Thursday, June 10, 2021

Meaning and Culture


I made the following comment at a recent Paul VanderKlay video.  As it gained some traction there, I thought to post it here as well.  It is as the original, except where I have added some comments in brackets:

To speak in broad generalizations always fails – to say “Trump supporters…” or “Christians…” or “Sorkin…”  But I will speak in generalizations…

Peterson spoke for those who finally realized (despite warnings by those like Chesterton 100 years ago, Burke well before this) that the Enlightenment project would inevitably lead to a place where man would find no meaning, because man had no purpose other than “I, I, I” and “me, me, me.”

[As one reality of the Enlightenment placed individualism as the highest value, and the individual as his own sovereign.]

“You can be anything you want to be,” sounds great in the first steps, but without a grounding in understanding man’s purpose (dare I say it, the foundation for natural law), this soon turns into telling elementary aged boys that they can be girls, and vice versa.  An inevitable outcome when a society believes that man is not made with a purpose or end.

[And it is precisely for this reason that the “political” Peterson, where he speaks against compelled speech on all issues, but specifically transgender issues, and the “meaning crisis” Peterson are inseparable.  One is inherently connected to the other.]

Peterson skyrocketed because of this – funny, given he is such a student of [and defender of] the Enlightenment.  This is why Trump was elected four years ago, and remains popular today. This is not to suggest that Trump understood anything as deep about the cultural void he was filling.  But he knew enough to read people and act on what he saw.

Who is the enemy of mankind – those who say man has no purpose, or those who say that man does have a purpose?  Of course, what Peterson struggles with: not just any purpose, but one inherent in us given that we are made in God’s image.  It is only this grounding that can protect a society from falling into the decadent abyss.

[And, of course, this last paragraph opens up the entire conversation of natural law based on Aristotelian-Thomistic universalist ethics vs. natural law based on Occam’s nominalism.]


  1. Natural law overlaps with what in Protestant circles today is called absolute values or morals and objective reality. If the individual is completely sovereign then everything is relative, subjective, or particular. Aristotle still believed in universals, he just didn't believe that a realm of ideal, universals forms existed. The universal existed inside the particulars (the objects on earth).

    From Aristotle, to Thomas Aquinas, to Scholastics, not sure who else the ideas traveled through but they show up again in Presbyterian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. His 2 main books Escape From Reason and How Should We Then Live? explore this path of thought from a different angle. He doesn't really mention natural law but he does talk about universals, reason, objectivity, and absolute morals and values; and all these rooted in the fact that God created man in His image.

    I think natural law talk mainly went away in the Enlightenment due to people like David Hume. He was an atheist so it makes sense that fracturing faith in God also fractured the ideas of natural law.

    That comment was mainly stream of consciousness, so I apologize. Trying to think through the comment you gave us BM. Good things to ponder.

    1. RMB, I am with you that there have been many Protestant thinkers that have furthered the discussion of natural law. What I have found thus far, two things: either 1) they don't like using the term "natural law," so they create another (reducing the value of all of the learning that came before), or 2) building the foundation on God's will alone (nominalism). Or, I guess, both.

      If Schaeffer builds it on universals, etc., then this is great. But it's too bad he doesn't just call it natural law.

      And I am perfectly fine with stream of consciousness. We are all working through this and learning together.

    2. I agree. He went from Atheist to Presbyterianism. So he probably didn't run in circles that ever used it.

      He started as a secular philosopher studying Plato and Aristotle. I think that is way his intellectual Ven Diagram overlaps with Aquinas but without some of the language.