June 6, 2017


Can We Live Without Enchantment? (Wilfred M. McClay & Donald A. Yerxa, June 5, 2017, Big Questions Online)

One of Plato's greatest dialogues describes Socrates' encounter with the young prodigy Theaetetus, who would become one of the most influential mathematicians of the ancient world. As Plato recounts the story, Theaetetus became so captivated by Socrates' dialectical puzzles that he confessed himself "dizzy" with "wondering" whether these mysteries and puzzles could ever be unraveled. To which Socrates responded with undisguised joy: "This sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin."

Aristotle readily agreed; it was "wonder" that led the first philosophers to engage in their characteristic activity. And Thomas Aquinas, commenting on Aristotle, explained that philosophers "were moved to philosophize as a result of wonder" and that they are "concerned with wonders."

In our own day, the connection between the sense of wonder and the drive to know has been powerfully challenged. Max Weber famously declared in the early twentieth century that the rationalizing spirit of modern life -- one of the greatest of the West's intellectual achievements -- led to the "disenchantment of the world," a cold and forbidding view of our world devoid of even the slightest touches of human spontaneity or the least shadows of provocative mystery. Does philosophy end in a disenchanted world, in which there are no mysteries left to gaze at in wonder?

How we got to this doleful point is beyond the scope of this essay. But it is enough to point out that we do not seem to be content to stay there. A growing number of scholars, such as Morris Berman, James K.A. Smith, Robert Orsi, Joshua Landy, Michael Saler, Ervin László, Robert Pogue Harrison, Gregory Bateson, Alister McGrath, and many others, have pushed back and either questioned the idea that we moderns are fully disenchanted or have gestured toward the need for a re-enchantment of the world. To hope that one can usher enchantment back into the world by an act of will or a process of rational argument may seem like a paradoxical endeavor. But instead of thinking of this as a hopelessly self-contradictory act, or a childish impulse, we are more inclined to view it positively, as pointing toward a real and profound human need. There is a need for wonder, enchantment, and mystery -- not merely as instruments to produce the flickering romantic allure of a candlelit room, but as something essential to our human flourishing.

The authors are not wrong, they're just arguing against an inane premise, as regards the Anglosphere.  Look at the top grossing movies of all time and try to say our world was ever disenchanted with a straight face.  Reason never won a toehold here
Posted by at June 6, 2017 3:05 PM