University: Widening the Horizons of Reason

Ampliar el horizonte de la razón // Widening the Horizons of Reason: A Task of the University

Extracto // SUMMARY:

• Need to respect and understand the contribution of the various disciplines;

• Need to transcend the tendency toward too much specialization through the development of an inter-disciplinary mindset;

• This, in turn, is achieved by discovering the intrinsic unity that exists among the various branches of knowledge;

• Tools: (1) We have to be ‘shot through’ with higher branches of thought, such as philosophy and theology; (2) Take care of our own formation and consider how the faith illumines our intelligence in our daily living, (3) To carefully look after one’s and others’ readings (those that provide reasonings and information, care for language, and education of the feelings and affections), (4) A positive and open attitude amidst currents of thought.

• THUS, the University becomes “a great laboratory in which, according to the various disciplines, there arise new itineraries of research in a stimulating confrontation between faith and reason…” (Pope Benedict XVI, Speech at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, 25-XI-2005).


Widening the Horizons of Reason: A Task of the University

On thinking about the relations between faith and reason, the Christian ought to count on the diversity of the sciences.  At present, the various fields of knowledge are characterized by a great deal of specialization: thanks to this, scientific progress has received a big push within the last 100 years.  Nevertheless, on many occasions, the scientist may have been led, by his very work, to ask himself questions that he may never get to resolve with only his methods and knowledge base.  This limitation shows us the need to encourage the collaboration of experts from the various disciplines or branches of knowledge, so that they may share points of focus and so arrive at a new synthesis.

The search for a new harmony between faith and reason is a task that is especially proper to the University.  The University ought to be turned into a “great laboratory in which, according to the various disciplines, there arise new itineraries of research in a stimulating confrontation between faith and reason… Isn’t this an exciting adventure?  Yes it is, because moving within this horizon of sense one discovers the intrinsic unity that exists among the various branches of knowledge: theology, philosophy, medicine, economics, each discipline, including the most specialized technologies, because everything is united” (Pope Benedict XVI, Speech at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome, 25-XI-2005).  In the University, the universality of all human knowledge is condensed, and the dependence between the growth of the human person and the divine creative plan is manifested.  Research, just like any other honest work, enriches our living in this world, at the same time that it proposes to each generation a commitment to the future.

To carry out this great adventure of cultural synthesis, Pope Benedict XVI suggests a path: “modern scientific reasoning has to accept simply the rational structure of the matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the rational structures that act in nature as a datum of fact, on which its methods are based.  Whereas the question about the reasons for the existence of such datum of fact ought to be answered by those other wider and higher branches of thought, as are philosophy and theology” (Pope Benedict XVI, Speech at the Università di Ratisbona, 12-IX-2006).  Those who are involved in the particular sciences ought to open themselves up, therefore, to superior levels of science that are capable of illuminating a multiplicity of results, where it would be possible to have a comprehension that gives unity to those branches of knowledge.  The world reaches its fullest meaning in the unifying capacity of the intelligence, but the latter ought to be applied to an even more transcendent realm, which would confer upon existence its ultimate meaning.

On the other hand, the universal openness of reason also concerns theologians and philosophers, who cannot isolate themselves and do without the other sciences.  Philosophy —particularly Metaphysics— uses knowledge of the other disciplines and examines their propositions, trying to clarify them and justify them.  It is a field that is adequate for issues of principles, but this doesn’t mean make other sciences superfluous.  Moreover, the openness of reason demands that Philosophy and Theology reflect upon other dimensions of human existence, for instance, those great religious experiences.  “In the dialogue with cultures, we invite other people to this great logos, this breadth of reason.  Rediscovering it constantly on our own is the great task of the university” (Pope Benedict XVI, Speech at the Università di Ratisbona, 12-IX-2006).

A personal synthesis, fruit of unity of life

The relations between faith and reason are not manifested only in the environment of the university: we can consider the teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as calls of Providence to a better expression of the harmony between faith and reason.  Responding to this call obliges us to take care of our own formation and to consider how the faith illumines our intelligence in our daily living.  It demands putting the means so that our reason be truly catholic. In the words of our Father, an authentically Christian mind ought to possess breadth of vision and a deepening insight into the things that remain alive and unchanged in Catholic orthodoxy; –a proper and healthy desire, which should never be frivolous, to present anew the standard teachings of traditional thought in Philosophy and the interpretation of history; –a careful awareness of trends in science and contemporary thought; –and a positive and open attitude towards the current changes in society and in ways of living (Furrow, no. 428).

Since not all of us have the same opportunities, abilities or interests in going deep in our cultural formation, the foregoing words shall be concretized in each case in a different manner; but in all of us, this should mean a push for considering the means that we put in this task of understanding better the problems of our time and of being more incisive in the propositions we make.  Familiarity with the rational dimensions of our faith is a fundamental part of the theological formation of each Christian, and certainly an important factor in the gift of tongues that St. Josemaría asked for the modern apostle (cf. Furrow, nos. 430, 899).

Quality readings help a lot in many respects: they add reasonings, information, care for language, education of the feelings and affections… Reading can be an appropriate means for widening one’s own formative horizons.  Without doubt, sustained reading stimulates the formulation of new projects and permits a better judgment of information —at times, fragmented— which we receive from the various means of communication.  However, with relative frequency, some lifestyles make it difficult for the reader to come near to literary works or thought currents that can enrich: work intensity pushes many people to seek passive recreation, such as television or novels that simply offer escape.  Thinking of the new generations, it would be useful to remember that personal and collective culture depends a great deal on the environment in which one has been formed.  Thus, in order to uplift reason and exercise it in harmony with faith, it is decisive that the education received in the family and in school help us appreciate, from infancy, the beauty of the good, of virtuous behaviors, and of works that are integrally compleat.  On our parents, professors, tutors and friends depends young people’s picking up a quick liking for reading and their ever increasing exercise of that participation in the divine Logos which is the intelligence.

Another ingredient of a universal mind is a positive and open attitude amidst currents of thought.  In order to reveal to men that Christ is the answer to their restlessness, it is necessary to show that we know how to take on the problems and the solutions that people confront us with, no matter how mistaken these might be.  A spirit that is authentically catholic and universal would know how to analyze and expose another person’s proposition, even when it is opposed to one’s own, with a great deal of respect, without ridiculing it, taking it seriously, with all the attractiveness that one could have.  Examining calmly the contrary arguments helps us to ask questions, encourages us to mature in our own ideas, and to think seriously: it is a way of reasoning used frequently by Pope Benedict XVI.  Omitting this first step can lead our hearers to accept something without internalizing it, or to consider that our answers do not resolve the problems that arise: n argument of authority has limited validity and, in fact, is not sufficient for a majority of topics.  On the other hand, penetrating into the reasoning of the other person can highlight the limitation of those very ideas, no matter how generalized they might be, at the opportune moment and with the necessary objections.  Without a true selfless interest (interés desinteresado) —that is, a loving interest— in the other, we will never get to understand him deeply, as he is: only love is able to understand in the concrete.