Recap: In these first three chapters of The Religious Sense, we are examining three premises about the human experience that will help us in examining religion in particular. In the summary of Chapter 1, we looked at the need for realism in our approach to the things -- the objects -- we encounter in life. And from that we considered that the method to learn the truth of an object is given by the object and how matters of human experience need to be examined through existential inquiry and that that can result in learning of objective things.
Intro: In Chapter 2 of The Religious Sense, we turn our attention more closely to the subject doing the investigation: man. And the specific premise that Fr. Giussani wishes to explore here is the need for man to act with reasonableness. But before we get in too deep, it is worth defining what Fr. Giussani means by reason and reasonableness. Because our modern ears have been trained to think quite narrowly about these terms. (Often associating reason with only the scientific method, for example.) Fr. Giussani defines the terms this way:
"[Reason is] the capacity to become aware of reality according to the totality of its factors. The term reasonableness, then, represents a mode of action that expresses and realizes reason, the capacity to become aware of reality."
It is worth pondering over these definitions for a moment. If you followed Pope Benedict's Regensburg lecture and the outcry around it, one of the things Pope Benedict was pointing out was the need for this broadening of reason beyond the narrow terms we have become used to in modern times. What is appealing about Fr. Giussani's definition of reason is that it doesn't deny anything a priori. It is ready to tackle all of reality. It doesn't tie reason to a specific method, thus denying the possibility that anything not discoverable through that method could in fact be reasonable.
Looking at Experience of Reasonableness: Fr. Giussani begins our examination of the need for reasonableness through existential inquiry. (Applying the principle of Chapter 1, given that reasonableness is a characteristic of human experience.) One of the first things he notes is that an action appears unreasonable if it does not "allow one to glimpse possible reasons" for the action. He elaborates:
"... I might present myself before an audience and place my briefcase on a table; if I should suddenly pick up the same briefcase and, with an energetic and well-aimed throw, pitch it out the window, the audience, if no other explanation should be offered, would consider my action unreasonable. ... However, if I should throw my briefcase after four armed men had broken into the hall with their guns drawn, the audience would wonder what was in the briefcase, and my action would not be felt to be unreasonable."
But a glimpse of a possible reason (or a later explanation of the reason) is not enough to render something reasonable. Another example:
"I might approach the same audience and address it using a shipboard megaphone, explaining that I have brought the enormous instrument into the hall because I have lost my voice. My action would not be considered reasonable. Although I would have declared the reason for using the instrument -- the loss of my voice -- my listeners would not perceive it to be adequate because such an apparatus would seem out of place in an auditorium. However, using the same object on a ship would not raise a problem: although the reason would be the same, it would then match the circumstances."
Fr. Giussani concludes, thus, that in our experience "the reasonable appeals when man's behavior shows itself to have adequate reasons."
Reductive Use of Reason: As we mentioned above, there is a temptation (particularly seen today) to limit the scope of reasonableness. Fr. Giussani looks at a number of these reductions of reason and argues that they should be rejected because they fail to account for the totality of factors that we experience in reality. First, there's the tendency to reduce reasonableness to what is demonstrable. Fr. Giussani recognizes that certainly reasonableness may be "curious to demonstrate everything", but that the reasonable and the demonstrable are not identical.
"What does it mean to demonstrate? It means to retrace all of the steps of a process by which something comes into being. .... [But] the most interesting, original aspects of reality are not demonstrable: the process to which we have just referred cannot be applied to them."
Similarly, others identify the reasonable with the logical. "Logic is an ideal of coherence; if you posit certain premises and develop them coherently, you will reach a logical outcome. If the premises are wrong, perfect logic will produce an erroneous result." But even this falls short of explaining reality satisfactorily.
"To acknowledge a mother's love for her child is not the conclusion of a logical process: it is evident, a certainty, or a proposal made by reality whose existence one must admit. The existence of the desk at which I work, my mother's attachment to me, even if they should not be logically developed conclusions, are realities that correspond to truth, and it is reasonable to affirm them. Logic, coherence, demonstration are no more than instruments of reasonableness at the service of a greater hand, the more ample "heart," that puts them to use."
A Diversity of Procedures: I think the above leads to one of Fr. Giussani's most insightful (yet obvious, if we break away from the cultural mentality and actually examine how we come to know things in our lives) observations: reason is "the ability to become aware of reality", not a specific method or procedure:
"Precisely because reason examines the object according to adequate motives or steps, it develops different paths, depending upon the object. (The method is imposed by the object!) Reason is not as arthritic or paralyzed as has been imagined by so much of modern philosophy, which has reduced to to a single operation -- "logic" -- or to a specific type of phenomenon, to a certain capacity for "empirical demonstration." Reason is much larger than this: it is life, a life faced with the complexity and multiplicity of reality, the richness of the real. ... Reason does not have a single method; it is polyvalent, rich, agile, and mobile. If this fundamental fact is not kept in mind, we risk falling into grave errors."
The Method of Moral Certainty: We mentioned several examples above of "reductions" of reason and Fr. Giussani explores several others in his "Diversity of Procedures" section. Each of those reductions, however, is a method that has value. One might call them science, mathematics and philosophy. And there are aspects of reality that these methods are most suited for examining. But Fr. Giussani now turns to a new and important aspect of reality and frames it in the context of Christianity and a question that will influence all of his other works:
"Imagine Peter, John, and Andrew before Jesus of Nazareth. They knew his mother, father, and relatives; they fished and ate with him. At some point, it became evident to them that they could say of that man: "If I should not believe this man, then I should not even believe my own eyes." Can this certainty be reasonable? If it can be so, what is the method that leads me to it?"
The human problem. How do I reach certainty about other people. "Can you trust that man or not? Up to what point can you rely on him?" Does my mother love me? These are questions, Fr. Giussani argues, that the methods of mathematics, science and philosophy are incapable of answering. "And yet, no one can deny that you can reach a reasonable certainty about them." In fact, Fr. Giussani argues that reaching certainty about these things is vital. Speaking of the need to know his mother's love:
"For my perception of the real, for my relationship with destiny, it is more significant that this woman should love me than to acquire the knowledge that the earth turns around the sun. It is very beautiful that we have discovered that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice versa, because that is an aspect of the truth. However, as far as life is concerned, that is, the problem of my relation to destiny, this fact is not everything. Indeed, it has little to do with my problem as a whole. .... Mathematics, the sciences, and philosophy are necessary for the evolution of man as history. They are fundamental conditions for civilization. But one could live very well without philosophy or without knowing that the earth revolves around the sun. Man cannot live, however, without moral certainties, without being able to form sure judgments about the behavior of others toward him. This is so true that uncertainty in relationship is one of the most terrible afflictions of our generation."
Human behavior. Mores. They call for a method suited for human behavior. But what is it? Unlike some aspects of mathematics, science and philosophy, the method would need to be capable of arriving at certainties about relationships in a fast way. Life would not be possible if we needed millenia to develop our certainty about a person. Fr. Giussani argues that the method for moral certainty is more akin to that of the genius or the artist.
"When Newton saw the famous apple fall, it became a sign that immediately produced his great hypothesis. Genius needs only a small indication to reach a universal intuition."
It is the concept of sign that Fr. Giussani suggests is key.
"The method by which I understand that my mother loves me and through which I am certain that many people are my friends cannot be fixed mechanically; my intelligence intuits that the only reasonable meaning, the only reasonable interpretation of the convergence of a given set of "signs" is this. If these signs, in their hundreds and thousands, could be indefinitely multiplied, their only adequate meaning would be that my mother loves me. ... The demonstration of a moral certainty is the consequence of a complex of indications whose only adequate meaning -- whose only adequate motive and whose only reasonable reading -- is that certainty itself. This is called not just a moral certainty, but also an existential certainty, because it is bound to the moment at which you examine the phenomenon, that is, when you intuit all of the signs."
That last point is key. Moral certainty can be reached, but it does not preclude the possibility that circumstances may change in the future.
Fr. Giussani makes a couple of other observations that are worth considering. First, to be certain of a person, I need to pay attention to that person's life, in fact share that person's life. Second -- and maybe his more controversial one -- the "more powerfully one is human, the more one is able to become certain about another on the basis of only a few indications."
In summary, the method of moral certainty is
"as if one makes a fast comparison with oneself, with one's own "elementary experience," with one's own "heart," and says: "Up to this point, what I see corresponds with my heart, with those needs and evidences, with what I was made for; therefor, it is true, and I can trust this other human being."
An Application, to Faith: Fr. Giussani closes the chapter by applying the method of moral certainty to faith. "What is faith? It is an adhesion to what another affirms." My favorite aspect is how fundamental Fr. Giussani is, even with something like faith. "This may be unreasonable, if there are no adequate reasons; if there are, it is reasonable." As Pope John Paul II argued in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, faith and reason are complementary things.
Fr. Giussani argues that it is precisely our ability to reach a moral certainty about whether a person "knows what he says and does not mislead" that renders reasonable faith in what that person has said with certainty. And without such faith, "there would be no human development."
"If the only reasonableness consisted in evidence that was immediate or personally demonstrated..., man could no longer move forward because each of us would have to go through all of the processes again; we would always be cavemen."
And in fact, all that we learn through the methods of mathematics, science and philosophy can become a basis for moving forward "only on the strength of this fourth method."
Now, all of that is a lot of talk about certainty. But don't think that this is the same as being free from error.
"Finally, let us note that man can err using the scientific, philosophical, or mathematical methods. In the same way, he can misjudge human behavior. This does not detract from the fact that certainties may be reached by the scientific method and, in the same way, through the method of "moral" knowledge."
Next: Chapter Three: The Impact of Morality On The Dynamic of Knowing.
Post Script: I hope this summary was a bit more clear (if no shorter) than the previous one. I think the key lessons to think about from this chapter is the way in which Fr. Giussani's definitions of reason and reasonableness enable inquiry of everything. Nothing of reality is put outside of our inquiry (which does happen if we tie reason to one specific method of exploration to the exclusion of others). I think the next major point to consider is his concept of moral certainty. To really look at one's own life and see if you see evidence that that method is in fact one you recognize for things about your own life of which you are certain. We are going to explore this more in the next chapter, looking at how the attitude of a person impacts our ability to know things about human experience. And then in Chapter Four, we will begin to look at the religious sense.