Page 2, 29th July 1960

29th July 1960
Page 2

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Locations: Coventry


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SIR,-As a recent graduate in philosophy I would like to contest Lord Pakenham's contention that the Catholic graduate, coming from a school where he learned Catholic ethics to a University where he obtained a secular view, "learned philosophy as a superficial game while retaining his faith, or going into it more seriously allowed his faith to be impaired."

This is based, 1 feel, on a misunderstanding of the theological and the purely logical attitudes to ethics. I think these can co-exist in the individual; evidently Lord Pakenham does not.

In my view, the spiritual life and the thought processes of a person are different, though he will interpret the one through the operation of the other. Thus, if a man believes that Christ is God. he will act as a Christian. His basic assumption has nothing to do with logic; it cannot be proved logically.

Now ethics not based on theology have purposes like "the good of society" as their foundation. and these purposes and theological purposes like "the good of the soul" are not mutually exclusive but are obviously compatible. I am good (i) because God wishes it and (ii) because society would be a mess if everybody, including me, was bad.

It is very stimulating to reason about morality on secular assuinptitans in the same way as it is to use only one hand for everything if you have injured the other-you can't do things so well as with both hands, but you do improve your dexterity. If you reason about morals and leave God out, you realise something is missing which is vital to full functioning of your ethic, but you do gain a dexterity in the clarification and manipulation of concepts, and it draws your attention forcibly to any weakness in your ability to reason in steps, as it were.

The Catholic and the philosophical are two attitudes to life and to the treatment of concepts, and they can co-exist. But they are not the same thing. Catholic philosophy is based at every stage on unprovable assumptions that is the miracle of faith which no philosophy can explain. It is also the reason why (he non-Catholic cannot reason with the Catholic: he does not accept his basic assumptions such as God exists. Logic is needed to build up an apologetic on these assumptions. I think many philosophers would agree that logical positivism is out of date, but the linguistic attempts to clarify concepts remains and has nothing to do with theology (which I take to be the study of the basic assumption of faith).

Thus faith is not impaired, no matter how deeply one digs into or agrees with theories such as those of Toulmin or Hare. I found Hare ("The Language of Morals") fascinating, but he did not impair my faith. On the contrary, this book taught me to look more carefully at the words I was using, to be sure of the exact meaning I attached to them.

To put it briefly, linguistic moral philosophy is based on the "If A then B" relationship; Catholic: apologetic is based on "A therefore B" ("A" being an assumption, in the second case like "God exists"). Secular philosophy would not attempt to lay down doctrine. therefore it must be harmless and un-competitive with any theology.

I would be most interested to know if Lord Pakenham or anyone else would agree with my views; I have never had any difficulty in reconciling secular philosophical processes with my faith.

(Miss) A. D. Bryant

7 Well Walk, The Knap, Barry, Glam.

SIR,-I n his article entitled "Christian Ethics for our Schools" Lord Pakenham is surprisingly unfair to Catholic booksellers. Has he really never heard of the following Catholic moral philosophers: Bourke, little, Fagothey, Glenn, Higgins, Von Hildebrand (three books), Messner, Oesterle, Ross, and Ward ? I am sure that he is unaware of two smaller introductory books on moral philosophy, one by Fr. Keane and the other by Fr. Coventry.

Systematic books on Ethics by the above-mentioned authors have been obtainable from Catholic bookshops for, at least, the last two or three years. Many of them are available at the Catholic Central Library.

Strangely enough, Lord Pakenham appears to miss the vital difference between R. Sertillanges' definition of man as a whole and Mrs. Warnock's restricted and descriptive approach to the same question. However, this is really a question for the English Catholic moral philosophers. But I am no Hume. It would be exceedingly bad mannered to attempt to stir them from their dogmatic slumbers. Someone, like Lord Pakenham, who is universitytrained, must do so. Then they may condescend to listen.

P. D. Johnson

Widnes. Lanes.

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