A dissertation that explores the astonishing gains in science and politics during the past two or three centuries, arguing that such progress brought a simultaneous decline in traditional values such as religion, art, education, morality, and philosophy.
O’Hear (Philosophy/Univ. of Bradford) writes of the tensions between the apostles of Enlightenment materialism and progress versus people who have a strong respect for tradition, order, local roots, and religious beliefs. The Enlightenment’s fundamental themes of the pursuit of pleasure and elimination of pain have dominated the thinking of recent centuries. O’Hear views Socrates as an Enlightenment philosopher who questioned the Athenian culture so strongly that the Olympian gods could not survive. He reviews the opinions of philosophers of the Enlightenment and looks at the famous rationalists (Darwin, Marx, and Freud) as false gods hiding behind pseudoscientific facades. He supports the position of Darwin’s contemporary Wallace that our rationality, pursuit of knowledge, moral and religious sense, and love of beauty could not possibly be explained in terms of survival theory. Wallace found Darwin’s conclusions unconvincing and not remotely plausible, and O’Hear rejects the idea that humans are mere gene-survival machines or proven decedents of lower forms. He sees Marxist materialism as a crude and dishonest interpretation of history and capital, and he considers centralized planning to be one of the worst legacies of Enlightenment thinking still remaining in the politics of today. Freud purported to offer a scientific explanation for human behavior in his speculation that we are subject to strong, hidden psychic pressures that must be released. This theory allows little room for free will and civilized restraint. O’Hear concludes that religious optimism (of the sort offered by the Judeo-Christian tradition) gives hope and urges the maintenance of tested old values such as honor, virtue, religion, and family.
A book of profound substance that challenges many pet beliefs and illustrates the dark side of “progress.”