Reason and rhetoric

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In just one respect, therefore - we could say in a loose metaphor, 'from above' - Thomas's 'Augustinian' understanding of 'reason' is much expanded by comparison with any which is common in everyday current speech - and for that matter, with any of its technical, philosophical senses today. For within that ancient tradition, human reason sits in a hinterland between the 'rational' in its narrowest sense, in which 'discursiveness' predominates, and the 'intellectual', in which a certain kind of pure 'seeing' predominates; and I used formulas expressive of the relationship between reason in this narrower sense, and intellect, which relationship properly characterises 'rationality' in that broader sense. We could not be rational if we were not also more than rational; human beings are not rational beings unless they are also intellectual.1 And I even went so far as to say in the last chapter, correctly in itself, but misleadingly if nothing else were said to qualify it, that for Thomas, 'rationality' is what intellect is when embodied - which is misleading only in so far as the formula may perhaps suggest a certain 'dualism', of that kind according to which human beings are strictly angels thrust into bodies, as if being of their nature more happy in an unembodied condition.

As we shall see, necessary as it is to correct such misimpressions of Thomas's 'Augustinianism', it is as essential not to neglect the truth which Thomas saw in it. Nothing that Thomas has to say about our being rational animals should cause us to neglect his 'Augustinian' insight that we are also incarnate angels, an insight which for Thomas had no implications of a 'dualist' kind - as it did for some other contemporary Augus-tinians. The question Thomas faced was how these two emphases can be held together coherently; and, if there were many intellectual battles which Thomas was caused to wage, more or less willingly and under pressure of opposition, the fight which he deliberately set about picking was

1 'Intelligere enim est simpliciter veritatem intelligibilem apprehendere. Ratiocinari autem est procedere de uno intellecto ad aliud, ad veritatem intelligibilem cognoscendam.' ST 1a q79 a8 corp. Intellect and reason are, he goes on to say (ibid.) related as rest is to movement, and so are not distinct powers, just different activities of the same power.

with two sets of opponents who, for quite opposed reasons, were uncomfortable with his conviction that in being 'embodied intellects' we are essentially rational animals. Radical Augustinians - for whom it seemed almost a matter of regret, and an offence to our intellectual natures, that humans are animals - were for Thomas curiously at one with radical Averroists (otherwise the natural opponents of Augustinians), who, for equal though opposite reasons, displaced the human intellectual centre of gravity from its location within our animality and on to a single, 'separate possible intellect' common to all humans. Neither extreme Augustinians nor Averroists could seem to get the picture of human nature focussed where Thomas felt it should be, upon the individuated unities of intellect with reason in human animality.2

Hence, if Thomas's conception of rationality is much expanded 'from above' by comparison with any conception of rationality which we possess today, it is equally expanded by the same comparison with our contemporary meanings for it 'from below'. We are essentially rational animals, and I use the word 'essentially' not as a word of common emphasis, but technically. Our essence, for Thomas, is to be 'rational', and if rational, then we are essentially a certain kind of animal; to be 'rational' is to be an animal. Hence, all we humans do, we do as animals do it. If we think, this is how we humans come to understand, namely as animals can understand; indeed, for Thomas, only animals can think; angels understand but do not think; God understands but does not think. And if cats do not think, this has to be put down to the kind of animals they are, not to their being animals tout court. If we desire, we desire as only an animal can, and if my cat cannot reciprocate love as another human being can, this is not because she is an animal, but because she is not a rational animal; so I love as rational animals do. If I feel pain in my finger, it is because

1 am an animal; angels have no fingers in which to feel pain and, if God can be described, as the Psalmist describes him, as behaving like a soldier with a hangover (Ps. 78:65), we know that this has to be a metaphor: it has to be literally false to say this, otherwise we can make no sense of the metaphor. But if the pain in my finger plays a different role in my life from that which her injured paw plays in my cat's life, this is not because I am rational and my cat is an animal, but because my animality is a rational animality, and my cat's is not. We can even say, faithfully to what Thomas has in mind, that human beings have rational fingers to feel with, as anyone who has observed the sheer intelligence and grace of a musician's fingers will know, and it is those musically informed fingers which feel

2 See Thomas's De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, in Aquinas against the Averroists, ed. and trans. Ralph McInerney, West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1993.

the pain; whereas a cat's paw is a merely sensate, mechanically complex, leg-ending which cats do not know of as 'paws'; and so its pain has but a feline, sensate, significance, quite unlike that of a musician. For this reason, whether I think, or love or feel pain, whether I feel depressed or elated, whether I work or I play, whether I am exercised in understanding the meaning of the square of minus one or simply enjoying the sunset or sex, these are all done as it is in my nature to do them; which means that, my nature being that of a rational animal, feeling pain and all the rest are expressions of, ways of being, a rational animal. Such, at any rate, is how Thomas Aquinas thinks of the matter. We human beings do nothing at all except as rational animals do it.

Therefore, to be a rational being is, for Thomas, one particular way of being an animal. It is clear that while 'thinking' in its narrowest meaning as argument, inference, conclusions derived from evidence, and calculation of means to ends, is a distinctively human activity in the sense that no other kind of being does these things at all, 'thinking' is a synecdoche for our rational nature, as 'deckhand' is a synecdoche for a low-ranking sailor on a ship. The fact that human beings 'think' is determined by the kind of bodies human beings have, and just those characteristics of our bodies which have to do with the fact that human beings 'think' also have to do with the distinctive ways in which human beings love and have sex, contemplate sunsets, make music, work, play and rest, none of which are discursive activities in that narrowest sense of'thinking'. In short, for Thomas, it is because of the kind of bodies we have that we are the sort of rational animals that we are.3

Central to how our bodies determine our rationality is the fact that all our mental activity has its origin in the senses, and that the senses are five mutually exclusive, organ-dependent, ways of apprehending any object of perception. Our senses are 'organ-dependent' in that without nerve-endings on the surface of the skin we cannot feel anything, without the retina's sensitivity to light we cannot see anything, without vibrations on the ear-drum we cannot hear anything, and so forth - and without any of those we cannot come to think anything. And they are 'mutually exclusive' in that, though of course we can see what we can also hear, or taste what we see - for we can hear the crunch of a smooth, juicy, red, musky-smelling apple, all five sensations in one go as we eat it - we cannot see the taste or smell the colour or taste the redness or hear the smoothness of its skin.4 For Thomas, much of what characterises the 'rational'

3 This is because, as Thomas says, any soul (including the human soul) is the 'substantial form of a physically organised body' - 'forma substantialis corporis physici organici', De unitate I, 3 (p. 21).

4 De unitate I, 19 (p. 39) - 'visus coloris tantum, auditus sonorum et sic de aliis'.

starts here in our knowledge's rootedness in the physical dispersal of the senses, which divide, by way of what he calls their 'formal objects', any material object of knowledge into five, discrete, sensory 'inputs'. Indeed, in what is for once a helpful appeal to etymology, Thomas notes that the 'discursiveness' which so characterises the rational gets its meaning from the Latin discurrere,5 calling to mind the fact that 'reason' has to 'run about' from one dimension of what it knows to another, pulling together into the unity of judgement that which our bodies diversify fivefold. Reason divides in order to unite, diversifies in order to relate.

Another way of putting this is to say that for Thomas we are linguistic animals: which will be true enough on condition that no more here with 'language' than correspondingly with 'reason' should we permit that narrowness for which 'language' is understood exclusively in terms of formal, verbal, speech and writing, or, as we may put it compendiously, in terms of naming.6 For, as we have seen, action also 'speaks'. Indeed, we could not make sense of how it is that structured vibrations in the air, or structured shapes on a page, can possess the significance they do as spoken or written words, unless it were the case that language in that narrower sense were a special case of a general possibility, namely that of matter being capable of bearing significance. We may or may not be in possession of some adequate account of how these squiggly shapes on the page in front of you, <'I love you'>, say what we read them to mean, or how it is that the 'scare-quotes' which surround those shapes say that I have quoted the words, not told you, dear reader, that I love you;7 but we possess such an account only if it thereby explains how also a kiss says, 'I love you', and is sufficient to explain how a kiss can even be the bearer of irony, as was Judas' kiss of betrayal, cynically quoting, not sincerely saying, what kisses say. For the explanation, in either case, must be the same: on whatever account you give of how words mean, there can be

5 ST 1aq29 a3 ad4.

6 There should otherwise be no problem with this equivalence. Some have difficulty with it, supposing that concepts, being what we understand, may or may not be expressible in language, and so that thought - experience generally - is contingently connected with the language in which it is expressed. Thomas at least will not allow that problem. For him 'concepts' are not what we understand about something else, so that there might be some general problem about how concepts connect with what they are concepts of. Of course, particular concepts may or may not be good ones, and so our understanding of such-and-such may misconstrue it. But 'the concept of such-and-such', good or bad, is not what we understand, it just is our understanding of such and such: 'species ... do not relate to possible intellect as what is understood, but as species by means of which the intellect understands, just as the species that are in sight are not the things seen, but that whereby sight sees' - 'species . . . non se habent ad intellectum possibilem ut intellecta, sed sicut species quibus intellectus intelligit, sicut et species quae sunt in visu non sunt ipsa visa sed ea quibus visus videt'. De unitate V, 110 (p. 131).

no greater mystery in how the words and scare-quotes say what they say than there is with how kisses say the same. Both are bits of matter bearing meaning. Explain the one if you can, but only on such terms as explain both.

Language, in this broader sense, is simply how bodies are significant, how they possess and exchange meanings. It is more strictly in accordance with the mind of Thomas Aquinas to say, however, that a human being is not a body plus meaning: for Thomas, a human being is matter plus meaning, that is, a body, just as language is not words plus their meanings, but bits ofmatter organised into meanings, that is, words. As Thomas puts it in his own terms, a human being is not a body plus a soul; a human being is matter informed by a soul, that is, a body, matter alive with a certain kind of life. For, as Aristotle says, a dead body is not a 'body' except equivocally.8

For Thomas, then, to say that human beings are 'rational animals' is to say, in this broader sense of the word, that we are linguistic animals, speaking organisms, animals which are the bearers, originators and transactors of meanings, animals which make signs. Our being 'rational', therefore, consists in anything which these organisms can do which bears, or is capable of bearing, a significance. It follows that to ask what is the place within this broader sense of 'rationality' of that narrower and distinctive sense of the word which consists in 'ratiocination' - the construction of inference and argument, the collating of evidence with explanation, the construction of theory - is parallel to asking what is the place of verbal speech and writing within language in this broader sense. I shall turn to this question at a later stage.9 In the meantime it seems prudent to anticipate this much of that later clarification, lest I should be misunderstood to have argued for more than I intend: I should not be taken, in what I have argued so far, to have made a case for eliminating all distinctions between how an action can 'speak' and how human beings speak in words. For while I have argued that, in general, it is important to understand verbal communication as a specific case of the wider human activity of transacting meanings, and while I have argued, in parallel, that it is important

8 Metaphysics VII, 10, 1035b 20-25. For the human soul is that by which the composite body-and-soul exists. What exists when a person is dead is what was that person's body and now is not. But such a soul can survive death, for the human soul, which is the form of the body and makes it to be a body, 'does not exist simply in virtue of the composite . .. but rather the composite exists in virtue of its existence ...a form through whose existence the composite exists . .. need not be destroyed when the composite is destroyed' - 'nec est per esse compositi tantum . . . sed magis compositum est per esse eius . . . non autem oportet quod destruatur ad destructionem compositi illa forma per cuius esse compositum est'. De unitate I, 37 (p. 57).

to understand 'rationality' in its narrower sense of 'ratiocination' against the background of our human rational animality, this is not to say that in either case the narrower sense is simply reducible to the broader.

Why is it 'important' not to effect a reductivism of this kind? It is important at least for the central purpose of this essay, which in general terms is to explore the role of reason in its deployment as argument within the context of Christian faith: and it is true that for the most part my discussion will be limited to the exploration of the role of reason in that narrower ratiocinative sense. It has seemed to me, however, that the case I make out for so robust a role for reason in that narrower sense - and no robuster role can be made out than that defended by the first Vatican Council -is vulnerable from two sides. On the one side the threat is posed by that 'closed' conception of reason which we have come to identify rightly or wrongly with the Enlightenment, according to which the 'space' in which reason functions is (of course) unlimited, infinite, but it is infinite with the infinity of the 'curved' space of the contemporary cosmologist, so that reason must ultimately return upon itself; hence, however endless its questioning may be, its endlessness and unlimitedness, its 'discursiveness', are those of a comet unceasingly chasing its own tail. On this account, reason can never, in the manner in which I have argued it can, pose to itself that unanswerable question which leads it beyond itself into the unknowable darkness of God.

Consequently, it is possible to welcome the Radical Orthodox critique of this 'Enlightenment' conception of reason, at least in so far as it calls for an extension of reason from 'above', as it were. Without doubt, the reconnecting of reason, in its discursive, ratiocinative, role with its foundation in the intuitiveness of 'intellect', the reconnecting of reasoning therefore with 'vision', restores to reason its capacity for an encounter with a 'transcendent otherness'; but in the hands of the Radical Orthodox it does so at a price, which is an excessive 'subalternation' of reason to faith - indeed, to a degree to which it becomes tempting to say that 'reason' as conceived of within certain writings of the Radical Orthodox school comes closer to the conception of Henry of Ghent than to that of Thomas.10 The 'space' which intellect opens up for reason is opened for it only by an 'Augustinian' illumination, by what Milbank calls 'a certain pre-ontological insistence of the ideal', an 'Augustinian a priori', without which 'reason' is 'innate[ly] deficient'.11 For Milbank and Pickstock, it is not merely that, were there not some participation of the human mind

11 There is a huge literature of controversy concerning the meaning of reason's 'innate deficiency' in respect of its own object. I do not propose to engage with these literatures.

Suffice it to say that concerning reason's 'innate deficiency' one has to ask by what in the divine self-understanding, then the human mind could not know its own proper, created, objects. Thomas indeed thought that, as we have seen. It is not enough for Milbank that, as Bonaventure thought, the human mind sees in a light which cannot itself be seen. The 'Augustini-anism' favoured by Milbank and Pickstock is more emphatic than that, and its emphases begin to reveal their sources in the 'nouvelle theologie' discussed in chapter one: the illumination which is in the human intellect is not just a necessary condition of human knowing, in that logical sense 'prior' to any act of reasoning in which the necessary condition of a thing must be satisfied if what it conditions is to obtain. This illumination is also, in an inchoate form at least, an object of our knowing, known prior to anything known by reason; our 'pre-ontological' experience of the 'ideal' is presupposed to any exercise of reason. Hence, as Milbank puts it, 'the only thing that authenticates perfection (and indeed, the only thing that defines it), must be some sort of experience of its actuality'.12 And that 'Augustinianism' goes far beyond any defended by Thomas, who says nothing at all, anywhere at all, about the human intellect's participation in the divine self-understanding involving any kind of experience of its actuality,13 not even of a 'pre-ontological' kind.14

This, in connection with the assessment of Thomas's 'five ways', must inevitably lead to a scepticism of their standing as proofs. For, as construed against the background of this Augustinianism, they would fail as standard is reason being said to be 'deficient'. If by the standard of what only faith can know, it is true but trivial to say that reason is deficient 'innately', just as it is true but trivial to say that sight is 'innately deficient' in respect of sound. But to say that reason is deficient by the standard of its own object is quite another thing, and is ambiguous. It might mean that reason's knowledge of God must end in apophatic darkness, which I not merely concede but argue for. If it means that reason cannot by its own power reach out to that apophatic darkness, cannot by its own powers know that it cannot comprehend God, but can know this only through the illumination of faith and grace, this I deny: indeed, it is the main purpose of this essay to show why it is false to say this.

12 Milbank and Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas, p. 29.

13 It would be extraordinarily odd if Thomas had made any such assertion without commenting on the very great difficulty which would be involved in determining in what sense the divine perfection could be the object of 'experience'. Of course, just because Thomas does not ever use the substantive 'experiential, or the adjectival form 'experi-mentativus', or any other Latin word which would normally be translated by the modern English 'experience' in any connection which has to do with our knowledge of God in via, it does not follow that Milbank could not be justified in using the modern English term 'experience' by way of exposition of Thomas's position. One would, however, expect a good deal of textual evidence in support of such an account. What is odd, therefore, is that Milbank gives us no explanation at all of the epistemology of his English 'experience', or any of what family of Latin terms in Thomas would be well served by such a translation into English. There is a startling deficiency of direct evidence that such translation does any sort of justice to Thomas's theological epistemology.

14 Whatever that can mean. Milbank does not explain.

proofs by a vicious circularity. Of course, there is no problem of circularity in that a person who on some grounds or other knows God to exist should also seek a rational proof of the existence of God - Thomas, after all, knows God exists before ever setting out to prove it, just as mathematicians who know that 2 + 2 = 4 can still see a reason for proving the theorem. A problem of circularity arises if a person should suppose that she is in possession of a proof of the existence of God some premise of which could be true only if the existence of God is in some way presupposed to it. But such would appear to be the position to which Milbank and Pickstock have reduced rational proof in Thomas. For if it is the case that some experience of the 'ideal' is presupposed to any exercise of reason, then at least implicitly the existence of God is 'given' in that experience of the ideal prior to reason's exercise. It would follow, therefore, that any supposedly a posteriori proof of the sort commonly ascribed to Aquinas would logically depend upon a prior experience of just that which it is supposed to prove. Thomas's 'five ways' would then turn out to be not proofs which are in any apodeictic sense constructed upon the experience of created imperfection entailing the conclusion that an ideal perfection exists, but theological extrapolations of a primary 'experience' of perfection, leaving room neither for the need for, nor for the possibility of, rational proof in any strict, formal, inferential, sense.

Moreover, as Milbank and Pickstock conceive of it, 'faith' in the proper, fully articulated, Christian sense is but an intensification of this intellectual vision 'along the same extension'.15 If one wants to understand Thomas's account of the relationship between faith and reason, then, as Milbank and Pickstock envisage it, it is on the territory of intellectus, where faith and reason meet, that that relationship is to be understood. For on their account 'reason', in the narrow sense of'ratiocination', depends for its functioning on that intellectual vision which is a participation in the divine self-understanding not other than, but experienced only in a lower degree of intensity than, faith itself. In turn, that faith 'deploys' reason, whose role as exercised by its own powers is reduced to the instrumental, however 'enhanced' that rational capacity is said to become through its subordination to faith. 'Reason alone', therefore, remains for Radical Orthodoxy a supposititious thing, an impossibility. Were 'reason alone' to be a possibility, it would be what 'reason alone' was for Kant: and a 'religion within the bounds of reason alone' would for Radical Orthodoxy therefore be nothing more than the contemptibly diminished Kantian concoction ofbourgeois moral praxes supposedly deduced from the moral teachings of Jesus.

15 Milbank and Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas, p. 21.

Of course, powerful as this 'Augustinian' influence is upon its theological epistemology, it is far from true that, in reaction to Enlightenment rationalism, Radical Orthodoxy has neglected human 'animality', or that it is driven by its 'Augustinian' and 'Platonist' impulses into a 'dualistic' spiritualisation of the human. On the contrary, one of the major contributions which Radical Orthodoxy has made to recent Christian theological debate is to exactly the opposite effect, namely to the re-carnalisation of theology and to important, if contentious, re-readings of both Plato and Augustine in anti-dualist terms - most effectively perhaps by Catherine Pickstock.16 On the other hand, Radical Orthodoxy does, it seems to me, depart from a fundamental principle of Thomas's anthropology in its restriction of the capacity of ratiocination to reach above itself - in so far as it allows reason no access of its own to the transcendent precisely as reason, as ratiocination; and so in its way it disallows, as much as Kant does, the possibility the defence of which is the main purpose of this essay: the possibility, that is, of a transcendent ratiocination, a proof which proves more than we can know and proves that we could not know it. But it also narrows the range of reason from 'below', in so far as, though like Thomas it allows full scope to human animality, unlike Thomas it cannot concede to this 'animality' any power to self-transcend in its own terms. If to be rational is, for Thomas, in all things to act as animals do, then should we not also say that human beings know God as animals may, that is to say, 'rationally'? But if so, from either point of view, whether from 'above' or from 'below', the Radical Orthodox appear to have cut the range of reason back in so far as reason's distinctively ratiocinative powers as such are confined within the narrow scope of a univocal ratiocination and to have lost touch with Thomas's central conception of the human, that to be human is to be a rational animal. It is little wonder, therefore, that Radical Orthodoxy remains as firmly set against any possibility of an a posteriori proof of the existence of God standing on rational ground alone as any Enlightenment atheist ever was, since Radical Orthodoxy shares with such atheists the same, attenuated, conception of reason, at any rate in its strictly ratiocinative capacity.

That being so, it seems central to my case for the rational demonstrab-ility of God that, both in principle and as a matter of the interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, a clear account can be given of how 'reason', in that narrow sense in which it is exercised in demonstrative argument, stands in relation to 'reason' in that wider sense in which human beings are said to exercise their rationality in all that they do as animals. For we

16 See Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy,

Oxford: Blackwell, 1998, pp. 27-32.

cannot understand what it is to be rational in either sense unless we can understand what it is to be rational in the other. But before setting about the task of more formally defining that relationship between the narrower and broader senses of rationality, we need to give closer attention to some of the ways in which rationality in that wider sense is deployed; and to do this we need to return to the matter, touched on in chapter three, of the 'uttering performance'.

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