Chapter 8


The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science

Modern man is a man of dichotomy. The dichotomy here is the total separation between the area of meaning and values, and the area of reason.
  • Plato did understand something crucial–not only in theoretical thought but in practical life. He saw that if there are no absolutes, then the individual things (the particulars, the details) have no meaning. By particulars we mean the individual things which are about us. The individual stones on a beach are particulars. The molecules that make up the stones are particulars.
  • Plato understood that regardless of what kind of particulars one talks about, if there are no absolutes–no universal–then particulars have no meaning. The universal or absolute is that under which all the particulars fir–that which gives unity and meaning to the whole.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existential philosopher, said that a finite point is absurd if it has no infinite reference point. This concept is most easily understood in the area of morals. If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is write or wrong. By absolute we mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values. If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgements conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.
  • The shift from modern science to what I call modern science was a shift from the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in an open system to the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system. In the latter view nothing is outside a total cosmic machine; everything which exists is a part of it.
  • Scientists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries continued to use the word God, but pushed God more and more to the edges of their systems. Finally, scientists in this stream of thought moved to the idea of a completely closed system. That left no place for God. But equally it left no place for man. Man disappears, to be viewed as some form of determined or behavioristic machine. Everything is a part of the cosmic machine, including people.  To say this another way: Prior to the rise of modern modern science (that is, naturalistic science, or materialistic science), the laws of cause and effect were applied to physics, astronomy, and chemistry. Today the mechanical cause-and-effect perspective is applied equally to psychology and sociology. The scientists who took this new view had accepted a different philosophic base.
  • When psychology and social science were made a part of a closed cause-and-effect system, along with physics, astronomy and chemistry, it was not only God who died. Man died. And within this framework love died. There is no place for love in a totally closed cause-and-effect system. There is no place for morals in a totally closed cause and effect system.
  • In the humanism of the High Renaissance, flowing on to the maturity through the Enlightenment, man was determined to make himself autonomous. This flow continues, and by the time we come to modern modern science man himself is devoured: Man as man is dead. Life is pointless, devoid of meaning.
  • The older philosophic views were optimistic, for they assumed that people would be able through reason alone to establish a unified and true knowledge of what reality is, and that when this happened they would have satisfying explanations for everything encountered in the universe and for all that people are and think.
  • Four men directed the shift from this older optimistic view to the modern outlook in which this optimistic hope is lost. The shift came because the humanistic ideal had failed. After all the centuries of suggested circles, the humanistic expectation of autonomous man’s providing a unity to all of knowledge and all of life had stalled. People had gone round and round variations of the same answers–like going around and around a large, dark, circular room looking for a way out–and it was slowly dawning on them that there was no exit. That realization came in the eighteenth century, and with it the stance of humanistic man changed from optimism to pessimism. He gave up the hope of a unified answer.
  • 2 parts to the new formulation of the old humanist problem
    • There were those who were aware that in the area of reason people were increasingly coming to the place where everything was seen as a machine, even people.
    • Rousseau concluded that the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason and the arts and sciences, had caused people to lose more than they had gained.
  • Rousseau and his followers began to play down reason, and they saw the restraints of civilization as evils: “Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains!” Rousseau saw the primitive as innocent and autonomous freedom as the final good.
  • The utopianism of this concept was shown by the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, during which the purification of the general will meant not only the loss of freedom for the individual but the reign of the guillotine.
  • Rosseau’s concept of autonomous freedom led to the Bohemian ideal, which is the hero is the man who fights all of society’s standards, values, and restraints. In our own recent past this Bohemian ideal was a factor leading expressly to the genuine part of the hippie world of the 1960s.
  • David Hume criticized reason as a method of knowing truth and defended the centrality of human experience and feeling. He questioned the existence of the cause and effect concept himself.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe equated nature and truth. Goethe did not just substitute nature for the Bible; for him nature was God. Here we have the vague penthism which dominated so much of the stream of thinking at this time.
  • Influenced by Rousseau, romanticism was born in Germany with Goethe, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, and Gotthold Lessing. All 3 of these men were at first followers of the Enlightenment before they turned aside to follow Rosseau.
  • Reason was the hero of the Enlightenment; emotion became the hero of romanticism.
  • Rousseau’s follower Gauguin, the French painter who, in his hunt for total freedom, deserted his family and went to Tahiti where he tried to find it in the noble savage.  After he had lived in Tahiti for awhile, he found that the ideal of the noble savage was illusory. What he found in Tahiti turned out to be death and cruelty. When he finished his painting, he tried to commit suicide, though he did not succeed.
  • Marquis de Sade stated in La Nouvelle Justine, “As nature has made us [the men] the strongest, we can do with her [the woman] whatever we please.” There are no moral distinctions, no value system. What is is right. Thus there is no basis for either morals or law.
  • Rousseau’s concept of autonomous freedom ran head-on into a conclusion which was to become increasingly dominant as time went on.
  • One could not hold simultaneously the concept of everything’s being a machine and the ideal of a person’s having freedom. Thus, the concept of a unified knowledge of what reality is (on the basis of reason alone)–which almost all previous thinkers had as their aspiration–was under great strain.
  • Immanuel Kant worded the problem of his age differently from Rousseau, but it is still the same problem
    • Noumental World: the concepts of meaning and value
    • Phenomenal World: the world which can be weighed and measured, the external world, the world of science
  • Kant also tried to keep these two worlds together, but he, like Rousseau, never found any way to produce unity.
  • According to Hegel, the universe is steadily unfolding and so is man’s understanding of it.
  • Hegel’s ideas led to the idea that truth is to be sought in synthesis rather than antithesis. Instead of antithesis (that some things are true and their opposite are untrue), truth and moral rightness will be found in the flow of history, a synthesis of them. This concept has not only won on the other side of the Iron Curtain; it has won on this side as well. Today, not only in philosophy but in politics, government, and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people had always thought of truth, has died.
  • Kierkegaardianism brought to full tide the notion that reason will always lead to pessimism. That is, one must try to find optimistic answers in regard to meaning and values on an “upper level” outside of reason. Through a “leap of faith” one must try to find meaning without reason.
  • Kierkegaardianism became:
    • Non-Reason: Faith-Optimism
    • Reason: Pessimism
  • So optimism will now always be in the area of non-reason.
  • Modern man is a man of dichotomy. The dichotomy here is the total separation between the area of meaning and values, and the area of reason. Reason leading to despair must be kept totally separate from the blind optimism of non-reason. This makes a lower and an upper story, with the lower story of reason leading to pessimism and men trying to find optimism in an upper story devoid of reason. At this point the older rationalistic thinkers (with their optimistic hope of maintaining unity between the world of reason and that of meaning and values) were left behind. This is the mark of modern man.
  • In our day, humanistic reason affirms that there is only the cosmic machine, which encompasses everything, including people. To those who hold this view everything people are or do is explained by some form of determinism, some type of behaviorism, some kind of reductionism.
  • George Wald, a chemistry professor from Harvard University, said that all things, beginning from the molecule and ending with man, are only a product of  chance.
  • The question of origins: what was the beginning of everything?
    • We could say that everything came from nothing.
    • There is the possibility of a personal beginning–that everything else was made by a personality who could bring forth the universe (the space-time continuum) when it had not existed previously in any form.
    • There is the possibility of an impersonal beginning–that some form of the impersonal has existed forever, even if in a form vastly different from that which we now know. In much modern thought, all begins with the impersonality of the atom or the molecule or the energy particle, and then everything–including life and man–comes forth by chance from that.
  • The equation of the impersonal plus time plus chance producing the total configuration of the universe and all that is in it, modern people hold by faith. And if one does in faith accept this, with what final value is he left?
This post contains quoted and paraphrased passages of How Should We Then Live? by Francis A. Schaeffer. 50th L’Abri Anniversary Edition, © 2005 by Crossway Books.

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