[Final Draft] Worldly Religion in Deleuze and Whitehead: On the Possibility of a Secular Divinity

Below I’ve written a paper using the ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Alfred North Whitehead to construct a secular divinity. For Deleuze, this is an especially serious act of buggery on my part. Deleuze of course approved of that method in his own projects, but I wonder if he would approve of the baby jesus child that I’m trying to make him have in this paper. I’m directing Deleuze’s demand that we philosophers think immanently by believing in the world toward an interpretation of the Christian religion and faith. This is exactly what Whitehead does in Adventures of Ideas where he looks to the martyr Jesus for the exemplification of something that the philosopher Plato first divined as an ideal. Plato made a world-historical intellectual discovery, as Whitehead puts it, or as Deleuze would say he created a concept that has continued to reverberate across the ages. Where traditional monotheistic theologists create a concept of divinity as a transcendent and omnipotent imposer of form and order and law upon an entirely separate derivative world, with Plato you have the idea of divine immanence in the world working through persuasion–through desire, eros, beauty, and love–to transform the world “slowly and in quietness,” as Whitehead puts it, rather than by hurling thunderbolts from heaven. Plato invented a new idea of God working within the world as love, which is a kind of power, but not the power of brute force. God is no longer a creator who shapes the whole thing from outside. Rather, God is involved in, caught up with the process of cosmogenesis and spatiotemporal becoming, such that the world is as necessary for the nature of God as God is for the nature of the World… 

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Worldly Religion in Deleuze and Whitehead: On the Possibility of a Secular Divinity


cover of process paper


“Behold, I am making all things new.”

-Revelation 21:5


The purpose of this essay is to unpack Deleuze’s and Whitehead’s philosophical contributions to the task of re-thinking religion in an increasingly fenced in, post-everything world no longer certain of its own secularity.1 “The secularization of the concept of God’s functions in the world,” argued Whitehead in 1927, “is at least as urgent a requisite of thought as is the secularization of other elements in experience.”2 With a similar sense of urgency, Deleuze (and Guattari) argued in 1991 that, in an age when “we have so many reasons not to believe in the human world,” philosophy’s most pressing task is to “give birth to new modes of existence, closer to animals and rocks,” modes of existence which renew “[belief] in this world, in this life.”3 Deleuze’s emphasis on immanence as against transcendence, on this world as opposed to the next, should not be read as a blanket dismissal of spiritual practice. On the contrary, for Deleuze, the creative thinking demanded by philosophical inquiry invites infinite cosmic forces into the finite mind, making philosophy akin to an “initiatory…spiritual ordeal.”4 Philosophers are those who dare to welcome such dangerous forces, risking not only their academic reputations,5 but the habit-formed security of their egos. Philosophers do not simply reflect ideas, they allow ideas to enter into and transform them:

This is because one does not think without becoming something else, something that does not think–an animal, a molecule, a particle–and that comes back to thought and revives it.6

Deleuze calls for a radical break with all forms of commonsense–whether it be religious, artistic, philosophical, or scientific–through the intercession of concepts with personalities who are willing to continually confront the absolute horizon of the plane, and so who are able to fold the infinite movements of Nous and Physis back into one another “in such a way that the plane of immanence is ceaselessly being woven, like a gigantic shuttle.”7 Philosophy, unlikes dogmatic religions, does not paint the firmament on an umbrella, rather it “[tears] open the firmament and [plunges] into the chaos.”8 As we will see, however, philosophy’s role is to not only to descend into the underworld, but to return with the good news.

Whitehead, for his part, has Jamesian tendencies that would at first glance seem to ally his philosophical efforts to the pragmatic interests of commonsense. “The philosophy of organism,” he wrote, “is an attempt, with the minimum of critical adjustment, to return to the concepts of ‘the vulgar.’”9 Whitehead made this comment in the context of a skeptical attack on behalf of commonsense experience mounted against the mechanistic abstractions of Newton (who dismissed the mathematically-naïve sense-based opinions of “the vulgar”) and the transcendental abstractions of Kant (who opposed derivative sensory appearances to ultimate substantial reality). Whitehead was well aware of the danger of hyperbole.10 In this case, however, it seems he fell prey to the danger of understatement. The “critical adjustment” his cosmology requires of the opinions of modern people can hardly be described as “minimal.” By the time Whitehead has finished his adventure in cosmologizing, not only will God have become creaturely, but energy vectors will have been transformed into emotional currents and atoms will have been endowed with life. Further, the very substance of the soul, the continuity of personal identity, will have become but a precariously linked “route of presiding occasions…[wandering] from part to part of the brain,” always vulnerable to dislocations and interruptions which “in primitive times [were] interpreted as demoniac possession.”11 Rather than having been made in heaven by God and beginning life fully-formed and eternally the same, the soul comes to matter to us precisely because it is what is always at risk, “what might be captured, reduced to wandering, enslaved.”12 No longer given as one, already whole, the soul becomes a social value to be achieved, a swarming community of larval subjects needing to be repeatedly composed or concresced out of the chaosmic raw materials of life (i.e., intensive percepts and affects). “Being a soul” in Whitehead’s process ontology is deeply problematic, even dangerous, because one never simply is but must become-soul. “Losing one’s hold [going mad],” in the context of Whitehead’s psychology, “becomes…the paradigmatic disaster, or else…the precondition of any initiation or any spiritual transformation.”13 It would seem that neither the traditional theologian nor the classical physicist, much less the average modern business owner, government employee, or homemaker, could feel at home in such a strange Whiteheadian universe! 
 Both Deleuze and Whitehead generated concepts rooted in non-ordinary problematics, which is to say that the solutions distilled by their concepts problematize naïve egoic subjectivity by acting as alchemical catalysts that alter not only the contents of conscious thoughts, but the unconscious imaginative background of thought itself, thereby repositioning thinking on some as yet undetected plane of immanence. They are hermetic thinkers whose philosophizing sought not rational explanation, but the instigation of worldly renewal and the intensification of the depth of aesthetic experience. It is important in this context to forge connections between their efforts to creatively transform commonsense experience and the wider projects of establishing coherent social values and just political institutions. Deleuze’s philosophy has been criticized for being “politically irrelevant” by Peter Hallward due to its perceived “otherworldliness.”14 Isabelle Stengers has also criticized Deleuze’s tendency to celebrate the adventures of solitary, heroic creators who fearlessly dive into chaos while at the same time downplaying the conditions provided by their habitat and their inevitable need for social recuperation upon returning to consensual reality:

…all creators have learned [what] makes them able to “dive” without being swallowed. A dive cannot be improvised, but demands equipment. Unlike those who may happen to “sink” into chaos, creators are those who know what they experience “matters,” and that they will be able to recount something of what has happened to them, that is to come back…even from the land of the dead.15

Stengers’ contrasts Deleuze’s celebration of unhinged creativity with Whitehead’s tremendous respect for history and continual emphasis upon the importance of acquiring new habits in a way that is sensitive to the habitat they depend upon. “Each task of creation,” writes Whitehead, “is a social effort, employing the whole universe.”16 While Hallward’s claim may or may not be justified, Stengers’ modest Whiteheadian corrective to Deleuze’s penchant for skinny dipping in the Acheron allows us to receive much insight and inspiration from the latter without forgetting the perhaps more pertinent imperative of the former regarding the worldly responsibility of the philosopher:

…[to] seek the evidence for that conception of the universe which is the justification for the ideals characterizing the civilized phases of human society.17

When it comes to the influence of the mainline religious traditions of the West upon philosophy, both Whitehead and Deleuze lob devastating rebukes. Whitehead’s ire is almost always directed at the “idolatrous” habit of conceiving of God along the lines of an all-powerful imperial ruler or distant unmoved mover.18 “Religion,” writes Whitehead, “has emerged into human experience mixed with the crudest fancies of barbaric imagination.”19 Deleuze also mocks the idea of a “great despot” or “imperial State in the sky or on earth” typical of monotheistic commonsense.20 While this particular habit of religious thought is deemed dispensable, Whitehead is unwilling to jettison religious values outright, despite calls by the modern-minded to found civilization instead upon the abstractions of mechanistic science:

Unfortunately for this smug endeavor to view the universe as the incarnation of the commonplace, the impact of aesthetic, religious, and moral notions is inescapable. They are the disrupting and the energizing forces of civilization.21

In particular, Whitehead points to the “Galilean origin of Christianity” as an example of a non-despotic religious persona: Christ. Christ “neither rules, nor is unmoved,” but “dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love.”22 Deleuze also singles out Christian philosophy, both for praise and for disparagement. Those pre-modern Christian philosophers (like Cusa, Eckhart, and Bruno) who were bold enough to challenge church authority and risk their lives by injecting at least a dose of immanence into Physis and Nous still refused in the end to “compromise the transcendence of a God to which immanence must be attributed only secondarily.”23 Later modern Christian philosophers (like Pascal and Kierkegaard), though they were still men of faith, created concepts that recharged, rather than diminished, immanence. They were

concerned no longer with the transcendent existence of God but only with the infinite immanent possibilities brought by the one who believes that God exists.24

Deleuze suggests that, in the modern period, belief replaced knowledge as the dominant image of thought.25 The “will to truth” that had guided philosophy for so long lost its viability, as with the new technical power of modernity came also a crippling epistemic skepticism, an inability to grasp truth outright. No longer could the productivity of thought be “guaranteed in advance by the inherent connection between the good and the true”; rather, Deleuze believed that philosophical thought in the modern period required “trespass and violence,” treating the thinker of thought not as a trustworthy friend, but as an enemy.26 Truth is now to be inferred at best, tracked with suspicion but without certainty. The new plane of belief is not simply destructive or crippling, however: it is also the condition for the possibility of new forms of mental and physical experience. As with the Christian thinkers of immanence, Deleuze emphasized the “unforeseeable directions of thought and practice” that belief makes possible, directions to be judged not based on the object of a belief, but on a belief’s effect.27 A related feature of modern philosophy for Deleuze results from thought’s encounter and struggle with the unrepresentable natural forces underlying perceptual and affective experience, forces which paradoxically “must but cannot be thought.”28 Given modern thought’s confrontation with the infinite forces of the universe, its concepts can no longer be understood to represent a stable reality or to mirror a harmonious nature; rather, “what matters…in an idea is…the range of experimental possibility it opens onto.”29

Whitehead shares with Deleuze a sense for the importance of experimental thinking. In the context of religious experimentation, asking whether or not God really exists becomes irrelevant. What becomes important is the sort of thoughts and practices that belief in God makes possible for the believer, and for the society to which the believer belongs. “The power of God,” writes Whitehead, “is the worship He inspires.”30 “The fact of the religious vision,” he continues,

and its history of persistent expansion, is our one ground for optimism. Apart from it, human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience.31

The “religious vision,” as Whitehead understands it, “gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension,” providing life with “something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.”32 The vision, though aesthetically and emotionally ultimate, cannot be monopolized by the limited doctrines of any religion in particular. It can be said, however, that the rising or falling tide of each religious tradition through the ages depends upon the ability of its concepts, symbols, rituals, myths, architecture, and personae (etc.) to inspire worship in such a way that the intuition of God is called forth naturally from spiritual recesses deeper than can be rationally understood.33 The psychology of modern civilization, from Whitehead’s point of view, has little patience for the traditional image of God as an omnipotent dictator. In this respect, such images are “fatal,” since “religion collapses unless its main positions command immediacy of assent.”34

More often than any religious image per say, Deleuze’s target is the illusion of transcendence as such, which results whenever we “[interpret immanence] as immanent to Something.”35 The illusion of transcendence resonates with 3 other illusions, or “thought mirages”: 1) universality, which results when the immanent planomenon is conceived as immanent “to” a concept, 2) eternity, which results when we forget that concepts must be created and are not waiting in the sky for thinkers to discover, and 3) discursiveness, which results when concepts are reduced to logical propositions.36 These illusions become a thick fog obscuring the plane of immanence, condemning the philosophical and religious thinker alike to continually grasp after immanence as though it might be made immanent “to” something, whether it be “the great Object of contemplation [the neo-Platonic One], the Subject of reflection [the Kantian transcendental subject], or the Other subject of communication [the Husserlian intersubjective transcendental].”37 The plane of immanence cannot itself be thought, since it provides the very condition for thought.38 Whenever a thinker believes he has thought the plane, we can be sure he has only contemplated, reflected, or communicated an idol.

The pure immanence of the philosophical planomenon can be likened to the friend, i.e., Wisdom, She who provides the condition for the possibility of philosophy.39 The friend is the paradigmatic “conceptual persona” of philosophy. Conceptual personae, according to Deleuze, have a “somewhat mysterious…hazy existence halfway between concept and preconceptual plane, passing from one to the other.”40 In the case of the friend, it must be asked what it could mean to become friendly if the friend had not once been, and could not become again, a stranger. On the philosophical planomenon, the friend and the stranger, the thought and its thinker, never engage in discussion with one another. Discussion is useless to philosophy, since all a discussion implies is that concepts have been mistaken for propositions, as if they could be deliberately expressed in sentence form (the illusion of discursiveness).41 Once the discursive mirage has captured a thinker, thought can only circle about itself in dialectical pursuit of a shallow truth extracted from the agonism of opinion.42 The more interesting dialectics end in aporia (Plato’s aporietic dialogues and Kant’s table of antinomies); or even more interestingly, they swallow up opposed opinions into the absolute as necessary moments in the historical unfolding of the eternal concept (Hegel). But there can be no dialectic that resolves itself in absolute identity–this would mean the end of philosophy (which is why Hegel claimed no longer to be a philosopher, but to have become wise). Both the friend and the stranger are necessary illusions for philosophy: philosophy, in other words, “requires this division of thought between [friend and stranger].” The philosophical creator of concepts must remain divided against himself at the same time that he befriends the image of thought projected in the division. The progress of philosophy depends upon a philosopher’s willingness to dwell within (without becoming immanent “to”) continual crises of agonism and reconciliation, meeting therein a proliferation of strange friends and friendly strangers. Deleuze writes:

It is as if the struggle against chaos does not take place without an affinity with the enemy, because another struggle develops and takes on more importance–the struggle against opinion, which claims to protect us from chaos itself.43

To dwell in crisis is no easy task. But this is the task required of a modern thinker, especially a Christian philosopher who has accepted the risks of thinking God’s immanence. To secularize the concept of God, as Whitehead and Deleuze demand, is to uncover “thought’s relationship with the earth,”44 to dig up what has been buried beneath the foggy illusions of transcendence estranging humanity from its home. To think with the earth is still a creative act; but it is also a matter of recovery, or resurrection, and of uncovering, or apocalypse.45

Christian philosophy’s paradigmatic conceptual persona is Christ, “the Word” who “became flesh and dwelt among us.”46 At first blush, He may seem, like other personae, to possess a less than incarnate, hazy existence somewhere between the immanence of the plane (matter/earth) and the transcendence of the concept (spirit/heaven). As John said, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”47:––Traditional theology has all too often emphasized Christ’s transcendence, making Him more spirit than human (and making humanity more sinful than blessed).

Despite His initially ghostly outline, Christ’s ideality cannot be understood to be in any way abstract: He is rather an (the?) intercessor, the seed of a peculiarly Christian mode of thinking. “A particular conceptual persona,” writes Deleuze, “who perhaps did not exist before us, thinks in us.”48 Of Christ it is said that He both was in the beginning before us and will be in the end after us. His omnipresence lays out a uniquely immanent image of thought based on incarnation. The Christian plane of immanence demands a creation of concepts whose central problematic, or spiritual ordeal, is death, and whose solution, should it be realized, is an earthly form of resurrection. The Christian planomenon is unique because it is founded upon the birth, death, and resurrection of God on earth, which is to say it depends upon the possibility of the becoming-immanent of transcendence itself. Only then can the Christian thinker become inhabited by living thinking. “My old self,” writes Paul,

has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.49

Like the philosophical friend, Christ’s teachings can appear strange. “I tell you,” He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”50 How can an earthly human being–normatively tied to family, friend, race, and nation–possibly live up to such an impossible, indeed infinite, demand? It is a demand that does violence to opinion and breaks with all commonsense. Nonetheless, this demand provides the peculiarly Christian problematic, an ordeal whose resolution requires becoming-incarnate, and thereby participating in bringing about an as yet unrealized providential plan(e), “on earth, as it is in heaven.”51 This is the strangeness of the “Galilean origin” of Christianity mentioned by Whitehead, where the transcendent power of divine coercion is replaced by the immanent love of divine persuasion. While Whitehead did not believe it possible, or even desirable, to construct a doctrinal unity out of the world’s diversity of religions, he did believe

that it is possible, amid these differences, to reach a general agreement as to those elements, in intimate human experience and general history, which we select to exemplify that ultimate theme of the divine immanence, as a completion required by our cosmological outlook.52

In other words, while humanity will certainly continue to disagree as to the particular qualitative aspects of religious facts and their proper moral interpretations, some coordination of these facts along a single plane of immanence may at least be attempted. Whitehead’s cosmological candidate for the ultimate religious theme is Divine Eros. His philosophical intervention into traditional theology aimed to transform the transcendent God of “coercive forces wielding the thunder” into the creaturely God of persuasion, “which slowly and in quietness [operates] by love.” 53 Given humanity’s recently seized god-like powers of technology, sustaining our planetary civilization would seem to depend upon the realization of such a secular “earth ethos.” Our civilization is in dire need of a world-renewing metaphysical consensus regarding the divine nature. If we are unable to believe in the divinity of the world, our collective behavior runs the risk destroying that world. The spirit of religion, though it is from time to time “explained away, distorted, and buried,” has never once entirely left us, according to Whitehead, “since the travel of mankind towards civilization.”54 Whenever religion takes flight from worldly concerns, it is the sure sign of a world nearing its end.

Whitehead traces the gradual realization of the concept of divine immanence through a “threefold revelation” stretching approximately twelve hundred years: 1) it begins in Athens with a intellectual innovation by Plato, 2) then passes into Jerusalem where the person of Jesus Christ exemplified the apocalyptic (ἀποκάλυψις- to “un-cover”) power of Plato’s concept, 3) and finally it culminates in a metaphysical interpretation of these events generated during the formative period of Christian theology.55

Whitehead regularly praises Plato’s depth of intuition. Just as often, he admits Plato’s failure to achieve a coherent overall statement of his conceptual scheme: “the greatest metaphysician, the poorest systematic thinker.”56 It is for one concept in particular, though, that Whitehead was lead to crown Plato “the wisest of men”: the idea that

the divine persuasion [Eros] is the foundation of the order of the world, but that it could only produce such a measure of harmony as amid brute forces [Chaos] it was possible to accomplish.57

It was this idea, conceived in principle by Plato, that the person of Jesus Christ was to reveal in actual deed. Though the historical records of His life are scattered and inconsistent, “there can be no doubt,” writes Whitehead, “as to what elements…have evoked a response from all that is best in human nature”:

The Mother, the Child, and the bare manger: the lowly man, homeless and self-forgetful, with his message of peace, love, and sympathy: the suffering, the agony, the tender words as life ebbed, the final despair: and the whole with the authority of supreme victory.58

Finally, it was the early Church fathers who made the first sustained effort to grope towards a coherent account of God’s persuasive agency in the world.59 The major fruit of their labor was the doctrine of the trinity (the mutual immanence of the theos-anthropos-cosmos multiplicity); more specifically, their most important contribution was the direct statement of the divine immanence in the world in the third person of the trinity. Unfortunately, despite this theological statement, the Church fathers failed to attain adequate metaphysical generality because they still exempted an infinite God from the categories applicable to the finite actual occasions involved in the becoming of the spatiotemporal world.60 Like Plato in many of his written dialogues, they were unable to disavow the notion of a derivative physical world poorly imitating the Ideas eternally realized in the mind of a disincarnate God.

Deleuze’s work has been read as an attempt to “overturn” Plato.61 In any attempt to “overturn” Plato it should be remembered that little more is required than continuing to “turn over” Plato–as in continuing to turn over the pages of his dialogues to be reminded that, like Whitman, he is large and contains multitudes.62 As Emerson put it:

the acutest searcher, the lovingest disciple could never tell what Platonism was; indeed admirable texts can be quoted on both sides of every great question, from him.63

Plato was equal parts poet and philosopher. He wrote dialogues, always leaving the doctrines for his characters. His meaning is never on the surface, even when it comes from the face of Socrates. Reading him, like reading the metaphysical experiments of Whitehead or Deleuze, is an infinite interpretive activity. For Whitehead, the entire history of European philosophy can be safely characterized as “a series of footnotes to Plato.”64 This despite the fact that Plato himself tells us in a letter to Dion that “no man of intelligence will venture to express his philosophical views in language.” “[Setting] down [one’s views] in written characters” is especially denounced.65 Written words lay in their parchment graves, still, silent, and dead. The reader’s questions and disputations receive no reply. 
 On the testimony of Aristotle, Plotinus, and Proclus, we know that Plato’s unwritten secret teaching had something to do with the way that

ideas themselves were composed of matter, hyle, or in other words of an indefinite multiplicity, duas aoristos, which has as its elements the great and the small, and as its form, unity, to hen.66

If this is indeed the secret teaching, then how strangely inverted is the traditional European reading of Plato! 
 Deleuze’s reading destroys the Platonic two-world theory of perfect ideas poorly copied by sensory images, but he is allured by Plato’s alternative conception of the idea of pure Difference. Where Aristotle reduces difference to that derived from the commonsense comparison of similars, understanding Plato requires risking the sanity of one’s mind in pursuit of the dark, difficult, and dangerous idea of Difference in itself. For Plato, individuals are not constituted by their substantial forms, or by their special determinations of a genus, as they are for Aristotle; nor is knowledge of individuals constituted by generalizations from a series. Rather, Plato’s is an ontology of singularity, where knowing an individual (be it ideal or actual) requires directly intuiting its uniquely authentic line of descent, rather than representing, identifying, or abstracting its general form. As Ramey puts it, “Knowledge is not a matter of generalization but of participation.” He continues:

The claim to participation is not simply the claim to be identified as a member of a class or token of a type. It is a claim to have passed a test or to have a basis for one’s claim. The difference between the just and the unjust, pretenders to justice and authentic stewards of justice, is not a difference between any two, but an internal and constitutive difference. It is the difference an ‘immediate fact’ of participation makes…It is the selection of an icon from within a prodigious field of idols, false images.67

The difference is initiatory, “acquired by each person on their own account.”68 That is, it has to do with undertaking the descent into the chaos of the underworld and returning to tell the tale. Philosophy without initiation would quickly turn stale and become abstract. Without stories to perform on infinite plane(s) stretching beyond the relative horizons of commonsense experience, a philosopher’s concepts cannot catch fire, nor acquire the persuasive life of personality. Once the journey into the darkness of pure Difference has been undertaken, in the difficult idea one has partaken are discovered signs of its ingression into the light of physical appearance: like a flower blooming, the idea incarnates out of earthly soil. “What man of sense,” writes Plato of his pedagogy of the concept,

would plant seeds in an artificial garden, to bring forth fruit or flowers in eight days, and not in deeper and more fitting soil?69

After the Christian-Platonic initiation, the world is transfigured into a problematic network of occult icons whose meaning can only be uncovered intuitively by the mental magic of talismanic thinking. Ideas are traced into appearances as signs, moments of discontinuity in extensive physical time-space out of which the intensive oddity of self-reference emerges.70 These recursive oddities unfold themselves into the physical plane, erupting as problematic forces requiring of the flesh-hewn mind not new representations of a supposedly extra-bodily world, but self-immolation through constant death and resurrection. Thinking is an ecstatic, violent act, always killing the neurons which support it, “making the brain a set of little deaths that puts constant death within us.”71

Deleuze’s Plato creates concepts not only iconically, but ironically, in that he never claims to represent an idea as true, but only to participate in an idea as “a way of problematizing, a manner of posing questions.”72 Deleuze pushes his Platonism as far away from any two-world caricature as possible by positing, according to Ramey,

the genesis of mind in direct encounters with imperceptible forces of perception, moments when the subtle and elusive patterns of difference and repetition animating life force the mind to interpret and even to create.73

Whitehead’s and Deleuze’s immanental reading of Christianity, along with their reading of Plato’s participatory doctrines of Persuasion and Difference, provides a world-renewing medicinal brew sorely needed in the contemporary world. Deleuze writes of the “medicinal thought” of a people to come who, according Ramey,

would, at an eschatological limit, have passed beyond the segmentation of knowledge in art, science, and philosophy in some as-yet-unrealized integral life of knowledge, such as that long dreamt of in the esoteric tradition of mathesis universalis.74

For Deleuze, mathesis is “a thinking of incarnation and individuality,”75 a form of symbolic knowing that allows for the discovery (and creation) of life’s (and death’s) deepest secrets. Knowledge of life’s individuating tendency, its power to repeatedly differ from itself, reveals how “the whole [can symbolize] itself in each individual.”76 Initiation into such knowledge would not only empower individual decision and action, but could rejuvenate the social and political life of civilization. We await the people to come who will be capable of completing creation through the incarnation of this Christogenic “body without organs.”77 “If you want to make a new start in religion,” writes Whitehead, “you must be content to wait a thousand years.”78


1 Perhaps even post-apocalyptic. See Sam Mickey’s attempt to “compost” the territorialized “postal discourses” of disintegral thought in his dissertation, Philosophy for a Planetary Civilization: On the Verge of Integral Ecology, (2012), 321cf [http://search.proquest.com/docview/1017705422?accountid=25260 (accessed 12/17/2012)].

2 Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York: The Free Press, 1929/1978), 207.

3 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 74.

4 Joshua Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal (London: Duke University Press, 2012), 2.

5 See Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 6: There exists a “general academic-philosophical prejudice against the threatening proximity of intuitive, mystical, or even simply more emotional modes of mind to the cold calculations of pure reason…”

6 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 42.

7 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 38, 89, 177.

8 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 202.

9 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 72.

10 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 7: “The chief error in philosophy is overstatement.”

11 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 107-109.

12 Isabelle Stengers, Thinking With Whitehead (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 443.

13 Stengers, Thinking With Whitehead, 443.

14 Peter Hallward, Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation (London: Verso Books, 2006); quoted in Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 226n9.

15 Stengers, Thinking With Whitehead, 272.

16 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 275.

17 Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: The Free Press, 1938/1968), 105.

18 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 343.

19 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925/1960), 192. The contemplative conception of God as unmoved mover is obviously not as crude; what it lacks is the emotional and moral intensity required to engender religious vision.

20 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 43.

21 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 19.

22 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 343.

23 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 45. 

24 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 74. 

25 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 53. 

26 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, transl. Paul Patton(London: Continuum, 1994/2004), 139.

27 Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 13.

28 Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 16.

29 Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 16-17.

30 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 192.

31 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 193.

32 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 191-192.

33 Stengers, Thinking With Whitehead, 133.

34 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 191.

35 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 45.

36 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 49-50.

37 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 51.

38 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 37.

39 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 3.

40 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 61.

41 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 22, 28.

42 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 79.

43 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 203. 

44 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 69. 

45 These Christological concepts can be read in parallel to Deleuze and Guattari’s geophilosophical concepts of “reterritorialization” and “deterritorialization” (What Is Philosophy?, 69-70).

46 John 1:14.

47 John 1:5.

48 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 69. 

49 Galations 2:20.

50 Matthew 5:44.

51 Matthew 6:10.

52 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1933/1961), 161.

53 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 166; Process and Reality, 343.

54 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 172.

55 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 166.

56 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 166.

57 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 160.

58 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 167.

59 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 167-169.

60 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 169.

61 Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, Ch. 4: “The Overturning of Platonism,” 112cf.

62 See Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” section 51.

63 Journal entry, Oct. 1845.

64 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 39.

65 Ironically, of course, as Plato was himself a prolific author.

66 Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (London: Continuum, 2006), 56n8.

67 Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 118.

68 Deleuze, “Mathesis, Science, and Philosophy,” foreword to Johann Malfatti de Montereggio, Mathesis, Or Studies on the Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge (Paris: Editions Du Griffon D’Or, 1946), 147.

69 Phaedrus, 276c-277a.

70 Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 21-22.

71 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 216; Curiously, Christian esotericist Rudolf Steiner says almost the same thing: “The chief characteristic of ordinary thinking is that each single act of thinking injures the nervous system, and above all, the brain; it destroys something in the brain. Every thought means that a minute process of destruction takes place in the cells of the brain. For this reason sleep is necessary for us, in order that this process of destruction may be made good; during sleep we restore what during the day was destroyed in our nervous system by thinking. What we are consciously aware of in an ordinary thought is in reality the process of destruction that is taking place in our nervous system” (Lecture: 1st May, 1913; http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/OccSciOccDev/19130501p01.html [accessed 12/16/2012]).

72 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 121.

73 Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 125.

74 Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 89.

75 Deleuze, “Mathesis, Science, and Philosophy,” 143.

76 Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze, 98.

77 Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (London: Continuum, 1990/2004), 102; see also Ramey’s discussion of Cusa’s anthropocosmic Christology (The Hermetic Deleuze, 236n29).

78 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 172.



Deleuze, Gilles. “Mathesis, Science, and Philosophy,” foreword to Johann Malfatti de Montereggio, Mathesis, Or Studies on the Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge (Paris: Editions Du Griffon D’Or, 1946).

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. What is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

Deleuze, Gilles Difference and Repetition, transl. Paul Patton (London: Continuum, 1994/2004).

Deleuze, Gilles. The Logic of Sense (London: Continuum, 1990/2004).

Grant, Iain Hamilton. Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (London: Continuum, 2006).

Hallward, Peter. Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation (London: Verso Books, 2006).

Ramey, Joshua. The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal (London: Duke University Press, 2012).

Stengers, Isabelle. Thinking With Whitehead (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Whitehead, A. N. Science and the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925/1960).

Whitehead, A. N. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York: The Free Press, 1929/1978).

Whitehead, A. N. Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1933/1961).

Whitehead, A. N. Modes of Thought (New York: The Free Press, 1938/1968).

Towards a Christological Realism: Thinking the Correlation with Teilhard and Barfield


Quentin Meillassoux‘s lucid text, After Finitude (2008), comes at a time when Continental philosophy finds itself engaging more closely with what might be called  “poetico-religious” modes of thought. Rationality of the Cartesian sort has been thoroughly deconstructed, and no longer seems capable of providing what it once promised: a clear and distinct picture of the substance of the world as it exists outside and independent of the human soul. Meillassoux admits that Cartesianism seems to have become “irrevocably obsolete” (AF, p. 29), since, following Kant’s transcendental critique of the ontological argument (that the necessity of a concept for thought does not prove its existence in fact), the theological basis of Descartes’ knowledge of the ‘in-itself’ has been dissolved. Two centuries of post-Kantian reflection have carried his critique of our organ of knowledge even further, pointing to, among other things, the constitutive role of language for thought and the evolutionary origins of consciousness as factors severely limiting, if not outright denying, philosophy’s access to the Absolute. Whatever Reason, or Logos, is, contemporary philosophy has made it all but impossible to conceive of it in abstraction from the body and its cosmohistorical origins.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was well aware of the need to conceive of the cosmos and the soul in less dualistic terms, and did not shy away from rejecting religious dogmatisms that could not be squared with the findings of 20th century natural science. Neither were these conditions lost on Owen Barfield, who argued throughout his life that Romanticism’s poetico-religious conception of humanity’s relation to nature and divinity can and must “come of age” in our era. For him, “imagination,” the favored organ of Romantics, referred not to “the faculty of inventing fictions,” but rather that which,

at its highest level…[inherits] and [continues] the divine creative activity of the Logos,…the common origin of human language and consciousness, as well as the world which contains them (RM, p. 20).

Meillassoux argues formidably against such a “return of the religious,” lamenting that “the contemporary philosopher has completely capitulated to the man of faith,” since post-Kantian modes of thought have forced upon him the conclusion that, “if there is an ultimate truth, only piety can provide it, not thought” (AF, p. 47). A truly adequate response to Meillassoux in light of Barfield’s and Teilhard’s Christologies would require a longer study than I can provide in this short essay. My aim is to begin opening a few sites of inquiry into the poetico-religious mode Meillassoux so sharply, and perhaps unfairly, criticized by supplementing this mode’s seemingly pietistic justifications with a logic of incarnation. Faith need not be contrary to logic; rather, faith may be that which opens logic to being.

Beyond an Abstract Absolute

Though it is the Copernican revolution that Meillassoux marks as the decisive moment for modern philosophy—that moment when, following Kant, philosophy was led “to conceive of [the Copernican] de-centering in terms of thought’s unprecedented centrality relative to this same world” (AF, p. 118)—it was not until the end of the 18th century that the sciences of deep time began to reveal the paradox of ancestrality underlying his critique of post-Kantian correlationism. “By ‘correlation,’” writes Meillassoux, “we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other” (AF, p. 5). The force of the paradox of ancestrality articulated by Meillassoux consists in the fact that, according to the empirico-mathematical claims of geologists and astrophysicists, there is an asymmetrical relation between the being of the world and the world’s being thought, since a material substance of some kind must have existed prior to the emergence of either sentient life or conscious creatures capable of reflecting upon it. Being, therefore, precedes thought. But how could this be so? Short of hypostasizing the correlation, such that a Universal Mind is deemed to have been present to witness the accretion of the earth and the formation of life, it seems that the scientific understanding of cosmic evolution requires breaking the “correlational circle” tying consciousness and cosmos together. This break, according to Meillassoux, would release thought from its solipsistic contemplation of a “cloistered outside”—“an outside in which we’re trapped, only ever finding the correlates of our own acts of consciousness and language” (CAO, p. 6). A “Great Outdoors” might thereby be revealed to consciousness that is not only external to it, but persists entirely independent of it, existing ‘in-itself’ for no one and, even more radically, for no reason. Meillassoux’s Absolute is absolute precisely in that, though it is thinkable, it is indifferent to the light of Logos. It is omnipotent Chaos.

There are post-Kantian alternatives to Meillassoux’s experiment in thinking the Absolute independent of the correlation. Instead of locating the Absolute in an impersonal being outside of and indifferent to human consciousness, I will, with inspiration from Barfield and Teilhard, Christologize the Absolute by attempting to articulate how the ‘in-itself’ can become for us. A clearer picture of the problems of contemporary philosophy will be painted by situating it within the larger cosmohistorical arc of the evolution of consciousness, approaching the Absolute via a logic of incarnation. An incarnational logic challenges both the notion that the Absolute might be grasped through a formal or mathematical proof and the notion that irrational belief alone, no matter how fervent, might be enough to secure it. The realization of the Absolute as Christ demands the participation of the full suite of human faculties, including thinking, feeling, and willing. The philosophical pursuit of the Absolute is as much a theoretical as a practical and aesthetic adventure, since the mere thought of the Absolute would be empty unless this thought was correlative to a transformed perception of the world and carried with it a renewed moral calling to redeem it. In Christ, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful each participate, such that through the logic of incarnation Christ transforms not only our conceptual, but also our perceptual and physical registers of reality.

Teilhard’s Christological Science

“Until the dawn of the present era,” writes Teilhard,

one could say that man still had the illusion of living ‘in the open air’ in a universe that was penetrable and transparent. At that time there was no hard and fast boundary, and all sorts of exchanges were possible between the here below and the beyond, between heaven and earth, between relative and absolute…Then, with the rise of science, we saw the gradual spreading over everything of a sort of membrane that our knowledge could not penetrate (AE, p. 186).

The “dawn of the present era” can be equated with the beginning of post-Kantian thought. The impenetrable membrane can then be read as the transcendental limits Kant placed on human cognition. “I have found it necessary,” wrote Kant, “to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” After the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), it was no longer possible to access the beyond, or to participate directly in the angelic ecology tying heaven and earth together, since any supposed knowledge of things or beings outside the pre-established categories of the understanding and our sensory experience of time and space became but a transcendental illusion. The divine was no longer the source and telos of human concern for reality, but a regulative idea of practical reason—a possibility to be willed or believed in, but not a necessity deducible by the understanding or a being graspable by the senses.

Teilhard recognized and championed the post-Kantian discoveries of the new sciences of geology, biology, and astrophysics. But rather than accepting the Kantian or Cartesian paradigms that would wall off the conscious soul of man from the mechanisms of a soulless universe, Teilhard emphasized the extent to which the curvature of the universe is both geometric and psychic: out of the core of our own soul there grow fibers reaching back into the fabric of space-time itself. While Descartes would have us “irrevocably imprisoned” in a “thinking bubble,” Teilhard saw in the still maturing center of the human psyche evidence of the latest phase in a universal process of convergence underway throughout the organic and inorganic cosmos (AE, p. 189). For him, human thought is the result of a billion year yearning of the ‘without’ for the ‘within.’ He saw consciousness as the latest product of the axis of evolution toward deeper interiorization, the most recent rebirth of the whole (macrocosm) in the center (microcosm). To the adequately prepared subject, apparent in the cosmogenetic phenomenon revealed by science is also an anthropogenesis: “we are not an element lost in the cosmic solitudes…within us a universal will to live converges and is hominized” (HP, p. 7). The cosmos implies the anthropos for Teilhard, as though it were ‘finely-tuned’ just so as to eventually become conscious of itself. This is a perspective Meillassoux must reject not because it is anthropocentric, but because of his denial of causality in nature: there is no tuning at all, no self-organization, only what he calls the “stabilist illusion of sensible becoming” characterizing our shortsighted experience of empirical constants (AF, p. 83). Teilhard would agree that thinking about the universe in terms of fixed laws was shortsighted, since in an evolving cosmos, thresholds of complexity can be reached that irreversibly transform ontological and behavioral norms. Once the earth came to life around 4 billion years ago, its geological and atmospheric dynamics were entirely altered. Similarly, after only a few tens of thousands of years of human civilization, the living planet’s dynamics, relatively stable for the majority of its multi-billion year history, have been altered in just as radical a way. But in dismissing fixed causal law with Meillassoux, Teilhard does not then follow him by instating the total reign of chaos. The universe’s punctuated evolution can still be understood as obeying a logic of incarnation, following a general trajectory toward complexity and consciousness through pre-life, to life, to thought. The human species is not the end of cosmic evolution, however, but a potential vessel capable of incarnating the Spirit of Christ on earth. Anthropogenesis is, finally, Christogenesis.

Meillassoux’s speculative materialism emerged out of a phenomenological tradition that originally sought to provide a transcendental defense of human consciousness against any scientific reduction to the merely natural. Phenomenology succeeds in this defense (on some accounts) to the extent that it is able to convincingly reduce the objects of “nature” to their human correlates. Teilhard’s phenomenology takes the reverse approach, plunging into the uncanny depths of space and time to meet the challenge of scientific realism head on.

Though he remains a correlationist of sorts, Teilhard acknowledges the “de-centering” that humanity has suffered because of Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, disorienting us in the universe, in the living world, and even “in the innermost core of [our] own self” (AE, p. 187). No longer positioned at the stationary center of a perfectly ordered cosmos, we are forced to look elsewhere for ultimate meaning, if it is to be found at all. Teilhard’s solution is not to naturalize or to transcendentalize the mystery of being human by reducing us to contingent biological machinery or points of unified apperception, respectively. Instead, he pleads with his reader in the opening pages of The Human Phenomenon to look again at what science has shown us, and “to see or perish.”

Teilhard realized that the flourishing of our species depends upon bringing forth a new, scientifically and spiritually informed cosmological orientation. Civilization is not a given, it is a dangerous adventure that would grind to a halt without the narrative renewal offered by each generation. The phenomenological reduction of the cosmos to consciousness provided him with only momentary condolence, if any at all. “The truth is,” he writes, “that even at the peak of my spiritual trajectory I was never to feel at home unless immersed in an Ocean of Matter” (HM, p. 8). Teilhard attempted to articulate a way forward that is congruent with the axis of things themselves: he called for conscious participation in the convergent movement made evident in the scientific history of our universe.

The emergence of life from matter, and of mind from life, cannot be understood rationally if the universe is “diverging explosively at random” (AE, p. 192). Ours is a living, thinking universe; to deny this is to become trapped in a Cartesian dualism separating the mechanical extension of the non-human from the spiritual intentionality of the human. Teilhard seeks to overcome this split, a split that provided the common metaphysical foundation for the otherwise divergent paths taken by science and phenomenology since the Copernican Revolution. Despite his desire to re-enchant the universe, he recognizes Copernicus’ world-shaking discovery as a “tremendous achievement” that freed human thought from the contemplation of a static cosmos:

With the mere admission of a revolution of the earth around the sun; simply, that is by introducing a dissociation between a geometric and psychic center to things—the whole magic of the celestial spheres fade away, leaving man confronted with a plastic mass to be re-thought in its entirety. It was like the caterpillar whose substance (apart from a few rare cerebral elements) dissolves, as its metamorphosis draws near, into a more or less amorphous product: the revised protoplasmic stuff from which the butterfly will emerge (AE, p. 254).

What makes Teilhard’s correlationism unique is his evolutionary perspective. Both the universe and human consciousness are historical processes with a common origin. A transformation in one is always already a transformation in the other. It takes only a bit of speculative imagination to recognize that the cosmohistorical unfolding of the correlation is progressive and convergent. “The human is not the static center of the world, as was thought for so long,” writes Teilhard, “but the axis and the arrow of evolution—which is much more beautiful” (HP, p. 7).

The Copernican, Darwinian, and Freudian discoveries need not be read as disorienting blows to human or cosmic significance. Rather, they are heralds of Omega, of the convergent end toward which all creation tends. By dissolving the ancient division between the fallen terrestrial and divine celestial realms, modern science completed the historical process of spiritual incarnation.

After a million years of reflection, there is a dynamic meeting in the consciousness of man between heaven and earth at last endowed with motion, and from it there emerges not simply a world that manages to survive but a world that kindles into fire (AE, p. 280).

The Logic of Incarnation

Meillassoux writes of the necessity of incarnation for the transcendental subject: “Granted, the transcendental is the condition for knowledge of bodies, but it is necessary to add that the body is also the condition for the taking place of the transcendental” (AF, p. 25). He goes on to conclude that subjectivity is instantiated, rather than exemplified, by the body, meaning that embodiment is the “non-empirical condition of [thought’s] taking place” (ibid.). Without the body, there could be no such thing as thinking, and so no human being. Teilhard would not disagree, but would add that it is precisely in the reflective, or transcendental, consciousness emerging from the complexity of the human cardio-metabolic-nervous system that the divine finds a suitable portal into the phenomenal world. For God to become man through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ requires a true mediation of the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the temporal, the spiritual and the material. The human being has the potential, through the development of transcendental consciousness, to participate in the incarnation of the Word, since only by “taking place at the heart of the world” (ibid.), by living and dying as a physical creature, can the Creator instantiate his eternal love for creation. To love infinitely, God first had to become finite, to enter the horizon of the world. Jesus was not a heavenly example sent by God for men to poorly imitate, but the first historical manifestation of the, until then, dormant Christ-impulse dwelling within the human being. Christ “was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2), but in becoming flesh and walking among us, also carries God into the present and brings hope for the future redemption of earth. God’s omnipotence makes possible the incarnation by “dissolving the apparent contradiction between His complete identity and His difference with His Son” (AF, p. 41). Meillassoux argues that the mystical register within which this statement, and the incarnation itself, is meaningful depends upon the hypostatization of the correlation, such that the possibility of incarnation is justifiable or dismissible not due to the facts of the world ‘in itself,’ as depicted by reason and science, but rather due to the sublime fact that there is a world ‘for us’ at all, a world that carries with it at least the potential for beauty and goodness.

Theology, after Kant, became speculative reflection upon the transcendental conditions of creation, a “faith seeking understanding” (Aquinas: “fides quaerens intellectum”) of creation’s sufficient reason. For Meillassoux, such reflection is fallacious, since, he argues, it is thinkable that the world has come to be for no reason. The world is no more significant, despite its potential for aesthetic and moral order, than any of the evidently contingent facts occurring daily within it. Meillassoux’s “principle of unreason” is a result of his conception of the Absolute as Chaos, a being of pure power without desires or ideals. Teilhard’s picture of the universe is not without chaos, since his vision of evolution leaves room for the local randomness of evolutionary groping. But instead of ignoring or marginalizing cosmos in favor of chaos, Teilhard accounts for the global arc cosmogenesis by understanding it as the gradual incarnation of the Logos into matter through the power of love. Even upon meeting the seemingly absurd resistance of death, love is able to transform it into the necessary condition of the world’s redemption. In this sense, the love at work in the logic of incarnation is impossible to understand absent the “logic of extinction.”

Without becoming mortal, a disembodied divine being has no need of love, since no separation exists between it and another. Death, then, is the condition for the possibility of agape, or divine love. The power of God is in the service of the wisdom and love of Christ, without whom the creation would spiral blindly into chaos. The logic of incarnation brings Logos into mortal flesh, giving meaning even to death and extinction, since it is only by confronting the possibility of annihilation that the true significance of life becomes apparent. On Teilhard’s reading of the cosmological, geological, and biological evidence, in the human, the universe has grown a heart and a mind and is now evolving consciously into the Omega toward which it has always already been bending.

The Logic of Extinction

“The will to know,” according to Ray Brassier, Meillassoux’s translator, “is driven by the traumatic reality of extinction” (NU, p. 239). Even if consciousness survives in some form 4.5 billion years from now, the inevitable death of the sun will annihilate any life still remaining on earth. Acknowledging the truth of extinction, for Brassier, means not only accepting that consciousness will not be, but that it already is not: “the subject of philosophy must recognize that he or she is already dead.” Brassier argues, against Nietzsche, that despite life being the precondition of thought, the former cannot be privileged over the latter without underestimating the profundity of the challenge posed to life by the will to know (NU, p. 222). Even if life’s only meaning is to survive, knowledge of extinction eradicates even this minimal sense of purpose. There is no reason for conscious life, according to Brassier, since, following Meillassoux, he reads post-Copernican science as having ratified the diachronicity of thinking and being, exposing thought’s contingency for being: “although thought needs being, being does not need thought” (NU, p. 85).

Meillassoux argues, as we’ve seen, that post-Kantian philosophy has failed to fully reckon with the scientifically verified (or at least not yet falsified) asymmetry between being and thought, or the universe and consciousness. He coined the term “correlationism” to mark the philosopheme operative in all thinking that denies the possibility either of a universe that existed in itself prior to consciousness or that might exist in itself after the extinction of consciousness. That consciousness has emerged is an entirely contingent fact with no underlying reason whatsoever, according to this scheme.

So long as we believe that there must be a reason why what is, is the way it is, we will continue to fuel superstition, which is to say, the belief that there is an ineffable reason underlying all things (AF, p. 82).

Such a belief in reason (or in meaning), according to Meillassoux, is logically unnecessary, since there is no reason that reason must be ontologically foundational. Leibniz’ principle of sufficient reason only follows from the belief in a perfect and eternal God whose essence is to exist, and who could not but create the best of all possible worlds. Meillassoux, in contrast, seeks an absolute that is unreasonable because purely chaotic, and argues that nothing is necessary, not God, consciousness, or even the endurance of scientifically verified physical laws. In other words, everything is contingent, and this contingency is not merely a transcendental statement concerning the limits of human understanding and experience, but a speculative statement about the nature of reality itself. For Meillassoux, asking “why is there something, rather than nothing?” is not a silly or unanswerable question: the answer is “no reason.” This is Meillassoux’s “principle of unreason,” a result of thinking through the logic of extinction without also discovering its corollary, the logic of incarnation. He attempts to devise an argument to dispel the sense of wonder provoked by Leibniz’ question in order to prevent the eclipsing of philosophy by religion. But the wonder persists, since consciousness continues to find itself alive to wonder where it has come from and where it shall go. The dialogue between philosophy and religion therefore continues.

Barfield and Participation

“I believe,” writes Barfield,

that the blind-spot which posterity will find most startling in the last hundred years or so of Western civilization, is, that it had, on the one hand, a religion which differed from all others in its acceptance of time, and of a particular point in time, as a cardinal element in its faith; that it had, on the other hand, a picture in its mind of the history of the earth and man as an evolutionary process; and that it neither saw nor supposed any connection whatever between the two (SA, p. 167).

Barfield is best known for his articulation of the evolution of consciousness, which is a concept subtler than the history of ideas usually offered in its stead. The former is not simply concerned with the progress of thought generated as each age responds to the problems of its predecessors, but with a change at the level of perception, and indeed a transformation in how the world itself is brought forth for consciousness. Like Teilhard, Barfield is an unabashed correlationist who directly confronts the difficulties spelled out by Meillassoux. Meillassoux suggests that, precisely to the extent that he has been “de-Christianized” by rejecting the “metaphysical pretension that [the Christian] belief system [is] superior to all others,” the inheritor of the Western tradition has opened the door to the complete relativization of truth (AF, p. 48). In our post-secular, post-Kantian context, according to Meillassoux, all belief systems are equally legitimated as potential paths to the Absolute, so long as they don’t claim to be rational.

Instead of rejecting the structure of history as revealed in Christianity, Barfield recognizes the way in which the emergence of the scientific method is itself the result of the logic of incarnation. The world alienation and disenchantment brought about following the Scientific Revolution are not the nullification of the Christian mythos, but the culmination of Spirit’s fall into matter. If Barfield is right, in the future, it will become “impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the incarnation of the Word” (SA, p. 164).

The contingent origins of mind out of life, and life out of matter, are the crux of Meillassoux argument for the priority of being in relation to thought. Barfield is well aware of the paradoxes of ancestrality, but instead of making non-sense of them by breaking the correlational circle, he opens up a more coherent possibility. Even the most devout scientific materialists (for whom the Kantian counter-revolution may as well never have occurred) are forced to employ a “crypto-noetic” vocabulary in order to overcome the absurdity of a “pre-perceptual past” (WA, p. 165). “Information” is now an indispensable concept for physicists and biologists alike; “decision-making” capacities are attributed to sub-atomic particles; chemical activity is said to follow order-generating “rules.” This hidden correlationism within science itself makes suspect Meillassoux’s evocation of the scientific perspective in order to secure his speculative materialist argument.

From a Barfieldian perspective, if after all secondary, or subjective qualities, are removed from matter, only number (or, if you like, “information”) remains, then materialists have no reason to believe that earth, prior to life and thought, existed in anything like the solid, physical state it today appears to be in. Solidity becomes as much a secondary quality as color, sound, or value. To his credit, Meillassoux does not insist on extension or solidity when referring to matter for similar reasons, but only to its mathematical properties. But he fails to realize the implications of this admission. Given that the physicality (or spatial extension) of matter is no longer essential to it, what reason does the materialist have for insisting on the physical origins of consciousness? The body may be necessary for our kind of consciousness without being its sufficient condition. If what we call matter is really the result of the underlying numerical relations between unseen dynamic forces, does this not imply the reality of some disembodied consciousness capable of holding these relations, or ideas, in mind? Meillassoux explicitly denies this possibility: “we know nothing of [an] eternal or disembodied subject” (CAO, p. 3); but his logic seems nonetheless to rest on such an eternal subject’s reality.

In the way that Barfield describes the evolution of consciousness, the relevant question is no longer “how did matter make consciousness?” but rather, “how did consciousness ever come to be so intimately tied up with matter?” (WA). This shift in emphasis is a result of Barfield’s thoroughly participatory approach, which has it that being exists for thought, and vice versa, not in a relation of asymmetrical dependence but of co-creative evolution. From this perspective, Copernicus’ heliocentric insight represents not simply “a new idea of the relation between man and nature [or thinking and being],” but rather “an idea of the new relation between them” (WA, p. 178).  The Copernican de-centering of human consciousness in relation to the cosmos was not simply a scientific correction of a primitive age’s misperception; it was thought entering into a new, mutually transforming relationship with being, thereby ushering in a new epoch in the history of the world.

The Scientific Revolution in some sense represents the climax of the evolution of consciousness, that historical moment when Spirit first fully recognized its distinctness from matter. Descartes is perhaps the most articulate thinker to experience the tremendous existential force of this new condition by ontologically separating the res cogitans from the res extensa. The separation was so radical that it seemed all but impossible to understand how the two might relate, leading Kant to declare that knowledge of the supersensible conditions underlying thought was impossible, not only in fact, but in principle. By articulating the transcendental conditions of knowledge, Kant created a situation in which Spirit could only enter further into the body and the world in pursuit of a solution to its dualistic situation.

If we are able to inquire into Spirit’s, or consciousness’, situation as Barfield was, we realize that

We are not studying some so-called “inner” world, divided off, by a skin or a skull, from a so-called “outer” world; we are trying to study the world itself from its inner aspect. Consciousness is not a tiny bit of the world stuck on to the rest of it. It is the inside of the whole world (HGH, p. 18).

As all philosophers since Kant, Barfield is unable to conceive of the physical world independent of the participation of consciousness in its evocation (SA, p. 12). As modern science has forced us to expand our understanding of the universe, philosophy and religion have been forced to intensify the reach of the human spirit.


In the final pages of Owen Barfield’s fictional dialogue, World’s Apart, the narrator (Burgeon, a philologist) shares a letter from one of the seven other participants (Hunter, a theologian) received a week after their wide-ranging conversation had ended. Along with thanking Burgeon for organizing a successful experiment in cross-disciplinary conversation (in which an engineer, a physicist, a teacher, a biologist, an analytic philosopher, and a psychiatrist also took part), Hunter shared a strange and obscure dream that was provoked by the discussion. The dream involved three distinct humanoid figures that appeared and disappeared in turn, each bearing their own verbal message. The first had a round box with two holes in it for a head, with “light blazing out of its eye-holes in all directions” (p. 275). The words “Subjective Idealism” were associated with this figure. The second figure had the head of a lion with an emphatic mane that spread out, ray-like, in a way emblematic of the sun. Associated with this figure were the words “The Key of the Kingdom.” The third and final figure appeared without any head at all, carrying only the message “The Kingdom.” “In spite of the touch of alarm,” concludes Hunter, “the whole dream, from beginning to end was somehow “like a breeze blowing from excellent places, bearing health” (p. 276).

The dream, though enigmatic, would seem to be a symbolic summation of Barfield’s entire philosophy. The contemporary thinker must begin his or her pursuit of Wisdom from within, as a free individual mind (Subjective Idealism). This subjective beginning is then strengthened by the Christ-impulse (The Key to the Kingdom), transforming its inward light into the light of the universe. Finally, the individual mind is entirely taken up and absorbed into the eternal life of a redeemed cosmos (The Kingdom).

The dream sequence reveals the Christological foundation of Barfield’s thinking. For him, the truth of reality, if there be one, is revealed in Christ. Philosophy without Christ can think only the skeleton of the Absolute, leaving the blood and guts of the world in the margins of its treatises. Without the logic of incarnation (which is both a practice and a theory), spirit is unable to reconcile itself with sensation or gain the reign of its will, and though in thought it may grasp the formal structure of the thing-in-itself, it cannot feel its warmth or see its light. Faith need not be in opposition to knowledge, for is that movement that prepares and opens the soul to the incarnation of the Logos.

Works Cited

  1. Barfield, Owen. History, Guilt, Habit. 1979. The Barfield Press: San Rafael, CA.
  2. Barfield, Owen. The Rediscovery of Meaning. 1977. The Barfield Press: San Rafael, CA.
  3. Barfield, Owen. Saving the Appearances. 1988. Wesleyan University Press: Middletown, CT.
  4. Barfield, Owen. World’s Apart. 2010. Barfield Press: Oxford, UK.
  5. Brassier, Ray. Nihil Unbound. 2010. Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire, UK.
  6. Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude. 2009. Continuum International Publishing Group: New York, NY.
  7. Meillassoux, Quentin. “Contingency and the Absolutization of the One.” 2010. A lecture delivered at the Sorbonne for a symposium called “Metaphysics, Ontology, Henology.”
  8. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. Activation of Energy. 1978. William Collins Sons: London, UK.
  9. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Heart of Matter. 1978. Williams Collins and Sons: London, UK.
  10. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon. 1999. Sussex Academic Press: Portland, OR.

Religion and the Modern World: Towards a Naturalistic Panentheism

Religion and the Modern World: Towards a Naturalistic Panentheism

“Dear people, let the flower in the meadow show you how to please God and be beautiful at the same time. —The rose does not ask why. It blooms because it blooms. It pays no attention to itself nor does it wonder if anyone sees it.” –Angelus Silesius (1624-1677), Cherubinic Wanderer, 1:288-289


The last century has arguably brought more change to the Earth, measured either in terms of increased complexity (of culture and consciousness), or in terms of entropy release (as pollution), than any other 100-year period in the biosphere’s history. Human civilization, and the disenchanted technoscientific way of life which has come to dominate it, is largely responsible for this rapid transformation. Whether it be the population explosion and global poverty, the continuing threat of nuclear war, civil rights, feminist, and other social justice movements, peak oil, or the ecological crisis, ours’ is a world with much at stake for whom the fast approaching future may just as easily bring tragedy or triumph, or perhaps equal doses of each.

In such an unstable and uncertain context as this, how is humanity to orient itself cosmologically, and in the service of what ideals is it to direct its spiritual aspirations? These are not peripheral questions—they inevitably burn in the hearts of every individual faced with the aforementioned chaos. Answering them in an integral enough way so as to overcome political divisiveness while at the same time avoiding the subsumption of cultural difference is essential to assuring the future flourishing of our species and the planet. The possibility of a planetary civilization rests upon re-inventing our complex human identity, such that it is inclusive of our origins as embodied earthlings and our destiny as immortal spirits.

Whether our aim is scientific investigation of the cosmos, or religious worship of the divine, sooner or later we are going to have to articulate a conception of human nature. Are we creatures of God, or products of Nature? Or, is there an alternative conception of humanity (of God, of Nature) that overcomes this false dichotomy? The following essay is my attempt to provide such an alternative: an integral anthropology, or theory of the human, that is neither exclusively theological nor cosmological. After Raimon Pinnikar, my approach in what follows might be called “cosmotheandric,” in that I am attempting to tell a story about human origins and destiny that does justice to our traditional spiritual intuitions and is adequate to our modern scientific realizations. Contemporary debates, especially in popular media outlets, tend to collapse the complexity of the science/religion dialectic into easily digestible slogans derived from the most extreme ends of the spectrum of opinion. The cosmological options are typically dichotomously construed as atheistic scientific naturalism vs. literalistic creationism. These are not the only options. Before moving into a discussion of a third option emerging out of Alfred North Whitehead‘s naturalistic panentheism, I will provide an example the popular discourse that surrounds these issues.

Religion in the News

The power of religious and cultural ideology, according to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is the single most important issue facing human civilization in the 21st century. During a recent debate in Toronto with author, Christopher Hitchens, Blair cautioned against the wholesale desire to rid the world of religious belief:

“The 20th century was a century scarred by visions that had precisely that imagining at their heart, [giving] us Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot. In this vision, obedience to the will of God was for the weak, it was the will of man that should dominate.”

Hitchens, an outspoken atheist, argued that the divide between religion and philosophy is foundational. For him, reason and faith, scientific skepticism and scriptural sanctification, are unambiguously opposed ideals. Not the will of God, but basic respect for human dignity ought to be the basis of morality:

“We don’t require divine permission to know right from wrong. We don’t need tablets administered to us ten at a time on pain of death to be able to have a moral argument. No, we have the reasoning and the moral persuasion of Socrates and our own abilities, we don’t need dictatorship to give us right from wrong.”

The crux of the disagreement between Blair and Hitchens seems clear: For Hitchens, our values can and should emerge on the horizontal plane of history out of basic human sympathy and autonomous reason, while for Blair, the nature of Goodness is revealed by a divine authority, inserted into time along the vertical axis of eternity. Hitchens rejects all notions of “celestial dictatorship,” while Blair rejects the hubris that lack of faith in a higher power implies. But, despite their differing emphases, the two men may still be carrying the same cross. It cannot be overlooked that Hitchens, in mentioning Plato’s teacher, Socrates, implicates himself in an idealist tradition of verticality. And Blair, a life-long politician, cannot deny the power of common sympathy and the importance of rational discourse on the horizontal plane.

Both men, it seems, are bound by the interpenetrating axes of time and eternity, the conscience of each of them called to bleed for something larger than their own skin in order to make sense of life. Each is compelled, by reason or revelation, to reach beyond mortality in their measurement of life’s ends. Hitchens, a materialist, argues that modern science has provided an awe-inspiring vision of an immense and mysterious cosmos, but that this awe is more terrifying than edifying. Not divine providence, but suicide by over-expansion is, in Hitchen’s eyes, the true fate of our universe. He does not shy away from suggesting that, without God, our carnal existence is ultimately meaningless but for brief encounters with “the important matter” of what he is willing to call “numinous,” “transcendent,” and “ecstatic.” He desires to clearly distinguish between belief in a “supernatural dictator”—an idea he finds morally and intellectually bankrupt—and the sense of the transcendent and numinous.

On this final point, Hitchens and Whitehead would be in agreement. Traditional notions of an all-powerful extra-cosmic Creator deity capable of entering into and re-directing the causal course of natural events upon a whim do not align with our scientific knowledge, nor for that matter with our moral intuitions of how a benevolent God should behave. An all-powerful deity that does not prevent the evils that are a daily fact of creaturely life cannot also be all-good.

Whitehead, like Blair, is an example of one for whom philosophy and religion are not at odds. As Blair put it, belief in God is for him “clear, insistent, and rational.” The challenge for philosophy is not necessarily to oppose the religious impulse, but to adequately articulate how God and the world are related.

The moral and intellectual arguments that Hitchens marshals against religious belief are not relevant to Whitehead’s philosophy of naturalistic panentheism. Hitchens’ brand of atheism, though it is perhaps a reasonable response to those strands of Abrahamic monotheism that conceive of God in the image of an imperial ruler, nonetheless remains an inadequate cosmological and psychological basis for civilized life. In the next section, I attempt to demonstrate why.

A New View of Religion

“Philosophy attains its chief importance,” according to Whitehead, “by fusing the two, namely, religion and science, into one rational scheme of thought” (p. 15). The revelations of modern science concerning the regularities of nature have made belief in miracles seem antiquated and superstitious, but the religious impulse itself seems to run deeper than the need for magic tricks offering proof of the divine.[1] As Hitchens admits, humanity’s sense of the numinous and transcendent—of “something beyond the material, or not quite consistent with it”—is what distinguishes us from other primates. We are not only the wise, but also the uncanny species. To be human is to participate in both time and eternity, to be embedded in history with an intuition of infinity, our birthright an experience of what Thomas Berry called incendence.

The vast majority of human beings feel compelled to respond to this feeling of incendence religiously, either as evidence of a personal deity (as in the Abrahamic and some Vedic traditions) or as evidence of an impersonal creative plenum or ground of being (as in Buddhism, Taoism, and many indigenous traditions). Whitehead’s dual conception of the ultimate in terms of God and Creativity, respectively, helps us understand these cultural differences, as will be explicated below. A naturalistic panentheism both acknowledges the nearly universal human proclivity to religiosity, and indeed the reality of the divine, while at the same time providing a cosmological picture that satisfies Hitchens’ demands for non-supernatural scientific adequacy.

There are three distinct but related questions that must be considered in order to unpack Whitehead’s speculative scheme: (1) “is there a divine reality (to which experiences of the numinous, transcendent, and ecstatic refer)?”, (2) “do our inherited cultural expressions of this reality pass basic ethical and epistemological tests of adequacy (that is, do these traditions align with our moral and intellectual intuitions)?”, and (3) “is relating and giving voice to the numinous basic to human nature, and therefore to civilized life?”

These three questions correspond to (1) the metaphysical/ontological, (2) the practical/theoretical, and (3) the anthropological relevance of the divine. Each question will be explored in turn.

(1) For many atheists like Hitchens, modern science and philosophy are interpreted to have all but eliminated the need for and evidence of a divine reality. The physical universe is understood to be meaningless and non-teleological, the seemingly “finely-tuned” constants underlying its mathematical regularities deemed entirely accidental. Whitehead, on the other hand, takes the same empirical evidence and interprets it through a more adequate metaphysical lens. Rather than relying upon the notion of randomness to account for the excessive order and harmony of the universe (which, it should be said, is the exact opposite of an explanation), Whitehead’s naturalistic panentheism overcomes the misplaced concreteness[2] that allows abstract entities like “randomness” and dead mechanical “forces” to pass for satisfying causal explanations of natural phenomena. Stepping out of Hitchen’s mechanistic cosmology of explosions, colliding surfaces, and entropy and into Whitehead’s living universe of interpenetrating wholes requires a cognitive and somatic gestalt shift in perception. Whitehead is not just providing a new set of ideas to account for the order of the external world; his metaphysics is an attempt to make perceptible a way of thinking with the cosmos so as to achieve co-presence with and as the Wisdom of an eternal and ever-lasting God. This God is not extra-cosmic, but directly participates in the unfolding of the universe by luring its creative longing toward certain ideals.

“[God] does not create the world,” writes Whitehead,

“he saves it: or, more accurately, he is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness” (PR, p. 346).

Unlike traditional theism, for which the trend toward order “[arises] from the imposed will of a transcendent God,” for Whitehead, these trends arise because “the existents in nature are sharing in the nature of [an] immanent God” (AI, p. 130). The existence of a divine reality is affirmed while avoiding attributing it with the supernatural power to create ex nihilo that has been criticized by many philosophers, including David Hume. Whitehead sought to “add another speaker to that masterpiece,” namely, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (PR, p. 343). Divine causation, rather than being an imposition from outside the natural world based on power alone, instead works within this world based on moral persuasion. It could be argued in summation that, for Whitehead, ours in an ordered and beautiful universe because God desires that it be so, and because all creatures, as participants in God’s nature, tend to grow toward these divine ideals.

Skeptical atheists like Hitchens interpret modern scientific cosmology, specifically Georges Lemaître’s inflationary theory and Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, to have proven beyond much doubt that our species, an interesting but peripheral and accidental twig on the billion year old tree of life, has mysteriously awoken to consciousness in a hapless universe moving inevitably toward heat death.

As Hitchens put it so eloquently, if also partially, during his debate with Blair:

“I come before you as a materialist. If we give up religion, we discover what actually we know already, whether we’re religious or not, which is that we are somewhat imperfectly evolved primates, on a very small planet in a very unimportant suburb of a solar system that is itself a negligible part of a very rapidly expanding and blowing apart cosmic phenomenon.”

Hitchens here emphasizes the absurdity of our purely empirico-physical understanding of the larger cosmos. Based only on sensory observation of primary qualities like mass and motion, and mathematical analysis of them in terms of measurable quantities, the universe reveals no apparent purpose. It is only the poetic indulgence of the human imagination that fools us into believing otherwise.

Whitehead laments the consequences of such a disenchanted perspective on the cosmos:

“The poets are entirely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves [turning] them into odes of self-congratulations on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material endlessly, meaninglessly” (SMW, p. 54).

In responding to Hitchens rather disheartening philosophical interpretation of scientific data concerning the larger cosmos, it would be instructive to recall Whitehead’s statement in the opening pages of Process and Reality that “the chief error in philosophy is overstatement” (p. 7). The mechanistic materialism that was born during the Scientific Revolution has proven immensely useful for technological endeavors, but in attempting to give an account of the universe entirely in terms of meaningless matter in motion, it commits what Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. This fallacy concerns the false attribution of concrete actuality to what remain abstract conceptual models.

The philosopher Jean Borella has located the cause of this false attribution in what he terms the “epistemic closure of the concept,” which Wolfgang Smith suggests “consists in the elimination from the concept of everything that proves recalcitrant to linguistic or formal expression” (SM, p. 50). Borella’s analysis is based upon the distinction he makes between language and thought, wherein thought is assigned primacy and language is defined by its supportive and communicative function. The “epistemic closure of the concept” is the very foundation of scientific materialism, because unlike the conceptual thought of the philosopher, for whom maintaining a certain “openness to being” is paramount, the scientist is after exact, formalizable definitions. While the philosopher’s aim is to use concepts in order to achieve a non-discursive contemplative vision of the truth, the scientific materialist “is constrained to reduce phenomena to ‘pure relations,’ that is to say, relations which are independent of the beings which enter into them” (ibid., p. 51). In other words, abstract mathematical formalisms describing the relations between actual occasions obscure the complex reality of those occasions, committing the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Borella explains:

“There is thus [in scientific materialism an identification of] the concept and its object, since the latter is likewise a concept, whereas in philosophical knowing the concept is only a means by which the object is known: essentially transitive, it remains thus ontologically open. The Galilean universe is therefore a universe of object-concepts which move in a conceived space-time” (ibid.).

Although Whitehead’s cosmology challenges many of the same assumptions of Aristotelian physics that Galileo was lead to criticize, he nonetheless recognized that mechanistic accounts of natural phenomena couldn’t be the whole story. The Galilean approach, though it provides for a great deal of prediction and control of non-living matter, does so at the expense of a comprehensive, qualitative account of the cosmos as a whole (which includes the more-than-physical phenomena of life and intelligence).

While for a materialist like Hitchens, cosmic inflation suggests only a dead universe whose random and fleeting order is destined to evaporate into nothing, for a panentheist like Whitehead, “…the expansion of the universe…is the first meaning of ‘organism’” (PR, p. 215). Like Plato before him, Whitehead recognizes in the macrocosmic processes something analogous to the growth and development of a living thing.

Similarly, while for Hitchens the doctrine of evolution implies that organic life is a directionless wandering motivated only by the desire to survive the blind selection of an uncaring external world, for Whitehead “the whole point of the modern doctrine is the evolution of the complex organisms from antecedent states of less complex organisms,” wherein the more complex organisms represented stages of “emergent value” (SMW, p. 107). In other words, if Darwin’s evolutionary theory is non-teleological, then it is an incomplete theory, since the history of the universe, both beyond and upon our planet, clearly displays a tendency toward greater states of organizational complexity. Of course, Darwin was only trying to account for the process of speciation among plants and animals on Earth, not for that among the microscopic organisms studied by particle physics (electrons, protons, atoms, etc.). But even among earthly bodies, if mere survival were the only game in town, matter would have been quite content to remain in the mineral state. Why trouble itself with the challenges of eating and procreation if life as a rock would have sufficed?

Whitehead’s evolutionary cosmology, besides avoiding the bifurcation of nature into organic v. inorganic, attributes the experience of “enjoyment” to all enduring forms of order that arise amidst the cosmic process. Organisms do not just stoically endure their existence by responding passively to the harsh givens of their environment; they feel compelled to take the speculative risks necessary to deepen their experience and enjoyment of existence.  Evolution is the story of the great successes of speculation of countless generations of diverse organisms to come before us upon this planet and within this universe. Every moment of our human experience as organized beings—as cosmotheandric organisms—inherits a relevant past billions of years in the making. Our human bodies are the accumulated achievements of the decisions of ancient bacteria. Within the nucleus of bacteria are the accumulated achievements of primordial hydrogen atoms who suffered a transmutation into heavier elements within the core of a prior generation of stars. Life seeks not just survival, but an increase in the intensity of its enjoyment, which is to say a refinement of the contrasts available within experience for conceptual valuation. In short, the more capable an organism is of perceiving and expressing truth, goodness, and beauty, the more evolved it is. The desire to move toward the end of heightened experience is described by Whitehead as an adventure of ideas. This desire, or Eros (divine lure), is the reason for evolution from simplicity to complexity. Deeper beauty, purer truth, and greater goodness are the ends of Eros.

The metaphysical background of modern scientific cosmology, as brought to the surface and articulated by Hitchens, is an overstatement based on a narrow range of facts. His conclusions about human nature and the fate of the universe, though rightfully rid of supernaturalism, represent an inadequate appraisal of the full spectrum of evidence available to human experience. Purpose is not simply a human contrivance, but can be seen and felt at work throughout the universe. The excessive harmony and upward trend toward complexity evident in our universe testify to the presence of an immanent divine lure. The epistemic closure of scientific materialism occludes one’s view of the presence of these trends, such that the clear, formal definitions of an abstract system come to replace our immediate perception of a value-rich world.

(2) The notion of a persuasive God working from within the world to bring about the most beauty and goodness that is possible is not entirely without precedent in humanity’s cultural expressions of divinity, but for the vast majority of those practicing within the Abrahamic traditions, the idea probably sounds foreign. Hitchens major criticisms of religion center around the ethical and epistemological inadequacies of orthodox theology, wherein an all-powerful and all-knowing God designs and creates the world from nothing, a world that then somehow falls from grace into sin. In this scenario, according to Hitchens, it seems that God “makes us objects in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well.”

From Whitehead’s perspective, such a cruel picture is clearly an inadequate basis upon which to worship the divine, whose nature, even for orthodox believers, is also supposedly all-loving and all-good. That humanity has, for the most part, poorly depicted the nature of God in its popular cultural expressions is no argument against the reality of the divine. This shortfall demands of us not the abolition of religion, but a more philosophically coherent response to the sense of incendence that makes our species uniquely religious.

“Religion,” says Whitehead,

“is an ultimate craving to infuse into the insistent particularity of emotion that non-temporal generality which primarily belongs to conceptual thought alone” (PR, p. 16).

The role of philosophy, which finds the numinous and transcendent “among the data of experience,” is to weave the particular religious impulses that result from such experiences into some general scheme of thought. Philosophy, without developing a close relationship with religion, would become psychologically ineffectual; and religion, without calling upon philosophy, would sink into emotional tedium. Some “supreme fusion” between the situatedness of particular emotions and the universality of ideas must be effected.

As Whitehead put it,

“The two sides of the [human] organism require a reconciliation in which emotional experiences illustrate a conceptual justification, and conceptual experiences find an emotional illustration” (PR, p. 16).

Through an ideal interplay between the emotions of religion and the concepts of philosophy, Whitehead sought to widen humanity’s moral outlook, so that the interests of individuals might begin to align with the general good (PR, p. 15). Not a culturally exclusive set of doctrines and dogmas violently clung to, but a universal respect for the goodness of life: this is the essence and end of the religious impulse for Whitehead.

As was shown in answering question (1), Whitehead’s God is not all-powerful in the traditional sense, nor is God entirely transcendent. The evils of the world-process are suffered as much by God as by finite creatures, since God is in effect the soul of the universe. God is understood to be the original creature of Creativity, its “primordial, non-temporal accident” (PR, p. 7). Creativity is “the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact” (PR, p. 21), and also “that ultimate notion of the highest generality at the base of actuality” (PR, p. 31). The true omnipotence of God is expressed, not as the ability to alter events from an unaffected state beyond the universe, but as the ability to remember and incorporate for all eternity the character of each and every actual occasion as it arose from and receded into the flux of the creative process. God perpetually unifies the ongoing cosmic process by providing the initial aims and perceiving the final results of the concrescence of all finite creatures, including the universe itself. God is the assurance of permanence amidst the unstable dynamism at the root of reality.

Process is considered ultimate for Whitehead (PR, p. 7), seemingly making it more eminently real than at least God’s primordial nature. But God is complex, relating to the world through more than one face. The consequent nature of God must also be considered, wherein due to interpenetration with time and process, the divine transacts with the actual world to shape and be shaped by its enduring characteristics of order. “Both are in the grip of the ultimate metaphysical ground, the creative advance into novelty,” says Whitehead. “Either of them, God and the World, is the instrument of novelty for the other” (PR, p. 349).

Some non-Western traditions, like Buddhism and Taoism, express the ultimate nature of reality in terms of an impersonal creative principle. Whitehead points out that, by relativizing God’s power in respect to Creativity, his cosmology may seem to have more in common with Indic and Chinese conceptions of the ultimate (PR, p. 7). Creativity, however, can never exist by itself, but only as embodied or exemplified by some actual entity (following Whitehead’s categorical scheme, wherein only res verae are real); God and the World are those actual entities by which creativity is instantiated and made actual (PR, p. 29). Finite creatures never experience Creativity in the absence of its having been characterized by God and worldly actualities (RWS, p. 283). This is not to say that non-theistic religious traditions like Buddhism are incorrect in their assessment of ultimate reality, but that what makes experiences of Śūnyatā, or Emptiness, distinctively religious (because numinous and transcendent) is that “Creativity as prehensively experienced is always characterized by divine attributes” (RWS, p. 284). Even within many Buddhist traditions, Emptiness is characterized as wise and compassionate, which lends support to the notion of God’s participation in all our experience of reality.

If Blair is right, and the sociopolitical power of religion is the most important issue of the coming century, then inter-religious dialogue ought to be our civilization’s most pressing concern. No civilization, according to Whitehead, can continue its adventure in rationality absent a vigorous expression of the human sense of sacredness (MT, p. 120). Without some widespread cultural consensus regarding its nature, the sacred is bound to “retire into a recessive factor in experience” (ibid.). The consequences of such an apparent lack of universal orientation towards the sacred are evidenced by our global society’s increasing dependence upon the marketplace to determine its values. Money and property have overshadowed wisdom and compassion as the measures of individual and communal well-being. The inevitable result of failing to come to general cosmological consensus regarding our species’ spiritual aspirations will be the continued forfeiture of ultimate metaphysical authority to the shallow, entirely relative trends of the consumer economy. Widespread balkanization and the eventual triumph of barbarism seem like the most probable outcomes of this trajectory. Philosophical[3] dialogue across cultures concerning religion is not a mere academic curiosity, but will be the source of the vitality of any continuing civilization humanity may hope to bring forth.

(3) As with all attempts to philosophically assess the ultimate nature of reality, and to determine how civilization ought to orient itself around this reality, a naturalistic panentheism must finally articulate its theory of human nature, or anthropology. Are the transcendent, the numinous, and the ecstatic basic to human experience? Even Hitchens agrees that they are, but still disagrees with Whitehead about how this fundamental feature of human nature is to be interpreted and culturally expressed in religious forms.

For Whitehead, our experience of moral ideals—our conscience—“is the experience of the deity of the universe” (MT, p. 103). The very fact that we can disagree about ethical situations is evidence that some standard of judgment, some intuitive sense of what is just, exists to arbitrate our claims. Disagreements are opportunities to see the world from a wider and more complex perspective, to be more inclusive of differing expressions of the ultimately and incomprehensibly real.[4]

“When the Western world accepted Christianity,” writes Whitehead, “Caesar conquered; and the received text of Western theology was edited by his lawyers” (PR, p. 342). Whitehead goes on to criticize the “idolatry” of what became the Holy Roman Empire, namely its projection of the structure and function of Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rule onto the court of heaven. All the Abrahamic forms of religion that have come to dominate Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East have been infused with tragedy, according to Whitehead, because their willingness to obey tyrannical rule produced histories full of divisiveness and bloodshed (ibid.). “The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar” (ibid.).

Christianity’s Galilean origins also suggest another, humbler possibility, however. Historically realized in the person of Jesus Christ is the great potential hidden in every human heart: the ability “to slowly and in quietness operate by love,” finding enjoyment not in some future reward, but in “the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world” (PR, p. 343). Jesus presents us with a God whose nature is not that of the kings of Earth, ruthless and brusque, but that of a more heavenly patience, able to suffer even death and to wait millennia for the mass of humanity to awaken to his message.

Whether or not human nature is inherently Christ-like, or that of “imperfectly evolved primates,” as Hitchens claims, makes all the difference in the world. In the former case, we are capable of self-transcending love. In the latter, we are limited by our own selfish instinctual desire for pleasure, helping others only in cases where it does not harm ourselves. The contrast between the animal/cosmic and the angelic/spiritual aspect of our nature need not be drawn so starkly, however. As has been shown above, a continuity can be said to exist between God, humanity, and the universe.

“There is a kind of perichoresis, ‘dwelling within one another,’” writes Panikkar, “of these three dimensions of reality: the Divine, the Human, and the Cosmic—the I, the you, and the It” (MFH, p. 214).

Holding in mind Whitehead’s doctrine of divine participation in the becoming of the world, it could be said that within the human being, the cosmos is giving birth to a new God. God, like the cosmos and the human being, is “an incompletion in process of production” (PR, p. 215). The birth, death, and resurrection of Christ could be said to be taking place through the historical awakening of the human spirit to itself and to the divine milieu within which it is embedded. But two thousand years after the presence of the kingdom of heaven was announced as at hand, we are still struggling to develop the ears to hear and eyes to see it.

Poets are perhaps those most immediately aware of the incarnational process unfolding deep within the human soul. Their heightened intuition raises to consciousness the subtler, more obscure dimensions of experience, perhaps approaching the creative skill of divinity in their finest moments of imaginative reverie. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake beautifully expresses the false assumptions of orthodox theology and contrasts them with the true implications of the Word’s becoming flesh:

“All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.

1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True.

1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.”

Blake’s intuition concerning the experiential delight that energy takes in its activity contradicts both materialist interpretations of modern physics, for which energy is the blind ability to do work, and ascetic interpretations of orthodox monotheism, for which instinctual energies are sinful, leading us astray from God. Like Whitehead, his imaginative vision of the human soul’s relationship to the larger cosmos overcomes the bifurcation between the spiritual and the material that runs through so much of Greek philosophy and Middle Eastern theology alike.

The human being, from the panentheist perspective here expressed, is not a peripheral feature of cosmogenesis. Because of the complexity of our organization, we are perhaps unique among earthlings in our ability to attain full consciousness of eternity, and thus also of time. This makes each of our moment-by-moment decisions of special importance to God, for whom complete actuality “must also be understood as a multiplicity of actual components in process of creation” (PR, p. 350). God’s consequent nature is “God in his function of the kingdom of heaven” (ibid.), biding together all living things into a unified cosmos. The excess of creative freedom and degree of appetition achieved by the organization of the human organism means we have a deeper intuition of the primordial nature, and a larger impact upon the consequent nature of God than any other finite creatures (at least on Earth). Human consciousness can potentially come to know God’s ends, and it can rejoice in their continual accomplishment. Not only that, but when we express love and kindness, it allows God’s moral relation to and concrete reality within the world to become that much stronger, just as our expressions of fear and greediness pushes God that much further into irrelevance.

Whitehead’s understanding of human nature is such that both God and the cosmos are of the essence, as a thorough anthropological study inevitably leads to uncovering, challenging, and revising our theological and cosmological pre-suppositions. His is a prime example of a cosmotheandric metaphysics.

Panikkar’s cosmotheandric principle suggests that no account of reality can be complete unless it recognizes the interdependence of the universe, the divine, and the human. Christianity in particular has continued relevance in our age not as pure theology, but as anthropology. This is not because, as in Feuerbach’s philosophy, God is conceived merely as a human projection or ideal. Rather, Christianity is the natural culmination of anthropology, a lotus still sprouting from the murky soil of human civilization. And humanity is similarly the product of a cosmic longing for what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called personalization. To continue the Teilhardian terminology: Cosmogenesis is anthropogenesis, and anthropogenesis is Christogenesis.[5]


A naturalist panentheism does not build its case for the existence and importance of God upon logical or sensori-empirical proofs. Rather, the evidence for God, it can only be suggested, lies for the most part buried in the prediscursive silence of the human heart, which William James proclaimed is “our deepest organ of communication with the nature of things” (TWB, p. 62).

This non-sensuous perception of the divine’s presence in and influence upon the world is the reason for religion. Human beings cannot help but overflow with the desire to worship the Wisdom that has created and shaped the nature of all things. This worship, when ideally expressed, becomes the play of spirit with itself. A planetary awakening to the true, cross-cultural nature of the sacred would require nothing less than the widespread transfiguration of individual consciousness to a form historically experienced only by a few contemplatives and mystics. Given a clear vision of the divine-human-cosmic connection, our civilization may gain the reinvigorated spirit of adventure it so desperately needs.

“God is the fire within me,” writes Angelus Silesius,

“and I am the light in him. Do we not belong to each other intimately? I am as rich as God. There is no grain of dust that I do not have in common with him; dear people, believe me…God loves me above himself. If I love him above myself, I give him as much as he gives me…The bird is in the air, the stone lies on the land, the fish lives in the water, and my spirit is in God’s hand…If you are born of God, then God flowers in you, and his divinity is your sap and adornment” (CW, 1:11-80).

Materialistic anthropology reifies the non-discursive experiential origins of religion, back-grounding its true sources by drawing our attention away from the meaningful ambiguities constituting perceptual reality. It directs us instead to a simplistic definition: “a set of beliefs in the supernatural.” This definition of religion produces epistemic closure, a closure effecting how both contemporary religious and secular people think about their lives and the world. Theories and other verbalizable “beliefs” about reality overshadow and conceal the complex (but still common!) experience of incendence that comes along with being born and dying as a human being.

“Stop!,” continues Silesius,

“What are you chasing after? Heaven is within you. If you are looking for God anywhere else, you will always miss him” (ibid., 1:81-82).

The religious impulse is central to human life and provides the moral foundation for civilization. It is of our nature as human beings to be “spirits in God’s hand,” to be participants in the heavenly economy of love while alive on Earth. The old concept of religion, wherein God is a thing to be believed in, must be re-conceived in light of the cosmotheandric revelation of today: God is a Self to be experienced, and heaven an earthly paradise.

Works Cited

(1) Griffin, David Ray

Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism (2001)

(2) Panikkar, Raimon

Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics (1979)

(3) James, William

The Will to Believe (1956)

(4) Smith, Wolfgang

Science and Myth: What we are Never Told (2010)

(5) Silesius, Angelus

The Cherubinic Wanderer, Vol. 1

(6) Whitehead, Alfred North

Adventures of Ideas (1933)

Modes of Thought (1938)

Process and Reality (1929)

Science and the Modern World (1925)

(7) William James

The Will to Believe (1956)

(8)  Munk Debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair in Toronto, Canada on Nov. 26th, 2010 (transcript)

[1] Matthew 16:4 – “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah.” Matthew 12:40 – “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

[2] This fallacy is explored more thorough on p. 10

[3] “Philosophy is love of the divine Sophia, that is to say, the self-revelation of the Principle itself; it is the desire for the knowledge by which the Absolute knows itself” (Jean Borella, quoted in SM, p. 50).

[4] Reality is “incomprehensible” not because it is irrational, but because reality is ultimately process, forever outrunning its own completion in order to reach toward novelty.

[5] Paul writes in Galatians 6:14 that the world itself was crucified upon the cross, implying that Christ’s Resurrection is also the creation of a new cosmos.


The Spirit of Philosophy

I am passionate about philosophy not because I desire answers to arbitrary questions or explanations of abstract problems. My passion arises because life, as given–as it at first appears to my everyday consciousness–is incomplete and unaccounted for. The reason for my existence has never been self-evident, and yet discovering this reason is the prerequisite of selfhood, of knowing who and what I am.

As far back as my conscious memory will reach, I’ve known with certainty that there is more to my earthly experience than I can as of yet perceive. My certainty is no more than a knowing that I do not know of what exactly this moreness consists, and it is in this “learned ignorance,” as Nicholas of Cusa put it, that my longing for wisdom finds its source. I do not desire an answer so much as the wisdom to ask the proper question.

Perhaps it is here that the hubris of our scientistic age has been led furthest astray. The human spirit has gone into hiding not because of the supposed answers to long standing questions that materialistic science has brought, but because of the shallow form of questioning that it has forced upon us. It is relatively easy for any sufficiently rigorous thinker to dismiss reductionistic physiological explanations of consciousness, but once rejected, these same thinkers seem unable to devise a line of questioning that might free us from the aporia of the “hard problem.”

Einstein is often credited with the remark that “a problem cannot be solved by the same consciousness that created it.” How right he is. The sense-bound intellect, so successful at mastering the mechanisms of the inorganic material world, is powerless in the face of the higher order phenomena of biology, psychology, and spirituality. If our thinking is dead, it is no wonder that life and consciousness remain beyond our comprehension. The proper question is not “how does the brain produce consciousness”; it demonstrably does not (you will never find qualia–blueness, sweetness, sadness–in neural tissue). The question is rather “how are we to resurrect our thinking so as to become adequate to supersensible phenomena?”

It is this question that lead me to Rudolf Steiner‘s spiritual science. As an interpreter, Jonael Schickler, has described it, Steiner’s is a metaphysics as Christology. His prescription for our fallen age is radical, and no doubt will leave many materialistically oriented thinkers in disbelief, if it does not also evoke downright derision. Steiner demands that we widen our line of questioning to the extent that Christ becomes an ingredient of any adequate account of human and cosmic existence.

For Steiner, Christianity is not a religion, but the embodiment of a world-historical fact. He finds truth in all of the world’s spiritual traditions, and is well aware of the seeming exclusivity of his claims. It is for this reason that he often avoided the title “Christ” when articulating his vision, because it is merely a culturally constructed label which has been chosen to represent a principle that lives in all of humanity and is at work in cosmic evolution itself. A more apt label for this principle might be the “I am.” It is eternal: that which was in the beginning and will be in the end. It is also that which works in the time between through love in order to redeem the world. But it is less a “what” than a “who,” because this spirit lives within the soul of every human being, more you than the limited personality you at first appear to be. From Steiner’s perspective, the question is not “what is the truth?”, but “who is the truth?” The answer is “I am.”

If philosophy is to become relevant in our world once again, such a spiritual principle must be at its root. It cannot be a belief accepted as dogma, but the result of an experience of the unconditioned Absolute underlying all things, seen and unseen.

The natural world may remain a mystery to me, but in knowing that I do not know, I have already found myself.

Who am I?

I am.

All else will follow in time.

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

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!

Teilhard and Steiner: Cosmogenesis in Light of Anthroposophy

Teilhard and Steiner:
Cosmogenesis in light of Anthroposophy
Introduction: As Above, So Below 
  The human is a spiritual being of universal significance. If my reader lacks the courage required for such an affirmation, they need read no further, because though one may have ears to hear and eyes to see, without an open heart these sensory organs will remain deaf and blind to the wisdom I wish to share.
  I repeat, the human is a spiritual being of universal significance. History leaves record of a few special individuals who have realized the meaning of this essential truth, but their teachings have often been obscure and shrouded in secrecy. In what follows, I share my still limited understanding of the insights of two such illumined beings with you because I feel the time has come for the mysteries to be opened and made accessible to everyone. For both of these men, Rudolf Steiner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, human consciousness and the process of cosmic evolution are corresponding phenomena that cannot be understood in isolation.
  Knowledge of this correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm is not new. On the contrary, it is perhaps the oldest secret doctrine at the core of all subsequent esoteric science, first appearing in the Emerald Tablet of the “thrice great” Hermes: “As it is above, so it is below; and as it is below, so it is above.”
  It is this doctrine of correspondence that makes possible a synthesis between natural and spiritual science, between cosmology and theosophy. For Steiner, this synthesis took the form of anthroposophy, “a path of knowledge guiding the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.”[1] Anthroposophy attempts to situate the human within the complex and evolving interpenetration of mineral, etheric, astral, and spiritual planes constituting our total being. It is a direct response to the one-dimensional worldview of scientific materialism, wherein the human spirit is reduced to an anomaly in an otherwise disjointed world of purposeless matter in motion.
  Modern science has no doubt made many astonishing discoveries about the universe during the course of the last several centuries. The enchanted medieval cosmos, with its crystalline heavenly spheres and static hierarchies, represented, in many respects, an oversimplified and immature picture of the universe. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo re-situated earth and humanity in a far vaster and more mysterious universe, shattering the spheres and calling into question the Great Chain of Being supposedly ascending from dust to divinity. It was not long before Newton, inspired by the Hermetic doctrine of a correspondence between heaven and earth, unified terrestrial and astrophysical law.
  It would be a mistake to believe that the heliocentric displacement of earth or the law of universal gravitation somehow contradict the deeper truth of humanity’s universal significance. Nor do the more recent discoveries of thermodynamics and biological evolution in any way remove the human phenomenon from the heart of the cosmos. On the contrary, 20th century cosmology has re-confirmed another ancient Hermetic principle, that ours is an infinite universe whose circumference is nowhere and so whose center is everywhere. As Teilhard allows us to see, space and time, matter and energy, can now be understood as interwoven threads of single a living matrix that is irreversibly growing toward increasing complexity and consciousness. “The human is not the static center of the world, as was thought for so long,” writes Teilhard, “but the axis and arrow of evolution—which is much more beautiful.”[2]
  Nonetheless, the old conception of the macrocosm, according to Steiner, has died away, and for good reason. Human beings used to be as children, passively receiving the lessons of cosmic wisdom from the primeval macrocosm. It was as if the light and music of the heavenly spheres thought for a still unconscious human soul.
  “The old macrocosm had to die,” says Steiner, so “that [humanity] might sever [itself] from it with full self-consciousness.”[3] Earth is not a mere speck of dust in the endless empty expanse of physical space, however, but—with the participation of human consciousness—“in its unity an embryo—the seed of a macrocosm newly rising into life.”[4]
  A similar image is found in the Emerald Tablet, wherein the One which made all things opens an economy between earth and sky, what is below and what is above, in order to transform, through a series of steps, the grossness of earthly matter into the subtler substance of fire. The story is archetypal and runs through all of Western esotericism: matter is a fallen form of Spirit, the One become many; but in so falling, Spirit, though perhaps perfect in its transcendence, betrays a lack of completeness. Spirit, already All, desired to take on earthly flesh—to become human—so as to love and to know itself in All.
  In what remains of this short essay, rather than explicitly arguing in favor of the re-unification of science and mysticism, I will assume that, actually, the two have never parted company. I do not believe there has ever been a scientific genius whose insights were derived solely from the measurement of matter in motion. If human consciousness was uninformed by the higher senses of imagination, inspiration, and intuition, the Scientific Revolution could never have taken place. Instead, in what follows, I aim only to remind my reader of the spiritual evolution they have always been participating in by exploring, with both Steiner and Teilhard as my guides, the newly emerging correspondence between consciousness and the cosmos that, with the help of the Cosmic Christ, is unfolding upon the earth. This exploration will involve both anamnesis and metamorphosis, requiring both a meditative plunge into the depths of cosmic memory and a faithful leap to the heights of divine imagination.
Earth Evolution and the Human Spirit
  “Long ago,” writes Teilhard, “the precursors of our chemists worked furiously to find the lapis philosophorum—the philosophers’ stone. Today our ambition has grown.”[5] It is no longer enough to turn lead into gold, though the symbolism underlying such a procedure is not at all off the mark. Earth may at first have seemed to be made only of metals and minerals, but this was but the outer shell of a germinating seed still in the process of elemental transmutation.
  Teilhard describes the juvenile earth as already lined by an inner spiritual potential for life, adding that
“in rhythm with the awakening forces of synthesis included in matter, its activities, dormant until then, were set in motion…[as] over the entire periphery of the newly formed globe, the tension of internal freedoms began to rise.”[6]
  The earth has from its beginnings been developing from the mineral realm into progressively more complex and more conscious kingdoms of nature: first into the watery etheric body of plants, then to the air-like astral body of animals, finally becoming a vessel for the “essential fire”[7] of the human spirit. This is of course a symbolic and alchemical way of representing the movement from lower to higher kingdoms, but it does not at all contradict Teilhard’s more detailed paleontological account of the tree of life. He painstakingly recounts the entire history of life on earth, from the first pre-living polymers, to simple cells, to metazoa, on to fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, primates, and finally, reflective human beings. I say “finally,” because for Teilhard, unlike many natural scientists, the evolution of “the ‘galaxy’ of living forms” on earth “outlines a vast ‘orthogenic’ movement of enfolding,”[8] meaning that its processes are directed toward a specific end. The current state of earth evolution is, in this sense, the culmination of an anthropocosmogenesis.
  Having reached this point, the earth’s work is, strictly speaking, finished. Its cosmic will has now converged and been hominized.[9] The time for humanity to consciously participate in the full flowering of the spiritual seed that is our planet has arrived. As Teilhard describes it, the earth now awaits the “advance of a circle of fire around the spark made by the first reflective consciousness.”[10] For Teilhard, as for Steiner, this requires not only realizing the human being is “inevitably the center of perspective,” but also “the center of construction of the universe.”[11] In our age of the spiritual soul,[12] the spiritual forces of the cosmos are no longer thinking for human consciousness. This spiritual umbilical cord has been severed. Rather, out of the active freedom of our spirit-seeing consciousness,[13] the universe that once produced humanity is now being remade within us.
  The changing relationship between the human microcosm and the macrocosm is a result of the evolution of consciousness. Most historians mistakenly believe that human beings have always experienced themselves and the world in the same way we do today. The mythical beings and magical forces that were so important to earlier ages are explained away as projections or fantasies of a more primitive intellect.[14] In truth, primordial humanity was still immersed in a dream-like consciousness directly inspired from above by contents of the spiritual world. As Steiner puts it, this earlier humanity experienced itself “as a drop out of the sea of cosmic spirituality, a drop that has separated itself off for the time of this earthly life, only to unite itself again when the earthly life is over.”[15] Today, humanity is passing through a temporary period of separation from the spiritual world as a result of an increasingly sense-bound materialistic outlook. We no longer recall what came before our birth, nor are we sure what awaits us after death. Instead of cosmic thoughts streaming in from above, the main contents of experience have become sense perceptions of the surfaces of objects. Ideas now require the effort of our own soul-activity; our task is to become increasingly conscious of our inner spirit, our ability to think freely independent of the outer world. “What came from the heights,” Steiner writes, “has to be found again in the depths.”[16]
  Steiner is careful to point out that what is most significant about the age of the spiritual, or consciousness soul (beginning around 1500 CE) is not the ideas developed by modern science concerning the natural world, but rather the effect these ideas have had on the evolution of humanity’s self-knowledge.[17] The spiritual macrocosm died away only to re-appear within the microcosm as the spiritualized material of the earth—which is to say, as human consciousness.
  Despite the alienation from outer nature and spirit that this death-rebirth process has temporarily required, it remains for consciousness a crucial and necessary initiation into a higher form of being and knowing. The process is akin to wandering in the desert in order to purify the soul in preparation for the realization of an otherwise unimaginable future mission. Steiner teaches that we must have confidence in the world and the courage to persists in our longing for spiritual truth if this mission is to become clearer to us.[18] The next step of cosmic evolution requires the free participation of our consciousness. In other words, the full flowering of the earth depends upon humanity’s becoming conscious of the cosmic will that has unconsciously struggled through billions of years of evolution to give birth to us.
  Teilhard describes this rebirth of the cosmos within consciousness as
“the entry of consciousness, forever, into a framework of new dimensions; and consequently, the birth of an entirely renewed universe, simply by the transformation of its most intimate stuff, without a change of line or fold.”[19]
  Consciousness, or what might also appropriately be called the human spirit, is for both Teilhard and Steiner an “inner Sun” that not only illumines our sensory experience of the world, but confers upon the universe itself a “form of unity it would never have had if it had not been thought.”[20] As Steiner puts it, “human beings do not just understand what nature has produced; they carry nature further.”[21] Our thinking is not simply an inner mental activity mirroring or representing some state of affairs in an outside world. Thinking is a higher dimensional folding of space-time upon itself, which is to say that consciousness is both unique and continuous with the ongoing development of the universe. I do not represent a world that remains outside myself when I think; rather, the world process comes to know itself in my thinking.
  “Therefore,” writes Steiner, “thinking must never be regarded as a merely subjective activity. Thinking is beyond subject and object.”[22] In thinking, I do more than receive impressions of a finished world—I actively participate in cosmogenesis. On earth, this means contributing to the emergence of an entirely new envelope surrounding the biosphere: the noosphere.
The Role of Christ in Noogenesis
  As Teilhard sees it, individual consciousnesses are being forced to converge upon themselves into an “almost solid mass of hominized substance”[23] due to the spherical shape of the earth. In whatever direction we head, we find not more land, but more people. This psychic compression has been going on at least since the Neolithic revolution, when agriculture increased our population and commerce lead to cities, some of which became especially wealthy and developed into empires hungry for the spoils of war. Noogenesis has not been a peaceful process, but even in the most violent of attempted conquests, the interpermeable nature of the psyche resulted in the endomorphosis of conquered and conqueror: both were left forever changed, becoming less defined by particular cultures and more by their humanity.[24]
  The assimilative function served by the wars of the past is little consolation for our contemporary predicament: it is no longer spears and arrows powered by the human hand, but atomic missiles fired from orbiting satellites that threaten our earthly wellbeing. The future destiny of all life on earth still rests in human hands—but hands that, with the push of a button, could eradicate forever billions of years of accumulated evolutionary innovation. The evils of war, perhaps for several centuries now, have ceased to serve noogenesis. Today, war (whether waged by one human society upon another, or by human industry upon the earth) represents a vestige of our less than human past. The pressure is increasing, the temperature continues to rise, and it is becoming more and more apparent that “brought to its thinking stage, life cannot continue without structurally needing to rise even higher.”[25]
  Both Steiner and Teilhard feel that only the cosmic love of the Christ impulse can safely carry humanity through this difficult transformation. Christ, for Teilhard, is a “universal Presence…, an expanding Center which is trying to find itself a sphere,” while earthly humanity represents “a sphere that is extending deeper and deeper, and needs a center.”[26] The coincidence is enough to convince Teilhard that our earthly mission has been seeded from above, that we are in no danger of suffocating as a result of increasing compression upon the earth. He recognizes that our violent and seemingly chaotic movement towards “a planetary Flux of co-reflection”[27] is supported from within by an incarnating divine axis.
  “What comes down to us from those heights,” writes Teilhard,
“is not merely air for our lungs; it is the radiance of a love. The World, therefore, is not simply a place in which a Life can breathe because its power to look into the future has been aroused; we can see its evolutive summit and so feel its absorbing magnetic attraction.”[28]
  Love, then, is the engine of evolution that is consummating the noosphere. As the universe becomes increasingly Christified as a result of earth’s noogenesis, the human psyche finds itself operating within a new charter, the details of which are a result of what Teilhard calls “the Divine Milieu.” As this milieu continues to manifest on earth, the difference between the universal and the personal will be broken down. The individual ego, while remaining unique, will begin to participate in the universal being of Christ.[29]
  “And so,” writes Teilhard,
“the possibility is disclosed for, opens out for, Humanity, not only of believing and hoping but (what is much more unexpected and much more valuable) of loving, co-extensively and co-originally with all the past, the present and the future of a Universe which is in process of concentration upon itself.”[30]
 According to Steiner, this process of concentration has hit a fever pitch during our age of the consciousness soul. As a result of telescopes giving us a better look at the stars, and the disenchanting effects of natural science generally, the inner human being “had to embrace the spirit of a sensory world—one that fills the spatial universe everywhere in the same way.”[31] Our expanded perception of outer space lead to a corresponding contracted perception of inner spirit. For many, the universe now seems to be a dead and empty place. As was discussed above, this period of alienation is necessary for the development of human freedom. The role of Christ, as Steiner sees it, is to provide a guarantee of this freedom, if only we “turn to Christ consciously in the spiritual frame of mind which [we] possessed subconsciously during the descent from supersensible spirit-existence to the use of intellect.”[32] This descent from our original participation in the music of the cosmic spheres to the dead way of thinking reigning at present can only be reversed by a movement of loving openness toward the world, an act of will which might also be termed “faith.” Noogenesis depends both on the strength of our collective bond and the courage of our individual will.
Christogenesis and Etheric Vision
  Teilhard and Steiner are Christ-centric thinkers, but in our increasingly interconnected planet, there are more spiritual paths available than ever before. They both feel there is something unique about the Christian spiritual impulse, that it serves the needs of our moment better than any other. Teilhard is quite aware, however, that imposing “a ready-made Divinity from outside” upon those of a non-Christian persuasion is no better than “preaching in the desert.”[33] Steiner is careful to point out that there is an experiential basis for Christian revelation, and that as more people begin to experience the Christ Event as “mystical fact,” our task will be to develop “an understanding for the possibility of entering the spirit world free of any religious denomination, going simply through the power of good will.”[34]
  In this section, I will attempt to articulate what makes Christianity unique and why it is that Teilhard and Steiner find it so important for the evolution of human consciousness on earth.
  Teilhard lists three attributes that any Divinity still capable of speaking to modern humanity must possess. This God must be: 1) vast and mysterious as the Cosmos, 2) immediate and all-embracing as Life, and 3) linked to our human efforts on the earth.[35]
  The first requirement is a result of Teilhard’s own experience as a scientist learning about the immensity and perplexity of the universe. As his knowledge of nature increased, his former faith began to seem childish. This tension between scientific facts and religious revelation allowed him, throughout his life, to share in the anxieties felt by so many non-believers. But like many Christian natural philosophers before him (like Aquinas and Hegel, to give two examples), he was able to bring together the Bible and the book of Nature. For Teilhard, there is “a secret message explanatory of the whole of Creation…allowing us to feel God in everything we do and in everything that is done to us”: the universe is Christ incarnate.[36] It is this secret that, when revealed within one’s heart (for it cannot be outwardly seen), demonstrates the conjunction of both humanity’s heavenly and earthly attractions. The vast Cosmos becomes the mysterious body of God.
  The second requirement stems from Teilhard’s plea for the priestly class to engage more fully with the world, rather than remaining merely “the people who bury you.”[37] He finds it imperative that the religious must not only study within religion in order to defend it, but apply their passionate religiosity to other fields, especially to science, where the disenchanting metaphysical assumptions of materialism are so often taken for granted. The natural world, studied religiously as the Body of Christ, may become, as William Law puts it, “a volume of holy instruction that leads us into all the mysteries and secrets of eternity.”[38] As Owen Barfield remarks in a similar spirit, “There will be a revival of Christianity when it becomes impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the incarnation of the Word.”[39]
  Aside from fully engaging science, Christianity must overcome the contemporary sentiment that religion ought to remain a private matter. Morality can no longer be narrowly individualistic, but must emphasize our responsibility to “political duties, social duties, international duties, and cosmic duties.”[40] Many secular humanists believe that religion should not interfere with politics and government. Steiner would agree, but would also point out that a society awkwardly divided between public and private spheres is doomed to disintegrate. Instead, he recommends a more balanced threefold social order, composed of political, economic, and cultural spheres.[41] Spirituality (which includes an integral education) would guide the cultural sphere, while the political would assure the rights of individuals and the economic would assure that our collective needs and desires are met. Each sphere would mutually inform the others, but our core values would, for the most part, emerge from the cultural sphere.
  To meet the second requirement, Teilhard also calls for a renewed appreciation of the power of love, which duty-based ethics tend to downplay. There is no more powerful force than love in the lives of human beings, and a religion that does not embrace its transformative potential has no future.
  The third requirement is related to the second, but is aimed specifically at the potential otherworldly tendencies of Christianity, concerned more with the salvation of the soul than with the evolution of the earth. Earthly life cannot be understood as a mere passage to the next world. There is no more important doctrine in the Christian canon than that of the incarnation, the presence of the divine in this world.
  In order to feel at home on the earth, and to take responsibility for its flourishing, it is also important to remember that what is below is like what is above, that time is not other than eternity, and that matter is secret spirit. Earth and humanity may be in the midst of evolution, but Omega is already and always ever-present. Earth is the site of our holiest action, but in eternity and in Christ, the Great Work has already been accomplished.
  As Angelus Silesius writes,
“Friends, when you let your spirit rise above place and time, you can be in eternity every moment…The rose that your outer eye sees here has flowered like this in God through eternity…Sit in the center, and you will see everything at once, what happens both now and then, both here and in Heaven.”[42]
  Silesius refers not to you, but to the Christ in you, when he speaks of your spirit rising above place and time. The Christ in you is the presence of the end, the anticipation of Omega within your heart. Christ is love at work in the world. There is no higher wisdom in nature than that within the human heart, moved “like a wheel revolving uniformly by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”[43] To save the earth, we must find the Savior in our hearts.
  According to Steiner, the Mystery of Golgotha cannot be understood in a merely historical or materialistic way; comprehending its meaning requires spiritual insight into earthly evolution,[44] such that the Christ Event is recognized as “a cosmic deed…springing from Universal love, intelligible only by the love in Humanity.”[45] The second coming of Christ will not be the return of God in physical form. Instead, the continued evolution of the consciousness soul will gradually (over the course of the next 2,500 years) allow human beings to begin to perceive Christ’s presence in the etheric envelope of the earth. The consciousness soul must develop beyond sense-bound intellectuality into the heart-thinking of imagination before this will be possible.[46] Steiner points specifically to the decade between 1930 and 1940 as the time when signs of new faculties of soul would begin to manifest in certain individuals.[47]
  Teilhard is undoubtedly one of these individuals. In letters sent to friends from China written in 1939 just as Germany was invading France,
“he tells us that he gave himself to the writing of The Human Phenomenon as his part in the combat—war being sublimated into a work to form new eyes, to enable the world to see and to become more.”[48]
  Steiner likens etheric seeing to the capacity to read the Akashic record. This record is a form of cosmic memory working just beneath the surface of the world of the physical senses to shape and form its living features. Teilhard’s attempt to form new eyes so as to perceive the within of things is an example of the kind of heart-thinking that our age is being called to develop.
  Steiner’s vision of the Cosmic Christ emphasizes the importance of earthly evolution. Developing the imaginative perception required to experience Christ’s presence in the etheric is only possible while incarnated in a physical body upon the earth (and multiple reincarnations may be required for its full flowering). The humanity of earlier epochs in the evolution of consciousness was able to see into the etheric realm bordering the physical world of the senses, but this dream-like clairvoyance obscured the material reality of the earth. Our task in the current age of the consciousness soul, after coming to experience nature entirely emptied of spirit, is to develop imaginative perception in a fully awakened, individuated state. Only then will Christ’s presence on the earth become apparent to us.
  “We are approaching an age when people will feel they are surrounded not only by a physical, sensory world,” writes Steiner, “but also—according to their understanding—by a spiritual kingdom.”[49] This spiritual kingdom is what Teilhard referred to as the Divine Milieu, wherein he “saw the universe becoming amorized and personalized in the very dynamism of its own evolution.”[50]
  “We have within us mirror images of the great cosmos,” says Steiner, “and the members of our constitution–material, ether, astral, and I-being–are really realms of divine beings.”[51] The human being has come during the past 500 years to feel increasingly disoriented and alienated from the numinous dimension of the universe. We have great trouble recognizing our reflection in the stars above, and for most, the human constitution has been reduced to but one real member: the physical body.[52] But, if Steiner is correct, a seed has already been planted in our souls with the potential to restore our vision of the spiritual world bordering that of the physical senses. Teilhard’s vision of cosmogenesis unified by Christ’s love is an example of the kind of etheric perception that Steiner predicts will become more prevalent in the coming years.
  “Driven by the forces of love,” writes Teilhard, “the fragments of the world are seeking one another so the world may come to be.”[53] Without love, the world itself would long ago have fallen to pieces. The human being now stands precariously at a fork in the road: either we will continue to feel the inertial pull of materialism and degrade further into a dehumanized techno-industrial wonder world, or we will answer the cosmic call to birth within ourselves an etheric organ of perception capable of granting us conscious access to the spirits of form (including Christ) at work behind sensory appearances. Only with the heartfelt imagination required for such perception will we overcome our materialist trance. With perception of Christ in the etheric comes also a release from the anxiety associated with death, as it becomes apparent that the spirit alive within us is immortal. If cultural anthropologists like Ernest Becker[54] are right, and death anxiety is one of the major reasons for most violence and intolerance on our planet, then the moral imagination granting one immediate experience of the non-physical aspect of their own and other’s being cannot develop soon enough.
 Humanity is struggling to become the Spirit of the Earth, but as Teilhard says, this Spirit
“can only be born from a universal human love–a love that is armed with the force we still only lend to violence.”[55] We are beings of universal significance, but this status can no longer be taken for granted. It is now up to us to take the reigns of evolution and guide it toward Omega through the power of conscious amorization. I pray that humanity can face the future with an open heart; if the longing in my soul is not mistaken, a divine Face there awaits us.
Barfield, Owen.
Ø  The Rediscovery of Meaning. The Barfield Press: 1977.
Ø  Saving the Appearances. Wesleyan University Press: 1988.
Steiner, Rudolf.
Ø  Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. Rudolf Steiner Press: 1973.
Ø  Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path. Anthroposophic Press: 1995.
Ø  Mystics After Modernism. Anthroposophic Press: 2000.
Ø  Outline of Esoteric Science. Anthroposophic Press: 1997.
Ø  The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric. Anthroposophic Press: 2003.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre.
Ø  The Human Phenomenon. Sussex Academic Press: 1999.
Ø  The Heart of Matter. Harcourt: 1978.

[1] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 13
[2] The Human Phenomenon, p. 7
[3] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 169-170
[4] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 170
[5] The Human Phenomenon, p. 176-177
[6] The Human Phenomenon, p. 37
[7] As Teilhard describes the human element on p. 177
[8] The Human Phenomenon, p. 90
[9]  The Human Phenomenon, p. 7
[10] The Human Phenomenon, p. 123
[11] The Human Phenomenon, p. 3-4
[12] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 167
[13] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 168
[14] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 62
[15] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 56
[16] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 57
[17] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 69
[18] Mystics After Modernism, p. 88
[19] The Human Phenomenon, p. 152
[20] The Human Phenomenon, p. 176
[21] Mystics After Modernism, p. 58
[22] Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, p. 52
[23] The Human Phenomenon, p. 169
[24] The Human Phenomenon, p. 144
[25] The Human Phenomenon, p. 163
[26] The Heart of Matter, p. 90
[27] The Heart of Matter, p. 91
[28] The Heart of Matter, p. 92
[29] The Heart of Matter, p. 95
[30] The Heart of Matter, p. 99
[31] Mystics after Modernism, p. 116
[32] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 73
[33] The Heart of Matter, p. 211
[34] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 104
[35] The Heart of Matter, p. 212
[36] The Heart of Matter, p. 216
[37] The Heart of Matter, p. 217
[38] The Works of the Reverend William Law, p. 117
[39] Saving the Appearances, p. 164
[40] The Heart of Matter, p. 220
[41] See Towards Social Renewal: Rethinking the Basis of Society
[42] From Cherubinic Wanderer, quoted in Mystics After Modernism, p. 122
[43] Divine Comedy: Paradiso by Dante, Canto XXXIII:143-145
[44]The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 224
[45]Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 149
[46] “Mere perception—perception without imagination—is the sword thrust between spirit and matter” –Owen Barfield (The Rediscovery of Meaning, p. 170)
[47] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 16
[48] The Human Phenomenon, p. xxiv
[49] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 104
[50] The Heart of Matter, p. 83
[51]The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 142
[52] Though the I-being is necessarily implicit in any knowledge of the physical world, most do not recognize their own thinking as a spiritual activity.
[53]The Human Phenomenon, p. 188
[54] See The Denial of Death (1973)
[55]The Human Phenomenon, p. 266, note 15