creation, culture, freedom, History, human nature, idealism, ideas, metaphysics, monotheism, nihilism, original sin, personality, politics, reason, science, sovereignty
Fragment 145, Word count: 2,189.
In eighteenth century Europe there was an epochal change in the culturally dominant conception of reality, a change from the dominance of religion to the dominance of science. This is familiar cultural history but poorly understood because, so far in our epoch, science has kept up a barrage of triumphal self-glorification. The story science tells of itself is that over a recent and well documented period humanity’s leading teams of theorists and researchers finally came to understand reality when they used the objective empiricism of scientific method to overcome superstitious assumptions. Events, that were once considered deliberately framed messages to humans from a supernatural world of disembodied but personified (caring) entities (such as angels and demons) with effective powers in our world, were re-conceived in science as concrete cause-effect sequences that can be measured, mapped, predicted, and controlled by human intervention. With establishment of science, the global culture of intellectual inquiry is now proud and happy to have finished its task, content with a post-heroic and workmanlike mopping up of loose ends, filling in little gaps, and working out technological applications of scientific knowledge. Any re-conceptualization of fundamental reality is unimaginable. There is an intellectual certainty and a narrowing of focus that comes with faith in the unlimited explaining power of mathematical science, universally prized. This finally relegates philosophy to the status of museum piece, bringing forth a heartfelt sigh of collective relief from the community of scholars.
There is, of course, an unmentionable giraffe in this picture. The stunning oddity is the ongoing pervasiveness and cultural authority of both religion and science, in spite of their stark incompatibility. This simultaneous acceptance of two mutually exclusive principles of authoritative explanation should not be possible, but is certainly the case and apparently a comfortably stable cultural structure. As fundamental systems for explaining what is real, both science and religion are philosophical claims, metaphysical claims, one affirming and the other denying the effective existence of ideality.
Before science became a coherent matrix of explanation, the previously dominant metaphysics in Europe was creationist monotheism, exemplified in the three Abrahamic religions. Creationist monotheism is a dualism in which the fundamental principle is a single disembodied ideality (divine intelligence) who created the objective material world (in itself measurable, mappable, definite, and predictable) in a unique episode of exuberant caprice. Humans, as sensitively conscious intelligences, were created in the likeness of that creator, similar to divinity in ideality as distinct from concrete materiality, even though humans are materially embodied within the material world. This peculiar existence which has no appearance as such, the existence of ideality, is inseparable from what is familiar as personality, but the story of divine creation presents us with two very distinct categories of personality: embodied human personality and disembodied divine personality. This bi-modality was fundamental to the entire worldview of feudal Christendom, for example, explaining all existence as the will of a disembodied spirit-force, which, being pure ideality, bridged existence and non-existence in its very being. Ideality takes a variety of forms: consciousness, questioning, wonder, caring (often desperate), searching, learning, knowing, judging, doubting, orientation, willful intention and agency, bearing-into-futurity teleology. ‘Teleology’ means ‘purpose’, ‘reason’ or ‘a poise within the anticipatory ideation of agency’. It is a striving toward a specific not-yet or non-actuality, and is the essence of creation. There is no conception of creation that does not begin in teleological ideality. The idea of divine creation, like any idea of creation, falls completely within the description of personalities as vectors of ideality. What is decisive is that ideality is always personality, that all forms of ideality occur together in the living experience of some teleological personality. We know this from personal caring and interactions with other beings who express caring. Personality is known by a creatively expressive voice and willful teleology. Personalities produce coherent utterances and acts which are expressive of ideation in the forms of caring, sensitivity, knowledge, and the preconception of intentions. Any claim placing ideality as crucial in reality is an idealism. With idealism something is recognized as a living being, personified, with a creative agency-calculating gaze into an open futurity, open with various possibilities anticipated from an inventiveness inherent to itself. So, idealism encompasses freedom, spontaneous creation, and unpredictable novelty, and insists on these as crucial features of reality.
In the creationist monotheistic version of dualism (Creator and created) the divine principle of creation, and so ideality, is primary and dominant, making it strictly idealist even though not often declared as such. This was the culturally dominant sense of reality prior to the advent of science, and what science meant to accomplish was the annihilation of all forms and vestiges of idealism. Since idealism affirms spontaneous creation, freedom, and unpredictable novelty, it seems, from the scientific perspective, like an easy slide to angels and demons, witchcraft and magic, because, in its essential creativity and freedom, ideality itself is essentially transcendent, something like magical in comparison to lumpen entropic dust and rocks. The tendency of science is not merely to demote ideality from its once dominant place (as divinity) in reality, but to eliminate it from reality completely. However, without some strong conception of idealism encompassing freedom, spontaneous creation, reason, and unpredictable novelty, the totality of existence is merely falling in precisely the way it must, and none of it matters in the least. That is the utter nihilism of science. It invites us to accept a grim stoicism but without the providential Logos that softened the ancient version. Not many people can seriously accept the nihilism of science because we have vivid personal lives of ideality and easy interconnectedness with other personalities making expressive utterances within lives of reasons and willful agency.
There are obviously many problems with creationist monotheism as a culturally dominant idealism. The grading of personalities into divine and human categories clearly proved to be toxic. With an omnipotent will creating the totality of existence, everything, again, is exactly as it must be, this time by divine plan in which the future is eventually to reveal some overriding goodness and reason. Divine personality was conceived as all-powerful creator, judge, and tester of men, and as such a model of sovereignty as absolute ownership over the less powerful. Nature had to be the actualized will of divine personality. Earthly trophies (property) were divinely awarded markers of merit, proclaiming a divine right of the strongest to impose sovereign ownership upon the lives and property of the weaker. The sovereign state, ruled by the strongest as personal property, was the local representative of divine sovereignty, a personified collective entity always being tested in conflicts with others for property and standing. What jumps out in this version of idealism is that so little was made of what human personality has in common with divine personality: the fundamental existence of living ideality. Rather than interpreting that commonality as a decisive transcendence in human existence, emphasis was placed instead on selected features of human embodiment, a fleshy animal embodiment, mortal carrier of decay, as the main determinant of human nature. (Science later built on this enthusiastically.) Human ideality was interpreted as the vestige of an insubordinate claim to equal and rival the divine. Here, in the frightening sameness of human and divine existence, is the source of the idea of original sin and inherent guilt which all humans are supposed to share and which supposedly taints the existence of humanity. This sensed sameness, made miserable by the needs and indignities of material living, in the context of widespread fear of an all-powerful supernatural watcher, was enough to create a perverse appetite for denigration of embodied personality, part of a twisted effort to distance embodied ideality from any but the weakest claim to a divine-like existence of individual creative freedom, on the hope that embodied denigration would atone for the claim to divinity and so qualify the individual for an eternal afterlife of pure disembodied ideality. This is the root superstition that makes creationist monotheism toxic and destructive. Its denigration of human personality created the context for every kind of cruelty, insult, and injury in human to human relations, sanctifying pervasive human macro-parasitism.
This brings us back to the weird co-existence of religion and science, strictly incompatible systems of explaining what is real. The reason these two co-exist is that they must, since neither is truly viable by itself. Science gives us a fatal nihilism and religion gives us a fatally warped recognition of the transcendence of ideality, a recognition so warped that it readily slides into fantasies of angels and demons, witchcraft and magic, and justifications for unspeakable cruelty. However, each provides a crucial counter-balance for the other. Science provides enough of a check on superstitious fears and wishes to secure a practical grounding in actuality, incidentally generating technology that channels enormous energy and sometimes provides great conveniences. Religion provides a crucial focus on ideality as essential reality, a reality in which an eventual future is expected to reveal some overriding goodness and reason to life and nature as a whole. Reason doesn’t exist outside ideality. Reason and ideality are one. Without the existence of ideality nothing matters in the least because there is no reason for anything, no sense of harm or benefit, bad or good, no sense of anything at all. There is gravity but no gravitas. It is only the existence of ideality, that is, personalities, sensitive, caring, and future-creating vectors of ideality, which bestows an importance derived from reasons on the world of things or on anything. The only strength of the religious outlook, the reason for its cultural survival, is its recognition of the transcendence of ideality, although it projects a grandiosity that warps perception of the place of transcendent ideality in reality. Of course, the idea of divinity is extravagantly abstracted from the ordinary experience of temporal ideality in ordinary persons. It must always have been the sense of transcendence from the teleological consciousness of embodied individuals that inspired the idea of divine transcendence (at far cosmic horizons) since there is no other direct experience of ideality.
Science carried over from creationist monotheism a denigration of human nature, recognizing only bodies, of course, biologically driven conflicts to select the fittest for dominance, and promising a completely body-determined psychology without the creative freedom of ideality. The nihilism of science is expressed in its eager engagement in development of ever-more lethal and destructive weapons, now bringing humanity to the brink of self-annihilation. Scientific discourse eliminates ideality completely, leaving a nihilism so absolute that it is ridiculously inapplicable to the world of the living, to our world of personalities. We certainly don’t want creationist monotheism to be any more dominant than it is, and we don’t need it. It was only ever a grandiose abstraction from the ordinary ideality of embodied personality. We don’t require a special, absolutely unique and all encompassing ideality to confer on existence a reason for things to matter. Any personality living, caring, and building a life in the world makes the world matter. The ordinary embodied personalities we live among, every single one, make the world matter. This sort of personality is clearly not omnipotent, but instead is a strictly local creativity and freedom instanced separately in vast numbers of embodied individuals. Embodiment is a necessary part of the interventions into brute actuality that constitute individual agency. So we don’t need any eventual revelations of an overriding goodness and reason in the course of existence. We need only an idealism that recognizes transcendent ideality in the ordinary embodied persons we connect with through utterances and acts which express knowledge, caring, reasons, and preconceived intentions.
There are both personal and political consequences from recognizing in every individual the entire transcendence that is ideality. First is a dismissal of legacy metaphysics and the perverse and gloomy denigration of human existence they impose from the cultural background. Politics becomes the test of truth because dystopian societies always rest on false metaphysics. A politics based in the reality of ideality will promote and protect the creative freedom of individuals and not undertake to control it with a frightening superego marshalling a collective hive mind. Hive minds make war. The organization of relationships among people does not have to be a dystopian nightmare created with force and hive mind engineering. We don’t need any “us against them” collective narrative to establish a personal identity, nor competitions to accumulate an avatar of property. Ideality is inherently and uniquely creative and experiences identity and value in expression. The transcendence of ideality, given its identity with ordinary personality, has been sensed as such a frightening political problem that the dominant conceptions of idealism have just evaded admitting the full ideality of ordinary subjectivity. Instead of providing a foundation for sovereignty, for the ownership of individuals by collective institutions, the transcendence of individual ideality negates any such ownership or authority. It is a declaration of individual self-possession that incidentally eliminates all versions of cosmic hierarchy such as the Great Chain of Being.
Copyright © 2019 Sandy MacDonald.