On the Pathos of Science and the Spiritual Eunuchs

(1) The transfer of [the pathos of autonomy and self-reliance that animates the advancement of science] from science to existence expresses itself concretely in the growth of the belief that human existence can be oriented in an absolute sense through the truth of science. If this belief is justified, then it becomes unnecessary to cultivate knowledge beyond science. As a consequence of this belief, the preoccupation with science and the possession of scientific knowledge has come to legitimate ignorance with regard to all problems that lie beyond a science of phenomena. The spreading of the belief has had the result that the magnificent advancement of science in Western civilization is paralleled by an unspeakable advancement of mass ignorance with regard to the problems that are existentially the important ones.

(2) Such mass ignorance would be bad enough in itself. Even so, mere ignorance could be repaired by learning. Scientistic ignorance becomes a civilizational disaster because the substantial ordering of existence cannot be achieved through the acquisition of knowledge in the phenomenal sense. It requires the formation of personality in an educational process, and this process requires institutions.

Once the scientistic pathos has penetrated into the educational institutions of a society, it has become a social force that cannot easily be broken, if it can be broken at all. The problem, therefore, is no longer one of mere ignorance. If belief in the self-sufficient ordering of existence through science is socially entrenched, it becomes a force that actively prevents the cultivation of human substance and corrodes the surviving elements of the cultural tradition still further. The spiritual desire, in the Platonic sense, must be very strong in a young man of our time in order to overcome the obstacles that social pressure puts in the way of its cultivation.

Moreover, with regard to the cultivation of substance men are gifted differently (gifted in the Pauline sense of endowment with spiritual charismata). The active carriers of the scientistic pathos will be the men who are deficient in such gifts, and the penetration of society with the scientistic pathos creates an environment that favors the social success of the deficient human types. Hence, the advancement of science and the growth of the rational-utilitarian factor are accompanied by a restratification of society that hitherto seems to have escaped attention because it cannot be expressed in terms of social classes. Restratification through the social prestige and success of the deficient types must be expressed in terms of human substance. We shall use the term spiritual eunuchism for the designation of personality traits that make a man a likely victim of scientistic pathos, as well as for the designation of the traits that a society acquires when this human type gains social ascendancy. . . .

(3) A further trait connected with the transfer of pathos is the rise of aggressive dilettantism in philosophical matters. Again, this is not a question of simple ignorance or dilettantism that may occur at any time. The new and dangerous element is the readiness of the dilettante to impose his ignorance as a standard on others. Clarke's "I do not understand" in answer to Leibniz's exposition of the problems of time and space is the ominous symptom of the new attitude. He really does not understand and that settles the argument in his favor. What the scientistic dilettante cannot understand must not be proposed in discussions of a problem. . . . What Newton had to say in his definitions of space affected the formation of political ideas immeasurably. The social success of Newton's theory of absolute space is the first great instance of successful dilettantic theories, advanced either by scientists themselves or (after the transfer of the pathos of science on a relevant scale) by the great spiritual eunuchs of the nineteenth century. Without the prestige effect of scientism, such major intellectual scandals as the social success of Positivism, or Darwinian evolutionism, or Marxism would be unthinkable.

CW Vol 24 (HPI-VI),
Chapter 4, The English Quest for the Concrete,
§ 3. Absolute Space and Relativity, pp 211-213.