The Metaphysical Capacity of Man

Prof. Michael Hull, New York

January 28, 2005

Fides et ratio engages philosophy and philosophers directly. Central to this engagement is John Paul IIís contention that contemporary man, while excelling in the positive sciences, has forsaken his capacity for metaphysics: "reason, rather than voicing the human orientation toward truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being" (FR, no. 5). Given the importance of philosophy for theological investigation, this problem is one that confronts humanity on every level and therefore deserves the attention of the Churchís Magisterium. It is the Churchís mission to aid all men and women in reaffirming the truth of faith so as to restore "a genuine trust in their capacity to know and challenge philosophy to recover and develop its own full dignity" (FR, no. 6)

That dignity demands an integration of faith and reason. Without the appropriate integration of the two, man is incapable of properly knowing either himself or God. Unfortunately, our contemporary society is wont to commend reasonís competence in the natural order to the point of eliminating any concern for the supernatural, as if lack of concern for the supernatural were in some fashion an exaltation of mankind. But just the opposite is the case. A putative appreciation of reason vis-à-vis only the physical is in fact a deprecation of man, who is capable of so much moreóthe metaphysical. As St. Paul says, "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom 1:20; cf. FR, no. 22, and Vatican I, Dei Filius, chap. 2). To rightly extol reason, then, is to extol its capacity to know of God.

John Paul II speaks of three steps necessary for philosophy to recover itself. First, philosophy needs to rediscover its sapiential dimension, that is, its "search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life" (FR, no. 81). Second, philosophy must verify manís capacity to come to truth, that is, that the human mind can "come to a knowledge which can reach objective truth by means of that adaequatio rei et intellectus to which the Scholastic Doctors referred" (FR, no. 82). And third, philosophy must accept its metaphysical capacity, that is, its capacity to transcend "empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate, and foundational in its search for truth" (FR, no. 83)

Should these steps not be taken, man would truncate himself. The exercise of manís metaphysical capacity is neither an academic nor elective enterprise; rather, it is manís fundamental venture in coming to know the truth about himself and God. Whether or not it is admitted, the lionís share of contemporary philosophical enquiry has slinked back into Platoís cave, preferring the shadows of modern and postmodern philosophy to the light of truth, and therefore debased itself. Yet, at the end of the day, manís capacity for metaphysics will never allow him to languish in the shades. St. Augustine was prescient when he said: "our hearts are restless until they rest in You" (Confessions, I, 1