Response to a response to the May 2 Post

Anonymous” responded to the May 2nd post with the following: “Again with the subjectivism. Is this really wise in these troubled times of interpreting man purely in terms of his “subjective self” (that is, the excuse for all moral degradation).”

Response: I appreciate the critique. Vatican II, John Paul II and Benedict XVI make the same critique since subjectivism is the negation of ontological reality that is the ground of the absolute as true and good. Without a metaphysic of being, we are not talking “reality” and therefore the the “Unemcumbered Self” becomes absolutized as a mystical identity and becomes arbiter of both good and evil, being beyond both. This is the atheism of our day and the prophecy of Nietzsche.

The root of this separation of the self and reality has historically been the cartesian experiment that has left Western thought in an unbridgable dualism between mind and matter leaving man as a ghost in a machine.

But what would my critic say if the “I” is not merely consciousness and thought, but “being” as image of God (Yahweh: “I Am”) in the manner that John Paul II said: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being [“actu essendi” in the Latin text], and hence with metaphysical enquiry” (Fides et Ratio #83)? In a word, the real existential (non-abstract) “object” of the human mind that grounds the good to be done is really the subject or “I” in the moment of self-gift (self-transcendence). Wojtyla focused in on this second tier of “experience” (beyond sense-experience [see Crossing the Threshold of Hope p. 34, The Acting Being pp. 41-50; “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Person,” Person and Community Lang (1993) 209-217]) where the self experiences itself as being in the act of self-determination (the moral act). This was precisely the life work of Karol Wojtyla philosophically whereby he welded together phenomenology and St. Thomas’s metaphysics of Esse to explain the experience of the “I – gift” that is the meaning of faith in St. John of the Cross.

This shift to the ontological “I” is precisely to bring about a greater objectivity that is rooted in reality. In passing, it can take in the achievements of the Enlightenment and purify them of the cartesian subjectivism while purifying the reductive objectivism of the received scholastic philosophy and theology and expand them into an adequate objectivity. This is precisely the challenge that is presented to the Church (see the Ratzinger-Moynihan interview below), and that the Church has answered and continues to answer if we pay attention and do our homework.

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6 thoughts on “Response to a response to the May 2 Post

  1. Response to response: I didn’t write the original response but I have two remarks: is it clear that Thomism and phenomenology can be wedded or is it simply and oil-water emulsion? The remark about the objectivism of received scholasticism is true to the extent that there was a decadent scholasticism but figures of Thomism like Gilson have rejected solutions to this problem by trying to wed Thomism with Kantianism. Maritain too tried to address the problems raised by Kantianism and Descartes without claiming to wed Thomism with these systems.Anonymous 2

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  2. I am the original Anonymous. Thank you for responding to my respose. I would like to add further to what “Anonymous 2” had to say:In responding to the first paragraph of my cititque, you make a valid point:Without a metaphysic of being, we are not talking “reality” and therefore the the “Unemcumbered Self” becomes absolutized as a mystical identity and becomes arbiter of both good and evil, being beyond both. This is the atheism of our day and the prophecy of nietzsche. The root of this separation of the self and reality has historically been the cartesian experiment that has left Western thought in an unbridgable dualism between mind and matter leaving man as a ghost in a machine.This statement is absolutely true. Unfortunately, it doesn’t address the substance of much of what I was trying to say. Perhaps it would be better to take this one step at a time.As St. Thomas points out, one cannot discuss anything with anyone until one has defined the terms to be used, the first principle of Logic. And yet, in the post to which I was responding, you throw out a plethera of terms that defy definition. I touched on this a little (albeit somewhat sarcastically) in my response when I refered to your use of the word “dynamic” as a noun. A small point, to be sure; but one which clearly touches on what I believe to be a major problem with these musings, and (forgive me for saying it) some of the phenomenology of JPII as well. “Dynamic” is an adjective, not a noun, and not a very clear one even as an adjective. When you say, as you did in your original post, “Benedict concludes that, in reality, Christ, historically, has been the dynamic in grasping the meaning of the human person and has propelled history in that direction,” what in the wide wide world of sports does that mean??? Does Benedict actually use the word “dynamic” as a noun here? And if he does, then what does he mean? The term is inherently elastic; and, as such, lends itself not to clarity but to obscurity.The same can and must be said of JPII’s business of the “I-gift”, a term to which I refered (flippantly, I admit) as somewhat “Booberesque”). What in the world is an “I-gift”? Is there a dictionary on land or sea that has an entry for “I-gift”? If “I-gift” means self-sacrifice (the gift of self), then why not just say that?I could go on, but suffice it to say I’m sensing an almost artificial compulsion to use the vocabulary of phenomenology as employed by JPII and Benedict for no other reason than the fact the JPII and Benedict employed it.The other “Anonymous” has already raised the queston of whether there can be a melding of Thomism and Phenomenology. I’ll see his call and raise the ante further: Is there a compelling reason to even consider trying it, other than the fact the two popes seem to think there’s a point to it somewhere. As St. Thomas said, the weakest of all arguments is the one from authority.Nor do I buy into the artificial notion that all this I-Thou and I-Gift talk is somehow related to God’s revelation to Moses in Exodus as “I Am.”You ask: But what would my critic say if the “I” is not merely consciousness and thought, but “being” as image of God (Yahweh: “I Am”) in the manner that John Paul II said: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being [“actu essendi” in the Latin text], and hence with metaphysical enquiry” (Fides et Ratio #83)? In a word, the real existential (non-abstract) “object” of the human mind that grounds the good to be done is really the subject or “I” in the moment of self-gift (self-transcendence).My answer: I don’t know. Because I don’t know what it means! When I read Joseph Pieper, I understand exactly what he means because, like a true Thomist should, he uses words he is sure everyone understands, or else bothers to define them first when he’s not sure.Pieper himself said, “Our minds do not–-contrary to many views currently popular–-create truth. Rather, they must be conformed to the truth of things given in creation.” By analogy, I would add that when one starts creating language, one is–whether or not he realizes it–attempting to create truth. Not consciously, of course, but sub-consiously. Like Rahner: “If I can’t express what I’m thinking in any known language, I’ll just make up my own words as I go along. Who cares of no one but me knows what I’m saying?”Well, he should care. And so should have JPII, and so should Pope Benedict. And so should you. Allow me to repeat myself from yesterday…When you say: “The Church has continuity only by reforming itself as a subject. Only subjects – persons – are capable of continuously forming and becoming themselves by a process of self-mastery, self-governance and self-gift whereby they are totally “ecstatic” (ex-stasis) as in “outside” of themselves. This is experienced in spousal love, but we would not know how to thematize such a counter-intuitional experience as prototypical if it were not mediated to us theologically from the revelation of the Trinity.…are you really saying anything different from…”The Church remains united to Christ its head only through constant convernsion. And only her individual members are capable of reforming themselves — and thus, through themselves, the society of the Church — by means of mortification, good works and self-sacrifice. This is evident in nature by the example of spousal love; but we would not know to apply it to the Body of the Christ, the Church, without the guidance of Divine Revelation regarding the unity of the Holy Trinity.”…and if you are, then what exactly is it? And if you’re not, then why are you saying it like that??? Forgive me if I lapse again into flippancy, but words like “thematize” and “prototypical” and “counter-intuitional” make my head hurt. And if they didn’t, I’d seek therapy.Anonymous 2 probably understands these things a lot more than I do; and, being uneducated, I sometimes suffer from the common affiction of the unwashed masses of having a clear thought but not knowing exactly how to say it. But here is one clear though that I do know how to say–which I said before–and which you, unfortunately chose not to address. Unfortunate because it is really the seminal point of what my response was all about:

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  3. You state: “In a word, the real existential (non-abstract) “object” of the human mind that grounds the good to be done is really the subject or “I” in the moment of self-gift (self-transcendence).” This is dangerous and seems to be the prison of all idealistic philosophies. The first object of the human mind is being which is external to the human mind as singular being.

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  4. Oops…Anyway, here’s the seminal point:For twenty some years we had a pope who showered us with documents and teaching. Great. Wonderful. Terrific. Good job. It’s Miller Time. And all the while that we were being buried under paper, the situation in the Church got worse and worse. Lot’s of teaching … no governance.Now, we have a new pope. Great. Wonderful. This Bud’s for you. Now, enough with the thinking and let’s kick some butt. Let’s actually DO some pope stuff. Not talk. Not write. Not muse. Not think. Not philosophize. Let’s do something! If I ever became a bishop (and, don’t worry; no one has suggested it) I would choose as my motto the logo for Nike: Just Do It!As I said in my original response (and I do wish you’d address it directly, please): the last thing we needed after being buried in JPII’s paper mill was another college professor pope with a lot of ideas and nothing much else. If he thinks his primary purpose in life to coaless JPII’s teaching, he’ll be coalessing to a Church in ruins. As the tired cliche goes: those who can, DO; those you can’t, teach.

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