Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Laborem Solis sive Eclipsis Moralis: Periti, Periti, Ubique Periti

“THE MODERN AGE IS NOT THE AGE of the common man; it is the age of the expert." Budziszewski (2003), 165. Not only is it the age of the expert, but it is the age of specialization. We have experts for all sorts of specialties. We even have experts for the most general of things. For example, we have experts to teach us how to live life: life coaches. Experts, experts, everywhere experts: but nowhere are there wise men or sages.

Although much of the modern reliance on experts is traceable to increased technologies of modern life, not all of it can be thus explained. Part of the increase in experts may be traced to the loss of tradition, something we explored in the immediately prior posting. Without the habit of tradition, we have no reservoir, so to speak, to draw from. There is no moral capacitor which stores wisdom which may be drawn to smooth the current in life's circuitry. Tradition may be said to be inculcated expertise, and without it, resort must be had to extrinsic substitutes. Though modern society touts the common man, it is in fact in thrall to the expert. Modern man is not like G. K. Chesterton, who had so much trust in the common man and in common sense:
You that have snarled through the ages, take your answer and go--
I know your hoary question, the riddle that all men know.
You have weighed the stars in a balance, and grasped the skies in a span:
Take, if you must have answer, the word of a common man.
G. K. Chesterton, "The Pessimist"

Philosophy has also succumbed to the temptation of specialization and reliance on experts. In his writings, the French philosopher Pierre Hadot observed how philosophy changed from a way of life to a strictly academic pursuit with hardly any attachment to real, fundamental problems, and with rare application to living.

Cartesian-inspired expert "certification engine"

It was not always this way, and the better of our philosophers did not spurn the witness of common life, of common man. Though it recognized that there were wise men and that there were foolish men, it also recognized that ordinary people have a sort of infallible sense of reality. It was from the ordinary observation that Aristotle would typically begin his intellectual journeys. From that ordinary observation he would advance, either to amplify or correct. The philosopher then would extract wisdom from "the deep presuppositions and remote applications of our universal common sense, not in something completely alien to it; what he tried to understand is what the common man is getting at." Budiszewski (2003), 164-65. This Aristotelian approach is vastly different from that, say of Descartes. "Descartes thought that in the strict sense the common folk have no knowledge whatsoever, and that before himself, all philosophers have been in the same boat." Budziszewski (2003), 165. It is at the feet of Descartes that Budziszewski places modernity's penchant of relying on experts and its distrust of common man. The modern reliance on experts is Cartesian, not Aristotelian:

What the modern era decided that it learned from Descartes is simply this: nothing counts as real knowledge until experts--be they lawyers, bioethicists, educations psychologists, or what have you--have passed it through a certification engine. Which certification engine the experts use (and there are many)* is no longer considered particularly important. What counts is that there is a certification engine, which not but the experts understand.

Budziszewski (2003), 165-66. The result is a bizarre construct, as experts tend to seize on one aspect of reality to the neglect of the entirety. So the "certification engine" that Descartes ushered in may be to view man via the philosophy of hippopotami, than to view a hippopotamus via the philosophy of man:
Some new scientists are only interested in the beastly side of men. Instead of making the ape and tiger mere accessories to the man, they make man a mere accessory, a mere afterthought to the ape and tiger. Instead of employing the hippopotamus to illustrate their philosophy, they employ the hippopotamus to make their philosophy, and the great fat books he writes you and I, please God, will never read.
G. K. Chesterton, from his Essay, "The Heraldic Lion."

In the business of living, let us return, then, to the classics, and I mean to the perennial philosophy and the Scriptures, where man is man, and hippopotami are hippopotami, and the common man and common sense are to be reckoned with and trusted. Let us leave the experts to bury their own experts, which is to say the dead bury their own dead. (cf. Matt. 8:22; Luke 9:60)

*I beg to differ here with Budziszewski. Respectfully, their name is Legion (Mark 5:9). Legio sunt nominis peritis.

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