Monday, August 26, 2013

Walker Percy's Twentieth-Century Thomism Part 3

"Cartesian Versus Thomistic Science"

Percy often  refers negatively to Cartesian science in his works. He faults him for dividing the body and soul. Lawler states that to Percy, "The Cartesian scientist views himself, unrealistically, as alone by missing the social fact of science's origination in language. Consciousness, Percy remembers, means to 'know with,' and the isolated individual Descartes describes could not really be conscious" (88).

Lawler notes, "The Thomistic scientist accepts the fact of human distinctness or alienation" and thinks science provides the foundation for this distinctiveness in language. Science means the ability to know and communicate this knowledge to others.

The Thomistic scientist accepts the fact that the Christian faith is compatible with scientific knowledge. Lawler states that the "Biblical revelation" provides reasons why the human being is unique. Lawler notes: "Human beings are sinful creatures uniquely born to trouble" (90). Percy often refers to the scripture in Job which says that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Lawler continues: "But they also have infinite longing or love that points beyond all human experience. They are pilgrims or wayfarers in the cosmos, on their way to their true home elsewhere" (90). C. S. Lewis also spoke of this infinite longing. He said it was something that could not be satisfied by anything is this world. Saint Augustine said this longing can only be met by God. Pascal said that we have a hole in our heart that only God can fill.

Percy thinks that "Life is a mystery, love is delight," and neither of these can be explained by a deterministic science. He believes the "true end for human longing" is 'infinite mystery and infinite delight, God." Percy believes that faith is not a leap, but a form of knowledge. Percy says it "is an assent which includes cognition. . . . The Gospel is the knowledge that humanity truly longs for and needs to have" (90).

Percy thought the Bible's teaching on human distinctiveness allows one to be "ambiguously at home" or "at home with his homelessness." Lawler notes that this teaching helps the human creature "to both acknowledge and accept the limitations of one's 'creatureliness,' and so to really see and love other troubled, incarnated selves and to enjoy the natural pleasures of human life with less anxiety and diversion" (90).

Percy in much of his writing distinguishes between news and knowledge. Knowledge or science are "general truths which can be arrived at by anyone, anywhere and at any time" (90). News is Biblical revelation as presented in Christianity and Judaism which relates a singular event, like the "Jewish covenant" or the "incarnation". This news is brought by a messenger or newsbearer. This is most clearly seen in Percy's "Messenger in the Bottle."

Percy accepts the view that "Both art and science are ways of knowing and as such are the greatest pleasures of which man is capable (Aristotle, Aquinas) " (91). The problem is that "those pleasures are" 'So great, in fact, that the ordinary pursuits of life are spoiled by contrasts'. Percy speaks of this in Lost of Cosmos. It is the problem of transcendence. How does one reenter ordinary life after this experience?

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