Saturday, January 19, 2008

"to invite reason continually to take up the pursuit of truth"

Pope Benedict on Academic Freedom

The matter is one of giving the right form to human freedom, which is always freedom in reciprocal communion: law is the condition for freedom, not its antagonist. But here the question immediately arises: How can the criteria of justice be identified that make possible a freedom that is lived together, and that help man to become good?

At this point we need to jump back into the present: the question is how a juridical norm can be found that guarantees the ordering of freedom, human dignity, and human rights. This is the question that occupies us today in the democratic processes of opinion formation, and that at the same time fills us with anxiety over the future of humanity.

In my view, J├╝rgen Habermas expresses a vast consensus in current thought when he says that the legitimacy of a constitutional charter, as the precondition for legality, is derived from two sources: from the egalitarian political participation of all citizens, and from the reasonable manner in which political disagreements are resolved.

Concerning this "reasonable manner," he notes that this cannot be solely a struggle for an arithmetical majority, but that it must characterize itself as a "process of argumentation sensitive to the truth" (wahrheitssensibles Argumentationsverfahren). This is well said, but it is a very difficult thing to transform into political practice. The representatives of that public "process of argumentation" are – we know – predominantly the political parties as the agents for shaping political will. In fact, these will unfailingly aim above all at attaining majorities, and in this they will almost inevitably pay attention to interests that they promise to satisfy; but these are often special interests and do not truly serve everyone. Sensitivity to the truth is constantly overruled by sensitivity toward interests. I find significant the fact that Habermas speaks of sensitivity to truth as an element necessary in the process of political argumentation, thus reinserting the concept of truth into philosophical and political debate.

But then the question of Pilate becomes inevitable: What is truth? And how is it recognized? If for this one turns back to "public reason," as John Rawls does, the question arises once again: What is reasonable? How does a form of reason demonstrate itself as true? In any case, on the basis of this it becomes clear that in the search for the right to freedom, for truth, for just coexistence, attention must be paid to voices different from those of political parties and interest groups, without wanting to contest their importance in the least.

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