M: I’m curious why you’ve broken with Heidegger in your last post.
A: Before I admit to breaking with Heidegger, which I may or may not have done, why do you accuse me of doing so?
M: Have you read his Introduction to Metaphysics?
A: Yes, but it’s been some time.
M: Well, in it he says that the principal question of philosophy is, and has always been, “How does it sit with being?” When you declare that real philosophy asserts the transcendent, you’ve curtailed the range of inquiry, which arguably means you’ve stopped practicing philosophy and entered into the realm of religion or something like that.
A: Actually I think I’m agreeing with Heidegger, just carrying the inquiry to the next logical stage. To ask “How does it sit with being” supposes that eventually you will reach a conclusion: “Being sits in such-and-such a manner.” Even reaching a hypothesis requires some kind of cutting off of other options. If that means some “great” Philosophers are revealed as having either drifted off course, or as having never earnestly engaged in the project… well… I’m okay with that. Honestly, I’m not sure how one could avoid it.
M: It just seems sort of arrogant to say these guys, who were way smarter than me, had no idea what they were doing.
A: It’s not that. We all stand upon the shoulders of giants… but which giant are you standing on? Philosophers can’t all be equally right. Eventually you have to say “I substantially agree with these guys. Those guys made some good points, but I think they were wrong about X. Those guys, over there, may have been brilliant, but they were wrong.” Being smart is not a guarantee of being right in all situations.
M: Yes, of course, but I’m talking about you breaking from philosophers that you, yourself, are standing on – or at least have in the past.
A: Such as?
M: Nietzsche for one.
A: Nietzsche is a very complex and deeply ambivalent figure. I don’t think I’m breaking from Nietzsche, so much as picking up some of his threads and by necessity putting down others. I admit that there are a lot of possible readings of Nietzsche. I don’t think anyone can follow all of them to their logical conclusions and be consistent.
M: Okay, let’s take a lesser figure. De Benoist would say that transcendence is not a character of being. It’s something we impose on being through our myth making. He offers two readings: The Christian, that meaning is inherent in being, or the pagan, that meaning is absent from being outside of man’s intervention. If you think meaning is latent on existence, you’re treading on Christian metaphysics, no?
A: I think you’re inverting De Benoist’s distinction. Paganism doesn’t posit that meaning is “absent” but rather immanent – inherent in the world, and not located in some “big other” which lies outside our experience.
M: Check it out…. page 91: “In each case, it is a question of describing without depicting, of considering the world in some way as a coded ensemble whose key lies beyond visible appearances; of considering it, not as the site of forms to create, but a mystery to interpret, a puzzle to put back together, in which man, taken not as creator but as an intermediary, has the task of ‘discovering’ a hidden meaning, a necessarily unique meaning that predates his very existence. The idea of the world-as-cryptogram and that of an absolute signifier allowing it to be deciphered (who might be Yahweh, but could just as well be the unconscious or the class struggle) then functions as diastole and systole. If the world is in fact something other than what it is, there necessarily must be a universal key, which cannot be ignored and exceeded, which allows one to know what part of the world is being, and what is not. Man no longer acts; he is acted upon as the ‘decipherer or hieroglyphs.”
A: This is not what I’m talking about.
M: Well, how do you define transcendent?
A: To pull from another chapter in De Benoist, page 169: ” Far from forming an absolute that is entirely separate from the world, [the pagan supreme God ] is identical to the world’s very being. Stoicism, whose religious foundations are essential constitutes a significant case in this regard. The Stoic God is the ‘soul of the world’. The cosmos is a ‘living being full of wisdom.’ The logos that furnishes it its information is entirely consubstantial to it: it is incorporated into the itinerary and very substance of the cosmos…. The universe is not dependent upon another being, and it is in this world that man must realize his idea. When the Stoics speak of the world’s ‘duality’ – by accepting, for example, the Pythagorean opposition between the celestial world, which is the perfect world of the stars to which souls belong, and the terrestrial, sublunary world – it only involves a substantial opposition within a unitarian world. Wisdom and virtue consist of living according to the ‘order’ of this universe.” The experience of transcendence is when we step out of our own particular existence and apprehend this world-order in which we participate, not as an intellectual abstract, but as a living reality.
M: This reminds me of our break with the Gnostics.
A: In a way, it is. Neo-Platonic scholar Gregory Shaw in his text on Iamblichus describes various interpretations of existence within the Platonic tradition. “Plato’s taxonomy of the cosmos and society exemplifies what Jonathan Z. Smith has termed a locative view of existence… In a locative orientation, evil and the demonic arise only when something is out of place… Since Platonic taxonomy was locative as well as monistic, the demonic element was only relatively evil, an unbalanced expression of divine elements. Therefore the power of evil was temporary and limited to the province of an upside-down soul. The pervasive acosmic mood of late antiquity… reversed the traditional locative taxonomy… The all pervasive and beneficent order of a cosmos… was transformed into a maleficent system of repression and punishment meted out by cruel demons… man’s salvation is no longer measured by the degree of his assimilation to the patterns for the cosmos but rather to the degree to which he can escape the patterns.” In this, I stand with Iamblichus and Plato against the Gnostics and Plotinus. I’m not trying to escape to anywhere.
M: See, when I read “philosophy has to be centered around the transcendent aspect of being,’ I read, “philosophy is about positing and accessing truth, which is not situated here, but out there.” You’re defining the transcendent as imminent. It doesn’t get more contradictory than that.
A: There’s more than one way to understand the concept of transcendence. “…in all [ classic ] schools – with the exception of Skepticism – philosophy was held to be an exercise consisting in learning to regard both society and the individuals who comprise it from the point of view of universality…. Similarly, in each philosophical school we find the same conception of the cosmic flight and the view from above as the philosophical way, par excellence of looking at things.” – Pierre Hadot.
M: Have you read Kojeve on Hegel?
A: No, but I have read some Hegel. I am not a fan.
M: Well, Kojeve analytically breaks down all possible relations of Truth (or, the Concept) and being by discussing time. The possibilities are: Truth is: -temporal -identical with Time -eternal -identical with Eternity Of these possibilities, be says the only one that cannot be philosophy, because it excludes the possibility of philosophy, is “Truth is temporal.” All the others can form the foundation of philosophy, even if he himself thinks only one of them is the right answer. And that whole scheme is an incredibly ambitious assertion.
A: I am very certain I do not mean that “truth is temporal”.
M: I know, but I’m saying your assertion vis-a-vis Philosophy is even more ambitious than his. I’m just cautioning writing off tons of brilliant philosophers who don’t fit your model. And just trying to show that it’s not a settled question as to what’s pagan, what philosophy requires, and so on. I wouldn’t be comfortable saying “that’s not philosophy.”
A: Perhaps, but I don’t think I’m writing off as many as you assume. I am asserting that philosophy has a point, and that “an open mind is meant to seize on something.” By necessity, that seizing will have to exclude certain possible lines of development, which I have no choice but to leave to others. I don’t know if we’ll see eye to eye on this particular issue, but I want to thank you for raising some great challenges.
M: That’s all a philosopher can hope for.