This blog is a place for Notre Dame students and others to share their thoughts on Father Jenkins' forthcoming policy on academic freedom and Catholic identity at Our Lady's University.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


From how far away and at what angle you look at an object make a great deal of difference in how you see the object. Likewise, from what perspective you reason makes a great difference in what conclusions you come to. To make my point differently, it is not just what you reason about but how you go about your reasoning. Since I was a freshman, this campus has debated whether it should allow the Vagina Monologues. When the Queer Film Festival was started, a similar debate occurred about it. These debates point out to us that there are deep differences in what the members of Notre Dame hold to be true. It is my thesis that it is not just a difference in propositions but a profound difference in perspective and foundational truths that divide our campus.

This ideological difference can be seen in how we think of freedom. To the best of my knowledge the strongest argument for academic freedom relies on the premise that increasing freedom allows for an increase in human flourishing. However, it is not just any kind of freedom that the premise is referring to. It is freedom as individual autonomy. Now, I am big fan of individual liberty and believe that it is worth dying for to preserve. But for me talking about freedom or liberty in terms of autonomy is inherently flawed. Call me a realist if you must, but I do not see any material evidence for this thing called “freedom” anywhere on a human person. In other words, the human body itself does not present to me any convincing reason to think that freedom occurs. Yet, my encounters with other human beings convince me that they are indeed free. How could this be so? Because human freedom is a power intrinsically connected to the human soul – the immaterial part of man. Talk of human freedom then must be based in a metaphysical discussion of what man is. Moreover, such a conception of human freedom as a power makes it an absurdity to talk about human freedom as an end to be pursued. Powers are not ends that agents pursue; they are the abilities that allow agents to attain their ends. Luckily, man always seems to have a guide to his powers – we call it morality.

From this, my own perspective, the debate on campus is rather silly. Once someone has argued successfully that the Vagina Monologues are immoral – something that will not help man –, it would be idiotic to pursue them as a good themselves. The problem, however, is what is convincing to me is not at all convincing to everyone. Talk about goods as things that perfect man has little bearing on talk of freedom as autonomy. I suggest, therefore, that for a while we discuss our thinking in order to see whether we can actually get anywhere through debate. If we can, then we should continue; if we can’t, we should save ourselves a lot of grief and let Fr. Jenkins worry about it. After all, at least his order is getting paid for his troubles.

John Schneider

1:57 PM


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