Fr. Cornelio Fabro, Metaphysics, Philosophy

Fr. Cornelio Fabro on the Problem of Modern Philosophy

Cornelio on Truth“A life devoted to thought is always arduous. In our day, however, philosophical reflection meets with almost insurmountable difficulties; indeed, the very role of philosophy is in crisis. The prodigious and unbounded development of science and technology, which bids fair to change the shape of world and the structure of nations, would appear to quite overshadow the relatively insignificant and even vacuous role of philosophy. In his activity in shaping our contemporary world, man has turned outward so totally that he has lost sight altogether of the meaning of this ‘self’ and left it a locus vacuus.

The Problem of Immanence

 What we are passing though is not an ordinary kind of crisis such as can be observed in every cultural or scientific leap forward, but an essential crisis of thought itself. This has been evolving during the three centuries since Descartes set as the beginning or ‘absolute starting point’ the bare cogito or consciousness as a capacity devoid of all content. Since then, in the ebb and flow of contradictory systems, every manner of expedient for filling that capacity has been tried and proven useless. Philosophy today has what it deserves, namely, triviality and vacuity; it is unable to bring man into contact with the real and reunite him to the origin of his essential logos where he might again catch the spirit that was his at the dawn of history.

The specific and primary task of philosophy is indeed, as Heidegger constantly admonished, to go back to the foundation. It must discover and establish the original insight of reason; it must make the first affirmation of truth that is presence to being, the locus primus able to accommodate every quest for truth. The cause of the total failure of philosophy to contribute to the contemporary needs of the spirit lies in this total collapse of the philosophy that gave up the real for the possible and forgot being in favor of essence. Yet the need for philosophy has never been more acute or more burning than it is today and the calls for its contribution are therefore becoming more insistent. We are fumbling for the roots of that tree of science which is spreading its branches over the world without rule or measure. We are in need of a universal grammar of truth, in order to find our way out of this endless and continuous babel of tongues and semantics. This kaleidoscope of multiple horizons for reality forces one to ask in accord with Heidegger’s stern admonition, ‘What is the nature of being?’ What does it mean to possess reality and truth, and how is the constitutive relationship between thought and essence to be understood? That is to say, what happens to a man when he thinks; how does thought happen to man; or what does it mean for a man to think?

In the present decadence of philosophy, what gives us ‘something more to think about’…is that after the final development of the cogito we in contemporary philosophy still ‘do not think’; we no longer know what thinking means. It is a mysterious nemesis of modern thought, which had wanted to begin with the cogito or thinking about thinking, that it now admits that it does not know how to explain what thinking is. What is more, it rejects as an illusion even the hope of being able to succeed in such an explanation, because thinking is exhausted without remainder at the point of being actualized. This is the ‘final word of philosophy’ when it abandons man to the waves of time, without purpose and without hope.

These considerations are anything but abstract; indeed, they are the most concrete that can be imagined. All other specific objects of thoughts, such as how to demonstrate a theorem or work out a project, are less concrete, since concreteness is constituted by the capacity for presenting consciousness with some basis for action, for ‘creating a situation.’ The primary ‘positionality’ of the reality, however, is given first by thought in the actuality of its presence. This is then extended to various thoughts and different modes of thinking. Thought in its primordial act is the original ‘situant’ in the confrontation with reality as such. This enables the particular thought, whatever it may be, to position itself variously in relation to the varying horizons of the real. Therefore, thought in its initial positioning and actualization with respect to reality, far from being an empty abstraction, constitutes the prius and absolute starting point.”

– Fr. Cornelio Fabro C.S.S., Philosophy and Thomism Today

 

– Lucas G. Westman


*Selected Works of Cornelio Fabro, Volume I: Selected Articles on Metaphysics and Participation

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4 thoughts on “Fr. Cornelio Fabro on the Problem of Modern Philosophy

  1. Jim Given says:

    Fr. Fabro claims, ” The cause of the total failure of philosophy to contribute to the contemporary needs of the spirit lies in this total collapse of the philosophy that gave up the real for the possible and forgot being in favor of essence”.

    Western popular culture and Big Science do move in the same direction. They gave up the real for the possible? Sure. But the second dichotomy moves in the opposite direction. What we forsook being for was definitely not essence. Better to frame the consensus narrative by saying that at higher energetic states, essence sublimes into pure energy or possibility.

    True, modern science gives the possibility for a grounding of Essential Form that the ancients could only dream of. Electrons, molecules, genomes, and species all exemplify “essence”: elaborately articulated, carefully defined structures that are each characterized by universal law; and are invariant in appearance. But society drives science toward the acknowledgement of all possibilities, and away from giving authority to any limitation or boundary that is imposed by Nature; and thus not subject to regulation.

    The concept of “thought” that the author discusses in his final paragraph is essentially Idealist and kinetic. Thought has become a sort of homunculus, perhaps an avatar; Thought (not the human being thinking it) finds Itself in an abstract Situation constituted (inevitably) by vast possibility. Why does the author decry Descartes’ influence, and then begin philosophizing with the nature of thought, framed in its own terms?

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    • “Why does the author decry Descartes’ influence, and then begin philosophizing with the nature of thought, framed in its own terms?”

      I think you are presuming too much in this statement.

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  2. Jim Given says:

    Lucas,
    Perhaps I am wrong here. The last lines you quote are:
    “The primary ‘positionality’ of the reality, however, is given first by thought in the actuality of its presence. This is then extended to various thoughts and different modes of thinking. Thought in its primordial act is the original ‘situant’ in the confrontation with reality as such. This enables the particular thought, whatever it may be, to position itself variously in relation to the varying horizons of the real. Therefore, thought in its initial positioning and actualization with respect to reality, far from being an empty abstraction, constitutes the prius and absolute starting point.”

    This certainly does sound like a Critical Realist, i.e., an Idealist, starting point, does it not? I think this was Etienne Gilson’s view of participationism.

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