Self-consciousness and Philosophy

“You, all-powerful, are my all, at one with me before I can be at one with you.” –St. Augustine (Confessions).

Self-consciousness is that with which I must begin… but I will confess, I cannot yet be certain even of my own beginning. It remains a mystery to me, sometimes even a horror. I meet the uncanny reflection of myself alternately with anxious doubt, paralyzing fear, and rapturous ecstasy. Self-consciousness is thinking become aware of itself, a self that knows that it knows without necessarily being certain of what it knows. Descartes discovered the ‘cogito’ by doubting all knowledge, leaving only an empty knower behind. Kant articulated the transcendental unity of apperception to bring together knower and known, self and world, subject and object, but I have reason to believe his attempt remains stillborn as an abstract, ultimately self-contradictory system. Mind here finds its identity with itself, but from things, it becomes entirely alienated. Kant was perhaps able to awaken the spirit of freedom in the human soul, but he did so only by severing any relation between it and the apparent mechanism of Nature.

The challenge of post-Kantian philosophy, according to Hegel, is to “recompense nature for the mishandling that it suffered…and set Reason itself in harmony with nature, not by having Reason renounce itself or become an insipid imitator of nature, but by Reason recasting itself into nature out of its own inner strength” (p. 258, German Idealist Philosophy).

The desire to think at first rises in my soul because of the inverse but complementary movement of an expanding universe. I intend as it extends. It is incomplete in itself, but in thinking, I will its wholeness. Light cannot travel fast enough through space to show me what is beyond the edge of time—the physical eyes cannot see to eternity. But an inner sight intuits the universe’s end without my having to sense it.

Thinking emerges because Being is not complete in itself—but wills also to become for itself. Substance is also Subject. Or, as Schelling put it, “Nature should be the Spirit made visible, Spirit the invisible Nature” (p. 166). I am able not only to intuit, but to participate in the creative movement of the universe toward wholeness because in my soul, matter finds its center, becoming the image of Spirit, the point of eternal stillness around which all else revolves. Thinking relates to being and ideas to reality only through acts of moral imagination.

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