Truth, Transcendence, and the Good

Modern Horizons (June 2018):1-16 (2018)
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Nietzsche regarded nihilism as an outgrowth of the natural sciences which, he worried, were bringing about “an essentially mechanistic [and hence meaningless] world.” Nihilism in this sense refers to the doctrine that there are no values, or that everything we might value is worthless. In the last issue of Modern Horizons, I offered this conditional explanation of the relation of science and nihilism: that a scientific worldview is nihilistic insofar as it rules out the existence of anything that cannot in principle be precisely picked out or identified.i What kinds of entities would a scientific worldview eliminate on the basis of such an assumption? The list is long and various, but it includes those intentional (mentalii) entities of our consciousness that underwrite the existence of persons, and more basically of thought itself – e.g., belief, value, agency, truth, and meaning. I argued in that previous paper that intentional concepts are ultimately inscrutable, and yet impossible coherently to deny. I claimed that we could no more doubt the existence of values than we could doubt reality itself – and when I spoke of values I had in mind the (suspicion-engendering) concept of the good, and was even toying with the related idea of the Logos (an even more suspect concept). There are a several attractive reasons why the idea of the good, or the Logos, might be regarded with suspicion, and why either might reasonably be discarded as a pseudo concept. Leaving the latter concern until later, we might worry that insisting on the possibility of an overarching good supports the idea of a total worldview, or that we are gradually progressing towards a single correct vision of things. A progressivist, totalising vision would seem to foreclose on outlooks, values, and persons that deviate from its most likely trajectory, and may stymie or interfere with incommensurate forms of otherness,iii awkward disturbances, and idiosyncrasies threatening its more well-established precincts – perhaps whatever stands out as strange, rare, and indissolubly individual. The idea of an emerging universal standard of values thus might amount to a source of oppression, e.g., if it provides a warrant to transform a currently limited universally prescriptive set of global practices and institutes into an ever more elaborate totalising hierarchy. In the discussion below, I will say why the good, conceived as the Logos, suggests a more salutary trajectory for individuals, and erodes support for either a totalitarian vision or a dissolving nihilistic outlook on the world.
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