Philosophy : Theory
Wim van den Dungen
"... for what the natural light
shows to be true can be in no degree doubtful ..."
Descartes : Meditations,
III.9, my italics.
: The Spirit and Way of Life of the Philosopher.
Ancient Egyptian sapience.
Greek spiritual exercises.
Christian philosophy ?
Montaigne & Descartes.
Kant and the "Copernican Revolution".
From the Academy to
Achenbach & C°.
07. The philosophy of spiritual
: A Critical Approach of Philosophy.
The subject of sensation, action, affect & thought.
& nondetermined events.
11. Normative philosophy : cognition, behaviour & sensation.
Descriptive philosophy : the world, life, humanity & the Divine.
13. Applied philosophy.
14. Towards a practicum of philosophy.
The Architecture of Thought
7 MODES OF THOUGHT
3 STAGES OF COGNITION
instinct and reason
barrier between rationality and intuition
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.
Ancient Egyptian sapience.
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
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.
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
"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
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 :
The Instruction of Hordedef
(Old Kingdom, Vth Dynasty, ca. 2487 - 2348 BCE, fragment) ;
The Instructions of Kagemni
(OK, late VIth Dynasty, ca. 2348 - 2205 BCE, fragment) ;
The Maxims of Good Discourse of Ptahhotep
(OK, late VIth Dynasty, ca. 2200 BCE, complete)
The Instruction to Merikare
ca. 2160 - ?, incomplete) ;
The Instruction of Pharaoh Amenemhat
(Middle Kingdom, early
XIIth Dynasty, ca. 1919 - 1875 BCE, nearly complete) ;
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.
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
In Ancient Egypt, between ca. 3000 and 1800 BCE, five major state theologies
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
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
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
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
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,
"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
As Indo-Europeans, the Ionians had a couple of
typical features of their own :
individuality / authority ;
exploring mentality ;
unique dynamical script ;
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
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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 :
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 ;
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
the spiritual equality of all
although the social system distinguished ever more sharply
between aristocrats and commoners, the new religion offered salvation to
all human beings ;
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,
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
With the rise of Christianity & its fundamentalism, Greek philosophy and the Pagan
way of life were deemed heretical and therefore excommunicated.
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.
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
tolerance : slowly the realization dawned that other people, groups,
nations etc. have the right to take their own development at heart ;
utility : science & technology are deemed crucial to eliminate the
difficulties encountered : anticipation, prediction, self-control,
efficiency, argumentation etc. become more important ;
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
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.
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
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
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 :
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 ;
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 ;
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,
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
between sign-interpreters (cf. Habermas -
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).
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
Indeed, an armed truce or concordia discors between object and subject had to be realized
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
(like the direct, experience of sense-data, representing reality
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 :
(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. ;
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. ;
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. ;
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
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).
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 :
: 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 ;
: the one who immediately comprehends the meaning and can reproduce
it - this leads to listening if the heart desires so ;
: 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) ;
: 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 ;
: 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
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
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 &
"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
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
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.
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
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.
outside the canons of faith are ipso facto heretical and to
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
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
the potentials of awareness, consciousness, cognition, affection, sensation and
action is the goal of any spiritual practice.
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
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
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 :
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
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 :
(evidenced in immanent
metaphysics, creativity and art) ;
the rational mind : is
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
the intuition of the
own-Self of creativity
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
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
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
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 :
"arche", "phusis" & "apeiron" : the elemental laws of
the cosmos are rooted in substance, which is all ;
"tetraktys" : the elemental cosmos is rooted in numbers
which form man, gods & demons ;
"psuche" & "logos" : a
quasi-reflective self-consciousness, symbolical & psychological ;
"aletheia" : the moment of truth is a decision away from
opinion ("doxa") entering "being" ;
"anthropos" : man is the measure of all things and the
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
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,
"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
Spinoza : Ethics, Part I,
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
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.
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
Kant, I. : Critique of Pure Reason,
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
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 ?
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 ;
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 ;
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
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.
& 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
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
necessity of reality
idea of the REAL
necessity of ideality idea of the IDEAL
knowledge - truth
object of thought
subject of thought
the production of provisional, probable &
coherent empirico-formal, scientific knowledge we can hold for
Ethics : volition -
coordinated movement & its consequence
duty - calling
intent - conscience
family - property - the secular state
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
consciousness persuing excellence & exemplarity
sensate & evocative esthetic features
objective art, social art, revolutionary art, magisterial art
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
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,
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
norms and maxims which have always been used to think true thoughts, do
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
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
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
(c) tries to explain the world as a coherent whole ;
(d) inspires the sciences by challenging them with new ideas and
(e) articulates an arguable & argued view about existence, life &
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.
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
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 &
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 &
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 &
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
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.
(2005 - 2007) l
- 2007) l
Neurotheology (2003) l
Epistemology (2006) l
Ethics (2006) l