The Restoration of Classical Philosophy in the English Speaking World?
#1
While we're on the topic of Western civilization falling, I'd like to point out that it is quietly recovering quite swiftly in other areas. Notably, it is recovering in the area of secular philosophy.

This might seem surprising to you. It was surprising to me when I first found out. (I study philosophy at a secular university.) Most of the "philosophy" we hear about now-a-days is from scientists who think they are philosophers. They're actually about 40 or 50 years behind, back in Positivist land. (Think: scientism, crude materialism, new atheism, etc.) That's all very "outdated" now.

Here's the simplistic narrative. Ever since Ockham, metaphysics in the mainstream had been slowly dismembered, until it bled to death with the advent of Positivism in the late 19th / early 20th century. But around 40 years ago, Saul Kripke's "Naming and Necessity" essentially destroyed the anti-metaphysical attitude that had been hanging in the air for the past 150 years. What has happened since then?

First, we might consider what was mainstream before Kripke. Positivism was already in decline, but it was about what you might expect. No such thing as metaphysics. No such thing as objective morality. No such thing as all these absurd classical notions. etc. You can read up on it if you'd like.

A brief interlude. Not too long ago, an (atheist) philosophy professor whose class I took stated in a lecture that he was a Platonist. "What?!" I thought to myself. A friend texted me immediately, "So-and-so is a Platonist?" I wasn't sure what to make of it. A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to ask the professor what exactly he meant by that. After a very long explanation involving S5 modal logic, he said that he believes in "uninstantiated properties." And apparently so do quite a lot of other people. This is somewhere in the ballpark of Plato's world of forms.

Fast forward from Kripke to 2009. There was a wide-scale survey done by PhilPapers. (https://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl) By this point, Kripke's critiques of the anti-metaphysical had been largely accepted. Granted, this was not ancient Greece or mediaeval Paris we're talking about, but things looked very different. Some important highlights :

Of all philosophers surveyed:
39.3% accept or lean toward : Platonism
37.7% accept or lean toward : Nominalism

Of metaphysics specialists surveyed:
50.9% accept or lean toward : Platonism
31.6% accept or lean toward : Nominalism

There have not been numbers like this in a very, very, very long time. Again, Platonism here means (among other things) a belief in uninstantiated universals or properties. Think "ideas in the divine Mind" without the "divine Mind." This view is a cousin of Plato's world of forms. It's really uncanny to have a bunch of atheist Platonists walking around, but we can't solve everything all at once, can we? At any rate, it signifies a trend.

Now, since 2009, there has been a lot of shifting. Namely, this new, slick movement called neo-Aristotelianism. Edward Feser has pointed out this movement several times. He even edited and put together Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics to give it more steam. Well, it hasn't been slowing down. If the demographics page of of the survey (https://philpapers.org/surveys/demographics.pl) indicates any trend, it's towards Aristotle. He's the 2nd most identified with philosopher, after Hume. And this professor of mine, while not an Aristotelian, pointed out several times that the movement is gaining force. Very interesting.

Another really important number is on moral realism. Are there objective moral standards? Recall this number on moral realism was exceedingly low a few decades ago.

Of all philosophers surveyed:
56.4% accept or lean towards : moral realism
27.7% accept or lean towards : moral anti-realism

The numbers for ethics specialists are about the same, but a little bit higher. Interestingly, the numbers for moral realism among metaphysics specialists is 66.2%.

A notable example of this push towards moral (and "value") realism can be found in (the secular atheist) Thomas Nagel's often misunderstood Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. He more or less suggests a return to an Aristotelian account of teleology and value. A very interesting and worthwhile read, though short and a bit turgid.

Meanwhile, in the world of ethics, things have been changing quite a lot since the great Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe published her essay "Modern Moral Philosophy." Before this essay, there were two options when it came to ethics : some brand of utilitarianism, or some brand of deontology (Kantian ethics). In other words, it was Modern ethics or nothing. A couple decades later in 1981, the also-Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre published his After Virtue. Ever since around that time, a classical version of ethics -- virtue ethics -- has been a viable item on the menu, if not crashing the Modern party.

Fast forward to the 2009 survey. Recall that, until Anscombe and MacIntyre just a few decades ago, virtue ethics was not an option for most secular philosophers.

Of all philosophers surveyed:

25.9% Accept or lean toward: deontology
23.6% Accept or lean toward: consequentualism [i.e. some flavor of utilitarianism]
18.2% Accept or lean toward: virtue ethics
32.3% Other

This is the most fluctuating of disciplines at the moment. There is no real overarching consensus. But there is a fair consensus that virtue ethics is a viable option. To have that kind of solidity amidst such flux is very interesting. The numbers for virtue ethics amidst ethics specialists are a bit lower, however. Take that for what you will.

Also note that, even in Catholic circles, there is a strong resurgence of "ressourcement Thomism" which is coming into strong competition with the Communio school. This flavor of Thomism is finding a lot of traction among the Eastern Province Dominicans at their house of studies (see especially Fr. Thomas Joseph White OP), Ave Maria University, such figures as Matthew Levering, Reinhard Hutter, etc. One of the interesting achievements of ressourcement Thomism is the appropriation of the 19th century neo-Scholastic Matthias Scheeben to counter the Communio school's partially successful critique of Scholastic Thomist theological anthropology. (C.f. White's "Good Extrincisism".) Of course the de Lubacian counter-solution is not looked favorably upon. Thus Scheeben, to fill the gap. (C.f. Nature and Grace : A New Approach to Thomistic Ressourcement, Swafford and Oakes.)

Though I am not very privy to the developments, I hear from some friends there is a growing Thomist movement in... Protestantism? It is apparently a reaction to the personalist theism which has been developing under the hands of A. Plantinga, R. Swinburne, and W.L. Craig. One of these friends -- who had been in a prominent Southern Baptist seminary for a few years before realizing that there are serious problems with classical Protestant theology -- mentioned to me that a sizable chunk of Baylor's philosophy department is Catholic, and Thomist-inclined. I thought that was interesting. But this push-back against personalist theism is, we could reasonably argue, a push for classical theology.

The general trend in philosophy and theology is classical in orientation. But why not just say this is a trend which could die out in a few years? Modernity likes trends. This is just another one, right? I don't think so in this case, for several reasons.

It's obviously not impossible for people to just up and change their minds, but it's very difficult to backpedal when you start letting things like Platonism or Aristotelianism stick their foot in the door, after the novelty and shininess of Nominalism has worn off. Here's a history of philosophy moment. One of the main reasons that Modernity developed into an intellectual movement as well as a cultural shift was the development natural philosophy and natural science at mediaeval Oxford. There are four main figures that came out of mediaeval Oxford, whose thought we could in many ways identify with Modernism, at least in germ : Robert Grosseteste, his pupil Roger Bacon, Bl. Duns Scotus, and his reactionary William Ockham. (I would strongly hesitate to say Bl. Duns Scotus was a modernist, although certain motifs of his thought are, when taken out of context, very modern. But I leave that aside for now.) Two important themes came out of this : a mathematical approach to natural philosophy from the Grosseteste-Bacon line and a strong dichotomy between a univocal and nominal approach to natural philosophy from the Scotus-Ockham line. The Grosseteste-Bacon line developed later into what we came to call the natural sciences, and the Scotus-Ockham line, after many centuries and distortions, developed into Positivism. (This is all extremely simplistic, and there's mix-and-matching of terms, I know. But it serves our purposes here.)

What is this new return to metaphysics all about? A beginning reversal of these trends. Nominalism is, for the first time probably since the Renaissance, on the decline. An interesting and very good interdisciplinary article (http://inters.org/analogy) on the the Aristotelian (and Thomist) doctrine of analogy -- written by an Italian mathematician! -- suggests that the next step forward is to shed the absolutely univocal approach to knowledge and the sciences and to introduce analogy. This is exactly what happened on the continent at mediaeval Paris, when Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas came onto the scene. It was Aristotle's doctrine of analogy that broke the pre-Socratic deadlock between Heraclitus' "nominalism" and Parmenides' "univocalism". It was Sts. Albert and Thomas' that found the healthy middle ground, likewise, when it came to faith and reason, and consequently the structure of the sciences. Sadly, the leitmotifs from across the pond were finally taken up as the main tune when Modernity finally developed. The point is that, happily, it seems this process is being reversed, if ever implicitly and slowly.

And what is happening in the natural sciences? I'm not sure. But the clear-cut, physical theory founded upon unambiguous mathematics that was supposed to emerge never quite did. Or at least, people thought it did until quantum mechanics. I won't say much here because I don't know much here. But I wonder if we're poised for a paradigm shift in this department. We could say, at the very least, that in 100 years scientists won't really have any good reasons to be Positivists. I think the last Analytic Positivist philosopher is literally on his deathbed. How will this change the direction of the natural sciences within the next century? I have no idea. But maybe we shouldn't rule out the possibility.

Take what you will of this narrative. But if we remove at least the obstacles to a Classical worldview, then we will return to it. That's the way things are looking, at least in the intellectual sphere. Such a removal of the obstacles is, I think, occurring. People can try and dress it up like liberal modernity, but I don't know how long they can hold out on that. UC Berkeley, for instance, -- not exactly the most conservative campus in the US -- has a special philosophy PhD program in... Ancient Philosophy? I mean, I'm not upset that they have it. But... what are they doing with it? I told a friend of mine recently that I wonder if we will see a real, Classical Renaissance in this century or the next. It would be : take the good from Modernity (liberal democracy, maybe?), but then reevaluate the good from the pre-Modern. And I mean this in the real, international, cultural sense. I doubt it would happen all at once, but there isn't really a parallel to the kind of shift we're seeing here. Until recently, the Modern current has had an absolute vice-grip in the intellectual sphere. Now it's looking... uncannily Classical. People have atheist, Platonist philosophy professors that hate Positivism. And that's not an isolated thing. More recently, of course, there's been hints of a global shift towards a more conservative politics. Maybe it's just a fluke, but maybe's it's not.

Just another grand idea from a lowly undergrad. Carry on.
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