Sunday, June 10, 2007

A brief philosophical note

Over on Deep Furrows you could formerly read a post that was a cogent critique of Robert T. Miller's critique of Senator Sam Brownback's explanation of the relationship between faith and reason in a recent Republican presidential debate. I agree wholeheartedly that both Brownback and Miller hold views on faith and reason not consonant at all with Catholic tradition. I also agree with the assessment in the Furrows post as to how both these views diverge from tradition.

I want to briefly expand on the underlying reason for Miller's disconnect. It stems from Miller's use of the term warrant. In using this term he makes clear that he is taking his lead from Reformed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga's epistemology, which, if I may oversimplify a bit, replaces justified with warrant in the contemporary analytical understanding of knowledge as a justified, true, belief. In contemporary analytical philosophy this schema all comes to rest on what the responsible epistemic agent (you have to love analytical jargon) can count as knowledge what s/he can justify believing. The criteria for justification varies according to the theorist and theory. These criteria are constantly being critiqued and revised. Put in an overly simplified way, one can truly and sincerely believe almost anything. Proving something to be true gets into the realm of metaphysics and the whole issue of truth. So, merely believing something sets the bar too low and seeking to prove it to be true, sets the bar too high. So, that leaves us with what we can justify believing, which, according to the schema, leaves us short of knowledge. Nonetheless, Plantinga essentially holds just this as an epistemic principle, that what counts when it comes to beliefs is warrant, which does not differ all that much, at least for the non-specialist, from justification.
In essence, this schema falls prey to just what Miller succumbs to, namely that, in the end, faith and reason, in true Kierkegaardian fashion, are separate and wind up having little or nothing to do with each other and can never be fully reconciled. Kierkegaard is responsible for conceiving of faith as a leap, which appears in his work Fear and Trembling and, like most philosophical tenets, gets divorced from its context and lives to wreak havoc as a slogan, much like the conception of Hegel's dialectic as thesis/antithesis/synthesis. This is a very abbreviated account as to why I was attracted more to phenomenology, a Continental school of thought, that has at its core the breaking down of false and unnecessary distinctions and which led to some serious critiques of analytic, that is, empirical, and post-Kantian philosophy. Anyway, that Miller winds up where he does, with faith and reason in separate realms, is not surprising because of his reliance on Plantinga, who would be much more comfortable positing such a distinction.

However, such a gap, regardless as to how it is derived, is alien to Catholic thought and tradition, which holds out for the complementarity of faith and reason. This leaves the question, how do we overcome the gap between faith and reason? One would be hard pressed to find a more accessible, succinct, and accurate account of the Catholic understanding than the Holy Father's Regensburg speech of last September. The Deep Furrows post, at least the part to which I initially referred, due to Fred's graciousness, can be found below. I like it because it is a succinct and powerful account, which contains an excerpt from the Regensburg speech and from Don Giussani. Our beloevd Don Gius was a most profound and under appreciated Catholic thinker. He is under appreciated because, having forsaken an academic career, he dedicated himself to helping others turn the Gospel from theory into practice and teaching, not budding scholars, but those seeking to make sense of an encounter.

From Deep Furrows via La Nouvelle Theologie:

"At Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI called for a 'broadening of reason.' He noted in particular that:

«'Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept [by faith] the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.'»

"Pope Benedict criticizes especially the scientific restriction of reason to the empirical; Miller would broaden reason to include also argument, dialectic, philosophy; but reason is even broader than argument.

"What is faith?
'Faith is acknowledging a presence' (Giussani).

To recognize the presence of Jesus Christ is the foundation of being a Christian.

To recognize the presence of the natural world is the foundation of being a scientist.

What is reason?

'Reason is the capacity to be aware of reality according to the totality of its factors.' (Luigi Giussani, quoted by Msgr. Albacete in The Road of Reason.)"

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