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.”
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.