William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Coming Metaphysic

Etienne Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience was recommended to me by Fr Rickert (whom regular readers will recognize) and I in turn recommend it to you. The book was the result of Gilson’s William James Lecture given long ago at the once-faithful Harvard.

The lecture traces philosophy from its high point in times medieval commanded by St Thomas Aquinas, to the insinuation of nominalism and the direct path to the skepticism, scientism, and materialism of today. That story, in his brief summary, is this (p 246):

Plato’s idealism comes first; Aristotle warns everybody that Platonism is heading for scepticism; then Greek scepticism arises, more or less redeemed by the moralism of the Stoics and Epicureans, or by the mysticism of Plotinus. St. Thomas Aquinas restores philosophical knowledge, but Ockham cuts its very root, and ushers in the late mediaeval and Renaissance scepticism, itself redeemed by the moralism of the Humanists or the pseudo-mysticism of Nicolaus Cusanus and of his successors. Then come Descartes and Locke, but their philosophies disintegrate into Berkeley and Hume, with the moralism of Rousseau and the visions of Swedenborg as natural reactions. Kant had read Swedenborg, Rousseau and Hume, but his own philosophical restoration ultimately degenerated into the various forms of contemporary agnosticism, with all sorts of moralisms and of would-be mysticisms as ready shelters against spiritual despair. The so-called depth of philosophy being regularly attended by its revival, some new dogmatism should now be at hand.

And this new dogmatism will be?

We’re now at the point where the need for metaphysics, and for philosophy in general, is denied by many. Yet as the man said, to deny philosophy is to philosophize. It is impossible to speak of ideas without a philosophy grounded on some metaphysic. And we have edged closer to scientistic atheism than agnosticism, with sloganeering and as-yet-fulfilled promises that science will answer all questions. Impossible, of course, because science cannot explain itself. Though it thinks it can.

Now I am not here interested in the correct metaphysics: I think it is the one propounded by St Thomas, or something like it, and which can be found in this series. And neither should you here be interested in the correct metaphysical stance. What we want to ask is this: what metaphysics and what philosophy will be adopted by the majority?

Perhaps the key phrase of Gilson’s is this: “with all sorts of moralisms and of would-be mysticisms as ready shelters against spiritual despair.” Scientists now find shelter against despair in the idea they are defeating an old enemy, which is supernaturalism. Their series of self-declared triumphs bolsters their spirits. The future is bright! We will soon graduate from our youth to a time when all traces of the supernatural and superstition are vanquished! In this way, Scientism is yet another Utopia. Point is: because of the blitzkrieg, scidolators have not had time to look back on the battlefield to see what they have wrought. Despair is ahead, waiting for them, but they don’t yet realize it.

Wait until they find it! When Christianity is but a minority position, held only by relics and quiet fanatics, only then will come the moment when the blatant limitations of science will be realized. The future that seemed only Day will become Night. Science says nothing matters, a true theorem given the implicit but denied metaphysics of materialism accepted by scientists. And if nothing matters then (you can see this coming) nothing matters, not even science.

Science will harness Nature’s powers? So what: nothing matters. Science will improve man’s life? So what: nothing matters. Science will answer the question, What Is It All About? It already has: nothing matters. Nothing good—nor nothing evil—can flow or follow from this conclusion, for there is no good or evil when nothing matters.

Despair will hit. The spiritual and philosophical vacuum must needs be filled. With what? Nostrums from yoga? Stretch your way to infinity! The cult of health? War for fun and profit? Nihilism as official policy? It won’t be sexual liberty, which is already old and stuffy (just ask the youth in Japan). Gender mania? I don’t buy it, since much of this is reaction against Christianity, and when that enemy is removed so is the need for reaction.

No. I think instead it will be a fractured variation of Idealism. Our thoughts define not necessarily what is, they will say, but our will defines what things mean. We see this element in gender mania. Science will tell us what is. If nothing matters, as science assures, it will be discovered that at least our will must matter. The reason for existence is us, it will be said. And that conclusion will lead to the search, and of course the discovery, of exemplars, ideals of humanity. If we think the cult of celebrity is bad now, wait until science tells us what an ideal man is like.

15 Comments

  1. Perhaps this proves once again that some people will do anything to escape reality and rather pursue something they think they can control.

  2. L Ron Hubbard alias John B()

    April 13, 2017 at 9:38 am

    The future that seemed only Day will become Night.

    Can’t help but think of H.G.Wells and the Eloi who are “gods” in the daylight and food for their master in the night.

  3. L Ron Hubbard alias John B()

    April 13, 2017 at 9:40 am

    The future that seemed only Day will become Night.

    Can’t help but think of H.G.Wells and the Eloi who are “gods” in the daylight and food for their master in the night.

    (Darn – new computer – must have screwed up my other user name)
    (No – screwed up my mail address – see if the name is right)

  4. “What metaphysics and what philosophy will be adopted by the majority?” I do not know but the majority of people are not particularly very philosophical.
    Maybe idealism or some mentalistic metaphysics like that of Berkeley might become more popular in the future since it’s a philosophy that only commits one to think that only minds and their ideas exist and it doesn’t commit one to think that there is some underlying “real matter” behind our perceptions. Maybe this minimal metaphysical commitment might become more popular considering that we already have a lot of technology that can shape your perception of things like virtual reality video games and holograms. But who knows. It seems to me that idealism has become a bit more popular on internet or at least that’s an impression I have because of these epistemological problems relating to perception and what we can know. I’m not an idealist, but nonetheless these are some of my thoughts about the future.

  5. The majority will end where they always do, into savagery / barbarism. “Do what thou wilt” and “might makes right”. Heck we are almost there already among the lower classes.

  6. I think Christianity is already a minority position, especially if one defines it as the traditional Catholic faith. The mainstream Church has been practicing a pseudo-religion. pseudo-Christianity, since Vatican II, exactly as predicted by Bella Dodd in the early 1950s.

    Makes you wonder why we need the Third Secret to tell us about an “evil Council,” when Bella Dodd, simply through her association with fellow Communists, accurately sketched out the agenda of Vatican II a decade before it occurred! That is, (a) the introduction of a pseudo-religion (halfway between Catholic and Protestant), (b) a new openness to the world, and (c) a guilt complex about the Church’s past.

  7. To begin with, Gilson’s history is inaccurate in very important respects. First, its ‘Whig history’ of Platonism; to the contrary, Aristotelianism was not an ‘improvement’ of Platonism, but in effect, a repudiation of its problematic — Aristotelianism is a new project, with an entirely different problematic; it is not an improvement of Platonism. ‘Neo-Platonism’, the attempt to deny this by melding the two, failed, and always fails. And even aside from that, Gilson’s ‘history’ disdains to even notice, let alone take into account, that the Platonist Augustine is cited far more abundantly than the Aristotelian Aquinas, even in the most recent official Catechism.

    Second, and Gilson’s most important error: the ‘new thinking’ entered the Catholic Church not with Ockham, but with Berengarius in the 11th century, and was focused on the Eucharist, and the way that the ‘new logic’ appeared to disintegrate what the Church had always professed about it.

    Third, the glorification of Aquinas needs significant amending. St. Thomas was one of the greatest theological scientists, and a saint, but only those. If Aquinas is the absolute pinnacle, then the Church is in severe theological straits, since Aquinas was not able to resolve the central problems that Berengarius raised, particularly about the Eucharist. In fact, regarding his account of the source and summit of the Church, the Eucharist, Thomas himself was forced to resort to the nominalism Gilson condemns.

    St. Thomas recognized as few had done that the relation between the temporal before and after of transubstantiation could not be as between one monadic identity and another without abandoning the sign (sacramentum tantum) dimension of the bread and wine of the Eucharist. This acknowledgment placed him however in inextricable difficulties, for the species, the signs of bread and wine, of food and drink, then had, as “accidents,” no correlative substantial subject of inherence, and Thomas’ reply to this objection could be nominal only, viz., an attempt to reduce “accident” to an abstract definition, while the reality of an “accident” in Thomist metaphysics is that of a transcendental relation whose intelligibility can only be that of a concrete esse ad. In any event, his solution left unexplained and even barred the indispensable sign-value of the consecrated species.

    Within the cosmological framework of his thought there is no escape from this dilemma, and while St. Thomas rejected the earlier notion that the Eucharistic species concealed rather than manifested the presence of the Christ, he was nevertheless unable to provide for their effective signing, their sacramental dynamism, for the dynamism of that efficacy is historical, not cosmological, while his metaphysics remained a cosmology; he provided the intrinsic freedom of the substantial transcendental relations with no intrinsic “cause,” i.e., with no intelligible account, although his transcendental method requires precisely that intrinsic ground if the contingency of creation is to be in fact intelligible.

    Keefe SJ, Donald J. Covenantal Theology (second edition), p. 426.

    I conclude that until theology improves, by re-turning and re-forming itself to the Eucharist, there can be no satisfactory philosophy on the earth; so the question as to which degradation of theology will satisfy the majority is off point.

    For the majority of men can only be satisfied by the gifts of Heaven, and specifically, by baptism, the entrance to the “Medicine of Immortality,” the Holy Eucharist, by which all men can be saved — their minds, and their bodies.

    To be frank, what recycled horror current men will tell themselves is now ‘satisfactory’ to them as philosophy, can have little – perhaps no – Catholic interest. The question is practically part of the mystery of iniquity.

  8. YOS. Good comment. Too bad the main street Catholic media refused not to get it. Probably has something to do with the money involved. What we have now in the Catholic Church is largely a Potemkin religion. One of these days pew-sitters will wake up.

  9. “wait until science tells us what an ideal man is like.”

    Or look in the January issue (if I remember right) of National Geographic. Well, any or all NatGeo in the past two years or so since it took a hard left turn.

    As to meaning and purpose in life; Star Trek suggests we make our own purpose, but that’s weak because it is very easy to repurpose or unpurpose.

    Truth is given, it is not discoverable in its fulness, any more than a computer can program itself from nothing, ex nihilo. Inductive logic serves useful purposes but it probably can never be absolutely certain about the things believed to be true by its methods. There is only one way to know there’s a God and that’s if he tells you (but of course that creates the problem of knowing with certainty whether you’ve just heard the one-and-only, or his enemy, or Legion, or angels and messengers, and so on; just in case it matters).

  10. THE MEANING OF LIFE – Einstein
    Mein Weltbild, Amsterdam: Querida Verlag, 1934.
    What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know an answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.

  11. “Scientism is yet another Utopia. Point is: because of the blitzkrieg, scidolators have not had time to look back on the battlefield to see what they have wrought. Despair is ahead, waiting for them, but they don’t yet realize it.”

    AND the evidence for that is all those despairing atheists … right? … RIGHT????

    Hey, wait a minute, its not turning out that way at all:

    Nearly a decade ago Tufts did a discrete survey and confirmed that the many outspoken ex-clergy-now-atheists (meaning they were atheists while still clergy) are indicative of a much much larger trend — there are many practicing clergy in the churches who are secret atheists but masquerading as believers. The nature of clergy is such they’re stuck in a dead-end career path with few options for a career change, a characteristic that has kept most where they are and has led many to despair…but only as Sunday approaches and they have to put on a charade for the weekend performance…and during the various counseling sessions….
    Reference:
    https://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/dennett/papers/Preachers_who_are_not_believers.pdf

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/08/29/atheists-in-the-pulpit-the-sad-charade-of-the-clergy-project/

    CURIOUS OMISSION:

    Briggs laments science/”scientism” and “scidolators” on a recurring basis, and this is curious. Sure, science is finding things out that makes many tenets of faith dubious, even impossible, to accept [at least in some/many denominations, especially the evangelical]. And, science’s inevitable progression is sure to disprove more tenets of faith.

    But why pick on just science?

    What about history/historians?

    Bart Ehrman is among the more famous for publishing historical and documentary analytical summaries accessible to the layperson showing just what a kluge of competing doctrines early Christianity was, how it evolved, and the many profoundly irreconcilably contradictory precepts now contained in the New Testament (e.g. hailing from Jesus vs Paul vs Peter).

    Surely such historians are every bit as influential in turning believers to atheism as scientists. Probably much much more as those facilitating the mainstream’s perception of theological (metaphysical) doctrinal contradictions, contradictions that are wholly incompatible with the deity’s traits said to inspire them would seem even more influential. Science might nibble away at mysteries by by revealing facts — truths — bit by bit, but that leaves room for the doctrine to adjust (Catholicism, for example, is under no threat from evolution being proven, nor, the Flood & Garden of Eden being proven to be allegorical; evangelical doctrines, cemented as they are in a very particular belief framework, will be devastated if/when evolution is proven decidedly — as many themselves attest).

    When the source material of the entire theology is called into question, so must be the resulting theology. That’s a full-frontal assault on ALL faiths, with no denominational exceptions, an assault on Christianity itself, believer-by-believer who actually reads & studies the historical record the early Church tried to destroy as revealed by the likes of Dr. Bart Ehrman, Dr. Robert Price, Dr. Elaine Pagels, David Fideler, and so on & on (many of dubious credibility, who get the history & facts mostly or partly correct [and thus partly wrong], but every bit or more influential in sowing doubt and nurturing atheism). These are historians & philosophers and philosopher-historians who apply rational logic to objective evidence and follow it where it leads (rather than forcing it in a direction they’d like to to go).

    But philosopher-Briggs is silent about that.

    Why are historians of that ilk getting a pass?

  12. [quote= Ken]
    CURIOUS OMISSION:

    Briggs laments science/”scientism” and “scidolators” on a recurring basis, and this is curious. Sure, science is finding things out that makes many tenets of faith dubious, even impossible, to accept [at least in some/many denominations, especially the evangelical]. And, science’s inevitable progression is sure to disprove more tenets of faith.

    But why pick on just science?

    What about history/historians? [/quote]

    Well, I pick on “science” because it is supposed to be based on observation and logic, whereas “history” is necessarily just an interpretation of of someone elses (usually long gone and unable to defend themselves) recorded interpretation of events.

    “Science” has not “disproved” even one genuine article of Christian Faith; indeed, it cannot do so because the tools of the physical sciences have been restricted (by scientism) to an ideological interpretation of a few carefully selected physical phenomena. The metaphysical science of logic has been abandoned by scientism in favour of faith-based ideological assumptions long ago.

    The main faith-based ideological assumption to which I refer is, of course, the absurd assumption that everything that exists caused, causes, is causing itself to exist without any prior cause, or mechanism, or purpose.

    The only thing that the materialist/empiricist faith can prove is that it has neither brains nor a leg to stand on.

  13. You lost me on a few points here…

    “It is impossible to speak of ideas without a philosophy grounded on some metaphysic.”

    Really?

    “Science says nothing matters, a true theorem given the implicit but denied metaphysics of materialism accepted by scientists.”

    Again. Really?

    “wait until science tells us what an ideal man is like.”

    I don’t know how or why it would do that.

    And the LAST THING the world needs now is more religion and superstition and dogma and ideologies and philosophies! For Christ’s sake, just how stupid do you want the world to be?

    JMJ

  14. [quote= Jersey]
    And the LAST THING the world needs now is more religion and superstition and dogma and ideologies and philosophies! For Christ’s sake, just how stupid do you want the world to be? [/quote]
    As usual, you are irrational and devoid of skills in reading and comprehension.
    No one is calling for more superstition except for the “scientismists” who invent a new superstition just about every day to protect their absurd ideology. Perhaps “protect” is the wrong word because the ideology is a chimera of ever-changing “forms” evading being pinned down for scrutiny or evaluation. The only thing that can be “pinned down” is the underlying absurdity which you simply ignore.

  15. “as-yet-fulfilled promises” They never sleep.

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