01-10-2006 - Traces, n.9
INSIDE America

The Road of Reason
The path of reason never reaches the origin of the total satisfaction the heart seeks. At every step there is “something more.” This something more is part of the nature of Truth itself

In order to understand the importance of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at the University of Regensburg about the importance of reason, I recommend reading Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel, The Road. It follows a father and a son, survivors of, apparently, a nuclear holocaust that has destroyed civilization, as they travel from the mountains to the seashore in search of other survivors. The boy, between 10 and 11 years old, has known no other world than the horror that surrounds him. The only knowledge he has of what a decent human society can be like is what he has learned from his father. They are the bearers of the “light” and the “good” in a world destroyed by nihilism. The journey to the shore (“the road”) is an educative journey, the transmission from father to son of the possibility for the survival of those experiences that make us human.
Reason is what makes us human. It is, as Fr. Giussani has insisted, the “distinctive characteristic” of that level of nature called Man. Reason is the capacity to be aware of reality according to the totality of its factors. To educate means to help the human person enter into the totality of the real. Therefore, an education that matches what is human in us is always the education of reason.
McCarthy’s novel is, of course, fiction. What he describes has not happened, as such, but when I discussed the novel with a friend recently, he said to me, “That father and boy are me and my son right now! I am trying to educate him in the midst of a nihilistic school environment that threatens to crush his spontaneous humanity.”
He said it with such passion, with such a sense of urgency, that I was surprised. This is an intelligent man, a university educator himself, concerned that his son was not being given any reason why it was worthwhile to pursue the quest for truth. Indeed, the only way to safeguard freedom and escape the destruction presently threatened by contemporary relativism and religious intolerance is, as Pope Benedict insisted in his speech, an education in the use of reason. Man’s first intuition is wonder before what appears as given, including the “I” itself as part of this given. The road to knowledge is thus launched by being struck by reality as given, by reality as an event. Engagement with the real, the experience of reality as event, awakens what is biblically called “the heart.” The heart is experienced as the center of original/primordial desires. These constitute a criterion for testing the real that is immanent to the original structure of the human person as such. Correspondence with these constitute what is reasonable, what is in accordance with reason. An education in reason is thus an education of the human heart.
The method of such an education is submitting what is proposed to the criterion of the heart, leading to a judgment about whether what is proposed corresponds or does not correspond to the “I” as given.
The criterion of the heart is given with our nature. In a sense, it is our nature! Therefore, it is an infallible criterion, although it may be misapplied. An education in reason is an education in how to apply adequately the criterion of the heart.
The verification of the correspondence between the constitutive desires of the heart and the objects encountered by the “I” is what Giussani calls experience, and this is at the heart of his thought. A posture is more real and true the more it corresponds to that objective, interior trace found at the roots of the I. This correspondence is what is called truth. An education in reason is an education on the relation between experience and truth. The road, the path of reason, never reaches the origin of the total satisfaction the heart seeks. At every step there is “something more.” This something more is part of the nature of Truth itself. There is a structural disproportion between the desires and reason’s ability to reach what totally fulfills them. An adequate human education is one that will not equate what it can fully measure to the ultimate Mystery that fulfills the requirements of our humanity. The summit of reason is the recognition that this structural disproportion means that the Mystery for which it searches to satisfy the desires of the heart may choose to reveal Itself. To deny this or to impose pre-conditions for it to happen is unreasonable. The response to it happening is called faith. Thus, faith is the fullest outcome of rationality.