Unintelligible Profundities & Intelligible Muddles
November 1998By John C. Cort
John C. Cort is author of Christian Socialism: An Informal History.
One of our most respected moralists, Alasdair MacIntyre, has lamented that there is "no rational way of securing moral agreement in our culture." Why this moral breakdown?
One place to look for the answer is in the books of the more fashionable philosophers of the 20th century, men whose names are dropped with pride and whose sayings are quoted with respect in our institutions of higher learning, including some institutions of the Catholic persuasion.
Granted, the modern philosophers lot is not a happy one. Alfred North Whitehead once said that Western philosophy is all footnotes to Plato. An exaggeration, but true to this extent: Many of the interesting things were written long ago. In recent times there has been less and less room for originality.
Faced with this dilemma, many philosophers, starting about the time of Hegel in the early 19th century, have resorted to what A.O. Lovejoy calls "unintelligible profundity." I have been working on a book that involves the intellectual history of the idea of justice, which has compelled me to read some of todays fashionable philosophers, writers such as the German Martin Heidegger, the Frenchmen Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida, and the Lithuanian-Frenchman Emmanuel Levinas.
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