Addenda

9 Jul

Skepticism and totalitarian drift

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/09/16

John Paul II on democracy’s need for truth

“Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person. It requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the ‘subjectivity’ of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility. Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and sceptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.”

—from John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1991)

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23 Jun

A liturgically ordered (and Christ-formed) cosmos

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/23/16

David L. Schindler on how the renewing of our minds requires the recognition of love in the order of Creation

“Jesus’ expression of ‘Abba’ is revelatory of his being. As Son, he receives all that he is from the Father. Prayer and obedience . . . thus express what is deepest in Jesus. These are not so much moral acts as the very form of his being. Hence we see the coincidence in Jesus of the Way and the Truth (‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ [Jn. 14:6]): the prayer and obedience of Jesus are not only his (subjective) way to the Father; they are the very (objective) truth or content of his relation to the Father. In sum, what Jesus, as the incarnate Word (hence from the Father, as the logos of his love), literally is, is the relation of love that is expressed exactly in prayer and obedience — in a word, service — to the Father.

“This relation of love which Jesus shares with the Father is not exclusive but opens onto the cosmos the Father has created in and with and through Jesus (‘That they all may be one, Father, even as you and I are one' [Jn. 17:21]). That is, all of creation is dynamically ordered from and toward the love revealed by God in Jesus Christ; and this means toward the prayer, obedience, and service to the Father which are incarnate in Jesus. This dynamic ordering is greatly weakened but not essentially destroyed by the sin of Adam. All created entities are thus understood most truly when and insofar as they are brought into this relation of prayer, obedience, and service to God in Christ: when and insofar as they are thereby taken up into a cosmic liturgy.

“Clearly prayer, obedience, and service assume their truest meaning when they are exercised by Christians. They are activities in any case that are ascribed most properly and directly to human beings, with their spiritual capacities of intelligence and freedom. Nevertheless — because everything, and not just man, is created in the Word (Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-17) — there is a truly analogous sense in which even nonhuman beings exercise these activities: that is, exhibit in the depths of their being the relational activities of obedience to and glorification of God.

“In a word, prayer and obedience are most properly Christian-anthropological activities, but they are activities that in some analogous sense have an ontological and cosmological meaning as well: when and insofar as we — correctly — understand being as gift, as created and renewed in and through the trinitarian love of God in Jesus Christ.

“Thus . . . giving glory to God is a comprehensive task for Christians, occupying not only all of their time but also all of their faculties, their mind as well as their will. Giving glory to God is a matter that pertains not only to time in the chapel or in private prayer, or to the good will necessary for using creatures properly. It is a matter also pertaining to ‘logos’ and thus to the inherent ‘logic’ of things. Only insofar as we recognize this can we begin to undertake with full seriousness the task of ‘finding God in all things.’”

—from David L. Schindler, “Sanctity and the Intellectual Life,” in Heart of the World, Center of the Church (Eerdmans, 1996)

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2 Jun

What is beyond our choosing?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/02/16

D. C. Schindler on our nihilistic quest for freedom

“Our current conception of freedom is deeply problematic. . . . On the one hand, there is a general recognition — regardless of where one falls in the political spectrum — of freedom as a great human good, something worth promoting and protecting even at the cost of sacrificing other goods; on the other hand, there has been an impoverishment of our understanding of the notion, so that freedom has come to represent little more in the popular imagination than the power to choose. What is problematic about this understanding is not simply that it fails to do justice to the reality that originally warranted recognition as a great human good. What we wish to suggest is that this reduction actively undermines the good-character of freedom. In other words, our claim is that there is something essentially self-destructive in the contemporary relationship to freedom; the nature of what we pursue erodes the very thing we wish to affirm and cultivate. The problem, in a nutshell, is that we think of freedom as an end but define it as a means, and so we treat a bonum utile [i.e., a useful good] as if it were a bonum honestum [i.e., an intrinsic good]. But this is not a mere problem of logic or classification. Instead, this confusion has far-reaching philosophical and cultural implications. To put the problem in its starkest terms, instrumental goods can only ever be good in a derivative sense; a means can be, not just an instrument, but an instrumental good, only through a relationship to an end to which it is subordinate. If we make a means an end in itself, we do two things at once: we both eliminate its goodness and we elevate its status; we transform the absence of goodness into a purpose. Inside of this confusion of ends and means is therefore what we could justifiably call a kind of nihilism. To the extent that we exclude those features of freedom that would qualify it as an and, and at the same time continue to promote it as such even in this reduced form, our notion of freedom becomes a source of nihilism.”

D. C. Shindler, The Perfection of Freedom: Schiller, Schelling, and Hegel between the Ancients and the Moderns (Cascade Books, 2012)

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2 Jun

How radical is our individualism?

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/02/16

Michael Martin on the late medieval origins of our current confusion

“Indebted to Plato and his Christian Neoplatonist interpreters, realism affirms the existence of universals: abstract, general concepts possessing objective reality anterior to particulars. For realism, universals, that is, are real things (res). The ideas of ‘woman’ and ‘man,’ for instance, precede and inform the actualities of particular women and men. Medieval nominalism, on the other hand, held that only particular things are real and that what the realists called ‘universals’ are only names (nomina), possibly useful for categorization (conceptualism), but devoid of any kind of reality in themselves. In a famous example, Roscelin (1050-1125) held that the idea of the Trinity is, in fact, only a concept that only the Divine Persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — can claim reality. . . .

“Two centuries after Roscelin, the nominalist William of Occam (c. 1287-1347) divided reality into two categories: 1) that which we can know through intentionality (observation and experience); and 2) that which we can know by faith. Nominalism, that is, separated knowledge from wisdom and effectively divorced philosophy from theology. It placed most of what had been traditional metaphysics under the sphere of faith and claimed logic and analysis as the tools of the philosopher. Thus, at least at a conceptual level, the microcosm of the mind (or the soul) had been cut off from an integral, cosmological, and spiritual reality, at least as far as medieval epistemology was concerned. . . .

“Our current, postmodern moment — materialistic, technological, technocratic, atheistic — exemplifies a nominalism writ large. Here there are no universals. There are no ideas, no archetypes. Only names. ‘Marriage,’ for instance, no longer embeds universal cultural archetypes of ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ . . . Marriage, previously assumed as the union of a man and woman into organic whole, has been relativized beyond the point of recognition. A collateral ontological shift has also occurred in the postmodern understanding of the word ‘family.’ Perhaps most emblematic of this shift is the new conceptualization of the term ‘gender,’ which, tellingly, has proved the most plastic of all. Does not the notion of elective gender reassignment surgery, like nominalism, assert in the clearest terms that universals do not exist?”

—from Michael Martin, The Submerged Reality: Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics (Angelico Press, 2015)

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16 May

Love and truth precede justice

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 05/16/16

James Matthew Wilson on Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate

“If men are frequently tempted to see life as open possibility (unconstrained by natural laws including those of human nature) and so subject to whatever their independent geniuses may devise, Benedict [XVI, in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate] corrects this sinful presumption of self-fashioning with a confession more true and earnest. Existence is chiefly informed not by necessity or natural fixed laws demonstrable to the natural reason any more than it is founded on the laws of justice. Rather, everything comes to us — we come to ourselves — in the mystery of the gratuitous. This deprives neither the laws of nature nor those of justice of their metaphysical foundations; it simply resituates those foundations — or rather the foundation of Being — as pure gift upon which we can make no prior claim of necessity, as if something could be owed to a being who did not exist at all until given the gift of his own created being. 

“[In the 1960s,] Paul VI had worried that the vast structures of international development would become so fixated upon the easing of the physical human estate through rationalistic and technocratic means that the transcendent destiny of the human person would be forgotten, and the cultural and religious institutions necessary for that destiny to be realized would be neglected or excluded. [His 1967 encyclical] Populorum Progressio . . . is partly an admonishment against such forgetting, which would result only in an incomplete or half-built humanism. On this scheme, such incomplete ‘secular’ human development may hypothetically be legitimate but inadequate.

“Benedict renders this hypothesis absurd. Human nature must, of course, be understood in terms of man’s telos for eternal life in God, but even his present personhood, his dignity and nature now, as experienced immanently, is informed by his status as created by God as the imago Dei. And thus, justice is preceded by charity, but charity must in turn be preceded by, or identical with, truth. As such there can be no ‘incomplete’ humanism or human development; unless we have a clear knowledge of the truth of the human person’s transcendent dimension (which includes but is not limited to his supernatural destiny), we cannot possibly know what is good for him, what is in keeping with his dignity, and what will allow him to become more fully himself. Benedict argues that only 

in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived.  Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. The light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion.

“Modern liberal society generally presumes there are necessities — such as food, housing, and perhaps political participation and other ‘rights’ — that are owed to human life as a matter of justice, but that society does not have to possess a shared conception of what is true and good for it to reach a consensus on these necessities. Justice and rights, ostensibly, float free of questions of truth and goodness. It claims, in other words, that one’s ‘opinions’ on truth and goodness are essentially private ‘values’ and can be relegated to the private realm; what is of immediate public concern are only those ‘matters of fact’ required in justice for the sustaining of human life in conditions of relative equality. Clearly, Paul’s notion of integral humanism was reconcilable with this model: it was as if he simply wished to assert that those questions of truth and goodness — man’s supernatural destiny — must not be pushed to the private sphere but must be included in the public realm of necessity and justice. If the knowledge of faith was thus permitted a place in the public realm, liberal society could be deemed an unmixed good. Here, however, Benedict throws at the feet of the modern world a more troubling premise. Truth is either prior to or identical with charity, and both are prior to justice: we therefore cannot do what is right if we do not know what is true; we cannot act pragmatically in charity without a sense of the Truth that is gift and reveals man to himself in the face of his creator. We cannot be kind without being wise; we cannot be rational without turning, in some sense, first to the Logos revealed by faith.”

—from James Matthew Wilson, “Gratuitous Foundations: Benedict XVI’s Humanism of the Gift, Part II,” Front Porch Republic, April 19, 2010

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