Consciousness: The Holy Grail of Neuroscience

The following is a video response I posted on YouTube to a blog post by Steve Ramirez about consciousness and neuroscience.



He writes the following:

Matthew Segall, known popularly as “0ThouArtThat0″ on youtube, is as eloquent as any up and coming philosopher – an eloquence rivaled in magnitude only by his deep misunderstanding of how science works. His musings on consciousness and God are admirable and bold, and it is refreshing to see a philosopher who doesn’t shy away from scientific theory. But he is also an example par excellence of a thinker who just gets science wrong.

I’ll rehash some of his claims because they echo the thoughts of numerous philosophers and – I hate to say it – even some scientists (these scientists tend to be more like Penrose and less like, say, Koch or Crick).

“Without a human brain, human consciousness is not possible… But it does not follow that consciousness is located inside the skull…”

“All the empirical studies of the brain that have ever been done and that could ever be done reveal only a correlation between experience and neural tissue. No causal relationship can be shown empirically…”

“No matter how hard we try to look for our own subjectivity in the brain, we will find only objects other than ourselves. You can’t see consciousness. You can’t feel it… This is why it is a category mistake to think empirical science could account for it in terms of brain activity alone.”

Really? You do not know, then, how precise our tools are. And so, allow me to lend a machete to this intellectual thicket. For starters, read this. It’s a nice and thorough review of what scientists mean by “consciousness” and the various, often clever, methods being used to show the connection between neural tissue and thought. (I purposely left out the word “correlate,” because as the studies below will demonstrate, causality is a realistic claim using today’s techniques).

Discovery stops when we sit down on the armchair and bask in awe at the magnificently complicated process of consciousness, and this awe blinds us to the tractability of the problem at hand. (To be fair, scientists often are up in the Ivory Tower for too long and forget to come down and share the importance of whatever experiment is brewing.)


A comment to Hyper Tiling concerning anthropocentrism

You can find Fabio’s blog here:


You’ve succeeded in getting me interested in speculative realism and object-oriented philosophy. Kantian skepticism is perhaps the main obstacle I must overcome in my dissertation, which loosely described is an argument for a more richly textured ontology, such that any full accounting of reality must include its physical, etheric/vital, psychological/astral, and spiritual dimensions. My principle inspiration for this project is Rudolf Steiner, but the works of thinkers like Schelling, Hegel, Bergson, Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, Jung, and Jean Gebser will also be close at hand while I am writing it.

I’m commenting here to ask if you might expand a bit on how speculative realism provides an alternative to anthropocentric modes of thought… Most of the guys I’ve listed above, especially Steiner and Teilhard, are self-proclaimed anthropocentrists of the Hermetic variety. In the Hermetic tradition, a deep symmetry is posited between the cosmos and the human (“as above, so below”). We could look at this issue from an epistemic (or Kantian) perspective and say that humans are limited by the structure of their mind and its sensory organs such that the only universe we can know has always already been humanized. We could also think about this in broadly ontological terms, situating the human organism within the 14 billion year evolutionary process that has lead up to this moment. From such a perspective, the structure of our mind and sensory organs is not separate from the universe, as if thought were somehow parachuted into being from the outside sometime in 1641 (when Descartes published his “Meditations”). From a Teilhardian or Whiteheadian perspective, human beings are the shape space-time takes when it comes to know itself. There could of course be alien intelligences whose morphology differs somewhat from our own, but if Teilhard’s biological inferences are correct, we would expect to find in their form the result of a similar process of cerebralization. For Hermeticists like Giordano Bruno, non-human intelligences would only be more evidence that the universe has some innate propensity, not only to come to life, but to hominize. Anthropocentrism is then not a naive epistemic oversight or moral self-congratulation; rather, is the acknowledgment that cosmic evolution produces conscious beings with eyes and faces (“opos”).

I haven’t read all your posts, and so I’ve got a very limited sense of your relation to these kinds of admittedly mystical ideas. I do, however, recall reading that the writings of early Christianity once interested you. I know it will be quite a challenge for me to bring the ideas of someone like Steiner to the level of respectability in mainstream philosophical discourse, but I remain convinced that the only way to adequately respond to the earth- and culture-destroying ethos of techno-industrial capitalism is by transforming consciousness so that it can once again recognize the play of spirit in the universe. We need to develop a cosmology that accounts for the empirical discoveries of the past several hundred years, but that also builds on the wisdom traditions that have informed and inspired our species for millennia.

Looking forward to reading more of your posts here.

Fabio responded, but told me I might have to wait for the publication of his article in the new open source journal of object-oriented philosophy called “Speculations” before my questions might find their answers. You can read his response here.

My second response:
Thanks for the feedback, Fabio. I await the publication of your article. After reading a bit more of Meillassoux, I can see why you suggest I won’t find much support there. I don’t think it makes sense to talk about objects independent of subjects, and as soon as we adopt a panexperientialist ontology the issue of how science has knowledge of pre-human arche-fossils is cleared up. Human subjectivity may have emerged late in the game, but there never was a time-space in the evolution of the universe without a relation between interior perspective and exterior event. I think a Whiteheadian ontology gets us out of the vulgar sort of anthropocentrism M. rightly wants to dispense with without leaving the cosmos “devoid of self-enjoyment,” as Whitehead puts it. Whitehead’s division of experience into the modes of “causal efficacy” and “presentational immediacy” goes a long way toward transcending Kantian transcendentalism by providing a new way of understanding the ground of sensibility which Kant argued was unknowable. This ground is unknowable for the understanding–that is, for our rational, waking consciousness. But as Whitehead suggests, what philosophy needs is not a critique of pure reason, but of pure feeling. It is through perception in the mode of causal efficacy that we literally touch the world’s objectivity as it arises in and as our own body, thereby reaching objects concretely without the mediation of the abstract categories of consciousness.

Notes from chapters 1-5 on Schickler’s “Metaphyics as Christology”

The following are my notes on Jonael Schickler’s Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel to Steiner. I figured I’d post them to give inquiring minds a taste of the ideas he develops in the text. Chapters 6, 7 and the conclusion will follow soon.

Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel to Steiner



-Steiner’s esoteric metaphysics can overcome the opposition between Kantian transcendentalism and Hegelian dialecticism (p. xix)

  -Hegel’s logical dimension is ontologically underdetermined because he does not adequately respond to Kant’s claim that we are unable to know the ground of our sensory intuitions

-Steiner’s 4-fold division of the human being a successor to Aristotle’s physical body, vegetative soul, sensitive soul, and intellectual soul.

  -Steiner fulfills the post-Kantian desire to conceive of nature and spirit, or self and cosmos, as a unity (p. 1)

-The history of philosophy since Kant and up to Heidegger can be read as the successive incarnation of the modern self

  -it is an incarnation because the self begins its odyssey in Descartes as a thinking substance separated from extended matter, but gradually becomes more closely associated with the body

   -Kant articulates how thought is intimately interwoven with the body, but nonetheless remains ontologically skeptical (p. 2)

   -Hegel advances the process of incarnation by:

    1) giving the self a historical and social self-understanding

    2) by considering its development and evolution

    3) by laying out a logic of reality as an immanent self-critique of thought’s most basic categories

      -but no complete account of the physical body is offered

  -Nietzsche arrives at a conception of the self as an unknown or transcendental body that creates both spirit and sense as instruments of its will (p. 3)

  -for Steiner, the physical body is the outer form of an inner reality

  -twentieth century philosophy saw the death of self, especially through the work of Wittgenstein and Heidegger…subjectivity has become fragmented and displaced, lacks spiritual direction

  -despite much modern nihilism, the self is beginning to awaken to spiritual realities (see Grof, Sheldrake, Prokoffief) (p. 4)

-preview of Kant, Hegel, and Steiner (p. 4-7)

  -Hegel’s death-resurrection logic of thought must be applied to the empirical world

  -Steiner’s account of the self-world relation is embedded in an evolutionary conception of the cosmos and of man, wherein man’s fourfold constitution is ontologized and shown to be the necessary preconditions for any embodied experience of reality

-Plato’s discussion of the river Lethe that makes us forget our past incarnations (p. 12)



Chapter 1: Kant’s Faculties and the ‘I think’

-he conceives of human experience as a richly structured unity between the intelligible and the sensible (p. 13)

-imagination is in some way both a sensible and conceptual faculty, since it’s function is to unify these

-the ‘I think’ gives formal unity to consciousness and accompanies all representations (p. 14)

-faculties of cognition:

  –sensibility: provides two forms of intuition, pure (space and time) and empirical (the matter given by the senses). Space and time are immediately given and not the result of the spontaneous activity of intelligence (a priori, but not as concepts added to experience by the understanding). The only thing we can know about sensation a priori is that it will be received according to some intensity. A posteriori, we come to know its extensive qualities as they exist in space and time. This is all Kant can offer as regards sensibility because for him only the transcendental, and not the empirical conditions of experience have philosophical validity; we cannot ask what causes sensibility (p. 15).

  –understanding: provides intelligible conditions of experience and is the spontaneity of cognition. Experience takes the form of judgment, which involves the application of categories (and is propositional). Concepts are pure concepts of synthesis that the understanding contains in itself a priori. The ground of the categories is the transcendental ego, or ‘I think,’ without which no concept of objectivity would be possible because no unity could be conferred upon the sensory manifold so as to constitute an object.

  –imagination: is the cause, in general, of synthesis, which is according the Kant ‘the action of putting different representations together and comprehending their manifoldness in one cognition.’ It provides several forms of synthesis, including that which preserves the past in our perception of the present (p. 16-17).

  –reason: “the faculty of the unity of the rules of understanding under principles” (p. 18). Reason is exercised not on experience, but on the understanding. Kant distinguishes ‘descending’ or ‘logical’ use of reason, where inferences are drawn via syllogisms, from ‘ascending’ or ‘pure’ reason, which aims at discovering the unconditioned ground of the conditional. The ideas of reason provide this unconditioned, absolute ground: the self (psychology), the cosmos (empirical world), and God (theology). Kant says ideas of reason are regulative, serving as subjective ideals, but not constitutive, inhering in the real, objective world. This is so because Kant cannot find any experiential correspondence to these ideas. Reason’s function is just to give unity to our knowledge. Only individuals and particulars exist in reality, but the regulative role of reason allows us to unify them into a system of categories. Reason creates its ideas by reflecting on concepts of the understanding. (see Deleuze’s book “Kant’s Critical Philosophy”).

-Kant artificially separates understanding from imagination (p. 19), as categories of understanding are abstractions derived from a pre-discursive imaginal unity whose structure is discovered only via dialectic. The imagination, therefore, can only be researched phenomenologically, not discursively.

  -imagination provides schemata for concepts, which provide ‘the sensible conditions under which alone pure concepts of the understanding can be employed.’ The schema is the third moment which unifies through mediation the category and the appearance to which it applies.

    -schemata of pure concepts (triangle) and empirical concepts (dog)

    -schemata of some pure concepts: substance (the persistence of the real in time)’ causality (the succession of the manifold in so far as it is subject to a rule), and necessity (the existence of an object at all times).

    -pure concepts of the understanding have their significance only in relation to experience, because schemata are necessary conditions for the realization of categories (p. 20).

    -Kant considers 4 main kinds of synthesis of imagination: apprehension, reproduction, recognition, and schematization. Each involves both sensibility and understanding. Imagination is therefore “a blind function of the soul,” since its synthesizing processes are superconscious. Imagination provides unity immediately, whereas the understanding unifies through reflection (p. 21).

-the imagination (or image-process) reconstitutes a unity that has been sundered only by the insertion of the human organization into the world as a whole (p. 22).

  -categories of understanding are not the ultimate constitutive elements of experience, but abstractions from a much richer, pre-discursive horizon of being. Phenomenology must discover this horizon, and it must be unified with dialectic and its results (i.e., with rationalism).

-the unity of apperception presupposes a manifold within which it is in relation. The ‘I’ is a pure consciousness that always accompanies concepts, and cannot itself be called a concept (p. 23). Self-consciousness is the condition of all unity, but is not itself conditioned. The self is not a substance, for Kant, but a form of representation.

  -Or is it that the unity of apperception cannot be derived from the manifold, but that the ‘I think’ must be spontaneous? (p. 25).

  -with the ‘I think,’ subject and predicate are one: I am I is unlike “the dog had a tail,” since the dog has its predicates outside of itself as subject.

  -a subject that immediately and necessarily has itself for its object Schelling and Hegel call absolute.

  -“If our conception of ourselves as subjects is given through the spontaneous act of a thinking subject, our more detailed conceptions of ourselves as distinct individuals with a body, feelings, and personality…are given through other faculties, in particular sensibility and the imagination which unites it with the understanding” (p. 26).

    -“To truly understand the ‘I think,’ we need to know its relation to sensibility, and this means to understand the relation between mind (considered as the horizon of inner sense), body (as an object of outer sense), and world (everything given as an object of experience within the horizon of an ‘I think’), since all are instrumental in giving us the experience that the subject of thought–absolute though it must be in its logical form–generates” (p. 27).

-Kant, in his less critical moods, argued for the existence of the soul before and after death. The voice of conscience is the incarnated spirit, whose normal state is in the supersensible world and whose exceptional state is embodied on earth. “when the oil is separated from the body, it will not see the world as it appears, but as it is” (p. 28).

  -Kant identifies life with the animal element in humans, not the vegetative, revealing that his conception of the levels mediating between pure thought and the physical world is limited. (see Kant on ether in ‘Opus Postumum’ and on p. 32-33).



Chapter 2: From Kant to Hegel

-Kant restricts our knowledge claims to the sphere of the understanding, and so, at the empirical level, the structural unity of living organisms cannot be known, nor, at the theoretical level, can reason discover the true ground of the ‘I think’ or of the world (p. 35)

  -but organisms must nonetheless be conceived as something with intrinsic, not extrinsic (mechanical), finality because of its “indescribably wise organization”

-in the Critique of Pure Reason, the unity of the ‘I think’ is considered an intrinsic feature of self-consciousness (as a priori), and therefore is not dependent upon the idea of an end unfolding in time. But in the Critique of Judgment, the unity or finality of a living organism or of an idea of the imagination is fulfilled only through time. Such unity is a posteriori, a unity within multiplicity (because an organism must remain itself through change).

-Hegel attempts to show the relation between the unity of pure thought and that of an organism conceived in its immanence. He desired an understanding of how thought and the empirical world were related, something Kant deemed impossible.

-Hegel shows in the Phenomenology of Spirit how a complete logic of philosophical categories presupposes an evolution of consciousness through varies forms or shapes (p. 36). The limits of one form are overcome by its successor. 

-“The overall aim of the Phenomenology is thus to reveal each of the main forms of consciousness through which the self passes as it transforms substance (the world) into subject (itself), until the point is reached where all of reality is found to lie within it as its own self-externalization and so all dualism is overcome” (p. 37).

  -But Hegel does not ask how the sensible and intelligible are united in the thinking process; he is only concerned with the different ways thinking consciousness categorizes sensory content. He seeks the only logically coherent way in which the world can be conceived, but does not explain how this logic can be realized in the world of the senses.

  -“Hegel treats the sensory world as an obedient handmaiden of reason which is formed and disciplined time and again by thought, and then eventually discarded once it has played its role in the awakening of the self to knowledge of its true, spiritual nature” (p. 39).


Chapter 3: Hegel’s Logic and the Self

-if the Phenomenology leads us to the alter of initiation, the Logic is our participation in the mysteries themselves (p. 43)

   -the Logic unfolds like a living being, maintaining a unity throughout its multiple moments. Unlike in the Phenomenology, where the growth and development of the ‘I’ from sense certainty to absolute knowledge is described, the Logic traces the organic structure of the Idea itself. Instead of the forms of consciousness, the categories of thought are developed dialectically.

  -the Logic presupposes the form of consciousness arrived at by the end of the Phenomenology, which is only possible to experience given that, through history, humanity has developed through them.

-a culture’s metaphysics is the highest expression of its spiritual potential, ‘an educated people without metaphysics is like an otherwise richly decorated temple without its inner sanctuary’ (p. 44).

  -the seeds of metaphysics are not planted by the philosopher, but lie buried in ordinary language and the social institutions in which language lives (p. 45).

    -the philosophers role is to conceive these seeds as a living unity

-Kant’s conception of logic: 1) transcendental logic considers the a priori conditions of conceiving and experiencing objects, including the categories of understanding concretely actualized by sensory intuitions, 2) general logic deals with forms of valid reasoning and is concerned with the relations between and formal structures of judgments referring to objects. The ultimate ground of general logic cannot be known, as this would require knowing the true relation between self, world, and God. No premise of general logic can therefore be claimed as true unconditionally.

  -Hegel attempts to unite logic and metaphysics by overcoming the difference between transcendental and general logic. He does this by showing how the judgment develops into the syllogism, which then develops into the concept of the object (p. 46).

    -the concept begins as a universal, becoming particular when a judgment adds a predicate to it (‘tree’ –> ‘has green leaves’), and becoming the mediated unity of these as an individualized concept, which for Hegel is the object.

    -for Hegel, the syllogism is the form in which the rational is articulated.

-the most important questions of logic concern the relation between the subject and predicate of a sentence (p. 47).

  -what is implied by the fact that everything within my world is a predicate of my subject? And how can the subject be identical (“is”) with its predicate, or the ‘I’ with its world?

  -Hegel claims that subject and predicate are unified in the Absolute Idea (self-thinking thought).

-ontology asks, ‘what is real…what, if anything, has existence for its essence, and what follows from this for all other existing things?’ (p. 48)

  -logic asks, ‘what is the rational/thought, and how is its internal structure embedded in the structure of language?

    -unless substance/being can be made to converge with subject/thought, knowledge of the True is not possible. Hegel says “the real is the rational,” but Schickler doubts whether Hegel actually succeeded in bridging the gap. He suggests that Hegel identifies with Aristotle’s second attribute of eudamonia, theoria (contemplation of forms), but neglects phronimos (practical moral insight).

-from Steiner’s perspective, the unity of subject and substance must be achieved not only in the domain of thinking, but feeling and willing as well. The passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ here points the way, for here we encounter the possibility of an immanent synthesis of subject and object (or spirit, soul, and body).

-the Logic of Being: 1) the categories of being (quality, quantity, measure) have the surface character of immediacy and are interdependent, but this relationship is not immediately obvious, 2) Hegel begins his logic with being because it is the most immediate and indeterminate category that presupposes nothing (other than the initiation enacted in the Phenomenology), 3) measure is the synthesizing category, called by Hegel the ‘qualitative quantum.’ Every quality evident in the world is realized along side some specific quantity, and vice versa (p. 49, p. 61 note 15).

-the Logic of Essence: 1) the categories of essence (essence, appearance, actuality) are mediated by the categories of being, of which they are the underlying reflection, 2) these categories are dualistic, and so the understanding is at home in them (i.e., identity-difference, thing-property, form-matter as categories of essence; form-content, whole-part, force-expression as categories of appearance; inner-outer, necessity-possibility, cause-effect as categories of actuality), 3) the category of actuality is an attempt to conceive being as a unity of essence and appearance, as a substance which remains itself in its accidents, as an essence which shines forth in its appearance (p. 50).

-the Logic of the Concept: the categories of the Concept (concept, judgment, syllogism) are supposed to achieve a unity of immediacy (being) and mediacy (essence). Hegel’s aim is to show how a self-necessitating substance can and must be conceived as subject.

  -how is self-consciousness related to the concept? “The circular relation of the ‘I’ to itself is that in which the absolute nature of the self and the concept is revealed in immediate, empirical self-consciousness–revealed because self-consciousness is the existent, that is empirically perceptible pure concept, the absolute self-relation which in a distinguishing act of judgment makes itself into its object and alone consists in making itself into a circle” (p. 51).

  -“I = I” does not mean self-consciousness is a synthesis of two elements. It is the ground of all unity, not derivative of another unity, and so contains no differences within itself. The ‘I’ is the true thing-in-itself, an immediate circularity beginning where it ends and ending where it begins (p. 52).

    -the self is eternal and self-causing. “In the case of self-consciousness, we are dealing with an object perceived by a subject which is immediately identical with the object–thus with a sense of the empirical and empirical perception which transcends the subject-object opposition.”

-Subjective subject-object unity v. Objective subject-object unity

  -Hegel criticizes Fichte for only conceiving of the subjective unity of self-consciousness (‘I = I’), and failing to adequately account for the objective externality of the ‘not-I.’ Schickler says this requires conceiving of the unity of concept and percept (p. 54).

-the ‘I’ is beyond the subject-object opposition, and so:

1) the ‘not-I’ or empirical world encountered by the ‘I’ cannot be external to the ‘I’ (just as he finite cannot be external to the infinite).

2) the ‘I’ is immanent in the material world, which is itself self-conscious and infinite.

3) all subjects besides the ‘I’ must have a predicate distinct from themselves in order to possess content, but this separation can be overcome, as is already implied in the possibility of any judgment, where one thing is said to be another (“the rose is a flower”).

4) the difference between ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ is only apparent.

5) the ‘I’ is therefore the ground of all other identities and differences (spirit-matter, mind-body).

6) to know the real, the ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ must be reconciled. This reconciliation constitutes the Absolute.

7) the reconciliation of the self-world relation can be read as a philosophical interpretation of the notion of resurrection.

-in so far as the identity of ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ remains unactualized, the Absolute Self remains transcendent–an evolutionary goal or future possibility (p. 55)

  -this means that, in the current age, the self is still rather impotent in relation to the sensory world of nature.

  -Hegel prematurely absolutizes man, or humanizes the Absolute.

-a major shortcoming of Kant’s system is that he does not account for how the 12 categories of the concept of the object are to be derived from the ‘I think,’ he simply postulates them. Hegel, on the other hand, attempts to derive his categories developmentally from a single source. The key of this development is the trinity universal, particular, individual, which are expressed in several forms (p. 56):

1) through consideration of the moments of concept, judgment, and syllogism, where the universal is shown to contain both particularity and individuality within itself.

    -“In a syllogism, the mediating term is no longer simply the copula “is,” but the subject or predicate of a judgment. In a judgment both subject and predicate must be taken as given. In the syllogism they determine one another’s places within a larger system” (p. 57).

2) through consideration of how the categories apply to logic itself

3) through consideration of how the categories apply to the self

4) through consideration of how they apply to Hegel’s system as a whole, where the Logic plays the part of universality, the philosophy of nature the part of particularity, and the philosophy of spirit that of individuality.

-Moses and the revelation of the ‘I am’ (p. 58)

  -the contradictory state of ‘I am not-I’ is the ordinary human condition, containing the unresolved oppositions between good and evil, truth and falsehood, knowledge and ignorance, etc.

-the ‘I’ is the only identity that is not a syllogism, because it requires no mediation to know itself as itself. It is by grace of the absolute identity of the ‘I’ implicit in each term of the syllogism that it can function as a structure of thought mediating identities and differences. Syllogistic logic is not the ground of, but has its ground in the self.

-every concept, as a universal, is also a particular, since it is one concept among others, and dependent on these others for its meaning within a larger system (p. 56).

-(p. 63 note 45): “The spatial correlate of the ‘I’ is the point, which is absolute (omnipresent and indivisible) and zero-dimensional. How the extended world is logically and physically related to this point cannot be considered here.”

-for Hegel, the Absolute Idea sublates the categories of subjectivity and objectivity (p. 59).

-the act of immediate apprehension of the unity of subject and object cannot be attained by reason or demonstrated by reasoning; what reason can demonstrate, given the self’s absoluteness, is the need for a reconciliation of self and non-self (p. 63 note 46)


Chapter 4: Logic and Ontology in the Logic of the Concept

-Hegel distinguishes between a ‘thing’ and an ‘object,’ the latter being a much more advanced category. A thing is in opposition to its properties, while an object (or at least the concept of the object) is constituted by the self-mediating logic of the syllogism, wherein subject and predicate/universal and particular are unified in the individual.

  -But, says Schickler, this unity is only in itself, not yet in and for itself (p. 65).

-Mechanism recapitulates Being; Chemism recapitulates Essence; teleologism recapitulates the Idea. Schickler argues that Hegel should not jump to teleology so quickly, since it implies self-conscious thought, and that “life” represents the true mediation of mechanism and chemism.

categories of mechanism (p. 66):

1) formal mechanism: basic thesis of mechanical objects as self-contained and independent units of matter acting on one another in purely external fashion (pressure and impact).

2) mechanism with affinity: formal mechanism collapses as a category precisely because every mechanical unit exists in relationship to others, and so is in some sense passively determined by others. In so far as mechanical objects are determined by mutual interaction, they have affinity with one another (objects under the influence of gravity have their centers of gravity both in themselves and in another).

3) absolute mechanism: all machines are part of a larger unified mechanism governed by laws transcending the activity of individual units.

  -these categories represent the subject in its greatest level of self-alienation; materialism and analytical philosophy conceive of reality in these mechanical terms.

properties of chemism (p. 67): chemicals exist completely in relation to something else, and so are explicitly independent (whereas mechanisms are explicitly independent).

1) chemicals interact to produce new substances

2) the product of the interaction of two chemicals is an implicit unity

3) subject and object are not properly united in the chemical subject, and so it does not fully overcome the externality of mechanism

-every relationship we have to another person can be described in the language of chemism… “Each person offers me a unique way of being myself, since how I present myself is determined in every case by who I am presenting myself to” (p. 68).

-chemical processes are not teleological because, though they achieve ends, the initial conditions leading to these ends can only be determined after the ends have been reached.

-Sheldrake and the memory of chemical elements (p. 78 note 19).

principles of teleology (p. 70): one might expect the synthesis of mechanism and chemism to lead to life, but Hegel saves this category for the final part of the Logic on the Idea because for him, a living organism has inner teleology as a result of their assimilating the outer world to themselves from within.

  -Schickler argues that Hegel’s attempted synthesis between mechanism and chemism is incomplete because ontologically underdetermined. It leaps from the mineral realm to a kind of telos present only in human projects, missing the categories of plant and animal life). A satisfactory conception of teleology would show that such causes are active even in the material world, this being a necessary constitutive possibility for man.

teleology in living organisms (p. 71):

-plants maintain an ends-directed unity of its parts throughout its development, which culminates in reproduction. Three moments:

  1) subjective end: reproductive purpose latent in the seed

  2) means: the matter (minerals, matter, sunlight, air…etc.) assimilated and formed by the plant in the realization of its organic structure

  3) realized end: the reproductive process in which a new member of the species (or a slightly modified member) is constituted

  -plants work by both outer and inner design: it is a subject which determines its own objectivity

  -modern biology attempts to explain living phenomena without giving an explanatory role to purposes (p. 72)

   -saying plants produce flowers for specific reasons is just shorthand for saying that certain biochemical events happen under certain conditions… “why they happen is answered historically, by reference to natural selection (once upon a time, matter combined in such and such a way).”

    -such an explanation brings us no closer to understanding how an object can have unity or identity, of how its parts can be the parts of a whole (or in the language of the Logic, how an object such as a plant can also be a subject). “An object’s being a subject is a basic feature of ordinary language and so is present whether we are considering living organisms or atomic theory.”

teleology in the animal kingdom

-animals have appetites, which is a subjective end in that it contains an intentional component. As Hegel puts it, “appetite is, so to speak, the conviction that the subjective is only a half-truth, no more adequate than the objective.”

  -an organism is a unity of subject and object and is both cause and effect of itself

-Hegel’s threefold logic of teleology (subjective end, means, realized end) fails to account for appetite because when the food is consumed (realized end), it cancels the appetite and returns the subject to the state it existed prior to the subjective end; no distinction is maintained between means and ends in this circular process. The means is only preserved in the implicit end of maintaining the body or reproduction that the sensation of hunger represents.

teleology in human activity (p. 73)

-presupposes self-conscious subject who can identify differences or remain itself in the objective realization of an end

-purpose fulfills the demand of the Logic for a mediation between concept and object

  -however, such purposes must presuppose matter as a given (something not actively brought forth by the subject), and lead to a regress of ends-means, where every end is merely the means for a further end. Only the end of freedom provides for a convergence of means and ends.

-human thought is able to realize its ends in the sensory world by way of imagination (p. 74)

-p. 75: “The teleology manifested in the living organism is a presupposition of that realized by thought…Whether a living body is in general a presupposition of thought and perception is another question. The argument of this book is that it is not.”

-the living organism can only have a real inner design (i.e., not an illusion fostered by very complex chemistry) if “there is a level of being in nature intrinsic to life which is able to assimilate and order the matter of living beings.” The etheric!

-vital agent stands to matter as concepts stand to percepts (the former orders the latter)

-one absolute subject (the self of thought, I=I) underlies all derivative subjects. “Another way of putting this is to say that the living organism as an agent of the realization of teleological ends in nature is a subject-object unity in itself for us, but not yet–given that it is not self-conscious and that the vital agent belongs to the sphere of the not-I–properly for it.”

  -the objects of human ends manifest a teleological unity of subject and object for us but not in themselves (a house is not self-regulating).

  -for both Kant and Aristotle, teleology only inheres in nature if humans are its end. Sublunar species exist, in some sense, for the human.

-in short, Hegel’s Logic is underdetermined because it’s development skips ontological levels, leaving out the etheric and astral realms existing in between chemism and teleology proper (as it exists in self-conscious humans).


Chapter 5: The Idea and the Loss of the Absolute in Hegel’s Logic

-the Idea is the absolute unity of the concept and objectivity (p. 83); Hegel: “In the Idea we have nothing to do with the individual, nor with figurative conceptions, nor with external things. And yet, again, everything actual, in so far as it is true, is the Idea, and has its truth by and in virtue of the Idea alone.”

  -Schickler argues these conclusions are incompatible: separating the Idea from individual things and external reality reflects an undigested dualism in Hegel between thought and being

   -what is the relationship between being and the Absolute Idea in the Logic, if indeed the Logic is the mind of God before the creation (p. 83-85)?

    -Hegel says being is immediate unity, the path between being and the Absolute Idea is the self-differentiation of God, and the Absolute Idea is it’s reunification, now fully mediated.

Life: the concept of life is the Idea in its immediacy, because although it represents a unity of subjectivity and objectivity, it is only in itself and not yet for itself (p. 86)

-organisms are not self-conscious, so something other than thought must constitute their subjectivity. Hegel makes use of concepts like vital agent, omnipresent soul, soul, drive, end/purpose, power to account for the organism’s subjectivity. Schickler says it is unclear whether these are just logical categories, elaborate metaphors, or ontological categories.

-whatever the identity or higher unity that sublates life (subjectivity) and matter (objectivity), it must transcend the life-death opposition.

  -this identity must be more ontologically fundamental than matter (matter is implicit in life, and not vice versa), even though for we living beings, subjectivity fails to overcome objectivity (the individual living organism cannot overcome the progressive encroachment of objectivity represented by aging and death) (p. 87).

-three moments of life: individual, life process, species

  1) the living individual: an individual organism is not simply a whole made of parts, but a whole, each of whose parts has the whole within it (p. 88)

    -subcategories of the living individual: sensibility, irritability, reproduction (theirs characterize the organism in its universality, particularity, and individuality, respectively)

     –sensibility: ‘the pure trembling within oneself of the animate.’ Sensibility is the immediate self-relation of the sensing animal. Without consciousness, a sensing animal experiences its fear without mediation; it is its fear.

     –irritability: ‘just as much a capacity for being stimulated by an other and the reaction of self-maintenance against it, as it is also, conversely, an active maintenance of self, in which it is at the mercy of an other.’

     –reproduction: the overcoming of the unity of immediate self-relation (sensation) and the encounter with opposition (irritability). It is the assimilating of the other to oneself, or reproducing oneself in the other. Hegel associates it with digestion (sexual reproduction is considered under the category of species). Sensibility and irritability are abstract moments, whereas reproduction is concrete.

  2) the life process: the battle against objectivity by the organism in order to sustain itself (p. 89)

   -the organism is an absolute contradiction in that it is a subject which remains itself in its objectivity (also because, despite its life, the organism eventually dies).

   -pain is the division which causes an organism to encounter itself in its other as the negative of itself; it is necessary to stimulate the desire to overreach and assimilate objectivity

   -Hegel says it is the concept which allows the living subject to interact with and assimilate itself to the non-living, betraying his one sided idealism (according to Schickler).

  3) the species: because a living individual cannot indefinitely maintain its identity in its other (or unite universality and particularity in its individuality), it manifests the need to exist as a species and to reproduce (p. 90).

   -Hegel says the living individual is caught in a ‘bad infinity,’ since it is most actual and truly itself as an individual, despite the fact that this individual will die and so is subservient to the species (which is itself a relative abstraction). A proper infinity would require of the living individual that it overcome its other, that it sublate matter (Schickler suggests the notion of a resurrected body offers such an infinity) (p. 101 note 30).

   -Hegel calls the individual’s self-identity abstract because it persists only through the species, but the species is universal only in itself, not for itself. The universal only becomes in and for itself in the process of cognition.

-Life, for Hegel, is supposed to be the first category of the Idea, the concept in its immediacy or objectivity, whereas cognition represents the Idea in its subjectivity (mediated or as judgment). The Absolute Idea is supposed to unify these (p. 90).

-Schickler’s criticism of Hegel’s conception of life in the Logic:

1) Hegel’s conception of life is incoherent both logically and ontologically.

   -sensibility is introduced too early, since plants are not sentient in any ordinary sense.

   -Hegel fails to find a proper identity underlying the difference between subjectivity (life) and objectivity (mechanism and chemism). Is life just the higher actuality of chemicals themselves (p. 91)? No, according to Schickler: to overcome the life-death contradiction, we need to conceive of an ontology proper to life itself.

2) Hegel’s conception of life is irreconcilably contradictory.

   -the soul, or subjective element of life, does not persist beyond the death of the individual living organism, despite the fact that it is supposed to be distinct from the objective element that it masters.

   -Hegel’s system requires a more substantial conception of the Absolute than one which presupposes nature.

   -In short, Hegel over-determines the category of life logically and under-determines it ontologically (p. 92).

3) Hegel’s claim that the living individual represents an absolute contradiction is a result of an unresolved dualism in his thought.

   -if sensibility can truly be dialectically overcome, it must be shown to be logically and ontologically derivative of a more fundamental realm (i.e., that of thought, within which it must be contained). For Steiner, the soul world of sensibility descends from the spirit world of thought (devachan) (p. 102 note 40).

-Hegel’s relation to Kant:

-Kant thought the sphere of life was unknowable because, a) all knowledge of appearances presupposes but cannot explain sensibility, and b) our knowledge of nature is constrained by the understanding, which analyzes nature without grasping its phenomena as unfolding, structurally unified wholes (p. 92).

-Kant saw imagination as the link between sensibility and understanding, but Hegel speaks of it only superficially (p. 102 note 41).

Cognition (p. 93):

-Hegel claims that the transition from life to cognition is given by the sublation of the living individual by the species, which becomes both in itself and for itself as self-consciousness. This ‘I’ then encounters the world as something other and seeks to cognize it in the search for the true and the good. The sublation of the species in the form of self-consciousness signals the appearance of spirit.

  -Hegel wants to claim that the Absolute is thought, and so denies that sensibility is intermediate between life and cognition. He needs to find a reason to deny that the sensory world has any as yet unmediated epistemological or ontological status. The result is that life gains no victory over death and the whole material world becomes alienated from thought (p. 94).

-from Kant’s perspective, a proper sublation of objectivity would require knowing the relationship between mind and body, understanding and sensibility (imagination?).

  -Hegel only achieves the thesis that thinking and being are one by renouncing the concept of the concrete individual as absolute unity of subject and object (Schickler: “this unity should have been conceived as a full ontological sublation of the sensory world as a whole–an end for which the concept of resurrection will be shown to be fitting in ch. 7”).

-Hegel conceives of the self in two contradictory ways: empirical/social and absolute/eternal

  a) empirical/social emerges historically from more primitive states of being prior to absolute knowing. It is mortal and conditioned.

  b) absolute self or I=I of the Logic is incapable of being generated and so transcends the finite, empirical individual (like Aristotle’s noesis noeseos). It is immortal and unconditioned.

   -Hegel fails to reconcile these two because his ontology is not robust enough (Steiner’s fourfold ontology may be) (p. 95).

   -Schickler claims that Hegel’s Logic suffers from the same circular ‘bad infinity’ as does his conception of life.

-cognition of the true broken down into analytical and synthetic versions:

  a) analytic takes its object as passively given and breaks it down into its elements, which are described in terms of universals. The empiricists are representative of this method.

  b) synthetic moves in the other direction, beginning with an active definition or very general truth and then drawing out its implications in the form of less general truths. The rationalists, especially Spinoza, exemplify this method.

-cognition of the good is broken down into two forms of eudaimonic life, phronimos and theoria. Hegel considers the latter to be the higher form, but unlike Aristotle, attempts to unify them. The concept of the good concerns the will and desires to unify what is with what ought to be–to realize the good in the world.

the Absolute Idea

-Schickler: “If the reader of Hegel’s Logic expected to arrive at the category of the Absolute Idea accompanied by hosts of singing angels, he would have been disappointed…It is no resurrected Christ, no blazing feast of light and love…but the ultimate self-affirmation of philosophy–of pure thought thinking itself” (p. 97).

  -according to Schickler, Hegel tries to unify man and God too early in the evolutionary process, leaving an unresolved tension between human finitude and the infinite I am I.

  -Schickler: “A truer reconciliation of man and God would be the demonstration that man’s will is able to unify itself with the will of nature in a ceaseless pure loving, in a genuine creative selflessness or world-affirming realization of the I am I. Only here would what is, the true, and what ought to be, the good, be unified.”

-concluding summation of argument (p. 97-99)


Chapter 6: Soul between Body and Spirit in Hegel

-Hegel’s Anthropology, a section in the Encyclopedia, is supposed to cover the entire sphere of human being between man’s animal and spiritual nature (p. 103).

  -it covers everything from psychology to cultural difference to clairvoyance.

  -for Hegel, the body is the predicate of the soul, and the soul is a microcosm.

   -like Aristotle, he considers the soul as the ideality (or form) of the body; he rejects Cartesian dualism by suggesting that the soul realizes itself in and through the body, that it saturates the body at every point with its characteristic qualities (p. 104).

    -He refers to the soul as “the universal immateriality of nature,” suggesting that souls do not exist as particular substances, each separate from the other.

-Schickler claims that Hegel’s philosophical anthropology and psychology are inferior to Aristotle’s in many ways.

three categories of the anthropology: the soul, for Hegel, emerges gradually from the dumb sleep of matter toward spirit.

  1) the natural soul: the universal soul is here still submerged in the rhythms of earth and cosmos

    -Hegel calls it the anima mundi, but says it attains actuality only in individual human souls (p. 105).

    -natural soul provides for the possibility of living in harmony with nature (he adds that lunacy is a victory of spirit over nature)

    -the freer an individual becomes, the less he is determined by his sympathy with nature, and so it would be a mistake to make the participation of the soul in the life of the universe as the highest goal of the science of spirit.

    -Hegel conceived of planetary motions mechanically and was not a believer in astrology (p. 106).

    -Hegel’s natural soul oversteps the ontological categorization of Aristotle’s vegetative soul by considering it the home of cultural differences, etc.

    -Schickler argues that Hegel did not fully draw out the consequences of occult phenomena. He suggests that, in this sense, Hegel’s Enlightenment self won out over his Romantic self (whereas Schelling was far more Romantic and open to an enchanted natural world).

    -Hegel discusses the “local spirits” of different cultures and the different temperaments of individuals, concluding that there is no ontological significance in such characteristics apart from how they allow one to be a vessel for the Idea’s path to self-knowledge in the sphere of the universal (p. 107).

     -Schickler argues that Hegel’s underestimation of the individual contradicts a rigorous dialectical approach to ontology. He fails to properly relate nature and culture.

    -more problems with Hegel’s conception of sensation (p. 108-109)

  2) the feeling soul: it is here that, due to progressive inwardizing of the soul, true unity appears (p. 109). Here the soul attains subjective consciousness of its totality.

    -Hegel: “What I feel, I am, and what I am, I feel.”

    -the feeling soul is the battleground halfway between sensibility and intellectuality: “The soul finds itself caught between the outer universality of the natural soul (of the soul absorbed in an immediate sympathy with nature and as sentient) and the inner universality of the life of thought (of soul which has overcome the immediacy of sensibility and awakened to self-consciousness).”

    -the feeling soul is divided against itself, in that it must contend with anger, trance, and insanity in pursuit of an objective perspective on the world.

    -three categories of feeling soul:

     a) feeling soul in its immediacy- magic relations of dreaming, mother-fetus, and individual to genius.

       -magic is a relation of inner to outer which dispenses with mediation (i.e., the mind can immediately influence other minds), including clairvoyance.

     b) self-feeling soul- the soul’s awareness of particular feelings; here lies insanity, between the subjectivity of feeling-life and the objectivity of thought

     c) habit- the first important victory of spirit over matter wherein the soul subdues the natural and feeling souls in order to actualize the life of the mind (p. 110).

     –clairvoyance: the intuitive knowledge of things already possessed in some form but forgotten; or of events located in regions of space-time different from those in which the physically embodied individual finds himself; or of one’s own mental and physical states; or of another’s mental and physical state. Hegel considers rational, waking consciousness and clairvoyance to be incompatible (in fact, he considers clairvoyance to be a state of illness) (p. 111).

      –animal magnetism: establishes attractive relations between organisms; can involve inducing trance or hypnotic sleep so as to separate feeling soul from mediated, intellectual consciousness; usually one individual acts on another whose will is weaker and less independent in order to induce the trance; consciousness in the magnetic state is not in the head, but in the stomach or the heart, there exercised as a general or common sense; the soul sinks into its inwardness and the organism’s internal fluidity is restored as it is in sleep (p. 112).

     -“how can a soul which is not subject to spatio-temporal restrictions interact with a body which is?” : Hegel makes no attempt even to ask this question properly, according to Schickler (p. 113).

      -Hegel does emphasize that the soul, and not the nervous system senses (because after all, the nervous system is itself an object of the senses).

      -Schickler: “The mind is not an idea of the body, as Spinoza argues. Rather, the body is if anything an idea of the mind, given that the former both falls within sentience, and is, insofar as the soul interpenetrates it, capable of interacting immediately, or magically, with other bodies.”

      -Hegel criticizes any attempt to know the soul through the concepts of the understanding, but also denies direct intuitive forms of knowing, because for him clairvoyance is a sickness of the soul that pulls man down from pure thinking into a lower state of madness. Schickler argues there is no reason, a priori, to deny the possibility of conscious clairvoyance, at at least a rational thought which exists along side an empiricism enriched by clairvoyance.

     –imagination: unifies concepts and percepts via schematism of the understanding, which allows the categories to be constitutive of spatio-temporal experience (p. 114)

      -Schickler: “a fully satisfactory schematism would have to be a transcendental ontology which showed how the self as absolute subject is related to the body whose physical organs are, as it were, the last link in a chain of processes–passing through levels of being intrinsic to life and sentience–which result in the experience of a world of perceptible objects.”

       -Hegel gives a rich phenomenological account of imagination in the anthropology, but draws no ontological conclusions.

     -madness: “I overcome madness when I know my individual place in life and do not confuse ideals with their realization” (p. 115). Insanity is a state of contradiction in the subject-object relation, in which the subject identifies with a non-actual condition. Schickler accuses Hegel of being insane based upon his own criteria (he incorrectly held to the belief that the absolute could be realized in pure thought alone) (p. 127 note 58). The rest of us, too, must concede our insanity and irrationality, “for if the rational is an actual, fully-mediated unity of subject and object, and if this unity is achieved not in thinking alone, but when the self and material world are reconciled through an ultimate act of love, then only Christ–the man-god who not only dared to say he was one with the creator God, but (if we accept the testimonies of history) also proved this unity by resurrecting a body–is properly rational” (p. 116). We need religious mystics, the madmen of history, to help restore us to sanity.

   3) the actual soul: “a mediated unity of the inner being of the soul and the outer being of the body” (p. 117).

    -the actual soul is expressed most clearly in the face, the hands, the erect posture, and the voice of the human body.

    -the actual soul inwardizes, creating an empty space filled by the ego, giving the soul consciousness and the capacity for knowledge

  -Hegel’s system leaves us with a three-tiered conception of nature (p.121):

   1) pre-conscious nature that has consciousness only in and for the knower (according to the categories of the Logic like mechanism, chemism, life), but in no way in and for itself.

    2) pre-conscious soul, including natural and feeling souls prior to individualization, that gives minimal form of immediate awareness of environment.

    3) self-consciousness and thought, beginning with sense-certainty and ending with absolute knowledge.

    -the contradiction of Hegel’s system between matter and spirit, or sensibility and intelligibility, is here apparent, as according to the dictates of speculative philosophy there must be an identity underlying all differences. Hegel does not closes the gap between the non-conscious and conscious levels of nature.

  -if consciousness can achieve clairvoyance, then anthropology would have been expanded to include nature, “which means that owing to its immediate cognitive accessibility, nature is in a deep sense human and that man is indeed a microcosm, not simply the hapless victim of irremovable illusion and error” (p. 122).

Chapter 7: From Kant and Hegel to Steiner

Goal Statement for my PhD Studies at CIIS

As a result of the past two years of study toward a MA degree in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness, my mind has been so stretched—both inward into the depths of my own soul and outward into the endless expanse of the cosmos—that distilling a specific dissertation topic for my PhD research will be extremely difficult. I’d like it to be focused enough to make a serious contribution to future philosophical scholarship, but general enough to be accessible to a wider, non-academic audience. Accomplishing both of these goals will require paying close attention to detail, but also to transdisciplinary methods of research. I will also need to develop a language that is both philosophically nuanced and poetically evocative.

As for the topic itself, much of my thinking as of late has drawn my attention to the role of imagination in perception and reflection, and the potential for its intentional cultivation to open up as yet supersensible realms of experience. Philosophers and poets like Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield, G.W.F. Hegel, Immanuel Kant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and J.W. von Goethe will no doubt play huge supporting roles as my research develops. Another major influence has been the Swiss-born philosopher Jonael Schickler, whose only published work, “Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel to Steiner” was finished a few days before his untimely death at the age of 25 in a train accident in the UK. I have only just begun to read the text, but it is almost as if Schickler laid the groundwork for the same project I had been conceiving of pursuing, thereby allowing me to stand upon his shoulders to further develop the thesis.

The thesis, simply stated, is that the alienation of the modern self from both the spiritual and the natural world is a result of a dialectical process, or an evolution of consciousness, whose culminating moment is nothing short of the complete incarnation of the Word. One of the main issues I hope to clarify in my dissertation is how and why the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution occurred. The arguments in Charles Taylor’s monumental work, “A Secular Age,” will be of great service to me here, as he there brilliantly articulates why the disenchantment of the universe and the rejection of traditional religious authority are the result, not of the epistemological discoveries of science reflecting a supposedly indifferent and mechanical natural world, but rather of shifting moral attitudes concerning the autonomy and freedom of the self. As Rudolf Steiner similarly argues in many lectures, what is significant about modern science is not the picture it has painted of the natural world, but the self-development it has allowed to take place within the human soul. Fully incarnating into matter required of the human being that it find spirit not as something given by the outer world, but as something achieved by an inner will.

I will further attempt to argue that only by developing supersensory organs of perception (such as imagination and intuition) can humanity continue its evolutionary journey back to spiritual wholeness. The philosophers and poets mentioned above tapped into and re-enlivened the Wisdom and Beauty at the core of the Western tradition in a way that hasn’t been equaled before or since. I’m well aware of the tremendous influence the ideas of these geniuses have already had on our culture, but I think there is much that has gone underappreciated. I’m most interested in the relationship these thinkers attempted to articulate between mind and nature, a relationship that both held the human being in highest esteem as the pinnacle of natural evolution and at the same time recognized the beauty and worth of nature in its own right. It was the human imagination, they argued, that, when fully realized, not only allows us to appreciate the universe, but that literally creates the universe. This idea would not have been possible to articulate prior to Kant’s so-called “Copernican Revolution,” wherein the true constitutive power of the mind was first recognized. No longer could the human mind be understood as a mirror of nature; instead, the mind’s own categories and ideas determine in the first the way nature appears to us.

The post-Kantian philosophers were not satisfied with Kant’s formulation, however. They struggled to overcome the Cartesian legacy that Kant’s dualism between appearance and reality still upheld. Nature could only be understood as mechanism so far as Kant was concerned, the notion of a purposive, organismic universe being but a “regulative principle” of the understanding. In other words, because of the inherent limitations of the human mind (i.e., the categories of the understanding and sensory intuitions), Kant believed we were forever alienated from the natural world around us. We were free, autonomous selves, but we could never understand how this freedom was possible in an entirely mechanical universe of dead matter in motion. Schelling and Hegel were not satisfied with the limitations Kant placed on the mind. Schelling in particular looked to the imagination’s unconscious creative capacities for a way beyond the static and dualistic categories of the understanding. Coleridge further developed this approach, developing what we might call a science of the imagination. So far as he was concerned, imagination is the mediator between spirit and matter. Our positivistic and materialistic age has had a dramatic effect not just on how we think about nature, but on how we perceive it. Coleridge recognized this, and so sought not only philosophical articulation of a re-enchanted cosmology, but also to develop a method of poetic entrance into the hidden significance of all that appears before us. Matter seems at first to be merely surface, but for the Romantics, these surfaces are actually signs pointing beyond themselves to something spiritual.

To sum up, my research goal is primarily to try to flesh out and make relevant once again the Romantic conception of nature as a symbol of the divine. Only a renewed sense of imagination (which is perhaps quite literally a new organ of perception) will allow us to recognize material appearances as an expression of spiritual realities lying beneath. I not only want to explore the implications of this idea as it relates to the dualism between mind and nature, but also between mind and mind. I find great importance in what Steiner calls “moral imagination,” which is our ability to see below the surface of human persons to their true spiritual essence. Matter is spirit’s way of expressing itself, of creating worlds by way of imaginative participation in the becoming of nature. I hope to articulate and participate in this adventure during the course of my dissertation, thereby rediscovering the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Western tradition that so sorely needs a renewed sense of its earthly mission.

As well as developing my dissertation, I’d like to hone my teaching skills, as there is no other vocation I can currently conceive myself pursuing. Ideas are not a private affair, so far as I am concerned. They are like stars whose very existence depends upon the radiance and warmth they share with the beings around them. Teaching is a necessary part of study and learning, and I cannot wait to fully embody the role of professor, not only for the challenge it presents to my own intellectual and spiritual development, but for the time-honored lineage of cultural transmission it will allow me to participate in.

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.

Consciousness of Science, post at PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula

Link to Pharyngula

…To believe self-consciousness can be accounted for in purely neurochemical terms is simply a category mistake. Empirical science presupposes self-consciousness, otherwise scientific reasoning would not be possible. Science cannot explain self-consciousness mechanistically without calling into question its own privileged epistemic status. Natural science attempting to explain consciousness in terms of brain mechanisms is much like trying to explain rainbows in terms of atmospheric water droplets. It reflects a lack of philosophical understanding of the phenomenon in question. The rainbow is not located in the sky, it emerges out of the relationship between light, certain kinds of eyes, and certain kinds of skies. I think consciousness is similar. It’s a mistake to try to locate it inside the skull. It is emergent, not just out of neurons, but out of space-time as a whole. If we deny the cosmic context of consciousness, i fail to see how we can avoid a dualism between the human mind and the rest of the natural universe. Contrary to a paper linked above about the challenges for any future science of consciousness, philosophers are growing increasingly aware of the hidden assumptions of dualist and materialist metaphysics that bias genuinely scientific research into its nature. Yes, consciousness is natural, but it is unlike any other natural phenomenon in that it is also noumenal. That is, consciousness can become an object to itself, as when we introspect or correlate mental states to fMRI readings, etc., but it also always remains the subject underlying these experiences. Consciousness is not just phenomenal, it is also transcendental (or noumenal). I think there are many limitations to Kant’s philosophical compromise between science and religion, or knowledge and morality, but whenever I participate in discussions on Pharyngula, I find myself having to repeat his arguments. This isn’t because I find his conclusions satisfying, but it is because I recognize that he defined the problems and laid out the territory. The problem with this message board (from my perspective) is that most of you are unwilling to give anything but a minor supporting role to philosophy as regards natural science. In other words, you’re all positivists. The video of Dawkins above is a great example of what happens when a scientist is blind to their philosophical assumptions, and forgetful of the cultural history of Western science. I might be interested in responding to any responses I get to this post, but I’m well aware it is an exercise in futility for both sides. I’ll just do what I usually do, which is recommend a few books (Bruno Latour’s “Science in Action” and Donna Haraway’s “Modest Witness”). They put science in it’s true cultural and historical context. If you’re especially brave (and patient enough to consider views that are probably radically different than your own), you might even read my paper on how re-situating science within culture is a necessary step before any solution to our social and ecological crises are possible:

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).

Jonael Schickler, Christology, and Rudolf Steiner

So the book arrived today: Schickler’s dissertation, “Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel to Steiner.” The author’s argument is as optimistic and uplifting as his own fate is tragic. Just days after finishing the manuscript, Schickler was killed in the Potters Bar rail accident in 2002 near Hertfordshire in the UK. I first heard about his dissertation a few months ago from a friend who has been studying Rudolf Steiner for some years now, and its content, as well as the author’s untimely death, struck me as deeply significant to my own course of study. I remain humble in regards to my own philosophical abilities, but I nonetheless feel compelled to carry forward the work that Schickler left unfinished. I, like him, find in Steiner’s esotericism a re-ignited passion for Wisdom, for God, and for the Cosmos that has otherwise been all but extinguished by contemporary forms of materialist positivism. My own philosophical goals are to breathe life back into Western philosophy by overcoming the limitations of Kantian skepticism. This will require not just new ideas, but the cultivation of a trans-empirical organ of perception: the imagination. The beginnings of this work can be read in my essay “The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy,” posted a few days ago. I plan on posting regularly over the coming days and weeks as I make my way through Schickler’s text, offering my own reflections, but mainly trying to internalize his perspective so as to see the world as he did. Stay tuned!

The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy

The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy
“[Imagination] is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,
And Reason in her most exalted mood.”
William Wordsworth, ‘The Prelude’
It should go without saying that there is more to reality than what at first meets the eye. There is always a deeper reason at work beneath the surface, discoverable even in a world overflowing with appearances. Somehow sensation is made intelligible, which is also to say that intelligence is made sensible. The nature of this synthesis was a mystery even to philosophical prophets like Hume and Kant, but both of them knew it had something to do with imagination. In book VI of The Republic, Plato ranks the imagination (eikasia) lowest on his scale of the soul’s faculties, complaining that it relates only to shadows and reflections—in short, to appearances. The intelligible realm is invisible, according to Plato, and thus accessible only to the more refined powers of understanding and reason[1] (or what Plato refers to as dianoia and noesis, respectively). Earlier in The Republic (book IV), Plato warns against the corrupting dangers of innovative poetry to the established order because of its power to quickly transform the values of entire societies.
Perhaps it was Plato’s longing for the stillness of eternity and the substance of ideas that made him suspicious of the poet’s dynamic and passionate imagination. The Idealism born in Germany more than two millennia later, however, beginning with Kant’s transcendental version and progressively developing through Fichte’s and Schelling’s systems to culminate in Hegel’s Absolute Idealism, though still Platonic to their core, can be read as having nonetheless entirely re-evaluated the role imagination plays in the generation and renovation of ideas, be they concerned with Truth, Goodness, or Beauty.
This essay will trace the philosophical development of the imagination in the philosophies of Kant, Schelling, and Hegel. I will argue that philosophy, if it is to remain relevant to embodied minds such as ourselves, must transform experience of this world, instead of focusing on abstract ideals, by reawakening what Jakob Boehme called the “divine imagination.”[2] Hegel’s speculative system will be interpreted as having just such an aim, to produce “an actual experience of living in the light of the eternal day.”[3] The result of reawakening the divine imagination is that, as Wilber puts it, “the other world [of supersensible ideas becomes] this world rightly seen.”[4]
“I am now convinced,” wrote Hegel in 1797,
“that the highest act of Reason, the one through which it encompasses all Ideas, is an aesthetic act, and that truth and goodness only become sisters in beauty—the philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet…Poetry gains thereby a higher dignity, she becomes at the end once more, what she was at the beginning—the teacher of mankind.”[5]
Hegel here articulates, early in his career, his desire for a philosophy that unites what Plato had divided. Reason reaches its zenith not in the contemplation of invisible ideas, but through the creative power of imagination, giving imaginal concreteness to ideas that would otherwise remain hidden in a “realm of shades.”[6] Imagination not only allows us to express the ideas of reason in our artistic works and ethical lives, but to perceive their expression in nature, which rightly approached becomes “a volume of holy instruction, [leading] us into all the mysteries and secrets of eternity.”[7] Before exploring the systems of Schelling and Hegel, however, we must pay respect to the genius of Kant, whose three critiques have forever changed the way human consciousness understands its relation to God and the Cosmos.
1. Kant
Walter Kaufmann credits Kant with authoring the first major philosophical book written in German.[8] In this book, the Critique of Pure Reason (published in 1781), Kant set himself the task of determining “how much we can hope to achieve by reason [i.e., the understanding], when all the material and assistance of experience are taken away.”[9] In other words, he hoped to determine what the understanding was capable of discovering about its own cognitive operations independent of what it receives from outside itself. He sought to establish the conditions for the possibility of all knowledge as the forms of intuition and categories that structure, a priori, all experience, whether of appearances within the soul or in external nature.
He lists three powers, or “…capacities of the soul…which cannot be any further derived from one common ground: the faculty of knowledge, the feeling of pleasure and pain, and the faculty of desire.”[10] These can be summarized as thinking, feeling, and willing, respectively.
These three powers of soul, along with the forms of intuition of space and time underlying all their content, constitute the whole of our phenomenal experience. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant lists three different faculties, but claims, as he does above, that “they are original sources…and cannot themselves be derived from any [others]”; they are sense, imagination, and apperception.[11] What is to be made of this apparent diversity in what Kant claims are the most basic of the soul’s powers? One possible answer is that there is a correspondence between the pairs of three, which will be explored below. Another possibility is that, while the soul can be divided abstractly into different faculties, in truth each is merely a moment within a more fundamental, unifying movement. Kant writes in the same critique that “there are two stems of human knowledge, namely, sensibility and understanding, which perhaps spring from a common, but to us unknown root.”[12] I propose that the imagination is this common root, and that it remains unknown only to the extent that we are unable to participate consciously in its activities. While still operating unconsciously, the imagination provides the understanding with a unified picture of the sensory world, without which its categories could never find their application. Consciously activated, imagination becomes not just the servant of the understanding, but Reason’s way of giving its otherwise unreachable ideas concrete expression. In other words, it is imagination that allows ideas like freedom, love, and beauty to be experienced concretely, thereby giving the human being the ability to actualize what would otherwise remain merely abstract logical possibility.
It’s now time to investigate how the imagination works to support knowing, feeling, and desiring. Kant. Because he stopped short of explicitly recognizing the central importance of imagination, Kant seems to artificially separate these three faculties. I hope to show, on the contrary, how they penetrate and work upon one another to form the human being and the universe into a living dynamic whole.
a. Knowledge, or Theoretical Reason: Truth
Kant’s transcendental analysis of theoretical knowledge functioned to reverse the psychological effects of the Copernican Revolution, which by removing the earth from the center of the universe had radically disturbed humanity’s sense of dignity and significance. The very possibility of cosmology, of coherently articulating the place of the human within the larger universe, had been made to seem untenable in light of this disorientation. Kant was able to reorient humanity, not by contradicting Copernicus’ empirical findings, but by discovering, through logic alone, that the subject does not conform to the structure of objects, but rather that objects must conform to the structure and activity of the subject. As he put it “…the order and regularity in appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce.”[13] It was as if the centrality of the physical Sun was replaced by an invisible Sun, or noumenon, hidden within the human soul, whose light radiated out to give phenomenal form to all the natural bodies revolving around it.
This reversal rests upon a different conception of subjectivity than that expounded by Hume, for whom nothing could be known with any certainty, whether it be the nature of the subject or of the objects to which it relates. For Hume, the subject is a bundle of impressions, the ‘I’ or ego being just another impression with no special significance.
For Kant, the faculty of knowledge depends upon apperception, “the abiding and unchanging ‘I’ [forming] the correlate of all our representations in so far as it is to be at all possible that we should become conscious of them.”[14] This abiding ‘I’ allows diverse experiences to be unified by and judged according to concepts of the understanding, which themselves apply universally because they constitute the very possibility of our having any experience at all. In order for the understanding to judge the manifold of sensory experience according to its categories, however, it depends upon the synthetic function of the imagination to draw together sensory intuitions into a sensus communis, a coherent representation of the world no longer divided into the various modalities of the individual sense organs. The work of the imagination in drawing together the chaos of bare sensory experience happens unconsciously, which is why the world appears as always already ordered and coherent, and therefore amenable to conceptual analysis by the understanding.
Apperception, or self-consciousness, unifies our understanding of nature by the power of its own transcendental unity, according to Kant. But even here, the moral or practical function of imagination is necessary for the ‘I’ to know itself as so unified. Without moral imagination, the thinker, in its attempt to know itself can only divide itself, becoming a dead thought, which is precisely not-I, not the active thinker originally sought. Self-consciousness cannot establish itself without coming into relation with a thinker, an I, other than itself. In this sense, I do not belong only to myself.[15] To the extent that learning to speak a public language supports my thinking and self-conception, I am always already an inter-subject. Because my “I” is noumenal, it cannot be known through inward self-reflection alone—its light at first shines only outward. I can only imagine myself when reflected by the image of others. The other is always a constitutive element of my own identity, and it is here that knowing and willing, or the theoretical and practical attitudes coincide. My desire for self-identity is deeply related to my desire to recognize and be recognized by others. If apperception is always already intersubjective, then knowledge depends on the worlds we are able and willing to imagine in common. In short, knowing the True depends first upon participation in the Good.[16] Much like its synthetic function in individual perception to bind the various senses into one inward common sense, imagination’s moral function allows for the completion of the act of individual apperception by wedding self to others in a commonly imaged world.
Kant’s more Cartesian notion of transcendental apperception—of an I that finds itself by doubting the existence of other people and the world—leads only to skepticism and solipsism. The ego remains a mere abstraction for Kant because of his failure to recognize the insubstantiality of its knowledge when understood in isolation from others.
Pure theoretical Reason is thus not actually separable from practical Reason. Theoretical knowledge based on the a priori categories of the understanding already presupposes a moral relation to others, as I cannot conceive of my own ‘I’ but by way of an imaginatively generated sense of commonality.[17]
b. Desire, or Practical Reason: Goodness
Desire is defined by Kant as “a being’s faculty of becoming by means of its representations the cause of the actuality of the objects of these representations.”[18] Desire requires the work of the productive imagination, which conjures feeling-toned pictures within the soul of objects that are distant in time and space, thereby providing the will with a motivating lure. Desire (or will) and imagination are integral to Kant’s account of ethics as developed in the Critique of Practical Reason.
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe,” wrote Kant, “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”[19] According to Kaufmann, Kant’s entire philosophical project, more than anything else, was designed to reconcile science (i.e., natural order), and religion (i.e., moral law).[20] To do so, he was forced to divide our experience of sensory phenomena, of which scientific knowledge is possible, from supersensible noumena, of which nothing can be known except our practical experience of freedom. This division was necessary for Kant because the category of mechanical causality applying to nature contradicts the notion of free will. The possibility of freedom, therefore, cannot be proven theoretically, but it is nonetheless available to us through practical action. The will or desire is capable of being free, according to Kant, only so long as it aligns itself with principles of Reason over pleasures of the senses. If the will merely responds to feeling-toned pictures conjured by the imagination, it is acting out of self-interest instead of disinterested moral duty. However, without the imagination to tailor the universal idea of freedom to the specific situations in which it is summoned to serve, the moral agent can reason only abstractly. Furthermore, as was discussed above, the ipseity of the self is founded upon a pre-cognitive desire for (or love of) others, and so independent of the feelings arising by way of this relation the will remains entirely impotent.[21] Unconditional love, rather than disinterested duty, is the basis of morality.
Kant’s categorical imperative, because it remains at the level of abstract universal law, is ineffectual in the real world of interpersonal life, where every encounter presents complex and unique demands upon the individual conscience. Moral imagination is required to transform universal laws of Reason into particular acts of good will. Imagination allows ideas—in this case the ideal of freedom—to become reality. Without imagination’s creative capacity to reveal the universal in the unique by forming motivating representations for the will, freedom remains a mere abstract possibility incapable of embodied expression.
c. Feeling, or Judgment: Beauty
Kant says that, by way of feeling, “nothing in the object is signified,” because what is felt as regards pleasure or pain refers only to a state within the subject “as it is affected by the representation” of the object.[22] Nonetheless, Kant endeavors in the Critique of Judgment to articulate how it is that such subjective feelings also open us to the experience of the Beautiful, and by analogy, the Good. Kant struggles to articulate how an object, whether natural or artificial, can be judged Beautiful universally, rather than merely because of the feelings of pleasure associated with it by a particular subject. It is in trying to formulate this possibility of the universality of feeling that Kant comes closest to bridging the gaps between subject and object, intelligence and nature, sensible and supersensible that run throughout his system.[23]
Kant suggests that feeling serves as an intermediary between the faculties of knowledge and will. Properly critiqued, feeling allows for at least a reflective judgment of nature as purposeful, thereby opening a hypothetical economy between ideas of Reason and concepts of the understanding. The feeling of pleasure associated with the Beauty of certain natural forms, says Kant, is related to the imagination’s sense of their finality despite the understanding’s lacking any such concept. For Kant, the understanding cannot know nature as purposeful a priori, but it can nonetheless be judged purposeful through imagination’s power of generalization: particular experiences of finality (elicited by feelings of pleasure) can become applicable as rules for the judgment of nature in general.
Feelings by themselves are undoubtedly the sin qua non of human life; without them, though I may have some idea, I would have no sense of myself as a uniquely existing being. Nor would I have either an idea or sense of nature. I would become, as it were, a mind without a body. Such a disembodied mind would also be stripped of most of its desires, except, Kant would argue, the desire to realize the ideas of Reason, especially that of freedom. But what sort of freedom is it that leaves me senseless and without a relation to nature?
Feeling would seem to be contrary to freedom, in that feelings are determined from outside—they happen to me. Freedom, on the other hand, implies self-determination—I am responsible for what I do. It is perhaps here that Kant’s reasoning for the dualism between the sensory world, of which the understanding (with the aid of imagination) provides a priori knowledge, and the supersensible, of which conscience provides our only insight, becomes clearer. Freedom and the moral duty determining it is for Kant the most important ideal of human life—more important even than knowledge of nature, which can only be understood as mechanically determined unless one is willing to admit the testimony of feelings as regards its finality.[24] Kant was not so willing, and thus found it “necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”[25] Feelings represent all that prevents a human being from realizing the ideal of freedom by leading the will astray into the pleasures of the flesh. So far as Kant was concerned, it would seem that embodied human life was therefore depraved, destined to remain at war with itself and nature.
2. Kant’s Inconsistency
Perhaps Kant simply lacked the imagination[26] that Schelling and Hegel would later use to develop his system into a life affirming, non-dualistic philosophy. But it would be premature to give up on him just yet.
As was stated at the beginning of section c, Kant saw in the Beautiful a “symbol of the morally Good,”[27] because in recognizing a thing as Beautiful, it is implied that other persons, too, due to their common sense, judge it in like manner. Feelings are thus intelligible, providing more than merely subjective judgments of what is Beautiful.
“Hence,” writes Kant, the faculty of feeling,
“both on account of this inner possibility in the subject [to judge an object as Beautiful in common with others] and of the external possibility of a nature that agrees with it, finds itself to be referred to something which is neither nature nor freedom, but which yet is connected with the supersensible ground of the latter.”[28]
Kant goes on in the next sentence to suggest that, “in a way which though common is yet unknown,” the supersensible ground of freedom binds the theoretical faculty of knowledge to the practical faculty of desire. What would it mean to take seriously the insight provided by deep feelings shared with others in Goodness concerning the Beauty and finality of natural processes? Perhaps it would be possible to judge determinately of nature that it is purposeful, and in a fact an unconscious will, which, by growing toward ever-greater self-realization is finally beginning to awaken to itself in the reasonable animals we call human beings. Kant, though he lacked certainty, was nonetheless intrigued by the possibility of a similar a notion, that “…the history of the human race can be regarded as the realization of a hidden plan of nature.”[29]
Such judgment requires that we see nature with eyes aided by the mystical imagination, thereby being “enabled to understand the significance of the universe, to grasp its life and depth directly, as a felt experience.”[30]
Both Schelling and Hegel were influenced by Boehme’s mystical Christian theosophy: Hegel devoted a special section in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy to him, and Schelling remarked that Boehme’s imaginative account of the birth of God set the precedent for all scientific systems of modern philosophy.[31] Coleridge wrote of Boehme that reading his works “contributed to keep alive the heart in the head,” and to reminding him that
“…all the products of the mere reflective faculty partook of DEATH, and were as the rattling twigs and sprays in winter, into which the sap was yet to be propelled, from some root to which I had not penetrated…”[32]
It is now time to see how Schelling and Hegel, influenced as they were by Boehme and Christian mysticism generally, transformed the Kantian from a merely reflective system offering lifeless knowledge of appearances through the lens of static categories into a dynamic speculative system uniting intelligence and nature.
3. Speculation as Imagination in Schelling and Hegel
Schelling and Hegel have more in common than would make it necessary, for the purposes of this essay, to take too much time in distinguishing their philosophies. But in light of Hegel’s infamous description of Schelling’s philosophy of identity as the “night in which all cows are black,” it would at least be appropriate to say a few words about where they did differ, especially considering that it was precisely on the significance of difference in relation to the Absolute that they disagreed. For Schelling, the Absolute was described as resting in untroubled equality, in complete unity with itself. Hegel had a more complex image of the Absolute, as not only complete in-itself, a mere abstract universality, but as a dynamic living process of self-movement not content in-itself (as simple substance), but compelled to become for-itself (as subject).[33] Instead of the simple identity of difference, Hegel sought to articulate the higher identity of identity and difference. However, in an essay written six years prior to his criticism of Schelling in the Phenomenology (or at least the unworthy imitators of his system), Hegel defends Schelling’s approach by contrasting it with Fichte’s system. Fichte’s formulation of the identity of the Ego with itself by an act of will (“I am I,” or “A=A”) does not accomplish, according to Hegel, the absolute synthesis which it claims because it fails to do full justice to the movement of identity into its opposite, appearance and objectivity, or the manifoldness of nature. Fichte therefore established only the “subjective identity of subject and object.”[34] Schelling, in contrast, is credited with aspiring to a philosophy
“…that will recompense nature for the mishandling that it suffered in Kant and Fichte’s systems, 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.”[35]
It seems likely that the disagreement, if there be one, between Schelling and Hegel is more the result of Hegel’s need to make a name for himself as a philosophical genius in his own right. Regardless of this controversy, the remainder of the essay will proceed under the assumption that both of these thinkers were struggling to articulate the same speculative insights, differing only in their individual modes of expression and not in their essential ideas.
Both Schelling and Hegel were steeped since childhood in the pansophic mysticism of the Pietist tradition, especially as it gained expression through the writing of the Boehmean theosophist F.C. Oetinger.[36] This influence was life long for both Schelling and Hegel, and their philosophical science can be read as an attempt to justify conceptually the imaginative insights generated through the unconscious upsurging of religious symbolism so characteristic of mystical experiences. Indeed, Hegel often equated speculative philosophy with mysticism.[37] “Though philosophy must not allow herself to be overawed by religion,” writes Hegel, “…she cannot afford to neglect its popular tales and allegories.”[38]
In the “System-Programme” quoted above, Hegel articulates his desire for a “mythology of Reason,” which would unite the common sense of all humanity with the highest truths of achieved by speculative philosophy. Common sense, or sensus communis, here takes on even higher significance than that given it by Kant. According to Magee, the notion of sensus communis was central to Oetinger’s theory of knowledge, opening every human being to an unmediated cognition of that which “lies beyond…the distinction between consciousness and the external world.”[39] For most people, this common sense goes unnoticed, but for those—whether through grace (as with Boehme[40]) or intentional imaginative recollection (as with Schelling and Hegel)—who bring to consciousness what is normally taken for granted, an “unmediated, synoptic vision” is revealed, “in which the mind momentarily sees existence through the eyes of God.”[41] It only after such an experience that the essential insight of speculative philosophy, that “the truth is the whole,” becomes clear. It no longer matters where one starts, whether with religious symbolism or systematic philosophy: all roads lead inevitably to Wisdom.
But what exactly is the role of imagination in speculative philosophy? If it is true, as Hegel maintains, that religious symbolism is an unconscious revelation of Spirit struggling to reach consciousness as the Idea of itself, then the role of the philosopher is to participate fully in the remembrance, or recollection, of this Wisdom. Imagination is here not creative, but re-creative, the power to resurrect and activate memories hidden in the depths of the human soul. Speculative philosophizing creates nothing new; the philosopher becomes a spectator recording the play of the Muse, whose songs recount the dialectical unfolding of Spirit through cosmic history. It is here that imagination again performs the magic of synthesis by uniting activity and passivity. Coleridge characterized this unity of the philosopher’s imagination as simultaneously knowing and feeling “that the potential works in them, even as the actual works on them.”[42]
“We usually suppose,” writes Hegel,
“that the Absolute must lie far beyond; but it is precisely what is wholly present, what we, as thinkers, always carry with us and employ, even though we have no express consciousness of it.”[43]
Contrary to Plato’s denial of the Muse’s Wisdom, Hegel describes Mnemosyne (Memory) as the “absolute Muse” inspiring the poet, artist, and philosopher alike. It is through memory, brought to life by imagination, that the philosopher attains the “complete speech” of the Absolute.[44] Plato, perhaps due only to the pressures of his historical moment, sharply distinguished Reason from popular myth and poetry; but his doctrine of anemnesis is similar to Hegel’s speculative recollection.
Schelling placed great emphasis on the power of imagination to recollect, not just the hidden mysteries and potentialities of the soul, but the soul’s secret relationship to the actual world of nature. While Kant’s categories of the understanding were actively involved in the ordering of natural appearances, Schelling goes further by suggesting they actually create this order, thereby closing the gap between the phenomenal appearance of nature and its true reality. The soul entertains ideas that exist in the living forms of nature itself.[45] “The objective world [nature],” writes Schelling, “is only the original, still unconscious poetry of the Spirit.”[46]
The move from the notion of the soul as active in to the soul as creative of external order marks the difference between reflective (or Kantian) and speculative philosophy. The Latin root of each word provides an initial insight into this difference: reflectere means “to bend back or reverse,” implying that the subject cannot hope to reach beyond its own interiority, and so can gain knowledge only of itself; specere means “to spy out,” implying that the subject can reach beyond itself to see into the inner life of its objects.[47] Such a speculative seeing into nature is possible only if, as Hegel put it, “Reason is in the world: which means that Reason is its immanent principle, its most proper and inward nature.”[48] The imaginative seeing that reveals ideas at work in the cosmic process is Spirit coming to consciousness of itself by recognizing its mirror image in the living formation of matter. It is through an act of divine imagination that Spirit bodies forth into the manifold of nature, and it is through the embodied human imagination become divine that it recollects itself.
Both Schelling and Hegel described Reason as immanent and involved in the natural world, which is related to Boehme’s mystical insight into God’s desire for embodiment, or Geistleiblichkeit. The entire evolution of the cosmos is conceived as the movement of Spirit towards “progressively more adequate expression through corporeality.”[49] It was precisely the importance of this incarnational symbolism that lead Schelling to break with Fichte, for whom nature was the mere background of practical human pursuits.[50]
“The ultimate purpose,” writes Schelling,
“is that everything be brought to visible, material form; embodiment is…the endpoint of the way of God, who wants to reveal Himself as spatial and as temporal.”[51]
It is as if Spirit was compelled to create the universe out of its desire to see, to imagine, its own greatness and majesty. Hegel’s view on the matter is heretical, in that the God of much traditional theology is entirely transcendent and self-contained, and therefore created the universe “as an unnecessitated act of generosity.”[52] In contrast, Hegel detects in Spirit a need to become the living cosmos.
The truth of God, according to Hegel, “is the positing of His other, the living process, the world, which is his Son when it is comprehended in its divine form.”[53] The aim of philosophy, then, is that the human being should recognize itself as Spirit, and that Spirit should recollect, in everything in heaven and on earth, the glory of its own image.
4. Conclusion
One of the difficulties of penetrating Hegel’s philosophy is that its dialectical truth can only be grasped in motion, which is to say that it cannot be grasped, or understood, in the way the static Kantian categories may. Hegel’s is a dynamic logic, whose categories overcome and transform themselves as they spiral ever-nearer to the Absolute Idea. It is only by way of the “active imagination” that the human soul can, along with the magic of memory, participate in the dialectical self-development of the Idea. Imagination is usually associated with the production or reproduction of images, but it has a more fundamental power, what Magee describes as “a kind of ingenuity for giving form to something, sometimes to the truth.”[54]
Kant’s reflective philosophy turned Reason into an object of reflection offering merely regulative principles of judgment. Schelling and Hegel freed Reason from the chains of the understanding, which “sets out only to separate [and] can never develop,”[55] by seeing into the soul and feeling into nature through the synthetic power of imagination.
“The imagination,” writes Schelling,
“long ago discovered the symbolic language, which one has only to construe in order to discover that nature speaks to us the more intelligibly the less we think of her in a merely reflective way.”[56]
Without imagination, the human soul would fall to pieces, becoming but a sum of mechanical faculties, and its relationship to nature would seem merely accidental. Kant’s slavish devotion to the understanding and heartless conception of morality as disinterested duty blinded him to the imaginative power generated by feeling-imbued sight. The soul’s faculties of knowing, desiring, and feeling become whole by way of the power of imagination to both express and recognize Reason’s ideas. The human soul comes to know the Truth concerning things as they are only by loving them, by feeling their Beauty and desiring the Goodness of the essential unity underlying their apparent multeity.

[1] The important difference between the understanding and Reason will be explored below.
[2] ‘Of the True and False Light,’ par. 78 (printed at the end of Several Treatises, 1661).
[3] Night Thoughts, p. 199 by H.S. Harris (quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 87).
[4] Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, p. 509
[5] ‘The Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism’ (1797).
[6] As Hegel referred to his own system of Logic, prior to its overflowing into Nature.
[7] William Law quoted in Imagination, p. 111 by Mary Warnock.
[8] Discovering the Mind, p. 85
[9] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 11. Kant’s method was primarily dialectic (primarily, though his notion of the unity of apperception may go further), but not noetic, in the sense in which Plato used the terms, because he was unable or unwilling to synthesize the antinomies of the merely reflective mind (such as that between a priori understanding and a posteriori experience). This limitation to Kant’s system will be discussed more below.
[10] Critique of Judgment, p. 10
[11] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 127
[12] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 61
[13] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 147
[14] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 146
[15] Or as Edgar Morin suggests, the self (autos) is arises only in community (oikos) (see On Complexity, 2008).
[16] In the Republic, Plato suggests that the Good is to the True in the intelligible realm what the Sun is to sight in the visible. One cannot see without the Sun, nor can one know the True without being Good. Truth and knowledge are like the Good, but not the Good itself, “…for the Good is yet more prized.” Plato writes: “What gives truth to the things known and the power to know to the knower is the form of the Good” (book VI, 508e).
[17] I will return to the important notion of sensus communis in section c on feeling, where it has a slightly different, though not unrelated significance.
[18] Critique of Judgment, p. 10
[19] Critique of Practical Reason, p. 161
[20] Discovering the Mind, p. 86
[21] The work of Emmanuel Levinas has been especially influential to me on this point. (see Humanism of the Other, 2006).
[22] Critique of Judgment, p. 27
[23] Kant comes close, but philosophy would have to wait for Schelling and Hegel before the unity of sense and Reason could be realized.
[24] The finality of nature as a whole, and of particular natural systems, was judged reflectively by Kant in terms of “self-organization.” Each system, in this sense, was at least relatively autonomous, being both cause and effect of its own organization. A modicum of freedom here seeps into the constitution of nature, if only we are willing to feel it.
[25] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 29
[26] Indeed, Kaufmann provides evidence from Kant’s biography that he had an extreme insensitivity to art (Discovering the Mind, p. 149).
[27] Critique of Judgment, p. 149
[28] Critique of Judgment, p. 150
[29] From Kant’s essay “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose” (1784)
[30] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 119
[31] Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abrams, p. 170
[32] Biographia Literaria, chapter IX (quoted in Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 111)
[33] The Hegel Reader, p. 53
[34] ‘The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy’ (1801), printed in German Idealist Philosophy ed. by Rudiger Bubner, p. 288
[35] German Idealist Philosophy, p. 257-258
[36] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 2-3
[37] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 86
[38] From Hegel’s The Science of Logic (1812), quoted in Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abrams, p. 179
[39] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 67
[40] In 1600, Boehme had a spontaneous mystical experience while contemplating a gleam of light, of which he later wrote: “That gate was opened unto me, so that in one quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at a university; at which I did exceedingly admire, and I knew not how it happened to me; and thereupon I turned my heart to praise God for it.” (Boehme’s letter to Caspar Lindner, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 36
[41] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 67
[42] From Biographia Literaria II, p. 167, quoted in What Coleridge Thought by Owen Barfield, p. 77
[43] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 85
[44] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 87.
[45] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 66 and What Coleridge Thought by Owen Barfield, p. 91
[46] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 66
[47] Hegel’s Absolute by Phillip Verene, p. 10
[48] From the Phenomenology of Spirit, quoted in Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abram, p. 178
[49] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 66
[51] From Samtliche Werke, vol. 8, p. 325, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 81
[52] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 189
[53] From the Philosophy of Nature, sec. 246, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 190
[54] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 99
[55] Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature by F. W. J. Schelling, p. 35
[56] Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature by F. W. J. Schelling, p. 35