Monday 19 April 2010
Are we being modern, postmodern or premodern when we seek to recover and integrate the "lost wisdom" of the ancient world within the contemporary university? In discussing the point among the faculty of the University of St Thomas in Houston after the Earth Day lecture recently, we came up with the term "transmodern". It contains echoes of the "transcendent", and the prefix trans- suggests we are looking "across" the modern world, as well as beyond it, to find the elements of our synthesis. The goal is not to impose a Catholic or theological vision on all the disciplines, but to foster a deeper conversation within and between disciplines against a theological "horizon". That is, theology serves as a placeholder for the truth that lies beyond all of us.
We need in each case to seek within our own discipline for the direction in which truth lies, even if we never lay hold of it entirely. To give up the search or aspiration for truth would be to abdicate our reason. As McIntyre argues in God, Philosophy, Universities, there has to be the "conception of a whole to which each discipline contributes as a part" and towards which it is reaching by its own methods. It is in the search that we will find some convergence with other disciplines, or some opening towards them, some basis for conversation. And it is when we assume that we have attained all important truth within our own field, or alternatively when we have decided that truth is unobtainable, that we become closed off to one another. At that point the university (like the universe) fragments into a myriad shards.
Once again I want to recommend the Pope's lecture to La Sapienza University, before talking next time about some practicalities that came up during our discussion in Houston.