Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Can Be, What Can't Be, and What Must Be

So, in this book I'm reading, Insights & Oversights of Great Thinkers, Hartshorne careens through the entire history of western philosophy, from the pre-Socratics through 20th century continental philosophy, showing why they were wrong and he is right.

Oh sure, he spends a little time on the "insights," by which he means "areas where they agree with me." So he can at times be a little overbearing. But perhaps this is because he was relatively isolated from the mainstream of philosophy, and had to fend off attacks (or worse, indifference) from every direction -- not just from non-theists but from theists as well. I suppose that can make a guy a little defensive.

I wouldn't say he reduces his predecessors to straw men. Rather, he clearly knows his stuff, having studied each philosopher in much greater detail than I would ever want to. Me, I prefer to just say what I think, minus all the, er, scholarship.

And while I don't hesitate to enlist cluminaries from the past to support the Raccoon cause, I don't think I spend that much time picking apart the ones who don't. That always strikes me as narcissistic, in the peripheral sense that a common associated feature of the narcissist is that he knows all about what he doesn't like, but won't come right out and say what he does value, or cherish, or hold as a first principle. That would make him too vulnerable, too subject to attack or ridicule.

In this regard, Obama is quintessential. His whole campaign revolved around the things he hates, mainly Bush, Bush, Bush, War, and the Successful. As for what he does believe, this was kept as vague as possible. And little about this has changed in the subsequent five years, as he spends most of his time demonizing opponents while downplaying his own beliefs.

Of course, another part of this is that he knows his beliefs are normative among the tenured but abnormative among the normal. Therefore, all leftists must lie about their beliefs. However, these beliefs were nurtured in the narcissistic jerk circle of academia, so it still comes back to inappropriate self-regard and inability to deal with criticism and dissent. Which is why they dismiss dissent by projecting malevolent motives into us, e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

Anyway, this book can get a little tedious when Hartshorne gets into the details of why, for example, Leibniz or Spinoza were wrong about this or that fine point of metaphysics. I suppose this is why I am so drawn to Schuon, who is able to reduce opponents to jello with a barbed comment or two. Saves a lot of time.


Well, on this page you can click on the philosophy or -er you'd like to see Schuon eviscerate (or exalt, depending). Let's see. How about modern philosophy in general?:

"Modern philosophy is a liquidation of evidences, and therefore fundamentally of intelligence; it is no longer in any degree a sophia, but much more like a 'misosophy.'"


"A science that is called 'exact' is in fact an 'intelligence without wisdom,' just as postscholastic philosophy is inversely a wisdom without intelligence."


"rationalism properly so called is false not because it seeks to express reality in rational mode, so far as this is possible, but because it seeks to embrace the whole of reality in the reason, as if the latter coincided with the very principle of things."


Okay, let's get personal. Kant?

"What is crucial in Kantianism is not its pro domo logic and its few very limited lucidities, but the altogether 'irrational' desire to limit intelligence; this results in a dehumanization of the intelligence and opens the door to all the inhuman aberrations of our century. In short, if to be man means the possibility of transcending oneself intellectually, Kantianism is the negation of all that is essentially and integrally human."

Furthermore, Kantianism is "the archetype of theories seemingly divorced from all poetry": "its starting point or 'dogma' is reducible to a gratuitous reaction against all that lies beyond the reach of reason; it voices, therefore, a priori an instinctive revolt against truths which are rationally ungraspable and which are considered annoying on account of this very inaccessibility. All the rest is nothing but dialectical scaffolding, ingenious or 'brilliant' if one wishes, but contrary to truth."

Most anyone who is aware of Schuon considers him to be the most brilliant metaphysician of the 20th century, if not ever. But the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy makes a similar claim of Hartshorne. Looks like we have a rumble on our hands!

Let's highlight some passages from Insights & Oversights, and see if we can avoid the rumble and instead aim for a synthesis. Let's begin with the nature of the Absolute, of God. We can quickly reduce this to three possibilities: 1) God does not exist, 2) God exists as immutable reality, or 3) God both exists and is subject to a kind of change.

One of Hartshorne's central themes is that the Greek bias for divine immutability wormed its way into Christian theology and western metaphysics more generally, obscuring the irrationality and inconsistency of such a view. For example, "Aristotle's God" -- AKA the unmoved mover -- is "totally uninfluenced by the course of [historical/human] events, in solitary immutable splendor." Thus, "he influences the world that cannot influence him."

Just on the face of it -- forgetting what we have been told about God -- does this make sense? Of course, it doesn't have to make sense, but Hartshorne is seeking something deeper; that is, he is looking for statements about reality which could, could not, or must be true -- or which are contingent, impossible, or necessary. And he believes an immutable God cannot exist, while the mutable God must exist.

In his chapter on Plato, Hartshorne references a statement in Gorgias, that "he who is incapable of communication is also incapable of friendship." This is self-evident, and yet, if God is immutable, then he cannot be our "friend." But aren't there scriptural passages that explicitly reference friendship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

For Hartshorne, "the capacity to be moved by others is inherent in awareness as such." This is quintessentially true of the human world, which is an internally related world of irreducible intersubjectivity.

For me, this is the key to understanding the Trinity, which we might say is the very principle of intersubjectivity and exchange -- of a primordial connectedness to the other, through which "influence" is both conveyed and received. Neither love nor knowledge are possible in the absence of this mutual influence.

As such, it is strictly impossible to have an intersubjective relationship with someone who is incapable of being influenced by us. Rather, this would be analogous to having a relationship with a rock, or a comatose person. We register the rock, but the rock cannot register us. We may learn about Obama, but Obama is completely ignorant of us.

It again comes back to what we mean by "love" and by "creativity." The Greeks tried to conceive of something "superior" to love, in positing a divine reality that is wholly closed off to influence -- like the stoic philosopher writ large.

We will pick up this thread tomorrow....


julie said...

This is self-evident, and yet, if God is immutable, then he cannot be our "friend." But aren't there scriptural passages that explicitly reference friendship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

I would add only that an immutable God would also be incapable of play, humor, or surprise. Perhaps I'm wrong, but an immutable God strikes me as one that would have all the creativity and vivacity of a rock.

julie said...

(D'oh! I should have finished reading the post before commenting...)

julie said...

The Greeks tried to conceive of something "superior" to love, in positing a divine reality that is wholly closed off to influence -- like the stoic philosopher writ large.

Yes; perhaps it is this that has always kept me from being much interested in Greek philosophy. Not only the idea of something that could be superior to love (as if!), but simply the cold remove of the ideal from the reality of ordinary existence. On the one hand, it's a useful abstraction for thinking about certain concepts, but on the other it bears within itself the seeds of Father Stephen's "Two Storey universe" - that is, the places where people tend to think of God as being "contained," which exist (in the mind) apart from the secular world. In reality, the secular world is no more apart from God than Earth is apart from the Sun.

mushroom said...

Schuon is the Batman of philosophers, and that one picture makes me wonder if he had a daughter named Carrie.

mushroom said...

If we are made in the image and likeness of God (Elohim said, "Let us make man ...") then communication and relationship is part of who God is. The God of the Bible is very different than a buttoned-down deity like Allah.

It was eschatology, I think, that first pushed me in a different direction -- all the people who seemed to have all the answers and would cut God down to fit in their hermeneutic bed. As I would study, I kept hearing over and over, "It's not going to be what you expect."

The comparison was to how the religious leadership completely missed who Jesus was because they were locked into a view of an earthly kingdom.

ted said...

I wonder if Hartshorne had a teleology/eschatology as to whether he believed as God was influenced by the imminent, he was "evolving" with it or was God just changing. Process does not necessitate evolution (likeness) per say, but it can be just difference (a new image).

Gagdad Bob said...

Like Whitehead, be believes in a primordial God and a "consequent God" who is influenced by his creation. I may be wrong, but I think it may be possible to reconcile this with the notion of the apophatic Godhead beyond form vs. the personal God of religious faith. Same God, of course. Just two sides. In a way like any other person with a conscious and "unconscious" side. "Unconscious," of course, is a terrible name for something as conscious as the unconscious!

Magister said...

Bob, how would these process folks answer Job?

Let's say God is actively engaged with creation and changes His mind now and then. Without Him actually talking to (for example) Noah, how would we know that He resolved never to drown the earth again in water?

It may be that human knowledge of whatever "process" occurs internally in God would depend entirely on revelation. Or could we somehow infer the content of that internal process? How much of that inference would be human projection?

This is all interesting, but I can't help but think sometimes that I have enough problems of my own! Some days I have trouble figuring out what my wife's "process" is, let alone God's.

So yeah, Job. I'm feelin' Job-ish.

Gagdad Bob said...

Well, interestingly, Hartshorne says that only process theology can deal with Job. No time to explain, since I'm working on a post. Plus I don't remember exactly what he said about it. Kind of skimmed over that part...