The Evolution of Human Reason

The following quote will probably be gibberish to many people, as it’s loaded with insider philosophical language. If your eyes glaze over, you’re normal. If you don’t, you’re some strange little creature called a philosopher that thinks of their body as a transportation device for their head. Have pity on these poor creatures.

If you’re still here, this quote helped me to crystallize a lot of knowledge and explain the difference between premodern (roughly until Descartes) and modern (roughly from Descartes to Hegel) philosophy. The difference could be expressed as the different answers to the question “where does human reason come from?”

On with the quote from the intro to Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views:

The stark contrast between the modern and premodern views of human reason stems from the modern detachment of human reason from its premodern ontological moorings and its relocation within human consciousness. The premodern logos-doctrine entails that human rationality is an external event that comes to one, as it were, from the outside, as the human mind participates in the discourse of the cosmos. Premodern philosophers think of knowledge as an act by which the human soul encounters the world, so that their task, as Jack Caputo aptly notes, is “not to break out of an internal prison into the external world but to clarify the vague and unclarified contact with the world in which we are all along immersed.” Modernity, however, grounds philosophy in a rational, self-conscious, and self-possessed human agent. Whether it is René Descartes’s self-knowing self, or Immanuel Kant’s transcendental subject who is able to unify the manifold field of empirical experience, modern versions of the paradigmatic rational human being are those who ultimately are detached from empirical reality. The isolation from the kinesis, or motion, of the material world is what enables the modern human subject to make universal pronouncements, to be the final arbiter of truth, and to operate as an atemporal epistemological pivot capable of establishing absolute foundations for infallible knowledge.

Penner, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn, 22-3

Of course this begs some questions about postmodern conceptions of the locus of human reason, but I’ll leave that question dangling for the time being.

3 responses to “The Evolution of Human Reason”

  1. so the author is saying that by losing contact with the world, moderns are able to take the the un-takeable hill. they have, in a sense, turned it all into a video game where they can set the rules of play because they are attached not to reality but to an un-reality. how does that sound?

    i like it.

  2. I like it too. And I’m looking forward to the “postmodern conceptions of the locus of human reason” that you’re saving for later. I like what you have to say Matt. I don’t always agree (or understand for that matter), but I enjoy the internal dialogue you inspire within me.

  3. Joel: definitely hitting on some key themes there brother. It is, of course, heavily ironic that modern “certainty” is predicated upon distance from the very world we’re supposed to be investigating.

    Becky: I’m looking forward to it to. Confession: I have no bloody idea! ;)

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