Saturday, January 05, 2013

Modernity: How Did We Get Here?

As a Catholic looking at Modernity, provided that one is aware of the goings-on around him, the world can seem like a pretty messed up place. And it is. Original Sin has radically effected the state of the world and there continues a constant battle against personal sin throughout the history of man. One of the effects of sin is the darkening of the intellect. That's right....sin makes you stupid! Throughout Christian history, however, there have been thinkers who, aided by the supernatural grace of God, have risen above this ignorance of the intellect to soar to great heights. The most famous of these was St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) who, building off of the great pre-Christian thinker Aristotle, systematized the union of faith and reason unlike anyone before or after. Yet, shortly after the death of Aquinas, the Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to the world (i.e. the via antiqua) was subverted, leading us into the via moderna. One of the first casualties of modernity was the rejection of the philosophy of being found in Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics.

The root of the problem known as the via moderna goes back to John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) who was the founder of voluntarism and William of Ockham (d. 1347) who was the founder of nominalism. These two concepts (voluntarism and nominalism) replaced logos (contemplative reason) as the highest act of man and led to the idea of reason as will to power. Ockham and Scotus thereby influenced Luther, Bacon, Newton, Kant, etc., so that not only was the notion that there are greater realities above mankind done away with, being replaced by a mechanistic view of nature where man is the highest reality in existence, but also nature was seen as something to be controlled, manipulated, and conquered for purposes of humanity. Rene Descartes (d. 1650) started what is known as the "turn to the self", whereby the only certain things in existence are clear and distinct ideas (Cogito, ergo sum/I think, therefore I am). Everything else is to be approached with radical doubt.  After Descartes came Immanuel Kant (d. 1804), another key figure in this history. Due to him, modern man is egotistically centered on himself. Kant's categorical imperative is based on radical autonomy so that each man becomes the measure of the universe and the arbiter of law, rather than something objective outside of man, such as an infinite God. In Kant's world view there is no such thing as natural law, which Thomas Aquinas defined as the "rational creature's participation of the eternal law" (Summa Theologiae I-II, Q. 91  a. 2). Most of the modern world is Kantian without having read Kant. Thus, if you know how to answer Kant, you are on your way to steering people back in the right direction.

If you are interested in learning more about the via moderna, what it is, how we got here, and how to counter it, here are some books I would recommend:

Metaphysics -Aristotle
Nicomachean Ethics -Aristotle
Summa Theologiae -St. Thomas Aquinas
The Last Superstition -Edward Feser
Socrates Meets Hume -Peter Kreeft
Socrates Meets Kant -Peter Kreeft
Back to Virtue -Peter Kreeft
Faith and Certitude -Thomas Dubay
Answering the New Atheism -Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker
Reasons to Believe -Scott Hahn
Another Sort of Learning -James V. Shall

No comments: