Ideas Shape the Course of Humanity How did we get here? Where do we go?

Part I: Pre-Socratics to Scholastics

As a context for the current essay, recall the four guideposts of a Catholic philosophy: creation metaphysics, hylomorphic anthropology, realistic epistemology, and objective ethics. I ended my previous essay with Aristotle but to be complete with the classical philosophers I should conclude with Plotinus (circa 240-270 BC), who introduced the idea of returning to the One explicitly. This return to the source of origin known as exitus and reditusis evidenced in nature with the desire for species to reproduce even at the cost of the parents’ lives i.e. salmon. In the heart of man, it is the desire for union with God.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) one of the greatest philosophers and scientists of all time, tethered the Forms of Plato into a realistic epistemology while at the same time refuting the Pre-Socratics that only that which is real is composed of atoms or the notion of only the one is real with all else being a name Modern man knows these two forms of thought as materialism or nominalism. Ideas such as a man wanting to have a baby, the terms male and female being arbitrary, that a citizen of a country is defined as any resident within a country. The radical egalitarianism found in economics where everyone should have the same pay regardless of merit is rooted in nominalism. Objective reality is a direct casualty of nominalism.

I am not discussing the inherent dignity of each human person, the imago Dei. Rather I am talking about the idea that I was raised with a mere 50ish years ago, that merit and character is what should drive success. Socialism is contra to this idea and it is rampant in our society. The other side of the Pre-Socratic coin is materialism

Materialism dictates that only what is measurable, tangible is true, all else is opinion and mutable. Ideas of ethics, final cause, and morality are fungible. What was ethical in one generation becomes abhorrent in the next. Abortion, which was once considered a right of the father, in Greco-Roman times, became an affront to a civilized society in the Middle Ages, is now once more a right not of the father but now of the mother. The ability to shape shift a critical question of the taking of a human life is only one example of an ethics rooted in materialism and nominalism. Material in the sense of humanity rooted in some sort of quasi-developmental status. Nominalism in the sense of the definition of a person. As the famous quote of Justice Anthony Kennedy states, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This idea is nominalism writ large.

These pre-Socratic ideas are the bedrock of the totalitarianism of relativism. How did this come about? With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Muslims, Greek scholars in large numbers fled to Europe. The unknown writings of ancient Greece became accessible to the intelligentsia of the day, which meant those in the universities and seminaries. Thomas Aquinas took up the writings of the Greek philosophers, namely Socrates, Plato, and especially Aristotle, and integrating the theological development that had taken place over the past twelve hundred years produced, in my opinion, the greatest body of both philosophical and theological thought of all time. Its breath and depth is unparalleled and is worthy of constant reflection.