Why did do I find Seyyed Hossein Nasr to be alien?
In many ways, he isn’t. I was struck in particular by a comment by one of his commentators that he seems to endorse:
[A]ny plausible solution for the persisting problems caused by modern science and technology can be achieved not by better engineering or further progress but by reconsidering the entire perspective of the modern worldview regarding nature, human life, and its meaning
Now this is something like what I sincerely believed, when I was 19. It was really an important part of my deciding to go into philosophy. There were a few premises tied in my own committments. One which Nasr and his sympathetic commentators don’t share with the younger me was a committment to the moral neutrality of technology. It just seemed obvious that technology was neither inherently bad or good, it just was. Evaluating particular technologies as bad or good, and by extension the general direction of technological progress as either progressive or regressive, required reference to some other source of values. So, engineers can build tools for handicap accessibility or they can build weapons of great destructive power, but it would require the skills and insights of philosophers to figure out which ones are bad and which one are good.
Yeah, that’s part of what I’m a little embarassed about now. The easy distinction between roles really isn’t obvious, unless someone decides to take Plato’s advice and appoint philosopher kings. I would recommend against that option.
It’s also not so obvious how to divide technological progress from ordinary historical development. One could start with a distinction between the meanderings of history versus the apparently goal directed progress of technology. But this route begs the question, it begins by identifying what counts as progress, when if we knew that there wouldn’t really be a question worth asking here.
Nasr and his compatriots begin with a tradition (or traditions) of established knowledge, which incorporate significant spiritual knowledge. Anything which lessens that contact with what they consider the eternal source of Being, is bad. Western secular civilization has steadily moved away from even acknowledging the possibility of such knowledge. Thus, the general trend of technological development has been degenerative.
I can’t help but feel it truly alien, unnerving, to see the era which encompasses my own life-time as one of accelerating decline. In fact, I don’t see it that way. I welcome the destablizing influence of reading the philosophy of those who, but ultimately, it just feels alien.
Not that that’s a good way to evaluate philosophical writing, but it does help keep the interest yup while you’re working out the hard parts.