Socrates’ Critique of Modernity

Marigold: Your work may conquer thoughts, but mine conquers nature.
: Why do you want to conquer nature? Why not befriend her instead?
: Her?
: Do not the poets tell us nature is our mother? Why would you want to conquer your mother? We conquer our enemies?
: Nature is not my mother, nor is it my enemy. It is simply matter, raw material to be improved…

Marigold: …The ancients feared nature and even worshiped it. We conquer it.
: Are there no alternatives to those two extremes? Must you either conquer something or else fear and worship it?
: What’s your alternative? What do you philosophers do with nature?
: We try to understand it and befriend it. For instance, where you speak of “the conquest of space” I should prefer to speak of “the befriending of space.” Though I should also prefer to speak of “the heavens” rather than “space.” …

Socrates: I think we premodern philosophers had a better relation with nature because we had a better answer to an even greater question, the question of the summum bonum, the greatest good, the most important thing in life. ..

Socrates: They all agreed that the most important thing in life was somehow to conform the human soul to objective reality. Your “conquest of nature” philosophy thinks the most important thin is to conform objective reality to the desires of the human soul.

from Peter Kreeft’s The Best Things in Life pgs. 37-42

I think Socrates definitely scores some points on us here. He deconstructs modernity rather effectively, but he also deconstructs modern Reformed Theology in North America. Whether the Radical Orthodoxy folks are correct to blame nominalism, or whether Van Til, Schaeffer and Kuyper really did fall into postmodernism via their twist on Kant’s transcendentals, it seems undeniable to me that we have managed to become closer to the modern ontology of violence (as represented by “Marigold”) than the premodern understanding of harmony with nature.

How many times have you heard folks, with the best intentions, say that truth is based on authority? And how often do they mean by “authority,” power or strength? Do you think that this metaphor might be the reason we get so cranky and violent when we meet something different?

An illustration will make this evident.

For Van Til, when a nonbeliever grasps actual truth, he is said to be using borrowed capital. He is making off with something that is not his. This certainly seems like a bad thing.

Contrast this with C. S. Lewis. In The Screwtape Letters, the demons warn against the dangers of true science, for insofar as it brings a person closer to truth, it brings them closer to God. Even an unbeliever, when in the presence of truth, is closer to God than not. It is a reason for Christians to rejoice and for demons to be frustrated.

I wonder whether we haven’t also allowed sin and the Fall to become so normal that we forget it is a distortion. Yes there’s a violence in existence, but it isn’t existence as such, but rather existence marred by sin. Thus the truest truth goes beyond even our sin-world and on to the character of God.

This entry was posted in doctrine of God, philosophy by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

3 thoughts on “Socrates’ Critique of Modernity

  1. “Thus the truest truth goes beyond even our sin-world and on to the character of God.”

    Right on! And we share in His truth through a nature which is common to Christians and non-Christians. The violence comes as we seek to replace this ontology with epistemology, as you implied here. It’s a way to peer into the divine mind by ignoring finitude and avoiding sin which ultimately equates the two. It’s that evil matter all over again.


  2. While I agree with the general sentiment above, Kreeft needs to exercise more discernment at times. In his *Refutation of Moral Relativism,* he whitewashes Islam to the point that Islamic ethics are virtually the same as Christian ethics (he makes that point several times in the book).

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