Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Wolfgang Smith: Modern Science & Guenonian Critique

Wolfgang Smith on Scientistic IdolatryIn the previous article examining the thought of Wolfgang Smith, three modern paradigms through which reality is interpreted were identified. These paradigms were the Newtonian, the Darwinian, and the Copernican. It is important to recall that while Smith is critical of the paradigms, he is willing to recognize legitimate scientific discoveries made despite the faulty lenses interpreting these findings. For example, Smith is highly critical of the mechanistic metaphysical framework of the Newtonian paradigm, while simultaneously acknowledging discoveries made through its application. This is relevant because Smith’s essay, Modern Science and Guenonian Critique, begins by saying, “Reading Rene Guenon’s discourse on modern science more than half a century after it was written, one is struck not only by the depth of its penetration, but also, to a lesser degree, by its glaring insufficiencies.”[1] In the previous article, Smith disassociates what he believes to be faulty philosophical analysis applied to the various fields of science, and in this essay, he disassociates what he believes to be an overzealous philosophical critique of legitimate scientific discovery.

Smith recognizes in the Guenonian critique a penetrating metaphysical analysis of modernity and its scientistic reduction of reality to that which is merely quantifiable. This hyper-reductionism is leading our modern world toward an ongoing “descent to the lowest point.”[2] Smith agrees, and referencing Guenon, argues that if our modern contemporaries knew where ‘the reign of quantity’ was leading society, “the modern world would at once cease to exist as such.”[3] But this is where Smith’s agreement with the Guenonian critique ends. He says,

“However, along with such major recognitions – which I find unprecedented and indeed definitive – there are aspects of the Guenonian doctrine that strike me as less felicitous. I charge that these questionable tenets are not only gratuitous – that is to say, uncalled for on the basis of Guenon’s central contentions – but demonstrably false. What primarily invalidates the Guenonian critique, as it pertains to physics in particular, is the failure to recognize that in the midst of what is admittedly a ‘scientific mythology,’ there stands nonetheless a ‘hard science,’ a science capable of an actual knowing, ‘partial’ though it be. As I have argued repeatedly, the one thing most needful for a just appraisal of modern science is the distinction between ‘scientific knowledge’ and ‘scientistic belief,’ that is to say, between science, properly so called, and scientism. Yet it appears that nowhere does Guenon draw that crucial distinction, apparently for the simple reason that he does not credit contemporary science with any bona fide knowledge at all. Admittedly, science and scientism are invariably joined in practice, and prove indeed to be de facto inseparable; whosoever has moved in scientific circles will have no doubt on that score. It can even be argued that scientistic belief plays a vital role in the process of scientific discovery, that in fact it constitutes a pivotal element in the scientific quest. Yet, even so, I maintain that the two faces of the coin are as different as night and day, and need to be sharply distinguished.”[4]

It is important to take a moment to reflect on what it is Smith is looking to accomplish overall in his argumentation. Smith’s general criticism of the modern scientistic ideology is that bad philosophy has been illegitimately united to good science. The flawed paradigms have lead to supposed discoveries of scientific paradoxes, but in truth, they are the result of erroneous philosophical interpretations of reality. Identifying these paradigms, the anti-myths, which lend credence to the contemporary mechanistic cataract by which modern man views the world is the first step toward resolving these “paradoxes.” Following their identification – the Newtonian, the Darwinian, and the Copernican – they must be stripped away from the legitimate scientific discoveries being made in the hard sciences so that they might be reinterpreted by the corrective traditions of the perennial metaphysical and ontological understanding of an organically united natural world. However, it is important to guard against what Smith is criticizing in this essay, which is, to refrain from throwing the scientific ‘baby’ out with the dirty metaphysical ‘bathwater.’ Smith is walking the tightrope between these two extreme positions, that of ideological scientism and metaphysical fundamentalism. To successfully walk this line, Smith unites scientific discovery to the ancient wisdom of the perennial philosophical traditions.

The Guenonian critique, then, can be expressed by two basic principles – ‘solidification’ and ‘dissolution.’ And if I am understanding Smith’s analysis, he would maintain that these two principles correlate to the Cartesian bifurcation of reality, the eradication of essences and substance from modern metaphysics, and the institutionalization of these philosophical dogmas within the ‘scientific’ worldview.[5]

Following the introductory analysis of the Guenonian critique, Smith proceeds to argue that the discoveries of quantum mechanics opens interesting pathways towards reconciling traditional metaphysics and ontology to these findings. In order to accomplish this, Smith argues that, “the very possibility of mathematical physics is based upon the fact that every corporeal object X is associated with a corresponding physical object SX, which in the final count reduces to an aggregate of quantum particles.”[6] This distinction is made so that it can be recognized that X and SX are not identical, and that they belong to differing ontological planes pertaining to reality.[7] Moreover, Smith identifies the rule that, “SX determines the quantitative properties of X; and this is the reason, of course, why there can be a mathematical physics.”[8] According to Smith, moving in this direction points toward accepting the fact that contemporary physics can only be appropriately discerned from a distinctly metaphysical point of view.[9] Admitting the need for a viable metaphysical and ontological interpretation of the quantum realm, and following a brief examination of the importance of measurement and probability, Smith says this,

“It turns out, quite unexpectedly, the physicist is catching a glimpse of materia, of the Aristotelian hyle. Not in itself – not as a ‘pure potency’ or a mere possibility – but as a weighted possibility: as a probability, to be exact. Whether he realizes it or not the quantum physicist is looking in – through a keyhole, as it were – at the mysteries of cosmogenesis: not in the bogus sense of big bang theory, but ontologically, in the here and now. By way of quantum theory he has entered upon an ontological domain ‘prior’ to the union of matter and form: onto a sub-existential plane which presumably has never before been accessed by man.[10]

When reality has been correctly interpreted by properly uniting the authentic discoveries of science to that of a superior and traditional metaphysical world picture, the corporeal and physical domains become uniquely seated in their hierarchically cogent ontological planes. So construed, the Guenonian critique of modern science is appropriately corrected to include spheres of knowledge discovered by the exceptional methodological powers of the hard sciences.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] Science & Myth, Pg. 25

[2] Ibid, Pg. 26

[3] Ibid, Pg. 26

[4] Ibid, Pg. 26, 27

[5] “The decisive event in the evolution of modern thought was no doubt the exclusion of essences effected by Galileo and Descartes, and the concomitant adoption of a bifurcationist epistemology which relegates perceptible qualities to the subjective domain. These metaphysical and epistemological infractions, however, do not in themselves invalidate the modus operandi of a science concerned exclusively with the quantitative aspects of reality. From a methodological point of view, the exclusion of essences constitutes simply the delimitation that defines and thus constitutes the domain of physical science; and it is by no means paradoxical that the science in question owes its prowess precisely to that very reduction of its scope; as Goethe has wisely observed…Let us note, at the same time, that since the logic of contemporary physics is positivistic or operational, as the prevailing philosophies of science aver, that science has nothing to do – on a technical plane! – with the Cartesian premises; and if it happens that contemporary physicists, in their scientistic beliefs, remain affected by a residual Cartesianism, this does nothing to invalidate the positive findings of physics as such. The knowledge in question may be miniscule by comparison to higher modes, and may indeed conduce to dissolution, as Gueonon avers, but constitutes, even so, a bona fide though partial mode of knowing.

On the other hand, Gueonon’s failure to distinguish between science and what he terms ‘scientific mythology’ does not invalidate his perception of the scientific enterprise as the dominant factor driving contemporary humanity ‘downwards’ to the end-point of its cycle. He broaches the question by pointing out that the public at large is prone to accept ‘these illusory theories’ blindly as veritable dogmas ‘by virtue of the fact that they call themselves ‘scientific,’ and goes on to note that the term ‘dogma’ is indeed appropriate, ‘for it is a question of something which, in accordance with the anti-traditional modern spirit, must oppose and be substituted for religious dogmas.’ What follows, in The Reign of Quantity, is an elaborate analysis of the modern and indeed postmodern world, which has rarely, if ever, been equaled either in depth or in breadth.

It is of major importance to recall that Guenon distinguishes two principal phases in the ongoing descent, which he designates by the terms ‘solidification’ and ‘dissolution’; and it is of interest to note that he enunciated this distinction at a time when physics was just entering the second aforesaid phase through the discovery of quantum mechanics. Although Guenon displayed no more interest in the new physics (which came to birth between 1925 and 1927) than in its Newtonian predecessor, and seems hardly to take not of the quantum revolution, it is clear that the advent of quantum theory does indeed mark the de-solidification of the physical universe. Not only, however, does this development – which came as a complete surprise and major shock to the scientific community – accord with the principles of the Guenonian analysis, but as I will show in the sequel, that analysis provides in fact the key to a metaphysical understanding of quantum theory, and thus of contemporary physics at large: they very science, that is, the existence of which Guenon never recognized!” Ibid, Pg. 30, 31

[6] Ibid, Pg. 34

[7] Ibid, Pg. 34

[8] Ibid, Pg. 34

[9] Ibid, Pg. 34

[10] Ibid, Pg. 37, 38


3 thoughts on “Wolfgang Smith: Modern Science & Guenonian Critique

  1. Rick DeLano says:

    Dr. Smith is without internet access but was delighted when I read the first of your posts to him.

    If you would drop me a line sometime at I would like to give you his mailing address should you be willing to send him prints of your posts as they appear.


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