A Short Modern History of Ideas



Should we accept this materialistic paradigm that has come to dominate our lives? Would there be separate consequences for humanity in accepting or rejecting it?

We ought to look into our history to get an understanding of how this mechanistic world-view came to dominate our society. Because western civilisation has become the globalising force in our world, and become in modern times the most technologically (militaristic-ally) accomplished society, it is the ideas that accompanied this society’s rise to power and influence that have been, and are being adopted by the rest of the world. So for the purposes of this article, which aims to expose ideas in the context of dominant paradigms, we are following the ideas that influenced the rise of modern Western society.

Ancient Greece

Both metaphysical and mechanistic visions of reality are present in the philosophies of ancient Greece. A metaphysical element was often assumed to be present in life, but emphasis was generally put on rationality and the rational process of ‘knowing’. One would hence need perfect reasoning to understand ‘truth’. The assumption that truth was something that could ever be understood, or than man might be allowed to rely on himself for it, is a trait of rationalism carried into this age.

The Socratic method, a question and answer process which carved away at falsehood by exposing contradictions and untrue assumptions, is the epiphany of this. One must be in a constant state of questioning in order to find truth, which proved as elusive as if it were all to be an absence of mentally understandable concepts all together. While the idea that one should question popular assumptions and expose hypocrisy in one’s self and others could be constructive for society, it requires a dedication to the mental process and a restriction of one’s energies therein.

Whatever value the metaphysical held for Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others, it has been overshadowed by this belief in rationality. The path to truth and knowledge has been restricted to the mentally and physically knowable reality, and both have come to be understood in purely mechanistic terms.

However even this rationalism became subservient to the Church.

Christianity and the Dark Ages

Christianity died in all but name when in 300AD it was hijacked by the Roman state under Constantine, even to the extent that valuable information was deleted from the bible in a mass campaign. Since that time the Church has denied and repressed the spirituality of its members, preferring the method scholastica disputatio, where faith answers to reason and evidence, as position which was conveniently compatible with the church’s desire that the divine would stay inaccessible to man, except via the tradition of the Church.

No major revolution in thought, practice or institution has since healed this ailment of modern Christianity and continued to be called Christianity by any name. Thus neither spirituality nor rationality had been supported by the church or state in the West until the enlightenment, with the exception of the Renaissance, limited to Italy.

From The Copernican Shift to The Enlightenment

The dark ages, or the middle ages slowly came to an end throughout the last thousand years with the slow rejection of the oppression of the feudal systems. Humankind was, before that time, the divided property of various overlords and kingdoms and dominated in mentality by various dogmas (with more or less similar conditions in other developing civilizations elsewhere in the world). People had little value other than what can be got out of them and social mobility was difficult. Copernicus started the ball rolling in the 16th century, renewing the concept of the free-thinking, if not politically free, individual.

The concept of civil liberty, the social contract and the natural rights of humankind (actually, ‘man’) were developed in the Age of Reason (17th century) and flourished in The Enlightenment (18th century), when the mechanistic view of the universe and humankind was finally set in stone.

The 18th century Enlightenment, upon which our scientific paradigms along with the paradigms which govern the technological world are based, was a reaction to old traditional and religious conservatism which was seen as hand in hand with oppressive feudalism. The emphasis of the movement was on progress through science and rationality. The enlightenment was the philosophical brother of libertarianism and the spread of democracy and the passing of feudalism. It was a philosophy which helped make possible great change, giving birth to our modern world.

With great enthusiasm the intellectuals of the 18th century greatly expanded on all fields of knowledge. The barriers of prejudice being finally removed, the new rule was that what could not be tested and proven in repeatable physical experiments. They were reactionaries, fearing the dark superstition with which some would dominate the minds of others for the sake of their own wealth and prestige.

The Enlightenment held that is not reasonable that life has a spiritual aspect, or that human beings are more than matter. Today, to depart from this premise in an academic science other than philosophy, is to depart, absolutely, from ‘rationality’ and ‘plausibility’. A theory that cannot be tested and physically observed, doesn’t receive credibility and it is considered foolish, according to the dominant paradigm, to investigate it further.

As science progresses further, it has become evident that this enlightened way of thinking has not greatly improved the lot of humankind, despite huge increases in knowledge, technology and science. It is apparent to many, and should be to all, that the old class stratifications that existed within states have been replaced by an international class stratification. So after so much technological and political advancement, we are still waiting for the liberation of humanity.

It is not the explicit agenda of this journal to ‘prove’ the existence of a ’soul’. But it will be shown that there is a link between the problems of modern humanity and the ‘rationality’ which dominates the intellectual, technological and economic worlds.

This article draws heavily on A Geneaology of the Western Rationalist Hegemony by Marcus Anthony.

Posted on April 17, 2007 Modified April 17, 2007