Passage to Modernity

Passage to Modernity: An Essay on the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture

Louis Dupré
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Passage to Modernity
    Book Description:

    Did modernity begin with the Renaissance and end with post-modernity? In this book a distinguished scholar challenges both these assumptions. Louis Dupré discusses the roots, development, and impact of modern thought, tracing the fundamental principles of modernity to the late fourteenth century and affirming that modernity is still an influential force in contemporary culture.The combination of late medieval theology and early Italian humanism shattered the traditional synthesis that had united cosmic, human, and transcendent components in a comprehensive idea of nature. Early Italian humanism transformed the traditional worldview by its unprecedented emphasis on human creativity. The person emerged as the sole source of meaning while nature was reduced to an object and transcendence withdrew into a "supernatural" realm. Dupré analyzes this fragmentation as well as the writings of those who reacted against it-philosophers like Cusanus and Bruno, humanists like Ficino and Erasmus, theologians like Baius and Jansenius, mystics like Ignatius Loyola and Francis de Sales, and theosophists like Weigel and Boehme.Baroque culture briefly reunited the human, cosmic, and transcendent components, but since that time the disintegrating forces have increased in strength. Despite post-modern criticism, the principles of early modernity continue to dominate the climate of our time.Passage to Modernityis not so much a critique as a search for the philosophical meaning of the epochal change achieved by those principles.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15769-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The idea of modernity has long attracted critical attention. Many hold its principles responsible for various ills that threaten to drain our culture of meaning and purpose. Those charges presuppose that we know how to distinguish themodernfrom thepremodern. Most critics, however, finding it unnecessary to be precise on this issue, remain satisfied with reversing the praise that earlier generations showered upon an allegedly modern mode of thinking and acting. While they exalted rational objectivity, moral tolerance, and individual choice as cultural absolutes, we now regard these principles with some suspicion. Undoubtedly there are good reasons to distrust...

  5. Part I From Cosmos to Nature

    • Chapter 1 Classical and Medieval Antecedents
      (pp. 15-41)

      Leslie Stephen described the termnatureas contrived to introduce the maximum number of equivocations into any theory it enters.¹ The semantic disintegration of what once functioned as a single, though complex, concept into a multiplicity of meanings began whenphysisbecamenaturaand was completed when, early in the modern age, nature lost two of its three original components.

      In Greek myths as well as in early philosophy,physisappears simultaneously as a primordial, formative event and as the all-inclusive, informed reality that results from this event.To beconsists in partaking in an aboriginal act of expression. Nothing...

    • Chapter 2 Nature and Form
      (pp. 42-64)

      Any periodization of the early modern age remains controversial. The similarities that link its culture with what we assume to be a previous epoch are as many as the differences that separate them. Moreover, the lines of similarity and difference in one area of culture do not run parallel with those in another. Art and literature may develop differently than theology. The problem is particularly acute with respect to the complex idea or cluster of ideas of nature. While artists, humanists, and spiritual theologians of the fifteenth century stressed a divine presence in nature, school theology actually widened the distance...

    • Chapter 3 The Emergence of Objectivity
      (pp. 65-90)

      The lively cosmological speculations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries discussed in the previous chapter lacked, for the most part, the method and scientific discipline of such late-medieval thinkers as Buridan, Oresme, and Autrecourt. But they may have influenced the scientific movement in a substantial albeit indirect way. Platonic speculation on the sun as symbol of the mind may seem unrelated to the development of a scientific cosmology. Yet as Hans Blumenberg has shown, it removed the principal philosophical obstacle that barred the way toward the acceptance of a heliocentric system. Indeed, such extra-scientific considerations may have spurred Copernicus to...

  6. Part II From Microcosmos to Subject

    • Chapter 4 The Nature of the Subject and the Subject of Nature
      (pp. 93-119)

      In part 1 I followed the slow conversion of nature into an object. In part 2 I will reflect on the transformation the self underwent after it became separated from the other constituents of the original synthesis, specifically, how it gradually turned into a mere function of the objectifying process.

      The Czech philosopher Jan Patocka once described our culture as distinguished by “a care for the soul.” Certainly when Socrates shifted speculation from cosmology to reflection on the moral life he opened up a new realm of being. Plato developed this moral concern into a metaphysics of the soul as...

    • Chapter 5 The New Meaning of Freedom
      (pp. 120-144)

      The modern concept of subjectivity rests solidly on the idea of freedom, so much so that many consider autonomythecharacteristic of the new age. But a concern with freedom already marks the earliest period of our culture. The ideal of self-governing citizenship guided the development of the Greek city and survived its decline. That early ideal, however, had been political rather than individual. It aimed at enabling a select group of citizens to live in conditions of communal equality andautarkeia. Neither in theory nor in practice did those allowed to pursue it trouble themselves much about individual rights....

    • Chapter 6 The Birth of the Past
      (pp. 145-164)

      The modern age was the first to distinguish itself from all others by a time indicator:modo—“now.” Anxious to assert its superiority to past epochs, its culture exchanged the older claim of upholding a tradition for the one of surpassing it. A different sense of time directly followed the new sense of freedom. An unprecedented awareness grew that what humans accomplish in the transitoriness of time definitively changes the very nature of human life. History thereby suddenly acquired an existential significance that it had not possessed before. In a medieval cosmic play the human person clearly had the lead,...

  7. Part III From Deified Nature to Supernatural Grace

    • Chapter 7 The Fateful Separation
      (pp. 167-189)

      Early Greek philosophy defined the terms in which Western thought was to formulate transcendence. The Ionian search for a ground of nature beyond its appearance as well as the Pythagorean distinction between a principle of intelligibility and the reality it renders intelligible made the relation from the more fundamental to the less fundamental an unavoidable issue. Classical Greek philosophy eventually resolved it by means of the form principle. The form resided within the appearing objects of which it constituted the intelligible essence, yet as determining factor it also surpassed them. In his dialogueParmenidesPlato presents the great metaphysician laying...

    • Chapter 8 The Attempted Reunion
      (pp. 190-220)

      In this chapter I will review three major attempts to overcome the theological dualism modern culture inherited from late medieval thought, namely, those of humanist religion, the early Reformation, and Jansenist theology. According to such Christian humanists as Valla, Erasmus, and Ficino, a universal divine attraction sanctifies the natural order and draws it back to its source. Archaic religion, ancient philosophy, Hebrew and Christian revelation—in an order of increasing intensity—all responded to the same divine impulse. Generally speaking, humanism offered more an alternative than an answer to the questions raised by fifteenth-century School theology. Humanists, even when acquainted...

    • Chapter 9 A Provisional Synthesis
      (pp. 221-248)

      In this final chapter I shall consider three responses to the religious predicament that, at least temporarily, succeeded in reuniting modern culture with its transcendent component. We can hardly speak of a single movement since a variety of individuals and groups belonging to different camps worked, for often opposite reasons, toward the goal of restoring an all-inclusive religious vision to their world. The pursuit of that common vision gave birth to a new Christian humanism in the Reformation as well as in the Counter-Reformation. It included Catholics and Protestants, mystics and Baroque artists. In differing degrees and by different methods...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 249-254)

    Modernity is aneventthat has transformed the relation between the cosmos, its transcendent source, and its human interpreter. To explain this as the outcome of historical precedents is to ignore its most significant quality—namely, its success in rendering all rival views of the real obsolete. Its innovative power made modernity, which began as a local Western phenomenon, a universal project capable of forcing its theoretical and practical principles on all but the most isolated civilizations. “Modern” has become the predicate of a unified world culture.

    The West could not have exercised such a global influence if other civilizations,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 255-286)
  10. Index
    (pp. 287-300)