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Reflections on Scripture

PART TWO

SECONDARY INFLUENCES


Chapter Eight

THE SHIFT TO THE HUMAN SUBJECT IN PHILOSOPHY

Why Philosophy?

It would be difficult to deny that the attempt to put "modern philosophy" at the service of the Church has not so far produced the fruits that were expected from it, while at the same time it is responsible for many of the Church's present problems.

But why should the Church have anything to do with philosophy? Does it really have any need for it?

If asked to give a really truthful reply, the reaction of many Catholics, I suspect, would be not unlike that of the 7th century Arab invader of Egypt, who, when asked why he had burned the great library at Alexandria, replied that if the books in it contradicted the word of God they were wrong, while if they agreed with it, they were superfluous.

But that has never been the attitude of the Church, even if St Paul was at pains to explain that he was preaching something much more than a philosophy. Whether using or refuting philosophical ideas, the Church has always taken philosophical ideas seriously, because she quickly saw that unless men's fundamental "philosophical" notions were right it would be harder for them to accept and understand revealed truth.

Formal philosophy simply does in a detailed and systematic way what all men do from time to time in a loose untidy way use their natural powers of thought to make sense of themselves and the world around them. What kind of thing is this? What is it made of? Who made it? What is it for? How did things come into existence in the first place? Is everything changing all the time, or is there something that remains stable underneath the change? Out of questions like these arose the different branches of formal philosophy, because although common sense hits the mark much of the time, it is not an infallible guide all the time; things are not always the way they appear to be on the surface.

The main branches of formal philosophy are or were: natural philosophy, now called "science," which deals with the physical and biological worlds; epistemology, the study of how we know; logic, about reasoning correctly; 67 moral philosophy, concerned with the goodness or badness of human acts; metaphysics, which penetrates through the world registered by the senses to its immaterial or abstract "substructure" we could call it the science of primary causes, first principles and essences; and natural theology the search for the supreme cause and final purpose of things. When not impeded by prejudice, the mind moves naturally from speculating about created things to searching for their untreated cause.

In spite of philosophy's reputation as something recondite, the rough and ready kind of philosophical thinking that precedes formal philosophy is in fact as much a normal human activity as breathing and eating; and, contrary to the bulk of current opinion, metaphysics is the most normal of all. Man is a naturally metaphysical creature. If you doubt it, try carrying on a conversation on any reasonably serious subject without using abstractions like "something" or "nothing; "`cause" and "effect; "'quantity" and "quality," or "matter" and "form." We talk about being "substantially" in agreement, or things being "essentially" the same, though we cannot touch or weigh what in this case we mean by a "substance," any more than we can an "essence.'

Where then do these notions come from?

A fashionable view among some thinkers and theologians, as we saw earlier, is that they have been culturally imposed on us. We in the West have been indoctrinated with Greek or Hellenistic thought patterns. But if so, how are we to explain the fact that numbers of peoples who know nothing about the ancient Greeks have words for equivalent concepts, or if not, easily assimilate them; or that people who refine to allow words like "substance" and "essence" any philosophical value cling to them for everyday use.

The alternative explanation is that these basic building blocks of thought are generated (one could almost say instantaneously and automatically) as soon as the human mind comes into contact with reality. The intellect, so to speak, "reads them between the lines" of the data provided by the senses. Greek philosophers used expressions like matter and form, substance and accident, essence and existence, not because they had a special 4th century 68 BC way of looking at things, but because, as Gilson has pointed out, coming first in the long line of formal philosophers, they were the first to see these elemental truths. 45

Other philosophers have denied the reality of change, or held that matter is evil or an illusion. From this we can see how important it is for the Church that men's fundamental notions should be right. Disbelief in the reality of change would make repentance or the Real Presence impossible, while the notion that matter is evil or an illusion conflicts with her teaching about the goodness of creation and the reality of Christ's human nature.

Christian Philosophy

But where was the Church to find a valid system of philosophical notions through which to explain her teaching, apart from those already provided by common sense?

The answer was nowhere. When she came into the world, no such system existed. The available systems Pythagorean, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Epicurean, Neoplatonic although they contained varying amounts of truth, were not individually wholly satisfactory. It took time to discover this. But eventually she learned that to have a philosophical explanation of reality completely to her liking, she must forge it for herself by taking whatever was good in existing philosophies, correcting it where it was necessary with the help of revelation, and carrying on from there.

In this way there came into existence that body of philosophical truth known as the philosophia perennis (the good-for-all-time philosophy), or Christian philosophy, of which the medieval philosopher-theologians called the scholastics were the principal builders, with St Thomas Aquinas as chief luminary.

The philosophia perennis does not claim to provide a finished picture of reality in all its details. Its claims are twofold: that from the philosophical standpoint, it has got the main lines of the picture right; and that it provides 69 a body of permanently valid principles and concepts which no philosophical explanation of this or that aspect of reality, or reality in its totality, can ignore with impunity. It could never, for instance, make room for the Zen Buddhist denial of the principle of contradiction (contradictory assertions cannot be true of the same thing at the same time). But it can absorb philosophical explanations of hitherto unexamined, or incompletely examined parts of reality, provided they are not in contradiction with its basic principles. All that matters is whether any novelties can be shown to be true.

The scholastics' analytical approach and systematic method, coupled with the value they attached to reason, and their conviction that the universe is ultimately intelligible throughout, because it is the work of an intelligent and purposeful Maker (it contains mysteries but not absurdities) created a climate of opinion which had much to do with the rise of modern science.46

The main weakness of the philosophia perennis, as St Thomas and the medieval scholastics left it, lay in being encumbered with ancient Greek notions about physics, which its guardians were reluctant to shed when these notions were challenged by the new mechanistic physics originating in the late medieval schools of Paris and the astronomy of Copernicus and Galileo. 47

It was assumed by friend and foe alike that there was a necessary connection between the strictly philosophical components of the philosophia perennis, which were of enduring value, and these disproved scientific hypotheses. So, as the exact and applied sciences went from triumph to triumph, scholasticism became discredited through guilt by association, not only in the eyes of the Church's opponents, but eventually in those of some of her own children. Meanwhile, Luther, with his subjective emotional approach to religion (not "Is it true?" but "What does it mean for me?") had set most of the Protestant world against the philosophia perennis. His passionate, self-filled, self-willed spirit could not fail to find its ordered objectivity repugnant.

Finally, in the 17th century, the philosophia perennis was to suffer from misguided attempts to reconcile it with the beginnings of what is now called "modem philosophy." 70

Modern philosophy

Rene Descartes (1596-1650), one of the world's most powerful intellects and a mathematician of the first order, is usually considered the father of modern philosophy. However, he launched into European thinking two ideas that the world would probably have been happier without.

The first was his method of systematic doubt. Everything should be called into question, nothing accepted as true until its truth has been established with unshakeable certainty. 48 This led him to the conviction that the only thing we can know with absolute certainty is the fact that we think. What seems to be the outside world may look real, but we could be dreaming, having an hallucination, or be the victim of diabolical deceit. However, I unquestionably know that my thoughts are real and so that I who think them am real too. Cogito ergo sum I think, therefore I am. All subsequent certainties depend on this one. Our thoughts, not things, must therefore be the starting point of all future philosophy. The outside world exists, but we do not know it by direct contact. Its existence has to be proved by logical deduction from what we know about our thoughts.

By breaking the connection between the human mind and the outside world, which it is the mind's purpose to penetrate and understand, Descartes plunged the greater part of modern philosophy into an epistemological 49 quagmire from which it has ever since been struggling to emerge, thereby becoming the progenitor of modern idealism or subjectivism. If the first and only thing we indisputably know is our thoughts, how can we establish the existence of anything else? In spite of heroic efforts to show it can be done, no one has so far succeeded to everyone's satisfaction, and many consider it impossible.

The opposite of modern idealism is realism. For the realist, the first thing we know, the starting point of knowledge, is not thought but things. Res sunt "things exist." We know by direct intuition, that is, without consciously thinking about it, that the things we touch and see are outside our minds. Only after first knowing things do we realise that we have thought about 71 them. 50

The standpoint of the Church, the world at large, and of most philosophy before Descartes, is realist. The clash between these two starting points, realist and idealist, the one objective in its approach, the other subjective, explains much that is taking place today, including, I suggest, some of our children's behaviour and not a little of what we may hear from politicians.

Descartes' method of systematic doubt also introduced the "critical spirit" into Western life. No one doubts the importance of a good critical sense (not taking everything at face value). But the critical spirit is something rather different. It can often be the enemy rather than the friend of a good critical sense. It starts with the assumption that, up until now, error is what has chiefly prevailed in the world. Whatever is or has been commonly thought or done is almost certain to be wrong an idea that was axiomatic with the thinkers of the Enlightenment, and now seems to have become axiomatic for large numbers of Christians.

If the method of systematic doubt was the first of Descartes' less desirable legacies, the second was his idea that all thinking and proof must follow a mathematical pattern which gave birth to modern rationalism. By rationalism I do not mean the grand metaphysical systems of Descartes' immediate successors like Spinoza, Leibniz and Malebranche (a Catholic priest), which are now as dead as dodos. I am thinking of the vulgar rationalism of the 18th century "age of reason," which to some extent is still with us: only simple clear ideas can be true, and conversely, whatever exists must be capable of being expressed in simple clear ideas.

The objection to rationalism is not that it values reason, or even overvalues it, but that it limits our powers of knowing unreasonably. It restricts them to one particular form of knowing, making certainty depend on the kind of proof that, as in mathematics, forces us to assent. But many, if not most, of the really worthwhile things in life are not known in that way, nor is certainty about them so reached. Married couples are a case in point. A man can know his wife loves him. He can know it with certainty. But if he wanted mathematical certainty, he would have to do without sleep; he would have to watch her day and night, which would defeat its purpose. Under those circumstances she would cease to love him. That way lies madness. 72

The other main objection to rationalism is the impoverished world-view it generates. Where a rationalistic outlook reigns, the most striking features of God's creation, its majesty, mystery, poetry, and "magic" drain away like the light from a landscape when the sun sinks below the horizon.

Eventually, this kind of rationalism provoked the backlash we know as the romantic movement, with its cult of the individual and his feelings, which found philosophical expression in German idealism. By an irony of history Descartes was unintentionally the originator of both movements. 51

Kant's Copernican Revolution

After Descartes had philosophically shut men up inside their minds, the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) redecorated the prison's interior, the Scot David Hume (1711-1776) locked the door and the Prussian Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) threw away the key.

For John Locke (1632-1704), the basic stuff of the mind was not pure thought or innate ideas, but sense impressions. He was the father of English empirical philosophy, and less directly of what we can call "vulgar empiricism" (only what we can touch and see exists or can be the object of genuine knowledge.) A blend of vulgar rationalism and vulgar empiricism is 73 generally the philosophy of today's run-of-the-mill scientist and Westernised man in the street.

In making sense experience the starting point of knowledge, Locke was returning to the standpoint of St Thomas and the scholastics. But how do ideas originate? Here, being locked inside the Cartesian mental prison, Locke took a different path. They arise, he concluded, from the same group of sense impressions repeatedly appearing together in association on the inner movie-screen of consciousness. Seeing them always together, we form the idea of an object (rock, cat, or tree), of laws (solid objects always falling downwards), or of cause and effect (stick striking body followed by loud cries). Locke did not doubt that our ideas tell us something true about the outside world, but he seems not to have seen all the implications of his way of explaining their origin. The more astute David Hume did.

Hume argued that if a group or sequence of sense impressions appears in association fifty times running, there is no reason to think those same sense impressions will appear in association the fifty-first time. Our belief in the existence of things with fixed natures, or an enduring substance or essence has no rational foundation. Nor has our belief in cause and effect. All we can be sure of is the presence in our minds of a stream of not necessarily related sense experiences.

Hume, of course, did not really doubt the existence of objects, or laws of cause and effect. No man is an empiricist or an idealist when he eats his dinner or cashes money at a bank. Hume wanted to finish off metaphysics, because metaphysics, as we have seen, is the ladder by which the mind ascends from created things to their untreated Cause. Having achieved his purpose having, as he thought, made philosophy commit suicide he took to writing history. With Hume, one could say, sin enters into modem philosophy.

Hume also fathered the notion that judgements of value recognising that an action or thing is noble or ignoble, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong are nothing but expressions of personal likes and dislikes. They tell us nothing objectively true about the object or action judged. Today this is called "separating fact from value." This idea, given currency in the 20th century by the English philosopher A J Ayer, is also encapsulated in the idea "you can't get an ought from an is."

The short answer to this unsubstantiated assertion is "Why not?"

Let us suppose that Hume or Ayer saw a giraffe with three legs. Would their reaction have been: "this proves our theory that the collection of sense impressions to which we attach the name "giraffe" has nothing fixed about 74 it. At any moment it could include "giraffes" with two legs, six legs, or no head. Is not their reaction more likely to have been: What s wrong with that giraffe? It ought to have four legs. How did it lose one?" Every creature has its own special form. If we find it deviating from that form, we say it is "deformed."

It is the same when we turn from objects to actions. Physical actions, like physical things, are recognised by all sane people as having a right and wrong "form." They ought or ought not to have taken place in the way they did. So this time let us suppose that one of our two philosophers has been clobbered over the head by a mugger. Can we imagine him, as he sinks to the ground, murmuring: "It's all right. It's only a fact not a value"; or "It's only an is. You can't get an ought (or ought not) out of it. 52

What, of course, Hume chiefly wanted to show us was that there is no absolutely unchallengeable basis for moral judgements. From this it follows that whatever can be done may be done, an idea widespread today in the fields of science and medicine as well as in morals."

Such, more or less, was the state of affairs when Kant discovered Hume, and, as he described it,"awoke from his dogmatic slumbers?'

Convinced like Locke and Descartes that philosophy must begin inside the mind, and deeply impressed by Hume's arguments about the origin of ideas, Kant was nevertheless unwilling to follow Hume into scepticism. He was a philosopher to the core; he was not prepared to help philosophy cut its own throat. He saw moreover that Hume's account of the origin of ideas threatened science as much as philosophy. If belief in cause and effect or the reality of objects was an unjustifiable assumption, what happened, for example, to the Newtonian law of gravity? If Hume were right, how could one be sure that a day wouldn't come when apples would appear to fall upwards from trees rather than downwards? Kant was an admirer of Newton as well, believing that he was something of a scientist himself.

His attempt to answer Hume resulted in his philosophical "Copernican revolution?' Copernicus had shown that the earth goes round the sun, not the sun round the earth. Kant would show that the human mind determines the way reality looks, rather than reflecting the way reality is. However, since the "structure" of the human mind is basically the same in everyone, dealing in the same way with the incoming sense data, apples will always look like 75 apples and continue to fall downwards rather than upwards, even though there may be no such things as "apples" and "upwards" and "downwards" in the mysterious "noumenal" world of "things in themselves." 53

Thus did Kant think he had salvaged science from Hume's scepticism and breathed back life into the corpses of philosophy and morals. Whether he actually succeeded is another matter. What he unquestionably did was to turn philosophy's gaze more decisively than ever away from things to thought, making human thought the arbiter of what is or ought to be.

Hegel's Evolutionary Pantheism

From the tide of philosophical subjectivism let loose by Kant, Hegel. his most influential successor, stands somewhat apart.

Everything, for Hegel (as we saw on an earlier page) cats, dogs, babies, mountains, governments, armies, ideas, appetites, feelings, doctors, carrots, poetry, haute cuisine, you, me is a thought, or part of a thought, of the Absolute Mind or Geist, as it argues itself into self-knowledge zig-zag fashion through our minds and the events of history. A first thought gives rise to a second and contradictory thought, leading to their fusion in a third 76 thought, which in its turn generates a contradictory opposite followed by another fusion and so on. Such is Hegel's famous dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis).

Karl Marx "stood this on its head" mind is a product of matter, not matter of mind making this inverted version the basis of his dialectical materialism. For Marx, clashing classes were the motor of history, for Hegel clashing ideas. Hegel summarised his version of the process as "being is becoming," which is like saying "standing up is the same as lying down." 54

Before It started to think, the Absolute appears to have lived in a dreamlike subliminal state, having initially brought Itself into existence "posited Itself" out of nothing. In his later years, Hegel came to regard the Prussian state as the most advanced expression of the Absolute's attempt to understand and express Itself.

However, as the Absolute Mind grows in self-awareness, the objects of Its self-consciousness (the material and biological contents of the universe) become in some way detached from It, as if enjoying an independent existence of their own. They confront the Thinker as something other than Itself. The result is a feeling on the part of the Absolute of partial estrangement or "alienation" from Itself, which is repugnant to its desire to be a unified whole. Time and history represent the effort of the Absolute, not only to discover who It is, but to reunite Its objectified self-knowledge with Its subjective self. 55

Hegel could be said to have initiated the obsession with change which is such a feature of contemporary thinking. It is true that the notion of biological evolution was already in the air. The growth of historical knowledge and an increasing familiarity with other civilisations had likewise helped to prepare the way; if customs vary, people began to think, perhaps everything else is a matter of taste and opinion. But Hegel's evolutionary pantheism gave to change its dominant philosophical position as the all-important 77 feature of reality. 56

Kant and Hegel continued to dominate European philosophy throughout the 19th century, and are still powerful forces today. But at this point we must pause to look at the effects of the philosophical currents we have been following on theological thinking.

The Religious Reaction

To begin with, as Descartes' ideas became part of the spirit of the age, there was a general surrender to his rationalism. Whether writing or teaching, theologians tended to handle Christian doctrine as though it were a kind of religious mathematics whose propositions must of their nature compel assent or only be denied by people guilty of stupidity or bad faith. Protestants were affected as much as Catholics. Alien though the idea was to the spirit of their founder, Lutheran theologians, under the influence of philosophers like the Lutheran Christian Wolff (1679-1754), began to systematise their theology into what has come to be called Lutheran scholasticism.

Consequently, when, with the romantic movement, the reaction began, it took the form of a deep and irrational prejudice not only against abstract ideas, but against any kind of clear systematic thought in connection with religion. System and abstractions, it was felt, of their nature deform or falsify religion. System and clarity were for science; religious knowledge should be indefinite and misty. Under the influence of this idea, a supposed opposition between the Greek and Hebrew minds was discovered. 57 The sin of the Greek mind, described as "essentialism," was, so it came to be maintained, its inability to think except in "static essences:' The virtue of the Hebrew mind was its love of what is concrete, dynamic and historical. Abstract was set against concrete, static against dynamic, as though these complementary aspects of reality could only be enemies, incapable of 78 living in peace together in the same world.58

This is the remote origin of the neo-modernist war cry "the faith is not a set of abstract propositions to be believed." Even if today that cry has been transmuted into a shout of protest at having to believe everything the Church teaches, we are also hearing the last echoes of the romantic movement's objection to Descartes' attempt to reduce all thinking and knowledge to a mathematical pattern.

The reaction to rationalism among theologians began, as we have seen, in Lutheran Germany. Almost to a man, its leading religious thinkers made personal religious experience the sole valid field of philosophical and religious inquiry. With Schleiermacher it had been a "feeling of absolute dependence." With Otto it was a "sense of the holy," with Lotz an "awareness of value" and so on. These spiritual or psychological phenomena, they believed, were the only escape roots by which the imprisoned Cartesian ego could find its way to God.

In the circumstances of the time, this philosophical and theological "retreat into the interior" or "shift to the human subject" as it is now called, had the appeal of clever tactics. Unbelief was conducting its war of nerves on religion, using science as its battering ram. What science could not explain today, it was boasted or insinuated, science would be able to explain tomorrow, eventually providing a natural explanation for the universe itself. But, so our frightened champions of the subjective philosophical approach persuaded themselves, science could not follow man into the sanctum of his heart and attribute everything that went on there to material and mechanical causes. Alas, they had not foreseen the coming of clinical psychology with its invasion of the sanctum through the basement, where it would attribute everything it found there to unsatisfactory relations with Mum and Dad and nastier things still.

With Catholics, the influence of Cartesian rationalism lasted longer, the Catholic Church having always given reason an ampler role in religion than had been customary among Protestants. 59 79

When it eventually came, the Catholic reaction took two forms. First, in response to Pope Leo XIII's encyclical on Christian philosophy, Aeterni Patris, as we likewise saw earlier, the search began for a Thomism, purified of Cartesian and post-Cartesian distortions. This led to the formation of at least three distinct Thomist schools: the quasi-official neo-Thomism of Fr Garrigou-Lagrange and Jacques Maritain, who presented their updated Thomism in a more or less timeless form; the "historical" Thomism of Etienne Gilson and the scholars of the French Dominican house of higher studies at Le Saulchoir in Belgium, who in interpreting the medieval scholastics wished greater weight to be given to the historical conditions which had influenced them (the Maritainian neo-scholastics, they said, were too dependent on the 16th century commentators on St Thomas, John of St Thomas and Cajetan their Thomism was not fully faithful to the Master's thought); and finally, the "transcendental" or "Louvain" Thomism originating with Cardinal Mercier but more fully developed by the Jesuit Fr Joseph Maréchal. 60

Transcendental Thomists wanted to shift St Thomas's realism onto a subjective Cartesio-Kantian foundation. The basic Cartesio-Kantian premise, they argue, has to be accepted. About this Descartes and Kant were right. There can be no going back on it. The mind at first knows only its own thought. But that does not mean it is forever enclosed within the walls of its personal experience. A proper analysis of the act of thought shows that the inner "dynamism" or "intentionality" of the human mind of its very nature presupposes a world outside itself about which genuine knowledge is possible. For this reason, transcendental Thomists call their method "critical realism." 61 80

All this may seem rather abstruse for a book of this sort. But the "subjectivising" of St Thomas's epistemology was an important factor in the philosophical and theological in-fighting of the second half of the 20th century, with most Thomists maintaining that the results of the "subjectivising" are not really Thomism. 62

Other Catholic thinkers, reacting against rationalist influence, began, like their Lutheran counterparts, pressing for a philosophical and theological "shift to the human subject" that would involve a much wider opening of the doors to German idealism, with the pressure increasing as the new theology took shape during the 1940s and '50s.

In principle, a philosophical and theological taking into account of subjective experience is perfectly reasonable. Our moods and states of mind are as much a part of reality as the Milky Way and plant life. They too can be used to point the way to God and help us to understand his intentions for us. St Augustine, St Bonaventure, and Newman all used this more personal or psychological approach. The crucial questions were whether the "shift" was to be partial or total, whether elements of the subjective German approach were to be used to complement or supplant the philosophia perennis; and of which of the by now numerous kinds of philosophical subjectivism the Church should make use?

Since the early 1900s, two major new arrivals had appeared in the field of German philosophy, and it is at these that we must now look.

Endnotes


44. "All men and women are in some sense philosophers and have their own philosophical conceptions with which they direct their lives." John Paul II, encyclical Fides et Ratio, 30. The word "substance" in philosophy does not mean what it means in ordinary speech. It does not mean a kind of matter. like treacle or hair cream. It first meant the unchanging "core" of a thing, and then its total being, that which transcends while embracing the parts.

45. Pope Paul called this universal capacity for metaphysical thought "the natural metaphysics of mankind" (Mysterium Fidel (1965), 24). He was answering Catholics who had been trying to get the Church to drop her teaching about transubstantiation her way of explaining what happens to the bread and wine in the Mass on the grounds that modem philosophy has rejected the notion of metaphysical substance and therefore modern men can no longer understand what the Church is talking about.The Pope replied that the concept of substance is not peculiar to any particular school of philosophy; it belongs to the natural pattern of human thinking everywhere.

46.  The case was first made early in the 20's century by the French physicist Pierre Duhem, and has since been even more convincingly presented in the English-speaking world by the historian of science Fr Stanley Jaki.

47.  In the same way that science today would seem to be encumbering itself with irrelevant philosophical notions.

48.  Descartes was looking for a way round the elegant scepticism of his predecessor. the French essayist Montaigne (1533-1592) in his Essais and Apologie de Raymond Sebond. Montaigne took the not very original position that philosophers all disagree and there is no way of establishing which of them is right.

49.  Epistemology: the branch of philosophy which studies the relationship between reality and the ideas and pictures of it we have in our minds, or the way we know whatever it is that we know.

50. I would go further and suggest that the real starting point of knowledge is when a baby first recognises that outside objects its mother in the first place are not part of itself.

51. A third undesirable Cartesian legacy should also perhaps be mentioned: his solution to what is now called the mind/body problem. In the philosophia, perennis, a human being is a single entity or substance made up of matter and form, the soul being the form of the body. Descartes tended to identify soul with mind and made mind and body two separate "substances." He and his followers then had to go through fantastic contortions to explain how they interacted. His radical separation of soul and body also made it easier for 20th century thinkers like the English philosopher Gilbert Kyle to caricature the Christian concept of the soul as "the ghost in the machine." It explains too why contemporary theologians like to talk about "the whole man" instead of about our bodies and souls.The intention is to correct the idea that the Church subscribes to "Cartesian dualism." However, the Church does subscribe to the separate survival of the soul after death. Attempting to correct Descartes' errors does not justify avoiding the word soul or spirit as has happened in English translations of the Bible and liturgy. The most glaring example is in the English Jerusalem Bible, where Christ's words "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?" are changed to "loses his life," which renders the passage meaningless, as well as being a mistranslation. The Greek word psyche does not mean life. It might well be worth gaining the whole world if we were only going to lose our lives. We all do that anyway. A learned Dominican, one is told, has written a treatise maintaining that at death, instead of going straight to heaven, the soul is put into some kind of cold storage until the general resurrection.To appear in heaven without a body, it seems, would be indecent.

52. It is ironic that Descartes' enterprise, which started as an attempt to refine the scepticism of Montaigne, should have ended in the much deeper scepticism of Hume.

53. It is true that our knowledge is conditioned by the limitations of our minds. As St Thomas says:"receptum recipitur in modo recipientis a thing is received in a manner suited to the recipient." God and the angels see more deeply into things than we can. But that is not what Kant is saying. For Kant. all knowledge is basically knowledge about the workings of our minds. Only the flood of incoming sense data has some kind of connection with reality outside us. After that the mind takes over, processing the sense data in three stages. First it gives the sense data the "forms" of sense and time.Then it "categorises" them, that is to say, shapes them into things of different classes and kinds in their various relationships to one another. The result is "categorial knowledge." This is the field where science operates. Finally, to give coherence to this vast mass of processed sense data, to simplify it and make it more manageable, the mind conceives ideas like the notions of God, the world and the soul.This, the now exploded world of metaphysics, is the "transcendental" level of knowledge. In everyday speech "transcendental" means having to do with a world outside and above us. In Kant it means precisely the opposite. It refers to the part of the intellect furthest removed from external reality. Transcendental ideas do not have objective validity.They are mental conveniences like name tags for docketing large bundles of papers so that they are easier to handle.The rejection of revealed truth in favour of "experience," would seen, to have its roots in Kant's separation of phenomenal from noumenal reality and "categorial" from "transcendental" knowledge. It also explains the terrific business German philosophy makes about reconciling subject and object.

54.  In a fit of exasperation. the German physicist Ehrenfest described the Hegelian dialectic as "a succession of leaps from one lie to another by way of intermediate falsehoods" (Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways of God, p. 198).

55.      Hegel's objective or absolute idealism bears a certain resemblance to Neoplatonic world-views current in the first three centuries AD which influenced some of the Church Fathers.They saw the universe as a flowing forth or emanation of "the many" from the cosmic One followed by a return ending in general reunion. However they differed from modern pantheisms in not being evolutionary. The notion of progress was absent.The further things got from the source, the less real and good they became.

56.  19th and 20th century papal documents mostly have Hegel's absolute idealism or its derivatives in mind when they censure "immanentism." In Catholic teaching, God is both transcendent and immanent; transcendent in that the Creation is not part of Him, immanent in the sense that He is present everywhere by His power. The censured meanings are that God is developing with and through the universe which is part of Him, (Hegelian immanentism), or that he only speaks to men or can be found by men in the depths of their hearts (Kantian immanentism or agnosticism). Atheist immanentism holds that the universe contains within itself everything necessary for its existence and expansion; it is self-moving and self-explanatory.

57.  The idea is found in writers as diverse as Matthew Arnold and Lucien Laberthonnière.

58.  Abstract ideas, or the aspects of reality outside our minds to which they correspond, do not exist independently of concrete things, as Plato thought. But they are as much a part of reality as are the architect's plan for a house or the physical laws which keep it from falling down.

59.  The French literary critic, Charles du Bos. recounts how when he became a Catholic around 1930 some of his fellow Catholics looked on him with suspicion because he insisted that the mysteries of the faith cannot be reached by reason alone.These Catholics were unwittingly contradicting Vatican I's declaration (aimed principally at Günther) that there are revealed mysteries inaccessible to human reason alone. Cartesian rationalism is a kind of caricature of the scholasticism from which it partly derives.

60.  Within these three schools, as one would expect, there were differences of opinion on particular points. For instance, among the neo-scholastics of the first kind there were disagreements in the 1930s about whether the rights of the individual or the requirements of the common good should have priority. Meanwhile,"Louvain" Thomism had produced a vigorous offshoot, favoured by Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, at the Catholic university of Lublin in Poland where he taught philosophy for a time.

61.  This is not unlike Blondel's belief that, on analysis, human action necessarily presupposes the search for an end outside this world. In this respect Blondel's "method of immanence" and transcendental Thomism clearly belong to the same philosophical trend, the first analysing the "dynamism" of the will, the second that of the intellect The principal transcendental Thomists since Maréchal have been the Germans Rahner and Johannes Lotz, the Austrian Emerich Coreth, and the Canadian Bernard Lonergan.

62.  See "Transcendental Thomism, A Critical Study," in One Hundred Years of Thomism by Robert J. Henle SJ, Houston, Texas, Centre for Thomistic Studies, 1981. Early in the 20th century the American philosopher Josiah Royce had already foreseen "that a resurgent Thomism might give way to the Kantian legions and their demand that the epistemological issue be settled first, (that is before any other philosophical question could be debated) a fear later shared by Etienne Gilson." (See Jude P. Dougherty, Dean of Philosophy C. U. A., Washington, FCS Quarterly, Winter 1998.) In fact Gilson maintained in two books that once you adopt the Cartesian premise, there is no way of solving what came to be called le problème du pont, how to bridge the gap between the imprisoned Cartesian ego and the outside world. See, Réalisme méthodique, and Réalisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, Paris,Vrin, 1936 and 1939 (English trans. Methodical Realism, Christendom College,Va., 1990, and Thomas: Realism and the Critique of Knowledge, Ignatius Press, 1986).

Copyright © Philip Trower 2006, 2011


Version: 23rd May 2011



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