Thursday, August 03, 2006

Rationality and Fall

I have one last exploration to make before parting ways with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence. This time Phaedrus is wrestling with Greek thought and finding something evil in Aristotle.
Phaedrus remembered a line from Thoreau: "You never gain something but that you lose something." And now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialetic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth-- but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it.

This seems to me to have Genesis 3 written all over it, or at least flowing under it. I've never quite been satisfied with any single answer to the question of what exactly was wrong with gaining knowledge of good and evil. Bonhoeffer suggests that it is that we take on ourselves the burden of deciding what is right and what is wrong. That's pretty good, but it doesn't always fit with my experience of what's wrong with me and the world. As Pirsig puts it in his prescript, "And what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good--need we ask anyone to tell us these things?" It's usually clear.

The other answer given is that the knowledge of good and evil is somehow connected to rationality. And that's where the text above connects. I generally tend not to understand what's wrong with reason. I think it's a good thing. But the passage above provides the insight that through reason, we separate ourselves from the world.

The other resonance that this had for me was with Martin Buber's I and Thou. In Buber's language, through rational analysis we enter into an "I-it" relationship with the world around us. We have lost the "I-you" relationship that is our proper orientation to the world around us. And in this we lose our ability to interact with God in the world.

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