06 September 2014

Ridding ourselves of meaning

A longish post from Dr. Jeff Mirus at Catholic Culture: On Not Settling for Less: The Cognitive Guide to Happiness.

An excerpt from the first section:

1. The Denial of Transcendence

Modern man believes he has rid himself of mythology so that he can see reality clearly. The truth is that he wears blinders. Our culture is deeply afflicted by a simple decision to ignore the deepest aspects of reality, that is, everything that transcends the material surface of life. I am of course referring to “meaning”, which is inescapably spiritual. Modern man regards spirit as a myth, and so necessarily denies that there is ultimate meaning to anything. It is an astonishing rejection.

[. . .]

Dr. Mirus starts at exactly the right place -- our culture's denial of transcendence. If this sounds too abstract, too "other-worldly," then his point is made. We think of transcendence as mystical, mythological, ephemeral. Yet, our gifted ability to refer to what transcends the merely worldly is what makes it possible for us to seek out the good, true, and beautiful. 

Philosophers of the "enlightenment" worked overtime to "free" themselves from the cognitive categories handed down to them by their medieval predecessors. Believing that these categories were unnecessarily constraining, even to the point of being irrational, modern thinkers simply choose to discard the grand synthesis achieved by the scholastics. 

What happens when we dismiss transcendental reference as an impossibility? The meanings of words, concepts, ideas, etc. are no longer stable across cultures, ages, or even persons -- language is vacated and only power matters.

And now, we are paying the price for their hubris.

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  1. Didn't it all begin in the Middle Age with the scholastic Dun Scotus and with Nominalism?

    1. Indeed it did. A generation after Aquinas.