Sunday, September 20, 2020

Modern philosophy and the scholastics

For many years I was intrigued by the thought of Edith Stein. Of course one reason for the curiosity was her conversion from Judaism to Christianity in the times when Jewish thought flourished (take Martin Buber's thought as only one example), the second was her decision to leave her Jewish family and become Catholic nun in a very strict, contemplative order. 
But it was still the most mysterious to me how she, coming from the school of Edmund Husserl, evolved into a domain of neo-scholastics...
To understand this, I started to read her "Finite and Eternal Being"...

See her own, deeply honest admission, made in the introduction to the book:

"This (...) seems especially appropriate in the case of the author of this book: Her philosophical home is the school of Edmund Husserl, and her philosophic mother tongue is the language of the phenomenological thinkers. She therefore uses phenomenology as a starting point to find her way into the majestic temple of scholastic thought."

I'm excited to discover how does she go along that path ...

First discovery is ... of the amazing clarity and objectivity Stein approaches philosophy with a deliberate distancing from faith and religion. The rigor she is applying to that distinction, comes, from St. Thomas Aquinas himself, and from many of thinkers of the "thomistic" tradition, like Jacques Maritain.

When writing about the goals and functions of philosophy she says:

"It is one of the function of philosophy to elucidate the fundamental principles of all the sciences"
However, when she goes into the relation between philosophy and a religious doctrine, she remarks:

« Whatever derives from the synthesis of theological and philosophic truth bears the imprint of this dual source of knowledge, and faith, as we are told, is a "dark light". Faith helps us to understand something, but only in order to point to something that remains for us incomprehensible. Since the ultimate ground of all existence is unfathomable, everything which is seen in this ultimate perspective moves into that "dark light" of faith, and everything intelligible is placed in a setting with an incomprehensible background. That is what Erich Przywara means when he speaks of a reductio ad mysterium.»
The intro, and its chapter "Is there a Christian Philosophy" is an amazing proof of the author intellectual honesty. Now, to the essence ...


In "Act and Potency as Modes of Being"  Stein writes:
«My own being, as I know it and as I know myself in it, is null and void [nichtig]; I am not by myself (not a being a se and per se), and by myself I am nothing; at every moment I find myself face to face with nothingness, and from moment to moment I must be endowed and re-endowed with being. And yet this empty existence that I am is being, and at every moment I am in touch with the fullness of being. »
and later adds:

«Existential anxiety accompanies the unredeemed human being throughout life and in many disguises -- as fear of this or that particular thing or being. In the last analysis, however, this anxiety or dread is the fear of being no more, and it is thus the experience of anxiety which "brings people face to face with nothingness." »

In "Individual and Universal Nature":

«As a matter of fact, that which is the ultimate ground of all intelligibility also makes possible all linguistic understanding and all linguistic communication. We therefore now conclude that all names are actually and ultimately expressions of essences.»
 

In §10, "Universals":    

«The knowing mind is an individual actuality; the thing known, on the other hand, can as such by its being known never become such an individual actuality. It merely becomes something that is encompassed by the mind, something pertaining to the mind. The mind encompasses it and possesses it as transcendent. The thing known is not "mine" in the same sense as is the knowing. My knowledge is mine exclusively: It cannot simultaneously be the knowledge of another human being. But what I know—and this means not only the object of knowledge but also the known according to the manner in which it is known (e.g., in a specific conceptual formulation) can also be known by others. My knowing it does not withdraw it from any other person's knowledge.»

«Every human being possesses his or her own "conceptual world" which may coincide more or less not only with the real world but also with the world of ideal concepts and with the conceptual worlds of other human beings.

Because the known nature quid is the identical element that we find in a multiplicity of individuations, we are able to attribute to it the meaning of universality. For the same reason it is possible to pay no heed to the conditions of its individuation; this paying no heed  is implicit in the meaning of universality and is called abstraction.

The known nature quid is as such neither universal nor individual. It cannot be duplicated in the realm of essential being - and this it has in common with the individual. But it is communicable and admits of individualizations and this distinguishes it from the individual. It cannot be duplicated in the realm of essential being — and this it has in common with the individual. But it is communicable and admits of individualizations — and this distinguishes it from the individual in the full sense of the term and makes it possible to ascribe universality to it. 


These last observations show clearly that our own answer to the problem of universals goes somewhat beyond the position of moderate realism without, however, going as far as Platonic realism (in the traditional interpretation). We do not ascribe to the essential quid any being in the manner of real things. It would seem that our own point of view is closest to that of Duns Scotus.»

 

 ....More to come.

Mirek @Słupsk & @Lodz

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Modern philosophy and the scholastics

For many years I was intrigued by the thought of Edith Stein. Of course one reason for the curiosity was her conversion from Judaism to Ch...