Seeking Integration in a Fragmented World: D.C. Schindler: Integrative Metaphysics

I have been talking with you about integration—an elusive, allusive, word, pregnant with something we long for. I have suggested that what might be rightly a natural longing has been exacerbated by our own modern Western milieu’s dominating devotion to bits and bytes, a prevailing sense of fragmentation. Fragmentation is actually something we feel, and that we mourn. On the other hand, we rightly fear a dominating unification. And we may not as yet realize that this either-or is not all there is to our options. Indeed, this binary itself is a product of modernity’s vision of reality and knowing.

I’ve drawn on past study and writing to acquaint you with Michael Polanyi’s integrative epistemology, to argue that revising our default epistemology into an integrative one, his subsidiary focal integration, is a great impetus in becoming integrated ourselves, in direct challenge to the draining winds of modernity. I’ve also sketched in brief my own covenant epistemology’s proposals: knowing, paradigmatically, is cultivating an interpersonlike relatedness of the knower to the yet to be known. This relatedness involves a mutual noticing regard. This noticing regard—actually, the known’s regard of us the would-be knower—integrates us. I, for example, might tell you that I have been loved by a duck (our neighbors’ quirky mallard, Quackers), and that it changed me. I feel confident that you can voice similarly odd but telling claims! We also listened to artist Makoto Fujimura’s insights regarding integration—what I called kintsugi integration: gold-gluing back together the brokennesses of our lives to render a more deeply valuable integration. Fourth, so far in this series, I have added in an account of the good life as encounter and communion with the real.

I wrote my reflection on the good life early this spring just after reading Dr. D.C. Schindler’s new book, Love and the Postmodern Predicament: Rediscovering the Real in Beauty, Goodness and Truth.1 So hints of it pervade my thesis about the good life. Now I must tell you more about D.C. Schindler, and my ardor about his work.  I see this inquiry about integration as one facet of my overarching pursuit to understand and appropriate his thought, and attuning my own to his to the extent warranted. For me this is no mere intellectual exercise, but somehow the very love and longing of my heart for God. Were no book ever to come out of the effort, I must carry it forward, if only for the joy of the Lord. This is the labor of love that I may ride (in no way meant salvifically!), as Reepicheep rode his coracle, straight into glory. So attending to Schindler’s thought is a foremost commitment of mine for the time being.

I understand that that is a strong claim! And here is another—actually two more: First, when I read Love and the Pomo Predicament this spring, and now as I have been studying it this summer, I have actually felt that this is the book which I have spent my entire life getting ready to read. It has taken all my efforts to understand things to come to the point of understanding this. It is coming in a timely way only when I might begin to apprehend the message—when covenant epistemology and contact with reality have poised me to inquire after the nature of the real. And it deeply, ever so aptly, addresses, my deepest questions, even as it nourishes my deepest desires. And finally, this is to imply that such a lifelong quest is utterly worth it.

Second is the strong claim I made when first encountering Schindler’s work. My former grad student, Aaron Williams (who now studies with Dr. Schindler), and Mars Hill Audio’s Ken Myers, in 2014 simultaneously alerted me to Schindler as doing something very similar to covenant epistemology. As I first read Schindler’s “Surprised by Truth,” which I found online, I found myself picking myself up off the floor repeatedly in the wake of one surprising resonance after another.2 I felt as if my own covenant epistemology was a candle which was being taken out into the sunshine: Schindler’s thought, infused by that of theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar,3.)) was the sunshine. I began a correspondence with David, whom I now am honored to consider a friend; and I and my philosophy colleague and friend, Dr. Bob Frazier, have invited him to lecture for us and our students at Geneva College. Schindler’s Geneva lectures form chapters 3 and 4 of Love and the Pomo Predicament.

So you see that studying to understand Schindler’s thought is where I am now, the ossifying edge of my lowly brain’s mollusk-like creep forward into the world. I tell you all this because I am inviting you to join this probe of mine.

There is one key reason why Schindler’s thought appears to me both as uncannily resonant with my own and as opening a new frontier. Schindler’s work is a work of metaphysics. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that considers the nature of reality. “What is there?” Why is there something rather something rather than nothing?”  What is the meaning of being?” Or another of my favorites: “What is a thing?” These are metaphysical questions. You can’t answer them in a lab experiment.  The lab experiment tacitly presumes an often-unidentified and unexamined metaphysics.

I was bred in modernity. The modern drift of thought and culture has delegitimated metaphysics, along with philosophy in general. We pride ourselves on a “nuts and bolts” outlook (as a student of mine once expressed). This approach discredits philosophizing, in utter blindness to the irony that doing so could only ever be itself a philosophical move, that it itself is a philosophy, and that it is committing the metanarratival, illicit move of doing philosophy while masking that it is doing philosophy. Philosophizing is not optional. To be human is to philosophize.

What modernism’s anti-metaphysical penchant has meant for me as a human and as a philosopher is that I have been skeptical of reality (as you know), and have kept assiduously to epistemology, with the spirit of the times. I have presumed that epistemology is the main act. I pursued what it means to know, and whether in fact we make contact with reality.4 I avoided metaphysics because it was panned, because modernist epistemology excises it. I see that my embracing Polanyi’s integrative epistemology, and then developing covenant epistemology from it, has set me on a course to engage the real, and to seek to understand it. I am now positioned, finally, to enter a novitiate in metaphysics. And I am taking D.C. Schindler to be my guide.

I tell you this to say that this inquiry is important and ever so timely, but difficult. It’s difficult because we moderns are in essence unaccustomed to thinking and talking this way—myself included. I beg your patience as I fumble to express accessibly what now seems to me so important, and perhaps also patience with yourself as you ponder in hope of understanding and metaphysical therapy.

Schindler’s account of knowing and of being (reality) displays a few fundamental, permeating, unities. I suggest that these metaphysical unities fuel, justify, and account for our very human longing to put things (and ourselves) together integratively. Thus, just as I suggested that integrative epistemology prompts our integration in a fragmented world, I now suggest that integrative metaphysics will prompt it as well.

Here are unities I have discerned so far in Schindler’s metaphysics, which I hope to explore in upcoming posts. The first is the unity of a thing. (Now, this will make a philosopher out of you!) The second is the unity of self and object in all human engagements of the real (resonant certainly with Loving to Know). The third is the nature of reality as love, and the unity this entails.

“Unity” is a word that can be taken to imply homogeneity. Modernity hears it this way, I feel sure. But these metaphysical unities prove to be essentially integrative. By that I mean that they are irreducible to their parts, and that they open to “the other” and to inexhaustive possibilities. If this is true, then the unities which characterize being qua being5 prompt the healthy integration for which we long and in which we flourish. And pondering them will attune our understanding and engagement of the real.

Our longing for integration is fueled by deep springs of reality and metaphysics.  Uncovering these grows our sense of the profound import of this quest. Putting ourselves and reality together integratively is worth the effort it takes.

Esther L. Meek, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Geneva College, as well as a Fujimura Institute Fellow Scholar. Her books include Contact With Reality:​Michael Polanyi’s Realism and Why It Matters; A Little Manual for KnowingLoving to Know: Introducing Covenant Epistemology, and Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People.

References   [ + ]

1. D.C. Schindler, Love and the Postmodern Predicament: Rediscovering the Real in Beauty, Goodness and Truth (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017). It was an honor to be asked to endorse this book.
2. D.C. Schindler, “Surprised by Truth,” ch. 2 in The Catholicity of Reason (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013).
3. Hans Urs von Balthasar, a twentieth-century, Swiss, Catholic theologian, is famous especially for writing a “trilogy” (16 volumes!) which anchors theology in the transcendentals, with beauty expounded as first and unifying for goodness and truth—in direct healing challenge of modernity’s outlook. (The Glory of the Lord (vol. 1); Theo-Drama (vol. 2); Theo-Logic (vol. 3
4. Esther Lightcap Meek, Contact With Reality: Michael Polanyi’s Realism, and Why It Matters (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017). This updated revision of my 1985 PhD dissertation contexts it in my now confident realism. The book’s last fresh chapter is my first published exploration of Schindler’s thought.
5. “Being qua being” means “being as being,” being in itself. “Being” in this metaphysical context, means reality taken as a whole.