John Milbank and the Creation of Truth: Dialectical Readings

Doctoral Dissertation






Robert Wayne Lawrence

John Milbank argues that the collapse of the modern philosophical project and the emergence of the postmodern moment has opened an opportunity for theology, and in particular Chrsitianity, to reinsert itself into the political and social debates of its time without feeling that it must appeal to universal standards as a precondition for being understood.  Instead, all social theories and philosophies are, to an extent, theologies, and thus have no claim to a surer foundation that Christianity's own proposals.  Nonetheless, Milbank likewise criticizes postmodernity for its despair over the lack of foundations and its abandonment of the pursuit of Truth, which has deep political and social implications.
This dissertation explores Milbank's attempt to walk the fine line between the postmodern turn to language and his commitment to a belief in God as the ultimate horizon of meaning and human practice.  Thus, it investigates Milbank's account of the creation of meaning through human practice, a practice which in turn participates in the creative life of God.  Creation is the making of Truth, or, something is true only to the extent that it is made.  Milbank refers to this principle variously as poesis, or, with reference to Milbank's deep roots in Vico, verum-factum.  It will be argued that Milbank's ontological analysis is a useful advance within the larger Neoplatonic tradition and that Milbank is able to account for the experience of transcendence more fully than others.
Yet, Milbank's attempt to excise negativity, or difference as conflict or contradiction, leaves him unable to overcome irrationalities that mar the socio-political landscape.  Therefore in Part Two of the dissertation, Milbank is placed in conversation with three thinkers that systematically avail themselves of the "power of the negative' –   Derrida, Marx and Hegel – in an effort to broaden Milbank's account of practice.  Ultimately it is argued that Milbank's poesis needs a dialectical inflection so that it does not rest content with grounding Truth in positivity, but can push forward to a truly universal account of Truth, even if the accomplishment of such a Truth is unforeseeable in the current moment.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12132005-143908

Author Robert W. Lawrence
Advisor David Burrell, C.S.C.
Contributor Michael Baxter, Committee Member
Contributor Cyril ORegan, Committee Member
Contributor David Burrell, C.S.C., Committee Chair
Contributor Randall Zachman, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Theology
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2005-10-25

Submission Date 2005-12-13
  • United States of America

  • Hegel

  • Derrida

  • Vico

  • Radical Orthodoxy

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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