As Mortimer J. Adler observed in his 1940 article presented in New York City at a conference on science, philosophy, and religion, entitled “God and the Professors,” like the health and disease of the body, cultural health consists in organizational health, the harmonious functioning of its parts, and cultures die from lack of harmonious functioning of these same parts.
He added that “science, philosophy, and religion are certainly major parts of European culture; their distinction from one another as quite separate parts is certainly the most characteristic cultural achievement of modern times. But if they have not been properly distinguished, they cannot be properly related; and unless they are properly related, properly ordered to one another, cultural disorder, such as that of modern times, inevitably results.” In short, Adler was maintaining that, if we do not properly understand the natures of things and cultural institutions as organizational wholes, we cannot properly relate and unite them as complementary parts of a coherent cultural whole, or healthy cultural organization. This, however, is precisely the chief problem we have related to solving the decline of leadership within global civilization in our time. On a global scale, world leaders are losing an understanding of the natures of things as organizational wholes and of how to look to such an understanding to find principles by which rationally to solve organizational problems.
As Adler keenly observed decades ago, the chief cause of our cultural disorders today arises from common sense defects of our intellectual leaders, teachers, savants. “The disorder of modern culture,” Adler told us, “is a disorder in their minds, a disorder which manifests itself in the universities they have built, in the educational system they have devised, in the teaching they do, and which, through that teaching, perpetuates itself and spreads out in ever widening circles from generation to generation.”
Chiefly, this disorder resides in promotion for over a century by Western intellectual elites of anarchic modes of cultural thinking within the minds of contemporary college and university youth through persistent encouragement of blind belief in the sophistic claim that only physical science (mathematical physics) gives us valid knowledge of principles of organization existing within the physical universe or beyond. Apart from such “scientific truth,” supposedly no truth can be established about any happenings within or outside the physical universe. All such claims to truth become reduced to blind convictions, opinions emotionally held.
Were such a patently false claim true, since language development, politics, ethics, and religion are physical activities, only the modern physical scientist could know truth about these issues. Moreover, since only the physical scientist can know truth about physical reality (which is supposedly the only truth that exists) only the physical scientist, if anyone, could be held morally responsible for all contemporary world problems. Since knowing the truth and refusing to state it is a necessary condition for being able to tell a lie, only physical scientists, not politicians or men and women who cheat on their spouses, could tell lies.
Clearly, since knowledge of truths about language and of many other truths, including that of personal existence and the existence of all sorts of physical and cultural organizations, precedes possession of science, and since physical scientists are not the only human beings who can tell lies, contemporary scientific reductionism is intellectually absurd. Failing to understand the natures of things as organizational wholes having intrinsic principles of essential relation and development, we cannot properly understand the nature of religion and unite philosophy and science to religion to produce a healthy culture and civilization. Worse, our actions will be totally incapable of reflecting prudential judgment. For this reason, in his Politics, Aristotle chiefly defined a “barbarian” as someone who cannot think prudentially because he denies the existence of natures in things, because such a person has an essentially anarchic mind. The reason for this is that, by being incapable of recognizing principles (archai) in things, a person can never understand their natures, their intrinsic principles of organization, the organizational unity of their parts, their essential internal relationships, and can never anticipate beforehand how they will incline to act in the future. No wonder should exist about why the contemporary world suffers from a leadership deficit. Colleges and universities are the chief cultural institutions through which we produce organizational leaders. For over a century, however, on a global scale, these institutions have been fostering anarchic habits of thinking among organizational leaders and have inculcated within such leaders widespread acceptance of the claim that only mathematical physicists can understand the nature of organizations. Absent the skill of the mathematical physicist, the best that other “leaders” (like politicians, business professionals, and religious heads) can do to arrive at truth about organizational activity is to rely upon collectively-shared, emotionally-held opinions.
Following the lead of the major ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and the medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas Leadership International holds as an evident truth the existence within normally healthy adult human beings of a pre-philosophical, pre-scientific knowledge of principles rooted in mind-independent organizations, things, first known through sensation that make all subsequent human experience, sense wonder, and philosophy/science possible. Reflecting upon the common sense philosophy of organizational harmony of the ancient Greeks and St. Thomas, unlike some of our contemporaries who would diagnose the chief cause our contemporary problems to be a loss of faith, or adhering to the wrong politics, ALI considers the chief cause of most of our current cultural problems to reside chiefly, in a sense, in having lost our minds, not our faith, in an irrational refusal to admit at least two things, that most human beings are capable of understanding: that (1) things (natures, organizations) exist independently of the human mind; (2) these organizations (natures, things) have a chief organizational, or corporate, activity (an organizational aim or end) that all the parts of the organization cooperate harmoniously to realize and most human beings can know. Because, in a sense, we have lost our minds, not our faith, ALI maintains that we can only (1) culturally renew sound leadership in the West and the world by reuniting philosophy and science and science and wisdom and (2) we can only reunite philosophy and science and science and wisdom by reuniting the whole of human reason with principles of knowing initially derived from sense observation of sensible being. In this return to a common sense philosophy of organizational harmony similar to the one practiced by leading ancient Greek philosophers, we recognize as pre-existing any form of practical common sense experience or scientific knowledge, the existence of 4 evident and rationally irrefutable, sense-observational truths: (1) substantial wholes are composed of essentially relatable organizational parts (an organizational unity within a thing that constitutes a "truth in things”); (2) human knowing faculties of sense and intellect are reliable and can adequately apprehend the truth in things; (3) the analogous unity of truth exists among things and the human knowing faculties; (4) the way things act reflect, are signs of, a relationship of organizational wholeness existing among parts of a multitude, which possess this wholeness through unequal relation to each other through unequal relation to a leading part through which a common organizational aim is chiefly communicated to all the parts.
As any educated adult should know from common observational experience, precisely to acquire any art or science, a person must first to be able to establish an intellectual relationship with an imperfectly developed whole (like an incompletely healthy body, an incompletely perfected business, a somewhat impoverished person, dangers in voyages that only the skill of a pilot can remedy, or a block of marble that can become the Pietà or David at the hands of a master like a Michelangelo Buonarotti). An art or science grows out of a human habit to which a subject known relates, that the subject known helps generate and activate within a natural human knowing faculty. For example, even before it is a finished whole, the genius of a Michelangelo can imagine the way the parts of his statue exist within a suitable piece of marble just as a good medical doctor can imagine the way the parts of a diseased organ are unharmoniously related so as to generate the illness whose symptoms the physician has observed and seeks to correct.
Every art, science, or philosophical activity grows out of the experiential relationship between the specific habit of an artist, scientist, or philosopher and a known material or subject that activates the habit. Eliminate one of the essential parts of this relationship, and the activity can no longer exist. No such subject (such as somewhat sickly bodies) known, or no habit of medicine in a physician, no art of medicine. The relation between the artist or scientist and the artistic or scientific subject known generates the habit and act of art and science. The two are essentially connected. Eliminate one or the other extreme of the relationship and the artistic, scientific, or philosophical activity becomes destroyed. The above claim is universally true everywhere, for all time, for everyone. On an implicit level, most human beings know this. Wishing or hoping that it will not be true will not make it not true. No real enemies known to exist and no real military habits, and no military science, can exist for anyone.
Many self-professed modern philosophers generally deny the existence of human habits existing within a human subject. They also generally deny the existence of real natures, composite wholes, and real aims in things which human subjects can know. Many, even some contemporary physicists, deny the existence in physical reality of principles like potency and privation upon which the qualities of resistance and receptivity in matter upon which, in addition to the existence of other real qualities, contraries, relations, and organizations, Galileo Galilei’s new theory of motion and Albert Einstein’s teaching about general and special relativity essentially depend.
Even professed students of St. Thomas and other self-proclaimed sense realists, who admit the existence of human habits and real natures existing within facultatively-independent beings, tend to have no awareness of the essential connection that St. Thomas, Aristotle, and even Plato made between human habits and the subject known as constituting the essence of philosophy, or science, rightly understood. Instead, they tend to think of St. Thomas’s teaching, and classical sense realism in general, as a logical system and of philosophical principles chiefly as logical premises. As a result, pretty much no contemporary intellectual is able rationally to explain the nature of philosophy, art, or science as a humanly-produced act, by an individual or a group.
Nonetheless, when we praise someone for being scientific or artistic, we are not chiefly praising the fact that a person has scientific or artistic knowledge. We are chiefly praising the fact that this person has a personal quality capable of causing such exceptional knowledge, not the fact that the person, in some way, possesses it. If the knowledge is simply something someone has copied or stolen from someone else, or a bunch of purported “facts” that a person has memorized, that knowledge is not the product of art or science or chiefly worthy of praise. What makes it a product of art or science and chiefly worthy of praise is that an exceptional quality of soul has produced it. If science and philosophy are the highest achievements of the human mind, the highest forms of intellectual excellence, any person claiming to be a philosopher or scientist should be able to explain where science exists within a human being or group and how an individual scientist or group of scientists causes science to come to be. Being able to use mathematics to torture nature to reveal her secrets is no sign of possession of science. If it were, a cosmic terrorist or a fool could be a scientist: a model of excellence in human knowing. Even if it can torture the physical universe to reveal its secrets, no knowledge that knowingly separates itself from the pursuit of wisdom and perfection of the human person can possibly be science. It is foolishness or ignorance of some other sort.
Since the intellectual foundations of the whole of modern science and philosophy have never been rationally justified and are rationally unjustifiable, and since scientific reductionism is the chief source of the contemporary loss of an understanding of leadership, the contemporary world needs a new understanding of the nature of philosophy/science that can restore to the world a sound understanding of the nature of organizations and leadership. ALI chiefly exists to restore to the contemporary world such a philosophical understanding capable of, once again, producing world leaders possessed of habits of knowing how to solve problems by doing more than simply collectively agreeing about a course of action to take, collectively feeling that it is right: developing habits of prudential reasoning that look to the organizational composition of things and the personal capabilities of actors involved to justify the rationality of organizational activity.
A chief reason for St. Thomas’s organizational literary genius is that, making the appropriate changes, he used the same principles to organize his writings as he used to analyze the natures of things. As trendy as it may be to espouse chaos and quantum theory as a refutation of order in the universe, anyone schooled in the teachings of St. Thomas well understands that the orderly nature of the arguments of chaos and quantum theorists tells people of common sense that order is everywhere, from rocks to rockets to Rockettes to books about rocks, rockets, and Rockettes. Each of these ordered groups is composed of parts all working together to achieve a chief end or realize a common organizational activity. They have a generating cause and act in concert to reach their goal. The same is true of the human ability to know, judge, and reason to conclusions about the reality, both tangible and intangible, of which we are a part. Even a good argument for the essentially chaotic nature of everything has to be rationally coherent.
Precisely because organization is ubiquitous throughout reality, the intellectual habit that enhances the human potential to know, judge, and reason about real things and that bears Thomas’s name is analogically applicable to all organizations, not just to religious ones.
The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas that often goes by the name of “Thomism” is not chiefly a body of knowledge or logical system of ideas or collected aphorisms, or a life manual. It is a living habit of sensing, imagining, conceiving, judging, and reasoning about organizational wholes we encounter through our human knowing faculties. As such, it encourages adopting different specific habits of mind to changing subjects and circumstances. A living Thomism in the tradition of St. Thomas, a “Born-again Thomism,” does not provide easy, pat answers to life’s problem; but this intellectual habit gives rational, organizational structure about how to attack problems as parts of wider, comprehensive and comprehensible, wholes. Such a teaching is not chiefly mastered by memorizing the answers to questions given to provocative philosophical questions. It is a habit of mind acquired through intense study of the principles used by an organizational master and a comprehensive understanding of how to use them in different situations to answer philosophical questions related to different subjects that arise within any age.
As such an analogical habit of mind, because it is rooted in the common-sense observation that, to some extent, we know what we perceive, a Born-again Thomism tends to mitigate miscommunication, doubt, and similar organizational ills. When we see, smell, feel, taste, and hear that lobster, we do not doubt that we are in touch with the real thing. Like it or not, we know the lobster as an organizational whole different from other organizational wholes, with differing principles of unity, division, receptivity, and resistance. By fostering attention to the nature of things as organizational wholes having distinctive kinds of unity and division, receptivity and resistance, Thomistic common sense rationally grounds and greatly facilitates effective communication among, and integration of, the diverse parts of any organization. As such, application of the principles of such a living Thomism should prove to be a most effective tool for any organization desiring to improve its leadership and management capabilities.
Prepared by Peter A. Redpath on behalf of members of Aquinas Leadership International