home page of sofiatopia.org search the entire website of sofiatopia.org all books and articles of the EQUIAEON-system* siteplan of the website of sofiatopia.org general bibliography sitemenu of the website of sofiatopia.org

 Philosophy : Theory & Practice

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2017.

"... for what the natural light shows to be true can be in no degree doubtful ..."
Descartes : Meditations, III.9, my italics.


I : The Spirit and Way of Life of the Philosopher.

01. Ancient Egyptian sapience.
02. Greek spiritual exercises.
03. Christian philosophy ?
04. Montaigne & Descartes.
05. Kant and the "Copernican Revolution".
06. From the Academy to Achenbach & C°.
07. The philosophy of spiritual exercises.

II : A Critical Approach of Philosophy.

08. Pre-critical substantialism.
09. The subject of sensation, action, affect & thought.
10. Determined & nondetermined events.
11. Normative philosophy : cognition, behaviour & sensation.
12. Descriptive philosophy : the world, life, humanity & the Divine.
13. Applied philosophy.
14. Towards a practicum of philosophy.


The Architecture of Thought




1 Mythical
libidinal ego


2 Pre-rational
tribal ego


3 Proto-rational
imitative ego
barrier between instinct and reason




4 Rational
formal ego


5 Critical
formal Self
barrier between rationality and intuition





own Self




I : The Spirit and Way of Life of the Philosopher.

Pushed by the love of wisdom, the philosopher is called to think, feel & act in a way serving philosophy to the full measure of his capacities. Whatever happens, philosophical activity must be ongoing. This calls for a discipline of its own.

The shipwreck of philosophy being a total loss, there are some who claim such a path no longer exists. Obviously, for humans, this can never be so, for thoughts, feelings and actions always lead to ideas regarding the world -its existence, life & consciousness- and the transcendent.

In the thesis advanced here, theory and practice of philosophy form a unity. Integral part of society, the practice of philosophy is an integral part of the philosophical life. This life involves theory, practice and spirituality.

For different reasons, the sapiental "systems" of Antiquity cherished an organic, natural wisdom. Their leading notion of the Golden Mean, the middle between all extremes (of thought, emotion and action), is present in Egypt (cf. the Balance of Maat), in Judaism (cf. Qoheleth, 7, 15-18), in Greece (cf. Aristotle in Nichomachean Ethics), in Christian philosophy (cf. Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy) and in Islam (Koran 25:67). It can also be found in Taoism, Hinduism & Buddhism. In all these traditions, wisdom has "the other answer" escaping conceptual thought. Wisdom is found when extremes are avoided and the true nature of things is perceived. Limiting ourselves to the Mediterranean civilizations, let us trace the highlights of this wisdom.

01. Ancient Egyptian sapience.

In Ancient Egypt, ca. 2.300 BCE, the wisdom of the divine king of Egypt ruled. The uncorrupted, original text of the main ritual of this wise Horus-king was carved in stone and, for over 4 millennia, left untouched (cf. Cannibal Hymn in the Pyramid texts of Unas). This divine king was the "power of powers", the "image of images", the "slayer of the gods". He spoke the Great Word.

The direct influence of Egyptian sapience on Greek philosophy, affirmed by more than one classical writer, can be argued. The "Greek miracle" is unmistaken. Introducing formal thought, the Greeks worked with abstract connections between systems of concepts & meta-concepts, and used their inquisitive mind to seek the harmony between theory & practice. But like all other pre-Greek civilizations, Ancient Egypt thought never decontextualized its concepts, and so could not operate the advantage of meta-concepts and formal architectures between concepts and series of meta-concepts (C, C", C'" ... ). Because of the power of rationality, it took ca. six centuries of Hellenization to identify the ante-rational mentality, solving problems by raising Mediterranean thought to the level of the formal operations (cf. Clearings, 2006).

In the Ptolemaic Period, the Greeks reshaped Egypt. Mixing Egyptian thought with their own philosophies, they created new, original mystery cults (cf. the popular Cult of Serapis and esoteric Hermetism). The Greek Corpus Hermeticum influenced Christian as well as Islam theology, while Coptic (the last stage of Ancient Egyptian) remained the liturgical language of the Egyptian Coptic Church. The latter adopted its own, original interpretation of the nature of Jesus Christ.

"Along with the Sumerians, the Egyptians deliver our earliest -though by no means primitive- evidence of human thought. It is thus appropriate to characterize Egyptian thought as the beginning of philosophy. As far back as the third millennium B.C., the Egyptians were concerned with questions that return in later European philosophy and that remain unanswered even today - questions about being and nonbeing, about the meaning of death, about the nature of the cosmos and man, about the essence of time, about the basis of human society and the legitimation of power."
Hornung, 1992, p.13, my italics.

Prince Hordedef, son of king Khufu (ca. 2571 - 2548 BCE), vizier Kagemni, serving under kings Huni & Snefru, ca. 2600 BCE, and vizier Ptahhotep (ca. 2200 BCE) were the first men on record to have "lived their wisdom".

This "sAt, "sAA" or "sArt", representing the rule of Maat (justice & truth), animated more than 2000 years of Egyptian sapiental literature :

  1. The Instruction of Hordedef
    (Old Kingdom, Vth Dynasty, ca. 2487 - 2348 BCE, fragment) ;

  2. The Instructions of Kagemni
    (OK, late VIth Dynasty, ca. 2348 - 2205 BCE, fragment) ;

  3. The Maxims of Good Discourse of Ptahhotep ;
    (OK, late VIth Dynasty, ca. 2200 BCE, complete)

  4. The Instruction to Merikare
    (IX Dynasty, ca. 2160 - ?, incomplete) ;

  5. The Instruction of Pharaoh Amenemhat
    (Middle Kingdom, early XIIth Dynasty, ca. 1919 - 1875 BCE, nearly complete) ;

  6. The Instruction of Amen-em-apt
    (New Kingdom, XIX / XXth Dynasty, ca. 1292 - 1075 BCE, complete).

The manuscripts of Ptahhotep (ca. 2200 BCE) and Amen-em-apt (ca. 1200 BCE), both complete, represent beginning and end of the "royal" sapiental tradition. After Amen-em-apt, more popular, less elitist forms of discourses take over, and the texts are no longer available in hieroglyphs or cursive hieroglyphs (but in Demotic & Coptic). With the end of the New Kingdom (ca. 1075 BCE), it took Pharaonic Egypt another thousand years to cease.

In Egypt, ritual and devotion were always part of these sapiental discourses, for the wise was loved by the deities, the million faces of the Great One Alone (cf. the New Kingdom theologies of Ptah & Amun).

In Ancient Egypt, between ca. 3000 and 1800 BCE, five major state theologies emerged. Their literature was always linked to a deity, its temple and province (nome) : Osiris for Abydos, Re-Atum for Heliopolis, Thoth for Hermopolis, Ptah for Memphis and Amun for Thebes. In the New Kingdom, Amun, the "king of the gods" manifested as a body (Ptah) in Memphis, as divine speech (Thoth) in Hermopolis and as divine power (Re) in Heliopolis. He was deemed "one & millions", before and beyond the deities. Despite the sophistication of this Theban answer, the fundamental paradox between unity (one) & plurality (many) cannot be solved in proto-rational terms, for the system of relationships is not formal but concrete (applied). Godhead remained confused, for bound by the limitations of the "field-of-action" of each deity.

Ancient Egypt culture never adopted decontextualized, formal, theoretical rules. In theological terms, the deities always operated together, in constellations or groupings. Connections between other "families" were established as in myth, and regularly reenacted. The divine king was a very special "god", for his spirit (Akh) was on Earth, not where it belonged, namely in the "sky" of Re, its father. Because of the divine presence of the king, equilibrating truth & justice (Maat), the Nile was "good" and the deities could interact with the living.

When the first formal operations emerged in the minds of the Egyptian royal elite, namely decades before and under the 18-year rule of Akhenaten (ca. 1353 - 1336 BCE), they were swiftly erased from cultural memory, becoming a subreptive stream of "forbidden" literary themes and images (cf. Assmann, 1999). The monotheist singularity of sorts of the Aten, before, above & against other deities, could not be accepted by the Egyptians. The "mechanism" of their spirituality could not overthrow the Duat and Osiris.

The presence of an ante-rational sapiental tradition is attested as early as the Old Kingdom. Was Egyptian wisdom the flower or fruit of Ancient Egyptian spiritual practices and rituals ? Did it attain the level of excellent exemplarity within the boundaries of a profound closure of millennia of proto-rational thinking ?

02. Greek spiritual exercises.

Both in Egypt and Greece, the wise fostered an integrated approach of wisdom. They knew how to apply sapience in everyday life (practical philosophy, "praxis"). Moreover, their spiritual exercise addressed both cognition, affect, volition and sensation. These skillful means allowed philosophers to "orient themselves in thought, in the life of the city, or in the world" (Hadot, 1995, p.21.).

"The Socratic maxim 'know thyself' requires a relation of the self to itself that 'constitutes the basis of all spiritual exercises'. Every spiritual exercise is dialogical insofar as it is an 'exercise of authentic presence' of the self to itself, and of the self to others."

Hadot, 1995, p.20.

The particulars of the Greek style involved more than youth, keen interest, opportunism, individualism and anthropocentrism. With the introduction of formal thought and its application to the major problems of philosophy (truth, goodness, beauty & the origin of the world, life and the human), a completely new kind of sapiental thinking was set afoot. Theory, linearization and abstraction were discovered and applied to the new Greek mentality. The immediate was objectified in discursive terms, and this in a script symbolizing vowels.

As Indo-Europeans, the Ionians had a couple of typical features of their own :

  • individuality / authority ;

  • exploring mentality ;

  • unique dynamical script ; 

  • linearizing, geometrizing mentality ;

  • anthropomorphic theology.

Starting with the Ionians, in particular Pythagoras (ca. 580 BCE - ca. 500, Metapontum, Lucania), philosophy was a way of life summoning the person as a whole. Although in Greece cognition was privileged, philosophy also implied the training of affects, volitions & sensations (cf. the four elements of creation). Moreover, to effectively master these, a lot of effort was required. Besides cognitive tasks, imagination, music, ritual, meditation, martial arts, dance, singing, role-playing etc. were also practiced, addressing the entire spirit and "one's whole way of being" (Hadot, 1995, p.21.). This "intuitive" aspect of Greek philosophy is visible in the mysteries, with its integration of poetry, dance & song.

After the Persian Wars, starting with the Sophists, Greek philosophy displayed the supremacy of reason & the subsequent liberation of thought from immediate context & geosentimentalities. Before, ante-rationality ruled and the latter had always been bound to its milieu. Greek civilization changed all of this forever. With the introduction of abstraction, thought was finally liberated from its trusted local horizon, envisaging a "global" perspective. This is grasping at a universal, a "genus" instead of a "species", i.e. a non-concrete, abstract, decontextualized, formal concept, acting as a meta-concept for all possible concrete concepts (namely those ruling ante-rationality). This new élan of Hellenism embraced all nations and dreamt of a Greek pan-humanism, and later a Pax Romana.

Formal rationality is abstract and able to overstep the limits of old. It needs no references outside its own conceptualized duality of a knowing subject and an object known. Applying labels on a previously coded incoming primary data-stream, transforming "perception" into "sensation" (cf. A Neurophilosophy of Sensation, 2007), the conceptualizing mind creates and maintains a difference between object-possessor (the subject) and mental and/or sensate events (the object).

The "young" Greeks emerged out of their Dark Age as curious individualists able to make fundamental abstractions. Moreover, most pre-Socratics were also travelers & wanderers, eager to investigate other cultures. The emergence of the city-state and colonization walked hand in hand.

The emerging Greek mysteries, contrary to the Egyptian, aim at the illumination of thought through the bridling of emotions & uncontrolled volitions, and this while the body remained passive. Greek spiritual practices point to the transformation of one's view of the world, deemed possible only after a radical subjective change. In Greek philosophy, reason is nearly always placed above passion & volition. Conscious mental states master sensate, affective & volitive states.

For Plato, the way of life of a philosopher was given with Socrates (470 - 399 BCE), the only "prophet" the Greeks produced. He sought universal, eternal truths by way of dialogue, criticizing established views and inviting his listeners to discover the truth by the use of their own minds. Although Socrates is Plato's great example, his own philosophy had two aims : the transcendent and the political. Not only did the wise participate in the world of ideas, but he does so to return to the world to liberate and remind people of their original, transcendent origin (cf. the allegory of the cave in book VII of The Republic).

Plato, an Athenian aristocrat, depicts the philosopher as a liberator, a king who guides his own out of the cave of shadows & illusions. As such, the physical world of becoming is rejected. Impermanent, not as it appears, it is a discontinuity tending towards chaos, giving in to the everlasting yawning space of oblivion. In humans, this manifests as a display of afflictive passions, affects, emotions and negative volitions.

For those gone astray, the philosopher is a wandering light  ... He participates in a higher world and so for those caught in illusions, his wisdom is salvation. Hence, the human needs to "build" himself in the light of who he truly was, is and always will be. The Platonic school tries to help people remember their Divine, transcendent essence, existing from its own side.

The process of institutionalization, starting with the Eleatics, had run its course. With Plato, the first comprehensive "system-school" emerged ; a graded, gradual approach scattered in a corpus of dialogues. In it, formal thought had duly linearized "the life of a philosopher". It had, in effect reduced "practical philosophy" to teaching, writing & politics. After Plato, Greek philosophy remained school-bound and in tune with power. Although we remember Plato for his "spiritualism" (or idealism), it should be clear his interests lay in the organization of the "perfect" city-state, one which would allow its citizens to "escape" the shadows and turn towards the light of their own substantial and eternal "idea" or substance : the World of Ideas, eternal and ruled by the Idea of the Good.

Let us return to Socrates, who wrote nothing and is described by Plato, Xenophon & Aristophanes. We hear of an original, unique, civilized but non-conformist individualist, ironical, brave, dispassionate and impossible to classify, belonging to no school. In this person, the ideal of Greek philosophy seems fully embodied, and what Socrates teaches, allows, in terms of Hellenistic culture, this characterization of philosophy :

1. philosophy is a radical, uncompromising, authentic search for understanding, insight & wisdom ;
2. philosophy is never an intellectual, optional "game", but demands the enthusiast arousal of all faculties, addressing the "complete" human and giving birth to a practice of philosophy ;
3. philosophy equals relative, conventional, approximate truth, but never absolute truth. Greek philosophy, accepting meta-rational intuition, never eliminates reason.

For Socrates, the practice of philosophy helps to understanding the role of the human being as part of the "polis", a designated community. In Plato's dialogues, there is a ongoing bi-directional flow between the issue at hand and Socrates's continuous search for rational answers to fundamental problems by posing questions, opening up the space to new possibilities and creating the conditions for some insight or higher understanding to be born.

The rationality of Socrates was unsystematic, but not confused. Returning to key questions concerning reality, truth, goodness and beauty, gave body to numerous spontaneous conversations. Variations on these themes were common, but their motifs recurrent. Socrates intended not to know more about the good, but wanted knowledge committed to work for the good.

This knowledge of values is charged with affectivity. This explains Socratic determinism : "to know good is to act good". The knowledge of the philosopher is not exclusively abstract, distant and theoretical. For this indifference will never cause me to take it serious. But committed knowledge is taken serious. Born out of insight, born in those standing between intellect and folly (Plato : Symposium, 204 a-b), calling for both reason & intuition, such knowledge is Divine but also dangerous (cf. Plato's Apology).

03. Christian philosophy ?

Although the thinkers of Late Pagan Hellenism (neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Skepticism & Epicurism) had already considerably lost the free spirit of city-states philosophers like Socrates, they continued to seek personal transformation, but more and more failed to find it in terms of Pagan philosophy and its religious practices.

Particularly in Stoicism, language became an independent area of study. Logic was not longer embedded in metaphysics, but a science of language, or linguistics. Physics studies things ("pragmata" or "res"'), whereas dialectica and grammatica study words ("phonai" or "voces").

"Messianism or millenarianism is the belief in the imminent arrival of a new order or millennium of harmony and justice when the Messiah and the saints 'go marching in'. It is a frequent response to distress of all sorts, but especially to military conquest and economic and cultural dominations by foreigners. Indeed, the idea that some outside force will sweep down and overthrow the present illegitimate rulers so that 'the first shall be last and the last shall be first' has been fundamental to Judaism, at least since the captivity in Babylon in the 6th century BC. It is clear, however, that this feeling intensified after about 50 BC and was very prominent for the next 200 years ; furthermore, the sense of apocalypse was not restricted to Jews. The crisis can be partially explained by a number of political and economic changes. There were the unprecedented success of the Romans in uniting the Mediterranean, the savage civil wars between the Roman warlords ; and finally, in 31 BC, the establishment of the Roman Empire -often portrayed as a new age- under Augustus."
Bernal, 1987, pp.124-125.

The intellectual climate of Late Hellenism was characterized by a feeling of disquietude and fatalism, and from the beginning of the 4th century, a release of talent and creativity is witnessed. The empire was in a deep crisis and the reforms of Diocletianus (284 - 305) tried to "solve" the issues by transforming the Roman civil state into a despotic empire (he professionalized the army, introduced a hierarchical bureaucracy, raised the taxes and put into place a repressive legal system and a secret state police, the "agentes in rebus", as Augustine would call them). These changes were consolidated by Constantine the Great (306 - 337), who adopted Christianity as the ideology of the state, turning the monarchy, by introducing hereditary succession, into a system ruled by the grace of the God of Christ (he himself was baptized on his dead bed). After Theodosius I (346 - 395), the "imperator Christianissimus", the empire was divided and the Western part was invaded by the "barbarians" ... In the East, the Byzantines recovered from the Gothic inroad and, throwing back the Persians and the Arabs, they would hold out until 1453.

In Late Hellenism, Christianity represents the new view on the world, man & salvation, advancing parallels to Paganism, but outstripping the latter in ultimate rejection of the classical concepts. As early as 95 AD, Roman centrists as Clement I defined Papal authority, and by the time of Constantine, Greek philosophy is used to solve major theological disputes (namely those concerning the nature of Christ).

Gathering bishops to solve problems had been done before. Especially to counter early heresies (choices unacceptable to the orthodox Christian centrists) and the rapid rise of counter-churches, "regular" bishops deliberated together (the so-called "synod" or "concilium") to constitute a dogma (the first Catholic synods were as early as 197, 256 & 314 CE). Episcopalism was born. This episcopalism would be the political tool used to realize the "universal" church of Christ.

The first "holy" synod, held under the aegis of emperor Constantine in 325 CE (Nicænum), initiated a deposit of faith, a magister and a "sacred" tradition to be kept by the Papal court. Curialism was born. Next, Catholic dogma would rule all higher learning for more than a millennium.

Indeed, a synod of only ca. 220 bishops (i.e. a small fraction of the total episcopate !), was urged by Constantine in person to canonize dogma's pertaining to the nature of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity. Regarding this nature of Christ, a lot of serious conflicts had arisen between the Roman position and the bishops of the East. These problems pertained to the relation of Jesus Christ to God (Trinitarian) and to the two natures of Christ (Christological). This clever "spiritual putch" would eternalize the Roman view and save imperialism.

Was Christ "created" ("factum") or "generated" ("natum") ? If created, Christ is the subordinate of the Father and therefore not God as He is. The substance of "1" (unity) differs from the substance of "2" (duality). If generated, Christ, born out of the Father, was, is and will always be part of the Father and so in the same way "God" as He is. How to understand this God-status of Jesus Christ ?

Tritheism (Father, Son & Holy Ghost as three independent Gods) & modalism (One God with three Divine modi) had to be refuted. The canons reached at during the ancient synods had to solve the spirito-political tensions between the bishops and to allow the imperial order to identify with an evangelical "Divine" order. Jesus Christ, the Son, was deemed "generated" not "created", born out of the Father and consubstantial ("homoousios") with Him. The Holy Spirit came from the Father and the Son (in the East, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only and the phrase "and the Son" or "filioque" is absent). Compromizes such as "analogous in all with the Father" or "resembling the Father in being" ("homoiousios") were rejected.

The Roman Trinitarian formula became : "one essence and three Divine Persons". This Nicæan formula became the leading dogma of the Roman Church.

When concentrating on the Person of Christ, parties disagreed about the proper balance between Christ's humanity and His Divinity. Too much humanity could loosen the ontological bond with the Father (as "God" -like the Father- or as First Creation next to Him). Too much Divinity could endanger universal redemption in the name of the Godman Christ. Deny His humanity and our bond with Him as Son of Man is gone. Deny His Divinity and Christ can no longer save us, but only the Father can.

In the Latin West, the formula : "One Divine Person with two natures (human & Divine)", became the ruling formula promulgated by Constantine's bishops.

The Council of Nicea, deciding in favour of co-substantialism, the two natures of Christ, and the Filioque, effectively divided Christianity, allowing each to position its own theological system.

"Credimus in unum Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Dei, natum ex Patre unigenitum, hoc est de substantia Patris, Deum ex Deo, lumen ex lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, natum, non factum, unius substantiae cum Padre ..."
19th of June AD 325 - my italics

Compared to Paganism, Chrisitanity adopted four major novelties :

  1. the idea of a World Savior:
    a perfect human and a perfect God, called "Jesus Christ", lived, died and rose again within historical time, acting as a savior-figure, founding a totally new cult ;

  2. the theology of the person :
    humans are persons endowed with a free will and so able to make a positive choice. To find salvation, the despondent men of the empire could come one by one ;

  3. the spiritual equality of all humans :
    although the social system distinguished ever more sharply between aristocrats and commoners, the new religion offered salvation to all human beings ;

  4. the emperor as the protector of the new order :
    already at the end of the first century, Clement I had stressed the centrist approach and placed himself at the head of the Church of Christ (for Rome "had the bones" of Peter & Paul). Constantine would finalize this move, and declare himself as the protector of the Universal (Catholic) Church, while manipulating the outcome of crucial Christocentric & Trinitarian issues.

With Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335 - 399), Gregory of Nazianzus (329 - 389), Basil of Caesarea (ca. 329 - 379) and Augustine (354 - 430), etc. we see the emergence of a Christian philosophical school, raising the issues of Platonic and neo-Platonic thought and dealing with them in terms of Christian theology. They devised the language of Christology and Trinitarism, introducing Greek metaphysics into Christian theology.

From the side of reason, Christian revelation (or any other), cannot define truth. Christian philosophy is either a "Christian" version of philosophy or the philosophy of Christianity. In both cases, the essential tension between revelation & reason remains unsolved.

In a Christian perspective, "spiritual exercises" no longer involve the person as a hermit in his or her own right, but only as a member of the community or church. Without the church, no salvation ! Without a rule, no monastery ! Despite the theology of the person (in fact intended to allow people to make the life-saving choice for Christ and the Catholic Church), individualism was lost and even hermits as the Desert Fathers (in 4th century Upper Egypt), would eventually also become regulated by the centrist bishops (cf. the rise of monastic rules) and emerge in the 9th as a completely regulated "spiritual" life (cf. Cluny). Also, even if monks and nuns (cf. Beatrice of Nazareth, Jan of Ruusbroec) were seeking transformation, this was no longer to find a new wholeness within themselves as themselves, but only insofar as they became, through baptism, the adoptive children of Christ Himself ! Realizing the "imago Dei" was the goal, and without the grace of the Holy Spirit this was deemed impossible.

By contrast, in Greek philosophy in general, and in neo-Platonism in particular, individual efforts were considered to be sufficient to realize wholeness and experience "the One" directly. In Christianity, only Jesus Christ saves. Indeed, persons make a "free choice" to find themselves integrated into the "mystical body of Christ" ! What a difference ! Without Divine grace, nothing could be achieved and man was an easy prey for the Devil and his own (cf. Augustine in his Confessions, who's life coincided with the transition from Late Hellenism to the Christian Middle Ages).

Augustine, the bishop of Hippo (North Africa), affirmed the continuity between rationality (identified with Platonism) and faith, in casu, Christianity. Without (the Christian) God, reason leads to the worship of idols. For him, reason and faith are not in conflict and should not be separated : "itinerarium mentis in Deum". But, the gospels have no philosophy to offer. They provide no rational system, but a proclamation of the "Kingdom of God" (in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ). If the former is a Greek ideal like "agathon" (Plato's "summum bonum") or the Peripatetic unmoved mover, Jesus Christ is a revelation of the Divine : a Divine datum. The tensions are obvious. Is reason equipped enough to arrive at a comprehensive explanation of what works ? If so, then no "eye of faith" needs to be postulated. For Tertullian (ca. 220 CE), Christianity abrogated reason, or "worldly wisdom". He believed because of its absurdity. The folly of faith ?

With the rise of Christianity & its fundamentalism, Greek philosophy and the Pagan way of life were deemed heretical and therefore excommunicated. Hermetism and Gnosticism were condemned. A mentality which would persist for more than 13 centuries, reducing free thought to nil ! Officially, individual spiritual exercises were over and philosophy became the appendix of Christian theology, used for apology & exegesis, i.e. reduced to logic & linguistics. Only as late as 2000 CE did the Roman Church acknowledge these "sins against truth", asking God to forgive her.

Despite this general climate, philosophers did emerge. More than once in open conflict with the powers that be, they evidenced the spontaneous association of thought, feeling and action with their reflections, creating a need to understand the wider perspectives on truth, beauty & goodness, and this while remaining within the confines of Christian faith, often placing faith above reason.

Catholic thinkers such as Augustine, Scotus (ca. 810 - 877), Anselm (1033 - 1109), Abelard (1079 - 1142), Aquinas (1225 - 1274), Ockham (1290 - 1350) and Cusanus (1401 - 1464), contributed to the preservation of many twists & turns of the philosophical mind. Devoid of philosophical practice, they kept & polished the magisterial "dead bones" of the philosophies of Antiquity, adding a few of their own.

04. Montaigne, Descartes, Kant.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europe developed a new vision of the human. Differing radically from anything before, it became an example for non-Europeans to follow. Eventually, this new ideal conquered the civilized world. Its essential components were :

  • humanism : the human is put in the center and given an ultimate value to which everything else had to be subdued. Egocentrism & the subjugation of nature to the will of the human prevailed ; 

  • focus on the empirical : the transcendent realities of myth and religion are replaced by what the senses bring ;

  • openness : commerce brings the unknown into focus and exploration is of the order of the day, everything is possible and there are no sacred grounds ;

  • pluralism & tolerance : slowly the realization dawned that other people, groups, nations etc. have the right to take their own development at heart ;

  • rationalism & utility : science & technology are deemed crucial to eliminate the difficulties encountered : anticipation, prediction, self-control, efficiency, argumentation etc. become more important ;

  • pretence : the rational, calculating, planning and self-controlling Westerner becomes highly optimistic and develops pride in his enormous achievements, anticipating to become God himself, i.e. achieve immortality on Earth ;

  • democracy : with the French Revolution (1789), a new political consciousness dawned. Divine kingship could no longer be accepted and with its demise the world was again transformed.


With his motto "Que sais-je ?", Montaigne (1533 - 1592) revitalized skepticism and posited cultural relativism. In his Essays (or "Attempts"), he eloquently employed so many references and quotes from classical, non-Christian Greek & Roman authors, in particular Lucretius, that his work may be read as an argument to disregard religious (read : Christian) dogma. More importantly, Montaigne was the first to use introspection to analyze his own thoughts, feelings and actions. This "psychological turn" implied self-discovery and the experience of oneself "as it is", the first step in any attempt to address the totality of faculties. This reinvention of the individual was one of the crucial characteristics of the Renaissance thinkers. Less and less shackled by the constraints of Catholic dogma, they took reason as their guide and rejected blind faith and its fideist impact on thought. As Thomas Aquinas before him, Montaigne considered revealed and natural truth to be in harmony. However, this traditional thesis went hand in hand with skepticism.

In his Apology for Raymond Sebond (1576), Montaigne wrote we can not be sure of anything unless we find the one thing which is absolutely certain. Task was to "watch my self as narrowly as I can". Of course, this is only possible if we place not God, but the human center stage. Montaigne reinvented the practice of philosophy, and instead of focusing on theoretical issues, he tried to understand how human beings can be happy. The quest for happiness is indeed the main theme of any practice of philosophy, for it is common to all human beings.

Montaigne did not reject the Bible. In his introduction to his Apology, we read that without "illumination" reason can understand nothing fundamental about the universe. Duly illuminated, the human can come to know himself, his Creator and his religious and moral duties, which he will then love to fulfill. The method consists of freeing humans from doubts and revealing the errors of Pagan Antiquity and its unenlightened philosophers. It teaches Catholic truth, showing up sects as errors and lies. It does all these things by teaching the Christian the "alphabet" which must be acquired if one is to read Nature aright. Revealed truths and the Book of Nature properly read say the same things. With this thesis, Montaigne is still firmly grounded in pre-Cartesian thought.

The move from this Renaissance humanism to rationalism was interpreted by Toulmin as rationalism's answer to the initiating force of humanism (cf. Cosmopolis : The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, 1990). The humanists had placed humanity to the fore, and the rationalists continued on this line, for humans were foremost characterized by their cognitive abilities. This "turn" placed epistemology and the question "What do I know ?" in the center. Devoid of revealed, dogmatic knowledge, the Renaissance thinker is forced to find good reasons to justify thought. The three traditional avenues (of ecclesiastical authority, sense data and formal logic) were questioned, and the first was radically rejected. Empirism and rationalism devised two opposed answers to the question of justification, and grounded thought either in sense data or in the necessary truths of reason.


To seek indubitable truth, René Descartes (1596 - 1650) turned to radical methodological doubt. He left the Jesuit college of La Flèche and was ashamed of the amalgam of doubts and errors he had learned there. In fact, he realized his knowledge was based on nothing certain. Traditional scholastic philosophy, influenced by the dogmatic discourse of revealed knowledge, consisted of various contradicting opinions, grosso modo Platonic or Peripatetic. History was a series of moral lessons (cf. Livius) and philosophy was still restricted to logic. The experimental method was absent, and various authorities ("auctoritates") were studied (Galenus, Aristotle, Avicenna, etc.). Aim was to harmonize the magisterial contradictions (cf. the "sic et non" method). In the interpretation of these sources, a certain creativity was at work, but the question of the foundation of knowledge was not posed. However, in the mind of Cartesius, the only constructive point of his education, so the Discourse on Method (1637) tells us, was the discovery of his own ignorance.

This discovery prompted Descartes to reject all prejudices and seek out certain knowledge. This is knowledge justified in an absolute way, i.e. based on a sufficient ground (foundationalism). Nine years he raises doubts about various conjectures and opinions covering the whole range of human activities. Eventually, doubt is raised against three possible sources of knowledge :

  1. authority : in Scholasticism, the system of authority was the only one in place. This authority was based on "revealed" knowledge, deemed eternal, unchangeable and definitive (cf. the revelations of the Torah, the New Testament & the Koran). Historical criticism was absent and epistemologically, the source of revealed knowledge was considered "higher" than rational and empirical knowledge. However, as contradictions between authorities always rise, a higher criterion is needed if the effort to solve these is considered necessary ;

  2. senses : maybe waking experience is just a "dream", a "hallucination" or an "illusion", i.e. something appearing differently than it really is ? By which criterion can both be distinguished ? Is waking a kind of dreaming and dreaming a kind of waking ? Also : the senses give confused information, so a still higher criterion is needed ;

  3. reason : here we have the laws of logic and its "clear & distinct" ideas. How can we be certain some "malin génie" has not created us such, that we accept self-evident reasoning (for example : the triangle has three sides) although we are in reality mislead and in fatal error ? Here Cartesius raises doubt about reason itself. As a rationalist, he tries to "escape" this problem by intuitively positing a criterion of truth (the "clear & distinct" ideas) circle-wise connected with the existence of God. He failed doing so without introducing a circular argument (reminiscent of scholastic fundamentalism).

However far doubt is systematically applied, for Descartes it does not extend to my own existence. Doubt reveals my existence. If, as maintained in the Principles of Philosophy, the word "thought" is defined as all which we are conscious of as operating in us, then understanding, willing, imagining and feeling are included. I can doubt all objects of these activities of consciousness, but that such an activity of consciousness exists, is beyond doubt.

Thus, the "res cogitans", "ego cogitans" or "l'être conscient" is the crucial factor in Cartesian philosophy. Its indubitable, intuitively grasped truth ? Cogito ergo sum : I think, therefore I am. That I doubt certain things may be the case, but the fact that I doubt them, i.e. am engaged in a certain conscious activity, is certain. To say : "I doubt whether I exist." is a contradictio in actu exercito, or a statement refuted by the mere act of stating it. The certainty of Cogito ergo sum is not inferred but immediate and intuitive. It is not a conclusion, but a certain premiss. It is not first & most certain in the "ordo essendi", but as far as regards the "ordo cognoscendi". It is true each time I think, and when I stop thinking there is no reason for me to think that I ever existed. I intuit in a concrete case the impossibility of thinking without existing. In the second Meditation, Cogito ergo sum is true each time I pronounce or mentally conceive it ...

Having intuited a true and certain proposition, Descartes seeks the implied general criterion of certainty. Cogito ergo sum is true and certain, because he clearly and distinctly sees what is affirmed. As a general rule, all things which I conceive clearly and distinctly are true. In the Principles of Philosophy, we are told "clear" means that which is present and apparent to an attentive mind and "distinct" that which contains within itself nothing but what is clear. Although he has arrived at a certain and clear proposition, he does not start to work with it without more ado. Indeed, suppose God gave me a nature which causes me to err even in matters which seem self-evident ? To eliminate this "very slight" doubt, Descartes needs to prove the existence of a God who is not a deceiver. Without this proof, it might be so that what I conceive as clear and distinct, is in reality not so.

But what is the problem with Cogito ergo sum ?

Besides not being a rational conclusion, but an intuitional, apodictic (tautological) certainty, both in the Meditations and the Principles of Philosophy, the "I" in Cogito ergo sum, is not a transcendental ego (a mere formal condition of knowledge, as it should be), but "me thinking". Despite various contents of thought, the thing that cannot be doubted is not "a thinking" or "a thought" or a formal "thinker", but a thinking ego conceived as an existing substance. This ego is not formal, nor the "I" of ordinary discourse, but a concrete existing "I", a kind of scholastic soul (anima). Descartes uncritically assumes the scholastic notion of substance (substantia), while this doctrine is open to doubt. Thinking does not necessarily require a substantial thinker. The ego cogitans does not refer to a thinking thing, but to a mere transcendental ego accompanying every cogitation.

Because he did not rely on the object of knowledge (deemed doubtful), Descartes rooted his whole enterprise in an ideal, substantial ego, constituting the possibility and expansion of knowledge. All idealists after him would do the same. The end result of this reduction is a variation on the Platonic theory of knowledge. Eventually (as in contemporary epistemology), truth is identified with a consensus omnium between sign-interpreters (cf. Habermas - Clearings, 2006).

Descartes, in order to integrate his systematic doubt into his philosophical method, relying on the natural light of reason to attain certain knowledge, introduced the style of the meditation. Self-reflective activity is made independent of revealed knowledge, and the thinker is deemed able to find absolute truth independent of the scholastic tradition. Although this cannot be called a return to a spiritual practice aiming at the integration of the whole (the transformation of parts -thoughts, affects, actions- into a larger whole), Cartesian meditation does imply a systematic use of introspection at the service of a given philosophical aim, in his case finding the absolutely certain. René Descartes thereby initiated the French approach "from within", which returns in Bergson (1859 - 1941), as well as in Sartre (1905 - 1980) or Foucault (1926 - 1984). In German philosophy, Husserl (1859 - 1939) is a good example, as was the late Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951).

05. Kant and the "Copernican Revolution".

With his "Copernican Revolution", Kant (1724 - 1804), focusing on the transcendental subject of experience, completes the self-reflective movement initiated by Descartes, while trying to purge objective (realist) and subjective (idealist) substantializations. The "I" in "What can I know ?" does not refer to a Cartesian substantial ego cogitans, but to an unsubstantial, formal possibility of gathering the manifold of mental & sensuous objective activity under the unity of a single apprehending consciousness, the "I think", the apex of reason necessary to be able to think the empirical ego and its concrete cogitations. The "I think" is a meta-level. Criticism reflects on the conditions of knowledge and uncovers principles, norms & maxims. Transcendental inquiry is therefore the "doubling" of reason in :

  • mind ("Verstand") :  together with the senses, co-conditioning  facts tending towards differentiation (variety) &

  • reason ("Vernunft") : regulating dualism with ideas converging on unity & the unconditional.

Integrating the best of rationalism and empirism, Kant avoids the battle-field of the endless (metaphysical and ontological) controversies by (a) finding and (b) applying the conditions of possible knowledge. From rationalism, he adopted the idea knowledge is a phenomenon co-constructed by the subject and its natural operations. But instead of introducing a substantial subject he worked out a transcendental apex for the cognitive system. From empirism, he took the idea knowledge "starts" with sense-contact, and not with a priori categories.

Indeed, an armed truce or concordia discors between object and subject had to be realized (cf. Clearings, 2006). Inspired by Newton (1642 - 1727) and his theory on universal gravitation, but turning against Hume (1711 - 1776) and his skepticism, Kant deems synthetic propositions a priori possible (Hume had only accepted direct synthetic propositions a posteriori). Kant was among the first to realize that in the previous centuries, the crucial epistemological question had been reduced to an ontological problem. Not "What can I know ?", but "What is the foundation of what I know ?" had been at hand. The latter quest first introduced a theory on being (ontology) and then moved to explain how knowledge emerged as a result. Hence, two opposing, contradictory "solutions" were proposed : in rationalism, knowledge was based on an ideal kind of cogitation ("intuitions" like Cogito ergo sum), or empirism, based it on a empirical observation (like the direct, experience of sense-data, representing reality one-to-one).

Propositions are either analytic, i.e. tautological, structural, and a priori, as in logic & mathematics, or synthetic, adding a sensuous predicate to the subject, requiring sensation. This happens a posteriori, i.e. after the fact of sensuous contact. Synthetic propositions a priori are propositions of fact which, just like analytical theories, are always & everywhere true. Kant was still dreaming of finding the absolute foundation for scientific knowledge. Later, neo-Kantian criticism would prove him wrong.

For Kant, the categorial system, rooted in the subject of experience, produced scientific statements of fact which are always valid and necessary (for Hume, scientific knowledge is not always valid and necessary). This system stipulates the conditions of valid knowledge and is therefore the transcendental foundation of all possible knowledge.

So in his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant tried to find how statements of fact could be universal & necessary, i.e. as binding as the analytics of mathematics. Only then was a universal and necessary science deemed possible. Without apory, his philosophy explained how Newton's physical laws were universal & necessary. The scandal was over ...

Kant let rational thought mature. Unlike concept-realism (Platonic or Peripatetic) and nominalism (of Ockham or Hume), critical thought, inspired by Descartes, is rooted in the "I think", the transcendental condition of empirical self-consciousness without which nothing can be properly called "experience". This "I", the apex of the system of transcendental concepts, is "of all times" the idea of the connected of experiences. It is not a Cartesian substantial ego cogitans, nor an empirical datum, but the formal condition accompanying every experience of the empirical ego. Kant calls it the transcendental (conditional) unity of all possible experience (or apperception) a priori. Like the transcendental system of which it is the formal head, it is, by necessity, shared by all those who know.

"What can I know ?" is the first question asked. Which conditions make knowledge possible ? This special reflective activity was given a new word, namely "transcendental". This meta-knowledge is not occupied with outer objects, but with our manner of knowing these objects, so far as this is meant to be possible a priori (A11), i.e. always, everywhere and necessarily so. Kant's aim is to prepare for a true, immanent metaphysics, different from the transcendent, dogmatic ontologisms of the past, turning thoughts into things.

The professorial philosophy of Kant divorced the practice of philosophy from the theory of knowledge, making the intuitive core of philosophy no longer an issue. Kant is the first to find good reasons to limit philosophy, but was himself largely misunderstood. His metaphysical intention was overseen, although the theoretical division between "phenomenon" and "noumenon" would influence post-Kantian ontology.

In the German Idealism of Fichte (1762 - 1814), Schelling (1775 - 1854) & Hegel (1770 - 1831), a restoration of scholastic ontology was pursued. Absolute object & absolute subject were reintroduced. Hegel added dialectic change to his largely Spinozist kind of ontology. By way of thesis, anti-thesis & synthesis, Nature becomes Spirit and Spirit becomes Aware of Itself (as Hegel). Integrating history and novelty-through-change in what had been a static, geometrical and formal exposition of substance, Hegel lay the foundation for historical materialism (Marx as Hegel reversed) and process philosophy.

In the virulent conflict between, on the one hand, the will to restore & maintain the old ways of foundational thought (a nostalgia for pre-critical feudalism also visible in the political tensions between revolution & restoration) as in Hegelianism, Marxism, scientism, Fregean logicism, logical positivism, historical materialism, Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology etc. and, on the other hand, an irrationalism rejecting the supreme role of reason, as in the protest philosophies of Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860), Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) and Bergson (1859 - 1941), irrationalism proved prophetical for the 20th century.

06. From the Academy to Achenbach & C°.

From Kant onwards, but especially when Hegelianism was taken over by physicalism, academic philosophy was reorganized (in Germany ca. 1850). The role given to philosophy depended on the overall orientation of the university. The division between, on the one hand, an empirical approach, and, on the other hand, a textual, hermeneutical and more "scholastic" way remained pertinent until this day. In no way was the practice of philosophy made part of the study, and a scholarly reduction was at hand. The process of devising a standard "curriculum" for philosophy continued, depending on local preferences and intellectual tastes. This absence of standardization has many advantages, allowing each department of philosophy the freedom to adapt to its environment. But is this philosophy or only its logistics ?

A curriculum of philosophy must train philosophers in such a way they are able to become "real life" philosophers. If it cannot deliver this, then philosophy has not been served. If philosophy is what philosophers do, then surely an academic training in philosophy must teach philosophers how to do that ? Suppose this is not the case, then what use has the academy ?

Given the results of two centuries of criticism, a series of "hardcore" philosophical disciplines were found to be necessary : logic, epistemology, ethics, esthetics & (immanent) metaphysics. In various forms, this core is always part of any contemporary Western faculty of philosophy. But perhaps academic philosophy has failed us because of its reluctance to integrate the practice of philosophy and think the philosophy of the practice of philosophy, including its economy.

The philosophy of the practice of philosophy has as object the practicum of wisdom in (Socratic) dialogue and the psychology, sociology & economy of the practice of a philosopher.

Contemporary academic philosophy, concocting a beautiful, but still incomplete neo-scholastic system, does not provide future philosophers the tools to actually practice sapiental teachings "on the market", i.e. in the world outside school and the academic system. The curriculum has no practicum. These academia are presently unequipped to give its "Master Degree in Philosophy" any economic value. This petrifies the veins and causes arrest. The philosophy of the practice of philosophy is the necessary complement of the "pure" work of writing out theory intended to study & teach philosophy in the best possible way. Thanks to philosophy as praxis, the psychology, sociology, economics, etc. of acquiring wisdom are integrated to fructify philosophy as theoria. Thanks to the latter, the former increases efficiency.

With the reintroduction of the practice of philosophy in the late '80s, things changed. As a Socratic operator, the philosopher moved "on the market". Able to make a living as an independent teacher and advisor, reflection correlates with action. Being a way of life, defined by a free spirit of rational inquiry, regulated by the idea of the unconditional, and aiming to be more "a living voice than writing and more a life than a voice" (Hadot, 1995, p.23.), philosophy is more than a logistics of ideas and their history.

The acquisition of abstract, theoretical knowledge should not be divorced again, this time by realist materialism instead of idealist dogmatic theology, from the transformation of one's complete personality through the exercise of wisdom. Moreover, the latter implies much more than relative, contextual virtues and maxims, mere "applications" outside the confines of the "academic approach". Exercising wisdom constitutes the actual spirit of philosophy, rooted in practice, and should not be misunderstood for irrationalism. Quite on the contrary, it triggers a deeper realization of the own-Self of the philosopher, actualizing creative thought. Academic philosophy still circumvents a confrontation with the challenge posed by the actual life of philosophers through the well-known tactic of intentional silence.

In the '90s, the postmodern movement brought philosophy outside the academic system. Just as the Renaissance thinker risked his life when thinking outside the limits of Roman dogma, the postmodernist identifies the modernist academia as places of "double talk". Given philo-logistics is crucial, postmodern logic draws a margin and identifies the whole system of convenient classifications as a "mummification" (cf. Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida) of the spoken, living world, a priori invalid in the actual situation of any living philosopher, and thus unaware of the sense of wisdom. Precisely because the latter cannot be "frozen" in abstract categories, academic philosophy turns away from its necessary feeding-grounds and, at first anorexic, it finally starves itself to death. The postmodern reflex to "deconstruct" or identify the "transcendent" factors (i.e. absolute thinking) "in the margin" facilitated the recovery of the "true sense" of philosophy, the "voice" instead of the "writing", the "ancient" way of life of the sapient and the spiritual exercises accompanying such a life.

"Die philosophische Praxis ist ein freies Gespräch."

In 1987, the German Gerd Achenbach launched his Philosophische Praxis ("Practice of Philosophy"), bringing about a rediscovery, reappraisal & operationalization of the "sense" of wisdom, not in terms of a theoretical logistics, but as an actual, living wisdom and its praxis, namely as that what philosophers do. Comparable initiatives emerged across Europe, USA, Canada, Latin America, Israel and the far Eastern countries. In France and in the Netherlands, these efforts were followed and developed by Veening (1987), Hoogendijk (1988), Dill (1990), Sautet (1992) etc. In Belgium, the practice of philosophy of the present writer assists business (since 1990).

A philosophy of the practice of philosophy is possible and necessary. It should be studied and taught at school. This is vital for the future professionalism of a practicing philosopher. Philosophers have to be taught how to be autonomous thinkers. Philosophical dialogue in theory and practice furthers an individual’s originality & self-sufficiency. Counteracting strategies and divisions, philosophers must be told how to bridge, advise, harmonize, cultivate mutual understanding through dialogue, aim at the transformation of ideas to produce cooperation, integration and wholeness, etc. Academic philosophy should be able to prepare its students, giving them the tools to build a genuine philosophical life, teaching them how to practice philosophy, i.e. apply its theory.

The necessity of the "Practice of Philosophy" derives from wisdom's aim to reduce alienation & disorientation, promoting :

  1. (inter) subjectivity :
    self-awareness, consciousness of being a subject, a someone rather than a something, the First Person perspective, ability to interact constructively with others, implying openness, flexibility, respect, tolerance etc. ;

  2. cognitive autonomy :
    capacity to think rationally, to self-reflect, able to formulate ideas independent of traditions, ability to integrate instinct & intuition in a rational way, dialogal capacity, using arguments to posit opinions, etc. ;

  3. moral balance :
    awareness of the importance of happiness, justice and fairness in thought, feelings and actions, communicational action, building peace, mutual understanding & acting against extreme positions like fundamentalism, nihilism, skepticism, dogmatism, relativism, materialism, spiritualism, etc. ;

  4. intellectual & spiritual concentration, sharpness & depth :
    creative capacity, originality, inventivity, novelty, and the spiritual exercises aiming at wholeness, leading to increased mental concentration, intellectual acuteness and extend of interests and compass.

For Hoogendijk (1988), wonder starts where self-evidence ends. By moving beyond the confines of any given context, chain of events or situation, ever alert when something new approaches, practical philosophy is an exercise in permanent wonderment. Indeed, the finite circle of always-the-same-thing is thus abandoned and the attitude, frame of mind and intention of the beginner are invoked. Beginning anew calls for past & future to be bracketed, objects of memory & expectation to be eliminated from the immediate awareness of reality-for-me, and the perpetual present to be invited by observing what happens here and now with as few interpretations as practically possible. Starting all over again is an art and a science. It is like existing in the interval of the "now", in the isthmus between what is past and not yet future.

Philosophical dialogue is the confidential instrument of practical philosophy. This is not the same as a casual conversation about the meaning of life, love, health and the like. As Ptahhotep and the Egyptian sages after him already noticed, a curious exchange occurs between a person with a crucial question and another person trained in using the mind constructively and spiritually, i.e. aiming at the integration of the full scale of consciousness and its meaning-giving activities. Because of their predilection for words as the eternal expression of the "energetic formative principles of nature" (Lawtor in Schwaller, 1988, p.10), the Egyptian sage characterized this exchange in concrete concepts (cf. proto-rational stage of cognition and the ante-rational, instinctual mind).

In the Maxims of Good Discourse, there are no grammatical criteria to establish whether the author uses the verb "sedjem" ("sDm") as "to hear" or as "to listen". Although in some cases, variations occur which could indicate "listen", in other cases "sDm" appears when the context suggest "listening". Hence, only the context may reveal the distinction, which is pertinent.

The following "order" or proto-rational closure may be derived :

  • hearer : one who opens his ears to invite the meaning of the words spoken - the ears are pleased to hear what profits the didactical purpose of the good discourse, the accomplished transmission of the commanding words of wisdom - the hearer directs his attention consciously and so "hearing" is clearly a level higher than registering without the effort to comprehend ;

  • master-hearer : the one who immediately comprehends the meaning and can reproduce it - this leads to listening if the heart desires so ;

  • listener : one who opened his heart to invite the "inner" meaning of the totality of what he heard - one able to recognize the excellence of the good discourse in the words & deeds of those who heard & listened to them (i.e. a perfect son) - note that he who listens is loved by the god (the deity ruling the place) ;

  • master-listener : one who listened so well that he surpassed the teachings of his own father and is able to do great, excellent deeds and speak the accomplished discourse ;

  • venerable : when old age has arrived, the master-listener (while alive) enjoys constantly doing righteousness.

In Classical Greek philosophy, the exchange between subjects in philosophical conversation became hyper-symbolical, dialogal, argumentative, objectifying, linearizing and abstract, confining the role of philosophy in society to the study & practice of cognitive & moral states, implying logic, a series of normative disciplines and metaphysics (particularly ontology).

Introducing rationality and the conceptualizing (discursive) mind hand in hand with the abstract symbols and their mathesis, allowed wisdom to finally integrate the rational discourse and to fully benefit from this new stratum of cognitive (formal) operations, freed from any geo-cognitive hangovers, so typical of ante-rationality. After a few millennia, cognition had to face the problems of formal rationality and its "fundamentalism", i.e. the ante-rational need for a sufficient ground or underlying "thing" (hypokeimenon), whether it be as the Fata Morgana or conceptual mirage of the "Real" (world out there) or the "Ideal" (subject in here). Drawing the lines and defining the fundamental demarcations of thought as thought, criticism is never "on its own". As the constant ally of formal reason, critical thought reminds itself of the constant possibility or trap of mistaking facts for reality & thoughts for ideality. New experiments are always needed (for nature changes), and debates must be forthcoming.

Once the underlying, sufficient ground is uncritically accepted (as in concept-rationality), ever more glyphs materialize (due to the infusion of meaning, or consciousness, in matter) and solid deposits occur. This  accumulation of glyphs forms aggregates operating as institutions and academic, legal, economic, military, educational, medical, religious etc. systems. So many monoliths of long-term wishful thinking accommodates a conservative reflex, and also maintains (to guarantee a personal livelihood) the shameful waste of energy and effort. Indeed, the major problem facing humanity is the same as what stares us daily in the face, namely proper rational organization. As long as a poor household quarrels, no gain is made. The practice of philosophy, and not religion and/or psychotherapy, is the most rational approach, for a new beginning is also a new state of mind (cf. "metanoia").

The reciprocity between listening & talking are the perennial corner-stones of sapience. But in the practice of philosophy, the ideal speech-situation is sought, i.e. an open space created for the sole purpose of introducing a new project of self-knowledge. In the context of the practice of philosophy, philosophical investigations and probing questions must be rejected as authoritarian power-instruments (Dill, 1990). In fact, the whole "scholastic" approach of philosophy dominating academic philosophy must be rejected and replaced by a critical reappraisal of philosophy, integrating the best of the scholastic approach of philosophy's logistics.

The practice of philosophy has no imperative, "automatic result" and does not transfer a teaching or a particular system of philosophy. As "theoretical" philosophy is presupposed, the practice of wisdom is impossible, from the side of the philosopher, without (1) a serious theoretical, propaedeutic study, and (2) an ongoing theoretical endeavor after such a practice has been initiated, evidencing a creative integration of the philosophical traditions of one's formative years and an ability to move beyond these and contribute to the field of free thought.

In the practice of philosophy, the quality of a given dialogue lies in the hands of both philosopher and his dialogue partner. From the start, the whole process is two-way. The philosopher does not consider him or herself as "privileged" in any way, but only more capable of (1) analyzing systems of thought, (2) opening up conceptual constructions and (3) smoothly transiting from one dialogal style to another.

A philosophical dialogue is a string of individual dialogues in tune with the theme introduced by those addressing wisdom, ranging from mere informational statements, to exchanges of ideas, concrete questions and deep existential questions. Such a dialogue may be considered as successful if it results in both attaining a larger understanding. It serves the purpose of spiritual care if the client feels liberated from (self-imposed ?) restrictions and is again able to witness new possibilities. It has sense when it communicates self-respect and increases empathy.

The fundamental attitude is based on an open, communicative and inquiring mental disposition. The philosopher constantly returns to the mentality of the beginner, implying the re-investigation of established truths, norms, values and expectations. This engagement to let go pet ideas & cherished concepts makes way for wonderment, which invokes new questions regarding old phenomena, ideas, mentalities & opinions. Closed rationalism, turning away from instinct and intuition, always leads to unbearable situations. The practice of philosophy contributes to this harmony between all possible faculties of consciousness. Both the senses, instincts, affects, reason and intuition are given their place and reality. Personal issues as well as abstract considerations are part of the equation, a rare combination indeed.

Interested scrutiny is the method of the practice. By doing so, we may participate by empathizing with the other and this by using all our spiritual faculties. Understanding is not given or offered, but found (discovered) by way of dialogue. Accurate observation, feeling reality, mentally grasping the situation and trying to form a total phenomenological picture of everything which emerges in consciousness, as well as between both, are at hand. These instruments are put in place to come in touch with higher human values, considered to be a given between human beings or deemed acquirable by way of thought.

Socrates combined a unique spirit of questioning with a specific method. He wanted to ascertain the meaning of human life with the art of conversation, dialogue and argumentation. He considered himself as the midwife of wisdom, enabling the other (and himself) to give birth to solutions to given problems. The Socratic art and science of conversation is a game of questions and answers, enabling the dissolution of mental knots by way of thought. This "Socratic dialectic" is two-tiered :

  • critical : humans have to liberate their thinking from delusions, uncritical ideas and irresponsible certainties ;

  • maieutical : aiding, or tending to, the definition & interpretation of thoughts or language, the dialogal partner comes to understanding by himself and makes his or her own choices in clarity and responsibility. Man is able to liberate from self-imposed chains. The philosopher assists in this.

The final result of such a Socratic dialogue is self-knowledge and a personal opinion regarding a given issue. Is one prepared, for the sake of some higher value (truth, beauty, goodness, loyalty, courage, health, balance etc.), to reject delusional thought ? Hence, this type of dialogue is an intensified philosophical conversation. It never stops and is defined by a given problem or issue (problem-bound). Solutions always point to new questions, making the dialectic recurrent. In its critical phase, intensity is heightened and confrontations are at times rather severe. All prejudices hindering an engaged conceptualization of the fulfillment of life have to be abandoned and to face one's illusions is not easy.

Confused knowledge is therefore organized in clear concepts. Available knowledge is discussed and subject to criticism. The demarcation between sensible knowledge and irrelevant content is crucial. But, the philosopher has no pre-established "domain" or "theory" and is in principle open to discuss anything. So in these conversations, the philosopher's own ideas play a secondary role. A consensus is aimed at, with instinct, reason and intuition as instruments. Whether something has value depends on whether it works or not. Use teaches capacity. Inefficient and unoperational mental constructions hinder the free flow of associations and block the emergence of solutions to problems. The ideas people entertain regarding themselves, the others, the world and the Divine co-determine how they experience life, how they think, feel and act.

All human beings desire to be happy.

The philosopher may act as a mirror, reflecting contents with as little interpretation as possible. Posing questions, he or she may open the door and allow the other to take initiative. This may trigger a dialectical process by systematically creating opposition, or may stimulate the other to devise new mental constructions and symbolic connotations. In order to bring about another view on the issue, the philosopher may "brainstorm" or think "laterally". The philosopher listens carefully and utters, with some luck, a word bearing wisdom ...

Let me stress the practice of philosophy is not a therapy. The philosopher has no clinical capacities whatsoever. He is no clinical psychologist, psychotherapist or priest. To grasp the other, the latter make use of "a system". Its origins may be neurological, psychostatistical, psychomorphological or based on revealed knowledge. Due to the dehumanization of the world, these psychosocial workers are more and more confronted with the philosophical questions of their clients rather than with particular symptoms or sins. As a rule, those who attend philosophical counsel are healthy adults, in body and mind, conscious of themselves and pursuing a unique walk of life on the basis of their free will. These are people seeking a good conversation, as one would talk to a true friend.

A good philosophical conversation may be healing. To heal is to cure by non-physical means (i.e. promote health by leaving the physical body untouched). Given the import of psychosomatic illnesses and the significance of the placebo-effect in drug-based therapies, the direct influence of dialogue on physical and mental disturbances is pertinent. But given the causal model used in Western medical science, the self-chosen modus operandi of self-healing, suggestion and placebo fall outside this medical paradigm, limited to the material operator. If approached in a technical way, they are an object of psychology & "suggestology". Various "schools" emerge and in each a given "theory" tries to reproduce the effects. However, human beings are not machines and physical methodology does not always work if mentalities need to be changed. Systems and theories fail. A kind of psychotherapeutic nihilism is most probably the outcome of a too technical approach of the existential problems of humanity.

Contrary to this, the philosopher is not a technician and does not follow a prescribed system of therapy. He has no other means than the word-in-conversation. Through dialogue he tries to establish a mental point of rest and clarity, an understanding as well as a renewed power to continue to think. If "therapy" is at hand, then only in the sense of an "open concept" (cf. Spinelli & Goodman).

Good philosophical conversations may indeed lead to spiritual, psychological and even physical relieve. This healing effect however, mobilizing the immune system of thinking bodies, is secondary. Healing as a result of listening and talking belong to the positive side-effects of the philosophical way of life. The healing power of the word is indeed known in psychology. Neurology, linguistics & cybernetics give form to an array of psychotherapeutic spear-technologies. This has little in common with the practice of philosophy, for here, the philosopher has no preestablished model, system or mental frame. He starts every conversations afresh as a beginner would. By nearly observing without interpretation, he allows a better observation, a more sound reasoning to emerge. This leads to a game of questions & answers, a rhythm of listening & talking. Although the healing power of such conversations is unmistaken, their goal is not to cure or heal.

07. The philosophy of spiritual exercises.

Associating the practice of philosophy with "spiritual exercises", begs the question of the possible relationships between, on the one hand, philosophy, both as theory & practice, and, on the other hand, mystic experience, religious experience & the practices of the religions, in particular the monotheisms.

Indeed, since Kant, adherence to the Divine (in whatever guise) was separated from the logic seeking absolute certainty or relative probability on rational grounds. Beliefs are axiomatically true as an article of faith, even if they run against reason (cf. Tertullian's "credo quia absurdum est"). But since the Greeks, philosophy tried not to oppose the province of formal thought & its dialogal intent. The Medieval dialectic between faith & reason is so pertinent precisely because Greek philosophy only accepted sensation & thought, observation & argumentation, Peripatetics & Platonism. A "Deus revelatus" was unknown to them. For the Greeks, man, with his mind, is equipped to emancipate himself, put himself up (cf. Marcus Aurelius). Christianity eradicated this, accepting the poverty-mentality of original sin to glorify our salvation through the God-Man Jesus Christ (earlier, Judaism, in the Book of Job, portrayed the paradox of a good God punishing the just). Also in Islam, the human is a slave before Allah. Scholastic (dogmatic) philosophy can be nothing more than the handmaiden of theology. Spiritual exercises outside the canons of faith are ipso facto heretical and to be exterminated.

In the 19th century, as a result of a strict & limited understanding of Kant's work, eclipsing his immanent metaphysics (cf. the Opus Postumum), the profession of philosopher was reduced to the academic, neo-scholastic format persisting until today. It was thus separated from the personal quest of the sage. In such a view, philosophy cannot have a profound effect on one's destiny, way of life or existential situation. Like "hieroglyphs" it is deemed a dead language, a relic kept to adorn our Western philosophical faculties with the marketable illusion of "queen of science". By reintroducing the practice of wisdom, its fundamental character emerges, for in the "Lebenswelt", the impact of the wise kind of conversation is directly experienced. This effect may endure and if so, observe how thought transforms our direct observations. And even in the academy, the study of this philosophy of practice is more than necessary, providing a living link with the application of philosophy in society, pushing it outside the ivory tower of dry intellectualism.

Philosophy is more than a "theoretical", ascetic approach of the fundamental questions regarding being, life & the human. It is more than renunciation, but transforms cognitive states and effectuates effective changes in the connotative field simultaneous with observation. If lasting, the influence of the practice of philosophy is irreversible, liberating and clarifying. A change of mind occurs and a new, more panoramic vantage point is established. A new, larger whole has been formed, facilitating the transformation of cognitive states, making personal experience richer, deeper and clearer.

How does the spiritual side of the practice of philosophy differ from religious belief and the existence of the Divine ? The practice of philosophy is not religious in the soteriological and/or dogmatic sense. It does not "save" from anything, except possibly from cognitive hangovers, pet ideas, mental limitations, expectations, prejudices and the like. It has no prefixed system of revealed dogma's accepted without rational inquiry, quite on the contrary, it is the ally of science (the system of empirico-formal propositions we for the moment considered to be true). It seeks the full development of cognition.

But, just as religion, the praxis of philosophy is "spiritual" because addressing the complete human being in a way which directly influences his or her way of life and being-in-the-world. Indeed, the "spirit" of something refers to what it truly is, unfettered by illusions and bringing in the fundamental mental, emotional and activating principle determining one's temperament. Not only the development of cognition is aimed at, but the transformation of all aspects of one's being. This is the application of the Delphic (and Socratic) "know thyself" to the full extend of our shared human possibilities.

Understanding reality in this way has a direct impact on one's personal circumstances. The philosopher who practices wisdom does not stop doing so at the end of the day (as does the academic philosopher of the old, neo-scholastic school). Teaching, writing & studying are complemented by philosophical conversations, advise and spiritual exercises. Theory and practice are the "two eyes" with which he or she observes the world and participates in it. And this practice of philosophy touches all levels of society, not only university students. A good philosophical conversation is spiritual and dialogal. Both listener and speaker are changed by increased self-awareness, symbolic concentration and clarity.

Qua praxis, dialogue & monologue are the two organs of practice. In the monologal situation of reflection, the philosopher entertains a series of efforts aiming at a personal spiritual goal, namely the emancipation of his or her cognitive apparatus, as well as the other faculties of his or her consciousness. This monologal, inner reference is the personal experience of the reality (ideality) of the own-Self, a someone rather than a something, a Being-there, Dasein, or clear presence rather than the answer to What ? or Who ? (Sosein). The own-Self appears as a reality-for-me, is intimate, private and inner. This monologue is clearly spiritual.

Spiritual exercises are meant to integrate all foci of consciousness and seek the highest possible awareness. To fully actualize & harmonize the potentials of awareness, consciousness, cognition, affection, sensation and action is the goal of any spiritual practice.

When object and subject are no longer present in consciousness, language fails, making way for the perplexities & wonderments of intuition. The annihilation of the own-Self is inevitable, for it too is without substance and so subject to change (functionally co-relative). Although outside the nominal (material) four-dimensional continuum, the own-Self is subjected to the topology of its own 6th dimension (the 5th being consciousness - cf. Tabula Tabulorum, 2006). Nonduality, operating in the 7th dimension, is beyond the concept itself and can only be discovered in the clarity of the direct sensation, affection, cognition & intuition of the absolute (reality and ideality).

"The consciousness of self (apperception) is the simple representation of the ego, and if by it alone all the manifold (representations) in the subject were given spontaneously, the inner intuition would be intellectual."
Kant, I. : Critique of Pure Reason, B68.

Because the meta-rational, intuitional levels of cognition, labeled "creative" and "nondual", are not everyone's share (A42), Kant eliminated "intellectual perception" or "intellectual intuition" from his epistemology. Insofar as he was trying to establish the critical, transcendental view, and in doing so define "science", he was correct to discard "inner" intuitional knowledge. But in terms of a complete picture of cognitive possibilities, he was wrong to do so.

As a result, the noumenon is not part of the categories and so no empirical-formal characterization of it is de jure possible. In neo-Kantian thought, this closing of the door to a foundation outside formal, conceptual thought, led to faillibilism, probabilism & the modesty of our contemporary sciences, solid state physics included. Formally, thinking the synthetic unity of the fivefold experiential manifold, the transcendental Self of "all times" must accompany every cogitation of the empirical ego, but cannot formally be objectified by means of any perception of a purely "intellectual" kind (cf. Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza, Leibniz (1646 - 1716) and later Husserl (1859 - 1939)). For Kant, and the critical tradition after him, the vision behind "the surface of the mirror" is imaginal, nothing more.

Accepting this crucial critical distinction, the philosophy of spiritual exercises foremost involves the optimalization of one's cognitive, mental capacities. The demarcation between science (testable and arguable) and metaphysics (arguable or irrational) returns as the distinction between formal, critical thought and "intuition", extending cognition ex hypothesi beyond its "nominal", "rational" stage, considering a three-tiered continuum of 7 modes of cognition :

  • ante-rational (pre-nominal) : these three modes of cognition (called mythical, pre-rational & proto-rational) remain anchored in myth and context, and have no abstract system of concepts. Concepts are either pseudo-concepts or concrete concepts ;

  • rational (nominal) : thanks to formal thought and its foundational reflex, critical thought lay bare the pre-conditions of thought, making rational free thought possible. Formal and critical concepts pertain ;

  • intuitional (meta-nominal) : creative and nondual thought are immanent and transcendent answers to the ontological questions and touch upon the interiority of the philosopher. Creative concepts and nondual, non-conceptiality persists.

In terms of the specificities of the spirituality of the practice of philosophy, their outstanding feature is the integration of the three fundamental modes of cognition (instinct, reason, intuition). As co-operating waves reinforcing each other through resonance, instinct and intuition are not "kept out" and so the tribunal of reason is better informed and equipped to judge.

The two intuitional modes argued here, namely creative & nondual thought, give birth to a range of immanent & transcendent metaphysical systems or ontology. In the former, the order of the world is not transcended and the highest concepts are limit-concepts. In the latter, the highest concepts are transcendent signifiers and establish an imaginal focus beyond, outside the world, either in terms of some onto-theological ground or a meta-Self (as substantial own-Self or "soul").

In creative thought, "purged" by criticism, and due to the transformation or "spiritualization" of its rational stage, a new kind of reflexive activity occurs, but as an inner, secret, direct experience of one's own ideal, or own-Self. Rationally, such an inner, direct experience is problematic.

Nondual thought is the direct discovery of the natural light of the mind. Here, conceptualization stops. No object. No subject. If not for the clarity of the natural state of mind, this would be a return to the oceanic milieu of myth and its irrationality. Thought thinks "all possibilities" and has no longer any focus, no ego, no own-Self. The "via negativa" is the only viable approach-of-no-approach. What has cognition gained ? Absence of reflectivity (myth), turned into presence of reflexivity (nondual), irrationality into wisdom ?

So in the meta-nominal, meta-rational stage of cognition, two modes are distinguished :

  • the immanent : the contemplative, creative activity of the arguable, non-factual ideas (hyper-concepts) of the ontic own-Self, perceived by the intellect (cf. immanent metaphysics) and 

  • the transcendent : the nondual activity suggested by the direct discovery of the unconditional core of all what is.

Two types of rationality or ways to use reason ensue :

  • the rational mind : is preoccupied with the growth of scientific knowledge gathered by the mind through synthesis, but unable to contemplate the transcendental Self as ontic. It discovers the transcendental norms of reason which regulate the mental process of producing knowledge (one-dimensional reason) ;

  • intellectual reason : serves the purpose of the complete expression of the actual, individual own-Self, encompassing its creativity & inventivity, being the stepping-stone to the direct discovery of the natural light of the mind. This play does not inform about the world but about ourselves as Selves. This Self-knowledge constitutes a creative dynamization of reason, mind & sensation. Intellectual reason may also be viewed as two-tiered :

    1. the intuition of the own-Self of creativity (evidenced in immanent metaphysics, creativity and art) ;

    2. the direct discovery of absolute reality (suggested by mysticism, spirituality and testimony of the religions).

In terms of the practice of philosophy, wisdom seeks ways to make instinct, reason & intuition cooperate simultaneously as three layers of mind. The mythical, pre-rational, proto-rational, rational, critical, creative and nondual modes of cognition are so many operational tools to address these layers, prompting the emergence of a true, good & beautiful multi-dimensional consciousness.

II : A Critical Approach of Philosophy.

08. Pre-critical substantialism.

Ancient Egypt

The roots of Mediterranean substantialist thought can be found in Ancient Egypt. As early as the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, but more explicit in the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts, "Nun" was the fundamental, grounding, pre-existent, omnipresent "substance" or "stuff" of which the world consisted (cf. Hermes the Egyptian, 2002). It was deemed everlasting, unchanging & undifferentiated.

In the ontology sketched in the Pyramid Texts, precreation is in the first place an undifferentiated mass of water. The Egyptians gave descriptive rather than denominative qualifications. Nun is conceived as an inchoate, nonexistent state-of-no-state. In the Coffin Texts and later, Nun is often depicted as a deity, and although no cult is attested, there were offerings and feasts in his honor (as on the 18th & 19th day of the month of Phamenoth). The hieroglyph of the vault, which is part of his name, conveyed a topological difference : not only was precreation something different (namely darkness and a nonexistent potential surrounding the cosmos), but it was also somewhere else.


In their ante-rational discourse, the pre-Socratics sought the foundation or "arche" of the world. It explained existence as well as the moral order. For Anaximander of Miletus (ca. 611 - 547 BCE), the cosmos developed out of the "apeiron", the boundless, infinite and indefinite (without distinguishable qualities). Later, Aristotle (384 - 322 BCE) adds : immortal, Divine and imperishable.

The Archaic, pre-Socratic stratum of the "Greek Miracle" was itself layered :

  • Milesian "arche", "phusis" & "apeiron" : the elemental laws of the cosmos are rooted in substance, which is all ;

  • Pythagorian "tetraktys" : the elemental cosmos is rooted in numbers which form man, gods & demons ;

  • Heraclitian "psuche" & "logos" : a quasi-reflective self-consciousness, symbolical & psychological ;

  • Parmenidian "aletheia" : the moment of truth is a decision away from opinion ("doxa") entering "being" ;

  • Protagorian "anthropos" : man is the measure of all things and the relative reigns.

The systems of Plato & Aristotle are also a reply to the Sophists. Protagorian relativism is wrong. To refute this skepticism, i.e. the unwillingness to accept there is only "doxa", opinion, not "aletheia", truth, Classical philosophy opts for substantialism, the idea some permanence exists in the things that change. This core or essence is subjective or objective. In the former, it is a subject modified by change while remaining "the same", acting as the common support of its successive inner states. In the latter, it is the real stuff out of which everything consists, allowing the manifestation of the real world "out there". Both Plato & Aristotle are concept-realists. Their systems are examples of foundational thinking. Truth is eternalized and static. Concept-realism will always ground our concepts in a reality outside knowledge. Plato cuts reality in two qualitatively different worlds. True knowledge is remembering the world of ideas. Aristotle divides the mind in two functionally different intellects. To draw out & abstract the common element, an intellectus agens is needed. The first substance is "eidos", i.e. the form, or Platonic idea realized in matter (cf. hylemorphism).

The foundationalism inherent in concept-realism seeks permanence and cannot find it. It therefore ends the infinite regress ad hoc and posits something to be possessed by the subject. This is either an object of the mind (a permanent soul) or an object of the world (the permanent stuff of reality). Greek concept-realism seeks substance ("ousia") and substrate ("hypokeimenon"). This core is permanent, unchanging and existing from its own side. In a further reification of this foundationalism, subtle substance is introduced, and the eternalizing tendency gives rise to "universalia", eternal ideas (in the mind of God).

Substance is the eternal, permanent, unchanging core or essence of every possible thing, existing from its own side, and never an attribute of or in relation with any other thing.


The monotheisms introduce theo-ontology : existence is created by the revealed God. This singular God is the supreme being, an absolute of absoluteness creating a plural creation, etc. In these religions, the focus is not on truth & ontology, but on salvation, the restoration of the link with God.

Christian philosophy tried to bring faith and reason together. It failed. By identifying the mind of God with Plato's world of ideas, the Platonists had to exchange Divine grace for intuitive reason. The Peripatetics introduced perception as a valid source of knowledge and so prepared the end of Christian theology, the rational explanation of the "facts" of revelation.

the Renaissance ...

Influenced by the "Orientale Lumen" and Arabic scholarship, the cultural movement known as "the Renaissance", born in Florence as early as the 14th century and spreading over Europe in the following three centuries, placed the human phenomenon center stage, rediscovered Late Hellenism and tried to end Catholic supremacy on knowledge, learning and the arts. The "via antiqua" was over. Times of religious turmoil were at hand. The Renaissance and its humanism sparked the Reformation and other debates & conflicts. With the French Revolution (1789) the political translation of modernist thinking was on its way.

Renaissance thinking is still foundational. It still clings to substance in terms of the Platonic world of ideas being the mind of God. Saturated with centuries of Christian idealism, substance itself is not (yet) rejected, only its fixation in terms of the Catholic monopoly. Renaissance thinkers are self-conscious. With the birth of reflection as a cultural phenomenon, European thought was liberated from the chains of authority and magisterial dogmas. As reflection was immature, only the intellectual freedom to do so was demanded, so the fundamental substances could be scrutinized by facts & arguments, unassuaged by clerical influence. Only after World War II (1945) does such freedom truly exist.

The ontological system of Descartes (1637) provides us with three fundamental substances : res cogitans or thinking substance (consciousness), res extensa or extended substance (matter) and God. The ontologies after him will return to this division and either introduce reductions (of mind to matter) or rename the Cartesian triad, this summary of all previous ontologies. Descartes was not a reductionist. The three substances have their own kind of (interacting) existence. Mind points to consciousness and its freedom. Matter is limited and bound to cause & effect. God is the ultimate guarantee things happen as they happen. Spinoza (1632 - 1677) would rethink Descartes and prove his monist version of rationalism "de more geometrico".

With the Spinozist definition of "substance" (nature or God), the rational definition of substance matured. The stuff of existence is an infinite, closed, solitary, singular, unchanging, eternal & everlasting monad, the only free supreme being, Godhead of its own essential theo-ontology, the direct experience "Face-to-Face" of God with God.

"By God, I mean the absolutely infinite Being - that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses for itself an eternal and infinite essentiality."
Spinoza : Ethics, Part I, definition VI.

"That thing is called 'free', which exists solely by the necessity of its own nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone. That thing is inevitable, compelled, necessary, or rather constrained, which is determined by something external to itself to a fixed and definite method of existence or action."
Spinoza : Ethics, Part I, definition VII.

At the end of the 18th century, a variety of ontological systems had been proposed and substantialism had come under attack by empirism. Can a variety of contradictory answers be true ? What if only direct experience is valid ?

Kant deemed the situation scandalous. Philosophy was in need of its own "Copernican Revolution".


In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant unmasks the false substantialism (or ontological illusion) brought into the field of epistemology by both rationalism (innate ideas) and empirism (sense-data). The possibility of knowledge cannot be grounded in an outside, substantial reality, but only in the ideality of a formal set of cognitive conditions enabling one to know and produce scientific knowledge, i.e. empirico-formal propositions. This "transcendental" ideality is necessary to formal thought and by critically reflecting on it, spatiotemporality, a categorial system and regulating ideas are discovered (cf. Clearings, 2006).

Because of this change of perspective, more systematically clarified by neo-Kantianism and the philosophies of science, language & mind, phenomena may or may not appear as they are. Perception is not sensation, for sensation (the actual conscious experience by a conscious subject) is always simultaneous with conceptual, discursive interpretation, involving identification & labeling (cf. A Neurophilosophy of Sensation, 2007).

S(ensation) = P(erception) . C(onceptual)I(nterpretation).

Is CI = 1 possible, as nonduality suggests ?

Critical philosophy lay bare the limitations of conceptual, discursive thought. Sensations are perceptions orchestrated to contain the inherent duality or concordia discors of conceptual thought. Conceptual thought is unable to avoid the factum rationis of reason itself : no designation without a designator, no cogitation without a cogito, no transcendental subject without a transcendental object.

But in conceptual thought, things-for-us do continue to eventuate simultaneous with an appearance of objectivity, which is the manifestation of their concrete, conventional reality, composed of "working parts" and seemingly determined reactions. Critical philosophy tries to cut through this ontological illusion.

Although we must think as if these relative facts indeed, in some way simultaneous with our designations, represent absolute reality-as-such, we never conceptually know whether this is the case or not. We never have absolute proof or irreversible certainty. Such a "revelation" would imply our conceptual constructions suddenly vanished. Critical thought opts against this. A return to foundationalism and its substantial thinking is avoided. And for good reasons : grounding the possibility of knowledge in either object or subject of thought handicaps reason, perverts it.

Our paradigm or set of valid theories (systems of empirico-formal propositions) may be invalid tomorrow. So reality-for-us appears as a shared illusion, a collective hallucination, like things systematically not appearing as they are, either by nature and/or because we grasp & follow these appearances only (instead of directly perceiving reality).

The transcendental study of thoughts, action & sensation (affect) has considerable influence on philosophy. No longer serving the interests of a set of metaphysical options, normative philosophy articulates the necessities of scientific practice as well as the logic of the methodology of the production of empirico-formal propositions of fact, i.e. statements the scientific community, for the time being, holds for true.

"We thus see that all the wrangling about the nature of a thinking being, and its association with the material world, arises simply from our filling the gap, due to our ignorance, with paralogisms of reason, and by changing thoughts into things and hypostatizing them."
Kant, I. : Critique of Pure Reason, A394-398.

Grosso modo, the difference between pre-critical and post-Kantian philosophy involves the status of reality and conceptual rationality. In conceptual, discursive thought, an irreversible and necessary demarcation between reality-for-us (ideality-for-us) & reality-as-such (ideality-as-such) ensues. The phenomena of science, the evidence of facts, are not things-in-themselves, noumena, substances or underlying realities, but they are phenomena always co-determined by the theories (the nets) with which "facts" are gathered (caught). As sensations happen as the result of conceptual interpretation, experiments do not yield insight into absolute reality "an sich", but only in a relative reality "für uns". Between appearance and reality a gap must be thought, causing desubstantialization. So the realist or idealist grounding of the possibility of knowledge in a sufficient ground or substance serving as a so-called "certain foundation of science" and acting as a justificator of its propositions is inconsistent with the results of our transcendental, critical study of the necessities of correct & valid conceptual thinking. No way these conclusions can be avoided.

Because of this gap between phenomena & noumena, metaphysics can no longer be invoked to ground phenomena in noumena, whether that be reality (via experiments) or ideality (via discourse). Although we must accept facts do bear witness of noumena, we never actually know whether this is the case or not. Reality-for-us might be a kind of dream, presenting things differently as what they truly are. And in fact they do, for conventional objects seem substantial, while analysis shows they are not.

In terms of the limitations of conceptual reason, criticism puts forward the groundless ground of thought, not a sufficient ground. For accommodating the postulate of foundation, three logical impasses occur. A justification of proposition P is a deduction with P as conclusion. How extended must this deductive chain be in order to justify P ?

  1. regressus ad infinitum :
    There is no end to the justification, and so no foundation is found. The presence of an infinite series begs the question of the status of infinity, whether or not it is objective ? In general terms, logicians and mathematicians try to avoid this kind of endless succession and dislike attributing reality to infinity (and so renormalize their equations to fit their finite parameters). The regressus ad infinitum is pointless, leads nowhere and can never deliver solid, decontextualized principles ;

  2. petitio principii :
    The end is implied by the beginning, for P is part of the deduction ; circularity is a valid deduction but no justification of P, hence no foundation is found. Transcendental logic involves such a circle. Thought can only be rooted in thought itself. Normative epistemology is based on the groundless ground of thought. Normative philosophy articulates the principles, norms & maxims of correct thinking (epistemology), correct judgment (esthetics) and correct action (ethics). These are discovered while having used them and using them. Insofar as this circle is "hermeneutic", normative disciplines are more than formal and contribute to understand the fundamentals of thought, in particular truth, beauty and goodness. The petitio percipii is limited and of little use outside the normative sphere, where it equals the tautology. But, although tautologies, offering perfect identifications (A = A), do not add to the contents of thought, they do add structure, associations, correspondences & internal harmonizations of large associated blocks of information ;

  3. abrogation ad hoc :
    Justification is ended ad hoc, the postulate of justification is abrogated, and the unjustified sufficient ground is accepted because, being certain, it needs no more justification. This has been the strategy of all ontological epistemologies, i.e. descriptions (not laws) of how knowledge is possible in terms of a theory of real or ideal being (viz. the Peripatetic and Platonic schools). When the subject is eliminated, knowledge is rooted in an hypostasis of the object of knowledge. This is the real, absolute, extra-mental reality of the thing-as-such, considered as the cause of the sense-data feeding the mind in order for it to know. When the object is eliminated, knowledge is grounded in the hypostasis of the subject of knowledge : the ideality of the thing-as-such, as in Plato and his variants. The abrogation ad hoc is dogmatic and one-sided.

This Münchhausen-trilemma is avoided by stopping to seek an absolute, sufficient ground for knowledge outside knowledge. The ground of knowledge is the groundless principle of thought itself. This is the simple fact stating thought is impossible without the discordant concord of transcendental subject and transcendental object.

Metaphysics, being untestable, can only be judged on the basis of logic & argumentation and has a heuristic role to fulfill. Inspiring science, it allows a generalized speculation on existence, life and consciousness based on the evidence of cosmology, biology and anthropology. Insofar as it focuses on these three, metaphysics does not step outside the world positing a world-ground transcending it. This immanent metaphysics, as the muze of science, does not accept determinations, like First Causes, to operate from "outside" the world. Its highest concepts are limit-concepts, always referring back to condition which is part of the world, and the latter is defined by the results of experiments hand in hand with the outcome of argumentation.

If this crucial condition is left and -against the logic of the infinite regress- a First Cause is posited ad hoc (cf. Does the Divine exist, 2005), then a principle outside the world is accepted. There are no valid arguments to do so and therefore transcendent metaphysics cannot be conceptually elaborated without obfuscating reason.

By and large, the normative study of thought, behaviour and sensation (emotion) is a necessary preliminary to train the mind in the philosophical approach of reality and/or ideality. This is a very difficult study, for our minds are used to identify & label objects as if they exist from their own side. Naive realism or idealism are innate and habitual, and these formations needs to be broken down piece by piece. To think transcendentally, these "natural" inclinations have to be bracketed. Both "outer" reality (the world) as "inner" ideality (the ego, the Self) may appear differently as they are. We know this because of the difference between perception & sensation caused by the conceptual interpretation no concept can completely remove, but critical thought can identify and make sure it no longer fools us. The illusion remains, but is unable to confuse.

In any study of philosophy, they should come first. If not, the danger lurks ontology dominates the necessities of cognition, behaviour & sensation (emotion), resulting in a philosophical training serving metaphysical presupposition rather than to foster free, independent thought.

09. The subject of sensation, action, affect & thought.

Transcendental studies are theoretical reflections which do not fall out of the sky. As the empirical ego is continually present to itself as someone who perceives, feels, desires, thinks and is conscious, it relates to the "natural" world constantly surrounding it. This "natural standpoint", as Husserl calls it, involves the ordinary sense of the world, in which the ego naturally exists.

Transcendental study tries to suspend the fact-world giving itself to the ego as something existing "out there". Likewise, the idea-world of our nominal cogitations are also bracketed. Hence, this method bars us from using any judgment concerning concrete existence (Dasein). Disconnecting thought from this natural world or standpoint is necessary to be able to find the principles which condition thought as thought. The bracketed world does not vanish, but we realize a consciousness which remains unaffected by the disconnection.

The proto-psychology of the natural world is the "Lebenswelt" or pre-critical condition in which the empirical subject finds itself. Five functions can be isolated : sensation, affection, volition, cognition & consciousness.

1. sensation : linked with perception, it informs us, by way of direct conscious experience, about the stimuli targeting the sensitive areas of our sensory organs. These stimuli are coded (transduction), projected in the primary sensory areas of the brain and then finally interpreted conceptually (identified and labeled) ;
2. affections : closely linked with sensation, feelings or emotions add color and affect to sensoric & motoric data, valuating the possible lust/unlust balance triggered by perceptions, volitions, thoughts & states of consciousness ;
3. volitions : determining action, deed & behaviour, this function rules motoric response ;
4. cognition : allows the ego to gather knowledge or information about itself (mental objects) and its environment (sensate objects), solve problems, produce empirico-formal propositions and metaphysical insights ;
5. consciousness : the fluctuating stream of experiences the ego, at any given moment, is aware of as a unique, individual, meaningful unity & intentionality (or relationship with the "other"). Reflecting on the conditions of the former functions is the privilege of transcendental consciousness, taking sensation (affect), action (volition) & cognition (thought) as objects of reflection.

The results of transcendental inquiry are rooted in the subject of knowledge. This is not an idealism, because this subject is formal and thus devoid of substance. The "I think" accompanies all the cogitations of the empirical ego, and is as it were the apex of the transcendental edifice as a whole.

Transcendental logic makes both sides of the formal equation offered by the Factum Rationis necessary and not reducible. In terms of acquiring knowledge, behaving good and sensating the beautiful, this implies object and subject of knowledge have to be used simultaneously. If epistemology, ethics or esthetics, the tripod of the normative disciplines, reduce the concordia discors to a monad (object to subject or vice versa), then and only then, reason is perverted, creating the illusion of a sufficient ground for thought, affect & action. Such an illusion invalidates the quest for truth, beauty & goodness.

Thought is the minimum requirement for epistemology to function. Without it, the transcendental conditions of cognition are not present. Likewise, ethics implies action (volition) and esthetics sensation & emotion.

10. Determined & nondetermined events.

The "object" of the natural standpoint dictates a reality "out there", existing independently (extra-mentally) and with a solidity from its own side. The physical body is the first of these natural objects. Although part of the "subject" it nevertheless behaves in the same "objective" way as do outer objects. Moreover, objects "out there" seem even more to escape conscious manipulation, and so manifest tenacity, permanence, solidity and an unchanging character.

This view has to be bracketed, for both sensate & mental objects depend on the situation of the ego, in particular its intentionality. Sensate object appear to a conceptual mind as a function of its interpretation or cognitive connotations. Mental objects appear before the mind's eye as parts of a "Gestalt" or constellation of supporting sensate & mental objects. The object appearing in the "natural" world is problematic, appearing -as in the case of an optic illusion- as straightforward.

The proto-physics of the natural world is the "Lebenswelt" or pre-critical condition in which the empirical object finds itself. Two main types of events occur :

1. determined events : in a system of general determinism, events are connected by way of categories of determination, as there are : self-determination, causation, interaction, mechanical determination, statistical determination, holistic determination, teleological determination & dialectical determination (cf. Bunge, 1979, pp. 17-19). Events are linked if the conditions defining the category are fulfilled. For example, in the case of causation, it is necessary, in order for an effect to occur, to have an efficient, external cause and a physical substrate (to propagate it). In general determinism, these determinations are not absolutely certain, but relatively probable. Science is terministic, not deterministic ;
2. nondetermined events : if individual action and (as an extension) civilization is considered, events are also connected by way of conscious intention, escaping the conditions of the categories of determination. Indeed, without "freedom", or the possibility to posit nondetermined events, ethics is reduced to physics and free will impossible. How is responsible action possible without the actual exercise of free will, i.e. the ability to accept or reject a course of action, thereby creating an "uncaused" cause or influencing agent, changing all co-functional interdependent determinations or interactions ? Although it remains open whether the will is free or not, morally, we must act as if it is.

11. Normative philosophy : cognition, behaviour & sensation.

The normative disciplines aim to articulate the principles, norms & maxims determining cognition, affection (sensation) & volition (action or behaviour). Theoretically, their role is to define the limitations of thought, affect & action a priori, grounding their principles in the logic governing the possibilities of thought, feeling and behaviour. Practically, these disciplines facilitate the production of knowledge, goodness & beauty a posteriori.

Clearly, in a critical, normative approach, the object is not created by or derived from the subject. Such ontological idealism is avoided by introducing a formal transcendental subject "of all times", devoid of empirical individuality, but accompanying every cogitation of the empirical ego, and in doing so, guaranteeing the unity of the manifold of sensation and cogitation (the activities of sensate & mental objects). It does not constitute knowledge, but is a necessary condition to think its possibilities.

without an object
nothing is thought
without a subject
nobody thinks
necessity of reality
idea of the REAL
Factum Rationis necessity of ideality idea of the IDEAL
Epistemology : knowledge - truth
object of thought
subject of thought
research-cel Practical
opportunistic logic
the production of provisional, probable & coherent empirico-formal, scientific knowledge we can hold for true
Ethics : volition - the good
coordinated movement & its consequence Transcendental
free will
duty - calling Theoretical
intent - conscience
family - property - the secular state Practical
persons - health - on death
judgments pertaining to the good (the just, fair & right), providing maxims for what must be done
Esthetics : feeling - the beautiful
states of sensate matter or mental objects Transcendental
consciousness persuing excellence & exemplarity
sensate & evocative esthetic features Theoretical
esthetic attitude
objective art, social art, revolutionary art, magisterial art Practical
subjective art, personal art, psycho-dynamic art, total art
judgments pertaining to what we hope others may imitate, namely the beauty of excellent & exemplary states of matter

Transcendental logic proves the inconsistencies of skepticism. Reject the subject, and there is no knower. Reject the object, and there is nothing known. If there is no knower, then there is nobody stating the transcendental subject is invalid. Hence, the thesis is self-refuting. If there is nothing known, then there is nothing to be known, not even the fact of rejecting the object. Both strategies lead to a contradictio in actu exercito, and are therefore rejected.

The normative disciplines are logic, epistemology, ethics & esthetics. Logic studies the validity of statements. Epistemology focuses on the truth of propositions, ethics on the goodness of actions and esthetics on the beauty of sensate objects.

Normative disciplines such as epistemology, ethics and esthetics, do not describe the true, the good and the beautiful, but lay bear the necessary principles, norms and maxims which have always been used to think true thoughts, do good actions and create sensate beauty.

Logic, despite its mathematics & syntax, is dialogal, and involved with the validity of arguments & argumentation. As a mathematical system it deals with formal calculus, i.e. with the laws & rules determining the truth-value of statements. As a syntax, logic studies the grammatical rules which define the understanding between members of the same linguistic community. As a dialogic, logic focuses on the logical rules guaranteeing the validity of argumentative transitions. It is this last aspect of logic which exemplifies its value for science & philosophy. Transcendental logic is a special case, laying bare the principles necessary to arrive at truth, goodness & beauty. These principles root the theory of knowledge, goodness and beauty in the groundless ground of cognition itself.

Epistemology brings together the conditions of true empirico-formal knowledge and the way to produce facts. Ethics, valuates the good of actions, and esthetics judged the beauty of a work of art.

Practical maxims, in tune with a more local & opportunistic logic, i.e. only insofar as theoretical principles & norms are being applied, often deviate from the proposed a priori scheme. In this way, the normative disciplines stay connected with the "natural standpoint" which allows them to (re)discover their leading transcendental principles and theoretical norms.

12. Descriptive philosophy : the world, life, humanity & the Divine.

Conceptual thoughts, feelings & behaviours happen against a inalienable metaphysical background, i.e. a network of arguable but untestable concepts, considered, after prolonged argumentation, as true (a metaphysiscal tenet), but always open to future refutation (not a religious dogma).

Metaphysics is preluded by a self-reflective, transcendental inquiry into the possibility & expansion of knowledge (epistemology), behaviour (ethics) & sensation (esthetics). These tell us, to paraphrase Kant, what we do know, must do and may hope.

The descriptive disciplines satisfy philosophy's need to acquire a totalized view of existence. But what is existence ? Before attempting to answer, the limitations of any description have to be made clean-clear. The results of speculative inquiries are not scientific, for they are not factual and can therefore never be tested. Metaphysics does not attempt do describe the world in terms of empirico-formal theories, but :
(a) defines the ideological background against which experiments a forteriori take place ;
(b) clarifies the "ceteris paribus" clause of scientific theories, as well as the fundamental concepts used in any scientific discourse ;
(c) tries to explain the world as a coherent whole ;
(d) inspires the sciences by challenging them with new ideas and possibilities and
(e) articulates an arguable & argued view about existence, life & consciousness.

Such speculative activity cannot be backed by experimental facts. Indeed, the only way for metaphysics to claim validity is through argumentation, and hence logic. However, as all logic has an axiomatic basis, the origin of metaphysical axioms is largely intuitive. Why certain axioms are preferred over others, is not a matter of logic, but follows an intuitive insight preceding it. Insofar as this insight can be developed by means of creative concepts, logic may be applied. But the insight itself may remain outside the confines of argumentation.

Metaphysical statements must be formally correct and, as much as possible, be backed by science. Through logical analysis, the strength of speculations can be ascertained. In some cases, because of the application of the principles of identity, non-contradiction and excluded third, arguments may be conclusive.

If metaphysics is defined as ontology, the speculative study of being qua being, then a first differentiation calls for the distinction between the world as a whole and what, ex hypothesi, transcends it, namely the Divine. The world contains all objects of formal, critical and creative thought. Viewed onto-genetically, it emerged in three steps, each calling for a symmetry-break :

(1) existence per se : there is something rather than nothing, i.e. the absence of whatever could be. What exists are aggregates of particles & forces. Metaphysical cosmology (or philosophy of nature) tries to develop a total picture of why there is something, in particular why there is a comos ;
(2) life : there are living things, not only particles & forces. What lives has a genotype (DNA), a phenotype and is able to produce an offspring. Metaphysical biology aims to speculate about the emergence of life, its purpose and goal ;
(3) consciousness : there are conscious subjects, not only particles, forces and biological organisms. Consciousness is aware of itself, the other than itself, and the meanings associated with both. Metaphysical anthropology posits the human as the most conscious entity on this planet and tries to understand the nature of this consciousness.

Speculations, based on intuitions & arguments drawn from these axioms, not trespassing the limits of the world, are immanent. Immanent metaphysics strives to realize a comprehensive view of reality and ideality.  It dares to speculate.

The "idea" of the real is pushed beyond "the surface of the mirror", for the ontological question "What is ?" makes creative thought posit a real, solid world "out there".

The "idea" of the ideal is also carried through, rarified as the final meta-term of an endless series. The transcendental Self of critical thought becomes an ontological Self, claiming "I, I am" (ego sum). The fleeting moments of identity characterizing the empirical ego are backed ontologically (not epistemologically) by a substantial, higher Self (Descartes' ego is a rarified empirical ego). The notion of such an own-Self proves necessary in the evolution of cognition to its final stage, nondual thought.

The "final" nondual mode of cognition may be viewed as the mythical "beginning" of a new septet of still higher cognitive modes, etc.

Attentive of critical thought, immanent metaphysics does not describe truth, goodness or beauty to ground epistemology, ethics or esthetics. Attentive of formal thought, arguments are backed by scientific fact.

Moving beyond the frontiers of the world, metaphysics becomes transcendent. Logic shows only the "via negativa" may establish the possibility of such a transcendent metaphysical speculation. Does the Divine exist ? cannot be answered by looking at the world "from the outside", for where could an Archimedic point be established ?

Ockham showed how to posit the First Conserver of the world.

As a contingent thing that comes into being, is evidently conserved in being as long as it exists, its conserver is dependent, for its own conservation, on another conserver or not. If not, then how can the evidence of it being conserved be there ? As only necessary beings conserve themselves and the world contains contingent things only, every conserver must depend on another conserver, etc. As there is no infinite number of actual conservers "hic et nunc" (the world being finite) there must be a First Conserver. An infinite regress in the case of things existing one after the other (like horizontal, efficient causes of the same kind) is conceivable, although unlikely. But an infinite regress in the actual, empirical world here and now would give an actual infinity, which is, given the world is finite, absurd. So to avoid the presence of the First Conserver, actual reality would become infinite ! Ergo, the First Conserver probably exists. Without this First Conserver, metaphysics would only be immanent. Because of this proof, transcendent metaphysics is possible.

Note : the question is not "Does God exist ?". Why ? The word "God" has a smaller semantic field than the word "Divine", for the latter includes everything related to Divinity, irrespective of quantifiers (like polytheism, henotheism or monotheism) & ideological contents (like the tenets of any particular religion, irrespective of the number of adherents). Transcendent metaphysics does not aim to intuit the object of a historical rarified definition of the Divine (as Re-Atum, Brahma(n), Aten, YHVH, Amun, Zeus, Buddha, summum bonum, Prime Mover, the One, Trinity, Allah, God, etc.), but the extraordinary, meta-rational, seemingly supernatural direct (mystical) experience of the absolute, the Real-Ideal totaliter aliter. Not as a limit-idea, as in critical thought, not as an own-Self, as in creative thought, but immediately, direct and without mediation.

Transcendent metaphysics is nondual or non-conceptual. Hence, it is devoid of conceptual designation. What transcends the concept is either irrational nonsense or metaphysical poetry. Poetical symbols, like music, need a system of delineation or hermeneutics. Comparing Divine poems may lead to insights about why & how the Divine is encapsulated in poetical discourses, prompting a study of the names of the Divine or theonomy and comparative mysticism. This leads to the notion of a plurality of approaches of the Divine. In a substantialist view, the Divine is an omnipotent & omniscient Supreme Being or singular, sole, one God. In a nondual view, "unity" & "oneness" are just names attributed to the Divine, i.e. conceptual designations. These limit the Divine, absolute in absoluteness, beyond affirmation & denial.

Theonomy is not an inquiry into the nature of God (or theology), for how, given Divine un-saying, is this possible ?

13. Applied philosophy.

Taken together, logic, epistemology, ethics, esthetics & ontology are the "theoretical" side of the curriculum of philosophy. And adding philo-logistics (history, encyclopedia, auxiliary studies), one arrives at the traditional course given at any academy of Western philosophy, in which, to this day, applied philosophy, or the philosophy of the practice of philosophy remains absent. As a result, graduating philosophers are unable to actually continue to learn to be philosophers and mostly forget all about it. The academy countered this by introducing specializations adapted to the markets, and by doing so more and more eclipsed the true purpose of philosophy : a life in accord with wisdom. In this way, academic philosophy refutes itself, which is absurd.

In the light of criticism, academic philosophy must be both theoretical & practical :

  • the theoria of philosophy :
    (1) normative : logic, epistemology, ethics & esthetics ;
    (2) descriptive : metaphysics or an ontology of existence, life & the human ;
    (3) philo-logistics : history of philosophy, hermeneutics, linguistics, philosophy of language, neurophilosophy, etc.

  • the praxis of wisdom: the philosophy of the practice of philosophy, namely the tools to apply philosophy in society, in terms of psychology, sociology & economy.

The "theoretical" activity of the philosopher (reading, writing, teaching) needs to be complemented by the "practical" activity of the same philosopher (listening, advising, mediating, meditating). Without sufficient input from real-life & real-time philosophical crisis-management, the mighty stream of wisdom becomes a serpentine of triviality and/or a valid pestilence of details (pointless subtlety).

Contemplation (theory) and action (practice) must work together to allow wisdom to deepen by the touch of a wide spectrum of different types of interactions. Risks must be taken. Opposition & creativity (novelty) must be given their "random" place in the institutional architecture. One must teach philosophers how to integrate themselves in the economical cycle. Kept outside the latter, state-funded, in-crowd academies of philosophy rise.

To the "theoretical" side, a more "practical" approach needs to be added. Philosophers must be taught to be advisors, mediators, interpreters and arbiters, implying communication skills beyond what philosophy has to offer today. How the economy of the practice of philosophy works is also a requisite. And of course, how to refine the principles of the Socratic dialogue, theoretically as well as practically, cannot be left out.

Applied philosophy adds art to science, circumstance to rule. Hence, applied philosophy has no principles & norms, only maxims, i.e. rules applicable to occasion. This casus-law is meant to allow maximum transparency, openness & fairness.

More about these maxims of practice can be found in the literature of the philosophy of practice.

14. The need of a practicum of philosophy.

The normative disciplines offer a lot of possibilities to introduce practical exercises, individual training and brainstorming sessions. These applications must be rigorous, and constitute the backbone of the philosopher and his practice.

Ontology invites the student to try to give answers to its three main questions : Why is there something ? What is life ? What is consciousness ? Speculative creativity trains multiple theory-formation, dialogal confrontation, adaptation and intelligent problem-solving.

Understanding how the practice of philosophy works from within allows students to be confident enough to start their own praxis. The academy should assist students by helping them to actualize the maxims of practice.

The practicum of philosophy also includes critical and creative cells introduced to constantly verify demarcations and pose intelligent questions as well as advance new ideas.

Devoid of this integrated training, any philosopher is forced to train much more after graduation, all while finding the material means to realize & sustain this effort. This is not impossible, but very difficult and so rare. In no other branch of human learning is this the case and the academy of philosophy is hereby again called to add applied philosophy to its curriculum.


General Bibliography (2005 - 2007) l Biblio Egyptology (2004 - 2007) l Biblio Neurotheology (2003) l Biblio Epistemology (2006) l Biblio Ethics (2006) l Biblio Esthetics (2007)


SiteMap of Philosophy SiteMap of Ancient Egyptian Sapience SiteMap of Studies in Buddhadharma


initiated : 02 VIII 2007 - last update : 30 VI 2010 - version n°2