Letters on Cosmology and Theodicy

Below, I’ve copied an email thread with Dan Dettloff, who blogs at Re(-)petitions. I thought some of our other readers might want to chime in. Actually, I’d really like to hear other people’s responses to Dan’s question. I’ve not arrived at a satisfying answer to it, but I do think getting past “the problem of evil” will require a far more radical re-conceptualization of God’s nature than that offered by any ontotheology. On the other hand, there is more to religion than concepts. If, as the religious believe, God actually exists, then God is not simply an idea. God is real. After Kant–for whom God became merely a regulative idea necessary “for us” as rational thinkers but for all that not necessary for being “in itself”–the problem of evil became more acute, since it was re-located from the transcendent to the transcendental, from the universal to the individual: what had been an abstract problem for God to work out before the creation of the universe became a concrete problem for each human person to work out before theorizing about or acting within the world. Theology was no longer ontologically relevant, was not a science of divinity, but nonetheless remained crucially important for phenomenological knowledge and practical affairs, for free and responsible action among others. Without the regulative idea of God, or the Kingdom of Ends, human freedom would spin free of its gravitational center and unwind into blind willing. We would be incapable of good or evil action, incapable of loving. We would be as nothing.

Dean has been busy trying to think Christianity in the context of Speculative Realism and the “New Story” of evolutionary cosmology. Some of my own thoughts on these topoi were collected in this essay “Towards a Christological Realism.”


Matthew,

I’ll be brief, as I’m sure you’re busy, and I to you with what may turn out to be a bit of a heady question. I have followed your blog from time to time, and I admire your ability to bring various strands of thinking together. In fact, your writing prompted me to take a course on eco-theology with Dennis O’Hara in Toronto. I come from continental philosophy and identify as a Christian with the usual string of philosophical qualifiers. Convicted by Speculative Realism and a general growing interest in science, I have been hard at work trying to bring together the theological visions, which have ontological ramifications, of religious traditions (most specifically Christianity). Perhaps a year or so ago, Levi Bryant made a post at larval subjects calling out folks like Caputo for reducing religion to a sort of poetic overlay on the world, suggesting this cuts its legitimate, if (on Bryant’s view) misguided, ontological claims.

I share Bryant’s criticism, but, naturally, not his atheism, and as such have been exploring just what those ontological claims of Christianity might be, especially given the new cosmology. I’ve read The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry and Berry’s The Great Work, along with a myriad of articles (and I have some formal theological training, most specifically with Moltmann). While I’m not novice to theology, I recognize that this is a new arena for me, or at least I’m coming to it with new sets of questions.

Let me cut to the chase. I’m having trouble finding a satisfactory answer to the problems of creative destruction in the universe story, especially as it pertains to the kind of vision of a God of love present in most religious traditions. The argument is likely not foreign to you, but so we’re on the same page it goes something like: if God is so loving, as revealed in figures like, for example, Jesus Christ (though one could obviously choose others, but perhaps staying Christocentric will give us a little bit of a particular ground to work with), and God reveals that humans are called to enact radical love, forgiveness, and peace in the world, why would God create a universe which can only seem to create itself via loads of natural evil? In other words, when God incarnates into the person of Christ, God essentially becomes not just a human but inherits the sacrifice of millions of suffering creatures who, as part of the universe story, have given rise to this particular conscious being we call Jesus. Jesus then explores an ethic of love which runs precisely counter to the pre-human logic of cosmogenesis (or at least biogenesis).

Solutions to this issue usually take the form of some kind of libertarian notion of freedom for creation. God steps back and allows creation to realize itself. But this, too, is at odds with plenty of religious definitions of freedom, and, of course, autonomy is hardly synonymous with freedom. So what gives? Are we forced to affirm some kind of strange, perverse religious ontology which suggests God creates a universe which creates itself, only to tell the universe it was messing up the whole time? Do you know of any ways out of this predicament?Thanks in advance, Matthew. I hope all is well, and thank you, again, for your work. I’ve personally benefited quite a bit from it and look forward to reading more.

Best,
Dean

~~~~~

Hi Dean,

Thanks for your email. You’ve raised a question that has been on my mind lately, actually. I just finished a book by Matthew Stewart called The Courtier and the Heretic: Spinoza, Leibniz, and the Fate of God in the Modern World. It goes into the different theological positions of Spinoza and Leibniz.

For Spinoza (a pantheist), there is no such thing as good and evil from God’s all-inclusive perspective. Further, God has no freedom, since God is identical to the natural world, which was conceived by Spinoza along Newtonian lines as deterministic and law-abiding.

For Spinoza, the problem of evil is really just an illusion resulting from our limited perspective on things. Things are the way they are because they couldn’t have been any other way. God had no choice in the matter.

Leibniz was deeply influenced by Spinoza, but fought against his conclusions. Leibniz wanted to defend a conception of God as both apart from and internal to the universe, as both free and as necessary. In his Theodicy, he asked “why is there something, rather than nothing?” He imagined God deliberating with Himself prior to creating the universe: “Is such an endeavor worth it?,” Leibniz imagines God asking Himself. Leibniz then distinguishes between the divine understanding (God’s mind, if you will) and the divine will (God’s heart). The divine understanding, in creating a universe, must obey the logical principles of identity and non-contradiction. The divine will, given these restrictions, desires to create the best of all possible worlds. So the finite created world we know, according to Leibniz, contains the least amount of evil that it possibly could contain. God did His best, in other words. He decided it was worth creating the world for the good that would result, even if this good was won at the cost of some degree of evil and suffering.

My own response to the problem of evil comes largely out of Whitehead’s process theology. Whitehead (dis)solves the problem in a way that may be unacceptable to some orthodox Christians, in that he denies God’s omnipotence. Leibniz also limited God’s power in some sense (in that he required God to obey logic–Descartes is an example of someone who conceived of God as so powerful that He could even make 2+2=5 if He wanted). But Whitehead’s denial is more radical. God is no longer an all-powerful dictator who created out of nothing a finite and contingent universe. Rather, God is a creature of Creativity, part of cosmogenesis like you and I, not a distant unmoved mover but”a fellow sufferer who understands.” His only power derives from “the worship He inspires.” He is not capable of coercing creation to obey his commands, but works gently by way of erotic, moral, and aesthetic persuasion.

I presented a paper recently that further fleshes out Whitehead’s psychocosmotheology called “Worldly Religion in Whitehead and Deleuze: Steps Toward an Incarnational Philosophy” that further develops his process theology.

In short, for Whitehead, evil is not God’s fault, but is a side effect of creative process/evolutionary becoming. Evil is “creativity in the wrong season,” as he puts it.I’m also influenced by Schelling’s treatment of these issues… He would probably invert the Whiteheadianism that “evil is not God’s fault.” For Schelling, evil is precisely the fault or fissure in God between hiddenness and revelation, between wrathful withdrawal and radiant love.

Hope that clarifies some things for you somewhat… I welcome further dialogue about all this. Would you mind if I post your question and my response on my blog? I think others would enjoy thinking alongside us.
Warmly,
Matt
~~~~~

Matt,

Thanks so much for your timely and thorough response. You’re welcome to post it on your blog, and feel free to edit whatever you’d like. I’m not much a stickler on those sorts of things.

Your presentation of Whitehead is a useful way of cutting through Spinoza and Leibniz. I wonder, though, if this response moves the problem around rather than solving it (I recognize that “theodicy” may very well be an impossible thing to “solve,” but it remains the nagging problem of the universe story and, I fear, threatens it as a viable interpretive option). While I would happily deny God’s classical omnipotence, the question remains as to how God could not have created a universe which creates itself without all the violence. The Judeo-Christian writings get out of the problem by basically affirming that God creates a universe which is open to further development under a primordial goodness, and evil/suffering end up having a radically anthropocentric cause. This older cosmological mythos doesn’t explain suffering, of course, but it gets God off the hook. With the new cosmology, I, like you, find it necessary to deny a strong Providence, but we end up running into the usual problems of process theism, namely that it seems to encourage us to modify the concept of God so significantly that the God who comes out on the other side seems totally alien to the impulses of most world religions. God ends up sort of being shoe-horned into a certain cosmological model rather than setting the terms of the discourse, and thus process theology runs the risk of re-establishing another God of the philosophers and committing the sin of ontotheology.

Bringing this back to the problem of evil, the process paradigm, while still (I think) a God of the philosophers, is an improvement on the classical paradigm, but it fails to name the origin of evil other than to say it is structurally present in the very processes of the universe. It would be hard, I think, to hold that God creates the universe out of love as a result. We would need to posit the usual Boehme-Hegel-Moltmann-zimzum models, which come loaded with their own structural instabilities just as the classical models do.

But perhaps I’ve missed something somewhere along the way. I’ve sort of assumed a lot of things about these models in a slow disclosure of how I feel about them, and I certainly don’t want to pin anything on you that you don’t wish to be saying. My apologies for any presumptions or errors.

Thanks again for your time, Matt.

Peace,Dean

~~~~~

Dean,

I suppose it comes down to whether or not we are persons of faith, for whom God’s nature and existence are attested by way of spiritual revelation. If we cannot simply affirm this or that sort of God by way of an inner faith or an acceptance of outer religious authority, then we are forced to consider the physico-cosmological revelation instead by asking: What can God be like, given what we know of the physical universe? This question seems absurd, even abhorrent, for evangelical Christians, since what we’ve learned about biological evolution (which marches forward mostly by way of the satanic Great Selectors: sex and death) suggests we’d do better not ask the question at all, since if such a universe of continual carnage does have a Creator, its not the sort of God that would be worth loving. Better to be an atheist than to admit the existence of a deity who thought billions of years of rape and slaughter were worth the effort of creation…

I think process theism, whether we’re talking about Whitehead’s version, or Schelling’s Böhmean version, forces us to consider the darkness, the wrath, and the unconsciousness of God, as much as we may prefer only to look at His conscious light and love. If the life of God is an eternal process of incarnation, then the classical sort of religion that would have provided its adherents with hope for some sort of escape hatch to a better world beyond this one must be regarded as nothing more than the illusion of a death fearing primate struggling desperately to cope. God is here with us, part of us, living and dying with us. God isn’t trying to escape this world, but to become more and more mixed up with it. Creation wasn’t something God undertook by choice, as far as I can tell.

“God,” said Whitehead to Lucien Price, “is in the world, or nowhere, creating continually in us and around us. This creative principle is everywhere, in animate and so-called inanimate matter, in the ether, water, earth, human hearts…In so far as man partakes of this creative process does he partake of the divine, of God, and that participation is his immortality, reducing the question of whether his individuality survives death…to…irrelevancy. His true destiny as co-creator in the universe is his dignity and his grandeur.”

I came across this article in The Atlantic penned by Whitehead in 1925 called “Science and Religion.” Much of it seems to be excerpted from his lecture published as Religion in the Making. Thought it might be relevant to quote at length:

“Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something which gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest. The immediate reaction of human nature to the religious vision is worship. Religion has emerged into human experience mixed with the crudest fancies of barbaric imagination. Gradually, slowly, steadily, the vision recurs in history under nobler form and with clearer expression. It is the one element in human experience which persistently shows an upward trend. It fades and then recurs. But when it renews its force it recurs with an added richness and purity of content. The fact of the religious vision, and its history of persistent expansion, is our one ground for optimism. Apart from it, human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience.

 

The vision claims nothing but worship; and worship is a surrender to the claim for assimilation, urged with the motive force of mutual love. The vision never overrules. It is always there, and it has the power of love presenting the one purpose whose fulfillment is eternal harmony. Such order as we find in nature is never force — it presents itself as the one harmonious adjustment of complex detail. Evil is the brute motive force of fragmentary purpose, disregarding the eternal vision. Evil is overruling, retarding, hurting. The power of God is the worship He inspires. That religion is strong which in its ritual and its modes of thought evokes an apprehension of the commanding vision. The worship of God is not a rule of safety—it is an adventure of the spirit, a flight after the unattainable. The death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure.”

Best,
Matt

~~~~~

Brian Swimme on “The New Story” in cosmology:

Update: By chance, I noticed this opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times: “A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment” by Barbara Ehrenreich. Her discussion of Rudolf Otto‘s psychology of religion is certainly relevant.

“Nature is a priori” -Schelling

Thanks to milliern for his commentary on and reflections about an exchange Professor Corey Anton, myself, and others have been having on YouTube. I’m reposting my comment to him below:

I wanted to offer a few clarifications of my own position. I don’t normally think of myself as a “Heideggerian,” though I suppose most people who take the time to really read Heidegger are irrevocably transformed in some way. I’m one of those who has spent considerable time with his texts and ideas. While he has changed the way I think, I’ve nonetheless come to differ with him (as I understand him) in important ways. I’m not at all convinced that ‘human’ being, or Dasein, is the only significant mode of being. Nature, too, is significant. In fact, like Schelling, I would say the significance of human being could only be derived from that of Nature’s original being. Nature is a priori, not mind. Nature generated mind; mind is but a higher potency of Nature’s subjectivity. So I’m more Schellingian than Hedeggerian. If Heidegger spoke of a “groundless ground,” it’s because he was a close reader of Schelling, who more than a century earlier had recorded his encounter with das unvordenkliche (“the unprethinkable”). I don’t think this “groundless ground” should be identified with the Kantian transcendental ego or ding an sich. The groundless ground, the abyss or abgrund (a term Schelling borrowed from the esotericist Böhme), is the mother of both phenomena and noumena. Das Unvordenkliche is not born of the phenomenal-instrumental nature known to physicists and biologist. Nor is it born of the Ego, as in the Fichtean interpretation of Kant. Rather, like Spinoza before him, and Whitehead after him, Schelling distinguished between Natura naturans and Natura naturata. The former is Nature ‘naturing,’ the latter Nature ‘natured.’ The former is process, the latter is product. The former is alive, the latter is dead. Schelling’s Nature is not the external/extended material world of law-abiding physical particles that is supposed to exist by mathematical physicists. His Nature is not a ground, but a creative abyss. To know such a world, you must not march off to explain and control it as though it were entirely made up of plainly visible bodies,–as modern techno-scientific materialism has–, you must humbly seek to understand and communicate with its mostly invisible sensitivities (i.e., with its soul).

Unlike Kant’s mechanized Newtonian universe, Schelling perceived the earth and her creatures, the sun, planets, and other stars–yes as mathematically ordered–, but also as animate gods, as living beings creative of beautiful worlds. Where scientific materialism sees only dead nature (that is, nature natured), organic realism (what I refer to Schelling and Whitehead’s  philosophies of nature as) perceives nature naturing. What is unprethinkable about ourselves and about the world is this ongoing creative process–call it “cosmogenesis,” call it “Creativity,” call it “the One and All,” or God, if you want. Whatever “It” is, it’s before subject and object. It is before mind and matter. Schelling is usually lumped in with the idealists, but it was Heidegger himself (in his lectures on Schelling’s 1809 book on human freedom) who first suggested that Schelling’s Naturphilosophie in fact subverted the entire German Idealist project from the inside out. I’d argue he has more in common with the radical empiricist James than with any idealist, and especially with James’ philosophical inheritor at Harvard, the mathematical adept turned cosmologist Alfred North Whitehead.

Speaking of which, I noticed you are interested in Einstein, ether, space-time, etc…. I wonder if you’ve run across Whitehead’s alternative ether theory (the “ether of events” or “extensive continuum”)? I’ve written about it HERE. I’d be curious to know your take on his organic cosmological scheme.

Etheric Imagination in Process Philosophy from Schelling and Steiner to Whitehead

I’ve just submitted my dissertation proposal for review. Click on the title below for the PDF.

Etheric Imagination in Process Philosophiy From Schelling and Steiner to Whitehead

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.
solis6The plate above, a painting of the Philosopher’s Tree, is from Splendor Solis, an alchemical treatise published by Solomon Trismosin in 1582.

Reflections on Thomas Nagel’s mentions of Schelling and Whitehead in “Mind and Cosmos”

The aim of this book is to argue that the mind-body problem is not just a local problem, having to do with the relation between mind, brain, and behavior in living animal organisms, but that it invades our understanding ofthe entire cosmos and its history. The physical sciences and evolutionary biology cannot be kept insulated from it, and I believe a true appreciation of the difficulty of the problem must eventually change our conception of the place of the physical sciences in describing the natural order.

So begins Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (2012). I have thus far only read small chunks of Nagel’s book. I also found myself reading several reviews, including this one by biologist H. Allen Orr in The New York Review of Books, this one by conservative journalist and former Bush Sr. speech writer Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard, and this one by Grant Maxwell.

Since I’m writing my dissertation on Schelling and Whitehead, I was curious to peek into Nagel’s text to see what he had to say about them. The largely negative response to Nagel’s book (at least among scientific materialists) is regrettable, but not surprising. I largely agree with Nagel’s criticisms, but I think there are more historical resources available for thinking natural teleology and the connection between consciousness and cosmos than he lets on. Much of the necessary philosophical work has already been done. The process tradition, including first and foremost the work of Schelling and Whitehead, represents an extremely well-developed alternative form of science that doesn’t fall prey to the theoretical or practical shortcomings of mechanistic materialism and yet remains fully consistant with all the latest scientific data.

He mentions Schelling on page 17:

The view that rational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order makes me, in a broad sense, an idealist–not a subjective ide­alist, since it doesn’t amount to the claim that all reality is ultimately appearance–but an objective idealist in the tradition of Plato and perhaps also of certain post-Kantians, such as Schelling and Hegel, who are usually called absolute idealists. I suspect that there must be a strain of this kind of idealism in every theoretical scientist: pure empiricism is not enough.

I think it is interesting that he aligns himself with Schelling the Absolute Idealist rather than Schelling the Naturphilosoph. As I am coming to understand Schelling’s philosophy, its major contribution was not to Absolute Idealism (a school which belongs to Hegel), but to the process-philosophical tradition running through Bergson and Whitehead. For Schelling, Reason is not self-grounding (since it emerges from the “unprethinkable” depths of the soul), and so neither can it provide any necessary and sufficient ground for Nature. But for Schelling, Nature is no longer simply the sum total of finite products as categorized by the mechanical understanding, nor is it simply a finished whole or unified system as understood by an Idea of Reason. Schelling came to imagine Nature as productivity as well as product, infinite creative abyss as well as self-limiting order. Rather than representing Nature as a projection of our human intelligence, Schelling came to see the human mind as an evolutionary expression of Nature’s own creative potency. So it is not “rational intelligibility” that is at the root of reality for Schelling, but the infinitely polarized unity of Nature’s original cision of forces, which is nothing other than the triune God’s eternal self-begetting as Nature (see this post on the influence of the theosophist Jakob Böhme on Schelling).

“…give me a nature composed of antithetical activities, of which one reaches out to the infinite while the other tries to intuit itself in this infinitude, and from this I will bring forth intelligence for you”

Certainly, Schelling spills much ink attempting to wrap words around the creative mystery of a self-intuiting infinity. He did not mean for us to conceive of it negatively as irrational or mystical (in the etymological sense of mystery or “mute”), but neutrally as other-than-ratio (thinking), or even positively as an aesthetically intuited beauty (feeling) or practically achieved good (willing). “Pure empiricism,” as Schelling understood it, was indeed enough. The immediately experienced fact of free will within us, which Schelling defined as the choice between good and evil, is a recapitulation at a higher potency of Nature’s original cision between gravity and light. It is out of this cision that all visible Nature continues to unfold. The cision is not approachable through theory, but only through art and action, through the cultivation of one’s aesthetic sensitivity and moral freedom.

As for Whitehead, Nagel mentions him in a footnote:

White­head argued that to identify the abstractions of physics with the whole of reality was to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, and that concrete entities, all the waydown to the level of electrons, should all be understood as somehow embodying a standpoint on the world.

I agree with the second clause about electrons, but it seems in plain contradiction with the first clause about the abstractions of physics. Whitehead didn’t dismiss the abstractions of physics in an effort to make everyday psychological life the foundation of metaphysics. His goal was to re-interpret the abstractions of quantum and relativistic physics so that physics can become the most general possible description of concrete experience. I describe the result of his attempt to universalize an experiential physics in my essay “Physics of the World-Soul.”

Vitalism in Philosophy: “The stars are the fountain veins of God.” -Böhme

Levi Bryant is pulling his hair out about vitalist philosophy (a title he gives to the work of Bergson, Whitehead, and Deleuze, among others). I read all three as materialists, though of course it is a rather strange sort of materialism replete with God-making machines, physical feelings, and alchemical metallurgy. Nonetheless, their philosophical work, especially Whitehead’s, couldn’t be more consonant with 20th century physical science.

No doubt, Whitehead has his more enchanted moments, as well. For example, in a discussion in Process and Reality about the enduring relevance of some themes in Plato’s Timaeus following the discovery of evolutionary theory, Whitehead writes approvingly of the ancient Greek conception of “animating principles” in nature, astrological and elemental forces that form the physical order of our cosmic epoch in the wake of their ongoing creative encounter with aboriginal chaos (95-96). Whitehead’s cosmology is indeed, as Anderson Weeks, writes, an “attenuated Renaissance ‘animism’” (Process Approaches to Consciousness, 165).

As for vitalism, I think it is worthless as a biological or embryogenic theory. There is no need to add an extra bit of magic to matter in order to bring it to life. Matter is already magical. Life is just a more sophisticated spell.

If there is to be any use for vitalism, it must become a full-fledged cosmology, a theory of the Cosmic Organism. As Jakob Böhme the theosophist saw, we must come to see, that “the powers of the stars are the fountain veins in the natural body of God in this world” (The Aurora, 2:28).

Stars Above Haleakala, Haleakala National Park, Maui, HI

Jonah Dempcy offered a critical response to Bryant’s mechanistic cosmology, building on an excerpt from the cultural historian Richard Tarnas‘ book Cosmos and Psyche (41):

“Above all, we must awaken to and overcome the great hidden anthropocentric projection that has virtually defined the modern mind: the pervasive projection of soullessness onto the cosmos by the modern self’s own will to power” – Tarnas

Dempcy goes on (and I largely agree with his analysis here):

Human narcissism and nihilism go hand in hand. The nihilistic existential worldview of an indifferent, cold universe devoid of meaning (except for what ostensibly human meanings we project onto it) is hand-in-hand with narcissism. It is certainly an appropriate phase when one is 19 or 20 years old. Everyone needs to “pass through” nihilism and become post-nihilistic — to remain pre-nihilistic is to remain stuck in the Imaginary bliss of oceanic merging, fantasies of dual relations with the (m)other and so on. Yet to remain stuck in nihilism is stunted at a developmental phase which could do nothing better than outgrow it self.

And here is Tarnas again, writing a few lines after Dempcy’s excerpt:

Contrary to the coolly detached self-image of modern reason, subjective needs and wishes have unconsciously pervaded the disenchanted vision and reinforced its assumptions. A world of purposeless objects and random processes has served as a highly effective basis and justification for human self-aggrandizement and exploitation of a world seen as undeserving of moral concern. The disenchanted cosmos is the shadow of the modern mind in all its brilliance, power, and inflation.

I’d like to follow up on Jonah’s (and Tarnas’) point that the modern tribe’s disenchantment of the cosmos is the real anthropocentric conceit–not ancient people’s animalization of it–by adding another point about the mechanistic image of the cosmos. The west has believed the earth to be a giant machine with externally related and so blindly colliding parts for several centuries. This idea, this root image, has been tremendously successful (in economic terms). Even if Gaia didn’t start out a machine, she has been all but entirely transformed into one after a century-and-a-half of techno-industrial capitalism. Even if it wasn’t true before, mechanomorphism (as ideology) has made itself true (as biospheric force) through its sheer economic might.

I’d want to offer a different root image from the machine. An organic image, of course. More specifically, I’d offer the root, itself: the universe is an inverted tree. 

Böhme writes (Mysterium Pansophicum, 1:1-4):

The unground is an eternal nothing, but makes an eternal beginning as a craving. For the nothing is a craving after something. But as there is nothing that can give anything, accordingly the craving itself is the giving of it, which yet also is a nothing, or merely a desirous seeking. And that is the eternal origin of Magic, which makes within itself where there is nothing; which makes something out of nothing, and that in itself only, though this craving is also a nothing, that is, merely a will. It has nothing, and there is nothing that can give it anything; neither has it any place where it can find or repose itself…We recognize…the eternal Will-spirit as God, and the moving life of the craving as Nature. For there is nothing prior, and either is without beginning, and each is a cause of the other, and an eternal bond. Thus the Will-spirit is an eternal knowing of the unground, and the life of the craving an eternal body of the will.

*Transl. of Böhme by Basarab Nicolescu in Science, Meaning, & Evolution (1991).

[Rough Draft] “The Re-Emergence of Schelling” – The difference between Hegel’s and Schelling’s system of philosophy

For a PDF of the entire essay, click The Re-Emergence of Schelling: Philosophy in a Time of Emergency.

The difference between Hegel’s and Schelling’s system of philosophy

 Early in his philosophical career while still a high school teacher in Nuremberg,116 Hegel suggested that, as a schoolmaster of philosophy, he is committed to the belief

that philosophy like geometry is teachable, and must no less than geometry have a regular structure.117

Many commentators on the philosophical dispute between Hegel and Schelling cite this statement to illustrate the nature of their disagreement: while Hegel was bent on the formalization of the system into a deductive science, Schelling all but transformed science into art in order to prevent the blind necessity of the system from subsuming the creative freedom and personality of its author.118 If the very next sentences of Hegel’s statement are included, however, it becomes apparent that he was not as unaware of the important role of individual creativity as the previous sentence lets on:

Philosophy…no less than geometry must have a regular structure. But again, a knowledge of the facts in geometry and philosophy is one thing, and the mathematical or philosophical talent which procreates and discovers is another: my province is to discover that scientific form, or to aid in the formation of it.119

The differences between Schelling and Hegel are important and should not be overlooked, but nor should they be overplayed. Despite either’s public criticism of the other’s ideas, their positions are often difficult to clearly distinguish without lapsing into caricature.120 Their personal lives from beginning to end took shape in the dialogical alembic of an intense and tumultuous friendship.121 They were both close students, perhaps the closest, of one anothers’ published texts. Hegel appropriated the historical-dialectical method brilliantly displayed in his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) largely from what he learned in Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism (1800).122 Indeed, the Phenomenology, a literary work of art, can be read as an attempt to make good on Schelling’s absolutization of aesthetics (=the study of appearance, i.e., phenomenology) and his prophesy of the coming of a poet who would sing society the new mythology of reason. On the other hand, the Phenomenology’s disingenuous dismissal of intellectual intuition, the keystone of Schelling’s early philosophy, had a pernicious effect on the public perception of his system, an effect that has lasted to this day.123

As Hegel’s own philosophical project developed and took form over the next few decades, the identification of the method of philosophy (=the science of logic) with that of geometry became increasingly important to him, backgrounding his earlier Schellingian acknowledgement of the irreducible role of the the creative discoverer in the eternally beginning life of the system. By 1831, Hegel’s creative genius, once capable of the revelatory poetry of the Phenomenology, had calcified into the formulaic certainty of the Encyclopedia.124

“Knowledge in geometry,” says Schelling,

is of a totally different nature than that in philosophy…Everyone who has reflected on the field of mathematics knows that geometry is a science of a logical character, that between the presupposition itself and its consequences there lies nothing else in the middle save mere thought.125

For Schelling, it is freedom that distinguishes the philosophical from the geometrical method. His discomfort with Hegel’s purely logical approach, however, was not a rejection of systematic coherence. On the contrary, Schelling praised Hegel for his attention to detail and steadfast adherence to the necessary movement of the dialectic as it worked its way to a genuinely completed system.126 Schelling eventually realized that such a purely rational philosophy, concerned as it was with the essence of things rather than their existence, was precisely only the negative part of the whole of philosophy. The other part, positive philosophy, does not begin already caught in the conceptual net of self-reflexive reason; it begins, instead, with the ecstatic experience of wonder, an experience that compels thought to acknowledge its dependence on what Schelling referred to as the unprethinkable (das Unvordenkliche):

that which just exists is precisely that which crushes everything that may derive from thought, before which thought becomes silent, and before which reason itself bows down.127

Schelling’s opposition to Hegel’s system is not the result of its negative method, which if properly restricted to the sphere of logical possibility remains entirely valid. Schelling rejects only Hegel’s claim to have comprehended the fact of nature (=the existence of the actual world) solely through the purely logical and plainly demonstrable labor of reflective thought. Hegel’s ambitious philosophical project stumbles into error, according to Schelling, as a result of his reliance on two fundamental “fictions” to be considered in turn below: (1) the animism of the Concept, and (2) the transition, or release (Entlassens), of logic into nature.128 To be clear, these fictions are in a different way crucial components of Schelling’s own philosophical project. While Schelling is explicit about the aesthetic and speculative status of the “likely stories” (eikota muthon) he tells in the course of philosophizing beyond the edges of conceptual reality, Hegel tends to, as it were, fake his fictions. In his Philosophy of Religion (1827), for example, Hegel mimes the conceptual skeleton of Böhme’s magnificent vision of the Trinity, pretending to have digested the fruits of mystical intoxication while all the while really remaining bound to “the purest prose and a sobriety totally devoid of intuition.”129

Schelling’s fictions represent a sincere attempt to give voice to the silent mythos of nature, thereby raising her unconscious poetry to the power of awakened spirit. To the extent that Hegel claims to have grasped the Absolute once and for all through the purely logical exercise of clear and distinct ideas, his “fictions” lack deep feeling for the ancient darkness of nature and an aesthetic sensitivity to the irony of the mythopoeic discourse required to become acquainted with that darkness.130 It is as if Hegel, as the saying goes, enlisted the floodlight of reason to go in search of darkness, while Schelling patiently waited for his eyes to adjust to the night of nature’s abyssal past. As Schelling writes in The Ages of the World,

Since the beginning, many have desired to penetrate this silent realm of the past prior to the world in order to get, in actual comprehension, behind the great process…[I]f anything whatsoever checks the…entrance into this prehistoric time, it is precisely that rash being that wants rather to dazzle right from the beginning with spiritual concepts and expressions rather than descend to the natural beginnings of that life.131

1st Fiction: The animism of the Concept

In his Science of Logic (1812), Hegel attempts to pick up where the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) left off with the revelation of “Absolute Knowing, or Spirit that knows itself as Spirit.”132 Having progressed through the entire historical series of Spirit’s self-negating forms of consciousness, Hegel no longer claimed the title of philosopher, or lover of wisdom, since he had now gained possession of wisdom itself.133 As a result of his self-initiation into Absolute Spirit, Hegel claimed to have stripped himself bare of the biological, psychological, and linguistic conditions of normal human subjectivity. Only after overcoming these prejudices did he believe it was possible to enter the domain of the pure science of logic, a domain wherein the certainty of the knower and the truth of what is known immediately coincide in the unity of the Concept:134

…the method which I follow in this system of logic–or rather which this system in its own self follows…is the only true method. This is self-evident simply from the fact that it is not something distinct from its object and content; for it is the inwardness of the content, the dialectic which it possesses within itself, which is the mainspring of its advance.135

Contrary to Hegel’s claim to have articulated (or rather to have been the instrument for the articulation of) “the only true method,” for Schelling, there can be no final and universally valid philosophy, since if such a system were to exist, it would effectively nullify the significance of free and irreducibly unique individuals, and thereby also render the possibility of moral action and genuine history meaningless.136 Schelling never denies the need for systematicity, but for him, the Absolute is not only a system, but also a life.137 The Concept is not self-grounding or independent of its existential conditions: “the concept ‘exists’ only in the individual personalities of human beings.”138 Schelling was forced in the course of his philosophical development to admit “how infinitely far everything that is personal reaches,” so far that the inner dialectic of knowledge is nearly reduced to the silence of its own impossibility.139

Hegel’s claim to have no subjective influence upon the dialectical method “which this system in its own self follows” is the main object of Schelling’s first criticism. Schelling’s commitment to a philosophy of freedom (“for true philosophy can start only from free actions”140) lead him to reject the notion of an impersonally animated Concept as a mere fiction. “The first presupposition of the philosophy that allegedly presupposes nothing,” says Schelling,

was thus that the pure logical concept has the property or nature, of itself (since the subjectivity of the philosopher should be totally excluded), to change into its opposite (to, so to speak, overthrow itself), in order to again change back into itself; a deed that one can think of a real, living being, but of a mere concept one can neither think nor imagine, but can really only assert.141

In order to get the gears of his logical system turning without any presuppositions, Hegel must attempt to perform a magic trick, a “logical creatio ex nihilo.”142 Hegel begins his trick with what at first seems to be immediate being. This simple being, in its indeterminateness, turns out in fact to be empty and so is equivalent to nothing. Upon further reflection, what at first seemed to be immediate being-nothing is understood to have all along been “the result of reflection’s negation of its own self-relation.”143 In other words, the negation of immediate being by non-being, in its truth, is always already mediated, an expression of the self-reflexivity of the Concept. Immediate being’s negation into non-being is itself doubly negated, revealing that the self-negating activity of the Concept had been at work behind the scenes all along.144 The logic is supposedly able to animate itself as a result of the unstable tension generated through the negation of a negation. Hegel’s trick is to prove that mediation is in the end the truth of immediacy.

Schelling is quite willing to commend Hegel for patiently following the logic of double negation to its objective conclusion,145 but he remains unconvinced of the status of its origin in so-called “immediate being.” From Schelling’s perspective, there is no way to comprehend such an immediate being but through an act of intuition. Such an intuition would grasp that which genuinely comes before reflection and serves as its ground. For the first moment of his logic to have any content, Hegel must presuppose outside the Concept what he thinks he has derived from within its process of self-negation.146

Even if Hegel could trick his logic into its self-animating progression without the presupposition of intuited being, Schelling maintains that the completed system could only pronounce upon the essence or whatness of things, without for that reason having anything definite to say about the contingent existence of actual things. Hegel’s logic, according to Schelling,

was only about the content of what is real, but regarding this content, the fact that it exists is something purely contingent: the circumstance of whether it exists or not does not change my concept in the least.147

Just as Kant showed concerning the ontological argument for the existence of God, Hegel’s logic of essences leaves actual existence underdetermined. Even if, as Leibniz argued, from God’s essence as the highest being existence necessarily follows, this formula can tell us only that if God exists, God’s existence would be necessary a priori. Whether God, or the purely logical content of any concept, actually exists cannot be known but through experience.148 The underdetermination of Hegel’s logic vis-à-vis existence leads us into his next fiction.

2nd Fiction: The release (Entlassen) of logic into nature

   Hegel describes his Absolute system, which includes the spheres of logic, nature, and spirit, as “a circle of circles” wherein each sphere holographically contains the others as parts of the Whole within itself.149 Accordingly, the links between each of these spheres are said not to be the result of any real process of transition, since taken separately, the true content of any one sphere is nothing more than the result of its antecedent and an indication of its successor.150 Despite his ideal desire for the holographic circulation of the spheres of the Absolute system, Hegel must begin his actual exposition within the circumference of a singular sphere. The paradigmatic idealist, Hegel of course decides to begin with the science of logic, which he describes as

the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence, before the creation of nature and a finite mind.151

Schelling’s die Weltalter project was also an attempt to peer into the nature of God before creation; but unlike Hegel, he is concerned to account not only for the structure of God’s internal necessity, but for God’s willingness to risk his eternal essence in the creation of a physical universe endowed with genuine freedom. Strictly speaking, there can be no reason for such a risk, since this would immediately draw it back into the sphere of necessary logical determinations.152 Schelling’s claim is that God is not only a logic, but a life–not just a law-like system, but a loving personality.153 The difficultly of philosophically grounding such a claim is borne out by Schelling’s repeated failure to compose a definitive and complete version of The Ages of the World; on the other hand, the very incompletion of this project could be read as a justification of its core insight into the inscrutability of God’s eternally beginning nature, a nature before which

there would remain only the growing silent that the helplessness and faint audibility of language really seeks to approach.154

For Hegel, the link between God and creation, or between logic and nature, should be “perfectly transparent”; all that needs to be said about it is that God “freely releases [himself] in [his] absolute self-assurance and inner poise.”155 For Schelling, this depiction amounts to a non-answer that shirks the difficulty of narrating the awesomeness and sheer facticity of nature’s coming-into-existence.156 The profundity of the link between divinity and nature cannot be so easily “released.” The link–Plato’s “secret band”157–holding One and All in communion with the Whole is precisely that which can never be released but only ever re-bound. Schelling says of secular modern philosophy, including Hegel’s, that its “main weakness” is its lack of appreciation for the supreme importance of intermediate concepts between such extremes as spirit v. matter, morality v. mechanics, creator v. cosmos. Intermediate concepts such as life between mind and matter, or human between universe and divinity are “the only concepts that actually explain anything in all of science.”158

Though Hegel claims that the free release of nature from the Mind of God is only a figurative expression, his science of logic depends upon this release being a conceptual category, since otherwise the real which was released would no longer be the rational. Schelling calls his bluff by asking what “the astounding category of the release (Entlassen)” actually explains.159 The question remains: is there, or is there not a truly extralogical realm of nature that is not always already swallowed back up by spirit into the Mind of God? If something has been released from God, what is it? Hegel offers too little in response to such questions.

In the theosophy of Jakob Böhme, fantastic expressions concerning the emergence of creation from God are at least the result of genuine intuitions and “the predilection for nature as opposed to art,” while in the dry systems of the Hegelian type, “there is but unnatural and conceited art.”160 Hegel’s dialectical logic makes itself the beginning of everything, the source even of nature.

In The Ages of the World, Schelling attempts (whether successful or not) to pass through and beyond (über etwas hinaus) the dialectical science of logic into a way of knowing nature no longer forgetful of her status as the primordial beginning of all things.161 While Hegel claims his science of logic explains the essence of God and the existence of nature, Schelling’s argues that the nature of the link between Creator and creation cannot be explained according to a geometrical method of demonstration. To know nature as she comes-into-being, the philosopher must come to know his own self-generation through her. The proper form of expression for such generative philosophy is mythpoeia, or imaginative narration, since it transforms what would otherwise remain ideal reflection upon an abstract copy of the eternal beginning of nature into autophusis philosophia, or “nature itself philosophizing.”162

As long as this age restricts itself to the interior and to the Ideal, it lacks the natural means of an external presentation. Now, after having long gone astray, it has again developed the recollection of nature and of nature’s former oneness with science. Yet it did not abide by this. Hardly had the first steps in reuniting philosophy with nature occurred when the old age of the physical had to be acknowledged and how it, very far from being the last, is, rather, the first from which everything begins, even the development of divine life. Since then, science no longer begins from the remoteness of abstract thoughts in order to descend from them to the natural. Rather, it is the reverse…Soon the contempt with which only the ignorant still look down on everything physical will cease and once again the following saying will be true: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.163

Schelling’s Positive Philosophy

   Schelling’s pursuit of a physics of divinity is a result of his attendance to the non-rational dimensions of existence. Though he admitted that a negative philosophy like Hegel’s, bound to circle within the necessary and demonstrable proofs of logic, should remain the philosophy of the Academy, he also called for a positive philosophy to complement the negative by making it adequate to actual life. Positive philosophy is an emphatic knowing that overcomes doubt, not through the certainty of science, but through the free decision to love the world.164 Schelling’s emphatic way of knowing re-unifies the powers of feeling and thinking torn asunder by the dualism inherent to modern epistemology, revealing in the soul an instinctual moral connection to the physical ground of God.165

As the Eleusinian mysteries were divided between a minor and a major rite, so too must philosophy be divided into the negative and the positive, where the latter presupposes initiation into the former.166 It is precisely through the recognition of the limits of negative philosophy–of its inability to account for a living God or for the actual creation of the world–that the need for a positive philosophy is realized. Such a positive account would no longer be simply mythic, since unlike myth, it would not be oriented exclusively to the past, but would open up into an unprethinkable (Unvordenklichkeit) future intimated only by the activity of free individuals and the loving communities to which they belong.167

Footnotes

116 Hegel was headmaster from 1808-1816.

117 Hegel, Briefe von und an Hegel Bd I, trans. Matthews, 138.

118 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 57-58.

119 Hegel, Briefe von und an Hegel Bd. I, trans. Matthews, 138.

120 Christopher Lauer, The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 174.

121 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 587.

122 Lauer, The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 78, 95.

123 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 586.

124 Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1831).

125 Schelling, Grundlegung der Positiven Philosophie: Münchener Vorlesung WS 1832/33 and SS 1833, ed. Horst Fuhrmans, trans. Matthews, 97.

126 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 150.

127 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Matthews, II/3, 161.

128 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 59; Schellings sämtliche Werke, I/10, 212-213.

129 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 176; Schelling goes on: “One forgives the individual who staggers when he is actually drunk with intuition, but not one who by nature is actually sober and only wishes to appear as if he too is staggering.”

130 See Grant, “Philosophy Become Genetic,” The New Schelling, 139-142 for a discussion of the role of mythic discourse in Plato’s Timaeus (a text studied closely by Schelling),wherein likely stories allow him to approach topics unreachable by dialectical logic, like the “difficult and dark idea of matter” and the “fabrication” of the World Soul.

131 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, 63.

132 Hegel, The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 122.

133 Hegel, Hegel Selections, ed. Jacob Loewenberg, trans, J.B. Baillie, 5.

134 Lauer, Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 102.

135 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 176.

136 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 57.

137 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, 7/403.

138 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 49.

139 Schelling, Ages of the World, trans. Manfred Schröter, 103.

140 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Matthews, I/1, 243.

141 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Matthews, I/10, 212.

142 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 60.

143 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 61.

144 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 61.

145 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Matthews, II/3, 173.

146 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 61.

147 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 130.

148 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 199-201.

149 Hegel, “Encyclopedia Logic,” Sec. 15, The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 138.

150 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” Ch. 3, The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 249.

151 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” Intro., The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 176.

152 Lauer, The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 163.

153 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, 5-6.

154 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Wirth, II/1, 312.

155 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” Ch. 3, The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 250; That the personal pronoun here is masculine is purely a convention; the essential point is that it be personal, rather than the impersonal “it.”

156 Lauer, The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 164.

157 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 23.

158 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, 64.

159 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 175.

160 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, xxxix.

161 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, xxxvii.

162 Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 188.

163 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, xl.

164 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 79.

165 Freydberg, Schelling’s Dialogical Freedom Essay, 82-83.

166 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 198.

167 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 66-67.

[Rough Draft] “The Re-Emergence of Schelling” – Literature review

Again, sorry for the lack of italics. I don’t know how to paste from Pages while keeping the formatting. For a PDF of the document (with italics in tact!), click: The Re-Emergence of Schelling: Philosophy in a Time of Emergency.

Literature review

This section assesses the reasons for the contemporary resurgence of scholarly interest in Schelling. At least since the 1990s, after more than a century and a half on the shelf, Schelling’s corpus has been re-emerging “with increasing intensity” in the English speaking world.65 There are many reasons to reconsider Schelling’s philosophical oeuvre, but the current resurgence in interest seems to orbit primarily around his unique approach to the problem of nature, whether the nature of the cosmos, of the human, or of the divine.

In his prized 1809 essay Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, Schelling writes:

The entire new European philosophy since its beginning (with Descartes) has the common defect that nature is not available for it and that it lacks a living ground.66

The non-existence of nature for thought in the modern period has had terrible consequences for human history and the natural world alike. From Descartes through to Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, reason and science became increasingly self-castrating and solipsistic; “like the priests of the Phrygian goddess,” modern thought detached itself from the living forces of its natural ground.67

In his Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (2005), Iain Hamilton Grant articulates the scientific and metaphysical consequences of ignoring nature, arguing that

deep geological time defeats a priori the prospect of [nature’s] appearance for any finite phenomenologizing consciousness.68

In other words, while the Kantian turn in the philosophy of science drained nature of ontological significance by defining it phenomenologically as “the sum total of appearing bodies,” the empirico-mathematical study of nature nonetheless came to reveal world-ages prior to the emergence of any consciousness for whom material nature could have made an appearance. Further, contemporary physics has de-corporealized (and so de-phenomenalized) matter in favor of a dynamic, field-theoretic understanding of natural forces. Schelling’s Naturphilosophie not only foresaw and helped to initiate these discoveries,69 it provides the new sciences of self-organizing systems with a more coherent and adequate metaphysical foundation than the old mechanistic atomism.70 Naturphilosophie’s principle aim is to articulate, in a systematic but non-reductive way, how it is possible that natural productivity (natura naturans), and not representational consciousness (cogito cogitans), is a priori. Grant suggests that Schelling was able to overturn the Kantian Revolution, not by outright dismissing the primacy of practical reason, but by literally grounding it in a “geology of morals” that transforms ethics into physics.71 The relevance of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie to the metaphysical foundations of contemporary natural science will be taken up again in a subsequent section.72

Some contemporary scholars, like Andrew Bowie in his Schelling and Modern European Philosophy (1993), dismiss Schelling’s later mythopoeic and theogonic speculations into the divinity of nature and the nature of divinity as “evidently dead,”73 while others, like Grant, simply ignore it. In The Dark Ground of Spirit: Schelling and the Unconscious (2012), S. J. McGrath pays very close attention to Schelling’s Böhmian musings, but interprets them largely in a depth psychological, rather than cosmological or philosophical context. While I agree with McGrath that Schelling deserves credit for initiating a mode of inquiry into the unconscious that would later be developed by Freud and Jung, the ontological agnosticism of the depth psychological approach makes it inappropriate for an appreciation of Schelling’s philosophical project. Bruce Matthews, in his Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy (2011), documents the influence of the theosophists Philipp Matthäus Hahn and Friedrich Christoph Oetinger on Schelling, but his analysis leaves Schelling’s writing after 1804 unconsidered. Of the scholars who do engage with the later religious dimension of Schelling’s thought on its own terms, Joseph Lawrence does so with the most forceful and direct voice by highlighting the socioeconomic and ecological consequences of the secular erasure of God from human and cosmic nature. All that remains to guide humanity’s hopes and dreams once the public sphere has been inoculated against authentic religiosity is the myth of the market, which according to Lawrence,

[eliminates] from view any acceptable alternative to the world of money and power, to which science itself has been subordinated.74

Lawrence admits that if the worldview of scientific materialism is deemed “the last rational, and so discussable option,” then Schelling’s mythopoeic, cosmotheological project “can indeed be declared dead.”75 Contra positivism, just because natural science has epistemic limits doesn’t mean the questions it leaves unanswered are not worth asking:

…the inability to answer a question within the framework of demonstrative science does not mean that the question cannot be answered but rather than it must always be answered anew.76

Lawrence defends Schelling’s prophetic call for a philosophical religion not because it offers some conclusive explanation for the nature and existence of reality, but because it allows us once again to ask ultimate questions, seeking not certainty about or mastery over nature, but redemptive participation in her creative powers of becoming.77

Instead of relenting to the deification of the market, which “leaves us with nothing to live for beyond personal desire,”78 Lawrence strives to realize Schelling’s demand that we transform ourselves “beyond the confines of self-interest [to] the possibility of a future in which what is right takes the place of what is right ‘for me.’”79 Without such transformation, the market will continue to reign with dire consequences for humanity and the planet. “The Earth does not have the carrying capacity for a universalized suburbia.”80 Lawrence’s concern for the social and ecological consequences of the secularization of nature is not uncommon among Schelling scholars.

Matthews (2012) begins his study of Schelling by dwelling on the ecological consequences of nature’s non-existence for human thought, arguing that Schelling’s

analysis of how subjectivism sets the theoretical stage for the actual destruction of our natural environment

is the most important reason for returning to his work.81 Indeed, many of Schelling’s recent commentators agree that the ecological emergency is directly related to the failure of modernity’s Kantian, positivistic understanding of nature and the “economic-teleological” exploitation of earth that it supports.82 Bowie, despite his discomfort with theology, is in agreement with Matthews and Lawrence that Schelling’s thought has become increasingly relevant precisely because it speaks to

the contemporary suspicion…that Western rationality has proven to be a narcissistic illusion…the root of nihilism [and] the ecological crisis.83

In The Indivisible Remainder: On Schelling and Related Matters (1996), Slavoj Žižek looks to Schelling’s insights into the nature of human freedom in order to grasp how the possibility of an ecological crisis is

opened up by man’s split nature–by the fact that man is simultaneously a living organism (and, as such, part of nature) and a spiritual entity (and, as such, elevated above nature).84

If humanity were completely spiritual, we would be utterly free of material needs and so have no reason to exploit nature, while if we were simply animal, we would symbiotically co-exist within the circle of life like any other predator. But because of our split nature, and our spiritual propensity for evil, “normal animal egotism” has become “self-illuminated,…raised to the power of Spirit,” leading to an absolute domination of nature “which no longer serves the end of survival but turns into an end-in-itself.”85 This is the “economic-teleological” principle: exploitation of earth purely for monetary profit. The detachment of humanity’s spiritual nature from the living reality of its earthly ground has lead to the decimation of that ground. Many contemporary eco-philosophers blame anthropocentrism–the perceived superiority of humanity over any other species–for the ecological crisis, but Schelling’s position is subtler:

For Schelling, it is the very fact that man is ‘the being of the Center’ which confers upon him the proper responsibility and humility–it is the ordinary materialist attitude of reducing man to an insignificant species on a small planet in a distant galaxy which effectively involves the subjective attitude of domination over nature and its ruthless exploitation.86

The essence of human spirituality, according to Schelling, is freedom, the decision between good and evil. Humanity’s fall into hubris is caused by the elevation of our animal nature over all other living creatures. The fall is not a fall into animality, but an inversion of the spiritual principle of freedom leading to the elevation of the periphery (our creatureliness) above the Center (our divine likeness). Further discussion of Schelling’s understanding of human freedom will be taken up in a subsequent section.87

Given that Schelling’s insights into the essence of human freedom are genuine, it would appear that more anthrodecentric nihilism can only exacerbate the ecological crisis. We must take responsibility for our knowledge and power. Healing human-earth relations will require that humanity actualize its spiritual potential as the burgeoning wisdom and compassion of cosmogenesis: “Created out of the source of things and the same as it,” writes Schelling in The Ages of the World, “the human soul is conscientious (Mitwissenschaft) of creation.”88

Also among those commentators coming to Schelling in the context of ecological emergency is Arran Gare, who similarly argues that Schelling’s Naturphilosophie provides a way to

overcome the nihilism of European civilization…a nihilism that is reaching its apogee in the deification of the global market, postmodern fragmentation, and the specter of global ecocide.89

Gare goes on to argue that Schelling should be interpreted, not as an idealist, but as a Naturphilosoph responsible for producing “the first coherent system of process metaphysics.”90 Gare cites the third draft of Schelling’s die Weltalter (1815), where Schelling explicitly condemns idealism not only on philosophical, but on religious and scientific grounds, since it had reduced in turn both God and the natural world to

an image, nay, an image of an image, a nothing of nothing, a shadow of a shadow…[arriving] at the dissolution of everything in itself into thoughts.91

Grant similarly challenges the mistaken assumption, popular since Hegel’s quip regarding “the night in which all cows are black,” that Schelling’s philosophy culminates in undifferentiated identity, arguing instead that he remained primarily a Naturphilosoph attentive to the contingent materiality of the actual world through every phase of his philosophical career.92 Frederick Beiser’s also claims in his German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism (2002) that Schelling, even in his writings during the so-called Identitätssystem phase, never wavered in his allegiance to Naturephilosophie:

Schelling says that the philosopher can proceed in either of two directions: from nature to us, or form us to nature; but he makes his own preferences all too clear: the true direction for he who prizes knowledge above everything is the path of nature itself, which is that followed by the Naturphilosoph.93

In his retrospective lectures On the History of Modern Philosophy in 1834, Schelling himself expressed his dismay that the phrase “identity system,” used only once in the preface of his 1801 text Presentation of My System of Philosophy, was interpreted as signaling a break with Naturphilosophie:

this designation was…used by those who never penetrated to the interior of the system to infer, or to make the uneducated part of the public believe, that in this system all differences, namely every difference of matter and spirit, of good and evil, even of truth and falsity, were annulled, that according to this system it was, in the everyday sense, all the same.94

It is not unlikely that Schelling is here referring at least in part to Hegel’s infamous joke in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), mentioned above, about the “night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black.”95 In a letter to Schelling dated May 1, 1807, Hegel claimed to have been aiming his jibe at the shallowest of Schelling’s followers, rather than Schelling himself. Even earlier, in his history of philosophy lectures at the University of Jena in 1805, Hegel is careful to distinguish Schelling from his poor imitators.96 Schelling asked that Hegel clarify his real position in a second edition, but the next printing contained no such addition. It was the last letter ever exchanged between the two former friends.97

Schelling’s emergence from the shadow of Hegel is due in no small part to the re-evaluation of this exchange by contemporary scholars. In his Schelling and the End of Idealism (1996), Dale Snow notes that Schelling had already addressed Hegel’s criticisms of the Identitätssystem in texts published as early as 1802.98 In his Further Presentations from the System of Philosophy (1803), Schelling himself criticized those who

see in the being of the absolute nothing but a pure night [and] a mere negation of multiplicity.99

Snow is lead to conclude that, despite never amending the preface, Hegel was probably sincere in his letter to Schelling in 1807.100 According to Jason Wirth, the two did meet again by chance 22 years later at a bath house in Karlsbad. Hegel wrote to his wife after the encounter that the two hit it off instantly “like cordial friends of old” as though nothing had happened.101 Schelling became increasingly critical of Hegel’s system after his death in 1831–or at least critical of what Hegel asserted his purely “negative” system was capable of deducing. Despite their differences (or perhaps because of them), Schelling probably wouldn’t have hesitated to apply his historical statement about the apparently opposed philosophies of Descartes and Bacon to Hegel and himself:

In this history of the human spirit it is easy to see a certain simultaneity among great minds, who from differing sides nevertheless are finally working towards the same goal.102

Whether Hegel’s polemical comment was directed at Schelling or not, its effect was that most histories of philosophy have come to place Hegel’s system at the pinnacle of the German Idealist project, with Schelling’s work seen as a mere stepping stone if it is mentioned at all. The difference between the philosophical approaches of Schelling and Hegel will be explored in a subsequent section.103

Rounding out the notable commentaries on Schelling’s philosophy are Bernard Freydberg’s Schelling’s Dialogical Freedom Essay: Provocative Philosophy Then and Now (2008) and Jason Wirth’s The Conspiracy of Life: Meditations on Schelling and His Time (2011). Freydberg proposes that Schelling’s thought is receiving more attention today “due precisely to its untimeliness.”104 Schelling had a unique ability to integrate aspects of ancient and modern thought, producing a strange hybrid philosophy that offers a fresh way forward for a generation of thinkers tired of the postmodern ban on metaphysics.105 Freydberg also draws out the significance of Schelling’s dialogical method, a method first announced in a footnote in the Freedom essay:

In the future, [I] will…maintain the course…taken in the present treatise where, even if the external shape of a dialogue is lacking, everything arises as a sort of dialogue.106

Freydberg describes Schelling’s literary style in the Freedom essay, and in the later drafts of The Ages of the World, as participatory, more akin to “a map for a journey” than “a series of philosophical claims.”107

Wirth similarly argues that, with Schelling, “the question of style is not frivolous.”108 Schelling’s presentation of philosophy as a work of freedom makes it “as much art as science.”109 Schelling’s scientific art of dialogue begins always in media res, according to Wirth, such that in order to engage in philosophical composition, Schelling must first give over total authority over the course of a work’s self-development to the darkness of the Other.110 Wirth offers Schelling’s dialogical style as an example of the “deep difference” between his own and Hegel’s more abstract dialectical approach.111

In a chapter bringing Schelling into conversation with Sri Aurobindo, Wirth points to their treatment of the Indian spiritual traditions to further distinguish Schelling from Hegel.112 Unlike Hegel, who declared that India was “sunk in the most frightful and scandalous superstition,”113 Schelling cherished the Bhagavad-Gitā and even believed, according to Wirth, that “Greek philosophy should be considered a flower of South Asia.”114 In his introduction to Schelling Now: Contemporary Readings (2005), Wirth further suggests that Schelling’s “ecological sensitivity” and “receptivity to the call of the earth” represent philosophical possibilities “left largely unexplored by Hegel.”115

Footnotes

65 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 585.

66 Schelling, Philosophical Investigations Into the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt, 26.

67 Schelling, Philosophical Investigations Into the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Love and Schmidt, 26.

68 Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 6.

69 Consider, for example, Schelling’s influence on Hans Christian Ørsted’s discovery of electromagnetism in 1820.

70 Marie-Luise Heuser-Kessler, Die Produktivität der Natur: Schellings Naturphilosophie und das neue Paradigma der Selbsorganization in den Naturwissenshaften.

71 Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 6, 199.

72 See section heading “Metaphysically (un)grounding the natural sciences” below.

73 Andrew Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy, 5.

74 Joseph Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 14.

75 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 15.

76 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 17.

77 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 15-16.

78 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 18.

79 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 21.

80 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 16.

81 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 3.

82 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 3.

83 Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy, 10.

84 Slavoj Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, 63.

85 Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, 63.

86 Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, 88n70.

87 See section heading “The nature of human freedom” below.

88 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, xxxvi.

89 Arran Gare. “From Kant to Schelling to Process Metaphysics: On the Way to Ecological Civilization,” 26, 68.

90 Gare, “From Kant to Schelling to Process Metaphysics: On the Way to Ecological Civilization,” 28.

91 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, 106.

92 Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 3-4.

93 Beiser, German Idealism, 489.

94 Schelling, On the History of Modern Philosophy, trans. Bowie, 120.

95 Hegel, The Hegel Reader, trans. Stephen Houlgate, 52.

96 Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy (1805-1806), http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hp/hpschell.htm, D:3 (accessed 7/27/2012).

97 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 587.

98 Snow, Schelling and the End of Idealism, 187.

99 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 586.

100 Snow, Schelling and the End of Idealism, 187.

101 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 587.

102 Schelling, On the History of Modern Philosophy, trans. Bowie, 61.

103 See section heading “The difference between Hegel’s and Schelling’s system of philosophy” below.

104 Bernard Freydberg, Schelling’s Dialogical Freedom Essay: Provocative Philosophy Then and Now, 1.

105 See especially Graham Harman’s Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things: “The term ‘guerrilla metaphysics’ is meant to signal…my full awareness that the traditional cathedrals of metaphysics lie in ruins. Let the rubble sleep–or kick it a bit longer, if you must. But new towers or monuments are still possible, more solid and perhaps more startling that those that came before” (256).

106 Schelling, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Love and Schmidt, 72.

107 Freydberg, Schelling’s Dialogical Freedom Essay: Provocative Philosophy Then and Now, 3.

108 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 158.

109 Schelling, On Construction in Philosophy, trans. Andrew David and Alexi Kukuljevic, 269.

110 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 159.

111 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 216.

112 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 223.

113 Hegel, The Philosophy of Right (1820), Sec. 247, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/pr/prcivils.htm#PR248 (accessed 7/28/2012).

114 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 223.

115 Wirth, “Introduction,” Schelling Now, 5.

Reflections on the Astrality of Materiality

Levi Bryant/Larval Subjects has a few new post up (HERE and HERE) about the contingently constructed concept of “nature” and about his own flavor of monistic materialism.

Bryant and I have argued in the past about his materialism and its lack of formal and final causality. I’ve been claiming that ideas and purposes are real, while he continues to argue that only corporeal things, their causal interactions, and the void in which they interact constitute real things. From his perspective, what we call qualitative forms or deliberate intentions are either alternative names for what are really entirely material activities (gene transcription, electro-chemo-neural synchronization, economic exchange, information transfer, etc.), or they are nothing.

I side with Whitehead in affirming the reality of eternal forms, not as existing independently of time and materiality, but as always already involved in what we scientifically know and religiously feel to be the process of cosmic animation. Materiality is animality. In every moment this actual universe is repossessed by the past and resurrected into the eternal possibilities of the future. We participate each second in the life divine, a cosmic life with total ethical memory and perfect aesthetic values, even if without demiurgic omnipotence (i.e., the divine that we all are has no transcendent power over a soulless materiality, since the divine simply is the soul of this universe–the divine may be omnipotent in another sense, only because it both affects and is affected by everything else which exists [see Plato’s Sophist, 247e, where he writes that “the definition of being is simply power”).

Our collective existence here on earth beneath the sky (as humans, dogs, cows, rats, snakes, banyans, ants, prokaryotes, proteins, molecules, etc., etc.) participates in more than what is materially present in some simply located separate slice of the Einsteinian space-time loaf. We exist in excess of any mathematically calculable grid. Each moment of actual becoming–each drop of experience–is temporally open to past and future. Each drop is the genetic precipitate of remembered acts called forth beyond habit into the life of everlasting divine forms and values. Every moment arises amidst the ingression of new possibilities given what it has already actualized. The present is pervaded by past and future, the soul linked materially to what it has been and spiritually to what it might become.

Form is not alien to matter, but is its very soul, the fire which animates it. Levi himself recently used the image of fire to describe materiality. This is a metaphor I am willing to follow quite far, so far as to suggest that embodiment acts as the soul’s athanor, and that the intensity of a body’s astrality (its ensoulment) depends upon the temperature to which it can be raised without too quickly consuming itself in the flames of its own metabolism. Bryant draws on the philosopher-poet Lucretius when he describes his ontology as consisting of nothing but material bodies, their interactions, and the void. I’d draw on Böhme and Schelling to suggest, in contrast to Bryant, that creative productivity, rather than this productivity’s arrested products or corporeal excretions (natura naturata), is ontologically fundamental. Productivity (natura naturans) is the ungrounded ground; not a substance or multiplicity of substances, but an unspeakable tension is at the base of all logos and all ontos. Schelling and Böhme describe this groundless source as a triune polarity between gravity and light. The polarity can become balanced, producing a star, a soul. The star shines outward even as it consumes itself from within. It can last for billions of years. This balance is a formal possibility actualized in the time of its shining. It dies when its time runs out, when its light sinks again into darkness. But in its death, the form achieves objective immorality and is passed on in the form of new forms: heavier elements which again, through the tension of gravity and light, come to life in ever new ways. Form is forever infecting everything with novelty.

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Update: Bryant responds HERE

I’ve been reading Jason Wirth’s The Conspiracy of Life: Meditations on Schelling and His Time (2003). He describes on page 87 in Schellingian terms what I’ve argued here and in comments under Bryant’s response in Whiteheadian terms: that nature is not designed by a demiurge, since nature itself is the demiurge. Here is a link to p. 87 via Google books.

Tilting at windmill materialism: Towards an Ontology of Organism (OoO)

Adam at Knowledge-Ecology has posted some reflections on the issues at stake in the confrontation between philosophical realism and philosophical materialism. Levi Bryant (Larval Subjects) and Michael (Archive-Fire) place their bets on materialism, while Graham Harman (Object-Oriented Philosophy) and Steven Shaviro (Pinocchio Theory) prefer realism. This isn’t the whole story, however. When we shift to the issue of withdrawal (i.e., the accessibility of things), Shaviro, Bryant, and Michael all line up in opposition to Harman by arguing for the contingent, rather than absolute untouchability of things.This way of slicing the ontological opinion pie means that I remain most sympathetic to Shaviro’s way of thinking things.

I reject absolute materialism for the same reason I reject absolute idealism: these -isms only function semantically as productive concepts when they remain in dialectical tension with one another. Ultimately, they represent a coincidentia oppositorum, which is to say that, if you carry materialism to its logical conclusions, you only end up arriving at the premises of the idealist, and vice versa. As abstractions, these -isms seem mutually exclusive; but in practice, you can’t have one without the other, at least not if the philosophical sensibility in question is to avoid tilting at windmills as if they were the fiercest of giants. The physical sciences, for example, continue to assume a materialist ontology even while the majority of the mathematicians responsible for its theoretical structure remain committed Platonists. Similarly, the deep structure of Hegel’s supposedly absolute idealism provides the conceptual engine that still powers much contemporary Marxist materialism. Not to mention the profound influence on Hegel of Jakob Boehme’s incarnationalist doctrine of Geistleiblichkeit (that cosmogenesis is the ever-more adequate corporeal expression of divinity).

Adam is careful to avoid playing into any simplistic bifurcation of materialism from realism by suggesting that both -isms have shown themselves to be capable of successful deployment in the proper circumstances. At times, he seems to lean towards the realism of strange materialism. This leaning would seem to put Adam shoulder to shoulder with Bryant, who deploys a rather paradoxical materialism. The concept of matter succeeds, Bryant argues, precisely because neither philosophy or science have any idea what matter really is. I am not sure whether Bryant means to suggest that philosophy/science will never have insight into the nature of matter, or whether these simply do not have such insight as of yet. If he doesn’t mean the latter, then I fail to see how his position ultimately differs from Harman’s concerning the absolute withdrawal of things. If the “matter” of Bryant’s materialism withdraws from all attempts to think it, why call it materialism?

I affirm a relational ontology, but I do not do so in order to deny the reality of withdrawal. Following Whitehead, I am in pursuit of an ontology of autonomous organisms always already in relationships of mutual transformation. Organisms are radically open and promiscuous objects, always touching others as they are touched themselves; but even amidst this intersticial flesh of ecosystemic relations, individual organisms withdraw again and again in creative moments of subjective satisfaction. If this were not the case, the freedom and novelty of individual decision could not exist, since everything would be entirely conditioned, overwhelmed by its contact with everything else. A world where everything is fully deployed in its relations is a world where nothing happens to anybody because everything is happening everywhere, all the time. Instead of a naive holism, I seek to describe an ontology and enact a cosmos where hetero-erotic objects exist in transformative relation to one another’s auto-erotic subjectivity. Such dances between organisms (an organism, I’d suggest, could be thought of as both a subject and an object of experience) are perhaps best described ecologically (here I follow Adam). I may have more in common with the Whitehead of Science and the Modern World than that of Process and Reality, since rather than an ontology divided into actual occasions and eternal objects, I’d want to preserve a more concrete account of the real in terms of organism [on the other hand, we could just say that the division between actual occasions and eternal objects is metaphysically basic, while organism is cosmologically basic]. The life that emerges between organisms is where all the action is, whether that action is abstractly characterized as exclusively psychical or physical. Psyche and Physis ought to be complementary, rather than contradictory elements in any coherent cosmology. What Harman calls “endo-ontology,” I might characterize as the study of the way subjects transform one another into new objects. Such productive transformation is a result of the generativity of organisms, their tendency to reproduce with one another.

My organismic/ecological ontology has theological implications. I reject the notion that speculative philosophy should imagine itself to be made in the image of a spectator God (a “Kosmotheoros” to use Merleau-Ponty’s term) who stands above the world to observe it as if from outside. God is an organism like every other, suffering and celebrating the ongoing birth of the cosmos just as deeply as any other living being. The only difference between God and finite organisms is that God suffers the whole. It is not impossible, however, for a finite organism to experience its infinity in a gesture of cosmic compassion, since the panentheist God here depicted is all in all.

As Rumi put it,

Let the drop of water that is you
become a hundred mighty seas.

But do not think that the drop alone
becomes the Ocean—
the Ocean, too, becomes the drop!

De Anima Mundi

Some questions have emerged about what the hell (or heaven) I might be talking about in my last essay about death and the soul. These questions provide me with an opportunity to reflect on my own writing in an attempt to more fully articulate the vision behind it. I don’t already have answers to these questions, but now that they have been asked, I will try my best to respond to them.

Most of the questions inquire into the nature of the World-Soul. I’ll answer each in turn.

1) What is the relation between the World-Soul and the individual soul?

The relation is that between a Macrocosm and a Microcosm. The individual soul is the World-Soul in miniature, its holographic or fractal recapitulation on a different scale or level. Logically, there is no way to coherently prove that something infinite and eternal is related to something finite and temporal; it appears to be a blatant contradiction. The best medieval neo-Platonist theologians argued endlessly about how God might be related to man, always trying to avoid describing man as too close in nature to the divine, an obvious heresy (at least if you ignore most of what Jesus is reported to have taught about the relation between the Father and His Children), or placing man too far away from divinity, such that all communication between Creator and creature (even revelation) is made impossible. Even if its nature cannot be precisely formulated by the human tongue, somehow the World-Soul (as Plato describes it in the Timaeus) is able to reconcile or mediate between creature and Creator (or between Difference and Identity, Time and Eternity, the Good and the World). I can only offer a likely story about how and why this is so. Tell the tale in whatever way you’d like, somehow or other the One becomes Many, remaining One despite being in each of the Many. The differentiation of the One is not just an accident, but of its very nature. The One becomes Many. God creates. To say “God” is already to speak God’s Word, which is the creation of worlds. The Creator cannot exist without the creation and the creature.

2) What is the relation between the World-Soul, Wisdom, and the shadows of human history? 

If there were a complete and simple identity between the perfection of the World-Soul and the events of human history, it would seem to be well hidden beneath the violent warfare, economic pettiness, and ecological ignorance of our kings, generals, corporations and  nations. Clearly, there is a clog in the pipelines from heaven. I think opening this portal requires that human beings engage with the universe religiously and spiritually, especially through the sorts of initiatory rites practiced by the world’s Mystery schools, where the death-rebirth experience is ritually reproduced. Initiates into such traditions encounter Wisdom first hand, which is the only way, since Wisdom cannot be taught verbally by others. Hegel wrote about the World-Spirit, which was the particular human community that most fully incarnated the Idea at any given point in history. This is very controversial, raising questions about the ethics of thinking race, culture, and/or gender, since in speaking about the World-Spirit, Hegel implies that the German people of his time were providing Spirit the clearest portal into world history. Hegel also claimed he was not a philosopher, since he no longer loved wisdom but had attained it. I can’t speak for his claim, but even if he had Wisdom then, he doesn’t any longer!

3) Why is the soul normally depicted as feminine? What is the relation between body and soul? 

I depict the Soul as feminine because my consciousness is masculine. It is a bit like a mirror, this psyche of mine, and so whenever I attempt to feel for her I find what ever it is in me that is not doing the feeling. The soul is not a body that can be seen, but my own body deeply felt (which, it turns out, is not other than the whole world). Her beauty is not in appearance only, but it is not despite appearance, either. It is not independent of the body, but nor are the two, body and soul, simply identical. You could say our individual bodies are modes of the World-Soul, but this would bring up all sorts of parallels with Spinoza that I’m not sure are appropriate (or at least that I can’t explore fully at the moment). I think Beauty is not an idea at all, but a relationship. Beauty is that which is produced when soul and body are in resonance with each other, when the one is able to recognize the other as a friend.

4) Is the World-Soul “heavy,” or is it the lightness of being? What is the difference between mass and energy/matter and light? 

If Wisdom is light, the World-Soul is matter. The World-Soul is that which underlies the animate materiality of the world. Matter is everywhere self-organizing, and it does so out of the power of the World-Soul to unify identity and difference, or eternity and time. Individual souls, animate beings, are heavy, because they each inevitably die. They are bodily beings: they are born, they age, and they die. The universal being, cosmic animal, or Living Thing spoken of in Plato’s Timaeus, is supposed by Plato to be eternal. But perhaps this World and its Soul will die, just like us. I tend to think that the physical universe known to contemporary science will indeed die, in some sense, but that this death will only be an opening onto a universe whose dimensions we (consciousness, Spirit) cannot yet fathom while still on this side of the 13.7 billion light year expanse of space surrounding us.  Intuitively, it seems as though there is no outside to this universe, that is has no biggest body that includes all others as organs. Rather, it is an infinitely nested fractal of creative expression dying and being reborn forever and always. A visionary participation in this fractal provides the lightness of Wisdom that counteracts the heaviness of the inevitable death that will remind us again of our source in the World-Soul.

Böhme and Schelling’s Cosmogenetic Theology

I’m getting to the end of Iain Hamilton Grant‘s book Philosophies of Nature After Schelling. Though Grant doesn’t mention the influence, Schelling‘s search for the “unthinged” in nature was significantly aided by the cosmogony of German mystic Jakob Böhme (1575-1624). The following is an excerpt from a presentation I gave last year on Böhme. I hope to develop the similarities between he and Schelling’s thought in subsequent posts…

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“An original antithesis of forces in the ideal subject of nature appears necessary to every construction.” -Schelling (Grant, p. 160).

“The transcendental philosopher says: give me a nature composed of antithetical activities, of which one reaches out to the infinite while the other tries to intuit itself in this infinitude, and from this I will bring forth intelligence for you” -Schelling (Grant, p. 171).

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The physicist Basarab Nicolescu, in his book Science, Meaning, and Evolution, distills the essence of Jakob Böhme’s cosmology of divine self-manifestation as “a threefold structure leading to a sevenfold self-organization of reality” (p. 90).

Böhme’s God is not Aristotle’s perfect unmoved mover, but dynamic and self-revelatory by nature. Böhme wrote many books attempting to describe his epiphanic vision of a God who cannot but overflow into creation. God in-itself, traditionally “God the Father,” is the mysterious abyss or ungrounded ground of pre-creation, and consists of the restless agitation of three principles—darkness, light, and fire (or sourness, sweetness, and bitterness, respectively). The light wants to expand and radiate, to become manifest, but the dark wants to remain hidden and self-contained. As a result of the internal friction produced by this self-contradiction, God ignites into flames, burning in what Böhme calls a “wheel of anguish.” The fire of the three restless principles generates heat, which is the first of God’s manifest qualities but the 4th in the sevenfold self-organization of reality. This heat sparks a flash of light, which becomes the force of love in search of itself, the 5th principle. Love finds itself through the reverberation of sound or tone, language or the Word, which is the 6th principle. The Word then becomes flesh, reaching fulfillment as body—God incarnate—completing the sevenfold series.

For Böhme, the cosmos is the body of God. He refers to stars as the “fountain veins of God.” It is as if he is saying that stars are a visible example of this sevenfold creator-creativity in action. This sevenfold series can be understood in a Hegelian sense as moments in the self-development of the whole, a whole that begins where it ends and that is already holographically present in each of its moments.

Cosmogenesis is, for Böhme, the divine’s attempt to find wholeness, and the human being participates in this attempt, our faith (or our opening to the creative and imaginal dimension of reality) acting as the food that nourishes God. Böhme’s cosmology places a heavy responsibility upon humanity, as the completion of the sevenfold cycle depends upon our active cooperation. Without our conscious participation, “the entire universe of the creation would disappear into chaos” (p. 89).

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Schelling, like Böhme, locates the origin of the universe in the unmanifest darkness of antithetical powers at work in the Godhead, as yet unconscious. This dynamic darkness overflows itself, creating the phenomenal world, which develops through a sequence of stages (Stufenfolge) that provide for God’s increasing self-awareness through corporealization. God was not content to be in itself, since in itself divinity remains unmanifest and merely ideal; God took on the finitude of the sensory world in order to become for itself. Though nature does not begin, for Schelling, as body or bodies (universal substance or particular substances), it would appear that corporealization is nonetheless nature’s (or God’s) end.

Intimations of an Integral God: A lecture at CIIS

Slide 1: Prior to coming to CIIS, while studying philosophy as an undergraduate, I always had the sense of being somewhat smothered. As my studies continued, and my understanding matured, I realized why. I was being trained to think in the shadow of Immanuel Kant. [Show Crit. of Pure Reason- You’ve all read this, right?] For Kant, questions about God, and about God’s relationship to humanity and the cosmos, while certainly of the utmost importance, are nonetheless beyond the philosopher’s ability to know. But if my two years at PCC have taught me anything, it’s that such an artificial division between the human heart-mind and divine wisdom is unnecessary. I want to speak, as a philosopher, about the place of God and religion in the nascent social imaginary we call the Ecozoic era. Ecology has rightly become the rallying cry of our increasingly illumined planetary consciousness, but I don’t think this necessarily means that theology—or better, theosophy—can be retired. The word “theology” seems to imply some sort of over-masculinized attempt to intellectualize the divine. “Theosophy” suits my purposes better, suggesting patiently listening for, rather than logically hunting down the meaning of the divine. It does seem clear that traditional religion (Latin: religare), a bond to the dogmas of the past (i.e., fallen state of nature), may no longer serve our radically unprecedented situation. But in the “Ever Present Origin, Jean Gebser speaks of what he calls ‘praeligion’,” –the further flowering of religion out of its deficient mental mode of belief, so as to allow a “genuine irruption of the other side into this side, the presence of the beyond in the here and now, of death in life, of the transcendent in the immanent, of the divine in the human” (EPO, p. 529). Praeligion in this sense may make real what for religion remains abstract and ideal. I’d like to speak on behalf of this possibility.

 

Slide 2: I want to pause here for a moment to acknowledge some pressing questions: Whether it be called religion or praeligion, it’s really just another spin on the same old Judeo-Christian mythos, right? What is the use of reviving theology when it seems that our real problems are ecological? And isn’t our scientific understanding of the evolving cosmos enough to inspire us? I must admit that I am going to speak the language of a particular book, The Bible. But I also think it is a mistake to artificially separate the world’s major religious traditions. There really does seem to be a perennial wisdom informing the esoteric teachings of each, even if this wisdom reveals itself differently according to the needs of particular times and particular places. All human beings have spiritual aspirations, which means that an understanding of time and evolution are not enough to satisfy the infinite longing of our souls. I think psychic wholeness requires that we also have some sense of eternity and of involution. All the world’s spiritual traditions seem to me to be in agreement about this.

 

Slide 3: There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that theology, or theosophy, cannot continue to remain relevant if it neglects the significance of time and evolution—of earth. As Teilhard writes, “It used to appear that only two attitudes were possible for humanity: either loving heaven or loving earth. With a new view of space-time, a third road opens up: to make our way to heaven through the earth” (Christianity and Evolution). Natural science has learned quite a bit in the last few hundred years about the natural history of our planet. This is an “earth-clock” representing this history. If we imagine that the 4.6 billion years of our earth’s existence were condensed into an hour, the first prokaryotic cells would have emerged within less than 10 minutes! Life was no mistake; clearly, the earth was never a mere rock, but was potentially living from the very first moment it began folding upon itself in space-time. This, along with our knowledge of the common origin of all life, and of all of space-time!, is a testament to the interconnectedness and creativity assumed to be absent from nature by earlier scientific paradigms.

 

Slide 4: I don’t think the recognition of this already existing creativity makes talk of Alpha and Omega superfluous. In fact, I think it makes these theological concepts more relevant than ever, because modern science is suggesting that the universe is a cosmogenesis, that it had a beginning, and that it is developing irreversibly toward some end. The question is, what kind of end? Teilhard wrote often of how the unitary perspectives offered by 20th century physics and biology have provided a decisive new impetus to our sense of the universe. “The surge of modern pantheisms is a result of this,” he says. “But this impetus” he continues, “will only end by plunging us back into supermatter if it does not lead to Someone” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 190). Pantheism is undoubtedly a beautiful affirmation of the enchanted wholeness of the universe, but I, like Teilhard, find it difficult to breathe in a universe without any hint of divine transcendence.

When I look at Western history with an eye for the evolution of consciousness, I see a movement from pre-modern mythic Theism (universe created by an entirely transcendent divine Person), through modern Deism, to post-modern Pantheism/atheism (which I lump together because both understand the universe in an entirely immanent and impersonal way). I think the next step in this dialectic is toward an Integral Panentheism, where the universe is experienced as an ongoing process toward personalization, an anthropocosmogenesis. Teilhard articulates the subtle but important difference between pantheism and panentheism in the following way: “…if the reflective centers of the world are really ‘one with God,’ this state is not obtained by identification (God becoming all [as in pantheism]), but by the differentiating and communicating action of love (God all in all)” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 223). God is not just One, but also Many; not just transcendent, but living within the heart of each and every being.

 

Slide 5: I think this dialectic from theism, to atheism/pantheism, to panentheism shows us that, if history has any significance, it is that, as Owen Barfield says, “in the course of it, the relation between creature and Creator is being changed” (Saving the Appearances, p. 160). Perhaps the God of our planetary age is no longer a hidden eye in the sky, uninvolved in earthly life, but in the course of the evolution of consciousness, beginning to take up far more intimate residence within and among us upon the earth itself.  As Teilhard writes, “Religion… represents the long disclosure of God’s being through the collective experience of the whole of humanity” (Human Energy, p. 47).

 

Slide 6: I’d like to draw attention to three reasons why a panentheist God remains relevant even in our increasingly secular world. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that God, as an idea, has important social functions and so should not be dispensed with. I’m not making a prescriptive argument. I’m suggesting that human beings will inevitably remain religious creatures for these reasons: 1) to foster human community, 2) to provide intimacy with the cosmos, 3) to provide an evolutionary telos for consciousness.

 

Slide 7: Hegel seems to me to have been on to something in suggesting that divinity and humanity find their unity in the consciousness of community (part B, philosophy of religion). But the importance of God for community, and of community for God, was made apparent to me not at first by Hegel, but by the Jewish theologian Martin Buber. In the final lines of the afterward to his book “I and Thou,” Buber writes: “The existence of mutuality between God and [humanity] cannot be proved anymore than the existence of God. Anyone who dares nevertheless to speak of it bears witness and invokes the witness of those whom he addresses” (p. 182). Buber attempts in this book to articulate the twofold attitude human beings can take toward the world and each other: 1) “I-It” relation, wherein an aloof subject experiences the others as object, as a means to its ends; 2) “I-Thou/You” relation, wherein one relates to other persons as the presence of God, encountering others as a revelation of the eternal You, of the universal person in the unique.

 

Slide 8: Emmanuel Levinas, who was heavily influenced by Buber, finds God in the infinite responsibility that takes the ego hostage in any authentic face-to-face encounter with another. He writes: “The free [human being] is dedicated to [her] fellow; no one can save [herself] without others. The inside-out domain of the soul does not close from inside” (Humanism of the Other, p. 66). The soul is infinite, and so it seems it cannot find wholeness without relating to divinity, which for Levinas is the holiness of others. This notion of a soul unable to close from the inside also reminds me of Teilhard de Chardin’s question as to why “we are not more sensitive to the presence of something on the move at the heart of us that is greater than ourselves?” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 120).

 

Slide 9: An integral God would not only foster community, but would deepen the intimacy of our relationship to the cosmos. Teilhard’s love of matter goes a long way in this direction, but I think the German shoemaker turned mystic Jakob Boehme’s vision of the relationship between God and creation may have even more to say to us. The physicist Basarab Nicolescu distills the essence of Boehme’s cosmology of divine self-manifestation as “a threefold structure leading to a sevenfold self-organization of reality” (Science, Meaning, and Evolution, p. 90).

 

Slide 10: Boehme’s God is not Aristotle’s perfect unmoved mover, but dynamic and self-revelatory by nature. Boehme wrote many books attempting to describe his revelatory vision of a God who cannot but overflow into creation. God in-itself, traditionally “God the Father,” is the mysterious abyss or ground of pre-creation, and consists of the restless agitation of three principles—darkness, light, and fire (or sour, sweet, and bitter). The light wants to expand and radiate, to become manifest, but the dark wants to remain hidden and self-contained. As a result of this self-contradiction, God ignites into flames, burning in what Boehme calls a “wheel of anguish.” The friction of the three restless principles generates heat, which is the first of God’s manifest qualities but the 4th in the sevenfold self-organization of reality. This heat ignites a flash, transforming it into the force of love in search of itself, the 5th principle. Love finds itself through the reverberation of sound or tone, language or the Word, the 6th principle, which then becomes flesh, reaching fulfillment as body—God incarnate—completing the sevenfold series.

 

For Boehme, the cosmos is the body of God. He refers to stars as the “fountain veins of God.” It is as if he is saying that stars are a visible example of this sevenfold creator-creativity in action. But this series is active in every being.

 

Cosmogenesis is, for Boehme, the divine’s attempt to find wholeness, and the human being participates in this attempt, our faith (or our opening to the imaginal dimension of reality) acting as the food that nourishes God. Boehme’s cosmology places a heavy responsibility upon humanity, as the completion of the sevenfold cycle depends upon our active cooperation. With the failure to consciously participate, according to Nicolescu, “the entire universe of the creation would disappear into chaos” (p. 89).

 

Slide 11: Owen Barfield’s insightful ‘study in idolatry,’ the subtitle of his book about the evolution of consciousness called “Saving the Appearances,” provides another way to deepen the intimacy of the relationship between human beings and the universe. For Barfield, the entire history of the world consists in the changing relationship between consciousness and phenomena, between spirit and matter. Long ago, human beings participated unconsciously in a spiritually imbued cosmos; but in time, with the gift of speech, the ability to name phenomena, came also the awareness of self. Original participation with the cosmic process was canceled, and human beings began increasingly to perceive only their own collective representations/mythic images of the cosmos, which itself receded into the background. Following the scientific revolution, these collective representations became “false idols”—the universe conceived of as matter in motion without the need of being participated by any percipient. This further isolated human consciousness from a deterministic nature. As the 19th century approached its end, the universe began increasingly to seem like a collection of dead objects lacking all interiority.

 

Barfield points to the possibility of “final participation,” wherein we come to recognize that our consciousness actively participates in the holotropic movement of space-time itself. In other words, we realize that we stand in what Barfield calls a “directionally creator relation” to the cosmos—that each of us are co-participants in the divine imagination that continually brings forth the phenomenal world. Final participation, according to Barfield, requires the reversal of our normal direction of consciousness; original participation fired the heart from a source outside itself; images enlivened the heart. But for final participation, the heart must be fired from within by our own spark of divinity…it is for the heart to enliven the images (p. 172).

 

Slide 12: As Teilhard describes it so eloquently, lacking the metanoia required for final participation, “we are continually inclined to isolate ourselves from the things and events surrounding us as though we were looking at them from the outside… as spectators rather than elements of what is happening…We are not being tossed about and drawn along in the vital current merely by the material surface of our being. But like a subtle fluid, space-time, having drowned our bodies, penetrates our soul…until the soul soon no longer knows how to distinguish space-time from its own thoughts” (p. 153).

 

Slide 13: We see, then, that we are not mere spectators of an already created universe. The telos of consciousness evolution is towards the activation of our latent powers of imaginal cognition, so that we might participate with God in the ongoing revelation of the universe.

 

Boehme: “For thou needest not ask, Where is God? Hearken, thou blind human; thou livest in God, and God is in thee; and if thou livest holily, then therein thou thyself art God. For wheresoever thou lookest, there, is God” (Aurora, p. 172).