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. 

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Absolute and Relative

Lately I've been rereading Schuon's Logic and Transcendence, which I must have already read half a dozen times. It's one of his more challenging works, partly because he often asserts rather extreme views as if they're self-explanatory, seemingly based upon his own authority -- which I don't necessarily deny, but still. 

Maybe we'll touch on some of those pronouncements later, but I want to focus on the things with which I *absolutely* agree, since he expresses them so clearly and succinctly. And since those things are so evident, it leaves me openminded toward some of his less evident assertions. In other words, since he verbally actualizes a great deal of what is latent in my own intellect, I cut him some slack.  

After all, he didn't derive his own knowledge from books, rather, from direct experience -- or, in his view, from meditating on the Nature of Things, including the nature of the intellect itself. This doesn't necessarily make it correct, since people experience all sorts of things. 

Nevertheless, he provides, for example, a useful definition of "mystical" and "mysticism," characterizing them as "inward contact (other than the purely mental), with realities that are directly or indirectly Divine." So, here is a man describing his contact with Divine realities, which countless people have done through the ages.

The question is, is it possible to reconcile or harmonize all of these diverse mystical testimonies? Schuon would most certainly say Yes, with the caveat that we cleanse them of various accidents and contingencies, e.g., of culture, language, passion, etc. "For Truth is one and so is humanity." 

Just as there can be no "Jewish physics" that exists apart from Buddhist or Christian physics, it's an appealing notion to believe there's only one religion of which diverse religions are more or or less adequate expressions. 

This is because the human intellect intrinsically seeks unity on every plane. As we've said before, the progress of science, for example, proceeds by reducing multiplicity to unity. Physics has thus far reduced things to four fundamental forces of nature, but is currently stuck on how to further unify these into a higher or deeper unity. Our minds spontaneously intuit the unity of reality -- hence the term universe -- but physics is not yet able to get from here to there

And if Gödel is correct -- which he is -- we can never get from here to there, but that's a somewhat different subject. For reality is One regardless of what the math shows and can show. 

In the previous post, a typical anti-religious midwit cut-and-pasted some "problematic" biblical passages, proving one again that there is no religious literalist more literal than the atheist. Each of the passages has an intellectually satisfying exegesis, but it does raise the issue of "asserting that every religion at its origins can be reduced to the crudest possible concepts." This is always done in bad faith by the intellectually dishonest (or lazy), spiritually untutored, or frankly depraved. To say the least, it speaks to a baseness of soul and poverty of imagination. 

But it doesn't help our cause when a devotee of this or that religion essentially says "my crude concept is the correct one, while yours is just a myth, fantasy, or superstition." How do we get around such religious infighting? For as Schuon says, "It has become impossible effectively to defend a single religion against all others by declaring the rest anathema without exception." 

To be sure, some of them are anathema, but based upon what objective criteria? Is there some purely extrinsic way to distinguish, say, Scientology or Mormonism from orthodox Christianity? Or is it solely a matter of faith and intrinsic arguments such as "it's true because it's in the Bible, and the Bible is true because God wrote it." 

The latter approach is not an intellectually satisfying argument, the question being whether God owes us this satisfaction, or whether he wants us to disable our intellect when it comes to the most important questions confronting it.

With all deus respect, that would be absurd and unbefitting a God worth worshipping.  

Schuon's entire opus is geared toward safeguarding "the religious heritage against the advances of the ubiquitous scientistic mentality, and, on the other hand, to bring about a perfectly logical and unsentimental solidarity between those who traditionally take cognizance of transcendence and immortality" -- which is to say, the great majority of human beings.

Now, atheistic types like to think of themselves as "perfectly logical and unsentimental," but Schuon turns this on its head and demonstrates that they are the ones who are plunged into passion, incoherence, and self-interest, beginning with the first chapter, called The Contradiction of Relativism.  

Because first of all, you are either an Absolutist or a Relativist; and if the latter, you're only fooling yourself; for to affirm it to be absolutely true that nothing but the relatively true exists, is like saying that words don't exist, or writing "that there is no such thing as writing."

It's not quite as simple as that, because personal subjectivity and perspective not only exist, but must exist if there is to be a creation separate from the Creator, or a relative apart from the Absolute. 

For me, these two categories are "absolutely complementary," so to speak, as they are never separate in a properly functioning psyche (nor even in God, as we will later argue). Come to think of it, one of the primary characteristics of an improperly functioning psyche -- AKA mental illness -- is a violent sundering of absolute and relative.

I could provide abundant examples, but let's rip one straight from today's headlines: a woman has an absolute right to kill her unborn child. Thus, since it is absolute, it must inhere in the female baby. But does it make sense to anyone that little girls have an absolute right to abort themselves, and wish to exercise this right?

Note that a real natural right doesn't work this way, e.g., rights to free speech, self-defense, and property. They are truly in the nature of things, and do not negate themselves at the source, nor impinge upon anyone else's natural rights. Unless, of course, you are a progressive, in which case you have the right to free speech so long as it doesn't hurt their feelings. Feelings -- which are always relative -- are thus transformed into an absolute. 

Yes, we are subjects, but this does not mean we are entirely enclosed in subjectivity and relativism. Rather, we only know of subjectivity because of our relation to 1) objects and 2) other subjects. Schuon:

For a man who was totally enclosed in his own subjectivity, that subjectivity would not even be conceivable; an animal lives in its own subjectivity, but does not conceive it because, unlike man, it does not possess the gift of objectivity.

Again: complementarity. I have a note to myself somewhere -- something to the effect that "paradise is walled by complementarities." These are not paradoxes, absurdities, or mysteries -- although mysteries generally partake of complementarities, now that I think about it.

Now, multiculturalism, diversity, identity politics, the "living constitution," gender insanity -- the left's whole agenda -- is simply the outward clothing of an inward relativism, which is the real issue: 

Thus it is that relativism, cleverly instilled into public opinion, paves the way for all manner of corruptions, on the one hand, and, on the other, keeps watch lest any kind of healthy reaction might put a brake on this process of sliding toward the abyss.

Note that the correct response is not a tyrannical counter-absolutism. Diversity, for example, is fine, relative to unity, not for its own sake. Otherwise it is like catabolism without anabolism, a diseased breakdown of the tissues of society.  

Likewise, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with doubt, questioning, skepticism. Aphorisms come to mind:

Two skeptics fit into every great Christian with space left over for Christianity.

I have seen philosophy gradually fade away between my skepticism and my faith.

Man’s moment of greatest lucidity is that in which he doubts his doubt.

Here again, doubt is ordered to, and complementary with, certitude, at least down here in the Kingdom of Horizontality:

This capacity for objectivity and absoluteness is an anticipated and existential refutation of all ideologies of doubt: if man is able to doubt, this is because certitude exists; likewise, the very notion of illusion proves that man has access to reality.

This post is getting a little long, isn't it? To be continued...