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A Brief Review of Livi’s Book “Reasons for Believing”

REASONS FOR BELIEVING, BY PROF. ANTONIO LIVI The Davies Group Publishers, Aurora, Col. 2005   A review by  Raffaella Petrini     Before the challenges posed to us by modern skepticism, the words of our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, in his recent speech at the University of Regensburg, in Germany, sounds as a powerful and re-awakening invitation for all Christians, and Catholics in particular, to rediscover and claim the fundamental logic consistency of our religious belief: “It is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith”[1].   Reasons for Believing constitutes, in this light, an attempt to cut a “walkable” path across the continuum between rationalism and fideism, that is, the dangerous temptation to totally confine our Catholic religious belief either by the narrow constraint of its rational elements, or by the limitedness of its non-rational parts.   At the core of this book is the Author’s effort to strongly re-affirm, first and foremost, the rationality of the act of faith in general, intended as an act of free assent to a given proposition that, although not verifiable through direct experience, is rooted in the witness of a reliable source; but also to emphasize the essential rational component of our Catholic faith, based on the credibility of the testimony and the reliability of the witness.   Although faith is not, by definition, direct knowledge – being neither based upon direct experience, nor mediate proof obtained through the individual’s senses and reasoning – it is indeed a form of knowledge defined by the Author, in logical terms, as an “assent, made with certainty, that a certain proposition is true”. Therefore, knowledge is attained by relying upon somebody else’s knowledge and the truth of a certain proposition is logically guaranteed by another subject, who acts precisely as a witness.   It is important to notice here how the Author clearly states that faith in testimony is a “structural characteristic of man’s rational behavior”, thus emphasizing the value of testimony as a source of scientific knowledge. In fact, man’s search for truth is never only based on his individual resources, but also depends on information received by others. Whenever the very object of a certain scientific discipline is not accessible directly, data is obtained through human testimony. This is true in the case of history and past events, but also in the case of psychology, where the inner experience of the individual consciousness is investigated. Even in our modern culture, where knowledge is increasingly based, through the help of continually developing technology, upon the rapid remote exchange of information and real time communication, the logic of testimony based on relational trust plays a crucial role.   It is upon testimony and, therefore, other peoples’ experience that the Author bases that particular type of knowledge that is defined as “historical knowledge”, that is knowledge of past events, circumscribed in terms of time and space, which the individual can no longer metaphysically attain through direct experience. Even though, in a philosophical realistic framework, human events are thus tied to a particular time and space (relative) and the outcome of free human acts (contingent), in a logic perspective their “historic truth” is not relative and contingent, but absolutely valid for all and for ever, because the event that happened in the past, did in fact happen “irreversibly and immutably”. In prof. Livi’s work, the truth attained by “historical knowledge” cannot be considered a “lesser species of truth”. Truth based on historical knowledge leads us then, in our Holy Father’s words, to “broadening our concept of reason and its application”, in the attempt to bring “reason and faith [to] come together in a new way”, by overcoming “the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable”, and so disclosing “its vast horizons”[2].   In this perspective, the Author identifies two elements that are necessary for an act of faith to be defined as rational: 1) the credibility of the witness and 2) the logical coherence of the proposition.   A witness is credible when his behavior and acts are consistent with the values and principles he affirms to be true, when ultimately he is ready to give up his life for the truth he testifies. When we speak of Divine Revelation, we believe that, besides the words of the prophets and the witness of the Apostles, it is God Himself revealed in His own Word made Flesh and, hence, perceivable by men, who is the witness. The many words that Christ spoke, and the works, signs and miracles He performed on earth constitute “motives of credibility”: elements of empirical nature, which make reasonable for us to believe that He was the Son of God – His Resurrection being the greatest miracle and the “final proof” of His divine Nature (supernatural knowledge of God).   However, it is reasonable for one to believe in the testimony of Christ, whose works show the credibility of his word, only if one presupposes a metaphysical knowledge of God, and thus he is able to recognize God’s action in those works. Here lies the close connection the Author makes between the “motives of credibility”, i.e., these factual events able to motivate “a well- grounded moral certitude” in those who believe in Divine Revelation, and the so called preambula fidei, i.e. those intuitive truths attained by natural reason, those natural universal and necessary certitudes belonging to the philosophical concept of “common sense”, upon which every kind of knowledge is based and which includes also the existence of God, as first and final Cause of the existence of the world (natural knowledge of God).     In our modern world, our Holy Father states, “a reason which is deaf to the divine … is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures  … for philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of … the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding”[3].   Between extreme rationalism, based only on the truth of proof, and extreme fideism, based on the truth of empirical experience, thus stands the truth known indirectly through another’s testimony and rationally founded on the “preambula fidei”, the personal assent to its presuppositions still implying a free act of faith – a free and responsible act, on the part of the individual, who through the intellect judges them and then believes them. Such it is that “reasonable faith’s knowledge” attained through Divine Revelation, although imperfect, allows one to choose a privileged way to enter more deeply into the Mystery of God’s intimate life, a life which still remains partially impenetrable and veiled. And yet, it is precisely that “imperfect” knowledge which enkindles and nurtures that profound and all-embracing longing for the ultimate Truth, lying at the inmost core of our being.       [1] Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Benedict XVI to München, Altötting and Regensburg – Meeting with the representatives of science in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg (September 12, 2006) [2] Ibidem [3] Ibidem

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Posted by admin | Posted in Senza categoria | Posted on 28-12-2015







by Antonio Livi

Some Italian scholars (Pier Paolo Ottonello, Roberto Di Ceglie, Fabrizio Renzi) have already tried to draw a synthetic overview of my logical thought. William Slattery is the first non-Italian scholar who did it, and I sincerely think that his attempt is the best one, both for its completeness and for its intellectual penetration in the matter. So it is now for me a pleasure to present it and to recommend it to all who are concerned with the contemporary discussion about the issue of truth.

William Slattery, an Irish priest living in Rome, was studying Philosophy at the Gregorian University, where he defended in 2015 his doctoral thesis, whose subject was my own interpretation of the main principles of Thomas Aquinas’ epistemology. The book that now I have the pleasure to present is just based in the conclusions of  the research performed for his Ph.D. This research deals with my proposal of systematizing and updating the philosophical thought of Saint Thomas in relation with the key problems of epistemology, trying to connect in a logical system his main doctrines, i.e: i) the metaphysical nature of logical truth, as adaequtio intellectus ad rem; ii) the primacy of direct experience over both reasoning and faith in a witness; iii) the alethic function of the first principles of knowing as the common background of all possible achievement in the search for truth; iv) the judgment as the reflexive act of the mind by which the thinking subject express his consciousness of having reached the truth about some concrete object in a certain moment. In order to perform this project of systematizing and updating the philosophical thought of Saint Thomas in relations with those topics, I took advantage of the modern notion of “common sense” which had been developed by several philosophers, not necessary belonging to the Thomistic tradition, in their defense of metaphysical realism, before against Descartes’ idealistic system and after against Kant’s transcendental system. Moreover, I took advantage of the contemporary logical achievement of the American scholars belonging to the analytic school. For this reasons, Slattery’s attempt to perform a critical comparison between the doctrines of Saint Thomas and my alethic logic system was really very difficult, especially because it required a deep penetration in the very meaning of the different terms used by Aquinas and modern and contemporary philosophers.

But Slattery was capable to overcome those difficulties. He reached an excellent degree of comprehension of Aquinas’ thought  having spent many years to an attentive reading of all his epistemological works. And, for what concerns my own thought, he spent almost three years to read my books on the alethic logic and to meet me personally in order to discuss about the right interpretation of what I wanted to maintain. He was really able to show that what I defend with my ‘philosophy of common sense’ is precisely the epistemic primacy of common sense among all kinds of ordinary knowledge in order to save a holistic theory of truth. But he was also capable to underline my own notion of “common sense” –which is very different from the sociological or the psychological one, since it pertains to epistemology, which is the main issue of philosophical logic. Actually, my philosophy of common sense should be understood as something similar to what Roderick Chilshom called ‘the foundations of knowing’. In other words, common sense, as I conceive it, is the first step of a theoretical process which leads to overpass the simply semantic holism, i.e. the holism of meaning, in order to take in account the alethic holism, i.e. the holism of truth. This is made possible by detecting a set of logical connections between judgments based on the truth as the basic value of judgments. The result is an axiomatic system of epistemic logic based on the acknowledgement of the real dependence of every judgment on the truth of its necessary presuppositions, or logical conditions of possibility for it to be true. This is the meaning of what I maintain as the basic law of thinking, according to the most rigorous phenomenology of the mind processes – which are all directed, in any case, to the consciousness of truth, i.e. to the certainty that the contents of my judgment, here and now, is really true, and I cannot absolutely suppose the contrary to be true. This can happen only when my judgment is strongly founded in its presuppositions, so that I realize that it is just the necessary result of all true knowledge I have already obtained and assured with my former certain judgments. Then, this is the general framework of what I conceive as the holism of truth. According to this logical system, any thought of truth –and any assertion which can express it– is linked with all the others thoughts in its very epistemic justification, through the need of finding its own premise and presuppositions.

In such a holistic system of alethic logic, my notion of common sense retain a very narrow extension, since it refers only to few, well determinate primary certainties which are the common presupposition of both ordinary and scientific knowledge in all their forms and in all their degrees. In others words, “common sense” is in my logical system the very hard core of the holistic structure of truth. I reached such a conclusion taking in account the basic date of the cognitive science, the most advanced studies on the philosophy of mind, and the best results of the phenomenology of consciousness – which makes use both of subjective introspection and the analysis of the inter-subjective communication. I realized that in the consciousness of every thinking subject there are some certainties about the ‘real world’ –certainties whose epistemic justification is founded on the immediate evidence of existing beings which necessarily and always are present in everyone’s experience-

But I maintain much more. In my system such certainties constitute the very first link in the chain of presuppositions; so that they can in no way be subject to doubt. This means that their non-truth is absolutely unthinkable: actually, no one can ever really doubt them, and one must understand that any affirmations to the contrary are merely verbal posturing: actually, they respond to some pragmatic logic, and not the expressions of a real certainty, endowed with its own adequate epistemic justification. Given that they constitute the nucleus of experience, understood as a body of unmediated knowledge, such certainties are present to consciousness in every moment of the search for truth as the logical presupposition of all knowledge deriving from reflection and inference, both inductive and deductive. For this same reason, such certainties function as an ultimate criterion of truth to verify any hypothesis successively formulated. They therefore constitute the main alethic presupposition, that is, the presupposition necessary for any ulterior knowledge to be thought of as true. In fact, on the basis of these original truths, every thinking subject verifies, time after time, the admissibility of any hypothesis – formulated by himself or proposed by other subjects through one of the ways for communicating thought – that presents itself in the search for other truths over the course of his lifetime. As a result all scientific knowledge, should be structured as system logically compatible with the primary truth of common sense, so as to place the instruments of dialectics (reflection, interpretation, inference) effectively at the service of the search for further truths.

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