To European Professors I
“Widening the Horizons of Rationality” (June 7, 2008):
At the Sixth European Symposium of University Professors
Pope Benedict XVI
Widening the horizons of rationality
On Saturday, 7 June , the Holy Father met with participants at the Sixth European Symposium for University Professors in the Vatican's Clementine Hall. The Symposium was taking place in Rome from 5-8 June with an estimated 400 university professors participating from 26 European countries. The following is a translation of the Pope's Address, given in Italian.
Your Eminence,Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,Illustrious
Sharing this concern and encouraging fruitful collaboration among the professors of various Roman and European athenaeums, I wish to address a particular invitation to philosophy professors to continue with confidence in philosophical research, investing intellectual energy and involving new generations in this task.
To take the positive contributions of modern thought and purify them with Christian Faith.
Benedict’s Call to Arms
The Metaphysical Guts: “I” as Being
Benedict XVI is calling the West to “Widen the horizons of rationality.” Reason has been progressively restricted during the last millennium, particularly in the last 200 years, to sensible phenomena and “facts.” In 1993, he remarked that “Now we are close to the end of a millennium and in an entirely new historical period, indicated by schemas of thought, science, technology, culture and civilization, breaking completely with al that we knew previously.” When asked about the remark that nihilism is rapidly taking the place of Marxism in his then-last work “A Turning Point for Europe,”  he answered: “It is explained by the encroachment of relativism and subjectivism, an inevitable consequence of a world overwhelmed by the alleged certainties of natural or applied science. Only what can be tested and proved appears as rational. Experience has become the only criterion guaranteeing truth. Anything that cannot be subjected to mathematical or experimental verification is regarded as irrational.
“This restriction of reason has the result that we are left in almost total darkness regarding some essential dimensions of life. The meaning of man, the bases of ethics, the question of God cannot be subjected to rational experience, verified by mathematical formulae. And so they are left to subjective sensibility alone. This is serious because if, in a society, the bases of ethical behavior are abandoned to subjectivity alone, released from common motives for being and living, handed over to pragmatism, then it is man himself who is threatened.
“The great ideologies have been able to hive a certain ethical foundation to society. But today, Marxism is crumbling and liberal ideology is so split into fragments that it no longer has a common, solid coherent view of man and this future. In the present situation of emptiness, there looms the terrible danger of nihilism, that is to say, the denial or absence of all fundamental moral reference for the conduct of social life. This danger becomes visible in the new forms of terrorism.
“Even though perverted, the political, social terrorism of the 1960s had a certain kind of moral ideal. But today, the terrorism of drug abuse, of te Mafia, of attacks on foreigners, in Germany and elsewhere, no longer has any moral basis. IN this era of sovereign subjectivity, people act for the sole pleasure of acting, without any reference other than the satisfaction of ‘myself.’”
Ultimately, what is the problem? Relativism. As he said on the morning of his election as pope: “Relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.”
- The problem is that the self is not understood ontologically. And if it is, it is not “I” but a substantial “it” with a rational nature, the result of a reason that works only on the level of sense experience and abstractive thought.
In this light, Benedict is calling on philosophers to “widen the horizons of rationality” to take in the fullness of “Being.” As we have seen, on June 7, he said: “I would like to begin with a deep conviction which I have expressed many times: ‘Christian faith has made its clear choice: against the gods of religion for the God of philosophers, in other words against the myth of mere custom for the truth of being’ (cf. J. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ch. 3).” And “the truth of being,” he goes on, is the “performative” experience that the human person has of himself in the act of faith as self-gift. The experience of the self, going out of self, discloses a new dimension of reason that is the consciousness of the self that is not reduced to the limitation of sense experience and abstract concepts, but to an experience of the existential “I” that is the “empirical” source of absolute value, such as authenticity and the good. Notice Benedict’s remarks: “Christianity… is not only ‘informative,’ but ‘performative’… This means that from the beginning Christian faith cannot be enclosed within an abstract world of theories, but it must descend into the concrete historic experience that reaches humanity in the most profound truth of his existence.
“This experience, conditioned by new cultural and ideological situations, is the place in which theological research must evaluate and upon which it is urgent to initiate a fruitful dialogue with philosophy.
“The understanding of Christianity as a real transformation of human existence, if on the one hand it impels theological reflection to a new approach in regard to religion, on the other , it encourages it not to lose confidence in being able to know reality.
“The proposal to ‘widen the horizons of rationality,’ therefore, must not simply be counted among the new lines or theological and philosophical thought, but it must be understood as the requisite for a new opening onto the reality that the human person in his uni-totality is, rising above ancient prejudices and reductionism, to open itself also to the way toward a true understanding of modernity.
“Humanity’s desire for fullness cannot be disregarded. The Christian faith is called to take on this historical emergency by involving the men and women of good will in a simple task. The new dialogue between faith and reason, required today, cannot happen in the terms and in the ways in which it happened in the past. If it does not want to be reduced to a sterile intellectual exercise , it must begin from the present concrete situation of humanity and upon this develop a reflection that draws from the ontological-metaphysica truth.”
Broadening Reason Will Consist In:
Taking the turn to the subject [Descartes] as positive because faith is an act of the entire subject as enfleshed spirit.
Taking the subject as the source of the absolute true and good. (Kant)
Taking the Romantic Philosophy of Herder who introduced experience of the self (language and naming in the case of Herder, Helen Keller in our own day) whereby the self was a real being experiencing itself in the act of naming (language).
Taking Hegel as a thought experiment to resolve how there can be absolute values of the true and the good, and freedom of autonomy (Kant) while being immersed in a material changing world ruled by absolute laws of nature (Herder). Hegel proposes the Geist (embodied Self-positing Spirit ) or subject who can become self [autonomous] only by subduing self [exercising freedom within the inexorable necessities of nature] to give self in the empirical history. If there were a phenomenology of real experience for this proposal, we would have Gaudium et Spes #24: “Man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself.” When reduced to materialism, it becomes Marxism.
Taking existentialism as the de facto experience the subject has of itself. Kierkegaard is the father of modern existentialism. Reality is now in the concrete existential moment in which I make a choice. In the repetition of that choice, I am becoming who I truly am. I become what I do. “Subjectivity is truth, subjectivity is reality.”
Taking phenomenology (Husserl) as the methodological probe to disclose the experience the subject has of itself (Scheler to Wojtyla). Consider Wojtyla’s reform of Scheler’s phenomenology to reach the very Being of the subject (“going to the things themselves”) by explaining how consciousness is not the subject but the medium the subject may use to disclose the passage from act to potency (and therefore the reality of its “being”) by mirroring what is going on. The disclosure of this “mirroring” (not conceptually “objectifying”) is Wojtyla’s brand of phenomenology that discloses the “esse” of the “I.”
What is Experience? Rocco Buttiglione says:
“Experience as we generally understand it, is the product of abstraction, which as objectivized by stripping away the affectivity which is immediately immanent to it is the datum of experience. The word ‘experience’ has become almost synonymous with sensation, and it thus coincides with the objectifiable side of experience. Phenomenology, by allowing us to recapture the original and founding dimension of experience, rediscovers the co-implication of ethics and metaphysics. Moral knowledge is a knowledge which introduces us to the truth of being. And what is more, there is no divided form of knowledge, in which the ethical aspect has been excluded in advance, which can introduce us to the truth of being. The reciprocal implications of ethics, anthropology, and metaphysics have their heart in the Thomistic notion of ‘persona.’”
The Experience the Subject Has of Itself: The free (moral) act of self-determination [Adam, Helen Keller].
Wojtyla’s phenomenology of the experience of self-determination:
“The basis for understanding the human being must be sought in experience – in experience that is complete and comprehensive and free of all systematic a priories. The point of departure for an analysis of the personal structure of self-determination is the kind of experience of human action that includes the lived experience of moral good and evil as an essential and especially important element; this experience can be separately defined as the experience of morality. These two experiences – the experience of the human being and the experience of morality – can really never be completely separated, although we can, in the context of the overall process of reflection, focus more on one or the other. In the case of the former, philosophical reflection will lead us in the direction of anthropology; in the case of the latter, in the direction of ethics.
“The experience of human action refers to the lived experience of the fact `I act.’ This fact is in each instance completely original, unique, and unrepeatable… The lived experience of the fact `I act’ differs from all facts that merely `happen’ in a personal subject. This clear difference between something that `happens’ in the subject and `activity’ or action of the subject allows us, in turn, to identify an element in the comprehensive experience of the human being that decisively distinguishes the activity or action of a person from all that merely happens in the person. I define this element as self-determination.
(…) “`I act’ means `I am the efficient cause’ of my action and of my self-actualization as a subject, which is not the case when something merely `happens’ in me, for then I do not experience the efficacy of my personal self. My sense of efficacy as an acting subject in relation to my activity is intimately connected with a sense of responsibility for that activity…”
“Self determination as a property of human action that comes to light in experience directs the attention of one who analyzes such action to the will. The will is the person’s power of the self-determination….
“When I say that the will is the power of self-determination, I do not have in mind the will all alone, in some sort of methodical isolation intended to disclose the will’s own dynamism. Rather, I necessarily have in mind here the whole person. Self-determination takes place through acts of will, through this central power of the human soul. And yet self-determination is not identical with these acts in any of their forms, since it is a property of the person as such… My analysis, however brief, shows that self-determination is a property of the person, who, as the familiar definition says, is a naturae rationalis individual substantia. This property is realized through the will, which is an accident. Self-determination – or, in other words, freedom – is not limited to the accidental dimension, but belongs to the substantial dimension of the person: it is the person’s freedom, and not just the will’s freedom…”
The Nature and Function of “Consciousness” in Experiencing the “I” in the Act of Self-Determination
Concepts objectify what is known by forming a sign through which the reality “lives in” the intelligence of the knower. We know the reality through (quo) the concepts that we form, but we leave out the existential dimension of it in that we know the way we are, not the way the reality is. This is what is understood by “mediation” in knowing. Wojtyla says: “It lies in the essence of cognitive acts performed by man to investigate a thing, to objectivize it intentionally, and in this way to comprehend it…. The same does not seem to apply to consciousness. In opposition to the classic phenomenological view, we propose that the cognitive reason for the existence of consciousness and of the acts proper to it does not consist in the penetrative apprehension of the constitutive elements of the object, in its objectivation leading to the constitution of the object. Hence the intentionality that is characteristic for cognitive acts… does not seem to be derived from acts of consciousness.”
What is consciousness? Buttiglione says: “Consciousness is therefore connected with the cognitive faculties but is not identified with them. Knowing something is not the same as being aware of something. Being aware implies further reflection on something which has already been worked out in the cognitive faculties. Wojtyla gives a particular importance to the relation between consciousness and self-knowledge, since self-knowledge is strictly linked with the ‘I,’ as is the conscience. But this link should not lead us to forget that self-knowledge is always a cognitive act and therefore objectivizes man…” Wojtyla says that it is the cognitive dimension of the experience of the self. “The first element of experience can be defined as a ‘sense of reality,’ placing the accent on reality – on the fact that something exists with an existence that is real and objectively independent of the cognizing subject and the subject’s cognitive act, while at the same time existing as the object of that act.
“We then discern clearly that it is one thing to be the subject, another to be cognized (that is objectivized) as the subject, and still different thing to experience one’s self as the subject of one’s own acts and experiences. (The last distinction we owe to the reflexive [not reflective knowledge as concept-forming] function of consciousness).”
The mirroring function of consciousness reflects the states of the subject as potency to agency over self, and as act produced by that agency. It is not cognition by concept formation which would render the subject as object, but “mirroring” the two states and therefore forming what we understand to be “experience,” and experience of the self in this moment of the genesis of the “I.” This work of Wojtyla is at the basis of his understanding of “work” as having not only an objective dimension in the object made by the work, but also the development of the subject. It is the phenomenology of that he offers of Adam in the Garden who, in the act of obedience to name the animals, comes to a consciousness of self as “alone,” i.e. “different” from everything else in creation that is “object.” That is, he had crossed the threshold to activating his subjectivity by determining his very self as gift of obedience to the creator. In that act, he became conscious of being precisely a “subject,” and therefore, alone.
Combine phenomenology with the thomistic “esse” to give a metaphysical account of the subject – “I” – as Being. See the conclusion in Fides et ratio #83: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being [“actu essendi”], and hence with metaphysical enquiry.” This is the genius of the undertaking. Wojtyla draws the entirety of modern philosophy of the absolute existential self into the Hellenic-Christian metaphysic of St. Thomas’s esse and declares that Fides et ratio #83.
“For Kierkegaard, the search for Being through mere processes of reason served only to alienate the individual from his authentic existence. For Nietzsche, the excessive intellectualization of life alienates men from the creative source of life and of historical action.
“All three (Schelling, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche) emphasize the role of Subjectivity in truth in contrast to those for whom truth resides somehow in objects and their logical relationships… By Subjectivity of truth these men mean rather the subjective relationship of a living, personal subject to an objective reality. For Kierkegaard, it was the passionate relationship to the objective reality of the ethical imperative. For Schelling it was the ecstatic relationship to the objective reality of the fundamental unity of creation…. For all three, the truth that rises from such relationship [my underline] has greater certainty than the mediated truth of rational demonstration which can never become more than an approximation, a possible truth.”
Taking Faith as Obedience of the Whole Self and therefore the anthropological dynamic of becoming who you should be: Ipse Christus. Show that the act of faith is a metaphysical act of the whole person (not merely operations of faculties of intellect and will) going out of self to the revealing Person of the God-man. As such, the act of faith is the total exercise of the Being of the subject who is the image of God. The act of faith is the supreme act of the entire person because it demands the total self-gift to the revealing God, to the point of death (see VS #92-#94). Faith, then, is the metaphysical act par excellence of the whole self, and hence the supreme exposure of the self as Being, which is the light of reason.
Take the Year of St. Paul as the call to overcome the loss of the experience of God due to the failure to experience the self as gift as seen above. Consider the grave obstacle to this experience: The culture dominated by acedia: “sloth of the heart.”
(See above) Distinguish between Consciousness and Concept: Distinguish between the consciousness that accrues to this experience, and the concept that reason forms when reflecting on that consciousness. The consciousness is the broadened reason that Benedict is proposing when the “I” is experienced as self-determined-self-gift. It is the consciousness of the mystery of the self and the Person of Jesus Christ (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Mt. 16, 16). It is the consciousness of the Absoluteness of truth and values that is the self as image of God. “There is only one who is good” (Mt. 9, 17). And again: “No one is good but God alone” (Mk. 10, 18; cf. Lk 18, 19). Since the subject is the image and likeness of the “one who is good,” the experience of the self as being good yields a deep knowledge not only of the self but of God being imaged.
The result: Reason is broadened from a reductive and objectifying conceptualism to a consciousness that is the meaning-giving context for all particulate knowledge of the material world. It is also the metaphysically grounded epistemology for what we understand as contemplative life and presence of God.
Dr. Kenneth L. Schmitz:
“Just as believers are called to bring everything that is ‘beautiful, good and true’ toe the feet of Christ, so too philosophers who are metaphysicians of esse are urged to enter into respectful dialogue with philosophies that differ from or even contradict the metaphysics of esse.
“Indeed, the turn to phenomenology, so characteristic of Wojtyla’s earlier philosophical work, has undoubtedly drawn his attention to an ontological interioroty in the concrete and historical order of being itself. For there is operative in being as existential act an interioroty that is neither religious in form nor introspective in the modern sense, but that is the very ‘radicality’ of being itself. This, above all, it seems to me, is the most significant ‘newness’ that Fides et ratio brings to our attention. It is nothing short of the ‘dearest freshness deep down things.’
“For, in the metaphysics of esse, it is the insight into the nature of being that sustains the search for truth. The bond between knowledge and love, between the true and the good, is certified by the actual richness of being itself. Moreover, it is in the transcendentals that we see that intrinsically differential unity of being in all its richness. Being is really one wit the good, t he true, and the beautiful; it is only the finitude of our approach that is the source of their distinction (ratione). And it is this intimate ‘convergence,’ which is already an identification, that gives attractive power to truth….
“The primary new ontological insight, then, is into the ontological interiority disclosed byt eh metaphysics of esse. It seems to me that , in his earlier philosophical work, especially in The Acting Person, metaphysics had been construed as indispensable but somewhat ‘objective,’ betraying an unintended infection from the modern primacy given to the distinction of subject and object. The difference between metaphysics and phenomenology remains. Metaphysics gives it account within the horizon of the community of beings, whereas phenomenology has as it horizon human experience as such.
“In turning to phenomenology to interpret human interiority, Karol Wojtyla brought subjectivity to prominence, a prominence that has continued to characterize his writings on work, society, and interpersonal relations. But, it seems to me that in Fides et ratio there is evidence that the ‘soft exteriority of metaphysics has given way to a more permeable and intimate metaphysical discourse under the influence of a phenomenology that, without altering the character and vocabulary of a metaphysics of existential act, has nonetheless had an impact upon it. It is as though the turn to phenomenology has acted as a catalyst to release the metaphysics of esse from any residual exteriority attendant upon the modern sense of objectivity. And, indeed, this is to restore that metaphysics to its pristine character prior to the modern primacy give to the distinction of subject and object. Is this a simple return? By no means, since the impact of a phenomenology of experience has released from within the traditional metaphysics of esse a new and more radical appreciation of the ontological interiority of being itself: adnovitatem et radicalitatem ipsius ‘esse.”
Rev. Robert A. Connor
 J. Ratzinger, “And Marxism Gave Birth to … NIHILISM,” The Catholic World Report, January 1993, 52.
 J. Ratzinger, “Turning Point for Europe,” Ignatius (1994).
 J. Ratzinger, “And Marxism Gave Birth to … NIHILISM,” op. cit. 54.
 April 18, 2005.
 J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth,” Values in a Time of Upheaval Ignatius (2006) 92.
 Benedict XVI, “At the Sixth European Symposium of University Professors,” June 7, 2008.
 Charles Taylor, “Hegel and Modern Society” Cambridge University Press (1979) 1-4; 135.
 S. Kierkegaard, “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the ‘Philosophical Fragments’” in The Search for Being, Noonday Press (1962) 96.
 “Wojtyla has engaged in a reform of phenomenology in order to render it closer to its original intention of ‘going to the things themselves’… R. Buttiglione “Karol Wojtyla” Eerdmans (1997) 183.
 R. Buttiglione “Karol Wojtyla” Eerdmans (1997)79-80.
 The deep reason for this is that the “I” images God Who alone is good. To experience one’s being as image is to experience the good. See VS ##9-11.
 Karol Wojtyla, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination,” Person and Community (1993) 189-190
 Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” Analecta Husserliana Reidel (1979) 32-33.
 Rocco Buttiglione, “Karol Wojtyla” op. cit 130.
 Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” op. cit. 44
 “The Search for Being,” op. cit. 15-20.
 Joseph Pieper uses the mediaeval word “acedia” which is “a kind of sadness… more specifically, a sadness in view of the divine good in man. This sadness because of the God-given ennobling of human nature causes inactivity, depression, discouragement (thus the element of actual ‘sloth’ is secondary).” Because man has been called to the greatness of imaging God, when he does not heed the call, his very being undergoes decay within him that he cannot endure. He is in conflict with himself in his inmost dwelling and consequently does not will to be what he fundamentally is anyway. He cannot dwell within himself and cannot be at home with himself. “He has to make the vain experiment of breaking out from his own center – for example, into the restlessness of working for work’s sake or into the insatiable curiosity of the lustful eye, which does not really seek knowledge but only an ‘opportunity to abandon oneself to the world’ (Heidegger), which is an opportunity to avoid oneself.”
Pieper mines the insight deeper: “It must further be realized that both manifestations –the systematic establishment of the work ideal as absolute and the degeneration of the lustful eye – surround themselves with the immense effort of a forced optimism, of a radiating trust in life, or a noisily proclaimed ‘progress’…
“For all that, these optimistic attitudes provide no final meaning in the fae of the despair that in their source – even though this source is safely enclosed in the innermost chamber of the heart, so that no cry of pain penetrates to the outside, most likely not even to its owsn consciousness” (“The Obscurity of Hope and Despair” in An Anthology Ignatius (1989) 24.
 Kenneth L Schmitz, “God, Being and Love,” in The Texture of Being - Essays in First Philosophy, CUA Press (2007) 280-282.