FROM DILTHEY TO DARWIN AND DEWEY:
PROPHETS OF CULTURAL RELATIVISM
Any constructive discussion of Christian conviction in our Pluralistic Cultural Wars (e.g. Syncretism, Diversity, Pluralism, Tolerance, Relativism) would entail at least a narrative analysis from the scientific to the hermeneutical and historiographical revolutions.
Darwin - Revolution in Western thought (1809-1882)
Dilthey - Historicism’s development/Synchronic organization of cultural relativism in the Social Sciences (1883-1911)
Dewey - Origin of Pragmatism (based in Darwin’s Survival of The Fittest) and of the revolution in Educational Theory (1859-1952)
Dilthey’s relativism is described by his “synchronic/dialectonic” contextualism thesis. His thesis moves from considerations of the relation of mind and expression, relationship of the individual to culture. In this maze, the historian is a historical being. His contributions are utilized by Bultmann and Heidegger’s existentialism. The impact on the historical relation of the foundations of the Judaeo/Christian faith (see especially his Patterns) is crystal clear. The constitutive elements of his view of diachronic contextualization leads to relativism of historical knowledge. Three factors are: (1) The historian is bound in historical process; (2) Dilthey’s constant for historical understanding, i.e., universal human nature is lacking indefensible content; (3) the whole through which the parts can be understood can be understood is unattainable. The result is the loss of “objective” historical knowledge. Knowledge, understanding and meaning (see my two papers on “Narrative Displacement in Theories of Meaning”) is ultimately context bound. Empirical holism leaves the problem of historical knowledge an unresolvable or illusive task.
The twins of Empiricism are skepticism and relativism. The historical underpinnings of the Judaeo/Christian faith are forever destroyed and reveals its ultimate consequence in Bultmann’s existential hermeneutic (et.al. Heidegger/Gadamer) (see my “Historicity and Hermeneutics: Dilthey to Gadamer”). Dilthey’s famous dictum was “individuum est ineffable” (e.g. Death of authorial intentionality and the scriptural word of God).
There are at least five basic implications of Dilthey’s Structuralism which are exemplified by both the history of Science and Christianity:
1. There is no such thing as a determinate, exclusive starting point of any kind of inquiry or action.
2. There is no such thing as a singular, primary and privileged or absolute source for human knowledge or action.
3. There is no such thing as a primary and privileged or absolute foundation or ground or guarantee of validity of knowledge or reliability of ways of acting.
4. There is no such thing as a primary, ultimate or absolute criterion for the truth or falsity of knowledge and/or the reliability of a rule of action. *Krausser, “Dilthey’s Revolution” Review of Metaphysics (1968, 69): 262-280).
5. The implications of these ‘relativistic axioms’ for the biblical view of incarnation, the canon, i.e., any final authoritative word within the space-time matrix, should be crystal clear. Their significance lies in the fact that they dominate much or most biblical hermeneutics under the auspices of being scientific, of course.
(Compare these five theses with Ruth Benedict’s thesis for the cultural relativism of anthropology) (See my paper, “From Historicism, The Idea of Progress to Postmodern Revisionist History”, pp. 5 and 6).
Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) was the father of the Phenomenological Movement. Internal ambiguities in his thought make certain disputed areas of concern impossible to resolve. Nonetheless, the historical factuality that “the most powerful forms of non-theistic existentialism were born from the Phenomenological Movement and therefore must claim descent from its founder, Edmund Husserl (his philosophical enterprise was also inseparable from his preoccupation with mathematics and logic. He attempted to remove these areas from psychology (see his work Logic (Humanities Press, E.T.). His concern for certitude and the ontological status of numbers are essential if we are to understand his theory of philosophy as a strictly “presuppositionless science.” The experience or consciousness itself as the meeting place of subjects and objects, for knowledge is always knowledge of something.
The new postmodern hermeneutics requires engaging the thought of four architects of the hermeneutical circle: (1) Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) historian; (2) Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), phenomonological attempts to transcend subjection, reduction of thought to psychology; (3) Max Scheler (1844-1928), Sociology of Knowledge, i.e., all knowledge is linguistically context bound; and (4) Martin Heidegger (1889-1977), i.e., temporalizing “all Being”).
Conflict Between Historicism and Positivism
(Physical Sciences and The Behavioral or Social Sciences)
The very heart of the Judaeo/Christian faith is grounded in history. Christianity is separated from all non-Christian religions by the claim of (1) creation, (2) incarnation, (3) crucifixion, (4) resurrection from the dead and (5) Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead. Dilthey’s best-known thesis concerning the social and historiographical sciences is called “Verstehen.” The social sciences must be based on psychology and must rely on introspection or the so-called “subjective experience” (note Max Weber’s misinterpretation of Dilthey). He sought to work out a positive relationship between “historicity” of the knower and the objectivity of historical interpretation. Ultimately, Dilthey developed “a Functionalism /Structuralism” of all processes of active and passive adaptation and learning in living systems. (See my “Hermeneutic of Structuralism”)
Intellectual/Cultural Revolution from Darwin to Dewey (19th to 20th Century)
The influence of Darwin on the academy is one long journey into complexity. His theory of evolution produced a bridge over the 19th and 20th centuries. In defending his new philosophy course at Harvard to President Eliot, William James wrote the following:
A real science of man is now being built up out of the theory of evolution and the facts of archaeology, the nervous system and the senses. It has already a vast material extent; the papers and magazines are full of essays and articles having more or less to do with it. The question is--shall the students be left to the magazines, on the one hand, and to what languid attention professors educated in the exclusively literary way can pay to the subject? Or shall the college employ a man whose scientific training fits him fully to realize the force of all the natural history arguments, whilst his concomitant familiarity with writers of a more introspective kind preserves him from certain crudities of reasoning which are extremely common in men of the laboratory pure and simple?
Apart from all reference to myself, it is my firm belief that the college cannot possibly have psychology taught as a living science by anyone who has not a first-hand acquaintance with the facts of nervous physiology. On the other hand, no mere physiologist can adequately realize the subtlety and difficulty of the psychological portions of his own subject until he has tried to teach, or at least to study, psychology in its entirety. A union of the two “disciplines” in one man seems then the most natural thing in the world.
(Ralph B. Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (Boston, 1935, II,11)
Pragmatism is the “foundation” of multicultural relativism in the 21st century! The following is Dewey’s discussion of Darwinian influence on American Philosophy/
“. . .That the combination of the very words origin and species embodied an intellectual revolt and introduced a new intellectual temper is easily overlooked by the expert. The conceptions that had reigned in the philosophy of nature and knowledge for two thousand years, the conceptions that had become the familiar furniture of the mind, rested on the assumption of the superiority of the fixed and final; they rested upon treating change and origin as signs of defect and unreality. In laying hands upon the sacred ark of absolute permanency, in treating the forms that had been regarded as types of fixity and perfection as originating and passing away, the “Origin of Species” introduced a mode of thinking that in the end was bound to transform the logic of knowledge, and hence the treatment of morals, politics, and religion. . . . But for two decades before final publication he contemplated the possibility of being put down by his scientific peers as a fool or as crazy; and he set, as the measure of his success, the degree in which he should affect three men of science: Lyell in Geology, Hooker in Botany, and Huxley in Zoology. . . . Without the methods of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and their successors in Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry, Darwin would have been helpless in the organic sciences. . . . As we have already seen, the classic notion of species carried with it the idea of purpose. . . . The design argument thus operated in two directions. Purposefulness accounted for the intelligibility of nature and the possibility of science, while the absolute or cosmic character of this purposefulness gave sanction and worth to the moral and religious endeavors of man. Science was underpinned and morals authorized by one and the same principle, and their mutual agreement was eternally guaranteed. . .the preparation in earlier stages of growth for organs that only later had their functioning--these things were increasingly recognized with the progress of Botany, Zoology, Paleontology, and Embryology. Together they added such prestige to the design argument that by the late eighteenth century it was. . .the central point of theistic and idealistic philosophy.
“. . .the Darwinian principle of natural selection cut straight under this philosophy. . .So much for some of the more obvious facts of the discussion of design versus change, as causal principles of nature and of life as a whole. We brought up this discussion as a crucial instance. What does our touchstone indicate as to the bearing of Darwinian ideas upon philosophy? In the first place, the new logic outlaws. . .one type of problems and substitutes for yet another type. Philosophy foresees inquiry after absolute origins and absolute finalities in order to explore specific values and the specific conditions that generate them.”
Darwin concluded that the impossibility of assigning the world to chance as a whole and to design in its parts indicated the insolubility of the question. “Two radically different reasons may be given as to why a problem is insoluble. . . . But in anticipating the direction of the transformations in philosophy to be wrought by the Darwinian genetic and experimental logic, I do not profess to speak for any save those who yield themselves consciously. . .to this logic. No one can fairly deny that at present there are two effects of the Darwinian mode of thinking. . ; they are making many sincere and vital efforts to revise our traditional philosophic conception in accordance with its demands. . .there is as definitely a recrudescence of absolutistic philosophies; an assertion of a type of philosophic knowing distinct from that of the sciences, one which opens to us another kind of reality from that to which the sciences give access; an appeal through experience to something that essentially goes beyond experience. This reaction affects popular creeds and religious movements as well as technical philosophies. The very conquest of the biological sciences by the new ideas has led many to proclaim an explicit and rigid separation of philosophy from science. . . . Doubtless the greatest dissolvent in contemporary thought of old questions, the greatest precipitant of new methods, new intentions, new problems, is the one effected by the scientific revolution that found its climax in the “Origin of Species.” (John Dewey’s The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy (NY: Peter Smith, 1951), pp. iii to 19) See Jim Strauss’ paper, “Whatever Happened to True Truth?”; also his papers, “19th Century Context of The Victory of The Darwinian Methods: Foundations of American Pragmatism” and “Social Darwinism as The Foundation of The Social Gospel in America”)
to the Boomerang Generation
Generation X represents one of the most fundamental postmodern trends facing the Church in 2002 (cf. Toffler’s cultural topography describes three periods of radical change: (1) The Agricultural Revolution, (2) The Industrial Revolution and (3) The Informational Revolution. Each of these typographies express radical shifts in the belief and behavior systems of our youth culture. (See my papers on “The Youth Culture, and “The Counter Culture”; see esp. Rodney Clapp, editor, The Consuming Passion: Christianity and the Consumer Culture (InterVarsity Press, 1998). Perhaps a brief but representative trek will provide some crucial cultural indicators (Dilthey’s Hermeneutical Relativism)
1920 J.B. Bury, The Idea of Progress.
1930 Resurgent Marxism in America (labor unions, etc.) After the 1929 economic crisis (see J.K. Galbrath, The Great Crack in 1929)
1931 Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers. Becker’s mentor at Iowa University was Richard Ely in 1873. At Cornell in 1917, Frederick J. Turner was his teacher. (Note the influence of Turner’s Marxist interpretation of the American Frontier in our Restoration Heritage.) He also radically influenced segments of The Disciples of Christ historiography. For Becker, the principle acid of modernity which dissolved veritas was historicism--the world is in constant flux. Becker claimed that “every man is his own historian.” Facts do not exist; all that we have is interpretation (cf. Postmodern Hermeneutics).
1934 Ruth Benedict (1887-1943) She was a guru for cultural relativism and multiculturalism (esp. Patterns of Culture). Hers was a new day in cultural anthropology. She was one of the first females to teach at a major university. What message did she convey to her students? She is without question a guru of cultural relativism and multiculturalism. The following thesis appeared in Patterns of Culture (Benedict studied the Kwakiutl and Dobus tribes, the configurational approach to culture). This was a study of the cultural potentialities of Japan as part of a peaceful and cooperative world (compare Benedict’s style with James G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough). From 1943-1948 she studied how the development of techniques whereby the methods of anthropology could be applied to the study of modern cultures (see Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist At Work: The Writings of Ruth Benedict (Boston: Houghton/Mifflin, 1954).
Benedict’s work affirms at least seven propositions that shape the youth culture of the 1960's. As a cultural relativist and a multiculturalist she sets forth these seven premises:
1. We abandon our illusions of cultural superiority; each culture makes its own claims.
2. Human achievement is not dependent on any force external to human culture.
3. Western culture has assumed religious superiority in viewing other culture (cf. One of the assumptions of the postmodern culture is the rejection of Western superiority (WADA) based in scientific development and Christianity).
4. Western Christian culture is plagued with the irrationality of race, prejudice, nationalism (patriotism, i.e., America, The Beautiful).
5. Cultural anthropology encourages mutual cultural tolerance.
6. Western Christian culture tormented women (witches in New England), discouraged races (heredity, genetics, environment (1960's Radical Feminist Revolution and the development of The Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights, etc.).
7. Demise of the normative, superiority of Christianity (cf. Sin, guilt, responsibility after Freud, A Nation of Victims, i.e., Genetic and Environmental Determinism).
1935 Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) moved to the United States in 1935 and wrote The Brave New World and The Brave New World Revisited The development of resurgent Marxism, History of Religion, Psychology of Religion, Phenomenology of Religion, and Sociology of Religion. occurred in this period.
1940 World War II, Mortimer Adler/Hutchens, University of Chicago, Educational revolution. The Great Books (compare with Allen Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind.
1949 George Orwell (Eric A. Blair, 1903-1950). He wrote the novel 1984 when he discovered that he was dying of cancer. He was a committed Marxist as a youth.
1950 Communication Revolution, reshaping youth and American family values, revolution in radio, television, cultural values regarding sex, home (family), and church.
1960 Gurus of the Counter Culture: H. Marcuse, T. Reich, Roszak, and Toffler. Marcuse and Toffler were avid Marxists. Toffler’s attack on the family is apparent in the book, Future Shock (NY: Random House, 1973, pp. 203-204).
1964 Resurgence of the Power of Myth through the influence of Joseph Campbell’s book, The Power of Myth and his media presentation during which he rejected Christianity. “True Truth”, Judaeo/Christian morals, etc. He is the radical source of influence in the development of science fiction (see especially Tom Snyder’s, Myth Conceptions: Joseph Campbell and New Age (Baker, 1995); B.C. Lane, The Power of Myth, The Christian Century (July 5-12, 1989); Journal of Spiritual Counterfeiters, “The Mythology of Joseph Campbell’s attempts to erect a global faith” (based on The Myths of The World’s Religions (cf. His influence is visible in the movies of Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter - monistic, pantheistic New Age). It would be very hard to over emphasize Campbell’s influence on Generation X (see my paper, “World Views in Conflict, A Comparison of Joseph and Alexander Campbell).
1970 This decade was largely shaped by Dr. Spock’s revolution in parenting and child rearing. This generation was “spooked by Spock.”
1984 Into the culture maze of Generation X another voice was heard. Marilyn Ferguson’s, The Aquarian Conspiracy, became the bible of New Age Pantheism (this phenomena is the fastest growing influence on Generation X in America; as Islam is the fastest growing religion in global perspective).
1990 Into the very arena of Political Correctness, Intervarsity Fellowship’s Baby Buster consultants identify five main characteristics that Generation X are look for in faith groups (note that this generation has been influenced by epistemological and cultural relativism for decades).
1. Authenticity - what they want is unity, love and acceptance. They prefer honesty over politeness.
2. Community - “I am homesick for the home I never had.” This song reflects the Xers’ anger over the broken, dysfunctional families that the Busters hail from. There is a possibility that Xers will play down family obligations; often the term “family” is not a safe concept. Often members of this g group are isolated individuals who refuse community (cf. Also responsibility and accountability because their moral relativism precludes personal and/or social consensus).
3. Distaste for Dogma - Barna reports the 81% of Xers do not believe there is “absolute truth.” This thesis is a widely held position even among some evangelicals; see esp. Apologetics in Our Postmodern Culture (InterVarsity Press, 1995).
4. Focus on The Arts - This generation has chosen a non-traditional preference for religious expression (cf. Worship, preaching, ministry styles, etc.). The centrality of music and television in Xers’ lives cannot be overestimated: VCRs, 24 hours of MTV videos, Wolf Man, CD players and channel surfing “are part of the air they breath,” says Fuller’s Richard Peace. Pop culture has replaced classical evangelical modes. Generation X also sees art as a primary vehicle for worship.(See my paper, “Beyond Belief to Conviction in Our Sensate Culture”)
Diversity and the Boomerangers - The Church is notorious for its radical division.
2002 The Multiculture Pluralism of Postmodernism: Themes of diversity and tolerance and the social construction of reality (i.e., there is no “True Truth”, e.g.. Themes expressed in Media and Outcome Based Education. (See my paper, “Christian Witness in the Territory of Terrorism” in light of 9.11.01)
Dr. James Strauss, Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656