January 5, 2017


An Insightful New Book Examines the Soul of Our People : a review of Peter Augustine Lawler, American Heresies and Higher Education (2016) (Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.|Jan. 5th, 2017, Crisis)

Lawler is particularly good in delineating the direction of much advanced technological thinking, particularly its relation to the human good. I cited in the beginning his brief remark on the real direction and meaning of transhumanism. It is an accurate insight. Much of what he writes is mindful of David Walsh's The Modern Philosophical Revolution. What Lawler deals with is what might be called advanced technological theory, what we sometimes think of coming out of Silicon Valley or research universities. In my book, The Modern Age, I argued that modern political and theoretical philosophy, when looked at carefully, was an effort to achieve the Christian notions associated with eschatology in a this-worldly manner. This philosophical direction was necessary once the reality of the natural order or supernatural revelation addressed to human reason was denied.

Lawler explains what is motivating or directing technology. It is not technology itself. It follows Leo Strauss's remark that once science rid itself of an objective natural order, it would be free to apply itself to man as himself an object of experimentation and "improvement." We hear of scientific proposals to eliminate death. Others want to transfer the human race to other planets in distant solar system to keep it going.

In a sense, it is all in Plato, as, in a way, all education is. It is the question of whether the world is created in justice. Plato's answer, one accepted in principle by Christianity, is that the requiting of justice cannot take place in this world. It does require a final judgment beyond death when the actual record of each person is finally made manifest.

As Lawler points out, almost every this-worldly utopian project retained the notion of a corporate goal or end-time when all would be made right in this world, at least for those who lived to see it. Those who "sacrificed" their lives in pursuit of this goal did not reach it. It is into this atmosphere that the transhumanist view comes into focus. And in a curious way, it is a shrewd effort to replace the Christian notion of the resurrection of the body. The Christian doctrine always held that it was this particular person whose life is to be completed eternally after death, either in glory or in the closing of the self on itself in a rejection of its given destiny.

Lawler points out that the transhumanist position recognizes that it is this particular person, Joe or Mary, who cannot, in its philosophical presuppositions, survive death. Thus, the technological project is to attend to this particular person within time. This approach can get into some interesting soul questions that involve replacing the body with other materials that are formed into the same body. Of course, this replacement of material goes on all the time in any living human body. What we have here is the attempt to keep every individual person, or at least some select ones, in existence down the ages. They by-pass the death that has been, up to now, the normal fate of each existing person. In Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI described this resulting inner-worldly deathless life as precisely "hell."

Lawler's book, in short, is a remarkable insight into the trends in the mind not just of the South, but the minds of academia, of the culture, and of the scientist. 

Just got mine.  Loking forward to reading it this weekend.
Posted by at January 5, 2017 7:03 AM