Religious/Theological Studies Site (Alii & Aliae & Alia)

It's a celebration of Richard's life


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Posted on January 2, 2011 at 12:35 PM



     According to the Catholic Church, truth is defined as follows: "Truth is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his/her social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication, and dialogue, in the course of which, people explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order to assist one another in the quest for truth."(Vatican II Document: Religious Freedom, # 3)


     About 'truth', why is the Catholic Church not practicing what it preaches?


Posted by Beautiful Oak Tree at 9:09 AM

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     There is no absolute truth; truth can only be approximated.


What is truth? Even asked unpretentiously the question puzzles and intimi­dates the mind, and even proposed judiciously the answers leave the mind unsure and still searching. Several years ago, Edward M. MacKinnon discussed numerous classical theories of truth, from the Aristotelian-Scholastic and Marxist views to those of the empiricists and existentialists, including the meaning of truth in science and religion. Having reviewed most of the Western world's diverse understandings of truth, MacKinnon formulated what he perceived truth to be:


"Truth' can be taken as an abstract way of referring to true proposi­tions. But there is also a deeper meaning, as when one speaks of science as the search for truth or of theology as based on revealed truth. `Truth' in this sense connotes something transcendent...."1


     Something transcendent, of course, may speak of subrational conditions, such as altered states of awareness engendered through drugs, as well as of transempiri­cal ecstasies such as peak experiences allegedly located beyond sense perception.2 For his part, MacKinnon related transcendence both to the mystery of the universe, which scientists fathom, and to the mystery of God, upon which theolo­gians reflect. He suggested that both mysteries summon tentative "propositional" expressions of their respective "truth": scientific theories, which represent suc­cessive approximations to specialized aspects of the universe, and theological linguistic analogs, which express a human understanding of God.3


MacKinnon, it seems to me, proposed two meanings of truth: transcenden­tal and propositional. The latter is an explication and approximation of tran­scendence; the former, the ultimate ground and goal of the search for truth. He wrote:

"... transcendent reality is the ultimate ground and goal of the search for truth. But it is a ground which can only be explicated and a goal which can be only approximated by the slow piecemeal process of presenting propositions which we take to be true and hope to be not too inadequate."4


To illustrate the two meanings of truth, transcendental and propositional, consider MacKinnon's last statement. It "proposes" an explication that approximates "transcendent reality," and, as the following explanation spells out, it implies that truth reveals itself both as transcendental and as propositional. As transcen­dental, truth points to the existence rather than nonexistence of "the explicated and approximated": in the statement, "transcendent reality." As propositional, truth points to the "true" in "the explication and approximation"—"a slow piecemeal process" MacKinnon called it: in the statement, "the ultimate ground and goal of the search for truth," which "transcendent reality" is "proposed" to be, and "which we take to be true and hope to be not too inadequate."


I suggest, therefore, that truth has both an absolute and a relative meaning. As transcendental, truth is absolute in the sense that, in a proposition, it always conjures some transcendent reality, which exists rather than existing not. As propositional, however, truth is relative: in a proposition, it directs one to the "true" in the explication, which exists to the extent that transcendent reality is approximated. Both truths, transcendental and propositional, reveal themselves in propositions, even in propositions that are factually false. For example: "The holocaust of six-million Jews never took place." In this proposition, the tran­scendent reality conjured by transcendental truth is the mystery of ignorance, feeblemindedness, or indoctrination, and the "true" expressed by propositional truth signifies the extent to which the mystery of such evils is approximated. The approximation is hoped to be "not too inadequate."


     Obviously, in the example of a false proposition, transcendental truth will not be acknowledged by whoever "proposes" the statement. Nevertheless, a proposition has its own subject. Robert W. Funk explained: "Behind all verbal formulations, even those in which the object . . . is, so to speak, the subject, stands another subject, the real subject, the logical subject of the structure of the assertion. That subject is the posterior `I.' " It is this posterior "I" that speaks of transcendental truth, not necessarily the "I" of the subject of a proposition or of its "proposer," whether the proposition is factually true or false.5

Nevertheless, transcendental truth, when "propositionalized," can only be approximated, and the reasons are many, which accounts for the inadequacy of propositions. Some are biological and psychological, others physical and technological. For example, astronomers who, on several occasions, observe a star know that none of their readings are accurate.6 Stigmatisms and fatigue, air scintilla­tions and micrometric limitations—all contribute to the inaccuracy of the astron­omers' readings and of their expressions in speech or writing.


1. Edward M. MacKinnon, Truth & Expression (New York: Newman Press, 1971). Ibid., p. 182.

2. Regarding the transempirical, see Immanuel Kant, "Transcendental Dialectic," in CrItique of Pure Reason (New York: Dutton, 1964); Mark Taylor, "Space, Time, and God's Transcendence," in Riff Review 31 (Winter, 1974): 25-40; and Alistair Kee, The Ways of Transcendence (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971). Regarding the subrational, see Herbert Richardson and Robert Cutler, eds., Transcendence (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969). Articles that review several contemporary understandings of transcendence and truth are found in the Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion (University of Notre Dame Press): vol. 2, Alan M. Olson and Leroy S. Rouner, eds., Transcendence and the Sacred (1981); vol. 3, Leroy S. Rouner, ed., Meaning, Truth, and God (1982); and vol. 7, Leroy S. Rouner, ed., Knowing Religiously (1985).

3. MacKinnon, Truth & Expression, p. 182. In the present article, the expression "mys­tery" is used interchangeably with the expressions "transcendence" and "being." When cap­italized, these expressions refer to "ultimate transcendence," or God, whose self-revelation is the all-encompassing horizon of consciousness. See, e.g., Avery Dulles, "Revelation as a New Awareness," in his Models of Revelation (New York: Doubleday, 1983), pp. 98-114.

4. MacKinnon, Truth & Expression, p. 182.

5. Robert W. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God: The Problem of Language in the New Testament and Contemporary Theology (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 51

6. Jacob Bronowski, A Sense of the Future: Essays in Natural Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977), p. 225.

(Excerpt from Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 25:4, Fall 1988, pp. 555-572. TRUTH, MYSTERY, AND EXPRESSION: THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES REVISITED -- by Richard J. Beauchesne.)


Posted by Beautiful Oak Tree at 8:56 PM

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Searching for Knowledge, not for Certainty

Having experienced the cancer of dehumanization that feeds itself within the bowels of the passion for the ultimate – i.e., the Nazis' absolute claim to the supremacy of the Aryan race and commitment to the annihilation of all other races –Jacob Bronowski [the late physicist] has warned all pretenders to heavenly thrones, whether they pontificate in laboratories or sacristies: "There is no [certitude]. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists [religionists], open the door to tragedy." (Ascent of Man, p. 353.)


Posted by Beautiful Oak Tree at 2:27 PM