Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two Philosophies

THERE ARE TWO philosophies which the world embraces, ideas that rule the intellectual life of those who teach and govern.

The scientific world view sees the cosmos as a collection of impersonal particles and forces, whose interactions follow laws that are potentially measurable and knowable. From the foundations of this physics, we get chemistry, biology, and many other scientific disciplines. Hardly a settled subject, contemporary science continually uses its powerful toolset to make new discoveries and is well-prepared to quickly make practical use of new information.

Contemporary psychology sees the human person as an independent entity, finding its own meaning, truth, and value; attempting to be happy while dealing with bad experiences. So humans have options, choices, and are free to do whatever they want to do, and free to become whatever they want to become. Still controversial is the understanding of the effect of community on the human person; some see community as determining personal identity, others say that humans seek out and form their own community, while some think that a human ought to transcend all bounds of community. From these theories derive notions of liberty and democracy and have an overwhelming influence on our contemporary world.

Please note that these two theories do not fit together. Is a human being merely an impersonal bag of chemicals operating under determined laws of nature, or is a human being a free entity? Under the worldly view, man is a ghost in a machine, a free soul residing in a deterministic body. This is contradictory to the Catholic view of a human being, where spirit and body are intimately combined, and the consequence of the Catholic view, the resurrection of the body, scandalizes contemporary worldly men, even those who consider themselves to be ‘spiritual.’

A ghost has an ambiguous relationship with physical reality.  The ghost may assume that only he exists, and that what is called reality is just for him alone, or is even his own mental construct.  Or, a ghost may find other like-minded ghosts and then they can form an elite, and they can all look down on the world together from their lofty perches.

A free ghost who creates his own values may have very bad relationships with the impersonal bags of chemicals he finds around himself. If the goal of science is to conquer nature, why not conquer human nature? Chemicals have little value, and complicated collections of chemicals (even if they are human beings) may have hardly any more value — so why not manipulate, control, and kill them? Maybe the ghost even thinks that he is doing them a favor.

This Cartesian Dualism does not have to be atheistic, but it tends to make God irrelevant, because the free individual will think of himself as being a god. It even makes the idea of morality quite weak — or even eliminates the concept of morality. Some think this is good; rather I am reminded of Satan's non serviam — I will not serve. However, a self-actuallized ghost will have no problems with forcing other people serve him and makes severe demands on others. People who embrace these philosophies are often tyrants, on either a small or large scale. They also often come into conflict with others, for they cannot stand being contradicted: and recall that when gods fight, there is lots of collateral damage.

Today is the feast day of Saint John of the Cross, who gives us another view of the human person, which is humble and not arrogant. The true riches of Man is not found in power and pleasure, but rather in the love of God and in the love of your fellow man. To achieve blessedness, a soul has to be self-emptying, purified and letting God fill the void — a soul that is self-centered or self-actualized may never find true and lasting blessedness.

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