I would say, today more than ever-certainly more so than in recent times.
Essentially, the positivist mentality, which developed aggressively
between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is, in a certain sense,
fading today. Contemporary man has rediscovered the sacred,
even if he does not always know how to identify it.
. . .
Positivism has not only been a philosophy or a methodology; it has been one of those schools of suspicion that the modern era has seen grow and prosper. Is man truly capable of knowing something beyond what he sees with his eyes or hears with his ears? Does some kind of knowledge other than the strictly empirical exist? Is the human capacity for reason completely subject to the senses and internally directed by the laws of mathematics, which have been shown to be particularly useful in the rational ordering of phenomena and for guiding technical progress?
If we put ourselves in the positivist perspective, concepts such as God or the soul simply lose meaning. In terms of sensory experience, in fact, nothing corresponds to God or the soul.
In some fields this positivist view is fading. This can be ascertained by comparing the early and the late works of Ludwig Wittgenstein-the Austrian philosopher from the first half of our century.
The fact that human knowledge is primarily a sensory knowledge surprises no one. Neither Plato nor Aristotle nor any of the classical philosophers questioned this. Cognitive realism, both so-called naive realism and critical realism, agrees that "nihil est in intellectu, quod prius non fuerit in sensu" ("nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses"). Nevertheless, the limits of these "senses" are not exclusively sensory. We know, in fact, that man not only knows colors, tones, and forms; he also knows objects globally-for example, not only all the parts that comprise the object "man" but also man in himself (yes, man as a person). He knows, therefore, extrasensory truths, or, in other words, the transempirical. In addition, it is not possible to affirm that when something is transempirical it ceases to be empirical.
It is therefore possible to speak from a solid foundation about human
experience, moral experience, or religious experience. And if it is
possible to speak of such experiences, it is difficult to deny that, in the
realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty,
and God. God Himself certainly is not an object of human empiricism; the
Sacred Scripture, in its own way, emphasizes this: "No one has ever seen
God" (cf. Jn 1:18). If God is a knowable object-as both the Book of Wisdom
and the Letter to the Romans teach-He is such on the basis of man's
experience both of the visible world and of his interior world. This is the
point of departure for Immanuel Kant's study of ethical experience in which
he abandons the old approach found in the writings of the Bible and of
Saint Thomas Aquinas. Man recognizes himself as an ethical being,
capable of acting according to criteria of good and evil, and not only
those of profit and pleasure. He also recognizes himself as a religious
being, capable of putting himself in contact with God. Prayer-of which
we talked earlier-is in a certain sense the first verification of such a
. . .
In gaining some distance from positivistic convictions, contemporary thought has made notable advances toward the ever more complete discovery of man, recognizing among other things the value of metaphorical and symbolic language. Contemporary hermeneutics-examples of which are found in the work of Paul Ricoeur or, from a different perspective, in the work of Emmanuel Lévinas-presents the truth about man and the world from new angles.
Inasmuch as positivism distances us-and, in a certain sense, excludes us-from a more global understanding, hermeneutics, which explores the meaning of symbolic language, permits us to rediscover that more global understanding, and even, in some sense, to deepen it. This is said, obviously, without intending to deny the capacity of reason to form true, conceptual propositions about God and the truths of faith.
For contemporary thought the philosophy of religion is very important-for example, the work of Mircea Eliade and, for us in Poland, that of Archbishop Marian Jaworski and the school of Lublin. We are witnesses of a symptomatic return to metaphysics (the philosophy of being) through an integral anthropology. One cannot think adequately about man without reference, which for man is constitutive, to God. Saint Thomas defined this as actus essendi (essential act), in the language of the philosophy of existence. The philosophy of religion expresses this with the categories of anthropological experience.
The philosophers of dialogue, such as Martin Buber and the aforementioned Lévinas, have contributed greatly to this experience. And we find ourselves by now very close to Saint Thomas, but the path passes not so much through being and existence as through people and their meeting each other, through the "I" and the "Thou." This is a fundamental dimension of man's existence, which is always a coexistence.
Where did the philosophers of dialogue learn this? Foremost, they learned it from their experience of the Bible. In the sphere of the everyday man's entire life is one of "coexistence"-"thou" and "I"-and also in the sphere of the absolute and definitive: "I" and "THOU." The biblical tradition revolves around this "THOU," who is first the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Fathers, and then the God of Jesus Christ and the apostles, the God of our faith.
Our faith is profoundly anthropological, rooted constitutively in coexistence, in the community of God's people, and in communion with this eternal "THOU." Such coexistence is essential to our Judeo-Christian tradition and comes from God's initiative. This initiative is connected with and leads to creation, and is at the same time-as Saint Paul teaches-"the eternal election of man in the Word who is the Son" (cf. Eph 1:4).