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Friday, January 26, 2007
The pope's phenomenologist
I'm not touching the debate between Chris and Evan with a 10-foot pole. However, the question about differing opinions as to the conflict or non-conflict between reason and faith reminded me that -- writing for Ideas, in April of 2003 -- I once interviewed a woman whom we dubbed (in the item's headline) "the pope's phenomenologist." It is difficult to imagine any field of inquiry less friendly to the claims of faith than phenomenology, but.... well, read about it yourself.
The item does not seem to exist online any longer, so here it is:
ON MARCH 22, Pope John Paul II took a break from his peacemaking efforts to meet with a delegation from the Hanover, N.H.-based World Phenomenology Institute. The Polish-born philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, the organization's president and an old friend of the pope from his days as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, presented him with a copy of the institute's new encyclopedia of "Phenomenology Worldwide." According to a Vatican press release, the pope thanked the group for "this important scientific contribution" -- and then went on to thank God for having allowed him "to participate in this fascinating undertaking."
Founded by the philosopher Edmund Husserl a century ago, phenomenology holds that direct intuitions of the world -- achieved through suspending, or "bracketing," every possible assumption one might have about the nature of objective reality -- form the only basis of truth. In the 1970s, Tymieniecka's close intellectual collaboration with Wojtyla resulted in the definitive, English-language edition of his phenomenology-inspired 1969 treatise "Osoba i Czyn" (The Acting Person), reportedly the source of many of the ideas developed in his later encyclicals. After he became pope in 1978, Vatican officials uncomfortable with Wojtyla's interest in modern, secular philosophy tried unsuccessfully to suppress the revised version of the book.
During her recent audience with him, Tymieniecka recounted to Ideas in a telephone interview, "The pope described phenomenology as 'an attitude of intellectual charity toward man and the world and, for the believer, toward God.' Although we may long to discover the true meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal, and social existence, we'll never do so until we've learned to view reality, and one another, without any prejudice or schematisms."