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Monday, May 9, A.D. 2016
Charlton on Modern Cynicism

Christ is risen! I hope that my fellow Orthodox had fruitful Holy and Bright weeks. Enjoy the festive season—and the spring.

I have several accumulated links that I would like to share, but today I recommend Bruce Charlton’s “Ingwaz - the metaphysics of ‘-ing’, of polarity.” As is often the case with Charlton’s musings, I found the post extraordinarily insightful. Following a clear, brief exposition of what I would like to call Realism 201 (τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι), Charlton explains:

So the division of inner mind and outer reality/ nature is nonsense; we are always and inevitably involved in everything we ever consider by thinking.

However, this thinking can be (usually is) something of which we are unaware. We therefore tend (unthinkingly) to regard the ‘outside’ world as if it was independent of our thinking. We tend to suppose that the outside world is real and solid, while our thinking (which in reality is involved in everything we know or imagine about that outside world) is merely ephemeral and pointless.

This is because if we divide thinking from the outside world, thinking dies - it becomes static, inert, it stops ‘-ing’ and is a mere dead specimen (‘thought’). What is really happening is that we have started thinking about a situation where there is no thinking, and are unaware that in thinking this we have not actually imagined a situation where there is no thinking - we are merely unaware of the thinking that is engaged in imagining it!

This is the modern condition. Modern analysis is unaware of - and denies - the pervasiveness of thinking at all times and in all situations. This state of unthinking doubt about thinking can be called cynicism.

So, the first move is to become aware of our own thinking in any and every situation - to recognize that everything involves thinking - we are therefore always engaged with everything, involved with everything: there is no objective alienation.

But is thinking valid? That is the fear that haunts cynical, nihilistic modern man. The fear is that - even though it makes no sense and cannot be done to use thinking to doubt the validity of thinking; maybe thinking is not valid anyway - maybe we just live in an un-avoidable delusion? The idea accepts that it makes no sense to be thinking about thinking being ‘unreliable’ - but maybe that is true anyway!

This cynicism, I believe, is the modern condition; it is a fear rather than a philosophy, it is a cynical suspicion that there is really no purpose, meaning or reality - and this state was facilitated by Natural Selection which seems to have ‘discovered’ that that is how nature works. This is untrue, and makes no sense; but the effect is rather to implant a fear, a suspicion that it might all be a delusion than to make any kind of logical point.

That has been the point at which Western thought has been stuck for more than 200 years - the fear that everything we think we know about everything comes from thinking, and that thinking - the very basis of knowing itself - might be a circular system of unavoidable but nonetheless false assumptions.

This places Man into an existential state where he does not know where to start in escaping. Once he has come to doubt thinking, then he cannot get out. All he can do is try to manipulate his emotions so as to feel better, here and now.

Yes! Brilliant. Myself, I have wrestled with this very illogic since my undergraduate days, knowing (abstractly) how absurd it was—but nonetheless remaining a slave to the fear. As I was reading the post, I thought, “Indeed, it’s demonic.” And, of course, Charlton nails it. He likewise notes how most modern men adopt a cynical attitude toward the most fundamental questions but casually and bovinely follow the herd when it comes to the venerated venereal idols of the age. Fortunately, I was cynical enough to want to follow the nihilistic path to its conclusion—and I realized that such was pure, hellish madness—the ultimate (and existential) reductio ad absurdum. My firm and absolute confidence in Platonism co-exists with—perhaps depends upon—an awareness of what its rejection ultimately entails, and I am not willing to consider that path any more than I have. My accompanying daemon shouts, “NO!” And, by grace, I hearken unto it.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, May 9, A.D. 2016
Philosophy | EpistemologyMetaphysicsPermalink
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