"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Nature of Man, or: I'm feeling a little abolished lately

The great debate between the moderns and those who still cleave to classical philosophy is about the perfectability of man. The moderns think that as a species we're getting better, evolving, if you will, via politics and science. The classicists believe that man's perennial problems are fundamental and therefore permanent because they're in our nature.

So, when modern science evolves to the point where we no longer need intercourse to produce babies---oh, wait, it already has---will we forget how to do the nasty?

Not so far, if you read the tabloids, but it does give one pause and a shudder, especially if he's of the soon-to-be-obsolete male persuasion. Although certain clinics provide a receptacle and a turkey baster to salvage the proceeds of Onanism, in the forseeable future it looks like science will be able to make sperms out of eggs. The perfectable hive won't need us as drones or even Onanists, and all we'll be good for is philosophizing, starting wars, and leaving our underwear on the bathroom floor.

The Abolition of Man is what another fellow called it, in a different context but not all that different. In another generation or a hundred from now, it looks like my species would be laying me off.

(Oh well, enough of this, I'm out. A couple of games I really want to watch are coming on and I have to hunt down the remote so I can toggle back and forth. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. It's his nature.)


Matt Tapie said...

If the moderns think we are "getting better" it seems as if they assume negative things exist within/or about us, as a human race, that should change. We know that the classical school had a long list of the negative aspects of humanity (virtue and vice). Is there any overlap or commonality in what these 'traditions' see as the negative side of us or what they hope will change?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't see it.

"Moderns" is a shorthand, of course, and only useful in contradistinction to "classical." Hobbes is not Derrida.

But the disconnect comes at the possibility of the perfectability of man, and what we might mean by virtue. The classicals see our nature as inherent and therefore permanent. To improve man, you can only foster his virtue, virtue being something they consider real and definable, and not just a product of culture and opinion.

The modern-moderns think we are more products of our environment. Change the environment, the culture, change man. A more perfect society will produce more perfect people.

As to what we might change them into, and what his virtues (let alone vices) might be, subjectivity and multiculturalism forbid agreeing on it at all. To do so would be intolerant.

Therefore virtue and vice become indistinguishable, and freedom becomes an end in itself to pursue either, depending on your opinion about which is which. Nature becomes irrelevant, and is replaced by the will.

Evanston said...

And in this light, the Bible is the ultimate anti-modern treatise and truly radical document in this age of so-called "enlightenment."

Tom Van Dyke said...


Now we know why Aquinas loved Aristotle so much, and in fact based his whole philosophical system on him.

Evanston said...

Of course, the wholesale subscription of the Roman church to the "science" of the classical Greeks led to unbiblical notions such as the earth being the center of the universe and the opposition to Galileo.
The Bible is the ultimate opponent to those who ask "What is truth?" when The Answer stands right in front of them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Good point on geocentrism. I think Aquinas wanted to claim Aristotle and therefore reason for Christendom. Some people took it all too literally.