Ontological Reductionism
and Pragmatic Speech


[The] sliding down of the substance of order over the ranks of the ontological hierarchy holds as much interest for the historian as it does for the philosopher. For from the eighteenth century to the present, the ontological reduction has been completed. The range of theoretical possibilities to find substitutes for the summum bonum is, on principle, exhausted.

This observation does not imply that new variants of the earlier steps of reduction cannot be developed and find temporary acceptance; nor does it suggest that the firmly entrenched earlier reductions will lose their power as social creeds in the near future. Nevertheless, the fact that the reduction has run its whole gamut must not be belittled. This fact is for the social scientist the most important index that "modernity" has run its course.

I shall now draw some conclusions from the brief sketch of selected topics. Morality is inseparable from rationality. The connection will be clarified by the definition of conscience given by Étienne Gilson: Conscience is the act of judgment by which we approve or disapprove our actions in the light of rational moral principles. In order to act rationally, a man must know who he is, in what kind of a world he lives, and what his station is in the order of being. A man who is confused about the essentials of his existence is incapable of rational action;  and if he is incapable of rational action, he is incapable of moral action.

If "opinion" is characterized by the conceptions of the nature of man and the order of society that have arisen in the course of the ontological reduction, the knowledge of the essentials of existence is badly disturbed. And if the disturbances of this type determine the climate of opinion, as they do in our "pluralistic" society, the opinions communicated are irrational, while the acts of communication are deficient in morality to the extent of their irrationality.

Communication, even if it is substantive by intention, will be not formative but destructive of personality if the conception of order it communicates moves on one of the levels of the ontological reduction. Moreover, the type of pragmatic communication that we have distinguished acquires a new and sinister meaning in this situation, insofar as communication becomes essentially pragmatic when it moves on the level of substitute substance. It cannot function as persuasion in the Platonic sense at all, but only induce conformist states of mind and conforming behavior.

And finally, since human nature, even under the attack of pragmatic communication, remains what it is, resistance to the purpose of the communicator must be expected from the resources of a soul that is essentially open toward God. Communication, once it has become essentially pragmatic, can no longer rely on the persuasiveness of the reason it has decapitated. In order to achieve his purpose, the pragmatic communicator must therefore rely on the arsenal of psychological tricks— suppressio veri and suggestio falsi, repetition, the "big lie," and so forth—to create the emotional diversions that will prevent his target from questioning the substantive authenticity of the communication. For this reason, essentially pragmatic communication is inevitably forced in the direction of intoxication.

CW VOL 11,
Necessary Moral Bases for Communication in a Democracy , pp 57-58.

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