“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Harman and the Special Magic of Human Knowledge

Among the most often tagged names on this blog are Rudolf Steiner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, both of whose cosmologies privilege the position of human beings relative to other beings. The reasons for this elevation of human consciousness are complex, but in a word they issue from an intuition about selfhood. Both men dwell amidst an enchanted, animated universe full of non-human agents with their own interiority, but something distinguishes humanity from other beings: for Steiner, it is our ability to think consciously, and similarly for Teilhard, it is our capacity for reflection. Even Harman, who wants to move beyond issues of human access, admits that “human knowledge may indeed be something quite special” (Guerilla Metaphysics, p. 84). He immediately qualifies this statement, however, by cautioning against the artificial construction of a vast ontological gap between humans and non-humans. I think Steiner and Teilhard would be in agreement with this demand for some kind of continuity between the interiority of all beings, but a certain dignified anthropocentrism remains an irrevocable aspect of their respective approaches.

Teilhard’s cosmos is an anthropogenesis: he does not shy away from asserting that the universe is divinely driven by the desire to evolve beings capable of greater wisdom and deeper love. This is not to say that humans in their contemporary incarnation have arrived at this goal. We are not a finished product, but an idea still in the process of becoming manifest. It is also not to suggest that there may not be other planets in our galaxy with biological inhabitants who have hominized in a unique but not entirely disimilar way to human beings on the earth. The point is not that our particular species is the only unique and ultimately significant kind of being, but that beings in general evolve according to the divine lures of knowledge and goodness, tending to hominize in a diversity of ways we can only dimly imagine.

Steiner’s Anthroposophy is designed to lead the spirit of the human to the spirit of the universe. It is modeled after the ancient truths of the Hermetic tradition, whose most essential doctrine is the analogy between microcosm and macrocosm: as above, so below. For Steiner, thinking is basic to the self-organizing capacities of all beings, but only in the human being can thinking become conscious of its own activity. The human thinking of the self-conscious “I” is that unique place within the world-process that belongs to our own freedom. It is that place where observation and being do indeed coincide [contrary to Harman’s claim that an ineffaceable gap exists between image and execution (p. 103)]. In thinking, I am what I am doing.

This tension has already been very fruitful for the formation of my own thinking. Hopefully these comparisons are revealing for others, as well. More soon…





2 responses to “Harman and the Special Magic of Human Knowledge”

  1. Cosmos, Anthropos, and Theos in Harman, Teilhard, and Whitehead « Footnotes to Plato Avatar

    […] I’ve had similar reservations about Harman’s anthrodecentrism (if I may diagnose it): Harman and the Special Magic of Human Knowledge. […]

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