Τοῦτο τοίνυν τὸ τὴν ἀλήθειαν παρέχον τοῖς γιγνωσκομένοις καὶ τῷ γιγνώσκοντι τὴν δύναμιν ἀποδιδὸν τὴν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἰδέαν φάθι εἶναι, αἰτίαν δ᾽ ἐπιστήμης οὖσαν καὶ ἀληθείας ὡς γιγνωσκομένης μὲν διανοοῦ...
This reality, then, that gives their truth of the objects of knowledge and the power of knowing to the knower, you must say is the idea of the good, and you must conceive it as being the cause of knowledge [ἐπιστήμη] and of truth [ἀλήθεια] in so far as known.
Plato, Republic, 508e, Republic II [translated by Paul Shorey, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1930, 1969, pp.102-105, color added]
In these pages, a system of Kant-Friesian metaphysics has previously been set out in detail. As I have done with Kant's theory of geometry, I am going to present the metaphysics all over again. Thus, it is again a "Deuteronomy," from Greek Δευτερονόμιον (Latin Deuteronomium), a "Repetition of the Law." This will be a repetition, however, with a different approach. Othewise, what's the point?
The place to start is with René Descartes, the father of Modern Philosophy. Once Descartes realized that his experience and knowledge of the world were all artifacts and contents of his consciousness, he had some difficulty explaining how he really knew that the world was even there. It could all be a dream or a hallucination. This created the basic epistemological challenge for Modern Philosophy, and it gets called the "Problem of Knowledge," creating "epistemology" itself as a separate discipline, whose contents had previously been part of logic, as that had been first laid out by Aristotle.
What was long regarded as "First Philosophy" then shifted from metaphysics (ontological priority), where it had been since Aristotle, to epistemology (epistemological priority), where it has largely been since -- with a modification, for some, of a further shift to language in "linguistic analysis" -- paradoxically often involving people with little knowledge and no respect for natural languages. Thus, the Great Debate in the Middle Ages, which was between Realism and Nominalism, metaphysical theories about essences, shifted to the debate between Rationalism and Empiricism, about theories of knowledge. We should not be surprised, however, that Modern Empiricists are generally Nominalists, and Rationalists Realists. There is a connection between the metaphysical theories and their epistemological reflexes. Why the Nominalists and Empiricists tended to be British, and the Realists and Rationalists Continental, is another question.
Descartes thought he had solved his problem by going through God; but his arguments for God have since seemed a lot less persuasive, certain, or reliable that the certainties we derive from our daily experiences of actual life. John Locke sensibly observed that dreaming the fire and actually being in it are really two quite different things, and that our conduct of life will not be much different whether we worry about the doubts of Descartes or not. However, Locke failed to provide a cogent or satisfying answer to the real problem, which was an artifact of the role of causality in perception, i.e that causes are only sufficient to their effects, meaning that different causes can have the same effect. Who let the dogs out? Could have been anyone.
The Empiricist tradition founded by Locke headed downhill to the full Skepticism of David Hume, whose philosophical doubts about the world, far more extreme than those of Descartes, were explicitly dismissed by him as irrelevant to daily life. Devotees of Hume, who we could well say constitute the entire Anglo-American philosophical tradition, have often failed to grasp the difference, and they attribute to Hume an expectation that experience will be full of violations of causality (etc.), or that there is no basis for morality, when he believed exactly the opposite in both areas.
With someone as clear, direct, and elegant a stylist as was David Hume, this amounts to a remarkable failure of reading comprehension. There is also the irony that Hume believed the axioms of Euclid to be self-evident, while Immanuel Kant didn't -- with the result that Kant is generally accused of believing that the axioms of geometry are self-evident. And what Hume says is entirely ignored. Go figure. How this has happened warrants as much a psychological as a philosophical examination, and it is an indictment of the very foundations of the sterile and devastating Oxford Philosophy. The only philosopher I know of who was fully aware of the paradoxes of the interpretation of Hume is F.A. Hayek.
Such problems plague interpretations of the larger theory of Kant, whose definitive answer to Descartes is frequently, if not usually, lost in the confusion. Thus, Descartes held that we do not have direct knowledge of the external world, but what we know are the objects constructed in the mind, caused by the world, whose connection to the world, as faithful representations, is certified by God and by the innate knowledge with which he has packed the soul on the occasion of its creation. Otherwise, the external objects might not even be there, or have a very different character from what we think. God might be more like the Aztec deity Tezcatlipōca, the "Enemy of Both Sides." We don't need Descartes' "deceiving demon" when we have Aztec religion.
Kant is frequently read as believing something of the same sort, except that we do not really have knowledge of external objects at all, the "things in themselves." They are concealed from us, and all we know are the artificial objects constructed in our minds, the "phenomena" or "appearances," which serve us just fine, like the things of Hume's world, but which do not deliver up the mysteries of the transcendent.
Indeed, this could be construed as little more than a version of Hume's philosophy, which has only been muddled by the common impression that Hume did not believe in the necessity of things like causality, while Kant did. But Hume did too, only with the provision that reason could not account for that certainty, while Kant proposed that the certainty was an artifact of the manner in which the mind unified consciousness into a single, durable theater of experience -- a problem, "betwixt unity and number," that had puzzled Hume, and for which he had no answer. In those terms, Kant's basic view could still maintain the Cartesian separation between our consciousness and the real external things, whatever they are like. Various successors, "Idealists" or even "Neo-Kantians," judged that this would all work better by eliminating things in themselves altogether.
But Kant's philosophy is very far from being a version either of that of Descartes or that of Hume. The confusion is partly the fault of Kant's own terminology, where the name for his system, "Transcendental Idealism," does almost nothing to tell us what it is all about, and is a source of endless obscurity and misunderstandings. I have gone over this in some detail elsewhere. The diagram of a Square of Opposition for Kant's terminology contains the paradox that terms that should be contradictories both have the same truth value. Here all we need are the basics, in which "Transcendental Idealism" is best set aside for the moment, if not permanently. I will not use it.
Instead, the key terms are (1) what Kant calls Descartes' metaphysics, which is "Transcendental Realism," (2) what Kant called Berkeley's denial of the existence of external objects, which is "Empirical Idealism," and (3) what Kant alternatively called his own theory, which is "Empirical Realism." The last means that the real objects, the ontôs ónta, ὀντῶς ὄντα ("beingly beings"), of Greek metaphysics, are the objects that we see, and are directly acquainted with, in experience. This is the appropriate term for Kant's system. On the other hand, the real objects for Descartes are not more than the hidden causes of our perceptions, we are not directly acquainted with them, and thus our life is in a kind of internal movie theater, like Plato's Cave. Thus, "Transcendental Realism" means that the ontologically real objects are external, i.e. transcendent, to experience.
Die Welt ist meine Vorstellung.
The world is my representation.
Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band 1, §1 [Reclam, 1987, p.3], The World as Will and Representation, Volume I [Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.3]
In turn, even sympathetic followers of Kant, like Schopenhauer, thought that his system was comparable to that of Berkeley. Yet Schopenhauer accepted that there were things in themselves, although construed differently than in Kant (hence his use of the singular, "thing in itself"). Since Kant asserts that the existence of things in themselves is transcendent to the contents of our minds, which do not make things exist ("intellectual intuition," a term misunderstood by all "Idealists"), and that things in themselves possess features, like free will (denied by Schopenhauer), that do not and cannot belong to phenomena, there are important points on which Kant does not and cannot assert an "Empirical Idealism," i.e. that what is immanent in experience ("Empirical") consists of things, which are the only things, that are in our minds ("Idealism").
When the Neo-Kantians, or Hegel, eliminated things in themselves, the result was directly, starkly, and unambiguously solipsism. Hegel avoided that only by making consciousness collective and universal, an "Over Mind," the "Absolute Idea," in which individual existence dissolves like sugar in coffee. If Neo-Kantians avoided that, it may be because they didn't understand the problem. And, indeed, they didn't. When Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950) abandoned the "Idealism" of the Neo-Kantians for his own brand of stubborn (Transcendental) Realism, with a favorable nod to Hegel, he ended up betraying a misunderstanding of just about all the issues involved. This is a clue about how confused the Neo-Kantians were, which is why Leonard Nelson wrote his dissertation against them.
This all sharply separates Kant from Descartes, although it is certain to leave us unclear and perplexed about just what we end up with. It's so unusual. The sticking point is the conclusion that Kant's theory forces upon us, that the "real things" of the world are both external objects and the internal contents of consciousness. This is not something easily accepted. How could it be? Must it not be one or the other? Right? Perhaps not. Approaching the right idea, Robert Paul Wolff called this "the dual nature of representation" [Kant's Theory of Mental Activity, Harvard, 1963] -- although Schopenhauer is the clearest that world and representation are identical.
The source of the difficulty with this may be the idea, basic to Descartes, that eternal existence is the substance of matter, while internal existence is the substance of soul -- they exist independently and separately. The former cannot somehow be inside the latter; and if experience is in the soul, then it is metaphysically separate from matter. The premises of the Cartesian dualism are still accepted by materialists, who simply eliminate souls. But in Kant, substance, although it exists, is a concept that we apply to phenomena. If it exists among things in themselves, for instance as souls, or matter, or God, we don't know how that works in any positive or systematic way. In its application to phenomena, "substance" simply tells us that objects are durable, separable, and identical. It is not about things we cannot see, which puts the idea of substance in Descartes in an ironic light. If we judge the bodies of experience to be durable, separable, and identical, this is not about things entirely outside experience.
What Kant was looking for would not have been surprising to Aristotle, who identified the ὑποκείμενον, the "underlying" thing, that we might think is equivalent to substantia in Latin, with ὕλη, "matter," and not with οὐσία, which looks like the equivalent of essentia ("essence") in Latin, but which traditionally is translated "substance." Indeed, in the Latin transcription of Aristotelian philosophy, "substance" and "essence" -- and ἐνέργεια, "actuality" -- are ontologically identical. Aristotelian matter is not substance, but relatively free of it, down to "Prime Matter," which has no actual existence -- it is pure potential, δύναμις, potentia in Latin. This is what suggests features of things in themselves. Aristotelian substance is the visible "form," εἶδος (Latin species), of things -- , "Form," in Chinese Buddhist terminology.
But Aristotle was not aware of the systematic doubting of Descartes, where the Problem of Knowledge arises and solipsism threatens. In turn, Kant's argument against solipsism takes a clue from Hume, contrary to Descartes, who had said that "the mind is better known than the body." Kant, following Hume, denies this. The mind is not better known than the body, both are given simultaneously in the perception of phenomena. Phenomena are the material objects, but then we reflect that they are at the same time mental contents. There is no "mind" to be substantively distinguished from the contents of perception and thought, what Hume, in the course of his critique and dismissal of Carestian "soul," would have called "impressions" and "ideas." Hume actually might not have been able to rule out solipsism, since he makes no metaphysical judgments about external reality -- his is a kind of Pyrrhonian epoché, ἐποχή, a suspension of judgment, like Edmund Husserl. For Kant, however, "external reality" is always a feature of phenomena.
Formally, Kant's theory gives us a structural equivalent of the metaphysics of Spinoza. For Spinoza, only God exists. The Cartesian attributes of extension in space and of thought and consciousness, which exist as separate substances for Descartes, are not independent, but are attributes of God. So whatever correspondences there are between internal and external, i.e. between the objects in our minds and the objects in the world, are accounted for by their identity in the underlying substance, namely, God. Of course, these days we usually hear about Spinoza from materialists who think that Spinoza is really just a materialist. This is even more grotesque a distortion than we get with interpretations of Hume. We probably get it because of the durability of Cartesian categories, even in people who think that Descartes' philosophy is a kind of joke. The "ghost in the machine." Ha, ha.
With Kant, phenomena themselves are the unifying element, which is exactly what a common sense philosophy might claim. The things we see have an internal reflex, in our minds and representation, but also an external reflex, in all the hidden features of the world, including, as it happens, the physical character of things as atoms, molecules, forces, etc., which are all invisible to our casual inspection. What perhaps challenges common sense is that Cartesian metaphysics has essentially been turned inside out. What was a mere relation between substances now becomes the centerpiece, as it was with the substance of God in Spinoza. I have previously used this metaphor to distinguish cause from purpose.
"Substance" is a formal property, whose nature is both open for inspection and a characteristic of the underlying laws of nature, like the conservation of mass and energy, which are gradually ferreted out by science. Protons are "substances," because they are durable, separable, and identical. For decades, physicists have tried detecting the natural decay of protons. Hasn't happened, although Aristotle himself thought that substances could be transformed into each other, as cows turn grass into milk, meat, and other things. Only an anti-proton can kill a proton, something no one heard of before Paul Dirac. Meanwhile, we can insert the quantum distinction between determinism and randomness into Kant's dualisms of conditioned and unconditioned, freedom and determinism.
If we abstract the material contents of perception from our representation of the external world, the result is a privative emptiness. I call this "Negative Transcendence." The same move, of course, abstracts the contents of our own minds, in which the external world is represented, producing a corresponding privative emptiness, which I then also call a form of "Negative Transcendence." The emptiness of external transcendence conforms to the emptiness or hiddenness of Heidegger's "Being," Sein, εἶναι -- as opposed to the "beings," Seiende, ὄντα of phenomena. In turn, the emptiness of internal transcendence is described by Sartre as The Transcendence of the Ego . These elements of the thought of Heidegger and Sartre are part of the fallout of the "Phenomenology" of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), which was the origin of useful ontological distinctions. However, we will see below how wrong Heidegger and Sartre would go, which included Heidegger's personal betrayal of Husserl.
Thus, we cannot think of Kant as having a theory like that of Descartes, for external objects are not different in kind from phenomena. We are directly acquainted with them, and our given is something that is a synthesis of subject and object, internal and external, Sanskrit , nâmarûpa, "name and form" or "mind-body." We can see this as going back to Kant's argument against solipsism. Contra Descartes, the mind is not better known than the body. Against Materialists, the body is not better known than the mind. Samuel Johnson kicking the table did not refute Bishop Berkeley. Or perhaps it did. This is a feature of what I have called "Ontological Undecidability."
Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.
The Heart Sutra
Where we have difficulties with things in themselves is that there are features that seem to belong to them that cannot be contained in the representation of phenomena. This happens because of the way in which consciousness is constructed, in Kant's theory, through the activity of "synthesis," which produces the unity of consciousness and conscious experience. In those terms, everything in phenomena is conditioned by everything else, and unconditioned realities cannot be contained or represented therein. If the existence of unconditioned realities must be entertained or accepted, then they can only belong to things in themselves.
We have seen this before. In Buddhist philosophy, the phenomenal world of saṁsâra, , also contains mutually conditioned realities, expressed through the doctrines of "dependent origination" and "relative existence." If we separate objects from all their conditioned relations, all that is left is "emptiness," , shûnyatâ -- which, contrary to the general impression, does not mean nothingness or Not Being. That is a misunderstanding and, as it happens, a serious heresy in Buddhism. But this is also exactly the meaning of "Negative Transcendence" here.
The Buddhist doctrine has a soteriological purpose. Saṁsâra is bondage and suffering, , duhkha. To achieve liberation and salvation, we must become free of these conditions, which enables us to achieve an unconditioned reality, namely Nirvâṇa, . Buddhism has its own ἐποχή, since metaphysical questions that "do not tend to edification" are set aside. Only Salvation is important, and the Buddha would not answer purely theoretical questions, motivated by no more than curiosity. Later, we get a different take, that such questions cannot be answered, because of the nature of things -- like Kantian Antinomies.
We get one passage that would seem to be directed personally to René Descartes:
But it were better, O priests, if the ignorant, unconverted man regarded the body which is composed of the four elements as an Ego, rather than the mind. And why do I say so? Because it is evident, O priests, that this body which is composed of the four elements lasts one year, lasts two years, lasts three years, lasts four years, lasts five years, lasts ten years, lasts twenty years, lasts thirty years, lasts forty years, lasts fifty years, lasts a hundred years, and even more. But that, O priests, which is called mind, intellect, consciousness, keeps up an incessant round by day and by night of perishing as one thing and springing up as another. [Buddhism in Translation, by Henry Clarke Warren, "The Mind Less Permanent than the Body," translated from the Samyutta-Nikâya, xii.62, Antheneum, New York, 1982, p.151]
In similar terms, Kant considers that things in themselves can contain unconditioned realities that cannot be represented in phenomena. These are the "Ideas" of "God, Freedom, and Immortality," which involve unconditioned substances and causality. Unlike the world of Descartes, there is an intimacy to this. Things in themselves do not exist in some other world (like Plato), or in Cartesian substantial separation. They are in this world; and they are no more than the interior of phenomenal objects, just as, in material terms, atoms and molecules are the hidden inner existence of the things that exist in experience. And my body is not even substantially separate from me, even while I am not just an epiphenomenon of my body. We are the interior of our own phenomenon, with contents of the mind that are undoubtly part of the unconscious -- like all of my currently unaccessed memories. Before Freud and Jung, no philosophers had ever noticed this, certainly not Descartes -- although Locke had noticed that he was not the Cartesian "thinking substance" while he had been sleeping the previous night.
Descartes tells us that the status of the soul in the body is not like that of "a captain in a ship." It is more intimate than that. However, his metaphysics cannot account for this. It is not clear how body and soul can affect each other at all; and since the soul is without extension, I actually once had a student point out that the body would be unable to move the soul along with it -- let alone hold it in the pineal gland, where Descartes had (farcically) guessed it was located. Pieces of matter have surfaces to press on each other. The soul has no such surface; and the physics of Descartes has no form of causal connection apart from an application of force between surfaces -- hence his theory of planets carried along by "vortices," which unaccountably are free from friction. Newtonian empty space and action-at-a-distance took care of all of that.
The philosophy of Descartes thus sank under the weight of the connection, or lack of connection, certainly the lack of identity, between body and soul. In Kant, as in Spinoza, the "underlying thing" of body and soul is a "third thing," about whose full character we have clues and beliefs but is beyond the reach of empirical science. Thus, "freedom" means my freedom, and "immortality" means my immortal soul. What "God" will mean depends on one's construction or experience of ultimate reality, for which Vedânta lays out the alternatives better than Western theology. Buddhism, of course, suspends judgment.
This makes monotheistic theology look relatively naive. Indeed, monotheistic theology tends to uncrtically accept its own constructions of the divine, a complacency also evident in Kant and a great deal of academic philosophy of religion, where St. Thomas's five proofs of God always seemed to be treated as of central concern. They aren't, even while, of course, they did nothing to establish the existence of the particular God of Abraham and Isaac, let alone Jesus or Paul -- or the fact that the metaphysics, from Aristotle, posits an impersonal and literally impotent deity, who is already doing everything he can do. However, naiveté or compacancy do not justify the dismissals of Western monotheism we find in the popularizing figures Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) or Rupert Sheldrake, whose own naiveté, lack of sophistication, and biases, now insensibly buttressed by the "New Atheism," are painful to behold.
Kant's "Ideas" of God, freedom, and immortality are subject to Antinomies, and ordinarily contradictions imply falsehood. However, among the Antinomies is that of space and time, involving the question whether they are finite or infinite, something addressed by the Buddha himself. Since the universe (or the now popular "multiverse") as a whole itself is an unconditioned reality, and it cannot be the object of a possible experience among phenomena, the logical inference from its Antinomy would seem to imply the falsehood or non-existence of the universe itself. Since this is its own reductio ad absurdum, we must consider that it all means something else. The present tangle of cosmology highlights this circumstance.
So, is all we are left with are abstract Antinomies and otherwise just something like Buddhist , shûnyatâ, itself the subject of the Four-Fold Negation? No, we aren't.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that sensation is just an epiphenomenon, of no ontological significance. I come across someone, Victoria Finlay, who has written a book about color, appropriately called Color: A Natural History of the Palatte [Random House, 2002], who simply says of colors, "they don't really exist" [p.2]. A color of light is simply a particular wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum, as this interacts with the cones of the retina, even though these are all phenomena that are invisible to our casual inspection of the world and that no one knew about before the 19th century. This is a materialistic reductionism under which the qualia of sensation just evaporate into a metaphysical nothing, even while "matter" itself, in all its modern paradoxes of virtual particles and fields, is itself hidden and invisible, even unobservable, as such. In other words, we can't see anything of what is supposedly "real," while colors, that we do see, Victoria Finlay says, "don't really exist." Not much respect for something you write a whole book about. But perhaps Finlay just doesn't know what else to say.
Nevertheless, sensation is clearly a kind of "third thing," like Spinioza's God again. Sensation is what I experience in my body, but it also consists of the colors, tectures, scents, tastes, and sounds that I perceive in the world. Out among phenomena. When a geologist tastes a rock, as geologists often do, he searches for clues to its minerals, not a clue about his tongue. When the pathologist smells almonds, it can mean that the autopsy has exposed cyanide poisoning. The chemical is in the body.
But there is more to it than that. The very concept of "sensation" is itself a product of abstraction. When I feel my wife's skin, it is at once both in my touch and in her skin. She feels it too. When I taste the brandy, it is at once in my tongue, in my nose, and in the brandy. When I smell the perfume, it is in both nose and scent. When I hear the music, it is in ear and air -- and soul. When I see colors in the world, I see beauty. Indeed, the Chinese term , "form, appearance" (Sanskrit , rûpa), in its marvelous ambiguity, also means "color, beauty" and even "lust." And while people tell me, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," that is not the way I see things. The beauty of the New Mexico sunset is, happily, in my eye; but it is also in the sun, the sky, the clouds, the wind, and Mt. Taylor -- Navajo Tsoodził -- in the distance, from Albuquerque -- as the light may be pink or orange on the snows of the majestic cliffs of the Sandias to the East.
So sensation, which is minimally a tingling in my flesh, before we even get to that "lust" thing, has an ontological side among things in themselves, in the transcendent. As such, it possesses a content of value; it is "Positive Transcendence," returning to fill the Void of Negative Transcendence and Emptiness. What I feel as I exist not only consists of all my sensations and the qualia of my perception, it has roots that consist of the beauty and any of the other values that are born by those sensations and qualia. If I get carried away with the New Mexico sunset, let alone from the touch of my wife, my heart "sings" in response.
Why this is I have examined in a "Lecture on the Good"; and, to my embarrassment, it is conformable to Heidegger's idea of the "Truth of Being." This truth, however, is not "uncovered" (ἀληθής, "true") in violence and δειμός, "terror," as described, and doubtlessly witnessed, by Heidegger. Instead, we aleady see it pretty much every minute of every day, whether in that sunset or in the watchfulness of the blue jay, a riot of blues, blacks, grays, and whites, surveying our yard. I never tire of the tribute that Plato pays to beauty:
Now beauty [κάλλος], as we said, shone bright among those visions, and in this world below we apprehend it through the clearest of our senses, clear and resplendent. For sight [ὄψις] is the keenest of the physical senses [αἰσθήσεις, singlular αἴσθησις], though wisdom [φρόνησις] is not seen by it -- how terrible [δεινός] would be our love [ἔρως] for it, if such a clear image [εἴδωλον] of wisdom were granted as would come through sight -- and the same is true of the other beloved [ἐραστά, singlular ἐραστόν] objects; but beauty alone has this privilege [μοῖρα], to be most clearly shown [ἐκφανέστατον] and most lovely [ἐρασμιώτατον] of them all. [Phaedrus, 250D, R. Hackford, Plato's Phaedrus, Library of the Liberal Arts, 1952, p. 93, translation modified; Greek text, the Loeb Classical Library, Euthryphro Apology Crito Phaedo Phaedrus, Harvard University Press, 1914-1966, p.485]
Plato, of course, as Aristotle said, separated the forms from the things. We need not do that. Even Plato could not really explain how the things of Becoming "participate" in the Forms, which give them their reality. As it is, in seeing beauty we are seeing right through the surface of phenomena. Not perfectly -- no one sees the same beauty, or all of it. But we can state it as does St. Paul: βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι᾽ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, "For now we see through a glass, darkly" [1 Corinthians 13:12].
ἰδοὺ γέγονε καινὰ τὰ πάντα
ecce facta sunt nova [omnia].
Behold, all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Beauty can be moving enough, especially with the sublime, like that sunset; but there is more. The full depth through the glass is what is holy. This is rarer; and many are indeed insensible to it, as not a few are blind to beauty, like Kant's deaf ear for music. But as Plato thought that beauty was a clue to the transcendent, what is holy is right there. It is the root of things, beyond what reason can even articulate. In those terms, we find a living Antinomy. The Buddha is not God, or even a god, but he is radiant. The Buddha Amitâbha descends in lights and purple clouds and fragrance to collect those destined for the Pure Land. Are Christians going to believe that? Well, no. To Hume, the way that all faiths contradict each other meant that they were all false. But this can be more like the way in which they are all true. They each represent a distinct Way of life and means of Salvation, whose variety is, after a fashion, perfectly reasonable.
Does "Salvation" just mean immortality? No, because immortality is not always what is expected or promised from religious practice. "Walking in the ways of the LORD," confers a certain attitude, a certain condition, and a certain feeling. We may get the same thing, in more concentrated form, in prayer itself -- as the call of Muezzin (, muʾaððin) says "Prayer is better than sleep." This is on a continuum with flashier goals like mystical transport, or the Bliss that might be expected from such transport and from the union of Salvation (, Falâḥ) and immortality in the hereafter.
But these are isolates of experience, both for this life, in mysticism, and for the next, in the Beatific Vision. When we are looking for the "meaning of life," Pie in the Sky may seem insufficient, even in believability. And mysticism, as Oscar Wilde says of socialism, sounds like it would take a lot of evenings. The meaning of life should be about what we do moment by moment, day by day, hour by hour, in the course of ordinary activities and ordinary life. We just want the ordinary to be more than ordinary. Otherwise, it can become an Existentialist Void.
Indeed, marriage as a sacred state, which is not always featured by religions, but became a Sacrament in Christianity, can endow every word, every touch, and every affection to one's spouse with transcendence -- as Martin Buber (1878-1865) says we can see the great "Thou" (Du) in a lover's eyes. Or, having mentioned the New Mexico sunset, we might notice the Najavo practice of greeting the sunrise with a blessing and an offering of pollen. Indeed, modern life has few enough blessings, and few modern meals have the meaning and blessing, as part of the weekly round of life, of the Sabbath dinner in Judaism. But even the American Thanksgiving dinner, which began as essentially religious, has drifted away to the point where it is not religious at all. Ordinarily, we might not think of laundromats as connected to religion; but in Japan they generally feature small Shintô shrines. A deity, , is watching over your wash.
The Mediaeval principle is de gustibus non est disputandum, "There is no disputing taste"; and we might suspect that religion is largely a matter of faith. However, taste and religion are constantly disputed. Art, theater, and movie critics and book reviewers often do nothing else, and St. Thomas Aquinas would not have written his Summa contra Gentiles if he did not think that Judaism and Islam could be refuted by argument. Yet Aquinas himself affirmed that there were matters of faith, like the doctrine of the Trinity, that were not amenable to rational demonstration -- a doctrine, as it happens, for which Christians were specifically rebuked by Jews and Muslims, as a violation of monotheism. Yet one antecedent of the Trinity is the doctrine of the Λόγος, the "Word," formulated by the Jewish philosopher Philo Judaeus. The Λόγος was not original with the Evangelist John.
"Dance at Bougival,"
Bal à Bougival, 1883
However, when beauty no longer recommends art to us, it is not clear what does. And when the answer to that becomes "politics," as it often does these days, the result is very often, not just ugly, but stupid and vicious. Meaningless art would have been better. There may be a silver lining to that. When we realize that most Nazi and Soviet art was so bad that we don't need to pay any attention to it, then we don't need to pay any attention to it -- with some disturbing exceptions like Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003).
The public, which loves Impressionists like Renoir, whose art bespeaks joy and pleasure, already despises most modern art, but our "betters" in government and fashion keep buying it and even putting it public spaces. And when we realize that politicized art is not just ugly, but that it is part of an ideology of anaesthesia and anhedonia, which is a positive denial of beauty and pleasure, we should be properly alarmed. The ugliness of modern art often simply reflects the ugliness, not to mention the viciousness, of modern nihilism.
Thus, while the "full depth" of value is beauty and the holy, with the former sometimes condemned by the latter, much of what is involved in aesthetic and religious disputes is what we must pass through before reaching the "full depth."
Religious people may like to believe that a full and proper morality is an intrinsic part of religious doctrine. However, there are plenty of historical religions in which moral issues or teachings figure not at all, unless we see pollution as a substitute or antecedent. Other religions, with particular moral doctrines like the tolerance of slavery in Islamic Law or the Caste System in Hinduism, are open to a severe moral critique. Rudolf Otto thought that the evolution of religion over time involves its becoming increasingly moralized.
|Moses at the Burning Bush(es?), removing his sandals; mosaic, Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, 527-547 AD|
Such a counter-example may serve to discredit Kant's entire philosophy of religion; and it does so because of what it reveals. Kant is essentially a rationalist and a moralist. "Faith" does not mean to him what it means to anyone else.
Meanwhile, Otto himself was part of the process of modifying and qualifying Kant's philosophy. Here, following Nelson and Otto, the result is the polynomic theory of value, where separate categories of value exist in axiomatic independence of each other. In the diagram at left, this is represented as rather like the "magnetic substates" in quantum mechanics, where categories of value constitute increments that vary inversely between strength of necessity and concrete ontological transcendence.
Thus, Kant's wet dream of morality is in fact the strongest mode of necessity and obligation, full "imperatives," moral commands; but it is also of an abstract and limited content, essentially the general sine qua non of value. Imperatives in fact characterize all that is fundamentally right and just -- ὀρθός, rectus or jus, and δίκαιος, justus. It is the purpose of law to effect justice.
Although, as Calvin Coolidge says, law must be based on "the eternal foundation of righteousness," complications arise in the application of justice to the formulation of law and the administration of justice. A law about which side of the road to drive on is essentially arbitrary, but without it there would be mayhem in automobile traffic. This attenuates the force of law, since the principle is meaningless on an empty road, and we might not consider much of the law of property and contract to clearly embody natural justice. Thus, I see these provisions, not as full imperatives, but as "jussives," which are still commands but with their force obscured by tangential, accidental, and historical elements.
We see the care that must be taken with this, for example, in the serious issues in the area of mala prohibita, prohibitions by fiat, or the use of mens rea, criminal intent. Indeed, the urge to make penalties for mala prohibita harsher than for mala in se, natural evils, just so people will take them more seriously, and the urge to eliminate requirements of criminal intent, i.e. the mens rea, just to make prosecutions and convictions easier, are both intrinsicly conspiracies to perpetrate injustice, for which officials ought to be prosecuted themselves. It is hard to imagine how these abuses could take root in a democracy, although Jefferson did say that if the people "become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves" . We face the wolves now.
In the structure of value, pride of place goes, after a fashion, to "the good." Most things in life are goods without being moral goods. Honestly made shoes are goods. Whether they are then good shoes depends on a number of things, including how well made they are, the purpose of particular kinds of shoes, the taste and preferences of the wearer of the shoes, and the fashion trends to which the wearer may be responding. Because of this, the force of obligation attendant on such goods cannot be the sort of "imperative," or command, that Kant associated with morality, or for which St. Thomas had said, "The good is what is to be done." Not being obligations at all, they are not even "jussives."
There is an aesthetic variety to such goods, which means it is not even possible to pursue or fulfill all of them. Nor would we want to.
|Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), "L'Estasi di Santa Teresa," 1647-1652, Cornaro Chapel, Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, 2019|
The spectrum of value from the imperatives of morality to the practice of religious piety goes from the more abstract, with the stronger obligation, to,
I return again and again to the "Ecstasy of Santa Teresa." I have seen nothing else quite like it. The charisma of Teresa becomes something beautiful, sublime, and glamorous. We know about St. Teresa from her own account, in detail. So we know about the meaning that filled her life. But, as I said, her example is an isolate. Few people become such mystics, let alone achieve the results that she experienced. But she also knew what her daily religious practice was. That already had meaning, and her mystical experiences simply served to magnify the meaning of her daily life and observance.
Ἵνα τί ἐφρύαξαν ἔθνη, καὶ λαοὶ ἐμελέτησαν κενά;
Quare fremuerunt gentes, et populi meditati sunt inania?
Why do the heathen [gôyim] rage, and peoples imagine vain things?
|"The Scream," 1893, by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)|
Meanwhile, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), like Dr. Strangelove, never lost his love for the Führer. Since Heidegger's Nazism was successfully whitewashed after the War, the magnitude of his involvement took some years to emerge. My professor at the University of Hawai'i, J.L. (Jarava Lal) Mehta (1912-1988), who knew Heidegger personally, claimed that when Heidegger resigned the Rectorship of Freiburg University in 1934, he washed his hands of politics and no longer had anything to do with the Nazi Party. However, Heidegger never resigned from the Party, and information published postumously, including a magazine interview, prove that Heidegger's commitment and involvement with the Party never waned. Yet apologists continue to try and protect him. Emmanuel Faye sees this as the actual Nazification of the philosophers and intellectuals who are responsible for it [Heidegger, The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935, translated by Michael B. Smith, foreword by Tom Rockmore, Yale University Press, 2009]. The accuracy of this accusation is becoming evident.
How vicious and totalitarian ideologies would appeal to Sartre and Heidegger should be evident from their philosophy. There is no rational basis of morality or liberal democracy in either; and, as atheists, they also have no religious basis for morality. Although certain kinds of atheists as such might nevertheless believe in rational morality, atheism and materialism are a combination that tends to remove that possibility. So we see a statement, for the Los Angeles "Center for Inquiry," which is a organization for "secular humanism," by Elisabeth Cornwell, identified as an "Evolutionary Psychologist" and now the Executive Director of the "Richard Dawkins Foundation," even as Dawkins is a prominent atheist:
Religious people often assume that those without a belief in the supernatural cannot find beauty and inspiration in this world. Non-believers know that meaning in this world is of their own making and not dictated by a higher being... ["I Don't Need God to be Inspired," 7 October 2012]
Cornwell might not realize that a principle that "meaning in this world is of their own making" allows that Sartre and Heidegger, and the Führer, were free to formulate "meaning" as they preferred. Sartre was quite clear about that. Without God, "All is permitted." A later desire, I suppose by "humanists," to claw part of that back, and say that, perhaps, Auschwitz ought not be permitted, crumbles both because no proper basis is proposed for the objection and because people like Sartre and Heidegger knew quite well what they were doing, and were comfortable with it. Thus, as Karl Löwith (1897-1973) said, "It is not Heidegger, who, in opting for Hitler, 'misunderstood himself'." Instead, Heidegger apologists seem to misunderstand Heidegger.
A principle like "meaning in this world is of their own making" precludes the very existence of moral right and justice; for no "meaning" that you have formulated for yourself imposes any duties or obligations on me. Yet "secular humanists" seem to think that "society" inherits from God the authority of moral legislation. It doesn't. So you cannot "impose" what you think is right on me, unless it actually is right, and unless there is, one way or another, an "eternal foundation of righteousness." Atheists and materialists may not understand the question. Or they just think that they have the authority to themselves legislate for humanity.
Indeed, with the ideology at American universities now, there is no interest in providing a rational basis for morality, certaintly not for liberal democracy or capitalism, or even for any objections to Auschwitz. One gets the impression that the only objection to Auschwitz is that the wrong people were put there -- although, even worse, certain academics seem comfortable with the idea that the right people were put there -- Columbia University is now said to be the most anti-Semitic in the country, largely the fruit of the alliance between the radical Left and violent Islamic fundamentalism.
How can things have fallen so far? This is explained when we see what describes a straight line to the present from people like Sartre and Heidegger, who have never been properly discredited with intellectuals. The disease was made worse with later sickly flowerings of irrationality like "deconstruction." In fact, the line goes all the way back to Nietzsche. The truly dominant ideology, about which Nietzsche was ostensively warning, but actually was promoting, is Nihilism. Not believing anything.
There is no truth; only power. If falsehoods serve power, so much the better. And all that matters is having the right enemies, i.e. the race, class, and gender enemies identified by "oppression studies." There is a veneer of Marxism there, but usually it is what Robert Hughes called "lumpen Marxism," which means a distorted "English Department Marxism" of people who really don't even know their Marx, and certainly nothing genuine of economics, political science, history, or even logic. It doesn't matter how ignorant or incoherent this is. It is not meant to be debated. Logic itself is part of oppression; and anyone raising objections is clearly eo ipso an enemy. The Hitler Youth of modern academia, often in the full black uniforms of Fascisti, masked like the Klan, pour out to silence any debate or any contrary voices whatsoever -- calling themselves, with bitter irony, "anti-Fascists." This is destroying American education, and it bids fair to destroying America altogether, which is its overt purpose.
Waman yuḍlili llâhu famâ lahu min hâdin.
And whom God leads astray, there is for him no right guide.
ʾal-Qurʾân, Sûrah 39, Verse 23
On the other hand, cultural conservatives either still rely on religion, or on the value of tradition that we see in Edmund Burke and, for that matter, in Hume -- whose own atheism seems to shield awareness of his Tory sympathies from the bien pensants. However, Hume himself famously observed that fact cannot justify value, which means that tradition alone is actually without real moral authority.
Meanwhile, religious appeals to the authority of God are still troubled by the Problem of the Euthyphro, which is that a benevolent God must do what is good, which cannot be just whatever he wills, since this would render the term "benevolent" vacuous. If we must obey God just just because he made us, and can smash us whenever he wishes, which seems to be the argument of the Book of Job, this means that might makes right, a principle that the religious otherwise want to deny.
Thus a benevolent God must observe a standard of goodness, exactly as Plato describes it in the creation story of the Timaeus. But this contradicts the freedom and omnipotence of a monotheistic, and theistic, Deity. Hence the Antinomy that we might expect. But there is no Antinomy for goodness itself, except for the dilemmas with which the structure of value troubles us. But the very existence of dilemmas demonstrates the reality of the right ( or -- justice, or ) and the good ( or ). The reality of beauty () has a different kind of evidence, which is denied mainly by those who dislike its independence from morality or politics. And at the end of the line, left with all residual questions about meaning, is the sacred ().
How we know these things, how we have cognitive access the reality of the good, these are epistemological questions separate from metaphysics, and so have been treated in many essays separately.
A New Kant-Friesian System of Metaphysics
A Deuteronomy of Kant's Geometry
A Lecture on the Good
Why I am a Platonist
Philosophy of Religion