Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why Learn?

The New Classical Schooling by Peter Leithart, by way of Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

It speaks of the American tendency to see education in pragmatic terms. Which started me wondering: Is there such a thing as religious pragmatism, or are the terms mutually exclusive?

The reason I'm wondering is that if the most important thing (undoubtedly) is to save one's soul and that of other others, then what place does arduous, extensive, painstaking intellectual education have? If "servile" work (ie work to make a living or to make the home or other peoples' lives better, etc) is honorable, as it undoubtedly is, then again, why not just go for that?

Or more subtly, why not "start from above" in one's reasoning process? -- move from conclusion to premises?

I don't precisely have an answer for my questions -- so I will have to leave it there, since I tried to go into more detail and only got myself in a muddle.

My tentative answers would be:

For the first question, that the Church has always valued knowledge, particularly liberal (formative) knowledge. Partly for apostolic reasons and partly because knowledge in itself is good and because of our material nature, higher knowledge (knowledge about principles and first causes) has to derive from lower knowledge (which is built on sensory experience and memory -- more on that some other time).

The second question seems easier to answer -- skeptics often think that believers start from above and work towards the premises, but in fact, the Church has always made a distinction between the two ways of knowing, holding them as separate while calling them complementary and beneficial to each other. Not all believers can keep it so unmuddled, but in this context, of course, skeptics are believers in a sense that they hold certain unverified assumptions, and they tend to miss this very fundamental distinction and blur their methodology as a result.

So, a few quotes as placeholders for now:

from Fides et Ratio

The Magisterium's pronouncements have been concerned less with individual philosophical theses than with the need for rational and hence ultimately philosophical knowledge for the understanding of faith. In synthesizing and solemnly reaffirming the teachings constantly proposed to the faithful by the ordinary Papal Magisterium, the First Vatican Council showed how inseparable and at the same time how distinct were faith and reason, Revelation and natural knowledge of God. The Council began with the basic criterion, presupposed by Revelation itself, of the natural knowability of the existence of God, the beginning and end of all things,(63) and concluded with the solemn assertion quoted earlier: “There are two orders of knowledge, distinct not only in their point of departure, but also in their object”.(64) Against all forms of rationalism, then, there was a need to affirm the distinction between the mysteries of faith and the findings of philosophy, and the transcendence and precedence of the mysteries of faith over the findings of philosophy. Against the temptations of fideism, however, it was necessary to stress the unity of truth and thus the positive contribution which rational knowledge can and must make to faith's knowledge: “Even if faith is superior to reason there can never be a true divergence between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals the mysteries and bestows the gift of faith has also placed in the human spirit the light of reason. This God could not deny himself, nor could the truth ever contradict the truth”.(65)

He mentions the Vatican 1 document which says in part:

1. The perpetual agreement of the Catholic Church has maintained and maintains this too: that there is a twofold order of knowledge, distinct not only as regards its source, but also as regards its object.

2. With regard to the source, we know at the one level by natural reason, at the other level by divine faith.....

4. Now reason, does indeed when it seeks persistently, piously and soberly, achieve by God's gift some understanding, and that most profitable, of the mysteries, whether by analogy from what it knows naturally, or from the connection of these mysteries with one another and with the final end of humanity; but reason is never rendered capable of penetrating these mysteries in the way in which it penetrates those truths which form its proper object.

For the divine mysteries, by their very nature, so far surpass the created understanding that, even when a revelation has been given and accepted by faith, they remain covered by the veil of that same faith and wrapped, as it were, in a certain obscurity, as long as in this mortal life we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, and not by sight [33].

5. Even though faith is above reason, there can never be any real disagreement between faith and reason, since it is the same God who reveals the mysteries and infuses faith, and who has endowed the human mind with the light of reason.

And finally, an interesting article by a Benedictine Love and Knowledge

The Catholic intellectual tradition is a way of thinking about God, humans, and the world in which love rather than methodical questioning is the primary motive force in drawing the thinker to discover the truth that makes all things work together for good. Just as the individual thinker has both a mind and a body in a fruitful, yet tensive interplay, so also Catholic community is a body with diverse members that complement and challenge one another. The bias in the Catholic intellectual tradition is toward wholistic thinking where unity does not equal uniformity. Questioning and debate has been part of the Catholic tradition from the beginning and is an integral part of its dynamic of "love seeking understanding." The truths discovered by other cultures and by science, art, and other disciplines of the academy are prized by the Catholic tradition. Yet those within the Catholic intellectual tradition are convinced that faith, hope, and love in the mystery of Christ enhance our understanding of ourselves and the world rather than blind us to a deeper truth.

1 comment:

  1. Very thought provoking, I've often had these thoughts too. Now I'll be thinking all day:)


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