Monday, January 13, 2014

Faith and Reason Again, I: “What is Man?”

Right after the New Year another discussion popped up about the respective roles of faith and reason.  Both have their place.  It’s just not the same place.  As we might have mentioned once or twice on this blog with respect to how the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, has been egregiously misused, you don’t use a tool designed for one thing to do another.

Reason is the “tool” intended to be applied to those things that are “manifestly true,” that is, that can be discerned through the application of basic principles of common sense and proved or disproved by logical argument (both inductive and deductive) or empirical evidence.  Faith, on the other hand, applies to that which cannot be proved or disproved by reason, i.e., those things that are not manifestly true.

Obviously, if you apply a tool designed for “A” to “not A,” you’re asking for trouble.  It might work — sort of — for a while, but eventually something is going to break down that can’t be fixed without the proper tool.

The discussion involved the comment that Aristotelian-Thomism is based on both faith and reason.  This statement is correct if by “faith and reason” we mean that faith illuminates our reason, and reason helps us understand our faith.

The statement is incorrect if by “faith and reason” we mean that we can prove things true by faith or reason, whichever is expedient.  No — faith proves nothing.  Faith is defined as “a willingness to believe.”  You accept something as true even though you lack proof.

Does that mean that faith contradicts reason?  Of course not.  If an article of faith contradicts reason, or vice versa, Aquinas’s response would be that you made a mistake somewhere.  Either you don’t understand an article of faith as it was intended to be understood, or your logic or evidence is flawed.

There is consequently a huge problem that comes in with people who insist that it’s a case of faith or reason, and then deny that the reason-based precepts of the natural law (i.e., good is to be done, evil avoided) by means of which we discern the four natural virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice, are discernible and can be known by human reason alone.  They attempt to apply the standards of the three supernatural virtues, that are (obviously) not of the natural law (they are supernatural), faith, hope and charity, which do require both faith and reason, to the natural virtues.

If, e.g., faith were discernible by reason alone, you’d have to say that people with no faith are not truly human — which is, in fact, what some people who base the natural law on faith, or even faith and reason, claim. If you don’t belong to their religion, or do not practice or believe exactly as they believe, you are not fully human, or human at all.

The natural law consists of the four temporal or natural virtues, prudence, fortitude, temperance and, of course, justice.  The capacity to acquire and develop these virtues is part of human nature itself and cannot be changed.  Whether you believe that God created the human race, or it sprang into being out of nothing by itself, the capacity to acquire and develop the four temporal virtues is unchanging and unchangeable because it defines the human person as human.

In Thomism, the case is different for the capacity to acquire and develop the three supernatural virtues, faith, hope, and charity.  The capacity for the supernatural virtues is not part of human nature, and must be “infused,” or given as a gift.  You can be — and are — fully human even if you do not have the capacity to acquire faith, hope, and charity.  That capacity is not part of the definition of what it means to be human.


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