April 26, 2011


A Guide for Those Unwilling to Know Themselves: a review of J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know (Fr. James V Schall, S.J., April 26, 2011, Ignatius Insight)

The modern notion that we postulate our own definition of what is good and what is evil is a disorder that in fact goes back to Genesis and the Fall. It claims that we make what is good and what is evil by our own wills and power. To make this latter claim means logically that we propose ourselves as gods. Then we try to create a better human world only to see our efforts deviate more and more from what it is to be human. Benedict XVI's encyclical Spe Salvi also spelled out this decline.

This world of reason was once understood but it is "lost" because of developments in modern philosophy and politics that presumably have replaced these classic principles with "new" ones. But, as Budziszewski shows, what ended up being lost was our understanding of ourselves and our proper place in the order of things.

Reality—what is—is filled with coherence. Nothing is more ordered than the human being's own structure, something Leon Kass showed quite clearly in The Hungry Soul. Budziszewski again goes over the evidence for design in the universe and in ourselves, evidence that has not gone away with modern science. Just the opposite, in fact. Budziszewski's observations correspond with those of Robert Spitzer in his New Cosmological Proofs for the Existence of God.

The book is filled with pertinent illustrations of the points that Budziszewski wants to make, from his own conversation with students, from his controversies with other scholars, and from what is available in the public order, where human disorder is more and more being legalized and enforced.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this book is not so much the "what we can't not know," something that C. S. Lewis had also made clear. Rather, it is the "furies," as Budziszewski calls them, the "what happens to us" individually and as a society when we reject what cannot be denied. Our souls are never left in peace.

In a sense, this book is a treatise on evil. Budziszewski cites Chesterton's observation that good may stay at a certain even level, but evil never does. It goes downhill, often rapidly, one step at a time.

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Posted by at April 26, 2011 6:27 AM

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