Thursday, September 17, 2015


Good To Know

Robert Barron @ Real Clear Religion
Postmodern relativism and deconstruction have produced what I have termed the "Meh culture," that is to say, a culture dominated by the "whatever" attitude, a bland, detached indifferentism to the good and the true.

How often have you heard someone say, "that's perhaps true for you but not for me," or "who are you to be imposing your values on me?" or in the immortal words of the Dude in The Big Lebowski, "well, that's just like your opinion, man." Is it not a commonplace today that the only moral absolute that remains is the obligation to tolerate all points of view? What this subjectivism has conduced toward is a society lacking in energy and focus, one that cannot rouse itself to corporate action on behalf of some universal good.

John Henry Newman said that well-defined banks are precisely what give verve and direction to a river. Once those banks are knocked down, the river will spread out, in short order, into a large, lazy lake. Applying the analogy, he argued that objective truths, clearly understood, are what give energy to a culture and that when those truths are compromised in the name of freedom or toleration, said culture rapidly loses its purpose and cohesiveness. It is as though people today are floating on individual air-mattresses on Newman's lazy lake, disconnected from one another, each locked in the isolation of his or her subjective judgments.

The great 20th century philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand was one of the most articulate and incisive critics of the kind of relativism that has come to hold sway in our time. Following the prompts of both Plato and St. Augustine, Hildebrand delighted in showing the self-defeating incoherence of the position: if he is to be consistent, the relativist must hold that the claim of universal relativism is itself relative and hence not binding on anyone beside himself. Hildebrand taught that the philosophy of relativism flowed from the failure to honor the fundamental distinction between the arena of the merely subjectively satisfying and the arena of real values. There are many things and experiences that we seek because they please us or satisfy some basic need. One might find a cigarette appealing or a slice of pizza tasty or a political party useful, but in all these cases, one is bending the thing in question to his subjectivity. But there are other goods (Hildebrand's "values") that by their splendor, excellence, and intrinsic worth, draw the person out of himself, bending his subjectivity to them, drawing him toward self-transcendence.
Never heard of Hildebrand before, but can bet I will read him now.


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