Thursday, October 05, 2006

More Deeply Into the Regensburg Epistemology

“There was a young fellow from Trinity/
Who took the square root of infinity/
But the number of digits/
Gave him the figits/
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.
(George Gamow

“An Entirely New Phenomenon:” “People incapable of relating to God.”

In 1965, Benedict XVI preached: “Once more we have to say: How far we are from a world in which people no longer need to be taught about God because he is present within us. It has been asserted that our century is characterized by an entirely new phenomenon: the appearance of people incapable of relating to God. As a result of spiritual and social developments, it is said, we have reached the stage where a kind of person has developed in whom there is no longer any starting point for the knowledge of God. Whether that be true or not, we would have to admit that our distance from God – the obscurity and the dubiousness surrounding him today – is greater than ever before.”[2]
Reasoning to God’s existence from sensible perception is not enough: God must be experienced!
“God in Karol Wojtyla is not only thought but also experienced. The pope expressly opposes the limitation of the concept of experience which occurred in Empiricism; he points out that the form of experience elaborated in the natural sciences is not the only kind, but that there are also other forms which are not less real and important; moral experience, human experience, religious experience."[3]
The Epistemology of Sensation:

Classical Newtonian Physics and Quantum Mechanics or “What you have seen is not what you really got.”
Newtonian physics works with sense perception as the phenomenon – what it seems to be. Max Planck, working with black-body radiation, found that his sensible observations could not be integrated into Newtonian physics. There was reluctance, but need in order to be faithful to realism, to depart from classical description and create a new mathematical paradigm - Max Planck's constant of action h = 6.626 10-34 joule-second - to give an account of the new observation. Hence, there is born quantum mechanics. The epistemological upshot of this is that sense perception – i.e., phenomena as they it appear to us - is a subjective response to extra-sensible reality.
However, the common sense experience that is universally accepted is that what appears to be “there” is really there. The thesis that is being proposed consists in this: we are sure that what we see through our eyes and hear with our ears is really there because we have a direct experience of the existent reality as existing, not in the sensation, but in ourselves as preceptors in act. That is, the reality that we really experience is ourselves in the act of perceiving. The being that we experience with certitude is not what we see with our eyes, but the being of ourselves –our “I” - perceiving with our eyes. This is the root of John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio where, after lamenting that “reason… has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights not daring to rise to the truth of being” (5), thunders to the conclusion that “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being [actu essendi], and hence with metaphysical enquiry” (83). Both he and Benedict are consistently directing the attention of the world to this epistemology of the believing person as the key to the resuscitation of reason. That is, we experience ourselves believing (read; as “acting person”) – directly, without mediation of sensation or concept – in the act of perceiving “something.” The reality of the “something” piggy-backs on the unmediated experience of the self in the act of sensing/knowing something “out there.”
Consider Josef Ratzinger’s habilitation thesis, which insists that “the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of `revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive `revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it.”[4]At root, Ratzinger has in mind his “theological epistemology” that explains how the knowledge of the Person of Christ cannot come about except by the mimicking of the prayer of Jesus Christ (that is His very Person) in the to-be-knower. Wojtyla explains that the only person one experiences is the self. If one, say, prays like the other person – i.e. goes through the same interior act that is in fact the very Being of Christ as relation to the Father – then the self that is uniquely experienced is “like” the other, and by “transferring” the experience and concomitant consciousness from the praying believer to Christ[5], one “reads from within:” intellegere [ab intus legere], one knows Him and can say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 15). This, of course, is a recovery of the theological epistemology of the Fathers of the Church, particularly Gregory of Nyssa. Consider his “Once a man removes from his soul the coating of filth that has formed on it through his sinful neglect, he will regain his likeness to his Archetype, and be good. For what resembles the supreme Good is itself good. If he then looks into himself, he will see the vision he has longed for. This is the blessedness of the pure of heart: in seeing their own purity they see the divine Archetype mirrored in themselves.”[6]
Only the recovery of an epistemology of this type can restore realism to intelligence and meaning to a reason that “has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge”[7] (read “facts” and data bases without meaning).
Philosophically, Karol Wojtyla has been the unique pioneer in this realist phenomenological metaphysics of the act of faith. He introduces the traditional metaphysical concepts of potency and act into his phenomenological description of the “I” as acting (believing) person. He says: “(W)ithin the integral experience of man, especially with reference to its inner aspect, we can trace a differentiation and even something like contrast of subjectiveness and efficacy. Man has the experience of himself as the subject [self as acting agent] when something is happening in him [self as potency[8]]; when, on the other hand, he is acting, he has the experience of himself as the `actor’… To the experiences thus had corresponds a fully experiential reality. Subjectiveness is seen as structurally related to what happens in man, and efficacy as structurally related to his acting. When I act, the ego is the cause that dynamizes the subject. It is the attitude of the ego that is then dominant, whereas subjectiveness seems to be indicating something opposite – it shows the ego as if it were subjacent in the fact of its own dynamization. Such is the case when something happens within the ego. Efficacy and subjectiveness seem to split the field of human experiences into two mutually irreducible factors. Experiences are associated with structures. The structure of `man-acts’ and the structure of `something-happens-in-man’ seem to divide the human being as if they were tow separate levels.” However, “it is impossible to deny that he who acts is simultaneously the one in whom something or other happens. Similarly, it is impossible to question the unity and the identity of man at the roots of acting and happening. Neither is it possible to question his unity and identity at the roots of the efficacy and the subjectiveness structurally contained in the acting and the happening that occur in man. For the human being is… a dynamic unity, so much so that in our earlier analyses we called him outright the dynamic subject. This designation is here regarded as valid. Man’s acting and that human efficacy which constitutes it experientially, as well as all that happens in him, combine together as if they issued from a common root. For it is the human being (my emphasis), as the dynamic subject, who is their origin.”[9]
Wojtyla then moves to his revolutionary point, that the human person is not consciousness, but being. He is not being, however, within the classical and reductive category of substance. He is being as the unique and irreducible “I” that is experienced not through sensation or the “intentional” knowing of the abstract concept, but immediately as acting person, the subject of self-mastery, self-governance and self-determination.
It is Benedict XVI himself who has raised the clarion call to the recovery of Being as subject. In a now classic text of his “Introduction to Christianity” he remarked: “If we… have to speak of him [God] in the category of triplicity this does not imply any multiplication of substances but means that in the one and indivisible God there exists the phenomenon of dialogue, the reciprocal exchange of word and love. This again signifies that the `three person’ who exist in God are the reality of word and love in their attachment to each other. They are not substances, personalities in the modern sense, but the relatedness whose pure actuality (`parcel of waves’!) does not impair the unity of the highest being but fills it out. St. Augustine once enshrined this idea in the following formula: `He is not called Father with reference to himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself he is simply God.’ Here the decisive point come s beautifully to light. `Father’ is purely a concept of relationship. Only in being-for the other is he Father; in his own being-in-himself he is simply God. Person is the pure relation of being related, nothing else. Relationship is not something extra added to the person, as it is with us; it only exists at all as relatedness.”[10]
Benedict makes the startling statement. “Let us listen once again to St. Augustine: `In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.’ Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today `objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, but for which it would be inconceivable.”[11]
And it has been the philosophic work of Karol Wojtyla that has put this philosophic revolution in motion. Josef Seifert remarked on Wojtyla’s unique work in this regard:
“I do not know any work in contemporary philosophy which addresses itself in an equally original way to this key topic of metaphysics and to an issue of such significance for ethics: the person. It is perhaps not since the time of Augustine that a philosopher as deeply committed to the truth and to the great philosophical tradition as Wojtyla has moved so far beyond a metaphysics of being and substance in general, and gone into the metaphysics of the personal being as actualized in consciousness and freedom And while Augustine’s profound insights into the nature of the person, deeply inspired by Plotinus, are inserted in theological contexts (notably in De Trinitate), The Acting Person is a `purely’ philosophical work which applies a rigorous phenomenological-philosophical method to its topic.”[12] Seifert then goes into the significant specifics: “The Book (`The Acting Person’) is full of discoveries which properly belong to its author. The philosophical originality of the work manifests itself especially in the deliberate attempt to overcome a one-sidedness in the philosophical approach to the person which has dominated philosophy since Descartes, but which actually goes back to Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. The one-sidedness in question lies in approaching the person primarily through knowledge and cognition. The book The Acting Person tries to correct this one-sidedness by viewing the person primarily as he manifests himself in action, and action as it reveals the person. This approach itself is highly original; so are those philosophical investigations in the book which elucidate the essence of freedom and of `man-acts.’” He goes on: “The book is free from a voluntaristic misinterpretation of the person which severs the link between will and reason, between action and truth. To be sure, the emphasis on the person as revealed through his free acts (actions) is intended to be more than merely complementary to the traditional modern emphasis on the person as a rational, knowing being. The thesis clearly seems to be that in acting as it involves free self-possession, self-determination, and self-governance, the person qua person realizes and shows himself most profoundly, especially in the morally good action.”[13]
Seifert then goes on to highlight Wojtyla’s unique work on the experience of the “I” (as being) by his particular use of phenomenology that transcends both Aristotelian and phenomenological traditions. Seifert suggests the thesis I am trying to deploy here, namely that “there is no real being in the world with which we stand in experiential contact and which is as rich as man; that, whatever else may be the object of human experience in some sense (Ideas and Ideals in the sense of the Platonic eide or Forms, religious objects of experience, etc.), these are not fully objects of experience and are not given to us in the wealth and diversification in which man is experienced by man. No being which is directly accessible to our `normal’ experience in the world, such as animals, plants, or works of art, etc., is of as rich a content as man.”[14]
Seifert then goes on to show how Wojtyla’s work is the key to the purification of the subjectivistic deviation of the Enlightenment and its consequent dualism. He says: “For both in empiricism and in Kant we find an opposition between experience and cognition. Experience is reduced either to amorphous sense-impressions or to sense-perceptions (as formed by some basic laws of association or by the apriori forms of intuition: temporality and spatiality). Thinking seems then to `form’ experience, in fact to superimpose structures upon experience which deviate from it or at least originate in something else than experience (a transcendental structure of the ego)."

It would be more exact to say not that thinking forms experience, but that consciousness as “reflexive” - not reflective as intentional and therefore concept forming and object-making – forms the experience of the self as act and potency, and therefore being as subject. This is precisely the task that Ratzinger saw for philosophy, namely “to surmount what we call today `objectifying thought’” and expose “a new plane of being,” the plane of the “I” as subject and relation. The activation of this is the activation of the image to become the “likeness” of the prototype, and therefore to come to an experience of God. This is the task of the new evangelization.
It is this unmediated and therefore, undistorted realism of self-experience in the moral act that the realism of the sensible perception is grounded. In the light of this, Hans Urs von Balthasar remarked: “the human mind possesses the key to the meaning of things, not by the presence in it of innate ideas, but by directing on things its own intellectual light as the means of apprehending all being. This light is spiritual; hence, despite its receptivity for the finite, it is active and spontaneous without restriction. It can thus be capable of spiritual interpretation only because it is the medium of meaning as such, into which the `objective’ can enter, and bringing its meaning with it and revealing it, can attain to its true and objectively intended meaning. This total and universal a priori of meaning is difficult to grasp; but it can be in some way elucidated if it be approached from its more intelligible preliminary, namely, from organic sensibility and specific sense qualiti4es. Colour is only in the eye, sound is only in the ear; both sense organs apply this medium so that those things can develop and find themselves in it which the Creator has evidently prepared, invented, and willed for it. It is irrelevant that the lower existed in time before the higher, receptive element that offered it space. Even the formal conception of applying and spreading a medium introduces us into a sphere beyond realism and idealism, before ascending to the distinctively intellectual and spiritual. For things are not what they are and are meant to be – in this case coloured and sounding – outside the sense organ, as if this were a mere photographic plate passively reflecting what is already wholly there `outside;’ nor is the form of the things simply subjective, put on the formless and unknowable material of a `thing in itself’ as a means of bringing it into orderly categories; but they easily find their own objective essence in the medium of their mutually open subjectivities.”[15]

[1] The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, October 4, 2006, A14.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “What it Means to Be a Christian,” Ignatius (2006) 24-25.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “God in Pope John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Communio 22 (Spring, 1995) 110.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones,” Ignatius (1997) 108.
[5] Karol Wojtyla, “Participation or Alienation,” Person and Community Lang (1993) 200-202.
[6] Oratio 6, De Beatitudinibus, PG 44, 1270-1271; Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time, 2nd reading in the Office of Readings.
[7] John Paul II, Fides et Ratio #5.
[8] Note that wherever there is act and potency, one is dealing with Being. This phenomenological presentation is totally directed to establish the realism of the “I” and overcome the poison of Enlightenment idealism.
[9] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” Reidel, 1979, 71-72.
[10] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 131.
[11] Ibid 132.
[12] Karol Cardinal Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) As Philosopher And The Cracow/Lublin School of Philosophy,” Aletheia, Vol II (1981) 131-132.
[13] Idem 132.
[14] Idem 134.
[15] Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Man Creates Meaning in Encounter,” Philosophy of Knowledge, Lippincott (1960) 396.

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