Jacques Maritain Center: Thomistic Institute

Experience of Reality, Integrity and God

Angelo Campodonico

I would like to sum up the chief points of an inquiry on the subject of experience of reality and of integrity as the aim of reason. The title of this inquiry may be "Ethics of reason" (that means ethics of a good use of reason). Now I can only suggest some ideas, without investigating this subject too deeply. I find inspiration in Aquinas' thought, but my aim is a speculative one.

1) First of all let us make clear some key-words. Experience does not mean in this paper what concerns mere sense data, but what is implicit, tacit or "athematic", what is the subject of our reflection. In our experience reason and sense work together being in touch with reality. Integrity or perfection means that something has everything in order to be itself or does not miss anything in order to be itself. There is integrity when a whole includes, but does not suppress its parts. Integrity means order and hierarchy of parts among them. I hold that integrity is the aim and the pattern of human experience and of human reason. God is the God of theism, although sometimes I speak of God as Absolute (in the wider sense). Let us look at some connections among these terms.

2) We can distinguish among some important branches of human experience: an ontological experience (experience of being, of reality) that culminates in a metaphysical experience of Absolute, a moral experience ( experience of the aim of our life and of the search for that aim) that culminates in a religious experience (experience of salvation, or of demand for salvation) and also an aesthetic experience of beauty and art. As we can easily realize, these different kinds of experience, along with speculative and practical reason, are intertwined. In my opinion our experience is something organic whose top is held by religious experience (in the wide sense). In fact, in religious experience there is a close tie between the top of practical reason and the top of speculative reason. If we do not develop religious experience, the other kinds of experience will become contracted and will not work well. Philosophy too, as reflection on our experience of reality, could not work well. Scepticism may be a consequence of that attitude. Clearly in trying to develop completely our experience, the integrity pattern plays a very important role.

I would like to stress that an ontological experience of being always lies in the background of these different kinds of experience (moral, religious and aesthetic experience). Even at the starting point of practical reason, whose aim is to do (agere) or to make (facere) something, we always find the manifestation of being and receptivity of being. We can speak here of speculative in the narrow sense. In other words: there is always consent to our reality (ourselves) and to the reality that surrounds ourselves (there is a close connection between both consents). That implicit or tacit consent is the ground of every free assent to reality and to our reason. Everybody can make an original experience of being, of its truth or intelligibility, of its necessity, of its ontological goodness and of its beauty. Without such experience of reality, we would not wish things to exist, to be real and true (to perceive something and to conceive or imagine something will be the same), we would not look for truth and for necessary explanations of what happens (metaphysics and science), we would not wish goodness (in spite of daily experience of evil), we would not like beauty, trying to put it in effect, we would not worship God (in religious experience, but also when we make an idol of something). Let us make clear this concept of ontological experience:

3) First of all there is a transcendental ground of ontological experience. Here we can find a dimension of actuality, of event that does not depend on ourselves and that Thomistic philosophy calls "act of existing": for something to exist or not to exist is not the same. As "act of existing" actuates everything, it means also integrity (perfection), because it is the very cause of every perfection we can find in reality. In the second place reality shows a certain order, a certain harmony that we can call perfection or integrity too. This is the classical ground of essence (essentia). This order shows itself phenomenologically as an order of reality and not as an order we ourselves create in reality. That means, furthermore, that this order cannot depend basically on our conceptual schemes. In any case, although we may believe that the order of reality is - partially - a creation of ourselves, we must recognize that we are parts of a nature which is itself ordered, and that it is impossible to create order where no kind of ontological order is present. But my aim here is only to stress that we find an order which, phenomenologically, seems to belong to reality itself. We never perceive a complete desorder. Instead, we always make experience of order. We perceive parts inside a single whole and parts inside the whole of reality: everything is itself, but it is also part of a whole and part of the whole. I stress here the importance of both the principle of contradiction and Aquinas' first principle, according to which a whole is greater than its parts. If we look at reality in a realistic way, paying attention to our actual experience, I claim that athomistic empiricism as well as holism, conceived in a strong sense (hermeneuticism) are banished. For instance: if we look at a classroom with some students in it, we can hardly claim that no matter how differently people may interpret this fact, no order of reality can be found on which whoever (coming from America or Africa, living nowadays or in the Middle ages) agrees.

Experience of being means also experience of ontological goodness. And that is true in the first place not because we like some things, but because being shows an order, an harmony (convenientia) with itself. Everything - and particularly ourselves - aims at self-preservation and self-fulfillment. We could also speak of an experience of beauty based on the same order. In Aquinas' thought integrity is a property of beauty. It is amazing to notice how often we use in our ordinary speech words like "fine", "nice", "ugly" and so on.

On the trascendental ground of human experience the main dimension is the act of being which is the cause of the existence of everything. To perceive being as being makes the whole of being accessible, and that means the Absolute (whole as whole is absolute, because it does not depend on anything).

Since, perceiving reality (speculative in the wide sense), we always make experience of being and its necessity (i. e. if we see a ball coming into this room, we immediately ask: "Who has thrown it?) we will try to find the same necessity on the higher step of metaphysics and of science (speculative in the narrow sense). Therefore truth and logic are not an optional as some contemporary philosophers seem to hold. As we always perceive some kind of necessity, our first scientific pattern is integrity: "verum ex integra causa". The meaning of this pattern is to explain effects by means of necessary and complete causes. But we can reach very seldom the completeness (integrity) of the real causes of an effect. While science and necessity in the narrow sense (per causas) is not possible, we can look for demonstrationes quia (from the effects to their causes) making use of contradictory assertions - the contradictory of its contradictory is neccessarily true. That is the case of metaphysics, particularly of Aquinas' proofs of God's existence. Whereas in empirical sciences we can only look for hypotethical causes and explanations. When our knowledge concerns accidental and individual things (and that is the case of human actions and endeavors), hermeneutic is a substitute for science. If we want to grasp the true meaning of something, we have to gather many aspects of that subject, considering them as a whole and possibly from the point of view of the whole. For instance: Aquinas suggests in his ethics that I must look at the aim of my action, at its matter and its circumstances, if I want to know what I must do now: "... malum contingit ex singularibus defectibus, bonum vero ex tota et integra causa" (ST. I-II, 19, 7 ad 3). What I am saying means that in this and similar cases we must ask: Is something missing? Is this the only point of view on that subject? Can I look at this problem from a wider point of view? This is the method of hermeneutics, that in ethics needs also moral integrity of man (practical truth).

To sum up, science and hermeneutics have criteria: they are always directed by a perfection or integrity pattern. From this point of view the classical Aristotelic science pattern is the background of empirical science pattern and of hermeutics' pattern too. But that pattern is not necessarily a priori: it develops, as I hold, through experience of reality and its order.

4) On the categorial ground of our experience, we can perceive individual beings with a certain order but with different values. Among these beings human person occupies the main place.You and I show the greatest ontological perfection (integrity), because this is the only case in which a single being is intentionally open to the transcendental ("anima quodammodo omnia") . Both You and I are intentionally infinite. Therefore in our experience, where practical reason is very important, human being is the only being which can really feed and satisfy our human desire. For instance: love of parents is basic for the education of young people. But I would like to stress that in that case the reason is first of all ontological and not merely psychological.

I agree with such contemporary philosophers as Lévinas in stressing the role of the other person in our experience. We are fundamentally passive in front of the others as we are passive in a different, but analogous way, in front of the actuality of existence (existing as event).

On the categorial ground of our experience we can perceive different degrees of being and different values of them: simple beings, living beings, intellectual beings (persons). For instance: when I am driving, if I see in front of my car a sheet of paper, a cat or a baby, my feelings and reactions will be very different. These different degrees of being culminate in human being or person who integrates them (integrity) . Therefore non-human nature is not only outside man, but also inside him. There is a close connection between man and the world.

What seems to be good, but with different values of goodness in our moral experience of the natural law, on the theoretical and metaphysical ground looks actualized in different ways by the act of existing. Since on the ground of our ethical experience of reality goodness contemplates different degrees of good, the act of existing contemplates different degrees of actualization.

Because of the central role of human person in our ontological experience, it is easy to understand the great importance of the others in moral life and of testimony in our knowledge of reality. Testimony is the source of most certainties, particulary of religious certainties. We can speak of a "principle of charity" that does not concern only meaning, but truth too (therefore not only in a Davidsonian sense): we can know new meanings, facts and truths only if we trust in other people. I hold that the connection in our experience among metaphysical truths (like order or existence of an Absolute), certainties on the grounds of testimony and also our "will to believe" is the cause of our assent in religious matters. There are many grounds of religious belief and perhaps an integrity pattern which unifyes them. What Thomists call "natural theology" works as a kind of frame in our religious experience and in human experience at large. Therefore men with different religious experiences can understand each other (at the least partially).

5) Let us now go deeper into our experience of being. If act of existing is the highest perfection on the trascendental ground of experience and human person is the highest perfection on its categorial ground (as he is "quodammodo omnia"), we can easily understand why our idea of perfection-integrity develops chiefly from the starting point of these main experiences of reality. In particular the act of existing , as it actualizes every being and every essence or perfection, can make every other perfection infinite (and also that kind of perfection that is human person). From this point of view we can find here the source of the idea of Absolute of religions and the idea of God of theism as well. In both cases we use both ideas: act of being and person. But perhaps monism does not consider these ideas in a deep way. A certain kind of transcendence is implicit in our conception of act of being and chiefly in our idea of person (Lévinas). But we could not conceive God's transcendence, if we did not think that experience of multiciplicity and of becoming, that we find by perceiving things of experience, could not concern the whole of reality. In order to conceive the God of theism we must develop what is implicit in our ontological experience. It's a spontaneous process (everybody can conceive sooner or later the God of theism), but sometimes it might require a certain effort of reflection. I want to stress that the idea of being (act of being that actualizes essences) and the concept of person, therefore an idea of perfection-integrity, are the very sources of our idea of God.

6) Contemporary philosophy seems to discover again the classical idea of nature, particularly that nature and natural fulfillment belong also to human being and to human reason (this is, for instance, the idea of Plantinga's "proper function"). Knowing means to place our trust on the nature of our reason, trying to make use of it in the best way. As Newman says: "If I do not use myself, I have no other self to use" (Grammar, Ker, p. 224). But reason has its own intentionality: the pattern of reason develops in touch with experience of reality through continuous efforts and investigations. Here practical reason plays a main role too. Practical reason has its proper aim - we must do what is good ("bonum est faciendum") - as other natural inclinations have their own aim. Therefore, as practical reason puts in order the other human inclinations and approves their aim, it also approves the main aim and the inquiry of speculative reason (reason in fact is the typical human faculty ): as human beings we embarked on knowledge.

Practical reason shows that it is good to cultivate man, his experience and his reason, in conformity with the integrity pattern. The integrity pattern concerns practical reason as well as speculative reason. But we can develop speculative faculty in a complete way only if we develop the whole man, his complete experience. A correct epistemology needs an integral anthropology ( that means for instance harmony between perception and reasoning, passion and reason, body and mind) . And a good anthropology needs practical ethical reason too. W. Alston, dealing with a realist conception of truth, holds that "this vulnerability to the outside world, this "subjection" to stubborn, unyielding facts beyond our thought, experience and discourse, seems powerfully repugnant, even intolerable to many" (A Realist Conception of Truth, p.264). Against "intolerance to vulnerability", that means intolerance to reality and truth, we need a good "ethics of reason" (ethics of the good use of reason). Maritain and Gilson had written some important essays on this subject. That means that we must assent to our reason and its natural laws, that we must reflect on our actual experience of reality (and that it is not always easy - we need a keen insight into our experience) and "last but not least" that we must develop our human experience in an integral way. Implicit or tacit consent to reason must become a conscious and free assent.

From this point of view I hold that integrity as pattern and aim of man and his reason (Putnam and others contemporary philosophers use to speak of "flourishment") does not develop a priori in a Platonic or in a Kantian way. On the contrary it develops in an Aristotelian or Thomistic way, continuously in touch with experience of reality and its order as well as of human person, which plays a role of focus inside the horizon of being. Without such experience of reality speculative reason (in the narrow sense) as well as practical reason could not develop. If it is true, as I tried to show, that without ontological experience of integrity there would be no idea of epistemic, ethical and aesthetic integrity, it is also true that our experience of human and moral integrity makes possible to acknowledge and also to complete our pattern of epistemic metaphysical and scientific integrity. This is not strange because man is a part of reality, the most important part of the reality we can perceive. We can acknowledge here a special kind of hermeneutic circle that nevertheless safeguards the classical distinction between speculative and practical reason.

A main ethical consequence of this view is the following: since being and logical principles are always implicit in our experience and apprehension of reality, metaphysics and science are right and beatiful. They do not produce necessarily violence as certain continental philosophers like Heidegger used to hold.

Therefore to sum up I dealt with three principles concerning our use of reason, our experience of reality and our experience of God: a principle of reality, a principle of integrity and a principle of charity. There is a close tie among these principles, because they develop from the very ground of our experience of reality (of being and of human being).