Presuppositions of Communication in the Post Modern World


1.  Understanding that revolutions in epistemology, language, and mathematics have taken place.

2.  Understanding that without reference there can be no fixed meaning.

3.  Understanding that radical Deconstructionism precludes community; thus communication is prisoner to Solipicism.


In 2004 the issues remain the same:  Man’s search for security, freedom, rights, dignity, and personal and social transformation through humanistic education and scientific and technological progress.   Neither of these ‘idolatrous absolutes’ seem to be capable of producing grass-roots consensus and hope, while bureaucratic optimism still flows from media, lecture rooms, and hundreds of individual interest groups.


Progress and Pluralism:  Is Progress Destructive of Certitude?

(Certitude in a Democratic Context:  Consensus by Polls)


In the eight decades which followed the First World War knowledge expanded as never before.  Yet in many ways, an educated person in 2004 is less equipped with hope and certitude than an ancient Egyptian in 2500 B.C.  One of the reasons was the ‘worldview’ provided by Egyptian cosmology (see John Gribban, Our Changing Cosmology:  The New Astronomy (London, 1976).


It is a known fact that by 2004 the white man’s monopoly is over, even in South Africa.  Structuralism, like Marxism, is a form of Gnosticism available only to the chosen elite.  The collapsing patterns of the 1960s to the 1980s were dismaying to the democratic model.  Our highly complex world is still ruled by oligarchies.  Indeed the historian of the modern world is tempted to reach the depressing conclusion that progress is destructive of certitude.  In the 18th and even more in the 19th century, the Western elites were confident in the evolution of humanity towards governance by reason.  A fundamental presupposition of modern times is that reason plays little part in human affairs.  Even scientists are not moved by it.  As Max Planck sorrowfully observed: “A new scientific troth is not usually presented in a way to convince its opponents.  Rather, they die off, and a rising generation is familiarized with the truth from the start.”  (Wissenschaftliche Sebstbiographie (Leipzig, 1948), quoted by Thomas Kuhn in A.C. Crombie, editor, Scientific Change (London, 1963), p. 348.)


The 20th Century—the Beginning and the Ending


The most crucial event of the early 20th century was the emergence of Einstein as a world figure in 1919, and this remains a powerful illustration of the dual impact of great scientific innovation on mankind.  They change our perception of physical world and increase our mastery of it.  But they also change our ideas.  The scientific genius impinges on humanity, for good or ill, far more than any statesman or warlord.  The impact of Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Marx and Einstein cut like a surgical knife through traditional moorings in the faith and morals of Judeo-Christian culture.


Lost Certitude in the Arts


Freud’s ideas passed into the language of literature, then theatre through the work of Proust and Joyce.  T.S. Eliot wrote that Joyce’s Ulysses (completed in 1922) “destroyed the whole of the 19th century.”  This might seem a bit too fanciful, but the 19th century did see the climax of the philosophy of ‘personal responsibility’, the notion that each of us is individually accountable for our actions, which were a joint heritage of Judeo-Christianity and the classical world of eternal natural law.  The next crucial presupposition to fall under the weight of modernity was the Judeo-Christian evaluation of guilt.


Freudianism was many things, but if it had an essence it was the “description of guilt.”  Freud wrote in 1920 that “The tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is subject to it is called by us the sense of guilt. . .civilization obtains mastery over the individual’s dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over it like a garrison in a conquered city.”   Feelings of guilt were thus a sign not of vice, but of virtue.  Any present discussion of ‘Traditional Values’ must confront these Freudian structuralist themes.  Structuralism has progressively captured much Western thought from the time of Marxian Gnosticism, by claiming to peer through the empirically perceived veneer of things hidden truth beneath.  Marx had pronounced:  “The final pattern of economic relationships as seen on the surface. . .is very different from, and indeed quite the reverse of their inner but concealed essential pattern.”  (Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, p. 20;  Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), p. 70-81).  Three years after the General Theory was verified by Eddington, ending belief in fixed space and time, Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the key figures of our period, published this Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, which cumulatively over the decades destroyed confidence in systematic philosophy, as a guide to human reason—the influence work is dominated by Wittgenstein’s influence. 


To the relativities of space time were added the relativities of logic (see Husserl’s Logic for response).  Nearly two centuries before, Kant had confidently asserted in his Logic (1800):  “There are but few sciences that can come into a permanent state, which admits of no further alteration.  To these belong Logic. . . .  We do not require any new discoveries in logic, since it contains merely the form of thought.”  Even in 1939, a British philosopher asserted:  “Dictators may be powerful today, but they cannot alter the laws of logic, nor indeed can even God do so.”  (A.C. Ewing, “The linguistic theory of a priori proposition,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, (XI 1939-40):217.)  Thirteen years later the American philosopher Willard Quine calmly accepted that logic was in the process of fundamental change:  “What difference is there in principle between such a shift and the shift whereby Kepler succeeded Ptolemy or Einstein, Newton, Darwin, or Aristotle?  (W.V.O. Quine, From a Logical Point of View (NY: 1953).


In the two decades that followed, many rival systems to classical logic emerged:  Bochvar’s many valued logic, von Neumann’s quantum logic, van Fraasen’s presuppositional logic, new systems by Birkhoff and Destouches-Fevreir and Reichenbach, minimal logic, deontic logics, tense logic.  It became possible to speak of empirical proof or disproof of logic.  (cf. H. Putnam, ‘Is Logic Empirical?’ in R.S. Cohen, editor, Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Boston, 1969).  Also see Bochenski’s History of Logic. 


“What would be the consequences for the theory of truth,” asked one worried logician in 1974, “. . .of the adoption on non-standard system?”  (Susan Haack, Deviant Logic: Some Philosophical Issues (London, 1974), p. xi.)


“One gets an uneasy feeling as one discerns and studies more of the systems . . .[which have] the power of reproducing and multiplying proliferating new systems without limit.”  (J. Jay Zeman, Modal Logic:  The Lewis Modal Systems (Oxford, 1973).


In a world in which even the rules of logic shifted and disintegrated, it is not surprising that “modern times” have developed toward the panentheistic new age under the spell of Eastern metaphysical perspective.


The most important ‘[non-event’ of ‘modern times’ was the failure of religious belief to disappear (cf. Feuerback, Marx, Freud, Comte, Durkheim, Frazer, Wells, Shaw, Gide and Sartre).  By the end of the 1980s even the term secularization was in disrepute (cf. D. Martin, The Religious and the Secular (London, 1969); Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society; and Foolishness to the Greeks.  Naisbitt’s Megatrends 2000; and Gallup, American Religion in the 1990s.)  The collapse of Logical Certitude faced with disillusionment with socialism and other forms of collectivism intensify the loss of faith in both science and the state as a source of benevolence and personal and social well being.  Resurgent Christianity throughout the world strongly confirms John H. Newman’s observation:  “True religion is slow in growth and, when once planted, is difficult of dislodgement; but its intellectual counterfeit has no root in itself; it springs up suddenly, it suddenly withers.”  (The Idea of a University)


The macro cosmic world could not provide a way out of the epidemic of theories of social determinism.  At the microcosmic end, molecular biology, neurophysiology, endocrinology and other new disciplines began to explain such processes as the mechanism of genetic inheritance and programming.  The most important of the micro-level discoveries came at Cambridge University in 1953 when James Watson and Frances Crick succeeded in deciphering the double-helix configuration of the molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).  (James Watson, The Double Helix (NY, 1977 ed.; V.C. Wynne-Edwards, Annual Dispersion in Relation to Social Behavior (1962); virtually all social behavior protects the fittest in each species.  Harvard biologist R. Trival’s notion of ‘reciprocal altruism’ form of enlightened self interest).  The structure constitutes the particular code telling to all what protein to make, the heart of creative operation.  In 1972, scientists in California discovered “restriction enzymes,” which allowed the DNA to be split in highly specific ways and then recombined or spliced for a particular purpose.  This micro-organism was used to produce antibiotics (N. Wade, The Ultimate Experiment:  Man Made Evolution, NY, 1977).


The process of mass production and marketing began in June, 1980, when the United States Supreme Court in a historic decision, granted the protection of the patent law to man-made organism.


Earlier, in 1975, the Harvard scientist, Edward Wilson, brought together two decades of specialist research in his book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.   This work was to be a general theory analogous to the general theories on Newton or Einstein.  “The principal goal of a general theory of sociobiology,” he wrote, should be “an ability to predict features of social organization from a knowledge of the population parameters,. . .and information on the behavioral constraints imposed by the genetic constitution of the species.”  Like Darwin, Wilson was firm on the limited applications of the new science.  “The emotional control centers in the hypothalamus and limbic system of the brain flood our consciousness with all the emotions used by ethical philosophers to determine standards of good and evil.”  What produces those control centers?  “They evolve by natural selections.”  In his book On Human Nature (1979), Wilson insisted that the mind was “an epiphenomenon of the brain.”  (The entire area of artificial intelligence is a fundamental challenge to the Christian viewing of a person in the “Image of God.”


The minimum claims of evolutionary theory were that the laws of the biological and social sciences had to be consistent with the laws of the physical science and ‘linked in chains of causal explanations;’ that life and mind have a physical basis,. . .and that “the visible universe today is everywhere subject to these materialist explanations.”  (E. Wilson, Sociobiology (Harvard, 1970); and Human Nature (Harvard, 1979).  Charles Frankel, “Sociobiology and Its Critics”, Commentary (July 1979).


                                                                                                                        Dr. James Strauss

                                                                                                                        Lincoln Christian Seminary

                                                                                                                        Lincoln, IL 62656


(See my two studies, “The Search for Meaning in Our Post Modern Culture” and “The Search for A Criterion of Meaning.”)