“The Modern Worldview”

by Dennis Bradford

in intellectual well-being

Since nearly everyone in the west today shares the modern worldview, understanding it is a bit like a fish trying to understand living outside water.  It’s quite difficult for the fish to imagine.

If we are to evaluate our own perspective, it’s important to identify it.  The best way I know to identify it is to study how it developed.  Here’s the key idea:  in western intellectual history at least, the modern worldview developed by rejecting the medieval worldview.

Since we don’t share it, it’s easier to identify the medieval worldview than it is to identify our modern worldview.  Once we identify the medieval worldview, we can identify the modern worldview by negating it.  Once we identify the modern worldview, we can evaluate it.

In this post, my intention is just to identify the medieval worldview that was rejected to create the modern worldview.  Of course, it’s not so easy to identify any worldview.  Still, I’ll hazard an educated guess.

For the intellectually awake medieval thinker, the following 9 propositions characterized an adequate worldview:

(1)    The benevolent universe was made by God for us humans.

(2)   The world as a whole has a purpose.

(3)   Teleological explanations are the best explanations.

(4)   The universe is harmoniously full and fixed eternally.

(5)   Humans are at both the moral and physical center of the universe.

(6)   The laws of motion in the terrestrial and celestial realms are different.

(7)   There is no special difficulty about human knowledge; we are able to know reality.

(8)   The universe is small in space and time.

(9)   There are no important new truths to be discovered.

By the beginning of the 20th century, no serious thinkers accepted any of these propositions.  In other words, the modern worldview is the negation of each of these propositions.

Of course, there are still some humans alive today who accept some of them.  It’s not necessary to accept the modern worldview to be alive in the modern world.

At least in less global form, I myself accept the 9th principle of the medieval world.  The modification is to understand “important” to refer to living well, human flourishing.  I do not believe that there are any new truths to be discovered about human flourishing.  In other words, the truths about living well are the same today as they were in medieval or ancient times.

I do, though, reject the other 8 propositions.  If you disagree with me about them, I hope that you’ll comment on this post and explain why.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Fred - the farmer March 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm

RE: the sixth principal – (6) The laws of motion in the terrestrial and celestial realms are different. How can we reject this in the modern world view? It was actually proven in the modern world, see Einstein/Bohr, et al. This was amongst the most important conundrums of all time i.e. the Newtonian world view vs. the Quantum world view? Newtonian principals regulate the terrestrial level and quantum principals regulate the atomic level.

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