Wednesday, August 5, 2015



(What is ousia – essence-taste? Aristotle 7th book Metaphysics)

Although Pope Francis’ encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) is addressed to Roman Catholics, it was widely read and drew favorable comments from every quarter.  It was not intended as a sectarian document urging Catholics to raid other faith groups for recruits.  The encyclical insists on dialogue to achieve the common good advocated by Jewish-Christian-Muslim Scripture. 

    Francis’ encyclical On Care For Our Common Home (Laudato Si) is clearly intended for all.  The climate change crisis is similar to the threat of nuclear destruction faced by Vatican II.  The message is that people of good will need to join together to avoid disaster.

    The climate change encyclical does not avoid difficult philosophical questions.  Francis notes that the epistemological paradigm used in science dominates our thinking and is not suitable to look to solutions for the climate change and pending disaster. (#107)  This is a problem for epistemology that goes back to the time of Abelard and Heloise (12th century) with the battle between the universalists and the nominalists.    
   Empirical science has successfully focused on the individual and the collective, thus producing inventions that can make life better for humanity.  Empirical science successfully produced cars, airplanes, pesticides and drones.  This bright light of success has unfortunately reduced the ‘essential’, Aristotle’s ousia, to the ‘un-real’, a product of the imagination and therefore the term humanity or all men is meaningless.  Such thinking has prevailed since the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) and later, the existentialists attempted to relegate the essentialists to past history. 

   Abraham Lincoln differed. What does “all men are created equal” mean?  Lincoln could be classified as a modern essentialist; he saw “All men are created equal” as including the slaves and having meaning yet to be developed, e.g. gays have rights also, humanity’s duty to protect the planet.   Author Gary Wills traces Lincoln’s thinking to the Unitarians and Transcendentalists of his time. (cf. Gary Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Simon & Schuster,  1992, p.104.  also blog, “Faith & The Labor Movement”, April 1, 2013)

Linoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois with Bill 'Lincoln' Lange and family

   Moral philosopher and former Harvard professor John Rawls (1921 -2002) would have supported Lincoln.  He contended that the equality of humanity was intuitive and based on experience. (John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA. 1971, p. 118) For Rawls, and Catholic Social Teaching, because of common humanity people have rights and duties.  (Ibid. pp. 27-28, 32, p. 333)

   To recognize that climate change is a crisis is to accept the conclusions of science; to do something about it is to recognize our common humanity with rights and duties. Pope Francis challenges us to cooperate and break out of the political structures of destruction dictated by an individualistic philosophy of economics producing inequality and a technology that ignores ultimate causes.

   Francis’ Encyclical is instructive and inspires faith in the hope that our common love of – humanity & nature will guide us towards resolving the climate crisis.

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