Meanwhile, in the Aftermath: The Groundwork for Disenchantment in Augustine

The following is a fairly accurate transcript of a talk I gave at a conference organized by the Pappas Patristics Institute at Hellenic College/Holy Cross in early March of this year (2017). I was flattered that nearly all of the attendees at my session skipped the following session to extend the Q&A time by nearly an hour. I am grateful to my respondent for his helpful feedback, and to those who attended my presentation for their stimulating questions. 

I am still reading through the primary and secondary literature to evaluate responsibly the assertions I made in that talk. Some of my work to dig into the primary and secondary literature shall appear here on Into the Clarities, as four of them are nearing completion (although “approaching completion” is a condition that can, in my excessive caution, fall prey to Zeno’s paradox).

Hurriedly preparing for this conference paper, and especially reading voraciously in the wake of delivering this paper (to weigh its merits), has likely been the primary reason for my relative silence here at Into the Clarities for many months now (and the reason I had to halt work on the second Ullmann post).

During the conference, I frequently went off-page on a tear to clarify points when I’d made marginal notes to myself that I should do so — I had a stack of books by Augustine and Weber and Midgley with me, and read from several excerpts and discussed these relative to the points I was making. Here below, I have made a small attempt at inserting sentences to give at least some stubs for those mini-digressions and clarifications.

Here is something close to the talk I delivered.

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Charles Taylor on Catholic and Orthodox Christianity

“What can Orthodoxy learn from the Catholic intellectual tradition,

and what can Catholics learn from the Orthodox,

specifically in light of the secular cultural condition we find ourselves in,

and given the vast heritage that we share?”

During his 2011 appearance at Boston College, after the final Q&A session was over, I hustled straight over to the podium, and asked Charles Taylor this question after he finished packing to leave.

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Charles Taylor on Disenchantment

As perhaps the world’s premier scholar on the character of Secularism, Charles Taylor shouldn’t need an introduction. If the reader is unfamiliar with him, however, he or she should simply accept that Taylor has had a remarkable career. Following the publication of his landmark book A Secular Age, Harvard’s Belknap Press published a volume of Taylor’s essays related to the themes he earlier explored in Secular Age; the work is titled Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays.

Below is an abbreviated version of one of his essays from Dilemmas, titled “Disenchantment-Reenchantment” (it is Chapter 12 of Dilemmas); the bracketed numbers [xxx] indicate a page number in the original English-language hardback release. Taylor’s essay is 15 pages or so, and of course has more meat. Currently, I’ve only reduced it to about 1/4 of its original size. I plan to post more such abbreviations.

Possibly, the general thrust of Taylor’s argument may be found in the final words of the summary, below: “Despite the widespread loss of the magical world and of the metaphysics of the Great Chain of Being –even despite the widespread loss of belief in God– a strong evaluation of meaning is still possible in the modern world, even if it is a world painted by a reductive and mechanistic science, so long as this reductive language doesn’t swallow the self-perceived integrity of the evaluating agent, so that it cannot be said to truly evaluate the wonder of the world and be so motivated, by this evaluation, to respond in love.”

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