The Epistemology of the Work of Karol Wojtyla in view of the Theology of the Body (TOB): 9/10/04
Wojtyla is Charged With Subjectivism (concretely that of Kant): e-mail exchange.
Protagonist 1: “The reason that sexual ethics is the key area of moral disagreement between the Catholic religion and secularism is that Catholic moral theology is essentially Aristotelian - meaning that it's foundational moral concept is that human nature is rationally well-adapted for some activities and not others, which such activities constitute the natural end of man, rightness and wrongness in morality deriving from whether the action in question is compatible with this end. Secularism is essentially anti-Aristotelian; it's usually either Kantian or utilitarianism (not, as so many good Catholics think, subjectivist). The reason that the Church, for so long, had little to say in the debate on sexual ethics is that most theologians, especially since the Council, themselves ceased to be Aristotelians in ethics. Hence, they lacked the necessary concepts to articulate the reasons underlying their own position. This is the primary reason that so much Catholic sexual doctrine degenerated into bare claims about "God's will” and "God's law" etc. concerning sexuality. Such moral theologizing, I point out, is at home in Lutheranism or other forms of Protestantism,not Catholic moral theology.
I happen to think that Kantian and utilitarian thought really is fundamentally subjective. The reason is, as Gilson argues, that they make basically arbitrary initial presumptions. Certainly, once those presumptions are made, they appear to proceed rationally and not subjectively, but it's absolutely necessary to get at the root of the problem. A good example of this is in the writer's comments about the loss of aristotelianism. I think that what led to the loss of Aristotelian ethics was the earlier loss of Thomistic metaphysics. The loss of that solid foundation is what led to the inability to articulate moral philosophy. The writer is absolutely correct about the compatibility of ‘God’s will' ethics with Lutheranism--as well as with Islamic 'ethics'.
Augustinian thought, esp. in the late medieval thought of Scotus and Ockham certainly led the way to this type of subjective voluntarism. See what I mean? 'God's will' ethics is technically termed 'voluntarism,' but it went hand in hand with the Nominalism of the late medieval Augustinians--and that was a subjectivism. in fact, the whole point of 'divine illumination' in Augustinian thought is to cancel out the subjectivism at its heart, but that in turn leads to voluntarism in ethics. Read Pieper, Knowles and Gilson on this connection. Tell me if I haven't been clear, because this is absolutely fundamental.]
3. The Pope's theology of the body, beneficial as it has been for so many, makes no serious attempt to recover the essential Aristotelianism of Catholic moral theology. There are elements of Aristotelianism, as when some kinds of relationships or actions are praised as comporting with "the dignity of the human person" etc., but this is more a gesture in the direction of Aristotelianism than true Aristotelianism. In fact, the dignity of man is founded on the fact that the true final end for man is the contemplation of God; the concept that does all the philosophical work here is "final end" part, not the "dignity" part, and the JP2 generally elides over this in favor of an unexplicated concept of "dignity" or "the human person" (or both together).
4. Worse, some times John Paul actually appropriates
foundational concepts from Kantianism and uses these to explicate the
theology of the body. This is especially clear in his use of the
principle "Treat a person always as an end, never solely as a means,"
which is Kant's fourth formulation of the Categorical Imperative
verbatim. (The same idea is at work in language about not treating a person "as a thing" or "as an object.") The problem here is that, if JP2 means what Kant meant, then the principle he is quoting will certainly not do the work he wants it to do; if it did, secular Kantians, instead of being his primary philosophical opponents, would already agree with him on sexual ethics. Hence, in using this language, JP2 is essentially changing its meaning, but he never gives an intelligible account of what the new meaning is. It is possible, I believe, to translate everything JP2 says back into Aristotelian terms - if, that is, one already knows what the Aristotelian would say, but the modern secularist or average Catholic does not know this, and so is left with something that has no definite meaning at all.
5. Something similar could be said about JP2's language of "self-giving" or "making a gift of one's self." I can translate this kind of metaphor (note, as many do not, that it is a metaphor; you don't really give yourself, if only because you don't own yourself) into Aristotelian terms, but the average person, innocent of meta-ethics, cannot make this kind of translation and so has only a metaphor and not an intelligible doctrine. Perhaps this kind of thing would be excusable in popular catechesis (though I doubt it), but it's really very unhelpful in what purports to be a deep book of theology, like JP2's theology of the body volume.
6. Finally, I object to the term "theology of the body." The implication is that there is a special division of theology that accounts for the Church's moral doctrines about sex. This is not correct. There is one moral theology, based on the final end of man, and this one moral theology is an integrated whole explaining the whole of morality, from norms about stealing to norms about fornication to norms about war. (This fragmentation of moral theology can also be seen in the Church's post-conciliar discovery of "social justice," a kind of justice unknown to Thomas Aquinas and Alphonsus Liguori and not clearly reducible to any of the Aristotelian foundations of Catholic moral theology.) Worse, the "theology of the body" is generally presented as a commentary on Genesis 2, which makes the whole moral doctrine appear to depend on revelation, when, in fact, the moral norms at issue are part of natural morality done in philosophy, not revealed moral theology.
7. So, take the theology of the body for what it's worth, which is not negligible, but it's a terrible shame, and huge missed opportunity, that talk about the theology of body will effectively preempt any real progress in moral discourse that the Church might have been able to make by rearticulating the Aristotelian meta-ethics that in fact underlies its moral teachings.
* * * * * *
Protagonist 1: “It is not that I object to some particular sentence in TOB; I object to every sentence of TOB-at least all those that presuppose non-virtue-theoretic moral concepts.”
“In a word, where the Christian tradition has from the beginning been virtue-theoretic and has developed a rational account of its presuppositions in virtue-theoretic moral philosophy, the theology of the body is an incoherent mélange of virtue-theoretic moral concepts from the Gospel and non-virtue-theoretic moral and meta-ethical concepts from certain modern philosophers that are, in fact, not logically compatible with the Gospel's teaching. The result is that the theology of the body is not only incoherent but risks perverting the meaning of the Gospel by reinterpreting the Gospel's virtue-theoretic moral system in terms of a non-virtue-theoretic meta-ethics.”
Response of respondent: “But people seem greatly helped.”
Protagonist 1:Answer: First, I venture to say that most devotees of the theology of the body are people who would accept the Church's teachings on sexuality regardless of how they were presented. Let us remember that those teachings are true, that the human mind has a natural orientation to truth, and that, when God opens a person's heart to the truth through grace, that person will believe. In other words, when people accept the theology of the body, is this because the moral teaching of the Gospel contained therein is true, or is it because they respond to the Kantian and personalistic rhetoric? I'm inclined to think it is generally the former, and so I don't credit the theology of the body but the grace of God.
Second, the revival of chastity among young people is not a purely Catholic phenomenon. In fact, Evangelical Protestants probably have more success keeping young people chaste than we Catholics do, and the Evangelicals manage this feat relying on the Scriptures alone and not the theology of the body. This suggests that it is the inherent truth of the Gospel, not the theology of the body, that is at work in the world. There are sociological factors at work too, as when children who have experienced the deleterious consequences of their parents' divorces and extra-marital sexual adventures resolve not to emulate them. In any event, it is quite unclear whether we should attribute improving levels of chastity, to the limited extent that there be such, primarily to the theology of the body.
Third, although X is very impressed with theology of the body discussion groups and the like, I am not, for the simple reason that the persons who attend such things are a self-selecting group. It's not at all surprising that they react enthusiastically to what they hear. The same happens at LaRouche for President meetings; it doesn't follow that the message being preached has mass appeal.
Fourth, the mere fact that it is the pope preaching the theology of the body ensures that it will have some measure of success. The personal prestige of the pope-especially this pope-is such that if tomorrow he gave us a theology of reinforced concrete, there would people willing to attend a discussion group about it. From such enthusiasm we are entitled to conclude nothing about the inherent appeal of the message.
Finally, as to my "lip service" on the theology of the body being wonderful, I'm happy to retract it. I included it in an attempt to avoid offending certain parties, who seem to have taken offense nonetheless. I don't really think the theology of the body is wonderful. I think it's philosophically confused and, because of its superficial appeal, quite dangerous in the long run because it smuggles Kantianism and other non-Christian concepts into the Gospel, thus perverting the meaning of the Gospel. And, while we're at it, contrary to X's interpretation, I do say that the pope is, albeit unwittingly, asserting falsehoods, at least insofar as definite content can be assigned to certain of his assertions. In my original email, I was trying to be polite about this, but now I'm aiming merely at clarity, so I say it openly.”
Protagonist 1: "I reject the conceptual foundations of the system and thus all of the sentences formulated in it. This is a much more radical kind of disagreement than merely picking out a sentence that I think is false and X thinks is true. It's like the clash between general relativity and Newtonian mechanics. When Einstein replaced Newton, all of the sentences of Newtonian mechanics fell at once because the foundational concepts of the system were rejected wholesale. Such is my objection to TOB.
Yes, there is a lot of truth in TOB, just as there was a lot of truth in Newtonian mechanics-but in exactly the same sense. Newton's laws of motion are, strictly speaking, false, but they are nevertheless close approximations to equations of general relativity as applied to bodies of medium mass moving at normal velocities; so too all of the sentences of TOB using Kantian concepts are, strictly speaking, false, but they have approximate translations in virtue theory that have mostly (but not identically) the same consequences.
Insert: What is “virtue-theoretic morality”?
Answer of Protagonist 2, agreeing with Protagonist 1:
“"Aquinas and...Aristotle agree that morality is
measured by a natural end for man based on man's human nature..." because
that also places virtue theory within what is broadly referred to as
philosophical realism: they hold that through reason we can arrive at an
understanding of human nature that is sufficient for the articulation of a
moral philosophy. This is in stark contrast to modern philosophers who
frequently maintain either that we cannot know what human nature is or even
that that there is no such thing as human nature--man makes himself to be
what he wills to be.”
The Root of Modern Thought:
Positive: the recovery of the subject, the “I.”
Negative: In the recovery, the “I” is “disengaged” from reality: I am consciousness perched outside of the context of the world. I, the subject, make everything to be object, and reduce it to impersonal mechanism. Everything is “nothing but…”
Descartes is obsessed with certitude, not truth. Truth can be conceptually messy and obscure. The method is everything in the attempt to control reality in order to get the clear and distinct idea, and hence, certitude.
“The mistake of obscure and confused thought is to see these [secondary properties and bodily sensations] as `in’ the bodies concerned. The normal, unreflecting person thinks of colour or sweetness as being in the dress or the candy; places the pain in the tooth, the tingling in the foot. The real ontological locus of all these, Descartes asserts, is in the mind. They are all ideas that are, indeed, brought about by certain properties of dress, candy, tooth, foot, but their place is in the mind. In this, they are like the ideas of primary qualities – figure, number, size. But unlike these, they fail to represent anything in the object. The body isn’t red in the way it is square.
To see things this way is to have a clear and distinct understanding of them. But this involves withdrawing from our normal way of being in the world. As we live normally through them, our experiences of the red dress or of a toothache are the ways in which these object as there for us. The red dress is present for me, through my seeing it; the tooth insistently clamours that it is in pain. I attend to the object through the experience… What Descartes calls on us to do is to stop living `in’ or `through’ the experience, to treat it itself as an object, or what is the same thing, as an experience that could just as well have been someone else’s. In doing this, I suspend the `intentional’ dimension of the experience, that is, what makes it the experience of something. I take note, of course, that this experience makes a claim to be of something, or that it inescapably suggests to us its (supposed) intentional object. But I treat it on all fours with quite non-intentional experiences like inner sensations; and as in the case of these, I relate it no longer to a putative object but to an external cause. In objectifying the experience, I no longer accept it as what sets my norm for what it is to have knowledge of these properties.
Of course, this withdrawn stance, although it can certainly alter our way of experiencing things, is not simply another way of experiencing them. There is a confusion about this in the whole Cartesian-empiricist tradition. Descartes and his empiricist successors sometimes talk as though the focus on `immediate’ experience were brought about through a more exact awareness of our actual first-person experience. But there is no way I can experience my toothache as a mere idea in the mind, caused by decay in the tooth, sending signals up the nerves to the brain (or through the animal sprits to the pineal gland). And since the very nature of disengagement is to withdraw from the ordinary first-person experience, it would be surprising if I could. Disengagement involves our going outside the first-person stance and taking on board some theory, or at least some supposition, about how things work. This is what Descartes does in this case, when he supposes that pains and observed secondary qualities are ideas in the mind which are caused by various (primary) properties of the organ or object. Once we disengage and no longer live in our experience, then some supposition has to involved to take up the interpretive slack, to supply an account in the place of the one we are forgoing. For Descartes and his empiricist successors, the suppositions are (naturally) mechanistic…
The point of the whole operation is to gain a kind of control. Instead of being swept along to error by the ordinary bent of our experience, we stand back from it, withdraw from it, reconstrue it objectively, and then learn to draw defensible conclusions from it.
And so, rationality for the clear and distinct idea means disengagement from the experience of common sense reality (being as sensed). This produces an objectification – mechanics.
“Perhaps you find Aunt Mabel’s sense of humour irritating. It seems strained and pushy, calculated to take over the grab attention. But you tell yourself that you’re overreacting. It’s just something about you, which makes you react like this to a perfectly normal way of being. You try to strangle the reaction by treating it as just a reaction, `not a valid perception of annoying features. We do something similar when we decide that we oughtn’t to feel guilty for something we do or feel and treat the spasms like some irrational holdover from our childhood training. Disengagement and what we might call engaged exploration are two quite different things” (From Charles Taylor's "Sources of the Self").
Immanuel Kant was in a direct line of this Cartesian disengagement, and therefore the repudiation of experience of the self in the moral act.
Wojtyla: “Kant believes that empirical knowledge provides us with only a chaos of impressions, whereas it gives us no basis for such concepts as substance or cause. These are, in Kant’s opinion, categories that derive solely from reason, and so they are completely a priori. Reason… makes use of such categories so as to introduce the order it needs into the chaos of the impressions derived from experience. Consequently, science – certain knowledge – is not based on experience but only on sensory or rational a priori forms. We cannot, however, base metaphysics on these forms because metaphysics does not refer to experience, and so metaphysics is not a science.”
Wojtyla is both affirmative and critical of Kant:
Affirmative: Against the utilitarianism of his day that wanted to reduce the human person to an object of use, Kant maintained the dignity of the self.
“Kant recognized this truth and expressed it in his famous second categorical imperative: act in such a way that the person is always an end and never a means of your action. It should be noted that Kant made this statement in the intellectual climate of the epoch that ushered in our own and that is especially fruitful in it. Kant’s opposition to utilitarianism and its consequences, including its economistic ones, brings the personalism he expressed in the second imperative into proximity with a conviction that Christianity has always maintained. Vatican II have classic expression to this conviction when it said that the human being is `the only creature on earth that god willed for itself’ (Gaudium et Spes 24). Human beings, as willed by the Creator for themselves… may not be regarded as means or tools in their own praxis, but must preserve their own proper superiority in relation to it… This superiority is synonymous with regarding the intransitive in human activity as more important than the transitive…
What I have called here the priority of the human being… [means]…`human beings are more valuable for what they are than for what they have’ (Gaudium et Spes 35).”
Negative: “Now that we have before us an outline of the Kantian view of ethical life we may ask:
Wherein lies that `separation of experience from the act in ethics…? It lies in the fact that 1) Kant removed the very essence of ethical life from the realm of personal experience and transferred it to the noumenal, transempirical sphere, and 2) he crystallized the whole ethical experience of the personal subject into a single psychological element: the feeling of respect for the law… Thus, the `act’ as a concept reflecting the empirical structural whole of ethical experience disappears from ethics. Ethical life lies concealed beyond the boundaries of experience.”
Wojtyla takes his philosophic elaboration of “experience” and applies it to the text of Genesis. Thereupon, he does the “Theology of the Body.”
Two Quotes: From “The Acting Person.”
1) “This presentation of the problem [“the problem of the human being as a person”], completely new in relation to traditional philosophy (and by traditional philosophy we understand here the pre-Cartesian philosophy and above all the heritage of Aristotle, and, among the Catholic schools of thought, of St. Thomas Aquinas) has provoked me to undertake an attempt at reinterpreting certain formulations proper to this whole philosophy. The first question which was born in the mind of the present student of St. Thomas (certainly a very poor student) was the question: What is the relationship between action as interpreted by the traditional ethic as actus humanus, and the action as an experience. This and other similar questions let me gradually to a more synthetic formulation in the form of the present study The Acting Person.
The author of the present study owes everything to the systems of metaphysics, of anthropology, and of Aristotelian-Thomistic ethics on the one hand, and to phenomenology, above all in Scheler’s interpretation and through Scheler’s critique also to Kant, on the other hand.”
2) “Introduction: The inspiration to embark on this study came from the need to objectivize that great cognitive process which at it origin may be defined as the experience of man: this experience, which man has of himself, is the richest and apparently the most complex of all experiences accessible to him. Man’s experience of anything outside of himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself….”
“Naturally we do not interpret experience here in the purely phenomenalistic sense, as has often been the practice in the broad sphere of empiricist thinking. On the contrary, the empirical approach adopted by us must not, and indeed cannot, be identified in any way with the phenomenalistic conception of experience. To reduce the range of experience to the functions and the content of sense alone would lead to deep contradictions and serious misunderstandings…. For once the phenomenalistic stand is adopted it becomes necessary to ask, what then is given directly in experience? Is it only some `surface’ aspect of the being called `man,’ an aspect detectable by sense, or is it man himself? Is it my own ego as a human being and if so, to what extent is it given” it does not seem reasonable to believe that we are given only some more or less undefined set of qualities in, or rather of, man, but not man himself. Moreover, it seems most improbable that man with conscious acting or action is not given as the object of experience.”
Now, to the “Theology of the Body” (TOB):
The entrance into TOB: the meaning of experience. John Paul II applies it to the revelation of Genesis 1 and 2.
“The analysis of the first chapters of Genesis forces us, in a way, to reconstruct the elements that constitute man’s original experience. In this sense, the character of the Yahwist [Genesis 2] makes it a special source. Speaking of original human experiences, we have in mind not so much their distance in time, as rather their basic significance. The important thing is not that these experiences belong to man’s prehistory (to his `theological prehistory’) but that they are always at the root of every human experience. That is true even if in the evolution of ordinary human existence, little attention is paid to these essential experiences. They are so intermingled with the ordinary things of life that we do not generally notice their extraordinary character.”
What is the “Original experience”?Answer: “The Original Solitude”. Adam (not “man” as male) experiences that “he” is alone because he experiences that his body is that of a person, and not of a “thing.” This happens as the result of his obedience to the Creator in naming the animals, which is one of the primordial forms of subduing the earth. The earth becomes private property as ownership insofar as one subdues it. To name something is to subdue it and own it.
In order to name the animal, it must be sensed through the body. The act of naming is not merely a speculative act of abstracting from sensation, but the subjective act of subduing oneself (as taken from the slime of the earth) and determining oneself to freely obey. The act of naming involves the whole person as enfleshed designating this and that animal to be named thus and so. Adam experienced himself to be “I” - flesh rather than animal flesh (revealed when he exclaimed on seeing the woman: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2, 23).
Human flesh is the flesh of a person, of a subject: “I.” This obedience in working, in naming the animals, is the absolute primordial experience of the human being, which culminates in being alone. It precedes the creation of sexuality, of recreating Adam into male and female. This in turn is the prelude to the act of imaging God (“We”) in the one-flesh union of the two.
Notice that sex takes its meaning from being a person, a subject (female) who is irreducible to being another subject (male) as expressed in the body. The irreducible difference in the bodies of the male and female expresses the irreducible difference in the persons of the man and the woman. Hence, in the absolutely primordial experience of the human being, male and female, as being equal cannot be collapsed into the abstraction of sameness.
“The account of the creation of the man is a separate passage (Gn. 2, 7). It precedes the account of the creation of the first woman (Gn. 2, 21-22). It is also significant that the first man (`adam), created from the dust of the ground,’ is defined as a `male’ (is) only after the creation of the first woman. So when God-Yahweh speaks the words about solitude, it is in reference to the solitude of `man’ as such, and not just to that of the male.” Footnote 9 says, “The Hebrew text constantly calls the first man ha-`adam, while the term `is’ (“male”) is introduced only when contrasted with `issa’ (“female”). So `man’ was solitary without reference to sex” Man and Woman Image God (and therefore are who they are) Only as a Communion of Persons: Hence, the meaning of Person as “gift of self.”
“In the first chapter, the narrative of the creation of man affirms directly, right from the beginning, that man was created in the image of God as male and female. The narrative of the second chapter, on the other hand, does not speak of the `image of God.’ But in its own way it reveals that the complete and definitive creation of `man’ (subjected first tot eh experience of original solitude) is expressed in giving life to that communion personarum that man and woman form. In this way, the Yahwist narrative agrees with the content of the first narrative.
If, vice versa, we wish to draw also from the narrative of the Yahwist text the concept of `image of God,’ we can then deduce that man became the `image and likeness’ of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning. The function of the image is to reflect the one who is the model, to reproduce its own prototype. Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right `from the beginning,’ he is not only an image in which the solitude of a Person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially, an image oaf an inscrutable divine communion of persons.
In this way, the second narrative could also be as preparation for understanding the Trinitarian concept of the `image of God,’ even if the latter appears only in the first narrative. Obviously, that is not without significance for the theology of the body. Perhaps it even constitutes the deepest theological aspect of all that can be said about man. In the mystery of creation on the basis of the original and constituent `solitude’ of his being – man was endowed with a deep unity between what is, humanly and through the body, male in him and what is, equally humanly and through the body, female in him. On all this, right from the beginning, the blessing of fertility descended, linked with human procreation (cf. Gn. 1, 28).
In this way, we find ourselves almost at the heart of the anthropological reality that has the name `body.’”