Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Body, Soul, and Divinity of Truth

Just a couple of old posts strung together. I have to put them someplace, and this is the place...

This post is about Truth and Freedom, since we can by no means have one without the other. For who could argue with the following proposition, that

The actualization of truth is no mere natural process but a spiritual event, which takes place only in the lightning-like encounter and fusion of two words -- the word of the subject and the word of the object. Outside of this event, there is no truth" (Balthasar, Theo-Logic).

Nature may embody truth, but it takes a supernatural act to pull the truthy rabbit out of its material hat, to quote Aquinas on one of his rare off days. No: "The truth of the object exists only so long as infinite or finite spirit turns to it in an act of knowing; the truth of the subject exists only as long as it abides in this act" (ibid.).

Our encounter with the object world releases the truth of the subject into being. This is why we all respond differently to different objects -- and subjects, i.e., persons -- which have a way of giving birth to a latent part of ourselves. This has much in common with the Platonic idea of education, the purpose of which is more to draw out what is within than to shove into us what we lack ("doctor" is cognate to docer, to "draw out.")

One cannot get to the freedom of truth unless one first appreciates the unfreedom that often surrounds it. The spirit must first apprentice itself to the object world before it can "attain to itself." This is similar to the manner in which one must first master scales and chords before one is truly free to play a musical instrument. In fact, for a true master, the unfreedom and freedom will live side by side for the remainder of one's life. John Coltrane used to practice eight hours a day long after he attained virtuosity.

Things are more than things, and facts are more than facts. If this weren't the case, then knowledge of them would be strictly impossible.

For human beings, facts are always enshrouded in mystery, for they are an occasion to know the great Mystery of Withinness. Facts speak to humans, again, in ways that engage us in particularly intimate ways. Take the simple example of this book we're discussing today. Not a single person in the world would have highlighted the exact same passages I have, either because it speaks to me or I hear it in a uniquely individualized way. So are the facts in the book? Or in me? Or in the space between?

If it weren't for the erotic mystery that enshrouds truth, we'd all be singing the same tune from the same boring hymnal. "The event of knowledge would cast a cold, pitiful, shadowless light into every corner, and there would be no possibility of escaping this scorching sun. Being, stripped of mystery, would be, so to speak, prostituted" (ibid.).

This epistemological ambiguity is the precise opposite of a cynical relativism or spiritually barren deconstruction. Rather, "radical cynicism only becomes possible wherever man no longer has a flair for the central mystery of being, whenever he has unlearned reverence, wonder, and adoration, whenever, having denied God, whose essence is always characterized by the wonderful, man also overlooks the wondrousness of every single created entity" (ibid.).

There is a perverse joy in this radical cynicism, which is just the negative form of omniscience. Nor is it difficult to trace its roots, now that I have a four year old boy who likes to build things, but not nearly as much as he enjoys tearing them apart, knocking them down, or disassembling them to see "what's inside." But of course, there is no inside without the outside. The outside is the manifestation of the inside, just as the inside is the invisible "essence" of the outside. Jettison either, and the cosmos is reduced to a flat and empty place.

The outside reveals the inside, just as the downside reveals the upside.

*****

The human being is faced with a range of phenomena -- both exterior and interior, i.e., thoughts and things -- of which he needs to take account and make sense. And if he is to comprehend the totality of existence, i.e., the Kosmos, then the True Philosopher, the extreme seeker after knowledge, the ardent lover of wisdom, the off-road spiritual adventurer, must exclude nothing (including, of course, Nothing; in other words, he must also be mindful of non-being, or more or less complete privations of the Good and True).

If embracing the fancies of a Dawkins or Dennett means rejecting the oceanic depths of an Aquinas or Maritain, then so much the worse for the modern misosophers who are blind to any reality that surpasses the circular limits of their projected models. For example, reader William, as usual, turns reality on its head by appealing to what he calls "the infinite" in order to maintain his rigidly finite, parochial, and earthbound attitudes.

What he forgets is that to posit the Infinite -- which only man can do, and which in a certain sense defines him -- carries with it certain immediate implications. If nothing else, to take seriously the principle of the Infinite is to to have left vulgar materialism behind and to have entered the realm of pure metaphysics. If the Infinite "exists," then it is obviously a first principle, since it cannot be surpassed. By definition nothing can surpass infinitude.

Looked at from the other end, "To say Absolute, is to say Infinite" (Schuon). "Infinitude is an intrinsic aspect of the Absolute." As such, "It is from this 'dimension' of Infinitude that the world necessarily springs forth; the world exists because the Absolute, being such, implies Infinitude."

Now, we all know the cosmos is "expanding," for that is an implication of Infinitude. Schuon:

The Infinite is that which, in the world, appears as modes of expanse or of extension, such as space, time, form or diversity, number or multiplicity, matter or substance...

In other words, and to be more precise: there is a conserving mode, and this is space; a transforming mode, and this is time; a qualitative mode, and this is form, not inasmuch as it limits, but inasmuch as it implies indefinite diversity; a quantitative mode, and this is number, not inasmuch as it fixes a given quantity, but inasmuch as it too is indefinite; a substantial mode, and this is matter, it too being without limit as is shown by the star-filled sky. Each of these modes has its prolongation" in our world, "for these modes are the very pillars of universal existence.

Those who "go off the deep end" receive all of the attention from mental health professionals, but it is also possible -- and more common, actually -- to fall off the shallow end, "to lose everything but one's reason," as Chesterton put it. These people can't really be helped, since they find the shallow end to be quite congenial to their desiccated souls. They know how to wade, to tread water, to dog-paddle, and that's all they want or need to know.

Materialists propose what amounts to an absurdly false hierarchy with man at the top, but no way to explain how he got up there (since there can be no objective progress in a random and meaningless cosmos). As Schuon explains,

To say that man is the measure of all things is meaningless unless one starts from the idea that God is the measure of man, or that the absolute is the measure of the relative, or again, that the universal Intellect is the measure of individual existence....

Once man makes himself a measure, while refusing to be measured in turn, or once he makes definitions while refusing to be defined by what transcends him and gives him all meaning, all human reference points disappear; cut off from the Divine, the human collapses.

This is why there can be no philosophy more anti-human than secular (as opposed to Christian) humanism; you cannot turn man into a god without placing him beneath himself, for you will simply create a demon who is beyond good and evil.

"Intelligence is the perception of a reality, and a fortiori the perception of the Real as such" (Schuon). Therefore, intelligence is the ability to discern the Real from the unreal, or from the "less real."

Furthermore, intelligence itself must share something of the substance of the Real, or it couldn't possibly know it. Ultimately, Truth and Intelligence must be two aspects of the same thing, or both are meaningless, at least as far as humans are concerned.

As Schuon explains, "the sources of our transcendent intuitions are innate data, consubstantial with pure intelligence" (emphasis mine). This is a key insight into how and why the intellect "resonates" with divine revelation and with the "inward appearance" of things in general. As mentioned a couple of posts back, just as our physical eye perceives empirical reality, our spiritual vision is able to perceive the vertical realm. Or, as Eckhart says, "the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me."

To put it another way, Intelligence itself is proof of eternal values, since man's intellect would be inexplicable -- for it would lose its sufficent reason -- if deprived of "its most fundamental or loftiest contents," which include Truth, Reality, the One, the Infinite, the Absolute. To recognize the Infinite is to reject all idols and graven images, including those of science.

Conversely, you can claim that objective truth doesn't exist; but if so, then neither does intelligence, so there is no reason to pay any attention to your avowed lack thereof.

Scientific materialism provides us with facts and details, but no wisdom as to what they mean, or even whether it is worthwhile to know them. Philosophy, in the words of Josef Pieper, is simply "the hunt for that which is worth knowing, for that wisdom which makes one unconditionally wise..." "Without philosophy," aphorizes the Aphorist, "the sciences do not know what they know."

In fact, Pieper's conception is quite similar to Schuon's, in that he regards philosophy as being concerned with reality as a whole and with wisdom in its entirety, which can be seen as two aspects of the same underlying unity. He quotes Plato to the effect that the lover of wisdom seeks not this or that part, but "integrity and wholeness in all things human and divine."

Clearly this is not so of science (nor should it be), which explicitly limits itself (or should, anyway) to this or that aspect or part of the cosmos, not its totality. It does, however, assume that there is a totality, even though this totality can obviously never be observed or proven empirically. No one but the Creator has ever "seen" the cosmos. We only know of it because of our deiformity.

In fact, one could say that Cosmos and Creator are two aspects of a single reality. There is no cosmos that cannot be known, nor knowledge in the absence of a hierarchically structured cosmos. Again, Being is Truth, which is why knowledge is possible.

To reduce reality to what may be clearly and unambiguously known through the scientific method is to in effect say that "I want to know only what can be made blindingly obvious and is thoroughly demonstrable to the densest man."

The modern man only admits the evidence that the vulgar perceive. For the objective, as well, he limits it to the consensus of dull minds. --NGD

6 comments:

julie said...

Materialists propose what amounts to an absurdly false hierarchy with man at the top, but no way to explain how he got up there (since there can be no objective progress in a random and meaningless cosmos).

Materialist man is a stump turtle that thinks his post is a throne of his own making.

julie said...

To reduce reality to what may be clearly and unambiguously known through the scientific method is to in effect say that "I want to know only what can be made blindingly obvious and is thoroughly demonstrable to the densest man."

To be fair, provided that the knowledge is true, it would still be an improvement over what most people are taught today. We live in a deeply stupid time; “there are two sexes” should not be a radical, inflammatory statement.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post from the past.

The materialist position comes about because God is intentionally veiled here; Earth was created to provide a classroom, laboratory, and research facility for soul growth, and putting on the blinders is mandatory before arrival here. God recedes into the interior, and few pursue Him there.

The materialist position is the easiest to master, and people are lazy. But it should be said the Creator is well aware of all factors, i.e, blinders, veiling, laziness, etc, that are characteristic conditions imposed upon the soul embodied on Earth. Does God forgive? He does more than that; He exonerates.

There is no growth or progress in heaven. A soul must come here to make progress, and it gets done somehow. The materialist has done the minimum necessary to reach an existential comfort zone, and then off she goes to get her chores done, whatever those may be.

Mike Zorn said...

To reduce reality to what may be clearly and unambiguously known through the scientific method is to in effect say that "I want to know only what can be made blindingly obvious and is thoroughly demonstrable to the densest man."

On the other hand, there's quantum mechanics, which must therefore certainly lay outside the realm of reality.

Maybe it does..... who knows? Who?

Anonymous said...

Quantum mechanics are notoriously crafty. You bring your quantum device to them, they tinker around and proclaim there is something major amiss, like a boson filter or quark regulator. It's a crap shoot. Who can you trust these days?

Van Harvey said...

"...Scientific materialism provides us with facts and details, but no wisdom as to what they mean, or even whether it is worthwhile to know them. Philosophy, in the words of Josef Pieper, is simply "the hunt for that which is worth knowing, for that wisdom which makes one unconditionally wise..." "Without philosophy," aphorizes the Aphorist, "the sciences do not know what they know."

In fact, Pieper's conception is quite similar to Schuon's, in that he regards philosophy as being concerned with reality as a whole and with wisdom in its entirety, which can be seen as two aspects of the same underlying unity. He quotes Plato to the effect that the lover of wisdom seeks not this or that part, but "integrity and wholeness in all things human and divine."..."

Yummm... what a feast.