Fides et Ratio

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27 February 2016

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When looking at the context of the Fides et Ratio, John Paul II expresses on “crisis of meaning” in contemporary society. Throughout this section John Paul II offers examples on how the crisis of meaning has emerged. John Paul II touches on “scientism” and “pragmatism” and how these have affected modern society and are believed to be steering individuals in the wrong direction. John Paul II also includes other non-religious or philosophical based attitudes toward the contemporary society. John Paul II seems to be expressing his thoughts towards the “crisis of meaning” in hope to regain focus from individuals on the value of religion in contemporary society. Although John Paul II raises many well thought out reasons supporting the idea that there is what he calls a “crisis of meaning” in modern society, Sigmund Freud’s theories of how humanities’ desire for meaning in life is actually just delaying the inevitable and compounding the struggles of life. The sooner people accept that in the end, everyone dies, and after that there is nothing, the sooner one can succeed without regret or worry, and the better society will be. “Crisis of meaning” is stated by John Paul II to be one of the most important attributes in the current state of our society around the world. Pope John Paul II believes that people in contemporary society are beginning to question if it still makes sense to know the meaning of one’s life.

When looking at “crisis of meaning” from a scientific perspective, the increase in knowledge on the subject makes the search for the meaning of life problematic. The amount of research and data introduced because of the increase in human knowledge in contemporary society has started to “compromise the fabric of life” (Fides et Ratio, #81). The display of theories that compete with one another, and how people view and interpret the world and human life serve to “aggravate the radical doubt” (Fides et Ratio) which than leads to scepticism, indifference and the rejection to religion and religious moral principles. Theories that were specifically developed to show an individual the answers to the big questions in human life are consequently invading the human spirit and offering different interpretations to the meaning of life. John Paul II states that a philosophical perspective that no longer expresses on the meaning of life would reduce importance of “accessory functions” (Fides et Ratio, #88) and take passion away from the search for the truth. Philosophy will have to regain focus on the “sapient dimension” in order to regain a sense of harmony with the word of God. If Philosophy conformed back to its natural ways it will would be a critical factor that discovers the foundation of “scientific learning” and would also join together human knowledge and action. Philosophy has the potential to create a path to a final goal of a better understanding of the meaning of life. John Paul II discusses that “sapient dimension” in philosophy is much more necessary in modern society because peoples technical capabilities are demanding a renewed understanding of ultimate values. John Paul II argues that “If this technology is not ordered to something greater than a merely utilitarian end, then it could soon prove inhuman and even become potential destroyer of the human race.” (Fides et Ratio, #81) This quote from Fides et Ratio by John Paul II expresses his thoughts on how technology has the power to prove inhuman and possibly ruin the human race. He believes that the word of God gives people an understanding of one’s destiny and the true meaning to life. Philosophy is invited to give reason to the natural impulse within everyone on the meaning of life. Another threat that John Paul II relates to the “crisis of meaning” is through “pragmatism” and “scientism”. John Paul II believes that “scientism” is another threat the “crisis of meaning” faces in contemporary society. “Scientism” only validates the forms of knowledge through factual sciences and will not accept knowledge based on religious beliefs. Scientism views religious and theological knowledge as fantasies and considers it to be meaningless.

“Positivism” and “neo-positivism” expressed the same idea in the past on the meaningless of religion and now has been revived through “scientism”. Due to technological progress and factual scientific research, science has now taken control of human life, as people have begun to believe that if something is technically or scientifically possible it then can be morally accepted. John Paul II also looks at “pragmatism” to be none the less as dangerous to the “crisis of meaning” as “scientism”. John Paul II defines “pragmatism” as, “An attitude of mind which, in making its choices, precludes theoretical considerations or judgements based on ethical principles.”(Fides et Ratio, #89) He believes that a particular action can be morally accepted if it is backed by a majority of votes by a parliament. John Paul II expresses that “scientism” and “pragmatism”, or both philosophical views that modern society is now trusting, are is causing this “crisis of meaning”. Pope John Paul II expresses what he sees to be a problem of “crisis of meaning” through ideas such as “scientism” and “pragmatism”. When examining John Paul II encyclical to the Bishops of Catholic Church it becomes obvious that the “crisis of meaning” is not a problem in modern society but only a positive development. People are now realizing that the meaning of life is not to be accepted by a God but to succeed in personal goals. When looking at modern society and religion it is evident that times have changed and the value of religion has slowly diminished. People in modern society are gaining a better understanding of life through “scientism” and the advancement of technology. The advancement of technology and human knowledge has begun to alter the thoughts and views people have on the meaning of life. John Paul II expresses that “scientism” is having a negative effect on modern society. “This leads to the impoverishment of human thought, which no longer addresses the ultimate problems which the human being, as the animal rationale, has pondered constantly from the beginning of time.”(Fides et Ratio, #81) In this quote he is stating that “scientism” is effecting how people are beginning to think and that people are being persuaded away from addressing the main problems in life. Rather than looking at this change in modern society negatively, this change has actually given people a more modern and realistic way of looking at life. Science is overpowering religious beliefs with its factual evidence challenging religion in many ways. Another point presented by John Paul II is the idea of “pragmatism”.

In modern society people are beginning to base their decisions upon ethical principles rather than religious beliefs. Individuals in modern society can distinguish between right and wrong and understand the practical way in dealing with situations rather than looking to religion to guide them in the right direction. The “crisis of meaning” stated by John Paul II is not a crisis but simply a positive adjustment within contemporary society. Sigmund Freud who was a well-known psychoanalyst developed a psychoanalytic theory on religion. He came up with the idea that people who believe in a God suffer from what he refers to as a childish neurosis in that they use religion as a way to cope with the fact that life has no meaning. He believed that the concept of religion was false. Freud believed that an individual’s life is meaningless and that people have a difficult time accepting that life does not a have an overarching meaning or purpose. In contemporary society people are beginning to believe, or accept that one’s life may not have a higher meaning. Freud argued that once one accepts that there is no greater meaning, it would be easier for them to set personal goals that can be achieved, allowing them to accomplish personal enlightenment. Even though, John Paul II raises many well thought out ideas and concepts that argue his belief of the problem “crisis of meaning”. Sigmund Freud believes that one’s life is meaningless and when a person can understand that, they can then begin looking at life in a more personal way without regret rather than looking to be accepted by a god. “Scientism” and “pragmatism” are both philosophical views that are allowing modern society to grasp a more realistic idea of life, instead of living life through a specific religion. John Paul II believes that philosophy is now leading society in the wrong direction, persuading people away from asking the ultimate questions in life. This however is not a negative in modern society it is simply a modernized way of looking at life and is leading society in the right direction.

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"Fides et Ratio" StudyScroll, Feb 27, 2016.

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StudyScroll. (2016). Fides et Ratio. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 2-Oct-2023]

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