The Archaeology of Ideas

13 01 2009


Taylor Marshall some time ago posted the following quote from a book on the Catholic theologian, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange:

To say that “all theologies are historically conditions artifacts of particular cultures” doesn’t really tell one something particularly significant: everything that one can point to is “historically conditioned.” For the Thomist school, when an idea came into existence and where it developed are not as interesting as its particular truth claims. The Thomist is always more interested in the truth or falsity of an idea than its historical pedigree. To identify where an idea appeared and when it was formulated, say the Thomists, does not help you evaluate its truth claims. To say otherwise is blatant chauvinism.
What Mr. Marshall seeks to oppose with this quote and his commentary on it is the “archaeology of ideas”, as the name of his post denotes. Those who have experience with the academia will know that such a title is an inverted hommage to the early work of French theorist Michel Foucault (pictured above), and more specifically to his book, Les mots et les choses, commonly translated in English as The Order of Things. It is in this book that Foucault studies the ideas of Descartes, the meditations of Ignatius Loyola, and the paintings by Velasquez to assert that our modern notion of man is an invention of recent centuries that may as well be wiped away, “like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea”.
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