Minding the Modern

Thomas Pfau’s Minding the Modern offers its readers one of the most substantial historical discussions now available on the relationship between human will, intellect, and reason. From Plato all the way to Aquinas, argues Pfau, the human will and intellect were essentially subordinated to a divine form of reason that pervaded the cosmos. Both worked in tandem to apprehend and participate in reason.

Yet starting with the work of William of Ockham in the late medieval period, a slow revolution took place that called into question humans’ cooperative social nature by making the will or intellect wholly dominant, and construing the lesser one as being epiphenomenal. The self-assertion of will or intellect over the good or divine left modernity completely devoid, so Pfau maintains, of the conceptual tools and contemplative practices necessary for generating deep sources of human meaning. Seduced by the apple of secularism, the modern self overcame the divine but only at the cost of forfeiting the “plentitude of past meaning”’for a pernicious case of arrested development.

Hence Pfau’s damning verdict that the modern secular world suffers from a “condition of progressive amnesia, which in turn results in an increasingly stunted outlook of human agency.”