Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fr. Sirico on Dario Antiseri and the Debate on Relativism

[The following was conveyed to me by a representative of Istituto Acton in Rome, regarding the recent debate on relativism prompted by Sando Magister’s blog on Dario Antiseri (Disputed Questions. A Catholic Philosopher Argues for Relativism, by Sandro Magister. L'Espresso Nov. 3, 2005)]:

Statement by Rev. Robert A. Sirico:

It appears that a number of friends associated with the Acton Institute in Italy have recently entered into a vigorous and interesting discussion about the various meanings of relativism. I thought it might be of use to your readers to have my own reflections on that matter as well.

One of the insights of the Austrian school of economics has been to clarify the subjective nature of prices in a market economy operating relatively freely, along with the critical information and economic coordination that result from such free prices. One need not look far to see the deleterious effects in societies that attempt to regulate or controls prices.

Such economic subjectivism, which is rightly utilitarian in nature, ought not, in my assessment, to be confused with moral norms (virtues) which are objective in their nature and morally binding on the conscience for all people by virtue of the common nature with which they are endowed in their creation - whether or not people recognize their origin in God.

This access to moral truth by use of reason, often referred to as the Natural Law, is predicated on the belief that the human mind is a normatively reliable tool of cognition. It does not follow, however, that reason is infallible, much less that an apprehension of moral truth justifies in principle the use of coercion to force others to conform to its demands. "Christian truth is not of this kind," the Second Vatican Council reminds us.

In his pre-conclave address, the then Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the threat of "a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."

There is considerable room for a genuine plurality of views and disagreement among faithful Roman Catholics. Nonetheless, my own view is to affirm the condemnation of relativism as defined by the Holy Father, a condemnation that echoes the statements of the Magisterium on this matter as found in authoritative teaching documents such as Evangelium Vitae (no.20, no.70) and Veritatis Splendor ( no.1, no.48, no.84, no.101, no.106, no.112), and which, in addition to such authoritative pronouncements, I also find intellectually compelling.

I also wish to add that, as a corporate body, the Acton Institute is not engaging in this debate about relativism and no views expressed by any of the participants should be regarded as the position of the Acton Institute.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico
President, Acton Institute


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