But it depends on where you stand. Archimedes said 'give me a lever and I will move the world'. But a lever requires a fulcrum. Similarly, I think insight into the nature of knowledge, and the limits of knowledge, has to come from some point beyond knowledge itself, or outside the scope of science, if you will. Now before about last century, this was never actually a problem, because it was understood by everyone, scientist and layman, that there was such a point, and that this was divine revelation. All throughout the old tradition, the various ideas of the Greeks and the Hebrews were combined and synthesized, but in the background, underlying all of the various permutations, there was the presumption of the unmoved mover, the first cause, and so on.
Now clearly as part of the movement towards secularization, this has been largely abandoned. "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold", said Yeats. But I really believe that in abandoning the grand tradition, modern philosophy looses all coherence. There are islands of meaning, and areas of discourse within it, that are perfectly meaningful to those participating, but overall, the rise of modernity and 'the death of God' has seen a complete abandonment of those very basic spiritual principles which underlay (for example) Platonism, and which were subsequently elaborated through Christian Platonism.
But I don't think many are aware what it is that has actually been abandoned in this movement. Everything kind of looks OK, on a surface level - we do after all have marvellous technology and have solved all manner of problems afflicting mankind through science and technology. But in my view these have to be interpreted against a background of a metaphysic, or spiritual philosophy.
The pinnacle, and the origin, of those principles in philosophy, do indeed lie outside the range of scientific discourse, but this is generally out of bounds in the modern world. This is why it is so problematic. In the traditional world, despite all our differences as Christians, Moslems, Jews, and so on, there was a common core of values which were beyond dispute. This is as near to certainty as we generally ever got, in terms of the social consensus. We respected 'the testimony of sages'. I think this is something deeply antithetical to democratic liberalism, in some ways. We are all supposed equal by it. One man, one vote, and so on. A chaos of opinions.
I understand what I am saying is challenging but I can't help but be drawn in this direction. I have been wresting with this question all my life, and still am. I don't want to suggest an answer so much as a question, if you know what I mean.
---------- Post added 04-28-2010 at 12:44 PM ----------
Book reference: The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited
- John Carroll.
Australian sociologist John Carroll turns received wisdom on its head in this brilliant, provocative, and sweeping book. Humanism is commonly credited with building Western civilization as we know it - bringing about democracy, universal rights, and prosperity. But Carroll argues that "the great five-hundred year Humanist experiment to found an entirely secular culture on earth" has been an abject failure.
Next book on my list.