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Statement of Research:
Dr. John Hymers (download PDF)

PhD Thesis: Ludwig Feuerbach's Inversion of the Ontological Argument

My thesis, firmly anchored at the intersection of the history of modern philosophy and the philosophy of religion, systematically teases out the logic of Ludwig Feuerbach's so-called anthropological reduction as typified in the Essence of Christianity (EC) and clarified in the works up to the Principles of the Philosophy of the Future. Key to my work is a close analysis of the place of the ontological argument in Anselm and the major philosophers of modernity (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, and Hegel), and how their employment of the argument provides the logic of Feuerbach's anthropological reduction. Feuerbach begins his EC by arguing for the conceptual unity between God and humanity.

The two main parts of the EC work out this conceptual unity, i.e., Feuerbach's anthropological reduction, which is his answer to what he sees as the malaise of projection theory. But this religious deconstruction depends on the conceptual framework that Feuerbach works out in his extensive introduction to the EC; Feuerbach realizes that without a conceptual ground, projection theory is simply a bad infinity of possibly contradictory predicates. I offer the following three observations of this conceptual reduction: By attempting to prove that God is really humanity, Feuerbach offers a proof of God. By making the proof work completely at the level of concepts, Feuerbach provides an ontological argument. By moving from God to humanity, Feuerbach inverts the traditional direction of this economy.

Thus, this thesis argues that Feuerbach provides an inverted ontological proof for the existence of God. This inverted proof silently grounds his belief in the evidential reduction of God to man, and thus the ontological argument unsurprisingly surfaces in the EC's many ontotheological slips, in which Feuerbach often refers explicitly to humanity as the ens realissimum, and as the greatest possible thought (his reductive appropriation of Anselm's id quo majus cogitari nequit).

In conclusion, I argue that by constructing a system in which an ontological argument provides a metaphysical being as the only possible ground of projection theory, Feuerbach's argument itself touches upon what Ludwig Heyde saw as the inescapable presence of the transcendent.

Published Research in Philosophical Ethics

My publishing career reflects a strong interest in the relationship between ethics and ontology. My article on Peter Singer, "Not a Modest Proposal: Peter Singer and the Definition of Person" (Ethical Perspectives 6 (1999) 2, 126-138) illustrates the arbitrariness inherent in Singer's concept of personhood, the most full concept of which I locate within the phenomenological ethical tradition. Emphasising Singer's difficulties in viewing personhood as extrinsic and discontinuous, I conclude by suggesting a model of personhood wherein individuals develop as persons, rather than into persons through external valuation.

My article on the Just War Tradition (JWT) ("Regrounding the Just War's Presumption Against Violence in light of George Weigel," Ethical Perspectives 11 (2004) 1) addresses those recent and influential American thinkers (typified by George Weigel) who have tried to de-couple the JWT from the presumption against violence. To the contrary, I strive to re-ground this presumption within the scholastic understanding of violentia as disordered force. As such, I associate just war with the peace-making tradition, and not with the military tradition.

Another article, to be published in December, 2006, addresses the developing field of the ethics of architecture ("The Ethics of Metaxological Architecture,"Proceedings of the Irish Philosophical Society Fortieth Anniversary Conference, ed. Thomas Kelly, Aldershot: Ashgate, forthcoming). Architecture is intimately rooted in the ethos, and thus has a special relationship with ethics. In this article, I argue that the judicious choice of green materials and techniques is not a sufficient response to any ethical questions that architecture may give voice to, because such responses themselves remain trapped in the technological hubris that gives rise to our present environmental malaise. Instead, I propose that an idealized concept of the architecture of Greek temples and Christian churches, which I term ecstatic architecture because it attempts to lift humanity from mere concern with itself, has the power to return us to the ethos, precisely because such architecture is not strongly anthropomorphic, but rather is given an ecstatic character through its transcendent dimension. A metaxological understanding of architecture, which recognizes human desires as situated within and not against nature, could embrace the principles of ecstatic architecture, and build such that we are returned to the natural ethos.

Current Research Programs in Philosophical Ethics

My present research program in ethics has a double focus, with one eye on the limits of technological knowledge, and the other on an ethico-ontological investigation into the meaning of eating. Both projects have already resulted in published works; an editorial for Ethical Perspectives on what I call the epistemological reduction; and the second, a German-language chapter in a recent book on Feuerbach. My current projects are expansions of these themes.

The Epistemological Reduction

The first fork of this programme attempts to revive the concept of multiple causality, in place of the scientific exclusive canonization of efficient causality. Science searches for efficient causes, but this search is done for the sake of the community, which then plays the role of the final cause directing science. As a result, science may not be guided strictly by the search to obtain whatever knowledge is possible, but also must do so taking into consideration the needs and wishes of its society. Good science, then, requires a good society, a concept that needs to be more closely developed through a metaxological ethics. I plan to analyse this open dialectic in an upcoming work that will use what I call the epistemological reduction as the yardstick. The epistemological reduction is that impulse toward technical knowledge as an ethical answer, whether as seen positively in technical solutions to social problems (e.g., federally-mandated television broadcast flags), or negatively in epistemological objections to scientific efforts (e.g., the creationist belief in the opposition of fact and theory).To reduce the ethical issues of science to questions of knowledge, whether techn? or simply epistem?, is, paradoxically, to undermine the very basis of science; for, science not only recognises the community, but also depends on it and its values; a community that does not value the lives of its sick and weak is not going to find in them a proper telos, and thus will not fund medical research.

The Social Ontology of Dining

The next work I plan from this line of research will be an article, entitled "The Ethos of Dining: The Dinner Table and Feuerbach's Social Ontology." This will follow upon my previously published technical article on what I argue is Feuerbach's consistently idealistic appropriation of Moleschott's materialist food chemistry ("Verteidigung von Feuerbachs Moleschott Rezeption: Feuerbachs offene Dialektik." Identitaet und Pluralismus in der globalen Gesellschaft. Ludwig Feuerbach zum 200. Geburtstag. Ed. U. Reitemeyer, T. Shibata, and F. Tomasoni. Waxmann Verlag: Muenster / New York, 2006). This second article addresses an aspect of the relation between religion and ethics: the question of the sacrificial meal. Although himself no sympathetic commentator on religion, many of Feuerbach's works and letters of the 1850s and mid 1860s (mostly untranslated) provide excellent insight into the religious dimension of this core ethical question of eating. Whether looking to the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Hindus, or the Christians, Feuerbach clearly shows how their ethical systems reflect the complex systems of religious sacrifice that each has developed; how each of these peoples attempts to unify itself with its god through a sacrificial meal; how the respective deities demand this sacrificial unity, and how this unification expresses itself practically in the ethical interaction between members of the given people. I do not follow Feuerbach in his extremely reductive and suspicious moments, but I acknowledge his central insight: since religion is at the basis of any society, and since the sacrificial meal lies at the basis of most if not all religions, food must be considered as the ethical issue par excellence, whether we look to its production or its distribution, or whether we look to it as simple nourishment or to it as the foundation of companionship and family. Along with Feuerbach, I argue that the primitive practice of sacrifice, which has been preserved to this very day in Christian cultic practice, reveals not a confused attempt to placate the gods, but rather the simple human urge to form and preserve communities. But contrary to Feuerbach, I argue that such communal eating reveals, once again, the social, and thus ethical, face of the transcendent.

Current Research in Metaphysics

I am currently working on a translation of Alexander Baumgarten's Metaphysics, which has had an incalculable impact upon modern philosophy, not only through his student G.F. Meier, but more profoundly through the work of Immanuel Kant and thus, eventually, G.W.F. Hegel. I am currently working on a translation from the Latin text concurrently with a colleague who is focusing on Meier's German translation. Together, we plan to bring out the first comprehensive translation of this influential text, clearly indicating the German variants and expansions, but using the Latin as the base text.