Thursday, June 29, 2017

Catholicism and Intelligence

James V. Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, Emmaus Road, 2017, ISBN 9781945125287, 165.

Catholicism and Intelligence by Fr. James V. Schall is a collection of essays that shows the relationship between Catholicism and intelligence. Some might even think there is not a relationship between Catholicism and intelligence. Schall would argue otherwise. Schall is a modern-day Chesterton who speaks truth to the heart. He agrees with St. Thomas Aquinas that the "greatest service we can offer our neighbor is to know the truth, to speak the truth" (xvii). This book is based on two premises: "First, what is peculiar or distinct about Catholicism is this: what the faith holds is intrinsically intelligible even if not always understood by given persons. And second, intelligence has its own structure or form that is rooted in the principle of non-contradiction--'Nothing can be and not be at the same time in the same way.' 'Intelligences' or understandings that maintain that everything is true even if contradictory cannot stand" (xviii). Schall emphasizes in all his books the truth of what is. He has claimed many times in his writings that Catholicism is a religion of intelligence. It respects the truth and what we can know by our mind. It believes faith and intelligence are compatible with each other. If you like other Schall books, you will like this one.

Schall says that "the essence of all ideology is that, at some point in explication, it does not conform to the way things are" (64). It is through intelligence that we make sense of the world. In chapter one, Schall asks the question, Why do I exist? This is an important question that needs to be asked by everyone. He criticizes Descartes idea that we have to go through a tortuous exercise to prove that we exist. Schall states, "That each of us exists and know that he exists need not be proved from something more clear. Nothing is clear" (2). One can always rely on the fact that Schall will speak sense. From Descartes, Schall goes on to discuss many issues. In answering the question why we exist, the reader needs to consider the fact "that a universe, with actual rational beings in it, has a source" (12). Schall believes that we exist to "participate in eternal life, that is in the inner life of God as it is made known to us" (14). There are some things we cannot know without revelation. It takes both reason and revelation to know why we exist.

Chesterton believes that what Chesterton saw 100 years ago has come True. He notes, "Catholicism almost alone defends reason that is based on the integrity of the mind related to what is" (50). To deny revelation is to "make us less capable of knowing and see what is. It takes both revelation and reason to know what is. It is wrong to think either is sufficient by itself. Schall states, "Of these curious things that we cannot figure out by ourselves, revelation sheds light on our minds" (58).

In his essay, "On What Replaces Christianity," Schall thinks the central idea is that "man can save himself." He needs no other Savior. Nothing is wrong with him that he cannot fix by himself. In addition, he does not have a "transcendent destiny." Life in this world is all that exists. Schall argues, "Without a theory or reality in which each human being has a transcendent origin and destiny, the whole record of mankind on this planet seems to mean nothing ..."(74).

Another good essay is "On the Openness to the Whole of Reality." Philosophy was meant to be open to all that is. "Knowledge is not to be reduced to what could be established by this or that method" (81). This is what is called reductionism. Reality is much bigger than our methods for acquiring truth. Every method is limited. Aquinas argued, "nothing we come across in reality, including revelation, can be excluded from our consideration on the grounds that the truth of what is does not arise from human reason alone" (81). Revelation is not closed, but open to reason. Revelation, actually, speaks to reason. Schall notes, "Revelation was itself addressed to reason. Through reason, revelation is addressed to the whole man. Thus, revelation was not conceived to be irrational. In seeking to understand the meaning of revelation, reason in fact became more, not less, reasonable" (85). There are other excellent essays contained in this book. Fr. Schall once again gives us much to chew on.

Authenticity as Self-Transcendence

Authenticity As Self-Transcendence: The Enduring Insights of Bernard Lonergan
By Michael H. McCarthy, Notre Dame, IN.: University of Notre Dame, 2015, 435 pp., ISBN 978-0-268-03537-2, $49.00.

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World  86 (4) June 2016

Bernard Lonergan is considered one of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century. He is little known, however, except in certain circles. McCarthy, professor emeritus of philosophy at Vassar College, studied his work, Insight, as a doctoral student in the 1960s and continued to study him as a professor of philosophy. McCarthy thinks the ideas of Lonergan effectively addresses the cultural crisis of modern times. McCarthy notes, “Despite our highly specialized knowledge of human nature and history, we are no longer confident, as a society and culture, that our most important factual and evaluative judgments are objectively true” (ix). Lonergan spent his life studying this cultural crises and the tradition of philosophical and theological Christianity to provide answers to this crisis. Longergan shows how to “meet the cultural challenges of the modern age while remaining faithful” (xi) to the Christian tradition.
            Authenticity as Transcendence is divided into four chapters.Chapter one orients the reader to Lonergan’s project and how the appropriation of both the old and new can provide direction for solving the cultural crisis of our time. Chapter two describes Lonergan’s philosophical anthropology and how it can address the problems created by influential thinkers: Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Neitzche, and others. Lonergan analyzed human subjectivity to show how authenticity as self-transcendence could be defended. In chapter three he shows how modern secularism developed comparing the ideas of Charles Taylor with Bernard Lonergan, In the last chapter he analyzes the discoveries of Lonergan to address the modern predicament.

Authenticity is a good introduction to the “enduring insights” of Bernard Lonergan. Even a reader unfamiliar with Lonergan will come away from the book with a general knowledge of the important ideas of Lonergan and the modern cultural crisis. Hopefully, the book will make Lonergan more widely known.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

How to Become Educated

How to Become Educated by Mortimer Adler, July 1979.

I caught Mortimer Adler's vision on becoming an educated early on in my college career. I have continued to pursue that vision for the last thirty years. I recently read a lecture Adler gave right before his seventy-seventh birthday. In this speech, he tells us how we can become an educated human being.

Young people seldom ask what is required to become educated. Adler believes this is a question people tend to ask in the later years. I began to ask this question while I was a college student. Adler believes we can only become educated in our later years. In our schooling, we can acquire the tools to become educated, but it does not occur in the schooling for young people.

Adler asserted that he did not regard himself as educated till he was in his fifties. He says that he was not educated even when he received his Ph.D. I remember another article I read by Adler stated that college graduation is just the beginning of learning. Most of what we learn in school we will not remember; but if we acquired the skills of the liberal arts--"the skills of reading and writing, of talking and listening, of asking questions and seeking answers to them, of defending what I thought was true and arguing against what I thought was false"--we can go on learning the rest of our lives and during the later years of our life we will become an educated human being. In addition, our schooling should have introduced us to the world of learning.

Most important, our schooling schooling should open up books to us. It should introduce us to the great authors, books, and ideas. The books need to be over our heads if we are going to grow intellectually. We will not really understand them while in school, but later on as we read them again and again, the light will come on. The skills of learning we acquired in our schooling we need to improve by continual use.

Adler states that the understanding he has acquired over the years came "slowly with the years and with the accumulation of challenging experiences that demanded reflective thought." Most of it came from his thinking and learning, by himself or through reading books, through the conversations he had with others about books, and through travel. He discovered that the process to become educated is a life-long process.

Adler gives some recommendations on becoming educated.
First, he provides a list of books that should be reread many times: The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides; some of the shorter dialogues by Plato (Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Protagoras, Symposium); Aristotle's Ethics and Politics; Plutarch's Lives; Augustine's Confessions; Dante's Divine Comedy; Montaigne's Essays; Four Shakespeare plays (Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, and Othello); Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government; Swift's Gulliver Travels; John Stuart Mill's essay on Liberty, his essay on Representative Government; The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay; and Tolstoy's War and Peace.

His second recommendation is not to read these books once, but many times. He suggest to read actively with pencil in hand. You need to have a conversation with the author, marking the text as needed. In addition, you need to read them and discuss them with others.

He gives a brief list of ideas that need to be understood: Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Liberty, Equality, Justice, Law, Constitution, Government, Democracy, Man, God, Nature, World, Love, Virtue, and Happiness.

If we persistently pursue these recommendations, we will one day be an educated human being.