Will, Reason, Hope. Which Comes First?

By S.E. Mons. Giampaolo Crepaldi

Which comes first in the approach people adopt in social life: will, reason or hope?

This primacy of the will over reason is proper to both totalitarianism and relativist democracy. 

Nowadays we see a vast range of wishes demanding to be transformed automatically into rights. This is tantamount to saying that the will comes first and reason just has to adapt. The will establishes the ends and reason deals with nothing more than the means. This primacy of the will over reason is proper to both totalitarianism and relativist democracy. As a matter of fact, this is what these two systems share in common. This is what John Paul II wanted to say when on numerous occasions he laid bare the premises of totalitarianism and said that when democracy also espouses such premises it can drift in an evident or deceitful way towards forms of totalitarianism.

Present in totalitarianism is the will on the part of someone to determine truth and good, exactly as in agnostic democracies. Nor can it be said that if the will is expressed by many instead of by one person the situation might change in a radical manner. No matter how you look at it, we are dealing with the primacy of the will.

If we begin from the will and not from reason, the common good may be understood only as the satisfaction of the largest possible number of individual wills. The sacrifice of minorities or individuals thereby becomes inevitable. Then again, if the common good is understood merely as respect for each individual will, for all wills, society becomes an anarchical co-existence of conflict-prone subjects.

In order for a minority (or an individual) not to be sacrificed to the majority, it is necessary for there to be absolute moral values (non negotiable) that protect the minority, the individual.

In conclusion, if the will is absolutized, waging will be an outright war of all against all, and if an effort is made to limit the exercise of the will with a few doses of reason, the minority is sacrificed on the altar of the majority.

The only thing left is to contemplate the priority of reason over the will. In order for a minority (or an individual) not to be sacrificed to the majority, it is necessary for there to be absolute moral values (non negotiable) that protect the minority, the individual. In other words, necessary is the priority of reason. Wills become legitimate 'within' reason and not 'against' reason. Only in this way is the common good not in conflict with the good of each person.

Reason is not able to stand ahead of the will and guide it if it does not have something before it, something attracting it, something pushing it ahead: hope.

This, however, brings us to the crux of the matter. Is reason truly able to guide the will only by placing trust in itself? The encyclical Spe Salvi doesn't seem to think so. Reason is not able to stand ahead of the will and guide it if it does not have something before it, something attracting it, something pushing it ahead: hope. "Only thus does reason become truly human. It becomes human only if it is capable of directing the will along the right path, and it is capable of this only if it looks beyond itself" (Spe Salvi, n. 23). Otherwise reason will not find the "force of the heart" to look beyond and will fall back on the will. Here do we see the full importance of the public meaning of Christian hope.

S.E. Mons. Giampaolo Crepaldi is president of the Cardinal Van Thuan International Observatory for the Social Doctrine of the Church.



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