Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"the not numerous center" does not equal centrism

I have been accused of trading on a "conceit." I didn't mean to trade on any conceit, and I don't believe I did.  After all, the full quote I posted indicts people who self-describe as on the "right" for this: wanting to live in a world that no longer exists (not an appealing place of residence), just as it indicts those on the left for this: being captivated by one thing after another (not a serious way to live). In other words, the quote specifies what's supposedly wrong with the right and and what's supposedly wrong with the left.  To the extent those are not in fact characteristics of the right or of the left, then there's no relevant problem with being on the right or on the left.     

Nor did I trade on the rhetorical appeal of Aristotle's doctrine of virtue's being a mean.  This is because I did not say, as Steve says I did, that the truth is in the center.  I didn't say it!  I simply didn't say it!!

Longergan's "center," as those familiar with his work know, is not some splitting of the difference and merging in the middle.  But one doesn't have to be familiar with his work to know this.  As the quote itself makes quite clear, the "perhaps not numerous center" is those people who are "painstaking enough to work out one at a time the transitions to be made."  Such people, as those familiar with Longergan's work know, are performing the epistemic operations of which he gives an account in his book Insight (1958).  Longergan doesn't say that the truth is in the center!   

In the end, Longergan himself is a perfect instantiation of what he himself was talking about.  On some issues he came out on what we happen to describe as the "right," other times on the "left."  But it was always the questions that led, not the label of the anticipated answers.  Nor did Lonergan suspect that by following the questions to their answers we would know everything, let alone with (as the cliche has it) "absolute certainty." His notion of the "limited absolute," which is achieved when all relevant questions (not just the questions that happen to occur) are answered, meets the anticipated objection that those who belief true judgments are sometimes achieved are guilty of hubris.

As I said, I never said that the truth was in the center.  As Steve I think knows, the conclustions I reach in my own work aren't easily reducible to "right," "left," or "center."  This is in part because I've never imagined that one side had it all or even close to right.  I try to follow the questions where they lead, and, for my part, I don't suppose labeling the answers is a particularly constructive enterprise, though I could of course be wrong about the last point, as about so many others.  But I am right that I did not say that the truth is in the center.  I did say that I hope MOJ will be a center of the sort Longergan had mind, that is, a group that is "painstaking" in working out the answers to the hard questions we raise and should raise.


Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

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