Intelligence Print
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.
© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: 

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own. 

Other Articles By This Author