determining how they are useful.

      >Isn't this is equivalent to saying that no scientist or historian operates 100% inductively, or 100% >deductively, no matter what they tell you? And that therefore every scholar uses a mix of induction and >deduction in their investigations.

      I think C. S. Peirce called this combination of induction and deduction "abduction," and said that it is how scientific reasoning works. I think this is something the scientist and the historian have in common; Bruce Malina has observed this, as has Carlo Ginzburg (though they each have different reasons for doing so). But acknowledging the similarity of a basic pattern of reasoning does not entail an identity of overall procedure. I think we begin to run into differences when we recognize that science ultimately seeks to understand its object by generalizing (from observation of particulars), while history in the final analysis is concerned to describe the particular (even though history often works with its own generalizations, in terms of the principles I mentioned above, and in terms of large-scale historical objects such as societies and epochs).
      BTW, as far as Collingwood's take on the "scientific" status of history: he is often characterized as advocating history as an "art" rather than a science, but I think this is an oversimplication of his position. He did insist that history has a method different from the natural sciences, but he also insisted that history is itself properly "scientific." But the "science" he had in mind had to do with logical compulsion. He said at one point that historical data will demand a particular interpretation as compelling as any proof of mathematics. I think this way of putting it is a problem, but the point is taken that history is not simply an "art" in the sense that it is about constructing something aesthetically pleasing (though it may be an "art" in some ways similar to medicine).

      >>data are established as authentic or otherwise as they either play a >>role or else fail to play a role in a coherent account of what happened.

      >This is a tricky business, and vulnerable to abuse. It comes close to ruling out hypothesis testing. An >account of what happened can be perfectly, clearly, and absolutely coherent and yet be perfectly, >clearly, and absolutely wrong.

      Yes. That is why simple coherence is not the only factor for judging a historical construction. The principles I mentioned above are other types of things that guide the historian, giving her an idea of where to look and how to handle data. But they are guidelines, subject to being overturned as hypotheses develop and an interpretation is offered that better accounts for the data. Such guidelines are contributing factors, but are not acid-tests for deciding what is authentic.

      I notice in your recent response to Mark Cheeseman, you said:

      >What I'm thinking of here is the basic idea in science to minimize the role of the scientist, so that >anyone, working with the same materials and methods, can produce the same results. Has >Collingwood given up on this, or does the same ideal hold for any two historians?

      I think Collingwood would say that any two historians working with the same materials will produce the same results, but not because the historian's role is minimized. Collingwood was an idealist, and saw history as about recounting the activities of mind, rethinking the thoughts of historical agents, which thoughts are numerically identical throughout there life in different minds. When the historian handles the data well, his conclusions will be a matter of logical deduction and will thus be compelling for anyone who handles the data properly. But Collingwood never formulated a "proper" handling of the data, aside from the observations about interpretation. The historian doesn't minimize his role, because it is his own questioning activity that makes the historical data speak (Collingwood called this "the logic of question and answer," and compared it to the archaeologist's activity of making sense of artifacts; Collingwood was also an archeaologist); and this questioning cannot be made any more public than the overall interpretive argument that the historian presents. Now I don't have any investment in Collingwood's idealist program, as most historians do not. But I think his other points we have been discussing, about the nature of historical method, are valid and not necessarily bound up with his idealism.

      I would like to add: If the scientist would try to minimize his role by basing decisions on public and repeatable criteria and methods (and this seems to be what Crossan has in mind when he says method is how we keep history "honest"), the historian cannot make his procedure so "public," for the same reasons that the detective cannot. Though certain guidelines are present and operative (and these *can* be made public) decisions are not always formulable into clearly delineated rules. I argue this in my paper that I presented on Sunday. I would be glad to post it to this site. What would I need to do?

      Thanks,
      Don Denton




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