Friday, June 06, 2008

Forms of humanity?

Here is some idle speculation. I was ruminating the other day about whether history, the rise and fall of cultures, and evolving ideology might be explainable in terms of forms and an array of spectra. Again, I know the dangers of spectrum thinking, but it has its place.

Thinking back on my philosophy and theology studies (and reflecting on my recent crash course on world religions), it seems that humanity is alternatively pulled in a number of different cultural/ideological directions--but a finite number. In fact, a relatively small number. I have no pretensions to the discovery of laws. But if I could play the armchair anthropologist for a moment, I might delineate these directions thusly:

Value Orientation:
Animal - Individual
Tribal - Group
Classical - Universal

Intellectual Orientation:
Premodern - Undifferentiated Inclusive
Modernism - Differentiated Exclusive
Postmodern - Differentiated Inclusive

Ultimate Orientation:
Mythos - Animistic
Monism - Mystical
Monotheism - Religious

I believe that this model may be somewhat adequate to describe cultures, movements, ideologies, religions--virtually any shared lebenswelt, no matter the size, purpose, duration--understanding that such delineations are more or less artificial in themselves.

A note on "modernity". I have a very specific understanding of the term. It includes the following features:
  • The elimination of teleology and analogy from the sphere of science, i.e., as sources of true knowledge that is binding across individuals.
  • The development and absolutization of a general method of acquiring knowledge based on observation and organization of data.
  • The cultural absorption of this epistemology and the dramatic response to it. Note that much of what is called "post-modernity" retains essentially modernistic epistemology; it is only the ambivalent disavowal of certainty within the same framework.
What I call "Postmodern" rejects modernity's rejections--it affirms the validity of teleology and analogy as sources of true knowledge, while at the same time retaining the contributions and insights of modernity.

Also, a note on the "Ultimate Orientation". I borrowed Ratzinger's differentiation of religions that can be found in his Truth and Tolerance, but I adapted it. Ratzinger claimed that, from mythical consciousness, a civilization may develop in three different directions: the monotheistic, the "mystical" (i.e. monist), or the rationalistic. I would suggest that the only difference between the rationalistic (read: atheist, irreligious, skeptical) and the mystical (monist) tendencies are whether the society has adapted an exclusive (modernist) or an inclusive (premodern/postmodern) epistemology.

My adaptation does involve an anachronism, since according to Ratzinger, post-mythical Rome was rationalist; the stories of the gods were considered "useful" rather than "true". Ancient Rome was already applying a sort of "Ockham's Razor" to the validity of the Odyssey and the Illiad. But I see no problem in suggesting that Descartes and his modernist heirs were preceded by skeptics who were their primordial archetypes.

I understand that this post is sketchy and disorganized. These notes are for my own recording.

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