The question presented in the comment to the posting Working, November 21, 2012, offers an opportunity to explore certain elements of a set of ideas I have been calling ‘transcendental humanism’, enough that an answer qualifies as a whole new posting. (Please read the entire comment attached to that posting.) The question is:

“Aren’t the “crime-family cultural values” you mention rooted somehow deep down in the fabric of human being?”

Answering the question can be approached with reference to a distinction made in ancient philosophy between nature and intelligence. Two vectors of ancient humanist philosophy were: 1) to remove gods, demons, and spirits (disembodied intelligences) from conceptions of nature, and 2) to understand and experience the ordinary intelligence of individual people as transcendent. There is no caring in nature, no reasons, no morals, no justice. Caring, reasons, morals, and justice are all peculiar to intelligences. Nature is not intelligent. The world of brute nature is not static, but its movement is only a continuous, pre-determined, kind of falling, just falling. Embodied intelligences, as bodies, are certainly falling with it, but by projecting outward from the subjective interiority of intelligence, an interiority of non-actuality, we can turn the falling, to some extent, into flight. Although there is no justice in nature, identifications of justice and injustice are important to many intelligences. Intelligences transcend nature and reshape parts of nature all the time, transforming parts of nature into culture, overwriting nature with culture. We cut natural tree trunks into timbers and build houses that are outward projections of intelligence, but which are not otherwise in or from nature. The individual creativity of intelligences makes nature fly instead of merely falling. Humans have created far more elaborated cultures than any other known species, which makes us more free of nature than the others. Human cultures have a history of restless transformation. Intelligences are among the forces that shape that transformation, and it is plausible that certain influences of brutish nature that have so far dominated cultures, such as crime family values, can be displaced by creations of more caring intelligences.

What Can Be Said

Explanations of things based on fundamental necessities sometimes include an unstated assumption that those necessities are the expression of a cosmic will and intelligence, a force that is dangerous and impious to question or resist. However, our clear and foundational acquaintance with intelligences is ordinary persons, embodied in very specific local structures. The analogy by which the cosmos as a whole is a person in a grander and more august form is so implausible as to be silly. All that can be said about the cosmos as a whole, other than strictly scientific measurements, is something like this: Inexplicably, there is something instead of nothing, and it seems that the various features and complexities of that something constitute a single whole in some sense. The anomalous feature is a discontinuity between the wholeness of beautiful but unintelligent nature, brute, predetermined actuality, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the interiority of intelligences, each its own universe of non-actuality. In spite of that radical discontinuity, it is undeniable that actuality and those multitudes of non-actualities are profoundly entangled. The non-actuality of intelligences is routinely projected onto the shapes of actuality, and brute actuality contains materials that unreliably sustain and restrict the intelligences, who are otherwise discontinuous universes.

Human being is embodied intelligence, normally conditioned within portions of an elaborate culture constructed through a particular history by a multi-generational interconnecteness of intelligences. The force of intelligences is such that the fabric of human being is not pre-determined as nature is. It can be re-created to express ever more of the transcendence of intelligence. This is one way in which it becomes possible to think that war and slavery in all its forms can be ended.

Copyright © 2012 Sandy MacDonald. The moral right of the author is asserted.