Thursday, October 11, 2012

We're still dealing with the consequences of Scholasticism in the West

In our culture. The Scholastics, St. Thomas Aquinas and company, were in my opinion the folks who really set Western European culture on its reductionist path, which would unfortunately bear complete fruit centuries later. Their main problem was assuming that everything within the world was eminently logical, with clear cut either/or answers, and that you just had to mechanically apply Aristotelian philosophy to it and it would all make sense. Before them, philosophy, including that of Aristotle, was viewed through a lens that was much more hesitant about making absolute claims regarding right and wrong, truth and falsity.The Scholastic method introduced a kind of clockwork surety regarding the world that just cleared all of that necessary ambiguity away.

It was all very clear, you just had to read the Summas, which even included extensive answers to potential objections--Aquinas answers you before you even pose the question, much like Stalin in his later writings.

Aristotelian logic, in my opinion, is if you look at it actually more nuanced than is sometimes claimed, but the version of it that's come down to us,  that profoundly shapes Western culture to this day, reduces everything to either/or choices so that everything has to be either right or wrong, good or bad, yes or no. If something is right, it's absolutely right, if something is wrong it's absolutely wrong, and there's only one right answer to a question. This approach takes the world and reduces it to a very simplistic machine, a machine that, in fact, only lives in the mind of its makers and has little to do with the actual world out there.

The Protestant reformation, unfortunately, continued the legacy of Scholasticism and put it on an even firmer religious basis, and although the Enlightenment to a certain extent also exemplified some of the flaws of the movement, it's really in its Protestant manifestations that Scholastic either/or thinking is doing its worst harm in the United States today.

Abortion is either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Either creationism is right or evolution is right, gays are either okay or the worst people on earth. Name your topic, Evangelical protestantism has turned them all into absolute issues on which everything supposedly depends. It would be great if we could get over this trend in the United States, especially since there are much more pressing questions than how many zygotes can fit on the head of a pin.

 

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