The Catholic Church - the challenge for a global player in the 21st century
PHILOSOPHY, SCIENCE, JUSTICE, FAITH
10 Love and faithfulness meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.
12 The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.
13 Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (Psalm, 85 )
I would like to thank Dr. Horst Mahr for this important invitation to speak about a very difficult subject, that is to say, what is the vision of the Catholic Church regarding the challenge of the 21st century. In general, we can say that the question of today's world is the question of man at all times, i.e. the question of truth and good and justice, and the relationship between truth, good and justice. In a way, the problem I would like to present is whether it is possible to provide a contemporary version of the 'philosophy of the ancients' on the mutual conversion of the transcendentals: quodlibet ens est unum, verum, bonum (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, § 12). I was encouraged in this endeavour by the extraordinary declaration of a thinker who, nonetheless, is regarded as diffident towards philosophy, the political theorist John Rawls. At the beginning of A Theory of Justice he wrote: 'Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought'. Seeing justice, and not good, at the top of the hierarchy of the transcendentals should not unsettle us. We shall not waste time in proving that justice too is a development of the idea of man, insofar as good, besides a personal appraisal of what is valuable to me, postulates a reference to the other and also to the person of the other in his or her farthest representation, that is his or her ability to appear as my peer in just institutions. More clearly than Rawls, I shall consider the idea of justice as extension of the idea of human good, since it circulates from me to my neighbour and from my neighbour to other more distant people. I will thus consider the notions of good and justice partly equivalent in the human social order.
I argue that the mutual convertibility of the transcendentals good and truth first of all presupposes their distinction, that is to say the possibility of thinking of one without the other. Only subsequently will it be possible to establish their reference to each other or the implication of the one through the other.
Thus, the part of Rawls’ formula about the parallelism between justice and truth that I shall preserve is essentially his argument that practical philosophy and theoretical philosophy are founded on principles that apparently rank together. In a certain sense it is what St Thomas suggested when he extended conversion to all the items in the sequence: ens, good, truth.
I repeat: in the beginning it is necessary to think of justice and truth independent of each other. Later they must be thought of in a reciprocal or crossed relationship. This could be a contemporary way of re-evaluating the tradition of the transcendentals, where the re-evaluation is based on their distinction and their convertibility, but after all to dill with the challengers of the 21-century.
I – FROM TRUTH TO JUSTICE
I will begin by examining the truth/good-justice relationship and end with the justice-good/truth relationship, where my contribution should be more original – or at least more personal.
Thus I will speak firstly of the self-sufficiency of the notion of truth in relation to the other transcendentals, before trying to situate the point of intersection of the idea of justice along the journey of thought towards the truth. In short, first of all it is necessary to think of the theoretical according to its own need and immanent dynamics, before resuming what Plato would have called a 'second sailing'. This means that this need and this dynamics under the sign of practice leads us to think of the theoretical as an activity or theoretical practice, which should also be situated in the field of practices. Just like practice of this kind, the search for the truth can be placed under the aegis of justice. But first of all it is necessary to reflect on the theoretical inasmuch as it is theoretical.
A Philosophical Prologue for Every Human Being
There can be no doubt that for every human being philosophy is a primary pathway of the spirit. During the course of history, through philosophical reflection, men and women have acquired knowledge about the absolute quality of their being. This quality has emerged, and emerges, through perceiving, and becoming aware about, the differences between being and not being, between what is true and what is false, between what is good and what is evil, and between what is just and what is unjust, which give rise to the diversities of the principal human praxes, which refer back to the theoretical, ethical and political sciences. This philosophy demonstrates the space of the encounter of man with the world and society, and throws light on the tension between life and death, between dreams and being awake, between normality and abnormality, between male and female, between youth, adulthood and old age, between the individual and society, and between the virtual and the real. It is through the dialectical approach that philosophy demonstrates such differences and contrasts, that a free decision is made possible and that commitment to action in both the theoretical and practical fields is stimulated. Indeed, there is a sphere of being that man finds in himself from the maternal womb onwards and outside himself from birth onwards, as a gift from the Creator which opens up to him the pathway of an adventure in time. This is a freely-given gift which forms the foundation of the capacity of the human being to become himself in relation to the world of nature and society, and above all else in relation to God. This is a gift, therefore, that constitutes the human being in his own capacity to act, even capax of God, capax Dei. The world and society make up the space and time in which every human being finds himself from birth onwards, and where the possibilities of choice arise and present themselves, the differences of life projects or kinds of life are perceived, and the various human praxes are held up, through contrasts, and the various possible vocations are indicated. To be in the world for a human being is the being and the becoming of the self, or of oneself, in tension, to become oneself with others or oneself as another, in transparency ‘before God’, who is man’s First Principle.
At a practical level, therefore, apprehension of the ‘world’, or of the presence of nature and society, is the first atmosphere of life in which the human being finds himself ‘thrown’ (Heidegger) or rather, and to express the point better, in which he finds that he is a gift of God and can move forward with the light of intelligence and the guidance of revelation – if he accepts it – until his final goal.
A Christian knows that the point of departure is not amorphous chance or the whims of destiny or the work of a powerful deceiver (Descartes), as atheists, sceptics, relativists and sceptics of all ages and hues maintain. A Christian knows that he owes his origin to the First Principle, who by an act of love conferred on him a privileged position so that he could know God and love Him and then attain immortality.
This had already been envisaged by philosophers before Christianity to the point of seeing man as the ‘progeny of God’ and God as near to men, He who gives them life, movement and being. We also know this from the speech that St Paul made to the philosophers of the Areopagus of Athens.
A Brief Scientific Prologue for Every Human Being
In my opinion, theoretical truth – in its historic journey towards the recognition of its autonomy – can be encountered not only in theoretical philosophy but also and increasingly in the sciences of nature, considered in their full range of topics. It is what Claude Allègre has pointed out in an excellent book in which he draws the balance of the discoveries of this century starting with the computer, and going on to biology (DNA’s double helix), information technology, quantum mechanics, the chemical explosion (this is his wording), astrophysics, the order of chaos (evolution) and, last but not least, the neurosciences. The common denominator is the idea of discovery and discovery is an organised form of the observation of nature. I would like to insist on the term nature. Indeed, it has enabled us to put mathematics back in its slot as a discipline of forms, numbers and relations as rational constructs pursued for themselves and not as constituting the science of reference. As Claude Allègre writes, 'contrary to the sciences of nature, mathematics does not develop by virtue of an oscillation between observation and theoretical model' (p. 429). This is probably the reason for the perhaps excessive and certainly controversial title – La défaite de Platon – he has given to this extraordinary overview of science in the 20th century. With the sciences of nature what is at stake is the knowledge of what is real and it is truth that qualifies the relation of theory to what is real in the sciences of nature.
Therefore, in addition to philosophy, there can be no doubt that another theoretical path privileged by the human being is that of science, which has developed above all else during modernity and has offered man immense knowledge and advantages, as we can all observe. I believe that nobody would be prepared to return to certain pre-scientific conditions. Few people or nobody would like to forgo the achievements of science. Who, for example, does not appreciate its advances, which have made life expectancy longer and the quality of life greater?
The relativist, atheist and nihilist outcome of a part of modern philosophy, which Benedict XVI has strongly denounced, has been matched by the return of the ethical, metaphysical and theological appeal of contemporary science. Today, science is undergoing a stage of unforeseen and unforeseeable development. The success of the studies of particles, designed to analyse the structure of matter at its fundamental level, have been especially spectacular. And the pathway of science, which until less than a century ago seemed unimaginable, is in constant expansion. The recent developments in astrophysics have been particularly surprising and represent a further confirmation of that great unity of physics that is clearly expressed every time one manages to achieve a deeper level of comprehension of reality.
The ‘wonder’ that stimulated the first philosophical and scientific reflection on nature, far from diminishing with new discoveries, has constantly grown to be transformed, in the most profound spirits, into a kind of amazement of the creature that increases our awareness of the complexity of reality. The extreme nearness that seems to be created between the primary forces of the cosmos and the ultimate particles of matter indicates that by now man finds himself, as a body, a participant in the creation, of which he, too, in his earthly adventure, is an element and a moment – both in the complex structures of the laboratories of science and in the humble events of daily life. The spectacle of the heavens, which, as Aristotle observed and Kant confirmed, was the origin of science, is no less wonderful, like the flight at the rate of light years of galaxies that expand the universe beyond what it is possible for our imaginations to conceive. One may say that man, who has set foot on the moon and continues to explore the other planets, has just moved out of the confines of the globe and entered a kind of cosmic infinity.
The greatness and the complexity of contemporary science at the level of its knowledge about the nature of the elementary particles and the fundamental energies of physics, and the molecular structures of forms of life, has an immediate relevance for man. It is man himself who, immersing himself in the presence of the mystery of the infinite, can expand without limits the project of his being, as indeed was perceived by Heraclitus with the Logos and by Aristotle who saw the intellect as being ‘able to become and to do everything’.
One can thus understand why the luminaries of contemporary science halt in front of this ‘new world’ which is in constant expansion, with an aware wonder at being faced with the immensity of the unknown, which seems to expand and grow deeper with each new discovery of new winners of the Nobel Prize. And they, too, experience the presence of God, as is borne witness to, for example, by Enrico Fermi, according to the testimony of the famous mathematician Luigi Fantappié.
Thus if we know how to read the signs of the times, just as Hellenic philosophy, which Pope Benedict XVI sees as a part of revelation, leads us to the existence of God, so contemporary science today tells us that we are not the children of chaos. This was the reading of the times of the Popes, and especially Pius XI and Pius XII, during the 20th century. They asserted that science leads us to a kind of new realism that can open the horizon of transcendence in a new way. This perception lay behind the renewal of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
The Universality and Transcendence of the Sacred
The statement that we find in St John, ‘No one has ever seen God’, clearly indicates to us the transcendence of the sacred as regards our capacity to reach it. Because of our intellective imperfection, divine realities, which are to the utmost intelligible in themselves, are not evident for us. Indeed, Aristotle says: ‘as the eyes of the bat behave during daylight, thus also the intelligence that is in our souls behaves towards things that, by their very nature, are the most evident of all’. Therefore, we are not immediately able, from the outset, to know the various levels of transcendence of the divine: we have to attain to what is most knowable and primary in itself through a process of phenomenological-metaphysical elevation in an ascending spiral, beginning with the beings that are most knowable for us but which in themselves are less consistent and evident.
‘All men are convinced of the existence of the gods’ declared Aristotle, and this is also confirmed by the contemporary philosophy of religion, with the help of modern ethnology: ‘There are no atheist peoples. There was no form of atheism at the beginning of history. Religion can be found always and everywhere’. Ludwig Feuerbach also noted in the first lines of his most important work, The Essence of Christianity, that ‘animals have no religion’. Anthropologists agree in recognising that human beings have practised some form of religious activity ever since their first appearance on the horizon of history. For this reason, African people, who claim that they were the forbears of humanity, celebrate their continent as being the cradle of religion as well. And this is the dimension what we may refer to as constituting the universality of the religious phenomenon.
However, today, after the journey of the philosophy of modernity and of the comparative history of religions, we may discern, next to this acknowledged and observed universality, from both the phenomenological and the metaphysical viewpoint three levels or spheres of transcendence of the divine which make themselves present in our awareness of the experience of the sacred. These spheres of transcendence define and characterise religions and correspond to the great stages of the history of humanity on its pathway towards the ‘fullness of time’: the cosmic sacredness of the whole (whose symbol is the city of Benares); the religion of natural man (represented by Athens and pre-Colombian Mexico); and the historical reality of Judeo-Christian revelation (with Jerusalem and Rome as its centres).
We may thus observe that there are three spheres or forms of transcendentality (and of consequent immanence) of the sacred, which coincide with God’s path towards man or ‘epochs of salvation’, on the one hand, and, on the other, with the main stages of the suffered path that the human being has walked in order to rise to God.
The cosmic sacred of the whole is the spontaneous perception, accessible to everyone, of something immense and infinite which dominates the world and envelops everything in the mystery of being, causing in us amazement and admiration. This is the Mysterium ultimum et ineffabile that envelops our existence and the existence of the cosmos. This phrase is employed at the beginning of the declaration of the Second Vatican Council on the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate) and expresses the greatest question that poses itself to our religious consciousness. Perhaps this refers in particular to the sacred as it has been manifested in the East (and the Far East).
The religion of rational (natural) theology rose to a higher level with an explicit perception of God (the theós of Xenophanes, Heraclitus and Aristotle) as the first Intelligence and the first Love, the Cause of the world, of both material and spiritual beings, who attracts everything to Himself as an object of love and this requires from man an answer of friendship and justice, through his fellow (Nicomachean Ethics) as well.
Lastly, Christian religion rose to the extreme definitive moment and presented God in His most complete truth, both eternal and historical, which He has communicated to us both through the initial revelation to Moses and the Prophets and by the much more complete revelation of Jesus Christ. This last drew upon God’s intimate life which is expressed in the communication (relationships) of the three divine Persons – the Father, the Son (the Word) and the Holy Spirit – in the Incarnation of the Word which effected the reconciliation of man with God by making man enter into communion with His life. This constitutes the gift of grace as participation in the life itself of God (deification), whose whose fulfilment is eternal life: this is where, therefore, in the sphere of the sacred, man makes a ‘leap in quality’, through faith as pistis, the other theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Transcendence in Christian Religion
St Paul’s speech at the Areopagus, as observed in Fides et ratio, marks the meeting point and also the clash between Greek thought and Biblical Revelation in relation to the decisive points in the story of salvation, and seeks to bring out the diversity of, and the continuity in, the divine plan during the centuries that preceded the conclusive manifestation of the Word made Flesh or the ‘fullness of time’. This was an announcement of the definitive solution of the subject of God both in His cosmic horizon of Eastern religion and in His anthropological horizon of Greek religion.
In the prologue to his speech St Paul greeted the assembly by calling it ‘singularly religious’, thus acknowledging that human reason has its own pathway in gaining knowledge about God. He also did this in his Letter to the Romans (1:19-20), which links up to the Book of Wisdom (13:1). The phrase ‘unknown God’ is singular but the Apostle makes it his starting point to breach their consciousness and to invite them to a full knowledge of God the Saviour. This proclamation of his is akin to that of God to Moses on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament and that to be found in the Prologue to the Gospel of St John in the New Testament: ‘The unknown God you revere is the one I proclaim to you’. And it is God pure spirit, one in Himself and good in Himself, the maker of the world and of man: ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord of heaven and earth, he does not make his home in shrines made by human hands. Nor is he in need of anything, that he should be served by human hands; on the contrary, it is he who gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone’.
He is the unique, personal and creator God who envelops with His power the entire universe, has granted the human being a privileged position, and has given him a special presence of continuous providence: ‘It is in him that we live, and move, and exist’. This thought will not have displeased those thinkers to whom the Apostle gave, in homage, the gift of a quotation from a philosophical tradition that was well-known to them: ‘as indeed some of your own writers have said: “We are all his children”’. As is known, this text is attributed to the poet Haratus (310-240 BC), who, in his poem Phenomena, begins with an invocation to Zeus: ‘We need Zeus in everything, all of us who are members of his progeny’. To this same speculative tradition belongs the well-known Hymn to Zeus of the Stoic Cleant, which celebrates the paternity and universal government of the first Principle in relation to the world and the lives of human beings. One could also say that this belongs to the ‘seeds of the Word’ to which Clement of Alexandria refers. Something similar can also be found in the philosopher-slave Epictetus who, in Christian times, but going back to Socrates, wrote: ‘If what philosophers say about the family relationship between God and men is true…the most important and universal society is that formed by men and by God, since they alone by their nature participate in the divine communion, being tied to God through reason: why does man not say that he is a citizen of the universe? And why does he not say that he is a son of God?’
The existence of God, therefore, is demonstrated by the dependence that is shown by both material and immaterial creatures on an absolutely first, good, just, almighty etc. Principle who is presented by the Bible and natural philosophy. Indeed, corrupted by idolatrous imaginings, the human being was partly and with difficulty retrieved by philosophy which at its best moments, and as a result of the most representative geniuses, formulated the most basic statements on the existence and the Providence of God and the spirituality and the immortality of the soul, as demonstrated by St Thomas Aquinas when discussing Plato and Aristotle. This is what was termed, with a profound phrase, the preparatio evangelica, of which there are also some echoes in pagan literature (the IV Eclogue of Virgil, the references to the Sybils…).
However, the state of the search for God has not ceased to be and to remain arduous and complex in the reality of existence and has been (almost) insoluble without the contribution of Revelation and Faith. For Pope Benedict XVI as well, in concrete terms, especially within the contemporary cultural climate, man with his own forces alone is not able to make completely his own this passage of the affirmation of the existence of God or ‘best hypothesis’ of the existence of the Logos (as Benedict XVI calls it). For the Pope, contemporary man remains, in fact, a prisoner of a ‘strange penumbra’ and of the impulse to live according to his own interests, leaving God and ethics aside. Only revelation, the initiative of God who manifested Himself to man in Christ and calls him to draw near to him, makes us fully capable of overcoming this penumbra.
The Need for Faith
It is thus providential for divine clemency to come to our help on the pathway of reason and for faith at a certain point to intervene to facilitate the reflection of reason and thereby to enable ‘everyone to participate easily in divine knowledge’ without falling into the doubts and the errors experienced by paganism. The recourse to faith is not therefore injurious or illicit but indispensable and liberating with respect to a subject that is so important for spiritual life.
The Circularity between Faith and Reason
Thus faith, in the dynamism of philosophy open to revelation, transcends the sphere of natural reason by two means. First of all at the level of contents, in that it expands reason and makes it capable of understanding the new truths that are communicated to man through the higher magisterium of divine revelation. Secondly, because faith confirms and illuminates reason itself in the acceptance of natural truths which otherwise in the non-specialist would remain enveloped in the fog of approximate and confused notions. In this way philosophy open to faith draws upon and participates in both worlds, that is to say the world of nature and the world of grace.
From human nature, faith pre-supposes first of all intelligence and its use, because adherence to faith itself takes place by an act of intelligence and postulates its employment, ‘for if faith is not thought, it is nothing’, as St Augustine said energetically. The act of faith, however, is not the fruit of a syllogism; nor is it the necessary consequence of a rational process. The whole of Biblical and Christian tradition, although emphasising the rational aspect of faith, attributes it to the interior touch of the Spirit of God (instinctus Dei invitantis) which solicits the dynamism of the will. Then man, according to a statement of the Second Vatican Council to be found in the Constitution Dei Verbum on Divine Revelation, ‘commits his whole self freely to God (se totum libere Deo committit), offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him’.
From nature, philosophy open to faith then takes the questions and issues of ordinary life concerning birth and death and applies them analogically to supernatural life, as well as those questions that concern violence and freedom and above all good and evil, and truth and error, justice and injustice.
From faith, man draws enlightenment about the new value that these terms obtain in the personal relationship of God with the world and, as a consequence, of the personal relationship of man with God as a son of the Father, and of the relationship of ‘I’ with ‘You’, which gives resonance and splendour to the divine symphony of the psalms and sacred liturgy. In addition, the mysteries of faith, in particular the central mystery of the Holy Trinity in its unity and personal diversity, illuminate the life of man as an individual and as a social being which has its roots in the sacrament of marriage, an image of the union of Christ with the Church and of the unity and diversity of the persons of the Trinity.
Truth finds Justice: the Thematisation of Justice
I think we have said enough to draw at least a general outline of philosophical, scientific and religious truth; of course for scientific truth its fate is essentially linked to the representation of the model, an issue which has become central in epistemology. To this end, during the course of the development of sciences in the prodigious 20th century, nothing will come to deny the formal definition of the truth of science as the adaptation of the mind to the reality of the phenomenon of nature. Truth as sôdzein ta phainomena. And no idea of justice (or good) is necessarily implied by this idea of truth. Nothing, unless we do not consider exclusively the propositional form of the observation protocols, of the construction of the model, of the verification and denial procedures applied to the alleged theoretical enunciations.
Things change – and the idea of justice stands out at the end of the journey we are about to undertake – if we consider truth no longer just a network of propositions, which Frege said we should be able to write on a wall, but as a project. The idea of project is already situated at the border between the theoretical and the practical. And truth is intended in a broader sense with respect to the propositional truth deriving from verification operations or to the representative models by which theories become accessible to the human being. This is truth as the common horizon to the comprehension of the operations that lead to the action and to the explanation of natural facts and, moreover, to the comprehension of the fact of being in the world, against the backdrop of which are outlined the comprehension of action and nature. But why justice? Because along all of this scale that goes from the project to the task, passing through the unpredictable, a community of research is implied.
This level is exactly where good and human justice are involved in the activity of philosophic and scientific reason recognised as the vocation, task and mission of the scientist and philosophers.
This is well known at the level of the science of nature, in which the scientific community is the collective subject of research, with its teams, its rivalry, its power struggles, but also its vocational unity before the other powers, its exercise of professional responsibility before technical applications, in short the search for its place in the triangle of episteme, of technique and politics.
Behind all of these theoretical activities there is the work of men and women. This is precisely the level in which justice is involved in this enterprise of reason recognised as a task. And it is implied at the same time as the intersubjective structure of practical reason is implied, which is common to the scientific community, to technique and to politics. Justice, in all of these cases, consists essentially in the equal access to speech, in the duty of sharing the best arguments, in the obligation of listening to the other side in all conflictual situations. In short, the conflictual-consensual statute of research – at all levels – indicates the space of justice.
The thematisation of justice in the field of the search for the truth has been brought to a level of radicality that makes the idea of justice worthy of being elevated, in many ways, from the condition of simple virtue among other virtues to that of a transcendental, equal to the truth. In a nutshell, in my opinion there are some directions along which justice has been considered a sign of theoretical practice belonging to the field of practical reason.
First of all, there are Husserl's pressing invitations, in the last part of his life, to responsibility, which he believes belongs to the final level of transcendental phenomenology. Of course this endeavour is supportive of a claim defined as 'final foundation'; however, it is worthy of note that this very demand involves what Husserl calls the responsibility of oneself for the self-founding action. Now, Husserl did not ignore the intersubjective dimension of this theoretical-practical action of self-responsible foundation. All the work connected with The Crisis of European Sciences tends towards a raising of the awareness of the temporal and historical dimensions, that ends up assigning this responsibility to a culture, the European one, and to a community, that he calls “arcontic” of the thinkers that bear the weight of the transcendental task. The fact that justice is the virtue implicitly designed as the final ethical mark of this responsibility shared by a historically-situated community is not far fetched.
With K.O. Apel and J. Habermas' discourse ethics – Diskursethik – this mobilisation of the virtue of justice no longer remains implicit; it is clearly required by the very practice of discourse; justice is the moral rule underlying any discourse, upheld by the idea directing the search for a consensus and moved by an exchange of arguments without limitations or constrictions. The well known formula of the jurists – audi alteram partem – leaves the restricted environment of the court to cover the entire space of public discussion.
II – FROM JUSTICE TO TRUTH
I shall continue with the dialectic current which, starting from the self-sufficiency of the idea of goodness developed in the notion of justice, continues by a further reference to the idea of truth.
In order to support the first argument, i.e. the self-sufficiency of the good-justice pair, I will start from the fact that it is possible to construct the entire edifice of ethics and of its main derivations without directly resorting to the idea of truth. I can make out two movements: one vertical and one horizontal. According to the vertical movement, a sequence of three levels can be found: the ethical one in the strict sense of the word of the wish and desire to live well, of Aristotelian inspiration; the properly moral level of obligation, which is markedly Kantian, with its double nature of inner constriction and universality; and finally the level of practical wisdom, of phronesis or prudentia, the living soul of practical decision in individual situations generated by experience. According to the horizontal movement, I find the tern that I have mentioned since the beginning of this paper, from oneself to one’s neighbour and to other more distant people. As I have already suggested, this explanation of the tern marries good to justice. The transposition of the tern in the three registers of ethics, morals and practical wisdom or phronetica enables justice to find itself for three times at the peak of the perspective that traverses the entire realm of practice.
According to this horizontal movement, from oneself to one's neighbour and to other more distant people, what emerges from today’s globalised world is that when we look at individual peoples or nations, above all those of the Western world with Christian roots, there is some justice or at least imperfect justice inside them. If, instead, we adopt an overall vision of the peoples of the world, evident signs of global injustice emerge: ‘Post-European civilisation, dominated by democracy and capitalism, does not offer an adequate model of the good life in an emerging international society whose only form of stability is an equilibrium of evils’.
As I quoted in the beginning of this paper 'Justice – writes John Rawls in A Theory of Justice – is the first prerequisite of social institutions, as truth is of the systems of thought'. Today we would include, as Rawls states, both commercial goods, i.e. energy, water, food, salaries, property, social benefits, and non commercial ones, i.e. citizenship, security, health, education, honours, including the roles of command, authority, and responsibility carried out within the framework of all kinds of institutions, whether private or public, national or international. Therefore, this is a matter not only of distributing the material goods of the world but also the goods of the spirit, i.e., that which is more specifically human, for, as Aristotle observes, ‘the human race lives…by art and reasoning’. Today it is necessary to take into serious consideration a notion of the common good consisting in goods and values that are participated and shared by possibly active subjects in the global society. Urged by economic worries, today we tend to forget that, unlike material goods, the spiritual goods which are properly human expand and multiply when communicated: i.e., unlike divisible goods, spiritual goods such as knowledge, values and education are indivisible and the more one shares them, the more one possesses of them.
Well, this dynamic work of thought applied to the intersection of the vertical movement from one level to the next and of the horizontal movement that leads one towards one’s neighbour and other distant people – this dynamic work of thought can be carried out under the single directive of the idea of justice, understood as a wholly developed form of good. Of course I could be asked whether I believe that what I have just spoken is true. But the fact that I believe it is true does not consist in nothing but, in my opinion, a reiteration of the practical propositions accompanied by an assenting yes, that is to say, by a redundant approval compared to the strength of injunction of good and justice. Charles Taylor dwelt precisely on this point in The Sources of the Self. The 'strong assessments' that constitute the threshold of ethics are primitive assessments in the sense that they could not be derived by any empirical observation. Life, if it is to be human life, is originally evaluated and the evaluations are originally qualified in terms of good or evil, just or unjust. There is no way of seeking a supplementary truth liable to legitimate the injunction of good and justice. This is where St Thomas comes to our aid, by maintaining that, since the first unprovable principle of theoretical reason is that affirmation and negation are incompatible and thus that the supreme law of thought is the principle of non contradiction, therefore the first principle of action is founded on the distinction between good and evil and, thus, on the principle of bonum est faciendum et malum vitandum. These are two principles in their own field that are, in a certain sense, undecipherable. Both have their own validity in conscience as ultimate reference points: one is the basis for the activity of thought, the other for moral life.
In order to find the truth in the notion of good and justice it is necessary to look to the anthropological presuppositions or fundamental anthropology, which determine entry of the human being into ethics. These fundamental presuppositions are those by virtue of which man is considered existentially capable of receiving the injunction of good and justice. The originality of the existential sphere in which this capacity moves is a completely original situation that we may call the emergence of freedom. Christian thought – well before the moderns and with the same, or more awareness than them, regarding the independence of the human subject – had called freedom the motor omnium of a person's capacities and the principle of that person's independence (therefore capax as causa sui) both before nature and society, and before God. Speaking of capacity and freedom, assertions are made that refer to what man is in his way of being, therefore if it is true that he is made to be accessible to a moral, legal or political problem, be it merit- or demerit-worthy, or broadly speaking, to a problem of value.
The idea of capacity and freedom traverses the entire field of philosophical anthropology: one cannot compile a complete philosophy of language, action, poetics or narrative (as P. Ricoeur demonstrates), without recurring to the idea of 'I can'. I can speak, act, tell a story. I can act or not act: I am free. Now, this range of capacities is prolonged at the level of morality by the notion of imputability. To this end, it is worthy of note that Kant finds this notion not in the Critique of Practical Reason, but in the Critique of Pure Reason, in the framework of the 'third cosmological antinomy' relative to free causality as opposed to natural causality. That is where he entrenches it in an even more primitive notion, that of 'the absolute spontaneity of action'. Before Kant, the philosophies of ius gentium, Grotius, Pufendorf, had professed this idea of imputability as a capacity, as a Fähigkeit or potency. Thus, our relation with the obligation of acting according to a rule – of repairing the damage – of suffering a punishment, presupposes this capacity of entering into the circle of obligation, that is, the capacity of an agent to submit his action to the needs of a spiritual order or, more simply, the capacity of entering into a symbolic order. The strength of the idea of symbolic order consists in encompassing in a single emblematic notion the many presentations of the moral injunction: imperative, advice, opinion, stories of exemplary lives, praise for moral sentiments, of which respect would be one next to others such as admiration, veneration, guilt, shame, mercy, solicitude, compassion and so on. The symbolic term, moreover, calls to mind, because of its very etymology, the fact that those figures, which together constitute the schematism of the injunction, work as signs of recognition among members of a community.
Finally, other developments are at hand, such as the capacity for impartiality, examined by Thomas Nagel, that is the capacity of each to adopt a loftier point of view compared to one's own self-interested point of view, in order to be able to affirm that every other life is worth as much as one’s own. Contractualist theories, including Rawls' theory with the hypothesis of the original position and the fable of the veil of ignorance, rest on this capacity to be impartial. In short, this capacity constitutes the capacity of adopting a just point of view, that is to say one that is distant from the passion of conflict and from a vindictive spirit that still dozes in the heart of indignation.
I will not continue along this path. I just wanted to suggest that the phenomenology of imputability is not a blank page or an empty file. It offers a sufficient basis for the interrogation that is the stake of our inquest, the question of knowing what is the true standard of the propositions that focus on capacities, the range of which we have presented, from the “I can speak” to the “I can be fair”. However, what do I want to mean when I say, it is true that I can, it is true that I am a capable being. The truth admits in itself a polysemy correlative to the framework considered. The significant fracture, according to an analysis that I share with Jean Ladrière, passes between action and the natural phenomena placed under the so-called laws of nature, according to rules of subsumption corresponding to the different types of explanation. Action, on the contrary, is understood as the theme that in the final analysis refers back to the Greek mandate 'know yourself', to the 'Neumatology' referred to by Hegel: knowledge of myself that can even take the form of a tale, of an autobiography and through an autobiography. The same is true for the range of the fundamental capacities of human action. Thus we are dealing with what in the praxes that are different from this scientific theory and technologies can be deemed the genetics of action that belong to fundamental anthropology. Reflection on praxes expresses the point of convergence because it indicates the path that leads to the end, i.e. perfect human work as fullness of the act. The success of work (ergón) can only be observed in the perfection of praxis itself (energeia) in relation to its end.
Thus the action shows that man proceeds for an end and thus that he himself is the principle of action. In the vast field of activity, the human being considers himself responsible for his own action. This means that he can go back from the observable effects of his actions to the intention that gives them meaning and even to the mental acts which create finalities that generate the intentions and the observable results. Thus the action not only exists to be viewed from the outside, like all the natural phenomena of which it is part: it exists to be understood beginning with expressions that are at one and the same time the effects and signs of the intentions that give meaning to it and with the acts that create meaning that at times sometimes produce such intentions. It follows from this that man’s knowledge is not a matter of a single plane or level – that of external observation, explanation, and experimentation (as a reproduction of phenomena): this knowledge develops in the interface between the observation of nature and reflective understanding. The human being is contemporaneously an observable being, like all the beings of nature in which he participates, and a being who interprets himself, (a ‘self-interpreting being’ to employ the phrase of Charles Taylor).
This is where the true function of attestation intervenes. It operates with the first natural principles of reason but it moves them within the transcendent truth that is God the Creator and the soul as a spiritual free subject. Thus experience and science are welded in their respective function and consistency and a “breach” is opened that keeps awareness always keen and flowing. Thus even the soul lies hidden in the bosom of each of us, but it makes its presence felt with the action of which the I or the self is the beginning and end. We can say that it is a form of belief, a Glauben, in the non doxic sense of the term, if we reserve the term doxa for a degree lower than episteme and in the order of the phenomena of nature and also in that of human phenomena liable to being treated they themselves as observable. To this meaning of truth, which is the one contained in the first part of this paper, corresponds the need for verifiability and proof of non falsification, according to Popper's conception. The belief proper of attestation is of another order; it is of the order of conviction and confidence; its opposite is suspicion, not doubt, or doubt as suspicion (P. Ricoeur); it cannot be denied, but refused; it cannot be re-established and strengthened if not through resorting again to attestation, and is rescued by the approval of the other, indeed thanks to some kind of gracious divine support. In this context to which fundamental anthropology refers, one can observe that one is dealing with a truth that is closely connected with the fundamental conviction that the human being has of himself and which is not temporary as is the case with the acquisitions of the arts and sciences and philosophy itself with which, however, it has a close relationship, and thus one speaks of 'philosophical anthropology' to refer to its specific genre of knowledge through reflection that takes place by stages.
Why have I dwelt in detail upon this question of the original structure of ethics, of good and justice, and on how they are different to the purely theoretical sciences? Not only to bring out the plurality of human praxes and to contextualise non-theoretical activities but also to prepare the ground for the discussion of interferences, examples of overlapping, and conflicts over boundaries and spheres of competence which today bring into question the status of the human being during the age of science, that is to say our daily knowledge about the human being in a world that is increasingly conditioned by scientific knowledge. Man is in effect the only being that demonstrates varied praxes (if not all praxes): the theoretical, the technical, the moral, the juridical and the political. He is the being of the intersection of praxes, the being of many faces, as the Greeks used to say.
Knowledge about Man: the Circularity of Science and Knowing Yourself
There was no great problem between the different domains of knowledge until a border was drawn between nature understood as having a soul or surrounded by a soul, and a soul which was in itself characterised by an end: this was the age of Aristotelian physics and natural ethics. This border was drawn at the end of the Renaissance, which had not assimilated the originality of the thought of St Thomas.
The problem became acute when nature became the subject of a science based on pure observation, mathematical calculation, and experimentation. This was the meaning of the Galilean and Newtonian revolution, as Kant (1787) defined it. The human mind thought that it did not have access to the principle of the production of nature in itself or in something other than itself, what Aristotle called form or the formal principle as principle of operation: ‘every essence in general is called “nature”, because the nature of anything is a kind of essence’. Therefore one can only gather natural gifts made known through their appearance in space and time and try to ‘save the phenomena’, as Plato himself suggested, who in this was Galilei’s mentor. This is no minor endeavour given that the field of observation is so unlimited and that the imaginative ability to form hypotheses with a mathematical formula, to enlarge and replace models, to vary the character of models, and to invent procedures of verification and falsification, is so powerful. This is no minor endeavour, also, because mathematics, which is in part a construction of the mind of the human being, corresponds to the quantity that indeed constitutes the specific matter of every individual and expresses in bodies the realisation of individuality through the parts of such material structure. There is quantity in the mind of man and in the corporeal structure (atoms and sub-atomic structures, molecules, cells, organs, etc.). Thus, although there is not the ancient correspondence between the mind and reality through the notion of form, there is the modern correspondence through quantity – something that has been pointed out on more than one occasion by Benedict XVI in his recent Magisterium.
However, as regards phenomena relating to human beings, this asceticism of hypotheses, of the creation of models, and of experimentation, is in part compensated for by the fact that we have partial access to the production of certain phenomena that can be observed through philosophical self-reflection (and of course, for believers, through faith). Thus we are dealing with what in the praxes that are different from this scientific theory and technologies can be deemed the genetics of action that belong to fundamental anthropology and to ethics. Reflection on praxes expresses the point of convergence because it indicates the path that leads to the end, i.e. perfect human work as fullness of the act. The success of work (ergon) can only be observed in the perfection of praxis itself (energeia) in relation to its end.
Thus the action shows that man proceeds for an end and thus that he himself is the principle of action. In the vast field of activity, the human being considers himself responsible for his own action. This means that he can go back from the observable effects of his actions to the intention that gives them meaning and even to the mental acts which create finalities that generate the intentions and the observable results. Thus the action not only exists to be viewed from the outside, like all the natural phenomena of which it is part: it exists to be understood beginning with expressions that are at one and the same time the effects and signs of the intentions that give meaning to it and with the acts that create meaning that at times sometimes produce such intentions. It follows from this that man’s knowledge is not a matter of a single plane or level – that of external observation, explanation, and experimentation (as a reproduction of phenomena): this knowledge develops in the interface between the observation of nature and reflective understanding. The human being is contemporaneously an observable being, like all the beings of nature in which he participates, and a being who interprets himself, (a ‘self-interpreting being’ to employ the phrase of Charles Taylor). On this point we find an illuminating text in the Encyclical Fides et ratio which declares: ‘Metaphysics should not be seen as an alternative to anthropology, since it is metaphysics which makes it possible to ground the concept of personal dignity in virtue of their spiritual nature. In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry’.
This statement on the various objective levels of knowledge and of the science of knowledge, or epistemology, and to begin with on the different levels of knowledge and self-awareness of the human being, can provide an answer of reconciliation and pacification to the question raised by the status of the human being in the age of science, as long as, that is, positivist ideology does not claim the right to abolish the border between the sciences of nature and the sciences of man and to annex the latter to the former.
Conflicting Loci: the Biological Sciences
Three conflicting loci should be considered here in order to achieve a real comparison between the objective or naturalistic approach of science and the approach of the ethical philosophical approach and an anthropology that we can term ‘ontological’ (in line with Fides et ratio). These three controversial loci are the framework of biology concerning states at the beginning and end of human life, the field of the neurosciences, and, finally, the fields of genetic mutations and the sciences of heredity whose point of arrival are the theories of evolution.
Of course in these three fields I will only outline the conditions for a reasonable expression of the two analyses of man, that of the sciences and that of anthropological and ethical philosophy.
In terms of the biological sciences, the scientist is expected to seek at the cellular level the correlation between the observable cell and the beginning of actual human life. The biologist affirms that the first embryonic stem cell, which is made up of a male and female genetic heritage, already has DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), i. e. the macromolecule which contains and transfers genetic characteristics in all living organisms beginning with a genetic code that is the same genetic code that the individual will have throughout his life. Indeed, as Nicole Le Douarin, has observed, the point of departure of embryology is the following: ‘each one of us began our lives as a cell, an ovum…a tiny corpuscle of living matter’. From this comes the fundamental question of embryology: ‘how can it be that from this single isolated cell come the parts of the body of an adult, made up of various billions of harmoniously ordered cells to form various and complex organs such as the brain, the limbs, the eyes and the face?’ A biologist observes a living cell that is all potential and then begins to have quantitative and qualitative changes directed by that specific genetic code. This cellular behaviour of the human being, which for that matter is matched by the cellular behaviour of higher animals, is inscribed, so to speak, and reference is no longer made to the genetic code or to DNA but to the same subject who has an internal principle of development or self-genesis beginning with an active potentiality that reaches a mature reality that is also the same physical and biological subject with the same genetic code during the whole time of his existence from the beginning until death. With respect to humans, it is not the case that the embryonic cell is a kind of mini-man. Instead, the genetic code is a project of development, a ‘programme’, that contains a collection of information which means that the same subject progressively organises himself so as to form, one after the other, the various organs that make him up, to the point of arriving at the complete individual who emerges at the moment of birth.
It is important to remark that an American biologist of German origin, Max Delbrück, winner of the 1969 Nobel prize for medicine, had already observed that Aristotle, in his biological works, appears to have anticipated the discovery of DNA by admitting that the development of the embryo is directed by a form (eidos or morphé) that transmits to matter a series of movements thanks to which matter organises itself in such a way as to form the various organs. According to Delbrück this form acted as a 'development plan' or as a 'programme', exactly as DNA does.
We find here a dualism of language that should not compromise the unity of the reality in question. The biologist speaks of a cell or group of cells with a great potential that has or have a dynamic development; the philosopher and the expert in theology can speak of a single subject who, from the start, is what he is and becomes what he is. Therefore when a subject is a genetic stem cell we refer to a non-developed human being. Therefore the corollary of an interdisciplinary anthropological vision, that is to say that which takes into account both languages and approaches which explain the same reality, is that such a stem cell cannot be seen as a pure genetic material, which can be used or exploited even for good purposes, to cure another human being, because every human person from the beginning until the end of his life is an end in himself and cannot be a means or an instrument of another person, according to the various ethics that the West has produced from Aristotle to Kant, passing by way of the golden rule of the Gospel: ‘do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you’.
Something similar happens at the other extreme of life, namely the state of death. The specialist, the neurologist, speaks of brain death as an irreversible fact in the life of a higher living being and in particular of a human being. The brain does not give signs of life and thus does not carry out its own function, and does not even give unity to the other vital systems. It thus does not allow the existence of natural life. The philosopher, on the contrary, speaks of the death of the human being. Since the body is no longer capable of receiving life from the soul, the soul (or vital principle) has separated from the body. Thus, this body, since it is no longer informed by the soul, is in actual fact a body in an equivocal sense, and it is for this reason that we call it a ‘cadaver’, even though there may be manifestations of life in the heart. Let us think, for example, of a person who has been beheaded in a road accident: at the time of the accident, when the head is severed from the body, the person of course dies, but the heart (and other organs) may still ‘live’ because of a mechanical movement or because of an artificial instrument, the ventilator, which enables the heart to continue functioning for a certain period of time, perhaps for a period of time that is sufficient for a transplant to be carried out. The medical neurologist declares that the death of the brain is an irreversible fact for the life of a human being; the philosopher and the moralist declare that the death of a person takes place with the separation of the soul from the body. Therefore two moral ills must be avoided in this field by scientists: the bringing forward of death (euthanasia), even for altruistic reasons, for example conserving the life of another person through a transplant, and trying to keep a cadaver living at all costs, which is what we term aggressive medical treatment (dystanasia).
The Neurosciences and Self-understanding
As regards the neurosciences, the scientist is expected to seek at the cortical level the correlation between the observable structures and the functions where the structures are the bases, the supports, the nervous material or whatever we may want to call it. The scientist only observes quantitative and qualitative changes, the ever more complex hierarchies of observable phenomena; but the meaning of the function which corresponds to the structure is understood only by the speaking subject who says that he perceives, that he imagines, and that he remembers. These oral statements, together with behavioural signs that the human being shares to a large extent with the higher animals, fall within a type of analysis where there is no mention of neurons, synapses etc. but reference is made to impressions, intentions, dispositions, wishes, choices, ideas etc. We again find here a certain semantic dualism, if we can use this phrase, which does not, however, jeopardise the absolute nature of the human being. An important corollary of such semantic dualism lies in the fact that we speak in similar terms of the body, of the same body, in both analyses: there is the body-object, of which the brain is the guiding force with its marvellous architecture, and the body proper, this body that is the only one that is mine, that belongs to me, which I move, which I suffer; and there are my organs, my eyes ‘with’ which I see, my hands ‘with’ which I grasp. And it is on this body proper that all the architecture of my powers and my non-powers is built: the power to do and not to do; the power to do this or that; the power to speak, to act, to attribute to myself my own actions, given that I am their real author, and thus free.
There is thus raised the question of the relationship between the two analyses – that of the neurologist and that of the philosopher and metaphysician. And it is here that the analyses cross over without ever dissolving each other. The scientist and the philosopher can agree on calling the body-object (and its marvel, the brain), the ‘reality without which we cannot speak, or think or decide or feel or live or act’. The scientist can continue to profess a kind of materialism in his analysis which enables him to work without metaphysical scruples. The philosopher speaks about the brain in terms of recipient structure, of support, of substrata, of basis, of potency, of encephalic matter, of part of the person. It must be accepted that, for the moment, we do not have a third analysis where there is awareness that this brain-body and my living body are one and the same being. However, the analysis of the brain-body must have a certain opening towards the analysis of my living body and vice versa, namely that while the analysis of my living body gives to me in itself my experience and philosophical reflection, it must be open or enable indirectly or per accidens the analysis of the mind-body and vice versa.
We notice here that we do not have direct access to the very origin of the being that we are, in other words we do not have a sort of self-transparency of ourselves and of our selfhood and, starting from this centre, a self-transparency also of all of our actions. In this sense we cannot understand ourselves immediately through our being and essence by essence. On the contrary, our being attests to its existence in the concrete and current exercise of our life. In a realistic vision, St Thomas indicates this clearly: ‘For one perceives that he has a soul, that he lives, and that he exists, because he perceives that he senses, understands, and carries on other vital activities of this sort’ (‘In hoc enim aliquis percepit se animam habere, et vivere et esse, quod percepit se sentire et intelligere et alia huiusmodi opera vitae exercere’). For this reason Aristotle declares: ‘We sense that we sense, and we understand that we understand, and because we sense this, we understand that we exist’. In the perception of our praxis or activity there is the co-perception of the beginning: ‘from a perception of the acts of the soul we perceive the principle of such acts’ (‘perceptis actibus animae, percipitur inesse principium talium actum’)’. St Thomas assures us that our soul, since it grasps universals, perceives (percepit) that is has a spiritual form; he argues that we are aware of the very becoming of the universal in the soul and even that the very light of intelligence makes its presence known to us by means of the soul. This signifies affirming in an explicit manner a perception proper to the spiritual reality in a positive way but by means of the spiritual operation of implementing the intelligible: ‘And we know this by experience, since we perceive that we abstract universal forms from their particular conditions, which is to make them actually intelligible’ (‘Et hoc experimento cognoscimus, dum percipimus nos abstrahere formas universals a conditionibus particularibus, quod est facere actu intelligibilia’).
The ultimate originality of this perception of our spiritual reality is the absolutely original fundamental situation which we may call the genetics of the act or ‘the emergence of freedom’ as a move from potency to the act or the capability to act’ or the capability of acting or of non-acting and our awareness of it. Quite rightly Christian thought, long before, and with more precision than, the moderns, when considering this reality of the spiritual subject called freedom the ‘motor omnium’ of the activity of the person, and the protagonist of the person, the ‘I’, the self (selfhood), the human subject that we discover through praxis. This perception is so radical that it is more than an opinion and it is prior to every science, whether theoretical or practical; indeed it is converted into the principle of the foundation of the different praxes. We can say that it is a form of belief, a Glauben, in the non doxic sense of the term, if we reserve the term doxa for a degree lower than episteme and in the order of the phenomena of nature and also in that of human phenomena liable to being treated they themselves as observable. To this meaning of truth, which is the one contained in the first part of this paper, corresponds the need for verifiability and proof of non falsification, according to Popper's conception. The belief proper of attestation is of another order; it is of the order of conviction and confidence; its opposite is suspicion, not doubt, or doubt as suspicion (P. Ricoeur); it cannot be denied, but refused; it cannot be re-established and strengthened if not through resorting again to attestation, and is rescued by the approval of the other, indeed thanks to some kind of gracious divine support. In this context to which fundamental anthropology refers, one can observe that one is dealing with a truth that is closely connected with the fundamental conviction that the human being has of himself and which is not temporary as is the case with the acquisitions of the arts and sciences and philosophy itself with which, however, it has a close relationship, and thus one speaks of 'philosophical anthropology' to refer to its specific genre of knowledge through reflection that takes place by stages.
Brain, Mind, Soul and Being
Aware of the lack of a direct and self-transparent knowledge of such a founding origin, scientists and philosophers should aim to seek an increasingly precise adjustment between a neuroscience which is increasingly expert in material architecture and phenomenological and anthropologic descriptions centred on human operations (seeing, understanding, living well, acting) where praxis is subject to philosophical analysis. In Aristotle, the act that achieves a human praxis is clearly dissociated form the act of movement: ‘Since no action which has a limit is an end, but only a means to the end, as, e.g., the process of thinning; and since the parts of the body themselves, when one is thinning them, are in motion in the sense that they are not already that which it is the object of the motion to make them, this process is not an action, or at least not a complete one, since it is not an end; it is the process which includes the end that is an action. E.g., at the same time we see and have seen, understand and have understood, think and have thought; but we cannot at the same time learn and have learnt, or become healthy and be healthy. We are living well and have lived well, we are happy and have been happy, at the same time; otherwise the process would have had to cease at some time, like the thinning-process; but it has not ceased at the present moment; we both are living and have lived. Now of these processes we should call the one type motions, and the other actualisations. Every motion is incomplete – the processes of thinning, learning, walking, building – these are motions, and incomplete at that. For it is not the same thing which at the same time is walking and has walked, or is building and has built, or is becoming and has become, or is being moved and has been moved, but two different things; and that which is causing motion is different from that which has caused motion. But the same thing at the same time is seeing and has seen, is thinking and has thought. The latter kind of process, then, is what I mean by actualisation, and the former what I mean by motion’. What makes this text remarkable is that the disjunction between action and movement is upheld by a criterion that involves a phenomenology of a metaphysical character, namely the possibility of saying, ‘at the same time’, we are seeing and we have seen, we are living well and have lived well, we are happy and we have been happy. If this kind of praxis transcends pure movement it is because it is a more perfect kind of act, that is to say it has all the perfection of the act of movement but its imperfection is not linked to the succession of matter.
This connects the investigation of the being of the self to the interpretation of one of the four primordial meanings of being, which Aristotle placed under the distinction of act and of potency. It is essential – for a deep ontological understanding of human action – that the examples taken from this final sphere of human perfection appear in turn as central and decentred. Let me explain this: if energeia-dynamis were simply another way of saying praxis, the lesson of ontology would have no bearing; it is instead by extension that energeia-dynamis irrigates fields of application other than human action and its fecundity becomes manifest. In Aristotle, dynamis-energeia is sometimes applied to explain the intellect in the act of intellection, to say that the intellect in potency cannot be understood as matter but in a different way. Thus, it is essential in an ontological understanding of the self to decentre praxis – both upwards and downwards – thanks to which energeia-dynamis points toward a foundation of being, at once potentiality and actuality where human action has its basis. In others words, it appears equally important that human action be the place of readability par excellence of this meaning of being as distinct from all the others and that being as act and as potency has other fields of application than human action alone. The central character of action and its decentring (or better ‘re-centering’) in the direction of a foundation of act and potency are two features that equally and conjointly constitute an ontology of selfhood in terms of actuality and potentiality. In other terms, if finding a being of the self is possible or if an ontology of selfhood is possible, this is in conjunction with a foundation starting from which the self can be said to be acting.
Indeed, being, the mode of being, is revealed by operating, that is to say by the mode of operating. Thus from the point of view of the via inventionis one can say: esse sequitur operari. Now the soul knows the truth in itself and tends to good in itself, which is perfect and limitless: hence the unquenched thirst for knowledge and happiness. Thus the soul, in knowing and willing (thereby achieving that kind of praxis that Aristotle describes as perfect), draws on the absolute and does not depend on the body or stop at material realities: it aspires to science and perfect knowledge and to ultimate reality. This emergence or independence in operating reveals independence in being so that the esse (actus essendi) does not belong to the body but specifically to the intellective soul as a subsistent form in itself.
Therefore, neuronal and philosophical centrality in acting and decentring in the direction of a foundation of act and potency are equally and jointly constitutive of an ontology of the human being in terms of act and potency. Therefore only the human being has this double legibility: the external objective reading, common to all the beings of nature, which is the subject of the sciences (epistémé), and the approach of auto-reflection, which belongs to philosophy (sophia), according to the Socratic precept ‘know yourself’, which understands being as an act of an active potency which we call the ‘soul’. Thus only a human being is able to create a circularity between this double legibility, seeing, so to speak, externally, the functioning of his brain with new sensors that portray it in film-like fashion, and interpreting from the inside this film-like portrayal starting from auto-reflection on himself.
There is nothing that is more ours than our brain yet there is nothing that we know less about. The ancients thought that the heart was the centre of life because it beats constantly like a pump and tells us ‘I am here’. On the contrary, the brain was, so to speak, the great silence or the sealed box of our body. Today however the brain opens itself up and shows itself, in part because of the neurosciences, as being the centre of the body, and this may turn out to be a turning point for a new beginning where external experience can be joined to internal experience and science can be joined to philosophy, each in their respective functions and consistencies and in their mutual circularity. This was not present in ancient philosophies, or in Medieval, modern or contemporary thought, and if the human being is analysed, he is analysed from a formal point of view without these dynamic and circular links with scientific knowledge and auto-reflective knowledge of my body and my brain. In truth, it is not that I am my body, not even its masterpiece, the brain: I am neither my brain nor my body; I have a brain and a body but – as I have tried to show – in order to understand my ‘being’ I must know what to have a brain means, to have a body means, through that knowledge of them that experience and science offer to me.
Evolution and Human Nature
In the same spirit we can reconcile another controversial locus – that of science and genetic mutations or heredity, which, although (and let us not forget the point) they were discovered by the Augustinian monk G. Mendel (1822-1884), were after Darwin (1809-1882) frequently linked to the theories of evolution. No external limit can be imposed on the hypothesis according to which random variations, given changes, have been established and reinforced in order to ensure the survival of a species, and thus of the human species as well. Of course hitherto this has been a hypothesis, or more than a hypothesis, to quote John Paul II, which the experimental sciences will have to ascertain more decisively with the rigour of the Galilean method of mathematical formulae (in this case in relation to life) and the reproduction of the hypothesis in a concrete and factual experiment. We are not against evolutionism in this sense but we have the right to request scientific proof in order for this not to be a mere scientific ‘belief’.
Philosophy, in turn, and not philosophy but also the social sciences, are open to knowledge that derives from biology, but they must not engage in the battle, which is lost from the beginning, to establish the facts. Philosophy should ask itself how it can find a meeting point with the naturalistic point of view, starting from the position according to which the human being is already a speaking, questioning being (there is a road in Santiago de Compostela named ‘preguntorio’ to commemorate this practice of questioning which is typical of students and characterises the human being). Thus, starting from his questions, the human being has given himself some answers that speak of his domain of freedom in relation to given nature. While the scientist follows the descending order of species and brings out the uncertain, contingent and improbable aspects of the result of evolution, philosophy starts from the self-interpretation of man’s intellectual, moral and spiritual situation and goes back through the course of evolution to the sources of life and of being that man himself is. The starting point can still be the original question, which has existed from the beginning and has always been latent with a sort of self-referentiality of principle. Freedom is what Hegel calls ‘the essence of the spirit’. But for Hegel, in the full maturity of modern thought, the concept of the universal and the radical, in the sense of the original nucleus of the dignity of every man as free man, entered the world only with the message of Christ.
John Paul II began his pontificate with a statement from Vatican Council II, according to which ‘Christ the Redeemer fully reveals man to himself’. He said that ‘This is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity’. The Pope, therefore, was convinced that faith in Christ, the only begotten son of God, can suggest, stimulate, and fully discover man and can offer perfection in knowledge about, the carrying out or the fullness of all the praxes of the human being. Indeed, the reality of the person is also, according to Fides et ratio, an achievement of Christian philosophy, as is the notion of the participated act of being in which the person finds his foundation, which, in turn, is based on the act of being by essence of God. John Paul II was convinced that the habitus of faith, informed by the love of Christ, when present in a powerful and creative mind, manages to discover new objective and subjective worlds. He observed on this point that ‘Galileo feels in his scientific research the presence of the Creator, who stimulates him, inspires and helps his intuitions, acting in the deepest recesses of his spirit’.
So, reason helped by faith, once it recognises that man is characterised by his freedom, can legitimately ask itself how the human being came to be in animal nature. Thus the gaze is retrospective and retraces the chain of mutations and variations. This gaze meets the other, progressive, gaze, which descends the river of the progeny of the human being – man and woman. The two gazes intersect at a point: the birth of a symbolic and spiritual world where achieved freedom defines the humanity of man. The confusion that has to be avoided lies in the two meanings of the term ‘origin’: the meaning of genetic derivation and the meaning of ontological foundation.
One refers to the origin of species in the succession of space and time beginning with an already originated datum; the other poses the question of the appearance of its participated being beginning with the Being by essence. This is the first origin of the being that is the ‘passage’ of the being from nothing to being which is not properly a passage but the primary origin of the being that emerges from nothing thanks to the act of participated being: ‘Ex hoc quod aliquid est ens per participationem, sequitur quod sit causatum ab alio’. Hence the complete formula of the creation as participation (passive in the creature and active in God): ‘Necesse est dicere omne ens, quod quocumque modo est, a Deo esse’. The essential in this origin is the analogical decentering towards the profound, or the self, of each person, and the analogical recentering towards the other, namely God, as was also observed by St Thomas in his late work: ‘Deus est et tu: sed tuum esse est participatum, suum vero essentiale’. In contemporary philosophy, Kierkegaard has a similar expression of origin when he finds the foundation of the self, which Kant had theorised for the first time but closed up within the horizon of time, in transcendence, that is as the theological self in transparency in He who established it. And here I return to what I said at the outset in relation to the philosophical and scientific prologue for today’s man in the light of dialogue with science.
One could, therefore, conclude by saying that God has loved (in the sense that He loves eternally) us twice, in the creation of natural being and in the recreation of the being of grace, and both from the cosmic negative of nothing, then from the free negative of sin. But God, in creating from nothing and redeeming man, lost nothing of His divinity and in redeeming man from sin conserved man’s freedom. Indeed, He formed a society of spiritual beings that freely sing His glory. One could say, with a phrase that is rather empirical but based on a text in Sirach, that God ‘overflowed’ Himself not to increase Himself but to communicate His love, demonstrating first the power of love in the creation and then revealing the mercy of love in the redemption. This is the infinite paradox of infinite transcendence which is expressed with the dual participation of the natural being of nature and of the human being made in the image of the Trinity, and with the supernatural being of grace and glory, with which God, love and loving, associates man with the participation of His life so as to introduce him into an interpersonal relationship with the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the Father. Two absolute emanations of the essential love of God that provoke two emanations of created love: the first to transcend nothing and open the world in beauty, the second to restore the communication interrupted by sin and raise man to ‘divine commerce’ with the Persons of the Trinity. This is the marvellous reality of the Love of freedom, an inseparable plexus of absolute immanence and total transcendence. Such is the first paradox of the creation consigned to philosophy and science. Such is the second paradox of the recreation that took place through the kenosis of the eternal Word in the Incarnation and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which animates the Church until the end of time: this is the paradox that is nearest to the mystery of God and His Trinitarian life which, like the Church, is consigned to faith and revealed theology. This is why today we are called to renew reason and faith alike, as Fides et ratio points out.
As you can see, the correlation between good or justice and truth is very special. The capacity precedes attestation and in this sense it is of an ontological level; it is the one which is precisely postulated by the attestation as its referent. We could speak of existential possibilities which arise from a practical injunction. To adopt Paul Ricoeur's expression, this is what the 'conversion' of the transcendentals of the good and truth appears to be in a hermeneutical vision of reason. (Text: Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo)