CHAPTER X

 

A RESEARCH AGENDA INPHILOSOPHY

 

THE CHALLENGE

The Problem: This can be stated on the basis of the needs of our times and/or the concerns of philosophers, both of which rightly correspond and converge:

1. the increasing complexity of social life and of the philosophical issues it implies;

2. the rapid and fundamental cultural shifts reflected, e.g., in the Church at the Second Vatican Council, or in the general culture from the early to the late sixties and then to the seventies and eighties; and

3. the developing professionalization in philosophy, as in the other branches of knowledge, with its accompanying specialization and coordination of efforts.

Together these imply that continued, coordinated, and cooperative efforts by Christian ph ilosophers in identifying and/ or working upon specific issues is now needed to bring to bear the capabilities needed for significant progress.

Response: To begin on this work there is urgent need for a coordinated effort for the following:

1. An identification of issues on which concentrated philosophic effort is needed and would prove fruitful. Each area in its social contexts of family and of Christian and civic communities must be reviewed with a view to identifying its most pressing topics and planning the most effective response.

2. Determination of the appropriate mode for work upon each issue, e.g.:

a. an individual scholar;

b. a single conference;

c. a continuing seminar in a single department, institute, or society; or

d. a small working group with alternation of committee meetings with intervening periods for personal research--this would seem especially helpful in order to make it possible to enable scholars working with their libraries and research materials to draw upon the contributions of the various special capabilities of other members of the team and to open new horizons through mutual discussion.

Implementation: General areas in which coordinated philosophic study is needed have been suggested from a number of sources, e.g., The World Union of Catholic Philosophical Societies meetings in Jerusalem (1977) and Dusseldorf (1978), the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), The Joint Committee of Catholic Learned Societies and Scholars (CLS), The Inter-University Committee on Research and Policy Studies (ICR), and various consultations of bishop's conferences and of parishes.

As some topics are variously interdependent, the chart is a first attempt to relate them under coordinating matrices of some general goals and problems of a contemporary Christian philosophical vision. This may help toward clarifying the structure of the research task to be faced and the tasks on which it would be especially helpful to begin.

This identification of themes is, of course, only a first--though continuing--phase. It is sufficiently advanced, however, to make possible the initiation of work upon the second phase, namely, the clear articulation of the component philosophical issue(s) in a theme and the formulation of a specific plan for studying a theme which will draw upon the resources of philosophy, past and present, and apply them to achieve the needed philosophical understanding.

METAPHYSICS AND PHILOSOPHY OF THE PERSON

Privacy

An influential theme regarding the person and one which underlies a number of Church-State problems, is that of privacy. It has been influential in a broad range of legislation--from that on the relation of the child to the parent to that on abortion. Implicitly, this includes a development in the understanding of the person and his relation to society in terms of a value which, if important and in need of new modes of protection, can and has also been interpreted in a manner which has serious negative implications. The notion may have come from the Hebrew understanding of the individual, but has been separated from the Hebrew notion of people and much influenced by the individualism dating back to the philosophy of Ockham. The first phase of a study on this notion of privacy might isolate its philosophical presuppositions. Second, it could identify the critical philosophic points where the conception appears inadequate. Third, it would initiate some writing which might contribute precisely to these philosophic issues, drawing upon the relevant capabilities in all branches of philosophy. Particularly in the first phase of this work a seminar in this field might be extremely helpful.

The Relation of Personal Id entity to Community

In current discussions regarding abortion some argue that one's personal identity can be had only in relation to other persons, and that consequently a fetus is a non-person and subject to abortion. In law often not recognizing the fetus as a person was a condition for a ruling for abortion. Similarly, some argue that the so-called physical life of the fetus is of little consequence compared to the "personal" life of the mother establishing interpersonal relations. From this they deduce a justification for abortion by young mothers out-of-wedlock.

Such lines of argumentation point to the need to rearticulate the notion of person in a way that takes full account of the spiritual and communitary dimensions of the person, without thereby depersonalizing the physical human person prior to birth or in senility.

Such a study might shed light also on a range of issues from the status of the embryo during the early part of life to the treatment of anti-social persons whether in prisons or in psychiatric institutions.

Spirituality/immateriality of the Person

Can conclusions be drawn on the issue of spirituality and immateriality regarding the nature of the person? The dignity of the person often has been spoken of as predicated upon one's spiritual nature. This has been opposed sharply to materialist views, but has also been countered by the strong sense of identity with body expressed in Marcel's: "I am my body." How can the proper dignity of the human person be adequately stated and protected? The many modes of physical action upon humans, whether in hospitals or in industry, suggest the importance of light upon this issue.

Stability of the Family (Fidelity)

The rapid increase in the number of divorces and broken homes and the alarming statistics on the number of children being raised for at least part of their life by only one parent are extreme indications of the urgency of this issue. Indeed, some question whether the divorce mentality has become so prevalent in the contemporary culture that people increasingly no longer have the sense of complete personal commitment required for a valid marriage. Further, some philosophical analyses of the person so develop the relation between temporality, human affectivity, and authenticity that a future, especially a lifetime, commitment is made to appear impossible. These issues call for coordinated clarification in the light of the third topic above and the related Christian family values.

Authority, Shared Responsibility and Personal freedom

This topic brings together the general themes of authority and responsibility, shared responsibility, and personal freedom and social responsibility. These themes are interrelated, though each expresses a somewhat different focus; together they reflect a particularly broadly shared concern at the present time. This has been mentioned in terms of "the relation between personal responsibility and authority in the light of the Vatican II document." Bishops have often requested Catholic learned societies and scholars for ideas concerning the way to study adequately the issue of shared responsibility.

In the Western world, after the recent strong affirmation of freedom, the issue of responsibility is in need of an adequate rearticulation. In Eastern Europe the effects of social control appear to have generated new official concern regarding personal responsibility. At the same time, in the East the issue of responsibility has become a prime mode of asking what else there is to the person once the official "scientific" analysis of the objective conditions has been carried out. This provides a way of raising questions concerning the spirituality of the person and of freedom within, or in the face of, dialectical materialism. In sum, authority and responsibility would seem to be a topic which should be given attention when considering further work.

The Church as a Religious Community

a. Existential analysis: Vatican II, in articulating the implications of collegiality for different dimensions of the Church and developing the notion of participation as a touchstone for its liturgical renewal, reflected phenomenological developments of the understanding of interpersonal relations. At the same time these have generated difficulties in understanding: (a) the significance of tradition for ritual; (b) the nature and importance of hierarchy, which in many religious communities has been replaced by the notion of fraternity; and (c) the relation of the faithful to the hierarchy in disciplinary and doctrinal matters.

In view of this a clarification, and hopefully a more integral and balanced philosophical articulation, of the notion of community could help to enable the Church in all its dimension to grow more adequately. Significant materials can be found in Scripture, Patristics and theology which will be helpful to a Christian philosophical study of the issues. Without a direct philosophical study and evaluation of the notions of community, participation and collegiality, however, the reason for the present interest in these factors cannot be adequately understood, nor can the selection and evaluation of theological material from the past be clearly made or applied effectively.

b. Structural analysis: The development of attention to structures should be of use in understanding the nature of the Church as a community and the relation between its various parts. Materials are available from the social sciences on this point, though in their present state they articulate the formal pattern without integration with the full nature of a lived community. Work on this factor will be an integral part of future development; it would be a significant contribution of the philosophical community in the Church to see that it is adequately done.

KNOWLEDGE AND EPISTEMOLOGY

Contributions and Limits of the Sciences and of Phenomenological Reflection in Relation to Understanding

 

A continuing epistemological problem for a religious vision of man and of his life in the world derive from the development of human knowledge in its many modes. Each has its essential contribution to make and each contribution constitutes a challenge to the mind to integrate that contribution within the pattern of ultimate religious meaning.

One major mode of these developments has been that of the sciences. Their empirical methodology implies the task of mediating this data for usage in an integral vision of man. Further, as the philosophical matrices used in this mediation are often positivist or Marxist it is important to open the way for the additional dimensions of a Christian vision with appropriate epistemological tools. In sum, it is important for the magisterium and the people to have some guidelines as to what the appropriate reaction should be when it is said, as is often the case, that the recent findings of such-and-such a science tell us that, e.g., the basic human relation is aggression rather than charity, etc.

Another major mode of these developments has been that of phenomenological reflection which has turned attention inward in the search for meaning and as a basis for evaluating human relations. The statement that one must follow his conscience has come to mean for many that one's feelings are the ultimate norm. For others, as in one Catholic study, it has come to mean that the ultimate norm is the development of a relationship that is self-fulfilling and other-enriching in a creative growth toward integration. This substitution of a subjective for an objective basis for ethics, conjoined with turning to the sociological and especially psychological sciences for the articulation of that subjectivity, is reflected in the concern expressed regarding the preponderant role played by psychiatrists in the Church's marriage courts.

The need for an articulation of a more adequate and positively integrating epistemological basis is strongly indicated by the above.

Epistemol ogy for Christian Reflection on Social Life

As reflected most clearly perhaps by liberation theology, there is need for an epistemology which will be adequate to the task of living the Vatican II Document on "The Church in the Modern World." This epistemology must be able to take account not only of the ideal and the abstract, but of the concrete reality of life and action as exercised in society, as well as of its frustrations by certain structures and wills. One oft-cited line of thought runs: (a) that epistemologies concerned with the religious reality of man are idealist in character (the classical Marxist critique) and hence must be substituted by another, (b) that for lack of an adequate religiously sensitive epistemology, it is necessary to chose (with some risk) among those that are operative, (c) that in order to help the poor and work toward justice one should choose the epistemology which best facilitates attention to social structures and their change, and (d) that this is in fact that which Marx developed upon `praxis'.

This pattern of thought, though often typified as Latin American, has been common in the past also on the Continent, whence originated many premises of liberation theology. It was made explicit in the constitution of the Society of Third World Theologians and is influential also among some concerned Catholics in North America.

If the war on poverty is no longer being waged, then the Church needs an epistemology which will enable one to take full account of, and make appropriate and effective contribution to, national and international social concerns. This will require an adequate manner of recognizing the great importance of social structures, the reality of free human action in the world, and the significance of the divine as origin and goal of human society. This is necessary in order that the alienation between the social reality and religious values be closed and the healing work of Christ be implemented.

Magisterium and Truth from the Sciences and from Personal Reflection

A number of elements in this theme are found in the second last topic above which refers to the general problem of the relation of scientific and reflective knowledge to the religious meaning of life. The present topic adds the consideration of the Church as a society in faith--which is a way of knowing. A society's structure and leadership are essential factors whose significance in questions of knowledge and belief (the magisterium) must be understood as clearly as possible. Some point to the pastoral role of the bishops but (a) divide this from the work of theology, and (b) on the basis of socio-psychological models consider it to be more in the order of facilitating discussion and building patterns of consensus in matters proximately related to public religious life.

Is it adequate to thus separate theology from the life of the Church, and to identify the role of the leader in society simply in terms of building consensus? Is there more to the realities of truth, of social unity, of teacher and of leader and pastor in a society? If so, that philosophical content will need to be articulated effectively as a basis for an adequate theological understanding of the magisterium in the Church and of its relation to the content of scientific findings and personal reflection.

Communication

a. Consultation in the Church: A number of consultative processes have been held in the Church. It would appear to be time to think more deeply on these experiences in order to discover what would be needed and profitable for the future. Inasmuch as the process of consultation was begun on the basis of some sense of the significance of the person and of personal expression in the life of a community, part of such an investigation should attempt to clarify this significance as much as is possible at this time. Further, as the model was drawn largely from the social sciences and in view of the nature of a society and of the recently developing awareness of the person, a further philosophic reflection gives promise of contributing importantly to future planning.

At another level there is the position that the real value of the magisterium lies only in reflecting the consensus of the people. Does this position reflect sufficiently the nature of a society and of knowledge?

b. Evangelization Beyond the Church. The expansive character of the good, as a property of the truth, has generated a sense of evangelization as the mission of spreading the good news. There are elements in recent developments in the notion of intersubjectivity which might contribute to a helpful elaboration of this notion. Indeed, in view of the importance of taking account of the concrete culture, a clarification of these developments would seem to be essential for effectively planning evangelization.

To the contrary, there are those who would conceive the notion of cultural and personal identity in such a way as to preclude the possibility of any mission to another culture, or of any legitimate notion of mission.

Both of these suggest the need to clarify the possibility and manner of deep religious communication.

ETHICS

Ethical Values and Moral Reasoning: Subjectivity, Objectivity and Religious Foundation

The problem of modern and contemporary developments in ethical sensitivity, especially in regard to the foundations of ethics, has been central to the discussion of almost every ethical issue. At each step it has divided the Catholic community and rendered impossible a consensus among scholars and, a fortiori, of scholars with the magisterium. Work on the foundations of ethics should be a high priority. One approach would be through a study of the modern term `value' in its relation to the classical term 'good'.

Aging

Work on the notion of the dignity of the person in the face of a utilitarian culture, and explorations of the human significance of leisure are important here. Further, research on the relation of persons to their families and to the general society would also be important in the development of an understanding of the dignity of persons who are in the process of becoming increasingly dependent upon others.

Dying

Due to the great attention to this topic at the present time it constitutes an important forum in which basic attitudes toward the meaning of life and one's relation to God are being formed. Materials for the many courses on this topic are being prepared in a somewhat random fashion. In fact, a number of very important issues are involved: the significance of the virtue of hope as a context of human life; the character of the person as a gift; the return of oneself to God in thanksgiving; and the dependent personal responsibility of a person for the whole of his life. All of these are points on which significant philosophical articulation is both possible and presently required by the actual state of general questioning.

Charity and the Realization of Just ice

In the last century the work of Marx has effectively, if somewhat inadequately, identified the social problem as one of justice. Indeed, from the international to the diocesan levels, Church commissions concerned with social issues are entitled "justice and peace," while the office of Catholic charities is involved with the needs of individuals or families.

It would appear important for Christian philosophers to ask whether this developing awareness on the basis merely of justice, often implying a ma terialist epistemology, has been adequate to reflect the integrity of the Christian vision, particularly the reality of charity as the form of all virtues. Where a response to a problem simply in terms of just ice might generate confrontation, the essentially unitive contribution of love makes justice palatable, implements the sacrifices justice demands, takes more adequate account of the person, and heals the divisions traced by the lines of justice.

It would seem, therefore, that the social significance of the virtue of charity or of love is in present need of concentrated effort and contemporary development.

Catholic Community and the Development of Moral Values

Work in developmental psychology has opened a new awareness of the nature and importance of the growth which takes place in our parishes, both that which is more obvious in children and that which is more subtle and rich in adults. When this is related to the attention to moral values by the contemporary mind as a basic mode of its ethical awareness, the nature and adequacy of the development of moral values becomes a central issue for Christian life.

Considerable work has been done by persons in psychology and education on value awareness and value development. Generally this has been done with the writings of Dewey and Rawls as paradigms for the character of moral values.

This needs to be reviewed and supplemented by Christian philosophers as to the adequacy both of the notion of value and its objective basis, and of the notion of the person and of moral awareness. For lack of such investigation large investments in teacher education and classroom instruction on all levels are presently directed toward the uncritical implementation of visions which philosophically may not be fully adequate. This is a typical indication of the urgent responsibility of Catholic philosophers to initiate coordinated, directed, and, at times interdisciplinary, research on main line philosophical issues of great importance in the contemporary life of the Christian and national communities.

Value and the Good

Problem. Recent approaches appear to open the road to the arbitrary, the relative or the subjective. At the same time the development of the notion of value reflects real modern and contemporary developments in mankind's appreciation of certain dimensions of his person, e.g., the importance of his freedom and of hisemotions. Hence, the problem would appear to consist above all in clarifying the real character and divine context of human subjectivity in a way that both overcomes the limitations of objectivity and subjectivity taken in isolation and yields a notion of value which responds to Lavelle's dilemmas of value as:

(1) being subjective, yet universal;

(2) implying personal initiative, yet going beyond the person;

(3) including perfection, yet separated from its full achievement by an infinite route;

(4) integrating a higher perfection, yet able to be converted into actuality;

(5) subordinating all given reality to creative motion, yet remaining an absolute which regulates that action.

Implications for Writing on Moral Values. This would appear to call for research which would:

1. Relate value to reality or being in order:

(a) to avoid subjectivism and even solipsism, and

(b) to give real meaning to va lues and to human efforts to realize them in this life.

2. Clarify the presence of unity (identity) within truth (intelligibility) and of truth within good, in order to avoid the supposition of a loss of:

(a) personal identity where intelligibility is developed, or of (b) the role of the intellect in one's loving response.

3. Identify the transcendent and absolute source of value via participational perspective, in order:

(a) to give real basis for value,

(b) to overcome thereby the mere subjectivism and the isolation of objectivity and subjectivity, and

(c) to establish the real basis for human freedom.

4. Identify the essential role of human intellect, w ill and emotions in the actual and creative participation in divine life in this world:

(a) by the person as image of God (intellect),

(b) formally manifesting the divine (will),

(c) in an incarnate manner (emotions).

5. Elaborate the implications of this for the practical order and locate therein the specific character and importance of morality, in order:

(a) to focus upon the real issue regarding moral values, and

(b) to make a religious contribution to its understanding and realization in human life.

6. Clarify the historico-cultural dimension in order:

(a) to relate the two in suchwise that history is working toward an ideal by which it is inspired,

(b) to avoid both the fanaticism implicit in, and the lassitude which follows from, reducing the ideal to the historical, and

(c) to relate all to God as exemplar, inspiration and value in whose life persons can participate in as many ways as these can act, provided they use their own intellect and will to search out, imitate and manifest the divine.