My graduate work is primarily in philosophy and religion, two disciplines that ask the big questions about life. The theme of participation has been central to my research, and generally, an inquiry into the relation between theory and practice, or ideas and action in the world. Discussing virtue before the accusers who would sentence him to death, Socrates famously said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” The purpose of asking the big questions is not to accumulate knowledge, but to live better by being better to one another and to ourselves.
My second comprehensive exam offers a genealogy and typology of participation. Participation is Plato’s solution to the problem of the one and the many posed by the Presocratics. Participation in turn gives rise to the problem of the origins of difference (how the diverse many emerge from the unified one), which is only finally solved by Maximus the Confessor, who sources the differentiation of creation in the creature’s freewill.
My first comprehensive exam offers a history of apophasis running from Plato to Dionysius the Areopagite. This context is the occasion to examine evolving responses to four fundamental questions about the human relationship to the divine:
- How was the world generated? (emanation and ex nihilo)
- Are we of the same nature as the divine? (continuity and discontinuity)
- What can we know and say about the divine? (kataphatic and apophatic)
- How do we commune with the divine?
Abstract: This master’s thesis explores Derrida’s engagement with Plato, primarily in the texts “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials” and On the Name. The themes of participation and performance are examined through the concepts of mystery and metaxy (μεταξύ). The crucial performative aspects of Plato and Derrida’s texts are often under appreciated. Neither author simply says what he means; rather their texts are meant to do something to the reader that surpasses what could be accomplished through straightforward reading comprehension. This enacted dimension of the text underscores a participatory worldview that is not just intellectually formulated, but performed by the text in a way that draws the reader into an event of participation—instead of its mere contemplation. On this basis, I propose a closer alliance between these authors’ projects than has been traditionally considered.
This essay compares the work of Derrida and Whitehead, reading several areas of unexpected agreement between these thinkers on both epistemological and ontological fronts.