Think about it: Fragments from Charles Taylor’s “A secular age” Chapter VIII

“Part of the self-consciousness of modern anthropocentrism is this sense of achievement, of having won through to this invulnerability out of an earlier state of captivity in an enchanted world.” (p. 301).

“What this reflects is that in face of the opposition between orthodoxy and unbelief, many, and among them the best and most sensitive minds, were cross-pressured, looking for a third way. This cross-pressure is, of course, part of the dynamic which generates the nova effect, as more and more third ways are created.” (p. 302).

“We can understand, however, why melancholy (or “ennui” or “spleen”) can take an important place in the art which has formed the consciousness of our age, as with Baudelaire.” (p. 303).

“Homogeneity and instability work together to bring the fragilizing effect of pluralism to a maximum.” (p. 304).

“For a monk to suffer from acedia in his vocation was a sin; it was not a form of questioning of God.”  (p. 308).

“Some people indeed, want to reject the first way of framing the issue, the “one thing needful” way, the way of post-Axial culture. We shouldn’t try to force life into a single over-riding purpose; we should be suspicious of questions about the meaning of life. These people want to take up an anti-Axial position, they want to rehabilitate “paganism”, or “polytheism”. But whatever one’s stand on this polemic, the malaise is felt on both these levels, and we all can recognize what is going on when it is.” (pp. 308-309).

“Rousseau is a hinge figure in this. He spoke up, very eloquently and persuasively, for a more demanding standard of justice and benevolence; and he was the inspiration of a whole tradition of radical humanist views, starting with those of the French Revolutionaries…”  (p. 311).

“Kant is an important resource for a whole gamut of these. In spite of the continuing place of God and immortality in his scheme, he is a crucial figure also in the development of exclusive humanism, just because he articulates so strongly the power of inner sources of morality. And yet, we cannot be surprised when we learn that Kant came from a Pietist background. His philosophy goes on breathing this sense of the stringent demands of God and the good, even while he puts his Pietistic faith through an anthropocentric turn.” (p. 312).

“…. appeal against the moral to a genuine self-realization can then be played out in a host of forms, both spiritual and naturalistic, as we see with Nietzsche, among others-and, of course, with Lawrence.”… “But then Schiller argues that the highest mode of being comes where the moral and the appetitive are perfectly aligned in us, where our action for the good is over-determined; and the response which expresses this alignment is just the proper response to beauty, what Schiller calls “play” (Spiel). We might even say that it is beauty which aligns us.” (p. 313).

“Recognizing the tragedy in life is not just having the nerve to face it; it is also acknowledging some of its depth and grandeur. There is depth, because suffering can make plain to us some of the meaning of life which we couldn’t appreciate before, when it all seemed swimmingly benign; this is after all what tragedy as an art form explores.” (p. 318). After going in to Nietzsche he then writes: “There is a dark side to creation, to use this (Barthian) expression; along with joy, there is massive innocent suffering; and then on top of this, the suffering is denied, the story of the victims is distorted, eventually forgotten, never rectified or compensated. Along with communion, there is division, alienation, spite, mutual forgetfulness, never reconciled and brought together again.” (p. 319)

“Human beings, however much they try, cannot really be happy this way. Their attempt to be so will be frustrated, either by the natural, unavoidable occurrence of suffering and death, or by the stifled sense within them that they were born for something higher. This latter criticism has been frequently levelled by Christian writers; but it can also be seen as implicit in Nietzsche’s scornful picture of the last man.” … and then finally the issue of “Death”.  “Death is simply the negation, the ultimate negation, of flourishing; it must be combated, and held off till the very last moment. Against this, there have developed a whole range of views in the post-Enlightenment world, which while remaining atheist, or at least ambivalent and unclear about transcendence, have seen in death, at least the moment of death, or the standpoint of death, a privileged position, one at which the meaning, the point of life comes clear, or can be more closely attained than in the fullness of life. Mallarme, Heidegger, Camus, Celan, Beckett: the important thing is that these have not been marginal, forgotten figures, but their work has seized the imagination of their age.” (pp. 320-321)


About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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