Subjectivity and the Modern World



Abstract: Despite the great technical progress of the modern world, we live, in some parts of Western society at least, in a joyless and despairing world. Many Western countries are in demographic decline and their citizens, thanks to the Covid pandemic, increasingly distrustful of governments and science alike. At the same time, social media has replaced traditional media, such as newspapers, radio, and television, as the new sources of information and opinion about a multitude of issues. Unfortunately, because we are exhorted to be sensitive to everyone’s subjective feelings and because we are bombarded on all sides by masses of information, misinformation, and untested opinions, one of the first casualties of this zeitgeist is truth. The genesis of the contemporary estrangement from truth is the post-modern rejection of Modernity and the Enlightenment project in which the hope of humanity was taken to lie in reason and science alone. Religion was to henceforth be a private matter. A rising anti-religious fervour in the nineteenth century prompted Nietzsche to warn that the death of God would have dire consequences for human beings. Despite Nietzsche’s warnings, universal religious, moral and social principles grounded in a transcendent reality that demand priority over subjective desires, are now a major stumbling block for a world in which, in God’s absence, individual autonomy is the most important value and personal opinion overrides truth. Although post-modernity has provided a propaedeutic to the overconfident reliance of the Enlightenment on the power of an objective reason, it has, in its turn, swung the pendulum too far towards a dogmatic insistence that reality is subjective. This paper, drawing on Plato’s dialogues against the sophist, shows that the contemporary estrangement from truth is not new and that the postmodern world is full of sophists too. It is suggested that the chaos of the modern world can only be corrected through a return to a metaphysics in which God, and hence truth, has a central role.


Keywords: post-modernism, Plato, sophism, truth