Beware of the Handmaid Scorned

Andrew Chrucky

Published in APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy (Spring, 1995).

"Beware lest man cheat you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of man, according to the principles of the world, and not according to Christ." (St. Paul, Col. 2:8)

". . . human reason . . .[should] . . . esteem it the highest honor to be allowed to wait upon heavenly doctrines like a handmaid . . ." (Leo XIII, "Aeterni Patris," (1879), par. 8)

St. Augustine's book, The City of God, suggests the fundamental problem for the philosophy of a liberal education. The basic problem is that there are two cities which beckon our allegiance: the secular city and the city of God. The role of philosophy is to examine critically the arguments of the contending parties and to adjudicate between them. A denominational college, by its nature, proclaims its allegiance to the city of God; so the place of philosophy as adjudicator becomes a problem.

Recruiting Philosophers

Denominational colleges often -- though not always -- indicate in the American Philosophical Association's Jobs for Philosophers that they are recruiting philosophers "sympathetic to" or "supportive of" their view. For example, in the Oct. 1991 issue we find an exceptionally explicit announcement:

"Notre Dame is an equal opportunity Roman Catholic institution and seeks faculty who are supportive of its religious affiliation."

What does this mean? I am not sure. The wording is both vague and ambiguous. What is a Roman Catholic (educational) institution? I can think of at least three possibilities. The first is that the institution is owned and run by the Roman Catholic Church; the second is that the institution adheres to an explicit charter or constitution which is based on the teachings of the Roman Catholic religion; and the third is that the institution adheres to an implicit Roman Catholic religious "spirit." The wording of the advertisement does not explicitly state that a candidate be supportive of Notre Dame's Roman Catholic affiliation, but only of its religious affiliation. This opens up room for ambiguity. Is the intention that the candidate support the institution's religious affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church, its affiliation with the Roman Catholic religious faith or faiths (allowing for disputes about dogmas and practices), or simply the institutions generic affiliation with a religion?[1]

What about the meaning of the word `support'? This allows for several interpretations. There is room for interpreting this as including acts of omission or commission. Support by omission is doing nothing -- letting the status quo prevail. Support by commission is doing something to prevent the decline in the status quo, or doing something to elevate or improve the status quo.

Now, given my three readings of "Roman Catholic institution", my three readings of "religious affiliation," and my three readings of "support", there is a combination of at least twenty-seven readings of this advertisement. Although I don't think my interpretations are exhaustive, they suffice for the exposure of fog.

The narrowest reading, I think, is this. This institution is owned and run by the Roman Catholic Church, it is affiliated with the Roman Catholic religion, and it is desired by the institution that the candidate intends by acts of commission to improve the standing of the Roman Catholic religion.

The broadest reading of the advertisement, I think, is this. This institution has a Roman Catholic religious spirit, the institution is affiliated with a religion, and it is desired by the institution that the candidate intends by acts of omission to let the religious spirit prevail.

Religious Spirit

The phrase "religious affiliation," which I am now equating in my broadest reading to a "religious spirit," may be a dual matter of dogmas of faith and morals. And the concern expressed in the advertisement may be solely with dogmas of faith, or solely with moral dogmas. Although most likely the concern is with both. I will try to state which dogmas are likely at stake.[2]

Dogmas of Faith at Stake

What is at stake may be a candidate's allegiance or lack of allegiance to various articles of faith:
  1. God exists.
  2. Individual human souls exist.
  3. Human souls are destined for salvation or damnation.
  4. God created the universe out of nothing.
  5. Human souls are created by God after conception.
  6. All humans are born with original sin, except Mary and Jesus.
  7. Salvation is possible only through divine grace.
  8. There are three Persons in one God.
  9. Satan and angels exist.
  10. Grace is received through the seven sacraments.
  11. Man is a creature of free will.
  12. Outside the Church there is no salvation.
  13. The Pope is the infallible authority in matters of faith and morals.

An ideal candidate would, I take it, accept all of these in the order of precedence as given. However, most Christians would accept a majority of these. Thus, as far as the acceptance of dogmas of faith are concerned a Protestant would, I think, qualify as a candidate at Notre Dame; as would, I'm sure, a non-Christian who accepts (A), (B) and (C) -- even possibly someone who rejects (B) but accepts the existence of one universal soul. But anyone who professed skepticism about the existence of God, soul, and salvation would not, I suspect, be a fit candidate.

Moral Dogmas at Stake

For all I know, the advertisement may not be primarily concerned with dogmas of faith at all -- and everything I have written above may be of secondary relevance. The real point of the advertisement may be a concern with morals. Notre Dame may simply want to recruit faculty with a certain type of moral outlook. The nature of this moral outlook must be of a kind not forbidden by law, but yet sufficiently offensive to a Catholic institution to warrant a coded message in their recruitment advertisement.

What then are the moral principles and policies which are being safeguarded? Taking due note of the recent reaffirmation by Pope John Paul II in his "Veritatis Splendor" (Oct. 5, 1993) of Catholic moral principles, some of the controversial principles are:

About Morality:

  1. Morality is based on the natural law.
  2. The natural law is an expression of the eternal law.
  3. The eternal law is the will of God.
About Life and Death:
  1. Birth control can be practiced by the abstinence and the rhythm methods only.
  2. Contraceptives should not be made available.
  3. Governments should not engage is birth control policies.
  4. Artificial insemination is immoral.
  5. Abortion, unless it is necessary to save the life of the mother, is immoral, and should be illegal.
  6. Infanticide is unconditionally wrong.
  7. Suicide and euthanasia are always wrong.
About marriage:
  1. Celibate life is an ideal.
  2. Marriage, a sacrament, can exist only between a man and a woman as an indissoluble union.
  3. Women should be subject to their husbands as the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church.[3]
About sex:
  1. Sex outside marriage is a sin.
  2. Homosexuality and lesbianism are immoral perversions.[4]
  3. Masturbation (autoeroticism) is a sin.

It is sometimes said that truth is esteemed not for its own sake but for its pragmatic value of leading to right action. And if right action is the desideratum of tolerated beliefs, then, some would claim, even false beliefs can be tolerated for the sake of right action. If this is the actual (rather than the ideal) attitude taken in some colleges: "By their fruits ye shall know them," then the concern may not be primarily about a philosopher's metaphysics, but rather a concern about what the philosopher practices and advocates in terms of actions. If this is the actual attitude of some Catholic colleges -- possibly those run by Jesuits -- then they may be ready to tolerate even the total rejection of metaphysical dogma as long as the right practices are adhered to. But I doubt that this sort of attitude exists in a pure state.

Currently, the greatest quandary for a Catholic institution, it seems, is to discover that the school has hired an atheistic radical gender feminist lesbian, who is fighting a many-sided war against the patriarchy of society, academia, and Christianity; against a biological destiny to bear children; against traditional marriage; and against limitations to abortions, among other things.


Assuming that the implicit point of the advertisement is about acceptance or rejection of metaphysical and moral dogmas, the following combination of candidates suggests itself:
  1. Candidate is a Roman Catholic.[5]
  2. Candidate is a non-Catholic Christian.
  3. Candidate has a non-Christian religion.
  4. Candidate is a naturalist.[6]
  5. Candidate will argue for his own position.
  6. Candidate will not argue for his own position.
  7. Candidate will present arguments for positions he disagrees with.
  8. Candidate will not present arguments for positions he disagrees with.
  9. Candidate will critically examine the arguments for positions he disagrees with.
  10. Candidate will not critically examine the arguments for positions he disagrees with.
I take it the ideal candidate has the combination AEGI, followed by AEGJ, followed by AEH. The candidate least wanted from a perspective of the preservation of dogma would be DEGI. However from a perspective of philosophical pedagogy, it is the combination FH, regardless of A,B,C or D that is the worst.

Choosing Candidates

I don't know what the job market is like for Catholic or denominational colleges. I do know that the pool of priest-minister-philosophers is dwindling, and that more lay philosophers are filling these positions. Given that group A is hard to find, I suppose the next group B are almost as good, except that such philosophers, if they are BFGJ, are not likely to argue with either enthusiasm or conviction for Roman Catholic dogmas. Type C philosophers can surely be hired to teach something like logic, critical thinking, aesthetics, or even the history of philosophy -- though not metaphysics, the philosophy of religion, or ethics. But I do not think that denominational schools want types D. These types, if they are DEGI, may illustrate a point of logic by noting some fallacy in an argument for the existence of God, or dwell on the paradoxical character of religious mysteries. And if such philosophers teach the history of philosophy, they may select anti-religious philosophers, such as Ludwig Feuerbach, who want to change "the friends of God into the friends of man, believers into thinkers, worshippers into workers, candidates for the other world into students of this world, Christians, who on their own confession are half-criminal and half-angel, into men, whole men." These kind of philosophers are surely not wanted.

In fact, I suspect that no naturalistic or materialistic philosopher would be considered a proper candidate for the position at Notre Dame. Bertrand Russell, the author of, among very many books, Why I Am Not A Christian, would not qualify; nor would C.D. Broad, an emergent materialist; nor would Ernest Nagel or Sidney Hook; nor would Wilfrid Sellars or his father, Roy Wood Sellars, both materialists; nor James Cornman, another materialist; nor our contemporaries, the eliminative materialists Paul and Patricia Churchland; nor those incredibly prolific philosophers, Nicholas Rescher and Joseph Margolis; nor, to mention just a few more, Armstrong, Smart, Chisholm, Quine, or Davidson.

And it seems probable that no philosopher with a moral position contrary to some of the principles I have listed would be a fit candidate either.

The truth of the matter is that philosophy in Catholic and other denominational schools, as in medieval times, is expected to play the role of a handmaid to theology.

Real Candidates and Teachers

Looking at the situation from the job seeker's perspective, it is unfortunate that jobs in philosophy are difficult to get. So philosophers who have an allegiance to the secular city may accept positions in whatever institution will have them. Necessity and fear may work together in concealing their true allegiance as they teach at Catholic and other denominational schools. It is only with the attainment of tenure that they may come out of the metaphysical or moral closet -- but even then there are those woeful problems of promotion and pay increases! Such philosophers in Catholic and other denominational schools may teach peripheral courses or substantial courses in a non-committal manner. This may give the appearance to students that philosophy is involved with insoluble, trivial and useless issues.

Symptoms of Corruption of Philosophy

As illustration, I suspect that the presence of this sort of situation at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit college, brought forth an article by a student, Kevin Sullivan, in the school newspaper, Aquinas (Nov. 8, 1990), charging that philosophy courses are a waste of time and should not be required. He wrote,

"There is absolutely no reason, religious or academic, to require philosophy credits."

Argument against Philosophy in Catholic Colleges

A professor of theology at the University of Scranton, Fr. Orestes Coccia, followed suit (Aquinas, Sept. 16, 1991), in support of the student's thesis. His argument is enthymemic, but he appears to be arguing basically the following:
  • Pre-critical (pre-Kantian) philosophy (Thomism?) taught the truths about absolute reality and absolute values. ("Once philosophy gave students Absolutes, Ultimate Truth, answers to Ultimate Questions about God, Man and Nature.")
  • Critical philosophy (Kantianism) has replaced pre-critical philosophy. ("Now we have only 'critical' philosophy.") It is not clear whether the replacement is for Fr. Coccia a progression or a retrogression. In view of his answer to the question: "Does it [philosophy] play a vital role in Jesuit education?" His answer that "it never will again," could be construed as a pessimistic sociological prediction, or as a capitulation to critical philosophy. I take it as the latter in view of his remark: "It is professional incompetence for any philosophy teacher to pretend that critical pure reason can ever have access to reality as its objectivity ..."
  • Critical philosophy teaches skepticism about absolutes (cosmological and axiological). ("Critical thinking cannot conceptualize absolutes, cosmological or axiological . . .")
  • Richard Rorty has declared that academic (critical?) philosophy is bankrupt. ("Philosophy itself has declared academic bankruptcy in one of its leading representatives in America, Richard Rorty . . .")
  • Therefore, academic (critical) philosophy is bankrupt. ("The philosophy professor today has no content accountability whatsoever . . .")
  • Therefore, there is no longer a privileged place for philosophy in Catholic schools. ("They [philosophy professors] have neither religious nor academic right to this privileged position.")
I do not think the argument is sound because of invalidity and because of the presence of one or more false premises; and each of the premises is controversial.[7] But the critical examination of Coccia's argument is not what primarily concerns me here. What is to the point is the conception of the role of philosophy this expresses. Fr. Coccia is apparently not interested in rationality, as was, for example, Aquinas -- he is not interested in the process or vehicle of delivery, but in the nature of the delivered goods. His own goods have been delivered to him by faith -- so he is in possession of his cherished truths. As long as there was another transporter of the same goods, the handmaid, philosophy, she was tolerated. But now that he thinks the handmaid is not delivering the goods -- he scorns the handmaid.

Argument for Subordinating Philosophy to Theology

Peter Geach, the well known philosopher-logician, has a more non-sacrificial approach to the handmaid. He believes that the Catholic dogmas are true. Therefore any argument which gives a conclusion contrary or contradictory to a Catholic dogma is unsound. And it is the job of the philosopher or logician to find the error. Here are his words:

My manner of refuting the two-name theory will be to show that arguments that would be valid by the two-name theory lead from true premises to false and heretical conclusions: particularly in relation to the dogma of the Trinity and the Incarnation. This shows that the arguments in question are logically invalid, and therefore that the two-name theory is false. A refutation of this form does not, indeed, show just what is wrong with the two-name theory, but it does show that it is wrong, and wrong in an area where error is particularly to be avoided; and this may stimulate people to look out for fallacies in the theory that might otherwise go unsuspected."[8]
Compare this to the following passage from Leo XIII's "Aeterni Patris:"

". . . the Catholic philosopher will know that he violates at once faith and the laws of reason if he accepts any conclusion which he understands to be opposed to revealed doctrine." (# 9)

According to the views expressed, theology can require philosophy to do her service. The message is clear: Do not ask how theology is to satisfy your rationality; ask how rationality can satisfy your theology!

Symptoms Again

How does all this get translated into a student's perspective? Not fully conscious that educational institutions are grounded in economic and religio-political interests, the student accepts the myth of the university as a community of disinterested searchers after important truths. But at least one student at the University of Scranton became suspicious of the symptoms that manifest themselves when the handmaid who is charged with critically evaluating the mode of delivery of the most valued truths about God, soul, and salvation is being manipulated or intimidated to deliver either a cargo of preselected dogmas or a load of highfalutin trivia.

No Legal Objections:

My quarrel with advertisements for philosophers who are supportive of this or that is not that such advertisements are in some fashion legally unfair. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII (U.S.C.S 2000e-2e) exempts some educational institutions from equal employment opportunity requirements:

. . . (2) it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for a school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning to hire and employ employees of a particular religion if such school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning is, in whole or in substantial part, owned, supported, controlled, or managed by a particular religion or by a particular religious corporation, association, or society, or if the curriculum of such school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning is directed toward the propagation of a particular religion.[9]

The American Philosophical Association endorses this law in stating that

. . . the APA recognizes the special commitments and roles of institutions with a religious affiliation; and it is not inconsistent with the APA's position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school's religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community . . .[10]

Given the law, I would not find anything legally objectionable if Notre Dame, for example, had advertised:[11]

"Notre Dame is a Roman Catholic institution and seeks Roman Catholic philosophers (preferably Thomists) who will defend and advance Roman Catholic morality and dogmas."

It would be clear what Notre Dame is looking for; as it is clear to me what Fr. Coccia is looking for. In these instances their verdict is in about the dispute between the city of God and the secular city -- what they seek is a rationalization of the verdict. If the discipline called "philosophy" cannot provide the rationalization for the Catholic city of God, then, as Fr. Coccia believes, there is no room for philosophy at a Catholic institution.

Three Moral Objections

Despite the legality of Notre Dame's advertisement (and all other similar religiously discriminatory advertisements), I do have three moral objections to practices of recruiting defenders of dogmas -- be they religious or not.

The first, and most objectionable, is the stifling effect that forced or uncritical allegiance to dogma has on morals, science and philosophy. For example, when Christianity was in political control, it gave rise to the persecution of countless witches, heretics, and infidels; and it stifled the advance of science. The dogma of racial superiority led to Nazi atrocities, and the dogmas of dialectical materialism did as much to Soviet society as the Christian persecutions did to European society. The historical lesson is clear -- tolerate diversity of opinion, especially the criticism of dogmas of faith and morals![12]

The second objection is that an implicit defense of dogma may create hypocritical or self-deceiving policies. This should be an embarrassment to any institution which, on the one hand, claims to have in the department of philosophy a group of impartial judges, but yet, on the other hand, has selected them partially with a view to the verdict they will bring.

The third objection, which bears more directly on the practice and the teaching of philosophy, is that dictating the course of philosophy by dogma degrades philosophy. It fosters Geach's prescription for reasoning: Since dogma D is true, and the conclusion of argument A is incompatible with the dogma D, either the premises or the reasoning of argument A are at fault. Since, on this approach, Queen Dogma is always right, the Handmaid Philosophy, when in disagreement with the Queen, is always scornfully wrong![13]


[1] The word `religion' is a slippery accordion word. One should distinguish a generic concept of religion, delimited either by attitudinal characteristics or ritual practices; and a narrow sense of religion as theology (a set of dogmas). For attitudinal characteristics I have in mind Paul Tillich's notion of "ultimate concern" and Emile Durkheim's division of the universe into the sacred and the profane. [back]

[2] Some Catholics who read an earlier version of this paper objected to my preoccupation with dogmas in characterizing Catholicism. According to them, Vatican II has created a liberal spirit within Catholicism which allows even the contemplation of a Catholicism without theology. My reaction to this is exactly the one expressed by Brand Blanshard in the following passage:

I presented a paper that criticized the Catholic position on the ground of the inconsistencies just mentioned. The line of reply astonished me. The horse I was flogging was now disowned and dead. Popes and councils had indeed required of the faithful an acceptance of certain dogmas, and these requirements were still there on the Catholic books. But the popes and councils had exceeded their authority; they were philosophically and scientifically somewhat inept, and were certainly not representatitive of the new Catholicism. Instead of the church's being monolithic, as I had supposed, it was in fact a plurality of often conflicting schools of thought which were now, in spite of an unhappy tradition, at liberty to follow the argument where it led. This calm defiance of authority in the most authoritarian of the Christian churches took my breath away. If the Catholics I met at this session are typical of the new Catholicism, then the church of Vatican I, and indeed of Vatican II, is fast disintegrating, and my criticism would apply only to the traditional element within it. But the insurgents have not as yet captured the crest of Vatican Hill, and until they do, the critic of Catholic theology can only assume that what the church stands for is what its popes and councils say it does.

The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard, ed. P.A. Schilpp (Open Court, 1980), p. 180.[back]

[3] The rationale for this is that apparently women are a weaker sex -- physically, emotionally and intellectually. An elaborate theoretical defense for this is to be found in The Malleus Malleficarum (The Witch Hammer) of Heinrich Kramer and James Spenger (c. 1486), trans. Rev. Montague Summers (New York: Dover, 1971). These two Dominican authors were endowed with the powers of Inquisitors by Pope Innocent VIII on Dec. 9, 1484; and the Malleus served as a theoretical and practical manual for the Inquisition. The view of women this work expresses should draw the attention of all feminists. In trying to explain why there are more witches among women than men, they write:

" . . . since they [women] are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft. . . . Women are intellectually like children. . . . But the natural reason is that she [woman] is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations." (p. 44 )

As far as I am aware, the Catholic Church has been silent about this work in modern times. [back]

[4] Recent findings by Simon LeVay (Science, 1991) indicate that a genetic factor may be linked with homosexuality. See Simon LeVay, The Sexual Brain (MIT Press, 1993).[back]

[5] I take it that a necessary condition for being a Catholic is to accept the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.[back]

[6] If I had written that the candidate has no religion, the objection would probably be that the rejection of religion is an expression of something like "secular religion."[back]

[7] Although I find no fault with the first premise (i) as an expression of hope in absolutes, in the sense of "Archimedean fulcrums," invariants, or trans-temporal and trans-cultural constraints; many philosophers do. For example, Hilary Putnam has written: "Craving absoluteness leads to monism and monism is a bad outlook in every area of human life." Hilary Putnam, Realism with a Human Face (Harvard, 1990), p. 131).

About premise (iv), it suggests that Rorty has successfully argued that academic philosophy is bankrupt. But there are many philosophers who have argued that Rorty has not been successful. One of these critics is Putnam, who writes: "Rorty's view is just solipsism with a "we" instead of an "I." (p. ix). I have also criticized Rorty's view in my "Critique of Wilfrid Sellars' Materialism" (Ph.D. thesis, Fordham, 1990) as a form of Linguistic Idealism.

Even on the assumption that philosophy is bankrupt, this "insight" is a conclusion reached by philosophical inquiry. And if this truth of the bankruptcy of philosophy is worth knowing, then there is a place for philosophy in the academic establishment -- Catholic or non-Catholic -- to argue for this truth; possibly in order to demarcate the bounds of sense, and possibly to make room for theology.[back]

[8] Peter Geach, "Nominalism," Sophia 3 (1964): pp. 3-14; reprinted in Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Anthony Kenny (Anchor, 1969), p. 143.[back]

[9] Please take note of an article, "Hiring at Religious Colleges," Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 17, 1993, p. A30, Briefly, in 1989, Carol Edgerton complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that she was not hired by the Kamehameha Schools (an elementary and secondary school in Hawaii), which professes to be Protestant, because she is not a Protestant. Eventually, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District ruled that the school did not qualify for a religious exemption because it was found to have a "primarily secular rather than a primarily religious orientation." The evidence for this was that

  • the board of trustees was independent of any denomination,
  • there was little emphasis placed on Protestantism in the school policies, and
  • only one third of the student body was Protestant.
In Nov. 1993, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from this ruling. Some legal experts believe that this ruling may lead the EEOC to question hiring practices at schools which are not formally controlled by a religious organization. According to Mr. Philip J. Faccenda, vice-president and general counsel of Notre Dame, the University of Notre Dame is run by an independent governing board, and is not technically owned by the Catholic Church, although members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross have a "voting control"[?]. [back]

[10] Jobs for Philosophers, Oct. 19, 1993, p.1.[back]

[11] There may be religious non-discrimination requirements in order that an institution or some program within an institution be eligible to receive federal funds, such as contracts, grants, loans, or aid. [back]

[12] Tolerance of opinions is not something the Catholic Church favors. Pius IX wrote in the encyclical "Quanta Cura" (1870) the following:

From this totally false notion of social government, they fear not to uphold that erroneous opinion most pernicious to the Catholic Church, and to the salvation of souls, which was called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI (lately quoted) the insanity [deliramentum] (Encycl. 13 August, 1932): namely, "that the liberty of conscience and of worship is the peculiar (or inalienable) right of every man, which should be proclaimed by law, and that citizens have the right to all kinds of liberty, to be restrained by no law, whether ecclesiastical or civil, by which they may be enabled to manifest openly and publicly their ideas, by word of mouth, through the press, or by any other means."

in The Papal Encyclicals, ed. Anne Fremantle (New York: New American Library, 1956), p. 137.[back]

[13] Pope Leo XIII characterized and opposed my attitude quite accurately when he wrote:

"We know that there are some who, in their overestimate of the human faculties, maintain that as soon as man's intellect becomes subject to divine authority it falls from its native dignity and hampered by the yoke of this species of slavery, is much retarded and hindered in its progress toward the supreme truth and excellence."

("Aeterni Patris," #9)[back]