Reply to "Wyrd, Causality and Providence"

By Horowitz, Michael G. | Mankind Quarterly, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Reply to "Wyrd, Causality and Providence"


Horowitz, Michael G., Mankind Quarterly


In MQ 44/3-4, Ian McNish synthesizes my article on the etiology of ancient Greek science with Bertha Phillpotts' essay on wyrd and providence. (McNish, 2004; Horowitz, 1996; Phillpotts, 1928). The emerging consensus contrasts pagan confrontation of what "happens" in the world with theological abdication to "divine" will; the comparison is thought to differentiate ancient Indo-European culture from Semitic culture ... and ancient western Indo-European culture from its medieval successor.

To be sure, the key breakthrough of ancient IE culture is the development of an intellectually autonomous aristocracy - i.e., an aristocracy free from theocratic1 intimidation. As argued in my article, such autonomy sprang from a hegemony buoyed by a subtle interplay of individual heroism and collegial respect.

Once the autonomy was articulated, a Hellenic dialectic regarding nature, mind, and society could ensue. Herakleitos described dialectic process. Democritus advanced a theory of matter. Plato proposed a standard of justice. Aristotle pioneered logic. Sophocles revealed the compulsion and repulsion of Oedipal passion. Archimedes devised a proto-calculus. Such genius not only augured modern physics, mathematics, social theory, and psychology ... but the scientific method itself. It laid the cornerstone of Western Civilization.

Theocracy stifles such dialectic for these reasons: 1) It disparages causal investigation of the "divine" as profanely intrusive; 2) It disparages the causal investigator as aggrandizing; 3) It represents truth as unitary and disparages debate as, at best, divisive ... at worst, heretical.

Given its hostility towards inquiry, one might wonder how monotheocracy triumphed in fourth-century European culture, eventually leading, as McNish reminds us, to the Byzantine decision to close the Athenian Academy. Obviously, inquiry has not always been a priority, even in Western Civilization.

Monotheocratic rationale served two sociocultural purposes in the transition to medieval Europe:

1) Universal control: It claimed to awe the entire society including the rich and powerful - into behaving in ways it deemed moral;

2) Tranquilization: It calmed socio-psychological anxieties about brief mortality in an apparently otherwise amoral and relative universe. McNish eulogizes classical heroes who meet fate "bravely and without flinching." Yet the fact is medieval Europeans eschewed that challenge; they were more attracted by the Christian promise of eternal life in an absolute and moral universe. …

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