David Bentley Hart on Heidegger and the ‘evasion of the mystery of being’ in the west

“Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) –a morally problematic figure, admittedly, but not to be dismissed–was largely correct in thinking that the modern West excels at evading the mystery of being precisely because its governing myth is one of practical mastery. Ours is, he thought, the age of technology, in which ontological questions have been vigorously expelled from cultural consideration, replaced by questions of mere mechanistic force; for us, nature is now something “enframed” and defined by a particular disposition of the will, the drive toward dominion that reduces the world to a morally neutral “standing reserve” of resources entirely subject to our manipulation, exploitation, and ambition. Anything that does not fit within the frame of that picture is simply invisible to us. When the world is seen this way, even organic life–even where consciousness is present–must come to be regarded as just another kind of technology. This vision of things can accommodate the prospect of large areas of ignorance yet to be vanquished (every empire longs to discover new worlds to conquer), but no realm of ultimate mystery. Late modernity is thus a condition of willful spiritual deafness. Enframed, racked, reduced to machinery, nature cannot speak unless spoken to, and then her answers must be only yes, no, or obedient silence. She cannot address us in her own voice. And we certainly cannot hear whatever voice might attempt to speak to us through her” (David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, pp. 311-312).

René Descartes

“René Descartes (1591-1650), like Bacon, follows Machiavelli in orienting knowledge to the acquisition of the power to “promote as far as possible the general good of mankind.” In his Discourse on Method he preferred the clear and distinct ideas of geometry with its certain conclusions to all other forms of knowledge. He tried to set all knowledge on the sure and firm foundation of certainty, arguing that we should suspect as false anything we think we know that can be doubted. His “method of universal doubt” stats the Enlightenment “prejudice against prejudice.” His “I think therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum) is supposed to prove his own existence as a thinking being and becomes the basis for the certain foundations of all knowledge, which includes two kinds of substance: non-corporeal (thinking beings, subjects) and corporeal (extended things, objects). Beginning from the knowledge he finds in himself, he proceeds to the “book of nature” outside him to build up an edifice ofknowledge with a certainty that is supposed to equal that of geometrical demonstration (the key to which is clear and distinct perception by reason independently of sense experience). The purpose of such knowledge, however, is “to make man the master and possessor of nature” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).