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Rediscovering truth in a post-truth world

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As if the Covid-19 pandemic has not been testing enough, modern life has never seemed more difficult than it does at present. We are bombarded on all sides by masses of information, misinformation, expert opinions, and the relentless, strident voices of social media browbeating us into accepting the dogmatic conclusions of leading influencers. 

Amongst the cacophony of voices striving to be heard, contending for attention and recognition, truth is the first casualty since, in contemporary Western society, it is no longer important. Echoing Pilate (John 18:38), the modern world asks, ‘What is truth?’ It is subjective feelings that rule.

The genesis of the contemporary estrangement from truth is the post-modern rejection of Modernity and the Enlightenment project in which the hope of humanity was taken to lie in reason and science alone. Theology, once the queen of sciences, was quarantined from the Enlightenment project, and banished to the private sphere of individual religious belief. The Enlightenment project expressed confidence in the power of human reason and the natural sciences alone to uncover the secrets of nature, replacing superstition and credulity with knowledge. Faith in human progress through the discoveries of science replaced belief in God. Religion, along with theology, became a private matter, an individual pursuit with little relevance in the public arena.

In reaction to the Enlightenment elevation of reason and its faith in an objective discoverable scientific reality, the nineteenth century witnessed the beginning of the turn to the subject. German idealism, represented by such figures as Hegel, Schiller and Goethe, later by Brentano and Husserl, sought to re-introduce the human subject into discourse about the nature of the world. Taking his lead from Descartes, at the beginning of the twentieth century Husserl developed phenomenology as the study of experience from the first-person point of view, that is, the study of the nature of perception, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, bodily awareness, embodied action, social activity and language activity from the perspective of the self-conscious individual.

 

'The pursuit of wisdom and truth is not exclusive to particular traditions but is the common heritage of all human beings.'

 

In another development of the nineteenth century Marx and Engels introduce historical materialism to theorise the relationship between capital and labour as one of conflict. In the hands of Lenin, it becomes a class struggle, a war between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. What emerges from these great currents of thought is firstly the marginalisation of religion, which enabled Nietzsche to declare that human beings have killed God and to warn that this had consequences. The most obvious of these is that human beings themselves become the absolute authors and arbiters of their own destinies.

The connection between the eternal law, natural law and human law is broken and only human law remains. Secondly, phenomenology, since its subject matter is individual subjective experience, allowed individuals to not only focus on their subjective experiences but to also falsely assume that these experiences reflect what was real. In contrast, Husserl’s development of phenomenological or transcendental reduction was meant to enable us to have an intuition of the essential structure of the object experienced. That is, to apprehend the objective world. What things are does not lie in the phenomenological experience of them, a proposition rejected by post-modernism.

Post-modernism, and its close relative, post-structuralism, emphasise the fallibility of knowledge and invite us, as Lyotard counselled, to be suspicious of grand narratives. That is, we should critique the great institutions of society, such as its justice system, education system, democracy, social structures and market capitalism and where necessary, replace or, more radically, do away with them entirely. Hence, if we are dissatisfied with the police force, some ideologues insist, we should defund it and either let anarchy rule or accept a new social and political order in which they hold power. This is because social structures, such as our system of justice and law enforcement, post-modernism claims, are humanly constructed and there is nothing about them that is necessary or essential. The narrative can be changed. The Australian justice system, for example, Critical Race Theorists argue, is the product of white British colonialism in which injustice towards non-whites is structurally embedded. Social justice can only be achieved if the current holders of power, the oppressors, are replaced by the oppressed.

Another key tenet of post-modernism is scepticism about the nature of knowledge. According to post-modernity, all knowledge claims are embedded in particular historical, cultural and social contexts and are determined through the exercise of power by elites. Knowledge claims therefore express a particular hegemonic conception of the world imposed by a powerful ruling class. A claim to know is an expression of power and in its most tyrannical aspect, it is a demand that others agree to a particular proposition or standpoint or face the wrath of public opinion, manipulated through the media. Whether something is actually true does not matter, because all that is in important is whether it suits our purposes to affirm or deny something. If it does not suit us, we assert that it is fake news, misinformation or media bias. The claim that truth is the correspondence between how the world is, how we experience it and what we say about it in language, is explicitly denied in post-modernism.

 

'The genesis of the contemporary estrangement from truth is the post-modern rejection of Modernity and the Enlightenment project in which the hope of humanity was taken to lie in reason and science alone.' 

 

Since post-modernism sees knowledge as inextricably bound up with a particular context, it reduces to a particular view held by the subject at a particular time. The opinion or view will be reinforced by those who are persuaded by that same view or opinion. Knowledge is replaced by received opinion. There is no longer the need to offer evidence, but to use a variety of methods to persuade. Power can be deployed to coerce through threats and intimidation to achieve compliance, but there are a variety of other methods, more subtle, in the armoury of the persuader, called a sophist by Plato more than 2000 years ago. One of these is the use of language.

If we assume that language describes the world, that is, that words and sentences refer to existent states of affairs in the world, then when someone makes various statements about the world, we will assume that these are about what is actually the case. If, however, language is an expression of our subjective experiences and not anchored or connected to referents in the world, then there is no external world, only subjective experiences which are what validate what we say in language.

Moreover, language itself creates descriptions and since words are what enable us to describe the experiential or phenomenal world, language creates the world itself. There are plenty of examples to be observed. Euthanasia, for instance, is redescribed as ‘assisted dying’, abortion is redescribed as ‘family planning’ or ‘termination of pregnancy’. The killing of civilians in war becomes ‘collateral damage’. We could, perhaps, redescribe genocide as ‘targeted population reduction’. Other methods in the armoury of the sophist will include the use of flattery, appeal to authority, statistics and the weight of public opinion. Knowledge is not about what is true about the world, but about what is useful for the achievement of desired ends.

The remedy to the post-modern malaise is well-known. It can be found firstly in the great canons of Western philosophy and theology. Plato insisted long ago that it is not opinion that matters, but knowledge and truth since these enable us to live in the light. The great Church Fathers, especially Augustine, urged us to seek wisdom and truth, to live by that great light that is God. What this means is that what is real does not lie in self-absorbed love of our feelings and satisfaction of our desires, but beyond us, in a transcendent, objective world.

The way to this for Christians is Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and Life. (John 14:6) Secondly, it can also be found in other religious traditions, including Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander religious traditions. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, life was regulated by kinship relationships and adherence to the Law laid down by the Creator when the world was created. The pursuit of wisdom and truth is not exclusive to particular traditions but is the common heritage of all human beings. This demands that we should be open to the truth to be found in other traditions, other ways of thinking. This will include post-modernism critiqued here.

 

 

Professor Jānis (John) T. Ozolinš is Professor, College of Philosophy and Theology, University of Notre Dame Australia, former Professor of Philosophy at Australian Catholic University, and permanent Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, University of Latvia. He is Reviews Editor for Educational Philosophy and Theory.

Main image: Five thinkers in medical masks ponder a solution. (3DSculptor / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Jānis (John) T. Ozoliņš, Covid-19, Truth, Post-modernism, Enlightenment, Religion, Knowledge, Language

 

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Beautifully written; for a short article it's crammed full, concise and well presented, a keeper. The author examines the (mis)representations of truth and how re-description can be used (although not exclusively) by the post-modernist to prolong debate for the sake of arguement rather than seek to establish the truth for the argument sake; a world of euphemisms and eristic dialectic. Truth itself is silent; it is the human condition that requires the evidence to be related in "words" and in the case of the third party the exposure is to omissions, misrepresentation and hearsay, written and verbal. Knowledge can be obtained through different instruments of the learning experience: pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy. Perhaps those who seek the truth themselves are more interested in the value to be found than those who may be instructed and persuaded in a particular school of thought; I'd suggest they are less constrained but have to strive harder to sort wheat from chaff. Friere observed: “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.” Perhaps this is the cost? If we apprehend the objective world we apply intuition to our comprehension, questioning veracity just to understand reality. Beware of tautology, it just might be circular logic which frequently diguises itself as truth.


ray | 03 February 2022  

Truth from post-modernism? It’s almost impossible to engage constructively with people who reject the Enlightenment’s ideal of objective truth. The writer Michael Walsh observed: “The two sides speak different languages, but with a superficially shared vocabulary that serves as a means of deceit for one and confusion for the other.”
Those who espouse these relativistic methods adhere to a rigid code of political correctness that tolerates no dissent. So, the theories exist to support an absolutist doctrine.
And where have all the abstract theories from Rousseau, Marx, Sartre, Foucault, Derrida et al. led us? The 20th century was the bloodiest in all history. Their theories produce nothing of value, but being abstract, can be debated within academia forever.
They promise “social justice” and oppose the “structures of domination” of the established order. But a 6-year-old could have told them that Defund the Police would lead to rampant crime, as has happened.
Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, recently resigned his position, calling academia a “stunningly corrupt enterprise.”
Others see universities as beyond reform. Hence the new University of Austin, Texas, states: “We are alarmed by the illiberalism and censoriousness prevalent in America’s most prestigious universities and what it augurs for the country.”


Ross Howard | 04 February 2022  

"Postmodernism 101". This is an excellent review of a subject which is initially quite difficult to grasp. Living in the postmodernist world, we can only benefit by understanding what postmodernism is and what it means.


Ian Fraser | 04 February 2022  

It is a delight both to read this article and to do so in "Eureka Street". My childhood neighbours, John and Karina Kalnins, were post WW2 refugees from Riga. The clarity and depth of thought, and lucidity of style bring back happy and bracing recollections of conversations with them. Thank you, Dr Ozolins.


John RD | 04 February 2022  

Attempting to teach religious education at a catholic technical college in Abbotsford in the mid 1980's was an interesting experiment in truth telling. Professor Janus joined in this exciting post modern dilemma.


Tom Kingston | 04 February 2022  

I read your article with great interest. Professor Ozolins. It seeme obvious, by the names you were quoting, you were coming from a Continental, rather than British, philosophical background. I was interested you mentioned Plato, but not his most perceptive modern critic, the Austrian born, British by choice, philosopher Karl Popper. In 'The open society and its enemies' Popper called out Plato as a fascist. There are certainly elements of fascism in 'The Republic'. I must confess I am attracted to the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham. Bentham was eccentric, but that does not lessen his very sensible insight into the England of his time, where the Established Church had a stranglehold on education, including at the universities. Hence Bentham's part in the founding of the secular University College London, which consistently outperforms its Anglican opposite number, King's. UCL's secularism is quite different from Continental anti-clericalism. It seems the same in religion. They say Methodism saved England from something like the French Revolution. That, I think, is another example of English pragmatism succeeding. John Wesley remained a clergyman of the Church of England all his life, but he took Christianity to the people of the new industrial towns and remote areas where the Established Church would not go. Postmodernism reminds me of Andersen's 'The emperor's new clothes'. They have nothing on.


Edward Fido | 04 February 2022  

We live, we learn, we live elsewhere, we learn otherwise, as witnessed by diversity across cultures. It would be good to see how the author might integrate the fact that to stay alive we all use energy which is entropic. Even in our contemporary experience of human atomisation we are still energised to "change or die", we wager that this or that is worthwhile. This is a kind of unitary anthropological 'faith' we all share. Enter the Gospel you invoke at the end of your essay, and I think of the twos and threes promoted by Jesus of N and the worthwhile ultimate energy cost of "dying for change" that he championed, with just two or three in attendance. 'Jesus is Risen' became the premier symbol of Jesus' values that survive in keeping with a quasi law of modest returns which fortunately can be a bit like the leaven in the dough of human ordinariness.


Noel McMaster | 04 February 2022  

'The remedy to the post-modern malaise is well-known.'
In view of current widespread jettisoning in academia of the Western intellectual tradition and wholesale branding of Western civilization as oppressive - not only its "great canons of . . . philosophy and theology" but also its literary inheritance, roundly adjudged the 'construct of dead white males', 'colonial propaganda', etc. - the above statement may require some qualification. So, too, I suggest, may openness to ideologies that axiomatically reject the very possibility of truth's knowability and assert praxis as the sole criterion of what is real.


John RD | 05 February 2022  

Most of the discussion in the Religion segment of ES is not what is truth in society in general but what is truth within the Catholic tradition, or within the Christian tradition. Given that humans cannot discern spiritual truths from their own senses because they do not live in the spiritual world and cannot even see, hear, taste, touch and smell it from afar, or even know that there is a spiritual world, the base from which they can speculate about the ways and means of the spiritual world has to be given to them.


This base is the presumption that the books of Scripture as settled by Church councils are inerrant to which the Catholic Church has added the common sense logic that because Scripture cannot interpret itself, but only people of varying fallibilities (otherwise why the concern over who gets appointed to the US Supreme Court whose original function is, as is our High Court’s, to interpret the civil scripture that is that nation’s federal constitution), there also needs to be an inerrant interpreter of Scripture, which is the Magisterium which, again as a fundamental presumption, is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.


The body of interpretation is Tradition and, as with mature judicial systems, precedent generally governs future findings in order to preserve the orderliness of continuing revelation and to avoid Socratic self-contradictions.


Ideas, within a context of religious debate, about critical race, postcolonialism and evolving ideas and sentiments have to comply with understandings from Scripture and Tradition because the scientific method attempted to be used by secular philosophies such as critical race theory and postcolonialism cannot deduce what exists in the spiritual world from what is induced from the material world. Scientific method can only deduce from previous inductions. Where the subject matter is spiritual, the inductions are inherited canonical theologies because human senses cannot observe beyond the veil separating the spiritual world from the material. That’s how a rational thinking system works, if you want to believe there is a Christian spiritual world.


So, to take a practical example, to establish the licitness of homosexual behaviours, one would have to show by extrapolation from the text and sense of Scripture as a whole that homosexual practices are only conditionally barred, that there are circumstances in which they are permitted, and not treat as an infallible presumption that evolving civil norms, of themselves, produce evolving spiritual norms.


To insist without further explanation that evolving civil norms produce, of themselves, evolving spiritual norms is to dog-whistle to Christians who have made up their minds to believe that Scripture is merely some human historical records unprotected by the infallibility of the Holy Spirit, usually with the assumption that the generation of we of today are the wisest of all generations who have lived.


roy chen yee | 05 February 2022  

What a brilliant article. You have hit the nail on the head. Thank you for "opening the window of reason".


Elena Christe | 05 February 2022  

The thrust of Dr Ozolins' article concerns epistemology rather than political philosophy as such.
In his critique of Plato, as Edward Fido notes, Karl Popper's main preoccupation is with what he regards as fascist and totalitarian elements in the pupil of Socrates' conception of his Republic as the ideal society, particularly the entitled position and authority of its rulers.
The prior issue of truth Dr Ozolins explores is addressed by Plato in his 'Allegory of the Cave' ("The Republic", Book VII), wherein the philosopher distinguishes truth from opinion, and traces the soul's ascent from confusion and darkness into the world of light as apprehended by the intellect in contemplating the ideal forms or perfect exemplars of reality undistorted by sense perception (a radical point of departure from the epistemological realism of Aristotle).
While attention to Plato's politics is indeed a worthwhile and legitimate exercise, it is not one, I believe, that should be conducted at the expense of his epistemology - a discipline which all fields of inquiry, including postmodernism and its neo-Marxist brainchild Critical Theory, presuppose.
Dr Ozolins presents here a succinct and timely reminder of the West's distinctive contribution to thought - specifically (though by no means exclusively) to what has become known, at least since Kant, as 'the critical question'; and a challenge to ignorance and dismissiveness of it.


John RD | 06 February 2022  

Life is about life, not epistemology, John RD. The comfortable, reflective life Athenian citizens lived was based on the subjugation of slaves. I would see Plato a bit like an educated white South African of not so long ago. Plato was definitely elitist with strong fascist tendencies. Western Society, without Christianity, would not exist as it does today, shattered and torn as they both are. Sadly, Fascism has arisen in Christian Western Society, viz Germany, Italy and Spain. The Franco regime appeared to have the full support of the Catholic Church. John Ozolins, being of Latvian origin, would have at least family memories of invasions by both Germany and Russia. Karl Popper was against both Fascism and Communism. As an Austrian Jew by birth, he was in grave danger personally from the Nazis. I am interested that Professor Ozolins is Catholic, rather than Lutheran, as most Latvians are. Perhaps he is a convert? Sometimes a convert sees things more clearly. It was an impressive piece, but I must confess I remain an unabashed British Utilatarian philosophically. This is partly due to what I consider the bad treatment meted out to the late Max Charlesworth by the Catholic Church. They tried to ignore him out of existence. Shame! Shame! Yes, Mannix was there.


Edward Fido | 07 February 2022  

Stirring stuff, and not a single dissenter among the commenters, but I suppose Janis is preaching to the converted and it’s only the converted who have responded. To an outsider, one beyond the pale, his article is unpersuasive and sounds more like a credal statement

I acknowledge that Western culture has given us many many worthwhile concepts, ideas and philosophical insights, but it’s not the only culture to have done that and its overall bequest has, like every other culture, been a mixed bag of blessings and curses.

Roy’s logic may be internally consistent but its relevance depends on assumptions which he has acknowledged cannot be seen, heard, tasted, touched and smelt from afar, or even known about. Nor are Rousseau, Marx, etc the embodiments of the devil incarnate as Ross might have us believe. Their insights have, at the very least, helped to shine a light into some very dark places in Western culture. John RD’s post are always polite, courteous and measured but, for me, they lack any warmth. I’m moved to respond ‘Is that all there is?’

I am sceptical too when those who have been born and reared within Western Culture promote it as the superior of all others: it sounds too much like cries of ‘Aussi Aussi Aussi Oi Oi Oi’ from Bay 13 at the MCG or the traditional rendition of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at he last night of the Proms. Sometimes we need to listen and reflect upon the voiced perceptions of others about us. I’m told that Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, replied that he thought it would be a good thing.


Ginger Meggs | 07 February 2022  
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Ginger Meggs: ‘unpersuasive….‘Is that all there is?’’

Faith (or the belief in things you cannot see, as (Christian) Scripture puts it) is always teetering on the edge of the unpersuasive because faith is an internal orientation.

Faith that the universe just happened to come into being is similarly unpersuasive. Where is the forensic evidence for that? In fact, the only real ‘evidence’ that the universe just happened to come into being is the emotional orientation within atheists that there must be no God because of two things: the internal emotional orientation of the atheist that because there is undoubtedly observed to be evil in the world, the only valid extrapolation from that is that a good God must not exist; or, the internal emotional orientation of the atheist that because there is undoubtedly observed to be a mass of theists who are highly imperfect in their thoughts and behaviours, the good God whom they claim to exist mustn’t exist.

There is considerable forensic evidence, derived from the attested experiences of people who, at the end of the day, are no more and no less reliable than the types of people you have to put your faith in if you believe the jury system to be a valid legal instrument, that there are ‘supernatural’ events which comply with the expectations of their faith, but not much academic-quality work in the orderly comparison of those experiences as between faiths, such as, for example, the question why some Pentecostals have supernatural encounters such as bi-location but no Pentecostal ever sees the Virgin Mary, and why some Catholics see the Virgin Mary but no Catholic ever sees the Buddha. Nevertheless, theists have bits and pieces of experiential evidence to corroborate their respective views of how the Universe came to exist while atheists never have any experiential evidence that the Universe simply came into being as a blind event, there being no such thing as proving a negative because to ‘prove’ a negative, you have to disprove an infinite number of positives.

So, who is being more rational, the theist who can call upon instances of apparent corroboration, even if they conflict with the experiential evidences of other brands of theism, or the atheist who can only summon an interior emotional preference to doubt?

The logic of the atheist is that proof visible to the human senses must exist to prove theism, while ignoring that proof visible to the human senses to prove atheism cannot exist because you can’t prove a negative without disproving an infinite number of positives. Is the ‘logic’ of the atheist logic?


roy chen yee | 08 February 2022  

Hang on Roy, I'm not trying to convince you that there is no God. If that's what you believe, and you're comfortable with that, then so be it. All I said is that I am not persuaded by your arguments or by the 'supernatural' ephemera to which you refer.


Ginger Meggs | 08 February 2022  

The question is how it is you are persuaded, when there is no way to prove, not even a scrap, that there is no divinity.


roy chen yee | 09 February 2022  

There is a difference Roy between 'not being persuaded' and 'persuaded that there is not'.


Ginger Meggs | 09 February 2022  

Playing with words. You are ‘not being persuaded’ that you can have no reasoning that there is no spiritual world. Fine. So, persuade us as to how you can reason that ‘there is not’ a spiritual world.


roy chen yee | 10 February 2022  

Ginger, while my comment indicated the article is well-written you should also observe that I added minor criticisms of the use of generalization and tautology. I interpreted the author's change of scope from the titled "post truth world" to Western society as a shift to redefine the relevance of the article rather than to insist it applies globally; that'd be a tall ask. One may be knowledgeable about world affairs but mostly we'd be speaking from the 3rd person perspective when evaluating truth or deceit in persuasive conversations internationally...unless you have an advanced grasp of the language and dialect nuances used it's hard to discern hyperbole from headlines. I didn't read it as a condemnation of other than Western cultures but more so an adjustment to avoid trying to make the article fit the whole planet. Don't worry, there would be plenty of post-modernists ready to quote an exerpt from the essay and leave out the regional Western qualification. In my humble opinion the author has been critical of the West rather than upholding it as the model; the circumstance remains that the modern writers who have most shaped "the world" socially and politically happen to be (mostly) Western, and as the author observes, imperfect.


ray | 08 February 2022  

Ginger, I imagine TS Eliot, whose works contain concepts from Eastern philosophy and mysticism,
might observe in response to Gandhi:
"For us there is only the trying." And Edward, when I read Anselm and Aquinas, whose theological starting
point is wonder at the ineffable mystery of God, I don't think we should rule a strict line between the Christian spirituality of the East and West. It can also be argued, I think, that Aquinas' doctrine of analogy protects the sovereignty and mystery of God as well as validating the possibility of 'God talk'. And I do think, as you recognise, that disinterest or dispassion is necessary in the pursuit of objectivity.


John RD | 10 February 2022  

No, life's not "all about epistemology", Edward - but life and its meaning would be insupportable without truth and respect for it.
That's why, from early times of the Gospel's spread, educated writers and converts like Justin (Martyr) of Rome and Clement of Alexandria affirmed the value of philosophy - of which inquiry into truth and ethics, as you know, are core components - and placed it at the service of divine revelation received in faith; as the Catholic Church has done since, with its synthesis of faith and reason, to the benefit of civilisation in all fields that are define it. (My neighbours mentioned above were Lutheran, and though admirers of Bismarck, very supportive of the Catholic faith, thanks to the example and influence of Catholics who had facilitated their escape from POW internment outside Riga.)


John RD | 08 February 2022  
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‘life and its meaning would be insupportable without truth and respect for it'

True. One could say that the unexamined life, not worth living, is a life in which epistemology has not been practised.

Epistemology is the analysis of how humans know. A human being’s entire life is an epistemological curiosity. Artificial Intelligence is programming a machine with epistemology. As a matter of even more immediate relevance to this journal, the principle that a sin is objective but the guilt for it is subjective is a mercy founded upon God’s assessment of the epistemology of the sinner. Epistemology is involved when, through laxity, a bad casual habit is allowed to become a fixed element of character, or when, through knowledge about epistemology, good casual habits are practised until they become character.

Salvation from sin would not be possible were it not for the grace of being able to practise epistemology in our own lives.


roy chen yee | 09 February 2022  

Epistemology as you understand it, Roy, seems to me to be closely related to St Ignatius Loyola's principle and spiritual counsel of "discreta caritas" - discerning love - and Pope Francis' emphasis on the importance of discernment.


John RD | 10 February 2022  

I thought I made it clear I respectfully dissented from the opinions expressed in this article, Ginger. John RD, in my experience, is far from cold. The subjects he deals with, Scholastic Philosophy and Theology of the School of Thomas Aquinas, are very dry subjects. That is what may have given you the impression he was 'cold'. I am not a Scholastic. My heart is with Erasmus and John Colet, those great Christian Humanists of the Renaissance. Colet thought Scholasticism was outdated in his time. I couldn't agree more! Scholasticism is just a way of explaining things. The Eastern Catholic Churches, with whom I feel very much at home, do not have Scholasticism. The Eastern critique of Scholasticism is that it is too dry and legalistic. I concur. The Eastern view is the only true Theology is Mystic Theology. Once again, I concur. It is very sad for the Western Church that certain misguided pseudo-mystics and their contemporary followers, like Matthew Fox and Richard Rohr, went right off the rails. I liked your point about the multifaith world, Ginger. I tend to the Quaker belief that there is 'that of God' within us all. Your point about Gandhi was apposite. Many, many more years to you, John RD, Janis and all!


Edward Fido | 08 February 2022  

Sorry Edward, yes you did, and I overlooked your first post. (the second hadn't been posted when I wrote). My apologies. And it's not John RD that I sense as 'cold', but rather his posts and that's probably due, as you suggest, to their subject matter.

Dear Roy, why is it that your standard reaction to anything outside your own frame of reference is to come out fighting? Do you want to communicate of not?


Ginger Meggs | 08 February 2022  
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Why is questioning your response 'fighting'?

You are using 'fighting' as analogy because the literal meaning comes from European words to do with physical combat. However, can you describe something by an analogy or can you only interpret it by an analogy?

If you look at my words above, you can only describe them as taking some time to explain a different view from yours. You can interpret them differently but then it is you who are putting up a block to communication.


roy chen yee | 09 February 2022  

Ginger appears to have got inside the structure and intent of Janis Ozolins' article when he says it 'sounds more like a credal statement.' (GM, Feb 7) Perhaps, more precisely, it is an overture to a credal statement awaiting a more fulsome expose – but, like any good overture, it touches on key elements of the major work.

Against the panoply of Western Philosophy, Janis announces a dire affliction which besets our present day pursuit of truth: the connection between eternal law, natural law and human law is broken. And, making matters worse, we are adrift in a sea of subjectivity where knowledge is fallible and as varied as time and circumstance encourage. Salvation is at hand if we return to the great canons of Western philosophy and theology – where Plato and Augustine,in particular, are waiting to repair our intellectual compass and make straight our pathway to truth.

Hopefully, Janis will return to his topic with warrants which undergird his claims: this will necessitate less rhetoric and a more painstaking unpacking of his position.


Bill Burke | 09 February 2022  

No offence taken, Ginger.


Edward Fido | 09 February 2022  

To me, Bill Burke, Janis' excellent, well written article did read like an intelligent credal statement. It was a standard Catholic religious apologetic. It reminded me very much of Greg Sheridan's work, which is also excellent for what it is. What both do not convince me of is that they would have any effect on those dubbed 'the unchurched'. These days we have all sorts of extremely intelligent atheists; agnostics; Jews; Hindus; Buddhists; Muslims and others who will never find their way to sit next to you in your pew. We need to be careful not to indulge in Christian Witless rather than Christian Witness to them. Neither this article, nor John RD's contributions are witless IMHO, though I do find standard proofs and Scholasic reasoning a bit like using a crossbow in these days of modern weaponry. Max Charlesworth - who you may not know of - came back to Australia from Louvain fired up with the latest Christian apologetic from Continental Europe, which was light years ahead of what we had under Mannix in Melbourne. From his archepiscopal sanctuary at Raheen Mannix forbade the sale of 'The Catholic Worker' edited by Max and Tony Coady on church premises. Silly, senile, reactionary Mannix. We are where we are because of bad leadership from him, Mulkearns et sim.


Edward Fido | 10 February 2022  
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Edward – you make a number of valuable comments in relation to Janis' article and issues arising. I'll leave off further comment on Janis' position with the hope he addresses some specifics..
However, you draw attention to Max Charlesworth, and in this context of Australian philosophers engaging in a recovery of truth, Max deserves a very honourable mention. I was in Melbourne for most of the seventies and so had the chance to appreciate the integrity, scholarship, old fashion decency and kindness, Max brought to the lecture hall and everyday life.I'm sure he would be supporting enterprises like ES from his celestial vantage point.
'By a set of curious chances' I had contact with most of the major players of the Movement days. Eric D'Arcy was on the faculty – an association renewed some twenty years later when he was chairing the Bishops' Committee on Faith and Morals; in another twist, a good friend and mentor turned out to be a life long confidant of Bob Santamaria and a significant ally during the foundation days of the movement – late 40's and 50's. These links afforded me access to social gatherings where reminiscences brought to life an inside story – though dead for some twenty years, an integral presence in these discussions was the one referred to simply, but with unqualified affection, as 'the old man.' I say this not to impugn your view of Mannix, but simply to record, I had the opportunity to experience another view of him.


Bill Burke | 12 February 2022  

It remains a widespread and potentially disastrous misconception that science deals in absolutes (perhaps it is a holdover from the 19th century, whose scientific triumphalism echoes nowadays among militant atheists - but that is a different topic). Science cannot deal in absolutes, and never did except in the minds of ideologues. If now the post-modernist notion of science as a movement confuses the false dogma of absolute scientific truth with the (so-called) hegemony of political absolutism, that is just one of its major blunders. A large part of scientific praxis is concerned with gauging the limits of what can be known. Jacob Bronowski went to huge trouble to make this clear in his chapter Knowledge or Certainty in the book and series, The Ascent of Man. As he himself feared, his conception of the Enlightenment (as with Carl Sagan's) fell mostly on deaf ears. The fact that science is so commonly viewed as a paradigm of absolute knowledge rather than a laborious series of approximations to truth - when any actual practitioner of it well knows that this can never be the case - leads some to over-claim its power and others to want to tear it down from misplaced envy of a level of power that it never possessed. Science serves; it cannot dictate. For that matter, philosophy and theology are in the same position.


Fred Green | 10 February 2022  
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Scientism, as in its 19th Century form, of which I would suggest Richard Dawkins is the last public exponent, for me died and should be decently interred, Fred Green. Modern scientists are often much more like the astronomer Brian Cox, who, seeing the sheer, breathtaking vastness of the universe, admits the possibility of the existence of God. Theists like us should take that as a victory and move on from there. We don't want to redo the Bishop Wiberforce debate with T H Huxley. That's old hat. I feel, long term, Bishop Wilberforce won.


Edward Fido | 15 February 2022  

I thank Professor Ozolins for his essay, brought to my attention by a colleague - an analytical philosopher teaching outside the world of Catholic academia and who discussed it at an academic meeting.

Firstly, I accept Ozolins' historical propositions about the links between Enlightenmentarian views of the human person and Aquinas'. This view, while hotly contested by some who write here to support him, is essential to any 'saving' of what is now called 'the Catholic Project' in philosophical circles.

Among such 'Critical Thomists' is the British theologian, Tina Beattie, whose contribution to the changing discourse of Catholic philosophy and theology is more optimistic than Ozolins'.

The second half of Ozolins' essay, unlike the first, arrives at conclusions rather more dismal that they need to be, by his almost Nietzschean dismissal of postmodernism, a position encouraged by some who post here but which is not supported by others within the Catholic camp, who take a broader and less irredentist view.

Foremost among these were Max Charlesworth and, of course, Tony Coady. Without abandoning their personal Catholicism, both philosophers, uniquely for Australians, embraced the more stringent implications of pluralism within the framework of liberal political philosophy, which Ozolins' supporters strenuously oppose.


Michael Furtado | 28 February 2022  

Such is their prodigal usage these days that terms like 'cutting edge' and "ground-breaking' - especially when applied to theologians - immediately draw from me a sceptical response; few more so than when I read several years ago Tina Beattie's 'Theology after Postmodernity - Divining the Void: a Lucanian reading of Thomas Aquinas.'(Oxford University Press, 2013).
To my mind, the underlying problem with Beattie's bold project is one of method: mamely, her demand for the voiding of Thomas's Aristotelian ontology and its distinctive and systematically developed and applied terminology and their replacement by categories of Lacanian psychoanalysis and feminist Critical Theory: a method that results in bizarre Trinitarian and Incarnational revisionism.
Beattie purports to provide a Thomism and renewed appreciation of medieval mysticism for the postmodern era. However, far from opening new insights into Thomas's philosophy, theology and sprituality conducive to fruitful contemporary dialogue, Beattie produces a 'Thomism' of which the only real connection to the original is the appending of its subject's name.
As Assistant Professor in Theology and Religious Studies Rachel Smith, who specializes in medieval theology, mysticism amd gender studies at Villanova University, observes:
"[For Beattie] Aquinas is the exemplary medieval voice, but only after he has gone through a purifying fire of deconstruction using the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan . . . Beattie's deconstruction is so effective that little remains in her account that is hospitable to her view of theology oriented irreducibly around mystery." (Marginalia, 22/7/2014).
The Critical Theory methodology - of which Beattie's is but one postmodern instance - is, with its superimposition of preconceived race/class/gender/etc., ideologies and categories, not an instrument of illumination, but rather, of distortion, suggesting that the word "deconstruction" is really more properly called "demolition".


John RD | 02 March 2022  
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I acknowledge Smith's view and seek to temper it with others immersed within both Lacanian Theory and Christianity, such as Raoul Mortley.

Mortley was VC at Newcastle. He reached beyond his philosophic and theological prowess to include a variety of educators like Terry Lovat and Brian English within the far-reaching cosmos of a unique university with a reputation for innovation and excellence, such as through its medical science degree.

In such a milieu I was struck by the links between the work of Rene Girard and Lacan. This was no reductionist, demolitionist enterprise intent upon destroying Christianity: Mortley, a French scholar, belongs to the conservative evangelical wing of Anglicanism that, like you, regards contemporary Catholicism as somewhat 'adventurous'.

I wonder, to return to a well-worn disagreement, if you have fairly considered Beattie's Thomism. Beattie assumes that the role of reason, which is quintessentially what the Greeks meant by Logos, is not exclusively that of religion, which Beattie consistently argues is to help us live creatively, spiritually, peacefully and joyously with realities for which there are no easy explanations.

I encountered this consistently at Newcastle with English (Graeme's brother, a Catholic literary scholar) and Lovat (an ethicist) embedding Habermasian critical reflection.


Michael Furtado | 12 March 2022  

Theological intent is irrelevant to actual outcome, MF. The effect of Beattie's deconstructionist method is a gutting of Aquinas' ontology and its supplanting with Lacanian psychoanalytic theory - a metamorphosis rather than an integration or development.
Your recognition here of the contemporary theological currency of "Logos" marks an advance on your dismissive opinion of its relevance in earlier postings. However, why should Catholic theology settle for a merely a secular understanding that does no justice to the Church's traditional identification of the "Logos" with Christ? A reduction of reference and meaning such one you say Beattie consistently argues short-changes dialogue, especially with non-believers.
And how does the postmodernist abandonment of clarity as a criterion in discursive writing that you endorse (cf. Eureka Street, A. Dean, "More than strawberry on the cake", Reply, 23/2/2022) advance the philosophical and theological enterprise of faith seeking understanding, that, while valuable in itself, is also necessary if the "praxis theology" to which you subscribe is not to be intellectually rudderless?
Theological adventure and creativity reside in the faithful integration of compatible new insights, concepts and terminology with the truth revealed in Christ, the Eternal Word made flesh, through the Church's Apostolic tradition - not academic novelties achieved by transforming a renowned body of thought into something it is not and retaining with the original a nominal connection only.


John RD | 14 March 2022  

'compatible new insights'

That's how the common law works. Judges apply or distinguish precedent. Sometimes, appeal judges have to overrule precedent but that's only because human law, by definition, isn't infallible.

Christians wishing to institutionalise novelties are basically saying that there is no Word of God. God, having no shadow of change, will not say now something which is incompatible with what he said before.

As for the argument that God is infallible but his people are not, what the novelty-seeking Christians are saying is that the Holy Spirit, the inerrant spirit of truth guiding his people, has been absent without leave.

The novelty-seeking Christians, infected with Socratic contradictions, want to plunge the Church into that same miasma. Usually for something irrelevant to the greater scheme of things like sexual licence.


roy chen yee | 17 March 2022  

I criticise your fundamentalist 'logos'. This limits your conception of religion because you force-fit dogma upon human inquiry.

This position is contested within the academy in which Ozolins serves. Doubtless some support his view, but then it is a Catholic institution within a relatively newly acquired Australian context straddling the demands of open academic inquiry while promoting fidelity to a Catholic magisterium, a work that is always in continuous process.

This in contradictory in that is better served by the open inquiry that Beattie pursues (and which I know others at ACU and NDU also do). Thus your argument is really with modernist post-Vatican II Catholicism.

In Genesis God appears centre-stage, supremely powerful, blessing all he creates. However the rest of Genesis, in the Lacanian sense, deconstructs this tidy theology mercilessly.

Within two chapters God has lost the plot and indulges in favouritism, setting humans murderously against one another. This cruelty reveals him as a capricious destroyer, sponsoring a world of ambiguity and paradox, which is our world!

Critical Thomism explores these contradictions in ways in which every contemporary religious scholar (including those at NDU/ACU) should.


Michael Furtado | 26 March 2022  
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‘force-fit dogma upon human inquiry.’

No, inquiry can be free but unless the end result is consistent with dogma, the inquiry is incomplete. Dogma is irremoveable from the intellectual equation of Free Enquiry must equal Dogma because Scripture, although scribed by fallible human ants, is published by the Holy Spirit.

‘In Genesis God appears centre-stage, supremely powerful, blessing all he creates. However the rest of Genesis, in the Lacanian sense, deconstructs this tidy theology mercilessly.

‘Within two chapters God has lost the plot and indulges in favouritism, setting humans murderously against one another. This cruelty reveals him as a capricious destroyer, sponsoring a world of ambiguity and paradox, which is our world!’

The use of active will would override human free will. Permissive will is doing what can be done within the restrictions imposed upon his freedom of action by human egoism and egotism. Insinuating contradictions in God’s behaviour is obsolete. The train left the station when God emptied the world of humans in the Flood to give humanity a fresh start and human free will again screwed things up.

God, by definition to those who wish to believe in him, is holy. Therefore, there is no ambiguity or contradiction in him, although there may be paradox which is the simultaneous existence of holiness with events permissively allowed to happen which are unholy. So, inquiry is not about expecting to prove ambiguity or contradiction but to explain paradox. Yahweh/Jehovah is not Allah. Allah is expected to be ambiguous and contradictory. Yahweh/Jehovah is only allowed by first principle to be paradoxical or he disappears in smoke for being unholy.


roy chen yee | 01 April 2022  

In identifying the relevance of paradox in relation to God's willing, Roy clearly recognizes the principle of non-contradiction that places real and appropriate value on truth and its universality as it pertains to God and to us humans created in God's image and likeness.
Ockhamist voluntarism does no service to truth by subordinating it to an arbitrary exercise of will and conferring on language a merely nominal status.


John RD | 12 April 2022  

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