The Passion of the Western Mind | Reflections & Notes

Richard Tarnas. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View. Ballantine Books, 1991. (544 pages)


This may be my top favorite book ever. The mere scope of the project is astonishing, and Tarnas’s objective analysis, concise summations, and cultural evaluation, captivated my imagination and inspired my curiosity. Virtually every page in this book has been highlighted, underlined, or asterisked.

Here are a few reasons why I absolutely love this book:

  • An historical account that reports “happenings” are not as interesting to me as an historical analysis of the ideas that give rise to the events. An ideological history is, in my humble opinion, far more informative, insightful, and reflective of our human journey.
  • My experiences in religious education through college and seminary have been, in my humble opinion, woefully inadequate, tribally myopic, and culturally irrelevant. Reading The Passion of the Western Mind provides a far more wholistic and integrated view of the development of religious concepts and ideas–the positive, and the negative–in their intellectual context. This approach elucidates the brilliance of our religious ancestors, the dynamism of their texts, and the vision of humanity they were intending to pass down to generations. Most religious institutions completely miss this genius as they either fight against the cultural, or dismiss them through a more parochial epistemology, a perspective and approach I deeply lament. For the religiously devoted who are willing, The Passion of the Western Mind is “jumping in the deep end of the pool” of intellectual thought that will challenge and encourage a more comprehensive, extensive, and human approach to religious faith.
  • It could be said that Western civilization is going through a significant epistemological crisis, a difficulty that is at the root of all other existential issues (e.g. tribalism, globalism, ecology, democracy, economics, elitism, dataism, etc.) Gaining perspective may be the only tool in our belts that can mitigate the worst effects of our dearth of understanding, and The Passion of the Western Mind offers a synthesized, grounded, objective, analytical, critical, and historical perspective second to none. Less limbic system. Full on frontal cortex.
  • The Epilogue alone is worth the price of admission. In it, Tarnas suggests two main archetypes that are astonishing.
    • The first is a gender archetype, that the journey of the Western mind has been primarily masculine, and that we are now awakening to the feminine, an essential and necessary step in our intellectual evolution.
    • The second is a reunified consciousness, both in the rejoining of the masculine and the feminine, but also the re-synthesis of the mysterious with the brute. The culmination of millennia of pontification is the “remarriage” of these archetypes into one unified understanding, one singular existence that embraces the “dialectic,” the two into one. E pluribus unum. Put another way, what God has joined together man has separated, and it is once again yearning to be re-bonded back together again.
    • Both of these are rooted in the hypothesis that humanity fundamentally struggles between two great separations: the tragedy of birth, and the tragedy of death.
    • (Brilliant!)

The course of history that Tarnas covers is approximately 3500 years. Over that time, it could be said that the concentration of ideological evolution has expanded rapidly, an acceleration of new ways of thinking and conceptualizing the universe that now takes advantage of and synthesizes our predecessors’ work. Standing on the shoulders of previous thinkers does not just endear us to gratitude, however, but provides for us a vista previously unavailable, opening up possibilities never before fathomable. In other words, we are conceiving now, that which was once inconceivable.

The development of Artificial Intelligence, neural networks, and autonomous machines are conspiring to challenge our understanding of consciousness once again. Quantum mechanics has reintroduced another depth to the fundamental reality of the universe positing the possibilities of infinity, expanding even further the sense of existential insignificance. Telekinesis technologies are helping the paralyzed. At the same time they are opening up the possibility of downloading our thoughts and memories. Biotech is advancing ailment remedies, but is also close to expanding–for the first time in history–life span, the possibility of living beyond 100-120 years of age. The ubiquitous access to information has created a democratization of education unparalleled in human history, completely demolishing our institutions of authority, and creating a new stratification of human organization between those who think they know and those who know they know. The great epistemological crisis is that we no longer need epistemology. Information–“dataism” in Harari’s words–is the new god. But if that is the case, then who are we but complicated algorithms? Akin to the Cartesian philosophy, I do not actually think, therefore, am I?

At the same time, there seems to be a perennial and perpetual primitiveness to the human consciousness that does not evolve from lower ways of thinking, but evolves further into lower ways of thinking. Anti-science convictions, skepticism, tribalism, and religious fundamentalism are not just extant, but perniciously resilient. Postulates against the age of the earth, vaccines, and anthropogenic climate change, while demonstrably false, are still held by the common man. In light of such clear evidence to the contrary, how could the human mind still grasp esoteric, parochial, contradictory, and nonsensical beliefs? This, too, is the legacy of the Western mind, and any moralizing sentiment must be carefully analyzed and synthesized with the fulls scope of our intellectual journey.

This to me is the great curiosity. After thousands of years of advancement, education, observation, heightened awareness, and deepening humanism, all culminating in various forms of a unified theory of everything, where are we to go from here? What new intellectual horizons await us beyond the 21st century (A.D./C.E.) conglomeration of the history of western thinking? If the masculine and feminine, the mystical and the brute, the creative and the analytical, the measured and the whimsical parts of our humanity are coming together, what is this new human expression? To what have we evolved?

I share these reflections and notes below in hopes of advancing a more thoughtful, critical, analytical, objective, and human understanding of the ideas that have not just shaped our views, but have transformed our behaviors, built our systems, governed our morals and ethics, and enlightened our ideals.

Here’s to the next millennium of ideas.



We hear much now about the breakdown of the Western tradition, the decline of liberal education, the dangerous lack of a cultural foundation for grappling with contemporary problems. Partly such concerns reflect a genuine need,… How did the modern world come to its present condition? How did the modern mind arrive at those fundamental ideas and working principles that so profoundly influence the world today? (xiii)

The success of the masterpieces seems to lie not so much in their freedom from faults–indeed we tolerate the grossest errors in them all–but in the immense persuasiveness of a mind which has completely mastered its perspective. – Virginia Woolf

Every age must remember its history anew. Each generation must examine and think through again, from its own distinctive vantage point, the ideas that have shaped its understanding of the world. (xiv)

The world is deep:
deeper than day can comprehend.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra


Unless we are able to perceive and articulate, on their own terms and without condescension, certain powerful beliefs and assumptions that we no longer consider valid or defensible–for example, the once universal conviction that the Earth is the stationary center of the cosmos, or the even more enduring tendency among Western thinkers to conceive of and personify the human species in predominantly masculine terms–then we will fail to understand the intellectual and cultural foundations of our own thought. (1)

I. The Greek World View

…let us begin wby examining one of its most striking characteristics–a sustained, highly diversified tendency to interpret the world in terms of archetypal principles. … At its basis was a view of the cosmos as an ordered expression of certain primordial essences or transcendent first principles, variously conceived as Forms, Ideas, universals, changeless absolutes, immortal deities, divine archai, and archetypes. …not only Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and Pythagoras before them and Plotinus after, but indeed Homer and Hesiod, Aeschylus and Sophocles all expressed something like a common vision, reflect-(3)ing a typically Greek propensity to see clarifying universals in the chaos of life. (4)

…we may say that the Greek universe was ordered by a plurality of timeless essences which underlay concrete reality, giving it form and meaning. These archetypal principles included the mathematical forms of geometry and arithmetic; cosmic opposites such as light and dark, male and female, love and hate, unity and multiplicity; the forms of man (anthrōpos) and other living creatures; and the Ideas of the Good, the Beautiful, the Just, and other absolute moral and aesthetic values. In the pre-philosophical Greek mind, these archetypal principles took the form of mythic personifications such as Eros, Chaos, Heaven and Earth (Ouranos and Gaia), as well as more fully personified figures such as Zeus, Prometheus, and Aphrodite. (4)

The Archetypal Forms

It is crucial to the Platonic understanding that these Forms are primary, while the visible objects of conventional reality are their direct derivatives. (6)

Plato taught that what is perceived as a particular object in the world can best be understood as a concrete expression of a more fundamental Idea, an archetype which gives that object its special structure and condition. … Something is “beautiful” to the exact extent that the archetype of Beauty is present in it. (6)

Because Socrates and Plato believed that knowledge of virtue was necessary for a person to live a life of virtue, objective universal concepts of justice and goodness seemed imperative for a genuine ethics. (7)

The philosopher’s task encompasses both the moral and the scientific dimensions, and the Ideas provide a foundation for both. (7)

One of Plato’s critics once stated, “I see particular horses, but not horseness.” Plato answered, “That is because you have eyes but no intelligence.” (8)

[via: “You have eyes, but do not see.” (Jeremiah 5:21; Psalm 115:5; 135:16; Mark 8:1)]

The Platonic perspective thus asks the philosopher to go through the particular to the universal, and beyond the appearance to the essence. It assumes not only that such insight is possible, but that it is mandatory for the attainment of true knowledge. (8)

Plato maintained a strong distrust of knowledge gained by sense perceptions, since such knowledge is constantly changing, relative, and private to each individual. A wind is pleasantly cool for one person but uncomfortably cold for another. A wine is sweet to a person who is well but sour to the same person when ill. Knowledge based on the senses is therefore a subjective judgment, an ever-varying opinion without any absolute foundation. True knowledge, by contrast, is possible only from a direct apprehension of the transcendent Forms, which are eternal and beyond the shifting confusion and imperfection of the physical plane. (8)

Everything in the sensible world is imperfect, relative, and constantly shifting, but human knowledge needs and seeks absolutes, which exist only on the transcendent level of pure Ideas. (9)

All phenomena are in a never-ending process of transformation from one thing into another, becoming this or that and then perishing, changing in relation to one person and another, or to the same person at different times. Nothing in this world is, because everything is always in a state of becoming something else. But one thing does enjoy real being, as distinguished from merely becoming, and this is the Idea–the only stable reality, that which underlies, motivates, and orders the flux of phenomena. …the ultimate reality, the world of Ideas wherein resides true being, not just becoming, is in itself changeless and eternal, and is therefore static. The relation of being to becoming for Plato was directly parallel to the relation of truth to opinion–what is apprehensible by the illuminated reason in contrast to what is apprehensible by the physical senses. (9)

…the Forms can be said to be immortal, and therefore similar to gods. (9)

[via: The most popular iteration of this is the Kalam Cosmological Argument as articulated by William Lane Craig]

The Ideas are thus the fundamental elements of both an ontology (a theory of being) and an epistemology (a theory of knowledge): they constitute the basic essence and deepest reality of things, and also the means by which certain human knowledge is possible. (10)

The paradigmatic example of Ideas for Plato was mathematics. (10)

While he concrete phenomena are transient and imperfect, the mathematical Ideas ordering those phenomena are perfect, eternal, and changeless. Hence the basic Platonic belief–that there exists a deeper, timeless order of absolutes behind the surface confusion and randomness of the temporal world–found in mathematics, it was thought, a a particularly graphic demonstration. (11)

To sum up: From the Platonic perspective, the fundamentals of existence are the archetypal Ideas, which constitute the intangible substrate of all that is tangible. The true structure of the world is revealed not by the senses, but by the intellect, which in its highest state has direct access to the Ideas governing reality. All knowledge presupposes the existence of the Ideas. The archetypal realm, far from being an unreal abstraction or imaginary metaphor for the concrete world, is here considered to be the very basis of reality, that which determines its order and renders it knowable. To this end, Plato declared direct experience of the transcendent Ideas to be the philosopher’s primary goal and ultimate destination. (12)

Ideas and Gods

All things are indeed “full of gods,” Plato asserted in his final work, the Laws. And here we must address a peculiar ambiguity in the nature of archetypes–an ambiguity central to the Greek vision as a whole–that suggested thee existence of an underlying connection between ruling principles and mythic beings. Although at times Plato favored a more abstract formulation of archetypes, as with the mathematical Ideas, at other times he spoke in terms of divine figures, mythical personages of exalted stature. (13)

Depending on a specific dialogue’s context, Zeus, Apollo, Hera, Ares, Aphrodite, and the rest could signify actual deities, allegorical figures, character types, psychological attitudes, modes of experience, philosophic principles, transcendent essences, sources of poetic inspiration or divine communications, objects of conventional piety, unknowable entities, imperishable artifacts of the supreme creator, heavenly bodies, foundations of the universal order, or rulers and teachers of mankind. (13)

Just as the Greek gods, variable though they may have been in cult, corporately comprise an analysis of the world–Athena as mind, Apollo as random and unpredictable illumination, Aphrodite as sexuality, Dionysus as change and excitement, Artemis as untouched ness, Hera as settlement and marriage, Zeus as order domination over all–so the Platonic forms exist in their own right, lucent and eternal above any transitory human participation in them…[Like the forms, the gods] were essences of life, by contemplation of which any individual life took on meaning and substance. – John Finley

Plato often criticized poets for anthropomorphizing the gods, yet he did not cease from teaching his own philosophical system in striking mythological formulations and with implicitly religious intent. … But of especial importance for our present inquiry was the effect of Plato’s vision on the unstable and problematic condition of the Greek world view. For by speaking of Ideas on one page and gods on another in such analogous terms, Plato resolved, tenuously yet with weighty and enduring consequences, the central tension in the classical Greek mind between myth and reason. (15)

The Evolution of the Greek Mind from Homer to Plato

The Mythic Vision

The religious and mythological background of Greek thought was profoundly pluralistic in character. (16)

The archaic Greek vision reflected an intrinsic unity of immediate sense perception and timeless meaning, of particular circumstance and universal drama, of human activity and divine motivation. (17)

Thus “Homer” was ambiguously both an individual human poet and a collective personification of the entire ancient Greek memory. (17)

cf. Hesiod’s Theogony

By the fifth century B.C., the great Greek tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were employing the ancient myths to explore the deeper themes of the human condition. Courage, cunning and strength, nobility and the striving for immortal glory were the characteristic virtues of the epic heroes. Yet however great the individual, man’s lot was circumscribed by fate and the fact of his mortality. (18)

The myths were the living body of that meaning, constituting a language that both reflected and illuminated the essential processes of life. (18)

The Birth of Philosophy

Thales and his successors Anaximander and Anaximenes, endowed with both leisure and curiosity, initiated an approach to understanding the world that was radically novel and extraordinarily consequential. …these prototypical scientists made the remarkable assumption that an underlying rational unity and order existed within the flux and variety of the world, and established for themselves the task of discovering a simple fundamental principle, or archē, that both governed nature and composed its basic substance. In so doing, they began to complement their traditional mythological understanding with more impersonal and conceptual explanations based on their observations of natural phenomena. (19)

All is water, and the world is full of gods. – Thales

Because it was author of its own ordered motions and transmutations, and because it was everlasting, this primary substance was considered to be not only material but also alive and divine. Much like Homer, these earliest philosophers perceived nature and divinity as yet intertwined. (19)

Ultimate, universal questions were being asked, and answers were beings ought from a new quarter–the human mind’s critical analysis of material phenomena. Nature was to be explained in terms of nature itself, not of something fundamentally beyond nature, and in impersonal terms rather than by means of personal gods and godesses. The primitive universe ruled by anthropomorphic deities began to give way to a world whose source and substance was a primary natural element such as water, air, or fire. In time, these primary substances would cease to be endowed with divinity or intelligence, and would instead be understood as purely material entities mechanically moved by chance or blind necessity. But already a rudimentary naturalistic empiricism was being born. And as man’s independent intelligence grew stronger, the sovereign power of the old gods grew weak. (20)

| The next step in this philosophical revolution,… Parmenides of Elea approached the problem of what was genuinely real by means of a purely abstract rational logic. (20)

These rudimentary but foundational developments in logic necessitated thinking through for the first time such matters as the difference between the real and the apparent, between rational truth and sensory perception, and between being and becoming. (20)

Epedocles posited four ultimate root elements–earth, water, air, and fire–which were eternal, and which were moved together and apart by the primary forces of Love and Strife. Anaxagoras proposed that the universe was constituted by an infinite number of minute, quantitatively different seeds. But instead of explaining matter’s movement in terms of blind semi mythic forces (such as Love and Strife), he postulated a transcendent primordial Mind (Nous), which set the material universe into motion and gave it form and order. (21)

| But the most comprehensive system in this development was that of atomism. … Leucippus and his successor Democritus constructed a complex explanation of all phenomena in purely materialistic terms: The world was composed exclusively of uncaused and immutable material atoms–a unitary changeless substance, as Parmenides required, though of infinite number. These invisibly minute and indivisible particles perpetually moved about in a boundless void and by their random collisions and varying combinations (21) produced the phenomena of the visible world. (22)

In atomism, the mythological residue of the earliest philosophers’ self-animated substance was now fully removed: the void alone caused the random motions of the atoms, which were entirely material and possessed neither divine order nor purpose. (22)

There was one major exception to this intellectual progress among the Greeks away from the mythic and toward the naturalistic, and this was Pythagoras. (22)

Where the Ionian physicists were interested din the material substance of phenomena, the Pythagoreans focused on the forms, particularly mathematical, that governed and ordered those phenomena. … Pythagoras and his followers conducted philosophy and science in a framework permeated by the beliefs of the mystery religions, especially Orphism. (23)

With the exception of the relatively autonomous Pythagoreans, the Hellenic mind before Socrates followed a definite, if at times ambiguous, direction away from the supernatural and toward the natural: from the divine to the mundane, from the mythical to the conceptual, from poetry and story to prose and analysis. (24)

Yet the more the Greek developed a sense of individual critical judgment and emerged from the collective primordial vision of earlier generations, the more conjectural became his understanding, the more narrow the compass of infallible knowledge. … With the advent of reason, everything seemed open to doubt, and each succeeding philosopher offered solutions differing from his predecessor’s. … It seemed that the more man became freely and consciously self-determining, the less sure was his footing. (24)

The gods did not reveal, from the beginning, all things to us but in the course of time, through seeking, men find that which is the better… – Xenophanes

The Greek Enlightenment

In the course of the fifth century, Hellenic culture attained a delicate and fertile balance between the ancient mythological tradition and the modern secular rationalism. (25)

The most acute stage in this evolution was reached in the latter half of the fifth century with the emergence of the Sophists. (26)

…with the Sophists, a new element of skeptical pragmatism entered Greek thought, turning philosophy away from its earlier, more speculative and cosmological concerns. According to Sophists such as Protagoras, man was the measure of all things, and his own individual judgments concerning everyday human life should form the basis of his personal beliefs and conduct–not naive conformity to traditional religion nor indulgence in far-flung abstract speculation. Truth was relative, not absolute, and differed from culture to culture, from person to person, and from situation to situation. Claims to the contrary, whether religious or philosophical, could not stand up to critical argument. The ultimate value of any belief or opinion could be judged only by its practical utility in serving an individual’s needs in life. (27)

Not only were the old mythologies losing their hold on the Greek mind, but the current state of scientific explanation was reaching a point of crisis. … From Thales on, each philosopher had proposed his particular theory as to what was the true nature of the world, with each theory contradicting the others, and with a growing tendency to reject the reality of more and more of the phenomenal world revealed by the senses. The result was a chaos of conflating ideas, with no basis upon which to certify one above the rest. Moreover, the natural philosophers seemed to have been constructing their theories about the external world without adequately taking into account the human observer, the subjective element. By contrast, the Sophists recognized that each person had his own experience, and therefore his own reality. In the end, they argued, all understanding is subjective opinion. (27) All a person can legitimately claim to know is probabilities, not absolute truth. (28)

| Yet, according to the Sophists, it did not matter if man had no certain insight into the world outside him. He could know only the contents of his own mind–appearances rather than essences–but these constituted the only reality that could be of valid concern to him. …a reality could not be said to exist outside of human conjecture. (28)

The Sophists proposed that the critical rationalism that had previously been directed toward the physical world could not more fruitfully be applied to human affairs, to ethics and politics. … The recent physical theories were drawn on to suggest the same conclusion: If the experience of hot and cold had no objective existence in nature but was merely an individual person’s subjective impression created by a temporary arrangement of interacting atoms, then so too might the standards of right and wrong be equally insubstantial, conventional, and subjectively determined. (28)

Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what form they are; for there are many obstacles to such knowledge, including the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life. – Protagoras

The world was therefore best viewed apart from religious prejudices. (29)

| Hence the Sophist concluded in favor of a flexible atheism or agnosticism in metaphysics and a situational morality in ethics. … After centuries of blind obedience to restrictive traditional attitudes, man could now free himself to pursue a program of enlightened self-interest. To discover by rational means what was most useful for man seemed a more intelligent strategy than to base one’s actions on belief in mythological deities or the absolutist assumptions of unprovable metaphysics. … Because the skills for achieving excellence in life could be taught and learned, a man was free to expand his opportunities through education. He was not limited by traditional assumptions such as the conventional belief that one’s abilities were forever fixed as a result of chance endowment or the status of one’s birth. Through such a program as that offered by the Sophists, both the individual and the society could better themselves. (29)

| Thus the Sophists mediated the transition from an age of myth to an age of practical reason. … The proper molding of a man’s character for successful participation in polis life required a sound education in the various arts and sciences, and thus was established the paideia–the classical Greek system of education and training, which came to include gymnastics, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, music, mathematics, geography, natural history, astronomy and the physical sciences, (29) history of society and ethics, and philosophy–the complete pedagogical course of study necessary to produce a well-rounded, fully educated citizen. (30)

As a result, man’s status was greater than ever before. … Yet he was no longer so significant in the cosmic scheme… (30)

Despite the positive effects of their intellectual training and establishment of a liberal education as a basis for effective character formation, a radical skepticism toward all values led some to advocate an explicitly amoral opportunism. Students were instructed how to devise ostensibly plausible arguments supporting virtually any claim. (30)

The Sophists’ relativistic humanism, for all its progressive and liberal character, was not proving wholly benign. … Their bold assertion of human intellectual (30) sovereignty–that through its own power man’s thought could provide him with sufficient wisdom to live his life well, that the human mind could independently produce the strength of equilibrium–now seemed to require reevaluation. To more conservative sensibilities, the foundations of the traditional Hellenic belief system and its previously timeless values were being dangerously eroded, while reason and verbal skill were coming to have  less than impeccable reputation. Indeed, the whole development of reason now seemed to have undercut its own basis, with the human mind denying itself the capacity for genuine knowledge of the world. (31)


His words and deeds embodied an abiding conviction that the act of rational self-criticism could free the human mind from the bondage of false opinion. … Disarmingly humble yet presumptuously confident, puckishly witty yet morally urgent, engaging and gregarious yet solitary and contemplative, Socrates was above all a man consumed by a passion for truth. (32)

The water of conflicting theories brought more confusion than clarity, and their explanations of the universe solely in terms of material causation, ignoring the evidence of purposive intelligence in the world, seemed to him inadequate. Such theories, he judged, were neither conceptually coherent nor morally useful. He therefore turned from physics and cosmology to ethics and logic. How one should live, and how to think clearly about how one should live, became his overriding concern. As Cicero would declare three centuries later, Socrates “called down philosophy from the skies and implanted it in the cities and homes of men.” (32)

The Sophists offered to teach others how to live a successful life, in a world in which all moral standard were conventions and all human knowledge was relative. Socrates believed such an educational philosophy was both intellectually (32) misconceived and morally detrimental. …Socrates saw his own task as that of finding a way to a knowledge that transcended mere opinion, to inform a morality that transcended mere convention. (33)

| At an early date in the young philosopher’s life, the oracle of Apollo at Delphi had declared that no man was wiser than Socrates. Seeking, as he later put it with characteristic irony, to disprove the oracle, Socrates assiduously examined the beliefs and thinking of all who considered themselves wise–concluding that he was indeed wiser than all others, for he alone recognized his own ignorance. But while the Sophists had held genuine knowledge to be unattainable, Socrates held rather than genuine knowledge had not yet been achieved. His repeated demonstration of human ignorance, both his own and that of others, were intended to elicit not intellectual despair but rather intellectual humility. The discovery of ignorance was for Socrates the beginning rather than the end of the philosophical task, for only through that discovery could one begin to overcome those received assumptions that obscured the true nature of what it was to be a human being. Socrates conceived it his personal mission to convince others of their ignorance so that they might better search for a knowledge of how life should best be lived. (33)

| In Socrate’s view, any attempt to foster true success and excellence in human life had to take account of the innermost reality of a human being, his soul or psyche. … He affirmed the Delphic motto “Know thyself,”… Happiness is the consequence not of physical or external circumstances, of wealth or power or reputation, but of living a life that is good for the soul. (33)

| Yet to live a genuinely good life, one must know what is the nature and essence of the good. (33)

No one ever does wrong knowingly,… (34)

To know virtue, one has to discover the common element in all virtuous acts: i.e., the essence of virtue. … Words could indeed distort and deceive, giving the impression of truth when actually they lacked solid foundation. But words could also point, as to a precious invisible mystery, to something genuine and enduring. (34)

It was in the course of pursuing this task that Socrates developed his famous dialectical form of argument that would become fundamental to the character and evolution of the Western mind: reasoning through rigorous dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation intended to expose false beliefs and elicit truth. (34)

…philosophy for Socrates was concerned less with knowing the right answers than with the strenuous attempt to discover those answers. Philosophy was a process, a discipline, a lifelong quest. To practice philosophy in the Socratic manner was continually to subject one’s thoughts to the criticism of reason in earnest dialogue with others. Genuine knowledge was not something that could simply be received from another secondhand like a purchased commodity, as with the Sophists, but was rather a personal achievement, won only at the cost of constant intellectual struggle and self-critical reflection. “The life not tested by criticism,” Socrates declared, “is not worth living.”

The Platonic Hero

With its unique synthesis of eros and logos–of passion and mind, friendship and argument, desire and truth–Socrates’s philosophy appears to have been a direct expression of his personality. (35)

Finally, according to Plato’s middle dialogues, after exhaustive argument and meditation on these matters, Socrates put forth his own (36) fundamental postulate to serve as that ultimate foundation for knowledge and moral standards: When something is good or beautiful, it is so because that thing partakes of an archetypal essence of goodness or beauty that is absolute and perfect, that exists on a timeless level that transcends its passing particular manifestation, and that is ultimately accessible only to the intellect, not to the senses. (37)

In Plato’s Socrates, human thought no longer stood precariously on its own, but had found a confidence and certainty grounded in something more fundamental. Thus, as dramatically set forth by Plato, the paradoxical denouement of Socrates’s skeptical pursuit of truth was his final arrival at the conception, or vision, of the eternal Ideasabsolute Good, Truth, Beauty, and the rest–in contemplation of which he ended his long philosophical search and fulfilled it. (37)


The trial and execution of Socrates by the Athenian democracy left a profound impression on Plato, persuading him of the untrustworthiness of both a rudderless democracy and a standardless philosophy: hence the necessity of an absolute foundation for values if any political or philosophical system was to be successful and wise. (39)

Socrates thus became not only the inspiration for but also the personification of the Platonic philosophy. (40)

The Philosopher’s Quest and the Universal Mind

For all its devotion to dialectical precision and intellectual rigor, Plato’s philosophy was permeated with a kind of religious romanticism that affected both its ontological categories and its epistemological strategy. … For Plato, the ultimate reality is not only ethical and rational in nature, but also aesthetic. The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are effectively united in the supreme creative principle, at once commanding moral formation, intellectual allegiance, and aesthetic surrender. As the most accessible of the Forms, visible in part even to the physical eye, Beauty opens up human awareness to the existence of the other Forms, drawing the philosopher toward the beatific vision and knowledge of the True and the Good. Hence Plato suggested that the highest philosophical vision is possible only to one with the temperament of a lover. The philosopher must permit himself to be inwardly grasped by the most sublime form of Eros–that universal passion to restore a former unity, to overcome the separation from the divine and become one with it. (41)

Plato described knowledge of the divine as being implicit in every soul, but forgotten. (41)

Plato repeatedly linked light, truth, and goodness. In the Republic, he described the Idea of the Good as being to the intelligible realm what the Sun is to the visible realm: in the same way that the Sun allows objects of the visible world to grow and to be visible, so does the Good grant to all objects of reason their existence and their intelligibility. (42)

[via: Similar to C.S. Lewis’s statement, “I believe in God as I believe in the sun.” Also reminds me of Jesus, “Who is good but god alone?” (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:18)]

…the recollection of the Ideas is both the means and the goal of true knowledge. (43)

Education, therefore, is in the service of the soul and the divine, and not, as for the Sophists, of the secular and human alone. Moreover education is a process through which truth is not introduced into the mind from without, but is “led out” from within. The mind then finds revealed within itself a knowledge both of its own nature and of the universe, a knowledge otherwise clouded by the obscurities of mundane existence. (43)

Philosophical illumination, then, is a reawakening to and remembrance of forgotten knowledge, a reestablishment of the soul’s happy intimacy with the transcendent Ideas that inhere in all things. … Such passionately affirmed confidence in the reality of the eternal, accompanied by the dialogues’ frequent references to myth and the sacred mysteries, suggests that Socrates and Plato themselves may have been intimately involved with the Greek mystery religions. (43)

It could be said that the dualism of the characteristic Platonic values–the philosopher over the common man, the mind and soul over matter, the pre-existing ideal Forms over the phenomenal world, the absolute over the relative, the posthumous spiritual life over the present physical life–reflected Plato’s reaction to the political, moral, and intellectual crises of Athens during his lifetime. … Human achievement per se was relative and precarious. Only a society founded on divine principles and governed by divinely informed philosophers could save mankind from its destructive irrationality; and the best life was one directed away from mundane life and toward the world of the eternal Ideas. … The spiritual alone held genuine truth and value. (44)

For at the heart of Plato’s conception of the world was the notion of a transcendent intelligence that rules and orders all things: divine Reason is “the king of heaven and earth.” The universe is ultimately ruled not by chance, materialistic mechanics, or blind necessity, but rather by “a wondrous regulating intelligence.” (44)

| Plato also recognized in the world’s composition an irreducible element of stubborn errancy and irrationality, which he referred to as (44) anakē, [ανακη] or Necessity. … Anakē, the refractory purposelessness and random irrationality in the universe, resists full conformity to the creative Reason. It shadows the archetypal perfection, obscuring its pure expression in the concrete world. Reason overrules Necessity, in the greatest part of the world so that it conforms to good purpose, but on some points Reason cannot overcome the errant cause–hence the existence of evil and disorder in the world. (45)

Anaxagoras in Periclean Athens had proposed that Nous [νους], or Mind, was the transcendent source of the cosmic order. … But about a half-century before Anaxagoras, the poet-philosopher Xenophanes, having criticized the anthropomorphic deities of naive popular tradition, had posited instead a single supreme God, a universal divinity who influenced the world through pure intellection, and who was in essence identified with the world itself. (45)

[via: The first monotheist? Henotheist?]

Shortly afterward, another Presocratic philosopher, the solitary and enigmatic Heraclitus, introduced a similarly immanent conception of divine intelligence with his use of the term logos [λογος] (originally meaning word, speech, or thought) to signify the rational principle governing the cosmos. All things are in constant flux, and yet are fundamentally related and ordered through the universal Logos, which is also manifest in the human being’s power to reason. Heraclitus associated the Logos (45) with the element of fire, which, like the Heraclitean world as a whole, is born of strife, ever-consuming, and in constant movement. It is the law of the universal Logos that everything is defined by, tends toward, and is ultimately balanced by its opposite, so that all opposites ultimately constitute a unity. The finest harmony is composed of elements that are in tension with each other. Heraclitus asserted that most human beings, by not understanding the Logos, live as if asleep in a false dream of the world, and consequently in a state of constant disharmony. Human beings should seek to comprehend the Logos of life, and thereby awaken to a life of intelligent cooperation with the universe’s deeper order. (46)

| But it was the Pythagoreans, perhaps above all other philosophical schools, who stressed the world’s intelligibility,… The Pythagorean discovery that the harmonics of music were mathematical, that harmonious tones were produced by strings whose measurements were determined by simple numerical ratios, was regarded as a religious revelation. … To understand mathematics was to have found the key to the divine creative wisdom. (46)

The word kosmos [κοσμος], which signified a peculiarly Greek com-(46)binational of order, structural perfection, and beauty, was traditionally supposed to have been first applied to the world by Pythagoras, after whose time its as frequently understood in that Pythagorean sense. As restated by Plato, to discover kosmos in the world was to reveal kosmos in one’s own soul. In the thought life of man, the world spirit revealed itself. Here the Socratic dictum “Know thyself” was seen not as the creed of an introspective subjectivist, but as a directive to universal understanding. (47)

| The belief that the universe possesses and is governed according to a comprehensive regulating intelligence, and that this same intelligence is reflected in the human mind, rendering it capable of knowing the cosmic order, was one of the most characteristic and recurring principles in the central tradition of Hellenic thought. After Plato, the terms logos and nous were both regularly associated with philosophical conceptions of human knowledge and the universal order, and through Aristotle, the Stoics, and later Platonists, their meanings were increasingly elaborated. As ancient philosophy progressed, logos and nous were variously employed to signify mind, reason, intellect, organizing principle, thought, word, speech, wisdom, and meaning, in each case relative to both human reason and a universal intelligence. The two terms eventually came to denote the transcendent source of all archetypes, as well as the providential principle of cosmic order that, thorough the archetypes, continuously permeates the created world. As the means by which human intelligence could attain universal understanding, the Logos was a divine revelatory principle, simultaneously operative within the human mind and the natural world. The highest quest of the philosopher was to achieve inner realization of this archetypal world Reason, to grasp and be grasped by this supreme rational-spiritual principle that both ordered and revealed. (47)

The Problem of the Planets

…this problem–how to explain mathematically the erratic movements of the planets–was so significant for Plato that he described the need for its resolution as if it were a matter of religious urgency. (48)

It would appear that from very early times ancient observers noticed a fundamental distinction between the celestial and terrestrial realms. While earthly life was everywhere marked by change, unpredictability, generation and decay, the heavens seemed to possess and eternal regular-(48)ity and luminous beauty that established them as a realm of an entirely different and superior order. … The heavens appeared to possess an order of time that transcended human time, an order of time suggestive of eternity itself. … The celestial realm seemed to express–indeed it seemed to be–the very image of transcendence. Perhaps because the heavens were distinguished by these extraordinary qualities–luminous appearance, timeless order, transcendent location, terrestrial effects, and an all-encompassing majesty–the ancients viewed the celestial realm as the residence of the gods. … From this perspective the heavens were not so much a metaphor for the divine, but rather the divine’s very embodiment. (49)

While for other contemporary cultures the heavens remained, like the overall world view, principally a mythological phenomenon, for the Greeks the heavens became linked as well to (49) geometrical constructions and physical explanations, which in turn became basic components of their evolving cosmology. (50)

Plato believed it was man’s encounter with the celestial movements that had first given rise to human reasoning about the nature of things, to the divisions of the day and the year, to numbers and mathematics, and even to philosophy itself, that most liberating of the gods’ gifts to mankind. The universe was the living manifestation of divine Reason, and nowhere was that Reason more fully manifest than in the heavens. (50)


The planets were inexplicably defying the perfect symmetry and circular uniformity of the heavenly motions. (52)

In the Laws, he [Plato] cited two reasons for belief in divinity–his theory of the soul (that all being and motion is caused by soul, which is immortal and superior to the physical things it animates), and his conception of the heavens as divine bodies governed by a supreme intelligence and world soul. (52)

But Plato not only isolated the problem and defined its significance. He also advanced, with remarkable confidence, a specific–and in the long run extremely fruitful–hypothesis: namely, that the planets, in apparent contradiction to the empirical evidence, actually move in single uniform orbits of perfect regularity. (52)

The philosopher’s task was to “save the phenomena”–to redeem the apparent disorder of the empirical heavens through theoretical insight and the power of mathematics. (53)

| Of course, “saving the phenomena” was in some sense the main goal of all Platonic philosophy: to discover the eternal behind the temporal, to know the truth hidden within the apparent, to glimpse the absolute Ideas that reign supreme behind and within the flux of the empirical world. (53)

Here, then, we find may of the most characteristic elements of Platonic philosophy: the search for and belief in the absolute and unitary over the relative and diverse, the divinization of order and the rejection of disorder, the tension between empirical observation and ideal Forms, the consequently ambivalent attitude toward empiricism as something to be employed only to be overcome, the juxtaposition of the primordial mythic deities with the mathematical and rational Forms, the further juxtaposition of the man gods (the celestial deities) with the single God (the Creator and supreme Intelligence), the religious significance of scientific research, and finally the complex and even antithetical consequences which Plato’s thought would hold for later developments in Western culture. (53)


The transcendent could also be approached through myth and the poetic imagination, as well as by attending to ta kind of aesthetic resonance within the psyche touched off by the presence of the archetypal in veiled form within the phenomenal world. Thus intuition, memory, aesthetics, imagination, logic, mathematics, and empirical observation each played a specific role in Plato’s epistemology, as did spiritual desire and moral virtue. But of all of these, the empirical was typically depreciated and, at least in its uncritical employment, considered more hindrance than help in the philosophical enterprise. (54)

Aristotle and the Greek Balance

…from a Platonic view, the luminosity of Plato’s universe based on the transcendent Ideas was diminished in the process, others would point to a decisive gain in the articulate intelligibility of the world as described by Aristotle, and would indeed consider his outlook to be a necessary modification of Plato’s idealism. … For Aristotle provided a language and logic, a foundation and structure, and, not least, a formidably authoritative opponent–first against Platonism and later against the early modern mind–without which the philosophy, theology, and science of the West could not have developed as they did. (55)

The crux of their difference involved the precise nature of the Forms and their relation to the empirical world. Aristotle’s intellectual temperament was one that took the empirical world on its own terms as fully real. He could not accept Plato’s conclusion that the basis of reality (55) existed in an entirely transcendent and immaterial realm of ideal entities. True reality, he believed, was the perceptible world of concrete objects, not an imperceptible world of eternal Ideas. (56)

To counter that theory, Aristotle put forth his doctrine of categories. … The horse is substantial in its reality in a way that the adjectives describing it are not. To distinguish between these different ways of being, Aristotle introduced the notion of categories: the particular horse is a substance, which constitutes one category; its whiteness is a quality, which constitutes another category altogether. The substance is the primary reality, upon which the quality depends for its existence. Among the ten categories established by Aristotle, only substance (“this horse”) signifies concrete independent existence, while the others–quality (“white”), quantity (“tall”), relation (“faster”), and the rest–are derivative ways of being in that they exist solely relative to an individual substance. A substance is ontologically primary, while the various other types of being that may be predicated of it are derivative. Substances underlie and are the subjects of everything else. If substances did not exist, nothing would exist. (56)

Many things can be beautiful, but that does not mean there is a transcendent Idea of the Beautiful. Beauty exists only if at some point a concrete (56) substance is beautiful. (57)

Aristotle turned Plato’s ontology upside down. For Plato, the particular was less real, a derivative of the universal; for Aristotle, the universal was less real, a derivative of the particular. (57)

A substance, Aristotle concluded, is not simply a unit of matter, but is an intelligible structure or form (eidos) [ειδος] emobdied in matter. (57)

The organism is drawn forward by the form from potentiality to actuality. After this formal realization is achieved, decay sets in as the form gradually “loses its hold.” (58)

Every substance is composed of that which is changed (the matter) and that into which it is changed (the form). (58)

Thus Aristotle moved toward reconciling the Platonic Forms with the empirical facts of dynamic natural processes, and more deeply stressed the human intellect’s capacity to recognize these formal patterns in the sensible world. (59)

All living things require powers of nutrition to survive and grow (plants, animals, man) while some also require powers of sensation to be aware of objects and distinguish between them (animals, man). In the case of man, who is further endowed with reason, these powers enable him to store up his experience, to make comparisons and contrasts, to calculate and reflect and draw conclusions, all of which make possible knowledge of the world. Human understanding of the world thus begins with a sense perception. Before any sensory experience, the human mind is like a clean slate on which nothing is written. (59)

Establishing systematic rules for the proper employment of logic and language, Aristotle built on principles already worked out by Socrates and Plato, but brought new clarity, coherence, and innovations of his own. Dedication and induction, the syllogism, the analysis of causation into material, efficient, formal, and final causes, basic distinctions such as subject-predicate, essential-accidental, matter-form, potential-actual, universal-particular, genus-species-individual, the ten categories of substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, state, action, and affection: all were defined by Aristotle and established thereafter as indispensable instruments of analysis for the Western mind. Where Plato had placed direct intuition of the transcendent Ideas a the foundation of knowledge, Aristotle now placed empiricism and logic. (60)

| Yet Aristotle believed that the mind’s greatest power of cognition derived from something beyond empiricism and the rational elaboration of sensory experience. Although it is difficult to discern his precise meaning rom the brief and somewhat obscure statements he made concerning the issue, it would seem that Aristotle regarded the mind not only as that which is activated by sensory experience, but also as something that is eternally active, and indeed divine and immortal. This aspect of mind, the active intellect (nous) [νους], alone gave and the intuitive capacity to grasp final and universal truths. … the individual human soul might cease to exist with death, since (60) the soul is vitally joined to the physical body it animates. The soul in the form of the body, just as the body is the matter of the soul. But the divine intellect, one which each man has a potential share and which distinguishes man from other animals, is immortal and transcendent. Indeed, man’s highest happiness consists in the philosophical contemplation of eternal truth. (61)

…the deepest cause for things must be sought not in the beginning of things but in their end–their telos [τελος], their purpose and final actuality, that to which they aspire. (61)

In essence, Aristotle realigned Plato’s archetypal perspective from a transcendent focus to an immanent one, so it was fully directed to the physical world with its empirically observable patterns and processes. (61)

Forms are not beings, for they possess no independent existence. Rather, beings exist through forms. (62)


All motion and process in the world was explicable by his formal teleology: Every being is moved from potentiality to actuality according to an inner dynamic dictated by a specific form. (62)

Aristotle posited a supreme Form–an already existing actuality, absolute in its perfection, the only form existing entirely separate from matter. Since the greatest universal motion is that of the heavens, and since that circular motion is eternal, this prime mover must also be eternal. (63)

…hence the Unmoved Mover, the supreme perfect Being that is pure form, God. (63)

| This absolute Being, here posited by logical necessity rather than religious conviction, is the first cause of the universe. Yet this Being is wholly self-absorbed, since for it to take any heed of physical nature would diminish its perfect undisturbed character and immerse it in the flux of potentialities. As perfect actuality, the Unmoved Mover is characterized by a state of eternal unhindered activity–not the struggling process (kinesis) [κινεσις] of moving from potential to actual, but the forever enjoyable activity (energeia) [ενεργεια] made possible only in a state of complete formal realization. For the supreme Form, that activity is thought: eternal contemplation of its own being, unqualified by the change and imperfection of the physical world it ultimately motivates. Aristotle’s God is thus pure Mind, with no material component. Its activity and pleasure is simply that of eternal consciousness of itself. (63)

| In its absolute perfection, the primary Form moves the physical universe by drawing nature toward itself. God is the goal of the universe’s aspirations and movement–a more conscious goal for man, a less conscious instinctual dynamism for other forms of nature. Every individual being in the universe is striving to imitate, each in its specific limited way, the perfection of the supreme Being. Each seeks to fulfill its purpose, to grow and mature, to achieve its realized form. (63)

Aristotle defined the role of philosophy in his influential work De Philosophia (extant now only in fragments), which was to mold the ancient conception of the philosopher’s profession: to move from the material causes of things, as in natural philosophy, to the formal and final causes, as in divine philosophy, and thus to discover the intelligible essence of the universe and the purpose behind all change. (66)


…the overal thrust of Aristotle’s philosophy was decidedly naturalistic and empiricist. … In the end, Plato’s loyalty lay with the transcendent archetype. (66)

For Plato, a person could properly direct his actions only if he knew the transcendent basis of any virtue, and only the philosopher who had attained knowledge of that absolute reality would be capable of judging the virtue of any action. Without the existence of an absolute Good, morality would have no certain basis, and so for Plato ethics was derived from metaphysics. For Aristotle, however, the two fields were of fundamentally different character What actually existed was not an Idea of the Good relevant to all situations, but only good persons or good actions in many varying contexts. (66)

Morality lay in the realm of the contingent. The best one could do would be to derive rules empirically for ethical conduct that held probable value in meeting the complexities of human existence. (67)

For Aristotle, the goal of human life was happiness, the necessary precondition for which was virtue. But virtue itself had to be defined in terms of rational choice in a concrete situation, where virtue lay in the mean between two extremes. Good is always a balance between two opposite evils, the midpoint between excess and defect: temperance is a mean between austerity and indulgence, courage a mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, proper pride a mean between arrogance an abasement, and so forth. Such a mean can be found only in practice, in individual cases relative to their specific conditions. (67)

…while Plato employed reason to overcome the empirical world and discover a transcendent order, Aristotle employed reason to discover an immanent order within the empirical world itself. (67)

…most scientific activity in the West until the seventeenth century was carried out on the basis of his fourth-century B.C. writings, and even when moving beyond him modern science would continue his orientation and use his conceptual tools. Yet in the last analysis, it was in the spirit of his master Plato, though in a decisively new direction, that Aristotle proclaimed the power of the developed human intellect to comprehend the world’s order. (68)

| In Aristotle and Plato together, then, we find a certain elegant balance and tension between empirical analysis and spiritual intuition, a dynamic beautifully rendered in Raphael’s Renaissance masterpiece The School of Athens.  (68)

The Dual Legacy

This, then, was the achievement of classical Greek thought: Reflecting the archaic mythological consciousness from which it emerged, informed by the artistic masterworks that preceded and accompanied it, influenced by the mystery religions with which it was contemporaneous; forged through a dialectic with skepticism,  naturalism, and secular humanism; and in its commitment to reason, empiricism, and mathematics conducive to the development of science in succeeding centuries–the thought of the great Greek philosophers was an intellectual consummation of all the major cultural expressions of the Hellenic era. (69)

Above all, it was an attempt to know. The Greeks were perhaps the first to see the world as a question to be answered. They were peculiarly gripped by the passion to understand, to penetrate the uncertain flux of phenomena and grasp a deeper truth. And they established a dynamic tradition of critical thought to pursue that quest. With the birth of that tradition and that quest came the birth of the Western mind. (69)

The first set of tenets formulated below represents that unique synthesis of Greek rationalism and Greek religion which played such a significant role in Hellenic thought from Pythagoras through Aristotle, and which was most fully embodied in the thought of Plato:

  1. The World is an ordered cosmos, whose order is akin to an order within the human mind. A Rational analysis of the empirical world is therefore possible.
  2. The cosmos as a whole is expressive of a pervasive intelligence that gives to nature its purpose and design, and this intelligence is (69) directly accessible to human awareness if the latter is developed and focused to a high degree.
  3. Intellectual analysis at its most penetrating reveals a timeless order that transcends its temporal, concrete manifestation. The visible world contains within it a deeper meaning, in some sense both rational and mythic in character, which is reflected in the empirical order but which emanates from an eternal dimension that is both source and goal of all existence.
  4. Knowledge of the world’s underlying structure and meaning entails the exercise of a plurality of human cognitive faculties–rational, empirical, intuitive, aesthetic, imaginative, mnemonic, and moral.
  5. The direct apprehension of the world’s deeper reality satisfies not only the mind but the soul: it is, in essence, a redemptive vision, a sustaining insight into the true nature of things that is at once intellectually decisive and spiritually liberating.

The second set of principles can be summarized roughly as follows:

  1. Genuine human knowledge can be acquired only through the rigorous employment of human reason and empirical observation.
  2. The ground of truth must be sought in the present world of human experience, not in an undemonstrable otherworldly reality. The only truth that is humanly accessible and useful is immanent rather than transcendent.
  3. The causes of natural phenomena are impersonal and physical, and should be sought within the realm of observable nature. All mythological and supernatural elements should be excluded from causal explanations as anthropomorphic projections. (70)
  4. Any claims to comprehensive theoretical understanding must be measured against the empirical reality of concrete particulars in all their diversity, mutability, and individuality.
  5. No system of thought is final, and the search for truth must be both critical and self-critical. Human knowledge is relative and fallible and must be constantly revised in the light of further evidence and analysis. (71)

…the final measure of truth was found not in hallowed tradition, nor in contemporary convention, but rather in the autonomous individual human mind. (71)

The constant interplay of these two partly complementary and partly antithetical sets of principles established a profound inner tension within the Greek inheritance, which provided the Western mind with the intellectual basis, at once unstable and highly creative, for what was to become an extremely dynamic evolution lasting over two and a half millennia. The secular skepticism of the one stream and the metaphysical idealism of the other provided a crucial counterbalance to each other, each undermining the other’s tendency to crystallize into dogmatism, yet the two in combination eliciting new and fertile intellectual possibilities. (71)

II. The Transformation of the Classical Era

The very qualities that had served Greece’s brilliant evolution–restless individualism, proud humanism, critical rationalism–now helped precipitate its downfall, for the divisiveness, arrogance, and opportunism that shadowed the Greeks’ nobler qualities left them myopic and fatally unprepared for the Macedonian challenge. … Alexander carried with him and disseminated the Greek culture and language throughout the vast world he conquered. Thus Greece fell just as it culminated, yet spread triumphantly just as it submitted. (73)

Alexander seems (73) also to have been inspired by a vision of mankind’s universal kinship beyond all political divisions, and he attempted to bring about such a unity, a massive cultural fusion, by means of his immense military ambition. (74)

Crosscurrents of the Hellenistic Matrix

The Decline and Preservation of the Greek Mind

The initial expansion of Greek culture eastward was in time complemented by a strong influx of Oriental (from east of the Mediterranean) religious and political currents to the West. …the polis-centered Greek mind lost something of its earlier confident lucidity and bold originality. Just as the critical individualism of classical Greece had produced its great art and thought yet also contributed to the disintegration of its social order, rendering it vulnerable to Macedonian subjugation, so too did the centrifugal vitality of Greek culture lead not only to its successful propagation but also to its eventual dilution and fragmenting as the classical polis was opened to the contrasting influences of a much larger, heterogeneous cultural environment.Personal destinies appeared to be determined more by large impersonal forces than by individual volition. (75)

…the characteristic philosophical impulse of the Hellenistic schools arose less from the passion to comprehend the world in its mystery and magnitude, and more from the need to give human beings some stable belief system and inner peace in the face of a hostile and chaotic environment. … Disengagement from the world or from one’s own passions was the principal choice, and in either case philosophy took on a more dogmatic tone. (76)

In the Stoic view, all reality was pervaded by an intelligent divine force, the Logos or universal reason which ordered all things. Man could achieve genuine happiness only by attuning his life and character to this all-powerful providential wisdom. To be free was to live in conformity with God’s will, and what mattered finally in life was the virtuous state of the soul, not the circumstances of the outer life. The Stoic sage, marked by inner serenity, sternness in self-discipline, and conscientious performance of duty, was indifferent to the vagaries of external events. … Because all human beings shared in the divine Logos, all were members of a universal human community, a brotherhood of mankind that constituted the World City, or Cosmopolis, and each individual was called upon to participate actively in the affairs of the world and thereby fulfill his duty to this great community. (76)

By contrast, its contemporary rival Epicureanism distinguished itself from the Stoic devotion to moral virtue and the world-governing Logos, as well as from traditional religious notions, by asserting the primary value of human pleasure–defined as freedom from pain and fear. … One need not fear the gods, for they do not concern themselves with the human world. Nor need one fear death, for it is merely the extinction of consciousness and not a prelude to a painful punishment. Happiness in this life can best be achieved through withdrawal from the world of affairs to cultivate a quiet existence of simple pleasure in the company of friends. (77)

Skepticism represented by thinkers such as Pyrrho of Elis and Sextus Empiricus, who held that no truths could be known to be certain and that the only appropriate philosophical stance was the complete suspension of judgment. (77)

Nothing is certain, not even that – Arcesilaus

While important and attractive in their different ways, these several philosophies did not entirely satisfy the Hellenistic spirit. … Hence the culture’s emotional and religious demands were met most directly by the various mystery religions–Greek, Egyptian, Oriental–which offered salvation from the imprisonment of the world, and which flourished throughout the empire with ever-increasing popularity. But these religions, with their festivals and secret rites devoted to their different deities, failed to compel the allegiance of many in the educated classes. For them, the old myths were dying, good at best as allegorical instruments for reasonable discourse. And yet the austere rationalism of the dominant philosophies left a certain spiritual hunger. That uniquely creative unity of intellect and feeling of earlier times had now bifurcated. In the midst of an extraordinarily sophisticated cultural milieu–busy, urbanized, refined, cosmopolitan–the reflective individual was often without compelling motivation. The classical synthesis of pre-Alexandrian Greece had come apart, its potency spent in the process of diffusion. (78)

Yet the Hellenistic era was an exceptionally rich age with several remarkable and, from the perspective of the modern West, indispensable cultural accomplishments to its credit. (78) …preservation of the classics from Homer to Aristotle. … Humanistic scholarship was founded. …the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, was similarly compiled, edited, and canonized with the same meticulous (78)scholarship as that accorded to the Homeric epics and Platonic dialogues. (79)

| Education itself became systematized and widespread. …Alexandria with its Museum, Pergamum with its Library, and Athens with its still-thriving philosophical academies. The royal rulers of the major Hellenistic empire-states subsidized the public institutions of learning, employing scientists and scholars as salaried officials of the state. Public educational systems existed in almost every Hellenistic city, gymnasia and theaters were plentiful, and advanced instruction in Greek philosophy, literature, and rhetoric became widely available. The Greek paideia flourished. Thus the earlier Hellenic achievement was scholastically consolidated, geographically extended, and vitally sustained for the remainder of the classical era. (79)


The geometer Euclid, the geometer-astronomer Apollonius, the mathematical physicist Archimedes, the astronomer Hipparchus, the geographer Strabo, the physician Galen, and the geographer-astronomer Ptolemy all produced scientific advances and codifications that would remain paradigmatic for many centuries. (79)

The unambiguous evidence of the senses argued for a stable Earth. (80)

…Ptolemy outlined the following scheme: The outermost revolving sphere of the fixed stars daily carried the entire heavens westward about the Earth. Within that sphere, however, each planet, including the Sun and Moon, revolved eastward at varying (80) slower rates, each in its own large circle called a deferent. For the more complex movements of the planets other than the Sun and Moon, another smaller circle, called an epicycle, was introduced, which rotated uniformly around a point that continued to rotate on the deferent. The epicycle solved what Eudoxus’s spheres could not, since the rotating epicycle automatically brought the planet closer to the Earth whenever it was retrograde, and thus made the planet appear brighter. By adjusting the different rates of revolution for each deferent and epicycle, astronomers could approximate the variable movements of each planet. The simplicity of the deferent-epicycle scheme, plus its explanation of variable brightness, made it the acknowledged victor in the quest for a viable astronomical model. (81)

| Yet when applied this scheme revealed further minor irregularities… eccentrics (circles whose centers were displaced from the center of the Earth), minor epicycles (additional smaller circles that rotated about a major epicycle or deferent), and equants (which further explained variable speeds by positing another point away from the circle’s center about which motion was uniform). …the synthesized Ptolemaic-Aristotelian universe in turn became the fundamental world conception informing the West’s philosophical, religious, and scientific vision for most of the subsequent fifteen centuries. (81)


In the classical world, however, mathematical astronomy was not an entirely secular discipline. (81)

With the emergence of the astrological perspective, it was widely believed that human life was ruled not by capricious chance, but by an ordered and humanly knowable destiny defined by the celestial deities according to the movements of the planets. Through such knowledge it was thought that man could understand his fate and act with a new sense of cosmic security. (82) … In the course of the Hellenistic era, astrology became the one belief system that cut across the boundaries of science, philosophy, and religion, forming a peculiarly unifying element in the otherwise fragmented outlook of the age. (83)

With their conviction that a cosmic fate ruled all things, and with their belief in a universal sympathy or law unifying all parts of the cosmos, the Stoics found astrology highly congenial to their world view. …beyond the last planet, Saturn (the deity of fate, limitation, and death), presided the all-encompassing sphere of a greater Deity whose divine omnipotence could lift the human soul out of the bound determinism of mortal (83) existence into eternal freedom. …the belief that the planetary movements possessed an intelligible significance for human life exercised an immense influence on the cultural ethos of the classical era. (84)


…the highest transcendent principle began to be called “the One”; new emphasis was placed on “the flight from the body” as necessary for the soul’s philosophical ascent to the divine reality; the Forms began to be located within the divine mind; and increased concern was shown for the problem of evil and its relation to matter. (84)

The Neoplatonic cosmos is the result of a divine emanation from the supreme One, which is infinite in being and beyond all (84) description or categories. The One, also called the Good, in an overflow of sheer perfection produces the “other”–the created cosmos in all its variety–in a hierarchical series of gradations moving away from this ontological center to the extreme limits of the possible. The first creative act is the issuing forth from the One of the divine Intellect or Nous, the pervasive wisdom of the universe, within which are contained the archetypal Forms or Ideas that cause and order the world. From the Nous comes the World Soul, which contains and animates the world, is the source for the souls of all living beings, and constitutes the intermediate reality between the spiritual Intellect and the world of matter. The emanation of divinity from the One is an ontological process which Plotinus compared to the light that moves gradually outward from a candle until it at last disappears into the darkness. (85)

[via: εις & אחד, καλος & טוב]

Man, whose nature is soul-in-body, has potential access to the highest intellectual and spiritual realms, though this is dependent on his liberation from materiality. Man can rise to the consciousness of the World Soul–thereby becoming in actuality what he already is potentially–and thence to the universal Intellect; or he can remain bound to the lower realms. (85)

…move toward its spiritual emancipation. …and to turn inward to a gradual ascent back to the Absolute. …it is a consummation of contemplative desire that unites the philosopher with the One. (86)

Basing his philosophy on the Platonic doctrine of transcendent Ideas, [Plotinus] then added or drew out several new, defining features–teleological dynamism, hierarchy, emanation, and a suprarational mysticism. (86)

Hellenistic civilization seemed (86) remarkable more for its variety than its force, more for its worldly intelligence than its inspired genius, more for its sustaining and elaboration of past cultural achievements than its origination of new ones. (87)


Pax Romana established during the long imperial reign of Caesar Augustus. With political shrewdness and steadfast patriotism, and fortified by belief in their guiding deities, the Romans succeeded not only in conquering the entire Mediterranean basin and a large part of Europe, but also in fulfilling their perceived mission of extending their civilization throughout the known world. (87)

Rome’s cultural splendor was an imitatio, albeit inspired, of Greece’s glory, and its magnitude alone could not indefinitely sustain the Hellenic spirit. … The very success of the empire’s inordinate military and commercial activity, divorced from deeper motivations, was weakening the fiber of the Roman citizenry. …Rome’s fall–oppressive and rapacious government, overambitious generals, constant barbarian incursions, an aristocracy grown decadent and effete, religious crosscurrents undermining the imperial authority and military ethos, drastic sustained inflation, pestilential diseases, a dwindling population without resilience or focus–all contributed further to the apparent death of the Greek-inspired world. (88)

| Yet beneath the glittering decay of classical culture, and from within the wellspring of the Hellenistic religious matrix, a new world had been slowly and inexorably taking form. (88)

The Emergence of Christianity

Considered as a single entity, classical Greco-Roman civilization arose, flourished, and declined in the course of a thousand years. (89)

In the course of the unsettled Hellenistic era, something like a spiritual crisis appears to have arisen in the culture, its members impelled by newly conscious needs for personal significance in the cosmos and personal knowledge of life’s meaning. To these needs the various mystery religions, public cults, esoteric systems, and philosophical schools all spoke, but it was Christianity that, after intermittent periods of severe persecution by the Roman state, gradually emerged as the victor. (89)

I have described the triumph of barabarism and religion – Edward Gibbon

But from a long view of the West’s complex evolution, these new forces did not entirely eliminate or supplant the Greco-Roman culture as much as they engrafted their own distinctive elements onto the highly developed and deeply rooted classical foundation. (90)

The Church served as the one institution uniting the West and sustaining a connection with classical civilization. The barbarians for their part did two remarkable things: they converted to Christianity, while they simultaneously set about the enormous task of learning and integrating the rich intellectual heritage of the classical culture they had just conquered. (90)

III The Christian World View

…the Jesus that history came to know is the Jesus portrayed–recalled, reconstructed, interpreted, embellished, vividly imagined–in the New Testament by writers living one or two generations after the period covered by their narratives,… (92)

…our main concern here is with the tradition of Christianity that held cultural sway over the West from the fall of Rome to the modern era. (93)

Judaic Monotheism and the Divinization of History

Theology and history were inextricably conjoined in the Hebrew vision. Acts of God and the events of human experience constituted one reality, as the biblical narrative of the Hebrew past was intended rather to reveal its divine logic than to reconstruct an exact historical record. (94)

Certainly the history and mission of the Hebrew people and its religion were unlike any other in the ancient world. (94)

By accepting the divine commandments revealed on Mount Sinai, the Hebrews betrothed themselves in obedience to their God and his insuperable and inscrutable will. … Their God was not only creator but liberator, and had assured his people a glorious destiny if they would remain faithful and obedient to his law. (95)

It was this faith, this hope in the future, this unique historical impulse carried forward by the prophets and compellingly recorded in the poetry and prose of the Bible, that had sustained the Jewish people for two millennia. (95)

…it was not just Jesus’s teachings about the dawning Kingdom that inspired the new faith, nor the eschatological expectations aroused by wandering preachers like John the Baptist. Most decisive was the reaction by Jesus’s disciples to his death by crucifixion and their fervent belief in his resurrection.Whatever the basis for that belief–the intensive conviction of which can scarcely be overestimated–it would seem that not long after Jesus’s death his followers had achieved a remarkably rapid and comprehensive recasting of their religious faith that exploded old assumptions and initiated a new understanding of God and humanity. (96)

The Messiah was not a mundane king but a spiritual one, and God’s Kingdom not a political victory for Israel but a divine redemption for humanity, bringing a new life suffused with God’s Spirit. Thus the bitterly disappointing event of their leader’s crucifixion was mysteriously transformed in the minds of his disciples into the basis for a seemingly unlimited faith in the ultimate salvation of mankind, and an extraordinarily dynamic impulse to propagate that faith. (96)

Thus did Christianity claim to be the fulfillment of the Judaic hopes: The longed for future of God had now entered history in Christ. In a paradoxical combination of the linear and the timeless, Christianity (96) declared that Christ’s presence in the world was the presence of God’s promised future, just as God’s future lay in the full realization of the presence of Christ. (97)

Classical Elements and the Platonic Inheritance

Considering the singular nature of its essential doctrine and message, Christianity spread at an astonishing rate from its tiny Galilean nucleus eventually to encompass the Western world. Within a generation after Jesus’s death, his followers had forged a religious and intellectual synthesis within the framework of their new faith that not only inspired many to undertake the often dangerous mission of extending that faith into the surrounding pagan environment, but also was capable of addressing, and eventually fulfilling, the religious and philosophical aspirations of a sophisticated urbanized world empire. Yet Christianity’s self-conception as a world religion was profoundly facilitated by its relation to the larger Hellenistic world. While Christianity’s claim to religious universality originated in Judaism, both its effective universality–its success in propagation–and its philosophical universality owed much to the Greco-Roman milieu of its birth. Ancient Christians did not consider it accidental that the Incarnation occurred at the historical moment of conjunction between the Jewish religion, Greek philosophy, and the Roman Empire. (98)

It must also be noted that, compared with Judaism, Greco-Roman culture was in many respects more consistently nonsectarian and universal in both its practice and vision. The Roman Empire and its laws transcended all nationalities and previous political boundaries, granting citizenship and rights to conquered peoples as well as to Romans. The cosmopolitan Hellenistic age, with its great urban centers and trade and travel, joined together the civilized world as never before. The stoic ideal of the brotherhood of mankind and the Cosmopolis, or World City, affirmed that all human beings are free and equal children of God. (99)

But above all, a universal Christian religion of world proportions was made feasible by the prior existence of the Alexandrian and Roman empires, without which the lands and peoples surrounding the Mediterranean would still have been divided into an enormous multiplicity of separate ethnic cultures with widely diverging linguisitc, political, and cosmological predisposition. Despite the understandable antagonism felt by many early Christians toward their Roman ruolers it was precisely the Pax Romana that afforded the freedom of movement and communication that was indispensable to the propagation of the Christian faith. (100)

It is true that, with the rise of Christianity, the pluralism and syncretism of Hellenistic culture, with its various intermingling philosophical schools and polytheistic religions, were replaced by an exclusive monotheism derived from the Judaic tradition. It is also true that Christian theology established the biblical revelation as absolute truth and demanded strict conformity to Church doctrine from any philosophical speculations. Within these limits, however, the Christian world view was fundamentally informed by its classical predecessors. Not only did there exist crucial parallels between the tenets and rituals of Christianity and those of the pagan mystery religions, but in addition, as time passed, even the most erudite elements of Hellenistic philosophy were absorbed by, and had their influence on, the Christian faith. Certainly Christianity began and triumphed in the Roman Empire not as a philosophy but as a religion–eastern and Judaic in character, emphatically communal, salvational, emotional, mystical, depending on revelatory statements of faith and belief, and almost fully independent of Hellenic rationalism. Yet Christianity soon found Greek philosophy to be not just an alien pagan intellectual system with which it was forced to contend, but, in the view of many early Christian theologians, a divinely pre-(100)arranged matrix for the rational explication of the Christian faith. (101)

Christianity thus came to understand the entire movement of human history, including all of its various religious and philosophical striving, as an unfolding of the divine plan that was fulfilled in the coming of Christ. (101)

…Philo of Alexandria, an older contemporary of Jesus and Paul, had already broached a Judaic-Greek synthesis pivoted on the term “Logos.” … Soon afterward, an extraordinary convergence of Greek thought and Christian theology was in progress that would leave both transformed. (101)

| Faced with the fact that there already existed in the greater Mediterranean culture a sophisticated philosophical tradition from the Greeks, the educated class of early Christians rapidly saw the need for integrating that tradition with their religious faith. Such an integration was pursued both for their own satisfaction and to assist the Greco-Roman culture in understanding the Christian mystery. Yet this was considered no marriage of convenience, for the spiritually resonant Platonic philosophy not only harmonized with, it also elaborated and intellectually enhanced, the Christian conceptions derived from the revelations of the New Testament. Fundamental Platonic principles now found corroboration and new meaning in the Christian context: the existence of a transcendent reality of eternal perfection, the sovereignty of divine wisdom in the cosmos, the primacy of the spiritual over the material, the Socratic focus on the “tending of the soul,” the soul’s immortality and high moral imperatives, its experience of divine justice after death, the importance (101) of scrupulous self-examination, the admonition to control the passions and appetites in the service of the good and true, the ethical principle that it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one, the belief in death as a transition to more abundant life, the existence of a prior condition of divine knowledge now obscured in man’s limited natural state, the notion of participation in the divine archetype, the progressive assimilation to God as the goal of human aspiration. … Thus as Christian culture matured during its first several centuries, its religious thought developed into a systematic theology, and although that theology was Judaeo-Christian in substance, its metaphysical structure was largely Platonic. (102)

In turn, Christianity was regarded as the true consummation of philosophy, with the gospel as the great meeting ground of Hellenism and Judaism. … In Christ, the Logos became man: the historical and the timeless, the absolute and the personal, the human and the divine became one. Through his redemptive act, Christ mediated the soul’s access to the transcendent reality and thus satisfied the philosopher’s ultimate quest. In terms strongly reminiscent of Platonism with its transcendent Ideas, Christian theologians taught that to discover Christ was to discover the truth of the cosmos and the truth of one’s own being in one unitary illumination. (102)

In Neoplatonism, the ineffable transcendent Godhead, the One, had brought forth its manifest image–the divine Nous or universal Reason–and the World Soul. In Christianity, the transcendent Father had brought forth his manifest image–the Son or Logos–and the Holy Spirit. But Christianity now brought dynamic historicity into the Hellenic conception by asserting that the Logos, the eternal truth which had been present from the creation of the world, had now been set forth into world history in human form to bring that creation, by means of the Spirit, back to its divine essence. (103)

By the Logos, the whole world is now become Athens and Greece. – Clement of Alexandria

No less Platonic, although thoroughly Christian, was Augustine’s paradigmatic statement that “the true philosopher is the lover of God.” (103)

While the Hellenic sense of history was generally cyclical, the Judaic was decisively linear and progressive, the gradual fulfillment in time of God’s plan for man. While Hellenic religious thought tended toward the abstract and analytic, Judaism’s mode was more concrete, dynamic, and apodictic. And where the Greek conception of God leaned toward the idea of a supreme ruling intelligence, the Judaic conception emphasized that of a supreme ruling will. For the essence of the Judaic faith rested on a burning expectation that God would actively renew his sovereignty over the world in a dramatic transfiguration of human history, and by Jesus’s time this expectation centered on the appearance of a personal messiah. Christianity integrated the two traditions by proclaiming, in effect, that the true and highest divine reality–God the Father (104) and Creator, the Platonic eternal transcendent–had fully penetrated the imperfect and finite world of nature and human history through the flesh-and-blood incarnation of his Son Jesus Christ, the Logos, whose life and death had commenced a liberating reunion of the two previously separate realms–transcendent and mundane, divine and human–and thus a rebirth of the cosmos through man. The world Creator and Logos had broken anew into history with fresh creative power, inaugurating a universal reconciliation. In the transition from Greek philosophy to Christian theology, the transcendent was made immanent, the eternal was made historical, and human history itself was not spiritually significant: “And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.” (105)

The Conversion of the Pagan Mind

…with Christianity, and particularly with Paul’s mission to expand its gospel beyond the confines of Judaism, the Judaic impulse in turn began a coountervailing movement that radically transformed the Hellenic contribution to the Christian world view emerging in the later centuries of the classical era. The powerful currents of Greek metaphysics, epistemology, and science, the characteristic Greek attitudes toward myth, religion, philosophy, and personal fulfillment–all were transfigured in the light of the Judaeo-Christian revelation. (106)

Augustine therefore argued that Plato’s metaphysical conception could be fulfilled by the Judaeo-Christian revelation of the supreme Creator, who freely wills the creation into existence ex nihilo, yet who does so in accordance with the seminal ordering patterns established by the primordial Ideas residing in the divine mind. (106)

Plato had based all human knowledge on two possible sources, the first derived from sense experience, which is unreliable, and the second derived from direct perception of the eternal Ideas, knowledge of which is innate but forgotten and requires recollection, and which provide the only source of certain knowledge. Augustine agreed with this formulation, asserting that man can have no intellectual ideas arise in his mind that are not illuminated there by God, as by an inner spiritual Sun. Thus the soul’s only genuine teacher is an inner one, and is God. But Augustine added one more source for human knowledge–Christian revelation… (107)

A direct relationship to God based on love and faith was more important than an intellectual encounter with the Ideas. …the biblical revelation provided a more accessible and readily grasped truth for the body of the Christian faithful than did any subtle philosophical arguments regarding the Platonic Ideas. (107)

| Yet Christian theologians employed archetypal thinking in many of the most important doctrines of the Christian religion: the participation of all mankind in the sin of Adam,… (107)

Ideas per se were not central to the Christian belief system, the ancient and medieval mind was generally predisposed toward thinking in terms of types, symbols, and universals, and Platonism offered the most philosophically sophisticated framework for comprehending that mode of thought. Indeed the existence of the Ideas and the issue of their independent reality would become matters of intense debate in later Scholastic philosophy–a debate whose outcome would have lasting repercussions beyond philosophy proper. (108)


In truth, the pagan statues of deities were no more than stone idols, the myths merely primitive anthropomorphic fictions. (108)

[via: While this line is anachronistically modern, I’m desperately curious if we can (ever?) know if the ancients believed the way we now “believe”?]

And so the old gods died and the one true Christian God was revealed and glorified. Yet a more subtle and differentiated process of assimilation occurred in the conversion of paganism, for in the process of the Hellenistic world’s adoption of Christianity, many essential features of the pagan mystery religions now found successful expression in the Christian religion: the belief in a savior deity whose death and rebirth brought immortality to man, the themes of illumination and regeneration, the ritual initiation with a community of worshipers into the salvational knowledge of cosmic truths, the preparatory period before initiation, demands for cultic purity, fasting, vigils, early morning ceremonies, sacred banquets, ritual processions, pilgrimages, the giving of new names to initiates. But while some of the mystery religions emphasized the evil imprisonment of matter, which only initiates could transcend, early Christianity heralded Christ as inaugurating the redemption of even the material world. Christianity further introduced an essential public and historical element into the mythological framework: Jesus Christ was not a mythical figure but an actual historical person who fulfilled the Judaic messianic prophecies and brought the new revelation to a universal audience, with potentially all of mankind as the new initiates rather than a select few. What was to the pagan mysteries an esoteric mythological process-the death-rebirth mystery–had in Christ become concrete historical reality, enacted for all humanity to witness. (109) and openly participate in, with a consequent transformation of the entire movement of history. From this viewpoint, the pagan mysteries were not so much an impediment to the growth of Christianity as they were the soil from which it could more readily spring. (110)

Christianity offered mankind a universal home, an enduring community, and a clearly defined way of life, all of which possessed a scriptural and institutional guarantee of cosmic validity. (110)

…as the Greco-Roman world gradually embraced Christianity, the classical gods were consciously or unconsciously absorbed into the Christian hierarchy… Their characters and properties were retained but were now understood and subsumed in the Christian context, as in the figures of Christ (Apollo and Prometheus, for example, as well as Perseus, Orpheus, Dionysus, Hercules, Atlas, Adonis, Eros, Sol, Mithra, Attis, Osiris), God the Father (Zeus, Kronos, Ouranos, Sarapis), the Virgin Mary (Magna Mater, Aphrodite, Artemis, Hera, Rhea, Persephone, Demeter, Gaia, Semele, Isis), the Holy Spirit (Apollo, Dionysus, Orpheus, as well as aspects of the procreative feminine deities), Satan (Pan, Hades, Prometheus, Dionysus), and a host of angels and saints (the conflation of Mars with Michael the archangel, Atlas with Saint Christopher). As the Christian religious understanding emerged out of the classical polytheistic imagination, the different aspects of a  single complex pagan deity were applied to corresponding aspects of the Trinity, or, in the case of a pagan deity’s shadow aspect, to Satan. (110)

Thus the ancient mythic deities were transformed into the doctrinally established figures that constituted the Christian pantheon. … The narratives and descriptions of divine reality and divine beings, that which had been myth in the pagan era–malleable, undogmatic, open to imaginative novelty and creative transformation, subject to conflicting versions and multiple interpretations–were now characteristically understood as absolute, historical, and literal truths, and every effort was made to clarify and systematize those truths into unchanging doctrinal formulae. (111)

The Ideas were derivative, and the gods anathema. (111)


The Logos was not just an impersonal Mind, but a divinely personal Word, an act of love by God, revealing to all the numinous essence of man and cosmos. The logos was God’s saving Word; to believe was to be saved.

| Hence faith was the primary means, and reason a distant second, for comprehending the deeper meaning of things. (112)

I have faith in order to understand. – Augustine

Thus was the secular rationality to esteemed by the Greeks considered of doubtful value for salvation, with empirical observation largely irrelevant except as an aid to moral improvement. In the context of the new order, the simple faith of a child was superior to the abstruse reasonings of a worldly intellectual. … All learning was subservient to theology,… (113)

In a sense, the Christian focus was more narrow and sharp than the Greek, and entailed less need for educational breadth. The highest metaphysical truth was the fact of the Incarnation: the miraculous divine intervention into human history, the effect of which was to liberate humanity and reunite the material world with the spiritual, the mortal with the immortal, creature with Creator. … Christ was the exclusive source of truth in the cosmos, the all-comprehending principle of Truth itself. The Sun of the divine Logos illuminated everything. Moreover, in the new self-awareness of the late classical and early Christian era, most acutely epitomized in Augustine, the individual soul’s concern for its spiritual destiny was far more significant than the rational intellect’s concern with conceptual thinking or empirical study. (113)

[via: This is “religion,” that is, “re-” “ligare.” Also, C.S. Lewis quote regarding the “sun.”]

With the rise of Christianity, the already decadent state of science in the late Roman era received little encouragement for new developments. Early Christians experienced no intellectual urgency to “save the phenomena” of this world, since the phenomenal world held no significance compared with the transcendent spiritual reality. More precisely, the all-redeeming Christa had already saved the phenomena,… (114)

Truth was therefore approached primarily not through self-determined intellectual inquiry, but through Scripture and prayer, and faith in the teachings of the Church. (115)


All heroism, so central to the Greek character, was now concentrated in the figure of Christ. … Humility, not pride, was the distinguishing Christian virtue, requisite for salvation. (115)

Indeed, here was the astounding proclamation made by Christians to the world: God loved mankind. God was not only the source of the world order, not only the goal of philosophical aspiration, not only the first cause of all that exists. Nor was he just the inscrutable ruler of the universe and stern judge of human history. For in the person of Jesus Christ, God had reached out from his transcendence and displayed for all time and all humanity his infinite love for his creatures. Here was the basis for a new way of life, grounded in the experience of God’s love, the universality of which created a new community in mankind. (116)

| Thus Christianity bequeathed to its members a pervasive sense of a personal God’s direct interest in human affairs and vital concern for every human soul, no matter what level of intelligence or culture was brought to the spiritual enterprise, and without regard to physical strength or beauty or social status. In contrast to the Hellenic focus on great heroes and rare philosophers, Christianity universalized salvation, asserting its availability to slaves as well as kings, to simple souls as well as profound thinkers, to the ugly as well as the beautiful, to the sick and suffering as well as the strong and fortunate, even tending to reverse the former hierarchies. In Christ, all divisions of humanity were overcome–barbarian and Greek, Jew and Gentile, master and slave, male and female–all were now as one. The ultimate wisdom and heroism of Christ made redemption possible for all, not just the few: Christ was the Sun, who shone alike on all mankind. Christianity therefore placed high value on each individual soul as one of God’s children, but in this new context the Greek ideal of the self-determining individual and the heroic genius was diminished in favor of a collective Christian identity. This elevation of the communal self, the human reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven, founded on the shared love of God and faith in Christ’s redemption, encouraged an altruistic sublimation, and at times subjugation, of the individual self in favor of a greater allegiance to the good of others and the will of God. Yet on the other hand, by granting immortality and value to the individual soul, Christianity encouraged the growth (116) of the individual conscience, self-responsibilty, and personal autonomy relative to temporal powers–all decisive traits for the formation of the Western character. (117)

| In its moral teachings, Christianity bought to the pagan world a new sense of the sanctity of all human life, the spiritual value of the family, the spiritual superiority of self-denial over egoistic fulfillment, of unworldly holiness over worldly ambition, of gentleness and forgiveness over violence and retribution; a condemnation of murder, suicide, the killing of infants, the massacre of prisoners, the degradation of slaves, sexual licentiousness and prostitution, bloody circus spectacles–all in the new awareness of God’s love for humanity, and the moral purity that love required in the human soul. Christian love, whether divine or human, was not so much the realm of Aphrodite, nor even primarily the Eros of the philosophers, but was the love, epitomized in Christ, that expressed itself through sacrifice, suffering, and universal compassion. This Christian ethical ideal of goodness and charity was strongly promulgated and at times widely observed, an ideal certainly not lacking in the moral imperatives of Greek philosophy–particularly in Stoicism, which in several ways anticipated Christian ethics–but now having a more pervasive influence on the mass culture in the Christian era than had Greek philosophical ethics in the classical world. (117)

| The more formidable intellectualized quality of the Greek notion of the Godhead and the philosopher’s individual ascent (however passionate that process was for Plato or Plotinus) was replaced in Christianity by the emotional and communally shared intimacy of a personal, familial relationship with the Creator, and by the pious embrace of revealed Christian truth. In contrast to the previous centuries of metaphysical perplexity, Christianity offered a fully worked out solution to the human dilemma. The potentially distressing ambiguities and confusions of a private philosophical search without religious guideposts were not replaced by an absolutely certain cosmology and an institutionally ritualized system of salvation accessible to all. (117)

…Christianity was the authentic proclamation of the supreme God’s absolute truth, belief in which would change not only the individual’s personal fate but the destiny of the world. A sacred doctrine had been entrusted to Christians, and fidelity to that trust, as well as the integrity of that doctrine, needed to be maintained at all costs. Eternal salvation was at stake for all humanity. (118)

Safeguarding the faith was thus the first priority in any question of philosophical or religious dialogue; hence that dialogue was often curtailed altogether lest the devil of doubt or unorthodoxy gain a foothold in the vulnerable minds of the faithful. (118)

Thus the institutional Church, as the living embodiment of the Christian dispensation, became the official guardian of the final truth and the highest court of appeal in any matters of ambiguity–indeed, not only the court, but also the prosecuting and punitive arm of the religious law. (118)

| The shadow side of the Christian religion’s claim to universality was its intolerance. … With the final ascendance of Christianity at the end of the classical era, the pagan temples were systematically demolished and the philosophical academies officially closed.

[footnote 9: A few relevant dates and events for the transition from the classical to the medieval era: In the late summer of 386, Augustine experienced his conversion to Christianity in Milan. In 391, the Sarapeum, the Alexandrian temple to the Hellenistic supreme deity Sarapis, was destroyed by the patriarch Theophilus and his followers, marking the triumph of Christianity over paganism in Egypt and throughout the empire. In 415, in the same decade in which the Visigoths overran Rome and Augustine was writing The City of God, a Christian mob in Alexandria murdered Hypatia–leader of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy in Alexandria, daughter of the last known member of the Museum, and the personal symbol of pagan learning. With her death, many scholars left Alexandria, marking the beginning of that city’s cultural decline. In 485, Proclus, the greatest systematic expositor of late classical Neoplatonism and the last major Greek philosopher of antiquity, died in Athens. In 529, the Christian emperor Justinian closed the Platonic Academy in Athens, the last physical establishment of pagan learning. That year has often been used as a convenient date for the end of the classical period and the beginning of the Middle Ages, for also in (475) 529 Benedict of Nursia, the father of Christian monasticism in the West, founded the first Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy (the same monastery where Thomas Aquinas would be brought as a child almost precisely seven hundred years later). (476)]

And so it was that the pluralism of classical culture, with its multiplicity of philosophies, its diversity of polytheistic mythologies, and its plethora of mystery religions, gave way to an emphatically monolithic system–one God, one Church, one Truth. (119)

Contraries Within the Christian Vision

The emphasis of the first view considered here was on Christianity as an already existent spiritual revolution that was now progressively transforming and liberating both the individual soul and the world in the dawning light of God’s revealed love. (120)

The other side of the Christian vision focused more emphatically on the present alienation of man and the world from God. (120)

If the Judaic religion was a great yearning, Christianity was its glorious fulfillment. The Kingdom of Heaven had broken into the field of history and was now actively transforming it, progressively impelling humanity toward a new and previously inconceivable perfection. (121)

In this view, the “repentance” Jesus called for was not so much a prerequisite as it was a consequence of the experience of the dawning Kingdom of Heaven. (122)

This more fully anticipatory side of Christianity bore resemblance to certain dominant elements of Judaism, which thereby continued to structure the Christian vision. … That tone of religious vision was, in turn, reinforced and given a new context by the continued delay of Christ’s Second Coming, and by the Church’s historical and theological evolution accompanying that delay. (123)

| In its more extreme form, which was not uncharacteristic of the mainstream Christian tradition in the West after Augustine, this more dualistic understanding emphasized mankind’s inherent unworthiness and consequent inability to experience the potency of Christ’s redemption in this life, except in a proleptic manner through the Church. (123)

…the Church not only carried the meaning of both sides, it understood itself to be the resolution of that dichotomy. (124)

Exultant Christianity

In the New Testament, especially in certain passages of Paul’s letters and John’s Gospel, it was clear that the infinite schism between the human and divine had in some sense already been bridged. … God united himself with man so that man could now unite himself with God. (125)

Not only was Christ the Messiah foretold by the Hebrew prophets, fulfilling the Jewish religious mission in history. He was also the Son of God, one with God; and with his self-sacrifice, the righteous Yahweh of the Old Testament, who demanded justice and exacted vengeance, had become the loving Father of the New Testament, who bestowed grace and forgave all sins. (125)

So fully was Christ’s redemption here viewed as an absolute and positive fulfillment of human history and of all human suffering that Adam’s original sin, the archetypal origin of human alienation and mortality, was paradoxically celebrated as “O felix culpa!” … Human weakness became the occasion for God’s strength. (126)

The whole drama from the Creation to the Second Coming could now be recognized as the sublime product of the divine plan, the unfolding of the Logos. … With Christ’s incarnation, the Logos had reentered the world and created a celestial song, tuning the discords of the universe into perfect harmony, sounding the joy of the cosmic wedding between heaven and earth, God and humanity. (127)

| This primitive Christian proclamation of redemption was at once mystical, cosmic, and historical. On the one hand was the experience of fundamental interior transformation: To experience God’s dawning Kingdom was to be inwardly grasped by divinity, suffused by an inner light and love. Through Christ’s grace the old, separate and false self died to allow the birth of a new self, the true self at one with God. For Christ was the true self, the deepest core of the human personality. His birth in the human soul was not so much an external arrival as an emergence from within, an awakening to the real, an unanticipatedly radical irruption of divinity into the heart of human experience. Yet on the other hand, in association with this inner transfiguration, the entire world was being transformed and restored to its divine glory–not just as if by subjective illumination but in some essential ontological way that was historically and collectively significant. (127)

| Here an unprecedented cosmic optimism was asserted. In its physicality and historicity, Christ’s resurrection held forth the promise that everything–all history both of individuals and of mankind, all striving, all mistakes and sins and imperfections, all materiality, the entire drama and reality of Earth–would somehow be swept up and perfected in a final victorious reunion with the infinite Godhead. All that was cruel and absurd would then be made meaningful in the full revelation of Christ, the hidden meaning of creation. Nothing would be left out. The world was not an evil imprisonment, not a dispensable illusion, but the bearer of God’s glory. History was not an endless cycle of deteriorating (127) stages, but the matrix of humanity’s deification. Through God’s omnipotence, grim Fate itself was miraculously transmuted into benevolent Providence. Human anguish and despair could now find not just respite, but divine fulfillment. The Gates of Paradise, implacably closed at the Fall, had been reopened by Christ. The infiniteness of God’s compassion and power would inevitably conquer, and thereby consummate, the entire universe. (128)

Human history was an immense education into divinity, a leading forth of man’s being to God. Indeed, not only was man to be fulfilled in God, but God was to be fulfilled in man, achieving a self-revelation through his realization in human form. For God had chosen man as the vessel of his image, in which his divine essence could be most fully incarnate. (129)

Dualistic Christianity

Paul warned, however, that the exultant element in Christianity, though vvalid in itself, could easily lead to negative spiritual consequences should its stress swing too far away from Christ and toward man, away from the future and toward the present, away from faith and toward knowledge. Such a distortion he perceived, and hastened to correct, in certain “enthusiasts” or proto-Gnostics among the early Chruch congregations he had helped found. (130)

thus Paul taught a partial dualism…the present world and the coming Kingdom of Heaven, and between God’s omnipotence and man’s helplessness. (131)

Since the Second Coming did not arrive as soon as the first-generation Christians had expected, the dualism that had an anticipatory form in the Synoptics took on a more mystical and ontological dimension under the influence of John’s Gospel. (131)

Although John’s “realized eschatology”–his teaching that the salvational end of history was already being actualized in the wake of the resurrection–affirmed man’s present participation in Christ’s glorification, this was increasingly understood as a spiritual participation that transcended the material world and the physical body, which thereby became irrelevant to the redemptive process and even inhibitory. (131)

Thus John’s Gospel affirmed a present unity of Christ and believer, but at the expense of an implied ontological dualism. …consequently tended to highlight the spiritual inferiority and darkness of the natural man and the natural world. …those who obeyed his commandment of love and who knew him as the Son could participate in his unitary relationship with the transcendent Father. …those within the Church were distinct from everyone outside it. This division sustained and strengthened that tendency throughout the Old and New Testaments to view salvation in terms of an elect minority of believers who alone were dear to God, and who would be gratuitously saved from the masses of a mankind that was by nature opposed to God and destined for damnation. (132)

| It was this general trend–an unusually potent and durable compound of the anticipatory view of redemption round in the Synoptic Gospels, Paul’s moral admonitions, and John’s mystical dualism, with all these combined with the continuing impact of pre-Christian Judaic themes, the delay of the Second Coming, and the requirements of the developing institutional Church–that encouraged the other side of the Christian vision, the character of which in the long run would significantly redefine the primitive Christian message. (132) … At its root, this understanding reflected a heightened sense of the divisions of existence–between God and man, heaven and earth, good and evil, the faithful and the damned. … In either case there resulted a pronounced tendency to negate the intrinsic value of the present life, the natural world, and humanity’s status in the divine hierarchy. (133)

In any case an urgent anticipation of the end time was then widespread among Jews and other religious sects critical of the evil contemporary world. But after several generations had passed without such an apocalypse, and especially after Augustine, salvation was seen less in such dramatic historical and collective terms, and more as a Church-mediated process that could occur only through the institutional sacraments, and could be fulfilled only when the soul left behind the physical world and entered the celestial state. …man’s positive role was diminished or negated in favor of God’s, this world’s value was diminised or negated in favor of the next, and only a scrupulous conformity to specific moral principles and ecclesiastical regulations could preserve the believing soul from condemnation. The struggle with overwhelming evil was of paramount concern, making the authoritative activity of God and Church mandatory. (133)

The cosmic dimension of primitive Christianity–humanity and nature as the progressive bearer of Christ, history as an emergent process of the birth of the divine in the world–was attenuated in favor of a more dichotomized conception. In the latter view, the ideal Christian was conceived as an obedient and relatively passive receptor of the divine, whose presence could be fully known by the human soul only in a radical break from this world–variously understood as taking place through an externally effected apocalyptic Second Coming, through ascetic monastic withdrawal from the world, through the sacramental mediation of an unworldly or anti-worldly Church, or through a fully transcendent, extramundane salvation in the afterlife. (134)

| In this sense it could be said that much of Christianity was still waiting for its redeemer… (134)

On a deeper level, the immanent dynamism of the “new man” and “new creation” that had characterized the primitive Christian awareness was here transformed into an eager longing for an afterworldly newness, a radiantly celestial future, an entirely transcendent illumination. The present world was an alien stage,… (134)

Painfully aware of their own sinfulness and the world’s grave defects, most faithful Christians conscientiously devoted their efforts to preparing for such an afterworldly salvation, spurred by the belief that only a few elect would be saved, while the vast majority of corrupt mankind would meet perdition. (135)

The believing Christian was not so much made divine like God as he was made righteous in God’s eyes, freed from his personal and hereditary guilt. Here the Christian concept of man’s nobility and freedom as God’s greatest creation, made in God’s own image and exalted by Christ’s uniting of divine and human, was largely overshadowed by the sense of man’s unworthiness and absolute spiritual dependence on God and the Church. Man was an intrinsically sin-permeated being who had willfully set himself in opposition to God. Hence his will was impotent against the evil within and outside him, and his salvation lay solely in the possibility that God might mercifully overlook the believer’s culpability, viewing his own Son’s death as atonement, and save the believer from the damnation that, like the rest of mankind, he genuinely deserved. (135)

| Because God’s action alone was spiritually potent, human pretensions to heroism of the ancient Greek type could be viewed only as reprehensible vainglory. (135)


man’s fall…placed on man’s shoulders a moral responsibility of universal dimensions. God’s Chosen People were both exalted and burdened by their special role, and God’s image varied accordingly. (136)

Trust in God was constantly balanced against fear of God. … On some occasions it was as if the Jew’s own sense of moral justice surpassed that of Yahweh; yet the former evidently emerged from the encounter with the latter. The sacred covenant between God and man paradoxically required both autonomy (136) and compliance from the human partner, and on the basis of that tension the Judaic ethos evolved. (137)

| Tension was central to the Judaic religious experience… Duality pervaded the Judaic vision … The Judaic dialectic between God’s fearsome omnipotence and man’s ontological separateness from God was resolved through God’s historical plan of salvation, and this plan required man’s total submission. Thus the divine command for unswerving obedience tended to outweigh the divine outpouring of reconciliatory love. (137)

| Yet that love was experienced nonetheless, especially as a perceived numinous presence drawing forward the Jewish nation to fulfillment, to the Promised Land in its various and constantly evolving forms. The redemptive and unitary aspect of God’s love for man seemed to be more of a fervently awaited condition that would be realized by a messiah in a future era, while the present age was distressingly colored by the darkness and desolation of man’s sin and God’s anger. The Jewish experience of divinity was inextricably bound up with an unyielding sense of judgment, just as man’s love for God was fully entwined with scrupulous obedience to God’s law. This combination was in turn inherited and reasserted by Christianity, for which Christ’s redemption did not altogether eliminate GOd’s vengeful nature. (137)

As in Judaism, the Christian experience of God oscillated between that of a sublime love relationship, indeed a divine romance, and that of a horrifically punitive antagonism and juridicial condemnation. Thus did Christian hope and faith coexist with Christian guilt and fear. (137)

Further Contraries and the Augustinian Legacy

Matter and Spirit

The primitive Christian faith perceived the nature of spiritual salvation in explicitly psychosomatic terms. Paul’s dominant image for mankind’s resurrection was that of the one body of Christ, all humanity composing its members, matured into the fullness of Christ who was its head and consummation. Yet not just man was being restored to divinity, but also nature, which had been riven by man’s fall and longed for its salvation. (139)

The focus for the Platonic divine-human identity was the nous, the spiritual intellect; the physical body did not participate in this identity, but rather impeded it. In its more extreme forms, Platonism encouraged in Christianity a view of the body as the soul’s prison. (140)

Platonism gave an emphatic philosophical justification to the potential spirit-matter dualism in Christianity. (140)

| Yet this later theological development had numerous antecedents: Stoicism, Neopythagoreanism, Manichaeism, and other religious sects (140) such as the Essenes all possessed marked tendencies toward religious dualism and asceticism that affected the Christian view. (141)

…much of the tenor of Gnostic dualism left its traces in later Christian theology and piety. (141)

| For primitive Christianity itself, like its Judaic progenitor, tended ambiguously toward a matter-spirit dualism and a negative view of nature and this world. (141)

Withdrawal from and transcendence of this world, whether in the manner of the desert hermits, or, more absolutely, through martyrdom, held great attraction for the fervent Christian. Apocalyptic expectations often arose from and engendered intensely negative evaluations of the present world. (142)

It is true that Paul made a distinction between “flesh” (sarx) as unredeemed nature, and “body” (soma) as something connoting the whole man… (142)

In Paul’s flesh-spirit polarity, compounded by similar (142) tendencies in other parts of the New Testament, lay the seeds of an antiphysical dualism in Christianity that Platonic, Gnostic, and Manichaean influences would later amplify. (143)


What was implicit in Paul was made explicit by Augustine. … For in Augustine all these factors–Judaism, Pauline theology, Johannine mysticism, early Christian asceticism, Gnostic dualism, Neoplatonism, and the critical state of late classical civilization–combined with the peculiarities of his own character and biography to define an attitude toward nature and this world, toward human history, and toward man’s redemption that would largely mold the character of medieval Western Christianity. (143)

It was Augustine who first wrote that he could doubt everything, but not the fact of the soul’s own experience of doubting, of knowing, willing, and existing–thereby affirming the certain existence of the human ego in the soul. (144)

…what may have especially influenced his religious understanding was the pivotal role played by sexuality in Augustine’s religious quest. … Augustine placed extreme emphasis in his own life on the ascetic denial of his sexual instincts as the prerequisite for full spiritual illumination… (144)

Love of God was the quintessential theme and goal of Augustine’s religiosity, and love of God could thrive only if love of self and love of the flesh were successfully conquered. (144)

…Augustine heled that…evil was a consequence of man’s misuse of his free will. (145)

Thus it was that the man who so decisively declared God’s love and liberating presence in his own life also recognized, with a potency that never ceased to permeate the Western Christian tradition, the innate bondage and powerlessness of the human soul as perverted by Original Sin. From this antithesis arose the necessity for Augustine of a divinely provided means of grace in this world: an authoritative Church structure, within which haven man could satisfy his overriding needs for spiritual guidance, moral discipline, and sacramental grace. (146)

…Augustine was dominated in his later life by two pressing concerns–the preservation of Church unity and doctrinal uniformity against the entropic impact of several major heretical movements, and the historical confrontation with the fall of the Roman Empire under the barbarian invasions. … Augustine answered the great criticism aimed at the Christian religion by the surviving pagan Romans–that Christianity had undermined the integrity of Roman imperial power and thereby opened the way for barbarian triumph–with a different set of values and a different vision of history: all true progress was necessarily spiritual and transcended this world and its negative fate. (146)

In Augustine’s vision, Christ had indeed already defeated Satan, but in the transcendent spiritual realm, the only realm that genuinely mattered. (147)

Here the Neoplatonic influence–inward, subjective, the individual spiritual ascent–joined, and to an extent took precedence over, the Judaic principle of a collective, exterior, historical spirituality. The penetration of Christianity by Neoplatonism both augmented and explicated the mystical and interior element of the Christian revelation, (147) especially that of John’s Gospel. But in so doing, it simultaneously diminished the historical and collectively evolutionary element that primitive Christianity, especially Paul and very early theologians like Irenaeus, had inherited and radically developed from Judaism. (148)

Law and Grace

For the Jews, the Mosaic Law was a living guide, their pillar of existential solidity, that which morally ordered their lives and retained them in good relation to God. …early Christianity asserted what it believed was a fundamentally contrasting view: The Law was made for man and was fulfilled in the love of God, which eliminated the need for repressive obedience and instead called up a liberating and wholehearted embrace of God’s will as one’s own. (148)

[Paul’s] own life exemplified the ultimate futility of a Law-governed religiosity. (149)

The tension between God’s will and man’s, between external regulation and inner inclination, could be dissolved in the love of God, which would unite human and divine in one unitary spirit. (149)

…the tone of Jesus’s teachings was often extremely uncompromising and judgmental, phrased in the hard dialectic of the Semitic manner, and intensified in the light of the imminent end times. (149)

Thus the characteristic tone of the medieval Christian Church–with its absolutist moral precepts, its complex legal-judicial structure, its accounting system of good works and merits, its meticulous distinctions between different categories of sin, its mandatory beliefs and sacraments, its power of excommunication, and its forceful stress on the inhibition of the flesh against the continual threat of damnation–often seemed more reminiscent of the older Judaic concept of God’s law, indeed an exaggeration of that concept, than of the new unitary image of God’s grace. Yet such elaborate safeguards appeared necessary in the present world of moral waywardness and secular danger, to preserve a genuine Christian morality and to guide the Church’s charges into the eternal life. (151)

Athens and Jerusalem

Another dichotomy within the Christian belief system involved the question of its purity and integrity and how these should be preserved. (151)

A syncretistic mysticism informed many early Christian thinkers as they eagerly recognized identical patterns of meaning in other philosophies and religions, often applying allegorical analysis to compare biblical and pagan literatures. The Truth was one, wherever it was found, for the Logos was all-comprehensive and boundlessly creative. (152)

By the end of the classical period, the exultant and inclusive religious spirit visible in primitive Christianity had taken on a different character: more inward, otherworldly, and philosophically elaborate, yet also more institutional, juridical, and dogmatic. (154)

The Holy Spirit and Its Vicissitudes

As Pentecost for the Jews had marked the revelation of the Law on Mount Sinai, so now for the Christians it marked a new revelation, the pouring forth of the Spirit. A new age had commenced with the Spirit’s coming upon all people of God. (155)

In the first, or revelatory, aspect, the Holy Spirit was recognized as the divine source of inspiration that had spoken through the Hebrew prophets. Now, however, the Spirit was democratized, made accessible to all Christians and not just the few. (155)

The spontaneous experience of the Holy Spirit, however, soon came into conflict with the conservative imperatives of the institutional Church. (156)

The charismatic and irrational expressions of the Spirit–spontaneous spiritual ecstasies, miraculous healings, speaking in tongues, prophecies, new assertions of divine revelation–were increasingly discouraged in favor of more ordered, rational manifestations, such as sermons, organized religious services and rituals, institutional authority, and doctrinal orthodoxy. A fixed canon of specific apostolic writings was carefully selected and permanently established, with no new revelations recognized as God’s infallible Word. The authority of the Holy Spirit, invested by Christ in the original apostles, now passed on in a sacredly established order to the bishops of the Church, with the ultimate authority in the West claimed by the Roman pontiff, the successor to Peter. (157)

The first Christians were plainly more concerned with God’s presence among them than with meticulous theological formulations. Later Church councils defined the Holy Spirit as the third person of the triune God, with Augustine describing the Spirit as the mutual spirit of love uniting the Father and Son. (157)

Rome and Catholicism

Roman legal theory and practice were founded on the idea of justification; transposed to the religious sphere, sin was a criminal violation of a legal relationship established by God between himself and man. … Similarly, the Judaic imperative of subordinating the highly developed but refractory human will to that of divine authority found supporting cultural patterns in the political subordination demanded by the immense authoritarian structure of the Roman Empire. God himself was generally conceived in terms reflective of the contemporary political environment–as commander and king, lord and master, inscrutably and unquestionably just, a stern ruler of all who was ultimately generous to his favorites. (158)

As the Christian religion evolved in the West, its Judaic foundation readily assimilated the kindred juridical and authoritarian qualities of the Roman imperial culture, and much of the Roman Church’s distinctive character was molded in those terms: a (158) powerful central hierarchy, a complex judicial structure governing ethics and spirituality, the binding spiritual authority of priests and bishops, the demand for obedience from Church members and its effective enforcement, formalized rituals and institutionalized sacraments, a strenuous defense against any divergence from authorized dogma, a centrifugal and militant expansiveness aimed at converting and civilizing the barbarians, and so forth. (159)

In the period after Constantine’s conversion in the early fourth century, the relationship of Rome to Christianity had undergone a complete reversal: Rome the persecutor had become Rome the defender, progressively uniting itself with the Church. … The public theater, circuses, and festal holidays of paganism had been replaced by Christian sacramental celebrations and processions, holy days and feast days. A new sense of public responsibility entered Christianity as it moved onto the world stage with an unprecedented consciousness of its mission to spiritually master the world. (159)

The decision by Constantine to move the capital of the Roman Empire eastward from Rome to Byzantium (renamed Constantinople) also had immense consequences for the West, for after the empire’s division into an eastern and western sector, and after the western empire’s collapse in the wake of the barbarian migrations, a political and cultural vacuum occurred in much of Europe. The Church became the only institution capable of sustaining some semblance of social order and civilized culture in the West, and the bishop of Rome, as the traditional spiritual head o the imperial metropolis, gradually absorbed many of the distinctions and roles previously possessed by the Roman emperor. The Church took over a variety of governmental functions and became the sole literate class, and the pope became the supreme sacred authority, who could anoint or excommunicate emperors and kings. (160)

The Roman Church became not just the Empire’s religious counterpart, but its historical successor. … Augustine himself had envisioned the fall of the old Rome, the temporal empire, in the light of a new Rome, the spiritual empire of the Christian Church, which began with the apostles and would continue throughout history as a reflection in this world (160) of God’s divine Kingdom. In doing so, Augustine mediated that momentous transition taken by Christianity as it reconceived the nature of the promised Kingdom of Heaven in terms of the existing Church. As the Middle Ages progressed and the Church gradually consolidated its authority in Rome, the Roman Catholic Church definitively emerged as the one, true, universally authoritative institution ordained by God to bring salvation to mankind. (161)

The Virgin Mary and the Mother Church

Both Old and New Testaments were almost uniformly patriarchal in their monotheism, but when the pagan multitudes converted to Christianity in the post-Constantinian empire, they brought with them a deeply ingrained tradition of the Great Mother Goddess (as well as several mythological examples of divine virgins and virgin births of divine heroes), the infusion of which into Christian piety significantly expanded the Church’s veneration of Mary. (162)

The nurturing maternal image of the Virgin Mary and the Mother Church thereby complemented and ameliorated not only the stern patriarchal image of the biblical Yahweh but also the Church’s own tendencies toward strict legalism and patriarchal authoritarianism. (164)

A Summing Up

…one may say that the overall effect of Christianity on the Greco-Roman mind was as follows: (165)

(1) to establish a monotheistic hierarchy in the cosmos through the recognition of one supreme God, the triune Creator and Lord of history, thereby absorbing and negating the polytheism of pagan religion while depreciating, though not eliminating, the metaphysics of archetypal Forms;

(2) to reinforce Platonism’s spirit-matter dualism by infusing it with the doctrine of Original Sin, the Fall of man and nature, and collective human guilt; by largely severing from nature any immanent divinity, whether polytheistic or pantheistic, though leaving the world an aura of supernatural significance, either theistic or satanic; and by radically polarizing good and evil;

(3) to dramatize the relation of the transcendent to the human in terms of God’s rulership of history, the narrative of the Chosen People, the historical appearance of Christ on earth, and his eventual reappearance to save mankind in a future apocalyptic age–thus introducing a new sense of historical dynamism, a divine redemptive logic in history that was linear rather than cyclical; yet gradually relocating this redemptive force in the ongoing institutional Church, thereby implicitly restoring a more static understanding of history; (165)

(4) to absorb and transform the pagan Mother Goddess mythology into a historicized Christian theology with the Virgin Mary as the human Mother of God, and into a continuing historical and social reality in the form of the Mother Church;

(5) to diminish the value of observing, analyzing, or understanding the natural world, and thus to deemphasize or negate the rational and empirical faculties in favor of the emotional, moral, and spiritual, with all human faculties encompassed by the demands of Christian faith and subordinated to the will of God; and

(6) to renounce the human capacity for independent intellectual or spiritual penetration of the world’s meaning in deference to the absolute authority of the Church and Holy Scripture for the final definition of truth. (166)


It has been said that a Manichaean cloud overshadowed the medieval imagination. Both popular Christian piety and much medieval theology evidenced a decisive depreciation of the physical world and the present life with “the world, the flesh, and the devil” frequently grouped together as a satanic triumvirate. (166)

It thus might appear to be the great paradox of Christianity’s history that a message whose original substance–the proclamation of the divine rebirth of the cosmos, the turning point of the aeons through the human incarnation of the Logos–had unprecedentedly elevated the significance of human life human history, and human freedom eventually served to enforce a somewhat antithetical conception. (167)

While in classical times the introspective life was characteristic of a few philosophers, the Christian focus on personal responsibility, awareness of sin, and withdrawal from the secular world all encouraged an attentiveness to the inner life among a much wider population. And in contrast to the previous centuries of often distressing philosophical uncertainty and religious alienation, the Christian worldview offered a stable, unchanging womb of spiritual and emotional nourishment in which every human soul was significant in the greater scheme of things. (168)

…whatever Christianity’s actual metaphysical validity, the living continuity of Western civilized culture itself owed its existence to the vitality and pervasiveness of the Christian Church throughout medieval Europe. (169)

IV. The Transformation of the Medieval Era

Despite an awareness of their specially graced spiritual status, intellectually conscious Christians of the early Middle Ages knew themselves to be living in the dim aftermath of a golden age of culture and learning. But in the Church’s monasteries, a few kept alive the classical spark. In that politically and socially unsettled era, it was the Christian cloister that provided a protected enclosure within which higher pursuits could be safely sustained and developed. (171)

| Cultural progress for the medieval mind above all signified, and required, the recovery of the ancient texts and their meaning. (171)

…around the year 1000, with Europe finally attaining a measure of political security after centuries of invasion and disorganization, cultural activity in the West began to quicken on many fronts: population increased, agriculture improved, trade within and beyond the continent grew, contacts with the neighboring Islamic and Byzantine cultures became more frequent, cities and towns emerged along with a literate upper class, guilds of workmen formed, and a general rise in the desire for learning led to the founding of universities. The fixed world of the old feudal order was giving way to something new. (173)

| The new social formations–guilds, communes, fraternities–were based on horizontal and fraternal lines rather than the earlier vertical and paternalistic authority of lords and vassals, and their rites of agreement were based on democratic consensus rather than the Chuch-sanctioned oaths of feudal vassalage. (173)

Of particular importance in this cultural revolution was the emergence of several major technical innovations in agriculture and the mechanical arts, above all the harnessing of new power sources (windmill, waterwheel, horse collar, stirrup, heavy plow). With such inventions, the natural environment began to be exploited with unprecedented skill and energy. (173)

The Scholastic Awakening

Christianity’s earlier need to distinguish and strengthen itself by a more or less rigid exclusion of pagan culture lost some of its urgency. With most of the European continent now Christian, the Church’s spiritual and intellectual authority was supreme. Other sources of learning and culture no longer posed such a threat, particularly if the Church could integrate them into its own all-encompassing structure. Moreover, with Europe’s increased prosperity, the Church clergy found more time to pursue intellectual interests, which were in turn further stimulated by increased contacts with the older Eastern centers of learning–the Byzantine and Islamic empires–where the ancient manuscripts and Hellenic heritage had been preserved during Europe’s darker ages. Under these new circumstances, the Church began to sponsor a tradition of scholarship and education of extraordinary breadth, rigor, and profundity. (175)

The purpose of the seven liberal arts–the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy)–was “to restore God’s image in us.” (175)

Within the womb of the medieval Church, the world-denying Christian philosophy forged by Augustine and based on Plato began giving way to a fundamentally different approach to existence, as the Scholastics in effect recapitulated the movement from Plato to Aristotle in their own intellectual evolution. (176)

The use of reason to examine and defend the articles of faith, already exploited in the eleventh century by Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, and the discipline of logic in particular, championed by the fiery twelfth-century dialectician Abelard, now rapidly ascended in both educational popularity and theologi-(176)cal importance. With Abelard’s Sec et Non (Yes and No), a compilation of apparently contradictory statements by various Church authorities, medieval thinkers became increasingly preoccupied with the possible plurality of truth, with debate between competing arguments, and with the growing power of human reason for discerning correct doctrine. It is not that Christian truths were called into question; rather, they were now subject to analysis. (177)

The principal occupation of medieval philosophy had long been the joining of faith with reason, so that the revealed truths of Christian dogma could be explicated and defended with the aid of rational analysis. Philosophy was the handmaid of theology, as reason was faith’s interpreter. Reason was thus subordinate to faith. But with the introduction of Aristotle and the new focus on the visible world, the early Scholastics understanding of “reason” as formally correct logical thinking began to take on a new meaning: Reason now signified not only logic but also (177) empirical observation and experiment–ie.e, cognition of the natural world. (178)

These scholars of Scholasticism’s golden age could not have known the ultimate consequences of their intellectual quest to comprehend all that exists. For by confronting so directly this tension between divergent tendencies–Greek and Christian, reason and faith, nature and spirit–the Scholastics prepared the way in the late medieval universities for the massive convulsion in the Western world view caused by the Scientific Revolution. (178)

| Albertus was the first medieval thinker to make the firm distinction between knowledge derived from theology and knowledge derived from science. The theologian is the expert in matters of faith, but in mundane matters the scientist knows more. (178)

[via: cf. Gould’s “NOMA.”]

The Quest of Thomas Aquinas

Since there could be only one valid truth (179) derived from the one God, nothing reason would uncover could ultimately contradict theological doctrine. (180)

Traditional theologians opposed the new scientific perspective because its purported discovery of regular determining laws of nature seemed to diminish God’s free creativity, while also threatening man’s personal responsibility and need for faith in Providence. To assert the value of nature seemed to usurp the supremacy of God. Basing their arguments on the teachings of Augustine concerning nature’s fall and the need for God’s redemptive grace, they viewed the new science’s positive and deterministic conception of nature as a heretical threat to the essence of Christian doctrine. (180)

For Aquinas,…nature and spirit were intimately bound up with each other, and the history of one touched the history of the other. Man himself was the pivotal center of the two realms, “like a horizon of the corporeal and of the spiritual.” (180)

Aquinas was also convinced that human reason and freedom were valuable on their own account, and that their actualization would further serve the glory of the Creator. (181)

At the heart of Aquinas’s vision was his belief that to subtract these extraordinary capacities from man would be to presume to lessen the infinite capacity of God himself and his creative omnipotence. To strive for human freedom and for the realization of specifically human values was to promote the divine will. God had created the world as a realm with immanent ends, and to reach his ultimate ends, man was intended to pass through immanent ends: to be as God intended, man had fully to realize his humanity. Man was an autonomous part of God’s universe, and his very autonomy allowed him to make his return freely to the source of all. Indeed, only if man were genuinely free could he be capable of freely loving God, of freely realizing his exalted spiritual destiny. (181)


Aquinas’s appreciation of human nature extended to the human body, an appreciation that affected his distinctive epistemological orientation. … The divine invisibles, among which Aquinas included the “eternal types” of Augustine and Plato, could be approached only through the empirical, the observation of the visible and particular. By experiencing the particular through the senses, the human mind could then move toward the universal, which made intelligible the particular. Therefore both sense experience and intellect were necessary for cognition, each informing the other. (182)

[via: Both, the limbic system and the PFC.]

Thus for Aquinas, God was not only the supreme Form drawing nature forth, but was also the very ground of nature’s existence. For both Aristotle and Aquinas, form was an active principle–not just a structure, but a dynamism toward realization; and the entire creation was dynamically moved relative to the highest Form, God. But whereas Aristotle’s God was apart from and indifferent to the creation of which he was the unmoved mover, for Aquinas God’s true essence was existence. (183)

In Aquinas’s understanding, God was not so much a thing, an entity that was the first of a series of other entities, but was rather the infinite act of existence (esse) from which everything derived its own being. In effect, Aquinas synthesized Plato’s transcendent reality with Aristotle’s concrete reality by means of the Christian understanding of God as the loving infinite Creator, giving freely of his own being to his creation. (184)

Aquinas did not deny the existence of the Ideas. Rather, ontologically he denied their self-subsistence apart from material reality (in keeping with Aristotle) and their separate creative status apart from God (in keeping with Christian monotheism and Augustine’s placement of the Ideas within the creative mind of God). And epistemologically he denied the human intellect’s capacity to know the Ideas directly, asserting the intellect’s need for sensory experience to activate an imperfect but meaningful understanding of things in terms of those eternal archetypes. (185)

The early medieval doctrine of universals was characteristically that of “Realism”–i.e., the universal existed as a real entity. (186)


The extraordinary impact Aquinas had on Western thought lay especially in his conviction that the judicious exercise of man’s empirical and rational intelligence, which had been developed and empowered by the Greeks, could now marvelously serve the Christian cause. For it was the human intellect’s penetrating cognition of the multitude of created objects in this world–their order, their dynamism, their directedness, their finiteness, their absolute dependence on something more–that revealed, at the culmination fo the universe’s hierarchy, the existence of an infinite highest being, an unmoved mover and the first cause: the God of Christianity. (188)

Thus Aquinas gave to Aristotelian though ta new religious significance–or, as it has been said, Aquinas converted Aristotle to Christianity and baptized him. Yet it is equally true that in the long run Aquinas converted medieval Christianity to Aristotle and to the values Aristotle represented. (189)

Rational philosophy and the scientific study of nature could enrich theology and faith itself while being fulfilled by them. The ideal was “a theologically based worldliness and a theology open to the world.” (189)

Aquinas thus embraced the new learning, mastered all the available texts, and committed himself to the Herculean intellectual task of (189) comprehensively uniting the Greek and Christian world views in one great summa, wherein the scientific and philosophical achievements of the ancients would be brought within the overarching vision of Christian theology. More than a sum of its parts, Aquinas’s philosophy was a live compound that brought the diverse elements of its synthesis to new expression–as if he had recognized an implicit unity in the two streams and then set about drawing it out by sheer force of intellect. (190)

Further Developments in the High Middle Ages

The Rising Tide of Secular Thought

Sensing the secularizing threat of the pagan Aristotelian-Arabic science, of an autonomous human reason and its embrace of profane nature, the Church was pressed to take a stand against the antitheological thinking beginning to spread. The truths of Christian faith were supernatural, and needed to be safeguarded against the insinuations of a naturalistic rationalism. (192)

Aquinas and his Scholastic followers and colleagues thus legitimated Aristotle by working out in painstaking detail the unification of (192) his science, philosophy, and cosmology with Christian doctrine. Without that synthesis, it is questionable whether the force of Greek rationalism and naturalism could have been so fully assimilated into a culture as pervasively Christian as the medieval West. But with the Church’s gradual acceptance of that work, the Aristotelian corpus was elevated virtually to the status of Christian dogma. (193)

Astronomy and Dante

With the discovery of Aristotle came as well Ptolemy’s works on astronomy explicating the classical conception of the heavens, with the planets revolving around the Earth in concentric crystalline spheres, and with the further mathematical refinements of epicycles, eccentrics, and equants. (193)

But it was when the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmology bestowed to Christianity by the Scholastics was embraced by Dante that the ancient world view fully reentered the Christian psyche and was there elaborated and permeated with Christian meaning. Closely following Aquinas in time and spirit, and similarly inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aristotle, Dante realized in his epic poem La Divina Commedia what was in effect the moral, religious, and cosmological paradigm of the medieval era. The Commedia represented, on several counts, an unprecedented achievement in Christian culture. As a sustained act of the poetic imagination, Dante’s epic transcended earlier medieval conventions–in its literary sophistication, in its eloquent use of the vernacular, in its psychological insight and theological innovations, in its implicit identification of the feminine with the mystical knowledge of God, in its bold Platonic amplification of human eros in a Christian context. But especially consequential for the history of the Western world view were certain ramifications of the epic’s cosmological architecture. For by integrating the scientific constructs of Aristotle and Ptolemy with a vividly imagined portrayal of the Christian universe, Dante created a  vast classical-Christian mythology encompassing the whole of creation that would (194) exert a considerable–and complex–influence on the later Christian imagination. (195)

The Aristotelian geocentric universe thus became a massive symbolic structure for the moral drama of Christianity, in which man was situated between Heaven and Hell, drawn between his ethereal and earthly abodes, and balanced at the moral pivot between his spiritual and corporeal natures. … The Commedia portrayed the entire Christian hierarchy of being–ranging from Satan and Hell in the dark depths of the material Earth, out through the Mount of Purgatory, and on up through the successive angelic hosts to the supreme God in Paradise at the highest celestial sphere, with man’s earthly existence at the cosmological mid-point, all carefully mapped onto the Ptolemaic-Aristotelian system. The resulting Christian universe was a divine macrocosmic womb in which humankind was positioned securely in the center, enclosed on all sides by God’s omniscient and omnipotent being. Thus Dante, like Aquinas, achieved an extraordinarily comprehensive ordering of the cosmos, a medieval Christian transfiguration of the cosmic order set forth by the Greeks. (195)

In the minds of Dante and his contemporaries, astronomy and theology were inextricably conjoined, and the cultural ramifications of this cosmological synthesis were profound: for if any essential physical change were to be introduced into that system by future astronomers–such as, for example, a moving Earth–the effect of a purely scientific innovation would threaten the integrity of the entire Christian cosmology. The intellectual comprehensiveness and desire for cultural universality so characteristic of the Christian mind in the high Middle Ages, bringing even the details of classical science into its fold, were leading it into directions that would later prove intensely problematic. (196)

The Secularization of the Church and the Rise of Lay Mysticism

Christianity had become powerful but compromised. (196)

The very success (196) of the Church’s striving for the cultural hegemony, at first spiritually motivated, was now undermining its religious foundations. (197)

Intellectuality of great subtlety played a role here too in the person of Meister Eckhart, the movement’s leading teacher, whose metaphysical vision derived philosophical support from Aquinas and Neoplatonism, and whose original formulations of the mystical experience sometimes appeared to threaten the limits of orthodoxy:

The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him; my eye and his are one.

With advanced religious experience now perceived as directly available to lay people as much as to clergy, the priest and bishop were no longer regarded as necessary mediators of spiritual activity. Similarly, the relative unimportance of words and reason in the context of the soul’s relationship to God made the highly rationalist development of theology and the contentious subtleties of Church doctrine seem superfluous. From the opposite side of the issue from Scholasticism, but with identical effect, reason and faith were growing ever further apart. (1998)

A new stress on the Bible and faith in God’s Word as the basis of that true Church began to displace the institutional Church’s stress on dogma and papal sovereignty. A life of renunciation and simplicity was upheld as the authentic path to God, in contrast to the life of wealth and power enjoyed by the privileged officeholders of the ecclesiastical establishment. … Already at the turn of the thirteenth century, Joachim of Fiore had set forth his influential mystical vision of history as divided into three eras of increasing spirituality–the Age of the Father (the Old Testament), the Age of the Son (the New Testament and the Church), and a coming Age of the Spirit, when the (198) whole world would be suffused with the divine and the institutional Church would no longer be necessary. (199)

[via: This sounds very similar to Harvey Cox’s framework of “faith,” “belief,” and “spirit.”]

Critical Scholasticism and Ockham’s Razor

One the one hand, the Church was supporting the whole academic enterprise in the universities, where Christian doctrine was explicated with unprecedentedly rigorous logical method and increasingly greater scope. On the other hand, it attempted to keep that enterprise under control, either by condemnation and suppression, or by giving doctrinal status to certain innovations such as those of Aquinas–as if to say, “This far and no further.” (200)

…Aquinas’s summa had been one of the final steps of the medieval mind toward full intellectual independence. (201)


The central principe of [William] Ockham’s thought, and the most consequential, was his denial of the reality of universals outside of the human mind and human language. (202)

Ockham thus moved to eliminate the last vestige of Platonic Forms in Scholastic thought: Only the particular existed, and any inference about real universals, whether transcendent or immanent, was spurious. So often and with such force did Ockham use the philosophical principle that “entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity” (non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem) that the principle came to be known as “Ockham’s razor.” (203)

| Hence, according to Ockham, universals exist only in the human mind, not in reality. They are concepts abstracted by the mind on the basis of its empirical observations of more or less similar individuals. … The problem of universals was therefore a matter of epistemology, grammar, and logic–not of metaphysics or ontology. (203)

For Ockham, all knowledge of nature arose solely from what comes through the senses. (204)

Ockham’s way of philosophy was known as the via moderna, in contrast to Aquinas’s and Scotus’s via antiqua. The traditional Scholastic enterprise, committed to joining faith with reason, was coming to an end. (207)

The underlying medieval world view–Christian and Aristotelian–continued intact, but new, more critical interpretations now arose, therby undoing the earlier synthesis and engendering a new intellectual pluralism. (208)

Ockham’s vision prefigured the path subsequently taken by the Western mind. For just as he believed the Church must be politically separated from the secular world for the integrity and rightful freedom of both, so he believed God’s reality must be theologically distinguished from empirical reality. Only thus would Christian truth preserve its transcendent sacrosanctness, and only thus would the world’s nature be properly comprehended on its own terms, in its full particularity and contingency. Herein lay the embryonic foundations–epistemological and metaphysical as well as religious and political–for coming changes in the Western world view to be wrought by the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment. (208)

The Rebirth of Classical Humanism


Instead of Scholasticism’s concern with logic, science, and Aristotle, and with the constant imperative of Christianizing the pagan conceptions, Petrarch and his followers saw value in all the literary classics of antiquity–poetry, essays, letters, histories and biographies, philosophy in the form of elegant Platonic dialogues rather than dry Aristotelian treatises–and embraced these on their own terms, not as needing Christian modification, but as noble and inspirational just as they stood in the radiance of classical civilization. (209)

Petrarch’s highest ideal was docta pietas, learned piety. Piety was Christian, directed to God, yet learning enhanced that piety, and larning derived from knowledge of the ancient classics. (210)

The Return of Plato

The Humanists embraced the ancient Greco-Roman conception of history as cyclical, rather than only linear as in the traditional Judaeo-Christian vision; they saw their own period as a rebirth out of the barbarian darkness of the Middle ages, a return to ancient glory, the dawn of another golden age. (214)

The classical Greeks’ sense of man’s own glory, of man’s intellectual powers and capacity for spiritual elevation seemingly un contaminated by a biblical Original Sin, was now emerging anew in the breast of Western man. (215)

| The new mode of attaining knowledge of the universe was different as well. Imagination now rose to the highest position on the epistemological spectrum, unrivaled in its capacity to render metaphysical truth. (215)

Humanism gave man new dignity, nature new meaning, and Christianity new dimensions–and yet less absoluteness. (216)

Something like the ancient Greek balance and tension between Aristotle and Plato, between reason and imagination, immanence and transcendence, nature and spirit, external world and interior psyche, was again emerging in Western culture–a polarity further complicated and intensified by Christianity itself with its own internal dialectic. (219)

At the Threshold

V. The Modern World View

The Renaissance

The phenomenon of the Renaissance lay as much in the sheer diversity of its expressions as in their unprecedented quality. Within the span of a single generation, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael produced their masterworks, Columbus discovered the New World, Luther rebelled against the Catholic Church and began the Reformation, and Copernicus hypothesized a heliocentric universe and commenced the Scientific Revolution. (224)

Yet it would be a deep misjudgment to perceive the mergence of the Renaissance as all light and splendor, for it arrived in the wake of a series of unmitigated disasters and thrived in the midst of continuous upheaval. Beginning the mid-fourteenth century, the black plague swept through Europe and destroyed a third of the continent’s population, fatally undermining the balance of economic and cultural elements that had sustained the high medieval civilization. Many believed that the wrath of God had come upon the world. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France was an interminably ruinous conflict, while Italy was ravaged by repeated invasions and internecine struggles. Pirates, bandits, and mercenaries were ubiquitous. Religious strife grew to international proportions. Severe economic depression was nearly universal for decades. The universities were sclerotic. New diseases entered Europe through its ports and took their toll. Black magic and devil worship flourished, as did group flagellation, the dance of death in cemeteries, the black mass, the Inquisition, tortures and burnings at the stake. Ecclesiastical conspiracies were routine, and included such events as a papally backed assassination in front of the Florentine cathedral altar at High Mass on Easter Sunday. Murder, rape, and pillage were often daily realities, famine and pestilence annual perils. The Turkish hordes threatened to overwhelm Europe at any moment. Apocalyptic expectations abounded. And the Church itself, the West’s fundamental cultural institution, seemed to many the very center of decadent corruption, its structure and purpose devoid of spiritual integrity. It was against this backdrop of massive cultural decay, violence, and death that the “rebirth” of the Renaissance took place. (225)

…technical inventions played a pivotal role… Four in particular (all with Oriental precursors)…: the magnetic compass, which permitted the navigational feats that opened the globe to European exploration; gunpowder, which contributed to the demise of the old feudal order and the ascent of nationalism; the mechanical clock, which brought about a decisive change in the human relationship to time, nature, and work, separating and freeing the structure of human activities from the dominance of nature’s rhythms; and the printing press, which produced a tremendous increase in learning, made available both ancient classics and modern works to an (225) ever-broadening public, and eroded the monopoly on learning long held by the clergy. (226)

Silent reading and solitary reflection helped free the individual from traditional ways of thinking, and from collective control of thinking, with individual readers now having private access to a multiplicity of other perspectives and forms of experience. (226)

…undermining, by implication, all traditional authorities. (226)

Discoveries of new continents brought new possibilities for economic and political expansion, and hence the radical transformation of European social structures. With those discoveries came also the encounter with new cultures, religions, and ways of life, introducing into the European awareness a new spirit of skeptical relativism concerning the absoluteness of its own traditional assumptions. (227)

The Italian city-states’ small size, their independence from externally sanctioned authority, and their commercial and cultural vitality all provided a political stage upon which a new spirit of bold, creative, and often ruthless individualism could flourish. Whereas in earlier times, the life of the state was defined by inherited structures of power and law imposed by tradition or higher authority, now individual ability and deliberate political action and thought carried the most weight. (227)

The medieval Christian ideal in which personal identity was largely absorbed in the collective Christian body of souls faded in favor of the more pagan heroic mode–the individual man as adventurer, genius, and rebel. (227)

It was thus from its origins in the dynamic culture of Renaissance Italy that there developed a distinctive new Western personality. Marked by individualism, secularity, strength of will, multiplicity of interest and impulse, creative innovation, and a willingness to defy traditional limitations on human activity, this spirit soon began to spread across Europe, providing the lineaments of the modern character. (228)

| Yet for all the secularism of the age, in a quite tangible sense the Roman Catholic Church itself attained a pinnacle of glory in the Renaissance. (228)

The Renaissance was both an age to itself and a transition. (229)

With the Christian Humanists of the Renaissance, irony and restraint, worldly activity and classical erudition served the Christian cause in ways the medieval era had not witnessed. A literate and ecumenical evangelism here seemed to replace the dogmatic pieties of a more primitive age. A critical religious intellectuality sought to supersede naive religious superstition. (229)

The Renaissance thrived on a determined “decompartmentalization,” maintaining no strict divisions between different realms of human knowledge or experience. (230)

Renaissance historians achieved a decisively new perspective on the past: history was perceived and defined for the first time as a tripartite structure–ancient, medieval, modern–thus sharply differentiating the classical and medieval eras, with the Renaissance itself at the vanguard of the new age. (231)

The Reformation

It was when the spirit of Renaissance individualism reached the realm of theology and religious conviction within the Church, in the person of the German Augustinian monk Martin Luther, that there erupted in Europe the momentous Protestant Reformation. … Sparked by Luther’s rebellion, an insuperable cultural reaction swept through the sixteenth century, decisively reasserting the Christian religion while simultaneously shattering the unity of Western Christendom. (233)

Yet perhaps the most fundamental element in the genesis of the Reformation was the emerging spirit of rebellious, self-determining individualism, and particularly the growing impulse for intellectual and spiritual independence, which had now developed to that crucial point where a potently critical stand could be sustained against the West’s highest cultural authority, the Roman Catholic Church. (234)

In retrospect, the post-Constantinian welding of the Christian religion to the ancient Roman state had proved to be a two-edged sword, contributing both to the Church’s cultural ascendance and to its eventual decline. (235)

Luther saw it was the whole man who was corrupt and needed God’s forgiveness, not just particular sins that one by one could be erased by proper Church-defined actions. (235)

After centuries of possessing relatively indisputable spiritual authority, the Roman Catholic Church, with all its accoutrements, was suddenly no longer considered mandatory for humanity’s religious well-being. (236)

But the reformers countered that the Church had replaced faith in the person of Christ with faith int he doctrine of the Church. (236)

But for the reformers, the Church’s actual practice too much belied its ideal, its hierarchy was too manifestly corrupt, its doctrinal tradition too remote from the original revelation. To reform such a degenerate structure from within would be both practically futile and theologically erroneous. Luther argued persuasively for God’s exclusive role in salvation, man’s spiritual helplessness, the moral bankruptcy of the institutional Church, and the exclusive authority of Scripture. The Protestant spirit prevailed in half of Europe, and the old order was broken. Western Christianity was no longer exclusively Catholic, nor monolithic, nor a source of cultural unity. (237)


The peculiar paradox of the Reformation was its essentially ambiguous character, for it was at once a conservative religious reaction and a radically libertarian revolution. (237)

Against the Renaissance’s dalliance with a more flexible Hellenized Christianity, with pagan Neoplatonism and its universal religion and human deification, Luther, and more systematically Calvin, reinstituted the more strictly defined, morally rigorous, and ontologically dualistic Augustinian Judaeo-Christian view. (238)

| Moreover, this reassertion of “pure” traditional Christianity was given further impetus throughout European culture by the Catholic Counter-Reformation when, beginning in the mid-sixteenth century with the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church finally awakened to the crisis and vigorously reformed itself from within. The Roman papacy again became religiously motivated, often austerely so, and the Church restated the basics of Christian belief (while maintaining the Church’s essential structure and sacramental authority) in just as militantly dogmatic terms as the Protestants it opposed. Thus on both sides of the European divide, in the Catholic south and the Protestant north, orthodox Christianity was energetically reestablished in a conservative religious backlash against the Renaissance’s pagan Hellenism, naturalism, and secularism. (238)

| Yet for all the Reformation’s conservative character, its rebellion against the Church was an unprecedentedly revolutionary act in Western culture–not only as a successful social and political insurgency against the Roman papacy and ecclesiastical hierarchy, with the reformers supported by the secular rulers of Germany and other northern countries, but first and foremost as an assertion of the individual conscience against (238) the established Church framework of belief, ritual, and organizational structure. (239)

Luther’s impassioned words before the imperial Diet declared a new manifesto of personal religious freedom:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.


By overthrowing the theological authority of the Catholic Church, the internationally recognized supreme court of religious dogma, the Reformation opened the way in the West for religious pluralism, then religious skepticism, and finally a complete breakdown in the until then relatively homogenous Christian world view. (240)

By disenchanting the world of immanent divinity, completing the process initiated by Christianity’s destruction of pagan animism, the Reformation better allowed for its radical revision by modern science. The way was then clear for an increasingly naturalistic view of the cosmos, moving first to the remote rationalist Creator of Deism, and finally to secular agnosticism’s elimination of any supernatural reality. (241)

Protestantism’s reclamation of the unalterable Word of God in the Bible thus fostered in the emerging modern mind a new stress on the need to discover unbiased objective truth, apart from the prejudices and distortions of tradition. (242)

Luther’s appeal to the primacy of the individual’s religious response would lead gradually but inevitably to the modern mind’s sense of the interiority of religious reality, the final individualism of truth, and the pervasive role in determining truth played by the personal subject. … The self increasingly became the measure of things, self-defining and self-legislating. Truth increasingly became truth-as-experienced-by-the-self. Thus the road opened by Luther would move through Pietism to Kantian critical philosophy and Romantic philosophical idealism to, finally, the philosophical pragmatism and existentialism of the late modern era. (243)


The Reformation was secularizing too in its realignment of personal loyalties. (243)

With secular rulers now defining the religion of their territories, the Reformation unintentionally moved power from church to state, just as it did from priest to layman. … Hence the cause of Protestantism became associated with the cause of political freedom. (244)

When Luther eliminated the traditional hierarchical division between clerical and lay, and, in blatant defiance of Catholic law, decided to marry a former nun and father a family, he endowed the activities and relationships of (244) ordinary life with a religious meaning not previously emphasized by the Catholic Church. Holy matrimony replaced chastity as the Christian ideal. Domestic life, the raising of children, mundane work, and the tasks of daily existence were now upheld more explicitly as important areas within which the spirit could grow and deepen. Now occupational work of every variety was a sacred calling, not just monasticism as in the Middle Ages. (245)

The Protestant affirmation of moral discipline and the holy dignity of one’s work in the world seems to have combined with a peculiarity in the Calvinist belief in predestination, whereby the striving (and anxious) Christian, deprived of the Catholic’s recourse to sacramental justification, could find signs of his being among the elect if he could successfully and unceasingly apply himself to disciplined work and his worldly calling. Material productivity was often the fruit of such effort, which, compounded by the Puritan demand for (245) ascetic renunciation of selfish pleasure and frivolous spending, readily lent itself to the accumulation of capital. (246)

| Whereas traditionally the pursuit of commercial success was perceived as directly threatening to the religious life, now the two were recognized as mutually beneficial. (246)


The Counter-Reformation, for its part, similarly brought on unforeseen developments in a direction opposite from that intended. … spearheaded above all by the Jesuits,… (246)

Hundreds of educational institutions were founded by the Jesuits throughout Europe, and were soon replicated by Protestant leaders similarly mindful of the need to educate the faithful. The classical humanistic tradition based on the Greek paideia was thereby broadly sustained during the following two centuries, offering the growing educated class of Europeans a new source of cultural unity just as the old source, Christianity, was fragmenting. But as a consequence of such a liberal program, with its exposure of students to many eloquently articulate viewpoints, pagan as well as Christian, and with its disciplined inculcation of a critical rationality, there could not but emerge in educated Europeans a decidedly nonorthodox tendency toward intellectual pluralism, skepticism, and even revolution. It was no accident that Galileo and Descartes, Voltaire and Diderot all received Jesuit educations. (247)

| And here was the final and most drastic secularizing effect of the Reformation. For with the revolt of Luther, Christianity’s medieval matrix split into two, then into many, then seemingly commenced destroying itself as the new divisions battled each other throughout Europe with unbridled fury. The resulting chaos in the intellectual and cultural life of Europe was profound. Wars of religion reflected violent disputes between ever-multiplying religious sects over whose conception of absolute truth would prevail. The need for a clarifying and unifying vision capable of transcending the irresolvable religious conflicts was urgent and broadly felt. It was amidst this state of acute metaphysical turmoil that the Scientific Revolution began, developed, and finally triumphed in the Western mind. (247)

The Scientific Revolution


More than any other single factor, it was the Copernican insight that provoked and symbolized the drastic, fundamental break from the ancient and medieval universe to that of the modern era. (248)

He found that several Greek philosophers, notably of Pythagorean and Platonist background, had proposed a moving Earth, although none had developed the hypothesis to its full astronomical and mathematical conclusions. Hence Aristotle’s geocentric conception had not been the only judgment of the (249) revered Greek authorities. (250)

Copernicus circulated [Commentariolus] among his friends as early as 1514. (251)

For most who heard of it, the new conception was so contradictory to everyday experience, so patently false, as not to require serious discussion. but as a few proficient astronomers began to find Copernicus’s argument persuasive, the opposition began to mount; and it was the religious implications of the new cosmology that quickly provoked the most intense attacks. (251)

The Religious Reaction

…for throughout most of the high Middle Ages and Renaissance, Roman Catholicism had allowed considerable latitude in intellectual speculation. Indeed, such latitude (251) was a major source of Protestant criticism of the Church. (252)

It was antagonism from the Protestant reformers that arose first and most forcefully, and understandably so: the Copernican hypothesis contradicted several passages in Holy Scripture concerning the fixity of the Earth, and Scripture was Protestantism’s one absolute authority. To have biblical revelation questioned by human science was just the kind of Hellenizing intellectual arrogance and interpretive sophistry the reformers most abhorred in Catholic culture. (252)

When Rheticus took Copernicus’s manuscript to Nürnberg to be published, he was forced by reformers’ opposition to go elsewhere. Even in Leipzig, where he left the book with the Protestant Osiander to publish, the latter inserted an anonymous preface without Copernicus’s knowledge, asserting that the heliocentric theory was merely a convenient computational method and should not be taken seriously as a realistic account of the heavens. (252)

[via: Ray Comfort did the exact same thing with Origin of Species!]

The absolute uniqueness and significance of Christ’s intervention into human history seemed to require a corresponding unique-(253)ness and significance for the Earth. (254)

With religion and science in such apparent contradiction–and an upstart science at that, a mere novel theory–there was little question for Church authorities as to which system would prevail. Awakened to the dire theological implications of Copernican astronomy, and further traumatized into dogmatic rigidity by decades of Reformation conflict and heresy, the Catholic Church mustered its considerable powers of suppression and condemned in no uncertain terms the heliocentric hypothesis: the De Revolutionibus and Dialogue placed on the Index of forbidden books; Galileo interrogated by the Inquisition, forced to recant and placed under house arrest; major Catholic Copernicans dismissed from their posts and banished; all teachings and writings upholding the motion of the Earth prohibited. With the Copernican theory, Catholicism’s long-held tension between reason and faith had finally snapped. (254)


Despite the radical quality of the Copernican hypothesis, a planetary Earth was the only major innovation in the De Revolutionibus, a work that was otherwise solidly within the ancient and medieval astronomical tradition. Copernicus had caused the first break from the old cosmology, and thereby created all the problems that had to be solved by Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton before they could offer a comprehensive scientific theory capable of integrating a planetary Earth. (255)

Indeed, Kepler both saved the phenomena in the traditional sense and “saved” mathematical astronomy itself by demonstrating mathematics’ genuine physical relevance to the heavens–its capacity to disclose the actual nature of the physical motions. Mathematics was now established not just as an instrument for astronomical prediction, but as an intrinsic element of astronomical reality. (257)


cf. Sidereus Nuncius (The Messenger of the Stars)

A new celestial world was opening up to the Western mind, just as a new terrestrial world was being opened by the global explorers. Although the cultural consequences of Kepler’s and Galileo’s discoveries were gradual and cumulative, the medieval universe had effectively been dealtits death blow. (259)

If there were a real proof that the Sun is in the center of the universe, that the Earth is in the third heaven, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth round the Sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. – Cardinal Bellarmine

But a unique and potent combination of circumstances conspired otherwise. (260)

Bellarmine’s conviction that mathematical hypotheses were only intellectual constructs with no ultimate relation to physical reality; Galileo’s espousal of atomism, when the Catholic doctrine of the eucharistic transubstantiation seemed to require an Aristotelian physics; the pope’s sense of personal betrayal, exacerbated by his political insecurity; the power struggles between different religious orders within the Church; the Inquisition’s voracious appetite for punitive repression–all these factors coalesced with fateful accord to motivate the Church’s official decision to prohibit Copernicanism. (260)

| That decision caused irreparable harm to the Church’s intellectual and spiritual integrity. Catholicism’s formal commitment to a stationary (260) Earth drastically undercut it status and influence among the European intelligentsia. The Church would retain much power and loyalty in the succeeding centuries, but it could no longer justifiably claim to represent the human aspiration toward full knowledge of the universe. … Whatever the relative importance of individual factors such as the entrenched Aristotelian academic opposition or the pope’s personal motives, the ultimate cultural meaning of the Galilean conflict was that of Church versus science, and, by implication, religion versus science. And in Galileo’s forced recantation lay the Church’s own defeat and science’s victory. (261)

| Institutional Christianity as a whole suffered from the Copernican victory, which contravened both religious foundations–Protestantism’s literal Bible and Catholicism’s sacramental authority For the present, most European intellectuals, including the scientific revolutionaries, would remain devoutly Christian. But the schism between science and religion–maintained even within the individual mind–had fully announced itself. (261)

The Forging of Newtonian Cosmology

…Galileo employed, developed, or invented a host of technical instruments–lens, telescope, microscope, geometric compass, magnet, air thermometer, hydrostatic balance. The use of such instruments gave a new dimension to empiricism unknown to the Greeks, a dimension that undercut both the theories and the practice of the Aristotelian professors. (263)

Force was required to explain only a change in motion, not constant motion. … Through his concept of inertia,…Galileo demonstrated that a moving Earth would automatically endow all its objects and projectiles with the Earth’s own motion, and therefore the collective inertial motion would be imperceptible to anyone on the Earth. (264)

But the question of how to explain physically the celestial movements, including the motion of the Earth itself, still remained unresolved. 9264)

But now occurred another influx of ancient Greek philosophy: the atomism of Leucippus and Democritus, which would both point toward a solution to the problem of celestial motion and help shape the future course of Western scientific development. (265)

Like Democritus, Descartes assumed that the physical world was composed of an infinite number of particles, or “corpuscles,” which mechanically collided and aggregated. As a Christian, however, he assumed that these corpuscles did not move in utterly random fashion, but obeyed certain laws imposed on them by a providential God at their creation. … By employing the Scholastics’ impetus theory in the new context of an atomistic space, he concluded that a corpuscle in motion would tend to continue moving in a straight line at the same speed unless otherwise deflected. Thus Descartes enunciated the first unequivocal statement of the law of inertia–one that included the critical element of inertial linearity (compared with Galileo’s more rudimentary and empirically conceived Earth-oriented inertia with its implication of circularity). Descartes additionally reasoned that since all motion in a corpuscular universe must in principle be mechanistic, any deviations from these inertial tendencies must occur as a result of corpuscular collisions with other corpuscles. (267)

By applying his inertial and corpuscular theories to the heavens, Descartes isolated the crucial missing factor in the explana-(267)tion of planetary motion: Unless there was some other inhibiting force, the inertial motion of the planets, including that of the Earth, would necessarily tend to propel them in a tangential straight line away from the curving orbit around the Sun. (268)

Indeed, it was Newton’s astounding achievement to synthesize Descartes’s mechanistic philosophy, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, and Galileo’s laws of terrestrial motion in one comprehensive theory. In an unprecedented series of mathematical discoveries and intuitions, Newton established that to maintain their stable orbits at the relative speeds and distances specified by Kepler’s third law, the planets must be pulled toward the Sun with an attractive force that bodies falling toward the Earth–not only a nearby stone but also the distant Moon–conformed to the same law. (269)

Through his three laws of motion (of inertia, force, and equal reaction) and the theory of universal gravitation, he not only established a physical basis for all of Kepler’s laws, but was also able to derive the movements of the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, the orbits of comets, the trajectory motion of cannonballs and other projectiles–indeed, all the known phenomena of celestial and terrestrial mechanics were now unified under one set of physical laws. Every particle of matter in the universe attracted every other particle with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. (270)

The Newtonian-Cartesian cosmology was now established as the foundation for a new world view. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the educated person in the West knew that God had created the universe as a complex mechanical system, composed of material particles moving in an infinite neutral space according to a few basic principles, (270) such as inertia and gravity, that could be analyzed mathematically. (271)

It also seemed reasonable to assume that after the creation of this intricate and orderly universe, God removed himself from further active involvement or intervention in nature, and allowed it to run on its own according to these perfect, immutable laws. The new image of the Creator was thus that of a divine architect, a master mathematician and clock maker, while the universe was viewed as a uniformly regulated and fundamentally impersonal phenomenon. Man’s role in that universe could best be judged on the evidence that, by virtue of his own intelligence, he had penetrated the universe’s essential order and could not use that knowledge for his own benefit and empowerment. One could scarcely doubt that man was the crown of creation. The Scientific Revolution–and the birth of the modern era–was now complete. (271)

The Philosophical Revolution

More precisely, philosophy now commenced its momentous transfer of allegiance from religion to science. (272)


For Bacon, the discovery of the New World by the global explorers demanded a corresponding discovery of a new mental world in which old patterns of thinking, traditional prejudices, subjective distortions, verbal confusions, and general intellectual blindness would be overcome by a new method of acquiring knowledge. This method was to be fundamentally empirical: through the careful observation of nature and the skillful devising of many and varied experiments, pursued in the context of organized cooperative research, the human mind could gradually elicit those laws and generalizations that would give man the understanding of nature necessary for its control. (272)

The true basis of knowledge was the natural world and the information it provided through the human senses. To fill the world with assumed final causes, as did Aristotle, or with intelligible divine essences, as did Plato, was to obscure from man a genuine understanding of nature on its own terms, solidly based on direct experimental contact and inductive reasoning from particulars. No longer should the pursuer of knowledge start from abstract definitions and verbal distinctions and then reason deductively, forcing the phenomena into prearranged order. Instead, he must begin with the unbiased analysis of concrete data and only then reason inductively, and cautiously, to reach general, empirically supported conclusions. (273)

To discover nature’s true oder, the mind must be purified of all its internal obstacles, purged of its habitual tendencies to produce rational or imaginary wish fulfillments in advance of empirical investigation. The mind must humble itself, rein itself in. Otherwise science would be impossible. (274)

Each realm had its own laws and its own appropriate method. Theology pertained to the realm of faith, but the realm of nature must be approached by a natural science unhampered by irrelevant assumptions derived from the religious imagination. Kept rightly separate, both theology and science could better flourish, and man could better serve his Creator through understanding the earthly kingdom’s true natural causes–thereby gaining power over it as God intended. (274)

Emotional needs and traditional styles of thinking constantly impelled man to misperceive nature, to anthropomorphize it, to make it out to be what he wishes rather than what it is. The true philosopher does not attempt to narrow down the world to fit his understanding, but strives to expand his (274) understanding to fit the world. Hence for Bacon, the business of philosophy was first and foremost the fresh examination of particulars. (275)

It is true that for all his shrewdness, Bacon drastically underestimated the power of mathematics for the development of the new natural science, he failed to grasp the necessity of theoretical conjecture prior to empirical observation, and he altogether missed the significance of the new heliocentric theory. Yet his forceful advocacy of experience as the only legitimate source of true knowledge effectively redirected the European mind toward the empirical world, toward the methodical examination of physical phenomena, and toward the rejection of traditional assumptions–whether theological or metaphysical–when pursuing the advancement of learning. (275)


Descartes set out to discover an irrefutable basis for certain knowledge. (276)

| To being by doubting everything was the necessary first step, for he wished to sweep away all the past presumptions now confusing human knowledge and to isolate only those truths he himself could clearly and directly experience as indubitable. (276)

Skepticism and mathematics thus combined to produce the Cartesian revolution in philosophy. The third term in that revolution, that which was both the impulse behind and the outcome of systematic doubt and self-evident reasoning, was to be the bedrock of all human knowledge: the certainty of individual self-awareness. (277)

Cogito, ergo sum (277)

The cogito was thus the first principle and paradigm of all other knowledge, providing both a basis for subsequent deductions and a model for all other self-evident rational intuitions. From the indubitable existence of the doubting subject, which was ipso facto an awareness of imperfection and limitation, Descartes deduced the necessary existence of a perfect infinite being, God. (277)

Of equal consequence, the cogito also revealed an essential hierarchy and division in the world. … Thus res cogitans–thinking substance, subjective experience, spirit, consciousness, that which man perceives as within–was understood as fundamentally different and separate from res extensa–extended substance, the objective world, matter, the physical body, plants and animals, stones and stars, the entire physical universe, every-(277)thing that man perceives as outside his mind. Only in man did the two realities come together as mind and body. And both the cognitive capacity of human reason and the objective reality and order of the natural world found their common source in God. (278)

Thus human reason establishes first its own existence, out of experiential necessity, then God’s existence, out of logical necessity, and thence the God-guaranteed reality of the objective world and its rational order. Descartes enthroned human reason as the supreme authority in matters of knowledge, capable of distinguishing certain metaphysical truth and of achieving certain scientific understanding of the material world. Infallibility, once ascribed only to Holy Scripture or the supreme pontiff, was now transferred to human reason itself. In effect, Descartes unintentionally began a theological Copernican revolution, for his mode of reasoning suggested that God’s existence was established by human reason and not vice versa. … Until Descartes, revealed truth had maintained an objective authority outside of human judgment, but now its validity began to be subject to affirmation by human reason. The metaphysical independence that Luther had demanded within the parameters of the Christian religion, Descartes now intimated more universally. For whereas Luther’s foundational certainty was his faith in God’s saving grace as revealed in the Bible, Descartes’s foundational certainty was his faith in the procedural clarities of mathematical reasoning applied to the indubitability of the thinking self. (279)


It was now evident that the quest for human fulfillment would be propelled by increasingly sophisticated analysis and manipulation of the natural world, and by systematic efforts to extend man’s intellectual and existential independence in every realm–physical, social, political, religious, scientific, metaphysical. Proper education of the human mind in a well-designed environment would bring forth rational individuals, capable of understanding the world and themselves, able to act in the most intelligent fashion for the good of the whole. With the mind cleared of traditional prejudices and superstitions, man could grasp the self-evident truth and thus establish for himself a rational world within which all could flourish. The dream of human freedom and fulfillment in this world could now be realized. Mankind had at last reached an enlightened age. (281)

Foundations of the Modern World View

…when the titanic battle of the religions failed to resolve itself, with no monolithic structure of belief any longer holding sway over civilization, science suddenly stood forth as mankind’s liberation–empirical, rational, appealing to common sense and to a concrete reality that every person could touch and weigh for himself. (282)

The way was now open to envision and establish a new form of society, based on self-evident principles of individual liberty and rationality. … Just as the antiquated Ptolemaic structure of the heavens, with its complicated, cumbersome, and finally unsustainable system of epicyclic fabrications, had been replaced by the rational simplicity of the Newtonian universe, so too could the antiquated structures of society–absolute monarchical power, aristocratic privilege, clerical censorship, oppressive and arbitrary laws, inefficient economies–be replaced by new forms of government based not on supposed divine sanction and inherited traditional assumptions, but on rationally ascertainable individual rights and mutually beneficial social contracts. (283)


…the modern world view was, like its predecessors, not a stable entity but a continually evolving way of experiencing existence, and, what is especially relevant to us here, the views of Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, and the rest were essentially a Renaissance synthesis of modern and medieval: i.e., a mechanistic cosmos, between the human mind as a spiritual principle and the world as objective materiality, and so forth. (284)

(1) In contrast to the medieval Christian cosmos, which was not only created but continuously and directly governed by a personal and actively omnipotent God, the modern universe was an impersonal phenomenon, governed by regular natural laws, and understandable in exclusively physical and mathematical terms. God was now distantly removed from the physical universe, as creator and architect, and was now less a God of love, miracle, redemption, or historical intervention than a supreme intelligence and first cause, who established the material  universe and its immutable laws and then withdrew from further direct activity. While the medieval cosmos was continuously contingent upon God, the modern cosmos stood more on its own, with its own greater ontological reality, and with a diminution of any divine reality either transcendent or immanent. Eventually that residual divine reality, unsupported by scientific investigation of the visible world, disappeared altogether. The order found in the natural world, initially ascribed to and guaranteed by the will of God, was eventually understood to be the result of innate mechanical regularities generated by nature without higher purpose. And while in the medieval Christian view, the human mind could not comprehend the universe’s order, which was ultimately supernatural, without the aid of divine revelation, in the modern view, the human mind was capable by its own rational faculties of comprehending the order of the universe, and that order was entirely natural (285)

(2) The Christian dualistic stress on the supremacy of the spiritual and transcendent over the material and concrete was now largely inverted, with the physical world becoming the predominant focus for (285) human activity. An enthusiastic embrace of this world and this life as the stage for a full human drama now replaced the traditional religious dismissal of mundane existence as an unfortunate and temporary trial in preparation for eternal life. Human aspiration was now increasingly centered on secular fulfillment. The Christian dualism between spirit and matter, God and world, was gradually transformed into the modern dualism of mind and matter, man and cosmos: a subjective and personal human consciousness versus and objective and impersonal material world. (286)

[via: a dualism that was originally Greek, yes? Are we seeing a cyclical pattern of mind through Western civilization?]

(3) Science replaced religion as preeminent intellectual authority, as definer, judge, and guardian of the cultural world view. Human reason and empirical observation replaced theological doctrine and scriptural revelation as the principal means for comprehending the universe. The domains of religion and metaphysics became gradually compartmentalized, regarded as personal, subjective, speculative, and fundamentally distinct from public objective knowledge of the empirical world. Faith and reason were now definitively severed. Conceptions involving a transcendent reality were increasingly regarded as beyond the competence of human knowledge; as useful palliatives for man’s emotional nature; as aesthetically satisfying imaginative creations; as potentially valuable heuristic assumptions; as necessary bulwarks for morality or social cohesion; as political-economic propaganda; as psychologically motivated projections; as life-impoverishing illusions; as superstitious, irrelevant, or meaningless. In lieu of religious or metaphysical overviews, the two bases of modern epistemology, rationalism and empiricism, eventually produced their apparent metaphysical entailments: While modern rationalism suggested and eventually affirmed and based itself upon the conception of man as the highest or ultimate intelligence, modern empiricism did the same for the conception of the material world as the essential or only reality–i.e., secular humanism and scientific materialism, respectively. (286)

(4) In comparison with the classical Greek outlook, the modern universe possessed an intrinsic order, yet not one emanating from a cosmic intelligence in which the human mind could directly participate, but rather an order empirically derived from nature’s material patterning by means of the human mind’s own resources. Nor was this an order simultaneously and inherently shared by both nature and the human mind, as the Greeks had understood. The modern world order was not a transcendent and pervasive unitary order informing both inner mind and outer world, in which recognition of the one necessarily signified knowl-(286)edge of the other. Rather, the two realms, subjective mind and objective world, were now fundamentally distinct and operated on different principles. Whatever order was perceived was now simply the objective recognition of nature’s innate regularities (or, after Kant, a phenomenal order constituted by the mind’s own categories). The human mind was conceived of as separate from and superior to the rest of nature. Nature’s order was exclusively unconscious and mechanical. The universe itself was not endowed with conscious intelligence or purpose; only man possessed such qualities. The rationally empowered capacity to manipulate impersonal forces and material objects in nature became the paradigm of the human relationship to the world. (287)

(5) In contrast to the Greeks’ implicit emphasis on an integrated multiplicity of cognitive modes, the order of the modern cosmos was now comprehensible in principle by man’s rational and empirical faculties alone, while other aspects of human nature–emotional, aesthetic, ethical, volitional, relational, imaginative, epiphanic–were generally regarded as irrelevant or distortional for an objective understanding of the world. Knowledge of the universe was now primarily a matter for sober impersonal scientific investigation, and when successful resulted not so much in an experience of spiritual liberation (as in Pythagoreanism and Platonism) but in intellectual mastery and material improvement. (287)

(6) While the cosmology of the classical era was geocentric, finite, and hierarchical, with the surrounding heavens the locus of transcendent archetypal forces that defined and influenced human existence according to the celestial movements, and while the medieval cosmology maintained this same general structure, reinterpreted according to Christian symbolism, the modern cosmology posited a planetary Earth in a neutral infinite space, with a complete elimination of the traditional celestial-terrestrial dichotomy. The heavenly bodies were now moved by the same natural and mechanical forces and composed of the same material substances as those found on the Earth. With the fall of the geocentric cosmos and the rise of the mechanistic paradigm, astronomy was finally severed from astrology. In contrast to both the ancient and the medieval world views, the celestial bodies of the modern universe possessed no numinous or symbolic significance; they did not exist for man, to light his way or give meaning to his life. They were straightforwardly material entities whose character and motions were entirely the product of mechanistic principles having no special relation either to human exis-(287)tence per se or to any divine reality. All specifically human or personal qualities formerly attributed to the outer physical world were now recognized as naive anthropomorphic projections and deleted from the objective scientific perception. All divine attributes were similarly recognized as the effect of primitive superstition and wishful thinking, and were removed from serious scientific discourse. The universe was impersonal, not personal; nature’s laws were natural, not supernatural. The physical world possessed no intrinsic deeper meaning. It was opaquely material, not the visible expression of spiritual realities. (288)

(7) With the integration of the theory of evolution and its multitude of consequences in other fields, the nature and origin of man and the dynamics of nature’s transformations were now understood to be exclusively attributable to natural causes and empirically observable processes. What Newton had accomplished for the physical cosmos, Darwin, building on intervening advances in geology and biology (and later aided by Mendel’s work in genetics), accomplished for organic nature. While the Newtonian theory had established the new structure and extent of the universe’s spatial dimension, the Darwinian theory established the new structure and extent of nature’s temporal dimension–both its great duration and its being the stage for qualitative transformations in nature. While with Newton planetary motion was understood to be sustained by inertia and defined by gravity, with Darwin biological evolution was seen as sustained by random variation and defined by natural selection. As the Earth had been removed from the center of creation to become another planet, so now was man removed from the center of creation to become another animal. (288)

| Darwinian evolution presented a continuation, a seemingly final vindication, of the intellectual impulse established in the Scientific Revolution, yet it also entailed a significant break from that revolution’s classical paradigm. For evolutionary theory provoked a fundamental shift away from the regular, orderly, predictable harmony of the Cartesian-Newtonian world in recognition of nature’s ceaseless and indeterminate change, struggle, and development. In doing so, Darwinism both furthered the Scientific Revolution’s secularizing consequences and vitiated that revolution’s compromise with the traditional Judaeo-Christian perspective. For the scientific discovery of the mutability of species controverted the biblical account of a static creation in which man had been deliberately placed at its sacred culmination and center. It was now less certain that man came from God than that he came from lower forms of (288) primates. The human mind was not a divine endowment but a biological tool. The structure and movement of nature was the result not of God’s benevolent design and purpose, but of an amoral, random, and brutal struggle for survival in which success went not to the virtuous but to the fit. Nature itself, not God or a transcendent Intellect, was now the origin of nature’s permutations. Natural selection and chance, not Aristotle’s teleological forms or the Bible’s purposeful Creation, governed the processes of life. The early modern concept of an impersonal deistic Creator who had initiated and then left to itself a fully formed and eternally ordered world–the last cosmological compromise between Judaeo-Christian revelation and modern science–now receded in the face of an evolutionary theory that provided a dynamic naturalistic explanation for the origin of species and all other natural phenomena. Humans, animals, plants, organisms, rocks and mountains, planets and stars, galaxies, the entire universe could now be understood as the evolutionary outcome of entirely natural processes. (289)

| In these circumstances, the belief that the universe was purposefully designed and regulated by divine intelligence, a belief foundational to both the classical Greek and the Christian world views, appeared increasingly questionable. The Christian doctrine of Christ’s divine intervention in human history–the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Adam, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Second Coming–seemed implausible in the context of an otherwise straightforward survival-oriented Darwinian evolution in a vast mechanistic Newtonian cosmos. Equally implausible was the existence of a timeless metaphysical realm of transcendent Platonic Ideas. Virtually everything in the empirical world appeared explicable without resort to a divine reality. The modern universe was now an entirely secular phenomenon. Moreover, it was a secular phenomenon that was still changing and creating itselfo–not a divinely constructed finality with eternal and static structure, but an unfolding process with no absolute goal, and with no absolute foundation other than matter and its permutations. With nature the sole source of evolutionary direction, and with man the only rational conscious being in nature, the human future lay emphatically in man’s hands. (289)

(8) Finally, in contrast with the medieval Christian world view, modern man’s independence–intellectual, psychological, spiritual–was radically affirmed, with increasing depreciation of any religious belief or institutional structure that would inhibit man’s natural right and potential for existential autonomy and individual self-expression. While the (289) purpose of knowledge for the medieval Christian was to better obey God’s will, its purpose for modern man was to better align nature to man’s will. The Christian doctrine of spiritual redemption as based on the historical manifestation of Christ and his future apocalyptic Second Coming was first reconceived as coinciding with the progressive advance of human civilization under divine providence, conquering evil through man’s God-given reason, and then was gradually extinguished altogether in light of the belief that man’s natural reason and scientific achievements would progressively realize a secular utopian era marked by peace, rational wisdom, material prosperity, and human dominion over nature. The Christian sense of Original Sin, the Fall, and collective human guilt now receded in favor of an optimistic affirmation of human self-development and the eventual triumph of rationality and science over human ignorance, suffering, and social evils. (290)

| While the classical Greek world view had emphasized the goal of human intellectual and spiritual activity as the essential unification (or reunification) of man with the cosmos and its divine intelligence, and while the Christian goal was to reunite man and the world with God, the modern goal was to create the greatest possible freedom for man–from nature; from oppressive political, social, or economic structures; from restrictive metaphysical or religious beliefs; from the Church; from the Judaeo-Christian God; from the static and finite Aristotelian-Christian cosmos; from medieval Scholasticism; from the ancient Greek authorities; from all primitive conceptions of the world. Leaving behind tradition generally for the power of the autonomous human intellect, modern man set out on his own, determined to discover the working principles of his new universe, to explore and further expand its new dimensions, and to realize his secular fulfillment. (290)


The above description is necessarily only a useful simplification, for other important intellectual tendencies existed alongside of, and often ran counter to, the dominant character of the modern mind that was forged during the Enlightenment. (290)

Ancients and Moderns

…if Aristotle was deposed in effigy while maintained in spirit, Plato was vindicated in (291) theory but altogether negated in spirit. (292)

After Galileo and Newton, the celestial-terrestrial division could no longer be maintained, and without that primordial dichotomy, the metaphysical and psychological premises that had helped support the astrological belief system began to collapse. (296)

The world was no neutral, opaque, and material, and therefore no dialogue with nature was possible–whether through magic, mysticism, or divinely certified authority. (296)

Yet for all that, the ancient Greek mind still pervaded the modern. In the virtually religious zeal of the scientists’ quest for knowledge, in his often unconscious assumptions concerning the rational intelligibility of the world and man’s capacity to reveal it, in his critical independence of judgment and his ambitious drive to expand human knowledge beyond ever more distant horizons, Greece lived on. (297)

The Triumph of Secularism

Science and Religion: The Early Concord

For all its wariness of mundane life and “the world,” the Judaeo-Christian religion nevertheless placed great emphasis on the ontological reality of that world and its ultimate relationship to a good and just God. Christianity took this life seriously. (298)

Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said, “Let Newton be,” and all was light

– Alexander Pope

For Newton, matter could not be explained on its own terms but necessitated a prime mover, a creator, a supreme architect and governor. God had established the physical world and its laws, and therein lay the world’s continuing existence and order. Indeed, because of certain unresolved problems in his calculations, Newton concluded that God’s intervention was periodically necessary to maintain the system’s regularity. (301)

[via: It is with this that apologetic arguments for God’s existence are caught in a difficult bind. Any “prime mover” argument necessitates God’s “retreat” into first principles rather than omnipresent influence, and any “gap” argument for God reveals a god of no explanations; ergo, cannot be explained.]

Compromise and Conflict

…the metaphysical hiatus continued to widen. (302)

Thus arose the psychological necessity of a double-truth universe. Reason and faith came to be seen as pertaining to different realms, with Christian philosophers and scientists, and the larger educated Christian public, perceiving no genuine integration between the scientific reality and the religious reality. (302)

With both science and religion simultaneously vital yet discrepant, the culture’s world view was necessity was bifurcated, reflecting a metaphysical schism that existed as much within the individual as within the larger society. Religion was increasingly compartmentalized, seen as relevant less to the outer world than to the inner self, less to the contemporary spirit than to revered tradition, less to this life than to the afterlife, less to everyday than to Sunday. (203)

Within two centuries after Newton, the secularity of the modern outlook had fully established itself. Mechanistic materialism had dramatically proved its explanatory power and utilitarian efficacy. Experiences and events that appeared to defy accepted scientific principles–alleged miracles and faith healings, self-proclaimed religious revelations and spiritual ecstasies, prophecies, symbolic interpretations of natural phenomena, encounters with God or the devil–were now increasingly regarded as the effects of madness, charlatanry, or both. … Already for Pascal in the seventeenth century, faced with his own religious doubts and philosophical skepticism, the leap of faith necessary to sustain Christian belief had become a wager. (303)

Damaging criticism of the absolute truth of Christian revelation also emerged from the new academic discipline of biblical scholarship, which demonstrated Scripture’s variable and manifestly human sources. … The intellectual skills developed for analyzing secular history and literature were now being applied to the sacred foundations of Christianity, with unsettling consequences for the faithful. (304)

With Luther, the monolithic structure of the medieval Christian Church had cracked. With Copernicus and Galileo, the medieval Christian cosmology itself had cracked. With Darwin, the Christian world view showed signs of collapsing altogether. (305)

With the victory of Darwinism (and notably in the wake of the celebrated Oxford debate in 1860 between Bishop Wilberforce and T. H. Huxley), science had unequivocally achieved its independence from theology. After Darwin, there seemed little further possibility of contact of any kind between science and theology, as science focused ever more successfully on the objective world, while theology, virtually incapacitated outside ever-smaller religious intellectual circles, focused exclusively on inward spiritual concerns. Faced by the final severance of the scientifically intelligible universe from the old spiritual verities, modern theology adopted an increasingly subjective stance. The early Christian belief that the Fall and Redemption pertained not just to man but to the entire cosmos, a doctrine already fading after the Reformation, now (306) disappeared altogether: the process of salvation, if it had any meaning at all, pertained solely to the personal relation between God and man. The inner rewards of Christian faith were now stressed, with a radical discontinuity between the experience of Christ and that of the everyday world. God was wholly other than man and this world, and therein lay the religious experience. The “leap of faith,” not the self-evidence of the created world or the objective authority of Scripture, constituted the principal basis for religious conviction. (307)

| Under such limitations, modern Christianity assumed a new and far less encompassing intellectual role. … Just as the modern mind admired the loftiness of spirit and moral tone of Platonic philosophy while simultaneously negating its metaphysics and epistemology, so too Christianity continued to be tacitly respected, and indeed closely followed, for its ethical precepts, while increasingly doubted for its larger metaphysical and religious claims. (307)

The human psyche, longing for the security of a cosmic providence, and susceptible to personifying and projecting its own capacity for value and purpose, might wish to see more in nature’s design, but the scientific understanding was deliberately beyond such wishful anthropomorphizing: the entire scenario of cosmic evolution seemed explicable as a direct consequence of chance and necessity, the random interplay of natural laws. In this light, any apparent religious implications had to be judged as poetic but scientifically unjustifiable extrapolations from the available evidence. God was “an unnecessary hypothesis.” (308)

Philosophy, Politics, Psychology

At the start of the Enlightenment, in the late seventeenth century, Locke had systematically pursued Bacon’s empiricist directive by rooting all knowledge of the world in sensory experience and subsequent reflection on the basis of that experience. …the empiricism he championed necessarily limited the human reason’s capacity for knowledge to that which could be tested by concrete experience. As successive philosophers drew more rigorous conclusions from the empiricist basis, it became clear that philosophy could no longer justifiably make assertions about God, the soul’s immortality and freedom, or other propositions that transcended concrete experience. (309)

| In the eighteenth century, Hume and Kant systematically refuted the traditional philosophical arguments for God’s existence, pointing out the unwarrantability of using causal reasoning to move from the sensible to the super sensible. … For Kant, God was an unknowable transcendent—thinkable, not knowable, only by attending to man’s inner sense of moral duty. … Man could have faith in God, he could believe in his soul’s freedom and immortality, but he could not claim that these inner persuasions were rationally certain. (309)

More uncompromising was the physician La Mettrie, who portrayed man as a purely material entity, an organic machine whose illusion of possessing an independent soul or mind was produced simply by the interplay of its physical components. (310)

[via: This is “soul” as emergent phenomenon.]

The physicist Baron d’Holbach similarly affirmed the determinists of matter as the only intelligible reality, and declared the absurdity of religious belief in the face of experience: given the ubiquity of evil in the world, any God must be deficient either in power or in justice and compassion. On the other hand, the random occurrence of good and evil accorded readily with a universe of mindless matter lacking any providential overseer. (310)

The (310) question remained as to who, or what, initiated the whole phenomenon of the universe, but intellectual honesty precluded any certain conclusions or even progress in such an inquiry. Its answer lay epistemologically beyond man’s ken and, in the face of more immediate and attainable intellectual objectives, increasingly beyond his interest. With Descartes and Kant, the philosophical relation between Christian belief and human rationality had grown ever more attenuated. By the late nineteenth century, with few exceptions, that relation was effectively absent. (311)

[Jean-Jacques] Rousseau’s embrace of a religion whose essence was universal rather than exclusive, whose ground was in nature and man’s subjective emotions and mystical intuitions rather than in biblical revelation, initiated a spiritual current in Western culture that would lead first to Romanticism and eventually to the existentialism of a later age. (313)

The more moderate voices of nineteenth-century liberalism characteristic of the advanced Western societies also argued for the reduction of organized religion’s influence on political and intellectual life, and put for the the ideal of a pluralism accommodating the broadest possible freedom of belief consonant with social order. (314)

Religious tolerance gradually metamorphosed into religious indifference. (314)

Christianity now experienced itself as not only a divided church but a shrinking one, dwindling away before the ever-widening and ever-deepening onslaught of secularism. The Christian religion now faced a historical situation not unlike that encountered at its inception, when it was one faith among many in a large, sophisticated, urbanized environment—a world ambivalent about religion in general, and distanced from the claims and concerns of the Christian revelation in particular. … In the modern world, all religions seemed to have more in common, a fading precious truth, than in dispute. (315)

It was also increasingly recognized that the human spirit was expressed in secular life or not at all—any division of spiritual and secular was an artificiality, and an (316) impoverishment for both. (317)

With the rise in the twentieth century of a broad-mindedly secular and psychologically informed perspective, the long-held Christian ideal of asexual or antisexual asceticism seemed symptomatic more of cultural and personal psychoneurosis than of eternal spiritual law. (317)

The Christian injunction to love and serve all humanity and high valuation of the individual human soul now stood in sharp counterpoint to Christianity’s long history of bigotry and violent intolerance—its forcible conversion of other peoples, its ruthless suppression of other cultural perspectives, its persecutions of heretics, its crusades against Mosley’s, its oppression of Jews, its depreciation of women’s spirituality and exclusion of women from positions of religious authority, its association with slavery and colonialist exploitation, its pervasive spirit of prejudice and religious arrogance maintained against all those outside the fold. (318)

The Modern Character

The new psychological constitution of the modern character had been developing since the high Middle Ages,… The direction and quality of that character reflected a gradual but finally radical shift of psychological allegiance from God to man, from dependence to independence, from otherworldliness to this world, from the transcendent to the empirical, from myth and belief to reason and fact, from universals to particulars, from a supernaturally determined static cosmos to a naturally determined evolving cosmos, and from a fallen humanity to an advancing one. (319)

Especially consequential for the secularization of the modern character was the nature of its allegiance to reason. (320)

Thus the advance of the modern era brought a massive shift int he psychological vector of perceived authority. … Medieval theism and ancient cosmism had given way to modern humanism. (320)

Hidden Continuities

The West had “lost its faith”–and found a new one, in science and in man. But paradoxically, much of the Christian world view found continued life, albeit in often unrecognized forms, in the West’s new secular outlook. Just as the evolving Christian understanding did not fully divorce itself from its Hellenic predecessor but, on the contrary, employed and integrated many of the latter’s essential elements, so too did (320) the modern secular world view–often less consciously–retain essential elements from Christianity. (321)

But perhaps the most pervasive and specifically Judaeo-Christian component tacitly retained in the modern world view was the belief in man’s linear historical progress toward ultimate fulfillment. … Humanity’s future fulfillment would be achieved in a world reconstructed by science. The original Judaeo-Christian eschatological expectation had here been transformed into a secular faith. (321)

“Planning” replaced “hoping” as human reason and technology demonstrated their miraculous efficacy. (322)

| Confidence in human progress, akin to the biblical faith in humanity’s spiritual evolution and future consummation, was so central to the modern world view that it notably increased with the decline of Christianity. … Indeed, the ultimate statement of belief in evolutionary human deification was found in Christianity’s most fervent antagonist, Nietzsche, whose Superman would be born out of the death of God and the overcoming of the old limited man. (322)

Christianity no longer seemed to be the driving force of the human enterprise. For the robust civilization of the West at the high noon of modernity, it was science and reason, not religion and belief, which propelled that progress. Man’s will, not God’s, was the acknowledged source of the world’s betterment and humanity’s advancing liberation. (323)

VI. The Transformation of the Modern Era

The Changing Image of the Human from Copernicus through Freud

The scientific liberation from theological dogma and animistic superstition was thus accompanied by a new sense of human alienation from a world that no longer responded to human values, nor offered a redeeming context within which could be understood the larger issues of human existence. (326)

With Freud, the Darwinian struggle with nature took on new dimensions, as man was now constrained to live in eternal struggle with his own nature. … The true wellspring of human motivations was a seething caldron of irrational, bestial impulses–and contemporary historical events began to provide distressing evidence for just such a thesis. (329)

The principles and directives of the Scientific Revolution–the search for material, impersonal, secular explanations for all phenomena–had found new and illuminating applications in the psychological and social dimensions of human experience. Yet in that process, modern man’s optimistic self-estimate from the Enlightenment was subject to repeated contradiction and diminution by his own advancing intellectual horizons. (329)

…explorers, geographers, historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists, biologists, physicists, and astronomers serve to expand man’s knowledge and diminish his cosmic stature. (331)

The phenomena of chemistry could be reduced to principles of physics, those of biology to chemistry and physics, and, for many scientists, those of human behavior and awareness to biology and bio-chemistry. Hence consciousness itself became a mere epiphenomenon of matter, a secretion of the brain, a function of electrochemical circuitry serving biological imperatives. … Although it was, strictly speaking, only a regulatory assumption, the widespread hypothesis that all the complexities of human experience, and of the world in general, would ultimately be explicable in terms of natural scientific principles increasingly, if often unconsciously, took on the character of a well-substantiated scientific principle itself, with profound metaphysical entailments. (332)

Thus it was the irony of modern intellectual progress that man’s genius discovered successive principles of determinism–Cartesian, Newtonian, Darwinian, Marxist, Freudian, behaviorist, genetic, neurophysiological, sociobiological–that steadily attenuated belief in his own rational and volitional freedom, while eliminating his sense of being anything more than a peripheral and transient accident of material evolution. (332)

The Self-Critique of the Modern Mind

These paradoxical developments were paralleled by the simultaneous progress of modern philosophy as it analyzed the nature and extent of human knowledge with ever-increasing rigor, subtlety, and insight. For at the same time that modern man was vastly extending his effective knowledge of the world, his critical epistemology inexorably revealed the disquieting limits beyond which his knowledge could not claim to penetrate. (333)

From Lock to Hume

There is nothing in the intellect that was not previously in the senses (Nihil est in intellectu quod non antea fuerit in sensu). (333)

The mind possesses innate powers, but not innate ideas. Cognition begins with sensation. (334)

There were three factors in the process of human knowledge: the mind, the physical object, and the perception or idea in the mind that represents that object. Man knows direclty only the idea in the mind, not the object. He knows the object only mediately, through the idea. Outside man’s perception is simply a world of substances in motion; the various impressions of the external (334) world that man experiences in cognition cannot be absolutely confirmed as belonging to the world in itself. (335)

| Locke, however, attempted a partial solution to such problems by making the distinction (following Galileo and Descartes) between primary and secondary qualities–between those qualities that inhere in all extended material objects as objectively measurable, like weight and shape and motion, and those that inhere only in the subjective human experience of those objects, like taste and odor and color. While primary qualities produce ideas in the mind that genuinely resemble the external object, secondary qualities produce ideas that are simply consequences of the subject’s perceptual apparatus. By focusing on the measurable primary qualities, science can gain reliable knowledge of the material world. (335)

| But Lock was followed by Bishop Berkeley, who pointed out that if the empiricist analysis of human knowledge is carried through rigorously, then it must be admitted that all qualities that the human mind registers, whether primary or secondary, are ultimately experienced as ideas in the mind, and there can be no conclusive inference whether or not some of those qualities “genuinely” represent or resemble an outside object. (335)

In Berkeley’s analysis, all human experience is phenomenal, limited to appearances in the mind. (335)

[David] Hume made a distinction between sensory impressions and ideas: Sensory impressions are the basis of any knowledge, and they come with a force and liveliness that make them unique. Ideas are faint copies of those impressions. (337)

Hence the only truths of which pure reason is capable are tautological. Reason alone cannot assert a truth about the ultimate nature of things. (338)

| Moreover, not only does pure reason have no direct insight into metaphysical matters, neither can reason pronounce on the ultimate nature of things by inference from experience. … Without the elements of temporality and concreteness, causality is (338) rendered meaningless. Hence all metaphysical arguments, which seek to make certain statements about all possible reality beyond temporal concrete experience, are vitiated at their basis. Thus for Hume, metaphysics was just an exalted form of mythology, of no relevance to the real world. (339)

| But another and, for the modern mind, more disturbing consequence of Hume’s critical analysis was its apparent undermining of empirical science itself, for the latter’s logical foundation, induction was now recognized as unjustifiable. The mind’s logical progress from many particulars to a universal certainty could never be absolutely legitimated: no matter how many times one observes a given event-sequence, one can never be certain that that event-sequence is a causal one and will always repeat itself in subsequent observations. Just because event B has always been observed to follow event A in the past cannot guarantee it will always do so in the future. Any acceptance of that “law,” any belief that the sequence represents a true causal relationship, is only a ingrained psychological persuasion, not a logical certainty. (339)

Where Plato had held sensory impressions to be (339) faint copies of Ideas, Hume held ideas to be faint copies of sensory impressions. In the long evolution of the Western mind from the ancient idealist to the modern empiricist, the basis of reality had been entirely reversed: Sensory experience, not ideal apprehension, was the standard of truth–and that truth was utterly problematic. Perceptions alone were real for the mind, and one could never know what stood beyond them. (340)

[via: The emergence of “sense” and “non-sense.”]

All order and coherence, including that giving rise to the idea of the human self, were understood to be mind-constructed fictions. Human beings required such fictions to live, but the philosopher could not substantiate them. (340)

[via: cf. Sapiens by Harari]


The intellectual challenge that faced Immanuel Kant in the second half the eighteenth century was a seemingly impossible one: on the one hand, to reconcile the claims of science to certain and genuine knowledge of the world with the claim of philosophy that experience could never give rise to such knowledge; on the other hand, to reconcile the claim of religion that man was morally free with the claim of science that nature was entirely determined by necessary laws. (341)

The mind required empirical evidence before it could be capable of knowledge, but God, immortality, and other such metaphysical matters could never become phenomena; they were not empirical. Metaphysics, therefore, was beyond the powers of human reason. (341)

Who was correct? Hume or Newton? If Newton had attained certain knowledge, and yet Hume had demonstrated the impossibility of such knowledge, how could Newton have succeeded? How was certain knowledge possible in a phenomenal universe? This was the burden of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and his solution was to satisfy the claims of both Hume and Newton, of skepticism and science–and in so doing so resolve modern epistemology’s fundamental dichotomy between empiricism and rationalism. (342)

Kant’s extraordinary solution was to propose that the mind-world correspondence was indeed vindicated in natural science, yet not in the naive sense previously assumed, but in the critical sense that the “world” science explicated was a world already ordered by the mind’s own cognitive apparatus. For in Kant’s view, the nature of the human mind is such taht it does not passively receive sense data. Rather, it actively digests and structures them, and man therefore knows objective reality precisely to the extent that that reality conforms to the fundamental structures of the mind. The world addressed by science corresponds to principles in the mind because the only world available to the mind is already organized in accordance with the mind’s own processes. All human cognition of the world is channeled through the human minds’ categories. The necessity and certainty of scientific knowledge derive from the mind, and are embedded in the mind’s perception and understanding of the world. They do not derive from nature independent of the mind, which in fact can never be known in itself. What man knows is a world permeated by his knowledge, and causality and the necessary laws of science are built into the framework of his cognition. Observations alone do not give man certain laws; rather, those laws reflect the laws of man’s mental organization. In the act of human cognition, the mind does not conform to things; rather, things conform to the mind. (343)

Space and time therefore cannot be said to be characteristic of the world in itself, for they are contributed in the act of human observation. (343) They are grounded epistemologically in the nature of the mind, not ontologically in the nature of things. … But as regards the phenomenal world that man does experience, time and space are not just applicable concepts, they are intrinsic components of all human experience of that world, frames of reference mandatory for human cognition. (344)

Whether all events are causally related in the world outside the mind cannot be ascertained, but because the world that man experiences is necessarily determined by his mind’s predispositions, it can be said with certainty that events in the phenomenal world are causally related, and science can so proceed. (344)

…”reality” for man is necessarily one of his own making, and the world in itself must remain something one can only think about, never know. (345)

[via: “epistemic agnosticism,” or “epistemological phenomenologist.”]

As thought without sensation is empty, so is sensation without thought blind. (345)

One cannot know something about the world simply by thinking; nor can one do so simply by sensing, or even by sensing and then thinking about the sensations. The two modes must be interpenetrating and simultaneous. (346)

[via: rationalism and empiricism = phenomenologism, yes?]

Man can elicit from nature universal laws not by waiting on nature like a pupil for answers, but only, like an appointed judge, by putting shrewd questions to nature that will be deliberately and precisely revealing. Science’s answers derive from the same source as its questions. (346)

Thus Kant proclaimed what has been called his “Copernican revolution”: as Copernicus had explained the perceived movement of the heavens by the actual movement of the observer, so (346) Kant explained the perceived order of the world by the actual order of the observer. (347)

| By confronting the seemingly irresolvable dialectic between Humean skepticism and Newtonian science, Kant demonstrated that human observations of the world were never neutral, never free of priorly imposed conceptual judgments. The Baconian ideal of an empiricism totally free of “anticipations” was an impossibility. It could not work in science, nor was it even experientially possible, for no empirical observation and no human experience was pure, neutral, without unconscious assumptions or a priori orderings. In terms of scientific knowledge, the world could not be said to exist complete in itself with intelligible forms that man could empirically reveal if only he would clear his mind of preconceptions and improve his senses by experiment. Rather, the world that man perceived and judged was formed in the very act of his perception and judgment. Mind was not passive but creative, actively structuring. Physical particulars could not simply be identified and then correlated by means of conceptual categories. Rather, the particulars required prior categorization of some kind to be identified at all. To make knowledge possible, the mind necessarily imposed its own cognitive nature on the data of experience, and thus man’s knowledge was not a description of external reality as such, but was to a crucial extent the product of the subject’s cognitive apparatus. The laws of natural processes were the product of the observer’s internal organization in interaction with external events that could never be known in themselves. Hence neither pure empiricism (without a prior structures) nor pure rationalism (without sensory evidence) constituted a viable epistemological strategy. (347)

| The task of the philosopher was therefore radically redefined. His goal could no longer be that of determining a metaphysical world conception in the traditional sense, but should instead be that of analyzing the nature and limits of human reason. For although reason could not decide a priori on matters transcending experience, it could determine what cognitive factors are intrinsic to all human experience and inform all experience with its order. Thus philosophy’s true task was to investigate the formal structure of the mind, for only there would it find the true origin and foundation for certain knowledge of the world. (347)


…the long-term consequences of both the Copernican and the Kantian revolutions were fundamentally ambiguous, at once liberating and diminishing. Both revolutions awakened man to a new, more adventurous reality, yet both also radically displaced man–one from the center of the cosmos, the other from genuine cognition of that cosmos. Cosmological alienation was thereby compounded by epistemological alienation. (348)

Kant thus held that although one could not know that God exists, one must nevertheless believe he exists in order to act morally. Belief in God is therefore justified, morally and practically, even if it is not certifiable. … With the advances of scientific and philosophical knowledge, the modern mind could no longer base religion on a cosmo-(349)logical or metaphysical foundation, but instead it could base religion in the structure of the human situation itself…. Man was freed from the external and objective to form his religious response to life. Inner personal experience not objective demonstration or dogmatic belief, was the true ground of religious meaning. (350)

| In Kant’s terms, man could view himself under two different, even contradictory aspects–scientifically, as a “phenomenon,” subject to the laws of nature; and morally, as a thing-in-itself, a “noumenon,” which could be thought of (not known) as free, immortal, and subject to God. (350)

Kant was thereby able to rescue religion from scientific determinism, just as he had rescued science from radical skepticism. (350)

| But he rescued these only at the price of their disjunction, and of the restriction of human knowledge to phenomena and subjective certainties. (350)

Two things fill the heart with ever new and always increasing awe and admiration: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

…it was to be Kant’s fate that, as regards both religion and science, the power of his epistemological critique tended to outweigh his positive affirmations. On the one hand, the room he made for religious belief began to resemble a vacuum, since religious faith had now lost an external support from either the empirical world or pure reason, and increasingly seemed to lack internal (350) plausibility and appropriateness for secular modern man’s psychological character. On the other hand, the certainty of scientific knowledge, already unsupported by any external mind-independent necessity after Hume and Kant, became unsupported as well by any internal cognitive necessity with the dramatic controversion by twentieth-century physics of the Newtonian and Euclidean categories which Kant had assumed were absolute. (351)

The Decline of Metaphysics

…man could no longer assume his mind’s interpretation of the world to be a mirrorlike reflection of things as they actually were. The mind itself might be the alienating principle. Moreover, the insights of Freud and the depth psychologists radically increased the sense that man’s thinking about the world was governed by nonrational factors that he could neither control nor be fully conscious of. From Hume and Kant through Darwin, Marx, Freud and beyond, an unsettling conclusion was becoming inescapable: Human thought was determined, structured, and very probably distorted by a multitude of overlapping factors–innate but nonabsolute mental categories, habit, history, culture, social class, biology, language, imagination, emotion, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious. In the end, the human mind could not be relied upon as an accurate judge of reality. The original Cartesian certainty, that which served as foundation for the modern confidence in human reason, was no longer defensible. (353)

Despite the incongruence of aims and predispositions among the various schools of twentieth-century philosophy, there was general agreement on one crucial point: the impossibility of apprehending an objective cosmic order with the human intelligence. (353)

Because the meaning of any term could be found only in its specific use and context, and because human experience was fundamentally structured by language, and yet no direct relation between language and an independent deeper structure in the world could be presumed, philosophy should concern itself only with a therapeutic clarification of language in its many concrete uses without any commitment to a particular abstract conception of reality (linguistic analysis). (354)

…philosophy’s traditional mandate and status had been obviated by its own development: There was no all-encompassing or transcendent or intrinsic “deeper” order in the universe to which the human mind could legitimately lay claim. (354)

The Crisis of Modern Science

In the face of science’s supreme cognitive effectiveness and he rigorously impersonal precision of its explanatory structures, religion and philosophy were compelled to define their positions in relation to science, just as, in the medieval era, science and philosophy were compelled to do so in relation to the culturally more powerful conceptions of religion. For the modern mind, it was science that presented the most realistic and reliable world picture–even if that picture was limited to “technical” knowledge of natural phenomena, and despite its existentially disjunctive implications. But two developments in the course of the twentieth century radically changed science’s cognitive and cultural status, one theoretical and internal to science, the other pragmatic and external. (355)

[via: How we structure is indicative of the power and place of an idea/methodology.]

| In the first instance, the classical Cartesian-Newtonian cosmology gradually and then dramatically broke down under the cumulative impact of several astonishing developments in physics. (355)

By the end of the third decade of the twentieth century, virtually every major postulate of the earlier scientific conception had been controverted: the atoms as solid, indestructible, and separate building blocks of nature, space and time as independent absolutes, the strict mechanistic causality of all phenomena, the possibility of objective observation of nature.

All my attempts to adapt the theoretical foundation of physics to this knowledge failed completely. It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere upon which one could have built. – Einstein

…the foundations of physics have started moving…[and] this motion has caused the feeling that the ground would be cut from science. – Heisenberg

The challenge to previous scientific assumptions was deep and multiple: The solid Newtonian atoms were now discovered to be largely empty. Hard matter no longer constituted the fundamental substance of nature. Matter and energy were interchangeable. Three-dimensional space and unidimensional time had become relative aspects of a four-dimensional space-time continuum. Time flowed at different rates for observers moving at different speeds. Time slowed down near heavy objects, and under certain circumstances could stop altogether. The laws of Euclidean geometry no longer provided the universally necessary structure of nature. The planets moved in their orbits not because they were pulled toward the Sun by an attractive force acting at a distance, but because the very space in which they moved was curved. Subatomic phenomena displayed a fundamentally ambiguous nature, observable both as particles and as waves. The position and movement of a particle could not be precisely measured simultaneously. The uncertainty principle radically undermined and replaced strict Newtonian determinism. Scientific observation and explanation could not proceed without affecting the nature of the object observed. The notion of substance dissolved into probabilities and “tendencies to exist.” Nonlocal connections between particles contradicted mechanistic causality. Formal relations and dynamic processes replaced hard discrete objects. The physical world of twentieth-century physics resembled, in Sir James Jean’s words, not so much a great machine as a great thought. (356)

| The consequences of this extraordinary revolution were again (356) ambiguous. The continuing modern sense of intellectual progress, leaving behind the ignorance and misconceptions of past eras while reaping the fruits of new concrete technological results, was again bolstered. Even Newton had been corrected and improved upon by the ever-evolving, increasingly sophisticated modern mind. Moreover, to the many who had regarded the scientific universe of mechanistic and materialistic determinism as antithetical to human values, the quantum-relativistic revolution represented an unexpected and welcome broaching of new intellectual possibilities. Matter’s former hard substantiality had given way to a reality perhaps more conducive to a spiritual interpretation. Freedom of the human will seemed to be given a new foothold if subatomic particles were indeterminate. The principle of complementarity governing waves and particles suggested its broader application in a complementarity between mutually exclusive ways of knowledge, like religion and science. Human consciousness, or at least human observation and interpretation, seemed to be given a more central role in the larger scheme of things with the new understanding of the subject’s influence on the observed object. The deep interconnectedness of phenomena encouraged a new holistic thinking about the world, with many social, moral, and religious implications. Increasing numbers of scientists began to question modern science’s pervasive, if often unconscious, assumption that the intellectual effort to reduce all reality to the smallest measurable components of the physical world would eventually reveal that which was most fundamental in the universe. The reductionist program, dominant since Descartes, now appeared to many to be myopically selective, and likely to miss that which was most significant i the nature of things. (357)

Yet these ambiguous possibilities were countered by other, more disturbing factors. To begin with, there was now no coherent conception of the world, comparable to Newton’s Principia, that could theoretically integrate the complex variety of new data. … A certain irreducible irrationality, already recognized in the human psyche, now emerged in the structure of the physical world itself. To incoherence was added unintelligibility, for the conceptions derived from the new physics not only were difficult for the layperson to comprehend, they presented seemingly insuperable obstacles to the human intuition generally: a curved space, finite yet unbounded; a four-dimensional space-time continuum; mutually exclusive properties possessed by the same subatomic entity; objects that were not really things at all but processes or patterns of relationship; phenomena that took no decisive shape until observed; particles that seemed to affect each other at a distance with no known causal link; the existence of fundamental fluctuations of energy in a total vacuum. (258)

Scientific knowledge was confined to abstractions, mathematical symbols, “shadows.” Such knowledge was not of the world itself, which now more than ever seemed beyond the compass of human cognition. (358)

…the structure of nature may eventually be such that our processes of thought do not correspond to it sufficiently to permit us to think about it at all. … The world fades out and eludes us. … We are confronted with something truly ineffable. We have reached the limit of the vision of the great pioneers of science, the vision, namely that we live in a sympathetic world in that it is comprehensible by our minds. – P. W. Bridgman


Popper noted that science can never produce knowledge that is certain, nor even probable. … Man can never claim to know the real essences of things. Before the virtual infinitude of the world’s phenomena, human ignorance itself is infinite. The wisest strategy is to learn from one’s inevitable mistakes. (360)

But citing many examples in the history of science, [Thomas Kuhn] pointed out that the actual practice of scientists seldom conformed to Popper’s ideal of systematic self-criticism by means of attempted falsification of existing theories. Instead, science typically proceeded by seeking confirmations of the prevailing paradigm–gathering facts in the light of that theory, performing experiments on its basis, extending its range of applicability, further articulating its structure, attempting to clarify residual problems. Far from subjecting the paradigm itself to constant testing, normal science avoided contradicting it by routinely reinterpreting conflicting data in ways that would support the paradigm, or by neglecting such awkward data altogether. To an extent never consciously recognized by scientists, the nature of scientific practice makes its governing paradigm self-validating. The paradigm acts as a lens through which eveyr observation is filtered, and is maintained as an authoritative bulwark by common convention. Through teachers and texts, scientific pedagogy sustains the inherited paradigm and ratifies its (360) credibility, tending to produce a firmness of conviction and theoretical rigidity not unlike an education in systematic theology. (361)


With the pervasive anonymity, hollowness, and materialism of modern life, man’s capacity to retain his humanity in an environment determined by technology seemed increasingly in doubt. For many, the question of human freedom, of mankind’s ability to maintain mastery over its own creation, had become acute. (363)

Even science’s most cherished successes paradoxically entailed new and pressing problems, as when the medical relief of human illness and lowering of mortality rates, combined with technological strides in food production and transportation, in turn exacerbated the threat of global overpopulation. In other cases, the advance of science presented new Faustian dilemmas, as in those surrounding the unforeseeable future uses of genetic engineering. More generally, the scientifically unfathomed complexity of all relevant variables–whether in global or local environments, in social systems, or in the human body–made the consequences of technological manipulation of those variables unpredictable and often pernicious. (363)

All these developments had reached an early and ominous proleptic climax when natural science and political history conspired to produce the atomic bomb. … Civilization itself was now brought into peril by virtue of its own genius. The same science that had dramatically lessened the hazards and burdens of human survival now presented to human survival its gravest menace. (364)

| The great succession of science’s triumphs and cumulative progress was now shadowed by a new sense of science’s limits, its dangers, and its culpability. (364)

The scientific enterprise, which in its earlier stages had presented a cultural predicament–philosophical, religious, social, psychological–had now provoked a biological emergency. ((365)

Romanticism and Its Fate

The Two Cultures

Whereas for the Enlightenment-scientific mind, nature was an object for observation and experiment, theoretical explanation and technological manipulation, for the Romantic, by contrast, nature was a live vessel of spirit, a translucent source of mystery and revelation. … While the scientist sought truth that was testable and concretely effective, the Romantic sought truth that was inwardly transfiguring and sublime. (367)

To explore the mysteries of interiority, of moods and motives, love and desire, fear and angst, inner conflicts and contradictions, memories and dreams, to experience extreme and incommunicable states of consciousness, to be inwardly grasped in epiphanic ecstasy, to plumb the depths of the human soul, to bring the unconscious into consciousness, to know the infinite–such were the imperatives of Romantic introspection. (368)

Imagination and feeling now joined sense and reason to render a deeper understanding of the world. (369)

…deep thinking is attainable only by a man of deep feeling. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Indeed, for many Romantics, imagination was in some sense the whole of existence, the true ground of being, the medium of all realities. It both pervaded consciousness and constituted the world. (369)

| Like imagination, the will too was considered a necessary element in the attainment of human knowledge, a force preceding knowledge and freely impelling man and universe forward to new levels of creativity and (369) awareness. (370)

Against positivism, which halts at phenomena–‘There are only facts’–I would say: No, facts are precisely what there are not, only interpretations. – Nietzsche

Every way of viewing the world was the product of hidden impulses. Every philosophy revealed not in impersonal system of thought, but an involuntary confession. (370)

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal. … Man is something that must be overcome. – Nietzche

He had to invent himself anew, imagine himself into being. He had to will into existence a fictive drama into (370) which he could enter and live, imposing a redemptive order on the chaos of a meaningless universe without God. Then the God who had long been projected to the beyond could be born within the human soul. Then man could dance godlike in the eternal flux, free of all foundations and all bounds, beyond every metaphysical constraint. Truth was not something one proved or disproved; it was something one created. In Nietzsche, as in Romanticism generally, the philosopher became a poet: a world conception was judged not in terms of abstract rationality or factual verification, but as an expression of courage, beauty, and imaginative power. (371)

While the rational scientific mind viewed tradition in more skeptical terms, valuable only to the extent of providing continuity and structure for the growth of knowledge, the Romantic, although no less rebellious in character and often considerably more so, found in tradition something more mysterious–a repository of collective wisdom, (371) the accrued insights of a people’s soul, a living, changing force with its own autonomy and evolutionary dynamism. (372)

[via: This.]

God was rediscovered in Romanticism–not the God of orthodoxy or deism but of mysticism, pantheism, and immanent cosmic process; not the juridical monotheistic patriarch but a divinity more ineffably mysterious, pluralistic, all-embracing, neutral or even feminine in gender; not an absentee creator but a numinous creative force within nature and within the human spirit. (373)

Art provided a unique point of conjunction between the natural and the spiritual, and for many modern intellectuals disillusioned with orthodox religion, art became the chief spiritual outlet and medium. … The most secular of moderns could yet worship the artistic imagination, hold sacred the humanistic tradition of art and culture. The creative masters of the past became the saints and prophets of that culture, the critics and essayists its high priests. In art, the disenchanted modern psyche could yet find a ground for meaning and value, a hallowed context for its psiritual yearnings, a world open to profundity and mystery. (373)

Pressing ever deeper into the nature of human perception and creativity, the modern artist began to move beyond the traditional mimetic, representational view of art, and the “spectator” theory of reality underlying it. Such an artist sought to be not merely the reproducer of forms, not even their discoverer, but rather their creator. Reality was not to be copied, but to be invented. (374)

The Divided World View

With the modern psyche so affected by the Romantic sensibility and in some sense identified with it, yet with the truth claims of science so formidable, modern man experienced in effect an intractable division between his mind and his soul. (375)

The faith-reason division of the medieval era and the religion-science division of the early modern era had become one of subject-object, inner-outer, man-world, humanities-science. A new form of the double-truth universe was now established. (376)

The overdetermined result was an experience of nature almost opposite from the original Romantic ideal: Modern man now increasingly sensed his alienation from nature’s womb, his fall from unitary being, his confinement to an absurd universe of chance and necessity. No longer the early Romantic’s spiritually glorious child of nature, late modern man was the incongruously sensitive denizen of an implacable vastness devoid of meaning. (376)

Space ails us moderns: we are sick
with space.
Its contemplation makes us out as
As a brief epidemic of microbes
That in a good glass may be seen to
The patina of this least of globes.

– Frost

And as the full character and implications of the scientific world view became explicit, that inner division was experienced as that of the sensitive human psyche situated in a world alien to human meaning. Modern man was a divided animal, inexplicably self-aware in an indifferent universe. (378)

Attempted Syntheses: From Goethe and Hegel to Jung

In Goethe’s vision, nature permeates everything, including the human mind and imagination. Hence nature’s truth does not exist as something independent and objective, but is revealed in the very act of human cognition. …nature is not distinct from spirit but is itself spirit, inseparable not only from man but from God. … Thus did Goethe unite poet and scientist in an analysis of nature that reflected his distinctively sensuous religiosity. (378)

Hegel’s overriding impulse was to comprehend all the dimensions of existence as dialectically integrated in one unitary whole. … Through a continuing dialectical process of opposition and synthesis, the world is always in the process of completing itself. Whereas for most of the history of Western philosophy from Aristotle onward, the defining essence of opposites was that they were logically contradictory and mutually exclusive, for Hegel all opposites are logically necessary and mutually implicated elements in a larger truth. Truth is thus radically paradoxical. (379)

The history of the human mind constantly replayed this drama of the subject’s becoming conscious of itself and the consequent destruction of the previously uncriticized form of consciousness. The structures of human knowledge were not fixed and timeless, as Kant supposed, but were historically determined stages that evolved in a continuing dialectic until consciousness achieved absolute knowledge of itself. What at any moment was seen as fixed and certain was constantly overcome by the evolving mind, thereby opening up new possibilities and greater freedom. Every stage of philosophy from the ancient Presocratics onward, every form of thought in human history, was both an incomplete perspective and yet a necessary step in this great intellectual evolution. Every era’s world view was both a valid truth unto itself and also an imperfect stage in the larger process of absolute truth’s self-unfolding. (380)

In Hegel’s understanding, the Absolute first posits itself in the immediacy of its own inner consciousness, then negates this initial condition by expressing itself in the particularities of the finite world of space and time, and finally, by “negating the negation,” recovers itself in its infinite essence. Mind thereby overcomes its estrangement from the world, a world that Mind itself has constituted. Thus the movement of knowledge evolves from consciousness of the object separate from the subject, to absolute knowledge in which the knower and the known become one. (380)

All of nature’s processes and all of history, including man’s intellectual, cultural, and religious develop-(380)ment, constitute the teleolgical plot of the Absolute’s quest for self-revelation. Just as it was only through the experience of alienation from God that man could experience the joy and triumph of rediscovering his own divinity, so it was only through the process of God’s becoming finite, in nature and in man, that God’s infinite nature could be expressed. For this reason, Hegel declared that the essence of his philosophical conception was expressed in the Christian revelation of God’s incarnation as man, the climax of religious truth. (381)

But as an entirety, the Hegelian synthesis was not sustained by the modern mind. In fulfillment, as it were, of its own theory, Hegelianism was eventually submerged by the very reactions it (382) helped provoke–irrationalism and existentialism (Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard), dialectical materialism (Marx and Engels), pluralistic pragmatism (James and Dewey), logical positivism (Russell and Carnap), and linguistic analysis (Moore and Wittgenstein), all movements increasingly more reflective of the general tenor of modern experience. With Hegel’s decline there passed from the modern intellectual arena the last culturally powerful metaphysical system claiming the existence of a universal order accessible to human awareness. (383)

The Hegelian program of discovering the “meaning” of history and the “purpose” of cultural evolution was now regarded as impossible and misguided. Instead, professional historians saw their competence more properly limited to carefully defined specialized studies, to methodological problems derived from the social sciences, to statistical analyses of measurable factors such as population levels and income figures. The historian’s attention was better directed to the concrete details of people’s lives, especially to their economic and social contexts–“history from below”–than to the (383) Idealist image of universal principles working through great individuals to forge world history. (384)

In its concern with the elemental passions and powers of the unconscious–with imagination, emotion, memory, myth, and dreams, with introspection, psychopathology, hidden motivations, and ambivalence–psychoanalysis brought Romanticisms’ preoccupations to a new level of systematic analysis and cultural significance. (384)

In the course of analyzing a vast range of psychological and cultural phenomena, Jung found evidence of a collective unconscious common to all human beings and structured according to powerful archetypal principles. (385)

The discovery of the collective unconscious and its archetypes radically extended psychology’s range of interest and insight. Religious experience, artistic creativity, esoteric systems, and the mythological imagination were now analyzed in nonreductive terms strongly reminiscent of the Neoplatonic Renaissance and Romanticism. … Freud and Jung’s depth psychology thus offered a fruitful middle ground between science and the humanities–sensitive to the many dimensions of human experience, concerned with art and religion and interior realities, with qualitative conditions and subjectively significant phenomena, yet striving for empirical rigor, for rational cogency, for practical, therapeutically effective knowledge in a context of collective scientific research. (385)

But more constraining for depth psychology’s impact was the very nature of its study: given the basic subject-object dichotomy of the modern mind, the insights of depth psychology had to be adjudged relevant only to the psyche, to the subjective aspect of things, not to the world as such, Even if “objectively” true, they were objectively true only in relation to a subjective reality. They did not and could not change the cosmic context within which the human being sought psychological integrity. (386)

The discoveries of psychology could reveal nothing with certainty about the world’s actual constitution, no mater how subjectively convincing was the evidence for a mythic dimension, an anima mundi, or a supreme deity. Whatever the human mind produced could be regarded only as a product of the human mind and its intrinsic structures, with no necessary objective or (386) universal correlations. The epistemological value of depth psychology lay rather in its capacity to reveal those unconscious structural factors, the archetypes, which appeared to govern all mental functioning and hence all human perspectives on the world. (387)

Existentialism and Nihilism

The great revolutionary political projects of the modern era, heralding personal and social liberation, had gradually led to conditions in which the modern individual’s fate was ever more dominated by bureaucratic commercial and political superstructures. Just as man had become a meaningless speck in the modern universe, so had individual persons become insignificant ciphers in modern states, to be manipulated or coerced by the millions. (388)

Nowhere was the problematic modern condition more precisely embodied than in the phenomenon of existentialism, a mood and philoso-(388)phy expressed in the writings of Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, among others, but ultimately reflecting a pervasive spiritual crisis in modern culture. The anguish and alienation of twentieth-century life were brought to full articulation as the existentialist addressed the most fundamental, naked concerns of human existence–suffering and death, loneliness and dread, guilt, conflict, spiritual emptiness and ontological insecurity, the void of absolute values or universal contexts, the sense of cosmic absurdity, the frailty of human reason, the tragic impasse of the human condition. Man was condemned to be free. He faced the necessity of choice and thus knew the continual burden of error. He lived in constant ignorance of his future, thrown into a finite existence bounded at each end by nothingness. The infinity of human aspiration was defeated before the finitude of human possibility. Man possessed no determining essence: only his existence was given, an existence engulfed by mortality, risk, fear, ennui, contradiction, uncertainty. No transcendent Absolute guaranteed the fulfillment of human life or history. There was no eternal design or providential purpose. Things existed simply because they existed, and not for some “higher” or “deeper” reason. God was dead, and the universe was blind to human concerns, devoid of meaning or purpose. Man was abandoned, on his own. All was contingent. To be authentic one had to admit, and choose freely to encounter, the stark reality of life’s meaninglessness. Struggle alone gave meaning. (389)

Even theologians–perhaps especially theologians–were sensitive to the existentialist spirit. In a world shattered by two world wars, totalitarianism, the holocaust, and the atomic bomb, belief in a wise and omnipotent God ruling history for the good of all seemed to have lost any defensible basis. Given the unprecedentedly tragic dimensions of contemporary historical events, given the fall of Scripture as an unshakable foundation for belief, given the lack of any compelling philosophical argument for God’s existence, and given above all the almost universal crisis of religious faith in a secular age, it was becoming impossible for many theologians to speak of God in any way meaningful to the modern sensibility: thus emerged the seemingly self-contradictory but singularly representative theology of the “death of God.” (389)

Aft’s task was to “make the world strange,” to shock the dulled sensibility, to forge a new reality by fragmenting the old. (391)

It was not simply that the old formulae had been exhausted, or that artists sought novelty at any cost. Rather, the nature of contemporary human experience demanded the collapse of old structures and themes, the creation of new ones, or the renouncing of any discernible form or content whatever. Artists had become realists of a new reality–of an ever-growing multiplicity of realities–lacking any precedent. (391)

Radical change and ceaseless innovation lent themselves to unaesthetic chaos, to incomprehensibility and barren alienation. (392)

The contemporary writer…is forced to start from scratch: Reality doesn’t exist, time doesn’t exist, personality doesn’t exist. God was the omniscient author, but he died; no no one knows the plot, and since our reality lacks the sanction of a creator, there’s no guarantee as to the authenticity of the received version. Time is (392) reduced to presence, the content of a series of discontinuous moments. Time is no longer purposive, and so there is no density, only chance. Reality is, simply, our experience, and objectivity is, of course, an illusion. Personality, after passing through a stage of awkward self-consciousness, has become…a mere locus for our experience. In view of these annihilations, it should be no surprise that literature, also, does not exist–how could it? There is only reading and writing…ways of maintaining a considered boredom in face of the abyss. – Ronald Sukenick, “The Death of the Novel,” in The Death of the Novel and Other Stories

The underlying powerlessness of the individual in modern life pressed many artists and intellectuals to withdraw from the world, to forsake the public arena. … Human activity–artistic, intellectual, moral–was forced to find its ground in a standardless vacuum. Meaning seemed to be no more than an arbitrary construct, truth only a convention, reality undiscoverable. Man, it began to be said, was a futile passion. (393)

Thus Western man enacted an extraordinary dialectic in the course of the modern era–moving from a near boundless confidence in his own powers, his spiritual potential, his capacity for certain knowledge, his mastery over nature, and his progressive destiny, to what often appeared (393) to be a sharply opposite condition: a debilitating sense of metaphysical insignificance and personal futility, spiritual loss of faith, uncertainty in knowledge, a mutually destructive relationship with nature, and an intense insecurity concerning the human future. (394)

Something indeed was ending. And so it was that the Western mind, in response to these many complexly interwoven developments, had followed the foundations of the modern world view, leaving the contemporary mind increasingly bereft of established certainties, yet also fundamentally open in ways it had never been before. And the intellectual sensibility that now reflects and expresses this unprecedented situation, the overdetermined outcome of the modern mind’s extraordinary development of increasing sophistication and self-deconstruction, is the postmodern mind. (394)

The Postmodern Mind

Each great epochal transformation in the history of the Western mind appears to have been initiated by a kind of archetypal sacrifice. As if to consecrate the birth of a fundamental new cultural vision, in each case a symbolically resonant trial and martyrdom of some sort was suffered by its central prophet: the trial and execution of Socrates at the birth of the classical Greek mind, the trial and crucifixion of Jesus at the birth of Christianity, and the trial and condemnation of Galileo at the birth of modern science. (395)

What is called postmodern varies considerably according to context, but in its most general and widespread form, the postmodern mind may be viewed as an open-ended, indeterminate set of attitudes that has been shaped by a great diversity of intellectual and cultural currents; these range from pragmatism, existentialism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis to feminism, hermeneutics, deconstruction, and postempiricist philosophy of science, to cite only a few of the more prominent. Out of this maelstrom of highly developed and often divergent impulses and tendencies, a few widely shared working principles have emerged. There is an appreciation of the plasticity and constant change of reality and knowledge, a stress on the priority of concrete experience over fixed abstract principles, and a conviction that no single a priori thought system should govern belief or investigation. It is recognized that human knowledge is subjectively determined by a multitude of factors; that objective essences or things-(395)in-themselves are neither accessible nor positable; and that the value of all truths and assumptions must be continually subjected to direct testing. The critical search for truth is constrained to be tolerant of ambiguity and pluralism, and its outcome will necessarily be knowledge that is relative and fallible rather than absolute or certain. (396)

[via: I guess this does confirm that I am postmodern. ;-)]

There is no empirical “fact” that is not already theory-laden, and there is no logical argument or formal principle (396) that is a priori certain. All human understanding is interpretation, and no interpretation is final. (397)

Reflecting and supporting all these developments is a radical perspectivism that lies at the very heart of the postmodern sensibility:… In this understanding, the world cannot be said to possess any features in principle prior to interpretation. The world does not exist as a thing-in-itself, independent of interpretation; rather, it comes into being only in and through interpretations. (397)

The other side of the postmodern mind’s openness and indeterminacy is thus the lack of any firm ground for a world view. … The postmodern human exists in a universe whose significance is at once utterly open and without warrantable foundation. (398)

…many sources contributed to this development–Nietzsche’s analysis of the problematic relation of language to reality; C. S. Peirce’s semiotics, positing that all human thought takes place in signs; Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistics, positing the arbitrary relationship between word and object, sign and signified; Wittgenstein’s analysis of the linguistic structuring of human experience; Heidegger’s existentialist-linguistic critique of metaphysics; Edward Sapir and B. L. Whorf’s linguistic hypothesis that language shapes the perception of reality as much as reality shapes language; Michel Foucault’s genealogical investigations into the social construction of knowledge; and Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism, challenging the attempt to establish a secure meaning in ay text. (398)

Because human experience is linguistically prestructured, yet the various structures of language possess no demonstrable connection with an independent reality, the human mind can never claim access to any reality other than that determined by its local form of life. Language is a “cage” (Wittgenstein). Moreover, linguistic meaning itself can be shown to be fundamentally unstable, because the contexts that determine meaning are never fixed, and beneath the surface of every apparently coherent text can be found a plurality of incompatible meanings. … Nothing certain can be said about the nature of truth, except perhaps that it is, as Richard Rorty put it, “what our peers will let us get away with saying.” (399)

Spurred by these and other, related factors, postmodern critical thought has encouraged a vigorous rejection of the entire Western intellectual “canon” as long defined and privileged by a more or less exclusively male, white, European elite. Received truths concerning “man,” “reason,” “civilization,” and “progress” are indicted as intellectually and morally bankrupt. Under the cloak of Western values, too many sins have been committed. Disenchanted eyes are now cast onto the West’s long history of ruthless expansionism and exploitation–the rapacity of its elites from ancient times to modern, its systematic thriving at the expense of others, its colonialism and imperialism, its slavery and genocide, its anti-Semitism, its oppression of women, people of color, minorities, homosexuals, the working classes, the poor, its destruction of indigenous societies throughout the world, its arrogant insensitivity to other cultural traditions and values, its cruel abuse of other forms of life, its blind ravaging of virtually the entire planet. (400)

The underlying intellectual ethos is one of disassembling established structures, deflating pretensions, exploding beliefs, unmasking appearances–a “hermeneutics of suspicion” in the spirit of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Postmodernism in this sense is “an antinomian movement that assumes a vast unmasking in the Western mind…deconstruction, decentering, disappearance, dissemination, demystification, discontinuity, difference, dispersion, etc. Such terms…express an epistemological obsession with fragments or fractures, and a corresponding ideological commitment to minorities in politics, sex, and language. To think well, to feel well, to act well, to read well, according to the épistème of unmaking, is to refuse the tyranny of wholes; totalization in any human endeavor is potentially totalitarian.” [Ihab Hassan, quoted in Albrecht Wellmer, “On the Dialectic of Modernism and Postmodernism,” Praxis International 4 (1985)] (401)

The situation recognized by John Dewey at the start of the century, that “despair of any integrated outlook and attitude [is] the chief intellectual characteristic of the present age,” has been enshrined as the essence of the postmodern vision, as in Jean-François Lyotard’s definition of postmodern as “incredulity toward metanarratives.” (401)

Implicitly, the one postmodern absolute is critical consciousness, which, by deconstructing all, seems compelled by its own logic to do so to itself as well. This is the unstable paradox that permeates the postmodern mind. (402)


…any generalizations about the postmodern mind have to be qualified by a recognition of the continuing presence or recent resurgence of most of its major predecessors,… (403)

Following suggestions implicit in Nietzsche, the “death of God” has begun to be assimilated and reconceived as a positive religious development, as permitting the emergence of a more authentic experience of the numinous, a larger sense of deity. On the intellectual level, religion no longer tends to be understood reductively as a psychologically or culturally determined belief in nonexistent realities, or explained away as an accident of biology, but is recognized as a fundamental human activity in which every society and individual symbolically interprets and engages the ultimate nature of being. (404)

Common to these new perspectives has been the imperative to rethink and reformulate the human relation to nature, an imperative driven by the growing recognition that modern science’s mechanistic and objectiv-(404)ist conception of nature was not only limited but fundamentally flawed. (405)

An especially characteristic and challenging intellectual position that has emerged out of modern and postmodern developments is one whih, recognizing both an essential autonomy in the human being and a radical plasticity in the nature of reality, begins with the assertion that reality itself tends to unfold in response to the particular symbolic framework and set of assumptions that are employed by each individual and each society. (406)

More generally, whether in philosophy, religion, or science, the univocal literalism that tended to characterize the modern mind has been increasingly criticized and rejected, and in its place has arisen a greater appreciation of the multidimensional nature of reality, the many-sidedness of the human spirit, and the multivalent, symbolically mediated nature of human knowledge and experience. With that appreciation has also come a growing sense that the postmodern dissolving of old assumptions and categories could permit the emergence of entirely new prospects for conceptual and existential reintegration, with the possibility of richer interpretive vocabularies, more profound narrative coherencies. Under the combined impact of the remarkable changes and self-revisions that have taken place in virtually every contemporary intellectual discipline, the fundamental modern schism between science and religion has been increasingly undermined. In the wake of such developments, the original project of Romanticism–the reconciliation of subject and object, human and nature, spirit and matter, conscious and unconscious, intellect and soul–has reemerged with new vigor. (407)

| Two antithetical impulses can thus be discerned in the contemporary intellectual situation, one pressing for a radical deconstruction and unmasking–of knowledge, beliefs, world views–and the other for a radical integration and reconciliation. In obvious ways the two impulses work against each other, yet more subtly they can also be seen as working together as polarized, but complementary, tendencies. Nowhere is this dynamic tension and interplay between the deconstructive and the integrative more dramatically in evidence than in the rapidly expanding body of work produced by women informed by feminism. (407)

No academic discipline or area of human experience has been left untouched by the feminist reexamination of how meanings are created and preserved, how evidence is selectively interpreted and theory molded with mutually reinforcing circularity, how particular rhetorical strategies and behavioral styles have sustained male hegemony, how women’s voices remained unheard through centuries of social and intellectual male dominance, how deeply problematic consequences have ensued from masculine assumptions about reality, knowledge, nature, society, the divine. … Given the context in which it has arisen, the feminist intellectual impulse has been compelled to assert itself with a forceful critical spirit that has often been oppositional and polarizing in character; yet precisely as a result of that critique, long-established categories that had sustained traditional oppositions and dualities–between male and female, subject and object, human and nature, body and spirit, self and other–have been deconstructed and reconceived, permitting the contemporary mind to consider less-dichotomized alternative perspectives that could not have been envisioned within previous interpretive frameworks. In certain respects the implications, both intellectual and social, of feminist analyses are so fundamental that their significance is only beginning to be realized by the contemporary mind. (408)


The intellectual question that looms over our time is whether the current state of profound metaphysical and epistemological irresolution is something that will continue indefinitely, taking perhaps more viable, or more radically disorienting, forms as the years and decades pass; whether it is in fact the entropic prelude to some kind of apocalyptic denouement of history; or whether it represents an epochal transition to another era altogether, bringing a new form of civilization and a new world view with principles and ideals fundamentally different from those that have impelled the modern world through its dramatic trajectory. (410)

At the Millennium

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. …

Surely some revelation is at hand.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

As the twentieth century draws to its close, a widespread sense of urgency is tangible on many levels, as if the end of an aeon is indeed approaching. It is a time of intense expectation, of striving, of hope and uncertainty. Many sense that the great determining force of our reality is the mysterious process of history itself, which in our century has appeared to be hurtling toward a massive disintegration of all structures and foundations, a triumph of the Heraclitean flux. Near the end of his life, Toynbee wrote: (411)

Present-day man has recently become aware that history has been accelerating–and this at an accelerating rate. The present generation has been conscious of this increase of acceleration in its own lifetime; and the advance in man’s knowledge of his past has revealed, in retrospect, that the acceleration began about 30,000 years ago….and that it has taken successive “great leaps forward” with the invention of agriculture, with the dawn of civilization, and with the progressive harnessing–with the last two centuries–of the titanic physical forces of inanimate nature. The approach of the climax foreseen intuitively by the prophets is being felt, and feared, as a coming event. Its imminence is, today, not an article of faith; it is a datum of observation and experience. – Arnold J. Toynbee, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v. “tim.”

What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 181.

“Only a god can save us,” said Heidegger at the end of his life. And Jung, at the end of his, comparing our age to the beginning of the Christian era two millennia ago, wrote: (412)

[A] mood of universal destruction and renewal…has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos–the right moment–for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science. … So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of modern man. … Does the individual know that he is the makeweight that tips the scales? – Carl G. Jung, “The Undiscovered Self,” in Collected Works of Carl Gustav Jung, vol. 10

Our moment in history is indeed a pregnant one. As a civilization and as a species we have come to a moment of truth, with the future of the human spirit, and the future of the planet, hanging in the balance. If ever boldness, depth, and clarity of vision were called for, from many, it is now. Yet perhaps it is this very necessity that could summon forth from us the courage and imagination we now require. Let us give the last words of this unfinished epic to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: (413)

And how could I endure to be a man, if man were not also poet and reader of riddles and…a way to new dawns.

VII. Epilogue

We may be seeing the beginnings of the reintegration of our culture, a new possibility of the unity of consciousness. If so, it will not be on the basis of any new orthodoxy, either religious or scientific. Such a new integration will be based on the rejection of all univocal understandings of reality, of all identifications of one conception of reality with reality itself. It will recognize the multiplicity of the human spirit, and the necessity to translate constantly between different scientific and imaginative vocabularies. It will recognize the human proclivity to fall comfortably into some single literal interpretation of the world and therefore the necessity to be continuously open to rebirth in a new heaven and a new earth. It will recognize that in both scientific and religious culture all we have finally are symbols, but that there is an enormous difference between the dead letter and the living word. (415)

Robert Bellah
Beyond Belief

In these final pages, I would like to present an interdisciplinary framework that may help deepen our understanding of the extraordinary history just recounted. I would also like to share with the reader a few concluding reflections on where we, as a culture, may be headed. Let us begin with a brief overview of the background to our present intellectual situation.

The Post-Copernican Double Bind

In a narrow sense, the Copernican revolution can be understood as simply a specific paradigm shift in modern astronomy and cosmology, initiated by Copernicus, established by Kepler and Galileo, and completed by Newton. Yet the Copernican revolution can also be understood in a much wider and more significant sense. For when Copernicus recognized that the Earth was not the absolute fixed center of the universe, and, equally important, when he recognized that the movement of the heavens could be explained in terms of the movement of the observer, he brought forth what was perhaps the pivotal insight of the modern mind. The Copernican shift of perspective can be seen as a fundamental metaphor for the entire modern world view: the profound deconstruction of the naive understanding, the critical recognition that the apparent condition of the objective world was unconsciously determined by the condition of the subject, the consequent liberation from the ancient and medieval cosmic womb, the radical displacement of the human being to a relative and peripheral position in a vast and impersonal universe, the ensuing disenchantment of the natural world. In this broadest sense–as an event that took place not only in astronomy and the sciences but in philosophy and religion and in the collective human psyche–the Copernican revolution can be seen as constituting the epochal shift of the modern age. It was a primordial event, world-destroying and world-constituting.

In philosophy and epistemology, this larger Copernican revolution took place in the dramatic series of intellectual advances that began with Descartes and culminated in Kant. It has been said that Descartes and Kant were both inevitable in the development of the modern mind, and I believe this is correct. For it was Descartes who first fully grasped and articulated the experience of the emerging autonomous modern self as being fundamentally distinct and separate from an objective external (416) world that it seeks to understand and master. Descartes “woke up in a Copernican universe” after Copernicus, humankind was on its own in the universe, its cosmic place irrevocably relativized. Descartes then drew out and expressed in philosophical terms the experiential consequence of that new cosmological context, starting from a position of fundamental doubt vis-a-vis the world, and ending in the cogito. In doing this, he set into motion a train of philosophical events–leading from Locke to Berkeley and Hume and culminating in Kant–that eventually produced a great epistemological crisis. Descartes was in this sense the crucial midpoint between Copernicus and Kant, between the Copernican revolution in cosmology and the Copernican revolution in epistemology.

For if the human mind was in some sense fundamentally distinct and different from the external world, and if the only reality that the human mind had direct access to was its own experience, then the world apprehended by the mind was ultimately only the mind’s interpretation of the world. Human knowledge of reality had to be forever incommensurate with its goal, for there was no guarantee that the human mind could ever accurately mirror a world with which its connection was so indirect and mediated. Instead, everything that this mind could perceive and judge would be to some undefined extent determined by its own character, its own subjective structures. The mind could experience only phenomena, not things-in-themselves; appearances, not an independent reality. In the modern universe, the human mind was on its own.

Thus Kant, building on his empiricist predecessors, drew out the epistemological consequences of the Cartesian cogito. Of course Kant himself set forth cognitive principles, subjective structures, that he thought were absolute–the a priori forms and categories–on the basis of the apparent certainties of Newtonian physics. As time passed, however, what endured from Kant was not the specifics of his solution but rather the profound problem he articulated. For Kant had drawn attention to the crucial fact that all human knowledge is interpretive. The human mind can claim no direct mirrorlike knowledge of the objective world, for the object it experiences has already been structured by the subject’s own internal organization. The human being knows not the world-in-itself but rather the world-as-rendered-by-the-human-mind. Thus Descartes’s ontological schism was both made more absolute and superseded by Kant’s epistemological schism. The gap between subject and object (417) could not be certifiably bridged. From the Cartesian premise came the Kantian result.

In the subsequent evolution of the modern mind, each of these fundamental shifts, which I am associating here symbolically with the figures of Copernicus, Descartes, and Kant, has been sustained, extended, and pressed to its extreme. Thus Copernicus’s radical displacement of the human being from the cosmic center was emphatically reinforced and intensified by Darwin’s relativization of the human being in the flux of evolution–no longer divinely ordained, no longer absolute and secure, no longer the crown of creation, the favored child of the universe, but rather just one more ephemeral species. Placed in the vastly expanded cosmos of modern astronomy, the human being now spins adrift, once the noble center of the cosmos, now an insignificant inhabitant of a tiny planet revolving around an undistinguished star–the familiar litany–at the edge of one galaxy among billions, in an indifferent and ultimately hostile universe.

In the same way, Descartes’s schism between the personal and conscious human subject and the impersonal and unconscious material universe was systematically ratified and augmented by the long procession of subsequent scientific developments, from Newtonian physics all the way to contemporary big-bang cosmology, black holes, quarks, W and Z particles, and grand unified superforce theories. The world revealed by modern science has been a world devoid of spiritual purpose, opaque, ruled by chance and necessity, without intrinsic meaning. The human soul has not felt at home in the modern cosmos: the soul can hold dear its poetry and its music, its private metaphysics and religion, but these find no certain foundation in the empirical universe.

And so too with the third of this trinity of modern alienation, the great schism established by Kant–and here we see the pivot of the shift from the modern to the postmodern. For Kant’s recognition of the human mind’s subjective ordering of reality, and thus, finally, the relative and unrooted nature of human knowledge, has been extended and deepened by a host of subsequent developments, from anthropology, linguistics, sociology of knowledge, and quantum physics to cognitive psychology, neurophysiology, semiotics, and philosophy of science; from Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, and Freud to Heisenberg, Wittgenstein, Kuhn, and Foucault. The consensus is decisive: The world is in some essential sense a construct. Human knowledge is radically interpretive. There are no perspective-independent facts. Every act of perception and cognition (418) is contingent, mediated, situated, contextual, theory-soaked. Human language cannot establish its ground in an independent reality. Meaning is rendered by the mind and cannot be assumed to inhere in the object, in the world beyond the mind, for that world can never be contacted without having already been saturated by the mind’s own nature. That world cannot even be justifiably postulated. Radical uncertainty prevails, for in the end what one knows and experiences is to an indeterminate extent a projection.

Thus the cosmological estrangement of modern consciousness initiated by Copernicus and the ontological estrangement initiated by Descartes were completed by the epistemological estrangement initiated by Kant: a threefold mutually enforced prison of modern alienation.

I would like to point out here the striking resemblance between this state of affairs and the condition that Gregory Bateson famously described as the “double bind”: the impossibly problematic situation in which mutually contradictory demands eventually lead a person to become schizophrenic. In Bateson’s formulation, there were four basic premises necessary to constitute a double bind situation between a child and a “schizophrenogenic” mother: (1) The child’s relationship to the mother is one of vital dependency, thereby making it critical for the child to assess communications from the mother accurately. (2) The child receives contradictory or incompatible information from the mother at different levels, whereby, for example, her explicit verbal communication is fundamentally denied by the “metacommunication,” the nonverbal context in which the explicit message is conveyed (thus the mother who says to her child with hostile eyes and a rigid body, “Darling, you know I love you so much”). The two sets of signals cannot be understood as coherent. (3) The child is not given any opportunity to ask questions of the mother that would clarify the communication or resolve the contradiction. And (4) the child cannot leave the field, i.e., the relationship. In such circumstances, Bateson found, the child is forced to distort his or her perception of both outer and inner realities, with serious psychopathological consequences.

Now if we substitute in these four premises world for mother, and human being for child, we have the modern double bind in a nutshell: (1) The human being’s relationship to the world is one of vital dependency, thereby making it critical for the human being to assess the nature of that world accurately. (2) The human mind receives contradictory or incompatible information about its situation with respect to the world, (419) whereby its inner psychological and spiritual sense of things is incoherent with the scientific metacommunication. (3) Epistemologically, the human mind cannot achieve direct communication with the world. 4) Existentially the human being cannot leave the field.

The differences between Bateson’s psychiatric double bind and the modern existential condition are more in degree than in kind: the modern condition is an extraordinarily encompassing and fundamental double bind, made less immediately conspicuous simply because it is so universal. We have the post-Copernican dilemma of being a peripheral and insignificant inhabitant of a vast cosmos, and the post-Cartesian dilemma of being a conscious, purposeful, and personal subject confronting an unconscious, purposeless, and impersonal universe, with these compounded by the post-Kantian dilemma of there being no possible means by which the human subject can know the universe in its essence. We are evolved from, embedded in, and defined by a reality that is radically alien to our own, and moreover cannot ever be directly contacted in cognition.

This double bind of modern consciousness has been recognized in one form or another since at least Pascal: “I am terrified by the eternal silence of these infinite spaces.” Our psychological and spiritual predispositions are absurdly at variance with the world revealed by our scientific method. We seem to receive two messages from our existential situation: on the one hand, strive, give oneself to the quest for meaning and spiritual fulfillment; but on the other hand, know that the universe, of whose substance we are derived, is entirely indifferent to that quest, soulless in character, and nullifying in its effects. We are at once aroused and crushed. For inexplicably, absurdly, the cosmos is inhuman, yet we are not. The situation is profoundly unintelligible.

If we follow Bateson’s diagnosis and apply it to the larger modern condition, it should not be surprising what kinds of response the modern psyche has made to this situation as it attempts to escape the double bind’s inherent contradictions. Either inner or outer realities tend to be distorted: inner feelings are repressed and denied, as in apathy and psychic numbing, or they are inflated in compensation, as in narcissism and egocentrism; or the outer world is slavishly submitted to as the only reality, or it is aggressively objectified and exploited. There is also the strategy of flight, through various forms of escapism: compulsive economic consumption, absorption in the mass media, faddism, cults, ideologies, nationalistic fervor, alcoholism, drug addiction. When avoid-(420)ance mechanisms cannot be sustained, there is anxiety, paranoia, chronic hostility, a feeling of helpless victimization, a tendency to suspect all meanings, an impulse toward self-negation, a sense of purposelessness and absurdity, a feeling of irresolvable inner contradiction, a fragmenting of consciousness. And at the extreme, there are the full-blown psychopathological reactions of the schizophrenic: self-destructive violence, delusional states, massive amnesia, catatonia, automatism, mania, nihilism. The modern world knows each of these reactions in various combinations and compromise formations, and its social and political life is notoriously so determined.

Nor should it be surprising that twentieth-century philosophy finds itself in the condition we now see. Of course modern philosophy has brought forth some courageous intellectual responses to the post-Copernican situation, but by and large the philosophy that has dominated our century and our universities resembles nothing so much as a severe obsessive-compulsive sitting on his bed repeatedly tying and untying his shoes because he never quite gets it right–while in the meantime Socrates and Hegel and Aquinas are already high up the mountain on their hike, breathing the bracing alpine air, seeing new and unexpected vistas.

But there is one crucial way in which the modern situation is not identical to the psychiatric double bind, and this is the fact that the modern human being has not simply been a helpless child, but has actively engaged the world and pursued a specific strategy and mode of activity– a Promethean project of freeing itself from and controlling nature. The modern mind has demanded a specific type of interpretation of the world: its scientific method has required explanations of phenomena that are concretely predictive, and therefore impersonal, mechanistic, structural. To fulfill their purposes, these explanations of the universe have been systematically “cleansed” of all spiritual and human qualities. Of course we cannot be certain that the world is in fact what these explanations suggest. We can be certain only that the world is to an indeterminate extent susceptible to this way of interpretation. Kant’s insight is a sword that cuts two ways. Although on the one hand it appears to place the world beyond the grasp of the human mind, on the other hand it recognizes that the impersonal and soulless world of modern scientific cognition is not necessarily the whole story. Rather, that world is the only kind of story that for the past three centuries the Western mind has considered intellectually justifiable. In Ernest Gellner’s words, “It was Kant’s merit to see that this compulsion [for (421) mechanistic impersonal explanations] is in us, not in things.” And “it was Weber’s to see that it is historically a specific kind of mind, not human mind as such, that is subject to this compulsion.”

Hence one crucial part of the modern double bind is not airtight. In the case of Bateson’s schizophrenogenic mother and child, the mother more or less holds all the cards, for she unilaterally controls the communication. But the lesson of Kant is that the locus of the communication problem–i.e., the problem of human knowledge of the world –must first be viewed as centering in the human mind, not in the world as such. Therefore it is theoretically possible that the human mind has more cards than it has been playing. The pivot of the modern predicament is epistemological, and it is here that we should look for an opening.

Knowledge and the Unconscious

When Nietzsche in the nineteenth century said there are no facts, only interpretations, he was both summing up the legacy of eighteenth-century critical philosophy and pointing toward the task and promise of twentieth-century depth psychology. That an unconscious part of the psyche exerts decisive influence over human perception, cognition, and behavior was an idea long developing in Western thought, but it was Freud who effectively brought it into the foreground of modern intellectual concern. Freud played a fascinatingly multiple role in the unfolding of the greater Copernican revolution. On the one hand, as he said in the famous passage at the end of the eighteenth of his Introductory Lectures, psychoanalysis represented the third wounding blow to man’s naive pride and self-love, the first being Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, and the second being Darwin’s theory of evolution. For psychoanalysis revealed that not only is the Earth not the center of the universe, and not only is man not the privileged focus of creation, but even the human mind and ego, man’s most precious sense of being a conscious rational self, is only a recent and precarious development out of the primordial id, and is by no means master of its own house. With his epochal insight into the unconscious determinants of human experience, Freud stood directly in the Copernican lineage of modern thought that progressively relativized the status of the human being. And again, like Copernicus and like Kant but on an altogether new level, Freud brought the fundamental recognition that the apparent reality of the objective world was being unconsciously determined by the condition of the subject. (422)

But Freud’s insight too was a sword that cut both ways, and in a significant sense Freud represented the crucial turning point in the modern trajectory. For the discovery of the unconscious collapsed the old boundaries of interpretation. As Descartes and the post-Cartesian British empiricists had noted, the primary datum in human experience is ultimately human experience itself–not the material world, and not sensory transforms of that world; and with psychoanalysis was begun the systematic exploration of the seat of all human experience and cognition, the human psyche. From Descartes to Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, and then to Kant, the progress of modern epistemology had depended on increasingly acute analyses of the role played by the human mind in the act of cognition. With this background, and with the further steps taken by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and others, the analytic task established by Freud was in a sense ineluctable. The modern psychological imperative, to recover the unconscious, precisely coincided with the modern epistemological imperative–to discover the root principles of mental organization.

But while it was Freud who penetrated the veil, it was Jung who grasped the critical philosophical consequences of depth psychology’s discoveries. Partly this was because Jung was more epistemologically sophisticated than Freud, having been steeped in Kant and critical philosophy from his youth (even in the 1930s Jung was an informed reader of Karl Popper–which comes as a surprise to many Jungians). Partly this was also because by intellectual temperament Jung was less bound than Freud by nineteenth-century scientism. But above all, Jung had the more profound experience to draw upon, and could see the larger context within which depth psychology was operating. As Joseph Campbell used to say, Freud was fishing while sitting on a whale–he didn’t realize what he had before him. But of course who of us does, and we all depend on our successors to overleap our own limitations.

Thus it was Jung who recognized that critical philosophy was, as he put it, “the mother of modern psychology.” Kant was correct when he saw that human experience was not atomistic, as Hume had thought, but instead was permeated by a priori structures; yet Kant’s formulation of those structures, reflecting his complete belief in Newtonian physics, was inevitably too narrow and simplistic. In a sense, just as Freud’s understanding of the mind had been limited by his Darwinian presuppositions, so was Kant’s understanding limited by his Newtonian presuppositions. Jung, under the impact of far more powerful and extensive experiences of the human psyche, both his own and others, pushed (423) the Kantian and Freudian perspectives all the way until he reached a kind of holy grail of the inner quest: the discovery of the universal archetypes in all their power and rich complexity as the fundamental determining structures of human experience.

Freud had discovered Oedipus and Id and Superego and Eros and Thanatos; he had recognized the instincts in essentially archetypal terms. But at crucial junctures, his reductionist presuppositions drastically restricted his vision. With Jung, however, the full symbolic multivalence of the archetypes was disclosed, and the personal unconscious of Freud, which comprised mainly repressed contents resulting from biographical traumas and the ego’s antipathy to the instincts, opened into a vast archetypally patterned collective unconscious which was not so much the result of repression as it was the primordial foundation of the psyche itself. With its progressively unfolding disclosure of the unconscious, depth psychology radically redefined the epistemological riddle that had first been posed by Kant–Freud doing so narrowly and inadvertently as it were, and then Jung doing so on a more comprehensive and self-aware level.

Yet what was the actual nature of these archetypes, what was this collective unconscious, and how did any of this affect the modern scientific world view? Although the Jungian archetypal perspective greatly enriched and deepened the modern understanding of the psyche, in certain ways it too could be seen as merely reinforcing the Kantian epistemological alienation. As Jung repeatedly emphasized for many years in his loyal Kantian way, the discovery of the archetypes was the result of the empirical investigation of psychological phenomena and therefore had no necessary metaphysical implications. The study of the mind rendered knowledge of the mind, not of the world beyond the mind. Archetypes so conceived were psychological, hence in a certain way subjective. Like Kant’s a priori forms and categories, they structured human experience without giving the human mind any direct knowledge of reality beyond itself; they were inherited structures or dispositions that preceded human experience and determined its character, but they could not be said to transcend the human psyche. They were perhaps only the most fundamental of the many distorting lenses that distanced the human mind from genuine knowledge of the world. They were perhaps only the deepest patterns of human projection.

But of course Jung’s thought was extremely complex, and in the course of his very long intellectually active life his conception of the archetypes (424) went through a significant evolution. The conventional and still most widely known view of Jungian archetypes, just described, was based on Jung’s middle-period writings when his thought was still largely governed by Cartesian-Kantian philosophical assumptions concerning the nature of the psyche and its separation from the external world. In his later work, however, and particularly in relation to his study of synchronicities, Jung began to move toward a conception of archetypes as autonomous patterns of meaning that appear to structure and inhere in both psyche and matter, thereby in effect dissolving the modern subject-object dichotomy. Archetypes in this view were more mysterious than a priori categories–more ambiguous in their ontological status, less easily restricted to a specific dimension, more like the original Platonic and Neoplatonic conception of archetypes. Some aspects of this late-Jungian development have been pressed further, brilliantly and controversially, by James Hillman and the school of archetypal psychology, which has developed a “postmodern” Jungian perspective: recognizing the primacy of the psyche and the imagination, and the irreducible psychic reality and potency of the archetypes, but, unlike the late Jung, largely avoiding metaphysical or theological statements in favor of a full embrace of psyche in all its endless and rich ambiguity.

But the most epistemologically significant development in the recent history of depth psychology, and indeed the most important advance in the field as a whole since Freud and Jung themselves, has been the work of Stanislav Grof, which over the past three decades has not only revolutionized psychodynamic theory but also brought forth major implications for many other fields, including philosophy. Many readers will already be familiar with Grof’s work, particularly in Europe and California, but for those who are not I will give here a brief summary. Grof began as a psychoanalytic psychiatrist, and the original background of his ideas was Freudian, not Jungian; yet the unexpected upshot of his work was to ratify Jung’s archetypal perspective on a new level, and bring it into coherent synthesis with Freud’s biological and biographical perspective, though on a much deeper stratum of the psyche than Freud had recognized.

The basis of Grof’s discoveries was his observation of several thousand psychoanalytic sessions, first in Prague and then in Maryland with the National Institute of Mental Health, in which subjects used extremely potent psychoactive substances, particularly LSD, and then later a variety of powerful nondrug therapeutic methods, which served as catalysts of unconscious processes. Grof found that subjects involved in these (425) sessions tended to undergo progressively deeper explorations of the unconscious, in the course of which there consistently emerged a pivotal sequence of experiences of great complexity and intensity. In the initial sessions, subjects typically moved back through earlier and earlier biographical experiences and traumas–the Oedipus complex, toilet training, nursing, early infantile experiences–which were generally intelligible in terms of Freudian psychoanalytic principles and appeared to represent something like laboratory evidence for the basic correctness of Freud’s theories. But after reliving and integrating these various memory complexes, subjects regularly tended to move further back into an extremely intense engagement with the process of biological birth.

[via: Holy crap! (a.k.a. “WOW!”)]

Although this process was experienced on a biological level in the most explicit and detailed manner, it was informed by, or saturated by, a distinct archetypal sequence of considerable numinous power. Subjects reported that experiences at this level possessed an intensity and universality that far surpassed what they had previously believed was the experiential limit for an individual human being. These experiences occurred in a highly variable order, and overlapped with each other in very complex ways, but abstracting from this complexity Grof found visible a distinct sequence–which moved from an initial condition of undifferentiated unity with the maternal womb, to an experience of sudden fall and separation from that primal organismic unity, to a highly charged life-and-death struggle with the contracting uterus and the birth canal, and culminating in an experience of complete annihilation. This was followed almost immediately by an experience of sudden unexpected global liberation, which was typically perceived not only as physical birth but also as spiritual rebirth, with the two mysteriously intermixed.

[via: I say again, Holy crap!]

I should mention here that I lived for over ten years at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, where I was the director of programs, and in the course of those years virtually every conceivable form of therapy and personal transformation, great and small, came through Esalen. In terms of therapeutic effectiveness, Grof’s was by far the most powerful; there was no comparison. Yet the price was dear–in a sense the price was absolute: the reliving of one’s birth was experienced in a context of profound existential and spiritual crisis, with great physical agony, unbearable constriction and pressure, extreme narrowing of mental horizons, a sense of hopeless alienation and the ultimate meaninglessness of life, a feeling of going irrevocably insane, and finally a shattering experiential encounter with death–with losing everything, physically, (426) psychologically, intellectually, spiritually. Yet after integrating this long experiential sequence, subjects regularly reported experiencing a dramatic expansion of horizons, a radical change of perspective as to the nature of reality, a sense of sudden awakening, a feeling of being fundamentally reconnected to the universe, all accompanied by a profound sense of psychological healing and spiritual liberation. Later in these sessions and in subsequent ones, subjects reported having access to memories of prenatal intrauterine existence, which typically emerged in association with archetypal experiences of paradise, mystical union with nature or with the divine or with the Great Mother Goddess, dissolution of the ego in ecstatic unity with the universe, absorption into the transcendent One, and other forms of mystical unitive experience. Freud called the intimations of this level of experience that he had observed the “oceanic feeling,” though for Freud this referred only as far back as infant nursing experiences of unity with the mother at the breast–a less profound version of the primal undifferentiated consciousness of the intrauterine condition.

In terms of psychotherapy, Grof found that the deepest source of psychological symptoms and distress reached back far past childhood traumas and biographical events to the experience of birth itself, intimately interwoven with the encounter with death. When successfully resolved, this experience tended to result in a dramatic disappearance of long-standing psychopathological problems, including conditions and symptoms that had proved entirely recalcitrant to previous therapeutic programs. I should emphasize here that this “perinatal” (surrounding birth) sequence of experiences typically took place on several levels at once, but it virtually always had an intense somatic component. The physical catharsis involved in reliving the birth trauma was extremely powerful, and clearly suggested the reason for the relative ineffectiveness of most psychoanalytic forms of therapy, which have been based largely on verbal interaction and by comparison seem scarcely to scratch the surface. The perinatal experiences that emerged in Grof’s work were preverbal, cellular, elemental. They took place only when the ego’s usual capacity for control had been overcome, either through the use of a catalytic psychoactive substance or therapeutic technique, or through the spontaneous force of the unconscious material.

Yet these experiences were also profoundly archetypal in character. Indeed, the encounter with this perinatal sequence constantly brought home to subjects a sense that nature itself, including the human body, (427) was the repository and vessel of the archetypal, that nature’s processes were archetypal processes–an insight that both Freud and Jung had approached but from opposite directions. In a sense Grof’s work gave a more explicit biological ground to the Jungian archetypes, while giving a more explicit archetypal ground to the Freudian instincts. The encounter with birth and death in this sequence seemed to represent a kind of transduction point between dimensions, a pivot that linked the biological and the archetypal, the Freudian and the Jungian, the biographical and the collective, the personal and the transpersonal, body and spirit. In retrospect, the evolution of psychoanalysis can be seen as having gradually pressed the Freudian biographical-biological perspective back to earlier and earlier periods of individual life, until, reaching the encounter with birth itself, that strategy culminated in a decisive negation of orthodox Freudian reductionism, opening the psychoanalytic conception to a radically more complex and expanded ontology of human experience. The result has been an understanding of the psyche that, like the experience of the perinatal sequence itself, is irreducibly multidimensional.

A host of implications from Grof’s work could be discussed here–insights concerning the roots of male sexism in the unconscious fear of female birthing bodies; concerning the roots of the Oedipus complex in the far more primal and fundamental struggle against the seemingly punitive uterine contractions and constricting birth canal to regain union with the nourishing maternal womb; concerning the therapeutic importance of the encounter with death; concerning the roots of specific psychopathological conditions such as depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, sexual disorders, sadomasochism, mania, suicide, addiction, various psychotic conditions, as well as collective psychological disorders such as the impulse toward war and totalitarianism. One could discuss the superbly clarifying synthesis Grof’s work achieved in psychodynamic theory, bringing together not only Freud and Jung but Reich, Rank, Adler, Ferenczi, Klein, Fairbairn, Winnicott, Erikson, Maslow, Perls, Laing. My concern here, however, is not psychotherapeutic but philosophical, and while this perinatal area constituted the crucial threshold for therapeutic transformation, it also proved to be the pivotal area for major philosophical and intellectual issues. Hence I will limit this discussion to the specific consequences and implications that Grof’s work holds for our present epistemological situation. (428)

In this context, certain crucial generalizations from the clinical evidence are relevant:

First, the archetypal sequence that governed the perinatal phenomena from womb through birth canal to birth was experienced above all as a powerful dialectic–moving from an initial state of undifferentiated unity to a problematic state of constriction, conflict, and contradiction, with an accompanying sense of separation, duality, and alienation; and finally moving through a stage of complete annihilation to an unexpected redemptive liberation that both overcame and fulfilled the intervening alienated state–restoring the initial unity but on a new level that preserved the achievement of the whole trajectory.

Second, this archetypal dialectic was often experienced simultaneously on both an individual level and, often more powerfully, a collective level, so that the movement from primordial unity through alienation to liberating resolution was experienced in terms of the evolution of an entire culture, for example, or of humankind as a whole–the birth of Homo sapiens out of nature no less than the birth of the individual child from the mother. Here personal and transpersonal were equally present, inextricably fused, so that ontogeny not only recapitulated phylogeny but in some sense opened out into it.

And third, this archetypal dialectic was experienced or registered in several dimensionsphysical, psychological, intellectual, spiritual–often more than one of these at a time, and sometimes all simultaneously in complex combination. As Grof has emphasized, the clinical evidence suggests not that this perinatal sequence should be seen as simply reducible to the birth trauma; rather, it appears that the biological process of birth is itself an expression of a larger underlying archetypal process that can manifest in many dimensions. Thus:

  • In physical terms, the perinatal sequence was experienced as biological gestation and birth, moving from the symbiotic union with the all-encompassing nourishing womb, through a gradual growth of complexity and individuation within that matrix, to an encounter with the contracting uterus, the birth canal, and finally delivery.
  • In psychological terms, the experience was one of movement from an initial condition of undifferentiated pre-egoic consciousness to a state of increasing individuation and separation between self and world, increasing existential alienation, and finally an experience of ego death followed by psychological rebirth; this was often complexly associated with (429) the biographical experience of moving from the womb of childhood through the labor of life and the contraction of aging to the encounter with death.
  • On the religious level, this experiential sequence took a wide variety of forms, but especially frequent was the Judaeo-Christian symbolic movement from the primordial Garden through the Fall, the exile into separation from divinity, into the world of suffering and mortality, followed by the redemptive crucifixion and resurrection, bringing the reunion of the divine and the human. On an individual level, the experience of this perinatal sequence closely resembled–indeed, it appeared to be essentially identical to–the death-rebirth initiation of the ancient mystery religions.
  • Finally, on the philosophical level, the experience was comprehensible in what might be called Neoplatonic-Hegelian-Nietzschean terms as a dialectical evolution from an archetypally structured primordial Unity, through an emanation into matter with increasing complexity, multiplicity, and individuation, through a state of absolute alienation–the death of God in both Hegel’s and Nietzsche’s senses–followed by a dramatic Aufhebung, a synthesis and reunification with self-subsistent Being that both annihilates and fulfills the individual trajectory.

This multileveled experiential sequence holds relevance for an extraordinary range of important issues, but it is the epistemological implications that are especially significant for our contemporary intellectual situation. For from the perspective suggested by this evidence, the fundamental subject-object dichotomy that has governed and defined modern consciousness–that has constituted modern consciousness, that has been generally assumed to be absolute, taken for granted as the basis for any “realistic” perspective and experience of the world–appears to be rooted in a specific archetypal condition associated with the unresolved trauma of human birth, in which an original consciousness of undifferentiated organismic unity with the mother, a participation mystique with nature, has been outgrown, disrupted, and lost. Here, on both the individual and the collective levels, can be seen the source of the profound dualism of the modern mind: between man and nature, between mind and matter, between self and other, between experience and reality–that pervading sense of a separate ego irrevocably divided from the encompassing world. Here is the painful separation from the timeless all-encompassing womb of nature, the development of human self-consciousness, the loss of connection with (430) the matrix of being, the expulsion from the Garden, the entrance into time and history and materiality, the disenchantment of the cosmos, the sense of total immersion in an antithetical world of impersonal forces. Here is the experience of the universe as ultimately indifferent, hostile, inscrutable. Here is the compulsive striving to liberate oneself from nature’s power, to control and dominate the forces of nature, even to revenge oneself against nature. Here is the primal fear of losing control and dominance, rooted in the all-consuming awareness and fear of death–the inevitable accompaniment of the individual ego’s emergence out of the collective matrix. But above all, here is the profound sense of ontological and epistemological separation between self and world.

This fundamental sense of separation is then structured into the legitimated interpretive principles of the modern mind. It was no accident that the man who first systematically formulated the separate modern rational self, Descartes, was also the man who first systematically formulated the mechanistic cosmos for the Copernican revolution. The basic a priori categories and premises of modern science, with its assumption of an independent external world that must be investigated by an autonomous human reason, with its insistence on impersonal mechanistic explanation, with its rejection of spiritual qualities in the cosmos, its repudiation of any intrinsic meaning or purpose in nature, its demand for a univocal, literal interpretation of a world of hard facts–all of these ensure the construction of a disenchanted and alienating world view. As Hillman has emphasized: “The evidence we gather in support of a hypothesis and the rhetoric we use to argue it are already part of the archetypal constellation we are in….The ‘objective’ idea we find in the pattern of data is also the ‘subjective’ idea by means of which we see the data.” [James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 126.]

From this perspective, the Cartesian-Kantian philosophical assumptions that have governed the modern mind, and that have informed and impelled the modern scientific achievement, reflect the dominance of a powerful archetypal gestalt, an experiential template that selectively filters and shapes human awareness in such a manner that reality is perceived to be opaque, literal, objective, and alien. The Cartesian-Kantian paradigm both expresses and ratifies a state of consciousness in which experience of the unitive numinous depths of reality has been systematically extinguished, leaving the world disenchanted and the human ego isolated. Such a world view is, as it were, a kind of metaphysical and epistemological box, a hermetically closed system that reflects the contracted enclosure of the archetypal birth process. It is the elabo-(431)rate articulation of a specific archetypal domain within which human awareness is encompassed and confined as if it existed inside a solipsistic bubble.

The great irony suggested here of course is that it is just when the modern mind believes it has most fully purified itself from any anthropomorphic projections, when it actively construes the world as unconscious, mechanistic, and impersonal, it is just then that the world is most completely a selective construct of the human mind. The human mind has abstracted from the whole all conscious intelligence and purpose and meaning, and claimed these exclusively for itself, and then projected onto the world a machine. As Rupert Sheldrake has pointed out, this is the ultimate anthropomorphic projection: a man-made machine, something not in fact ever found in nature. From this perspective, it is the modern mind’s own impersonal soullessness that has been projected from within onto the world–or, to be more precise, that has been projectively elicited from the world.

But it has been the fate and burden of depth psychology, that astonishingly seminal tradition founded by Freud and Jung, to mediate the modern mind’s access to archetypal forces and realities that reconnect the individual self with the world, dissolving the dualistic world view. Indeed, in retrospect it would seem that it had to be depth psychology that would bring forth awareness of these realities to the modern mind: if the realm of the archetypal could not be recognized in the philosophy and religion and science of the high culture, then it had to reemerge from the underworld of the psyche. As L.L. Whyte has noted, the idea of the unconscious first appeared and played an increasing role in Western intellectual history almost immediately from the time of Descartes, beginning its slow ascent to Freud. And when, at the start of the twentieth century, Freud introduced his work to the world in The Interpretation of Dreams, he began with that great epigraph from Virgil which said it all: “If I cannot bend the Gods above, then I will move the Infernal regions.” The compensation was inevitable–if not above, then from below.

Thus the modern condition begins as a Promethean movement toward human freedom, toward autonomy from the encompassing matrix of nature, toward individuation from the collective, yet gradually and ineluctably the Cartesian-Kantian condition evolves into a Kafka-Beckett-like state of existential isolation and absurdity–an intolerable double bind leading to a kind of deconstructive frenzy. And again, the existential double bind closely mirrors the infant’s situation within the birthing mother: having been symbiotically united with the nourishing (432) womb, growing and developing within that matrix, the beloved center of an all-comprehending supportive world, yet now alienated from that world, constricted by that womb, forsaken, crushed, strangled, and expelled in a state of extreme confusion and anxiety–an inexplicably incoherent situation of profound traumatic intensity.

Yet full experience of this double bind, of this dialectic between the primordial unity on the one hand and the birth labor and subject-object dichotomy on the other, unexpectedly brings forth a third condition: a redemptive reunification of the individuated self with the universal matrix. Thus the child is born and embraced by the mother, the liberated hero ascends from the underworld to return home after his far-flung odyssey. The individual and the universal are reconciled. The suffering, alienation, and death are now comprehended as necessary for birth, for the creation of the self: O Felix Culpa. A situation that was fundamentally unintelligible is now recognized as a necessary element in a larger context of profound intelligibility. The dialectic is fulfilled, the alienation redeemed. The rupture from Being is healed. The world is rediscovered in its primordial enchantment. The autonomous individual self has been forged and is now reunited with the ground of its being.

The Evolution of World Views

All of this suggests that another, more sophisticated and comprehensive epistemological perspective is called for. Although the Cartesian-Kantian epistemological position has been the dominant paradigm of the modern mind, it has not been the only one, for at almost precisely the same time that the Enlightenment reached its philosophical climax in Kant, a radically different epistemological perspective began to emerge–first visible in Goethe with his study of natural forms, developed in new directions by Schiller, Schelling, Hegel, Coleridge, and Emerson, and articulated within the past century by Rudolf Steiner. Each of these thinkers gave his own distinct emphasis to the developing perspective, but common to all was a fundamental conviction that the relation of the human mind to the world was ultimately not dualistic but participatory.

In essence this alternative conception did not oppose the Kantian epistemology but rather went beyond it, subsuming it in a larger and subtler understanding of human knowledge. The new conception fully acknowledged the validity of Kant’s critical insight, that all human knowledge of the world is in some sense determined by subjective (433) principles; but instead of considering these principles as belonging ultimately to the separate human subject, and therefore not grounded in the world independent of human cognition, this participatory conception held that these subjective principles are in fact an expression of the world’s own being, and that the human mind is ultimately the organ of the world’s own process of self-revelation. In this view, the essential reality of nature is not separate, self-contained, and complete in itself, so that the human mind can examine it “objectively” and register it from without. Rather, nature’s unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind. Nature’s reality is not merely phenomenal, nor is it independent and objective; rather, it is something that comes into being through the very act of human cognition. Nature becomes intelligible to itself through the human mind.

In this perspective, nature pervades everything, and the human mind in all its fullness is itself an expression of nature’s essential being. And it is only when the human mind actively brings forth from within itself the full powers of a disciplined imagination and saturates its empirical observation with archetypal insight that the deeper reality of the world emerges. A developed inner life is therefore indispensable for cognition. In its most profound and authentic expression, the intellectual imagination does not merely project its ideas into nature from its isolated brain corner. Rather, from within its own depths the imagination directly contacts the creative process within nature, realizes that process within itself, and brings nature’s reality to conscious expression. Hence the imaginal intuition is not a subjective distortion but is rather the human fulfillment of that reality’s essential wholeness, which had been rent asunder by the dualistic perception. The human imagination is itself part of the world’s intrinsic truth; without it the world is in some sense incomplete. Both major forms of epistemological dualism–the conventional precritical and the post-Kantian critical conceptions of human knowledge–are here countered and synthesized. On the one hand, the human mind does not just produce concepts that “correspond” to an external reality. Yet on the other hand, neither does it simply “impose” its own order on the world. Rather, the world’s truth realizes itself within and through the human mind.

This participatory epistemology, developed in different ways by Goethe, Hegel, Steiner, and others, can be understood not as a regression to naive participation mystique, but as the dialectical synthesis of the long evolution from the primordial undifferentiated consciousness (434) through the dualistic alienation. It incorporates the postmodern understanding of knowledge and yet goes beyond it. The interpretive and constructive character of human cognition is fully acknowledged, but the intimate, interpenetrating and all-permeating relationship of nature to the human being and human mind allows the Kantian consequence of epistemological alienation to be entirely overcome. The human spirit does not merely prescribe nature’s phenomenal order; rather, the spirit of nature brings forth its own order through the human mind when that mind is employing its full complement of faculties–intellectual, volitional, emotional, sensory, imaginative, aesthetic, epiphanic. In such knowledge, the human mind “lives into” the creative activity of nature. Then the world speaks its meaning through human consciousness. Then human language itself can be recognized as rooted in a deeper reality, as reflecting the universe’s unfolding meaning. Through the human intellect, in all its personal individuality, contingency, and struggle, the world’s evolving thought-content achieves conscious articulation. Yes, knowledge of the world is structured by the mind’s subjective contribution; but that contribution is teleologically called forth by the universe for its own self-revelation. Human thought does not and cannot mirror a ready-made objective truth in the world; rather, the world’s truth achieves its existence when it comes to birth in the human mind. As the plant at a certain stage brings forth its blossom, so does the universe bring forth new stages of human knowledge. And, as Hegel emphasized, the evolution of human knowledge is the evolution of the world’s self-revelation.

Such a perspective suggests of course that the Cartesian-Kantian paradigm, and thus the epistemologically enforced double bind of modern consciousness, is not absolute. But if we take this participatory epistemology, and if we combine it with Grof’s discovery of the perinatal sequence and its underlying archetypal dialectic, then a more surprising conclusion is suggested: namely, that the Cartesian-Kantian paradigm, and indeed the entire trajectory into alienation taken by the modern mind, has not been simply an error, an unfortunate human aberration, a mere manifestation of human blindness, but has rather reflected a much deeper archetypal process impelled by forces beyond the merely human. For in this view, the powerful contraction of vision experienced by the modern mind has itself been an authentic expression of nature’s unfolding, a process enacted through the growingly autonomous human intellect, and now reaching a highly critical stage of transfiguration. From this perspective, the dualistic epistemology derived from Kant and the (435) Enlightenment is not simply the opposite of the participatory epistemology derived from Goethe and Romanticism, but is rather an important subset of it, a necessary stage in the evolution of the human mind. And if this is true, several long-standing philosophical paradoxes may now be cleared up.

I shall focus here on one especially significant area. Much of the most exciting work in contemporary epistemology has come from philosophy of science, above all from the work of Popper, Kuhn, and Feyerabend. Yet despite this work, or rather because of this work, which has revealed in so many ways the relative and radically interpretive nature of scientific knowledge, philosophers of science have been left with two notoriously fundamental dilemmas–one left by Popper, the other by Kuhn and Feyerabend.

With Popper the problem of scientific knowledge left by Hume and Kant was brilliantly explicated. For Popper, as for the modern mind, man approaches the world as a stranger–but a stranger who has a thirst for explanation, and an ability to invent myths, stories, theories, and a willingness to test these. Sometimes, by luck and hard work and many mistakes, a myth is found to work. The theory saves the phenomena; it is a lucky guess. And this is the greatness of science, that through an occasionally fortunate combination of rigor and inventiveness, a purely human conception can be found to work in the empirical world, at least temporarily. Yet a gnawing question remains for Popper: How, in the end, are successful conjectures, successful myths, possible? How does the human mind ever acquire genuine knowledge if it’s just a matter of projected myths that are tested? Why do these myths ever work? If the human mind has no access to a priori certain truth, and if all observations are always already saturated by uncertified assumptions about the world, how could this mind possibly conceive a genuinely successful theory? Popper answered this question by saying that, in the end, it is “luck”–but this answer has never satisfied. For why should the imagination of a stranger ever be able to conceive merely from within itself a myth that works so splendidly in the empirical world that whole civilizations can be built on it (as with Newton)? How can something come from nothing?

I believe there is only one plausible answer to this riddle, and it is an answer suggested by the participatory epistemological framework outlined above: namely, that the bold conjectures and myths that the human mind produces in its quest for knowledge ultimately come from something far deeper than a purely human source. They come from the (436) wellspring of nature itself, from the universal unconscious that is bringing forth through the human mind and human imagination its own gradually unfolding reality. In this view, the theory of a Copernicus, a Newton, or an Einstein is not simply due to the luck of a stranger; rather, it reflects the human mind’s radical kinship with the cosmos. It reflects the human mind’s pivotal role as vehicle of the universe’s unfolding meaning. In this view, neither the postmodern skeptic nor the perennialist philosopher is correct in their shared opinion that the modern scientific paradigm is ultimately without any cosmic foundation. For that paradigm is itself part of a larger evolutionary process.

We can now also suggest a resolution to that fundamental problem left by Kuhn–the problem of explaining why in the history of science one paradigm is chosen over another if paradigms are ultimately incommensurable, if they cannot ever be rigorously compared. As Kuhn has pointed out, each paradigm tends to create its own data and its own way of interpreting those data in a manner that is so comprehensive and self-validating that scientists operating within different paradigms seem to exist in altogether different worlds. Although to a given community of scientific interpreters, one paradigm seems to be superior to another, there is no way of justifying that superiority if each paradigm governs and saturates its own data base. Nor does any consensus exist among scientists concerning a common measure or value–such as conceptual precision, or coherence, or breadth, or simplicity, or resistance to falsification, or congruence with theories used in other specialties, or fruitfulness in new research findings–that could be used as a universal standard of comparison. Which value is considered most important varies from one scientific era to another, from one discipline to another, even between individual research groups. What, then, can explain the progress of scientific knowledge if, in the end, each paradigm is selectively based on differing modes of interpretation and different sets of data and different scientific values?

Kuhn has always answered this problem by saying that ultimately the decision lies with the ongoing scientific community, which provides the final basis of justification. Yet, as many scientists have complained, this answer seems to undercut the very foundation of the scientific enterprise, leaving it to the mercy of sociological and personal factors that subjectively distort the scientific judgment. And indeed, as Kuhn himself has demonstrated, scientists generally do not in practice fundamentally question the governing paradigm or test it against other alternatives, for (437) many reasons–pedagogical, socioeconomic, cultural, psychological–most of them unconscious. Scientists, like everyone else, are attached to their beliefs. What, then, ultimately explains the progression of science from one paradigm to another? Does the evolution of scientific knowledge have anything to do with “truth,” or is it a mere artifact of sociology? And more radically, with Paul Feyerabend’s dictum that “anything goes” in the battle of paradigms: If anything goes, then why ultimately does one thing go rather than another? Why is any scientific paradigm judged superior? If anything goes, why does anything go at all?

The answer I am suggesting here is that a paradigm emerges in the history of science, it is recognized as superior, as true and valid, precisely when that paradigm resonates with the current archetypal state of the evolving collective psyche. A paradigm appears to account for more data, and for more important data, it seems more relevant, more cogent, more attractive, fundamentally because it has become archetypally appropriate to that culture or individual at that moment in its evolution. And the dynamics of this archetypal development appear to be essentially identical to the dynamics of the perinatal process. Kuhn’s description of the ongoing dialectic between normal science and major paradigm revolutions strikingly parallels the perinatal dynamics described by Grof: The pursuit of knowledge always takes place within a given paradigm, within a conceptual matrix–a womb that provides an intellectually nourishing structure, that fosters growth and increasing complexity and sophistication–until gradually that structure is experienced as constricting, a limitation, a prison, producing a tension of irresolvable contradictions, and finally a crisis is reached. Then some inspired Promethean genius comes along and is graced with an inner breakthrough to a new vision that gives the scientific mind a new sense of being cognitively connected–reconnected–to the world: an intellectual revolution occurs, and a new paradigm is born. Here we see why such geniuses regularly experience their intellectual breakthrough as a profound illumination, a revelation of the divine creative principle itself, as with Newton’s exclamation to God, “I think Thy thoughts after Thee!” For the human mind is following the numinous archetypal path that is unfolding from within it.

And here we can see why the same paradigm, such as the Aristotelian or the Newtonian, is perceived as a liberation at one time and then a constriction, a prison, at another. For the birth of every new paradigm is also a conception in a new conceptual matrix, which begins the process (438) of gestation, growth, crisis, and revolution all over again. Each paradigm is a stage in an unfolding evolutionary sequence, and when that paradigm has fulfilled its purpose, when it has been developed and exploited to its fullest extent, then it loses its numinosity, it ceases to be libidinally charged, it becomes felt as oppressive, limiting, opaque, something to be overcome–while the new paradigm that is emerging is felt as a liberating birth into a new, luminously intelligible universe. Thus the ancient symbolically resonant geocentric universe of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Dante gradually loses its numinosity, becomes seen as a problem full of contradictions, and with Copernicus and Kepler that numinosity is fully transferred to the heliocentric cosmos. And because the evolution of paradigm shifts is an archetypal process, rather than merely either a rational-empirical or a sociological one, this evolution takes place historically both from within and without, both “subjectively” and “objectively.” As the inner gestalt changes in the cultural mind, new empirical evidence just happens to appear, pertinent writings from the past suddenly are unearthed, appropriate epistemological justifications are formulated, supportive sociological changes coincidentally take place, new technologies become available, the telescope is invented and just happens to fall into Galileo’s hands. As new psychological predispositions and metaphysical assumptions emerge from within the collective mind, from within many individual minds simultaneously, they are matched and encouraged by the synchronistic arrival of new data, new social contexts, new methodologies, new tools that fulfill the emerging archetypal gestalt.

And as with the evolution of scientific paradigms, so with all forms of human thought. The emergence of a new philosophical paradigm, whether that of Plato or Aquinas, Kant or Heidegger, is never simply the result of improved logical reasoning from the observed data. Rather, each philosophy, each metaphysical perspective and epistemology, reflects the emergence of a global experiential gestalt that informs that philosopher’s vision, that governs his or her reasoning and observations, and that ultimately affects the entire cultural and sociological context within which the philosopher’s vision is taking form.

For the very possibility of a new world view’s appearance rests on the underlying archetypal dynamic of the larger culture. Thus the Copernican revolution that emerged during the Renaissance and Reformation perfectly reflected the archetypal moment of modern humanity’s birth out of the ancient-medieval cosmic-ecclesiastical womb. And at the (439) other end, the twentieth century’s massive and radical breakdown of so many structures–cultural, philosophical, scientific, religious, moral, artistic, social, economic, political, atomic, ecological–all this suggests the necessary deconstruction prior to a new birth. And why is there evident now such a widespread and constantly growing collective impetus in the Western mind to articulate a holistic and participatory world view, visible in virtually every field? The collective psyche seems to be in the grip of a powerful archetypal dynamic in which the long-alienated modern mind is breaking through, out of the contractions of its birth process, out of what Blake called its “mind-forg’d manacles,” to rediscover its intimate relationship with nature and the larger cosmos.

And so we can recognize a multiplicity of these archetypal sequences, with each scientific revolution, each change of world view; yet perhaps we can also recognize one overall archetypal dialectic in the evolution of human consciousness that subsumes all of these smaller sequences, one long metatrajectory, beginning with the primordial participation mystique and, in a sense, culminating before our eyes. In this light, we can better understand the great epistemological journey of the Western mind from the birth of philosophy out of the mythological consciousness in ancient Greece, through the classical, medieval, and modern eras, to our own postmodern age: the extraordinary succession of world views, the dramatic sequence of transformations in the human mind’s apprehension of reality, the mysterious evolution of language, the shifting relationships between universal and particular, transcendent and immanent, concept and percept, conscious and unconscious, subject and object, self and world–the constant movement toward differentiation, the gradual empowerment of the autonomous human intellect, the slow forging of the subjective self, the accompanying disenchantment of the objective world, the suppression and withdrawal of the archetypal, the constellating of the human unconscious, the eventual global alienation, the radical deconstruction, and finally, perhaps, the emergence of a dialectically integrated, participatory consciousness reconnected to the universal.

But to do justice to this complex epistemological progression and to the other great dialectical trajectories of Western intellectual and spiritual history that have paralleled it–cosmological, psychological, religious, existential–would require another book altogether. [via: Cosmos & Psyche?!] Instead, I would like to conclude with a brief, very broad overview of this long historical evolution, a kind of archetypal metanarrative, applying on a large scale the insights and perspectives that have been set forth in the foregoing discussion.

Bringing It All Back Home

Many generalizations could be made about the history of the Western mind, but today perhaps the most immediately obvious is that it has been from start to finish an overwhelmingly masculine phenomenon: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Locke, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud….The Western intellectual tradition has been produced and canonized almost entirely by men, and informed mainly by male perspectives. This masculine dominance in Western intellectual history has certainly not occurred because women are any less intelligent than men. But can it be attributed solely to social restriction? I think not. I believe something more profound is going on here: something archetypal. The masculinity of the Western mind has been pervasive and fundamental, in both men and women, affecting every aspect of Western thought, determining its most basic conception of the human being and the human role in the world. All the major languages within which the Western tradition has developed, from Greek and Latin on, have tended to personify the human species with words that are masculine in gender: anthropos, homo, l’homme, el hombre, l’uomo, chelovek, der Mensch, man. As the historical narrative in this book has faithfully reflected, it has always been “man” this and “man” that–“the ascent of man,” “the dignity of man,” “man’s relation to God,” “man’s place in the cosmos,” “man’s struggle with nature,” “the great achievement of modern man,” and so forth. The “man” of the Western tradition has been a questing masculine hero, a Promethean biological and metaphysical rebel who has constantly sought freedom and progress for himself, and who has thus constantly striven to differentiate himself from and control the matrix out of which he emerged. This masculine predisposition in the evolution of the Western mind, though largely unconscious, has been not only characteristic of that evolution, but essential to it.

[footnote: Writers and editors today often comment on the difficulty they have in revising many sentences that were originally written with the traditional generic “man,” which they seek to replace with a term that is not gender-biased. Partly the difficulty is created by the fact that no other term simultaneously attempts to denote both the human species (i.e., all human beings) and a single generic human being. That is, the word “man” is uniquely capable of indicating a metaphorically singular and personal entity who is also intrinsically collective in character: “man” denotes a universal individual, an archetypal figure, as “human beings,” “humankind,” “people,” and “men and women” do not. But I believe that the deeper reason for the difficulty in revising such sentences is that the entire meaning of such a sentence as originally conceived was implicitly structured around this specific image of the masculine archetypal human. As a close reading of the many relevant texts–Greco-Roman, Judaeo-Christian, and modern scientific-humanistic–makes clear, both the syntactical structure and the essential meaning of the language that most major Western thinkers have used to represent the human condition and the human enterprise, including its drama, its pathos, and its hubris, are inextricably associated with the unconscious presence of this archetypal figure, “man.” At one level, the “man” of the Western intellectual tradition can be seen as simply a socially constructed “false universal,” the use of which both reflected and helped shape a male-dominated society. More profoundly, however, “man” has also represented a living archetype in which members of both sexes, willy-nilly, have participated. An entire civilization and world have been constellated by its active, creative, problematic presence. This book has indeed told the story of “Western man,” in all his tragic glory, blindness, and, I believe, growth toward self-transcendence. | At some point in the future, unthinking use of masculine generics will very likely disappear. If this book should be read in that new context, the essential role played in the narrative by the particular construction of the human signified by the generic “man” will stand out all the more conspicuously, and the many ramifications of that historical usage–psychological, social, cultural, intellectual, spiritual, ecological, cosmological–will be commensurately more evident. When gender-biased language is no longer the established norm, the entire cultural world view will have moved into a new era. The old kinds of sentences and phrases, the character of the human drama, all will have been radically transformed. As the language goes, so goes the world view–and vice versa.]

For the evolution of the Western mind has been driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous rational human self by separating it from the primordial unity with nature. The fundamental religious, scientific, and philosophical perspectives of Western culture have all been affected by this decisive masculinity–beginning four millennia ago with the great patriarchal nomadic conquests in Greece and the Levant over the ancient matriarchal cultures, and visible in the West’s patriarchal religion from Judaism, its rationalist philosophy from Greece, its objectivist (441) science from modern Europe. All of these have served the cause of evolving the autonomous human will and intellect: the transcendent self, the independent individual ego, the self-determining human being in its uniqueness, separateness, and freedom. But to do this, the masculine mind has repressed the feminine. Whether one sees this in the ancient Greek subjugation and revision of the pre-Hellenic matrifocal mythologies, in the Judaeo-Christian denial of the Great Mother Goddess, or in the Enlightenment’s exalting of the coolly self-aware rational ego radically separate from a disenchanted external nature, the evolution of the Western mind has been founded on the repression of the feminine– on the repression of undifferentiated unitary consciousness, of the participation mystique with nature: a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of the all-pervading, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body, nature, woman–of all that which the masculine has projectively identified as “other.”

But this separation necessarily calls forth a longing for a reunion with that which has been lost–especially after the masculine heroic quest has been pressed to its utmost one-sided extreme in the consciousness of the late modern mind, which in its absolute isolation has appropriated to itself all conscious intelligence in the universe (man alone is a conscious intelligent being, the cosmos is blind and mechanistic, God is dead). Then man faces the existential crisis of being a solitary and mortal conscious ego thrown into an ultimately meaningless and unknowable universe. And he faces the psychological and biological crisis of living in a world that has come to be shaped in such a way that it precisely matches his world view–i.e., in a man-made environment that is increasingly mechanistic, atomized, soulless, and self-destructive. The crisis of modern man is an essentially masculine crisis, and I believe that its resolution is already now occurring in the tremendous emergence of the feminine in our culture: visible not only in the rise of feminism, the growing empowerment of women, and the widespread opening up to feminine values by both men and women, and not only in the rapid burgeoning of women’s scholarship and gender-sensitive perspectives in virtually every intellectual discipline, but also in the increasing sense of unity with the planet and all forms of nature on it, in the increasing awareness of the ecological and the growing reaction against political and corporate policies supporting the domination and exploitation of the environment, in the growing embrace of the human community, in the accelerating collapse of long-standing political and ideological barriers (442) separating the world’s peoples, in the deepening recognition of the value and necessity of partnership, pluralism, and the interplay of many perspectives. It is visible also in the widespread urge to reconnect with the body, the emotions, the unconscious, the imagination and intuition, in the new concern with the mystery of childbirth and the dignity of the maternal, in the growing recognition of an immanent intelligence in nature, in the broad popularity of the Gaia hypothesis. It can be seen in the increasing appreciation of indigenous and archaic cultural perspectives such as the Native American, African, and ancient European, in the new awareness of feminine perspectives of the divine, in the archaeological recovery of the Goddess tradition and the contemporary reemergence of Goddess worship, in the rise of Sophianic Judaeo-Christian theology and the papal declaration of the Assumptio Mariae, in the widely noted spontaneous upsurge of feminine archetypal phenomena in individual dreams and psychotherapy. And it is evident as well in the great wave of interest in the mythological perspective, in esoteric disciplines, in Eastern mysticism, in shamanism, in archetypal and transpersonal psychology, in hermeneutics and other non-objectivist epistemologies, in scientific theories of the holonomic universe, morphogenetic fields, dissipative structures, chaos theory, systems theory, the ecology of mind, the participatory universe–the list could go on and on. As Jung prophesied, an epochal shift is taking place in the contemporary psyche, a reconciliation between the two great polarities, a union of opposites: a hieros gamos (sacred marriage) between the long-dominant but now alienated masculine and the long-suppressed but now ascending feminine.

And this dramatic development is not just a compensation, not just a return of the repressed, as I believe this has all along been the underlying goal of Western intellectual and spiritual evolution. For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life: to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously. The telos, the inner direction and goal, of the Western mind has been to reconnect (443) with the cosmos in a mature participation mystique, to surrender itself freely and consciously in the embrace of a larger unity that preserves human autonomy while also transcending human alienation.

But to achieve this reintegration of the repressed feminine, the masculine must undergo a sacrifice, an ego death. The Western mind must be willing to open itself to a reality the nature of which could shatter its most established beliefs about itself and about the world. This is where the real act of heroism is going to be. A threshold must now be crossed, a threshold demanding a courageous act of faith, of imagination, of trust in a larger and more complex reality; a threshold, moreover, demanding an act of unflinching self-discernment. And this is the great challenge of our time, the evolutionary imperative for the masculine to see through and overcome its hubris and one-sidedness, to own its unconscious shadow, to choose to enter into a fundamentally new relationship of mutuality with the feminine in all its forms. The feminine then becomes not that which must be controlled, denied, and exploited, but rather fully acknowledged, respected, and responded to for itself. It is recognized: not the objectified “other,” but rather source, goal, and immanent presence.

This is the great challenge, yet I believe it is one the Western mind has been slowly preparing itself to meet for its entire existence. I believe that the West’s restless inner development and incessantly innovative masculine ordering of reality has been gradually leading, in an immensely long dialectical movement, toward a reconciliation with the lost feminine unity, toward a profound and many-leveled marriage of the masculine and feminine, a triumphant and healing reunion. And I consider that much of the conflict and confusion of our own era reflects the fact that this evolutionary drama may now be reaching its climactic stages. For our time is struggling to bring forth something fundamentally new in human history: We seem to be witnessing, suffering, the birth labor of a new reality, a new form of human existence, a “child” that would be the fruit of this great archetypal marriage, and that would bear within itself all its antecedents in a new form. I therefore would affirm those indispensable ideals expressed by the supporters of feminist, ecological, archaic, and other countercultural and multicultural perspectives. But I would also wish to affirm those who have valued and sustained the central Western tradition, for I believe that this tradition–the entire trajectory from the Greek epic poets and Hebrew prophets on, the long intellectual and spiritual struggle from Socrates and Plato and Paul and Augustine to Galileo and Descartes and Kant and Freud–(444) that this stupendous Western project should be seen as a necessary and noble part of a great dialectic, and not simply rejected as an imperialist-chauvinist plot. Not only has this tradition achieved that fundamental differentiation and autonomy of the human which alone could allow the possibility of such a larger synthesis, it has also painstakingly prepared the way for its own self-transcendence. Moreover, this tradition possesses resources, left behind and cut off by its own Promethean advance, that we have scarcely begun to integrate–and that, paradoxically, only the opening to the feminine will enable us to integrate. Each perspective, masculine and feminine, is here both affirmed and transcended, recognized as part of a larger whole; for each polarity requires the other for its fulfillment. And their synthesis leads to something beyond itself: It brings an unexpected opening to a larger reality that cannot be grasped before it arrives, because this new reality is itself a creative act.

But why has the pervasive masculinity of the Western intellectual and spiritual tradition suddenly become so apparent to us today, while it remained so invisible to almost every previous generation? I believe this is occurring only now because, as Hegel suggested, a civilization cannot become conscious of itself, cannot recognize its own significance, until it is so mature that it is approaching its own death.

Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of modern man, indeed that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of “man” himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome–and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine.


(Dates for events in antiquity are approximate.)

2000 B.C. Migrations of Greek-speaking Indo-European peoples into Aegean area begin

1950 Hebrew patriarchs migrate from Mesopotamia to Canaan (traditional biblical dating)

1800 Early Mesopotamian astronomical observations recorded

1700 Minoan civilization on Crete at height during next two centuries, influencing Greek mainland

1600 Gradual Greek fusion of Indo-European and pre-Hellenic Mediterranean religions

1450 Fall of Minoan civilization on Crete after invasions and volcanic disasters

1400 Ascendancy of Mycenaean civilization on Greek mainland

1250 Exodus of Hebrews from Egypt under Moses

1200 Trojan War with Mycenaean Greeks

1100 Dorian invasions, end of Mycenaean dominance

1000 David unites kingdom of Israel with capital at Jerusalem

950 Reign of Solomon, building of Temple

900-700 Early books of Hebrew Bible composed
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey composed

776 First pan-Hellenic Olympic games held at Olympia

750 Greek colonization of Mediterranean spreads

740 First Isaiah fl. in Israel

700 Hesiod’s Theogony, Works and Days

600 Thales of Miletus fl., birth of philosophy

594 Solon reforms government of Athens, establishes rules for public recital of Homeric poems

590 Jeremiah fl. in Israel

586-538 Babylonian captivity of Jews
Ezekiel and Second Isaiah fl., prophesy historical redemption
Compilation and redaction of Hebrew Scriptures begins

580 Sappho fl., flowering of Greek lyric poetry

570 Anaximander fl., develops systematic cosmology

545 Anaximenes fl., posits transmutations of underlying substance

525 Pythagoras begins philosophical-religious brotherhood, develops synthesis of science and mysticism

520 Xenophanes fl., concept of human progress, philosophical monotheism, skepticism toward anthropomorphic deities

508 Democratic reforms instituted in Athens by Cleisthenes

500 Heraclitus fl., philosophy of pervaisve flux, unviersal Logos

499 Persian wars begin

490 Athens defeats Persian army at Marathon

480 Greeks defeat Persian fleet at Salamis

478 Establishment of Delian League of Greek states led by Athens
Period of Athenian ascendancy begins

472 Aeschylus’s The Persians, rise of Greek tragedy

470 Pindar fl., apex of Greek lyric poetry
Parmenides fl., posits logical opposition between appearances and changeless unitary reality

469 Birth of Socrates

465 Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound

460 Anaxagoras fl., concept of universal Mind (Nous)

458-429 Age of Pericles

450 Emergence of Sophists begins

447 Building of Parthenon (completed 432)

446 Herodotus writing History

441 Sophocles’s Antigone

431 Euripides’s Medea

431-404 Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta

430 Democritus fl., atomism

429 Sophocles’s Oedpius Rex

427 Birth of Plato

423 Aristophanes’s The Clouds

420 Thucydides writing History of the Peloponnesian War

415 Euripides’s Trojan Women

410 Hippocrates fl., lays foundations of ancient medicine

404 Athens defeated by Sparta

399 Trial and execution of Socrates

399-347 Plato’s Dialogues written

387 Plato founds Academy in Athens

367 Aristotle begins twenty years of study at Plato’s Acadmey

360 Eudoxus formulates first theory of planetary motion

347 Death of Plato

342 Aristotle tutors Alexander in Macedonia

338 Philip II of Macedon subjugates Greece

336 Death of Philip, accession of Alexander

336-323 Conquests of Alexander the Great

335 Aristotle founds Lyceum in Athens

331 Founding of Alexandria in Egypt

323 Death of Alexander
Beginning of Hellenistic era (to c. A.D. 312)

322 Death of Aristotle

320 Pyrrho of Elis fl., founder of Skepticism

306 Epicurus founds Epicurean school in Athens

300 Zeno of Citium founds Stoic school in Athens

300-100 Zenith of Alexandria as center of Hellenistic culture
Development of humanistic scholarship, science, astrology

295 Euclid’s elements codifying classical geometry

280 Museum (Mouseion) built in Alexandria

270 Aristarchus proposes heliocentric theory

260 Skepticism taught at Platonic Academy for next two centuries

250 Hebrew Bible translated into Greek by Alexandrian scholars

240 Archimedes fl., develops classical mechanics and mathematics

220 Apollonius of Perga fl., advances astronomy and geometry

146 Greece conquered by Rome

130 Hipparchus fl., makes first comprehensive chart of heavens, develops classical geocentric cosmology

63 Julius Caesar reforms claendar
Cicero prosecutes Catiline conspiracy

60 Lucretius’s De rerum Natura propounds Epicurus’s atomistic theory of universe

58-48 Caesar conquers Gaul, defeats Pompey

45-44 Cicero’s philosophical works

44 Julius Caesar assassinated

31 Octavian (Augustus) defeats Antony and Cleopatra
Beginning of Roman Empire

29 Livy begins writing history of Rome

23 Horace’s Odes

19 Virgil’s Aeneid

8-4 B.C. Birth of Jesus of Nazareth

8 A.D. Ovid’s Metamorphoses

14 Death of Augustus

15 Manilius’s Astronomica

23 Strabo’s Geography

29-30 Death of Jesus

35 Conversion of Paul on way to Damascus

40 Philo of Alexandria fl., integration of Judaism and Platonism

48 Council of Apostles at Jerusalem recognizes Paul’s mission to Gentiles

50-60 Letters of Paul written

64-68 Apostles Peter and Paul martyred in Rome under Nero
First major persecution of Christians

64-70 Gospel according to Mark

70 Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Romans

70-80 Gospels according to Matthew and Luke

90-100 Gospel according to John

95 Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria codifying humanistic education in Rome

96 First appearance of formula en Christo paideia, foreshadowing synthesis of classical humanism with Christianity

100 Nicomachus’s Introduction to Arithmetic

100-200 Gnosticism flourishes

109 Tacitus’s Historiae

110 Plutarch fl., writes Parallel Lives, comparative biographies of prominent Greeks and Romans

120 Epictetus fl., Stoic moralist

140 Ptolemy’s Almagest and Tetrabiblos codify classical astronomy and astrology

150 Justin Marty’rs early synthesis of Christianity and Platonism

161 Marcus Aurelius becomes emperor

170 Galen fl., advances science of medicine

175 Earliest extant authoritative canon of New Testament

180 Irenaeus’s Against Heresies criticizes Gnosticism
Clement assumes leadership of Christian school in Alexandria

190 Sextus Empiricus fl., summarizes classical Skepticism

200 Corpus Hermeticum compiled in Alexandria (approx.)

203 Origen succeeds Clement as head of Catechetical school

232 Plotnus begins eleven years’ study with Ammonius Saccas in ALexandria

235-285 Barbarian invasions into Roman Empire
Beginning of severe inflation, spread of plague, depopulation

248 Origen’s Contra Celsum defends Christianity against pagan intellectuals

250-260 Persecutions of Christians by emperors Decius and Valerian

265 Plotinus writing and teaching in Rome, emergence of Neoplatonism

301 Plotinus’s Enneads compiled by Porphyry

303 Final and most severe persecution of Christians begins under Diocletian

312 Conversion of Constantine to Christianity

313 Edict of Milan establishes religious toleration for Christianity in Roman Empire

324 Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, first history of Christian Church

325 Council of Nicaea convened by Constantine establishes orthodox Christian doctrine

330 Constantine moves imperial capital to Constantinople (Byzantium)

354 Birth of Augustine

361-363 Julian the Apostate briefly restores paganism in Roman Empire

370 Huns begin massive invasion of Europe (until 453)

374 Ambrose becomes bishop of Milan

382 Jerome begins translation of Bible into Latin

386 Conversion of Augustine

391 Theodosius prohibits all pagan worship in Roman Empire
Destruction of Sarapeum in Alexandria

400 Augustine’s Confessions

410 Visigoth sack of Rome

413-427 Augustine’s City of God

415 Death of Hypatia in Alexandria

430 Death of Augustine

439 Carthage captured by the Vandals, West overrun by barbarians

476 End of Roman Empire in West

483 Death of Proclus, last major pagan Greek philosopher

498 Franks under Clovis convert to Catholicism

500 Dionysius the Areopagite fl. (estim.), Christian Neoplatonist

524 Boethisus’s Consolation of Philosophy

529 Closing of Platonic Academy in Athens by Justinian
Benedict founds first monastery at Monte Cassino

590-604 Papcy of Gregory the Great

622 Beginning of Islam

731 Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, popularizes method of dating events from birth of Christ

732 Muslim forces halted in Europe by Charles Martel at Poitiers

781 Alcuin leads Carolingian renaissance, establishes study of seven liberal arts as basic medieval curriculum

800 Charlemagne crowned emperor of West

866 John Scotus Erigena’s De Divisione Naturae, synthesis of Christianity and Neoplatonism

1000 Most of Europe under Christian influence

1054 Schism declared between Western and Eastern Churches

1077 Anselm’s Meditation on the Reasonableness of Faith

1090 Roscellinus teaching nominalism

1095 First Crusade initiated by Urban II

1117 Abelard’s Sec et Non

1130 Hugh of Saint-Victor writes first medieval summa

1150 Rediscovery of Aristotle’s works begins in Latin West

1170 Founding of University of Parish
Intellectual centers developing at Oxford and Cambridge
Court of Eleanor of Aquitaine at Poitiers becomes center of troubador poetry and model of courtly life

1185 André le Chapelain’s Art of Courtly Love

1190 Joachim of Fiore fl., trinitarian philosohpy of history

1194 Building of Chartres Cathedral begins

1209 Francis of Assisi founds Franciscan order

1210 Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival
Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan und Isolde

1215 Signing of Magna Carta

1216 Dominic founds Domincan order

1225 Birth of Thomas Aquinas

1245 Aquinas begins studies under Albertus Magnus in Parish

1247 Roger Bacon begins experimental research at Oxford

1260 Chartres Cathedral consecrated

1266 Siger of Brabant prominent at Paris

1266-73 Aquinas’s Summa Theologica

1274 Death of Aquinas

1280 Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose

1300-30 Spread of mysticism in Rhineland, Meister Eckhart fl.

1304 Birth of Petrarch

1305 Duns Scotus teaching at Paris

1309 Papacy moved to Avignon (“Babylonian captivity”)

1310-14 Dante’s La Divina Commedia

1319 Ockham teaching at Oxford

1323 Aquinas canonized

1330-50 Spread of Ockham’s thought (nominalism) at Oxford and Parish

1335 First public striking clock erected in Milan

1337 Hundred Years’ War begins between England and France

1340 Buridan rector at University of Parish

1341 Petrarch crowned poet laureate on the Capitoline in Rome

1347-51 Plague sweeps Europe (Black Death)

1353 Boccaccio’s Decameron

1377 Oresme’s Book on the Sky and the World defends theoretical possibility of moving Earth

1378 Great Schism, conflict between rival popes (until 1417)

1380 Wycliffe attacks Church abuses and orthodox doctrine

1400 Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

1404 Vergerio’s Concerning Liberal Studies, first humanist treatise on education

1415 Religious reformer Jan Hus burned at stake

1429 Joan of Arc leads French against English
Bruni’s History of Florence pioneers Renaissance historiography

1434 Accession to power of Cosimo de’Medici in Florence

1435 Alberti’s On Painting systematizes principles of perspective

1440 Nicholas of Cusa’s On Learned Ignorance
Valla’s On the True Good

1452 Birth of Leonardo da Vinci

1453 Fall of Constantinople to Ottoman Turks, end of Byzantine Empire

1455 Gutenberg Bible produced, start of printing revolution

1462 Ficino becomes head of Platonic Academy of Florence

1469 Accession of Lorenzo the Magnificent in Florence

1470 Ficino completes first Latin translation of Plato’s Dalogues

1473 Birth of Copernicus

1482 Ficino’s Theological Platonica

1483 Birth of Luther
Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks

1485 Botticelli’s birth of Venus

1486 Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man

1492 Columbus reaches America

1497 Vasco da Gama reaches India
Copernicus studying in Italy, makes first astronomical observation

1498 Leonardo’s Last Supper

1504 Michelangelo’s David

1506 Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome begun under Bramante

1508 Erasmus’s Adagia

1508-11 Raphael’s School of Athens, Parnassus, Triumph of the Church

1508-12 Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling

1512-14 Copernicus’s Commentariolus, first outline of heliocentric theory

1513 Machiavelli’s The Prince

1513-14 Dürer’s Knight, Death and Devil, St. Jerome in His Study, Melencolia I

1516 Thomas More’s Utopia
Erasmus’s Latin translation of New Testament

1517 Luther posts Ninety-five Theses in Wittenburg
Beginning of Reformation

1519 Luther’s On Christian Liberty

1521 Luther’s excommunication and defiance of the imperial Diet at Worms

1524 Erasmus’s defense of freedom of will against Luther

1527 Paracelsus teaching at Basel

1528 Castiglione’s The Courtier

1530 Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession of Lutheran Churches

1532 Rabelais’s Pantagruel

1534 Henry VIII issues Act of Supremacy rejecting papal control
Luther completes translation of Bible into German

1535 Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises

1536 Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

1540 Society of Jesus founded by Loyola
Rheticus’s Narratio Prima, first published work describing Copernican theory

1541 Michelangelo’s Last Judgment

1542 Establishment of Roman Inquisition

1543 Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus Orgium Coelstium
Vesalius’s On the Structure of the Human Body

1545-63 Council of Trent, start of Counter-Reformation

1550 Vasari’s Lives of the Artists

1554 Palestrina’s first book of masses

1564 Birth of Galileo, Shakespeare

1567 Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross promote Carmelite reform

1572 Tycho Brahe observes supernova

1580 Motainge’s Essays

1582 Gregorian calendar reform instituted

1584 Bruno’s On the Infinite Universe and Worlds

1590 Shakespeare’s Henry VI

1596 Birth of Descartes
Kepler’s Mysterium Cosmographicum
Faerie Queene

1597 Bacon’s Essays

1600 Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Giordano Bruno executed for heresy by Inquisition
Gilbert’s On the Mgnet

1602 Kepler’s On the More Certain Fundamentals of Astrology

1605 Bacon’s Advancement of Learning
Cervantes’s Don Quixote

1607 Monteverdi’s Orfeo

1609 Kepler’s Astronomia Nova, first two laws of planetary motion

1610 Galileo announces telescopic discoveries in Sidereus Nuncius

1611 King James translation of Bible into English
Shakespeare’s The Tempest

1616 Catholic Church declares Copernican theory “false and erroneous”

1618-48 Thirty Years’ War

1619 Kepler’s Harmonia Mundi, the third law of planetary motion
Descartes’s revelatory vision of a new scince

1620 Bacon’s Novum Organum

1623 Galielo’s Assayer
Boehme’s Mysterium Magnum

1628 Harvey’s On the movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals

1632 Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems

1633 Galileo condemned by Inquisition

1635 Founding of Académie Française

1636 Founding of Harvard College

1637 Descarte’s Discourse on Method
Carneille’s Le Cid

1638 Galileo’s Two New Sciences

1640 Jansen’s Augustinus, beginning of Jansenism in France

1642-48 English Civil War

1644 Descartes’s Principia Philosophiae
Milton’s Areopagitica

1647 Lilly’s Christian Astorlogy

1648 Peace of Westphalia ending Thirty Years’ War

1651 Hobbes’s Leviathan

1660 Founding of Royal Society
Boyle’s New Experiments Physico-Mechanical

1664 Molière’s tartuffe

1665-66 Newton makes early scientific discoveries and develops calculus

1666 Hooke demonstrates mechanical theory of planetary motion
Founding of Acadé mie des Sciences

1667 Milton’s Paradise Lost

1670 Pascal’s Pensées

1675 Spread of Evangelical Pietism in Germany

1677 Spinoza’s Ethica
Racine’s Phaedra
Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of microscopic organisms

1678 Bunyan’s Pingrim’s Progress
Simon’s Critical History of the Old Testament pioneers textual criticism of Bible
Huygens proposes wave theory of light

1687 Newton’s Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis
Quarrel of ancients and moderns begins at Académie Française

1688-89 Glorious Revolution in England

1690 Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Two Treatises of Civil Government

1697 Bayle’s Dictionnaire Historique et Critique

1704 Newton’s Opticks

1710 Berkeley’s Principles of Human Knowledge

1714 Leibniz’s Monadology

1719 Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

1721 Montesquieu’s Persian Letters

1724 Bach’s Passion According to Saint John

1725 Vico’s Scienza Nuova

1726 Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

1734 Voltaire’s Lettres Philosophiques
Pope’s Essay on Man
Jonathan Edwards fl., beginning of Great Awakening in American colonies

1735 Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae

1738 Wesley begins Methodist revival in England

1740 Richardon’s Pamela

1741 Handel’s Messiah

1747 La Mettrie’s L’Homme-Machine

1748 Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws

1749 Birth of Goethe
Fielding’s Tom Jones

1750 Rousseau’s Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts

1751 Encyclopédie begins publication under Diderot and d’Alembert
Franklin’s Experiments and Observations on Electricity

1755 Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language

1756 Voltaire’s Essay on the Manners and Customs of Nations

1759 Sterne’s Tristram Shandy
Voltaire’s Candide

1762 Rousseau’s Émile, Social Contract

1764 Winckelmann’s History of the Art of Antiquity reawakens European appreciation for classical Greek art and culture

1769-70 Birth of Beethoven, Hegel, Napoleon, Hölderlin, Wordsworth

1770 Holbach’s Système de la Nature

1771 Swedenborg’s True Christian Religion

1774 Goethe’s Sorrows fo Young Werther

1775 American Revolution begins

1776 Jefferson et al. draft Declaration of Independence
Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations
Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

1778 Buffon’s Époques de la Nature

1779 Hume’s Dialogue Concerngin Natural Religion

1780 Lessing’s Education of the Human Race

1781 Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
Herschel discovers Uranus, first new planet since antiquity

1784 Herder’s Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind

1787 Mozart’s Don giovanni

1787-88 The Federalist Papers by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay

1788 Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason
Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony

1789 French Revolution begins
Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
Blake’s Songs of the Innocence
Lavoisier’s Elementary Treatise on Chemistry
Bentham’s Principles of Morality and Legislation

1790 Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants
Kant’s Critique of Judgment
Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France

1792 Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman

1793 Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell

1795 Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind
Condorcet’s Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind
Hutton’s Theory of the Earth

1796 Laplace’s Exposition du Système du Monde

1797 Hölderlin’s Hyperion

1798 Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads
Schlegel brothers begin Romantic periodical Athenaeum
Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population

1799 Napoleon becomes first consul in France
Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers

1800 Fichte’s The Vocation of Man
Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism

1802 Novalis’s Heinrich von Ofterdingen

1803 Dalton proposes atomic theory of matter

1803-4 Betthoven’s Eroica Symphony

1807 Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind
Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality

1808 Goethe’s Faust I

1809 Lamarck’s Philosophie Zoologique

1810 De Staël’s De l’Allemagne (On Germany)

1813 Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

1814 Scott’s Waverley

1815 Waterloo, Congress of Vienna

1817 Keats’s Poems
Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria
Richardo’s Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
Hegel’s Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences

1819 Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea

1820 Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound

1822 Stendhal’s De l’Amour
Fourier’s The Analytical Theory of Heat

1824 Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Byron’s Don Juan
Gauss postulates non-Euclidean geometry

1829 Balzac begins La Comédie Humaine

1830 Stendahl’s Le Rouge et le Noir
Comte’s Cours de Philosophie Positive
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique

1831 Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin
Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Parish, Les Feuilles d’Automne
Faraday discovers electromagnetic induction
Darwin begins five-year voyage on Beagle

1832 Goethe’s Faust II
George Sand’s Indiana

1833 Lyell’s Principles of Geology
Emerson travels to Europe, meets Coleridge and Carlyle

1834 Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus

1835 Strauss’s Life of Jesus Critically Examined
Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
Babbage formulates idea of digital computing machine

1836 Emerson’s Nature initiates Transcendentalism

1837 Emerson’s “American Scholar” address
Disckens’s Pickwick Papers

1841 Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity

1843 Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, Fear and Trembling
Mill’s System of Logic
Ruskin’s Modern Painters

1844 Birth of Nietzsche
Emerson’s Essays

1845 Fuller’s Woman in the Nineteenth Century
Poe’s Tales
Marx and Engels’s Die Heilige Familie

1848 Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto
Rvolutions erupt throughout Europe
Women’s suffrage movement begins in United States

1850 Clausius formulates concept of entropy, second law of thermodynamics
Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter

1851 Melville’s Moby Dick
Great Exhibition in London

1854 Thoreau’s Walden

1855 Whitman’s Leaves of Grass

1857 Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal

1858 Darwin and Wallace propose theory of natural selection

1859 Darwin’s Origin of Species
Mill’s On Liberty
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

1860 Burckhardt’s Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
Oxford debate on evolution between Wilberforce and Huxley

1861 Bachofen’s Mother Right

1861-65 American Civil War

1862 Hugo’s Les Misérables

1863 Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

1865 Mendel proposes theory of genetic inheritance

1866 Haeckel’s General Morphology of Organisms
Dostoevsky’s Crime and PUnishment

1867 Marx’s Das Kaptial

1869 Tolstoy’s War and Peace
Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy

1871 Darwin’s The Descent of Man

1872 Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy
Monet’s Impression: Sunrise
G. Eliot’s Middlemarch

1873 Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism

1875 Balvatsky founds Theosophical Society

1877 Pierce publishes first articles on pragmatism

1878 Wundt founds first laboratory for experimental psychology

1879 Edison invents electric carbon-filament light
Frege’s Begriffschrift initiates modern logic
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

1880 Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

1881 Ranke’s Universal History

1883 Dilthy’s Introduction to Human Sciences

1883-84 Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra

1884 Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

1886 Rimbaud’s Illuminations
Nietzche’s Beyond Good and Evil
Mach’s The Analysis of Sensations

1887 Michelson-Morley experiment

1889 Van Gogh’s Starry Night

1890 Wiliam James’s Principles of Psychology
Frazer’s The Golden Bough

1893 Bradley’s Appearance and Reality

1894 Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom
Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You
Hertz’s Principles of Mechanics

1895 Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest
Durkheim’s Rules of Sociological Method

1896 Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity in uranium
Jarry’s Ubu Roi
Chekhov’s The Seagull

1897 James’s The Will to Believe

1898 Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings

1900 Death of Nietzsche
Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams
Planck initiates quantum physics
Husserl’s Logical Investigations initiates phenomenology
Rediscovery of Mendelian genetics

1901 Henry James’s The Ambassadors

1902 William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience

1903 Moore’s Refutation of Idealism and Principia Ethica
Shaw’s Man and Superman
Wright brothers make first powered airplane flight

1905 Einstein’s papers on special relativity, photoelectric effect, Brownian motion
Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

1906 Duhem’s La Théorie Physique
Gandhi develops philosophy of nonviolent activism

1907 William James’s Pragmatism
Bergson’s L’Évolution Creatrice
Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Suzuki’s Outline of Mahayana Buddhism introduces Buddhism to West

1909 Schoenberg’s first atonal work

1910-13 Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica

1912 Jung’s Psychology of the Unconscious, break from Freud
Wegener proposes theory of continental drift

1913 Steiner founds anthroposophy
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring
Prout’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu
Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers
Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life
Royce’sThe Problem of Christianity
Ford begins mass production of automobiles

1914 Joyce’s Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man
Kafka’s The Trial

1914-18 World War I

1915 Saussure’s Cours de Linguistique Générale

1916 Einstein’s general theory of relativity

1917 Otto’s The Idea of the Holy
Russian Revolution

1918 Spengler’s The Decline of the West

1919 General theory of relativity experimentally confirmed
Watson’s Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist
Barth’s Epistle to the Romans

1920 Yeats’s “The Second Coming”
Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle
First public radio broadcast

1921 Russell’s The Analysis of Mind
Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

1922 T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land
Joyce’s Ulysses
Weber’s Economy and Society

1923 Rilke’s Duino Elegies
W. Stevens’s Harmonium
Freud’s The Ego and the Id
Buber’s I and Thou
Santayana’s Scepticism and Animal Faith
Pavlov’s Conditioned Reflexes

1924 Piaget’s Judgment and Reasoning in the Child
Rank’s The Trauma of Birth
Mann’s The Magic Mountain

1925 Yeats’s A Vision
Dewey’s Experience and Nature
Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World

1926 Schrödinger develops wave equation underlying quantum mechanics

1927 Heisenberg formulates principle of unertainty
Bohr formulates principle of complementarity
Lemaître proposes big-bang theory
Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (Being and Time)
Freud’s The Future of an Illusion
Reich’s Die Funktion des Orgasmus
Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf

1928 Yeat’s The Tower
Carnap’s The Logical Structure of the World
Jung’s The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man

1929 Whitehead’s Process and Reality
Vienna Circle manifesto: Scientific Conception of the World
Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury
Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

1930 Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents
Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses
Bultmann’s The Historicity of Man and Faith

1931 Gödel’s Theorem proves undecidability of propositions in formalized mathematical systems
Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms

1932 Jaspers’s Philosophie
Klein’s Psychoanalysis of Children

1933 Hitler comes to power in Germany

1934 Toynbee’s A Study of History
Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery
Jung’s Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
Mumford’s Technics and Civilization

1936 Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being
Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic
Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

1937 Anna Freud’s The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense
Turing’s On Computable Numbers

1938 Brecht’s Galileo
Discovery of nuclear fission
Sartre’s Nausea

1939 Death of Freud

1939-45 World War II, Holocaust

1940 Collingwood’s essay on Metaphysics

1941 Niebuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of Man
Fromm’s Escape from Freedom
Borges’s Ficciones

1942 Camus’s The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus

1943 Sartre’s Being and Nothingness
Eliot’s Four Quartets

1945 Merleau-Ponty’s Phénoménologie de la Perception
Schrödinger’s What Is Life?
Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Founding of United Nations

1946-48 Beginning of Cold War
Rise of public television broadcasting
First electronic digital computers developed

1947 Pollock’s first abstract drop paintings

1948 Wiener’s Cybernetics
Hartshorne’s The Divine Relativity
Graves’s The White Goddess
Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain

1949 Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Eliade’s The Myth of the Eternal Return
Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces
De Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sex

1950 Papal declaration of the Assumptio Mariae

1951 Tillich’s Systematic Theology
Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison
Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empricism

1952 Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
Jumg’s Answer to Job, Synchronicity

1953 Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations
Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics
Skinner’s Science and Human Behavior
Watson and Crick discover structure of DNA

1954 Huxley’s Doors of Perception
Rahner’s Theological Investigations
Needham’s Science and Civilization in China

1955 Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man
Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization
Ginsburg’s Howl

1956 Bateson et al. formulate double-bind theory

1957 Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures
Barfield’s Saving the Appearances
Watts’s The Way of Zen
Sputnik satellite launched

1958 Lévi-Strauss’s Anthropologie Structurale
Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge

1959 Brown’s Life Against Death
Snow’s Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution

1960 Gadamer’s Truth and Method
Quine’s Word and Object

1960-72 Rise of civil rights movement, student movement, feminism, environmentalism, counterculture

1961 First space flights
Watts’s Psychotherapy East and West
Foucault’s Histoire de la Folie
Fanon’s Les Damnés de la Terre

1962 Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations
Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections
Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being
Carson’s Silent Spring
McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy
Hess proposes seafloor-spreading hypothesis
Second Vatican Council begins
Founding of Esalen Institute, rise of human potential movement
Psychedelic experiments with Leary and Alpert at Harvard
Rise of Dylan, Beatles, Rolling Stones
Students for a Democratic Society adopts Port Huron Statement

1963 Civil rights march on Washington, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech
Friedan’s Feminine Mystique
E. N. Lorenz publishes first paper on chaos theory

1964 Free speech  movement begins in Berkeley
Discovery of background cosmic radiation by Penzias and Wilson supports big-bang theory
Quarks postulated by Gell-Mann and Zweig
Bellah’s Religious Evolution
Barthes’s Essais Critiques
Autobiography of Malcolm X

1965 Escalation of U.S. war in Vietnam
Cox’s The Secular City
Heidegger’s final interview in Der Spiegel

1966 Altizer and Hamilton’s Radical Theology and the Death of God
Commoner’s Science and Survival
Lacan’s Écrits
Bell’s theorem of nonlocality

1967 Laing’s Politics of Experience
Derrida’s L’Écriture et la Différence
White’s Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis

1968 Habermas’s Knowledge and Human Interests
Lakatos’s Criticism and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes
Von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory
Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan
Brand’s The Whole Earth Catalog
Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb

1968-70 Student rebellions, antiwar movement, counterculture at height

1969 Landing of astronauts on the Moon
Lovelock proposes Gaia hypothesis
Roszak’s The Making of a Counte Culture
Millett’s Sexual Politics
Abbey’s Desert Solitaire
Perls’s Gestalt Therapy Verbatim
Kristeva’s Semiotikè
Ricouer’s The Conflict of Interpretations

1970 First Earth Day
Bellah’s Beyond Belief

1971 Gutiérrez’s Theology of Liberation
Boston Women’s Health Book Collective’s Our Bodies, Ourselves
Pribram’s Languages of the Brain
Thompson’s At the Edge of History

1972 Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind
Meadows’s The Limits to Growth

1973 Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful
Geertz’s Interpretation of Cultures
Daly’s Beyond God the Father
Naess’s The Shallow and the Deep Ecology Movements

1974 Ruether’s Religion and Sexism
Gimbutas’s The Goddesses and the Gods of Old Europe

1975 Grof’s Realms of the Human Unconscious
Hillman’s Re-Visioning Psychology
Capra’s Tao of Physics
Wilson’s Sociobiology
Singer’s Animal Liberation
Feyerabend’s Against Method

1978 Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking
Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering

1979 Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

1980 Emergence of personal computers
Development of biotechnology
Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order
Prigogine’s From Being to Becoming
Merchant’s The Death of Nature

1981 Sheldrake’s A New Science of Life

1982 Gilligan’s In a different Voice
Aspect experiment confirms Bells Theorem
Schell’s The Fate of the Earth

1983 Discovery of W and Z atomic particles

1984 Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition

1985 Keller’s Reflections on Gender and Science
Gorbachev initiates perestroika in Soviet Union

1985-90 Rapid rise of public awareness of planetary ecological crisis

1989-90 End of Cold War, collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe

[via: The following dates are my own additions to Tarnas’s list, curated from a variety of sources. I encourage suggestions for others.]

1920 August 18 | 19th Amendment to the Constitution: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

1929 Wall Street crash initiating the Great Depression

1939-1945 World War II and the Nazi Holocaust

1942 Anne Frank’s Diary

1945 August 6 | Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima

1945 August 9 | Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki

1946 Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning

1948 South Africa initiates Apartheid

1950-1953 Korean War

1963 November 22 | Assassination of President Kennedy

1964 July 2 | Civil Rights Act

1969 July 20 | Apollo 11 lands first man on moon

1972-74 Watergate

1973 January | Roe v. Wade

1989 November | Fall of Berlin Wall

1990-91 Persian Gulf War

1991 Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind

1998-99 Impeachment of President Bill Clinton

2001 September 11 | 9/11

2009 January 20 | Barack Obama becomes first African-American President of the United States

2016 November 8 | Donald Trump elected President

About VIA


  1. Pingback: Why You’re Christian | Reflections | vialogue

  2. Pingback: When The Body Says No | Reflections & Notes | vialogue

  3. Pingback: The Patterning Instinct | Reflections & Notes | vialogue

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: