However, there were other philosophers and theologians who found the ideas of the Pre-Socratics persuasive. William of Ockham, famous for his Ockham’s Razor theorem so prevalent in the sciences, as well as for embracing nominalism. Then as now, students of Aquinas find his thought to be difficult and dry. Ockham in contrast was found to be easy and somewhat surreptitious. It is a truth of our fallen human nature, that when told not to do or read something it becomes an enticement to delve into something. The intelligentsia of the day knew Ockham was descending into ideas not seen in over 1000 years and it was alluring.
Ockham’s devotees will be numerous through the ages. Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1524), measuring success not by fixed ideas of truth but rather by what can be achieved, is a clear progeny of both changing the meaning and measure of success as he details in his book The Prince(1532). This utilitarian move had not been seen in Western Civilization thought for a thousand years. This is not to say despots and tyrants have not ruled. Rather, it is the idea that politics should not be about the highest ends but rather to settle for what can be realistically attained is the new norm.
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) in his Complete Essayscirca 1580 searches for tranquility by espousing a type of therapeutic philosophy, settling down ones passions, enjoying ones being while setting aside fasting and heroic virtue typical of the saints. Fasting, almsgiving and prayer are marginalized. Lack of strife pursued for its own sake and not referenced to holiness. Again, like Machiavelli, the ends of man are clipped to only think of the here and now. What is possible, not that pie in sky prayer as a quest or adventure. The Our Father is said as duty, not as expression of relationship or communion. God is marginalized, kept in His place, not to be mixed in with reason, and thus one achieves a tranquil soul. The marginalizing of God will soon call objective ethics into question.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) proposed that man is master of both nature to the satisfaction of man, especially in the body (health), and external goods. Bacon magically presupposes a life of virtue in the New Atlantic (1627). An explicit quote highlights Bacon’s thought, “Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or thought of the course of nature. Beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything.” (Chapter I) There is some truth here, man is certainly a servant of nature, but man is not its interpreter. We see a further eclipse of what man can know and to what ends man should strive. Not virtue, final ends, or love. The Atomists of Pre-Socratic fame have resurfaced in a virulent manner. Man should seek knowledge of nature to give him mastery of it, not an appreciation of it which would lead man to worship the Creator who ordered it. Bacon thinks Aristotle fails and prattleswhen discussing nature and philosophy and expounds again the lofty thinking of the Atomists. The New Organon(1620) LXIII, LXXI
John Milton (1644-1674) & John Locke (1690-1704) are at the beginning of what we are living through, Modern Secularism. Milton was a propagandist on the radical side of the English Reformation. Milton takes Luther’s Principle of Private Judgment , making individual liberty the highest good. A chilling quote from an influential pamphlet he wrote states, “Unless wariness be us’d as good almost kill a man as kill a good Book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s Image; but he who destroys a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond.” Areopagitic(1644) [NB My highlights added] Note the chilling and confused thinking expressed. How often this idea is evidenced in the mass killings of people in our generation.
Reason is from within man, not from outside such as a Church. Reason is set against tradition and objective ethics. Milton supports divorce and states begetting of children as merely carnal, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce(1643). Dismissed from this thought is the good of children. John Paul II will refute this idea in his Letter to Familiesthat the child is a common good, benefitting with unique and unrepeatable blessings for parents, siblings, community and universe. Can we see, fellow travelers in the pursuit of truth, how far back the ideas go, which plague our society today?
John Locke (1632-1704) is the first to attempt a secular point of view to solve the problem of religious polity. Montaigne proposed half measures: keep religion private and put peace first. This idea does not fit with the observed experience that people most of the times want to have a public relationship with the Divine. Either mandated worship as seen in Muslim worlds or mandated negated worship as seen in America. Regardless of a positive or negative law, the idea of public worship is a deeply rooted human aspiration.
Locke, after 150 years of religious warfare, sees that Christians are not solving the problem of civil unrest. He clips the role of government to, “The great and chief end therefore, of Men’s uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.” Second Treatise on Government(1690). Religion becomes voluntary, private, and thus not a source of problems. People can just get about the business of making money as the societal goal and everything else will work out. After 300 years of this idea, has it worked out? Are we as a people happier, kinder, freer?
Can we not argue that we live in a police state? How many security cameras, data mined, identities catalogued for the express purpose of societal control. Speed cameras, Ring, Google selling data to China, where is the freedom? How much does political correctness govern civic discourse? Even in the reduced view of economics, does not the state determine what we can own and how much? Chick Fil A is not allowed in Boulder CO or San Antonio airport by government edict.
Mostly, we have arrived at the point where there is a loss of conviction that human beings are perfected by spiritual goods such as the cardinal and theological virtues. Happiness is not from attaining these virtues but in the pursuit of material goods. Humanity itself has been redefined. It is not a hylomorphic anthropology man, which consists of soul and body. Just the body, material counts. Spirit is a matter of private opinion. The very notion that the love of God is the source of good for all human affairs, as espoused by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is jeered, mocked, shunned.