Spring 2013

On the Universality of the University: A Response to Jean-Luc Marion

D.C. Schindler

The crisis of the university is more generally a crisis of reason, a crisis to which John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et ratio (=FR) was in part a response. The encyclical’s assessment of the root causes of this crisis raises the question of whether Marion’s approach gets to the heart of the matter, or in fact reproduces in a different way the cause. As John Paul II puts it:

Sundered from [a truth which transcends them], individuals are at the mercy of caprice, and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic criteria based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all. It has happened therefore that reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned.4

In a way similar to Marion, the encyclical speaks of the “weight of so much knowledge” as a kind of obstacle. Instead of turning to the unknown, however, the encyclical points instead to being. John Paul suggests that, more fundamentally than discovering the limits of human reason, we need first to discover its positive relation to truth, and that this requires the recovery of a philosophy of being that has a “genuinely metaphysical range, capable . . . of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for truth.”5 In his own lecture, Marion ends with a reflection on truth, and the dependence of truth on love. What difference does it make, we ought to ask, whether we think of truth on the basis of a love, as it were, “without being,” or we think of truth instead in terms of a love that cannot dispense with being—whether we approach the problem of the catholicity of the university from an exclusively phenomenological perspective or from a more traditional metaphysical perspective? In the following, we will first consider three implications of an ontological sense of truth for the life of the university before turning at the end briefly to a direct comparison with Marion’s proposal.

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4. John Paul II, FR, 5.

5. Ibid., 83.