Ralph McInerny once said that, while it may be true that in most fields of study those
who've been recognized as masters have stood on the shoulders of their fathers, in
philosophy they've made it a habit of standing on their fathers' necks!
Thus we've witnessed many exits off the autobahn of common sense into all sorts of
epistemic cul-de-sacs, whether the platonic (rationalist-realist), kantian (rationalist-idealist),
aristotelian (empiricist-realist), humean (empiricist-idealist), analytic, existentialist and
pragmatist systems, categories, movements and schools, all with their various turns to the
subject, to experience or to history, or with their linguistic turns, hermeneutical turns
(interpretive) or critical turns (to praxis).
The way back onto the common sensical superhighway has always been marked by some
type of turn to community, where our fallible methods have always preceded our so-called
Where common sense is concerned, authority and tradition, like symmetry, parsimony,
facility, utility, elegance and other epistemic criteria, are weakly truth-indicative and not
robustly truth-conducive. Any normative impetus they enjoy comes from being intertwined
with other truth-indicative strands of our epistemic cable, where all strands mutually impart
& receive strength & resiliency from all the other strands.
@David, whom I suspect is my coreligionist? I was formed as a Roman Catholic. I responded
to a similar question a few days ago and I will paraphrase it here.
It may be that, in theory, the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) or "what has been
received & practiced by the faithful" is what guides the Teaching Office (magisterium) but it
seems pretty obvious to me that, in practice, this process has often been seriously flawed.
Apparently, and happily, this is less the case with the methodologies
employed in formulating & articulating social teachings even as it has clearly been the case
where certain church disciplines, liturgical practices and moral doctrines are concerned, in
Catholic social teaching has experienced three rather seismic shifts in methodology. In
Catholic social teaching, Charles Curran describes three methodological shifts in emphasis
from: 1) classicism to historical consciousness 2) natural law to personalism and 3) legalism
This methodological shift implicitly invites & fosters the collegial participation of lay experts
& commissions (iow, us anawim - of both genders, even), social & political scientists,
academic theologians and so on in a much broader & deeper consultative, active-listening
process. Read: turn to community.
The good news, then, is that the seeds of reform are there for the planting if only the church
could cross-pollinate its seminal social doctrine cultivars and plant and nurture them in the
furrows of its church discipline, liturgical practice & moral doctrine rows. This will require
pulling the weeds of patriarchalism, hierarchicalism, clericalism, sexism and so on from
those rows as has been done on some others. Or, to change metaphors, one has reason to
hope that the seismic shifts that have already taken place, to the edification of the faithful
and the world community writ large, will cause some tectonic reshuffling as their
aftershocks emanate out from that social teaching epicenter.
There are roles to play, then, in ongoing institutional reform and there are end-arounds,
too, via non-institutional vehicles (not mutually exclusive). Also, in some sense, it seems to
me that the hierarchicalism & clericalism is not just a top-down oppression but that it
reflects where so much of the laity (and clergy & religious) remain. We don't want to over-
identify THE church with either its institutional form or its clerical leadership but we cannot
deny that their re-formation and ongoing transformation would help advance the Kingdom,
it seems to me. A significant but marginalized minority continues to voice prophetic protest
and live in loyal dissent; others change denominations or employ non-institutional
vehicles.Whatever the case, a denomination is but a means and not the end, thank God.