Fides et Ratio 10

“Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery” [Fides et Ratio §90].

The Lord Jesus says that the truth shall make you free. One easy manifestation of the contrary is to be found in the case of the man who is an inveterate liar. He has to keep track of every lie he tells to anyone, to make sure that they are all in sync, lest his deceit be exposed. It’s an impossible task, and it’s why habitual liars usually get found out. Meanwhile the burden of trying to keep up with it all becomes a form of bondage. But the honest man has no such difficulty: by simply telling the truth, he doesn’t have to keep track of what he has said at all. He is free in that sense. I suppose it’s unlikely that JPII had this sense of things in mind when he wrote the quotation above in FR, but I think it’s an interesting example of the truth of what he said (which is really no more than a gloss on Jn 8:32).

It seems likely that a case can be made that a sort of bondage likewise arises from philosophical error, but I’m not sure that I’m equipped to be able to make it. I suppose it might go something like this: a philosophical error constitutes a deviation from the way that the world really is. If a man doesn’t recognize the error, or if he refuses to do so, he is effectively attempting to live in a world that doesn’t exist (at least with respect to his error). I imagine one form of bondage related to this is the intellectual energy that must be expended in order to prop up the error, or in attempting to “bend” the world to fit it. Now this might be less of a big deal in the case of small errors, but the task gets more serious when the error is bigger—in other words, if it’s of greater consequence.

That sounds a bit (or maybe a lot!) like I’m saying that the truth is easy, and maybe that very fact exposes a weakness of my approach to the question. Easiness and freedom aren’t the same thing.

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Posted in Fides et Ratio, John Paul II, Magisterium
7 comments on “Fides et Ratio 10
  1. […] noteworthy is something that we saw him say in Fides et Ratio: that is, the relationship between truth and freedom cannot be […]

  2. […] is dependent upon truth, as JPII also said in Fides et Ratio §90 (we looked at this here). But conscience is dependent upon freedom. Consequently conscience is dependent upon truth, and so […]

  3. […] a post I wrote about Fides et Ratio a few months ago, I suggested that philosophical error is a kind of […]

  4. Nathan says:

    I liked the way you described philosophical error as a deviation between the way a man thinks the world is and the way it actually is. But it almost seems ironic it is mentioned in connection with theology. I think religions try to present their own frameworks that describe the way the world is – what it considers the truth. Yet, the possibility for these truths to be erroneous is high because they are not are required to be verified in the real world. Religion is like a philosophical framework that is taken on the hope that it is true without the necessity of verifying that it actually is.

  5. aquinasetc says:

    Hello Nathan,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and thank you for visiting my blog.

    You wrote:

    > Yet, the possibility for these truths to be erroneous is high because they are not are required to be verified in the real world. Religion is like a philosophical framework that is taken on the hope that it is true without the necessity of verifying that it actually is.

    It is difficult to know how to reply, so in addition to some introductory thoughts I’d like to ask you one or two clarifying questions.

    First: What does it mean to verify something is true? Second, in order to make sure I understand where you are coming from with respect to religious truths: why do you say that they are not “required to be verified” and that there is no “necessity of verifying” they are true?

    In the way of initial reply, I would say that a strong argument can (and has) been made for the existence of God as a supernatural (above nature, and beyond our natural ability to sense) Being. For this, you may see Aristotle’s *Metaphysics* and (better, I think, because it is clearer) the *Summa contra Gentiles* of Aquinas, which is an extended argument for the truths about which we are speaking. Secondly, I would affirm that while we cannot verify some truths of faith by any means available to us, it is nevertheless true that these truths do not and cannot contradict the truths we can attain. We accept on the grounds of *faith* that they are true because God says that they are true. This is an appeal to authority, obviously, but we make such appeals all the time and so I would say that they are not intrinsically invalid, but rather depend upon the reliability of the aforementioned authority.

    In this case, God is supremely reliable and so what He says may be fully trusted. How do we know that He is reliable? That is a question that Aquinas answers in his book, and it is not one that is beyond our ability to answer.

    This is probably enough for now. :-)

    Peace,

    Fred

  6. Nathan says:

    I think with respect to the discussion, there needs to be a measurable way that we can determine whether or not the claims made about the world by a particular philosophy or religion are actually true. Otherwise, what do we mean by philosophical error.

    I don’t know why an authority would leave us with certain claims about reality and yet not furnish us with any method where by we can measure that those claims are true. The claim of there existing a supernatural realm would fall into this category as there is no measurable way to determine whether or not it actually exists. It is a claim made in such a way that the truth of its claims cannot be verified. It is a claim that is taken by many on the hope that it is true. If hope is the measure of truth, then what is error.

    I have not read any of the works of Aquinas or Aristotle. Most of the philosophical or theological works that I have read have been written in the past 400 years. Many of the quotes I have read of Aristotle led me to believe that he was very logical. But I question whether or not he would have been willing to accept illogic in his metaphysics. If we could travel back in time it would be interesting to see whether or not Aristotle would be willing to accept the logical contradictions proposed by the doctrine of the trinity like Aquinas did.

  7. aquinasetc says:

    Hello Nathan,

    You wrote:

    > there needs to be a measurable way that we can determine whether or not the claims made about the world by a particular philosophy or religion are actually true.

    What do you propose? How do you measure what is “actually true”? Why do you think the truth must be measurable?

    > I don’t know why an authority would leave us with certain claims about reality and yet not furnish us with any method where by we can measure that those claims are true. The claim of there existing a supernatural realm would fall into this category as there is no measurable way to determine whether or not it actually exists. It is a claim made in such a way that the truth of its claims cannot be verified.

    Again, it is an unwarranted assumption to say that truth claims must be measurable — as though reality is restricted to what is measurable. But whether something that we shall call *supernatural* actually exists is something that we can make certain deductions about, as long as we haven’t a priori ruled out the possibility of its existence. Again, I would refer you especially to Aquinas’ Summa contra Gentiles; it is available online in HTML and various other formats.

    > If we could travel back in time it would be interesting to see whether or not Aristotle would be willing to accept the logical contradictions proposed by the doctrine of the trinity like Aquinas did.

    He certainly wouldn’t, but Aquinas does not either. :-) The doctrine of the Trinity is not discoverable nor provable by reason, but as Aquinas argues in SCG, it is not contrary to reason either when rightly understood. Truth does not contradict truth. We know about the Trinity because God revealed this to us. The question, I think, is really whether God exists (and I think that Aristotle and Aquinas have admirably demonstrated this) and how we know what He has revealed (if anything). Aristotle and Aquinas had differing views about this second question, and I think that Aquinas makes the stronger arguments.

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