Saturday, September 28, 2019

How rationality lost its reason, an ecstatic response to modernity's violent thinking

Jean-Luc Marion, the  phenomenologist heir to Heidegger
, claims having a true university is not possible today, for such a thing one would need, he says, a concept of “universal reason”,  but that enlightenment dream is dead, Postmodernism has shown, as David Bentley Hart put’s it,
So much of what we imagine to be the testimony of reason or the clear and unequivocal evidence of our senses is really only an interpretive reflex, determined by mental habits impressed in us by an intellectual and cultural history. Even our notion of what might constitute a “rational” or “realistic” view of things is largely a product not of a dispassionate attention to facts, but of an ideological legacy.”

“All reasoning presumes premises or intuitions or ultimate convictions that cannot be proved by any foundations or facts more basic than themselves, and hence there are irreducible convictions present wherever one attempts to apply logic to experience. One always operates within boundaries established by one’s first principles, and asks only the questions that those principles permit.”

DC Schindler disagrees.
 “It is not,” insists Schindler, “the grandeur of reason but its impoverishment that leads to oppressive rationalism and the arbitrary irrationalism inseparable from it” 

The antidote, he’s says, is “ecstatic” reason—reason that, like being itself, it always open to what is beyond it.

The main problem, as he see’s it, was the separation of being from intellect. Once upon a time the two were congruent, the cosmos was mind-like (and indeed quantum physics is showing a cosmos more like mind than machine) and so all being was mental, there was a continuum, the human mind itself simply the most transparent aspect of being

Schindler says.
“While the conventional contemporary view of the world conceives of thought as opposed to, or at any rate outside of, the real, the classical worldview understands thought as a deepening of the real, and therefore as a bringing of experience to fruition.”

Or, as Hart puts it, 
"In the pre-modern vision of things, the cosmos had been seen as an inherently purposive structure of diverse but integrally inseparable rational relations — for instance, the Aristotelian aitia, which are conventionally translated as “causes,” but which are nothing like the uniform material “causes” of the mechanistic philosophy. And so the natural order was seen as a reality already akin to intellect. Hence the mind, rather than an anomalous tenant of an alien universe, was instead the most concentrated and luminous expression of nature’s deepest essence. This is why it could pass with such wanton liberty through the “veil of Isis” and ever deeper into nature’s inner mysteries.
Every attempt of the rational mind to find the truth of things involves an implicit metaphysical presupposition: that there is some transcendent coincidence of world and soul, some original fullness of reality where they are always already one, which allows for their openness one to the other here below.

Only this permits us to believe that being is already manifestation, that it is by nature intelligible and comes to fruition as it discloses itself in soul: There is a reciprocal transparency of mind and world, an essential belonging of each to the other, because in their transcendent source they are one.

Without that original trust, that spiritual commitment, reason is not reason at all, but the purest irrationality, a game of the will. When faith and reason are truly separated from one another, neither can stand upon its own. its very essence, all reasoning involves a venture of trust in an original orientation of truth to the mind and of the mind to truth, and in the ultimate unity of the two; and that, therefore, any attempt to argue from rational premises to rational conclusions that resolutely refuses to invoke what is and has always been revealed—in the mind’s most primordial encounter with reality—is not really a process of reasoning at all, but a journey toward absurdity.”

And so Schindler tells us,

"If experience is taken in opposition to, or even simply in independence of, reason, what it yields is not the meaningful, concrete individual but, as Hegel rightly insisted, the abstract particular. This abstraction can take either a subjective or an objective form. Subjectively, one speaks of “personal experience” and means by that precisely what cannot be universalized, and therefore what has no intrinsic claim on anything or anyone beyond the subject of the experience. It is simply a “fact,” which has significance only in an extrinsic way (for example, as a statistic)
Objectivelywe have the so-called empiricism of modern science, which has ironically understood itself precisely in opposition to the concreteness of individual experience. This opposition follows from the logic of the method itself: by restricting itself at the outset to mere quanta, that is, to only that sense data which can be measured, it attends not to the being itself of the reality it investigates, but only what we might call its most superficial aspect, which it subsequently generalizes. The result is not the universal idea that was sought in the Platonic tradition, which is in fact the innermost reality of every instance of that idea, but is an extrinsic generality to which individuals conform—i.e., it is not a form but a law.

Moreover, to say that universal concepts fail to do justice to real experience because of its essentially individual and unique character is to separate thought and being, or to put it in more scholastic language, to deny the transcendentality of truth. In this case, the intellect becomes a self-enclosed sphere that must then, in a second moment, find a way to connect to the equally closed world, an aspiration that is doomed from the start, as can be gathered from the various misadventures of Cartesian philosophy. 

If the real has no light of intelligibility in itself, if it is simply an opaque quantity, what would ever justify the application to it of an idea? This leads to a second point: conceived as essentially separate from the intellect, being gets emptied of any intrinsic meaning and is thus reduced to brute facticity….

…..knowledge is conceived principally as power, and this follows naturally from its separation from reality: not only does this separation imply that reason has no intrinsic connection to the real, which would give it an inborn responsibility to it and for it, but by the very same token it implies that reason can connect to the world only by imposing itself on it from the outside. 
Reason thus becomes by its very nature something violent and its use is inescapably manipulative. The technological turn of science that we witness, for example, in Galileo, follows (as Heidegger has demonstrated) from a particular conception of the essence of truth. 
In the second case, precisely because this power is asserted from the outside, the complete reduction of reality to the status of an abuse victim can coincide with an assertion of the utter impotence of reason in the face of reality.
 In its self-assertion, and self-preoccupation, reason can say nothing at all about what “truly” is, and the criterion for what counts as meaningful gets taken from reason’s hands. 
That criterion now becomes a standard by which reason itself is measured, and the criterion itself by that very fact ceases to be a rational one. "

"There are all sorts of possibilities for what it may be instead, none of which is in principle incompatible with any other. Thus, for example, there is Rousseau’s proto-romantic elevation of the “sentiment de l’existence,” Nietzsche’s uncompromising judgment of all things against the standard of the affirmation of life,  the “sociologizing” of philosophy that Spaemann takes to be the essential face of modernism, the “emotivism” that MacIntyre diagnosed in the realm of ethics, the historicist dissolution of philosophy that Leo Strauss and later Pierre Manent described, and so forth. 
While these impulses seem antagonistic to the disproportionate elevation of the intellect to which they often react, in fact they share the same basic presupposition: the rejection of the unity of intellect and being. The dispute between rationalism and empiricism that dominated the early modern period turns out to be in fact at a deeper level a collaboration.
In contrast to the tendency to separate reason and experience in modern thought and the tendency to collapse them into each other in postmodern thought, the classical tradition affirms a relationship between them of unity-in-distinction. Truth and being in this tradition are understood to be perfectly co-extensive, if formally distinct, and human reason is essentially embodied, so that its perception of the truth of being will always occur by way of embodied experience. In this case, intelligibility is in being, it is not a conceptual construct that is then applied to or imposed on experience, and to know is therefore to be intimate with reality in a manner that can only be distantly imitated by physical contact…."

"In contrast to contemporary claims that present reason as a kind of departure from life or reality, we have for example Aquinas affirming that “whoever does not understand possesses only half a life.” 

As Robert Spaemann has shown, Aquinas is giving expression in this passage to a long neoplatonic tradition that conceived of reality according to a hierarchical triad of being (or nature) —life—intellect, in which each term represents an intensification of the previous one.This means that life is not something simply added extraneously to being, for example, which would mean in turn that being is defined precisely as non-living, as altogether lacking in the qualities that constitute life. 

Instead, it means that, for all the novelty the intensification represents, there remains a continuity between the higher and the lower level so that the movement up fulfills what went before. In this case, life is more real than mere being, and understanding is both more alive than mere life and more real than mere being.
While the conventional contemporary view of the world conceives of thought as opposed to, or at any rate outside of, reality, the classical worldview understands thought as a deepening of the real, and therefore as a bringing of experience to fruition. From this perspective, we would say that experience becomes more truly itself the more it is truly penetrated by mind, which would make sense, of course, only if it were true to say that experience as such were in some sense intelligent from the beginning.”

Otherwise we are stuck in the combative mode of modern epistemology, as Nietzsche wrote, 

“Now they all believe, desperately even, in what has being. But since they never grasp it, they seek for reasons why it is kept from them. ‘There must be mere appearance, there must be some deception which prevents us from perceiving that which has being: where is the deceiver?’ ‘We have found him,’ they cry ecstatically; ‘it is the senses! These senses, which are so immoral in other ways too, deceive us concerning the true world’” 
Schindler continues, 

“Abstractly considered, experience is both historical and particular, while reason is universal and trans-temporal. They are, in that sense, different. Concretely considered, however, reason is always exercised bodily in every act and to that extent mediated by experience, just as experience is always illuminated to some degree by intelligence. 

It is not the case, in other words, that the senses perceive sense data, while the intellect cognizes ideas, which must subsequently be coordinated with the data, for this necessarily leaves the two merely extrinsically related to one another. Such an extrinsicism implies a fragmentation of both the human subject and of being more generally. Instead it is I that experience, and I that reason, and this “I” is a concrete whole in which these distinct operations are always already intrinsically related: that is, they are connected in such a manner that each informs the activity proper to the other.
What the I both experiences and understands is not sense data and concepts, but reality itself, by means of the co- operation of senses and intellect. The real is always, without exception, an instance of a universal idea, the rationality of which transcends all time and space, and that idea is not accidental to its being, but is its reality in some respect, so that conceptualizing it does not take us away from being. 

At the same time, universals do not exist as such in abstraction, but have their own reality only in concretely existing beings. Their universal meaning is therefore always mediated and thus to some extent informed by history. 

Aquinas insists that ideas do not represent the object of knowledge, but that by which being is known, and also that knowing has its completion in a conversio ad phantasmata: the implications of these affirmations ought to be unfolded from within the modern emphasis on history and individuality.

 However that may be, the cooperation of reason and experience in the knowing subject is a fitting correlate of the com-penetration of universality and particularity in the concretely real. If sense experience is subjective in content and objective in form, while reason is objective in content and subjective in form, only the integrated simultaneity of both allows us to speak of a unity in distinctness of the subject and the object as an encounter between two integral wholes.

Understood in a properly concrete way, experience is indeed intelligent, and intelligence offers in fact a privileged access to experience. The two reciprocally reinforce one another. According to the poet Hölderlin, “Wer das Tiefste gedacht, liebt das Lebendig- ste,” the one who has come to know what is most profound loves what is most alive.”

Schindler proceeds to capture a more robust notion of “cause”, which was so diminished in the 17th century, by appealing to the ontological basis of being .

Power was eventually privileged over Goodness in the conception of causality.

Schindler points out that, 

“Cause for Galileo is not what accounts for an effect, but what produces an effect, and indeed does so wholly through direct, material contact. Moreover, the only relationship that holds in an essential way between cause and effect is temporal succession. It would require another generation or so before it was discovered, by David Hume, that such a relationship is not in fact intelligible in the strict sense. 

But Galileo already himself recognizes that this view of causality—which to be sure unlocks the door to a new character of the material world, namely, one that, in its predict- ability, allows a kind of mastery never before possible—comes at the price of renouncing insight into the essence of things. As he says, for example, while we might inquire into the “essence” of the thing, it is
“not as if we really understood any more, what principle or virtue that is, which moveth a stone downwards, than we know who moveth it upwards, when it is separated from the projicient, or who moveth the moon round, except only the name, which more particularly and properly we have assigned to all motion of descent, namely gravity.”

An “effect” is not an image; it does not reveal the nature of its cause. To produce the effect, the cause must be of the same order as the effect, and thus has to be equally material. Cause and effect fall on the same horizontal line, which means, as we saw, that there can be no manifestation of meaning: revelation necessarily implies a hierarchy, insofar as what reveals must be in some fundamental sense sub- ordinate to what it reveals. Investigating effects, therefore, does not teach us anything about the causes, no matter how precise and thorough our knowledge of the effects may be. Thus, as Galileo explains, the word “gravity” is a mere name. We do not know what it is. We are left, instead, with the task of calculating the quantity of the motion it produces through controlled observation of its effects.”

Indeed Nietzsche
, in The Will to Power, says:

The calculability of the world, the expressibility of all events in formulas -- is this really "comprehension"? How much of a piece of music has been understood when that in it which is calculable and can be reduced to formulas has been reckoned up? (624)

It is an illusion that something is known when we possess a mathematical formula for an event: it is only designated, described; nothing more! (628)

Mechanistic theory can… only describe processes, not explain them. (660)

Schindler goes on to say,

"For Galileo, by contrast, we might want to say that force is communicated from cause to effect, as revealed in the motion produced in the effect. But in the strictest terms, we would have to deny that anything is communicated. Communication implies that something is shared, that there is something that therefore unifies the communicants. 

According to the mechanistic view of causality we find in Galileo, however, nothing is “shared”: the only thing joining cause and effect, as we saw, is succession in time and space. Physical motion (mechanistically understood) by its nature is not something that can be shared; it is atomistic of its essence.

The ancients  would never imagine reason and the senses as two “things” set over against one another: for Plato, if anything, reason must exert a sort of restraint on itself, because the deception of the senses always turns out in the end to be reason’s self-deception. But in Galileo, reason and sense experience are necessarily opposed in their nature even if they are brought into accord in practice.
The reason for this opposition follows straightforwardly from the transformation of the understanding of cause. 

Sense experience is an effect produced in us by some external cause. But effects are not images that disclose the truth of their cause. Rather, they are individual motions that bear no relation to their causes apart from the fact of having been initiated by them.

The life of the senses can be enjoyed in detachment, or, conversely, the senses can be dispassionately exploited—“raped” —ultimately because sense experience does not mean anything in itself. In this case, imagination becomes simply trivial, and so too does the natural world the imagination mediates. The imagination is where the world can have a sort of spiritual home in us, and for that same reason is what allows us to have a home in the world. The destruction of the imagination—let us call it the iconoclasm of the spirit36—will thus necessarily coincide with an alienation and its attendant anxiety, which drives man to the apparently more certain but literally hope-less scheme of self-redemption through productivity."

Schindler’s thesis’ is that an appreciation of the meaningfulness of the senses rests on the primacy of goodness and beauty in the order of causality and therefore of understanding.

For him, 
truth is essentially aesthetic, and goodness is essentially “veridic,” i.e., manifestive of truth, and so forth. All of these dimensions are at play in form, and form is the real cause of a things being.

 Socrates insists that there is a distinction between that which is a cause in reality, and that without which the real cause could not be a cause. The mechanical interaction of bodies is, of course, necessary for things to be the way they are, but it does not account for them, it is not what explains them or reveals what they are.  What is lacking in the mechanistic explanation (or better: what prevents this account from being an explanation), as Socrates goes on to say, is the goodness that “holds [things] together”, because goodness is in fact the causality of all cause.

The imagination, for Schindler,  “is, if not the center of the human being, then nevertheless that without which there can be no center, for it marks the point of convergence at which the soul and body meet; it is the place where faith in the incarnate God becomes itself incarnate and therefore truly becomes faith; it is—pace Hegel—where reason becomes concrete, and the bodily life of the senses rises to meet the spirit. It lies more deeply than the sphere of our discrete thoughts and choices because it is the ordered space within which we in fact think and choose. Far more than a mere faculty, the Christian imagination is a way of life, and this is because we might say it represents the point of intersection between Christianity and the world. “

So he says, 

“Lacking an imagination, Descartes reduces the real to a pure mathematical abstraction, which neither he nor anyone else will ever encounter. Arguably, Descartes finally resolves the haunting problem of knowing whether the world exists in the Meditations simply by eliminating the world.”
Opposed to this enlightenment vision of knowledge as power, Charles Pierce, who some consider the greatest logician to ever live, also sought to recover imagination as essential for reason, since for Peirce understanding the world means interpreting it, and we cannot interpret without imagination.

While modern thought attends to the parts, appropriate for modern rationality, contemplation attends to the whole, and so Schindler, drawing on Plato and Dionysius the cause of all being as akin to the sun: as the universal cause of all things whose intrinsic self-diffusiveness is above all a “generosity or self-giving” that “gives rise to the world in giving itself.” 

Schindler affirms goodness as the ultimate cause: according to the ancient axiom, what is perfect cannot come from, what is imperfect, but only the reverse, which means that the ultimate cause of everything cannot be imperfect in any respect. But what is perfection itself cannot act so as to become more perfect, which implies that its causation must be a consequence of the perfection it always already has rather than a means to accomplish that perfection.
Moreover, for the very same reason, what is brought about by goodness must necessarily reflect its cause, since perfect causality cannot be anything but the communication of its own perfection, i.e., its self, to another.

 In this respect the form that is communicated by agency is necessarily a reflection of goodness. And, finally, insofar as this form most basically determines what a thing is, and is itself an imitation of the first cause, the gift of the being of each thing is at the very same time the gift of the ultimate purpose of each: namely, to be what it is by imitating in its particular way the ultimate source of all that is, i.e., by pursuing goodness.

Goodness is the paradigm of causality because it represents self-communication, and, since all other causality reflects to some degree this ultimate causality, what principally characterizes cause is the communication of form.

he further we journey into the knowledge of causes, far from reducing wonder to knowledge (scientia), the deeper will our wonder actually become. Aristotle was right: philosophy begins in wonder. It ends in wonder, too, because the truth, as self-diffusive love, is wonder-full.

So Schindler sketches a definition of reason as universal, or “according to the whole,” in a fourfold sense. Reason by definition is concerned with being as a whole; it is the act of the whole person; what it knows, it grasps in terms of the universal whole and also, finally, the whole of the individual concrete thing known.
To summarize Schindler thus far: With respect to beauty: either we take the world as most fundamentally beautiful and receive it as a gift, or we do not. If the latter, we strip beauty of its ontological basis, rendering it a matter of subjective taste. With respect to goodness: either we respond to the world as being desirable in itself, or we stand indifferently outside the world’s appeal. We exalt our self-interest. With respect to truth: either we recognize things as true in their very being (and truth as our whole-personed communion with the whole of things), or we relegate truth to correctness of information, and this only as it is a matter of utility.

Reason is a capacity, actuated by beauty, of receiving being. 
- Cole Powers

Thinking not ordered toward the good loses its rationality.

Now, Schindler's own specific proposal of reason is a reconception of the traditional notion of reason in terms of a dramatic structure.

Instead of reason “solving” like a math equation with certain conclusions, thinking is more like an open ended story, where insights do not close but open up reality to further dialogue.

Schindler says, 

“a truly dramatic moment crystallizes the plot into a luminously meaningful whole, the shock of surprise coincides with a sense of necessity: it couldn’t have ended any other way. A dramatic resolution is equally distant from the rationalistic resolution typified, for example, by figures such as Descartes, Kant, Husserl, or (the early) Wittgenstein, all of whom thought they had solved the essential problems of philosophy once and for all and left others with the task of mechanically applying their solutions (a task that philosophy has never really accepted), as it is from the post- modern gesture of constant postponement and deferral. It is a resolution that closes and opens at one and the same time. 

At the foundation of a dramatic notion of reason is Balthasar’s insight that consciousness is “born,” i.e., it is constituted in the simultaneously interpersonal and ontological event of the “mother’s smile.”
 What this means is that consciousness, and therefore the “home,” as it were, of all that a person will ever perceive, think, understand, or believe, is not a pre-structured categorializing activity, but is first and foremost given to itself.

It arises in and through the initiating gift of self that the mother communicates in her smiling on her child. If this is the case, the conditions of possibility that structure reason do not belong to it prior to its encounter with the real, but are “dramatically” constituted in the gift of its participation in and with the reality his mother lovingly offers to him. 

It therefore follows that conditions of possibility are not something that reason establishes first and therefore has no choice but to impose on any encounter it might have—whether with another person, with being, or with God—but instead are simultaneously received and established. 

Every encounter whatsoever, from this perspective, has a certain dramatic quality; every act of reason is, at some level, the coincidence of surprise and resolution, the building up of anticipations, which are then fulfilled even as they are overturned. 
In other words, if consciousness grows from the beginning out of the generous gift of love, reason never simply operates “von sich aus,” but always, without exception, at the very same time “vom Anderen her.” 

From a dramatic perspective, thinking is not an autonomous activity, but is at its core a “being moved by an other.” There is, then, an ecstatic or generous dimension that forms part of the constitutive structure of reason: to think, in this case, is to pledge oneself, to be brought out of oneself in a way that precisely allows one to give oneself."
Therefore, he says, enlightenment reasons “self-serving schemes, is not an expression of reason’s nature, an automatic result of every effort at conceptualization, but is rather a failure of reason, a failure to understand—indeed, a failure to comprehend.

This is a three part series on enlightenment reason, I offer four responses, DC Schindler’s more ecstatic account of an open ended reason, a poetic reasoning adequate to a reality more like narrative than a mathematical equation in part two HERE, Hamann’s embedded communal approach HERE, and Cusa's Analogical turn.

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