Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How We Conceive of the World

"Shall we conceive of the world around us and of ourselves in it as personal, a meaningful whole, honoring its order as continuous with the moral law of our own being and its being as continuous with ours, bearing its goodness - or shall we conceive of it and treat it, together with ourselves, as impersonal, a chance aggregate of matter propelled by a blind force and exhibiting at most the ontologically random lawlike regularities of a causal order? Is the Person or is matter in motion the root metaphor of thought and practice? That answered, all else follows."


Alston said...

Dear Brother,

Is this a question of Natural Law?



Bryan Owen said...

The term "natural law" may unduly circumscribe the breadth and depth of this book. Kohak's work comes more out of phenomenology a la Husserl with influence from Heidegger and Ricoeur, as well as the influence of medieval and Czech philosophers, poetry (such as Robert Frost), and personalist philosophers such as Browne and Brightman.

In the third chapter of this wonderful and little-known book, entitled "The Gift of the Moral Law," Kohak writes about "the moral sense of nature" as follows:

The growing awareness of the sense of nature is intertwined with the rediscovery of nature as a living presence, beneath our conventional nature construct. But there is something more I have sought to evoke by speaking of the sense of nature as moral. ... That is the crucial recognition: the sense of nature which stands out in the radical brackets of dusk is not simply a "natural" sense as the eighteenth century used that word, representing no more than the observable regularities in the order of time. The sense of nature includes also a dimension of value, not merely as utility but as intrinsic, absolute value ingressing in the order of time. The chipmunk peering out of the stone fence is not reducible simply to the role he fulfills in the economy of nature. There is not only utility but also an integrity, a rightness to his presence. When humans encounter that integrity in a trillium or a lady's slipper, they tend to acknowledge it by speaking of beauty, and it is not inappropriate. It is, though, also more - the presence of absolute value, the truth, the goodness, the beauty of being, the miracle that something is though nothing might be. With the encounter with nature in its integrity, there comes also the recognition that its presence is never free of value, acquiring its rightness only contingently in its utility. It is primordially good. The order of nature is also an order of value (pp. 70-71).

There's no way to do justice to the beauty and reverence this book evokes. Alston, knowing you as I do, you simply must acquire a copy of this book and read it.

And in fact, you can read much of it on-line here.

There's also an interesting interview with Kohak here. He fled his homeland for the United States with his family after the Communist takeover in 1948. And in response to the question, "Are you religious?", he answers:

"Yes. All my life, Czech brethren, protestant. During my years in exile I was very active in the local Anglican church. Anglicanism came to the United States from Scotland after the revolution, there it's called the Episcopal church. But yes, I am very much a believer."