John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Responding to Philosophical Failure

I've got a lot of stuff clogging up my brain these days. Practical things like relationships and finances and numbers and figures and diagrams and charts and stuff like that. It's become a bit of a problem for me, because I find it paralyzing to an extent. I need to get my brain juices flowing again. And -- if you know me at all -- that means my brain is starting to ruminate on some deep-ish kinds of things. Philosophy. Theology. Psychology. How do they intersect? Where do they diverge?

With that as a preamble, I'm going to launch into some ponderings here. I'd love it if you'd chime in. I always find it more stimulating to do this kind of thinking in the context of community.

For the past 500 years, a remarkable thing has been happening in the Western world. It has been the greatest challenge ever embraced by the greatest intellectual minds in all of human history. And the way we deal with the consequences of this undertaking will determine the future of philosophy -- perhaps the future of humanity.

Here's what happened: Some folks decided that they were dissatisfied with a theocentric (God-centered) understanding of the world. Furthermore, they were dissatisfied with the standard way of living that had been practiced for the previous thousand years or so.

This is an important thing to remember: Thinking about the world and living in the world with an understanding that God was the center of it all -- that was the way of the world for about 1,000 years. That was the way the vast majority of western people thought and lived until a little more than 500 years ago.

So, when these folks set out to create a whole new approach to thinking about and living in the world, they were really swimming upstream. And they decided to build their approach upon the foundation of human reason. They weren't concerned with any sort of external input from any source outside our world -- no supernatural help allowed.

This seemed like a very good idea at the time, and -- for a while -- there was a lot of excitement that it might just work. In fact, some guys actually claimed to have done it!

But the sad truth is that none of their systems was ever deemed satisfactory. Every system had flaws and inconsistencies, and -- more to the point -- every system proved unliveable. They all sounded good at first, but the closer you looked, the more the cracks appeared. And when you tried to actually work it out in real life...well...that's when you ran into trouble. And you always ran into trouble.

Eventually, the initial optimism faded and was replaced by cynicism. The idea that human reason might save the day began to seem laughable. In fact, people started shifting the conversation away from the power of the human intellect to the limits of the human intellect. From there, the conversation continued until we were actually discussing the utter failure and complete inadequacy of the human intellect.

By the end of the 20th Century, it was universally acknowledged that the entire project was one, big philosophical failure.

So...what are our options now? Do we simply deal with the fact that our puny human brains are incapable of devising a system of viewing and living in the world that answers all the important questions? Or do we keep trying? Do we go back? Do we go forward? Do we give up our Western heritage and seek answers in the East? Do we blend parts of both East and West?

Are there options I'm not thinking of here?