Friday, 9 March 2007

The nature of philosophy

I would submit that Fr René Camilleri (Times of Malta, March 5) has a very narrow concept of the nature of philosophy. He opposed Fr Peter Serracino Inglott’s contribution (February 24) that basically stated that philosophy is, beyond Scripture, a ‘guide for the perplexed’ by throwing in the idea of Church tradition. Fr Peter was justly incensed (March 9), maintaining – and rightly so – that Church tradition itself is, in part at least, the work of philosophical reflection.

Of course, it is not only that, but this very fact further defeats Fr René’s assertions. For the nature of Church tradition is essentially, as Congar says (in Tradition and Traditions), a ‘subjective sense, a kind of Catholic instinct, [which] is called “sensus fidelium”, “sensus fidei”, the sense of faith’. Fr René claims Scriptural objectivity, which, evidently, is not the case. Certainly, Scripture is the root and foundation of Church tradition, but, as a ‘handing on of a message’, as Rahner calls Church tradition (in Theological Investigations, vol.III), it must entail philosophical processes. Furthermore, Schillebeeckx maintains (in Christ) that the language of faith is a ‘responsive’ language, a ‘from below’ answer to a ‘from above question’; and language, by necessity, implies philosophical handling. So, in whatever way one understands it, Church tradition, being a human experience, necessarily involves philosophy.

Having said this, I would go a step further, and submit that Scripture itself, and not only Church tradition, engages philosophical practice. Of course, not in the sense that it is some intellectual endeavour, but rather in the sense that it necessarily entails a certain rationalisation of some kind. This is what we mean when we believe that God and man are co-authors of Scripture. Man must necessarily respond to divine revelation and inspiration on the basis of some philosophical footing.

All of this bears on the place of philosophy when dealing with contemporary bio-ethical matters that are not dealt with explicitly in Holy Scripture. In this very specific context (for some would not consider at all revelation in such issues), maybe philosophy alone would not let ‘the fly out of the bottle’, but, guided by the ‘subjective instinct of faith’, it surely forms the basis and the procedure of doing so most effectively.

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