Wednesday, December 14, 2011

One + Many = Three

Continuing from yesterday's post, in which we posed the question: is it possible to use Whitehead's process philosophy to illuminate traditional theology, but without doing violence to the latter and descending into an intellectually feeble and metaphysically incoherent moonbattery?

As we have discussed in the past, there has never been a time that Christianity hasn't been in dialogue with philosophy, which is as it should be. Indeed, if one excuses oneself from this dialogue -- as if theology can stand on its own, with no input from the empirical or intellectual worlds -- then one will necessarily revert to an unarticulated and usually naive metaphysic, very much like scientists who unthinkingly conflate scientific method with ontological fact.

Either way, it is not as if you will have avoided metaphysics, only denied it. As Whitehead writes, "religion is among the data of experience which philosophy must weave into its own scheme":

"Philosophy frees itself from the taint of ineffectiveness by its close relations with religion and with science, natural and sociological. It attains its chief importance by fusing the two, namely, religion and science, into one rational scheme of thought..." (in Epperly).

As we know, the early Fathers were influenced by Platonism and neo-Platonism, while the scholastics brought in Aristotle. Up to that point, philosophy was far more unified than it is today. Not to exaggerate, but prior to Kant, one could discern a kind of linear path of philosophical development.

But post-Kant -- in large part because he essentially detached thought from reality, allowing it to become a monument to nothing -- philosophy ramified into the countless rivers, streams, creeks, eddies, gutters, and sewers we see today. Nowadaze -- or so we are asked to believe -- there is no philosophical unity, just a multitude of unprovable opinions. In such a timid and confused climate, it is no wonder that a bloodless scientism is able to carry the day. It is as if these people -- like New York Times readers -- are capable of trusting no source of information above the lowest and most coarse.

Although Whitehead's formal philosophical writing (e.g., Process and Reality) is known for its abstruseness, he was at the same time a memorable quipmeister or gagdad (for a few samples, see here). So, why didn't he write in this clever style all the time? Probably for the same reason that no respectable person would ever take me seriously.

A clash of doctrines is not a disaster--it is an opportunity. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious. Seek simplicity, and distrust it. The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy. The future belongs to those who can rise above the confines of the earth. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

I am not surprised to discover that there is a whole book devoted to The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead. But we're getting off track. I was just searching for a particular comment of his, to the effect that the history of Western philosophy is but a footnote on Plato.

This implies that Whitehead perceived a much deeper unity -- or at least source of unity -- beneath appearances, and indeed, his whole philosophy might be thought of as a search for unity -- not just of the natural world, but of various irreducible antinomies that confront us, such as exterior / interior, subject / object, and consciousness /world. In his description, metaphysics is "a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted" -- a true, and not just tenured, Theory of Everything.

This being the case, it is no wonder that a number of Christian theologians were immediately attracted to his thought, even though, as far as anyone knows, Whitehead himself did not become formally religious.

Now, back to Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed. Yesterday we discussed Whitehead's appreciation of the cosmic complementarity of permanence <---> flux. In one sense, religion as such is the "vision," or apprehension (often via faith), of that "which stands beyond, and within, the passing flux of immediate things" (this and all subsequent quotes are in Epperly unless otherwise noted).

Whitehead describes with perfect nonsense the orthoparadoxical nature of this thing we call O: it is "something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest."

This is precisely what motivates your quest, -- your own adventure of consciousness -- whether religious or secular. If it isn't what drives -- or pulls -- you forward, then what the hell are you doing, just going around in meaningless circles? What, did you or someone else perform a logotomy on you? Are you trapped in the I AMber of Groundhog Day?

Then you have failed to assimilate cosmic lesson #1, that "ultimate reality" is (among others) the creative principle, accent on the second word.

Now, how can creativity -- which is always novel, unique, and unprecedented -- be a principle, which is presumed to be a kind of timeless archetype? How can that which can only take place in time be a reflection of the timeless? Because, for Whitehead, "the process itself is the actuality" -- which is somewhat like saying "the noun is the verb," or perhaps "the particle is the wave."

Ultimately, one might say that this is a reflection of the dialectic of Absolute and relative, or of O and Ø. The question is, is Ø "in" O? Yes, of course. Well then, is O in Ø? Again, yes, of course.

This is none other than panentheism, which is apparently more prevalent in Orthodoxy than in the West. For Epperly, this trans-complementarity, as it manifests in theology, "is reflected in the dynamic interplay of the apophatic, 'without images,' and the kataphatic, 'with images,' approach to understanding God."

Here again, this innerplay is "ultimate" insofar as humans are concerned. I suppose one could, in Buddhist fashion, annihilate the creative image-maker, but this only results in a God with no humans, which, as soon as you think about it, is no God at all (which in turn is just another form of God; and no, I'm not just trying to be cute: for the Buddhist, God is no-God, and vice versa).

Instead of seeing the mind as an inexplicable and ultimately irrelevant appendage to reality, Whitehead turned the cosmos back bright-side up, so that both the interior and exterior worlds share the same ultimate principle.

In this regard, he deviates from both scientistic nihilists and from traditional theologians. The former position is not worth refuting, but for the latter, it is the logos which is responsible for both intelligence and intelligibility -- which are two sides of this same Word.

As alluded to yesterday, there are certain aspects of Whitehead's thought that seem to conflict with tradition, but which I find myself embracing. An essential one would involve the nature of this Logos. Traditionally it is indeed understood as word or reason, the former implying a kind of static entity, the latter a mechanical process.

But. What if we tweak that formulation a little, and instead trancelight the two -- word and reason -- as language and creativity, which automatically and continuously create three? If nothing else, at least it would explain everything. So I got that going for me.

To be continued...

7 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

What if we tweak that formulation a little, and instead trancelight the two -- word and reason -- as language and creativity, which automatically and continuously create three?

Yes, I think you're right about that.

"religion is among the data of experience which philosophy must weave into its own scheme"

Not only philosophy, but science as well, if it is to be any kind of science at all. Especially among those who work not only with biology, but with the human subject in particular; the atheistic among them love to try to write religion off as some kind of evolutionary throwback, convinced that with intellectual growth and greater understanding of how the brain functions, people should just stop believing in Something, and instead embrace Nothing. The a priori assumption being that religion was a tool of evolution, and that it couldn't possibly be the other way around.

12/14/2011 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Ok, lemme see if I'm getting this.

If you think of Logos=word+reason as something lifeless, is your tweaking it to language+creativity bringing life to word+reason? I mean,it takes an intelligence to make language out of words. Is that intelligence the "Three"?

12/14/2011 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Dusting off a haiku from Robinstarfish for the Feast Day of St. John of the Cross

advent-ure sailing

closer to the world's bright edge

dark night full of soul


And offering up Something really One.der.ful . . .
Dark Night of the Soul, John of the Cross's poem, sung in French. . .
Listen

12/14/2011 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

“As we know, the early Fathers were influenced by Platonism and neo-Platonism, while the scholastics brought in Aristotle. Up to that point, philosophy was far more unified than it is today. Not to exaggerate, but prior to Kant, one could discern a kind of linear path of philosophical development. “

Very true, and not only a linear path, but a shared goal – to discover the truth and discern wisdom – after kant, the only answer to whether you could say what was true, was ‘I kant say’.

“ Nowadaze -- or so we are asked to believe -- there is no philosophical unity, just a multitude of unprovable opinions. In such a timid and confused climate, it is no wonder that a bloodless scientism is able to carry the day. It is as if these people -- like New York Times readers -- are capable of trusting no source of information above the lowest and most coarse.”

And the specifically deny that Truth is even a goal, leaving the ‘old method’ for discovering it, Reason, as only a tool for being a tool and getting your way, right or wrong, any way you can

12/14/2011 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...for the latter, it is the logos which is responsible for both intelligence and intelligibility -- which are two sides of this same Word.

That's true.

Tradition is good. It's really good enough for most people -- probably more than good enough. It's like a boat that will get you across the ocean, and it's pretty handy if you want to dive from it as well.

12/14/2011 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Because there's a cool raccoon pic there, and not because they're Nazi raccoons.

*waves to everyone*

Now, back to work.

wv: gud mortin everybody!

12/15/2011 04:56:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

via Joan's link "The story begins in 1934, when a breeder asked the Reich
Forestry Office, then led by future top Hitler aide Hermann Göring, for permission to release the masked-faced mammals to "enrich the local fauna" outside Kassel, a small city north of Frankfurt."


It was the beginning of the end, and the rest is history.

This concludes this episode of "Little known facts of how history really unfolds!"

12/15/2011 06:54:00 AM  

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