Chapter 4 Philosophical Studies

As I finished my university studies, I followed my group of young Jesuits to start three years of study of Scholastic Philosophy. This was all in Latin, of which I only had a rudimentary grasp. I had no choice, as all studies for the priesthood had to be in Latin until about 1964.

There was an advantage in studying in Latin as it made possible for young Jesuits from different countries to study together, even though they had different languages. During my three years in St. Stanislaus College, Tullamore we were about sixty young Jesuits. Half of these were non-English speaking Jesuits, from places like Spain and Germany, Italy and Hungary. They had come to learn English, while studying Philosophy in Latin! They were taking this step to prepare to be missionaries in Japan and Indonesia. I spent some time helping Spaniards and Hungarians learn some English. But the point was that we were an international group of Jesuits in a very rural setting, preparing for Jesuit work on a global scale, working for the universal good.

To listen to lectures in Latin, and use Latin to answer examiners, presented me with great problems. I later would sympathize with students who studied English and were to answer examinations in English. One just does one’s best, and hope that gradually studies would become more comprehensible, and that our abilities could rise to the occasion.

My first months in philosophical studies were most difficult. I had for a beginning to learn Logic. This was not congenial to me, and yet science is supposed to be very logical, and there is even mathematical logic. We had to learn different methods and ways of reasoning, which again was not natural to me. Here again was the challenge to discuss theories.

There was Epistemology. This deals with the nature, origins, methods and limits of human knowledge. In other words, what do we know when we know! And even more important, what are the limits of what we know. This surely is the heart of the conflicts of Religion and Science.

As I went on with my unsuccessful studies, I could not find any way of reconciling philosophical thinking and scientific pursuits. Many decades I can understand better many decades , but I was not capable of mastering this skill in the 1950s. Nor did I find any professor who was conversant enough with science to help me in relating what I had learned in science with what I was learning in philosophy. However, I was able to do the minimum to pass to the next stage.

Looking back, I could see that just as in science we relate things to each other, so in philosophy there was the study of what we know and an effort to unify knowledge. This was called metaphysics. There was also a subject that I was supposed to study, and that was cosmology. This was dealing with the structure and parts of the universe, its laws, also with space and time and freedom. Here I could only think of what I imagined in Physics and the positive sciences. I was not able to grasp and manage the Theory of Evolution in terms of what I was being taught.

I tried to read topics on the philosophy of science, but I was not able to grasp what it was about. My professors, some of whom liked me, were not of much help as none of them had been exposed to fieldwork, laboratory experiments and the thinking of scientists. No wonder the Theory of Evolution received so little attention from Christian teachers. People on the other hand were turning to scientists and psychologists for what was true and real.

Now what is true and real is important. Verification and objectivity is what scientists want. Philosophy is precisely to deal with this discussion, but I could not fathom it ! However, in 1958 a book came into my hands. It is still on my desk and I have been reading pages of it ever since. It is INSIGHT by Bernard Lonergan. He has the key to this discussion and I am still struggling to understand it! In a nut shell, reality is what is intelligently grasped and reasonably affirmed. To apply this to Evolution means grasping intelligently precisely what it indicates and affirming the truth of what it says. And that is not as simple as it seems!

Let me state that we need to have a dynamic frame of mind, seeing reality in a process of development. Explanations are given within a certain framework, with postulates and assumptions, and these explanations are valid in their field. As for a unification of all knowledge, which is philosophy, there is an innate urge in all of us to arrive at this. Even today the boldest of minds arrive at different conclusions. One philosophy is that everything is meaningless and this leads to terrible conclusions. The other is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which points to Salvation and eternal life. I wanted to dedicate all my life to that end.

As a very ordinary student of philosophy, I laboured with inadequate preparation in linguistic skills and literary background. I did rather well. I was happy to be where I was with so many other Jesuits. I liked the monastic type of life, which meant rising at 5.30am, with meditation at 6.00am and mass at 7.00am, followed by breakfast at 8.00, lunch at 12.30 and supper at 6.30pm. In the meanwhile, there were lectures or studies, and long walks in the countryside, which was partly peat bog. Strange to relate, we had no newspapers or magazines, no novels or radio, no telephone or television. We just had ourselves, our limited library of philosophy and the wide plains of Central Ireland. It was monastic living in a rural setting. It was a life of meditation and contemplation. It was the rural life of a scholar- and our Jesuit life in those days was like that!

Among the thirty Irish Jesuits, there were some destined for the missions in Hong Kong and in Zambia. About a dozen would stay in Ireland, and they would teach for three years in one of the six Jesuit secondary schools.

It is a fact that only a few wanted to teach in the Jesuit schools. There were six, who like me, wanted to stay in Ireland, and who looked forward to teaching in a secondary school. In fact of the six, only one continued teaching all his life, another went into tertiary teaching, and four left the Society. This indicates why later by the 1970s and 1980s, there were so few Jesuits teaching in secondary schools. Jesuit priorities were elsewhere, in working on spiritual direction and catholic formation, in social justice and in cultural and philosophical research.

In fact, we were thirteen in my final third year of Philosophy, of whom eight were Irish. Of these, one went to Hong Kong, four to Zambia, and three to teach in the colleges. The rest of the foreigners went to Japan and Indonesia.

My three years of Philosophy in deep rural Ireland came to a close. I had happily come through these years, spending much time talking with other Jesuits. But I had not learned much philosophy, or really prepared myself to deal with the Theory of Evolution.

I had been trained to prepare for theological studies in three years’ time. I was determined to stay in Ireland to help people in their pilgrimage to eternity and assist in the colleges, which were in real need of young Jesuits.

As for evolution, philosophical training leads us to have an open mind, and to be keen on struggling with new problems and issues. There is an understanding of the limitations of our knowledge and also that different subjects have their own autonomy. There are always questions that each subject cannot deal with. A Theory of Evolution is a good tool to help in research, but it is not the ultimate truth.

Even in the 2006 there are people like Richard Dawkins, who is dogmatically evolutionist, and disparaging of religion and Christianity. My view that it is a matter of discussing what is reality and truth, which involves the nature of knowledge and the dynamics of our desire to know.

Dealing with deep philosophy our language can often totter on the brink of nonsense. For example Einstein believed that the world must be constructed of “independent elements of reality” and even Heisenberg initially believed that we could speak of electrons has “having” position and speed. Niels Bohr put a stop to all that, saying that independent objects that “have” properties is characteristic only of the large scale world. There are in fact no independent elements of reality! When we speak of quantum reality, our assumptions are about the world( with causality, time and space). That language becomes suspended the more profound we think! We do not know what is up and what is down. Some like to say that while the opposite of truth is false, the opposite of great truth is another great truth! We need to take great care when explaining vast and great things, even the origin of humans, the earth and the universe.,

Reading Lonergan’s Insight 1958

  1. 學習哲學

自大學畢業後,我與一群年青的耶穌會士開始為期三年的經院(Scholastic Philosophy) 課程,那堨部是用拉丁文,我衹能初步掌握到拉丁文,但我沒有選擇,因為全部教士課程都是用拉丁文的,至止一九六四年為止。

有一科是認識論(Epistemology),涉及大自然、起源、方法和人類知識的局限,即是: 當我們應該知道的時候我們便會知道,更重要是我們所知道的極限是甚麼呢! 這確實是宗教和科學爭論的重點。

現今準確與真實是很重要的,所有的科學家都希望找到事物的証據和客觀現實,哲學正是應付這方面的辯論,我不會去進行探索! 但是,在一九五八年我收到一本書名叫「洞察」("Insight"),我現在仍放在檯頭,不時閱讀,這本書是由Bernard Lonergan所寫,他對這個爭論有答案,我仍努力去明白它!