Sunday 1 June 2014

Why logic, reason and evidence are unable to extract modern skeptics from the alienated nightmare of nihilism


Any reasonably thoughtful and honest person knows that nihilism is self-refuting; but we nonetheless find ourselves ‘stuck with it’.

Reflex skepticism becomes a corrosive habit. It never goes anywhere, but it blocks all constructive progress.

What is needed is not a logical solution, but a psychological solution (or, as may later become obvious – a spiritual solution).

Another way of thinking about it is that logic is asymmetrical – it is very effective at destruction, but puny at construction.

So a logical person may find themselves compulsively able to demolish meaning and purpose; but cannot use these same tools to construct (or discover) meaning and purpose.

Religious faith in the modern context and for modern people is necessarily a very different thing – a post-skeptical thing – than it was in a society which had never been conformed (from an early age) to the hegemony of secular Leftism.



SonofMoses said...

Dear Bruce,
I think you touch here upon the real issue the modern (or post-modern) world faces as regards its welfare and salvation.
It is a problem that cannot be resolved by debate for, as you say, our current frame of mind can destroy but cannot rebuild.
The nihilism you talk about is the corrupt emotion characteristic of that ‘corporeal understanding’ which Blake spoke of as contrasting with the ‘Intellectual powers’.
Thus the issue resides not in the content of the mind but in the elevation thereof, or as you put it, it is not a logical problem but a spiritual one.
But to one confined by the modern or post-modern mindset there is no, and can be no, spiritual world to turn to.
This is a vicious circle.
One approach to this problem is through recognising the distinction between the two hemispheres of the brain; and then learning to honour the validity of the world of the right hemisphere.
What you describe as the ‘logical solution’ is the left hemisphere taken to the extreme, an extreme unequalled in its intensity by any previous culture I can think of.
We have wilfully and systematically locked ourselves out from the world of the higher imagination (e.g. of poetry, the Platonic myths, Art, Revelation, etc.) and therefore from the life-giving nourishment of any larger, more expansive and liberating truth.
The suffocating, grey world we are left with is a world of ever increasing death.
When I watch young children I am reminded of Jesus’ saying that ‘unless ye become as one of these’, for it seems to me they live predominantly in the right hemisphere, and that ‘growing up’ is in part an induction into the faculties of the left hemisphere.
Of course, to live practically in the world one does have to come to a balance between them both.
Yet most of all, for salvation and true happiness, one has somehow, for significant periods, to achieve recourse to the larger realm of the right hemisphere.
This was managed for the populace of previous cultures by means of liturgy, contact with nature, fine architecture, literature and music, etc., etc, but as time goes by we are seeing less and less of such things.
So I will end by stating the problem as I see it, that to access this vastly freer and cleaner world the lesser world would have to be, at least for temporary but regular periods, renounced and let go.
How does a whole culture which has effectively habituated itself to, and is ever barricading itself more and more into a lesser world achieve such a sacrifice, except through horrific and unavoidable suffering and devastation?
That is the problem we face, and without an answer from us, Nature’s just solution seems inevitable and gets closer every day.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SoM - It is a vicious circle - but he who seeks (and keeps seeking) *will* find; although it might take a while.

My forthcoming book (Addicted to distraction) puts forward that the first step for many people has to be a significant withdrawal from the mass media (in all its forms). A withdrawal not total, but enough.

In retrospect, I wonder if it may have been the economic crisis of 2008 which helped get me across the line into self-identifying as a Christian - because up to then I was consuming *vast* quantities of economics and libertarian blogs and their links.

When I suddenly saw through the pretensions of of economics and libertarian politics then I suddenly and savagely cut down the input of daily data, opinions, and stuff. This quite possibly enabled my innate religiousness to push through - it had been trying to get through for a while by then, but perhaps was finding the daily onslaught of media content too great to surmount.

SonofMoses said...

Dear Bruce,
I subscribed to your book some weeks ago, as soon as you mentioned it.
I look forward to receiving it.

Bernard Brandt said...

Dear Professor Charlton,

In this context, I have found useful a little book by John Henry Cardinal Newman, who was recently beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. In spite of that disqualification, I still find the book to be of considerable intellectual and spiritual help. Its title is An essay in aid of a Grammar of Assent.

Newman's thesis in that book is that there are three fundamental processes of conscious thought in the human mind: the first is doubt or inquiry, where one questions whether something exists ('does A exist?'); the second is inference ('if A exists, then B exists'); and the third process is called assent, where one holds something worthy of assent or belief.

It seems to me that the problem with modern thought (other than it often appearing to be an oxymoron) is that the alleged 'thinker' is told to doubt and to infer, but never to assume that to assent to something is to ascribe to an act of faith, or 'blind faith', as it is often called.

I can think of no process more likely to lead to a rejection of rational thought, with its beginning from principles or axioms, which in turn is taken from the Greek Axios, meaning worthy (of belief).

Of course, if you are correct in your hypothesis that human intelligence has been declining for the past century or so, I fear that this diminution of intellect has also had its effect upon 'modern thought'.

JP said...

logic is asymmetrical – it is very effective at destruction, but puny at construction.

Everything created by science required logic, n'est-ce pas? That seems like a very large thing indeed.

The case could be made that the modern world is the product of logic. It is true that logic was used very effectively to demolish the pre-modern world, but what followed was a very large constructive effort.

Then the question arises of whether or not the compulsively destructive efforts we see all around us, in the post-modern world, are the product of logic. PC craziness is many things, but logical it is not - indeed, it is defiantly illogical. You cannot reason with PC Leftists, they'll just start screaming at you.

The main problem of logic, as such, today is not that it cannot construct, but that it cannot stop the destruction.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - Not so sure. It is quite hard to say what science is. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing to base life on - there is quite a lot of revising and overturning.