To Relationalism, Through the Virtues (2003)
… Through the Virtues
To enter and to hold the structure of Relationalism the pursuit of the virtues can be of great assistance, because the virtues are essential tools to succeed in anything we want to accomplish. From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, through Dante, and all through the Middle Ages, a statement such as this was totally unnecessary. Today, it is even necessary to enumerate the essential virtues because, while philosophy has found a way to multiply their numbers to the point of confusion (see, e.g. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 1984), economics has reduced their number to one: prudence, which easily translates into practice as self-interest or profit.
Let us start with the four cardinal virtues: namely, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Clearly, it takes prudence to wean us away from the certitudes of Rationalism and enter the uncharted territory of Relationalism. We must be careful not to jettison too much of what is still — and will presumably always remain useful in Rationalism. Clearly, then, it takes justice to give the great thinkers of Rationalism their due. Clearly, it also takes temperance not to be too excited about the possible advantages of Relationalism There are plenty of temptations ahead of us. There are indeed exciting vistas and exciting possibilities in Relationalism. It also takes fortitude to enter and to hold Relationalism. The attacks from the outside can be easily envisaged. The status quo is never changed too easily — and it is proper and good that it be so, otherwise we would be living in a state of continuing chaos. Then there will be attacks coming from the sheer beauty and ruggedness of the new terrain. These are “objective” attacks, unavoidable attacks. There will be too many precipices in our way. Will we fall in? Or will we have, well, the fortitude, to resist their temptations? But the most debilitating attacks will be the ones from within. Am I doing the right thing sticking with Relationalism? Will it advance my career? Will it clear my mind?
To enter and to hold the structure of Relationalism, it takes the full complement of the intellectual virtues: namely, wisdom, science, and understanding. Much has been said on the topic of wisdom, so I will limit myself to one of its characteristics. It is only through wisdom that we can be firmly cognizant of the limits of our human existence, including the limits of science. And what is the virtue of science? Science is the pursuit of truth — wherever it leads. I fully believe in the proposition that we must pursue truth wherever it leads. Truth is central to our existence, without it we cannot achieve anything. We cannot live in the realm of justice; we cannot live in the realm of understanding; without truth, we cannot live. Period. But what is truth? We have lately been cowered by the expression that truth is relative. Yes, truth is indeed relative. If we were to achieve absolute truth, we would be God. Indeed, we would need nothing else: no fortitude, no science, no faith. Truth is relative, for sure. But relative to WHAT? If we do not specify this “what,” we are lost in a sea of nothingness, in which we destroy even the meaning of “relative.” Yes, the truth is relative. Let me give you a couple of alternatives. Since I am a deeply religious person, I live on easy street. For me the truth is relative to God. Those who use the expression not-God as a pure nominal entity also have it easy. They can simply say that truth is relative to not-God. It would appear that the people who are going to have really serious difficulties are the true atheists. For them, the way out might be found only at the end of a series of procedural agreements. We must agree that the pursuit is not an arbitrary procedure. We must agree that the validity of the end product is not determined by the pursuer. We must agree that truth is always there. It lives its own objective reality. Through grammar, and philosophy, and practice, and decency, we have established long ago that what “is” is. Truth is not opinion. There is room for opinion, of course. We might even say that all truth starts with an opinion. Rather, as we will see in some detail in the appropriate context, there are some very stringent rules in this pursuit, rules that have been established during the course of the millennia. At the end of this road we might then all accept this statement: truth is relative to the system of logic and the theory of knowledge within which we operate. No more, no less.
When we approach the issues with the assistance of the virtues, all virtues, we are surprised to discover not so much, as concluded above, that there are limits to science — this proposition is being more and more widely accepted today. When we use the entire complement of virtues, we are really surprised by another unavoidable conclusion: the discovery that science does not necessarily lead to understanding! Understanding is knowledge of the whole.
By definition, the whole cannot be known. And yet, it can be understood. It is in this precarious condition of human existence that hope, faith, and charity come to rescue us. As we will see, the equivalence of matter to energy to spirit compels us to conclude that to understand the whole is to understand the spirit — the spirit of anything, be it the watch on my wrist or the universe in its entirety. When the issue of understanding of the spirit is put in these terms it becomes evident that — as yet, and perhaps forever — we have no objective rules to guide us in our quest of the understanding of the spirit. We have only an experiential knowledge of it. The whole, the spirit, reveals itself to us or, put the other way, we open ourselves to the spirit. In this quest, we are no longer guided by an objective, “scientific,” repeatable set of rules. We are only guided by the three theological virtues of hope, faith, and love. We hope we are on the right track, which means we must always be open to the possibility of being on the wrong track. But while we proceed we must be steadfast. If we keep on looking continuously backward and sideways, we are at great disadvantage. Until proven otherwise, we must proceed with trust — with faith — that we are indeed on the right track. And then we must proceed with love. We must love what we do. We must love those with whom we travel. It is love that puts us in relationship with The Other; it is love that puts us in relationship with Everything. And, as we all know, there are no rules to love. Love is always new. Love is always creative. Love is always regenerative.