Faith in the Unseen Reality of Truth: The Work of Michael Polanyi.


I mentioned last week that Lesslie Newbigin was important to my development as a Christian thinker, and it was Newbigin who introduced me to one of the most important figures in 20th Century philosophy of science, Michael Polanyi. Polanyi was born in 1891 Eventually, he received doctoral degrees in medicine and science. He worked as a research chemist, making important discoveries as a practicing scientist. He later turned his attention to philosophical pursuits. With the Hitler’s rise to power, Polanyi emigrated to Britain and became Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Manchester (1933-1948). Because of his interest in and contribution to the literature of the social sciences and philosophy, Polanyi was made Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester (1948-58). He also lectured as visiting professor or senior fellow at the universities of Chicago, Aberdeen, Virginia, Stanford and Merton College, Oxford. [1]

The overt politicization of science in Nazi Germany, and also in Communist Russia, made a deep impact on Polanyi. He observed first-hand the distortions of science that totalitarian regimes create. In his little book, Science Faith, and Society: A Searching Examination of the meaning and nature of Scientific Inquiry, [2] Polanyi outlines the problem of a politicized science and his proposal for the freedom of science from political manipulation. In so doing, he sets out the fundamentals of his ideal of a free society. Given the loss of belief in the truth in Western societies, which Polanyi experienced in Germany and Eastern Europe, his work is of contemporary relevance.

The Marxist Agenda

In the Soviet Union, all science was conducted in an atmosphere of what we would call, “Political Correctness.” It was an article of faith that Marxist dialectical materialism embodied the ultimate scientific explanation for, and guidance, to society. There was no such thing as “pure science,” for all scientific endeavor, indeed all endeavors, had to serve the state as the embodiment of the will of the people and of the revolution. Eventually most scientific endeavors were brought under the control of Communist ideology. In the process, the Soviet Union devastated their scientific community, and especially in the areas of biology and what we would call the “human sciences.” [3]

It is hard to overestimate the impact of Marx upon modern Western society, even among intellectuals who would disclaim that they are “Marxist.” Marxist ideology, based upon the world being governed by impersonal material forces, lies deep in the modern intellectual psyche. The notion that history is governed by such forces of inevitability comes out in political discussion when politicians right and left use the phrase, “the right side of history” to defend their views and motivate their followers. (I like to comment that, if we destroy ourselves in a nuclear holocaust, it will turn out the roaches and sharks were the ones on the right side of history.)

The notion that history has an inevitable, materially-determined conclusion is a remnant of Marx, even among those who have never read him. Such a view is destructive of both human reason and freedom. For Christians human beings are morally responsible for the societies they create, the decisions they make, and the future they bring about by their actions. One reason for these essays is to restore a human as opposed to materialistic vision of human society and political action.

What it Means to Say Something Real has been Discovered

In response to totalitarian and materialistic visions of human progress, Polanyi set as his goal the defense of human freedom, political, scientific, and religious. In so doing, he carefully walks a path between the objective pole of human knowledge and the inevitable subjective or personal elements in human knowing. He begins by examining what it means to “know the truth.” For Polanyi, human beings believe something to be true when we believe that an order we have discovered will manifest itself in future observations. The first thing to be noted about this definition is that it does not restrict itself to materialistic phenomena. Polanyi believes that we expect many unseen things to reveal themselves. Truth, Justice, Beauty, God, and all the values which make human life worth living, exhibit an immaterial reality that is expected to reveal itself in the future by those who have dedicated themselves to the search for truth.

The scientist in the laboratory, the painter in his studio, the moral philosopher at his computer screen, the physicist in his laboratory, the judge writing his decision, the priest praying at his alter, all these serve an invisible reality they believe will reveal itself to the seeker, Each one believes that new truth and new discovery will be revealed, and that discovery will lead to further discoveries and a further expansion of our experience and knowledge of Truth, Beauty, Justice and God. In this way, scientific knowledge is no different than, or superior to, other forms of knowledge. This ideal of a community dedicated to the search for truth can be applied to political communities as well. [4] These immaterial realities have the power to guide people, communities, nations and societies into a brighter future, and will continue to manifest themselves as emergent realities to those who diligently seek them. [5]

Seekers after Truth Beauty Goodness and Justice as Members of a Community.

Here we get to a second feature of knowledge: all knowing is dependent upon a prior communal act of faith. Scientists, lawyers, artists, philosophers, pastors, and the like are a part of communities of people who believe in scientific truth, justice, beauty, God, wisdom, and other values. In each case, members of their community undergo preparation by which they become a part of a community of those who believe in its values, are skilled in its techniques and disciplines, and who act as role models for newer members. Whether we are speaking of Isaac Newton (Science), Oliver Wendell Holmes (Law), Picasso (Art), Pope John Paul II (Religion), Michael Polanyi (Philosophy), or others in various fields, there is always a community seeking the kind of knowledge the community exists to further. In each case, there is a process by which a person who wishes to become part of the community gains the skills needed to make contributions to it.

Well-formed communities of inquiry are self-policing. They do not require any external governance. [6] For example, in science, theology, law, and other areas of inquiry there are respected journals. Not everyone is able to write for them. There is a process of gaining credibility. In addition, in controversial areas, it is quite likely that those journals will print articles exposing readers to more than one view. For example, in quantum physics there are several possible interpretations that have very well-known backers. While most scientists support something like the Copenhagen Interpretation, there are those who think that the Bohm (Hidden Variable) Interpretation is the better explanation. Both receive space in well-respected journals and are the subject of articles, seminars, discussions and the like.

In all cases, traditions can take steps down what turns out to be blind alleys. In law, some decisions breed more and better decisions in an area, while others breed inconsistencies, unforeseen injustices, and incoherencies. When a precedent is overturned it is because judges become convinced that there must be a better or different rule that would promote justice to parties and society as a whole. Frequently, this occurs after a long period of discussion in journals, seminars, educational events, political writings, etc. In other areas, research projects may change as certain avenues of research turn out to be less fruitful than others.

Personal Responsibility for the True, Beautiful, Good, or Just.

Having spoken of the communal nature of the search for Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Justice, there is also a personal aspect. Every discovery, every new work of art, every new moral intuition is the product of a human person. Over and over again in science, men and women have struggled in an area to remove some inconsistency or problem in a theory, only to await the insight of a single mind. Such was the case with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the discoveries of modern quantum physics. In each case, after a long period of struggle with conflicting data that could not be easily reconciled with the current theory, a new discovery was made through an act of personal insight. [7] When this insight was reached, the scientist, in this case Albert Einstein, published his results to the rest of the community, expecting both criticism and support.

When a scientist publishes his results, he is making a public declaration to his or her community of inquiry of what he or she has come to believe is true about the world. In a similar way, when a lawyer finishes a brief, when a painter finishes a painting, when a writer finishes a novel, when pastor finishes a sermon, he or she publishes to the world their work—for which they will be held personally accountable. If progress has been made, if some aspect of truth, justice, beauty, goodness or God has been revealed, he or she receives praise. If a mistake has been made, it will be pointed out. It is in the publishing of a work in any area that a person submits his or her work to the critical judgement of the community as a whole and takes personal responsibility for it.

The Body Politic as a Self-Policing Community

As mentioned earlier, Polanyi was concerned about the way in which Western intellectuals had become seduced by various totalitarian ideologies, left and right, and the descent into nihilism, so evident in our politics and so prevalent among intellectuals. His goal was to provide an intellectual foundation not just for scientific freedom, but for political freedom as well. [8] Polanyi believes a free society requires that a community practice free speech (discussion and dialogue) with a common faith that (i) there is such a thing as truth; (ii) the members of the community love the truth and are committed to search for it; (iii) the members have internalized a personal obligation to pursue the truth; and (iv) that the members of the community have the ability needed to undertake the search. [9]

In the search for the truth, the members of the community must practice two virtues: Fairness and Tolerance. Fairness is the ability to listen to the opinions of the members of the community with an open mind, attempting to be objective in judging the merits of the argument. Tolerance is the ability to hear sympathetically other, and even hostile, views and to grant those views the respect they deserve. No free society can endure without dedication to the pursuit of truth, justice and the other ideals of the human heart—a pursuit that engages the best qualities of its citizens, who have been prepared by their upbringing and education to have the character needed to be free citizens of a free society.

Why Religion is a Part of the Search for Justice

I must conclude this post, which is already too long. However, I cannot do so without making a point concerning why religious people and religious views are important to public debate and why these views should be tolerated heard in the public arena. There is more to the search for God and for religious truth than the search for justice.  However, the search for God inevitably involves the search for justice. The transcendent search for the One who is the ultimate source of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Justice cannot but impact the search for justice by a society.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other people of religious conviction are on a search for the ultimate ground of justice and other values in a society. Like all searchers, they may be wrong. There are times, such as the defenses of slavery, when some religious people have gone in a wrong direction. Nevertheless, there are times, and the elimination of slavery is one of them, when religious people were among the first and more ardent spokespersons for the end of a social evil. To silence them, is to silence our society’s movement towards a more just, true, beautiful, good, and humane social order.

Near the end of Science, Faith, and Society, Polanyi makes the following observation, which is terrifying in its application to early 21st Century America:

[If] the citizens are dedicated to certain transcendent obligations and particularly to such general ideals as truth, justice, charity, and these are in embodied in the tradition of the community to which allegiance is maintained, a great many issues between citizens, and all to some extent, can be left—and are necessarily left—for the individual consciences to decide. The moment, however, a community ceases to be dedicated, through its members to transcendent ideals, it can continue to exist undisrupted only by submission to a single center of unlimited power. Nor can citizens who have radically abandoned belief in spiritual realities—on the obligations to which their consciences would have been entitled and in duty bound to take a stand—raise any objection to being totally directed by the state. In fact, their love of truth and justice turn then automatically, as I have shown, to a love of state power. [10]

It is my belief that we see signs of this very phenomenon in our contemporary politics.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] There are many good articles on the internet about Polanyi and his life. See for example, Michael Polanyi and Tacit Knowledge at (downloaded May 27, 2020). For those wanting the best introduction to his thinking, see, Drucilla Scott, Everyman Revisited: The Common Sense of Michael Polanyi (Sussex, ENG: The Book Guild Limited, 1985). His major work is Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

[2] Science Faith and Society: A Searching Examination of the Meaning and Nature of Scientific Inquiry (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1946)

[3] It is impossible to overestimate the moral and intellectual damage Marxism does to a society. I traveled to Russia in 1995 and saw personally the moral, political and economic devastation that 70 years of socialism wreaked on Russian society. One reason for the current regime is the moral and political consequences of this period and the lack of the moral, spiritual, intellectual, and political foundations for democracy.

[4] Science Faith and Society, 17.

[5] Thus, Polanyi subscribes to the Aristotelian notion that the real is that which has power. Goodness, truth, beauty, and other immaterial values have an unseen reality, in that they fruitfully guide action and continue to reveal themselves to those who seek them.

[6] Science, Faith and Society, at 47ff. The subject of self-governance is very broad. A host of policing measures exist in any discipline. The competition for academic posts is normally intense; and, in every institution, faculty look for the best possible candidate for openings. Academic societies are prevalent, and entrance at the highest level is not automatic. Journals have boards to advise them on which articles should be published. Of course, all of these safeguards are subject to failure and even corruption, which is why some disciplines can go into long periods of decline.

[7] Of course, the fact that many minds have examined a problem before singular acts of insight indicates the importance of the community to the success of even the most singular genius.

[8] In a later post, I intend to review his work, The Logic of Liberty (Indianapolis Indiana, Liberty Fund, 1998). In this book, Polanyi outlined his views on a free social order.

[9] Science, Faith and Society, 71.

[10] Science Faith and Society, 78-79.

Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth

There are books that make a difference in a person’s life. For me, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth was one of those books. [1] I was a first-year seminary student, trying to put together my Christian faith and the teachings of a moderately liberal seminary, when I came upon Truth to Tell, bought copies for several of my classmates, and began a love affair with the writings of Lesslie Newbigin.

Lesslie Newbigin is best known among scholars and religious professionals as the founder and a leading writer of what is sometimes called the “Gospel and Culture” and/or “Missional Church” movements. Newbigin was a missionary in India for some years, a Bishop in the Anglican church of South India, before working with the World Council of Churches, of which he was the Associate General Secretary before retiring. His experience in India gave him a unique understanding of the cultural climate in the West and the way in which culture impacts Christian faith. After returning to England, he penned some of the most influential theological works of the late 20th Century. [2]

An Analysis of Where We Are

In Truth to Tell, Newbigin outlines in a readable way his analysis of Western Culture. It is Newbigin’s view that the West since Newton and Descartes has lived under a false ideal of objectivity, in which it is possible for the observer to be separated from that which is observed. In Newton the ideal of a mathematically describable, and therefore technologically controllable, universe was given a scientific foundation that resulted in the Modern World. The ideal was a kind of objective truth that would be true for everyone and recognized as such by everyone. It was an impossible dream.[3]

With the work of philosopher Rene Descartes, the West began a movement into a kind of moral and religious subjectivism from which we have not yet escaped. Descartes attempted to find a ground for human faith, reason, and morals in the subjectivity of the human person. (“I think, therefore I am.”) Religiously (and unintentionally) the attempt by Descartes to found human knowledge on logical certainties, ultimately resulted in morals and religion being exiled to the subjective choice of individuals.  Religion and morals were a private truth, not public upon which people could agree. By the end of the 19th Century, the West was left with the critique of Nietzsche and the primacy of the will to power. The result has been the moral and religious collapse of the West, and the emergence of a series of left and right-wing dictatorships of increasing mendacity.

We see the reality and the impact of the loss of meaning every day in our moral arguments and in politics: the search for dominance by interest groups unbridled by faith, morals, or any other constraint. We experience the endless debate about moral questions, with each side talking past the other—and paying little or no attention to the other. What is needed is a new starting point for thought and action.

It is at this point that Newbigin’s analysis meets the need for a different kind of public philosophy to inspire and guide our leaders. The Post-modern West appears to be in the same condition that prevailed in the Greco-Roman World at the time of Augustine. By the beginning of the Fifth Century, Roman society was immersed in decadence morally, philosophical skepticism, moral nihilism, and corrupt decline in the realm of government. The philosophical brilliance of Greece, and the legal, engineering, military. and practical brilliance of Rome, had reached a dead end.

We forget that, before Augustine, Rome and Greco Roman culture was in a period of religious, moral, and political decay not much different than what we see around us today. Augustine wrote his masterpiece, City of God as a response to the Roman pagan charge that the decline of Rome was the fault of the new religion of Christianity. The solution Augustine crafted, a division of the earthly city based on power and the City of God based on love, with the earthly city spiritually and morally subject to the heavenly city, provided a basis for Western Civilization until the modern times.

Until recently, even after the emergence of modern science and technology the moral and spiritual foundations of our culture were Christian. The two great wars of the 20th Century, begun by the “Christian” powers of Europe, the development of the modern secular state, and the secularization of education, and the emergence of a post-Christian society combined to bring this long era to an end. The end, however, was not what anyone considered possible even a century ago: the abrupt decline Western civilization. By the 21st Century, the West had come to reject even the notion of truth, goodness, truth and beauty as human ideals. As Newbigin notes in Truth to Tell, there is nothing more characteristic of our society than the view that all truth claims are relative. He specifically quotes a Chinese Christian theologian for a trenchant description of Western Society: “Technological optimism and literary despair.” [4]

A Proposal For Where We Might Go

In Truth to Tell, Lesslie Newbigin distinguishes between “Agnostic Pluralism” and “Committed Pluralism”. [5] Agnostic Pluralism is the kind of pluralism characteristic of our society, in which truth is unknowable and there are no real criteria for judging between different views. Committed Pluralism, on the other hand, sees human beings as capable of real knowledge of God, subject to human limitations and revision based upon new information. In the emerging postmodern reality Christians face today, what is needed are people committed to reaching out to others in the spirit of acceptance and dialogue, who boldly proclaim what it is they believe and why in humble, truth-seeking conversation with others.

This is the place at which Newbigin adopts the post-critical philosophy of Michael Polanyi, which will be the subject of the next of these blogs. [6] Polanyi recognized the false ideal of objectivity, so common in popular culture as a misunderstanding of human reason, including scientific reasoning. For Polanyi, all reasoning is personal, the action of a responsible human actor, and there is always at work a history and tradition of thought. For example, a scientist does not work in a vacuum, but as part of the group of scientists who are trained in the tradition of the particular branch of science involved. These scientists are motivated by the conviction that they are in contact with a reality beyond themselves—and to which their thinking is subject.

The same is true for any inquiry. Those who seek God or the Good are part of a tradition of persons from different faiths and traditions which have sought the True and the Good in their areas of inquiry. They have taken personal responsibility for their beliefs and been guided by them. Over centuries of inquiry and thought, progress has been made. Finally, those who have sought God, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful  have come into contact with a kind of  reality, spiritual and moral realities which reveal themselves to those who seek to know.

One name for the position that Newbigin outlines is “critical realism.” When a person says that something is “real,” he or she is confessing that it exists independently of their own subjective perceptions. To say that something such as “God,” “Truth,” “Justice,’” “Goodness,” or “Beauty” exists independently of my perception of it and will impact my life whether or not I perceive it properly, is to say that these noetic, immaterial things are “real”. As something that exists outside of my subjective preference, it will impact my life whether I subjectively recognize it or not. [7]

The intellectual move that Newbigin and Polanyi make is an important one, for it is a big step in repairing the breach between the material and noetic worlds, between the seen and the unseen, between faith, morals, and scientific knowledge, between will and reason, and between subjective though and action that has increasingly destructive impact on our political life the in West.

Conclusion: Christians as Bearers of a Public Truth

Newbigin closes his book with a chapter concerning the obligation of Christians to proclaim their truth in a kind of humble submission to the critique of others and for society to listen for the truth being proclaimed without the prejudice that is so common in the secular West. To do this, the Church itself will have to model the kind of reasonableness that it urges upon society as a whole.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), hereinafter, “Truth to Tell.”

[2] Some of his works are The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978); Foolishness to the Greeks: Gospel and Western Culture, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986); The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: MI: Eerdmans, 1989); Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1995).

[3] Truth to Tell, 3.

[4] Truth to Tell, 18.

[5] Id, at 56. This literary despair is really a despair in every area of thought and life not scientific and technological.

[6] Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962); The Tacit Dimension (Glouchester, MA: Peter Smith, 1983); and Science Faith and Society: A Searching Examination of the Meaning and Nature of Scientific Inquiry (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1946)

[7] See for example, Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch Meaning (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 126. In Polanyi’s thought, real things exist independently of any particular observer. We believe such things will manifest themselves in the future in the same and similar situations.



Two of my favorite philosophers, C. S. Pierce and A.N. Whitehead have a great deal in common, more than using initials in their names. Both developed philosophies that are relational and organic. Both had the sometimes-irritating habit of inventing hard to pronounce and difficult to understand terms. Pierce termed his philosophy “pragmaticism” after other philosophers began to use his term “pragmatism” in ways he did not approve. [1] Whitehead invented a whole host of terms in this works as he outlined an organic, process view of the world. [2] With apologies to both of these great men, I have coined my own term, which is the subject of this essay.

An Exhaustion Induced Idea

The other day, as I was returning from a game of golf in the hot Texas sun, under the influence of dehydration, as well as heat, physical, and other exhaustion, I invented a term: “Famperlogalism.” The term grew backwards, as I pondered the reaction of many to what is called, “globalism,” and which largely amounts to the less-than-critical protection of big international corporations on the right and support of large international bureaucracies on the left.

My ponderings began with the “Logalism.” So much “globalist” thinking begins with the global (hence “globalism”) and deduces from that the proper local policy. This seems backward to me. Proper “bottom up thinking” begins by thinking locally and proceeds to determine what is desirable globally. I invented the term “logalism” to incorporate this idea of thinking locally first.

Then I thought, “What do we mean by the “local” part of logalism?”  This resulted in the “famperson” portion of the term. Recently, I read an article about globalism and the probable loss of jobs for huge numbers of people in the future. My response was and is that our society often misunderstands the purpose of economic activity and therefore misunderstands what constitutes a rational economic policy. The foundational purpose of economic activity is to provide valuable work for people and families so that they can support themselves and have meaningful lives. An economy, however efficient, that leaves millions without meaningful work or income, and which traps millions in poverty while a small percentage of people become incredibly rich is not a good economy, whether it is “capitalist” (the United States), socialist (Western Europe) or “communist” (China and Russia). [3]

The rest of this essay makes little sense for those who cannot accept this principle: “An economy exists to provide meaningful work for people that will allow them to support their families and live meaningful lives, not to make a few people incredibly rich.” No matter how much money can be made by companies from exporting jobs in the name of “globalism,” such behavior, and any theory underlying such behavior, are inadequate and unacceptable. The well-being of families and persons should form the core value in developing our notion of an economy and how it should operate.

“Famperlogalism” and “Oikos”

This insight is implicit in the term “Economics,” which derives from a Greek word meaning “Household.” “Oikos,” from which we get the term “Economics,” is the Greek word for household. In the ancient world, a household was more than just a house with two people and perhaps a child. It included what we would call the “nuclear family,” as well as grandparents and great grandparents, servants and employees—all those that made up the family economic unit that was the household. [4] The head of the household was not responsible just for his own personal interests, but for the good of the entire household and its members.

This has vast implications for our economy. Executives are not responsible primarily for their own economic advancement or even for the advancement of their company in the narrow sense. They are responsible for the entire family of relationships of which their business is a part. This is to say that those who own or control assets are responsible for the well-being of all the families and persons and social entities that are related to and impacted by their business. In modern business language, we call these people and entities “Stakeholders.”

This idea of economics as a life and meaning creating activity of a society of people, is why, before the late modern world, economics was classified among the moral sciences. Adam Smith, who was first a moral philosopher, recognized, as we often do not, that there is an inherent moral aspect to economics. [5] A proper economics has a moral component and is interested in persons, families, and local communities, in their support and in their health.

There is nothing more important to rethinking modern American economics than the notion that the primary goal of political and economic entities is strengthening and supporting families and persons. Why in this order? Because persons emerge from families. Healthy people cannot emerge from families that are not healthy. When families are healthy, they have meaningful work to do and time to spend raising children, supporting elderly parents, and taking care of their own friendships, family, and employees.

“Famperlogalism” implies a kind of economics that is inherently relational, organic, and communitarian. It’s relational in that it sees families, persons, small businesses, larger businesses, towns, cities, states, neighborhoods, national governments and international governments, our entire economic system from bottom to top, as related. It is organic because it sees the development of society as a process from smaller units to larger units held together by relationships of mutual dependency among communities of various sizes and types. It is communitarian because it focuses on the health of communities of all levels, types and kinds.

A Brief Outline of “Famperlogalism”

With this long introduction, I’d like to set out a brief outline of what a different kind of economic and political organization might be like and upon what ideas it might be founded:

  1. The world is inherently relational. From the smallest units of energy and matter to the universe as a whole, everything is related. That is to say, the universe is a community.
  2. The world is inherently an organic process. From the creation of the smallest elementary particles, to the organic unfolding of universe as a whole, a relational process is unfolding.
  3. We human beings are a part of this process, connected with the entire universe and to each other in powerful and important ways. In other words, “no person is an island”.
  4. Each level of reality builds on every other level of reality and is related to it. From the mysteries of quantum physics to the mysteries of sociology and politics, different levels of reality emerge and have both an independent and dependent reality that must be considered for understanding and action. There is no independent level of reality and no human person capable of seeing or understanding the entire complex relationality of any human or complex natural system. This is why tolerance and freedom are important: We all need the correction of each other.
  5. These levels of reality include not only physical levels of reality, but also “noetic levels” of reality: spiritual, moral, aesthetic, social, cultural, religious, mathematical, theoretical, and other immaterial levels of reality. Physical levels of reality cannot be healthy or complete except in the context of both the seen and unseen aspects of reality. This is the ground of a healthy environmentalism. There can be no healthy human life unless the entire ecology of the person, material and noetic, is healthy, which is why it is so difficult to nurture healthy people.
  6. The world of immense complexity we inhabit developed from fundamental particles. The world emerged and emerges not from the top down but from the bottom up. Therefore, the health of any emergent phenomena, including social phenomenon, is dependent upon maintaining health and vitality from the bottom up. This is true of political institutions and cultural institutions.
  7. Persons emerge from families. From the standpoint of healthy human society, the fundamental unit is the family. Each human person is profoundly impacted by the family and local society in which they are born and raised. The health of families, neighborhoods, and local economies and cultures is vitally and fundamentally important, and should be treated as such by political and cultural decision-makers. In order to have healthy persons, there must be healthy families. The initial formation of the human person, physical, intellectual, social, and moral, all occur early in human life when the family unit is the most important aspect of the person’s development. When this fundamental unit of reality, the family, is not healthy it is difficult for healthy persons to be formed. A wise society is constructed with health family life in mind and expends its resources to support, encourage, and make healthy families and persons, for these are the fundamental units of any society.
  8. Just as material elements emerge from the immaterial fundamental “particles” of physics, persons emerge from families and have their own independent reality. [6] Healthy societies are constructed so that individual human beings can fulfill their potential and live healthy lives. Among other things, this means that human societies are responsible to organize themselves in such a way that people have meaningful labor and other meaningful human relationships.
  9. Each part of a functional society: families, neighborhoods, businesses, local governments, towns, cities, nations, international businesses, for-profit companies, not-for-profit companies, religious institutions, social groups, and all other cultural units, are both independent and related, dependent entities. Just as people and families are independent but dependent upon one another so are all human institutions.
  10. The result is this: We can’t have healthy people unless we have healthy families. We can’t have healthy neighborhoods unless we have healthy people. We can’t have healthy communities unless we have healthy neighborhoods. We can’t have healthy cities unless we have healthy smaller communities. We can’t have healthy states (regional political units) unless we have healthy cities and towns. We can’t have healthy nations unless we have healthy states. We can’t have a healthy world, and global economy and polity, unless we have healthy nation-states. The health of all are impacted by the health of every particular level. These levels are related and interdependent. [7]
  11. It is important that local communities be supported and people be able to make a living and support their families within their local communities in which they live, support their families, find meaning and purpose in life, and from which the next generation emerges. This is especially true of smaller agricultural communities upon which the economy of any nation rests.
  12. Larger economic and political groupings are dependent upon a sense of healthy community among their members, whether human or social. Large cities and other political groupings depend upon the health of smaller, more local, institutions. A society that destroys the sense of community among its citizens by excessive individualism will decay and become unhealthy. Without a sense of mutual community, large political, social, and economic entities become dysfunctional. This has happened in the United States and all over the Western world. No political society can hold together without communal roots based on shared history, culture, language, economies, etc.
  13. The separation of “local” from “national” or “global” is a false separation. There can be no healthy national or global economy that does not involve healthy local economies. There can be no healthy national or global political organization that is not dependent upon local healthy political organizations. By the same token, there cannot be healthy local communities if larger social entities are not healthy.
  14. A certain level of perceived inefficiency from a purely economic perspective may be necessary to maintain the moral and communal health of a social organism. Put more clearly, if we think that the destruction of a lower level of reality is necessary for the health of a higher level, we don’t understand the system in its entire complexity.
  15. A wise society sees the local as small and beautiful. It nurtures small local businesses. It constrains the power of larger entities to harm local, more fragile parts of the social system. It recognizes the various capacities of persons, physical, emotional, and mental, and provides meaningful work for all of them. In a wise society the small is not the only beautiful, but it is to cherished and protected. [8]
  16. If it can be done or managed locally, it should be. Each higher level of society should carefully not control anything not required on behalf of the health of the whole. This is true of families, neighborhoods, cities and towns, states, larger social units, nation states and global political entities.
  17. Larger social political, and economic entities need to see themselves as servants of smaller, local entities, not as their masters. In a global, highly interdependent economy such as ours, there will be large, transnational companies and supply lines. The question is, “Do they serve local interests and the health of smaller, local units?”
  18. Freedom is important because it is by protecting freedom that local, smaller units are allowed independent function. This is true politically and economically. The Communist and Socialist dream of wise central planning of society was built upon an illusion of the capacity of larger units to wisely manage smaller political and economic units. It assumed a human capacity that does not and cannot exist. It is by maintaining the maximum freedom in relationship that the best and wisest decisions are made.


I’m sure as time goes by I’ll be able to think of even more aspects of “Famperlogalism.” In my mind, all this demonstrates the dangers and benefits of an occasional game of golf on a hot Texas day. You never know what will happen or what you will think of when you’re late to dinner, tired, dehydrated, and exhausted. [9]

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, Edward C. Moore, ed.,” Pragmatism and Pragmaticism” in Charles S. Peirce: The Essential Writings (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1972), pp 261-299.

[2] See, A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York, Free Press, 1969). I have a book that is nothing but terms Whitehead uses and their definitions. It is almost impossible to read him without such help. Nevertheless, it is worth it.

[3] One unfortunate feature of present day “crony capitalism,” Western “social democracy,” and Soviet and Chinese “Communism,” is that they all bear little resemblance to what they pretend to be and, in fact, look like the “National Socialism” of Germany in the 1930’s. Government, the media, business, and industry have come together with the favored few, robber barons, political elite, and the children of the elite controlling the economy of entire nations.

[4] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Abridged Version, Geoffrey Bromily, trans (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 674-5.

[5] Smith believed that human persons by nature think and act in terms of their perceived “self-interest;” however, their notion and pursuit of self-interest is defined, guided, restrained and confined, by their “moral sense” concerning how we should act in our deeds toward others and ourselves. See Richard M. Ebling, “Economic Ideas: Adam Smith on Moral Sentiments, Division of Labor and the Invisible Hand” The Future of Freedom Foundation (December 12, 2016), downloaded from May 5, 2020. The modern idea of a morally neutral competition is incompatible with such an idea.

[6] One of the most difficult ideas to comprehend, at last for me, is that the fundamental particles which quantum physics describes are not particles, like a small stone. They are activities in an underlying wave structure of the universe. In this sense, the material emerges from the immaterial, potentiality of the quantum world.

[7] This particular paragraph is reminiscent of the Tao Te Ching. See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/ Centered Living: The Way of Light and Love Rev. Ed. (Cordova, TN: Book Surge. Shiloh Publishing, 2016), especially Chapter 54, pages 108-109.

[8] See, E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1973). See also, Centered Living, Centered Leading previously cited, at Chapter 80, pages 160-161.

[9] For those who have read the last couple of posts, you know that I am also deeply indebted to Wendell Berry, who began my thinking in this area as I read some of his essays. See, Wendall Berry, Sex Freedom and Community (New York, NY & San Francisco, CA: Pantheon Books, 1992).