Reflections on Charles Taylor: the Problem of the Mind

Charles Taylor, in his A Secular Age, points out at least three areas where the Western world is caught in tension:

1. Agency: we are caught between the belief that we are purely determined beings and the belief that we are active, building, creating, shaping agents.

2. Ethics: we are caught between the belief that we have biological instincts and base drives and the belief that we have higher spiritual/ethical motives.

3. Aesthetics: we are caught between the belief that beauty is a mere biological response to stimuli and the belief that beauty moves us because it hints at meaning and transcendence.

There are many more areas of tension, a fourth one being the mind. Many ordinary people, not just professional philosophers, have agonized over whether or not the mind is actually able to connect to the world through knowledge. Is the apple really red, and can my mind have true knowledge that the apple is actually red?

Consider three common explanations of the mind:

Nietzchean anti-humanism: the mind is atoms smashing together and we can’t be sure it works.

Secular humanism: the mind works because true thoughts confer an evolutionary advantage. The mind harbors lies and error because there are evolutionary kinks to be worked out.

Christianity: The human mind works because it is patterned after the Divine mind; humans are the image of God. The human mind works imperfectly, harboring lies and error, because of the contamination of sin. Jesus says worship is loving God with our whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind. The truth sets us free, and we must forsake lies.

This triad is a bit of an oversimplification, but a helpful one: many modern people don’t fit neatly into one category, but are being pulled in at least three different directions. Believers are tempted by unbelief; non-believers are tempted by belief; and skeptics are tempted by certainty. Where are you right now, and where are you being pulled?

 

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One thought on “Reflections on Charles Taylor: the Problem of the Mind

  1. I will say one thing: two of those explanations are perfectly consistent with their worldviews. Secular Humanism is not one of them.

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