Monday, July 21, 2014

McCool's "From Unity to Pluralism"


Gerald A. McCool, From Unity to Pluralism: The Internal Evolution of Thomism, New York, Fordham University Press, 1992, 248 pages.

This post is partly a review of McCool's From Unity to Pluralism and mostly a collection of notes that might aid my own project on the conflict of mysticism and reason in the USA in our time.

SUBJECT. McCool tells the history of a certain movement of European Catholic scholars (theologians and philosophers) in the 1800s. These scholars, the Neo-Scholastic movement, wanted to counter the tide of modernist philosophy that was tearing down religious culture. The modernist philosophers ranged from Descartes (1596-1650) to the successors of Kant (1724-1804).

In particular, some Neo-Scholastics looked back to the worldview Thomas Aquinas had developed. They thought (wrongly) that he had developed a worldview that integrated the insights of other ancient and medieval Christian philosophers—such as Augustine and Bonaventure—into a harmonious whole. They also thought (1) that this supposedly integrated worldview had been shared by other Christian intellectuals in the medieval Christian world; (2) that the worldview had been lost at the end of the Middle Ages, and (3) that the worldview had been recovered by post-Renaissance Catholic theologians such as Francisco Suarez (1548-1617). Thomism, these 19th Century Catholic intellectuals thought, was potentially a unifier for modern culture, a culture disintegrating under the effects of post-Descartes philosophers such as Kant.

These first Neo-Thomists, in the early and mid-1800s, held a vision of Thomas's philosophy as resting on an epistemology of "common sense realism." In this epistemology, a concept in the mind comes from a thing in the world. For Neo-Thomists, the starting point of philosophy, therefore, is sense-perception, not Descartes' cogito. (p. 29) Cogito ("I know") as the starting point of a philosophy is subjectivist; it has no anchor in reality independent of one's own mind. Thus Thomism was radically opposed to the major post-Descartes philosophies.

In 1879, Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Aeterni Patris officially confirmed the Neo-Thomist estimation of Thomism and directed the Church to incorporate Thomism into higher-level Church education (the universities and seminaries), thus presumably disseminating Thomism to the remainder of Catholic culture. This approach was to be the Church's defense against Modernism (atheism, moral relativism, personal subjectivism, and so forth). Further, the Church would use Thomism, Leo XIII hoped, as a foundation on which to stand while conducting a "dialogue" with contemporary philosophies. (pp. 1 and 9)

McCool's purpose in the book is to trace the trajectory of the Neo-Thomist movement from the late 1800s to the 1960s: its rise, expansion, disintegration, and fall. (p. 2)

STRUCTURE. The general order of the book is chronological. Selecting from many individual intellectuals in the movement, McCool focuses on four main intellectuals (theologians, philosophers, historians) who shaped the internal evolution of the Neo-Thomist movement: Pierre Rousselot (1878-1915), Joseph Marechal (1878-1944), Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), and Etienne Gilson (1884-1978).

CHRONOLOGY. Unfortunately McCool does not provide a chronology of persons and events in this complicated history. A chronology would have simplified the reading. Here is my brief version:

1225-1274: Thomas Aquinas lives.

c. 1820: Luigi Taparelli d'Azeglio, the pioneer of Neo-Scholasticism, begins influencing Giacchino Pecci to admire Thomism. Pecci is a young seminary student who will fifty years later become Pope Leo XIII. (p. 5)

1846: In Naples, Gaetano Sansaverino founds the first academy devoted to the philosophy of Thomas. One of Sansaverino' students is Salvatore Talamo, who later recommends to Leo XIII that Thomism be made the only philosophy taught in Catholic schools. (p. 12)

1878: Matteo Liberatore (1810-1892), a prominent Neo-Scholastic who, along with other writers, has campaigned publicly for the restoration of Thomism, writes a draft of the encyclical that will become Aeterni Patris. (p. 12)

1879: Pope Leo XIII (reigned 1878-1903) issues his encyclical Aeterni Patris (On Christian Philosophy), calling for a revival of Thomism as an answer to the threat from Modernist philosophers. (pp. 5 and 6)

1879-1962: Through support from the papacy, Neo-Thomism acquires a privileged position in Catholic philosophical culture. (p. 5) Here "privileged" means that the support for Neo-Thomism is coming from the hierarchy that administers the Church, not from laymen, who are the vast majority of Church membership. The support (McCool says on p. 32) includes replacing seminary professors who do not support Thomism with Neo-Scholastic professors.

c. 1900: A third generation of Neo-Thomists arises. Trained in northern European universities (not Italian seminaries) they are familiar with—and ominously more sympathetic to—the philosophies that Neo-Thomists should counter, as Pope Leo XIII had hoped. Four intellectuals of this generation are the main subjects of this book: Pierre Rousselot, Joseph Marechal, Jacques Maritain, and Etienne Gilson. (p. 34)

1900-1950: This period is the "Thomistic Revival." (p. 34) This period ends because leading Neo-Thomists themselves no longer believe Thomism alone is adequate as a philosophy and theology. (p. 35) Acceptance of pluralism—the idea that different periods inevitably give rise to different philosophies—dominates Catholic intellectual culture by 1950. (p. 35)

THEME. McCool's theme is straight-forward: "... [Neo-Scholastic] Thomism's own internal development had to lead inevitably to the undermining of the nineteenth-century conception of [Thomism] which had inspired [Leo XIII's] Aeterni Patris." (p.3) Because the 19th Century Neo-Scholastics inadvertently (or perhaps with wishful thinking) created a false of view of Thomism (that it harmonized the, in fact, discordant philosophical voices of ancient and medieval Catholics), their efforts were ultimately unproductive. The leaders of a movement cannot make accurate plans for changing their culture if they are working from false historical premises.

The following two paragraphs, at the beginning of Chapter 7, summarize much of the book: 

In Aeterni Patris Leo XIII envisioned two main paths he was confident would lead to the recovery and authentic development of St. Thomas' own philosophy. One of these was ongoing dialogue between Thomists and other contemporary philosophers; the other was rigorous research into Thomism's historical sources in the texts of the medieval Doctors [the leading theologians] and their [later] commentators. (p. 161)

As we have seen, Neo-Thomism's dialogue with contemporary [19th and 20th century] philosophy, far from promoting its own internal unity, led to the emergence of systematic pluralism among Thomists themselves. ... Marechal and Maritain were poles apart in their understanding of the nature and function of Thomistic metaphysics. Like Marechal, Rousselot was extremely open to Kantian and post-Kantian idealism. … Gilson, like Maritain, believed that Thomism and idealism were fundamentally incompatible and attempts to reconcile the two were bound to end in failure. (p.161)

OBSERVATIONS ON THE NEO-THOMIST MOVEMENT. Following are notes I have drawn from McCool's insights about the Neo-Thomist movement. Some of these insights, properly generalized, might apply to other movements.

First, in the perspective of the struggle between reason and mysticism, why would the rise or fall of Thomism be important? Thomism, like all Catholicism, tries to "integrate" the supernatural and the natural. Thomas at least worked inductively from observation of this world, thus philosophically maintaining some contact with it. The post-Cartesian rationalists looked inside their own minds, not at the world. (p. 20) A revival of Thomism might offer a chance for Catholicism to move toward a more objective worldview.

St. Thomas' metaphysics does not descend, as do the post-Cartesian systems of metaphysics, from an intuitively grasped God to finite and sensible reality. Starting from sensible reality and discovering its structure through metaphysical analysis, it follows an ascending order from the world to God. (p. 20)

Second, movements do not perfectly overlap with organizations. A new movement might win the allegiance of some members of an established organization, but not others. The result can be conflict within the organization. For example, consider the Society of Jesus. Some Jesuit scholars were enthusiastic supporters of the idea of making Thomism the official philosophy taught in Catholic schools; other Jesuits were indifferent; and still others opposed the suggestion. (p. 13)

Third, even if they are not concise and always clear, books written by members of a movement do influence other members of the movement. An example is the massive five-volume work on theology by Joseph Kleutgen, whose works were published successively for 20 years (1853-1874). Its influence continued into the early 20th Century. (p. 21)

Fourth, for decades, the Neo-Thomist movement also used the textbooks of Neo-Thomist leaders to convey their view to the next generation. (p. 32) Books are transmitters from generation to generation as well as disseminators within a generation.

Fifth, after the first, pioneer generation of Neo-Thomist thinkers, no deep thinkers  followed in the second generation. Equally limiting was the failure of the Neo-Thomists to disseminate Neo-Thomism among the lay intellectuals in the Church. (For example, most Neo-Thomist writings remained in Latin.)

EVALUATION. I would recommend this book only to a specialist focusing on theological and philosophical history of European-American Catholic intellectual culture in the last 150 years. Reading is often difficult and the author provides few aids such as a chronology or brief biographies for the main characters..

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here: http://www.reasonversusmysticism.com/

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Donor's Network for Reason Activists


This is a preliminary draft for initial review and public critique of its clarity, feasibility, and pitfalls. In comments, remember the rules of etiquette, including the need to state your name. Reason activists and potential donors can privately ask questions or express interest at burgesslaughlin@gmail.com.

PURPOSE. A Donor's Network for Reason Activists (DNRA) intends to help certain activists connect to potential donors.[1] The donors hope their grants will enable activists in the U.S.A. to create cultural products that will disseminate the idea of reason—its nature, its applications, its implications, and its history, as well as its opposition to mysticism.[2, 3] DNRA's purpose is not to reward activists for existing projects, but to ease their financial struggle in creating and distributing future projects.

RATIONALE. The Objectivist movement—the movement that promotes Ayn Rand's philosophy of using reason alone to understand reality and guide one's life—is more than fifty years old. Particularly through The Ayn Rand Institute, proponents of Objectivism have made her philosophical writings available for study. Others, through public commentary and discussion groups, have further disseminated her philosophical ideas. Still others are laboring to apply the principles of Objectivism—particularly its ethics of egoism and politics of capitalism—to issues debated today.

A need remains for specialized activists to champion the key idea of each fundamental branch of the philosophy.
  • In metaphysics, philosophical naturalism: We live in one world, and every entity in it has a particular nature.
  • In epistemology, reason: It alone is our source of knowledge.
  • In ethics, rational egoism: The individual should be the beneficiary of his actions.
  • In politics, capitalism: The sole purpose of government should be the protection of individual rights from aggression and fraud.
DNRA supports one specialization: promotion of the idea that reason is one's only means of knowledge, rejecting mysticism in all forms. 

Ideally, DNRA will give small donations each year to individuals who are full-time activists specialized in promoting reason and rejecting mysticism. Unfortunately in the U.S.A today there are no such individuals. However, there might be other individuals who are working on the sort of individual projects that a full-time, specialized activist would undertake. DNRA's small donations will support such projects.

PLAN. No money will pass through DNRA. Money will flow directly from individual donors to individual activists. Perhaps I will be the only donor. The amounts I can donate will be small, totaling perhaps $2000/year.

REQUIREMENTS FOR ACTIVISTS. To receive a donation that will support your activist work, you must:
  • Be planning to produce a particular intellectual product, suitable for public dissemination, that supports reason by examining its nature, or its applications, or its implications, or its history, or its contrasts  to mysticism. Example products are: a book, a conference paper, a videotape of a lecture, an online transcript of a lecture, an online magazine essay, or a website devoted to reason or some major aspect of it.
  • Submit a brief proposal: What is the product you expect to create and offer to the intellectual public? When will it be available? How will it promote reason in U.S.A. culture? Describe the planned product in enough detail to allow a potential donor, if any, to make a decision about supporting it; and, after completing the project, describe the product so that interested viewers can decide whether to obtain it. The proposal should also provide (1) your name, (2) location, (3) contact information,and (4) current professional affiliation, if any. I will not make these last four items public but I or you will make them available to potential donors, if any.
  • Make the completed product available to the public, either for purchase at a competitive price or through other access (such as an open library archive).
  • Allow DNRA, in a public list of achievements, to identify the completed project (your name, the product title, abstract of the product, type of product, and the product's location for access). 
EXAMPLES. Existing products that would certainly qualify if proposed today are: 
  • Ayn Rand's lecture, "Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World," a lecture read at Yale University in 1960, and then printed in Philosophy: Who Needs It, 1982.
  • Ayn Rand's book, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, originally published as a series of articles in the periodical, The Objectivist, and re-published in 1990 in an expanded second edition.
Imaginary products that would qualify are:
  • A paper describing reduction, a tool of reason, for an academic conference.
  • A video explaining the nature of reason to young people mature enough to begin philosophizing.
  • A podcast surveying the types of mysticism active in our culture today.
  • An essay focusing on a particular current controversy, showing the way in which reason could solve the problem.
  • A lexicon of reason, that is, a short book that defines reason, its components, and the manner in which they relate to each other. 
  • A lecture demonstrating the use of reason in a particular historical setting—for example, a scientist solving a problem. 
  • A speech for a wide audience, championing reason by defining it, illustrating it, and suggesting the consequences for our lives if it were widely and consistently applied, even if only by intellectuals.
  • An essay explaining why there is one reason but many forms of mysticism.
  • An essay refuting the Christian, Muslim, and Judaic idea that we can use both reason and mysticism in some sort of compromise.
UNSUITABLE EXAMPLES. Examples of projects not suitable for donations from DNRA are: 
  • Products which treat reason tangentially.
  • Products created by using reason but not explaining it, its applications, its history, or its implications for the other branches of Objectivism.
  • Products that focus mainly on "reason" as it appears in non-objective philosophies such as Catholicism or Kantianism—unless the author fully compares each form to actual reason as characterized in Objectivism.
  • Products that commit the fallacy of the frozen abstraction by equating reason with mathematics, logic, or science (such as physics).
SUMMARY. A Donor's Network for Reason Activists offers small donations in trade for seeing new products become available for promoting reason or fighting mysticism in the U.S.A. today.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here: http://www.reasonversusmysticism.com/

[1] DISCLAIMER: Donor's Network for Reason Activists has no connection—commercial, organizational, or philosophical—to The Reason Foundation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason_Foundation), Reason magazine, or any other entity that happens to use the word "reason" in its title.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is James Randi a full-time, specialized activist for reason?


Here, on May 16, 2014, I asked for the name of anyone in the USA who is a full-time, specialized activist for reason. I received several suggestions. One was James Randi (b. 1928). Is he a specialized activist for reason?

Unfortunately no one has yet published a biography of James Randi's long, productive career. Trying to decide whether Randi is worth furher investigation as a candidate, I studied three publications, one about and two from Randi. First, the long and informative Wikipedia article [1] does nothing to substantiate the claim that Randi is a full-time, specialized activist for reason. To the contrary, the article makes clear that, though Randi likes reason, he has been focused on two other goals: 
  • GOAL 1: Investigating the claims made by a variety of individuals, such as advocates of extrasensory perception, and, where those claims are shown to be false or even fraudulent, overturning ("debunking") the claims.
  • GOAL 2: Defending the methods of science, and, as a corollary, refuting pseudo-scientific claims (for example, by supporters of homeopathy). Thus Randi rightly takes both a positive approach to science and a negative approach to pseudo-science (and "flim-flam" in general).
Randi explains and supports science, but he is not a full-time, specialized promoter of reason. Science is not reason. Science uses reason in particular ways, but is not the same thing as reason.* Nor does Randi, as far as I can tell from the titles in his list of publications, contrast reason with mysticism, thereby explaining both reason and mysticism.

The second publication I examined was an informative and entertaining lecture by James Randi on his own channel, "skeptitube." This video is apparently a recording of a lecture he gave at Caltech in 1992.[2] Here Randi describes himself as a "skeptic." He says nothing about promoting reason. He conducts an imaginary experiment. The conclusions he draws are severely limited, which is appropriate for science. A philosopher, by contrast, can survey the world around him and draw general or even universal conclusions—for example, about the nature of reason. Randi's lecture supports science, not reason. They are not the same.

A third sampling of Randi's long list of works is an article he wrote for an online journal he apparently established. The article is "Science, Pseudoscience: the Differences."[3] Once again, the subject is science, not reason. And once again Randi is an able defender of science, but he has little to say about reason. Minor points in his article raise questions about Randi's philosophy, particularly his epistemology. For example, after placing the words the truth in scare-quotes, thus throwing doubt on the idea, he says that truth is unreachable, "though in spite of Zeno's Paradox, we do eventually and essentially get there. But let's not examine that can of worms." (p. 1 of a five-page printout) 

Does Randi think that truth is possible? Or is Randi a philosophical skeptic, a person who believes that knowledge is impossible, at least to some degree? Either way, his dismissal of discussion of a "can of worms" is not the stance of a specialized, full-time activist for reason. Such an activist would welcome every opportunity to strengthen confidence in reason by solving puzzles about it.

Randi also makes clear (p. 1) that he opposes religion because religion is based on faith and rejects "reason, investigation, and logic." Randi does not go further in describing either mysticism or reason. So, here too there is evidence of Randi's personal support of reason but no full-time specialization in activism for reason.

In summary, working only from these three samples and from his newsletters which I read decades ago, I can say James Randi has had a long, productive, successful career as a defender of science and an exposer of "flim-flam." He is not a specialized, full-time activist for reason. Randi's relationship to reason is analogous to the imprint a seal makes in wax. The imprint in the wax is a result of the seal. Likewise, Randi's work in supporting science is a result of his respect for reason, but respect for a subject is not the same as specializing in promoting it.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here: http://www.reasonversusmysticism.com/

For the meaning of reason, see my post on August 25, 2009: http://reasonversusmysticism.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-is-reason.html.

[1] "James Randi," May 18, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Randi.

[2] James Randi, lecture on proving the negative, http://skeptitube.com/james-randi.php, 1992. I am not certain of the location and time of this lecture.

[3] James Randi, "Science[,] Pseudoscience: the Differences," http://www.mukto-mona.com/new_site/mukto-mona/Articles/randi/science_pseudoscience.htm, no date of publication.

Friday, May 16, 2014

$100 Finder's Fee: Can you name a full-time activist for reason?


I am offering a small finder's fee to the first person who can identify a specialized activist, in the USA, working full-time to support reason as a specialized subject. Identify means providing the activist's name and a link to him. Support means explicit, sustained advocacy as a career path. Reason means the human faculty that integrates sense-perceptions into concepts, creates principles, forms generalizations, develops theories, and so forth—all following logic as the art of noncontradictory identification of the facts of reality. 

(An example of a specialized activist is Alex Epstein of Center for Industrial Progress. For the distinction between specialized and general activism: http://aristotleadventure.blogspot.com/2012/12/specialized-vs-general-activismwhich-is.html)

The specialized activist for reason would be taking steps such as:
  • Collecting a flood of examples of the use of reason, from history and today.
  • Showcasing the tools of reason: induction, deduction, reduction, analysis, and so forth.
  • Defining reason at various lengths, for a variety of audiences.
  • Showing the benefits of reason in our world today.
  • Contrasting reason with mysticism—examples of it, its nature, its many forms, and its consequences in history and in life today.
The specialized activist for reason would engage in various tasks such as:
  • Writing weblog posts.
  • Producing videotapes or podcasts.
  • Welcoming interviews on radio and television.
  • Engaging debaters on university campuses and elsewhere.
  • Writing magazine articles.
  • Lecturing on reason in general or specific facets of reason and mysticism.
  • Conducting seminars.
  • Teaching classes.
  • Writing books.
If you know of such a person (or organization), please comment below or email me at burgesslaughlin@gmail.com.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: They Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at http://www.reasonversusmysticism.com/

P. S. — If you are aware of no such person but you think there should be a full-time activist for reason and you would be willing to support him, please tell me. Perhaps we can collaborate, if not immediately, then perhaps in the future. My resources are small, but I am prepared to donate $2000/year to that person to support his work. 

In the movement that supports a philosophy of reason, the time has come for someone to speak for reason: full-time, radically, and at length.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

BkNotes: Nichols's Conversation of Faith and Reason


Aidan Nichols, Conversation of Faith and Reason: Modern Catholic Thought from Hermes to Benedict XVI, Chicago, Hillenbrand Books (Liturgy Training Publications), 2011, 222 pages.

AUTHOR. Aidan Nichols is a Dominican theologian. (p. iv) He is a "historical theologian" (p. 1), that is, he focuses on studying the history of theology. He is also a "fundamental or dogmatic theologian, concerned to found more securely the faith of the Church." (p. 1) Thus he is both descriptive and prescriptive in his work. He seeks to draw his prescriptions from the descriptions. (pp. 1-2)

AUDIENCE. In his foreword to Conversation of Faith and Reason, Matthew Levering (a professor of theology, University of Dayton) says that Aidan Nichols, the author, wrote Conversation for readers "looking for high-level discussions of how humans come to know, to desire, and to express the truth about God and human beings"; the book is not for readers "who seek popularized depictions of faith and reason." (p. iv) 

Levering's warning to readers is understated. Unless you are already familiar with the issues and history of this subject, you will need to read slowly, take notes, and research some of the many names that Nichols includes in his complex account. This slim book requires a lot of effort, but it helps identify the roots of Catholic activism for the Church's support of both faith and reason (as the Church defines it).

SUBJECT. Conversation of Faith and Reason is a chronological examination of Catholic theologians as they examine the nature and interrelationship of faith and reason (that is, theology and philosophy) within the Catholic worldview. The Table of Contents outlines the book. Each of the eleven chapters discusses one or two theologians. The period which the book covers is mostly 1800 to 2005, but the author—and the theologians he discusses—refer back to Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Augustine, and others. Most of the theologians examined in the main chapters were Europeans who were, at one time or another, working in academia. Five of the thirteen men in the debate also became popes.

The chapters are:
1. Introduction.
2. A Kantian Beginning: George Hermes.
3. A Catholic Hegel? Anton Gunther.
4. The Response of Fideism: Louis Bautain.
5. Magisterial Interventions: Gregory XVI and Pius IX.
6. Return to the Schoolmen: Joseph Kleutgen and Leo XIII.
7. Embodying the Leonine Project: Etienne Gilson.
8. The Philosophy of Action: Maurice Blondel.
9. The Dispute over Apologetics: From Blondel to Balthasar.
10. A Synthetic Outcome? John Paul II's Letter Fides et Ratio.
11. From Cracow to Regensburg: Benedict XVI.

The introduction features a brief history of Catholic views of the nature of faith, from the Old Testament writers to the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The Council declared that there are two kinds of faith. The first is a merely human faith: We accept a revelation as believable because it fits within what we already know as acceptable. The second is divine faith: We accept a revelation because God, the supreme speaker of truth, said it. To have this sort of faith, the believer must have received God's grace. (p. 15)

So far as authoritative or classical sources for Catholic thought are concerned—Church Fathers, doctors, ecumenical Councils, papal definitions of doctrine, there the position, taken by and large, may be said to stand as the nineteenth century opens. (p. 15)

THEME. Most of the book is devoted to presenting and discussing the main Catholic theologians of the 19th and 20th Centuries. However, to anyone studying Catholic philosophical or theological activism today, the author's own views are key. He is an activist through his teaching and writing.

The main point of the book is that the selected theologians have understood reason, faith, and their relationship in a variety of ways. Sometimes popes were able to synthesize those varying views; and sometimes popes overruled some of the interpretations. For example, Pope John Paul II's encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998) identifies the sides of the debate, says Nichols. (p. ix)

What are Nichols's definitions of reason and faith? He draws from three sources: "Scripture, Tradition, magisterium." (p. 2)

Faith comes from hearing. It is the welcoming acceptance of a message issuing from Christ and his apostles, an 'apostolic preaching' which ... is confirmed by divine acts. These acts may be outer and public in the form of 'signs' of some description ... or they may be inner and altogether personal, invisible movements within the human soul. ... To sum up the conclusions so far: for the New Testament, taken very broadly, faith is the reception of a message. (p. 3)

Nichols says that Saint Paul believed faith to enable individuals to "only glimpse its own object remotely." (p. 4) Saint John, however, thought of faith and knowledge as nearly synonymous. (pp. 4-5) Faith, according to John, is essentially mystical. (p. 5) 

In discussing Augustine's saying, Crede ut intelligas ("Believe that you might understand"), Nichols defines "believing." "What Augustine meant by 'believing' is, at its most intense and comprehensive, a form of religious understanding where, under the enlivening action of charity, faith 'expands into a theological elaboration and mystical penetration' of its own object." (p. 7) Nichols further offers Thomas Aquinas's definition of faith as "the habit of mind whereby eternal life begins in us, causing the mind the assent to things that do not appear." (p. 5)

Nichols also discusses definitions of reason. Among the beliefs of the Latin Church fathers, Nichols says, "reason" meant "reasoned account" or "coherent explanation." (p. 5) Following the laws of logic is a necessary condition of rationality, but not a sufficient one. (p. 17) In looking at Enlightenment era thinkers' views of the nature of reason, he finds major differences. (p. 17) Nichols is a moderate pluralist: He sees various traditions each having its own meaning of "reason." However, he does not surrender to pluralism. He suggests a minimum definition of (1) following rules of logic in (2) argumentation from principles and to principles. (p. 18)

Nichols thinks that humans have one form of reason, the form they share (in a limited way) with God's reason. If you set aside that sharing, then there are a variety of forms of reason ("multiplicity of rationalities"). He names metaphysical reason, existential reason, and aesthetic reason. Divine reason is the unifier, for those who believe in God. (pp. 19-20)

The sentence that best captures the theme of the book is: "Revelational thinking assists both conceptual amplitude and argumentative solidity, desirable qualities of philosophical reason as such." (p. 211)

STYLE. Nichols is generally clear when he relates the history of the "conversation" among Catholic theologians—the names, places, and times. Nichols is often unclear when he attempts to describe the theological views of those theologians. One reason might be because the theologians wrote about subjects that do not exist, such as God, the Holy Spirit, and revelations. Clearly describing the nonexistent is difficult. A second reason for lack of clarity in Nichols's account might be that his sources, the theologians he examines, were themselves unclear in their own explanations. Some were influenced by Kant and Hegel, who wrote in a floating, rationalistic and therefore vague style. 

(By rationalism I mean the notion that the key to correct thinking is merely to make sure that all of our conclusions follow syllogistically from our premises, never mind where those premises come from; reason, by contrast, begins with sense-perception and proceeds inductively and deductively from there.)

Here is an example of rationalistic writing:

In its activity, divine grace constitutes a higher principle which overarches natural created reality. In giving access to this higher principle, faith englobes reason without truncating it. Divine grace in its essential supernaturality is not counterposed to the natural experiencing, reasoning and knowing subject as though it were antithetical to that subject in the latter's native modes of moving around the world. ...The difficulty about faith for post-Renaissance people is that they do not approach their rational and free 'I' as naturally  ordered beyond itself. Not surprisingly, then, Christian faith, originating in the divine action of revelation, loses for them its proper intelligibility. (pp. 18-19)

CONCLUSION. For a slow, careful reader, Nichols's Conversation of Faith and Reason offers a convenient one-volume summary of Catholic theologians' views of faith, reason, and their relationship. Though the book focuses mostly on the 19th and 20th centuries, it also surveys the Church's long earlier history. Unfortunately the book is difficult to read because of the author's style.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here: http://www.reasonversusmysticism.com/ 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Example of Fundamental Conflicts within a Mystical Movement


In the two preceding posts I provided my notes on Richard M. Gula's Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality. In the post below I focus on one element of the book, Gula's account of a debate among Catholic theologians in the 20th Century. 

Catholicism is a 2000-year old religion. Its theologians have always debated about the ideal relationship between reason and mysticism (faith in particular). Most Catholic theologians have tried to integrate them. Philosopher Leonard Peikoff has rightly called this attempt "misintegration." It is logically impossible to integrate contradictories. "Misintegration" is the result of such an attempt. (See the Nov. 28, 2012 post (here) for a review of Leonard Peikoff's The DIM Hypothesis.)

The following example, taken from Gula's confusing account, looks at the debate among Catholic theologians from about 1940 to about 1990 (and presumably today). The key question in the debate was: What should be the source of Catholic morality? Should theologians start with the principles provided by mystical sources (Holy Scripture, Church Tradition, and the magisterium guided by the Holy Spirit)? Or should theologians begin with natural law, that is, principles which thinking about the world (which God created) can produce?

THE EVENTS

Early 20th Century: The manuals which Catholic teachers used to teach Catholic morality presented the "classical moral theology" of Catholicism. Gula is unclear here, but apparently the classical moral theology was the result of Catholic theologians thinking about ("reflecting on" ) moral problems as natural law, without referring directly to the roots of Catholic morality in specifically Christian beliefs. (p. 1, par. 1)

1940-1970: A movement arose wanting to "Christianize" Catholic morality by rooting that morality directly into Holy Scripture and "the mysteries of faith." (p. 1, par. 2) Gula does not say so, but apparently this Christianizing movement was a reaction against an earlier movement to root Catholic morality in natural law.

1962-1965: The Second Vatican Council calls for radical revision of the manuals of morality. (p. 1, par. 1)

Late 1960s-early 1970s: Some Catholic theologians agreed with the Second Vatican Council's call to revise the manuals but broke from the early revisionists, the ones who wanted to base morality directly on Holy Scripture and other specifically Catholic sources. These new theologians instead wanted to use a philosophical method to develop "autonomous ethics," that is, ethics based on, not God's revelations (in Holy Scripture), but on thinking about the human person who was created by God to have a certain nature and must discover morality for himself through reason. (p. 1, par. 2)

Why did many Catholic theologians of the autonomous-ethics movement in the 1960s to 1970s want to revise Catholic morality's roots? They had two motivations. First was that the non-Catholic culture around them was becoming more secular, and a philosophical approach would be more acceptable to secularists. Second was that Catholic theologians of the autonomous-ethics movement reacted against the earlier Christianizing phase of renewal, the phase that began in the 1940s and wanted to ground Catholic morality in Catholic mystical sources. Apparently the Catholic theologians of the autonomous-ethics movement of the 1970s objected to relying on specifically Catholic roots for two reasons. First, the earlier renewalists, the Christianizers, apparently published essays that were "uncritical," that is, they did not meet rigorous academic standards and therefore were an embarrassment. (Gula is not clear here.) Second, the earlier, Christianizing renewal movement's products (which were rooted in specifically Catholic sources) were too sectarian, that is, too Catholic. That was a problem in the 1970s and later because by then Catholic theologians wanted to appeal to intellectuals all over the world regardless of their religious choices. (Apparently these Catholic autonomous- ethics theologians of the 1970s wanted to be "multicultural" in appeal.) (p. 1, par. 3)

1970s: Apparently still another movement arose among Catholic theologians. (Gula is not clear about the timing.) This movement, the "faith ethics" movement, arose in reaction against the autonomous-ethics movement. The faith-ethics movement's theologians said that mysticism (specifically in the form of God's revelations) must have a role in forming Catholic morality. Thus this movement of the late 1970s wanted to restore the Christianizing renewalist movement of the 1940s to 1950s. (p. 1, par. 4)

1980s: At the time of Gula's writing (1989), Catholic theologians, considered as a group, were in "tension." (That is the academic word for "contradiction.") They were trying to meet both demands—"trying to include the orientation of faith ethics, while preserving at the same time reason's critical reflection on human experience which characterizes autonomous ethics." 

In other words, Gula says, Catholic theologians generally wanted to avoid relying on either sectarianism (faith ethics) or humanism (autonomous ethics) in isolation. (p. 1, par. 4) Instead, the Catholic theologians of the 1980s wanted to speak of Catholic morality "in a language accessible to nonbelievers" as well as Catholic believers. (p. 1, par. 4 continuing onto p. 2) This is an example of the Catholic "both/and" approach to many issues. ("Faith and reason" is an example.) It is "misintegration," and the Church advocates both at the same time.

SUMMARY
Catholic theologians from around 1940 to around 1990 turned from one pole to another, that is, from open mysticism to the truncated, Catholic version of reason. They made their turns sometimes for loyalty to their mystical sources and at other times for the hope of reaching their modern goal of being able to talk to all individuals everywhere, regardless of religious or cultural background.  Catholic theologians continue today trying to find the right mix of contradictory sources of knowledge. Trying to "integrate" mysticism and (alleged) reason is an effort that is inherently unstable. The instability leads to conflict and confusion in the movement.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at http://www.reasonversusmysticism.com/

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Catholic Theologian's View of Reason and Mysticism


In the previous post, I briefly reviewed Richard M. Gula's Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality. The post below records some of my notes on Gula's views of reason and mysticism.

REASON. What is reason? Gula provides no direct answer. Curiously, in a book dedicated in part to reason, the index has no entry for reason. The reader must infer Gula's meaning of "reason" from clues. Here is one clue. At one point he implies that reason is "critical reflection on human experience." That sounds promising. He says that critical reflection is "a valid source for coming to know what is morally required." However, his justification for doing so is the "principle of mediation: "... only through the human ... do we come to know God and respond to what God is ... requiring us ... to do." That principle in turn rests on "a commitment of faith by which we accept the mystery of Christ as the full revelation of God and accept the sources of faith as valid sources of coming to the truth about God, being human, and living in the world." (p. 8) So, according to Gula, "reason" works on the material provided mystically by God. This is not reason as the faculty of forming abstractions logically from sense-perception of the natural world. 

"Reflection" is a synonym for reason in Gula's view. At one point (p. 46), Gula even speaks of "reflection informed by faith" as he spoke of "reason informed by faith in the title of his book. "Reflection" is an appropriate word here. The Catholic thinker reflects on ideas that come from outside of him; he does not create these ideas. He reflects on them as premises of some sort in his chain of thinking. 

When should we use reason and how? In a section called "Reflection," Gula says: "We turn to the language of the mind when we want to support, analyze, and communicate what we grasp by heart." (p. 16) Again Gula says that in ethics, reason (which he refers to as "rational explanations" and "conceptual knowledge") is useful if we want "to communicate values and to argue for or against a position." (p. 84) Reason, then, is for persuasively conveying ideas to other individuals, not for gaining new ideas of our own. Reason is rhetoric.

The strict logic of a scientific nature is necessary in morality in order to defend publicly what we have decided.  But we do not actually make our decisions in the same logical way that we try to justify them. Ordinarily in the oral life, we lead with the heart. Judgments of rationality follow in a complementary way. (p. 316)

We get ideas—in least in the field of ethics—from God via revelation and our "heart," and then we use reason to tidy up our position when speaking to others. So much for reason, at least in the field of ethics. (Gula's view of the roles of reason in other fields are not clear in this book.)

MYSTICISM. Gula does not use the word "mysticism" to identify the class of alternatives to reason. Instead he identifies each form of mysticism individually. For example, early in the book Gula names three "theological sources of faith—scripture, Jesus, and the church." (p. 4) A Catholic takes on faith the ideas conveyed through scripture, through Jesus's words as preserved in Catholic tradition, and through the Church's magisterium, its special teaching ability, as guided by the Holy Spirit. The following passage makes those sources explicit:

The Christian conviction about the good is governed by the religious beliefs expressed in the stories of the Bible, especially in Jesus, and further expounded in the theological tradition of the church. (p. 44)

Another form of Catholic mysticism is "sensitivity," as shown in two passages:

(1) Sensitivity is fundamental. It implies that moral living begins in the heart and not with an abstract principle about the nature of being human from which we draw crisp conclusions. ... The foundational experience that awakens our moral consciousness ... is the experience of the sacredness of human life, or the value of persons as persons. All morality is organically linked to this foundational experience. The value of persons as persons can only be appreciated. It is not something we reason to or can prove with satisfaction of a logical syllogism. That is why the foundational moral experience is a matter of the heart. ... To bring sensitivity to moral analysis, then, is to engage artistic or mystical insight in the service of the moral life and moral reflection. (pp. 13-14)

(2) The sensitivity required for the moralist to engage in moral 'theological' reflection is a sensitivity of the heart attuned to the presence of God. ... Without this prayerful attentiveness to God, moral reflection [that is, "reason"] stops short of attending to the fullness of the relationships which make up the moral life. (p. 15)

Yet another form of mysticism appearing in Gula's book is the mysticism of "theological code words." For example, Gula says, the term "Trinity" is a "theological code word" for the "freedom and totality of God's self-giving." (p.65) You see or hear the word "Trinity" and then you "know" something about God.

Gula identifies a last form: the mysticism of experience. 

Evaluative knowledge, symbolized by the heart, is the kind of knowledge we have when we are 'caught up' in someone or something through personal involvement or commitment. Evaluative knowledge is more personal, more self-involving than conceptual knowledge of facts or ideas, for it has to do with grasping the quality of a person, object, or event. We do not gain evaluative knowledge by words but by touch, sight, and sound, by experiencing victories and failures, sleeplessness and devotion. ...  In short, evaluative knowledge is a felt knowledge which we discover through personal involvement and reflection. (p. 84)

IMAGINATION. In Gula's Catholicism, reason is not the faculty of integration of sense data into abstractions. Reason is instead merely a faculty of argumentation, that is, lining ideas up syllogistically, mainly for persuasion.

Catholicism values integration, connecting things into a system, as Gula says through out his book. If not reason, then what in Catholicism performs integration? Gula's answer is the faculty of "imagination." Four passages illustrate it.

(1) Understood in its deepest sense, the imagination ... is the capacity to construct a world. By means of the imagination we bring together diverse experiences into a meaningful whole. (p. 71) 

(2) The imagination connects "diverse beliefs and experiences." (p. 72)

(3) When religious beliefs, for example, are part of the imaginative process, they enter into the content of what we experience and contribute toward connecting the many dimensions of experience with the values entailed in those beliefs. (p. 72) 

(4) The imagination informs what we think, what we see, the way we feel, our readiness to act, and the direction of our actions. (p. 72)

RELATIONSHIP OF REASON AND MYSTICISM. We have seen above that Gula cites various sources of mysticism, that is, non-rational claims to "knowledge." He restricts "reason" to reflection on ideas that have come into the mind in various ways. He thus expands mysticism and shrinks reason. What is the relationship between them? The next three passages show that Gula's Catholicism claims adherence to both faith and reason.

(1) Characteristically, Catholic moral theology relies on 'mediation' for coming to know God and what faith requires. This means that it takes seriously not only revelation and the tradition of the Church, but also critical reflection ["reason"] on ongoing human experience as well. Both faith and reason, then, are the fundamental sources to which we appeal in giving content to ethics [theory] and morals [practice] within Catholic moral theology. (p. 10)

(2) Our affective commitment to ... the value of persons ... are 'reasons of the heart' which ultimately cannot be proven, yet which will always remain the final court of appeal for our moral judgments. We appeal to 'reasons of the head', or rational arguments, to confirm and demonstrate in a way that can be convincing to another what we already know by heart. In the moral life, head and heart work together. (p. 14)

(3) The Catholic tradition has not maintained ... a complete dependence of morality on faith. It holds to a relative autonomy for faith and morality. Faith informs reason, but it does not replace it. Faith and reason are the two sources of moral knowledge to which the Catholic tradition appeals. (p. 45)

Gula acknowledges the central problem in claiming both faith and reason: How does one decide to use one or the other claim to knowledge?

The challenge to moral theology today lies in maintaining the proper relationship of faith and reason for determining what constitutes morally good character and right moral action. (p. 46) 

When pressed for demands for a rational approach, Gula resorts to polylogism and subjectivism: 

Thus, the 'therefore' which links morality to religious beliefs is not by way of a strict inference of syllogistic logic. [Instead, the] inference is made by way of ... 'the logic of self-involvement'.

Such a "logic" considers the believer's "certain manner of living" and "having certain attitudes and feelings." (pp. 48-49) An additional form of Catholic mysticism, the mysticism of Christian symbols, ties up any loose ends left by other forms of mysticism.

Using a Christian symbol of some sort to look on a situation, then, will determine to some extent what one sees [the is, the facts] and what one does [the ought, the values]." (p.50)

SUMMARY. In Gula's Catholicism, mysticism is broad and takes many forms; reason is narrow and is truncated to being a tool of rhetoric. The Church insists on claiming both, leaving no room for the mind that starts from sense-perception, forms abstractions about the world, and then selects values from among those facts. For the Church, mysticism is the means for obtaining morals from another world, and "reason" is the means the Church uses to argue for its positions.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at http://www.reasonversusmysticism.com/