Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 7)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 7:

“That is why philosophy nurtured within the Universitas is called upon, first of all, to take up the challenge of exercising, developing and defending a rationality with ‘broader horizons’, showing that “it again becomes possible to enlarge the area of our rationality […], to link theology, philosophy and science between them in full respect […] of their reciprocal autonomy, but also in the awareness of the intrinsic unity that holds them together.” [Footnote 14] On an institutional level, to rediscover “this great logos”, “this breadth of reason”, is precisely “the great task of the university.” [Footnote 15]

“[Footnote 14] Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants of the Fourth National Ecclesiastical Convention, Verona, 19 October 2006, OR (20 October 2006), pp. 6-7.

“[Footnote 15] Benedict XVI, Meeting with the Representatives of Science in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg (12 September 2006), AAS 98 (2006), pp. 728-739.”

 

Commentary:

The word universitas/university is used by the author to speak of institutions and programs of higher education, most often called universities.

A university is a place where all the differing areas of knowledge acquisition occur.      It is a place of universal knowledge.  The university is a place and is an ongoing dialogical event made up of every discipline which pursues a different path to the discovery and display of knowledge.  In addition to pursuing the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, the university setting should provide the professors and students of these differing paths the opportunity to intermingle socially and professionally for the purpose of expanding their horizons of interest and exploration.  The specific hope expressed in this chapter of the Decree is that the unifying focus which brings all of these together is a desire to attain that rationality which discovers and displays what is best for human beings; for persons and their communities.

Philosophy is one of these disciplines of knowledge acquisition.  At the same time, the Decree points out, philosophy has a meta-function.  Philosophy stands outside of all of these disciplines seeking to discover and display that notion of truth which unifies them in the common pursuit of what is best for human beings; persons and their communities.

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Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 6)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 6:

“From a Christian perspective, truth cannot be separated from love. On the one hand, the defence [sic] and promotion of truth are an essential form of charity: “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.” [Footnote 10] On the other hand, only truth permits true charity: “Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity.” [Footnote 11] Finally, truth and the good are closely connected: “Yet truth means more than knowledge: the purpose of knowing the truth is to know the good. This is also the meaning of Socratic enquiry: What is the good which makes us true? The truth makes us good and the good is true.” [Footnote 12] By offering an organic vision of knowledge that is not separated from love, the Church can make a specific contribution of her own – one capable of effecting change, including of cultural and social endeavours. [Footnote 13]

“[Footnote 10] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate (29 June 2009), OR (8 July 2009), pp. 4-5, n. 1.

“[Footnote 11] Caritas in veritate, n. 3.

“[Footnote 12] Benedict XVI, Lecture prepared for La Sapienza University in Rome, 17 January 2008, OR (17 January 2008), pp. 4-5.

“[Footnote 13] Caritas in veritate, n. 5.”

 

Commentary:

The Decree states that Roman Catholic instruction in philosophy and theology, teaches the learners and students how to defend and promote truth.  This truth which is to be defended and promoted refers to all knowledge which helps persons understand what is good and leads them to actualize what is good in their own lives.

Roman Catholic institutions of formation and education often provide instruction in Roman Catholic theology and philosophy.  The purpose of this instruction is to provide students the information they need and the skill-set they need so as to defend and promote the faith; that is, to evangelize.  Such formation helps students discover and understand what they, themselves, believe and provides them the knowledge and skills they need to communicate their beliefs to other persons.

The instruments of social communication are widespread, touching nearly all aspects of each person’s social and personal lives.  Youth and young adults, because of their intense desires to be affirmed and fit in, engage deeply in both the direct and indirect social environments.  Often, their interactions lead them to the discussion of topics related to what they believe.  Their opportunities for evangelization, apologetics, and catechesis are many.

Instructing the ignorant is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.  The sound theological and philosophical preparation of persons by Roman Catholic institutions of formation and education constitute a Spiritual Work of Mercy.  Class instruction in well taught Roman Catholic theology and philosophy, constitutes a Spiritual Work of Mercy by the instructors of those topics.

Similarly, as the learner becomes aware of the value of this instruction, in terms of revealing to them their own beliefs and the beliefs of the Church, the subsequent decision of the learner to diligently attend to this instruction, also constitutes a Spiritual Work of Mercy.    S/he begins to see him/herself as one who can speak his/her mind about these beliefs and ideas.  In short, s/he is consciously engaging in preparation to instruct the ignorant.  If the content delivered to these learners is of good quality they will know what the Church teaches.  If the methodology used to instruct them in this content is dialogical, the learners will obtain the skill set of articulating what they, themselves, know and believe.  Similarly, a dialogical learning environment of like aged and minded learners helps the students discover their own beliefs.  Witnessing the attempts of other learners to articulate their ideas and beliefs, provides learners the tools to articulate their own beliefs and the confidence to state their beliefs when they engage others in conversation in other secular contexts.

In short, well done Roman Catholic theological and philosophical instruction, constitutes a Spiritual Work of Mercy by those who are the learners, students, dialogical participants, and catechumens.

Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 5)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 5:

“Faced with “the segmentation of knowledge” which, “with its splintered approach to truth and consequent fragmentation of meaning, keeps people today from coming to an interior unity,” the following words of Pope John Paul II resound emphatically: “taking up what has been taught repeatedly by the Popes for several generations and reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council itself, I wish to reaffirm strongly the conviction that the human being can come to a unified and organic vision of knowledge. This is one of the tasks which Christian thought will have to take up through the next millennium of the Christian era.”[Footnote 9]

“[Footnote 9] Fides et ratio, n. 85.”

 

Commentary:

In the January 11 issue of The New York Times (online edition) is an opinion piece by Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle entitled “When Philosophy Lost its Way”.  The article is well worth reading.  The authors assert that those persons who thought and spoke and wrote philosophically [heretofore called philosophers] began in the modern era to envy the success of the modern sciences, and began to ape the specificity of focus of the sciences and the professional peer review methods of the sciences.  Slowly, these teachers of philosophy adopted the limited scope of the modern sciences in terms of their specificity of focus and modes of validation.  Once those persons who thought and taught and wrote philosophically made this shift, the general all embracing breadth of philosophy began to shrink.  Topics which could not be investigated by the sciences were slowly eliminated from philosophical consideration as well; especially at secular universities.

The subject matter of science as science is limited to considerations of physical matter (and the various forms in which that matter appears, such as energy) and motion (that is, the various changes which matter in its various forms undergoes).  Immaterial things such as God, heaven, angels, soul, the person, life, and mind are things in which science takes no interest and in which science as science has no opinion.  Aping the modern sciences, these immaterial entities became eliminated from philosophical consideration as well.  Further, because modern science limits itself to the discovery of and descriptions of the external causes of events and things, and since philosophy began to imitate this focus, philosophy lost its interest in essences or natures of things.  The word nature refers to an idea about reality which modern science does not recognize; even more so concepts such as the natures or ways of things.  This loss of interest in the-ways-of-things, an irony in that the word physics is derived from the Greek word pronounced foo-cease which means the-ways-of-things, is a tragedy in terms of philosophy.  Philosophy’s loses “its way” when it loses its interest in these “ways”; these immaterial essences and natures.

Also among the immaterial things which philosophy of the modern university has lost interest are ethical and moral matters such as character and virtues and vices.  The authors point out that philosophy’s adoption of science’s focus, necessarily led philosophy to a loss of interest in all matters regarding ethics and morality.  The attempt to share the narrow focus of the modern sciences necessarily leads to this amoral pedagogy.

Chapter 5 of the first part of the Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy advocates the Roman Catholic view that human matters should be investigated holistically.  The investigation of all things human, as an individual or within communities, in the here and now and in the hereafter, must incorporate discoveries from the sciences which focus on the material and incorporate insights from a more traditional philosophy.  This broader philosophy focuses on material realities but in terms of the internal causes which make up their natures and essences.  This philosophy also considers the immaterial aspects of things, and on those matters of science which science itself cannot focus because of its narrow subject matter, including the assumptions upon which science is based such as philosophical objectivism and the methods which sciences uses.

Chapter five of the Decree rightly warms that this fragmentation which is the cause of the narrow focus of modern philosophy, has the result of adopting a particularized and compartmentalized deconstructed view of humanity which makes it possible to consider humanity in terms of material reductionism.  For example, only a philosophy which denies the existence of immaterial essences and natures could take seriously the idea that the mind is nothing more than a computer and that life is a product of chemicals and physical energies.

The concept of modern science as a technological tool, is sometimes traced back the writings of Rene Descartes (A.D. 1596 to 1650) and others at the dawn of modern science.  In his Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes advocates his idea of limiting science to those matters of physical reality which can have practical applications; i.e. technology.  To this end he advocates a science which happens best in silence; in silence because others are held at a distance.  The metaphor he uses to advocate this scientific silence is the winter bivouac in which he claims to have his most fruitful insights regarding the methods of modern science.

Descartes’ bivouac stands in sharp contrast to the philosopher Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in which learning happens best in dialogue with others.  The antidote to this dehumanizing aspect of modern society is the re-appropriation of the wider and more holistic breadth of philosophy which includes dialogue among persons; which welcomes all comers to a timeless table of philosophical discourse about all matters human and humane.

Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies in Philosophy (Part 1, Paragraph 4)

In A.D. 2011 the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, issued its Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy.  The terms of this Decree apply to schools and departments of theology and philosophy residing in Roman Catholic Universities which are selected by dioceses for the theological formation of presbyteral candidates, diaconal candidates, and lay ministers.

The Decree consists of two parts.  The first part is made up of the sixteen paragraphs constituting its new material.  The second part consists of those parts of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (A.D. 1979, Pope John Paul II) addressing these same issues and which are, either, retained in whole or are modified in the current Decree.

The purpose of the articles which appear here is to present the parts of this document in sequential order and to offer additional commentary.  The articles here will begin with the presentation of the first paragraph of the first part of the Decree.  Subsequent articles will present/address the next part of the Decree.  Scrolling down through the articles will bring the reader, in reverse order, to all parts of the document already considered.

 

Decree, Part 1, Paragraph 4:

“Wisdom considers the first and fundamental principles of reality, and seeks the ultimate and fullest meaning of life, thus allowing it to be “the decisive critical factor which determines the foundations and limits of the different fields of scientific learning”, as well as “the ultimate framework of the unity of human knowledge and action, leading them to converge towards a final goal and meaning.” [Footnote 6] The sapiential characteristic of philosophy implies its “genuinely metaphysical range, capable, that is, of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for truth”, [Footnote 7] even if only gradually known through the course of history. In fact, metaphysics, i.e. first philosophy, deals with being and its attributes, and, in this way, raises itself up to the knowledge of spiritual realities, seeking the First Cause of all. [Footnote 8] Nevertheless, to emphasize its sapiential and metaphysical characteristic must not be understood as concentrating exclusively on the philosophy of being, inasmuch as all the different areas of philosophy are necessary for a knowledge of reality. Indeed, for each area, the proper field of study and the specific method must be respected, in the name of consonance with reality and the variety of human ways of knowing.

“[Footnote 6] Fides et ratio, n. 81

“[Footnote 7] Fides et ratio, n. 83.

“[Footnote 8] Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Comment on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Introduction; cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus caritas est (25 December 2005), AAS 98 (2006), pp. 217-252, n. 9.”

 

Commentary:

Modern science has limitations.  First, science is limited in that its subject matter includes only physical matter (and the various forms in which physical matter can appear, such as energy) and motion (or the various changes which physical matter in its various forms undergoes).  Thus, anything which is not matter or motion is outside the competency of science; things such as God, angels, heaven, soul, essence or nature of things, persons, but also the assumption of objectivism upon which science is based, and also the method used by a science.  None of these, and many others besides, can be studied by science.  A second limitation of science is that its finding are never certain.  This lack of certainty is due to the inductive method of investigation which modern science chooses to use.  A third limitation is that modern science defines its competency as determining the external causes of things and the external causes of the events those things undergo.  By limiting itself to the external causal explanation of things and events, science has no opinion on what might be called the essence or the nature of a given thing or event.  In this regard, one might think of Isaac Newton whose Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis explained gravity’s behavior in mathematical terms.  However, when he was asked what gravity was, he responded with the phrase hypotheoses non fingo; literally, “I feign no hypotheses” or “I offer no explanation what the nature of gravity is” or “Don’t know and don’t care.”  Fourth, though modern science can provide no certain explanations, it does provide explanations which it considers sufficient.  The sufficiency of these explanations or proofs are obtained in some cases, when the behaviors of what is studied are fully described mathematically.  In other cases, the explanation or proof is considered sufficient when the supposed discovery can be applied in a technological manner.  Finally, some explanations or proofs are considered sufficient when a sufficient number of experimental verifications are provided and without any falsifications revealed.

It was Aristotle who described metaphysics as first philosophy.  Metaphysics or ontology deals with being and the necessary attributes of that existence.  Such attributes include unity (oneness), goodness, truth, probably beauty, and perhaps thing(ness) and other(ness).  These attributes are also called the transcendental properties of being, or more simply, the transcendentals.  Every instance of actual existence; that is, every existing thing, possesses these qualities or attributes.  Though Aristotle only named unity as one of these properties, later scholasticism (A.D. 1100 to 1700) and Thomistic (St. Thomas Aquinas; A.D. 1225 to 1274) metaphysics would add some of the others such as goodness and truth.

The fourth paragraph of the first part of the Decree quoted above, states that philosophy which has its foundation in this Aristotelian, scholastic, Thomistic metaphysics has certain advantages.  The first advantage of this philosophy is that it believes things have natures or essences and that these can be discovered and known and talked about.  In part, this belief is based on the idea that a full explanation of any given thing or event includes an understanding of the internal causes of the nature/essence of that thing.  These causes are sometimes listed as formal, material, final, and efficient.  This doctrine that the essence or nature of a thing can be determined and described by considering its internal causes is called hylomorphism; from two Greek words referring to the stuff or matter (in Greek, hu-lay) out of which a thing is made and the form/function/essence (in Greek, more-fay) of the thing composed of that matter.  This hylomorphic description of things applies to immaterial as well as material things.  Thus, this philosophy is able to consider, discover things about, and understand those immaterial entities beyond the scope of modern science such as the divine, heaven, soul, and the sentient living things known as persons.  The second advantage is that this philosophy can provide discoveries which are certain.  This certainty is due to this philosophy using a deductive rather than only an inductive methodology.

Deductions take the form of drawing a conclusion from premises.  If the premises are true, the deductions can be certain.  Consider the following deduction.

All mammals are vertebrates.  (first premise)

Porpoises are mammals. (second premise)

Porpoises are vertebrates. (conclusion)

Based on observations, the conclusion is drawn that every mammal discovered has a backbone.  For argument sake, one accepts this conclusion as a fact and writes it out as the first premise above.  Similarly, it is discovered that every instance of studying females of the porpoise species reveals each has mammary glands.  Similarly, this observation is assumed to be a fact and written out in the form of the second premise.  For the sake of seeing what conclusions might be drawn from these two premises, we “bracket” the issue of whether or not we can actually say the premises are certain and true.  Acceptance of these two premises necessarily leads to the conclusion that all porpoises are vertebrates.  This knowledge is certain.  To the degree that the premises are true and to the degree that the relationship between the two premises and the conclusion are conducted in a logically licit manner, the conclusion necessarily follows.

Of course, the deductive conclusion that all porpoises have backbones is not certain because of the lack of certainty regarding the inductive observations on which the premises were based.

Nonetheless, being familiar with the deductive form of drawing a conclusion, we can now provide an example of deduction in which the conclusion is certain, because the premises are taken from observations which are self-evidently true.

Change requires time.  (first premise)

God is timeless. (second premise)

God does not change. (conclusion)

Inductive methodologies are based on observations of nature directly or on observations which take the form of experiments.  These observations then constitute a method of verification which “prove” the conclusions drawn.  Or, if an experiment is devised or an observation sought which can “prove” the hypothesis, and the “proof” is not obtained, this observation constitutes a falsification which undermines the acceptance of the proposed conclusion.

Joe sees a blackbird flying. (inductive premise 1)

Sally sees a bluebird flying. (inductive premise 2)

Jim sees a cardinal flying. (inductive premise 3)

Terrence sees a sparrow flying. (inductive premise 4)

D’ante sees a robin flying. (inductive premise 5)

Now, this becomes a science class project.  Eventually, the thirty members of the class compile one hundred and thirty nine examples of different types of birds flying.  They then feel confident in proposing the conclusion:  All birds fly.

Because the next observation could disprove the conclusion by means of providing an instance of a bird which does not fly, the conclusion drawn from the previous premises given, can never be certain.  Though this class of students has never seen or heard of an ostrich or penguin or emu, once one of them discovered and described one of these birds which doesn’t fly, the inductive conclusion’s lack of certainty would then be manifested.

The strength of modern science is that it can discover new and unexpected things because its basis is observations which then are composed as premises in an inductive form of drawing a conclusion.  The weakness of modern science is that it can never provide certainty.  It can never provide certainty because it uses an inductive methodology and because it is limited to the study of physical matter and its changes; a condition which by definition is contingent; i.e. changing, uncertain.

The strength of the deductive methodology used by a philosophy based on a realistic metaphysics is that its conclusions are certain.  However, the weakness of this philosophy is that it cannot discover new things.  It cannot discover new things because everything found in its deductive conclusions is already present in its premises.  This philosophy and its deductive methodology can reveal things which are already available but not noticed.  This deductive methodology draws attention to the facts already present but unnoticed.

Because this philosophy has this limitation in the area of novelty, it is necessary that it defer to science in some respects when the subject being investigated are matters of physical matter and the changes which physical matter experiences.