Sunday, November 13, 2005

Serious Question on Philosophers and Atheism:

In the comments to my post on philosophers and atheism, Matthew Anderson asks:

"Now, since Nietzsche, it does seem as if all prominent, post-Nietzschean philosophers are atheists."


Are you not including the American philosophical tradition in this statement? I'm curious what you mean by "prominent, post-Nietzchean philosophers": do by "post-Nietzchean" you mean 'respondants to Nietzche?'

My answer:

See the chapter in The Closing of the American Mind entitled "From Socrates' Apology to Heiddeger's Rektoratsrede."

Heiddeger was *the* post-Nietzschean philosopher. And after N&H, according to Bloom, nihilism – the notion that there is no God, natural law and natural rights are fictions, and truth is relative – simply became accepted dogma in the philosophic academy.

Strauss called this a *crisis* in philosophy for the West, because it was a *Truth* that had been too exposed to the masses. And even though the masses weren't atheists, such atheistic philosophers got the masses to accept their relativistic and nihilistic tenets.

Now, yes there are post-Nietzsche, Thomistic philosophers who continue on to the present day. Likewise, with philosophers in the "American philosophical tradition," who like the Thomists posit Aristotelian notions of self-evident Truths that Man can discover from Reason.

Strauss and Bloom supported their defense of "Reason" and "self-evident Truths" and their desire to publicly reconcile Reason and Revelation and demonstrate that philosophy points to the existence of a Creator.

Privately, they believed Nietzsche had demolished their arguments. Just email someone like Brian Leiter and ask him his opinion about philosophy being able to "prove" the existence of God and whether we can also "prove" that the Declaration of Independence is as True as the principles of Euclidean geometry.

Strauss and Bloom also thought most of the atheist/nihilist postmodern philosophers (again, Leiter is a good example) weren't *serious* either, but for different reasons—thinkers like Sarte and Foucault. That's because they didn't fully grapple with the implications of the abyss.

Nihilism without the abyss—Nihilism American Style—is just a joke according to Bloom.


Daniel said...

I think most serious Thomistic philosophers would agree that it is not possible to prove the existence of God (or the existence of any particular natural right) in the same way we can prove a mathematical theorem or the speed of light. However, they would also argue that Nietzsche demolished everyone's arguments.

A coherent philosophy will be self-referential or will accomplish very little other beyond defining terms. Reliance on "self evidence" may be as much of a leap as is reliance on revelation, but a philosopher must begin somewhere. According to Bloom, nihilism without the abyss is not to be taken seriously. Nietzsche argued that nihilism was the necessary conclusion of athiesm. I don't think anyone has yet refuted either conclusion.

Jonathan said...

Good comment. John Finnis argues in this paper,

-- There is a lot more to be said along these lines, but there are two points to be made here, about what is going on in these and similar discussions. The first is that the whole course of reflection, heading towards the reasonable judgment that God exists and is relevant to understanding more adequately why our responsibilities matter, is an exercise in public reason. The second is that the argument’s conclusion entails that neither atheism nor radical agnosticism is entitled to be treated as the “default” position in public reason, deliberation, and decisions. Those who say or assume that there is a default position and that it is secular in those senses7 (atheism or agnosticism about atheism) owe us an argument that engages with and defeats the best arguments for divine causality. Only if some counter-argument of this kind were successful would they be entitled to set aside the judgment of the countless many who, even when they could not articulate formal arguments for it, have been able to judge that the reality and intelligibility of this world has been brought (and is kept) from nothingness by something that utterly transcends it and whose “glory is declared by the heavens”8 – the heavens being the part of this world we most easily contemplate for what it is without mixing in our own concerns with using or relating to it.

Matthew Anderson said...


Thanks for the reply. I'm way out of my league here--I haven't interacted much with 20th century philosophical stuff at all, so I really appreciate your comments. I'd be curious to know how you know that they privately thought Nietsche had won. I have studied a fair amount with a Straussian, and never heard this.

Regardless, I'm now motivated to go read Nietsche again, and finish Bloom.

Jonathan said...


See my most recent post. Not all Straussians think the same. There is the East v. West argument. And even among them, there is variation.

Although those like Bloom give their full support to "gentleman" like yourself. They really aren't interested in personally debunking what they don't believe (or what they think Nietzsche had already debunked).

If you want to know what a "gentleman" is, see the Drury link; although she is sort of unfairly insulting.

You may, after reading it, think that the Straussian support for Christian conservatism is insulting.