Sunday, January 23, 2011
Ever since 2006 in Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about the need for "broadening our concept of reason and its application". But what
does this mean? In the Christian-Platonic tradition, goodness and beauty possess causal significance because the existence and structure and unfolding of the world as we perceive it is understood -- makes "sense" -- as their expression in matter and time. But the modern scientific revolution reduced causal explanation to an account of how one thing always leads to another, and the mind-body dualism we inherited from Descartes tends to flip into a monism of matter or spirit.
In the ancient view there are four main types of explanation or account that we can give for things: final, formal, efficient and material. The final cause is what they are for, or what purpose they serve. The formal cause is the inner shaping idea that makes them what they are. The first of these types of explanation dropped entirely out of view in modern science, and the second was reinterpreted to refer to a mathematical account of nature. The pragmatic bent of modern civilization was mainly interested in the efficient cause, or what brings something about and makes it do what it does, and the material cause, or what it is made of.
The narrowing of reason to these two or three kinds of account transformed the way we think about the world. We were no longer looking for the underlying idea or the purpose of things, but only for the things into which we could break it down (particles, energy), and the rules that determined how it behaved (laws of nature). But is there a way once again to broaden reason, perhaps by reintroducing final causality, or rediscovering the qualities of form? My book engages that question. But recently the physicist Stephen Barr (author of a forthcoming booklet on Science and Religion for CTS) has written an article in Faith magazine that readers may find interesting. In "The Symbiosis of Science and Metaphysics", he argues that the "four causes" of Aristotelian/ Thomistic metaphysics need to be re-thought, not merely re-introduced, in dialogue with modern science. Physics no longer conceives of an efficient cause as one thing acting upon another, but rather in terms of mutual interaction. Time itself is relative to one's position. Subatomic particles have no individuality. All of this raises interesting questions for theistic philosophers, but they need to be able to speak and understand the language of science in order to engage in a dialogue. They will find, if they do so, much stimulus to the development of their own discipline.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Listeners to Radio Three had a treat over Christmas. The BBC devoted twelve solid days and nights to playing everything composed by Mozart. What struck me is how, where Beethoven comes over as emotional, heroic and tragic, and Bach as mathematical, angelical and lyrical, Mozart often seems simply “playful”. But this may be connected with the reason his music is so profound. It resembles nature, in the sense of natura naturans (“nature naturing”, or doing what nature does). In nature, creative freedom always manifests a law – but the deepest law of all is the pure ebullient spontaneity of the Good.
John Tavener said of Mozart (in the programme notes for Kaleidoscopes in 2005):
I have always regarded Mozart as the most sacred and also the most inexplicable of all composers. Sacred, because more than any other composer that I know, he celebrates the act of Being; inexplicable, because the music contains a rapturous beauty and a childlike wonder that can only be compared to Hindu and Persian miniatures, or Coptic ikons.
In an essay in the Winter 2006 issue of Communio, Fr Jonah Lynch sees in Mozart a kind of Catholic balance that reflects the paradox of the Incarnation:
Mozart’s melodies carry something of the birth of an infant God, the remarkable union of opposite absolutes, total simplicity and infinite depth. Only here is the completely free and ever-surprising united to formal structural perfection.
The work of Mozart and the other great composers echoes the “unforgotten music” that we carry in our bones. It opens our senses, so that we feel the air of Paradise – what Josef Pieper in Only the Lover Sings calls the “paradise of uncorrupted spiritual forms” – and notice the fragrance that still clings to our coats of skin. Perhaps it is not too much to suggest that when we hear this music, even if like the Good Thief we are still hanging on the cross, we become more conscious of the possibility of grace.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
I prefer to facilitate learning by beginning with a youngster's own natural interests. Some interests are fluid, and others lead to ongoing projects in some depth. These classes are not 'tutoring' sessions for the usual school topics although they often involve the same skills used in the context of an investigation. Young people can learn to see and appreciate the excellence of nature and its patterns which teaches many valuable lessons. I approach each subject to promote wonder at the ordinary, the interconnectedness of knowledge and a love of learning in general." Go here for details.
Monday, January 3, 2011
debated with Clive Copus in the Catholic Herald last year. Readers interested in this question would do well to look at writings by Simon Conway Morris and Conor Cunningham. You will also find a number of relevant articles on the main Second Spring site, if you look in the online Articles section under Caldecott, Case, Dulles, Fedoryka, Hanby ("Saving the Appearances"), Olsen and Schonborn.