Scientific American Essays

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That both imply moral relativism, which means that there is no rational basis for judgments about right and wrong, was seen by many of Strauss’s colleagues in the university world as an important contribution to progress.” To rehabilitate philosophy, Strauss chose themes that recur throughout his scholarship: the break between ancient and modern thought, the close reading of key texts which often reveal subtle or concealed messages that writers obscured for fear of persecution, and the “problem” of natural right.

For Plato and Aristotle, Strauss emphasized, the ground of justice could be found in the order and ends of the whole or universe; but this “cosmic teleology” had been upended by the success of modern science, according to which nature provides no information that can serve to advise politics.

Both efforts, inaugurated some 400 years ago, were driven by one impulse: to bring the natural world, including mankind, under control by reducing all phenomena—including political phenomena—to their material components.

Thus sorted and quantified, every body and everybody could be controlled using the newly derived laws of nature, mathematical and social.

But the current scholars of this classical philosophy are lost in minutia, fixated on the contingent lessons of a long-dead teacher, and unaware of or indifferent to their responsibility.

Should this discipline awaken, it will need to move quickly to repair its estranged relationship with both the natural sciences and metaphysics.

Enormous moral and political questions—for which society seems utterly unprepared—are being raised by genomics, artificial intelligence, and the underreported phenomenon of psychological manipulation in social media (it’s not just the data; it’s the dopamine).

Advanced computer modeling is driving research in many fields to increasing artificiality, and even further away from classical causality, with purely mathematical models that are increasingly so complex as to elude—and seemingly dispense with—validation.

Fleeing Nazi Germany, he eventually arrived in the United States and taught at a variety of colleges, most notably the University of Chicago.

“The social scene that Strauss confronted was sure of several things: that the scientific enterprise was something distinct from philosophy; that its task was to explain actual behavior by close attention to facts and their causes or correlates; [and] that moral judgements had no proper place in the theory required to explain behavior….


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