Orthodoxy - Chapter III: The Suicide of Thought Summary & Analysis

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The problem in the modern world is not the lack of virtue, it is that the virtues still exist but without proper proportion and restriction. The virtue of love, for example, is exercised in such an unbridled fashion by some that they denounce the notion that anyone could act wrongly, because that would be mean spirited and, apparently, not a loving thing to do. This problem exists in the intellectual realm, too. In previous times, humility meant that man doubted himself but revered truth; in the modern world, man has unlimited confidence in himself and doubts whether there really is anything such as truth. This is still, in some sense, humility, but it is not the ambition of man which is humbled, but rather his reason. For example, the truly humble man in previous times would say that he thinks he might be wrong about this or that belief, but in modern times the falsely humble man doubts whether it is possible to know anything.

If thought is allowed to go down this path, it quickly destroys itself. If a person asks whether there is really truth, it would only be natural that he would eventually ask whether his reason—the very reason which prompted him to ask these questions—is of any value itself. After a certain point, all thought becomes pointless. Religious authority was set up to protect this—all the laws and doctrines of the Church, at their heart, aim at protecting human reason from undermining itself. Many modern philosophical theories—materialism and skepticism, for example—all lead towards the destruction of reason. There is also a theory of "progress" which displays these same faults. It says that human society is constantly progressing and evolving in every way. However, progress must always be towards something, and so it follows logically that at least what society is progressing towards must remain constant, and if this is admitted, then truth is vindicated.

Others, like Friedrich Nietzsche, have abandoned reason in favor of the will. They say that an action is good so long as it comes from the will. The absurdity of this belief, however, is obvious: Any action, if it is truly the voluntary action of an individual, comes from the will. Thus, the fascination with the will really amounts to saying nothing at all—one cannot prefer one action over another if the only criterion is that both be willed. By nature, an act of the will is an act of exclusion: By choosing to do one action, one also chooses not to do another. Therefore, those advocates of the will who shun the restraints of morality are incoherent. It is not morality which says that some actions cannot be done; rather, it is simply the nature of the will.

The case of Joan of Arc is a perfect example of how modern thinkers have torn virtues apart from one another and even turned them against each other. Tolstoy sympathized with and even admired the peasant; Nietzsche spoke out against the cowardice of the modern age. Joan of Arc had all those qualities, but she differed from those men in that she actually lived out those qualities in her life. In contemplating Joan of Arc, it is natural to consider Christ, her inspiration. The figure of Christ is reprehensible to modern man because the fact that all the virtues existed simultaneously and organically him is foreign today; men cannot understand how one can, at once, be both supremely humble and supremely generous, for example.

This section contains 586 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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