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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Problem vs. Mystery - Jacques Maritain

Problem vs. Mystery - Jacques Maritain

Here Jacques Maritain explains the difference between reason and intellect in that reason is moving from one "problem" to another. Intellect is the penetration into being, which he calls "mystery." Problem and mystery are the two dimensions of cognition. Problem knowledge is moving from thing to thing, as in science. Mystery knowledge is staying in the same place with an ever deepening understanding of the same thing, as in contemplation - Jim J. McCrea


Maritain says:

The proper object of understanding is being. And being is a mystery, either because it is too pregnant with intelligibility, too pure for our intellect which is the case with spiritual things, or because its nature presents a more or less impenetrable barrier to understanding, a barrier due to the element of non-being in it. which is the case with becoming, potency and above all matter.

The mystery we conclude is a fullness of being with which the intellect enters into a vital union and into which it plunges without exhausting it ... The Supreme "mystery" is the supernatural mystery which is the object of faith and theology. It is concerned with the Godhead Itself, the interior life of God, to which our intellect cannot rise by its unaided natural powers. But philosophy and science also are concerned with mystery, another mystery, the mystery of nature and the mystery of being. A philosophy unaware of mystery would not be a philosophy.

Where then shall we discover the pure type of what I call the "problem"? In a crossword puzzle, or an anagram. At this extreme there is no ontological content [no being content]. There is an intellectual difficulty with no being behind it. There is a logical difficulty, a tangle of concepts, twisted by a mind which another mind seeks to unravel. When the tangle has been unraveled, the difficulty solved, there is nothing further, nothing more to be known. For the only thing to be discovered was how to disentangle the threads.

... In fact every cognitive act, every form of knowledge presents these two aspects. The mystery and the problem are combined. The mystery is present because there is always some degree of being, and its depth and thickness must be penetrated. The problem also because our nature is such that we can penetrate being only by our conceptual formulae, and the latter by their nature compose a problem to be solve.

The problem aspect naturally predominates where knowledge is least ontological, for example, when it is primarily concerned with mental constructions built up around a sensible datum - as in empirical knowledge, and in the sciences of phenomena ... purely ideal as in mathematics; or yet again when its object is mental constructions of the practical intellect as in craftsmanship and applied science.

... The mystery aspect, as we should expect, predominates where knowledge is most ontological, where it seeks to discover, either intuitively or by analogy, being in itself and the secrets of being; the secrets of being, of knowledge and of love, of purely spiritual realities, of the First Cause. The mystery aspect is predominate in the philosophy of nature and still more in metaphysics. And most of all in theology.

Where the problem aspect prevails one solution follows another: where one ends, the other begins. There is a rectilinear progress of successive mental views or ideal perspectives, of different ways of conceptualizing the object. And if one solution is incomplete, as is always the case, it is replaced by its successor. It is as when the landscape changes and scene succeeds to scene as the traveler proceeds on his way. Similarly the mind is on the move. Progress of this kind is progress by substitution.

On the other hand where the mystery aspect prevails the intellect has to penetrate more and more deeply into the *same* object. The mind is stationary turning around a fixed point. Or rather it pierces further and further into the same depth. This is progress in the same place, progress by deepening... Thus we can read and reread the same book, the Bible for example, and every time discover something new and more profound.

Here knowledge is not exactly constituted by the addition of parts, still less by the substitution of one part for another. It is the whole itself that grows or rather is more deeply penetrated... as the indivisible whole and in all its parts at once.

At this point we must distinguish three kinds of intellectual thirst and three corresponding means of quenching them.

In the first case, where the problem aspect predominates I thirst to know the answer to my problem. And when I have obtained the answer I am satisfied: that particular thirst is quenched. But I thirst for something else. And so interminably.

This is the water of science, useful and bitter.

In the second case where the mystery aspect predominates I thirst to know reality, being under one or other of its modes, the ontological mystery. When I know it I drink my fill. But I thirst and continue to thirst for the same thing, the same reality which at once satisfies and increases my desire. Thus I never cease quenching my thirst from the same spring of water which is ever fresh and yet I always thirst for it.

This is the water of created wisdom.

In the third case - the vision of God's Word face to face - my thirst is once again different. I thirst to see God and when I see Him my thirst will be completely quenched. I shall thirst no longer.

This is the water of uncreated wisdom of which it is written " Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto everlasting life." (John iv. 13-14) The climax of spiritual disorder is to confuse the third of these thirsts with the first, by treating the things of eternal life, the vision of God, as an object of the first thirst that namely which belongs to the first case of which I was just speaking, the category of knowledge in which the problem predominates. For .this is to treat beatitude, not as a mystery, our mystery par excellence, but as a problem or series of problems, like the solution of a puzzle. As a result of this confusion Leibnitz can declare that beatitude is a moving from one pleasure to another, and Lessing that he prefers endless research to the possession of truth which would be monotonous, and Kant considers the boredom which it would seem God must experience in the everlasting contemplation of Himself.

But it is also a radical disorder to confuse the second thirst with the first by treating philosophy, metaphysics, wisdom a category of knowledge in which reverence for the mystery of being is the highest factor as an object of the first thirst, pre-eminently a problem to answer, a puzzle to solve. Those who make this mistake attempt to make progress in wisdom by proceeding from puzzle to puzzle, replacing one problem by another, one Weltanschauung by its successor, as though in virtue of an irrefragable law. Progress by substitution is required by the sciences of phenomena, is their law, and the more perfectly they realise their type the more progress they make. But progress of this kind is not the law of wisdom. Its progress is progress by an adhesion of the mind to its object and a union with it increasingly profound, progress as it were by a growing intimacy. And it therefore requires as its indispensable prerequisite a stable body of doctrine and a continuous intellectual tradition.

From A Preface to Metaphysics by Jacques Maritain

Maritain was one of the premier Catholic philosophers of the Twentieth century.