Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Faith and Reason/Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis/Logical(Scientific) Positivism/Ludwig Wittgenstein and Joseph Ratzinger

Building on the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, looking at how this plays out even among religious non-Christian peoples, let us revisit the Holy Father's Regensburg lecture, which is now available, with promised footnotes, at the website of the Holy See. The Enlightenment heritage of the West, according to Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg, has given "rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised." The issue raised in the lecture, as we all know by now, is the proper relationship between faith and reason and the necessity of both in the discernment of the truth. The first principle, according to Ratzinger, is that "only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific." Therefore, anything "that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion." Resulting from the belief that what can be known with any degree of certainty must be mathematically or empirically demonstrable has led the "human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy [to] attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity." The second principle "is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned."

W(ittgenstein), back in the late 1920s, issued a devastating critique of this mathematical/empirical principle at which Pope Benedict also takes aim. His critique of this principle arose from his involvement with certain members of the Vienna Circle of logical postivists. Logical positivism is characterized by a so-called scientific world-conception, which has two essential features: "First, it is empiricist and positivist: there is knowledge only from experience." The second feature that marks the scientific world-conception is "the application of a certain method, namely logical [or mathematical]." (in The Legacy of the Vienna Circle: Modern Appraisals by Sarkar and Sahotra, 1996, p. 331). In other words, according to this view, whatever is proposed for belief and justifiably believed must be verified, or, at least, in principle be verifiable (and later, thanks to Popper, also, in principle, falsifiable), either empirically (i.e., through observation), or demonstration by mathematical and/or logical methods (Click here for some background on W).

W's critique consisted of asking, Is the verifiability principle, itself, verifiable? Is the principle that anything that counts as knowledge has to empirically or logically verified, verifiable empirically, logically, or mathematically? For that matter, is it falsifiable by any of these methods? If not, from whence does this criterion derive? It seems that insistence on verifiability and falsifiability is a metaphysical concept. Since it is the whole point of logical positivism to reject metaphysically derived concepts, this critique is difficult, if not impossible to overcome. His Holiness, in his Regensburg lecture, makes the same point.

Making this point about how knowledge is restricted and reduced by the principles of verifiability and falsifiability, constitutes the heart of the Holy Father's critique of the West, which is the main target of his Regensburg lecture, NOT ISLAM. This point got lost in all the hubub over his beginning the lecture by quoting Manuel II Paleologus. What is it that makes this point such a crucial one? Let us turn back to Pope Ratzinger for our answer: "And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly." His intention "is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith."

We have not yet arrived at what the Holy Father tries to convey. The point at which he brings the lecture together, linking his critique of the hyper-rationality of the West with the fundamentalistic fideism currently so prevalent in Islam and much of the rest of the developing world, with the former contributing, as a cause, to the latter. It is true that most of the world's 6 billion+ people are religious, even deeply religious. Their cultures and societies derive from their religions. They see the West, quite rightly, as a threat to their ways of life. Therefore, the Holy Father asserts that it is only by overcoming "the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable" that "we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."

No comments:

Post a Comment