Benedict XVI: Philosophy needs to help guide modern society


Saturday at the Vatican, the Holy Father received college educators participating in the sixth European Symposium of University Professors.  In his address, the Pontiff emphasized the vital role of philosophy in understanding modernity.

The symposium, which was held in Rome on June 4 – 7, focused on the theme: "Broadening the Horizons of Reason. Prospects for Philosophy." 

Benedict XVI began his address by noting that 2008 marks the tenth anniversary of John Paul II's Encyclical "Fides et ratio."  He recalled that when it was published, fifty philosophy professors in Rome “expressed their gratitude to the Pope with a declaration underlining the importance of re-launching the study of philosophy in universities and schools."

Reflecting on the years since the encyclical, the Pope mentioned that events which have occurred in the past ten years have “delineated more clearly the historical and cultural stage onto which philosophical research is called to enter. Indeed, the crisis of modernity is not a symptom of the decline of philosophy; on the contrary, philosophy must embark upon new lines of research in order to understand the true nature of that crisis."

"Modernity is not simply a historically-datable cultural phenomenon; in reality it requires a new focus, a more exact understanding of the nature of man."

Benedict XVI indicated that since the beginning of his pontificate he had received various suggestions "from men and women of our time," and that "in the light of these I have decided to offer a research proposal which I feel may arouse interest in a re-launch of philosophy and of its unique role within the modern academic and cultural world."

Quoting his own book, "Introduction to Christianity," he said: "The Christian faith has made a clear choice: against the gods of religion for the God of the philosophers, in other words against the myth of custom and for the truth of being.  This affirmation,” he continued, “is still fully relevant in the historical-cultural context in which we now live. Indeed, only on the basis of this premise - which is historical and theological at one and the same time - is it possible to respond to the new expectations of philosophy. The risk that religion, even the Christian religion, be surreptitiously manipulated, is very real even today."

"The proposal to 'Broaden the Horizons of Reason' should be understood as a request for a new openness towards the reality to which human beings in their uni-totality are called, overcoming old prejudices and reductive viewpoints in order to open the way to a new understanding of modernity."

Today, dialogue in between faith and reason cannot occur as in past times, explained the Pope.  "If it does not want to see itself reduced to the status of a sterile intellectual exercise, it must start from the current real situation of mankind, and upon that build a reflection that embraces man's ontological and metaphysical truth."

In his closing remarks, Benedict XVI referred to the need to "promote high-profile academic centers in which philosophy can enter into dialogue with other disciplines, in particular with theology, to favor new cultural syntheses capable of guiding society." He expressed the hope that "Catholic academic institutions may be ready to create true cultural laboratories" and he invited the professors to encourage young people "to commit themselves to philosophical studies by facilitating appropriate initiatives" to guide them in that direction."

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