Friday 16 November 2012

In a world of nihilism - how can we know *anything*?


It gets more and more obvious that nihilism is the the problem: denial of reality - denial that reality is real.

Denial that there is objective truth and humans can know it.

Nihilism eats away at everything Good: it has destroyed art, architecture, literature, science, education politics - and much of the Christian church.


Once the question has asked - what can we answer?

Once it is asked - How is that known? Why not do this instead? Then modern man is paralyzed, because he has no reason to believe he knows anything at all.


Much is possible to innocent natural people that is not possible to us.

The hunter-gatherer may live in the moment without consideration for meaning or purpose - just live - but merely ask the question why and that possibility is gone forever.


All such questions have but one terminus: divine revelation.

We can only know anything by purposive divine revelation - we must believe that the divinity (who knows, and wants us to know) has built-into-us (natural law), or told-us, that which we depend upon.


Divine revelation is a metaphysical necessity without which nothing else is possible - once the question has been asked.


And we cannot un-ask the question; once innocence has gone, it cannot be retained.

The innocence of a child cannot be replicated and recovered by effort, training, technology, art, drugs, brain surgery nor by anything else: modernity is post-innocent and attempts to restore innocence are its greatest corruptions, its most profound decadence.


Modernity is doomed metaphysically; therefore inescapably.

By its atheism, by metaphysically removing divine revelation from its necessary position as the basis of all discourse; modernity has undermined its own foundations; and all that remains is for the superstructure to collapse into the pit.



SonofMoses said...

Dear Bruce,
You say, ‘There is objective truth and humans can know it.’
To state this so baldly, for me, raises important questions.
Exactly how much of it can we know?
And how can we guard against understanding it wrongly?
The answers to these questions have repercussions in every field, especially in ethics.
We can, I think, know that there is such a thing as objective truth and we can have some very imperfect idea of what that might mean, and also have faith that it is wholly good, again, whatever that means.
Further to this, just to complete the triad you love so much, we can seek to model our life on its beauty, as we understand it.
But I think it is dangerous to think we have anywhere near grasped any of this as it really is.
I say dangerous because such surety in a merely human mind can lead to appalling things like Islamic militancy and not too dissimilar conduct in our own history.
I can’t help thinking, from past experience, that you will answer these questions by referring me to the Holy Scriptures and the tradition of spiritual guides (staretz’).
Fair enough, but such things are still indirect knowledge.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SoM - Of course it is 'dangerous' - we are not going to do any better than people did in the past. Far from it.

Things will never be right in this world; and Christianity is clear on this.

I think there is a difference between being sure and being certain - being sure is a religious thing, being certain is philosophical. Certainty is, in fact, not to be had. But surety may be a fact (at least in the here and now).

Modernity has inverted the question and made everything unanswerable; yet refuses to recognise that a reductio ad absurdum means there has been an error in premises or reasoning.

The objective truth I refer to is the nature of reality, the structure of things. Something like the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

The answers to each one of your questions here are found in Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and confirmed by Catholic theology.

From Aristotle, we know about the extent of what unaided human reason can know of the nature and principles of reality, and from the Gospels and Church teaching, we know there is an appreciable amount of certainty we can reach with human reason alone (not without a good deal of study, though, and only the bare essentials are necessary for most people who are not philosophers, scientists or theologians). There are often appeals to reason in Scripture, so we can infer that human mind can know reality with certainty, if only partially.

Plato and Aristotle's findings, for example, were confirmed, corrected where needed and extended by Catholic theologians-philosophers aided by Revelation, since there is no contradiction between fields of knowledge: they are just not about the same objects. Catholic theologians had to be capable philosophers in order to have a common and precise language and to buttress theology with sound philosophy as well as with Revelation. There is logically no divorce between faith and reason, between mind and soul (see the beautiful encyclical letter from John Paul II, Fides et Ratio). There is also no divorce between reason and common sense, as Chesterton advocated.

Beware of the frequent confusion of philosophy and theology. From the fact that a part of philosophy is called natural theology, it does not follow that it has the same object as “sacred” theology: philosophy is about being, thus natural theology is about the being and characteristics of God which can be known without Revelation, as demonstrated by Aristotle's findings, whose accuracy is confirmed by Revelation.

Theology, on the other hand, is about the inner life of God and souls, that we can know only by Revelation. Revelation comes to us through the mediation of Christ and his Church. We know it is certain because of Christ's promises (“hell will not prevail,” etc.) and also from the fact that, no matter how difficult some parts of Revelation are, it is never averse to right reason.