Recap: In the previous summaries, we took a look at two of the three premises that Fr. Giussani wants us to consider. First, in the summary of Chapter 1,
we looked at the need for realism. Second, in the summary of Chapter 2, we looked at the nature of reasonableness, how it is the capacity to become aware of reality and how we perceive a behavior as reasonable if it indicates adequate reasons for itself. Today, we will look at Chapter 3 of The Religious Sense, and the final introductory premise: the impact of morality on the dynamic of knowing.
Intro: You will recall in the last summary we noted how there are a diversity of procedures for reaching certainty. That the way in which we become certain that water is made of hydrogen and oxygen is different than the way in which we become certain that we can trust a business partner. Fr. Giussani notes that this latter act -- trusting a person -- depends on something more than just "the soundness of the reasoning process". It depends on "a new factor, namely, the attitude of the person -- usually called 'morality'." In this chapter, we will look at how morality impacts how we come to know something.
Reason Inseparable From The Unity Of The "I": Fr. Giussani begins this chapter with two examples of people doing poorly in comparison to their ability. The first, a young woman who is an ace at math, does badly on an exam because of a stomachache. The second, an aspiring writer, writes a barely passable composition after having eaten and drunk too much at a dinner party. In both examples, the person didn't lose their ability to do math or write well. They simply were feeling ill. The point? Fr. Giussani wishes to indicate how there is a unity between "the instrument of reason and the rest of the person."
"Man is one, and reason is not a machine that can be disconnected from the rest of the personality and then left to operate alone like some spring mechanism in a toy. Reason is inherent in the entire unity of our self; it is organically related to it."
We have all had experiences of this. Think about the last time you got hurt in an accident or a girlfriend/boyfriend unexpectedly dumped you. How was your reasoning affected by those events?
Reason Bound To Feeling: Fr. Giussani continues to explore this by looking at several examples: a skier who falls and breaks his collarbone; a writer who struggles to write a composition in a time limit, then hurriedly jots down an idea when it comes as a bolt near the end; a woman who hears someone from behind her on a street, trying to get her attention.
In all of these cases, Fr. Giussani says that there is the common denominator of "an impact on the individual's sphere of experience", whether it be physical, mental or emotional. Something happens within the person's sphere and "touches or moves the person". In fact, Giussani argues, that "there exists nothing that enters our sphere of knowledge -- and, therefore, our experience -- that does not provoke, stir up, solicit, determine, and thus establish within us a certain 'state of soul'".
This "state of soul" -- where we have been moved by something -- Fr. Giussani calls feeling. People may be moved to different degrees by the same thing and temperaments vary, but feeling is what results. But if this is what results -- to some degree or strength -- any time we encounter something, then our reason must be connected with feeling. As Fr. Giussani says:
"In order for reason to know an object, it must also take into account feeling, the 'state of soul,' by which it is filtered and with which it is, in any case, involved."
The Hypothesis of Reason Without Interference: I think this is a really important lesson for all of us to learn, because we like to think it is possible to reason without influence of the environment. How many times have heard someone speak about needing to free their thinking from all "predispositions"? That reason is the "capacity for knowing an object in such a way that nothing should interfere"?
Fr. Giussani presents an interesting look at this common thought. He argues, first, that man cannot help but be interested in the meaning of things. Second, he observes that the more powerfully something has value to a person's life, the more it will generate a state of soul, a feeling, in that person and the more strongly will reason be conditioned by this feeling. He even poses a formula:
r --> f <--- v , where r is reason v is value and f is feeling
Those who think reason must be "pure" and not "interfered with", work with the premise that only be eliminating feeling (f) can the object be known. And in fact, that this is much of the premise behind the methods of mathematics and science and what gives those disciplines their explanatory power. Thus, many who buy the hypothesis we're exploring, then argue that only those two disciplines produce knowledge. Everything else, is something less than that, the "territory of opinion and subjective impression."
But Fr. Giussani argues that this premise fails on two measures. First, it appears contradictory to our experience. For example, is not the scientist first moved to study nature because something about nature arouses his interest, makes him curious and passionate to find out about it? So is the very thing that sets me off on my inquiry as a scientist a thing that dooms me to failure? Fr. Giussani says, nature might be that cruel, but perhaps there's another possible explanation.
The second complaint that he registers is this: the hypothesis succeeds only be eliminating one of the factors of experience that it is trying to explain. This, Fr. Giussani, suggests is not reasonable. An explanation should be able to account for all of the factors.
The Alternative Point of View: Instead, Fr. Giussani argues that feeling is not the enemy of reason, but its helpful tool. He gives the example of a man who picks up a pair of binoculars and looks through them. At first, all he sees is a blur, but then as he focuses them, he's able to see the top of the far off mountain. Feelings also act like a lens, carrying the object of study "closer to a person's cognitive energy .. so that reason can know it more easily and securely." From this point of view, feeling is something that draws me in and is needed, "not in the sense that it itself sees, but in the sense that it represents the condition by which the eye, or our reason, sees in accordance with its nature."
The real challenge is not in eliminating feeling, then, it is making sure it is "in its proper place". The former is a utopian dream, but one people are not capable of doing. But the latter is also something we recognize. Feelings can be given too much weight. Fr. Giussani gives the great example of Pasteur and his discovery of bacteria and its relation tho medicine. Fr. Giussani asks, why were the professors at the Sorbonne, some of the last to come to recognize the merit of Pasteur's work? He surmises that it was "pride, fame and money" that prevented them from acknowledging the results of Pasteur's experiments, "which were irrefutable even to the initiated". They lacked a "certain loyalty, a moral dignity, a passion for the true objective".
In fact, Fr. Giussani argues, this is one of the major problems of our modern era. It is near impossible not to have an opinion on things that concern our lives. But many of us fail to value more highly truth, and mistakenly "claim to be able to pronounce a judgment" on something yet "not pay attention to [the] arguments" that are presented to us on things, especially those made by the Church and Christianity.
The Morality of Knowing: We should take a moment to explain what Fr. Giussani means by the morality of knowing. By this, he means having the "correct attitude" and, like what we saw in the first chapter, that attitude is determined by the object. A bank teller needs to be moral in receiving and accounting for money. A teacher in teaching.
So what is the right attitude to have if you want to know an object? "I must have a desire to know what the object truly is." I think Fr. Giussani is right to say that this sounds simpler than it is in practice. "We are inclined to remain bound to opinions we already have about the meaning of things and to attempt to justify our attachment to them." But the key is to "love the truth of an object more than your attachment too the opinions you have already formed about it." Love the truth more than yourself.
To make his point, Fr. Giussani proposes an extreme hypothetical based on a comment by Dostoyevsky. It is said that Dostoyevsky said "if it were mathematically proved to you that truth was outside Christ, you would rather remain with Christ than with truth." Fr. Giussani says that this might express a true attachment, love and esteem of Dostoyevsky for Christ. But this sentence, taken literally, is not a Christian statement. For a Christian adheres to Christ "because he is the truth," not despite the truth. Personally, I love this example of Fr. Giussani. I cannot tell you how many Christians I meet who seem to possess the attitude of Dostoyevsky in this comment. And the struggle they face is two-fold: they are incomprehensible to the non-believer who is seeking the truth and finds the believer dismissing the existence of certain facts; the believer at some point is confronted by the truth and, if his faith in Christ is not rooted in Him being the truth, the difference between the truth and his own thoughts might lead him to mistakenly choose to dismiss the truth in favor of his own image of Christ or to find the truth a reason to stop believing in Him
Preconception: What we are talking about is a sense of detachment. Fr. Giussani argues that this is what is being described in the Beatitudes and Christ's praise of the little children. For the
"individual who is supremely poor in spirit is the one who, in the face of the truth, desires truth and nothing else, beyond all attachment that one may live, feel, undergo and experience, beyond all devotion to the images that one has already formed about things."
Similarly, Christ's praise of children is not him
"proposing an idea of infantility to us, but one of active sincerity in front of the real, before the object taken into consideration. Children have their eyes wide open. They do not say, "However ..., if ..., but..."
Thus, what we must do with our preconceptions of things is not think that we can rid ourselves of them, but to develop a sense of detachment where we stand ready to admit they are wrong if the truth shows it.
This takes work. We will get to that.
Next: Chapter Four: The Religious Sense, The Starting Point.
Post Script: We have finally finished our walk-through of the three key premises: the need for realism, the nature of reasonableness, and the dynamic of morality on coming to know something. As to the last premise, I think the key point Fr. Giussani makes is that feelings are not something to be eliminated. They help us learn, but must be kept in perspective. Our attachment should be to the truth, in the end. Next we will finally put these premises to the test and start to examine the phenomenon of the religious experience. I thank you for bearing with this journey so far, but all we have studied to this point is an effort to help us look a the religious experience as it is. As I said previously, you will also have to be patient about the lack of discussion of Christ. We won't get there for a while. But what should be exciting about this is that nothing we have discussed so far should be inaccessible to the non-believer. To the contrary, precisely because it is rooted in an examination of what it is common to all of our human experience, it can be a beginning of a journey towards Christ. One that develops naturally and honestly, not through ideology or force.