International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Late Modernity, the Challenge of Scientism, and the Search for Meaning

Gordon E. Carkner, Ph.D.

Chaplain and Meta-educator, Outreach Canada, Serving with Graduate Students and Faculty at UBC


We late moderns are on a challenging journey. It is human to desire meaning and
purpose in life that transcends mere survival, that engages life, even in the midst of
our suffering and tragedy. But there are several obstacles to meaning-discovery and
meaning-making within today’s Western culture. In line with the critique of
modernity by eminent Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor (Sources of the Self,
1989; A Secular Age, 2007; The Language Animal, 2016), this paper will map a
framework for understanding late modernity and some of its discontents, especially
those caused by the ideology of scientism. Ethics, identity, and spirituality are
interwoven, notes Taylor, one of the prominent 20th century philosophers of the
self. As this paper maps late modern culture with Taylor and other key thinkers, it
examines the problems of scientism: the over-emphasis on immanence and a closed world system. It demonstrates how such ideologies fly in the face of our quest for, and personal convictions about, life’s meaning. Some of the forces within late modernity are leading people away from higher forms of meaning and into a
dysfunctional and confining nihilism. The following critique proposes a way
forward, a trajectory for the reconstitution of the self through a retrieval of the
ancient language of the good, and through a transcendent philosophical turn
towards agape love. This is a robust retrieval of meaning of the richest sort.

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