It is part of our existential condition to seek to comprehend the meaning of our existence and the world around us. To determine whether our individual and collective lives are amounting to a contribution to the welfare of the world, it is important to know whether one is positively contributing to the establishment of a lasting culture or whether we are contributing to the divisions, confusion, and the ultimate demise of our existing culture. Understanding one’s place in the history of ideas underscores the necessity to live the examined life—to assess whether or not one's individual and cultural life is worth living or preserving. It is in this larger existential context in which the reader is being invited to reflect deeply concerning basic things. It is only such deep reflection at the philosophical level (epistemology, metaphysics and ethics) that one will find a sufficient answer to address the enormous challenges that modernity (1648-1945) and postmodernity (1945-) have presented to the modern mind. The cumulative failure to provide conclusive answers to the perennial philosophical questions has compounded the divisions encountered today, precipitated a sense of intellectual wasteland, and has left the modern self destitute of its ability to engage meaningfully with the underlying epistemic problems that have led to skepticism and its logical conclusion—cultural nihilism. Tautologically speaking, practical problems require practical solutions; political problems likewise require political solutions; yet fundamental philosophical problems as the ones faced today require that philosophy, in its most fundamental sense, be employed to pierce through the edifice of conflicts to arrive at the cornerstone of knowledge—epistemic knowledge through the critical use of reason and argument.
In the past few decades, a large number of books have attempted to warn, diagnose, and solve the existing problems in modern culture. These works have eloquently brought light to distinct areas of division and decay. It is noteworthy to mention some of these works, for they have been instrumental in seeing the need to go further in the analysis of these problems while recognizing the author’s debt for their insights. These works have made palpable and discernible what otherwise may have gone unnoticed. Although some of these works deal with some or several aspects of the conflict (culture, politics, economics, history, and education), their collective voice highlights more pointedly the need for the philosophical work—which is logically and existentially prior to all other disciplines. Philosophy as an area of study deals with questions regarding foundation and goal—the necessary preconditions for knowledge as well as the goal of human existence.
Ideas are organic. They have an origin in time, and undergo change, dissemination and challenges. Ideas also have consequences as well as pedigrees. In reflecting upon the most significant thinkers and ideas since the rise of modernity, the attempt has been made to limit the number of thinkers to be addressed. A post will be dedicated to each of the subjects listed below. They, taken together, will provide a sufficient basis to ascertain the importance of answering their challenges in a systematic way. The answers to their questions will, in large measure, be found in Surrendra Gangadean’s Philosophical Foundation: A Critical Analysis of Basic Beliefs (2008). Other works by Dr. Owen Anderson and Dr. Kelly Fitzsimmons Burton will likewise be consulted to highlight their contributions to the responses needed for the modern challenges.
The posts will contextualize the significance of the ideas and their consequences in shaping the modern mind, and then will offer a critique of foundational issues to set a way forward in taking thoughts captive to overcome divisions among us. The topics listed are subject to additions as the research of the selected topics opens new paths of exploration. The examination will begin by understanding the shift from contextualism (use of reason to make good and necessary consequences from general revelation and special revelation) to literalism (limiting the interpretation of Scripture to its literal meaning apart from appeal to general revelation) in transitioning from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1648) to the London Confession (1689). Subsequently, the posts will then analyze problems such as the following:
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, Or Treatise on Education (1762) postulates an unfallen state of human nature and a reconsideration of the training of the human mind in education and culture.
- David Hume’s refutation of the classical arguments for the existence of God in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and the crippling effect that Hume’s objections have had upon Christianity’s ability to answer the demands of the modern mind, specifically the problem of evil.
- Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), severing reason from ontology, and limiting reason’s domain to the realm of experience (phenomena) while abandoning the possibility of knowledge regarding metaphysical questions.
- Soren Kierkergaard’s Fear and Trembling, shifting theological understanding from faith comprehensible by reason to a supra-rational faith devoid of cognitive content.
- Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto (1848) provided the basic cultural and political framework to understand class conflict, equity, and the ideals of the modern state.
- Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) provided the intellectual grounding for a naturalist explanation of origins and displaced the spiritual centrality of mankind in the world.
- John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism displaced the good or summum bonum as the central ethical concept in favor of happiness (consequentialism).
- Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics (1871) provided the grounding for economics in normative standards of value that were later rejected by modern economists, who instead reduce economics to phenomenological explanations without metaphysical accounts. 10)
- Friedrich Niezsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886) exposed the failures of post-Reformation Christianity and the Enlightenment project by calling into question the whole of philosophy and the possibility of knowledge regarding God and man and good and evil.
- William James’s Pragmatism ushered in the quest for a new understanding of truth as rooted in human experience through interaction with the world in its current context divorced from universally applicable solutions.
- Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion (1927) is a naturalistic account of religion that circumscribes religion to psychology while divorcing it from truth and reality.
- Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) posits the search for subjective meaning in the face of an objectively inscrutable world.
- Other works and thinkers such as Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (1966), Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1967), John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971), and Susan Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (2002) may be prospects for further analysis to aid in the quest for a deeper understanding of our current historical context and the need to address fundamental questions in the quest for knowledge and certainty regarding the perennial questions.
This project will extend to over two years of work in the areas of research listed above. Its content will seek to be concise, insightful, challenging, and hopefully the basis for further work in attempting to bring coherence and meaning to the crisis of the modern mind. This project is an affirmation of the Principle of Clarity in quest of application to our intellectual heritage and climate. If knowledge is possible, then we should be able to prove what we know. If challenges exist which undermine the possibility of knowledge, then the critical use of reason must be employed to show what is clear in regards to epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. May this project serve as a step in that direction.
The following is a reference list provided for the reader to pursue further the investigation of the surmounting problems of our time:
In culture: Francis Schaeffers’ The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture; Os Guiness’ The Dust of Death: A Critique of the Establishment and the Counter Culture—and a Proposal for a Third Wave; Donald De Marco and Benjamin Wiker’s Architects of the Culture of Death; Benjamin Wiker’s Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists; David Kupelian’s The Snapping of the American Culture: Healing a Nation Broken by a Lawless Government and Godless Culture; and Robert R. Reilly’s Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything; Paul Kengor’s Takedown: From Communism to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage, Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. etc.
In education: Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students; Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals; Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure; Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, etc.
In politics: Robert H. Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline; Russell Kirk’s The Roots of American Order; Robert Reilly’s America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding; etc.