Prof. Orysya Bila, director of the Philosophy Department of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) and herself an UCU graduate, gave an interview for “The Ukrainians” website. Translated excerpts follow.
[The Ukrainians] Is it possible to say that one of the tasks of a university, on the one hand, is to produce knowledge and, on the other, to explain its limits?
[O.B.] Yes, a French historian of science of the last century, Georges Canguilhem… considered that the system of scientific views becomes a problem when it is transformed into a way to look at the world. I agree with that thesis. One of the big problems of the world today is that we fall under the charms of science and it seems to us that scientific understanding can explain everything.
Not everyone understands the limitations of science, and so it is transformed into a kind of ideology, a way to explain the world which truly is fairly far from that, in order to offer a comprehensive map of reality. The problem is that any type of worldview which radically believes in itself has, finally, a tendency to lead to dangerous practices. The most striking example of an ideology which goes to its limits today is religious fanaticism and scientistic (not scientific) fanaticism, which is becoming a new faith in a “beautiful new world.”
I observe similar tendencies in western universities and it’s interesting that total faith in science happens not so much among scientists themselves as among people who enjoy the benefits of scientific achievements. We see that science is transforming the world, as it improves our lives. This is an indisputable fact. Today’s Europeans, let’s say, live longer thanks to achievements in the field of medicine. All the conveniences that we have today, from the steam engine to the Internet, are all achievements of the last 150 years. There is even a conjecture that the scientific achievements of Europeans between 1810 and 1900 in total exceed the achievements of all previous civilization. This all only strengthens faith in science which, however, cannot become a universal response to all humanity’s questions.
Any knowledge has its own limitations, and an inability to see that creates these ruinous ideologies. So, the task of universities, among other things, is to offer the young person a maximally balanced look at scientific knowledge, to learn a critical approach to any conclusions and what would seem to be “indisputable facts.”
[The Ukrainians] Are faculties of Philosophy and Theology necessary at universities, which, it seems, teach ideologies rather than applied things?
[O.B.] I often hear from very educated people that Theology is not a “science,” because it has no applied meaning. It doesn’t transform the world. That it is, rather, a form of ideology or simply a world view. Truly, the term “ideology” has various meanings, and we can thank Marxism for its use in a negative sense. Marxism treated ideology as a form of class consciousness which opposes other (false) forms of social consciousness.
It is true that Theology, in a wide sense, is also ideological, as a system of concepts about the world and its place in this as inherent to absolutely all people. However, it is not worthwhile simplifying it into a system of religious norms or forms of false consciousness. Religion is a fairly complicated phenomenon, closely connected not only with concepts about the supernatural but with our “compasses” in the world, values, concepts about the goal and meaning of human life.
What is the grounds of our faith in the inviolability of the human right to life? No science of those which are “transforming” the world can give an answer to this question. But if a question like this disappears from our worldview “compasses,” we risk becoming simply a means for the improvement of the lives of others. We can’t allow this. History already knows such instances.
And so graduates of theological faculties, priests, for example, are not simply providers of ritual services but people involved with a wide social life, and their professional activity reaches far from the limits of the Church. Theology is interconnected with all spheres of our life: from questions of politics and social justice to the moral consequences of improving the capabilities of one’s body. In today’s institutions for building the state, there are not enough people who understand these things well. So, from these reflections, one can see that experts in theological studies are needed.
[The Ukrainians] How do you see the university of the 21st century?
[O.B.] We know that today it is not only universities that teach. Let’s say, Google offers Americans very inexpensive and comparatively quick education, compared with a university. This creates a great challenge for universities, which should think about why they are needed, what they give to society which no other environment can give. The university of the 21st century is, above all, one that understands its added value.
Secondly, this university is not only about knowledge but about worldview. Each university should understand what makes it unique among others, what will distinguish its graduates in society. Let’ say that I can always recognize graduates of the Ukrainian Catholic University, because I know what values they profess. This is what UCU gives, not a library or classroom but a community.
Third, the university of the 21st century has a strong foundation but, at the same time, is open to changes. Of course, it is possible to be open to changes to the extent it opens up to new realities, but if the university knows what its core is, then changes enrich it and don’t blur its identity. A university like this forms a personality which always keeps it eyes wide open to see this world, to know who one is, to be ready for changes, even ones as difficult as the pandemic.
Author of original: Oksana Levantovych
Photo: Lesyk Urban