Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Baconian Temptation

Last post I discussed how in Baconian (i.e., modern) science, truth takes a back seat to useful production. It recently occurred to me that the inevitable consequence of setting results (or desire) over truth is the cultural chaos we now live with: in which everyone exalts himself as a little god to reinterpret the world (reality, life, texts, other people) as suits his whimsy or to be pampered by our consumer culture.

Bacon identifies knowledge with production1: man does not so much receive already created forms into his mind, as impose his will on moldable material. To say that we only know in making is to set ourselves up over the whole universe—to usurp a Divine prerogative.2 The simple fact is that only for the Creator is knowledge everywhere identical to production.

The promise to be as gods was first spoken by the Serpent in the Garden. It is likewise the Baconian temptation to which modern man has succumbed, and with whose consequences we now tragically live.


1. This assertion is the basic premise of the modern project, which goes back to Machiavelli, who put ends before truth, but even before with the Nominalists like Occam, who put the will before the intellect.

2. Of course, strictly speaking man creates nothing: he simply rearranges preexisting things. So it should be no surprise that modern philosophers, who take Bacon's premise as an implicit starting point, should conclude that we can likewise know nothing.


Fotógrafo da Paz said...

Dear Larence Gage

May I raise a point? In photography's field, I use to say that one can grasp beauty. In fact I believe that, in some degree, the photographer (despite his or her actual sensibility) is not the fountain of all the shot's beauty: in other words, the photographer grasp the truth. This view is not so popular among photograpehrs, but I think it is closer to the reality, and more effective as an explanation on creativity faculty. Do you have something written about creativity?
Excuse me for my basic English skills and congratulations for the site!
Roberto Loppes

Lawrence Gage said...

Dear Robert,

Excellent point about creativity! That it consists in discovering existing truth is a reflection of the passivity/receptivity of the intellect to sense information as described in classic Thomistic-Aristotelian psychology.

Thanks for your question! I'm sorry to say that I haven't written about creativity per se. I tend to concentrate on (non-human) nature. I wish I could direct you to something good and recent on the subject, but alas, that is not my expertise. Perhaps John Paul II's Letter to Artists is in the ballpark. I seem to recall that Flannery O'Connor has some interesting writings on the subject (in her letters and elsewhere). I'm sorry that I cannot be of more help.


Lawrence Gage said...

This about summarizes the silliness of man's self-apotheosis.


Fotógrafo da Paz said...

Thank you Lawrence! Thanks for all!