Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Unknow Thyself

One of Aristotle's most important metaphysical insights allowed for the reconciliation of two contradictory views of reality: one of pure process, impermanence, and becoming (Heraclitus) vs. one of absolute oneness and changelessness (Parmenides). These two views are reconciled via Aristotle's division of being into act and potency

This division is quintessentially seen in ourselves -- in the human person -- in that regardless of how much self-actualization we accomplish in this life, there's always more: each of us dies before we are finished. D'oh!

Which again makes us unique among living beings. Other animals may fail to attain their end due to accident, illness, or predation, but we apparently fail to do so under any circumstance. It is not as if Mozart or Shakespeare or Groucho would have run out of melodies or stories or puns. 

Now that I'm thinking about it, it seems that potency relates to infinitude. Only God is literally infinite -- or Infinitude as such -- and yet, our deiform nature means that we share in it. As we do with his Absoluteness, which would seemingly correspond to act at our end of creation (as infinitude corresponds to potency). 

That little preramble was provoked by the following passage from Person and Being: "It does not seem," writes Clarke, 

that the process of self-possession through self-knowledge can ever reach a final stage of completeness and total clarity for a human person at any time throughout his life, at least this present chapter of it. The human remains always a "known-unknown," a mysterious abyss, in which more remains unknown than known (emphasis mine).

Hmm. Quite the ontological pickle, but I think there's a way out. 

At the moment, my melon is being assailed from two sides, but let's start with a couple of bold claims made by John Paul II -- that in the absence of Christ, man remains a mystery to himself; and that the Godman is somehow the center of both history and of the universe itself. 

In short, Christ is the key to unlocking the mysteries of creation, man, and history. This is either the Best or Craziest Idea Ever, and let's not jump to any conclusions but abide in unknowing as we proceed. 

Of course, Christ is not merely an "idea" but a person, and now we're getting somewhere, because even absent Christ, personhood is the most important fact in all of existence, and this fact is said to be anchored in the principle of Christ, who is in turn anchored in the Trinity. Obviously we'll have much more to say about this marvelous or crazy notion.

The second idea assailing my melon comes from Schuon. He expresses it in so many ways in so many contexts that I'll have to choose some at random -- for example, 

--Man, like the Universe, is a fabric of determination and indetermination; the latter stemming from the Infinite [read: potency], and the former from the Absolute [act].

--Man is central, and in all things must be an extension of God.  

--The celestial Word, once it has descended into the human dimension, becomes a human cosmos with regard to its form.

--Man is himself “made in the image of God”: only man is such a direct image, in the sense that his form is an “axial” and “ascendant” perfection and his content a totality. 

--Man is like a reduced image of the cosmogonic unfolding; we are made of matter, but in the center of our being is the supra-sensible and transcendent reality, the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the “eye of the heart,” the way to the Infinite. 

--The animal cannot leave his state, whereas man can; strictly speaking, only he who is fully man can leave the closed system of the individual, through participation in the one and universal Selfhood. 

--[O]ther creatures also participate in life, but man synthesizes them: he carries all life within himself and thus becomes the spokesman for all life, the vertical axis where life opens onto the spirit and where it becomes spirit. 

--[T]he highest spiritual aptitude resides in man's capacity to surpass himself in relation to God...

I could cite dozens more, but the point is that man is at once forever incomplete and yet offered the gift of completeness insofar as he orients himself to the Absolute and actualizes his deiformity in this life. To be continued...

Monday, May 16, 2022

Human Nature and How it Gets That Way

All other animals have a nature, but this nature is fixed; to the extent that it evolves, it doesn't do so in the span of a single lifetime. Only in human beings do we see this peculiar combination of a fixed nature and open development that can persist throughout one's life. You might say we are necessarily contingent.

Indeed, there is something of a paradox at play here, since a human who is not actualizing his latent potential is failing to fulfill his nature. It seems that, as God's essence is to exist, our existence is to "essentialize," i.e., to actualize our essence in time -- which is why only man creates and exists in history. 

If a nature isn't fixed, is it still a nature? An existentialist would respond, No, and that's the whole point. We must choose, but on the basis of no nature, which is why we are condemned to freedom. 

The technical term for freedom + no nature is nothingness. For Sartre

[T]here is no human nature.... Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.

And existentialism itself "is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position." 

Coherent? How's that working out? For if the first consequence of a consistent atheistic position is incoherence, the second is inconsistency, and the third is creepy men in sundresses using the girl's restroom. 

Sartre:

Existential philosophy is above all a philosophy that asserts that existence precedes essence.

This sounds like an academic abstraction, but it is the hinge upon which everything else... hinges, for to say that we exist without an essence is again to say that we are, uniquely among the animals, nothing

Now, while we are indeed -- obviously -- unique among the animals, we need to anchor this uniqueness in a sufficient reason. We can't just arbitrarily assert that we magically escape all definition and somehow create ourselves. By virtue of what principle? This is where existentialism goes off the cosmic rails into a parallel acosmos or chaosmos. 

Jumping ahead a bit, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the only adequate -- consistent, coherent, and fruitful -- principle on which to base the human person is the transhuman Person. We can express this axiom in mythopoetic terms or we can do so in more purely metaphysical terms. Either way, we avoid the rudimentary error of attempting to derive the (infinitely) greater in the lesser. 

This is why we say that person is the ultimate category, not derived -- or derivable -- from anything else. 

Okay, but what is a person? I suppose it's easier -- because more experience-near -- to start with what we are and then deduce from this what God must be like by way of analogy. 

So, what are we like? What are our most striking attributes, those without which we aren't persons? Let's review them. Clarke begins with

the unrestricted range of man's intellectual power and interests, matched by the corresponding freedom of his will, [which gives] him an inexhaustible creativity to express himself in constantly new... cultural forms, instruments, and ways of interacting with nature.

That's a helpful list: reducing it to a more abstract expression, we can say intellect-freedom-creativity, which, as it so happens, corresponds to truth-virtue-beauty, respectively. Persons are free to know truth, free to choose the good, and free to create beauty. This elevates and confers an ultimate meaning upon the very freedom which, for the existentialist, equates to mere nothingness.  

Freedom in the absence of truth is not, and cannot be, free; rather, it is the freedom of a man lost in the desert or adrift at sea. Some freedom!

It is man's nature to be free, but freedom has its own telos or it is nothing. This dilates and widens out our existence, again, not only situating it in history but forging the basis of history; what we call "history" is freedom + essence deployed in time.  

Putting it all together, Clarke defines our nature as follows:

a human being is by nature a finite embodied spirit, in search of the Infinite, in social solidarity with its fellow human beings, on an historical journey through the material cosmos towards its final trans-world goal.

That's a pretty, pretty good definition, but I think we can do better. For starters, we need to flesh out what it means to be "in social solidarity with our fellow human beings," because it presumes something much deeper, touching on the very nature of I am and We are. For

the explicit awakening to self-awareness as an "I," as a self, can only be done by another human person, reaching out to us with love and treating us as a person, calling us into an I-Thou relation.

 Now we're getting somewhere. To be continued... 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

A Spiral River Flowing Upstream Around a Motionless Center

In the previous post we alluded to the Great and/or Divine Attractor to Whom we are ultimately ordered. Later that day I read an essay by Schuon which describes the same reality  from a slightly different perspective (from The Symbolism of the Hourglass, in Logic and Transcendence):

in reality there are two poles, one earthly and one heavenly, so that heavenly attraction should be represented by an ascending movement of the sand toward the upper compartment....

Spiritually, a movement toward the higher is always a sort of turning upside down, for the soul turns away from the world, which imprisons and disperses it, thus reversing the movement of its will or love.   

The expression "pole of attraction" calls to mind the image of two magnetic centers, one above and one below.... 

[T]he world attracts like a magnetic center, but at the same time it is diverse and it disperses; the "Kingdom of Heaven" also attracts like a magnet, but at the same time it is infinite and it expands. 

In this latter space, "time becomes a circular or spiral river flowing around a motionless center." In an earlier essay in the same book (Evidence and Mystery) he describes this dynamism in similar terms as 

a spiral with centripetal movement progressing indefinitely toward a center that is never reached but that can nonetheless be grasped... 

Grasped via intellection, which is our very own link between the above and below. 

Let's try to reconcile this with Clarke's Person and Being, the book we've been discussing: "the human being, because of its dual nature as embodied spirit," is properly seen as the "microcosm," i.e., "a synthesis of the whole universe":

by his spiritual soul he rises above the dispersion of space and time to live in the spiritual horizon of supra-material meanings and values and to set his sights on the Infinite and the Eternal.  

The reason why I've emboldened those words is to highlight the precise similarity to Schuon, indicating that these two are indeed describing -- better, inhabiting -- the very same nonlocal attractor. 

This is life at the leading edge of the divine-human spiral described above by Schuon: "to be a human being," writes Clarke, is to live "on the frontier of matter and spirit, time and eternity." It is "to be an amphibian"

able at will to direct himself in either direction, down toward matter or up toward spirit. [Our] destiny is thus to journey through matter toward a fulfillment beyond matter (Clarke).

In Raccoon argot we refer to this as our "I AMphibious" nature, but you get the point, supposing your not one of our illuminate trolls confined to the lower chamber of the hourglass. 

What else can we say on this fine Sunday morning, or have we already said enough for one post? 

The latter. Let's save something for Monday. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

It's Not Enough to be Non-Reductionist, We Must be Anti-Reductionist

The person, according to Clarke -- and we couldn't agree more --

is not some special mode of being, added on from the outside, so to speak. It is really nothing but the fullness of being itself, existence come into its own.... 

It is being unrestricted by by material limitation, or "to be fully."

Now, most every philosophical concept solves some problems while leaving others unsolved (or sometimes unsolving them). This idea of person-as-ultimate-category surely solves many problems, not the least of which being the mystery of ourselves, which is really the first and most important of all. But what does it do to previously solved problems? Does it unsolve them? 

No, it just puts the vertical hierarchy of being bright-side up, but otherwise leaves everything unchanged. Physics is still physics and biology is still biology, except now we are in position to understand why there is no material explanation of how we get from the former (matter) to the latter (life), let alone from life to mind and person. 

It reminds me of E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, wherein he says something to the effect that Life is not Matter plus X, so to speak, but rather, Matter is Life minus X. Analogous to what our progressive racists say about race, it's not enough to merely not be reductionist; rather, one must be actively anti-reductionist!

Being that we are the beneficiaries of Christian civilization, we take the category of person for granted. Clarke goes into the history of the concept, showing that it emerged partly out of the efforts of early Christian thinkers to define Christ's personhood. Later, Boethius put forth the classic definition of an individual substance of a rational nature

"Rational animal" signifies man's place as the highest of the animals, starting from this material world of our experience as its frame of reference and moving upwards.

But if this were all we are, we would not -- and could not -- be human, because it overlooks our intersubjectively relational nature. Thus, a more adequate description of the human person is embodied spirit, which

signifies man's place in a total vision of the hierarchy of being, looking downwards from God as Infinite Spirit, through the various levels of finite pure spirits (angels), then down through man as embodied spirit, all the way to the lowest levels of purely material being (ibid.).

This vision of the Great Chain of Being is an old one, but it is extended and perfected by, on the one hand, the revelation of a trinitarian meta-theology, and on the other, an understanding of the irreducibly intersubjective dimension of human development. In short, human persons are not monads, because God himself isn't: Let Us make make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.

Okay. Now what? What do we do about it? 

Here again, I would look at what human persons inevitably tend to do, which is to ceaselessly transcend ourselves, only now we're in a better position to situate this restless drive toward the Great Attractor in the open spiral of trinitarian being. The destiny of the human person

is to make its way back to God by a journey through the material world, coming to know and work with the latter through the mediation of its multi-sensed body (ibid.).

In short, man is homo viator, fulfilling his destiny "as a traveller to God through the material cosmos." It's what we do. Only now we understand how this is possible.  

It is possible because we come into the world ordered to our transcendent end: "The human intellect"

is naturally ordered, as to its adequate object, to the whole of being as intelligible. Hence it can ultimately be satisfied only by knowing directly the infinite source and fullness of being, namely, God (ibid.).

Raccoons call it the Divine Attractor

Thus we are magnetized, so to speak, by our very nature toward the Infinite Good, which draws us in our very depths....

This innate, unrestricted drive of the human spirit toward the Infinite Good is the great hidden dynamo that energizes our whole lives, driving us on to ever new levels of growth and development, and refusing to let us be ultimately contented with any merely finite, especially material, goods, whether we understand consciously what is going on within us or not, whether we can explicitly identify our goal or not (ibid.).

So, you have no excuse: the dynamO is hidden no more. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Pneumopathology and Vertical Openness

So: "The full meaning of 'to be' is not just 'to be present,' but 'to be actively present.'" The relationality of this active presence "is a primordial dimension of every real being, inseparable from its substantiality." Being is an act, and the act of being is relational: it is

turned towards others by its self-communicating action. To be fully is to be substance-in-relation (Clarke).

But why? By virtue of what principle? Because every being -- every existent that partakes of being -- is an image of the very trinitarian God who is irreducibly substance-in-relation. That every lower being has both an in-itself and towards-others dimension finds its ground and principle in the godhead. 

The alternatives don't work. For example, Buddhism and process philosophy posit a universe of pure relations with no substance. But a relation is precisely between substances, not between nothings. A relation between nothing and nothing is just nothing: śūnyatā yada yada.

Josef Pieper (cited by Clarke) agrees that to exist 

means "to be able to relate" and "to be the sustaining subject at the center of a field of reference." Only in reference to an inside can there be an outside. Without a self-contained "subject" there can be no "object." 

We might say that subject is to interiority as object is to exteriority, and the two are always related or linked. Moreover -- and this has vast implications for the definition of psychopathology --  

The higher the form of intrinsic existence, the more developed becomes the relatedness to reality, also the more profound and comprehensive becomes the sphere of this relatedness: namely, the world (Pieper).

As it pertains to psychopathology, back in another life in the mid-1990s I published an article ponderously titled Psychoanalysis, Chaos, and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure. Looking back on it 28 years later, I see that I was basically exploring the same ontological attractor as Clarke, only expressed in terms of metapsychology rather than metaphysics or meta-theology (this goes to what I said in the previous post about being predisposed to think in terms of reality as substance-in-relation).

I won't bore you with pedantic details, but in the article young Dr. Godwin suggested that 

While many may consider it a truism that the human mind is an open system, this is not always so, and we may trace many states of pathology to the matter of how open or closed the system is.

Among others, the article mentions schizoid states, autism, narcissism, and "false self" or "as if" personalities. But nearly every diagnosis I can think of involves either pathological closure (too rigid boundaries) or openness (relative absence of boundaries). 

Again, I won't get into all the details, but I will say that later in life -- a few years after publishing this -- I came to the realization that the human person is an open system both horizontally and vertically. And if this is the case, then it accounts for spiritual pathologies -- pneumopathologies --  ranging from atheism (i.e., self-sufficient vertical closure) to full blown demon possession (vertical invasion) and everything in between (e.g., metanoia, prayer, grace, communion, sanctity, infused contemplation, etc.).

What did Jesus say? Two rules: love God (vertical openness) and love your neighbor (horizontal openness). 

This openness is bi-directional: there is an outward facing communicative pole and a complementary pole of receptivity. This functions analogously to metabolism on the biological plane.

With this in mind, we now have a conceptual basis for understanding the receptivity and relationality in and of God. Is God related to us? How could he not be, if God is the very principle of substance-in-relation? 

Moreover -- and this is important, so pay attention -- this divine receptivity "should be looked on not as essentially a sign of imperfection [or] poverty," but rather, as a "positive aspect or perfection of being."

In the absence of this perfection of receptivity, "authentic mutual love would necessarily remain incomplete -- and love is of itself a purely positive perfection." 

Much more to go, but we'll conclude this post by suggesting that "all being tends naturally toward self-transcendence," and that our cosmos may ultimately be regarded as "an immense implicit aspiration towards the Divine."

Like the whole creation groans with labor pains or something. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Cosmos and Person

I'm rereading another one of my favorite books, Person and Being, by W. Norris Clarke. "Favorite" isn't quite the correct word; "ultimate" is more like it, because it grounds the mystery and miracle of human subjectivity in the nature of things. 

After all, this is what we really want to know, isn't it? Putting it personal terms, how am I even possible, and what does my existence mean in the ultimate scheme of things? How does I -- or I-ness as such -- matter?

Although it has only 113 pages of text, no other book of which I'm aware expresses my views so clearly and coherently. A couple of posts ago I alluded to how Schuon so often "verbally actualizes what is latent in my own intellect." Same with this book, such that when I read it, I find myself saying to myself, Yes, Yes, Precisely, Exactly, Couldn't have said it better, Preach brotha' Clarke!, etc. 

Not only does he articulate what I believe, but what I must believe. Of course, it doesn't necessarily mean it's true. It does, however, mean it is deeply true for me, for what that's worth. 

For example, I couldn't agree more with him that Christian thinkers have tended not to adequately appreciate the revolutionary metaphysical implications of the Trinity. 

Put conversely, if ultimate reality is trinitarian, then we've got a lot of explaining to do. Seems basic, and yet, here we are. He quotes an excellent article by Ratzinger from 1990, which we'll also get further into as we proceed: "In the relational notion of person developed within the theology of the Trinity" 

lies concealed a revolution in man's view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality (Ratzinger). 

Jumping ahead a bit, our nonlocal sources now confirm that Ultimate Reality is not substance and not relation, but rather, a complementarity of the two. Again, this has extraordinary implications, none of which, by the way, negate what science reveals about the world, but extend and perfect it. We might say that man is the measure of things, in so far as Person(s) is the measure of man. Ratzinger:

person must be understood as relation.... the three persons that exist in God are in their nature relations. They are, therefore, not substances that stand next to each other, but they are real existing relations, and nothing besides.

In God, person means relation. Relation, being related, is not something superadded to the person, but it is the person itself. In its nature, the person exists only as relation.

The metaphysical implications are breathtaking. For example, through them we could understand a priori that the Newtonian paradigm of reality, useful as it was, had to be wrong in the ultimate sense, since the universe does not and cannot consist of externally related atomistic units. For the same reason we can say on the political plane that Lockean individualism is way off, since its anthropology is a non-starter.

I'll resist the temptation to veer into political insultainment vis-a-vis gender theory, but let's just say that man refers to woman (and vice versa) and that mother refers to baby (and vice versa). Come to think of it, Schuon has an important essay called The Message of the Human Body that we may toss into the mix later. Or now. For example,

The human form cannot be transcended, its sufficient reason being precisely to express the Absolute, hence the unsurpassable. 

Note that the mentally ill gender theorists imagine that one can transcend by transitioning. They have the prefix right -- trans -- but are quite confused about how to go about it. To put it mildly.

Back to Clarke: there is an "indissoluble complementarity" with regard to an "in-itself dimension of being" and a "towards-others aspect." And back to Bob for a moment, I am predisposed to this view, since my graduate training in modern psychoanalysis focused precisely on the nature of human development in the matrix of relationality -- only now, via a trinitarian metaphysic, there is an ultimate grounding for human development, instead of human subjectivity being an inexplicable cosmic aberration. 

Clarke begins with being itself, which is intrinsically diffusive and self-communicating. Ultimately, this is why the universe is intelligible to our intelligence. These two -- intelligence and intelligibility -- are intrinsically related. If this isn't the case, them we end up in a closed, Kantian universe of metaphysical onanism.

Reality is an ec-static process of self-communicative being-in-action. Which not only explains a lot, but explains everything -- literally, because it explains how we can explain anything. What's the alternative?

Suppose a being that really exists, but does not act in any way, does not manifest itself in any way to other beings. There would be no way for anything else to know that it exists; it would make no difference at all to the rest of reality; practically speaking, it might just as well not be at all -- it would in fact be indistinguishable from non-being.

If this were the nature of reality, then each existent thing "would be locked off in total isolation from every other. There would not be a connected universe." There would be substance but no relation, or particles with no wave.

Let's conclude this post by shouting vive la différence! -- between Begetter and Begotten, or I and Thou.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Only Conservatives are Free

Wrapping up our discussion of The Contradictions of Relativism, Schuon bats away the anti-philosophy of existentialism with a single sentence: it

postulates a definition of the world that is impossible if existentialism itself is possible.

Boom. Upon understanding it, a normal person -- a person with a normally functioning intellect -- would say to himself, "Oh. That clears that up. Better choose a real philosophy." 

And yet, existentialism abounds under innumerable guises, as it encompasses the polar opposite of the vertical essentialism that orders the cosmos. In a subsequent chapter, Schuon writes that existentialism

has achieved the tour de force or the monstrous contortion of representing the commonest stupidity as intelligence and disguising it as philosophy, and of holding intelligence up to ridicule, that of all intelligent men of all times.... All down the ages to philosophize was to think; it has been reserved to the twentieth century not to think and to make a philosophy of it. 

Now, what is existentialism and why does it continue to hold such sway over the tenured? 

Forgive me if this is too basic, but in a word, existentialism applies to any philosophy -- ideology is more like it -- that stresses the primacy of existence over essence. 

A quintessential example is Marxism and its retarded postmodern progeny (e.g., identity politics, feminism, critical race theory), each of which claiming that who you are is a consequence of class, race, gender, etc. You yourself have no say in the matter. If you happen to be black, that is your primary identity. Your God-bestowed individualism is effaced.

Or, if you happen to be white, you automatically have White Privilege and are an oppressor, irrespective of the good or bad choices you have made in life; likewise, if you are a woman (whatever that is) you are intrinsically a victim of the patriarchy. In short, your essence is determined by your existence instead of vice versa.

In the real world, of course, we actualize our essence via our free choices, which is precisely what determines their merit. 

Conversely, in existential world, a black criminal, for example, is "depraved on account I'm deprived." Note the contradiction, however, because the same courtesy is not extended to, say, the January 6 rioters. They're just criminals, full stop. They chose their fate, while the behavior of Democrat criminals is always determined by forces beyond their control. 

So, it's free will -- essentialism -- for white conservatives, who are rotten to the core, existentialism for everyone else. 

Sartre famously remarked that human nature cannot exist because there is no God. Except human nature does exist. So... 

This is not to say that existentialism is wholly false. Rather, like any heresy, it is generally correct in what it affirms but false in what it denies. 

Obviously, certain aspects of existence influence us, and Schuon outlines four big ones: first and foremost we are creature and not Creator, so there's that. Only God's essence is to exist, while for the rest of us our existence is on loan, and our lives consist of choices that will (or will not) further actualize -- existentiate -- this our that aspect of our essence.

Next, we are men and not angelic beings; we have material bodies, plus we are persons, both conditions involving certain limitations and privileges that we will get into in a subsequent post. Let's just say that to attain a human birth is a great boon. And to be born in America is impossibly lucky.   

We are also this or that man, i.e., a unique individual essence. You are finally you, not a simply a member of a race or some other anonymous collective. Unless, of course, you're a Democrat, in which case you are indeed simply a race or a gender. This is ironically called "identity politics" despite robbing you of your identity, precisely.

Finally, we all have accidental infirmities arising from a host of existential factors and influences such as family, culture, language, neuroses, etc. Here race or gender could be factors, but hardly the dominant ones. 

Now, choice -- AKA freedom -- is absolutely meaningless in the horizontal and relativistic cosmos of existentialism. In fact, it's not even possible, hence the default to Class (or race) made me do it. This is where the Evil One enters the picture. For "Not to admit that which exceeds us, and not to wish to exceed oneself" is "the very definition of Lucifer." It is indeed Genesis 3 All Over Again, Every Time.