Wednesday, May 14, 2003

"The point is that the ambivalence we feel about Descartes is a reflection of the ambivalence we feel about modernity. Despite the prattlings of contemporary academic "humanists," New Agers, and other intellectually handicapped persons, no one can in good faith utter a simple "no" to modernity. The affluent protestors who chat on their cell phones and jet around the world to demonstrate against "globalization" embody in their lives the very things they pretend to reject. Still, an unqualified "yes" to the modern world is also impossible. Descartes' dream of a philosophy that would render us the "masters and possessors of nature" has been all but realized. The question is whether we can really inhabit the world that we rule over with such thoroughness. Advances in genetic engineering, in nanotechnology, and other frontiers of science, pose deep challenges to any traditional notion of humanity and moral order."

-Roger Kimball, "What's Left of Descartes?" Lives of the Mind

Very intriguing. To what extent can one say "no" to modernity as an ideology, while accepting its benefits? I suppose in the exact same way one can say "O Felix Culpa!" to the fall of Adam and Eve or to the American economy's exaltation of greed.

I've long been pondering the various theories of nature. In contrast to the ancients and medievals, moderns see the natural no longer as man's superior and an ordered reflection of God's creative will. Rather, it is subject to the absolute domination of man. And so man is faced with the awful indignity of being an existentialist: he has no place in nature, but must nonetheless give meaning to a meaningless universe.

Even in the medieval Christian worldview, man never really fit within nature. Aquinas declares that man's happiness consists in no created thing, but rather in God. Yet there was a sense that nature was man's teacher, rather than man's slave, that man was part of the created order. The Dumb Ox also states "the order of nature is from God Himself: wherefore in sins contrary to nature, whereby the very order of nature is violated, an injury is done to God, the Author of nature." The Cartesians have obliterated both the magisterial quality of nature and its image of God's will, and in so doing, have undermined the "traditional notion of humanity and moral order."

What then? Is there "no returning to the pre-Cartesian"? Is Nature's slavery permanent?

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