We venture into the new millennium at a point of great change. If we turn in retrospect to the development of modern times, we see a period marked by scientific reason. Whether it be the countryside green with scientifically engineered crops, the cities supporting and coordinating the lives and activities of millions, or the universities leading an educational effort to train up a new generation of leaders—all reflect an intensive and transforming engagement of rational understanding and rationalized action or practice. Modern times rightly have been called "The Age of Reason."
There are, however, inherent dangers in attempting to apply rationality beyond its proper sphere. These appear from the history of philosophy, where philosophers are seen to achieve brilliant new breakthroughs, only to turn them to destruction by attempting to reduce all understanding to the new insight. Thus, Marx’s renewed awareness of matter engendered a reductive materialism, while Hegel’s brilliant insights regarding the spirit engendered a reductive idealism. Perhaps the ultimate temptation is to turn reason itself from a manner of opening to all—or in Aristotle’s terms even of "becoming all things"—into a mode of closure, soon followed by suppression. Liberal democracy is thereby transformed into democratic imperialism.
Roots of this perverse dynamism can be traced to no less central a philosopher than Plato, who transformed Parmenides’ correspondence between being and thought into a tailoring of reality to intellect. This invited the human mind to soar, but where it met its human limits—not only with respect to transcendent ideas, but more concretely in taking account of concrete realities and the exercise of human freedom—it generated a classic blueprint for a suppressive communal state.
The temptation of all-controlling reason is characteristic above all of modern times as dominated by Descartes’ requirements of clarity and distinctness for human reason. The effect in his own philosophy was to split the human person between the extended substance or body and the nonextended substance or spirit. The natural next step would seem to have been the reunion of these in the unity of the human person; but, much as he tried, he could not do this in the clear and distinct terms he himself required of reason. As philosophers, and then whole cultures, moved ahead according to either body or spirit, their work polarized between the nominalist Anglo-Saxon atomism of discrete sensations and the ever greater continental unities perceived by the spirit. It often is rightly said that the English channel is the broadest sea in the philosophical atlas.
What is particularly frightening is the way in which the penchant upon each of these separated isolates proceeded by a fairly mechanical pattern of reason to translate philosophical hypotheses into public policy. It is fine for a thinker to employ game theory and give free range to the constructive possibilities of his or her mind by saying, e.g., "let’s suppose that all are isolated singles in search of survival" and then see what this entails and what rules will make survival possible. But when this was done by a Hobbes people began to look at themselves as wolves to others and then to act according to some variation of that theme as with the Straussian preemptive doctrine at the beginning of this new millennium.
Over time it is possible to become accustomed to such a game and forget the nature of the instincts by which it is played. All the more reason to listen when colonial peoples throughout the World—in 1777 for the US, in the last half of the 20th century for colonial Africa, and in the 21st century for Islam and the marginalized peoples—condemn the resulting system, and by implication its philosophical bases, as predatory, brutish and mean.
Similarly, it could be helpful for a thinker to hypothesize that all is matter and then attempt to see theoretically how its laws could shed light on the process of human history. But when this was done by Marx, Lenin and Stalin proceeded aggressively to attack the life of the spirit and to term irrational everything except scientific historicism. The freedom of individuals and peoples was suppressed, and creativity died. By the 1970s and 1980s—not to mention the progroms of the 1930s—the philosophical laboratory of historical practice reported the anguished cries of peoples under the reductionist character of this philosophy.
Finally, John Rawls supposed that a public square reduced by secularism is a neutral (rather than neutering) terrain for free participation. This has now been turned into an imperial campaign to impose upon all civilizations the fundamentalist secular theology that has based liberal theory since its military imposition at Westphalia. At the beginning of the 21st century when this sets out to "democratise" Islamic and other civilizations in a campaign so similar to that of Marxism in the 20th century one has the terrible sense of Huntington’s global clash in the making.
All of these are parallel cases of theoretical rationalist axioms become metaphysical totalisms. It is not surprising that the result for half of the 20th century was a bipolar world armed to the hilt and subsisting by a reign of mutual terror between the opposing camps of the liberal democratic republics of the self-styled free world and the people’s democratic republics.
What is surprising—indeed unsettling—is that the internal collapse of the communist partners in the deadly cold war should give credence to the notions: that the parallel road taken by the "liberal" partner can be followed now without fear; that the wolf has been transformed into a lamb for lack of a mirror in which to observe the effects of their common philosophical DNA; that the mercantile capitalism which suppressed peoples in colonial times will be less inhumane if practiced now on a global scale; and even more, that it is the obligation of the secular liberalisms to impose this upon all others.
In view of the above analysis it is most urgent to look for the positive resources found in the emergent awareness of the person and of the personal. The history of humankind in the 20th century could fairly well be described as the abutment of this rich notion of person, and hence of peoples, against the impoverished rationalistic individualisms and communalisms as they existed in the first part of the XXth century. From the overthrow of an oppressive Fascism, to liberation from colonialism, to increased self-awareness of minorities, to the collapse of totalitarian Communism, the history of the major accomplishments of the last century has been constituted by a series of campaigns of liberation in the name of the dignity of persons and peoples.
Entering upon the new millennium, when the end of modernity and entrance upon what as yet can be termed only "post-modern" is generally recognized, it would seem essential no longer to continue to play the same modern game and with the same reductionist rationalist tools. That promises only to leave the real opportunities unaddressed or even to resurrect or recreate old problems. Instead we need to heal the above reductionisms, reunite the divided person and thence heal the divisions between peoples in order to be able to live the new opportunities of the global age.
For these we will need to search for the full range of being as manifested, not only in the abstract simplicity of reason, but in the new unity of persons and peoples in their concrete complexity and richness, for it is in these terms that freedom operates, social life is built, and history is created. One needs to interpret more circumscriptively the proper realm of scientific and technical reason upon which modern times have focused, in order to reap its fruits without being subjected to it, body and soul. Finally, one needs to be able to learn from all dimensions of human life, especially those of family, community and nation—with their dimensions of education, productivity, commerce and religion—in which humankind has long interpersonal experience. These must be given their proper place and role in order to evolve the more rich and open philosophy required for authentic physical and spiritual progress in our times.
As we proceed into the new millennium there are then reasons to rejoice and reasons to fear. Unfortunately, the two may be so intimately related that it is impossible simply to jettison the latter and proceed with the former. Instead, it would appear that there is urgent need for work in philosophy to achieve the progress in understanding needed for an era that will be truly new. The process might be that of a dialectic, understood not in the Hegelian sense of continued progress, but in that of Tillich which sees the mounting catastrophes which force us to the very borders of life as enabling Being to unveil itself at new levels and in new ways. This suggests not that metaphysics alone can confront, much less solve, the issues of our times, but that such issues make possible more profound metaphysical reflection and that this reflection is an integral part of the free human response to the challenges of our times.
Now new and equally threatening challenges open for the future. We have found that authentic liberation is not merely a matter of establishing new economic systems—though that cannot be low on the long list of things to be done. Such systems must be made into means of freedom, rather than of enslavement. More directly, there is the task of living freedom, that is, of understanding and unfolding new senses of personal and cultural identities. The challenge in this new century is to find ways to promote cultural identity and to interrelate it with that of other peoples in a new fusion of strengths, rather than of destructive confrontation.
In this search Part I will attempt to diagnose the contemporary problematic and look for new foundations for a response. Chapter I will analyse in greater detail the purposes, confines and authentic capabilities of modern thought at the origins of both sides of the cold war. If the broad collapse of the communist experiment in Eastern Europe at the end of the 20th century has focused hopes for progress upon the liberal market and polity, it is important to look critically into the Enlightenment underpinnings these shared with communism in order to identify their underlying limitations. This will be done with a view to building, in subsequent chapters, upon the authentic strengths of the Enlightenment, healing its weaknesses and integrating its missing dimensions as part of the effort at a more integral and balanced reconstruction of the sense of person for the twenty-first century.
Chapter II will review the nature of the sciences taken first as formal structures and then as modes of uncovering the existential sense of being and personal life.
On this basis Part II will proceed to a reconstruction of the person. It chapters will be ordered and even grounded in the classical metaphysical trilogy of the Hindu Vedanta: existence (sat), consciousness (sit) and bliss (ananda). Thus Chapter III on existence will take us from person as role to person as subject existing in its own right; Chapter IV on consciousness will take the step from objectivity to subjectivity as the conscious life of the person; and Chapter V on bliss will move from mere choice to the creative freedom in which the person actively seeks his or her happiness and fulfilment.
Part III will attempts to situate this in the broader modes of human sensibility with which, through the ages, each people has generated its culture, and through which, in turn, it has interpreted its world. This will attempt to understand the emerging notion of person which has mobilized the great dynamism required for the immense projects of liberation and humanization that have generated the changes in the last half century.
Chapter VI will examine how creative freedom moves beyond simply satisfying interests to creating a culture and civilization. It will examine how a metaphysical foundation can enable us to save our cultural resources from being destroyed in a clash of civilizations and engage them instead in establishing global peace. This will attend to the dimension of affectivity in order to surpass the levelling effect of rationalisms and relate as complementary the differences of genders and of peoples. This must surpass conflict to build up the unity of family and community.
Chapter VII carries the search further to the recently emergent awareness of cultural identities and civilizations, and of the way in which they are constituted by the creative exercise of human freedom. This presents the special dilemma of our times. For as constituted by, and of, our freedom cultures must be unique of their very essence. One cannot reduce this uniqueness in order to achieve unity. How then can they be related and even converge, not despite, but by the very nature of their difference. This leads us to the notions of participation and especially of analogy, and to their renewal and extension.
Finally, in Chapter VIII through a phenomenology of gift we shall look to a deeper source and richer mode of being as the self-existent consciousness and bliss which gives of self in love.
In sum spiritual culture today faces a special challenge and opportunity. It confronts an aggressive secular interpretation of life according to which ancient wisdoms appear as retrogressive and hence must be removed in the name of progress. To do so, however, would be to remove the heart and soul of a people and leave them without the personal resources with which to build a proper and humane future. This challenges ancient wisdoms to speak to new times, to breath life into the technical concepts and structures of modern life, and to enable all peoples to advance on the strength of their visions of life and of meaning as valuable and valued partners in the project of humankind in this new millennium.
Hence, the chapters look at the new recognition of human subjectivity, especially its aesthetic dimension, in order to integrate the sciences, both physical and human, into a richer sense of human life. The aim will be to listen with other persons and peoples to the Spirit as the voice of Being. This entails economic and political action, but must go beyond manipulating and being manipulated in terms of interests, whether individual or group. The goal is rather to promote the human dignity of persons and peoples, mutual respect and cooperation in the works of peace required for a global age.