More on “the West”

This post is a follow-up to my post from yesterday on the nature of “the West”;. It also expands on material from my post, “What Do We Know About the Past?”.

Let’s try explaining this a little differently. I’ve put together a few graphics to illustrate what I’m getting at.

Once upon a time there was something we’ll call “Classical Greek Thought”. Here it is:

What was in that circle? Well, as I noted in my post cited above, we really don’t know. Everything we know about classical Greek thought is via manuscripts copied by Christian scribes and commentaries from Christian church fathers. There’s no reason to believe that the scribes copied everything, willy-nilly. And there’s every reason to believe that there were things they didn’t copy.We do know that the early Christians thought highly of some of the ideas of the Greeks (they said as much). So here’s another diagram of Greek and Christian thought:
Here’s a diagram that represents the relationship between Greek thought, Christian thought, and “modern” thought. I’m using the word “modern” here as a proxy for “Western” thought. There have been developments since the early church fathers but it includes pre-Christian, non-Christian, and novel influences.
Everything from Greek thought that’s been incorporated by us moderns into modern thought is known to us because it was passed on to us by Christian scribes and scholars. Is it possible that some of modern thought is derived from classical Greek thought without Christian intermediation? If so, it’s a coincidence arrived at independently and can’t be thought of as “derivation” in any meaningful sense because there simply is no mechanism for it to be otherwise.

Some have suggested that the thought of classical antiquity has been passed down to moderns in an unbroken oral tradition. I guess anything’s possible but I’d certainly like to see an example with evidence and documentation.

This is all vastly oversimplified, of course.

Dean has continued the discussion with a new post of his own. Dean writes:

I think that the West has a shared cultural heritage of the classic Greek and Roman thinkers, filtered through the centuries through the Catholic Church, hammered on by protestant individualism, and which has come in very recent generations to represent a broad swath of liberal values: free speech, free press, free elections, equal rights for all, and so on. I think the seeds of these newer ideas have spread, however, so that now nations which are not Western at all in cultural background now share those liberal ideas: nations like Japan, South Korea, India, and Indonesia maintain a very non-Western culture in many ways, but these ideas of human freedom are respected there now.

I agree with that very nearly completely. However, I don’t much care for the use of the term “the West” in describing that. I think a better choice might be “modernity”. Maybe someone can suggest something more apt.

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment