Monday, March 05, 2012

Tracing the Dimensions of the Soul

Ah. Now I remember why I was intrigued by Maritain's The Degrees of Knowledge back in the day, when I was working out the Raccoon metaphysic.

To back up a bit, recall that I only completed the latter project in the spring of 2006, subsequent to mountain biking after a brush fire had passed through. The fire had exposed a vintage Kaiser Willys, with a skeleton in the front seat still clutching a rough draft of the Protocols of the Elders of Bensonhurst sketched out on a badly decayed cocktail napkin.

This provided the missing piece for which I had previously searched everywhere for well over ten minutes -- the area rug that pulled the entire cosmos together -- and which represented the crapstone to our solution to the World Enigma.

Finally, I had in my trembling hands the means with which to March Fourth on a soph-surfing trialogue at the edge of the subjective horizon on wings of rest, i.e., Slack, the latter of which is the soothing "interstitial fluid" in the handy spaces within necessity.

As I have mentioned before, I didn't initially come at this huge mythunderstanding from a Christian perspective. Which was ultimately a good thing, because frankly, I never could have done what I did had I known what I was doing. Because I didn't know any better, I was free to violate disciplinary boundaries, blend irreconcilable thinkers and doctrines, engage in friction-free leaps of logic, and obey revealed hunches as demanded by expediency.

Now comes this Maritain fellow who claims to have accomplished the same thing from a Christian standpoint! In 1932! Why didn't I know about this? Indeed, the Thing had essentially been accomplished some 700 years ago, and only required some touching up and tinkering at the edges in order to make it fully conversant with the scientific progress that had taken place in the interim. Here was no apologetic Uncle Thomist, but a Thomist apologetic capable of speaking to our age of stupidity.

When we talk about "the degrees of knowledge," we implicitly acknowledge the degrees of being that correspond to them. In my case, I divided these into the convenient categories of matter, life, mind, and spirit, each reflecting a different mode of being and requiring a different manner of knowing.

For example, one cannot know spirit empirically. However, one can know matter spiritually, being that truth emanates from the top down, not the bottom up.

When we talk about these essential distinctions, we are really talking about the vertical. As Maritain says, "Every attempt at metaphysical synthesis, especially when it deals with the complex riches of knowledge and of the mind, must distinguish in order to unite." What is necessary above all is "to discriminate and discern degrees of knowing, its organization and its internal differentiations."

Looked at in this manner, any form of scientism, for example, is a non-starter, because it reduces the hierarchical complexity of the world to a vulgar monism. In so doing, it reduces reality to our most simple way of knowing it, and in the process denies any reality outside its narrow scope. "Leveling," says Don Colacho, "is the barbarian's substitute for order."

In the past, I have discussed the idea that the measure of soul is depth. To put it bluntly, a developed soul will see much more deeply into the nature of reality, whereas a shallow soul is satisfied by staying on the surface of things. The deep soul knows that no merely scientific explanation can ever satisfy man, whereas the shallow soul seems content to play in the little blandbox of efficient causes.

However, Maritain adds to this the dimensions of length, breadth, and height, which I had basically subsumed under depth. In any event, when we refer to these categories, we are referring to hidden or implicit dimensions of reality that are just waiting to be unpacked by man.

In a phrase I am very much tempted to steal, Maritain refers to the fundamental fact of a cosmos that is boundlessly intelligible. But it is only boundlessly intelligible to the extent that there exists an unbound soul to witness and testify to it.

To cite an obvious example, for the Marxist, the world is surely intelligible, but not boundlessly so. Rather, Marxism serves the function of placing sharp boundaries around reality. Dialectical Materialism explains everything, with no remainder. Indeed, if you deny it, you are actually an instance of it.

I came across an unintentionally funny example of this at HotAir this morning, Does college really turn people into liberals? The authors cite some silly studies to deny the obvious, and conclude by stating that if you believe otherwise, then it's only because you are trying to protect "economic power." In other words, they trot out a classic Marxist explanation to deny their own Marxism, reducing great complexity to a simple pseudo-economic explanation.

Which reminds me of a quip of Don Colacho to the effect that the easiest way to dismiss a counter argument is to attribute it to its supposed motivations. This is the cognitive Swuss Army Knife of the left, in that any idea that threatens these wusses is attributed to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. Which is why, as Don Colacho says, the denial of hierarchy ultimately results not in "equality," or the elimination of class, but in two classes. And you are in the wrong one.

Back to those dimensions of depth in the soul. For Maritain, "length" bears upon "the manner in which the formal light that characterizes a particular type of knowing falls upon things and defines in them a certain line of intelligibility."

For example, in my case, I attempt to trace things back to (and before) the big bang, or forward, through the realms of matter, life, mind, and spirit. To put it another way, to deny this line of continuous development is to deny and even maim a vital dimension of the soul.

"Breadth" has to do with "the ever-increasing number of objects thus known." As such, a truly all-purpose metaphysic that is worthy of man, will explain the material world as well as the subjective world, without reducing one to the other. But to reduce mind and spirit to matter is the ultimate case of denying the breadth of the soul.

"Height" involves distinguishing the "different sorts of knowing" and "the degrees of intelligibility and immateriality of the object." In other words, it deals with vertical differentiations in the hierarchy of existence and being.

Finally, "depth" speaks to all those "hidden diversities," i.e., those relatively autonomous sub-worlds which are constantly disclosed to the mind that is free -- i.e., the liberal mind, as opposed to one that is servile to ideology.

To be continued....

11 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

However, Maritain adds to this the dimensions of length, breadth, and height, which I had basically subsumed under depth. In any event, when we refer to these categories, we are referring to hidden or implicit dimensions of reality that are just waiting to be unpacked by man.

I'm reminded again of the observation (was it Schmeman? I forget...) that "to be long multiple is to be deeply one."

3/05/2012 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"Breadth" has to do with "the ever-increasing number of objects thus known." As such, a truly all-purpose metaphysic that is worthy of man, will explain the material world as well as the subjective world, without reducing one to the other.

I'm reminded of the article about dark matter that came out recently, along with the essential admission that scientists really have no idea what's going on; the more objects they discover, the less it all makes sense. Regardless, a metaphysic worthy of man has no difficulty reconciling whatever they find with the truth of being, and of being in the cosmos.

3/05/2012 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

"Leveling," says Don Colacho, "is the barbarian's substitute for order."

And just to clarify that statement, he means intellectual barbarians like OWS and the Taliban. Even the Vikings understood rape and pillage first then burn.

3/05/2012 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The deep soul knows that no merely scientific explanation can ever satisfy man, whereas the shallow soul seems content to play in the little blandbox of efficient causes.

Not only is a merely scientific explanation unsatisfying, it is so inadequate that, unless it's trivial, it will be wrong before long.

3/05/2012 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

"In so doing, it reduces reality to our most simple way of knowing it, and in the process denies any reality outside its narrow scope. "

I never understood how people found the hard sciences so difficult (Math was even easier): All you had to do was understand the core established facts (of this very homogenous set of data) and eveything blossomed from it in an interlocking of a very simplistic form using logic and reason as your tool to build your little intellectual 'erector-set'.

What IS difficult is creating a framework from something that is NOT a set of homogenous data that is useful to daily living: That requires an artist - a real one.

3/05/2012 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

Bob, how's Maritain's writing? I remember having to thrash around a bit in his prose. More thicket than stream. Yes, I know it's asking a lot of a European to be straightforward.

This isn't a defense of beer and beef Anglo Saxon sense, just a more collegial appreciation of one's *time*, really. It's as if some writers were just tossing off dictation to some horn-rimmed secretary who hadn't sufficient nun-sense to edit ruthlessly. Sigh. We would've been spared so much slogging, I think.

3/05/2012 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Pretty dense. The problem with these brainiacs is that no one is competent to grasp the whole of what they are trying to say, so no one can properly edit them in a truly collaborative manner. Thus, their logorrheic tendencies go unchecked and obscurities are allowed to stand.

3/05/2012 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

One should always be respectful of the reader's time, and say things in the most clear and compact way possible.

3/05/2012 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Unless you're such a beautiful writer that your words alone have intrinsic value. Not many of those around, though.

3/05/2012 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

It's like that quote from Pascal where he says, "I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

.

3/05/2012 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Looked at in this manner, any form of scientism, for example, is a non-starter, because it reduces the hierarchical complexity of the world to a vulgar monism. In so doing, it reduces reality to our most simple way of knowing it, and in the process denies any reality outside its narrow scope. "Leveling," says Don Colacho, "is the barbarian's substitute for order.""

I had a frustrating experience of trying to discuss an issue with someone this weekend, and it never managed to get off the ground. He simply could not lift his focus any higher than the most vulgar, physical, example - a simple concept was just beyond him.

Two peoples separated by the appearance of a common language.

3/05/2012 08:48:00 PM  

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