THE NATURE OF RESEARCH
JEAN LADRIERE and EDOUARD BONE
THE NEED FOR RESEARCH
To investigate the place research should occupy in the Ch urch, it is necessary first to study the significance of research in itself, or independently of any applications to which it might give rise. Being more proximate to us, it is often the applications which receive the most attention.
(a) Research is a fundamental dimension of the life of the mind in which each person is called to participate, and which each should be able to undertake to some degree during his or her life. In classical terms the question of research would be considered to be that of the general relationship of the m ind and truth, but it is necessary to clarify how truth presents itself concretely. Where traditionally it would be said that truth is found in the proposition, today it is more readily said to be located in "theory." A theory is an organized sequence of propositions sustained by factors such as agreement with experience and the ability to be submitted to appropriate procedures of proof. These should either reinforce the reasons which sustain the th eory, place it in doubt or even completely refute it.
Indeed, theories are like living beings inasmuch as they retain their meaning only if constantly sustained by contributions from new ideas, new confrontations with experience, or their own mutual interaction. Moreover, like the order of life, the order of truth undergoes a process of evolution. The intellectual constructs which are developed become increasingly complex and capable of varied interaction with reality, with each other and with the human spirit.
Sci ence constitutes an excellent paradigm for the general life and evolution of theories. But because scientific discourse lends itself to very special criteria for its legitimation it is confined to restricted areas and cannot constitute the total research effort. The world, experience, and life remain always in need of being interpreted because their meaning is both inexhaustible and ever in a process of development.
As the real foundation of research lies in the idea of creation, it is necessary to attempt to recapture everything that concept implies. The creative act brings into being a dynamic universal order. The creativity which operates at every level of visible reality is the trace of this creative influx. Hence, the
notion of a "book of na ture" can be deceptive in the measure to which it suggests a world in which all is fixed beforehand and which is in need simply of being decoded. In reality the book is always in the process of being written and to a degree our interventions contribute to the writing.
Research, then, is a ceaseless movement of interpretation which is characterized, not by necessity, for it is always possible to do without it, but by vocation inasmuch as it reflects a certain qualitative level of existence. It should be stressed that the incompleteness involved in the creativity of the real belongs to man as well as to nature. The notion of natural law should be rethought in this context for there is development also in eth ics. The task of research, therefore, is not only to understand the world, but to understand and appreciate man; it concerns the realm of values, including ethical values.
(b) Seen in this perspective, it becomes possible to understand the role of research in "prax is" understood as transforming action in the order of both technol ogy and social struc tures. In one sense, interpretation is already a form of action. It is not only contem plation or understanding in the sense of vision, for in the context of modern scientific thought the term `theory' signifies something quite different than it did in the Gr eek context. The attempt to seize truth is of its very nature also an effort to extend the movement of reality and actively to assume the creativity it contains. There is, therefore, no opposition between interpretation of a given and its transformation; the latter quite naturally extends the former upon which it continually depends for its meaning.
(c) For this reason, it is necessary notably to revise the conception of the application of research as well as that of a clear separation between ends and means. Research does not consist in the accumulation of a knowledge which will be subsequently applied, but is an active interpretation of reality. Certainly, interpretation has a complex structure reflective of the difference and also of the interconnection between levels of reality. For example, though the elaboration of a cosmology and the construction of a reactor are not on the same level, the cosmology one adopts modifies the meaning of the world and thereby of actions such as the construction of a reactor. The interconnection between the different levels concerns not only knowledge, but to a large degree meaning.
On the other hand, one must not isolate science, which in its way is a restricted interpretative discourse, from more extended interpretative discourses so as to reserve to science the analysis of means and leave to more inclusive discourses the determination of ends. The distinction, which has become classic in the English school, between fa cts and val ues should be critically examined, for in truth all is connected. Values are already operative on the level of what is called facts; their dynamic objectivity makes them an object of study similar to facts. A simple separation of fact and value would empty facts of their axiological significance and leave values with a merely subjective status.
In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of the connection between science and act ion along with a correlatively more incisive questioning both of the classical distinction between facts and values and of the objectivity of science. This critical attitude toward science has engendered in diverse and increasingly numerous areas a veritable anti-science movement. This opposition is sometimes referred to as "the swing away from science" and has inspired various proposals for a scientific moratorium and a "freeze" upon research. The Christian researcher should have a special role to play in this context.
RESEARCH AS A COOPERATIVE EFFORT
In its most general sense, research should play a role in the life of each individual. It is part of the human vocation, for each person must construct his own understanding of the world. Nevertheless, research cannot be reduced to a purely individual project, for it is also essentially collective.
First, research has an historical dimension. It depends upon a heritage which, even when questioned, provides a point of departure for progress and for opening toward the future. Like every human activity, research work is steeped in historicity in virtue of which the present can open to the future through a reassessment of its past.
In addition, research has an institutional dimension. It requires as means an organization, systematic exchanges and ways of communicating its results. It requires also a certain continuity of effort which can be assured only by institutions, for these are more lasting than individuals.
This double dependence in relation to history and to institutions introduces a notable element of contingence. The free initiative of the spirit in tension with the weight of tradition and the rigidity of institutions, is subject to interests, passions and the desire for power. It is here that one must situate the connection between research and politics, seen not only as the organization for the common good, but the place where the will of po wer most exerts itself.
On the other hand, it is only on the basis of this collective dimension that research can be cumulative and evolve. History and institutions are required in order that achievements be conserved and discoveries propagated, that ideas exercise a mutual control over one another, that overall transformations take place in order to constitute new relatively stabilized levels, and that in time real overall progress be made.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF RESEARCH FOR THE CHURCH
In relation to the life of the Church the significance of research can be seen in the perspective of the major Christian mysteries: Cre ation, Incarn ation and Rede mption.
Creation. In view of what has been suggested above, research can be seen to be a development in and by the dynamism of general creativity at work in the world. This, in turn, is a visible manifestation of God's own creative act. Hence, the human spirit as created and gifted with its own creativity is directed by constitutive finality towards the comprehension of all that is real. Research, then, is part of the human vocation which, in turn, is part of the general work of creation. In its own order, it is an effort to actualize some of the capabilities placed in reality, and in this sense it is cooperation in the work of Creation.
Incarnation. Assumption in and by the Person of the Word of human nature includes all the powers placed in man by creation. The Ch urch, as Body of Christ, actualizes this in history. Certainly, the members of this body are concrete men, but in and through them the human effort is inscribed in the mystery of the theandric union and in the process of divinization achieved in this mystery.
Redemption. The work of redem ption includes both deliverance from that which keeps man captive in the flesh and a march toward the complete manifestation of the plan of God in Jesus Christ. As with all human activities, research work is affected by the power of redemption. On the one hand, salvific grace delivers it from all that is opaque, power grasping or pride of spirit--in brief, the effects of sin. On the other hand, redemption renders whole the mind's original dynamism; it transfigures thus by opening it to the action of the Holy Spirit and transforming it into an act of praise and of thanksgiving. Research is, then, nothing other than a transitory stage in the life of the spirit. To the measure in which it approaches its true destination it becomes useless, for striving towards truth should be succeeded by the simplicity of comprehension. Though in a sense this is now true here below, it should be understood in the eschat ological perspective of the Kingdom of God: all that is lived in the present is a proclamation of the plentitude of the future. In its own way, research is a route towards subsistent Truth, for as assumed by Redemption it is in its own order proclamation of that communion in which Truth gives Itself in full clarity.
This perspective both evokes and justifies regarding research a basic feeling of confidence which is an aspect of the virtue of hope. At a time when some begin to depreciate science or even to reject it, the role of the Christian in research may be to contribute to the human intellectual effort that strength which is derived from the power of Redemption and directed toward reorienting this effort toward its true destiny.
The Church and Research. The Church should be considered both in its invisible or mystical aspect as the Body of Christ, and in its visible reality as an historical institution bearing the weight of its own history. It is the Body of Christ in the contingence of that visible reality appearing in each epic. Thus, as contingent and historical, marked by time and limited, it must carry out the mission confided to it as the extension through time of the mystery of Christ. That is, it must assume human reality of which the work of research is an essential component. This justifies, and in a sense demands, Christian research institutions. There is no question, certainly, of the Church undertaking the entirety of research, but rather of giving witness by efforts that are necessarily partial and particular to a mission which is by nature universal. Though without doubt there is place for individual witness, given the collective character of research and the organic nature of the Church, institutional witness has a specific significance and is apparently indispensable.
Furthermore, inasmuch as the Church in its visible and contingent reality is ever in process, it must be so in research, and this on two levels. On the one hand, it must search out what is involved in its own vocation for, though this was indicated clearly by Christ, its implications for present circumstances must always be rediscovered. On the other hand, the Church must study man and the world both as having special needs and as providing the signs of the times which must always be taken into account. Indeed, the two aspects are connected: discoveries concerning the world contribute a sense of vocation to the Church; correlatively, discoveries concerning mankind enable one to comprehend in a more concrete fashion the significance of that call addressed to him or her in and by Christ and His Church. Properly speaking, it is a question, not of a more adequate understanding of salvation as such, but of a more precise comprehension of what it signifies here and now. Learning how to understand better that which must be saved prepares one to appreciate better the historical implications of salvation.
Research as Service to the Church. Thus far, research has been considered especially as an effort at interpr etation and with respect to its role in the Church's work of self understanding. But it is necessary to consider research also in a more concrete fashion--especially in relation to questions in the practical order--as an instrument of knowledge with a role to play in the service of action. In this respect, research is very directly involved in the life of the Church: it should enable her to direct her missionary action, pastoral work and teaching. In brief, it should provide the Church with guidance in all the responsibilities which she is called upon to undertake both regarding her own members and human society in general.
Three examples can be cited here. There is an annual increase of 74 million men in the world; this implies an increase of approximately 10 million Catholics in the juridical sense of the term. This massive increase in the number of persons within the Church is taking place at the very time in which a very painful decrease in recruitment for the priestly and religious life is being experienced.
In addition, the age level of the population is diminishing in most nations with a high birth rate. Concretely, this means that half the population of the globe, and thus of the Church, is constituted today of individuals of less than 20 years of age, and in certain countries of less than 15. At the same time, the age of priests and religious in apostolic or missionary work has risen, thereby intensifying the growing division of mentalities.
Thirdly, we are now experiencing the phenomenon of mass urba nization, even "metropolitization." The Church, however, is better prepared for a rural pastoral, because its parochial structure is less adapted to the phenomenon of urbanization.
It will be necessary for the Church to develop structures which will permit the kind of thinking needed in order to respond to the needs arising from the work of evangelization in these circumstances. This is an immediate and concrete need on the part of the Church; it requires research in so ciology, demog raphy, past oral, eccles iology, etc. Naturally, these examples are cited only as illustrations. The fields in which research can and must play a role in the service of the work of the Church are numerous.
CONDITIONS FOR RESEARCH
In order to make these general indications more precise and to prepare more concrete suggestions and questions it will be helpful to clarify some characteristics of research. It was noted above that research is comprehensive and in no way limited to those areas which can be known in a scientific manner. Nonetheless, it can reasonably be sustained that it has everything to gain by being inspired by the scientific method. That method is constituted of a continual passage between imagin ation, reas oning and experi ence. Very schematically, it is developed around the two poles of discovering and testing of hypotheses, each of which employs simultaneously imagination, reasoning and experience. In the light of scientific method it is possible to identify the conditions of research as follows.
(a) The discovery of hypotheses requires an exercise of the imag ination and great intellectual freedom. It is desirable that for each problem many hypot heses be able to be developed, for the confrontation between hypotheses, with the controversy this can imply, plays a very important, perhaps even essential, role in the development of knowledge.
(b) The means of testing differ according to the discipline involved. In science, observation and experimentation are the means for testing hypotheses as these are organized into theories. In philosophy an hypothesis is tested by its capacity to provide an improved resolution of the classical problems inherited from the history of philosophy; to resolve new problems which arise, for example, from developments in the sciences; and to raise by itself new questions which open a more extended field of reflection. In theology, the test consists in comparison to the givens of Scri pture and tradit ion.
The collective character of research plays an essential role in this work. Testing is not a purely epistemic operation, but must produce a consensus for it is completed only upon ratification by a community. In the case of scientific research the results must be accepted by the scientific community concerned, that is, by the majority, if not the entirety, of those known as experts in the relevant domain. In the case of philosophical research a point of view must be recognized by a sufficient number of people working in the relevant perspective. One could perhaps add that at least the serious nature of the effort must be recognized by the totality of schools of philosophy to the extent that all accept the work as worthy of being discussed. Finally, in the case of theological research, it is a question of recognition by the Church of the legitimacy from the point of view of the faith of that which is proposed. It is here that the role of doctrinal auth ority is operative for, given the essentially institutional form of the Church, recognition necessarily implies the positive, or at least not negative, judgment of authority.
(c) It is necessary always to take account of the consequences at the level of action of whatever is proposed. Naturally, these consequences can be more or less direct and it will be correspondingly more or less difficult to appreciate them. In some cases the distance from action is so great that such considerations can hardly apply to the content itself of the proposed hypotheses. But even then one has to consider the relative overall utility of different research projects, if only as regards the scientific politique of the division of resources. Reference to action introduces, in turn, pragmatic criteria of social utility. This clearly implies a number of component factors: the techno logical at which one often stops, the cultural, the ethical such as the requirements of justice, and perhaps the properly cognitive, for historical capital knowledge can be considered a social value.
(d) Research requires an adequate criteriology of truth; it is here that the epistemological critique achieves its full importance. The epistemic status of an hypothesis is quite special: even one that is well-founded by a variety of testing procedures cannot be considered to be true, but only to possess a certain degree of confirmation. This is quite important, for hypotheses are often presented as true propositions. Indeed, many conflicts arise from the fact that merely hypothetical assertions are treated as statements which claim to be true.
In the perspective of a scientific methodology--which is the perspective of research--one cannot speak in terms of true and false but only in terms of relative coherence, fruitfulness, pragmatic utility, relative acceptability, degree of confirmation, reasonable degree of probability, etc. It is necessary to clarify in each case which criteria are appropriate and to judge according to these criteria.
In the light of the preceding, certain practical consequences and concrete problems can be noted regarding research in the Church. Some practical consequences should be examined first.
(a) It would appear that the Church needs a number of research institutions. This implies that the existing institutions should be encouraged and progressively developed and that, in time and according to needs and possibilities, new institutions should be created. These institutions should permit the Church to respond to the triple need described above: that of witness founded basically on the continual work of the Incarnation, that of the Church's self comprehension through clarifying its mission and meaning in relation to human destiny, and that of shedding light upon concrete tasks related to problems involved in evangelization in the contemporary world.
(b) This research should be carried out on different levels. There must be: (1) reflection on the experience of the Church, for the task of clarifying the meaning of the Church belongs to its mission (the work of theology); (2) participation as a witness in man's general research effort, both on the level of the different scientific disciplines as well as on the level of questions of meaning (philosophy in the broad sense); (3) reflection on the conditions and characteristics of the interaction of faith and the world both regarding the challenges of the world to faith and the contributions by the faith to clarifying the situations of life in the world; and (4) interdisciplinary study of concrete problems for evangelization raised by the development of societies, life styles, mentalities, etc.
(c) It is indispensable that research institutions in the Church to collaborate with other research centers. Participation in the general effort of humanity should be open and total.
(d) The different research centers should be able to collaborate between themselves in terms of the proper and specific objectives of research in the Church in order to assure their most efficacious realization. In this they should take account of the necessary division of work, the diversity of resources and capabilities, the distinctive traditions of each institution, the modes of interaction which can be employed effectively, etc.
(e) Research should be able to be carried on in the Church in a climate of open freedom. This poses a real problem, since on the psychological level at least the existence of the magisterium and, perhaps still more, the weight of opinion which is difficult to situate and define are experienced as a difficulty by a certain number of Christian researchers. This difficulty is not only psychological for it becomes manifest when certain concrete positions are taken. Christian researchers must be so filled by a desire to "feel with the Church" that, with Teilhard de Cha rdin, they come to share even Her unspoken concerns and the needs and implications of Her understanding for their work. Evidently, this requires that they have real freedom in their work, even to the extent of taking some risks which many would not dare.
For clarity on this question it may be helpful to distinguish between that which pertains to research in the proper sense of the term, to teaching on the university level and to preaching as a concern of clerics. It will be necessary to separate the consideration of theology from that of other disciplines. What causes difficulty is that persons who have an institutional responsibility seem to involve the Church in all of their actions. It is necessary to distinguish to a greater degree than has been done thus far what pertains to research and even teaching, from that which is of such a nature as to involve the Church.
On the level of research, it is important to give scientific methodology its full importance; this in turn underlines the role and particular status of hypo theses. On the level of teaching, it is necessary to take account of the contemporary conditions in which the work is carried out. Teaching cannot consist simply in the transmission of a fixed body of knowledge, but must be an initiation into personal research by providing the students with the intellectual means they need in order to be able to direct themselves personally and responsibly through the labyrinth of contemporary culture. They must learn to distinguish the always hypothetical advice of a researcher from expressions of the consensus of the faith of the Church. This, in turn, requires a corresponding methodological formation of those who participate in research in order that they be able to indicate, in the clearest manner possible, the epistemological weight of their statements. This is as true for the positive sciences as it is for philosophy and theology.
(a) If collaboration is necessary, by what means can it be achieved? Here, past experience can be helpful. One can dream of exchanges of researchers between different centers; of occasional or periodical colloquia; of exchanges of information through reviews, monographs or simple mimeographed pages; and eventually of the constitution of short term research teams in different centers and of general meetings of the teams. The principal difficulty appears to be in assuring the continuity of this work. Experience shows that occasional colloquia can be very fruitful for exchanging information and comparing points of view, but they are not a means of carrying out in depth constructive work.
(b) It is important to take account of the differences between research institutions in the Church. What is important is not only their juridical status, but more generally everything that has to do with their organization, financial means, balance between teaching and research, etc.
(c) There will always be tension in research between the work of individuals' creative imagination and projects which must be supported institutionally. All forms of collaboration necessarily imply a more or less high degree of organization and institutionalization. The modes of organization must be sufficiently simple to enable individual imagination to play its full role.
(d) One should distinguish in research between themes and projects. A theme is a question proposed for study by scholars at different centers and on which the various individuals are invited to work freely and independently. A project is a precise problem whose adequate treatment requires a team effort with strict collective discipline.
(e) The manner of determining research themes and projects must be determined and undoubtedly will require a certain degree of centralization. However, these should be directed toward assuring coordination, rather than toward a type of central planning which would replace initiative on the part of the different research units.
(f) As not all can be undertaken, attention must be given to the need to make choices. This is the politics of research, the manner of making a conscious determination of the efforts to be undertaken. A rational decision presupposes a comparative estimate of the expected results and of their importance in relation to resources of personnel and materials required. It is necessary to determine where and in what manner these evaluations and choices can be made.
(g) The provision of prior orientation for research is essential and requires both identifying beforehand the questions which will become important and eventually raising interesting new questions. This raises the issue of prospectives which includes both a methodological dimension concerning the procedures which make possible the formulation of reasonable projections and an institutional dimension concerning the organs which will assume responsibility for planning for the future.
(h) An examination is required of the way of establishing relations of research institutions in the Church to such other institutions as State universities, laboratories, international entities, etc. What public stance should be assumed in relation to these institutions? Should participation in the broad projects originated, for example, on the level of international institutions be foreseen or should an attempt be made to determine specific areas of work?
(i) Finally, one must reflect upon the specific character of the relation of Catholic Universities to research. To what measure are they in a position to render the witness of which it was a question above, how sensitive are they themselves to their mission as witnesses, how can their virtues be effective for those to whom it normally should be addressed? The great majority of Catholic universities are concerned more with teaching than with research. Undoubtedly this situation is related to the limitations of available resources, but there is also here a question of priorities. The actual place of research in one's conception of the mission of Catholic universities should be a matter for reflection.
The importance of the bond between research and action was noted above and should be reflected upon once again by way of conclusion. Knowledge is an important value, but one that must be shared in order to make its real contribution to the quality of the existence of all men. In addition it must serve other human in terests both in the practical order by such things as its technological applications, and in the spiritual order. One cannot correctly state the problem of research without taking account of the means by which it will be related to action. Such means include certification in the field, industrial development, marketing, government participation and direct interaction between univ ersities and various collectivities on the local, regional, national or even international levels.
In the measure in which research in the Church should be of service in Her work it must be seen how best to assure the relation of research structures to those more directly charged with the pastoral effort and with evangeli zation.
Inevitably the relation to action raises the question of finalities. Hence, a study of the required means should be accompanied by another study on the objectives and on the va lues which these imply. The Church should have its own contribution to make to such a reflection. In virtue of its mission it has a moral responsibility in relation to humanity and this must be exercised in a special way in the area of research. Thus, research in the Church should include an attempt to clarify not only the very general, but the more concrete purposes of research itself.
Furthermore, only on the level of concrete problems do questions concerning the significance and purpose of the enterprise become crucial. Thus, one must ask what should be the precise purposes of an urban project, a hospital, an educative institution, an orientation center, etc. In addition, research itself should be considered as a form of action and its meaning must be clarified. At this point the spiritual meaning of both research and of researchers becomes an issue: what is the value or proper significance of research work? This question must be considered, not only from the theological point of view, but from the point of view of Christian life as concretely lived and of the means of spiritual life. The elaboration of a spirituality of researchers itself could constitute a theme of research which would have to be developed as much upon the basis of contemporary experience as upon the givens of the Christian tradition.
Finally, one cannot forget that all research is a service. Research in the Church should be considered a service to the Church and, thereby, to all men. It should aid them, not only by providing the means they need, but by clarifying their spiritual goal. In a single and unified effort research in the Church should contribute to the work of salvation and the building of the Kingdom of God; it should elevate the creativity of man and thereby of the cosmos itself.
Université Catholique de Louvain