Modernism: Where did it come from? Part 2

Last week, we looked at the first part of the Origins of Modernity and this week, we will finish the summary of Michael Allen Gillespies’, The Theological Origins of Modernity. Different from the traditional accounts of the origins of Modernity, Karl Lowith, in his book Meaning in History, claims that Modernity’s origins came from a time when Christianity was becoming secularized; stemming from the Middle Ages. However, a man by the name of Hans Blumenberg, countered Lowith arguing that Modernity came not based on reason but the assertion of self. Like thread that makes up an eloquent tapestry, Blumenberg looked at the broad picture of modernity (the tapestry) and failed to look at how essential the strings of the tapestry, or, metaphysical/theological struggle was to the outworking’s of Modernity.

In Martin Heidegger’s view, questions, the right questions that shattered the society’s worldview, ushered in an urgency to answer the questions of nature and being, even if it means to answer the questions in a different way than before. Nietzsche, who had profound effects on philosophy, believed that nihilism was a primal cause in the ushering in of such monumental questions and he concluded that, “If God is dead and nothing is true, then everything is permitted. Nihilism in a philosophical sense is, “extreme skepticism maintaining that nothing in the world has a real existence.” Gillespie believes Modernity sprung from a new way of thinking propelled by monumental questions stemming from the dismal abyss of the philosophy of nihilism. Before the effects of Modernity wrapped its claws around society in a death grip, universal arguments influenced how man viewed God and the world.

Arguments such as:

Since God made ultimate morals, (Universals) therefore man has a higher authority to appeal to and be bound to.

Nominalists, or those who believed there were no universals but only particulars, believed that humans could not understand God apart from metaphysical means, which in turn meant that there was no ultimate purpose to man’s existence. The pinnacle question was, “Who is God?” The God of those who were for the universal argument (i.e. Thomas Aquinas) believed God was infinite and His glory, goodness, and greatness were everywhere manifested, unlike the god of the those who argued only for particulars (nominalists) who believed that God was fearfully omnipotent, unknowable, and a risk for the overall human good. The nominalist position, which touted a distant and unpredictable god, fell in line with how the world began to change.

To Modernity from Metaphysical

As strange as it might sound, Modernism was the product of different efforts that tried to find a way out of the mess created by the nominalist revolution. The revolution called into question about being itself. With the crisis that Modernity with the world being turned upside down, a new concept of logic, ontological being, God, and man were thought of differently and to farther extents than before. The questions that needed to be answered by nominalists could not be answered under their frame of thinking. At this point in time, philosophers, understanding their conundrum, placed themselves in a less radical side of the playing field and came out with not an ontological problem, but an ontic disagreement, or the debate between which has the ultimate priority:

  1. The Divine
  2. The Human
  3. The Natural

Some argued that man had more of priority than God. Modernity attempted to argue that nature was priority above God and man. Reason or revelation? The evidence sways that the origins of modernity began with the theological and metaphysical realms of ontic disagreement. It is fascinating to me studying philosophical history. I can see now, from my study of National Socialism and the NAZI regime, that Modernity impacted Hitler’s framework. Come to find out, Nietzsche was a favorite of Hitler. How important it is that we study these things.

For Further Discussion:


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