The Charioteer

"The charioteer of the human soul drives a pair of steeds, and one of the horses is beautiful, good, and formed of such elements, whereas the makeup of the other one is quite the opposite." -Phaedrus

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Location: Duquesne University, United States

A Blog For All and None. Consider it my narrative history of ideas. A place primarily to share and obtain feedback to my thoughts through my graduate career in philosophy. For philosophy is simply "thoughts that have been thought out."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Gilson on "The Breakdown of Modern Philosophy"

I happened to find a cheap copy of Etienne's The Unity of Philosophical Experience in a bookstore yesterday and was browsing through at work. The work is a historical survey of philosophy comparing and contrasting the "Medieval Experiment" with the Cartesian and Modern "Experiments." In a chapter entitled "The Breakdown of Modern Philosophy," the famous existential Thomist writes the following passage about which I couldn't help but be both amused and astounded; and given my sympathies with the philosophy of Scheler, it is easy to see why:

...the second fundamental feature of Western culture, is a definite conviction that reason in the specific difference of man. Man is best described as a rational animal; deprive man of reason and what is left if not man, but animal. This looks like a very common place statement, yet Western culture is dying wherever it has been forgotten; for the rational nature of man is the only conceivable foundation for a rational system of ethics.

Now, I realize the work was written back in 1935, but Scheler and many others had written far deeper and penetrating insights into the "difference" of man, earlier than this, than Gilson's simplification of the question under the blanket of reason. It's precisely the line, "Western culture is dying wherever it has been forgotten," that is most amusing. Prof. Gilson, there is much, I grant, that has been forgotten in the modern era in philosophy which would have served them well to retain and preserve from the medieval experiment, but among those things which were lost was certainly not emphasis on reason nor a rational system of ethics. The Enlightenment secured more for the West love of reason than the medieval experiment had, and Kant's system of ethics could not be considered anything but rational. So if the deterioration of rationality is a mark of the decline of Western culture, I think we must judge the West, in the modern period, as precisely a period of growth.

Yet, I tend to agree with Gilson's judgment of history and, generally speaking, Spengler's Decline of the West, yet I vehemently disagree with the inclusion of the status of rationality as a important factor. In fact, I think it proves something precisely against Gilson's argument. For if the West is in fact declining, the fact that King Reason has not shows the it could very well be that an extreme emphasis on reason (an emphasis the medievals never wished to put above faith, for example) could precisely be that which is contributing to the decline.

Perhaps an ethic of reason is not as important as a ethic of love. Perhaps Scheler is right....