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Monday, 23 April 2012

Revisiting Newman's Grammar of Assent

As one who has always mistrusted the emotions, I have relied on my good, scholastic training. However, we are all limited in our imaginations, pure or not so.

I have been  thinking about the way we all think. We use our reason, sadly, less and less, and one reason why I enjoyed teaching logic at the university level was that I could help students learn how to think. I did the same in a history of ideas course, and in other classes when I could implement the Socratic Method. Reasoning, or rational discourse, is a lost art.

We are come to decisions by intuition and the heart. Now, some people call intuition a gut feeling. We just know something is right or wrong, stupid or smart, sensible or foolish.


Some of us have more intuition than others. Some of us work on the rational level more easily and comfortably than others. But, what about thinking or decision making from the heart? This is more tricky. For a more scientific view of intuition, check this out.


In my generation, the good nuns told us that the emotions were like the caboose on the end of the train. The engine was our reasoning faculties, including spiritual knowledge, such as the teachings of the Church. The emotions were to be dragged along by reason, and would never be able to drive the train to safety, or to any place, for that matter. Reason pulled the emotions into order, not the other way around.

Intuition is a word which has been co-opted by the New Agers....and this is sad. Intuition may be closer to Newman's illative sense than to Deepak Chopra's New Age, relativistic, syncretic bases for intuition. Intuition could be like Newman's informal inference, or better yet, the illative sense, which, if informed by Faith and holiness, can bridge reason and assent, or conclusion. Newman's assent is important, as it involves a moral choice as well. I have re-started a study of The Grammar of Assent, which I put down many, many years ago. Now than ever, understanding our thought processes which lead to decision-making, especially with regard to religion and the conscience, seems more important than in previous years.

Aging hones one's priorities.

But, in matters of the heart, such as love, intuition may or may not be valid. Experience can help one decide on the reality of love or the nature of that love, but intuition may not help with decision making. Thankfully, we Christians have the virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude, the Four Cardinal Virtues, to help us out in making decisions.I thank the wiki writer for this quotation from St. Augustine found here.


For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it.


If one has a great sense of intuition, one must use the virtues to curb one's enthusiasm and passions. To follow the heart is a grave decision. If one has the Indwelling of the Trinity, is living in grace, one has the advantage of the Gifts of the Spirit as well in thinking, determining, deciding.... 


I found a reference to the Maltese Cross, noting that the four arms represent the Four Cardinal Virtues, and the eight points are the Eight Beatitudes. There are no coincidences in God..... Like climbing a long set of steps to find a church hidden in a side street, we need purpose, perseverance and direction. Sometimes that direction is in ourselves and in our life-time of experiences. Sometimes, we need wise friends. To Be Continued.

2 comments:

Nicole said...

Very nice post. I saw your comment to me on Fr. Z's blog post: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/04/democrat-candidates-in-connecticut-favor-forcing-catholic-hospitals-to-perform-abortions/#comment-336370

and decided to check you out again. I have read some of your blog posts in the past.

It looks like you have a nice blog and I plan to follow it.

Thanks for the suggestion.

ColdStanding said...

I am thankful to you for pointing out Newmann's G of A, and I am sorrowful at the depth of my ignorance.

No, I will not give in to despair! The owner of the vineyard called labourers to the task even late in the day.