Tuesday, December 29, 2015

See More with Celestial Principles

When it feels as if there is nothing left to say, it is helpful to revert to first principles. This is like venturing back upstream to the source of thought, whereas down in the lowlands things can appear rather soggy and saturated. But at the source, the water is always fresh and invigorating.

Especially in this day and age, in which there is much more information than anyone could ever assimilate, we need simple principles to organize and reduce it to order and hierarchy (which amount to the same thing), but without distorting or occluding the facts on the ground. With our principles in place, we can see more, not less.

Schuon makes this point in a number of his books. For example, he writes that "Assuredly there are no such things as 'problems of our time' in the philosophers' sense of the expression."

In other words, "there is no thought that one could describe as 'new' in its very foundation," even if there are questions that "belong to our time" -- such as the relationship between science and faith, which wasn't really problematic prior to the so-called scientific revolution.

And yet, the question isn't truly new, and there exist "ancient principles" (for example in Aristotle) that are still as useful as ever in addressing it. Certainly neo-Aristotelian philosophy of science will carry you much further into reality than vulgar scientism or metaphysical Darwinism.

Here is the exact passage I was looking for, in To Have a Center: "There is the order of principles, which is immutable, and the order of information -- traditional or otherwise -- of which one can say that it is inexhaustible."

What I would say is that the expert is entitled to his inexhaustible information, while every man, as man, is entitled to the cosmic principles that render his life intelligible, meaningful, and fulfilling.

And this is the function of religion, not just to assure the latter three, but prior to that, to render the principles -- often in implicate, or symbolic, or mythic terms -- available to every man at every time.

God decidedly does not limit his wisdom to philosophers, intellectuals, and the tenured. Rather, it is equally available in principle to everyone, while addressed to the level they are at -- which is probably what offends the narcissism of the philosophers, intellectuals, and tenured.

Note the title of the book: To Have a Center. This center -- we call it Celestial Central, or Upper Tonga -- is the home of the Principles, or the Principles' Orifice, AKA O.

At the same time, embracing the Principles will help to "centralize" yʘu. These principles, since they are higher up in the cosmic food chain, illuminate what is below; for example, as God illuminates man, man illuminates the animal world. That the reverse is also true is only because of the first principle; in other words, man couldn't illuminate God unless God first illuminated man. As above, so below.

In another book, Schuon says that "To speak of religion is to speak of a meeting between the celestial and the terrestrial, the divine and the human" -- or the Absolute and Relative, the One and Many, the Eternal and Temporal, the Wave and Particle, etc. Speaking of Principles, one of ours is Complementarity, such that "To know what man is, is to know what God is, and conversely" (Schuon)

In a manner of speaking, of course. The principles do not precisely map the territory: "there is of necessity a gap between the expression and the thing expressed, hence between doctrine and reality." It is easy enough for the bonehead atheist to criticize religion, but "no doctrine can be identical to what it intends to express," and in the case of religion, we are trying to express the inexpressible (or translingual).

The point is not to drag religion down from the peaks to the plains and then understand the higher in terms of the lower. Anyone can do that! Rather, the principles under discussion "furnish a coherent scheme of points of reference more or less elliptical by definition but in any case sufficient to lead mental perception towards a given aspect of the real."

Or, just imagine, say, a three dimensional reality transformed into two. Each point on the plane will refer to a point in the higher space. This certainly goes to the problem of biblical literalism, which likewise reduces the higher dimensions to the lower.

So anyway, one of our favorite foundational texts is Josef Pieper's Anthology. Pieper is already as concise and economical as can be, and this anthology boils him down even further to the essence of the essence, or one might say the Principles of the principles.

For example, there is a chapter called Seven Statements, one page in length. It begins with the claim that "The wisdom of the West expresses the sum total of what man 'ought to' do in seven sentences."

Really? All wisdom reduced to seven sentences? That's what I'm talkin' about!, i.e., rendering this baffling world intelligible.

First: "Man, insofar as he realizes his meaning... opens himself by listening to God's word wherever he can perceive it."

This can be reduced even further by simply affirming that man is an open system on the vertical plane -- just as he is an open system on the level of physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, and everything else.

And in fact, these latter openings are only possible because of the first; they are all ultimately shadows of the Trinity, which is openness and relation as such.

Second -- and this is a biggie -- "Man is true to himself only when he is stretching forth... toward a fulfillment that cannot be reached in his bodily existence."

Or in other words, do not be tempted to collapse the vertical space between man and God, for this is where Real Life takes place. Both of my quotes in the comment box go directly to this principle, that man is always between, such that he cannot eliminate the betweenness without abolishing himself.

Third (and I am condensing): man "finds it good that God, the world and himself exist." Note that this is not a feeling but a principle. To understand it is to stand most of our usual concerns on their heads.

For example, while the existence of evil is a problem, an even more mysterious problem is the existence of good! In fact, evil is parasitic on the good, and we can only even recognize it because of our implicit awareness of the good. This same principle accounts for the beauty, rationality, and intelligibility of the world.

To be continued...

2 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Speaking of Principles, one of ours is Complementarity, such that "To know what man is, is to know what God is, and conversely" (Schuon)

And here, in logo form: "The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love." It's an interesting choice; I don't know how many Catholics get the reference.

12/29/2015 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Especially in this day and age, in which there is much more information than anyone could ever assimilate, we need simple principles to organize and reduce it to order and hierarchy (which amount to the same thing), but without distorting or occluding the facts on the ground. With our principles in place, we can see more, not less."

Exactly. One of the more frustrating things about arguing for first principles with folks who've never learned any, or worse, take it as a fact that principles are useless, is that they compare them to facts and find them wanting.

It's like handing someone a telescope which they refuse to look through properly, holding it up sideways in front of their eyes instead, saying "I can't see anything with this, it blocks my view! "

If you see less, not more, with principles, you're doing it wrong.

12/29/2015 10:44:00 AM  

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