The principal thesis that the author advances in this book is that paradox and contradiction constitute the two ways of the world. Paradox represents the way of the people of the Bible, and contradiction represents the way of all peoples who, having lived without knowledge of the Bible, have traditionally been known as gentiles or pagans. The two ideas that are central to the biblical way of life (as known historically by Jews, Christians, and Muslims) are creation and covenant, while the contradictory way of paganism has precisely been marked by the absence of these two concepts.
In his book the author distinguishes the paradoxical way of the world from the contradictory way of the world through the examination of principal texts of four of the most significant early modern, European thinkers from the later sixteenth century to the earlier eighteenth century: Montaigne, Descartes, Spinoza, and Vico. He shows that each of these four authors, in distinctive yet fundamentally interrelated fashion, provides us with profound insight into how absolutely different the paradoxical way of the world as biblical is from the contradictory way of the world as found, primarily and specifically, in Greek and Roman antiquity.
Brayton Polka is professor of humanities emeritus at York University.
Introduction: God and the Truth of Interpretation
Chapter 1: Montaigne: God and the Self--What Do I Know?
Chapter 2: Descartes: God and Existence--I think, ergo I am
Chapter 3: Spinoza: God and Democracy--The Covenantal Love of Interpretation
Chapter 4: Vico: God and Poetic Wisdom--The Providential History of Humanity
Conclusion: God and the Interpretation of Truth
In this profound meditation on Montaigne, Descartes, Spinoza and Vico, Polka reveals the underlying biblical links that unite all four of these important intellectual figures. In the process, Polka manages to shed light on the development of the ideas that have defined modernity, such as God, self, existence, democracy, and wisdom. This makes for an exhilarating read.
In this study, Brayton Polka provides masterful interpretations of Montaigne, Descartes, Spinoza, and Vico in order to explain the pivotal distinction between the fatalistic violence of paganism and the peaceful ends of the biblical tradition. In the process, he incisively demonstrates the paradox that only secular and democratic adherence to the biblical covenant in our worldly existence can overcome the hierarchical contradictions that paganism associates with the inevitable “way of the world.”