A New Tool for Truth

What makes literature so excessively attractive in comparison to philosophy? Why do writers like Albert Camus, Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Dostoyevsky, Nate Hawthorne, Jean Paul Sartre thrive in modernity while Plato, Aristotle, and the scholastics are remembered as ancient and irrelevant? Most prefer to study literature instead of philosophy. Many prefer principles be explicated through novels rather than through philosophical inquiries. Is the modern mind incapable of grasping the depth of the works so they turn to the facile? Do good literary works and philosophical texts not have the same goal? The truth. Although their method of ransacking the truth differs profoundly, they end up at the same destination. Should that not be enough?

albert_camus_quoteAfter all, both help the human person to answer the most salient questions about life. We all want to know what it truly means to be a human being; we want to understand our origin so that we explore better our destiny. We want to know what drives our desires. We hanker to discover the best way to live and why we suffer although we attempt to live a virtuous life. Besides the human experience that provides some insight into the best way to answer these questions, very thoughtful and provocative answers are found in the philosophy inquiries conducted over thousands of years, as well as in literary works developed through the lived-experience of the human person. So in that sense, they stand on the same pedestal. They both teach their students similar things about the school of life.

Why does literature have the edge? It is because literary scholars draw from the human experience to bring out the truth about the human person whereas philosophers remain bound to the most a priori method to come to that same truth, which, although true, are not grounded in matters of fact. For example, if we ask a philosopher and a literary scholar what makes a person uniquely and authentically human? The philosopher, depending on the period, would explore human nature, the soul, and eventually would probably conclude after endless inquiry that the capacity to give meanings to our daily experience is what makes us human. If he is really sharp and grounded, he might conclude that our humanity lies in the unique and authentic capacity to raise our mind beyond this world to a being greater than our littleness. Not that there is anything wrong with that; far from it, but the method would not connect to the sufferings, struggles, doubts, and fears that we experience in our daily life.

Wise-Quotes-33379-statusmind.com_The literary scholar, on the other hand, would probably tell us a beautiful story narrating our senseless experiences. He or she would include human love, stupid dreams, irrational fear, unfounded doubts, and family willy-nilly to make his points. We would see emotions, sex, fights, successes and failures, laughter and sadness, sunrise and sunset, kicking and jumping, life and death etc. He would present the human person with all his cracked part, which would greatly capture the human reality as we live it. These experiences would lead us to understand what we are about and what matters in life.

From these everydayness realities, we would come to understand that we transcend anything that this world can offer. We would come to see that our life only makes sense when we surrender to a being that offers us something higher than natural life can offer. In telling the story, he would meet readers halfway; they would see themselves in the story; it would be as tough he or she is translating their own experience into words. Anyone can relate to this practical and relatable method. Most would concur with the conclusion of course.Edmund-Husserl-Quotes-5

That’s a method a philosopher like Karol Wojtyla understood very early on. Although he was educated in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas under the tutelage of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (no small feet), and later surveyed German philosophers like Kant, Scheler, and Husserl, he embraced rather phenomenology. The latter is an effort to bring back into philosophy the lived-experience of the human person as lived by the human person. It aims at getting to the truth of things-as-they-are i.e. reality. Why we make the choice we make. What our ultimate longing is.

Phenomenology detects the psychological, moral, physical, and conceptual elements of the human person as he/she experiences them. For example, to the question what it means to be human, a phenomenologist would observe how a person relates to another person. What is unique in their relations compared to other living beings. How the heart reacts when we fall in love. How we approach suffering, death, fear, doubts, sin, and failure. From these observing, he would try to understand what that tells us about the human condition. Clearly, phenomenologists are not literary scholars per se, but they make use of the best method in the world of philosophy and literature i.e. they employ literary method to investigate their topic, and use the pertinence and pointedness of philosophy to discover the truth about the human person. That discovery allows them to speak to people in relevant and perspicacious ways that speak to the human experience.

jpiiWojtyla was deeply realistic about the world and the human capacity to find truth in it. In exploring a question, he would always start with the human experience. Thinking, he believes, starts with the human person grounded in his messy experience of the world. The person alone is aware of his being and capable of wonder. From there, we can explore what our vocation is, how best to build our history etc. He remained deeply committed to reason. Not the kind of reason that traps people in an unrealistic cycle, but reason that illuminates the mind to discover who we are and how we ought to subsequently live.

As a professor, that’s what he tried to inculcate in his students. He always pressed his students to speak freely despite reticence. One of his students, just graduated from law school, crammed with Marxist idea, vehemently attacked Wojtyla’s ideas and the church’s teachings on social teaching to the point where all his classmates thought he should be expelled. He went on for long time while Wojtyla attentively listened. When he finally finished, the whole room was filled with a loud silence. Wojtyla simply processed by saying:” Ladies and Gentlemen, what your colleague has just said here is evidence that he is beginning to think theologically”. His reaction galvanized other students to begin to express their own frustrations about the human condition, God, communism, life etc. Starting from the human condition, they explored together the answers.

Tintoretto-CrucifixionThat’s a method that needs to be reintroduced to the intelligentsia today. That would allow us to not only speak to the new generation who is trapped in the whirlwind of technology, but also to discover the kind of truth capable of finding untamed and unexplored territory. The wealth of knowledge left by the ancient and even the modern thinkers cannot be rejected or ignored without doing damage to the future, but I am afraid that’s where we are heading with the new way of doing literature.

It is Wojtyla’s patient way of approaching situations from an observational standpoint that enabled him to have a unique understanding of how to deal with the communists’ unacceptable attitude of oppressing the church in Poland. He has helped shape a new way of thinking with this method, which enabled him to speak to his flock as the bishop of Krakow, Poland despite the pressure of the overly controlling communist government. It is through this lens he understood human dignity, family life, and religious freedom and was able to speak to his flock in ways that made a revolutionary sense for them. It is this method of thinking that guided him in understanding the world he had to deal with as Pope John Paul II. Perhaps, it is this method that will be useful for the new evangelization so desperately needed today.

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What It Means to Be Human

The human being is the most complex and fascinating phenomenon ever created. All people of knowledge from philosophers, to scientists, sociologists etc. have attempted to come up with propositions capable of summarizing the human being. Some have provided propositions that destroy the very dignity of the human person. Others have come up with more or less acceptable view. I call their view acceptable because they have sustained the test of time and debates in the philosophical arena.
Here, I want to consider Aristotle’s view of the human person, which deals with basics of what a human being is, but lacks what makes us great; and I want to express one of the elements that make us stand apart from all other beings.
In the De Anima, Aristotle argues that the human person is a composite of body and soul. For him, the body cannot be separated from the soul in the same way form cannot be separated from matter. The soul, as he conceives it, is the substantial form of the body; by this, he means that it needs the body for its subsistence, but it is not a body. It is what makes a human being a human being in the same way the ability to cut is what makes an axe an axe, sight is what makes an eye an eye, so the soul is makes a human being what he/she is.
It is noteworthy to mention that the telos of Aristotle in studying the soul is not because he believes that it has some value beyond this life; he is studying it because he believes that it is something fascinating as any philosophical concept. Knowing what something is tells us what it can do. As a result, he defines it as the first actuality of a natural body that potentially has life.
Due to this understanding, he maintains that anything that has life has also a soul. So plants have nutritive soul- meaning the can take in food and so grow; animals have perceptive/sensitive soul, which means that they can do what plants do, and they can also sense and reproduce. Human beings, according to his view, have a rational/intellective soul which is unique to them. Humans have the capacity to do what both plants and animals do, but more importantly, he/she has the capacity to reason. Due to that capacity, human can strive toward a higher telos (end).
How does the body communicate with each other as we observe it? Unlike most thinkers, Aristotle differs between the mind and the soul. The mind is part of the body and so is a physical thing while the soul is an immaterial, non spatial thing that acts in a physical thing (the mind). So the soul interacts with the body by means of the mind. The soul acts on the mind which acts on the body, but it is unaffected by it and has nothing in common with the body. So when the body is deteriorated, the soul remains intact. The soul never gets tired doing what it does. If the mind can be weary thinking, if the body gets tired daily, the soul can never be tired exercising its activity.
A concept that Aristotle was probably never interested in, but which interests me greatly, is that the human person originates from love, by means of love, to become love, and ultimately return to love. As such, he is the only being capable of selflessly giving himself as a gift of love. Actually, love is the only requirement that a person asks of others. We are just to a person if we love him/her. This is true for God as well as human. Love, for a person, excludes the idea that he/she is being treated as object of pleasure. Here, I think Kant would strongly agree with me since he maintains that a person must always be treated as an end in his Categorical Imperative.
Thus, the way we manifest our humanity, the way we echo our identity is when we let love blossom selflessly. It’s in selfless love that we become fully human. As a consequence of this behavior and understanding, before we do anything, we must always question whether or not that elevates the human person to love more deeply and so allows him/her to flourish as a person of dignity. Moreover, the capacity to offer ourselves as a gift of love when we fully know what that involves is a testimony that we are unique and was intentionally given that capacity. It is a witness that we were created as an intrinsic end for a particular purpose. As a result, we must live in a way that bears witness to that. We are truly human when we avoid engaging in what compromises the purpose for which we were made.
So to be human means to be constantly giving ourselves as a selfless gift. In fact, every move we make in life, our cravings, restless effort to succeed, search for friendship, bonding, conviviality, and striving to know the truth and the good are done for the sake of love. Entrust your self to selfless love so we can attain the depth of human existence. Know this. That love you are seeking, the love you have a right to enjoy and should selflessly die for has a name and a face— Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross to give meaning to your life and purpose to your endeavors.

To All Philologists’ Attention— We Are All Philologist in Some Way

C. S. Lewis, in his imaginative, dreamy and insightful day, said that he observed an encounter in space between a Ghost and a Spirit that used to mutually share opinions while on earth. The spirit expresses the hope that the ghost has now realized that he was incorrect and so changed his views. The main question they explore and the one I want to linger on is whether people should be penalized for their honest opinions. When, for instance, scientists or philosophers observe nature and draw conclusions that end up opposing the truth, should they get punished on the judgment day for that? In other words, is there sin of the intellect?

The ghost maintains that his opinions were not simply honest; they were heroic as well for he asserted them fearlessly (as if asserting them fearlessly makes them honest). When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the faculties which God had given him or it (the ghost), he openly rejected it. To this, the spirit replies that their opinions were not honestly come by to them (while on earth). They simply were exposed to a certain ideas that were modern and popular. That catalyzed them to express those opinions. In college, they wrote many famous essays that won them great reputation, but when faced with the question whether there is in fact an abiding principle guiding all natural events, they did not even consider its possibility, and so they give up their faith without any resistance.

The spirit reminisced that they allowed themselves to drift, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from their desires, so they reach a point where they could no longer believed the Faith.

The spirit then offers him to repent and believe. He invites it to the land of answers where it shall see the face of God, and where its thirst will be quenched. The ghost retorts that there is no final answer. “The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind”, he says.  The ghost is not even aware of a drink capable of satiating the intellect’s inquiry. Finally, the spirit asks him if he still desires happiness. It replies that happiness lies in the path of duty. So it cannot go with him for there is a new theological society that he can be of some use to.

My honest opinion about this question is: if one does not know the truth and so he/she expresses his/her opinion on an issue where he/she ends up being wrong, of course he should not(will not) be punished accordingly. In this case, it would not be a sin, but an error for according to St Augustine, though every error is in itself an evil, not every error is a sin. Error produces unconsciously is not a sin; if it is a sin, it is not punishable. However, I believe if one consciously ignores the truth for his intellectual insight so as to land to prestigious jobs, or for the sake of popularity, by all means he will have to respond for the debacle he has caused. It seems to me that while both the Ghost and the Spirit had traveled the same road, the Spirit followed genuinely, not knowing that the truth. The Ghost, on the other hand, refuses to admit that he is wrong and does not want to be exposed to the truth. No wonder he is a ghost not a saint.

Would you like to share your opinion about this topic? Please hit comment. Thank you.

The Twins That Do Not See Eye to Eye

Truths found by mean of faith cannot be contradicted by truths found through philosophy for they aim at the same thing— truth. Since truth cannot be contradicted by truth, it is logical to say that philosophy and theology are non contradictory (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles). Averroes, an Arabic philosopher, say there is nothing inherently contradictory between philosophy and theology; it is the means used to reach the truth that conduct the pursuer in confusion. “Theologians deal with revealed truth with regards to God as the Creator and His relation with His creation. Lovers of wisdom, on the other hand, seek truth and permanence in a constantly changing world (The Decisive Treatise, 18).” So for Averroes the means employed by these seekers may throw them off track, but if both philosophy and theology are done rightly, they cannot find contradictory conclusion pursing the same thing.

One interesting observation made by Pascal, who came long after these masters were gone, signaled that “There are three kinds of people in the world; those who have sought God and found Him and now serve Him, those who are seeking Him but have not yet found Him, and those who neither seek Him nor find Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the second reasonable and unhappy, and the third unreasonable and unhappy”. The truth remains that today’s society has to deal with these people. This issue spurs me to ask: what went wrong? Why is the more one plunged into philosophy the further away he or she tends to browse from the truth? Why were only the ancients able to find truth through philosophy?  Let me be more direct; why does philosophy not lead to truth anymore?

Anyone who has studied philosophy knows that philosophy remains what it is regardless of culture. It asks the same fundamental questions that have always been pervaded humanity for eternity: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life etc? In fact, these questions are not merely peculiar to philosophy; we find them in the Bible, in Islam, in ancient philosophy, in religion like Confucius and Lao-Tze, and in the preaching of Tirthankara and Buddha; they appear in the poetry of Homer and in the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles, as they do in the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle. Blessed Pope John Paul II noticed that these are questions which have their common source in the quest for meaning which has always compelled the human heart. The answer given to these questions decides the direction which people seek to give to their lives. So why do most people fail to take the right road then?

JPII seems to strike at the heart of the issue. “Reason,” He says,” in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth that transcends them”.

JPII—It has happened therefore that reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned. This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread skepticism. While philosophical thinking has succeeded in coming closer to the reality of human life and its forms of expression, it has also tended to pursue issues—existential, hermeneutical or linguistic—that ignore the radical question of the truth about personal existence, about being and about God.

Philosophy has clearly then lost its aim. It bitterly fails to pursue the beautiful original path traced by the ancients. Of course it can no longer cohabit with theology in this environment. They become like a divorce husband and wife that can neither stay away from each other nor get along. Philosophers ask questions known by only theologians. Rather they prefer to reject all insights that come from theology. The reason why today’s philosophers find not the truth is because they don’t accept the theologians’ answers. Though they do acknowledge the limit of their science, they reject theological answers because they use a tool that had never been employed before then, namely the tool of revelation. Why else would philosophers not want to work with theologians? Sheer arrogance. Do you now see why philosophy does not conduct to truth anymore? The day philosophers finally understand that it is sine qua non to work with theologians, no longer will there be unhappy and unreasonable people out there.