Juuuuuuuust a bit outside.

So I'm reading Werpehowski's "Command and History in the Ethics of Karl Barth," and I'm thinking, "hey, he's nailing this pretty well!" And then we come to where I'm obliged to believe that he should follow III/2 into III/4, and where does he go? II/2. Boned.

Well, perhaps not so bad as all that, since I understand why he has to back-and-fill to reach III/4 from III/2. But II/2 is precisely where Gustafson's and Hauerwas' complaints originate. Werpehowski is answering complaints about the lack of fullness of human particularity in the responsibility to the divine command, and the problem comes from reading II/2 as though it covered more than it expressly does. One should naturally question what the role of human existence in ethical decision-making is, when one is reading II/2. But one should proceed to III and IV as the existing components of Barth's "special ethics" for the answers.

The concept of human existence as agentic history from III/2 is an excellent first answer. The basic tool of Aufhebung is an excellent component to Werpehowski's response. And I appreciate that the root of the sublated concept of "command" must be retrieved from II/2 to counter misunderstandings of "command" which ignore Barth's necessary sublation of its meaning. Without it, you get Willis and Lovin's evaluation of Barth as doing act-deontology, or situation ethics, without providing usable information about the situations involved. You get over-valuations of law and obedience in their non-sublated meanings. But if you want the full expansion of agentic historical existence, I think you have to go to "freedom in limitation" with more weight than Werpehowski does. (Says the man who believes Biggar and Kuzmic because he is embedded in the Lutheran conception of vocation.)

The counter to "intuitionism" involves clarifying the complaint that Barth says we can't know anything about future commands from previous commands. Perhaps this is hyperbole on Barth's end, to the extent that he really wants to avoid any opening toward casuistry, as well as the ability to rely on human moral logic (which Werpehowski touches on). This is one of the points I attribute to Nietzsche -- no codification of "tables of values" as though they might be universally valid, even if they should be valid for one person or group at one time. It goes to "unique" as the prime descriptor of human existence.

Plus, in contradicting "intuitionism," Werpehowski talks about the vertical and horizontal of God's command, its continuity and its intersections as ethical events, but he misses out on what could be a fruitful reference to the other half: the horizontal continuity of human existence. These two horizontal aspects are dialectically related in Barth's opening to III/4. The variability of human existence and of the divine command at intersections are vertical, but as between two horizontals. I think that the human horizontal, considered in terms of the four "orders" Barth allows, makes excellent space for the kind of character or personal continuity Werpehowski is looking to bolster.

I think he's right about navigating between "intuitionism" and an ethics of "rationally inferring moral prescriptions from religiously grounded beliefs." (310) I also think that those two positions are part and parcel of the Euthyphro dialogue: attentiveness at all moments to what the deity might convey in that moment, as "immediate discernment," or its opposite, human rational discernment without divine involvement. But trying to do so on the basis of a "basic validating norm" built out of divine authority ("We ought to do what God commands, because God commands it.") leaves much to be desired, even though he immediately goes back and sublates it. It remains command-because-of-authority, even when the authority is explained, even when its "character," the character of both the command and the Commander, is qualified. The "character" of the human being, its horizontal quality, isn't touched. And the "objection" that there might be an epistemological gap between the two is no strike against Barth -- it's a feature! What else does the vertical bridge?

I still think he hits it solidly enough, and faithfully. But the farther Werpehowski goes, the more I find myself asking, "where is preaching in this scheme?" Dogmatics is judgment of the behavior of the church, and therefore of human beings, in light of its proclamation. The Word of God is also received in that proclamation, as the preaching of the church, as the gospel message and its implications. (Which is an ethical event in itself, the intersection of the horizontals in the vertical particularities on both sides!) What are we listening to? If we keep envisioning the command of God as some God's-mouth-to-my-ear event, in the hyperbole native to both Euthyphro and philosophical theism of no particular belief, we miss the ethical role of the church as institution, within the ethical schema for all of humanity in their individual particularities. We, in our vocations, are ways the Word of God comes to others.


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