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The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought)

by Hans Blumenberg, Robert M. Wallace

Buy the book: Hans Blumenberg. The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought)

Release Date: 21 October, 1985

Edition: Paperback

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Buy the book: Hans Blumenberg. The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought)


the medieval origin of the modern age

The issue concerning the legitimacy of the modern age was more pressing for the Europeans than for the Americans, largely because of the latter's historic distancing from Catholicism and the tradition of scholarship funded by the catholic church. Thus for the American reader the very notion that the modern age may be "illegitimate" somehow may ring hollow, if not outright absurd. This book defends the status of the modern age against any suggestion that somehow it may be an aberration, a condition gone awry. The modern age, in all its seeming anti-religious tendencies fueled especially by the scientific drive for the truth, is the 'legitimate' heir to the tradition of taking literally to heart,"Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free". This book focuses on the philosophical foundations of Medieval theology and Nominalism that paved the way for secularization in the modern age. Blumenberg, with his astonishing scholarship and intellectual prowess makes it clear that, intentionally or not, much of what passed for pious and official christian theology during the middle ages actually had very little to do with "religion" per se (Christ's ethical teaching), and everything to do with Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle's, under the guise of church dogma. In serving theology, attributes of God in His omnipotence and omniscience were framed around the notion of absolutes, leading to unresolvable contradictions and paradoxes. For example, the idea that God should be omnipotent necessarily meant He ought to be capable of creating a rock so heavy that even He cound not lift it. This book is simply the most facinating and in-depth account of the strange doings of the Church Fathers in their relentless quest for the Truth. Blumenberg shows that it was ultimately the Church, in allowing astronomy as one of the topics to be studied, while forbidding others (curiosity itself was considered a sin, an 'extra-vagance', meaning, 'going outside the path'), provided the very possibility that led to secularization of the modern age. According to the author, the Church formulated its dogma primarily in response to and against Gnosticism, but failed in completely eradicating all the Gnostic elements, thus laying itself open to "infection" later on. The return of Gnosticism takes on the form of science, which makes a virtue of being clear about what it does not and cannot know, and questions the ground of any claim that arrogates omniscience. This work makes a compelling case for our age: For better or for worse, the fate of the modern age was decided a long time ago when the West became Christendom. ....

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We need this book!

I must repeat the other reviewer and call this a neglected masterpiece--one that could be very useful to secular thinkers at the present moment. One need only shop around this site to see that Evangelical Christians are speaking out loudly and eloquently about a variety of cultural and philosophical issues. This is a welcome development that should be beneficial to cultural debate in the long run. However, if you are of a more secular persuasion (as I am), you want to have your dukes up, so to speak, in order to answer many of the claims that are being made. Sadly, many secular thinkers have gotten lazy in their habits of thinking about religion, resulting in stances that are intellectually shaky, not to mention needlessly disrespectful to persons of faith. Blumenberg's book emerged from a context that was highly sophisticated and highly Christian, intellectually speaking at least (see Wallace's excellent introduction). For this reason, he was forced to think through the philosophical conflicts between religion and the secular much more rigorously than we are used to doing, and his careful methods stand as a welcome corrective to our own. One of his major accomplishments is to tackle the argument from origins used by many Christian thinkers (the argument that because our nation/culture/university system was founded on Christian principles, any secularizing deviation from this system must be illegitimate). He argues against this notion very meticulously and at multiple levels. In conversations with intelligent Christians I have found his way of thinking very helpful. Blumenberg is weak on the issue of subjectivity, never really clarifying what he thinks a secular subject might be, and this is connected to a general lack of interest in any kind of politics. For this reason, he's been ignored by most secular thinkers here, who focus a great deal on questions of identity and subjectivity. His strength, though, is that he eposes gaps in Christian thinking so carefully that many gaps in our current secular thinking are exposed as well. In this way, I think he has more to teach us about our secular identities than many have assumed. A laborious, exhausting, and utterly eye-opening book.

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