Rationality or Pure Pragmatism?
The basic role of human values in the transformation of contemporary culture
Archbishop Jozef Zycinski, Metropolitan Archbishop of Lublin, Poland
Grand Chancellor of the Catholic University of Lublin
April 9, 1999
The Catholic University of America
In the evolution of the human species, an important role was played by the presence of rational-theoretical elements, even though they provided no immediate utilitarian advantages. The important quality of human reflection was expressed in the admonition "Gnoti se auton" carved on the portal of the temple at Delphi. This same attitude was present in Socrates' dream of moral harmony which finds its expression in a search for unity between logos and ethos, between the theoretical and the moral components of human reflection. The dramatic constituent of human existence was expressed by Euripides and Sophocles, Lao-Tze and Ovid, Milton and Shakespeare. To discover the ultimate meaning of human life, our ancestors developed art, mathematics and metaphysics, with its profound questions concerning human contingency and the divine Absolute. There were no pragmatic advantages in the study of the ontological structure of being. No utilitarian profits resulted from Euclid's definition of measureless points and infinite planes; in philosophical reflection as well as in science and art there is an important factor which goes far beyond any pragmatic benefits. Even in the rise of modern science as developed by Galileo and Newton, the role of its pragmatic-technological consequences was relatively small. When in the 12th century Nicholas of Oresme tried to use mathematics to characterize natural phenomena, he undertook an ambitious attempt to describe our feelings and emotions in mathematical terms. Had he succeeded in his research program, the admonition from Delphi would have received an even more challenging form: Know thyself in the language of mathematics.
An important expression of the specifically human attitude toward the world has also been expressed in the contemplative vision of reality. Both in the prayerful worship of God's splendor and in the poetic praise of the beauty of nature, the same disinterested fascination emerges as a basic value. It directs our attention to the grandeur of being which would remain either unnoticed or unworthy of being noticed by someone who interprets reality in purely pragmatic terms. In this contemplation of being, a very important role is played by a sense of wonder which assumes different forms in mystical contemplation, in poetic enchantment, in the philosophical amazement that there exists being rather than nothingness. Philosophy, art, and religion came together in transforming our culture and in introducing non-pragmatic elements into its essence. Without them our culture would have assumed quite a different form. Anthropology itself would be "severely compromised by a one-dimensional vision of the human being, a vision which excludes the great ethical dilemmas and the existential analyses of the meaning of suffering and sacrifice, of life and death" (89).
In the context of the present cultural transformations, one could certainly create a culture in which Shakespeare's dramas are replaced by the stories of Mickey Mouse and in which no one pays attention to the masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt because Hollywood movies are regarded as the main cultural achievement of the human species. After diminishing the role of these intellectual and theoretical elements in our cultural tradition "men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of a life which is genuinely personal" (4).The suggestion that in a future evolution our culture could enter into this stage has been not only a pure conjecture;. it is implied in many modern critiques of rationality in which pragmatic benefits are appreciated more than classically understood truth.
The global village and universal truths
In his defense of rationality and human values, John Paul II stresses the role of "true wisdom" in our life. Those who love wisdom and have found the path to it will "find rest from their labors and joy for their spirit" (6). This sapiential attitude is expressed in our intellectual openness to the metaphysical and mystical aspects of reality. We discover these aspects when transcending the empirical world of the immediately given to pose the fundamental questions which pervade the entire human existence: Who am I? Why does evil exist? What is the deepest meaning of human life? (1). This metaphysical dimension of reality opens up to us "in truth, in beauty, in moral values, in other persons, in being itself, in God" (83). It is normal that in the variety of the cultural patterns coexisting in contemporary society this dimension will not be appreciated by all value-systems. It is distressing however that contemporary critique of these value systems so often assumes an anti-rational and anti-intellectual form.
There are many cultural counterproposals to the sapiential vision offered by Christianity. Their nature is illustrated by Jorge Luis Borges when he recalls his discussion with Federico Garcia Lorca. The author of Poeta in Nueva York expressed his profound solidarity with a character whom he regards as a symbol of American life and who epitomizes the drama of existence, characteristic of both the American mentality and the American hierarchy of values. Borges came to realize that it was Mickey Mouse who embodies this symbol. The attitude expressed by Lorca appears to him as nothing but an expression of an infantile axiology in which flat slogans are appreciated more than basic human values. The problem is that the axiology proposed by Lorca seems to predominate our contemporary culture. The contemporary radical critique of modernity goes hand in hand with deep cultural transformations in which the basic constituents not only of the Enlightenment but also of the Socratic tradition are called into question. The newest technological achievements wipe out the differences between the real world and virtual reality. The specific form of information provided by the dominating mass media consistently eliminates all intellectual elements and reduces the existence of the erstwhile animal rationale to the level of Mickey Mouse. Plato and Socrates, when replaced by Disney and Woody Allen, create a radically new situation in which "people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence" (5).
In his comment on the nature of present-day cultural transformations, Konrad Lorenz, an author well known for his studies on biology and culture, emphasizes in Rettet der Hoffnung that even more than nuclear extermination, he fears the growing moral devastation of the human species, which could result in (from) the dissolution of our ethical sensitivity. This comment, written immediately after the Chernobyl catastrophe, seems even more justified at the present time in the context of the accelerated cultural changes which followed upon the collapse of the totalitarian Communist system in Eastern and Central Europe. Between totalitarianism, which has already been overthrown and the new threat of moral decline the Pope points to both nihilism and fundamentalism as the cultural challenges of our time. In the former, all values are called into question to regard cultural changes as a new form of the Absolute. In the latter, cultural and intellectual changes are ignored and even values which are contingent and relative to a given culture are regarded as fundamental. In contradistinction to these two approaches, the Pope sees "in philosophy the way to come to know the fundamental truth about human life" (5), but at the same time he points to the danger of the fundamentalist "seeking to derive the truth of Sacred Scripture from the use of one method alone, ignoring the need for a more comprehensive exegesis" (55). Instead of introducing unjustified antagonisms between faith and rationality we should follow John Paul II when he emphasizes: "there is no reason for competition of any kind between reason and faith" (17); "reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves" (16). To defend our rational heritage and to counteract the "continuous processes of dissolution of ethical" and axiological sensitivity, as suggested by Lorenz, we must approach the present cultural transformations in the framework of Christian responsibility for dialogue between religion and culture.
The specificity of our present epoch can be described in terms of the advent of the Information Society. The revolution in the domain of information processing has been its basic component. The world has already become McLuhan's global village and the newest possibilities provided by the Internet can be compared only to the cultural breakthrough caused by Gutenberg. Through satellite television, the same movies and the same moral standards are transmitted to the inhabitants of both metropolitan areas and rural provinces. The same philosophical image of man, society and culture are offered by (authors) people who are very often nothing more than amateurs in the area of philosophy and anthropology, yet they present their ideas in ways that are appealing and attractive. In spite of cultural pluralism and the coexisting variety of intellectual schools, there is a kind of uniformity in the axiological and moral patterns offered by the currents which dominate contemporary culture. The new axiology is dependent more on existing practice than on rational reflection inspired by a commitment to the classical tradition. The spread of practical materialism from the west to the east results in a reduction of the person to a 'product' or to a 'commodity'; in this context the law of supply and demand becomes the foundation of a new anthropology. The global village could easily inspire a need for a global happening in which both the Socratic tradition and sapiential reflection are called into question as outdated relics of a bygone age.
The radically new cultural proposals underlying the new versions of the axiological revolution are often defended by the adherents of the so called post-modern mentality. On one hand Fides et ratio stresses that "the currents of thought which claim to be post-modern merit appropriate attention" (91). On the other hand, it indicates the nihilistic undertones of this version of post-modernism, according to which "the human being must now learn to live in a horizon of total absence of meaning, where everything is provisional and ephemeral" (91). To understand the genesis of this form of post-modern nihilism one must refer to "the terrible experience of evil which has marked our age." According to the positivist belief in science as well as to the confidence in progress which was characteristic of the Enlightenment, our century was supposed to be a century "of the triumphant progress of reason, the source of all happiness and freedom" (91). Contrary to such expectations, we experienced two totalitarian systems, two world wars and unprecedented dramas of genocide. The tragedy of Auschwitz, unique in the history of humankind, created a climate in which many values fundamental to the European cultural heritage are distrusted and skeptical irony is presented as the crowning of post-modern axiology. In this situation radical critics of the illusions of modernity call into question the value of intersystem dialogue and the dignity of the human person, and some of them even question the possibility of creating poetry and metaphysics after Auschwitz. The fall of totalitarian ideologies contributes to the intellectual atmosphere in which the so-called "great narratives" of the past are criticized and partial truths, in which one consistently avoids basic metaphysical questions, are exalted.
The Pope understands the psychological motives of such intellectual transformations in which "the end of metaphysics" is proclaimed and philosophy itself "is expected to rest content with more modest tasks such as the simple interpretation of facts or an enquiry into restricted fields of human knowing" (55) in which one can find no place for basic questions of classical thought which are so important for our intellectual tradition. From the standpoint of the evolution of ideas the ideology of the end of metaphysics seems to be proclaimed in a similar manner to that in which the end of religion was proclaimed in Marxist ideology when religion was regarded as nothing but the opium of the people. When in the 1930s, in the positivist critique of religion, the ideal of science was sought in physics, 60 years later an explanatory paradigm is provided by literary fiction. In this new situation, one can change interpretive patterns, ethical systems, and cultural models in the same way as one changes to another TV channel when disappointed with a particular program. In this context, there is an urgent need for inspirational intellectual attitudes which will overcome the multifarious splits within contemporary culture in order to foster a system of values in which the basic worth of the human person and of his dignity is recognized.
The contemporary disappointment with technology when used without ethical constraints, can inspire fundamentalist attitudes in which any new technological achievement will be assessed critically. Such a standpoint has again nothing in common with the Christian view of the world. Any technological discovery, from the wheel to nuclear power, can be abused and directed against the human family. Christian intellectuals cannot, however, support the romantic dreams of a bygone world, but must discover the profound meaning of these technological transformations if we wish to influence the contemporary mentality. To answer the challenges of the present time we must recognize new challenges arising in our culture which faces a revolution comparable to that created by Gutenberg's discovery of printing. After the Gutenberg revolution those who were unable to print and to read were shifted to the margins of 18th century culture. In our time, new vistas similar to those opened up by Gutenberg are being created by the Internet.
The difference between Gutenberg's revolution and that of the Internet is that initially printed books were extremely expensive and only a small group was interested in their content. In principle information on the Internet is free and practically anyone can have access to it. This creates a real possibility of a tremendous impact on the contemporary mind. It also creates new possibilities for us to give witness to the truth, but only if in our dialogue with modern culture we make use of all accessible means. When one reads pages on the Internet we notice a distressing disproportion between valuable information and information "noise." Very often titles announcing philosophical content are prepared by adherents of the New Age ideology while theological topics are presented in a sectarian way by representatives of various sects. This creates a new moral obligation for Christian intellectual centers: to be present in the modern Areopagus and to develop an intellectual dialogue in which we will make use of the new technological achievements. Technology in our time has become a very important means of interaction in the academic search for truth. Too often in Christian centers one finds romantic critics of technology and contemporary adherents of Tertulian's critique of rationality. Their laments on modernity correspond rather with the tradition of the ideology of counterculture than with the Christian tradition expressed in papal teaching.
To face these new challenges we must overcome the temptation to create a Catholic intellectual ghetto. There are many non-Catholic centers which seek to achieve an intellectual solidarity in aiming at this purpose. There are many representatives of various intellectual traditions who would like to defend the positive heritage of the Enlightenment: confidence in a rational explanation of the world, belief in human dignity, the recognition of dialogue and tolerance, the strong conviction that there exists a set of universal values that must be recognized in every version of humanism. We need an intellectual solidarity also with those non-Christian academic centers which recognize the dramatic situation of culture at the end of the second millennium, and to which the axiology of Redemptor Hominis seems important and attractive. Where the economic law of supply and demand is very often treated as a cornerstone for a new anthropology, we must emphasize human transcendence over any form of economic, social, and cultural structures. John Paul II stressed this point, for instance, in his Message to the Pontifical Academy of Science (23 October 1996) when he spoke of the evolutionary origins of human species. There was an ideological temptation in the past to reduce the homo sapiens to the level of the homo sovieticus. This challenge was overcome after 70 years of painful experiments. It is now our moral duty not to engage in future endeavors in which the human species would be merely the object of new experiments.
Unfortunately, in many Catholic academic centers there is a lack of academicians with the appropriate competence to develop a dialogue with the natural sciences and contemporary culture. It is much easier to lament than to be involved in an enriching dialogue. This is why in his letter to George Coyne, issued on 300th anniversary of the publication Newton's Principia, John Paul II stressed the Church's responsibility for fostering dialogue with the natural sciences. He emphasized that we now need a new Thomas Aquinas who would work out a new synthesis in which the Christian worldview will be based on the accomplishments of modern natural science. Unfortunately, this papal plea remains practically unnoticed. On the one hand, we still have academic centers which claim that no authority other than that of Thomas Aquinas is needed. On the other hand, we have centers in which every invitation and appeal is given credence except that of the Pope. As a result, our presence in contemporary culture is so different the one postulated by the Pope. Consequently, we cannot say that we are present in "the privileged places of culture, that is [...] in places of scientific and technological research [...] for the elevation of these cultures through the riches which have their source in the Gospel and the Christian faith".
Antinomies in modern culture
When one examines the hierarchy of values in the critique of the so called "modern axiology" one sees many inconsistencies. On the one hand, all values are frequently presented as relative. On the other hand, certain values, for example tolerance, social justice, rights of minorities, are presented as unquestionable and absolute. On the one hand, in their ideological generalizations no culture and no value system is given a privileged position. On the other hand, in everyday praxis nobody would take seriously the suggestion that the cannibal's gastronomy is as good as vegetarian's, while on the other, terrorist methods and are put on an equal footing with non-violent action. If one were to follow this form of cultural relativism consistently, one would have to claim that liberal democracy is as good as Stalinist terror, while historiography of the Nazis is equally justifiable as the Jewish description of the Holocaust. These illogical suppositions reveal deep some of the inconsistencies present in contemporary culture and in the philosophical principles which inspire our interpretation of the place of the human person in the world. It is true that inconsistencies were present in a hidden form also in earlier epochs. Lip service praise of human freedom can be found not only in modern liberalism but also in the liberation rhetoric developed by Nazism and Marxism. Over the main gate leading to Auschwitz the Nazis placed the inscription "Work will make you free." Communists in the time of the Stalinist violations of human rights introduced into the Soviet national anthem the phrase: "I know no other country where men can breathe so freely." Consequently, we must avoid facile fascination with the currents now in vogue so as to remain faithful to the academic tradition in which truth is more appreciated than fashion. One should also notice that the inconsistencies inherent both in Nazism and Communism come to light when one compares their theoretical declarations with their social praxis. In contradistinction to that, (In the same way) the deep inconsistencies in our contemporary culture can be revealed by a similar theoretical investigation. When one accepts mutually inconsistent principles and at the same time follows the rules of classical logic, one can prove any judgement and clearly present illogical opinions as justifiable. Consequently, one finds an infantile substitute for theology in New Age publications or a disconcerting denial of rationality as an expression of alternative intellectual patterns. In the radical declarations informing that history is over, metaphysics is over and the human person disappears in a discourse which brings deconstruction of all traditional values ideological axioms dominate rational justification. In my native country we have twice gone through the painful experience of this kind of ideological prophetism. After the fall of Marxism it turned out that the only intellectuals who preserved their dignity were those who gave greater weight to rational critique than to a para-intellectual fascination with slogans in vogue.
To illustrate the inconsistent components underlying the process of transformation in European culture after the collapse of Marxism I would like to refer to the radical difference in the appraisal of the European situation in two consecutive gatherings of the Special Bishops' Synod for Europe. In 1991 I took part in the Synod which followed the so called "autumn of the people." When the Berlin Wall had disappeared and the Marxist totalitarian system was over, we shared the predominant euphoria and we thought optimistically of the future of Europe. A month ago I attended the last preparatory meeting for the second Special European Synod. When we discussed the nature of the changes which are occurring in the West as well as in the East, we saw that a feeling of despair and disappointment, of distress and pessimism seems to pervade many European countries. When the bishops from the West complained that Western societies live in a kind of axiological vacuum, those from the East lamented that in their countries this vacuum was already filled by the values of the consumer society: money, drugs, pleasure, etc. Perhaps this pessimistic appraisal is as groundless as the previous euphoria. It has been, however, a social fact that must be faced both in the pastoral mission of the Church and in the intellectual training in Catholic academic centers.
One of the important challenges of our time is to overcome despair. There was a time when representatives of the Christian tradition faced the denial of the existence of God as the basic issue. There was a time when opposition to Christianity was expressed primarily in the rejection of its moral doctrine. Today indifference takes the place of former atheism while the Christian message of Good News is unnoticed by many people who suffer deep frustrations in a world which seems absurd and devoid of hope. To overcome this despair and to bring new hope we must refer to these values which were fundamental to the Christian tradition during the 2000 years of its history. In this process of the rediscovery of human values we must remember that in our intellectual journey "the more human beings know the reality and the world, the more they know themselves in their uniqueness, with the question of the meaning of things and of their very existence becoming even more pressing"(1). The Christian answer to the main challenges of our century requires a commitment to the rational tradition in which Christianity transformed the cultural patterns in which military conflict and territorial conquest were regarded as the highest values. The heart of our civilization was shaped more by saints than by fighters and politicians. It is our intellectual duty to shape the present culture by overcoming the temptation of facile resignation and despair.
A positive response to this task may be the facilitation of a dialogue concerning the great questions of our time, concerning human values and the spiritual and moral dimensions of modern science. This task will be achieved by creating and/or inspiring intellectual elites. Although they may not be impressive statistically when compared with other social groups, their role in inspiring new cultural attitudes may be very important. For this purpose John Paul II emphasizes the importance of philosophical research when he contends that "Philosophical thought is often the only ground for understanding and dialogue with those who do not share our faith" (104). By sharing with them human hope and the belief in the meaningfulness of human life we can create an intellectual unity in which one finds an opportunity better to understand "the most pressing issues facing humanity - ecology, peace, the coexistence of different races and cultures" (104). These new tasks must be faced by Catholic universities and faculties on the eve of the third millennium so as to transform our culture in a way which can enrich all of us. There are limited means and immense possibilities to undertake these new duties to inculturate faith and to evangelize cultures. Many of us can feel burdened with this duty. In an exclusively sociological perspective, there was no reason to expect that the Twelve Apostles, chosen by Jesus to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, could radically change the human perception and understanding of the world. As it turned out their mission resulted in profound changes which constitute the basis for our intellectual mission. When facing new threats and challenges, we must consistently refer to their role in the intellectual history of the world. To carry out our basic duties to the truth, to the Church and contemporary society, we must study all the important problems of our world and search for answers which are independent of the fluctuation of opinions in the world. In the Areopagus of the modern world many people are searching even more for spirituality than for religion. We must help them to recover the spiritual dimension of human existence and to uncover the deep meaning of human life in the perspective proclaimed in Christ's message of salvation.
A Critique of Anti-intellectual Pragmatism
A radical counterproposal to this defense of rationality and dialogue is provided by the contemporary adherents of radical pragmatism who would like to eliminate both theoretical reflection and metaphysical problems from our intellectual milieu. In their approach one could expect both an axiological and an anthropological revolution. In the new social pattern which they propose for our pragmatic society, the pragmatically oriented homo faber, together with the permissive homo ludens, attempts to replace the classically understood homo sapiens with his intellectual responsibility and moral sensitivity. In my further critical comments on pragmatism I will not refer to the intellectual tradition represented by Peirce or Dewey but rather to the radical version of pure pragmatism proposed by Richard Rorty and his followers who make a post-modernist critique of contemporary culture. In this approach, the classical concept of truth is regarded as useless whereas liberal democracy with its social praxis provides pragmatic criteria which allow one to discern between opinions that earlier were regarded as true or false but for our generation are considered merely as useful or useless. I do not regard Rorty's radical social pragmatism as a breakthrough in epistemology. In traditional Marxism social praxis was considered to be the ultimate criterion of truth whereas the so called proletarian revolution with its ideological heritage was supposed to play the same role as that played by the principles of liberal democracy in the Rortian version of pragmatism.
Among the European followers of Rorty, Zygmunt Bauman with his critique of modernity plays a particularly important role. Perhaps there is something more than a coincidence in that in the 1950s Bauman was not only a convinced Marxist but also worked as a Party functionary responsible for the ideological training of the members of the Communist Party in Poland. In fulfilling this duty he had to use persuasion rather than rational arguments, and the explanations which he proposed could not be too sophisticated so that they could be understood by the ordinary Party members. These latter appreciated rhetoric more than logical inferences. When in 1968 the conflicts within the Party resulted in the condemnation of the so-called revisionist faction by the nationalist wing, Bauman's version of Marxism was officially denounced. In his later philosophical contributions one finds, however, the same methodological principles which played the basic role in his arguments during his Marxist period. These principles are found, for instance, in the claims that conceptual confusion has been politically and socially less harmful than Cartesian clarity because the latter introduces social inequalities and intellectual divisions, and because not everyone shares the rational standards proposed by Descartes. In this approach, the category of political harmfulness seems to reveal the introduction of the principle of political correctness into the domain of epistemology. When a concept is socially useful, there is no reason to bother with the theoretical discussion as to whether its use is rationally justified or not. In my opinion, such an attitude is nothing other than an extension of the Marxist suggestion that we should transform the world rather than interpret it. It is interesting that this epistemological element of the Marxist heritage assumes such a strong expression in Rorty's vision of the replacement of the classical notion of truth by its pragmatic counterparts, which are appreciated in liberal society. It is amazing that such radical proposals are defended when Marxism revealed its totalitarian character and the latest publications point out that in its genocide producing elements it can be compared to Nazism.
A painful expression of the lack of axiological and moral responsibility in our times is found in attitudes in which even genocide is regarded as a trivial and ordinary attribute of contemporary culture. After publishing Le livre noir du communisme, in which he suggests that a total of 85 million people died as victims of Communism, a representative of the Communist daily L'Humanite commented on French TV that in spite of all the painful experiences of the past the beauty of the Communist ideals cannot be called into question. In a comment on this remark, Alain Besanson makes the point that after Auschwitz one can no longer be a Nazi and defend the racist anthropology of 'ubermensch,' but however one can still be a Marxist after Kolyma and Soviet labor camps. This radical asymmetry in approaching ideologically justified genocide raises important axiological problems for any intellectual evaluation of the dramas of our epoch.
In my opinion, the most harmful epistemological element of Marxism, particularly in its Leninist version, was contained in the subordination of rational critical reflection to ideological slogans. It was Karl R. Popper who contrasted the rational tradition of the West, which is open to critique and the search for theoretical justification, to the Byzantine tradition in which worship and social applause appear as basic values. When Rorty proposes to eliminate the rational-theoretical components from our intellectual tradition and to replace them with pragmatic regulations introduced in accordance with democratic praxis of the liberal state, he is in fact reducing the animal rationale to the level of bureaucratic animal.
Certainly, there are domains of human life in which pragmatic considerations are sufficient and where we do not expect any rational-theoretical justification. When baking a cake it is not necessary to ask the question as to how the high temperature causes the chemical reaction between carbohydrates and proteins. It is enough to regulate the temperature and time. It seems risky however to put the intellectual heritage of our species on the same level as a cookery book. Fifty years ago the anticipations of antitheoretical pragmatism la Rorty were already developed in metascientific programs in philosophy of science. Their adherents argued then that theoretical terms in scientific theory should be replaced by observation terms. Following the principles of interpretive economy, the champions of these programs tried to use the new discoveries of W. Craig and F. P. Ramsay in the domain of metalogic to eliminate theoretical terms by expressing them in the language of observation. Bas C. van Fraassen summarizes this research when he concludes: "those discussions of axiomatizability in restricted vocabularies, 'theoretical terms,' Craig's theorem, 'reduction sentences,' 'empirical languages,' Ramsey and Carnap sentences, were one and all of (off) the mark - solutions to purely self-generated problems and philosophically irrelevant"
There is an obvious analogy between this (rejected) program to eliminate theoretical terms from scientific theories and the Rorty's attempt to eliminate philosophical principles from our world view and to regard them as useless for liberal society. In both these attitudes one tries to replace a richer vocabulary by its proper subset in which only observation terms are admitted. As a result, in Rorty's one dimensional ontology, metaphysical, axiological and ethical terms are reduced to their pragmatic analogues. Since such a reduction must of its very nature be controversial, a majority vote should play the decisive role in establishing its limits. According to Marx it was the Communist Party which defined the boundary between the truth and falsehood, between moral good and evil, reality and non-existence. According to Rorty, the functioning of liberal-democratic institutions results in that we need not be bothered with difficult metaphysical questions but we can accept pragmatic conventions which are considered as normative paradigms in a liberal post-intellectual society. These democratically accepted conventions are to provide the practical answer to all questions that were earlier discussed in metaphysics and ethics, axiology and theology.
In this pragmatic approach important differences are blurred between basic moral principles and social conventions which are inspired either by savoir vivre or by public agreement. It is absurd to put on an equal footing moral principles such as "the non acceptability of torture" and traffic regulations such as, for example "when in England, always drive on the left side of the road." In such a perspective, ignoring the specificity of human moral experience yields pragmatic consequences in which one finds no basic difference between the Decalogue and the rules of bridge. Such an attitude could result in anti-intellectual prejudices in which the classical Socratic tradition would be reduced to the level of the Mickey Mouse stories. How can you explain the genesis of such a radical impoverishment of the rational heritage of the human species? Personally, I cannot rationally justify this standpoint for the same reason I could not have justified theoretical premises of Marxism. Some authors argue that to explain the genesis of Rorty's radical pragmatism one must take into consideration that Americans have enjoyed 200 years of social prosperity. The success in pragmatic establishment of public life can easily result in illusions that the same methods should be used to solve the complicated philosophical issues by their reduction to the level social praxis and democratically accepted procedures.
It was Owen Chadwick who in a Castel Gandolfo meeting argued that stable democratic institutions cannot function in a society which rejects moral values. Being realistic we should not expect that in such a society everyone will approve juridical regulations without being convinced that they are morally sound and rationally justified. Accordingly, a system of oppression must be introduced into such a society to ascertain the practical acceptance of the imposed social regulations. Since rational arguments have been discredited by supporters of this form of pragmatism, one can use only rhetoric or propaganda in order to justify these regulations. As a result, in this version of liberal pragmatism rational arguments are replaced by propaganda persuasion and the axiological foundations of democracy by an effective system of repression. This type of social system could easily result in a form of pragmatic totalitarianism. A police state will emerge in this framework as a result of uncritical liberal pragmatism. The argument that its principles were accepted in a democratic choice has no special value since one cannot show that the accepted principles were either objectively true or morally just. Accordingly, the belief that we can eliminate from our culture all elements which are fundamental to our intellectual tradition seems as optimistic as the Leninist claim that Marxism opens a radically new epoch in the history of humankind and that it brings a completely new anthropology in which the human person is no longer subjected to the alienating processes characteristic of bourgeois society. Certainly, Marxism influenced the new mentality of the so called homo sovieticus. This mentality however is considered to be a pathological consequence of absurd social-political conditions rather than a breakthrough achievement in anthropology. Looking for new forms of social pathologies can be an attractive accomplishment only for those bored intellectuals who never have paid attention to these dramatic events of our century in which the dignity of the human person was subordinated to ideological schemes, devoid of rational justification.
After the unique experience of two totalitarian systems experienced by Europe in the 20th century, one can expect that the advocates of new social experiments will look for their supporters in America and Africa rather than in Europe. When we eliminate rationality and moral responsibility from our intellectual discourse there is always a risk that sharp discussions free of social control could result in conflicts similar to that between the Tutsi and Hutu. Consistently, if Rorty's pragmatism does not succeed we could have a new type of tribal conflict. If it succeeds, Mickey Mouse or Tarzan will provide the new paradigm of existence for the people free of moral dilemmas, intellectual yearning and philosophical reflection. It may happen that such a paradigm will be attractive for those intellectuals who prefer political correctness to truth. There was a time when many minds were attracted by Nazi anthropology, the Stalinist rhetoric of universal liberation or the Maoist vision of cultural revolution. We know the price paid by humankind for this type of irresponsible fascination. When facing the new threats present in our culture which is undergoing deep changes we have to look for a new form of intellectual solidarity in order to overcome the deep identity crisis where Tarzan is regarded as an exemplary model of the human species.
In the anthropological framework of Fides et ratio the special dignity of the human person is expressed in our intellectual desire, our search for universal truth and our deep conviction that with our intellectual capacity we can "rise beyond what is contingent and set towards the infinite" (24). The human person trusting in his rational ability and open to transcendence "is the only creature who not only is capable of knowing but who knows that knows, and is therefore interested in the real truth. ... It is rightly claimed that persons have reached adulthood when they can distinguish autonomously between truth and falsehood. ... This is what has driven so many enquiries, especially in the scientific field ... leading to genuine progress for all humanity"(25). The basic question remains whether at the threshold of the third millennium the representatives of our species will regard themselves as adult and responsible heirs of the great rational heritage of the past or whether they shall search for new cultural patterns devoid of rational elements and moral values. For Christians this alternative is illusory since our existence, after eliminating rational reflection and human values, could never be the existence based on the axiological, moral and intellectual message of the Gospel.
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