Saturday, January 16, 2010

Newman on Knowledge - Part 1

I hope to discuss more of father's writings on Cardinal Newman in the next few months and their relevance to the philosophy of science. Following from my previous excerpts on Gilson's writings on epistemology, here today are two quotations on Newman's realism from Jaki's The Church of England as Viewed by Newman and Newman to Converts.

~ Jakian Thomist

Newman's work in philosophy was mainly about the illative sense, which is not about the basics of epistemology, where everything is decided in any philosophy worthy of the name. No philosophy can begin with a discussion of the problems of induction, which is the problem implied in the use of the mind's illative powers. Newman's occasional but emphatic statements even in the Grammar of Assent about the primacy of registering external objects would alone belie efforts that put him in the company of Kant as this was done already by W. Ward, Newman's first major biographer. As one with full access to all of Newman's manuscripts, Ward cannot be excused for not reporting Newman's remark in what eventually became published as his Philosophical Notebook, namely, that philosophers like Kant, who "have come to no conclusion", are not worth reading. Newman in fact left uncut the second half of his copy of Meiklejohn's translation of the Critique of Pure Reason. Things would have turned out much better in the post-Conciliar Church if Fr. Marechal had done the same with his own copy of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft.

Champions of the "new thinking" in theology, including its biblical branch, would not even pay heed to a telling admission of Fr. Raymond Brown that even biblical hermeneutics cannot do without epistemology. The Tractarians were innocent to all such problems, while some of them, and certainly Newman, toed the line of common sense realism in philosophy.

[S.L. Jaki, The Church of England as Viewed by Newman, p. 332-333]


Loss and Gain, the first book Newman wrote and published as a Catholic, is even much more than the fictional story of a conversion where Charles Reding, the hero of the story, often evokes Newman himself. This evocation derives in part from descriptions of Reding such as that he "was naturally timid and retiring, over-sensitive, and, though lively and cheerful, yet not without a tinge of melancholy, which sometimes degenerated into mawkishness." Nor did the evocation mainly rest on some graphic scenes - some amusing, some gripping, some plainly sarcastic - as from the fact that the story contains a chain of vivid argumentations between Reding and various types of Oxonians, ranging from agnostics to High Church devotees.

The chief strength of evocation lay in distinctly intellectual reflections, all markedly Newmanian also in their order. The first of them was about "the connection of fact with fact, truth with truth, the bearing of fact upon truth, and truth upon fact, what leads to what, what points are primary and what secondary". All this the young Oxonians still had to learn. Newman might have added that many Oxonians were not to learn all that even in old age. Surely, what follows in the next page in Loss and Gain foreshadows that Oxford which fell for the mirage of logical positivism which took distinction for facts and ignored almost almost all facts. The proof of this is Ayer's famous answer, "Almost all", to the question: "What was wrong with logical positivism?" Here is a part of that page from Loss and Gain:

"They hear of men, and things, and projects, and struggles, and principles; but everything comes and goes like the wind, nothing makes an impression, nothing penetrates, nothing has its place in their minds. They hear and forget; or they recollect that what they have once heard, they can't tell where. Thus they have no consistency in their arguments; that is, they argue one way to-day, and not exactly the other way, at random. Their lines of argument diverge, nothing comes to a point; there is no one centre in which their mind sits, on which their judgment of men and things proceeds."

[ S.L. Jaki, Newman to Converts: An Existential Ecclesiology, p. 50]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am so excited to find this blog!