Sunday, 11 May 2008

SSPX, scholasticism and phenomenology

The Sensible Bond has posted about the position of the Society of St Pius X, the society attached to the Tridentine liturgy and previously led by Archbishop Lefebvre. As someone who has not followed events involving the Society closely, this seems to be a well informed and well considered post.

The dialogue in the "comments" is also of interest. One aspect of that dialogue refers to the place of Thomist or scholastic philosophy, and asks about the insights that can be gained from phenomenology and personalism. Since St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) is my favourite saint, I do think phenomenology has a lot to offer... but there is perhaps the need to "return to the sources" of that movement in philosophy, to the realist phenomenology of people like Edith Stein. It is interesting that Edith and her friends at the time saw in this realist phenomenology a "new Thomism"; that many of them were Christian believers prompted Edith's first recognition of religion as being a subject worthy of philosophical study. A significant subject of study was the human person, and the religious nature of the person featured in that.

I feel that a realist phenomenology, as a methodology, can provide the means for the dialogue with secularists and atheists that Cardinal Murphy O'Connor was seeking in his recent lecture. It involves a "stepping back" from any previously held positions (a temporary, methodological neutrality, not a rejection); and it expects human reason to be applied to the full range of human experience (not just the physical sciences!) to determine essentially what those experiences are made up of. Seen as a search for the truth of things - and this is how the early phenomenologists saw it - this then leads to adherence to the truth that has been achieved. Or, to use a religious term, "conversion". In the early twentieth century, the context for this was an anxiety to overcome the gulf between our knowing and the truth of things that was perceived in Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy; in the first years of the twenty first century, the challenge is that covered by the generic term "post-modernism" which gives a similar experience of an unbridgeable gap between our knowing and things themselves.

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