Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ralph McInerny (1929-2010) requiéscat in pace

I have just heard of the passing of that wonderful Thomist, Dr. Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame. Just recently I was browsing through one of his books (his A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas, the Thomistic equivalent to Adler's Aristotle for Everyone) and to my delight -undoubtedly to be shared by viewers of this blog! - there was an abundance of recommendations of Fr. Jaki's works! Please remember Ralph in your prayers and may he enjoy his eternal reward.

~Jakian Thomist

Saturday, January 23, 2010

BYOJL #4: New Booklet by Father Jaki

Real View Books has recently published a new booklet written by Fr. Jaki before his passing, on a most wonderful and beautiful topic - the Holy Eucharist. It is available from RVB for $3 and I hope that readers of the Duhem Society blog will benefit spiritually from it.

~ Jakian Thomist

What is the Mass? - by Fr. Stanley L. Jaki

The authorization by Pope Benedict XVI of the Latin Mass as codified by Pope Saint Pius V should be enough of an indication of the perplexity of many of the faithful. They had many reasons to complain about the fact that the celebration of the Mass in the vernacular has failed to promote a vivid grasp of the awesome mystery of the Mass. This booklet was written at the request of a friend deeply beset by that perplexity. In answer, this booklet points out that the agonies felt over the improper celebration of the Mass and over the often odd participation of the faithful in it, should be seen in the light of the essence of the Mass. Enduring those agonies with faith in God is a sharing in the essence of the Mass, which is the rendering present, in a sacramental way, on the altar of Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross. Since he chose to be crucified for our sake, it behooves us to share in his crucifixion by enduring those agonies. The Mass is a breaking of the bread but only inasmuch as on Calvary Christ's body was tortured, and therefore our participation should be a modest sharing in that painful process. This participation in the Mass was brought into focus in our days by the little-known account of Cecil Raymond Humphery-Smith, a convert, about his privilege of sharing daily in the excruciating agonies that marked Padre Pio's Eucharistic celebration day after day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Revolution or Revolutions?

Fr. Jaki showed great fondness for a book by David Stove, an Australian philosopher, critiquing the famous four irrationalist philosophers of science - Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend. The book - Scientific Irrationalism - Origins of a Postmodern Cult. - is relatively unknown but doesn't fail to provoke a polarised reaction, as can be gathered by the Amazon reviews. It has been reprinted several times under different titles, my own copy is called 'Popper and After'. Part one discusses how the irrationalist philosophy is made credible through language, while part two asks how irrationalism about science began. I will be taking excerpts from this book along with comments by Fr. Jaki as we introduce these writers who have shaped the discourse on philosophy of science these past few decades. For today however as an introduction, I provide an excerpt from Fr. Jaki, as he sets their writings set in the context of Duhem and Koyre.

~ Jakian Thomist

Undoubtedly, it would pay to look into the impact that Koyre's pantheism had on his historical researches into the origin and chief characteristics of Galileo's science. Here, let me note only the price one has to pay if one accepts Koyre's contention that Duhem was wrong in claiming a continuity from Buridan through Oresme and Leonardo to Galileo and beyond. The price is that if Koyre is right, science must be taken with him for a succession of disconnected periods, a mere sequence of revolutions. Such a sequence is not a continuity and therefore cannot represent a progress.

In other words, if Koyre's critique of Duhem is accepted - and many modern philosophers and historians have accepted it - one cannot give a logical account of a fact, the fact of scientific progress which it would be absurd to deny. A telling point of that logical conundrum is that neither Koyre not his disciples - such as Thomas Kuhn of MIT, Paul Feyerabend of Berkeley, Bernard Cohen of Harvard, to mention some principal ones - give a clear definition of what they mean by revolution, while they profusely use that word. If they mean a complete break with the past, that is, with former ideas, they invite incomprehensibility of the pre-revolutionary phase as seen from the vantage point set up by the revolutionary change. To ward off the specter of incomprehensibility, they usually resort to some scientific expression, such as incommensurability, mutation, and paradigms.

The last of these is best left to Latin grammarians. They never expected their students to undergo a mental mutation or a revolutionary reorientation as they proceeded from a paradigm noun of the first declension to a paradigm noun of the second declension. As to genetic mutation, it consists in an extremely minute rearrangement of the chromosomatic material and not in its complete replacement. This is why one species can be instrumental in the rise of another species.

As to incommensurability, it occurs in a right-angled triangle with unit sides. The measure of the hypotenuse is an irrational number. Yet, no rationality was displayed by that Pythagorean of old who, on discovering the strange nature of that measure, drowned himself on the high sea. As to those moderns who cavort in the idea of incommensurability and do so in the name of their philosophies of science, they should rather take note of the Bulgarian proverb: Those who want to drown should not torture themselves in shallow waters. At any rate, they seem to ignore a principal lesson about revolutions, the point best conveyed in the French saying: Plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme chose.

[S.L. Jaki, Patterns or Principles and Other Essays, p. 174-175]

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]

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blessed Niels Steensen (1638-1686)

We often hear about the Catholic fathers of astronomy, but yet the Danish Catholic father of geology, Blessed Niels Steensen (or Nicholas Steno), is rarely mentioned outside of the academic arena. Described by Fr. Jaki as "the trailblazing geologist, a convert (former Lutheran), and eventually a Bishop", he was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 23, 1988. However, today January 11, is his birthday! A celebration is in order and perhaps the best present of all would be to learn more about Blessed Niels and remember him in our prayers.

Some sources to start with are his Wikipedia page and the popular science book about him by Alan Cutler, "'The Seashell and the Mountaintop" available from Amazon. Fr. Jaki has also written on Blessed Niels and Dr. Thursday provides some long excerpts about him here.

Here are Fr. Jaki's concluding comments:

[Steno's] caution stood him in good stead. It earned him three centuries later the praise of another great Danish man of science, Niels Bohr, who commended his forebear's openmindedness in recognizing the great inadequacies in man's knowledge of his brain. Happily for science, Steno's openmindedness is still alive in many leaders of science and causes them to reach conclusions hardly different from his.
[S.L. Jaki, Brain, Mind and Computers, pp. 120-121]

~Jakian Thomist

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Realist Beginner's Handbook - Part 2

Continuing from where we left off in Part One, Etienne Gilson describes the bedrock of Thomist realism in his Le Réalisme Methodique, as reproduced by E.L. Mascall in his The Openness of Being. Included are comments by Mascall in italics.

~Jakian Thomist

Knowledge presupposes the presence of the thing itself to the intellect, and we do not have to postulate, behind the thing that is in the thought, a mysterious and unknowable duplicate, which would be the thing of the thing as it is in thought but, in thought, apprehending the thing as it is.

Taine performed a great service for good sense when he defined a sensation as a true hallucination, for he showed where logic necessarily lands idealism. Sensation is what a hallucination becomes when this hallucination isn't one. We must not let ourselves be impressed by the famous 'errors of the senses' or be surprised by the enormous hoo-ha that the idealists make of them; idealists are people for whom the normal can only be a particular case of the pathological.

E.M: Gilson refuses to admit the accusation that realists are committed by their doctrine to posing as infallible; quite to the contrary:

We are simply philosophers for whom truth is normal and error is abnormal; this does not mean that truth is any earier for us to achieve that is, for example, perfect health. The realist does not differ from the idealist in being unable to make mistakes, but primarily in the fact that, when he does make mistakes, it is not because thought has erred through being unfaithful to itself but because knowledge has erred through being unfaithful to its object. But, above all, the realist makes mistakes only when he is unfaithful to his principles, while the idealist avoids them only in the degree in which he is unfaithful to his.

E.M: And finally, it is the idealist, not the realist, who takes the mystery out of existence and claims to know everything that there is to know:

To say that all knowledge consists in grasping the thing as it is does not in any way mean that knowledge exhausts the content of its object in one single act. What knowledge grasps of an object is real, but the real is inexhaustible, and even if the intellect had discerned all its details it would still be up against the mystery of its very existence. It was the idealist Descartes who believed that he could grasp the reality infallibly and at one fell swoop; Pascal, the realist, knew how naive this pretence of the philosopher was... The virtue proper of the realist is modesty concerning his knowledge, and even if he does not always practise it, he is committed to it by his profession.

[E.Gilson, Le Réalisme Methodique, pp. 87ff cited in E.L. Mascall, The Openness of Being, pp. 94-95]

Monday, January 4, 2010

EWTN: The Journey Home

Those familar with EWTN probably have heard of the program 'The Journey Home', hosted by Marcus Grodi, a Lutheran convert, who interviews other converts about their entry into the Catholic Church. To my delight I have found the archive of previous shows on the EWTN site here (or through There are at least 500 interviews from Dale Ahlquist to Fr. Z. Interviews which particularly caught my interest include those with Avery Cardinal Dulles, Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Francis Beckwith, Fr. Graham Leonard (former Anglican Bishop of London), Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Alice von Hildebrand about the conversion of her husband Dietrich.

There are interviews also with perhaps some lesser known faces whose books may be of interest to readers of the Duhem Society blog.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker - Former Anglican and author of More Christianity, Adventures in Orthodoxy and other books on St. Benedict and the Rosary. Fr. Longenecker will also feature on tonight's show discussing the new Anglican Ordinariate.

Dr. Paul Vitz - Former Nominal Protestant and atheist and author of some very thought-provoking reads, Psychology as Religion, The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis, Faith of the Fatherless and Sigmund Freud's Christian Unconscious, which can be read online here.

Dr. Thomas Howard - Former Evangelical and author of On Being Catholic, Evangelical is Not Enough and guide books to C.S. Lewis amongst others.

Joseph Pearce - Former Anglican and author of The Quest for Shakespeare, Literary Converts and other books on Tolkien, Chesterton and C.S. Lewis

Fr. Ray Ryland - Former Episcopal priest and editor of extracts from V. Soloviev printed in The Russian Church and the Papacy

Dr. Anthony Rizzi - Physicist and author of The Science before Science: A Guide to 21st century thinking [I haven't read this book but it appears to rely heavily on Gilson and Duhem, no doubt father jaki features also!]

Fr. George Rulter - Former Episcopal priest and author of A Crisis of Saints, Coincidentialy and a book on the Cure D'Ars.

~ Jakian Thomist