The concept of expanded reason

Faced with a positivist and relativist culture, Joseph Ratzinger and later Benedict XVI, makes note of the deep division of knowledge and the excessive specialization in the university field that leave out an overview that gives meaning to each specific science. Relativism, scientism and pragmatism leave no room for an integrative knowledge that covers the objects of study in an orderly way, preventing a priori the search for truth.

“The fundamental questions of man, how to live and how to die, cannot be excluded from the scope of rationality”

The Pope Emeritus manifested a constant concern for the positivist conception that denies a total vision of man and the recognition of his dignity, a view that denies a scientific statute to philosophy and theology, separating them completely from the world of science, which is reduced to mathematics and experimental verification.

As a result, Ratzinger returns to the need to have a broad and expanded view of reason, and its exercise in the search for truth and the answer to the fundamental questions about mankind and its destiny.

The use of reason, the so-called “expanded reason” and the search for truth in Ratzinger are found not so much in the scholarly articles that the pontiff emeritus has devoted to the question, as in its actual use, that is, in the way he himself has used reason to grasp reality; thus, it is a question of seeing how to use reason and see it in action. In the final analysis, it is a use of reason to which reality makes an appeal, that is, which leads to wonder and to certainty in knowledge.

The concept of reason has to widen to be able to encompass and explore aspects of reality that go beyond the purely empirical, and to achieve a harmonious synthesis of knowledge that integrate theology and philosophy to be able to understand reality respecting its metaphysical dimension. The fundamental questions of mankind, how to live and how to die, cannot be excluded from the realm of rationality.

Expanded Reason, is then that kind of reason which is open to knowing with certainty what surrounds it, escaping from the ideological and subjectivist restrictions that often impregnate the scope of knowledge.

“The concept of reason has to widen to be able to encompass and explore aspects of reality that go beyond the purely empirical”

It is a question of seeking a comprehensive knowledge, not only with regard to the quantity of knowledge, but also to the fullness and depth of what is known, granting each science the authority that corresponds to it in its scope and category, but without leaving aside the ultimate meaning, which gives meaning and unity to the specificity of each science.

In the positivist view, that which is not verifiable or “falsifiable” does not enter into the realm of reason in the strict sense. This understanding of reason is not one that corresponds or that is sufficient for the totality of the human person.

The concept of reason, on the other hand, has to “widen” to be able to explore and encompass aspects of reality that go beyond the purely empirical. This expanded reason allows for a more fruitful and complementary approach to the relationship between faith and reason. The birth of European universities was fostered by the conviction that faith and reason are meant to cooperate in the search for truth, respecting each one the nature and legitimate autonomy of the other, but working together harmoniously and creatively at the service of the realization of the human person in truth and love.

The university, in this perspective of expanded reason, must never lose sight of its particular vocation to be a “universitas”, in which the various disciplines, each in its own way, are seen as part of a larger “unum”. There is an urgent need to rediscover the unity of knowledge and to oppose the tendency towards fragmentation and lack of communicability. The effort to reconcile the impulse to specialization with the need to preserve the unity of knowledge.


Source: Address by Monsignor Federico Lombardi – Presentation Expanded Reason Awards in Madrid. September, 2016.