“Unmasked as Nothing”

RonH has a good analysis of the Enlightenment (which is a narrative/world-view/faith) in one of the recent comment threads as it relates to narrative and the current ongoing conversation.  Obviously the “Enlightenment” is a varied (even geographically) and complex transition in history and can hardly be covered in a comment thread.  Anyway, I note this link as it not only offers a way to think about the Enlightenment (a way in which I heartily agree) it also offers some insight into the discussion regarding Bernard’s agnosticism.  Also of note here is that in his first paragraph when he cites “Analytical” and “Continental” thinkers in attendance, we could also say “modern” and “postmodern.”
“Most of us take for granted some variation of the following: religion involves heart-felt convictions and deep commitments, and therefore invokes impassioned disagreement, “exclusivist” and “intolerant” behaviour, and even violence. It is thus in dire need – given today’s social “problem” of “religious diversity” – of being (take your pick):
  • eradicated by means of education;
  • ignored until it withers away on its own; or
  • “updated” in order to become a good ally to the “progress” of the modern world.”
I have to admit that much of what I hear in Bernard’s responses and assertions are echoed here, if just more softly.  Maybe Bernard would disagree, but when I read something like this: “Eric’s point underpins my distaste exactly. Because neither position [atheism and theism] can be shown to be less reasonable, to believe is to dismiss an equally reasonable point of view.”  The implication, in my mind, is that the “distaste” arises from a perception that when reasonable people claim that their, say atheism or theism, is true, therefore the opposite must be false, such is coming from an “exclusivist” and “intolerant” mindset.  Perhaps I am wrong to see that implication.  I’m curious, is it just me or does anyone else see that implication?
The writer continues:
“The questions posed by philosophers of religion suggest that they believe that religion needs philosophy’s help in order to come to rational, peaceful resolutions to social conflicts inflamed or caused by religion.

I would suggest that it is imperative for us to see that the questions posed in this way (and therefore the answers that they imply) are a relic of a past. Recall for a moment that the central task to which the Enlightenment “project” self-consciously set itself – glorious and youthful, if also utterly naive – was to discern and possess the rational conditions by which the truth of things could be accessed, and thereby to dictate to every field of human inquiry the rational scope of its enterprise, the conditions by which it could properly proceed to secure knowledge of its particular object.

One focus of this project was the “conflict of the faculties” of the university, especially philosophy, governed by autonomous reason, and theology, governed by heteronomous authority (the Church, clerics, theologians, and so on). This conflict is, Immanuel Kant said, irresolvable insofar as theology does not allow philosophy (the science of reason) to dictate what is possible and what is not in its quest for the knowledge of God. Faith and reason are in opposition and there can be only one victor. What comes to count as knowledge and truth is the model of knowledge of scientific objectivity. Everything else is doubtable and does not count as positive knowledge.”
Keep in mind the “central task” noted above.  I’ve read quite a bit about the Enlightenment and I think his assertion here very accurate.  He continues:
“In the end, Kant’s critically purified reason “saved” the objective knowledge of the sciences, which furnished the model of knowledge he took for granted in the first place, at the high cost of resting this knowledge on subjectivity itself, which could only be presumed but to be universal. It also “made room” for faith, though only by banishing the transcendent realities of faith from the field of what is humanly knowable (again, according to the model of knowledge provided by physical science).

This was an unstable solution. Perhaps it could be argued that solutions like this actually created the conditions for the rise of fundamentalisms, since it secured the relegation of faith to a realm outside of reason. Hence, paradoxically, such rationalism and fundamentalism are bed buddies.

Kant’s philosophy was only a well-developed moment of “the end of metaphysics,” since it sought fundamentally to determine in advance what was possible and impossible for experience and knowledge. The crisis of reason indwelt the heart of the Enlightenment itself, which, in retrospect, was only another variation of the powerful myth of our human capacity to determine the knowable in advance, to grasp it without reserve, and, more sinisterly, to define the real itself.”
And I think this next quote (latter part) goes to what RonH was saying:
“Religious diversity demands that philosophy change, giving up its historic self-conception as a quest for the truth of things as such and become a mode of reasoning that does not question the pluralistic context, but rather serves it, showing how it is necessary and universal. The Enlightenment did not go this far, for it only sought, erroneously, to replace a once unified religious culture with the unity of a rationality proffered by physical science from outside of that religious milieu.”
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1 Response to “Unmasked as Nothing”

  1. Burk Braun says:

    “Religious diversity demands that philosophy change, giving up its historic self-conception as a quest for the truth…”

    I've got a better idea. We should recognize that religion actually has nothing to do with philosophy, but with psychology. Dressing it up as philosophy is a fundamental mistake, since, as they say, garbage in, garbage out, epistemically speaking.


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