Thursday, March 04, 2021

Truth, Existence, and Certitude

Is there a pure metaphysics, accessible to man, that is prior to sense and reason? I've been struggling to reconcile esoterism and Thomism, and this seems to be the nub of the gist of the crux of the matter. Or at least one of them.  

The dimensions I've been exploring lately are so vast that it's difficult -- okay, impossible -- to wrap one's mind around them. No wonder people take this stuff on faith! And not just religious faith, either. For example, I have no earthly idea how a CD player works, but it doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of music. 

And who knows, maybe the kind of technical intelligence that can dream up such a device displaces the kind of intelligence that appreciates other dimensions, from music to literature to comedy. Certainly our digital overlords don't have a sense of humor, or even common sense. And they want to restrict us to their little cognitive prison, just like any other religious fanatic.

Anyway, the intellect of a Fr. Garrigou is so imposing that one is inclined to simply nod in agreement and say "Father know best." I suppose this is why some folks called him "the sacred monster of Thomism." Imposing. That's the word. When I question something he says, I feel slightly impudent.

Since God, His Existence and His Nature runs to 1,000 pages, it is literally difficult to wrap one's mind around it, figuratively speaking. It's like trying to capture water with a bucket in a rainstorm. But at risk of impudence, I think I've identified a flaw, or at least a fundamental area of disagreement, and it goes to this question of what the intellect is

We can further boil the question down to this: is the intellect radically separate from the divine principle? Or is it a prolongation of it? 

I notice that Fr. Garrigou, when he has occasion to mention him at all -- usually in a snarky footnote --  doesn't think much of Eckhart. But this is a central motif of the Meister, i.e., that there is something both uncreated and uncreatable in the soul -- or that we participate in the uncreated. 

Apparently this is a Big Heresy, and I can understand why. Taken out of context and without the appropriate paradox, irony, and playfulness, one can get the wrong idea and start thinking one is God. 

Nevertheless. Let's proceed logically. Let's say truth exists. Being true, it is both necessary and eternal. Assuming man can know this truth, this means that man must somehow participate in necessary and eternal being. Woo hoo!

But Garrigou begins the search for God at the other end, with the senses, which know only the particular and unique. Yes, we can prove the existence of God with certainty, but beginning with created things and ascending on up to their Creator. Thus, God is known a posteriori, not a priori -- or from the effects to the cause instead of the cause to its effects, reverberations, and prolongations herebelow.

At times it almost seems to me that Garrigou is protecting the dignity and majesty of God from our grubby intellects. Here again, I can certainly understand the reason for this. It's the same reason why real Jews don't even utter the word G-d, because it's presumptuous to name the Nameless. 

Moreover, giving something a name can fool us into thinking we understand it. After all, even liberals use the word "reality." 

Rather than arguing with Garrigou, I think I'll cut straight to what bOb thinks, which is more in align with Schuon and Eckhart, albeit with certain modifications. Nor should you care what bOb thinks, since he is just an impudent crank who is in way over his head.

Now, instead of starting with the senses, Schuon goes straight for the jugular of Absolute: boom! Maybe I'm missing something here, but this seems... absolutely self-evident to me. We're all familiar with Descartes' famous crack to the effect that He thought about stuff, therefore he existed

This is metaphysically backassward, precisely. Like Descartes, we too "begin" in thought, but not really, since thought -- to say nothing of true thoughts -- must have a sufficient reason. It's not just floating around in our heads with no explanation.

To jump ahead a bit, the correct formulation is: I think, therefore being is. Or better, I am because (not therefore) Being is:     

The certitude that we exist would be impossible without absolute, hence necessary, Being, which inspires both our existence and our certitude; Being and Consciousness: these are the two roots of our reality (Schuon). 

From this little seedling sprout all sorts of implications, entailments, and good tidings. 

Back to the question of beginning at the top rather than with the senses:

No doubt it is worth recalling here that in metaphysics there is no empiricism: principial knowledge cannot stem from any experience, even though experiences -- scientific or other -- can be the occasional causes of the intellect's intuitions.

So it's fine to start with the empirical world, if that floats your boat. But you're forgetting a little something that must be there before the beginning, AKA intelligence:

The sources of our transcendent intuitions are innate data, consubstantial with pure intelligence... 

Again, this goes to the "uncreated" alluded to above. Conversely, if we begin at the other end, with empiricism or with reason, we will discover no immanent principle allowing us to transcend these. Rationalism, for example,

consists in seeking the elements of certitude in phenomena rather than in our very being. 

Or, let's say you want to skip all this philosophical nonsense and go straight to revelation. Let's say it speaks to you, and so deeply that you are just certain it is true. Question: by virtue of what principle is this certitude and this truth in us?

To be continued....


Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Godwin, I enjoyed this superb post, which performs the magic trick of making some difficult philosophy accessible to smaller minds like mine. Much appreciated.

Are you sure you don't want to be a professor of Philosophy? You would certainly entertain well with lectures. Perhaps you could create a You-Tube post with you speaking from the Bob cave...

In the post you wrote:

"We can further boil the question down to this: is the intellect radically separate from the divine principle? Or is it a prolongation of it?"

The pupil raises her hand: "But Dr. Godwin, how can anything be radically separate from the divine principle? Didn't you say there was but One Cosmos?"

-Shirley Wants to See the Professor After Class

julie said...

Moreover, giving something a name can fool us into thinking we understand it.

Not merely that, but in the past it was understood that knowing somebody's true name conferred a degree of power over that person. It was why traditionally, one used only a surname when speaking with most people. It was only one's closest intimates who had the claim to call one by one's most personal name; and of course, usually only God knows our own most secret name. At a guess, calling the One I AM is a simple way to express the idea of the Alpha and Omega's name without even beginning to express what it is - which, if pronounced in its entirety, would probably encompass all of existence anyway.

Irene said...


Just wanted to let you know how much I've enjoyed reading your comments over the years, even if I don't post often.

Irene NYC

julie said...

Thank you, Irene! It is a pleasure to hear from you, too.

julie said...

Hey, I just realized it's March Forth. Raise a glass, fellow Raccoons, it's beer o'clock somewhere!

Cousin Dupree said...

For reasons I can't get into, the *celebration* in DC was aborted.

julie said...

Toots Mondello is more powerful than I realized.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of abortion, I just did a little study on Youtube video popularity and found that debating philosophy isn’t very popular. In fact, somebody called “Wiz Khalifa” released a music video that’s a billion times more popular than this moral philosophy debate video I saw. I suspect that if philosophy was musically ‘rap-debated‘ by Wiz Khalifa and Lady Gaga, inside a room with a bunch of loaded guns laying around, there might be more interest.

So I looked up four interesting philosophical debates of our time, which somebody claimed that everybody should be talking about (with my response):

1. Is the world we live in actually real? (This wasn’t an issue before the Matrix movies came out.)

2. What is consciousness? (Some say it’s a brain trying to make sense of pleasure/pain impulses coming from the body, but this excludes most people I know.)

3. What system should we use to make moral decisions? (Pew polling, though some call Pew an abomination and prefer Rasmussen polling.)

4. Is there such a thing as free will? (Not while living inside an echo chamber. And not if you’re married (*rimshot*)).

So with these questions now answered, I ask the philosophical question: What else is there?

Van Harvey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Van Harvey said...

"To jump ahead a bit, the correct formulation is: I think, therefore being is. Or better, I am because (not therefore) Being is"

Yep. Our process of thinking requires analytical steps, but what we are thinking about is not dependent upon them - it is - only our conscious understanding of it, is dependent upon those steps. The best we can do, the bottom ground of our thinking, according to the vAn, is:

* Reality exists. (One Cosmos)
* What exists, exists as something. (Identity)
* In our awareness of that, is our awareness of ourselves. (Consciousness)

But what is, IS all of that at once, without separation, without distinction, what is, is True, and we do experience that source as an undifferentiated whole, but we can't experience our awareness of it, without processing it through those individual steps.