Montaigne and Pascal were right…

Français : Portrait de Montaigne par Thomas de...

Français : Portrait de Montaigne, 1608. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Montaigne and Pascal had it right: the profound and manifest frailty of human reason is, on the one hand, the demise of rationalism, but the astounding and indefatigable aspirations of the human spirit, on the other hand, is a plea for revelation. Montaigne and Pascal both recognized that rationalism’s true end is skepticism. The inevitability of rational skepticism does not equate to a moral or aesthetic skepticism. Humans cannot lose ‘sight’ of their highest moral and aesthetic aims, but they can and do lose sight of how they come to have such desires, much less of how to attain them. Human reason is so warped and myopic that it requires divine revelation in order to attain its deepest desires. Revelation, thus, literally fulfills human nature, since, of its own, human reason can only recognize the inextinguishability of desires that both animate and befuddle reason. Human reason is knowledge of self in the very act of trying to possess knowledge beyond self. Reason recognizes its authentic ends – endless truth, beauty, communion, joy – but the transcendent ultimacy of those ends refracts in reason’s hand as absurdities. It thus behooves reason to seek a medium between its highest aims and its unremitting lapses. This medium of rational deliverance we call divine revelation.

St Thomas recognized this as well, since he admitted the course of rational theology was beyond most people. As such, simply believing in revelation is a concession fittingly given by the loving God. By praising the condition of Montaigne and Pascal, I am not rejecting the doctrine of rational adequacy as taught by Thomas and Vatican I. I am, rather, situation the role of reason in the larger context of human noetic fallenness. Reason is adequate to natural theology in this sense: it can follow the senses and premises to the conclusion that God exists, but this assent to God will be minimal and proleptic at best. This is because, again, reason knows itself in its ignorance, finds itself in its transcendent seeking. Reason is not sufficient for a knowledge of God, but it is adequate, or diminutively proportionate to, knowing God’s existence by knowing its own inclination to such a realm of perfection. Reason is adequate precisely for recognizing its own insufficiency.


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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