Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Musings on the Previous Two Posts

I labored to give the antepenultimate post as a talk and failed to make the big point - as usual - which lurks under the surface, which I am continually trying to reach, and which I never really say conceptually. The difficulty is to articulate what is the context of all that is being said conceptually.

To wit: The point of the talk was “conscience.” What was driving me was the direct experiential connection between the consciousness of the value “good” and “being” [I hasten to add retrospectively that I am being driven to restudy Germaine Grisez and followers to see if he has not been right all along in eschewingf conceptual metaphysics (that I will allude to below under the rubric of Joseph Pieper) to arrive at "the good" as a self-evident and experiential metaphysic]. By “being,” I am understanding the very large point of Karol Wojtyla of “person.” And by “person,” Wojtyla understands “I” – “Gift.” And so the supreme meaning of “being” is “I” – “Gift.” He is very explicit on this point even magisterially in “Fides et Ratio” #83: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being [“actu essendi” in the offical Latin version], and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”

As “I” - “Gift” is the meaning of the Persons in God, Wojtyla then identifies “I” – “Gift” as the meaning of “good.”
In “Veritatis Splendor,” as Pope John Paul II, he wrote that only God is good: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good” (Mt. 19, 17) … Jesus brings the question about morally good action back to its religious foundations, to the acknowledgement of God, who alone is goodness.”[1] God, as three Persons who are “constitutive” relations, is “good.” This means that the meaning of person is the meaning of “good.” But person in the Trinity means “relation,” not “substance,” otherwise God would not be One. Therefore, the meaning of “good” in God is to-be-Person-in-relation.

And if we are images of the divine Persons, concretely the Son, then we are “good” in so far as we are relational as the Son-become-man; i.e. insofar as the divine Person –Jesus Christ - obeyed with His human will “even unto death.”

Also, maximally at work in me, is Wojtyla’s phenomenology of the “I” in the experience of determining self in the free act. That is, I must master, or “subdue” myself (since I am part of material creation even as image of God), to get possession of myself so that I can make the gift of myself (since I can’t give what is not mine, and I am not mine (since I am made of parts) until I make myself mine by “subduction”). Clearly, I as created, as an achieved "I," am a work- in-progress. I am not yet who I really am.

The large point for me is that I achieve an experience of myself in this exercise of freedom that is self-determination that leads to self-possession and therefore to self-governance. What’s even larger is that I have an experience of myself that has no filter -such as sensible perceptions and abstractive concepts - distorting my access to the being of myself.

Even larger is Wojtyla’s whole philosophical opus as showing that the “I” is not “consciousness” but “Being.” Perhaps, his strongest point is his presentation of consciousness as the tool of the mind’s perceiving the self (or “I”) as “being” in potency and in act before and after the act of self-determination. For me, once there can be a perception (that he calls “mirroring” that is not “reflection”) of a “before” as potency and an “after” as act in determining and execution what I am doing as existential act, then, I am dealing not with mere “consciousness” as the protagonist of my acting, but myself as an ontologically hard-wired “Being.” so much for Descartes and modern idealism!

And the kicker is then to realize that my consciousness of “the good” is the very consciousness of myself as “Being,” which then places me outside the whole intellectualist scholastic and neo-scholastic take on ethics and morality, and this particularly when I see that neo-scholasticism is kissing cousin with modern rationalism. It is not idealism, but it is a rationalism. This was the provocative pique of 19th century modernism. They were right in their pique but wrong in their solution. What they lacked was precisely this metaphysic (and the experiential holiness that goes with it, i.e. the experience of self-transcendence). I would say that Vatican II is the modernism of intention set right.

What do I mean? Take the superb presentation of Josef Pieper “Reality and the Good.” It is boiled down to say exactly what he wants it to say. It is hard wired ontologically grounded ethics. The “Thesis” is: “All obligation is based upon being. Reality is the foundation of ethics. The good is that which is in accord with reality. He who wishes to know and to do the good must turn his gaze upon the objective world of being. Not upon his own ‘ideas,’ not upon his ‘conscience,’ not upon ‘values,’ not upon arbitrarily established ‘ideals’ and ‘models.’ He must turn away from his own act and fix his eyes upon reality" (J. Pieper, "Living the Truth,"Ignatius (1989) 111-179.

Obviously, the good is to be grounded in the being-reality that is grasped through the senses and elaborated by the intelligence theoretically. This theoretical knowing becomes practical knowing by the observation by reason that the will desires the being-reality that has been theoretically grasped and calls it “good.” Notice that the knowledge of the value “good” comes from the perception of desire in the will for the being-reality perceived theoretically. The whole of modern philosophy anticipated in the Nominalism of Occam and filtering into Descartes and from there down – especially in Hume and Kant – could never say that a particular existent reality of the external world was “good” because of the radical split that was set up radically by Descartes between thought and thing. Kant was supreme in this. He tried to save absolute values, but since they were not to be found in the contingent reality perceived by the senses, he assigned them to be categories of the mind.

Neo-scholasticism was not immune to this. It is evident in the rationalistic turn in Cajetan that de Lubac has described in his “Surnaturel (1946) and in the English equivalent: “The Mystery of the Supernatural:” “The turning-point in the history of Thomistic thought is marked chiefly by the work of Cajetan (1468-1534).”[2] De Lubac: “And then, in 1957, in the first fascicule of his review Divinitas, Msgr. Antonio Piolanti declared that the great cardinal ‘separates’ the two orders, natural and supernatural, in a way that completely differentiates him from St. Thomas. It is in fact quite clear that in denying intellect any natural desire to see God – whereas St. Thomas said and repeated: Omnis intellectus naturaliter desiderat divinae substantiae visionem’ – Cajetan was in no sense ‘clarifying’ or ‘developing’ Thomist teaching on the matter; far from ‘pushing it to its ultimate conclusion,’ or bringing it to its goal, as has been suggested in a praiseworthy attempt to achieve harmony, he was profoundly altering its whole meaning.”[3] De Lubac’s thesis is put in the mouth of Father S. Dockx, O.P. “Cajetan… deciding that he cannot accept that man, as God’s image, should be ordered to the beatific vision as his end, alters the reasoning’ and even ‘the text of St. Thomas.’ Instead of basing his argument on ‘the nature of man as made in God’s image, he regards that nature simply as ‘elevated by grace.’”[4]

Be that particular form of rationalism as it may, the point is that there is an intellectualism that has dominated the whole philosophic enterprise of the second millennium in the West after the split from the East.

Notice, again the chapter sequence Pieper’s “Reality and the Good:”

“Reality as the Measure of Cognition;” “The Identity of Mind and Reality;” “The Identity of Mind and Reality;” “Knowledge and Truth;” “Objectivity as an Attitude in Knowing.” And then the passage of one and the same intelligence from the theoretical to the practical (as opposed to Kant’s categorical separation of his Critique or Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason): “The Unity of Theoretical and Practical Reason;” This is accounted for by “inclination” in St. Thomas. He said: “All those things to which man has a natural inclination , are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law. Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances…;”[5] "The Voice of the Primordial Conscience” which is the natural law. The point is that desire is perceived by reason and that toward which it points is the good.

What is revolutionary to me is to cut through all this conceptual jig-saw puzzle and be confronted with the direct experience of the self as the privileged locus for the encounter with “Being” (FR #83) and as it itself is an ontological tendency toward the divine that alone is “good,” I experience a pre-conceptual consciousness of “the good.”

The point that I am making is that the good that I experience is myself as I tend (if I have not damaged the tendency of my persona by turning back on myself and seeking myself) toward the divine and act on that tendency freely. The good that I sense is my very self – but only as imaging Him Who alone is good. The paradox is that I experience my goodness only as I tend and actually do turn away from myself to the Other and others.

This is clearly a phenomenology interpreted by the thomistic metaphysics that offers a profound realism. I suddenly find that the “goods” of Grisez et al. (that I have opposed for years because they had the odor of a Kantian apriorism) may coincide with this ethical phenomenology of the relational person that is found in Wojtyla and then-Joseph Ratzinger. (However, I note that Grisez speaks only about the self-evidence of “goods” with no reference to the will or tendency, etc. In Ratzinger’s mind, the person is tendency as another horizon of being than “substance” that could ground “value” only by the extrinsic incorporation of tendency).

Notice again, the text of Ratzinger that is most illuminating and important: He prefaces his remarks by insisting on changing the ambiguous terminology of synderesis for anamnesis to make clearer that the content of conscience is remembering who we are as imaging the divine Persons (rather than some form of intellectualist principles). “The word anamnesis should be taken to mean exactly that which Paul expressed in the second chapter of his Letter to the Romans: ‘When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness…(r, 14 f).’ The same thought is strikingly amplified in the great monastic rule of Saint Basil. Here we read: ‘The love of God is not founded on a discipline imposed on us from outside, but is constitutively established in us as the capacity and necessity of our rational nature.’ Basil speaks in terms of ‘the spark of divine love which has been hidden in us,’ an expression which was to become important in medieval mysticism. Ion the spirit of Johannine theology Basil knows that love consists in keeping the commandments. For this reason, the spark of love, which has been put into us by the Creator, means this: ‘We have received interiorly beforehand the capacity and disposition for observing all divine commandments…. These are not something imposed from without.’ Referring everything back to its simple core, Augustine adds: ‘We could never judge that one thing is better than another, if a basic understanding of the good had not already been instilled in us.’

“This means that t he first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (both are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one, whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears it echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”

[1] John Paul II, “Veritatis Splendor” #9.
[2] Henri de Lubac “The Mystery of the Supernatural,” Herder and Herder (1967) 8.
[3] Ibid 10.
[4] Ibid 11-12.
[5] S. Th. I-II, 94, 2, ad 2.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth” (1991), On Conscience The National Catholic Bioethics Center – Ignatius (2007) 31-32.

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