The Catholic Thing
Intelligence Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S. J.   
Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A year previous to his cardinalate (1969), Jean Daniélou entitled a booklet, La crise actuelle de l’intelligence. These years saw social and political turmoil. Daniélou wished to comprehend them. The root of this crisis is found in the mind, in how we philosophically understood ourselves in the world. He agreed with the ancient classics that lives lacking virtue exist. They exercise a major influence on how the will allows the mind to see its proper object, namely, what is.

The dominant way to “understand” anything today is “science.” That is, by the use of hypotheses, testing, logic, reconsidering, and rigorous care of detail. In his 2011 Bradley Lecture, Harvey Mansfield remarked: “To scientists, the university is divided into science and non-science; the latter is not knowledge and is likely to be mush (in which they are right). Scientists easily forget that science cannot prove science is good, that their whole project is founded upon what is at best unscientific common sense. They do not see that the unscientific foundation of science leaves science far short of wisdom, whether practical or theoretical.” The first part of Daniélou’s essay said the same thing.

Visiting a number of universities at the time, including Berkeley, Daniélou observed that “these students do not come to the university to be debauched; they come essentially to be among intellectuals. They come to the University more to be able to discuss the great problems that are actually those of politics, of morals, and of man.” What they find, however, is “science.” Something is lacking. Souls are not filled.

Daniélou’s analysis is rooted in Aquinas and Aristotle. Intelligence is broader than calculation or “reasoning.” Studies of college graduates today show that they go through college and emerge without much power of “critical thinking.” But this is usually just another word for scientific method.

     Jean Daniélou: analysis rooted in Aristotle and Aquinas

Daniélou recalls that most of the important things we need to know cannot be learned by such scientific thinking: “Science cannot by itself explain man, and what for us is a basic issue, the relation between persons. I mean finally that what is most important for me is to know that which certain others basically think of themselves.” E. F. Schumacher remarked in A Guide for the Perplexed that the most dangerous man in any society is the man who does not know himself. This self-knowing is not “scientific.”

“Basically, that which is essential for me,” Daniélou continued, “is to be able to penetrate into the heart of others. It is at bottom that exchange by which heart is open to heart, that exchange which attains its summit in love, which exists in friendship but which exists also in interior communication at all levels.” We see much of this, of course, in Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. Benedict’s Deus Caritas Est is also to be included here.

Human intelligence has two natural ways of knowing. One is the calculating way, science at its best. But there is also intuition, the mind’s capacity itself to see into the higher things. The higher things that we know, that our mother loves us, are not “reasoned,” but they are known with a certainty that matches any scientific truth, which itself, of course, is always subject to revision.

This is what trust is all about: “The problem of authority is not fundamentally a problem of power, but a problem of confidence.” This is why belief in God can be certain. We can trust testimony and experience, even when we make every effort to examine it with our rational approach. “Faith is essentially a question of confidence in a competence,” Daniélou explains. The problem of faith is ultimately to know whether Jesus Christ appeared to us as competent in that which concerns a domain which is that of his proper field: in knowledge of the Father.”

In an essay in the New York Times, (May 14, 2011), we read that studies show little increase in quality of learning proportional to increased costs of administration and tuition: “The situation reflects a large cultural change in the relationship between students and colleges. The authority of educators has diminished, and the students are increasingly thought of by themselves and their colleges, as ‘clients’ or ‘consumers.’” Daniélou made basically the same point in 1968.

“Intelligence has consequences and weighs on the destiny of humanity,” Daniélou concludes in a remarkable phrase. We underestimate ourselves if we maintain that thinking itself in its broadest scope is not vital to our civilization. We cannot neglect the full perfection of mind that is thinking of what is true. Yet, when we will not to direct ourselves to what the mind intuits, we use our wills to direct our minds to theories and ideologies that explain not reality, but what will allow us to do what we want.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.
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Comments (5)Add Comment
written by Achilles, May 31, 2011
Thank you Father Schall! This reminder: “E. F. Schumacher remarked in A Guide for the Perplexed that the most dangerous man in any society is the man who does not know himself. This self-knowing is not “scientific.”
This should strike pause in all our hearts- If you missed Blake’s comments on the John Jay Report, he tried to marry heaven and hell.

“You can see the disconnect between academia and religion. Academia takes a very nuanced view and religion takes a very black-and-white view on gay identity. The researchers are closer to reality”

The slickness and cleverness mocks reason, but has a nice ring to it. His comments are worth reading in full because they embody the “man who doesn’t know himself” and illustrate that many will settle for scientific or even pseudo scientific explanations over revelation and common sense.
How many men today know themselves? I shudder to contemplate the truth.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, May 31, 2011
Pascal put this very well, when he says
"We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them. The sceptics, who have only this for their object, labour to no purpose… For the knowledge of first principles, as space, time, motion, number, is as sure as any of those which we get from reasoning. And reason must trust this knowledge of the heart and of instinct, and must base every argument on them. The heart senses that there are three dimensions in space and that the numbers are infinite, and reason then shows that there are no two square numbers one of which is double of the other. Principles are intuited, propositions are inferred, all with certainty, though in different ways."
written by Other Joe, May 31, 2011
The proposition that only data that are derived from the scientific method are true is a faith based assertion that contradicts itself. It is astounding how many academics subscribe to it. The contemporary relativist inhabits a house of broken mirrors. The lack of critical thinking is a serious matter. We are living through the collapse of ethics and a kind of moral catastrophe. People that would blanch at the prospect of using a plastic bag at the grocers consider adultery, unrestricted abortion, addiction, special treatment under the law for select groups, suppression of religious beliefs they find unpalatable and the criminalization of matters of conscience to be, at the worst, unpleasant necessities. We are dying for some critical thinking.
written by A Reader, May 31, 2011
Is there an English translation of this book?
Answer for "A Reader"
written by Brad Miner, May 31, 2011
Dear "A Reader": As far as I can tell, there is no English-language edition of La crise actuelle de l’intelligence. The closest you'll be able to come is probably in Daniélou's The Faith Eternal and the Man of Today. It's out-of-print but available via used booksellers, including Amazon. -ABM

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