Modernism and Universal Laws

So far as postmodernism means abandoning the ideas of reason that characterized the modern age, I’m more for it than against it, and at any rate it’s the world I live in.

The centerpiece of modern thought seems to be the system: a systematic and complete explanation of all reality (or almost all) from a small group of universal laws. Briefly, it is the reduction (leading all back) to universal laws. Even if we wanted this age back it seems gone forever. No one in any field would be taken seriously who proposed some general law of anything. No one much bothers to look for the universal laws of things any more, but are more sympathetic to the idea that all ideas are merely provisional hypotheses¬† that must do their work for the time being. all things are hard. They are past finding out by words (Eccles. 1:8). Our peculiar postmodern pessimism perhaps goes too far- and in fact it is more of a holdover from the old modern age in the sense that provisional things (things we will never know if we’ve found out about) are most of all what the scientific method is geared to dealing with. The method must deal with the sorts of things that we cannot form a complete universal about, but only a universal for now (universale ut nunc, as the Medievals would say).

St. Thomas makes a system in a very real sense, but it is not a system that attempts to reduce all to universal laws and so it is certainly not modern. Its systematic order is not of this kind. At times I wonder if the strong reaction against him (and against reason in general) is more directed at a view of reason that reaches its high water mark in the period after Hegel and finally crashes to an end with the irreducible opposition between relativity and quantum theory on the one hand, and the carnage of World War I on the other. St. Thomas isn’t claiming to give the universal laws of nature, grace, or human conduct. People might be struck to find this out.

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