Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Edge #216 -- Regarding a New Humanism

The new issue of Edge showed up in my in-box yesterday. There is a great article, "Regarding a New Humanism." Salvador Pániker argues that our definition of what is a "sacred text" has always included a multiplicity of views, disciplines, and texts. This is the introduction to the article:

The true "sacred texts" of the western tradition have been for centuries, those of the great authors. Plato and Aristotle, Dante and Shakespeare. But also Victoria, Bach, Handel, Beethoven. And Giotto, Fra Angelico, Rembrandt. And Archimedes, Pascal, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Heisenberg. And Paul Celan and Bela Bartok. Etcetera. All of them are "sacred authors." Canonical. Quantum physics is no less-inspired a monument than the Bible. Nor less ambiguous.

The writing in this article is a bit dense, as is so [needlessly] common with philosophers, but here is a good quote:

A new humanism should begin with a modesty cure, perhaps by abjuring the very arrogant concept of humanism, which places the human animal as the central reference point for all of existence. A new humanism, compatible with the sensitivity of metaphysics, cannot turn its back on science. Naturally, it's not a question of falling into the pseudoscientific obscurantism which Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont denounced in their well-known book, Intellectual Imposters. There's no need to use scientific jargon when it doesn't pertain. Nor is there cause to fall into radical epistemological relativism (which can result from a poor digestion of works by Kuhn and Feyerabend), nor to believe science to be mere narrative or nothing but social construct. Nor should we look for an absurd synthesis between Science and Mysticism. Humanism's received task is more deferential toward the autonomy of science: To truly understand our most fundamental conditionings; to ensure that scientific paradigms truly fertilize philosophical and even literary discourse.

Read the whole thing.

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