In The American Conservative, my friend Jeremy Beer writes about the Catholic philosopher David Schindler. Schindler is an interesting man (I’ve met him a few times) — a wide-ranging and serious thinker. He’s also difficult to read, and so part of what Beer does in this essay is try to “translate” Schindler for those of us (and I include myself) who experience trying to read him straight-on as pretty heavy sledding. So here is Beer on Schindler on epistemology:
Specifically, liberalism fails to apprehend that “love is the basic act and order of things.” Love brings all there is into existence, it is through love that all there is continues in existence, and it is for love that all things exist. Reality is in this sense triadic: all things are in, through, and for love. Being might therefore be said to be an order or “logic” of love.
… In Schindler’s account of reason—one shared by Popes Benedict and John Paul II—faith does not narrow reason, nor does faith exist alongside reason as something “added” to it from without. Rather, faith enlarges reason from within, helping it to function better precisely as reason.
… Perhaps no theme emerges more consistently in Schindler’s metaphysical reflections as a target of criticism than that of “extrinsicism.” The neo-Thomists, in the Communio view, held to an “extrinsic” model of the nature-grace relationship. In such a model, nature is self-subsistent and in principle knowable in its totality without the aid of the supernatural—without, that is, grace. Grace adds to nature but is fundamentally “outside” of it; Christian revelation therefore adds nothing to our knowledge of nature as nature. To Communio thinkers like Schindler, this model is an unnecessary and indeed catastrophic capitulation to Enlightenment ideas about nature that are not just secular, but secularist.
… As a metaphysical alternative to extrinsicism, Schindler argues analogically from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Here the idea of “distinction-in-unity” becomes a key concept. The secular and the sacred, faith and reason, nature and grace, are indeed distinguishable, but they simultaneously and at their core relate to one another in the terms of an inseparable unity—“circumincession” is Schindler’s term for this relationship. We see such a relationship, again analogically, in the bond between husband and wife, who are distinct persons yet “one flesh,” or in the relationship between the Father and the Son, distinct persons yet one God. Distinction-in-unity is enabled by and is the form of love …
Now, Schindler is a serious man whose thought deserves attentiveness. And Schindler has much to say about how a “philosophy of love” pertains to close-to-the-ground contemporary issues, such as the current U.S. culture wars. All of this merits attention. But here I only want to make two quick observations about Schindler’s epistemology, in part because they touch upon my current interest (obsession?) with the issues of doubt and the concept of goods in conflict.
The first observation is that Schindler’s view appears to be strictly monistic. There is one truth, one idea, one reality, one Word, from which all else in the universe is derived and around which all other aspects of human meaning and experience are (can be, should be) harmoniously ordered. There are no “goods in conflict” here (e.g., gay equality is good; customary marriage is good; the two are not entirely compatible or the same); instead, everthing is of one piece. Or so his thought appears to me.
The second is that Schindler’s world view appears to depend decisively on the belief that one thing can be two or more things at once. Faith is faith, and reason is reason, but faith and reason are also one inseparable unity (i.e., one thing). The natural is the natural and the supernatural is the supernatural, but neither, properly understood, is “extrinsic” to the other. The married couple is two but also and to the same degree one; the godhead is three but also and to the same degree one. And so on. G. K. Chesterton wrote hundreds of essays (many of them quite lovely), and in nearly every one of them, as I can recall, we find this idea (or at least this rhetorical strategy) stressing that one thing is also one or more other things. Now, when Isaiah Berlin insisted over and over again in his lectures and writings that “the thing is only the thing,” this contrary assertion about reality – the idea that one thing is also two or more things at once — is exactly what he meant to be disagreeing with.
I can’t and won’t even try to solve these controversies here (though patient readers know that, as it were, “Ich bin ein Berliner”). I only want to adumbrate two of the conceptual issues that jumped out at me as I read Beer’s interesting essay.