Saturday, May 31, 2008

Leo Strauss, History and Natural Right - Introduction

"This means that people were forced to accept a fundamental, typically modern, dualism of a nonteleological natural science and a teleological science of man. This is the position which the modern followers of Thomas Aquinas, among others, are forced to take, a position which presupposes a break with the comprehensive view of Aristotle, as well as that of Thomas Aquinas himself. The fundamental dilemma, in whose grip we are, is caused by the victory of modern science"


On the one hand, this little aside from the introduction describes quite nicely the situation of many modern Catholics. They have a two-story universe, as it were, where the physical or natural world serves no directed purpose or end, and can be engaged, used, or manipulated as each individual sees fit, since there is no ultimate purpose behind merely material things. Only the relatively small corner of the world known as "the human soul" is subject to purpose and meaning. Divine revelation and Divine law are directed only towards the interior world of the human soul, and the purely material world is left to fend for itself, as it were. Oddly enough, it can be argued that this peculiarly modern mindset is not a very Catholic one, since the very structure of sacramental theology supports the idea that physical objects are subject to Divine purposes and can reveal or even contain Divinity itself.


On the other hand, does any intelligent Thomist believe such a thing as Strauss says here? Just because scientific methods can very capably describe the efficient and material causes of the natural world, does that really mean that modern Thomists now exclude formal and final (i.e. teleological) causes from the explanation of the natural world? I smell a a whiff of old-fashioned Enlightment-era hyperrationalism in this particular passage. Richard Dawkins would be proud.

2 Comments:

Anonymous just me said...

That strictly materialistic and reductionistic approach keeps science's explanatory starting point fixed. While the explanadum (whether a cosmological or biological feature) appears to be ever growing in sophistication and complexity the more we understand its nature.

Just as an example: when the cell was viewed as a simple sack of a homogenous solution where random reactions took place - this appeared to be easily account for with Darwinian logic. The assumption that the cell isn't that much different from the prebiotic soup it supposedly arose from. Our technological prowess advances and we are better able to discern molecular features of the cell - gone are the days of the assume roles of simple diffusion and laws of mass action... and enter the roles of organization (spatial and temporal) and encoded information.

Teleology might appear to only have significance in relation to souls and other privatized issues, but it would also appear quite likely that teleology plays a role with biotic and cosmic origins.

With respect to issues of origins - science's materialistic position is static while that which it is attempting to explain is dynamic and ever increasing.

Monday, June 02, 2008 1:15:00 PM  
Blogger John Cassian said...

I can see your point,and will concede that a growing understanding of the complexities of human life makes it more difficult for that mythical creature, "the average American," to accept that random processes can produce such highly ordered complexity as one finds in living creatures. This is not altogether a bad thing.

All the same, I'm a little wary of this line of reasoning...it seems to wander a little bit into the Intelligent Design camp, where "random" processes cannot produce highly ordered systems, and any such ordered system must, of necessity, have only a supernatural explanation.

Monday, June 02, 2008 8:07:00 PM  

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