Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Am I thinking?

25 january 2009
Cogito, DCHerald

(I’d like to dedicate this article to the formators and seminarians of St. Francis Xavier College and Pre-College Seminary, who celebrates Philosophy Day, 28 January, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas with the theme: “Silence and the Dynamics of True Thinking”.)

At the outset, anybody could well surmise the importance of silence to the activity proper to human beings called thinking. The logic is simple: if I want to think truly, silence is indispensable. But not to everybody, one might object. For I know of people who are capable of studying their lessons or writing an article with headphones and sometimes the volume surpasses the threshold of their sense of hearing. Due to the limits of time and space, I shall focus my reflection on true thinking and leave the rest of the theme for other minds to think about.

Thinking is an ambivalent word that means a lot of things to different people. In ordinary language, it is used to refer to an act of acquiring knowledge or information (I knew it!), to express an opinion or belief (I think that idea is erroneous.), to articulate an interior state or condition, whether psychological or emotional (I am thinking of you all day.) or even to affirm a paradoxical state of mind (I think I am not thinking!).

Most of our ideas about what true thinking is turn out to be what it is not. In the first place, thinking is not imagination. The sentence I am thinking of you all day is nearer to imagination than to thinking. One day our professor in Philosophy of Language, to distinguish thinking from mere imagining, asked a classmate to think of the word “woman”. The young lad obeyed. Then the professor asked: “How does she look?” To which he answered: “Brunette!” The professor retorted: “You’re not thinking; you’re imagining!”

Secondly, we often consider gathering information as an act of thinking, especially when we store it in our memory. Thinking is more than just memorizing! The former is a process of finding relationships between ideas, analyzing them and forming judgments about them. The latter is simply arranging ideas in its order, although at times, one has to think a little why such order of ideas takes place. Strictly speaking, we could not reduce thinking to acts of memory.

True thinking occurs when the intellect enters in contact with its object and dialogues with it. The object of thought could well be provided by a direct contact with reality (sense perception) or by memory and imagination. It is an act by which the intellect not only forms a concept but also develops a judgment with regards to such concept and relates it with other concepts or judgments previously acquired, thus forming what we call arguments or reasoning.

Hence, thinking implies content. There’s no thinking without an object of thought. When we ask: “What are you thinking?” and the answer is “Nothing!” we know, for a fact that the answer is, strictly speaking, false. It simply means: “I don’t want you to know what I am thinking”. Thinking (about) “nothing” is impossible!

Now, St. Thomas Aquinas said: “The goodness of the will depends on reason” (S. Th. I-II, q. 19, a.3). And the will is what governs our actions. By logical reasoning, we could say that right and good actions proceed from right and good thinking. If we want to act well, first, we need to think well!

In the seminary, the study of philosophy is geared towards this objective: to think well in order to act well. Obviously, human beings are capable of thinking but it does not mean that all men and women know actually how to think well. We are born gifted with reason but not with its excellent exercise. From the potentiality to think to the actuality to think well, a step is necessary. That step is education and philosophy is its effective ally.

However, there is no necessary logical connection between thinking well and acting well. Good thoughts are not necessarily put into virtuous acts. Why? Because the will is weak. Hence, the study of philosophy aims not only the development of the intellect but also of the will. But this is not achieved through reading philosophy books. It is achieved through putting good ideas into action, so that the repetition of good acts could develop into a habit. A good habit is called virtue.

Thus, the study of philosophy helps us in the exercise of the faculties that distinguish us as beings “created in the image and likeness of God”: the intellect and the will. Philosophical studies stimulate the intellect to search for the truth, which, once found, is presented as good by the intellect to the will. The will moves itself, attracted towards the good presented by the intellect, and translates such movement into moral actions. Repetitive good acts leads to the perfection of these faculties, which Aristotle calls virtue. Coupled with God’s grace received through the Sacraments, this is what we call the “realization of God’s image and likeness in us”.
The realization of God’s image and likeness in us is nothing else but knowing and loving God, because God is Truth and Love. What we are saying is that we need to develop our intellect and will, because through these faculties, we come to know and to love God. And to know and to love God is the meaning of our existence. Heaven consists simply in knowing and loving God. True thinking therefore consists in this: that we know the truth and we put it into action. True thinking is contemplation and action. And what is its breeding ground? The atmosphere of silence!

No comments:

"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.