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Books & CultureSeptember/October 1998



Truth Is Not Known Unless It Is Loved
How Pavel Florensky restored what Ockham stole.

Two astute critics of modern Western thought, Richard Weaver (Ideas Have Consequences) and Rene Guenon (The Crisis of the Modern World; The Reign of Quantity & The Signs of the Times), though approaching the subject from very different backgrounds, nonetheless agreed in describing the intellectual revolution of the fourteenth century, with its mounting distrust of metaphysical intuition, as the origin of the present cultural and intellectual crisis of the West.

Both men contended that Ockham's nominalism, according to which the "universals" are simply creations of the human mind and not knowable realities (RES), served to sire our modern intellectual world, dominated by its quantitative quest of objectivity (das Ding an sich) and founded on the pervasive presupposition that certitude is available only by empirical verification and/or the laws of logic. The nominalists' denial of the mind's capacity to grasp anything other than matter and logic, to know anything real above itself, Guenon and Weaver argued, led to the forfeiture of metaphysics and the manifold other cultural and spiritual dissolutions attendant upon that loss.

Relative to that dethronement of realist philosophies by fourteenth-century nominalism, three further considerations may be proposed.

First, it is arguable that classical realism was probably on the way out already, well in advance of Ockham's speculations. Medieval scholasticism's reduction of metaphysics to an academic discipline, a classroom subject pursued very much as any other classroom subject, had already been something of a step at variance with tradition. Prior to the rise of the Schoolmen, the metaphysical quest had normally been understood as a matter of one's conversion and personal relationship ...

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