It can be argued that the historical period known as “modernity” was dominated by the intellectual domains of Philosophy and Science and that the period known as “post-modernity” has granted a greater primacy of influence to Literature and the Arts, along with the influence of the Political and Social Sciences. It is my view that Philosophy, Science, Literature and the Arts, along with the shape-shifting wild-card of Religion and Spirituality, and the ambitious newcomers of Psychology and Sociology are the separate yet overlapping domains that constitute the variegated and complex intellectual and cultural tradition our western civilization, and that each of these domains has a valuable contribution to make.
During the reign of modernity it was Philosophy and Science that shared the throne, with philosophy gradually surrendering the thrown to Science. Both Philosophy and Science were in search of Grand Theories of Everything, but they went about the search in different ways. Continental philosophy in particular begins with abstract metaphysical categories, whether of Kant or Hegel.
Natural and Physical Science begins with classifying the various types of minerals, vegetation, animals and Homo sapiens — from early to late formation, from symbol to complex. It has no need to metaphysical categories. The physical categories will do just fine. E.O. Wilson offers a Scientistic Theory of Everything in which he maintains that the real and rational world may be reduced to what can be known by the physical and natural sciences, and that the other domains of knowledge and opinion, whether philosophy, religion, psychology, sociology, literature or the arts can best be explained in terms of the laws and patterns that govern the physical and natural world.
For those endowed with a literary and artistic cast of mind, neither the methods of rational philosophy and of empirical science are both unsatisfying and insufficient. Literary and artistic types are less interested in abstract philosophical categories of “being” and abstract scientific taxonomies of “species” than they are in the unique, complex, ambiguous, many-sided, nuanced and idiosyncratic individual. The genius of Shakespeare exemplifies this sensibility, as Jonathan Bate points out in his books, “The Genius of Shakespeare,” and “Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare.” Literary critic Harold Bloom locates Shakespeare at the center of the Western Literary Canon. Bloom writes in the spirit of Shakespeare in his book, “Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds.” Bloom uses the Mystical Esoteric Kabbala as a complex template for exploring various writers with family resemblances.” Quoting Emerson who said he “read for the lusters,” Bloom groups his exemplary writers into twenty “lusters.” For Bloom as for Shakespeare there are more things in heaven and earth than are contained in our philosophies..and our sciences.
The point is not that literary and artistically minded persons like Bloom do not themselves use abstract templates, categories, rubrics and taxonomies to classify various kinds of writers and artists, for they most surely do. But what is of greatest interest to writers and artists is not the general rubric or category but “the particular and unique individual and his story.” What Bloom and other literati are doing when they write about many authors and artists is to use both hemispheres of the brain — the rational and the imaginative, the convergent and divergent, the general and the particular, the analytical and the existential.
It now becomes more clear why literati and artists prefer local concrete narratives to grand abstract narratives. The best writers and artists give us a vivid sensation, intensified perception and heightened awareness of immediate experience within the web of our relationships with ourselves and between other human beings, the natural world, and the mystery of being. And that is why we need literature and art, because abstract philosophical categories of ontology and scientific rubrics of taxonomical classification are not enough to sustain the soul that thrives in the midst of mystery, ambiguity, plurality and paradox, or what the literary critic Lionel Trilling called “variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty.”
For the post-modern sensibility, it is literature, linguistics, literary criticism and social criticism that play the central epistemological role. Richard Rorty is is exemplary of this view. He is a neo-pragmatist whose central themes are Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. He combined “private irony” and “liberal hope.” For Rorty as for Bloom the commanding authorities of rational philosophy and empirical science are replaced by what Bloom called “the stong poet.”
Literati and artists rely upon local narratives and creative artifacts to “tell all the truth but tell it slant,” and are wary of the pretensions of rationalism and scientism when philosophers and scientists claim to have found Grand Theories of Everything. Our creative writers and artists have different fish to fry, yet perhaps it is not too much to hope that one day our philosophers, scientists, poets and artists may make good fishing buddies.
What is at the root of the differences between the ways that philosophers, scientists, poets and artists experience life and seek to understand and explore it? Among other things it may have to do with brain quadrant preferences. I know, another theory, though not quite a Grand Theory of Everything. The chart at the top of this blog suggests why these four cultures tend to talk past each other. Their sensory, emotive and cognitive processes simply work in different ways. Each type chooses to emphasize certain things and minimize the rest. What about Facts, Form, Feelings and Future? Facts correlates with the scientific way. Form correlates with the philosophical way. Feelings correlates with the literary and artistic way.
But what about the Emergent Future, or for that matter the Historical Past and Present Moment? It seems to me that the “Future” in the four quadrant model at the top of this blog correlates with the Transcendental Perspective of the Visionary Intuitive. The Visionary Intuitive may be associated culturally and religiously with the archetypal Shaman, Druid, Sage, Mystic, Priest, Prophet and Evangelist, whose functions are to use insight, illumination, ritual, tradition, memory and hope to integrate the complementary functions of Facts, Forms and Feelings into a synoptic vision of the wholeness of life within the Unity of Being. Are not each of these also expressions of “the Strong Poet?”
As it turns out, the Philosopher, Scientist, Literati and Artist need one more companion for the road, the Visionary Intuitive with a Transcendental Perspective who appreciates the “languages” of Facts, Forms and Feelings, and who integrates them with a “tacit knowlede” of the Historical Past, the Eternal Now, and the Emergent Future.