Verum Ipsum Factum
History is so full of irony. There is, most have argued, meaning in it. The few who’ve declared it ‘meaningless’, Schaupenhaur (the usual suspect) comes to mind, weren’t addressing the ‘absence’ of meaning but rather its ‘meaning’ to them. Bertrand Russell gave up logic when he said of the universe, which includes history, “it’s there and that’s all”. Ironically, this would be the same statement made by the impressionable reader, myself at least when I first read it and concluded that Russell, a platonically-minded realist, had blasphemed the very concept that drew him from mathematics & logic to philosophy. But I was wrong, Russell was not being presumptuous as I thought he was. Georg Simmel states that it’s precisely at this level of discourse that logic forces us to be silent, for it is here where the metaphysical roots of logic are nurtured.
Spengler, a contemporary, notes this:
“For every logician and psychologist, therefore, however skeptical he may be, there is a point at which criticism falls silent and faith begins, a point at which even the strictest analytical thinker must cease to employ his method — the point, namely, at which analysis is confronted with itself and with the question of whether its problem is soluble or even exists at all” (Decline of the West, IX)
Almost two millennia before Spengler’s ‘Decline Of The West’ was published, Plotinus wrote that “the soul cannot be described at all except by phrases which would be nonsensical if applied to the body and its quality, or to the determinations of particular bodies” (Thomas Whittaker, ‘The Neo-Platonists’, p42). That being said, I disagree with the statement (dubiously attributed to Einstein) that if you can’t explain something “you don’t understand it well enough”.
This abnegation is not infrequently invoked by the keenest minds. It’s best embodied in the Socratic maxim ‘I know only that I know nothing’ and somewhat implied by Russell in the opening paragraph of his ‘The Analysis of Mind’ (I’ve often wondered if it’s not noteworthy that the word ‘mind’ was not preceded by a definite article). Xenophanes of Colophon, long before Socrates, expressed the same idea, paradoxically, after he was done giving a geometric analysis of God.
Whereas the religious person readily consigns problems of this nature to God, and in doing so acknowledges his limitations/parochialism, someone like Russell would rather phantomize the whole prospect of ‘meaning’. This, in a nutshell, is Hubris. 18th-century romanticism was more successful. It knew best how to treat the dilemma of meaning — by diffusing it. By making everything meaningful — by subjectivizing it — it made the exception a rule. They did with ‘meaning’ what Spinoza and Raphson did with God.
Hagel’s philosophy of history was omitted on the same grounds. The world had begun industrializing, and men had no more use of philosophy. The soul was schematized under the label ‘psychology’ and reduced to epiphenomenalism. Everything had to make sense, and the concept of ‘factory’ is amply reflective of that. If ‘sense’ is lacking, ‘sense’ is made!. But the ‘demand’ far exceeds what mere ingenuity could artificially supply, because, it’s the ‘soul’ itself that’s being used as inventory. ‘Faith’ which the west’s industrial tour de force failed to satiate by excess and vanity, and the machine that voraciously prints out ‘meaning’ just as it does the analogous ‘currency’ will one day malfunction, if not crushed under its own weight.
The western mind loves lines and space, loves appearance, loves aesthetics. Plato begot his philosophy to the western world, but not his language. The husk was imported without the grain. Philosophy was never going to work out in the west, it was doomed from the outset. It began and ended with Plato. Nietzsche said that the last Christian died on the cross, but it’s true more so of Platonism (as is somewhat implicit in the name). “The peculiarity of the European man” Writes Thorlief Boman “is not that he exceeds, but that he forms boundaries” (Hebrew Thought Compared With Greek, p161). If this is true, so must be its implications. I do, however skeptical I may be inclined to feel, believe it to be so (true), but what I don’t believe to be so, is, that it’s exclusive to the western mind.
In the previous article, I wrote (or implied) that the enemy of philosophy is the philosopher, not the ‘sophist’, because he alone ‘sees’ (and can ‘seize’ ) her. Philosophy is (or was) uninterested in ‘facts’, the world itself was so, the ‘facts’ weren’t hidden, we were hidden from them. Philosophy was a way of restoring the mind to its ‘natural’, contemplative state, a state that had darkened over the ages by the advent and persistence of numerous idols. Philosophy was grapple against those idols, as copiously shown in Plato’s dialogues. Plato’s mission was subversive, rebellious, no different than Abraham’s when he broke into the monastery struck down the idols, or Moses’ when he confronted Pharaoh.
Those idols, however, are numerous, and the irony in it is that the idol-tearer is prone to become one, and as such, so does philosophy become science! (as Russell answered in one interview when asked about the difference between Philosophy and science).
This is something that the west demonstrates better than anyone. We see it in statues, in art, in flags, maps, in thesauruses, in education, they mask themselves as ‘axioms’, as ‘common ‘sense’, as ‘taste’, as ‘fashion’. And because the western mind loves ‘forms’, the sculpture of these idols is a ‘second nature’, and their archetypal significance is more prone than anywhere to become immortal.