Below is the introductory lecture of a 10-week undergraduate course called “Mind and Nature in German Idealism” that I’m hoping will run this coming Fall (2014) for the University of Philosophical Research. If you’re an undergrad looking for an independent study, let me know.
I’ve just submitted my dissertation proposal for review. Click on the title below for the PDF.
I welcome suggestions, critiques, sources, and/or extensions.
Basically, I’m doing a comparative study of the philosopher Friedrich Schelling, the esotericist Rudolf Steiner, and the mathematician and cosmologist Alfred North Whitehead. In particular, I want to interpret their respective “etheric” ontologies (Schelling’s “world-soul/universal organizing principle,” Steiner’s “etheric formative forces,” and Whitehead’s “evental ether/Creativity”) as typical of the process-relational imagination.
The plate above, a painting of the Philosopher’s Tree, is from Splendor Solis, an alchemical treatise published by Solomon Trismosin in 1582.
A lecture I gave earlier this week in a class at CIIS on Spirit and Nature.
I linked to Cain’s essay on Darwin in my last post on his theory of the psychedelic origins of religion. I wanted to comment on what he tries to do in the Darwin essay. His claim is that, post-Darwin, the old distinction between life and matter no longer holds; therefore, we are all more like undead zombies than living creatures. He even goes so far as to argue that Nature in its entirety must be some kind of Super Zombie.
What Darwin showed is that nature can do the work of an intelligent designer, in creating species of living things. Prior to Darwin, the difference between life and death was usually explained in dualistic terms: natural life derives from God who is separate from all of nature and who implants a spirit or transcendent, immaterial essence, within certain material bodies, while nonliving matter lacks any supernatural spirit. Here we had an absolute distinction between life and death, much like Newton’s sharp distinction between space and time. But after Darwin, scientists no longer regard the source of an organism’s distinguishing features–its consciousness, agency, pleasures and pains–as supernatural, which is to say that Darwinian biology is monistic with respect to the difference between the living and the nonliving. Darwin’s theory of how members of a species come to possess their traits is simpler than the theistic, dualistic explanation. Instead of having to refer to two types of things, a Creator God and the created material form, we need refer only to material forms, such as the environment, genes, and simple physical bodies which reproduce themselves from one generation to the next so that their distant ancestors migrate and occupy other niches, becoming more complex and specialized in the process.
I wonder what Cain makes of Kant’s argument in the Critique of Judgment (sec. 75) about the impossibility of explaining living organization according to mechanical causes alone. He (famously or infamously, depending on your philosophical persuasion) claimed that natural science could never understand how even a mere blade of grass grew–that there could never be “a Newton of the grass blade.” Darwin, of course, has been championed by many biologists as precisely such a “Newton of the grass blade.” Many of a more scientistic persuasion have argued that, after Darwin, natural science definitively surpassed philosophy as the superior (if not the only genuine) mode of knowledge production.
Were Kant still alive, I imagine he would dismiss the triumphant claim of scientistic biologists to have explained life mechanistically as but a transcendental illusion. This despite all that has been learned since Darwin about biochemistry and genetics. Organisms display a form of circular causality that is not applicable to machines: in the case of organisms, the cause and the effect are both internal to the organism in question, whereas a machine’s cause is external to its effects. I’ve argued on many occasions that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has more in common with William Paley’s argument from design than most modern biologists are willing to let on. Both Paley and Darwin understood organisms to be machines assembled by an outside “agent”; Paley believed the agent was God, while Darwin showed how Nature could do the same job (at least when analogized to human selection). But Darwin never claimed his theory could explain how organisms themselves were possible. The last paragraph of The Origin of Species defers to a Creator to account for how life may have been originally breathed into the first organism/s. His theory offers an account of organic speciation, not origination. Which is to say that he had to assume the existence of biological individuals for Nature to do the selective work he showed it could.
Post-Kantian thinkers like Goethe and Schelling took Kant’s transcendental claims about organisms to the next level by attempting to articulate how self-organization could be intrinsic to the universe (Kant had only shown that the human mind could not know how organisms were possible in the absence of self-organization, not that such organization was necessarily intrinsic to Nature). Alfred North Whitehead also developed an organic conception of the universe. Cain’s argument in favor of a zombie universe is one possible direction to take after Darwin’s erasure of the life/matter dichotomy. The other direction would be to accept something like Whitehead’s panexperientialism, whereby material bodies at every level of organization (from the atomic to the astral and galactic) are in some sense “alive.” I argued as much in my essay on Whitehead’s philosophy of organism.
See below for more in depth arguments about this topic…
- Evan Thompson on Autopoiesis and Enactivism (footnotes2plato.com)
- Schelling, Darwin, and the Romantic Conception of Life (footnotes2plato.com)
- Fragments of a Romantic Theory of Evolution (footnotes2plato.com)
- Purpose in Living Systems (footnotes2plato.com)
Several months ago, Michael (who blogs at Archive Fire and contributes to synthetic_zero) posted a comment on a post of mine about philosophical vitalism.
I’m just now getting around to responding to what for me were really helpful questions as I try to further flesh out my thoughts on etheric imagination.
I like your point about a root image of a root, but from my view I think part of our problem to begin with is that we rely too heavily on metaphors when we should be attending to the particular characteristics of things and strata and complexity as they occur. That is to say, why do we need a root image? What cognitive work gets done by understanding everything as “machines” or “objects” or “organisms” beyond what particular situations express naturally?
My desire to encounter and interact (cope?) more or less directly (in terms of consequence) with the brute actualities of life and the possibility spaces afforded among such contingencies (differences) comes from a deeply unsettling realization of the limits of language and signification. I think there is a philosophy or three of embodiment and ethics that could be gleaned from a closer relationship with matter-energy and its emergent orders as it continues to evolvebeyond the effects and masks and affordances of decisional philosophy.
In response, I suppose I don’t see an alternative to working with the play of metaphor and imagery. It’s not that we need “root images” (Goethe called them Ur-Phänomen; Jung and Hillman called them archetypes; Tarnas calls them planetary aspects), its that we could not do and never have done without such images. It isn’t possible to ‘need’ a root image because we are always already being imagined by the root images of the cosmos. Its a matter of inverting what we usually think has creative agency, of turning the neoliberal concept-wielding subject inside out so that a new kind of non-representational, imaginative cognitive regime comes to discover the way real images (imago vera) are rooted in and grow out of the things themselves. The subject cannot choose root images like it might choose concepts; rather, root images chthonically emerge from the vitality of matter-energy itself.
The ur-images of earth and sky always already encompass us, as the ur-images of light and warmth always already pervade and enliven our bodies, as the ur-image of the (n)one cosmic life, or world egg, expresses itself as this or that particular body. The life of the cosmos is not just The Tree of Life but every single twisting vine, every leaf, every flower, every fallen petal and rotten fruit and freshly planted seed in the soil.
These images are the necessary roots–not only the transcendental but also the physical conditions–of our coming to consciousness of an agential self or a lawful world. How else can a speaking animal understand its sensori-motor intra-enaction with all the other living bodies around and inside it without dwelling in the play of imagery? If it’s the particular characteristics of complexly stratified matter-energy processes that we are hoping to depict accurately and to transact with compassionately, through what medium but imagination could we possibly hope to do so? Is the real creative chaos underlying the ideal cosmos accessible to deductive reason, to scientific observation, to mathematical computation, or even to Zen meditation alone? Perhaps sometimes it is. Perhaps on those occasions, its because reason, or science, or math, or meditation has been mixed with a strong dose of imagination? I would say that without the underlying play of images (whether explicit or unconscious) like “machine” and “organism,” no cognitive work can be done at all, period. Without the play of imagination, the understanding falls limp and goes to sleep. This is Kant’s really important discovery, the discovery it took him three critiques to make.
So I’m all for direct encounter and immediate coping. But not because I think language/signification is limited. Perhaps this is because I don’t think language is primarily a matter of signs and signals. Rather, language is symbolic. Language does not and cannot designate things, though it can pretend to. It is precisely in this pretense that the symbolic intensity of language erupts into physical expression. A symbol points only to itself; it is “tautagorical,” as Coleridge put it. So root images are not propositional signs pointing at things, nor are they transcendental concepts conditioning the categorical possibilities of things. They are not ghostly forms traced upon solid materials or mere human abstractions projected onto earthly realities. The root images described here are not meant to stand in for, or to represent, the flow of actual matter-energy. What I’m claiming is that the spatial flow of matter-energy has a naturally occurring imagistic dimension, and that by experimenting in this mundis imaginalis we may discover new forms of embodied praxis in congruence with the universe, new ways of being-on-the-earth and materially-energetically transacting with one another.
I don’t know what you mean by decisional philosophy, exactly. But I know I try to stay as far away from philosophical decisiveness as I can. I prefer experimental philosophy to decisional philosophy, in the sense that I reserve the right to change my mind about anything at any time if it turns out I was wrong or that a more creative or compassionate response is possible. I’m not here to complete the absolute system or to publish the encyclopedia of philosophy. I’m here to try to uproot the conceptual sources of misplaced concreteness and to re-plant the most resilient image-seeds I can find growing in my earthly habitat (image seeds, or root images, like trees, sunlight, flowing water, etc.).
I enjoyed his rebuttal of Hutson’s blanket rejection realism regarding teleology. I am also enjoying the discussion Grant is having with Hutson down in the comments. I do not think Hutson has read the work of organic/creative finalists like Bergson or Whitehead. His concept of teleology is very mechanical and industrial, very Anglo-American; it totally lacks the Franco-German flavor of Whitehead and Bergson’s organicism, which has its modern origins in the Naturphilosophie of Goethe, Novalis, and Schelling (and its ancient origins in alchemy and hermeticism). If you’ve read those guys, or their more recent incarnation Teilhard’s “The Human Phenomenon,” its impossible to think of creationism as somehow necessarily opposed to evolutionism. It begins to seem, rather, that they imply and require one another.
I heard a lecture by professor of German literature Fred Amrine tonight on Goethe’s Color Theory. Prof. Amrine quoted Goethe (usually known for his poetry and artistic genuis and not as a pioneering natural scientist) as having asserted towards the end of his life something like “It is for my theory of colors, and its refutation of Newton, that posterity will remember me.” Goethe described his color theory as a “sensory-moral” account of natural phenomena such that the “physical laws” those phenomena “obey” are seen to emerge from out of one’s conscious perceptions themselves, rather than being imposed upon them from outside as in Newton’s mechanistic theories. Goethe’s scientific method “makes phenomena transparent to their own lawfulness,” as Prof. Amrine put it. Instead of the deistic-mechanistic metaphysics and calculative-quantitative methods that came with the Galilean-Newtonian scientific revolution, Goethe developed his own processual and organic approach to nature (an approach whose philosophical implications were first developed by Schelling and later made more explicit by Rudolf Steiner). His organicism was rooted in the qualitative structure-dynamics of experience itself, rather than the calculable motion of “external matter.” “External matter,” I’d argue, is among the most abstract concepts imaginable by the human mind. Goethe instead remained faithful to appearances and to common sense, as Aristotle long ago prescribed. The Faustian magician-priests of the modern techno-scientific revolution, of course, had other plans. External mechanistic matter was as real as it gets, and modern science’s job was to gain control over it. Modern science is a stunningly beautiful and devastatingly powerful belief system. We should dream it and use it more wisely than we do.
How could Goethe have been so mistaken about his future influence? He is not remembered as a great scientist, as the creator of an alternative but no less “modern” scientific worldview and methodology. Newton’s Optics is still esteemed as the paragon of scientific treatises by most historians and philosophers of science, while most people have either never heard of Goethe’s color theory, or have summarily dismissed it as some kind of an alchemical throwback.
But maybe this is the wrong question… Is Goethe really mistaken? It could be that he is still ahead of his time scientifically. Could it be that, in another generation, not only Darwin but Goethe too will be celebrated as a discoverer of “evolution”? Actually, Darwin only used the word “evolution” once in the 6th edition of Origin of Species. For good reason (at least from the perspective of the mechanistic metaphysics he inherited from the scientific revolution): the concept of evolution is inherently teleological in that it implies the unfolding of something enfolded, the rolling out of a plan, etc…. ya know, “teleology.” Goethe’s natural science, like Schelling’s and Whitehead’s and Bergson’s and Teilhard’s, does not attempt to explain away meaning, purpose, and value in the universe, but rather aims to simultaneously elucidate and deepen our understanding and experience of human teleology by rooting it in the teleogenic capacity of the cosmos itself. The question is no longer “What must human meaning/purpose/value be if nature is really mechanical/dull/void?”– The question rather becomes “What must nature be such that human teloi are possible?”
Of course, I just disqualified myself in the eyes of the scientifically-minded for admitting to belief in teleology. “Evolution teleological? Clearly you don’t understand science and evolution! Or worse, you’re not even being scientific at all, you’re being religious!”
Only a scientifically illiterate religious nut could believe, for example, that “The sun makes light so that plants can photosynthesize.” Hutson uses this example (it originated in a 2009 study by psychologists from Boston University) in one of his comments to Grant in an effort to display the absurdity of teleology. He suggests Grant’s [and my own, in this post] assumption about such nut cases and their beliefs “is not that they have made a common mistake but that in some sense the sun would not have come to be if plants had not evolved three billion years later.” Teleology does seem absurd when framed in such a way. But it need not be framed in such a way. Hutson himself relies upon a teleological argument of a different sort when he mobilizes the idea of transcendentally imposed universal and necessary “physical laws” that contingent and particular natural bodies are required to obey. This is pure deism, regardless of Hutson’s preference for the Spinozist flip that has nominally replaced Deus with Natura sometime between Newton’s and our own day. The telos in modern science’s view of nature is the cosmic machine’s pre-planed “design.” For Newton, this telos was designed by an all-powerful “designer” or “divine engineer.” Hutson, I assume, prefers to speak of random quantum fluctuations giving rise to the laws governing our universe, which is just one of infinitely many more randomly arising universes, most of which have no order at all and certainly do not have intelligent life. This is a strange sort of teleology, whether in its early modern deistic or late modern atheistic phase: it makes the human seem a stranger in nature by transforming our common sense experience of ourselves, the earth, and the cosmos as alive into an epiphenomenal illusion projected upon what is really just mechanical matter in motion. How strange, that rather than looking deeper into nature to understand how our human teleological creativity is possible, modern science has denied such creativity to nature, thereby detaching human egoic consciousness both from its own creativity, as well as from the unconscious (but still experiential!) creativity of nature.
There are yet other ways of framing teleology, like that of the organic evolutionary thinkers I mentioned above. Whitehead and Bergson in particular offer devastating critiques (both philosophical and scientific critiques) of the “spatialized” conception of time guiding modern mechanistic science from Newton to Einstein. Rather than thinking that the future somehow reaches back in time to cause the past (as when the evolution of photosynthesis somehow causes the sun to exist), they came to think of future possibilities as luring the present decisions of every organism, such that plant life is understood to be the further expression of an activity that, 4.5 billion years ago, had only achieved the sun-like phase of its organic development. Plants are quite literally the further flowering of the sun. You could say, then, that plants are part of the sun’s purpose. As Goethe said in a slightly different context (eye-sight instead of plant photosynthesis): “The eye must be something like the sun, otherwise no sunlight could be seen.” This is not to imply that the future can somehow be seen in advance, as though the sun knew life was coming. It is more as if the light of the sun discovered for the first time what it truly is only once it had created life on earth. Life is the dreaming of light, not its “design.” Indeed, this process of the universe’s self-discovery through evolution may only have just begun. As Teilhard de Chardin put it: “The history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen.”
- This Thursday’s PCC Forum- “Goethe’s Color Theory” – A lecture by Prof. Fred Amrine (footnotes2plato.com)
- Purpose in Living Systems (footnotes2plato.com)
- Time as Creative Potency (footnotes2plato.com)
For those who live in the Bay Area, the next PCC Forum (hosted by my partner Becca and I) will feature Prof. Fred Amrine, a Goethe scholar from the University of Michigan’s German department. The lecture is open to the public and will take place at the California Institue of Integral Studies (1453 Mission St., San Francisco, CA) this Thursday, March 21st, at 6:30pm in room 306. Prof. Amrine has lectured for us before on the history of imagination in philosophy from Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and Goethe in the 19th century, to Rudolf Steiner in the 20th. You can listen to that lecture HERE. See the flyer below for more information.
I stumbled upon this great essay on Schelling and process metaphysics recently published in the journal Cosmos and History by Prof. Arran Gare. He really makes it clear how compatible Schelling’s Naturphilosophie is with Whitehead’s cosmological scheme.
Here is a sample:
Schelling’s work is now more relevant than ever before. The situation we are in was very succinctly summed up by Richard Tarnas: “In the absence of any viable, embracing cultural vision, old assumptions remain blunderingly in force, providing an increasingly unworkable and dangerous blueprint for human thought and activity.” By overcoming the limitation of Kant’s philosophy, Schelling has provided the basis for definitively transcending scientific materialism, in doing so, overcoming the opposition between science and the humanities and enabling people to understand themselves as culturally formed, socially situated, creative participants within nature. Most importantly, Schelling confronted and charted a path to overcome the nihilism into which European civilization was and is descending, a nihilism that is reaching its apogee in the deification of the global market, postmodern fragmentation and the specter of global ecocide. In his later work on myth and revelation Schelling noted that “through the virtually unrestricted expansion of world relations… the Orient and the Occident are not merely coming into contract with one another, but are being compelled … to fuse into one and the same consciousness, into one consciousness that should for this reason alone be expanded into a world-consciousness.” While overcoming the parochialism of the European Weltanschauung, this will also necessitate breaking free from past forms of religion; but what is true in mythology and revelation should be preserved, providing a religious dimension to this world-consciousness. To this end, Schelling argued, it will be necessary to develop a “philosophical religion”, addressing and integrating the freedom of existence, historical phenomena and nature into an expanded Weltanschauung inclusive enough to overcome philosophy’s compulsive tendency to splinter off into mutually exclusive schools of thought. Schelling noted that at the time of his lecture this philosophical religion did not yet exist. Lovelock’s notion of Gaia, transcending the parochialism of particular civilizations, concurring with Schelling’s philosophy of nature and offering a religious dimension to scientific theory, can be seen as a significant contribution to the development of this philosophical religion. By recognizing Schelling’s place in the history of philosophy and in science we can now appreciate the process metaphysicians and the scientists influence by them not merely as isolated thinkers of brilliance, but as part of a powerful tradition of thought working towards the creation of a global civilization. This tradition is continuing Schelling’s struggle against nihilism and his integral view of humans as creative historical agents within nature, in which philosophy, science, the arts and the humanities are playing a crucial role in the self-creation of humanity and of life on Earth. We can now see the lineaments of this new civilization emerging in response to the global ecological crisis as the ecological civilization being called for by Chinese environmentalists, a call now being taken up internationally.
Contrapoints made this video to open up his history of philosophy series.
Here is my response.
Poetic Imagination in the Speculative Philosophies of Plato, Schelling, Whitehead
The Garden of Eden and Expulsion from the Garden by Thomas Cole
“I am convinced that the supreme act of reason, because it embraces all ideas, is an aesthetic act; and that only in beauty are truth and goodness akin.–The philosopher must possess as much aesthetic force as the poet…Monotheism of reason and of the heart, polytheism of imagination and art, that is what we need!” -F.W.J. Schelling1
“[Philosophy has] to rescue the facts as they are from the facts as they appear…we view the sky at noon on a fine day. It is blue, flooded by the light of the sun. The direct fact of observation is the sun as the sole origin of light, and the bare heavens. Conceive the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden on the first day of human life. They watch the sunset, the stars appear:–‘And, Lo!, creation widened to man’s view.’ The excess of light discloses facts and also conceals them.” -A. N. Whitehead2
The aim of this essay is to sketch the striking similarities running through the thought of Plato (423-348 BCE), Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854), and Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), especially as they relate to the power of poetic imagination. At first glance, Schelling and Whitehead would seem to be representatives of disparate schools of philosophy: the former is normally considered an idealist, the latter, a realist. But this would be a superficial reading that misses the underlying unity of their reformed Platonism. As will become clear, the stated desire of each is to think the sensory manifold as a single universe; to wed Space and Time in the Thought of Eternity; to ground reality and ideality in one mediating power. Like Plato, Schelling and Whitehead crowned philosophy the science of sciences and the art of arts, the creative core of all civilization. What finally distinguishes the philosopher from the sophist, according to Whitehead (summarizing Plato), is the philosopher’s “resolute attempt to reconcile conflicting doctrines, each with its own solid ground of support.”3 But as will also become clear, both Schelling and Whitehead reformed Plato in imaginative ways, adding other voices to his corpus of dialogues as a goad to their spiritual renewal.
To begin with, it is not at all obvious that Schelling’s philosophy, taken as a whole, deserves the title of “idealism.” Martin Heidegger, for example, suggests that Schelling “drives German idealism from within right past its own fundamental position.”4 More recently, Dalia Nassar,5 Iain Hamilton Grant,6 and Jason Wirth7 have all contended that, despite his early allegiance to Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s transcendental idealism, Schelling remains, in Wirth’s words, “first and foremost a thinker of the question of Nature.”8
As for Whitehead, Grant mentions him alongside Schelling as a promising example of speculative thinking “beyond the epistemological concerns of the philosophy of science,”9 an issue to which I will return below.10 George R. Lucas further cements this speculative affinity by reading Schelling’s Naturphilosophie as a historical precursor to Whitehead’s philosophy of organism.11 Though Whitehead never read much of the German idealists directly,12 he was deeply influenced by the British idealists John McTaggart and F. H. Bradley, going so far as to suggest that his own cosmology might be considered “a transformation of some main doctrines of Absolute Idealism onto a realistic basis.”13 Furthermore, Antoon Braeckman has indirectly linked Whitehead’s philosophical scheme to Schelling’s through the intermediary of the Schellingian philosopher-poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose role in the formation of William Wordsworth’s aesthetic vision of nature is well known.14 Though he was familiar with Coleridge,15 the deepest impact on Whitehead came through the poetry of Wordsworth, which he study throughout his life. According to his daughter’s testimony, he would read The Prelude almost daily “as if it were the Bible, pouring over the meaning of various passages.”16
The philosophies of Schelling and Whitehead, then, seem to spiral around a common intuition, namely that the division between the real and the ideal can and should be overcome through an act of poetic imagination. Before further unpacking the commonalities of their imaginative schemes, I will briefly outline the role of imagination in speculative philosophy as over and against critical philosophy.
Cosmological and Transcendental Imagination
Speculative, or cosmological imagination has been clearly differentiated from critical, or transcendental imagination, by contemporary Whiteheadian philosopher Isabelle Stengers.17 For Stengers, there are two basic approaches open for the questioning postkantian philosopher. The first is to ask, “What do I know?”; the second, “What can I know?”18 Answering the former question requires the spark of imaginative speculation, which leaps across the gap in the circuit of perception between mind and matter in an attempt to see into the sea of relationships within which one swims. The philosopher-seer risks propositions regarding the reality of nature’s ideality, hedging her bets on the synechological19 affinity of mind and nature. Given the precursive trust20 of the speculative philosopher, these cosmological propositions are liable to infect common sense experience, allowing new worlds to take shape in the social imagination.
The latter question (“What can I know?) characterizes the critical approach. It separates the knower from its object, directing attention almost exclusively to one’s own subjective reflection upon an external world. Questions of epistemology take center stage, questions of the a priori conditions of conscious experience that shape and make possible any perception or understanding of the phenomenal manifold corresponding to the external world. These are important questions to ask, but in the modern period, they have been over-emphasized, resulting in the solipsistic positivism of scientific materialism.21 Because the positivist has lost all precursive trust, what the world is in itself, the realist’s question, is dismissed as a grandiose search for God’s view of the cosmos.
To further differentiate the cosmological from the transcendental imagination, it may be helpful to personify each mode by linking it with its foremost historical exemplar. Plato’s philosophy, as interpreted by Schelling and Whitehead, is rooted in a cosmological conception of imagination, while the philosophy of Immanuel Kant is rooted in a transcendental conception of imagination.
Although, in Republic, Plato explicitly places “imagination” (eikasia) below the line dividing the soul’s cognitive powers,22 the straightforward translation of eikasia as “imagination” can be misleading in light of Schelling and Whitehead’s use of the idea. Eikasia is etymologically related to eikon, usually translated as “icon” or “image” in the context of Greek culture, but can also be translated as “idol” in the Biblical context. Eikasia could then better be called the power of “imaging,” of seeing images, in either of two modes: as images of things or as things themselves. Plato’s placement of eikasia below the divided line is meant to be a critique of idolatrous imagination, that which has fallen into duality, mistaking opinions regarding appearances of “what comes to be and passes away, but never really is”23 for the truth of what really is. Schelling would call this fallen mode of eikasia the merely reflective understanding, perceptually isolated from reality and so only able to relate to abstract concepts and finite sensory particulars.24
However, when the “imaging” soul is wise to Plato’s teaching in Sophist concerning “non-being”–that non-being is a kind of being–25 philosophical imagination can express itself through the poetic art of iconography, what neoplatonists like Proclus and Iamblichus will later call theurgy. Theurgy is a ritual technology capable of re-shaping the soul though the power of magical symbols.
Whitehead refers to Plato’s teaching of the being of non-being as “at once an extreme instance of the breakdown of language, and the enunciation of a profound metaphysical truth.”26 The difficult phrase points to the way linguistic propositions generate meaning, not only through discontinuous antinomies, but through constructive contrasts: words are not things, but nevertheless, the symbolic assembly of a string of words can illuminate the relations between things in unforeseen ways. Plato is himself skilled in poetic ritual, as is evident in the many mythopoeic “likely stories” articulated in his dialogues. Each such story is an image meant to be transformative of the soul’s erotic commerce with eternal Ideas. They function as initiatory rites revealing the inner nature of the divine imagination. In Timaeus, for example, Plato narrates the genesis of the universe as “a moving image of eternity,” inviting the individual psyche to be reminded of its analogical participation in the ever-lasting life and motion of the world-soul.27 The speculative imagination sees the moving image of the visible heavens and knows it to be the mirror of an invisible source.28
Plato’s was also a cosmomorphic imagination, seeking to transform experience of the sensible world by actively bringing it into harmony with the intelligence of Ideas. Schelling identifies this speculative mode of imagination with reason rather than the understanding, since it participates freely in both the finite and the infinite, and indeed, discovers the infinite in the finite.29 Speculative imagination is neither above nor below the divided line, but is the very power responsible for making the division in the first place. Imagination draws the line, being both productivity and product, activity and artifact.30
Even from Kant’s transcendental perspective, imagination is the most indispensable of the soul’s cognitive powers, mysteriously generating both sensibility and understanding.31 But for him, imagination emerges from a depth unreachable by the light of conscious will. Ideas of imagination are therefore reduced to determinate concepts of the merely reflective (i.e., unproductive) understanding,32 leading to “those insoluble contradictions which Kant set forth under the name of the antinomies.”33 These antinomies forbid the soul real knowledge concerning God, the cosmos, or even its own freedom, since in each case, critical reflection alone leads only to an aporia inherent to sense-bound understanding. The understanding, says Kant, “stretches its wings in vain, if it tries to soar beyond the world of sense by the mere power of speculation.”34
Schelling understands this alienation of the critical soul from the world as a “necessary evil,” a means to an end, since only through such a trial by separation can the soul become conscious of its imaginative power.35 Only if sense-bound conceptuality is treated as an end in itself does it become an “intellectual sickness.”36 The transcendental imagination, then, is not simply to be rejected as a false mode of mentality, but passed through as the first phase in the advance toward genuine philosophical knowledge.
In the next section, I will continue to explore the reformed Platonism of Schelling and Whitehead as it relates to the cosmological imagination, focusing more explicitly on the affinity of their respective philosophical schemes.
The Platonic Imagination in Schelling and Whitehead
It should already be clear that Schelling and Whitehead each owe a huge intellectual debt to Plato. Whitehead characterizes the European philosophical tradition as “a series of footnotes to Plato,” and suggests that his own philosophy of organism is best understood as a contemporary rendering of Plato’s general point of view.37 Schelling studied Plato’s dialogues in the original Greek during his teenage years at seminary in Tübingen, dedicating many notebooks to their elucidation in which he creatively translated Plato’s words into his own. According to Bruce Matthews, these notebooks indicate “the determinative role this philosopher plays in the young Schelling’s intellectual world.”38
At other times, Schelling and Whitehead are also critical of Plato’s tendency to overplay the separation of the transcendent ideal from the immanent reality. Schelling tentatively agrees with Aristotle’s reproach of Plato’s merely logical formulation of the doctrine of participation,39 as if the doctrine could explain the actual coming into being of living things.40 Whitehead also admits that Plato tended to waver between the doctrine of participation by the persuasion of divine Eros and the doctrine of the imposition of “static, frozen, and lifeless” Ideas upon mute materiality according to the plan of an omnipotent divine Craftsman.41
Despite this wavering, Whitehead points to the genius of Plato’s definitive statement that “anything that affects or is affected by another has real existence.”42 Plato here sides with the doctrine of participation of Ideas as dynamically entertained by an immanent world-soul, a real medium, “connecting the eternality of being with the fluency of becoming.”43 This mediating principle is “the way in which Plato conceived the many actualities of the physical world as components in each other’s natures.”44 The medium is otherwise called the Receptacle, the “third kind” between universal Ideas and sensory particulars, the “wetnurse” providing a formless locus for Ideas to temporally incarnate.45 As Whitehead describes it, the Receptacle is “the matrix for all begetting… [transforming] the manifoldness of the many into the unity of the one.”46
This description suggests that Whitehead conceived of the ultimate notion of his own philosophy of organism, Creativity, as a result of dwelling upon Plato’s difficult but important notion of the Receptacle. Creativity is “that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively.”47
The one feature distinguishing Creativity from the Receptacle is that “it is divested of the notion of passive receptivity.”48 This distinction is due to Whitehead’s preference for the doctrine of Ideas as “lures of feeling,” rather than as molds forcibly stamped upon neutral and emotionless matter. In the jargon of his philosophical scheme, incarnate actual occasions, not abstract eternal objects, are ultimately responsible for deciding on the subjective form of their own concrescence.49
“It is to be noted,” says Whitehead,
that every actual entity, including God, is something individual for its own sake; and thereby transcends the rest of actuality. And also it is to be noted that every actual entity, including God, is a creature transcended by the creativity which it qualifies.50
The substance of each actual occasion, and of each individualizing society of occasions (i.e., each organism), is a creative power, a harmonization of a diversity of inherited forces seeking satisfaction in a definite ideal future. “The definition of being,” says Plato, “is simply power.”51 That being is essentially power implies that to be is to be in between.52 To be is to become together, to concresce. Nothing in the universe is external to anything else, since all occasions are internally related. Even the universal occasion, the world-soul or divine imagination, is not “a transcendent emanation,” but “a component in common” with the living bodies of the actual world.53
Creativity, like the Receptacle, provides “a unity [for] the events of Nature…by reason of their community of locus.”54 But unlike Plato’s Receptacle, which is essentially passive and formless, Whitehead’s Creativity contains its own forces of formation.
Schelling re-imagines the participatory moments of Plato’s dialogues for his own creative purposes, distilling them into what he calls Plato’s organic Urform. Like imagination’s mediation of the senses and the understanding, this Urform provides a “formula for thinking the productive relationship that holds between a unity and its parts.”55 The Urform is “not simply a form of our subjective understanding that we project onto the world, but…the productive structure of objective nature itself.”56 It could be likened to Goethe’s Urpflanze, raised from the botanical to the spiritual dimension. It is “the secret band” linking the individual soul’s imagination to the divine imagination of the world-soul.57 Schelling points to Plato’s articulation of the Urform in Philebus as “a gift of the Gods”58 granting human creatures participation in the divine intellectus archetypus.59 Schelling’s translation of Philebus 16c-e is as follows:
…the ancients (greater men and closer to the gods than us) have left the story behind, that everything which has ever [existed] emerged out of unity and multiplicity, in that it united within itself the unlimited and the limit: that thus we too in light of this arrangement of things should presuppose and search [in] every object [for] one idea.60
Schelling’s conception of the cosmos as the product of two dynamically polarized forces, one expansive and the other contractive, is the offspring of the Platonic Urform.61 These cosmogenic forces, the keystone of his entire Naturphilosophie, are alternatively characterized by Schelling in terms of the polarity between natura naturans (nature as subject, as productivity) and natura naturata (nature as object, as product).62 Whitehead marks an identical difference between “nature alive” and “nature lifeless.”63 The latter is nature viewed through a film of abstraction as mere extension lacking all quality and value. It is nature according to what Whitehead calls “presentational immediacy,” a barren and solipsistic mode of sense-perception perfected by self-conscious human beings and mistaken by most philosophers for the most fundamental mode of perception. This mistake is Whitehead’s famous “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”64 “Presentational immediacy” is the product of imagination in service of the reified “object-concepts” of the understanding.65 “Causal efficacy” is Whitehead’s term for the more fundamental mode of perception through directly bodily inheritance of nature’s emotional energies.66 Here imagination is productive and impossible to mistake for its finished products. Schelling would similarly see “nature lifeless” as nature filtered through the merely ideal concepts of the reflective understanding, with its limited perception by way of superficial sensation. For Schelling, “[nothing] is actual in the absence of imagination,” which is the power of productive intuition and absolute reason.67 “Nature lifeless” is then entirely deficient in actuality, an empty idol.
“Nature alive” is nature viewed with imaginative sympathy as permeated with emotional intensities and aesthetic aims. As a participant in living nature, the percipient occasion no longer simply experiences the universe’s beauty, but itself becomes an expression of this beauty. Natura naturans is nature before the Kantian epistemological bifurcation of its being into the mechanism of matter over and against the freedom of mind. At their generative core, each actual occasion, whether mineral, vegetable, animal, or human, “includes that which in cognitive experience takes the form of memory, anticipation, imagination, and thought.”68 Mentality, in other words, is not the unique possession of human beings, but participates in all actual occasions (or “actants” as Schelling calls them), to greater or lesser degree depending on the complexity of each occasion’s form of individualized organization.69
In the next section of this essay, I will attempt to display the alchemical power of poetry in the process ontology of Schelling and Whitehead.
Towards a Poetic Form of Philosophy
Whitehead points to Percy Shelley and Wordsworth as the most emphatic witnesses of the Romantic reaction against the scientific materialism that divorced aesthetic values from nature. These values, “[arising] from…the brooding presence of the whole on to its various parts,” were reduced by mechanistic natural philosophy to merely secondary qualities accidentally inhering in some more primary collection of material particles.70 Shelley’s and Wordsworth’s reaction was to apotheosize imagination and its poetic expressions.71
According to Shelley, poetry is
the center and circumference of knowledge, the root and blossom of all other systems of thought…that which, if blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and withholds from the barren world the nourishment and the succession of the scions of the tree of life.72
Contemporary speculative philosopher and scholar of Romanticism, Timothy Morton, was recently asked where poetry begins.73 In answering, he turned Shelley’s metaphor upside down by suggesting that “rooting and blossoming are themselves a kind of poem.” Poetry doesn’t begin with human art, but in nature (natura naturans) itself. Human poetry is the flowering of earth. Said otherwise, imagination is an “elemental power,” “not ‘mine’…but…an alien ‘force’ in me.”74
“What we speak of as nature,” says Schelling, continuing the alchemical metaphor,
is a poem lying pent in a mysterious script. Yet the riddle could reveal itself, were we to recognize in it the odyssey of the spirit, which marvelously deluded, seeks itself, and in seeking, flies from itself.75
The alchemical Magnum Opus involves precisely such a circulatory psychophysical movement between seeking and fleeing, fusing and separating, assimilation and differentiation, eventually culminating in the purified Philosopher’s Stone, the coincidentia oppositorum.76 The alchemist’s soul becomes the a mirror of material processes, “always [manifesting] itself indirectly, as something other than itself.”77 Schelling’s philosophical scheme, according to Matthews, is founded upon “a decentered Self” whose consciousness is rooted in the genetic history of the larger totality of geological strata.78 This totality represents an “unprethinkable”79 past of subterranean forces, whose structure, though it cannot be logically demonstrated, can be imaginatively (re)generated. Schelling’s approach to philosophy is not demonstrative, but generative, in that it abandons traditional philosophical pretensions to deductive proof and formulaic certainty. “To philosophize about nature,” says Schelling, “means to create nature,” that is, to create after the manner of nature as subject (natura naturans).80 Or as Grant puts it, when “I” think nature, “what thinks in me is what is outside me.”81
Whitehead also abandons the pursuit of the abstract demonstration of truth: “…philosophy, in any proper sense of the term, cannot be proved. For proof is based on abstraction.”82 The role of philosophy, instead, is “to find a conventional phraseology for the vivid suggestiveness of the poet,” and thereby to “increase our penetration” even where “we can never fully understand.”83 Ultimately, “the aim of philosophy is sheer disclosure” and the production of “self-evidence.”84 Philosophy, for Whitehead, as for Schelling, begins and ends in a wonder at “the fact of creation and existence itself,” a fact best expressed poetically.85
“There is the one all-embracing fact,” says Whitehead, “which is the advancing history of the one Universe.”86 The one advancing Universe is simultaneously a social fact concerning the novel togetherness of the community of actual occasions. In Schelling’s terms, “there is but one absolute work of art, which may indeed exist in altogether different versions, yet it is still only one, even though it should not yet exist in its most ultimate form.”87 It should not yet exist in its ultimate form because the universe as a whole is an ongoing creative process, a cosmopoiesis, rather than an already finished product. The Universe, itself a poem, “is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.”88
Schelling and Whitehead both forged their philosophical imaginations by reading the dialogues of Plato. Despite the “old quarrel between poetry and philosophy,”89 Plato’s infamous ban of Homeric poetry from his ideal republic was not based on a rejection of poetry as such, but on a distaste for lyric and epic poetry that depicted the Gods as immoral. Plato’s true desire was simply to replace traditional poetry with his own novel form of theoretical poetry, consisting of hymns to the gods and eulogies to good people.90 Shelley said of Plato the poet that “the truth and splendor of his imagery, and the melody of his language, are the most intense that it is possible to conceive.”91 The aim of Plato’s poetry was to “kindle a harmony” in imagination by reminding the soul of the measured rhythms of reason asleep within in. “What is commonly called theoretical reason,” says Schelling, “is nothing else but imagination in the service of freedom.”92 Plato recognized that poetry is an indispensable element in the formation of a free society’s values. Similarly, Whitehead suggests that “both [philosophy and poetry] seek to express that ultimate good sense which we term civilization.”93
In the context of his own age, Whitehead looked in particular to the nature poetry of the Romantics, which, like philosophy, functions primarily as a critic of specialized scientific abstractions on behalf of common sense and concrete experience:
Remembering the poetic rendering of our concrete experience, we see at once that the element of value…of being an end in itself…must not be omitted in any account of an event as the most concrete actual something. ‘Value’ is the word I use for the intrinsic reality of an event. Value is an element which permeates through and through the poetic view of nature. We have only to transfer to the very texture of realization in itself that value which we recognize so readily in terms of human life. This is the secret of Wordsworth’s worship of nature.94
From Schelling’s perspective, poetry and philosophy are also akin, but they should not be simply identified. Like philosophers, poets and other creative artists may sometimes be “in possession of the idea of absolute truth and beauty,” but unlike philosophers, they remain unconscious of this fact “precisely because they are possessed by it.”95 Schelling refers to poets and creative artists as mouthpieces of the Gods, but suggests they only display Ideas in particular external things, like poems and paintings, while philosophers “exhibit the archetypes of things in and for themselves…in an inward way.”96
It would seem, then, that traditional poets, like the polytheistic myths they sung, were still largely embedded in an unconscious nature. Though this universe is undoubtedly vibrantly glimmering with the values of intrinsic reality, it has not yet become the conscious poetry of spirit. It has not yet attained philosophy, “the poetic gift…reiterated to its highest power.”97
For Schelling, “a system is completed when it is lead back to its starting point.”98 If, as Plato suggests, philosophy begins in wonder, then, “at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains.”99 Schelling called for a new philosophical mythology, a “likely story” capable of directing the aesthetic and moral aims of human civilization.100 Whitehead, too, recognized the need for myth, since “there is no escape” from the inherited societal customs which form the given facts of human experience.101 As Plato realized, human beings are capable of no more than likely stories, since we are “like” God, made in the divine image, and not Godself. This likeness still grants us a tremendous degree of imaginative freedom. Though “there is no such fact as absolute freedom,” since as both Whitehead and Schelling argue, freedom presupposes necessity,102 the self-consciousness of human beings nonetheless “rises to the peak of free imagination, in which the conceptual novelties search through a universe in which they are not datively exemplified.”103 Every grade of actual occasion is both “in time” and “out of time” by virtue of its physical and mental poles, but self-conscious human occasions participate more fully in God’s primordial envisagement of the Eternal Ideas.104 “The importance of [the human] as the supreme example of a living organism is beyond question,” says Whitehead.105 But even so, the goal of philosophy is not to further alienate humanity from its earthly garden, but to heal the human soul’s self-inflicted wound. The redemption of the soul through the skilled application of the medicine of true poetry is the Romantic project for philosophy. By consciously enacting the magical power of poetry, the philosopher is, like the alchemical physician, able to “[operate] not only on his patients’ bodies but on their imaginations.”106
“Philosophy,” says Schelling, “was born and nourished by poetry in the infancy of knowledge,” and upon rising to the heights of self-conscious spirit, will “flow back like so many individual streams into the universal ocean of poetry from which [it] took [its] source.”107 The only difference between the original and final forms of the philosophical imagination is that, after the long labour of its journey into alienation has ended, the final form carries with it the hard won knowledge of “The feeling of life endless, the great thought/By which we live, Infinity and God.”108 Along with its original innocence, the imagination has in the end what it did not possess in the beginning: self-knowledge and moral freedom. The evil of alienation–“of nature and history rent asunder”109–works as an athanor, or alchemical fire, upon the soul, transmuting the mercury of intellectuality into the gold of spiritual love,110 a love, according to Wordsworth,
Which acts, nor can exist/Without Imagination, which in truth,/Is but another name for absolute strength/And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,/And reason in her most exalted mood.111
In the imaginative philosophies of Schelling and Whitehead, Plato’s speculative Urform of unity in multiplicity is rediscovered to again become the “eternal unchanging characteristic of every investigation.”112 This intuition of the unity of the real and the ideal, of the infinite in the finite, brought to fruition, not only redeems the human soul of its internal strife; the rekindled imagination becomes also the Redeemer113 of the external114 universe:
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…in hope…that [it] will also be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God…the whole of creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.115
1 F.W.J. Schelling, “The Oldest Program toward a System in German Idealism,” qtd. and tranl. by David Krell, The Tragic Absolute: German Idealism and the Languishing of God (Bloomignton: Indiana University Press, 2005), 24-25.
2 Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1933), 155.
3 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 120.
4 Martin Heidegger, trans. Joan Stambaugh, Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985), 4.
5 Dalia Nassar, “From a Philosophy of Self to a Philosophy of Nature: Goethe and the Development of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie,” in Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 92:3 (2010), 304-321. Nassar suggests that Schelling broke with Fichte largely as a result of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s influence.
6 Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (New York: Continuum, 2008). Grant complains that contemporary scholarship on Schelling’s philosophy pays “scant attention…to the deep vein of naturephilosophy running through it” (3).
7 Jason Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” in Philosophy Compass 6/9 (2011), 585-598.
8 Wirth, “Resurgence,” 594n6.
9 Grant, After Schelling, vii, ix.
10 See p. 5.
11 George R. Lucas, Jr., The Rehabilitation of Whitehead: An Analytic and Historical Assessment of Process Philosophy (New York: State University of New York, 1989), 25-26.
12 Alfred North Whitehead, Essays in Science and Philosophy (New York: Greenwood Press, 1969), 116.
13 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York: The Free Press, 1978), xiii.
14 Antoon Braeckman, “Whitehead and German Idealism: A Poetic Heritage,” in Process Studies 14:4 (1985), 265-286.
15 See Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Macmillan, 1925), 79.
16 Mary A Wyman, “Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science in Light of Wordsworth’s Poetry,” in Philosophy of Science 23 (1956), 283.
17 Isabelle Stengers, “Serializing Realism,” a talk at the Fourth International Conference of the Whitehead Research Project, entitled “Metaphysics and Things: New Forms of Speculative Thought,” at Claremont Graduate University on 12/2/2010.
18 See also Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 224.
19 See C.S. Peirce, ed. Justin Buchler, Philosophical Writings of Peirce (Mineda: Dover, 2011), 354. “Synechism is that tendency of philosophical thought which insists upon the idea of continuity as of prime importance in phillosophy.”
20 See William James, ed. by John J. McDermott, “Ethical and Religious Dimensions of Radical Empiricism,” in The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1977), 740.
21 See Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 125-130
22 Ch. IV. Eikasia is below the divided line because it relates only to sensory appearances in the world of becoming, remaining ignorant of the ideal realm of eternal being.
23 Timaeus 28a.
24 F.W.J. Schelling, transl. Peter Heath, System of Transcendental Idealism (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978), 73.
25 Sophist 241d.
26 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 222.
27 Timaeus 37c-e. See also the Hermetic analogy: “As above, so below.”
28 “Mirror,” in Latin, is speculum.
29 Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 176.
30 See Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 29, 145. “Geometry proceeds, in that it sets out, not from theorems, but from postulates…it demands that reflection itself bring forth [the line] in productive intuition, which it certainly would not do if the genesis of a line could be conveyed through concepts.”
31 See Critique of Pure Reason, in The Essential Kant (Chicago, University of Chicago, 1970), 96.
32 See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (New York: Dover, 2005), 59, 142.
33 Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 176.
34 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 287.
35 F.W.J. Schelling, transl. Bruce Matthews, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy: The Berlin Lectures, transl. Bruce Matthews (New York: State University of New York, 2007), 17-18.
36 Schelling, Schellings Sämtliche Werke I/2, ed. K.F.A. Schelling (Stuttgart-Augsberg: J.G. Cotta, 1856-64), 14. Transl. by Bruce Matthews.
37 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 39.
38 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy (New York: State University of New York, 2011), 21.
39 See Parmenides.
40 Schelling, Positive Philosophy, 159-160.
41 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 147-148.
42 Sophist, 247. Quoted in Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 119.
43 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 120.
44 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 134.
45 Timaeus, 49a.
46 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 150.
47 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 21.
48 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 31.
49 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 88.
50 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 88.
51 Sophist, 247e.
52 See Symposium 202 on metaxy and Eros.
53 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 130.
54 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 187.
55 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 22.
56 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 131.
57 Schelling, Schellings Sämtliche Werke I/2, 55.
58 Philebus 16c.
59 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 132.
60 Quoted in Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 23.
61 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 132.
62 F.W.J. Schelling, transl. Keith R Peterson, First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature (New York: State University of New York, 2004), 202.
63 Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: The Free Press, 1966), 127-169.
64 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 51-55.
65 See Wolfgang Smith, Science and Myth: What We Are Never Told (San Rafael: Sophia Perennis, 2010), 58.
66 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 122.
67 Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 72.
68 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 154.
69 Schelling, Philosophy of Nature, 5-6, 39-40.
70 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 81-84.
71 See Percy Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry,” and William Wordsworth, The Prelude.
72 Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry.”
73 “Interview with Timothy Morton” on 2/25/12, http://eeevee2.blogspot.com/2012/02/interview-with-timothy-morton.html (accessed 5/8/12).
74 Susanna Lindberg, “On the Night of the Elemental Imaginary,” in Research in Phenomenology 41 (2011), 157.
75 Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 232.
76 See Patrick Harpur, The Philosopher’s Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination (London: Penguin, 2002), 135-154.
77 Harpur, The Philosopher’s Secret Fire, 143.
78 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 28.
79 See F.W.J. Schelling, transl. Jason Wirth, The Ages of the World: (fragment) from the Handwritten Remains: Third Version (c. 1815) (New York: State University of New York, 2000), 12.
80 Quoted in Grant, After Schelling, 1.
81 Grant, After Nature, 158.
82 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 49.
83 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 50-51.
84 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 49.
85 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 168 and Positive Philosophy, 73.
86 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 150.
87 Schelling, Transcendental Idealism, 231.
88 Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry.”
89 Republic, 607b.
90 See Robert Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 389-395.
91 Shelly, “A Defense of Poetry.”
92 Schelling, Transcendental Idealism, 176.
93 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 174.
94 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 89.
95 F.W.J. Schelling, Bruno, or On the Natural and Divine Principle of Things (New York: State University of New York, 1984), 132. See also Plato’s Apology 22c-e.
96 Schelling, Bruno, 132.
97 Schelling, Transcendental Idealism, 230-231.
98 Schelling, Transcendental Idealism, 232.
99 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 168. See also Plato’s Theaeteus 155d.
100 Schelling, Transcendental Idealism, 232-233.
101 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 63.
102 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 133; Schelling, Transcendental Idealism, 203-204.
103 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 161.
104 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 248.
105 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 24.
106 Francis Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1964), 151.
107 Schelling, Transcendental Idealism, 232.
108 Wordsworth, The Prelude XIII, quoted in M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton, 1971), 118.
109 Schelling, Transcendental Idealism, 231.
110 Valentin Tomberg, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, transl. by Robert Powell (New York: Penguin, 2002), 194.
111 Wordsworth, The Prelude XIV, quoted in Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 118.
112 Philebus 15d.
113 See Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 119-122.
114 The redeemed universe is the universe understood according to Whitehead’s doctrine of internal relations (see p. 10 above).
115 Romans 8:19-22.
- The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy (footnotes2plato.com)
- Fragments of a Romantic Theory of Evolution (footnotes2plato.com)
- The Eternal Form of Philosophy (a response to Archive Fire) (footnotes2plato.com)
- Whitehead and the Role of Ideas in the Universe: A Psychedelic Experiment (footnotes2plato.com)
Darwin is supposed to have discovered something nowadays called “evolution” and to have laid to rest something nowadays called “creationism.” But if this is so, what are we to make of the theories of Schelling and Goethe in Germany, and of Coleridge in England, articulated several decades earlier than he? Their Romantic conception of the transformation and morphogenesis of molecules, plants, and animals, is already fully evolutionary. Schelling spoke of evolution of plants and animals out of the earth by way of a chemical process (see, e.g., p. 168, The Romantic Conception of Life by Robert Richards). Goethe and Coleridge agreed.
The reason Darwin is supposed to have discovered the “real” evolution is that his version is a-teleological, based on a conception of nature driven exclusively by efficient causes, while the Romantic theory of evolution is not only teleological, but theological. It breaks the rules of scientific explanation by attributing animation/agency to that which it theorizes. Modern science takes it as a matter of course that nature is without intelligence or intrinsic value. Romantics experience nature as full of complex feeling and archetypal intention. Even if, for Goethe, Nature is God and God is Nature, divinity is ingredient in any Romantic philosophy of nature. Goethe, were he interested in the abstract distinctions of philosophical logic, may also have articulated a panentheistic (like Coleridge and Schelling), rather than a pantheistic ontology. But cosmologically, these three Romantic Naturphilosophen conceive of nature alike as a creative, archetypal process of generation. They understood the universe to be an ensouled being living in the midst of itself, like a snake eating its own tail (following Plato in Timaeus). Schelling and Coleridge, whose soul’s were more Christian than Goethe’s, also perceived something fallen in nature (following Paul in Romans 8), and so also something–or rather, someone–in the process of being resurrected.
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. -Paul, Romans 8:20-25
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.” -William Wordsworth
- What Barfield Thought Coleridge Thought (footnotes2plato.com)
- Schelling’s and Shankara’s Nondual Visions (footnotes2plato.com)
- Time as Creative Potency (footnotes2plato.com)
- Purpose in Living Systems (footnotes2plato.com)
In The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), Karl Popper famously (or infamously, as far as Hegelians are concerned) attacked Hegel for his bewitching apriorism and supposed distain for empirical science, going so far as to blame his Platonically inspired “mystery method” for the rise of fascism in Germany. Walter Kaufmann offered an appropriate response back in 1959, pointing out that Popper’s poorly researched, largely ad hominem attack on Hegel’s supposed motivations is strikingly similar to the approach of many totalitarian “scholars.”
Hegel’s is undoubtedly a philosophy that takes mystical insight and religious revelation seriously, and for that reason will always remain vulnerable to the critique of those of a more positivistic bent. I’ve attempted to unpack the place of natural science in Hegel’s system before, and I’d like to revisit some of the same themes again in what follows. As my dissertation topic continues to gestate, I find myself growing increasingly curious about what our contemporary Anglo-American understanding of Darwinian evolution might still stand to learn from the Naturphilosophie of thinkers like Goethe, Schelling, and Hegel. Following Glenn Magee (see Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, 2001), I believe a strong case can be made that these three thinkers carried forward what has traditionally been known as Hermeticism. The 16th century alchemist Paracelsus offers the Hermetic cosmological perspective quite succinctly (as summarized by R. Steiner): “If we survey nature we simply see separate letters and the word they form is the human being.” In other words, as Hegel makes explicit in his philosophy of nature, the universe in its essence must be such that human consciousness is a necessary stage of its self-development. Cosmogenesis is anthropogenesis. Here is the great bardic philosopher and psychedelic Hermeticist Terence McKenna making the same point:
As McKenna suggests, at the present moment in earth history, the human adventure has indeed taken center stage. As Hegel argued, the human spirit has always been at the center of cosmogenesis: the Anthropos was always enfolded, implicit in the sheer externality of space, which is the minimal form of nature as necessitated by the self-disclosure of the Idea as worked out in Hegel’s Logic. Space, for Hegel, is the contraction of the Idea, the Idea become paradoxically other to itself while still remaining self-identical. Nature is not the result or product of this contraction, but the contraction itself (meaning the Idea is fully immanent in and as nature, not its transcendent cause existing apart from or outside of it). The contraction of the Idea to make room for nature is drawn straight from the Cabalist notion of “tzimtzum” first articulated by Isaac Luria in the 16th century. The notion is an attempt to account for an infinite God’s act of creation, where the finite space and time of creation remains fully internal to and yet paradoxically apart from that which created it. Tzimtzum makes room for an independent world to develop without at first possessing any direct knowledge of its own divine ground. In the end, though, nature is nothing other than God incarnate, and in the self-conscious human, it comes to recognize this.
To recap, nature, in its logical rather than temporal unfolding, begins in the sheer externality of space. Space itself always already implies time, which implies motion, which implies matter, gravitation, light, electromagnetism, chemistry, geology, plant life, animal life, etc., culminating in the self-conscious human spirit. All this sounds very anthropocentric, but the point is not to enshrine the empirical species, Homo sapiens, as the crowning glory of all the universe. Rather, the Anthropos here in question is an archetypal ideal, rather than an empirical creature. Giordano Bruno, another 16th century Hermeticist, was burnt at the stake by the Church for, among other things, claiming that the universe was almost certainly full of other earths populated by intelligent species like ourselves. That cosmogenesis is essentially anthropogenesis is not to say the whole process leads inevitably to our particular species, but that the in built logic of the universe necessitates an evolutionary movement toward self-consciousness of some kind. The specific vehicle it achieves this self-consciousness through, whether in the familiar sort known to us as the Homo genus or an as yet undiscovered alien genus, remains a contingent matter. Homo sapiens are one example of an anthropic principle governing the development of the universe. To the extent that we realize ourselves as an incarnation of this principle, we participate in the Idea–the Divine–which grounds the whole process.
All this stands in stark contrast to the Darwinian conception of evolution as an undirected, entirely contingent process of transformation. To call Darwin’s conception of nature evolution is already to overshoot the picture he sought to paint, since to “evolve” means to unfold, as though the later stages of nature were already enfolded in the prior (much as Hermetic thinkers like Goethe, Schelling, and Hegel suggest). Transformism, as his theory was first named, is also inappropriate, since there must at least be something that is transformed, if not also something to do the transforming, some agent underlying the process. Otherwise there is only the substitution of one form for another with no substantial connection between the forms. If we say, as Darwin did, that Life is that which is transformed, we are left with an irresolvable dualism between the mechanics of the material and the organics of the living. Darwin humbly suggested that the original Lifeform must have been created by God out of otherwise lifeless matter, since his theory could only account for subsequent speciation given this one miracle. The systematic philosopher cannot settle for dualisms or miracles, of course. Hegel would certainly agree that life reflects a different moment in the logical unfolding of the universe than does matter, that organism cannot be understood according to the same laws that govern mechanism; but he would see both organism and mechanism as equally necessary moments in the self-disclosure of the Idea as nature.
Much research remains ahead of me, and while I haven’t at all given up my desire to unpack the role of imagination in speculative philosophy, I am most excited now by the prospect of delving into the Hermetic and esoteric influences on the evolutionary thinking of early 19th century German philosophy. Tentative title: “The Imagination of Evolution in Hermeticism: Towards a Cosmotheandric Re-Visioning of Philosophy.”
Everything past is but a metaphor!
What cannot be calculated is happening right here!
What cannot be described is being accomplished right here!
The Eternal Feminine (Mother Chaos, Mother Night) evolves us ever more and ever more.
translation by Tom Mellet