The Two Voices

WHAT COLERIDGE THOUGHT
OWEN BARFIELD

Amid all the menacing signs that surround us in the middle of this twentieth century, perhaps the one which fills thoughtful people with the greatest sense of foreboding is the growing sense of meaninglessness. It is this which underlies most of the other threats. How is it that the more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it?


Chapter Eleven of Mariner is titled The Two Voices, and here we receive a holistic framework.  All the individual aspects of the mariner’s journey are factors of both human consequence and divine providence, but it would be wrong to weigh them separately or equally.  Here we find the antithesis of modernity’s inevitable reductionism, where piece parts are errantly considered irrespective of sovereign God.

As Malcolm Guite writes:

The “whole scientific and common-sense concept of objectivity” is flawed, he argues; and these flaws are now surfacing. Barfield is, of course, not the only one to have observed this, and the trickle of unease about the intellectual validity of the Enlightenment project has since become a flood. Reviewing Where the Wasteland Ends—Theodore Roszak’s important critique of Western cultural and scientific method—and summarizing its arguments, Barfield writes:

The vaunted progress of knowledge, which has been going on since the seventeenth century, has been progress in alienation. The alienation of nature from humanity, which the exclusive pursuit of “objectivity” in science entails, was the first stage; and was followed, with the acceptance of Man himself as part of a nature so alienated, by the alienation of man from himself. This final and fatal step in reductionism occurred in two stages: first his body and then his mind. Newton’s approach to nature was already, by contrast with older scientific traditions, a form of behaviourism; and what has since followed has been its extension from astronomy and physics into physiology and ultimately psychology.

How does reductionism affect our worldview ?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief