Sunday, February 7, 2016

A modern invention

"the rise of modern 'scientific' explanation with regard to both nature and society [can] not be regarded as the displacement of divine, transcendent causes by immanent ones.  Instead, what happened was that the old medieval hierarchy of primary (divine) and secondary (immanent) causes collapsed, and explanation was parcelled out between 'natural' causes operating in a manner 'testable' by human beings, because they could be experimentally manipulated, and 'transcendent' causes where a direct divine intervention, without intermediaries, was postulatedas in the case of Leibniz's pre-established harmony, Malebranche's occasional causality, Newton's 'active principles', Smith's 'hidden hand' and even (one should add, against Funkenstein)  Kant's transcendental objects and supersensible free subjectivity.  So it was not that the Middle Ages overlooked finite, secondary causes, but rather that the modern age invented an incompatibility between finite and divine causes, and instead of initially proscribing the latter, made them operate on the same level with finite causes, though with a limited range of effect."

     John Milbank, Theology and social theory:  beyond secular reason, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 245.

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