Surprisingly, there is only one answer to this question, regardless of whether or not one is a believer. Everyone -- except perhaps the clinically insane or willfully unprincipled -- begins with the relation between an intelligible thing (object or subject) and a mind capable of responding to it.
Empiricists give priority to the object, while rationalists give it to the subject, but guess what? The relation between the two is the key principle. This is because the relation cannot be reduced to one of its terms. And how did relations get into the cosmos? What is a relation, anyway?
This is such a critical idea, and yet, it is overlooked by almost everyone. You know who doesn't overlook it? Besides me? For starters, the Bible and the early Christian fathers. Maybe you don't believe in Christianity. Fine. But don't you find it a little odd that these founding fathers -- almost alone -- got the most important metaphysical principle right? Frankly, I would guess that the great majority of Christians don't even realize Christianity gets this question right.
Bob, explain what you mean. This is all a little general, if that.
Well, when one starts off with such a large generality, there are a million possible paths to pursue; for example, if you begin with the One, that leaves the Many, which is to say, Infinitude. It reminds me of the principle that the refutation of bullshit requires an order of magnitude more energy than its production. That is to say, the affirmation of Absoluteness is simple, and yet, has infinite implications. Where to begin discussing the Beginning, without descending in a wild nous chase?
The most fruitful path I can think of at the moment has to do with the mystery of personhood. Persons are by far the most interesting and evolved things in the cosmos. Is there anything higher than a person? Even if you are an atheist, you will agree that persons are atop the terrestrial heap, or why should we even listen to you? You just believe persons got here randomly. And you omit the most important feature of persons, which is relation.
By the way, it may not be obvious that this post is a direct continuation of the previous post on the open cosmos. But an open cosmos is a relational cosmos (and vice versa), which will become more clear as we proceed.
One of my favorite little books is Person and Being by W. Norris Clarke, although all of his books are essential, especially The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics, Explorations in Metaphysics: Being-God-Person, and The Philosophical Approach to God: A New Thomistic Perspective.
Let's see if any amazon reviewers can save me a little groundwork. The following is good enough, albeit with some editing on my part:
Why should you read this book? Let me try to answer that. This book is about the relational aspect of Being. That right there is what is remarkable.
Fr. Clarke shows how the revelation of the Trinity actually helps us understand ourselves more fully. If God relates to (within) himself through this combination of relationality (being relational in nature) and substantiality (being a substance, a thisness), then we see that we too find our most authentic mode of existing by living in this tension between being ourselves (an independent substance) and being in relation to others. Practically speaking, it is good for people to recognize that their existence, for its fulfillment, requires that they develop both aspects of themselves.
As the child grows up, he must successfully progress through increasingly complex relations with others. We start with parents, then friends, then boyfriends/girlfriends, then spouses. In each stage, we go "out" to others and then return to ourselves a little bit different each time.
You've no doubt met people who close themselves off to these relations. As such, they fail to live an authentically human existence. This book shows that God himself is not far removed from our quest when we see that He too is relational in nature (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Yes. In the previous post I mentioned the article I published on the mind as open system. In the article, I applied the principle of openness to healthy and pathological human development. You could say that every form of psychopathology (with the exception of purely biological or neurological cases) involves a disturbance or denial of the open system.
The most obvious examples are narcissistic, schizoid, and autistic personalities (although the latter is now thought to be more genetic in nature; even so, autism is pathological specifically because it results in the mind being more or less closed to personal relations). (As a brief asnide, one reason why the left is so demonic is its obsession with self-love. This runs directly counter to the truth of persons.)
Another reviewer highlights this relational aspect:
Clarke demonstrates that the human person is not just a substance but a relational substance. The relational aspect of being is not accidental to being but is a primordial constituent thereof. "To be fully is to be substance-in-relation."
It reminds me of how, in the bOOk, the chapters are distinct-and-yet-continuous. Analogously, man is not substance, nor is he relation, but substance-in-relation. Expressing it this way emphasizes the distinction amidst unity. Or distinction-amidst-unity.
[W]hat the doctrine of the Trinity means is that the very inner nature of the Supreme Being itself is an ecstatic process of self-communicating love: the Father... communicates ecstatically his entire divine nature to the Second Person, the Son or the Word..., so that the only distinction between them is the distinction of two complementary but opposed relations, Giver and Receiver. Then both together, in a single act of mutual love, pour forth the same divine essence again in all its fullness to their love image, the Holy Spirit, the third Person.
"The Word shows us that receptivity is itself a positive aspect of perfection of being. This has important implications for the understanding of the masculine and feminine dimensions of human personality." I should say! The Absolute is the masculine pole, the Infinite the feminine pole, and these two are always in relation. One might say that the Absolute eternally "pours forth" Infinitude but also perpetually "receives" it, which is the great Circle of Being.
Ultimately, "the final goal and perfection of the whole universe is, literally, the communion between persons..." Or better, horizontal communion is a prolongation of the vertical. What did Jesus say? It is almost algebraic in its summation of all we have said above:
The greatest commandment is to love -- which is to say, be open to -- God with all our heart, mind, and strength (or intellect-will-sentiment). The second greatest is to "Love your neighbor as yourself." The latter is predicated on the former, and unthinkable in its absence. It's how the love gets in here in the first place.
Out of time. There's a playoff game at 1:00, so I have to finish my work before then.