Monthly Archives: January 2011

Maybe even a few splinters on the lips

One of the frustrations that I have faced over recent years as it pertains to entering into dialogue with secular voices about the nature of truth and morality is the apparent deficit in knowing some of the basics of the history of western thought. Well-educated, graduate-degree holding individuals seem to have little knowledge of, capacity for, or willingness to learn some of the basic groundwork that should have been learned in their freshman philosophy class.  I can only surmise that one of two things is happening… either someone isn’t teaching or someone isn’t listening.  Then along comes someone who can crystallize 300 years of how we westerners know what we know in two pages like Vishal Mangalwadi does in his book Truth and Transformation: A Manifesto for Ailing Nations (2009).  Mangalwadi, having studied philosophy at secular universities, studied at the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, and studied in Hindu ashrams, chronicles the decomposition of the West’s moral compass in the following:

If moral integrity is foundational to prosperity, why don’t secular experts talk about it?  The reason is that teh universities no longer know whether moral laws are true universal principles or mere social conventions made up to restrict freedoms.

And why don’t they know?

Economists have lost the secret of the West’s success because philosopher’s have lost the very idea of truth.

Why?

The truth was lost because of an intellectual arrogance that rejected divine revelation and tried to discover truth with the human mind alone.  Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) demonstrated that unaided logic and experience could not prove God, human self, or some of the basic assumptions of science, such as that every effect has to have a cause or that the laws of physics have to be the same everywhere and at every time in the universe.

Hume’s recognition of the limits of logic should have humbled the Enlightenment’s arrogance.  However, instead of admitting that our logic had its limits, many assumed thatif logic could not prove God, then God did not exist.  Hume tried to build a case for morality without God, but German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) recognized that without divine revelation the human mind was incapable of knowing whether the universe was moral.  In this life we see the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper, but without revelation we cannot know if there will be a final judgment after death.  Kant tried to save morality, but Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the nineteenth century German philosopher, concluded that if logic could not know morality, morality had to be a mere social construct.  Since Judeo-Christian morality favors the weak, it must have been made up bythe slaves to restrain the freedom of the powerful – the Aryans.

Existentialist philosophers that followed Nietzsche decided that since the universe had no God-given meaning and moral norms, the quest for freedom required us to create our own values and purpose.  For example, the German existentialist Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) began his intellectual carrier[sic] as a champion of the Nazi thought.  Nazism was defeated militarily, but logic’s inability to know God or morality has produced postmodern universities that no longer know if anything is right or wrong.  Having rejected God and his revelation, educational institutions have become incapable of teaching goodness, beauty, and truth. ”  [bold text is not original to the author] 

The emboldened part is especially important because Mangalwadi is doing a little, as the secular scholars might say, de-mythologizing.  You see, there is this popular myth out there that scientific investigation accompanied by individualistic rationality is sufficient to provide us with all we need to determine our moral standards by which we all might be governed.  And the problem is that many secular voices out there have swallowed this myth hook, line, sinker, pole, fisherman, boots and all, with maybe even a few splinters on the lips  from the dock.  But if the attentive reader is willing to hear this, that myth died many moons ago.

Now it is possible that Mangalwadi has misinterpreted Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.  But if that’s the case, so did your freshman philosophy professor.

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