Workshop (4) – TOB as a “deadly blow” against Cartesianism

“If God saw that everything was very good, goodness must really reside in things, which strikes a deadly blow into the very heart of the Cartesian philosophical presuppositions of modern science or vice versa.” Michael Waldstein

In order to provide the context for the significance of the Pope’s achievement in developing the theology of the body, Waldstein sets out the sources and principles of modern philosophy concerning the body.

First we must understand the influence of Francis Bacon. His nominalism denies that there is an intrinsic order to nature. He also redefines the purpose of science to be the mastery of nature. 

The 3 points of logos are:
1. A radical openness to Being
2. Radical priority of the speculative over the practical
3. An appeal to the desire for the infinite, for God
Find pages on Greek logos here 

The new science of nature denies all three points. Thus Waldstein explains the importance of rediscovering the integrity of the body and authentic love which modern science and modern philosophy have denied and degraded:

“This form of the fact-value and science-religion distinction, which has been widely accepted by Christians as part of the dominant culture of the West ever since Bacon and Descartes and the systematic elaboration of their principles by Kant, is not only bad philosophy, but it directly contradicts Scripture. ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good’ (Gen 1:31). If God saw that everything was very good, goodness must really reside in things, which strikes a deadly blow into the very heart of the Cartesian philosophical presuppositions of modern science or vice versa. That being is good is a philosophical principle called for by Scripture itself.

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). This is why one can say with certainty that the first chapter of Genesis has formed an incontrovertible point of reference and solid basis of a metaphysics and also for an anthropology and an ethics according to which “ens et bonum convertuntur [being and good are convertible].” Of course, all this has its own significance for theology as well, and above all for the theology of the body (John Paul II, TOB 2:5).”

It is interesting to note that the “Majority Report” of John XXIII’s birth control commission adopted the Baconian-Cartesian view of nature. Waldstein explains, when it “proposed the moral legitimacy of contraception, [it] emphatically and unequivocally embraces the Baconian program.” The report contains this idea — “The story of God and of man, therefore, should be seen as a shared work. And it should be seen that man’s tremendous progress in control of matter by technical means and the universal and total ‘intercommunication’ that has been achieved, correspond entirely [omnino] to the divine decrees.” (see Waldstein on the Birth Control Commission, and the moderns here, pp 271-272.)

Waldstein continues with the thought of Blessed John Paul II: “Compare this submissive allegiance to the Baconian program with John Paul II’s prophetic warning in Evangelium vitae. ‘Nature itself, from being ‘mater’ (mother), is now reduced to being “matter”, and is subjected to every kind of manipulation. This is the direction in which a certain tech- nical and scientific way of thinking, prevalent in present-day culture, appears to be lead- ing when it rejects the very idea that there is a truth of creation which must be acknowledged, or a plan of God for life which must be respected.” §22. This text shows that John Paul II sees the issues of Humanae vitae in the context of the Baconian program. He penetrates to the core of ‘a certain technical and scientific thinking’ and identifies the blindness of such thinking to the very notion of a divine plan. He shows that the subjection of matter to every kind of manipulation is not only an ethical problem; it determines the deep structures of seeing and understanding nature.”

John Paul II frequently made references to Cartesianism as a challenge to Christian theology. See my article on Descartes, here

In the remaining lessons of the workshop, Waldstein shows how the theology of body provides a phenomenological and concrete refutation of Cartesianism dualism and opens the way to a restoration of authentic human dignity..

2 Comments
  1. Waldstein clearly hasn't read Bacon, nor understood that Descartes' pioneering insights don't need refutation, they need correction. Bacon was on about getting to know the gifts God has given us so we could better provide for our needy neighbours. Descartes may later have invented coordinate geometry, but he was a couple of centuries in advance of complex numbers. He didn't (and most people still don't) realise that two things differing generates four alternatives: one or the other, neither, or (as in complex number) both: not some average leaving sophists room for argument as to whether it is one thing or the other. 'Spirit' means 'wind', which unlike a body which can merely deflect, already has both power AND direction. The "ghost in the machine" provides its power rather than (as Descartes thought) its direction, which is liable to be deflected by bad habits embodied in the machine, our neural system. Traditional philosophy was thus just as plagued with deference to mistaken authorities as modern philosophy. Bacon at least anticipated the possibility of today's information science, whose existence remains unrecognised by both traditional and modern philosophers, despite its extraordinary fruitfulness. Dave T.

  2. "The 3 points of logos are:
    1. A radical openness to Being
    2. Radical priority of the speculative over the practical
    3. An appeal to the desire for the infinite, for God".

    So in my previous comment, openness to God's Spirit (the ultimate source of ours), priority of information science over physical science based on information, but surely not a desire for what we cannot begin to imagine: just gratefulness for all it has given and done for us. Dave T again.

Join us!

* indicates required