To make positivity an absolute… makes not only enquiry about God, but enquiry about man and reality in general quite impossible… We are facing… a fundamental crisis in reality in general, and the displacement of theology is but the most concrete expression of the fundamental dilemma of existence into which we have been precipitated by the triumphant advance of positivistic thought.
Faith and the Future, 70-71
Reflection – By positivity, Ratzinger is not referring to having a positive mental attitude. Logical positivism is the philosophical system which reduces intelligible reality to two things: immediate sensory experience and scientifically verifiable data. Everything else is nonsense, literally meaningless.
Ratzinger points out here that the positivistic stance, if taken as the only possible way to think about the world, eliminates a lot more from the field than just God. We cannot directly observe or scientifically demonstrate answers to a whole host of questions that most people consider significant. What is human life for? What do we owe to one another? What is the meaning of love? Is lifelong commitment possible, or desirable for human beings? What is happiness?
None of these questions can be either raised or answered in a strictly positivist system, and attempts to do so are generally embarrassingly shallow or covertly import non-empirical, non-verifiable data into the equation.
Without a concept of human reason that allows for more than positivist methods, these questions fall to the sphere of emotion, of sentimentality. What do I feel is important?
But this fails, too. We know, when we ask what human life is for, that we are not asking ‘what do I feel about being human?’ And the same holds true for the other questions. We are asking about something real, solid, substantial, not a mere changing emotion.Ratzinger has consistently and firmly called for a reclaiming of a broader concept of reason. There is no logical reason to limit reason to the positive. There is no empirical evidence for empiricism, no scientific test proving the truth of scientific positivism. The consequences of this historical irony-the acceptance of a theory of knowledge that contradicts its own premises-are to render the deepest concerns of human beings incoherent and unintelligible. Ratzinger has dedicated his life, in some measure, to a reclaiming of the fullness of human reason, within which the truth of life can be known and embraced.