EMERGENCE OF AUTONOMOUS MAN IN THE WEST

 

The intellectual and cultural developments from the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to the Scientific Revolution ended the cultural hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe and established the individualism of secularism and science in the West’s New Faith!  This was the emergence of the Modern Mind and Newton’s equations (the world machine).  John Locke and the French Enlightenment philosophies took Newton’s equations and extended them to the human realm.  (La Metrie, Man, The Machine; Locke, Hume (supernatural miracles), Adam Smith (economics), Wolff, Kant (established the New World View, displacing the classical sources of knowledge about the universe), Hegel (existentialism, phenomenology, Marx).

 

The conscious and autonomous man was confident in his own judgments, sceptical of orthodoxies, rebellious against authority and responsible for his own belief and actions; he was conscious of the distinctions between Man and Nature (artistic powers and individual creators); assured of his capacity to comprehend and control another.  He rejected the God of creation, providence and miracles.  There was a limit of the method of empirical science, especially the Industrial and Democratic Revolution, the rise of the West to global hegemony (missions).  Freud’s Trinity (Marx was not mentioned)--Copernicus (creation), Darwin (man) and Freud (sin, alienation, salvation) finished Western culture’s turn “inward” and “Eastward.”

 

Science’s Ultimate Triumph Over Classical Christendom

In the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism

 

In contrast to the Medieval Cosmos which was created and sustained by continuous providential guidance of a personal and omnipotent God, classical liberalism, in the form of Kahler, Schleimacher and David F. Strauss, et.al., expressed the modern universe as impersonal and governed by the Laws of Nature and understandable only by mathematical equations.  God’s removal from nature’s arena was expressed in Deism and Atheism!  The Creator/Architect was less a God of love, miracles, redemption or historical intervention than a supreme intelligence and first cause in a causal universe.

 

Christian Dualism (Spirit/Matter) stressed the supremacy of spiritual transcendence over the material and concrete Great Inversion--Physical World.

 

Science of the 17th to the 19th centuries replaced the God of Christianity as the pre-eminent intellectual authority as Definer, Designer, Judge and Guardian of cultural worldview.  Modernism is based on man as the highest intelligence.  Empiricism did the same with the material world.

 

Universe possessed an intrinsic order fine tuned for human environment (anthropic principle/cosmology) which did not come emanating from intelligence in which the human mind could directly participate (patterns of universe via human minds own resources) order universe/nature/culture decoded order but socially constructed (Sociology of Knowledge Thesis).  The rationally empowered capacity to manipulate impersonal forces and material objects in nature become the paradigms of human relationship to the world (Pantheism and Environmental concern).

 

The Order of the Modern Cosmos was comprehensible in principle through man’s rational and empirical sources alone, while other aspects of nature are emotional, aesthetic, ethical, volitional, relational, imaginative, etc..  These were regarded as irrelevant or distortions of an objective understanding of world mastery and was material improvement (industrial revolution, things and personal identity).

 

Classical cosmology was Geo-centric finite and hierarchical surrounding heavens and transcendent forces (celestial movements astrology, reading the stars).  The fall of geocentric cosmic and the rise of the mechanistic paradigm.  Astronomy was severed from astrology.  Bodies of the universe possessed no powers via meaning of life.  Material objects, products of mechanistic principle have no special relation either to human existence or any divine reality.  It was opaque material, not the visible expression of spiritual realities.

 

With the integration of the theory of evolution and its multitude of consequences in other fields, e.g., nature/destiny of man.  Nature’s transformation were now exclusively attributable to natural causes and empirically observable processes what Newton had accomplished for the physical cosmos.  Darwin was building on intervening advances in geology and biology and later by Mendel’s work in genetics, accomplished for organic nature random variation, natural selection, servants of fate and Darwinian evolution presented a second final vindication of the intellectual impulse established in the scientific revolution.

 

Darwinian Evolution Presented a Seemly Final Vindication of

the Intellectual Impulse Established in the Scientific Revolution

 

The belief that the universe was purposefully designed and regulated by divine intelligence was a belief foundational to both classical Greek (pantheistic) and Christian worldviews.  The Christian doctrine of Christ’s divine intervention in human history, the incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Adam, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and the Second Coming seemed implausible in the context of an otherwise straight forward survival, oriented Darwinian evolution in a vast mechanistic Newtonian cosmos.  Equally implausible was the existence of a timeless metaphysical realm of transcendence.  With nature the sole source of evolutionary direction and with man the only rationally conscious of evolutionary direction and being in nature, the human future lay emphatically in man’s hands.

 

Modern man’s independence--intellectual, psychological, and spiritual--was radically affirmed with increasing deprecation of any religious belief or institutional structure that would inhabit man’s natural right and potential for existential autonomy and individual self expression.

 

The Christian view of the goal of knowledge of God as essential, unification of man with the cosmos and its divine intelligence.  With man, who found through the power of autonomous human intellect, modern man set out on his own, determined to discover the working principles of his new universe, to explore and further expand its new dimension and to realize his secular fulfilment.

 

There were more complex and more paradoxical portraits of the Modern Sensibility: (1) Romanticism, (2) Existentialism, (3) Phenomenology, (4) Freudian psychoanalysis, (5) conflict between Historicism and Positivism.

 

Modern/Post Modernism’s Impact on Education

 

An enormous narrative displacement took place between Modernism and Post Modernism.  Here we encounter one of the greatest epochal transformation in the history of the Western Mind.  The central prophet of the Post Modern mind was Friedrich Nietzsche, with his radical perspectivism, his sovereign critical sensibility, and his powerful, poignantly ambivalent anticipation of the emerging Nihilism in Western Culture--the inner trial and imprisonment.  The extreme psychological isolation and the eventual paralyzing madness, suffering at the birth of the post modern era of Nietzsche, who signed his last letters, “The crucified” as one who died at the dawn of the twentieth century.

 

The definition of Post Modern is extremely ambiguous.  The Post Modern mind may be viewed as an open ended, indeterminate set of attitudes that has been shaped by Pragmatism, Existentialism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis to feminism, hermeneutics, deconstruction and post empiricist philosophy of science, e.g., Thomas Kuhn’s Paradigmatic Revolution, anti-science and revisionist history.  The plasticity and constant change of reality and knowledge, a stress on the priority of concrete experience over fixed abstract principles, and a conviction that no single a priori thought system should govern belief or investigation on Human Knowledge is subjectively determined by a multitude of factors; that objective essences, on things in themselves, are neither accessible nor ontologically positive; and that value of all truths and assumptions must be continually subjected to direct testing.  The critical search fro truth is constrained to be tolerant of ambiguity and pluralism and its outcome will necessarily be knowledge that is relative and fallible rather than absolute and certain.  The quest for knowledge must be endlessly self-revising by testing against subjective and objective consequences!  What?  This quest clearly presupposes a meta-narrative for critique, which is totally rejected in the Post Modern maze.

 

The human capacity for concept and symbol foundation is recognized as a fundamental and necessary element in the human understanding, anticipation and creation of reality (see my paper, “The Sociology of Knowledge Thesis”).  The prevalence of the Kuhnian concept of paradigm in current discourse is highly characteristic of “Post Modern thought” reflecting a critical awareness of the mind’s fundamentally interpretive nature.

 

Continuing advances in anthropology, sociology, history and linguistics have underscored the relativity of human knowledge, bringing increased recognition of the Eurocentric character of Western thought, and the cognitive bias produced by factors such as class, race, and ethnicity.  Especially penetrating in recent years has been the analysis of gender as a crucial factor in determining and limiting what counts for truth claims.  Various forms of psychological analysis, cultural as well as individual, have further unmasked the unconscious determinants of human experience and knowledge.

Many factors have converged to produce this intellectual position; it has been the analysis of language that has brought forth the most radically sceptical epistemological currents in the Post Modern mind and it is these currents that have identified themselves most articulately and self consciously as Post Modernism.  Nietzsche’s analysis of the problematic relation of language to reality and C.S. Peirce’s semiotics posited that all human thought takes place in signs.  Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic positing celebrated the relationship between words, objects, and signs.  Wittgenstein’s analysis of the linguistic structuring of human experience, Heidegger’s existential linguistic critique of metaphysics, and Edward Sapir and B.L. Whorf’s linguistic hypothesis stated that language shapes perception of reality as much as reality shapes language.  Michael Foucault’s genealogical investigations into social construction of knowledge and Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism, challenge the attempt to establish a secure meaning of any text.  The upshot of these several influences, particularly in the Post Modern academic world, has been the dynamic dissemination of a view of human knowledge and discourse that radically relativizes human claims to a sovereign or enduring truth and that thereby supports as emphatic revision of the character and goals of intellectual analysis.  This impact of Post Modern educational themes is crystal clear.  The very essence of multicultural pluralism in Outcome Based Education (Goals 2000, Multiculturalism) upon the foundation of these prophets of nihilistic pluralism that we enter the fourth and perhaps greatest shift in educational philosophy in the Western world.  Nothing less than the scriptures as God’s inspired, authoritative revelation and the teaching/preaching (evangelism/missions) mandate is at stake.  (See my essay, “Narrative Displacement Between Modernism and Post Modernism”)

 

(James D. Strauss, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL 62656)