Ancient and primitive cultures demonstrate the use of myth as an epistemological basis, but historically they have been replaced by Rationalism. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, the insufficiency of reason for the task we give it has become more and more evident, until at last we have been forced to severely limit the truths we believe it can attain. In fact, in contemporary society we have descended into an age of irrationalism—the inevitable result of Rationalism—an age of absolute skepticism, and once again our lost and unguided masses are basing their lifestyles upon a collection of myths—myths this time originated by popular culture. But modern society is intensely aware of the makers of these myths—of the actors and artists and musicians who create the myths—and by a curious act of transference, we have placed the normative authority of the myths on their makers, inventing the cult of celebrity.
[...] In a book called The Meditations, Descartes described how he originated his philosophy in these words: Today, then, since I have opportunely freed my mind from all cares, (and am happily disturbed by no passions), and since I am in the secure possession of leisure in a peaceable retirement, I will at length apply myself earnestly and freely to the general overthrow of all my former opinions. But, to this end, it will not be necessary for me to show that the whole of these are false—a point, perhaps, which I shall never reach; but as even now my reason convinces me that I ought not the less carefully to withhold belief from what is not entirely certain and indubitable, than from what is manifestly false, it will be sufficient to justify the rejection of the whole if I shall find in each some ground for doubt. [...]
[...] Psychoanalysis might be called therapy through myth, because by isolating and identifying the myths that color a person's psyche, and then dealing with the origins of those myths—origins in repressed desires and experiences (as Freud would say), or in the archetypes of the collective subconscious which struggle for expression in all men (as Jung would say)—the psychoanalyst works like a storyteller, creating a tale from the emotional resonances in his audience that will at length lay to rest the mental problems of the audience. [...]
[...] These virtues were not supported by independent reasoning except as an afterthought—they were assumed to be virtues because they were based on the mythical examples of Achilles, Hercules and other heroes. Rationalistic Ethical Systems as a Replacement for Myth Beginning with the Greek philosopher Socrates, however, a new epistemological basis for normative behavior entered the fray. Socrates was informed by a friend, as we read in the Apology, that a Delphic oracle had named him the wisest man in the world. [...]
[...] But modern society is intensely aware of the makers of these myths—of the actors and artists and musicians who create the myths—and by a curious act of transference, we have placed the normative authority of the myths on their makers, inventing the cult of celebrity. Myth in Primitive Cultures and Ancient History Myth exists in every human culture. Dr. Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces wrote the following: Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. [...]
[...] Following Hume, it became common among philosophers to question the history of philosophy—to look back and ask whether perhaps they were not working out of a tradition that was basically flawed, a system that had presumptuously asked the wrong questions. Then to put the nail in the coffin of Rationalism as an epistemological basis for normative behavior, along came A.J. Ayer. This man was a philosopher in the tradition of Hume, who continued Hume's questioning about the nature of knowledge, and extended it to a study of the language we use to express knowledge. [...]
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