Cartesian dualism and magisterial interpretation

Cartesian dualism is one of the many false philosophies that is ubiquitous in our society. It is in practice (and that is the sense I’m addressing here) a tendency to focus on what must be going on in the privacy of others’ minds, rather than their actual words and deeds.

When interpreting the current Pope’s magisterium (or anything, but especially Francis), it’s important to avoid this. As head of the Church, the Pope has the right to be interpreted in accordance with Catholic tradition (and does not have the right to be interpreted otherwise). Interpreting the Pope to be espousing whatever heresies you imagine he must be adhering to, but which he has not actually expressed in his magisterial teachings (or at all) is spiritually dangerous and can lead to intentional disobedience to the magisterium.


18 thoughts on “Cartesian dualism and magisterial interpretation

  1. The Pope, like anyone else, has the right not to have his words twisted, even if the one doing the twisting supposes that his interpretation is “in accordance with Catholic tradition.”


  2. Well, you’re twisting my words here, which is at least a consistent behavior, since you promote twisting the Pope’s words “in accordance with Catholic tradition.” Presumably you have some other standard for twisting my words.

    Plainly enough: I have no ability to mindread anyone, and my interpretation of someone’s words is not necessarily correct. Nor did I say or imply either of those things.

    You should use common sense to interpret someone’s words, including the Pope’s. If you can’t do that, you can’t interpret anything in light of Catholic tradition either, since you won’t be able to understand the tradition in the first place, unless you can understand it by using your common sense.


    • I said that the Pope should be interpreted in accordance with Catholic Tradition. You implied this was twisting his words, presumably because you think any interpretation other than (what you believe to be) the Pope’s internal thoughts to be bad faith twisting.

      That’s exactly how I summarized your stated position. That you haven’t coherently followed it to its conclusion in your mind doesn’t change what you said.


  3. “Presumably because you think any interpretation other than (what you believe to be) the Pope’s internal thoughts to be bad faith twisting.”

    Presuming this is a bad idea, because I do not think that. I do not think that someone is automatically engaging in bad faith twisting if they disagree with me about the meaning of the Pope’s words. Nor do I think in fact that Pope Francis necessarily disagree with Catholic tradition (as you seem to be assuming that I think.)

    But I do think that these are two different questions:

    (1) What did the Pope mean to say?
    (2) What reading of the Pope’s words is most consistent with Catholic tradition?

    These are two different questions, and in principle their answers might differ.

    They might also happen to have the same answer. But that is not necessarily the case, so if someone asks you (1), you should attempt to respond to (1) as well as you can. If someone asks you (2), you should attempt to respond to (2) as well as you can. If it so happens that the answers are the same, fine.

    But if someone asks you (1), and you give him your answer to (2) instead, as though it were the answer to (1), without caring whether or not he actually intended that meaning, you are indeed engaging in bad faith twisting.


  4. You certainly appear to believe that you can mind-read me, which is inconsistent with your last comment.

    But more to the point, we can’t and don’t mind-read people. But we can use common sense to determine what they are trying to say, and we do it all the time, in the real world, and for everyone, including the Pope.


    • You’re still stuck in the dualistic error. Here’s an example.

      Suppose Bob says “A is bigger than B … Y is bigger than Z”. If Sam says “Bob said A is bigger than Z”, this is qualitatively true. It doesn’t matter is Bob has worked out in his own mind that that follows from his comment or not, that is in fact what he said. This isn’t mind-reading, it’s just reading.

      Now if John says “Bob must believe that Z is bigger than A”, then we get into mind-reading.


  5. Who did you say is committing the dualistic error? You said above, “presumably because you think any interpretation…” Now I do not think what you said I think, and that sounds a lot like “Bob must believe…” So you seem to be the one getting into mind-reading, even according to your own description of it.

    But in any case, in your example, Bob did not say that A is bigger than Z. That is a conclusion that Sam drew, and Sam may be mistaken, because “bigger” has more than one meaning. If one of Bob’s statements was “God is bigger than your petty goals,” and one of Bob’s statements was “horses are bigger than cats,” then all of his statements may be true, but A still might be smaller than Z.

    And in any case, no statement has a meaning apart from its context. And by context, I really mean context, namely the entire situation in which that statement exists. For example, in this sentence, part of the context is that the sentence is being made as part of an English conversation. If the English language did not exist, these sentences would be meaningless. And you have to use your common sense, looking at the context, to understand both the sentence and the intention of the speaker. So the distinction between “reading” and “mind-reading” as you seem to be drawing it is completely invalid; saying “that’s just what he said,” is already talking about his intention, since if he had no intention at all, his words would have been meaningless.


  6. The context of magisterial documents produced by the Pope is the whole of Catholic Tradition. You seem to be using “context” as shorthand for “what the Pope must be meaning”.

    P.S. If a bot (which is mindless and thus incapable of forming intent) were to read this and post “Cartesian dualism is stupid” (for example), the meaning would still be “Cartesian dualism is stupid”. The English language isn’t dependent on the mind of the speaker.


  7. That is not the only context for what the Pope says. His own remarks about it, e.g. in this case, what he said it about it himself, and his pointing to Cardinal Schönborn’s presentation, are also part of the context.

    The meaning of the English language does partly depend on the speaker. If it did not depend on speakers, it would not depend on anything, since it is evidently human beings who decide the meaning of words. In your example, “Cartesian dualism,” in its normal sense, refers to the claim that soul and body are separate substances. In this context, you are using it for something quite different. If I did not pay attention to the context — i.e. following your methods — I would assume that you are speaking of the claim that soul and body are two substances, but that is not in fact your meaning.

    It is true that you cannot change the meaning of anything into any random statement, e.g. you cannot make “the house is red” mean that “grass is green.” But you have the power to determine whether you mean that every part of the house is red, or just most of it, or whatever. And other people will have to use context to know which one you mean.


  8. Note that someone could also mean that the interior of the house, and its furniture, are red, and that would be a valid meaning of the expression “the house is red,” just as this is the kind of meaning it has when you say, “the house is cluttered.” And if he meant that, he would mean that regardless of the color of the outside of the house. Likewise, he could be speaking of some borderline color that 60% of people call red, but 40% of people don’t.

    Since I can’t read your mind, I don’t know what you meant by “is a lot more pertinent.” In fact, by your standard, your statement is meaningless, since pertinence is a relation to something, and you did not mention to what it was pertinent. But by my standard, you meant something, “inside your head”, but I don’t know what it was.

    You may have meant that the color of the house is more pertinent to the meaning of “the house is red” than the person’s intention who said the words. But a statement does not change necessarily its meaning in order to correspond to the truth. As I said, if someone wanted to comment on the interior color of the house, the external color would not be relevant to the meaning of his statement. What would matter are his words and his intention. And these are always what matter, and we need to look at both, using common sense, not mind reading.


    • If some reasonable interpretation of the phrase “the house is red” is true, then I don’t care about his subjective intention. If no reasonable interpretation of that phrase is true, then again I don’t care about his intention.


  9. That’s fine as far as knowing about the house is concerned. It’s not fine for talking to someone, since if you repeatedly interpret them to be saying something different from what they’re actually saying, they will (rightly) come to think that you do not know how to listen to someone.


    • If you repeatedly interpret someone to be telling lies about things (e.g. the color of a house), when it’s entirely possible to give their statements a truthful interpretation, then there’s probably something wrong with your epistemic system.


  10. I certainly agree that you should try to see how things that someone says could be true. But it still matters which one they actually meant, and which one they didn’t, at least if you want to communicate with people. Additionally, the context may indicate in some cases that the person intended to say something which is actually untrue, despite the fact that it’s possible to interpret it as saying something true.


  11. If someone is consistently telling people things that can reasonably be interpreted as true, there’s no need to engage in rash judgement (engage in speculation about if they “really” have false meanings).


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