Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reason & Revelation (and Something Else)

See this article by Hadley Arkes celebrating the life of Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. wherein he notes:
But the deepest question for Fr. Schall, and political philosophy, is that question of reason versus revelation. And that is the question that he and I use to ponder in walks through Georgetown. My late professor Leo Strauss thought there was a benign standoff here, for reason could not deny revelation, nor revelation refute reason. But as Fr. Schall noted, both revelation and reason emanated from the same source, and they were accessible only to the same kind of creature.
Yes that's the operative question for those who follow closely the teachings of Leo Strauss (and his followers). "Reason" is the secular, "revelation," the sacred. The twin foundings of Western Civilization. Reason, Athens; Revelation, Jerusalem. For those who might consider yourselves proudly secular pagan, it's your Western Civilization too, tracing back to Athens.

Though I do worry whether in our attempts to conceptualize we may be creating a false dichotomy. For those who are religious, if one is, say, a Roman Catholic, one has not just "reason" (from Aristotle-Aquinas) and "revelation" (the 73 books of the canon), but also tradition and the Magisterium. Likewise, Wesleyans have a Quadrilateral.

Recently I reflected on the insufficiency of reason and revelation, not because I, like what Strauss feared (and indeed perhaps what he esoterically believed) endorse a post-modern notion that objective notions of truth potentially ascertained by the two are in fact unobtainable. Rather, that the two, by themselves or together are in fact incomplete.

I think of my meticulous examinations of the writings of America's Founder (and tremendous thinker) James Wilson. And the arguments I have had over what his words really meant and stood for. When I wrote
Scottish Common Sense philosophers, many of them theistic and Christian of diverse, questionable orthodoxy spoke of internal conscience as a necessary truth testing monitoring mechanism (beyond what the Bible says in verses and chapters and what the external canons of reason and logic can prove and test for)
I was thinking of Wilson and some of the thinkers who influenced him.  The context of my disputes has been how did Wilson view "revelation" (on the one hand) v. "reason" (on the other). But when one examines some of the "proof quotes" without looking further for context, one might miss that Wilson isn't dealing with two concepts, simply.

Quotations like this:
Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance. They are useful and excellent monitors; but, at some times, their admonitions are not sufficiently clear; at other times, they are not sufficiently powerful; at all times, their influence is not sufficiently extensive.
And this:
These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense.
The larger, more contentious teaching I get from Wilson (and the thinkers he followed) is that "revelation" was designed to complement the discoveries of "reason" AND "the senses" (or "conscience"). That is, "reason and the moral sense" trump "revelation."

(Indeed, that the 2nd above quoted passage, and not what he wrote prior, summarizes Wilson's thoughts demonstrates such was what he was ultimately getting at.)

The lesser included, less contentious claim is that 1. revelation, 2. reason and 3. something else ("the moral sense," "conscience") are all incomplete without one another but necessary to work together to find the clearest understanding of truth.

So it's not a matter of "reason" v. "revelation." But a third thing beyond them both. Like revelation, reason is something that can be taught and tested for externally. The conscience or moral sense is something internal.


Tom Van Dyke said...

In Thomistic thought, "special" revelation is the scriptures, etc. [incl the work of the Holy Spirit through the church].

"General" revelation is that eternal law to which all men have access to via their reason. Is there an "innate moral sense" at work? Or is the natural law so logical and provable that the innate moral sense is an unnecessary complication, IOW, that general revelation is "self-evident?"

Leo Strauss wasn't a natural law fan, but what he called "natural right" can be substituted in the above paragraph. Strauss believed that right and wrong existed objectively, and if I read him right, can be approached by reason [philosophy], an "innate moral sense" being a subjective mumbo-jumbo, one more related to opinion and values than facts and objectivity.

This is also interesting, Harry Jaffa on Aristotle and how Aquinas got Aristotle wrong on this topic. [The highest pagan virtue is "magnanimity," which is not nearly the same as "Christian virtue."]

Still, that man is born a blank slate and that virtue is a habit [not a quality innate to man] are of the classical view that Strauss subscribed to, and where he and the SCCE are an ocean apart.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"an 'innate moral sense' being a subjective mumbo-jumbo, one more related to opinion and values than facts and objectivity."

That is quite contentious an assertion there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes. See the Fact-Value distinction in NRH. Neither have I seen a trace of allowing for mumbo-jumbo in his work, such as whether any innate sense exists, or God for that matter.

That ain't how Strauss rolls.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Heh, Jon. I highlighted and searched Google for

Fact-Value distinction in NRH

This discussion is already the 6th-highest result. That's some serious 21st century WTF, dude.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yeah I noticed that. I still don't completely "get" google. When I put something into google it may not produce the same results as someone else's because of browsing history. But it's the 6th highest result on my google too.