Postmodern Metaphysics and Evolution

Christos Yannaras is a fascinating Greek philosopher of whom I know too little to say anything more than that what I have read has been mind-expanding, explanatory, and beyond my grasp.

In his book Postmodern Metaphysics, he includes what he calls two “parentheses,” the first on “the logical place of chance” and the second on “the logical place of evolution.”

Under the second parenthesis, he lists 35 points, which I’ll call propositions, each of which is intended to explore “the place of evolution” with great precision. Before beginning, he¬†footnotes Wittgenstein from his Tractatus, where the great mystical philosopher said this:

Darwin’s theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other hypothesis in natural science.”

And:

“Philosophy sets limits to the much disputed sphere of natural science.”

I agree with his second point, but I don’t see how the first can be true.¬†I don’t mean to say that Darwin’s theory controls philosophy or overthrows it. That can’t be done for the simple reason that humans will always think about what is and what is knowable and the natural sciences will never be able to answer either of those questions.

However, I don’t see how either 1. every¬†hypothesis of natural science can have nothing to say about philosophy and yet philosophy can set limits to the sphere of natural science or 2. all the hypotheses of natural¬†science can be equally related to philosophy.

Regarding the first option, I understand philosophy to be a different activity to natural science; a more inclusive activity, but one that certainly includes the discoveries of the natural sciences and is informed by them. That is why, until the 18th century, the natural sciences were called “natural philosophy.”

Does philosophy have nothing to learn from the natural sciences?

Regarding the second option, if any hypotheses of the natural sciences have any impact at all on philosophy, it’s hard for me to see how all of these hypotheses would have the same impact on philosophy.

For example, Newton’s theories about gravity and all that had an unbelievable impact on the historical development of philosophy (and education) in England. Is Wittgenstein suggesting that the very fact that Newton’s theories impacted the development of¬†philosophy¬†demonstrates that the philosophers were in error (pardon the long subject)? Should philosophy remain impervious to what the natural sciences develop?

Or might the fact that Newton’s theories impacted philosophy prove that his theories were wrong?

Is Wittgenstein placing philosophy outside the reach of natural science? Then how can philosophy set limits for the natural sciences? Doesn’t something have to step down from its glory to limit something below it?

I don’t mean to speculate idly. If Wittgenstein is right and I am understanding him correctly, then¬†we have built a society on the natural sciences, unlimited by philosophy, and it can’t work because it won’t correspond to reality.

Furthermore, if he is right, then Darwin’s theory is just a play thing. But it’s hard to imagine that. Everywhere I look I see evidence of Darwinism’s reach into ethics, politics, theology, ontology, pedagogy, etc.

Is this because the people in those fields are perfectly wrong in their application of Darwinism?

So we begin this “parenthesis” on the logical place of evolution by noting how confusing it is to try to find a logical place in the first place. I don’t know if Yannaras is referring to Wittgenstein as the starting point and foundation for his argument, to illustrate something, or to challenge him. We’ll see.

As I said, there are 35 propositions described by Yannaras, and I’m not going to copy them all here. But I hope to think through them with you over the next little while (along with I Corinthians and maybe even Julius Caesar and Pelikan’s Christianity and Classical Culture and maybe even Pagan Christianity).

The point of this post is, first, to let you know I’m going to be discussing this text and the idea of evolution vis postmodern philosophy, and second, to give some hints about the difficulties that we’re going to be confronted by.

Please note that my immediate experiment is philosophical, not strictly theological. I believe that theology settles a lot of these questions, but I still want to look at them from the philosophical perspective to see what it has to show us.

So here’s the first proposition, which I’ll discuss in a later post:

Parenthesis 2
The “logical place” of the theory of Evolution

If the sense of the world exists it must lie “outside” the world. If the world has no sense, then even the question concerning the existence or nonexistence of meaning must make its appearance under severely endocosmic presuppositions. The theory of evolution is a proposition that interprets these presuppositions.¬†