How Should We Then Live? Chapter 8: The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science, Part 2


       Whence Come We? What Are We? Whither Do We Go? by Paul Gaugin

This is a continuation from part 1, where I introduced chapter 8 and covered the Breakdown in science.  Part 2 will cover the Breakdown in philosophy and conclude the chapter.  Pictured above is a painting by Gaugin which depicts how the idea of the noble savage was false.

The Shift In Philosophy
As I wrote in part 1, non-Christian philosophers in the previous eras were optimistic that from logic alone, they could produce a unified theory of everything.  Schaeffer then describes a process where one philosopher would give his theory of the true universal and how it explains everything in existence (the particulars).  Then, the next philosopher would prove that theory false and give his own new theory.  The third philosopher would do the same in a loop that went on for centuries.  Along the way they retained hope that reason would prevail despite the series of failures.  Then in the 18th century, philosophers lost hope.

Schaeffer lists the last of these optimistic philosophers as Rene Descartes (1596-1650).  Some consider him the first modern philosopher.  While it is true that much of what he wrote set the stage for philosophy's Breakdown, he still believed that a combination of mathematics, mathematical analysis, and logical deductions would succeed where others failed to discover universal truth.  Unfortunately for him, Leonardo da Vinci had already seen where mathematics would lead as far back as the Renaissance.

                        "At the end of his life Leonardo da Vinci had foreseen that beginning
                        humanistically with mathematics one has only particulars and will never
                        come to universals or meaning, but will end only with mechanics. It 
                        took humanistic thought two hundred and fifty years to arrive at the
                        place which Leonardo had foreseen, but by the eighteenth century it had
                        arrived.  Everything is the machine, including people."

Four men in the 18th and 19th centuries came to this same conclusion and became pessimistic of the old search for universals.  Through their leadership modern philosophy eventually rejected humanistic reason and a universal that could be applied to everyone.  Instead, they sought purpose and meaning among particulars by an appeal to the emotion of the individual.

As an aside, physicists are still searching for universals.  Look up the theory of everything if that makes you curious.

The Four Men - Rousseau
The first man, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), was probably the most important.  He reformulated the universal vs particular question into two new concerns.

                                                                   Autonomous Freedom
                                                                    Autonomous Nature

The first part of this formula was based on the scientific materialism covered in part 1.  Nature is everything.  Man is machine, and is therefore held within nature's box.  The second part is that a good and fulfilling life, under the slogan of freedom, is only attained when an individual throws off all constraints of civilization.  In 1749, he stated that mankind's path to freedom is making them into machines.

                        "If man is good by nature, as I believe to have shown him to be, it
                        follows that he stays like that as long as nothing foreign to him
                        corrupts him."

His goal was autonomous freedom and the way to get it was to return to the ways of "the noble savage."  His aim was for freedom from all, "God, the Bible, culture, authority" with the individual at "the center of the universe".  So much for universals.  This turned the idea on its head, making particulars the only thing, enslaving man to nature in order to produce a meaningful life in this free state.

Rousseau continued to turn the idea of freedom on its head as he developed his thoughts.  He thought everyone's interests could be represented in the general will (that which all people want) and supported by the state through a social contract (the consent to being ruled by government).  How can each individual want or need the same thing in life?  How can the state, a modern concept of civilization, be the instrument to free men from civilization?  It's complete nonsense.  But that is the point.  He was not interested in basing his ideas on reason.  The general will is one of the worst ideas in existence.  I discuss it in more detail here.  The bloody outcome of his theories played out in the French Revolution.  Rousseau himself should have understood this when in 1762 he wrote The Social Contract.

                        "In order that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it
                        tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the
                        rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled
                        to do so by the whole body.  This means nothing less than that he
                        will be forced to be free."

Sounds like garbage.  But not to people like Robespierre who led France into the "Reign of Terror".

Rousseau exerted influence in other areas of society too.  He wrote much on education while at the same time considering an absence of education to be the best kind.  Current education still carries forth some of his ideals like prioritizing self-expression and self-discovery over learning facts.  Of course, he couldn't be bothered to elevate the lives of his own children.

                      "Rousseau sent the five children born to his mistresses off to orphanages."

He had to have time to write operas like Le Devin du Village (1752) and Pygmalion (1775).  Carried within them was the cry of "let us return to nature" which has had a lasting influence on music, writing, and painting.  He also introduced the idea of being Bohemian, captured in the play La Boheme (1896).  At least Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is a good song.

Many others followed in Rousseau's steps.  Johann Goethe (1749-1832) asserted that nature was truth.  It was God.  He grasped at pantheism to provide universals.  He and others like Johann von Schiller (1759-1805) and Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) started romanticism by replacing reason with emotion as the means to find purpose in life.  Beethoven (1770-1827) translated this philosophy into music.  William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834) in like form believed  that values and meaning could be found in human instinct.

                                                    "One impulse from a vernal wood
                                                      May teach you more of man,
                                                      Of moral evil and of good,
                                                      Than all the sages can."

Veneration of the "noble savage", nature, instinct, and emotion were the manifold paths these men took in their desertion of rationality.  The painter Paul Gaugin (1848-1903) searched for this autonomous freedom by leaving his family behind and traveling to Tahiti where he thought the noble savages who lived there would show him how to put these ideas into practice.  He created the painting at the top of the page after living there.  He didn't find truth, freedom, or purpose there.  He found despair.  He found cruelty.  He found death.  He tried to commit suicide.  He didn't succeed at that either.

Nature isn't a fitting basis for morality.  The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) followed that thought down a different path but ended up at a similar destination.  He believed if nature was God, then whatever "is" must be right.  He justified cruelty towards women on this basis.  To him, cruelty must be right because we all experience it within this fallen creation.

                            "As nature has made us [the men] the strongest, we can do with her
                            [the women] whatever we please."

The concept of autonomous nature, everything is nature and all of nature is a machine didn't really allow for the existence of autonomous freedom, the abolition of all restraints from an individual's  behavior.  The two ideas created tension and caused these men to go scurrying about to find a way to bring them together.  We see in the examples Schaeffer gives that they relied on emotion to bring freedom and meaning to life.  It could at best deliver the counterfeit of meaning, pleasure, but always alongside its companion, cruelty.  Or it simply left them in despair.

The Four Men - Kant
The second man was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).  He wrote three books which continue to be influential Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and Critique of Judgment (1790).  As his titles expose, he was a critical fellow.  He described the universal and particular realms as shown below.  Much of his books were spent trying to reconcile the two worlds together.

                                           Noumenal World - the concepts of meaning and value
                                           Phenomenal World - the world which can be weighed
                                           and measured, the external world, the world of science

Noumenal means some bit of knowledge existing outside the physical senses, so a thought or a mental image.  Phenomenal is well defined in the diagram above.  Kant marched down the path of romanticism in order to unify these two worlds.  His best answer was to choose to believe in something which would provide meaning to life.  This direction means that a universal must spring forth from somewhere deep inside an individual.  This fails to unify all knowledge and all things together though, since each individual must choose that thing for themselves apart from any kind of logical link.  The path he took leads to isolation not purpose.

The Four Men - Hegel
The third man was Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831).  He picked up where Kant left off, trying to reconcile the noumenal and phenomenal worlds together.  He too stuck with romanticism.  Much of what came from him were meaningless words, similar to other romanticists

                            "Not the Concept but the ecstasy, not the coldly progressing necessity
                            of the subject matter but fermenting enthusiasm is held to be the 
                            best attitude and guide to the spread-out riches of the substance."

Hegel built a philosophical system putting emphasis on state action and the unfolding of history.  James W. Sire summarized well Hegel's ideas in The Universe Next Door.

                            "According to Hegel, the universe is steadily unfolding and so is man's
                            understanding of it.  No single proposition about reality can truly
                            reflect what is the case.  Rather, in the heart of the truth of a given
                            proposition one finds the opposite.  This, where recognized, unfolds
                            and stands in opposition to the thesis.  Yet there is truth in both thesis
                            and antithesis, and when this is perceived a synthesis is formed and
                            a new proposition states the truth of the newly recognized situation
                            But this in turn is found to contain its own contradictions and the
                            process goes on ad infinitum.  Thus the universe and man's understanding
                            of it unfolds dialectically."

His view was influenced by Rousseau, Goethe, and Kant and applied a secular version of Post-Millennialism to human history and progress.  You can see the seeds of evolution and Post-Modernism in these words.  Most importantly we see the clear rejection of classical logic where A is A and A is not non-A.  He is saying non-A is contained in A.  Before, the thesis was considered true and the antithesis was considered to be false.  Now the two were to be combined into some new realization.  But at the same time he rejected the idea that anything can really be right or wrong, or known in a real way.  He killed truth. Marx loved Hegel.  Socialism/communism applies Hegel's philosophy to politics, and we see what rotten fruit that has produced.  It has literally starved millions and millions of people.

The Four Men - Kierkegaard
The last man on Schaeffer's list who was responsible for shifting philosophy away from reason was Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).  Those who built on his ideas were both religious and secular, duality pops up again.  Both lanes solidified the philosophy that using reason to discover meaning (universals) is fruitless.  He once again restructured the subjects of universal vs particular.  But he taught they were a dichotomy, totally separate.

                                                            Non-reason = Faith - Optimism
                                                                  Reason = Pessimism

Kierkegaard taught that meaning or values must be found outside of logical thinking.  He coined the term "leap of faith", meaning that a person could grasp purpose in life only by jumping over the chasm laying between logic and faith.

Modern Humanistic Philosophy
Now with reason completely separated from meaning, purpose, and values modern man was fully formed.  Modern man is nothing more than a collection of molecules without the ability to even make choices, quite literally a machine.

This relates to the question, where did we all come from?  Schaeffer explains there are only 3 options. 1) Everything came from nothing, not even a deity.  No one really believes this. 2) Everything was made by a personal being (i.e. God).  Nothing existed before except for that being, who made everything from nothing. 3) Everything in the material world has existed forever with no deity.  This 3rd option is the belief of modern man.  Within this perspective is the presumption that everything that lives was generated by things that were not alive.

This is a strange conclusion given that Louis Pasteur proved in 1864 that life could not come from non-living things.  In milk, there are constituents which support living organisms.  So if option 3 was possible new living organisms would be generated in the milk after it was pasteurized, everything living was killed.  In one sense modern scientists agree with Pasteur because none still believes the idea of spontaneous generation.

However, they have added an ingredient, large amounts of time, and concluded that now, unliving things can produce life.  There is now in modern philosophy and science a new tenet of faith: impersonal matter + time + chance = everything existing in the universe.  Not only is this illogical it is statistically impossible given the rate of genetic change observed and the timespans assumed for the existence of the universe.  Murray Eden wrote an article in 1967 called "Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory"

                            "Has there been enough time for natural selection, as it is seen
                            through the eyepieces of Darwinism or Neo-Darwinism to operate
                            and give rise to the observed phenomena of nature? No, say these

Beyond that no scientist I have seen has explained why a random process could ever increase complexity or bring about more order.  They just assume it does by faith I would say.  Though Schaeffer raises these issues in 1976, I still haven't seen them addressed in 2020.  They just believe it happens.  This observation shows me that philosophy and world view proceeds science.

Humanism from the Renaissance and Enlightenment until today teaches that man is merely a machine.  But no man can live like he is a machine.  We all want purpose.  We all look for and assign purpose onto our lives.  But now purpose, to them, can't come from reason or logic.  It must come from the subjective: emotion, power, pleasure, beauty (but beauty separated from any stable base).  So humanism beginning in pride believed reason was all that was needed to discover the meaning of life and thereby expand the greatness of mankind.  The intellectuals of the world, however, rejected  reason in the process and at the same time reduced humanity to a biological machine.  So in their quest for meaning and values they made reason, love, and freedom void.  Then they have to escape reason to find meaning and values through the illogical and irrational.

If modern science and philosophy calls us to give up belief in God, our own humanity, and rational universals, how should we then live?


  1. "...whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free."

    Garbage, indeed! You are free to do as you are told. Nothing more, nothing less. Slavery is freedom!

    Non-reason = Faith - Optimism
    Reason = Pessimism

    Non-reason = Faith - Optimism. Faith - Optimism = Pessimism. Reason = Pessimism. Therefore, non-reason = reason and pessimistic faith is quite reasonable.

    Covid!! Unless I am looking at that minus sign in the wrong way, then none of this makes any sense. But, then, sometimes I am not reasonable and, for sure, neither is Covid.

    What strange webs we weave.

    Anyway, very good and enjoyable read. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for your comment Roger. It is appreciated.

    I think "Non-reason = faith - optimism" equates non-reason to faith and optimism. Kierkegaard was a Christian, so he did value faith, but he divorced faith from reason. Therefore non-reason = faith for him. Consequently he felt optimistic about finding meaning in faith. He thought using reason to find purpose was pointless, pessimism.

    The point being faith and reason are completely separated. He didn't believe faith had to be reasonable or based on evidence. Just leap into the air and believe whatever you want.

  3. A good read, RMB. I appreciate how you tied together the several thinkers into a cohesive history and description of our current condition.


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