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Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science


Philosophy and Biology

First Advisor

Todd Ryan

Second Advisor

Maurice Wade

Third Advisor

Michael O'Donnel


The modern order stands upon an intellectual paradox, with far reaching implications both at the level of the individual and on the global stage. Throughout most of human history, people have lived within distinct cultures. These cultures provided the individuals within them with a place within a larger whole, a moral system by which to direct their lives, and an answer to those pervasive existential doubts that plague us finite creatures with an awareness of infinity; in short, with a means of living fulfilling human lives. Societies as wholes were characterized by their cultures, forging and maintaining a cohesive identity based on a shared moral order and the myths that upheld it. However, the Enlightenment sparked a radical change in human perception, and from the new vantage point of reason much that was vital to the maintenance of culture is discredited. The philosophers of the Enlightenment promised a world made better by the light of reason, where objective means to finding truth would engender natural sciences with immeasurable potential to better the human condition and a new political science that would free men from the shackles of arbitrary and oppressive rule. And to an amazing extent, the Enlightenment philosophers have delivered. Yet there are vital human needs that cultures have satisfied, and which reason cannot. In a world of medicine, technology and political freedom, there is a pervasive awareness that something is missing, that some existential longings go unsatisfied in the modern order. In eroding the grounds for culture without being able to undertake its functions, the Enlightenment has enabled enormous advances in quality of life while eroding the means by which life is given meaning. I explore the causes of this paradox, tracing a history of religion and philosophy from pre-Enlightenment times until modernity, and the manifestations of this paradox in the modern world, including nihilism and the rise of fundamentalist religion. I conclude with a suggestion for a possible resolution.


Readable even without extensive training in Philosophy. -Alberto Martinez, author.

Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Science in Philosophy and Biology. Accessible to members of the Trinity community only.