Feeds:
Posts
Comments

On Abstraction

Part II

Let us once again return to the problem of abstraction. Abstraction has shown itself to be both a utility and a hindrance. Abstraction, according to Saussure, is not only necessary but it is our ability to speak and think: speaking is thinking and thinking is speaking. A child, for example, who draws a person will not draw a fluid human body, where arms, legs, parts of face, and other features run seamlessly together. To the contrary, a kid will draw enclosed body parts next to their spatially logical association; two rectangles or lines, for example, will sit on either side on a larger rectangle, triangle, or stick that represents a body (Just google “child’s drawing” and you will see what I mean).  Representation, that which is given to us via the senses, is abstracted into contrasting categories to render that which is given (or the gift) understandable. Difference alone makes meaning possible as well as exchange (cf. Saussure and Durkheim).

Language, therefore, allows one to think and speak but simultaneously fosters meaning and exchange. However, language here (in the Continental “sense”) is meaning via negativa. To find the meaning of a symbol, or sign, one must not reference the positive entity in the external world that the sign signifies but rather the system of other, or different, signs in the language’s vocabulary. The sign is only meaningful because there is a system of contrasting signage that provides the said sign its own identity. Although this method seems, at first, to be illogical, especially to the Anglo-Saxon and American world, which is marked by philosophical movements such as Logical Positivism and Atomism, abstraction and Continental linguistics is preferable to the absent-minded and arbitrary “picking” of the innumerable positive referents we perceive every second, minute, and day.

Language, at this point, is then a negatively defined system of antitheses. Jacques Derrida rightfully recognized this as problematic (and Martin Heidegger certainly did so too but in a different fashion). To define some sign, Derrida noted that one would inevitably fall into an “abyss” of negation, that is each sign (or word) in a developed language system was defined by another or an-other word or set of words, which themselves were subject to definition by negation and subsequent word(s), ad infinitum. Therefore, the sign’s meaning never returned to itself or back to the sign from its abstractive journey of negative definition. This may hard to see if one tries to define terms such as “rock,” “door,” “spoon,” “tree,” or “car”; Derrida himself never held such words in such scrutiny because it was simply impractical. However, when one considers more abstract terms of “home,” “place,” “space,” “time,” “equivalence,” or “difference,” a stable and comprehensive meaning is elusive. And the consideration of political, metaphysical, or epistemological terms, or the vocabulary of philosophy and the academy altogether, is a fruitless endeavor. Words, such as “freedom,” “being,” “knowing,” “exchange,” “act,” etc., are simply impossible to define. Derrida effectively rendered Philosophy impossible.

Meaning, for Derrida, thus only worked in a practical sense by a closed system of language, in which signs constant deferred to other signs in the system. Meaning never finds any rest in a particularly sign but is perpetually shuffled among a system of signs. Signs can either travel outside of the system of signs and lose its form and content in an abyss of indefinable “other,” or signs defer meaning between units in an inescapable, totalitarian system, that is, a homogeny of “self.” Both options reduce meaning to homogeny: a nihilistic abyss of Other where meaning has no basis or no place of rest or a tyrannical Self where signs circularly share meaning through constant deferral. Again, meaning either has no place of rest, no actual space on which it can base itself (meaning cannot stand on nothing) or meaning never rests by cycling through a limited number of bases.

To conclude this section, abstraction – the art of finding meaning and its associated sign – yet remains ambivalent. It certainly is necessary but becomes less a “subjective” philosophy than a metaphysically violent, imposed societal institution. Can abstraction be rescued from tyranny? From the nihilistic abyss? From circularity? Who says? And Why? The subsequent and final post on abstraction will negate the necessity of a violent, totalitarian system of socially imposed language and examine the possibility of meaning rooted in Other, not of abyssal nihilism but of the Infinitely Determinate Divinity – the Holy Trinity.

My response to The Blackfriar on the Black Market:

As I very often cite, Nietzsche’s “neutral substratum” is again very applicable here. However, instead of the “weak” condemning the “strong” for being what they are, namely “strong,” when they play on the weak’s home field. And instead of Christian and democratic morality in view here, capitalistically democratic commerce is the new substratum, the new univocity of being.

Any rogue entity will fall short of exiting the walls of the legal Citadel, as they catch a glimpse of light from their prison cells. However, isn’t the fortress meant to keep enemies out and not meant to keep citizens entrapped? For the fugitive who has not yet exited remains entrapped by capitalistic legislature, while most of us are merely entangled in the city’s market square.

Perhaps Certeau, as you have mentioned before, does provide, at the very least, a place to look for the infinities that the American penitentiary — simply a maze made by mere man — cannot engulf. That is why I particularly like your solutions at the end, which I do hope you might expand on either by subsequent comment or in future posts.

Only True Difference can break down the empire’s political and economic univocity. Your solution: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). It is sad, of which I am so often guilty, is how we lose what Richard Hayes calls our “social imaginary.” Have you ever noticed how kids, as they learn language, brilliantly create worlds of imagination before they are encrypted with legal coding? Maybe again, Christ’s words have deeper metaphysical significance: “He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-4, although Saint Matthew probably was stressing the lesson of humility). Unfortunately for the Protestants, work ethic and resources replaced love, forgiveness, beauty, and gift, preventing any type of analogical being.

All that is to say, I agree with you, as most always. I would also like to see your thoughts on a local effort to obtain such a body politic. First of all, our imaginary-eyes must be opened, but what next? I hope to see some follow-up on these issues.

Recently working in a legal firm, it has come to my attention the ironic, and perhaps moronic, nature of private property, with respect to intellectual property. I do not deny the importance of private property; however, to accumulate private property in today’s world must ride the vehicle of purchase, given we can no longer blatantly claim seemingly un-owned land, textiles, and such because either everything is owned and commodified or we must resort to Imperialism, a method no longer normally practiced through militarization but through insidious economic alliance, entrapment, and ultimately exploitation or political diplomacy (See John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman).

Consumables, land, and other tangible units certainly fall sensibly under private property. They can be distributed, shared, modified, exchanged, etc., at the owner’s decision. Such intangible products, namely “intellectual” property, or the focus of essay, are not properties at all but merely the rights of usage.  Certainly, the spirit or intention of copyrighting is to protect an intellect from thoughtful theft, so that no one pawns the author’s ideas or words as his own. But the rise of the internet, the information age, the digital world, and globalization, intellectual properties, which are merely units of language, become deterritorialized and quickly move from one person to the next.

Capitalistic intellectual property, indeed, seeks to commodify language and restrict speaking. The entertainment industries allow one to merely purchase the “right” to use the music but not share it, so that entertainers can make a living. One cannot distribute the intellectual property in anyway so that each participant in the industry earns its dividend.

However, since intellectual property is certainly well-constructed language, how can it not be shared? Isn’t language intrinsically exchange? How do you prohibit the distribution of language without annihilating exchange, and thus, language itself? Language cannot be commodified because this restricts exchange, and to restrict exchange in such a fashion would render us all mute.

Therefore, intellectual property can not be truly restricted with our current copyright laws without silencing us. And any attempt to do so would require extreme policing of the populace, which already happens. For example, the Super Bowl denies anyone the right to distribute the broadcast and every year some church will advertise a gather where they project the game in the sanctuary or fellowship hall. Those from the National Football League will quickly hear of such an event and shut the operation down.

In any event, such a police effort to enforce these copyright laws would require just as many enforcers as there are distributors, and this doesn’t even include the confusion that occurs when those identities are intertwined. It is my contention, that copyright laws should enforce the “ownership” and originality of the creator; however, the laws cannot police distribution, because the nature of the anything intellectual is linguistic and intrinsically exchangeable. We will never see an end to pirating music, TV shows, and movies because that would result in tyranny and certainly the un-freedom on the market.

On Abstraction

Part I

Abstraction?  Simply put: a word with many nuances.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as such:

“1.             Trans. To withdraw, deduct, remove, or take away (something); euphem. to take away secretly, slyly, or dishonestly; to purloin.

b.             absol. To deduct; to derogate; to take away

c.            Chem. To separate an essence or chemical principle by distillation, etc.; to extract. Obs.

2.            Trans. To draw off or apart; to separate, withdraw, disengage from.

b.            absol. To withdraw (the attention), divert.

3.            refl., and intr. with refl. meaning. To withdraw oneself, to retire from. lit. and fig.

b.            abstracting from: withdrawing in thought from, leaving out of consideration, apart from. Obs. or arch.

4.            To separate in mental conception; to consider apart from the material embodiment, or from particular instances.

5.            To derive, to claim extraction for. Cf. ABSTRACT a. 1. Obs

6.            To make an abstract of; to summarize, epitomize; to abridge.”

My apologies, I abstracted from my responsibility to keep the reader’s attention (see above definition 2b. If the reader is prone to definition 2b., then I humbly ask the reader to bear with me). The word derives from the Latin abstractus, or “drawn away.”  Is it not the case that definition is an abstraction or a drawing away? Or language trying pin down the fullness and dynamics of reality? Or, paradoxically, the capitalization, or the pinning-down, of some event or motion?

One need only consider money. What does money represent? Does it represent some property, resource, or good? A standard or token, such as gold or silver? The market mechanism of supply and demand, the backbone of modern economics? The amount of money in circulation? The actual paper on which money is usually printed because money now is represented digitally in the stock market? Although the reader and certainly myself may not be an expert or well-versed in economic theory, I assure the reader that these questions do, in fact, arise in such study. However, most likely anyone faced with this question would answer plainly “stuff,” by which they would mean “wealth” with the presupposition that he or she had the ability to buy stuff. In any case, with further study, defining money and its constituent value is a daunting task, that includes consideration of all the afore-mentioned questions. Over the course of history, money has represented intrinsic utility and portability in local and international economies, acceptability, purchasing power defined by the amount of currency in an economy, future or “speculative” utility, among other various abstractions (see Philip Goodchild’s article “Capital and Kingdom” for the history of money and its continual abstraction from social, ecological, and “real” limits). Money, in the modern world, continually disengages from reality. Therefore, money’s definition over time transcends its natural root

Other than money, many entities, their descriptions, and uses are abstractions. In fact, let’s step back and ask an even more fundamental question: is representation – or re-presentation, the presenting again – an abstraction? With each subsequent abstraction, or attempt at definition, the re-interpretation and re-presentation loses something of the original. In any given moment, I can attempt to describe my perceptions. When someone asks, “What are you perceiving?” I might attempt to describe everything “perceptible,” but an exposition of every sound, taste, color, sight, and feeling would be a seemingly impossible task, even with the naked eye, given the infinite number of possible “representations” and combinations thereof. And even if I were to explain every possible affect on my senses, such a task would certainly outlast the moment. Therefore, as Ferdinand de Saussure posited, every representation or interpretation is an abstraction of our perception, a division into particular, relevant categories. From that point forward, Saussure, his linguistic legacy, and those subsequent thinkers in the Continental tradition defined language, our ability for abstraction, as actual perceiving, knowing, and thinking, where knowledge has no positive value, a sign or symbol actually corresponding to one actual thing in the world, but only has negative value, a sign or symbol that is contrasted to another sign or symbol. Thus, to know is to abstract, that is, to have capacity for language.

If language works in such a way, what then of systematic studies? What do we make of intense study that is divided and interpreted according to a particular modern, specialized subject? What, essentially, do we make of interpretations of representations, or abstractions of abstractions? Consider the philosophical study of Formal Logic; one can express either a logic value or a truth-value, denoted by the following examples:

Truth Value Syllogism

All men are mortals.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Logical Value Syllogism

All birds can fly.

A penguin is a bird.

Therefore, a penguin can fly.

The former example is sound because one “truly” recognizes that Socrates, a man, is mortal. However, the latter is only valid because the two statements “All birds can fly” and “A penguin is a bird” are both sound, but the conclusion “Therefore, a penguin can fly” is certainly not true but it does follow from the two premises. This entire “intellectual” study creates an abstraction from an original language, which is itself intrinsically abstract (more to follow in subsequent posting). This entire study of formal logic has now bred a number of “informal” logical investigations, as if the former was not already formless. Logical value then may be an abstraction from what actually is or how anything exists.  Formal or Symbolic Logic– an examination of knowledge, or Epistemology – separates itself from Metaphysics – the study of being or existence, or Ontology. Why would any “reasonable” study remove itself from truth, or the way the world actually is? Why would anyone want to lose the original, that is, the truth? Does abstracting the abstraction remove one further and further from the truth? Is abstraction violent, or a negation of negation? Is systematic study in any field merely a series of compounded negations?

As shown above, all intellectual investigation, all educational study, all argument, or all language for that matter, is an abstraction. When I hear the term “abstract,” only Picasso and awkwardly arranged shapes come to mind, as if I am looking at pieces of a Mr. Potato Head set lay scattered on the floor. Abstraction does not always sow definition and reap clarity, but it can also re-arrange something and wreak havoc, or disassemble structure and leave only chaos.

What practical or material application does this “abstraction” talk possess? One may note the example of money above or ponder the nature of American ideology. Americans, generally, quickly avoid any talk of tradition, totality, custom, etc. (although American mythology and economy ironically institute such conformity). American political philosophy proudly promotes individuality, freedom, and independence – very stretched abstractions indeed. One promotes the Self above Other, an entire economy and policy of self-interest, capitalistic accumulation, radical individuality or freedom of choice, although acted on a homogenous stage of democracy. Should ethical abstraction, an incessant drive for radical individuality, freedom, and independence slow down and reconsider the place from which they came? The point from which they abstracted? These “fundamental” notions of democracy offer infinite room for self-grooming, self-development, and self-expansion, but each movement towards those notions is an “abstraction” from a prior, more fundamental, or temporally-original state.

So what of abstraction? Is it a move away from “truth,” “origin,” “standard,” “perception,” etc.? Or is it an adventurous journey into the desirous, exotic, and beautiful infinite? Or is it falling into the abyss of nihilism? Is it good? Peaceful and harmonious? Bad? Violent? Necessary? My contention, for that which is to follow in subsequent posts, is that abstraction is necessary, it can be harmonious or it can be violent, but it is certainly neither necessarily harmonious nor necessarily violent. Abstraction is not a negation, rooted in loss, but a product of overabundance.

More to follow.

Hegel’s “Logic”

In Hegel’s “Logic” (Part one in his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences), he posits a metaphysic of a becoming, or the idealistic dialectic, one of profound implications for theology. The dialectic holds Philosophy in a cyclical state of change, very reminiscent of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s definition of human nature – a state of constant change. Synthesizing each perspective provides the Christian with a suitable basis for Creational Metaphysics. Hegel’s metaphysics begins with the clash between Being and Nothing, resulting in a series of spiraling derivations. From St. Gregory’s Trinitarian theology the Christian can substantiate a telos for Hegel’s dialectic, as Hegel himself merely provides an ambiguous conclusion for the end of Philosophy.

Before unraveling Hegel’s the ontological gist in “Logic,” he employs a comprehensive syllogism known as the dialectic. The subject, or Self (some general concept or ontological entity), consequently breeds a negative predicate, or Other. The Other, however, is not merely some effect of the Self but rather an essential part of the Self’s identity. Any subject acts or exists at once in a positive and negative manner, thus creating a tension or motion, or again, a dialectic. The tension fragments the subject into two distinct, opposing categories. Ideally, the Geist, or “Spirit,” resolves the tension by reconciling the Self and Other back into a composite, harmonious subject. Therefore, Hegel’s logic always takes the following form: thesis – the subject or Self – to antithesis – the negative predicate or Other – to the concluding synthesis – a harmonious resolution of opposing poles.

Although a synthesis rightfully settles the dialectic, the syllogism can extend into a wrong infinity of sorts. The history of Philosophy, for example, never completes the synthesis of two opposing theses, but rather spirals into continuous negation. Instead of the logical progression of thesis to antithesis to synthesis, Philosophy often moves from thesis to antithesis to anti-antithesis, ad infinitum. The Geist, the ultimate ontological and teleological synthesis, returns the antithesis back to the thesis, the Other back to the Self. It is also important to note that any subject contains both a positive and negative quality. Intrinsically, then, any subject includes to opposing poles. Hegel hopes to mend Metaphysics by means of the dialectic and the Geist.

Thus, Hegel’s metaphysical dialectic creates a continuum that must reconcile a variety of opposing theses. The dialectic begins with Being in itself but at an origin that Philosophy has failed to acknowledge. Being in itself is formless and void, awaiting some essence to fulfill its space, to speak metaphorically. True Ontology acts much like a universal category, where true Being contains nothing substantive but leaves a possible space for substance. However, Being without form is hardly distinguishable from Nothing because, as Hegel contends, Being and Nothing are one and the same. The dialectic thus produces Becoming, the synthesis of Being and Nothing. Philosophers before Hegel had been concerned with Becoming, a sense of Infinity, constant and plentiful motion and freedom.

In fact, Becoming is so heavily characterized by Infinity and Freedom that, on the other hand, it itself posits its own antithesis, Being Determinate. Existence at this point develops limits and, most importantly, Necessity and the Finite. Here Hegel finds answers to Fichte’s problems in reconciling Freedom and Necessity but more sufficiently and dynamically explicates the realm of Kant’s Noumena. More interestingly than Fichte, however, Hegel reconciles necessity or the finite with freedom in the resulting synthesis, Being for/by Self. Being for Self allows some finite, individual entity its own freedom. Although Self reincorporates freedom, it emphasizes singularity, producing the next ontological stage, Being Many. Before Being by Self move from Being Determinate through change of quality but Being by Self flows into Being Many through a quantative development.

St. Gregory of Nyssa and Trinitarian Theology

David Bentley Hart wrote a compelling piece titled “Mirror of the Infinite” (See Hart, “Mirror of the Infinite: Gregory of Nyssa on the Vestigia Trinitatis,” Modern Theology 18:4 [October 2002]) on the Cappadocian father. The following summarizes Hart’s interpretation on St. Gregory’s work. Gregory, in his Trinitarian theology, chose not to emphasize the singularity of God’s Being nor his plurality of Persons. Rather, the harmonious motion between each infinite entity overflowed with His Glory, or Light. In this overflow, God’s Word creates from the Nothing a mirror, or mirrors, to reflect His own image. Humans sit on a unique ontological space, simultaneously suspended in God’s infinite Plentitude and the formless Nothing.

As God’s image, humans reflect the Trinity in a couple of ways. Firstly, humans interact via exchange, economy, language, etc. as communities (i.e., one body, different parts). Secondly, humans exist in one likeness as a constituent of parts, such as body, mind, soul, etc. However, since humans exist as God’s image, Gregory symbolizes human existence as a mirror, a constant reflection and, thus, an incessant state of change. Man’s very nature, to Gregory, is its susceptibility to reflective change in light of some stimulus (i.e., God’s Radiance, other human interaction, etc.).

Although change subjects human nature to God’s goodness, such as motion, economy, harmony, etc., it also subjects humans to the void behind the mirror, the depths of mere human speculation and the Nothing. The Holy Spirit, in Gregory’s theology, counsels and propels individuals back to the mirror surface, the most direct source of God’s Light. Human freedom, or ability to change, allows each person to rise to God’s light or spiral into the Nothing. This freedom or state of change exists in a finite world, and God cannot expose His Infinite Nature to us, merely the overflow of His Radiance, because humans still remain suspended in the Nothing.

Trinitarian Theology, the Dialectic, and Being

Gregory’s description of human nature resembles Hegel’s becoming because of its susceptibility to change. Hegel, therefore, provides a metaphysic to describe the unique quality of the Christian narrative, its strain between God’s Abundance and the Nothing out of which He created man. The Geist, as the Holy Spirit, compels man to Infinity, a realization of fullness and completion. However, the Christian’s story climaxes at this realization while the current status of God’s Kingdom remains suspended in this Becoming between the Trinity and the Nothing.

Likewise Graham Ward explains the theologian’s stance as such. He must straddle the Infinite and the finite, Freedom and Necessity, Being and Nothing, where the Infinite speaks into the Finite, Freedom into Necessity, and Being into Nothing, as God speaks, creatio ex nihilo. Christians, as Christ’s incarnation under the direction of the Holy Spirit, speak creatively in God’s image to the Nothing, into the depths of St. Gregory’s mirror, as the New Israel rises to the mirror surface, the barrier to God’s Nature in itself. The Kingdom as already but not yet faces the same tension, but such a violence can only be resolved by the harmonious and gracious economy of the Trinity, which the Christian gifts out of his own abundance, charity, and grace to or toward the Nothing. In some sense, each believer longs for substantiation apart from the mirror image in God’s Trinitarian Economy.

With Christian creativity, Hegel’s metaphysics offers a mean to reconcile these opposing poles of the human condition. Matched with Gregory of Nyssa and other patristic writers, the dialectic can provide some convincing theological reinforcement. Although the practical application of Becoming remains obscure and perhaps fail to fully complement theological study as John Milbank has argued, Hegel brilliantly responds to the German Idealists and convincingly describes Kant’s Noumena after the botched attempts of Fichte and Kant himself.  

 

This post is the third in a series of reflections on the history of continental European philosophy. The bases of these articles come from readings in The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche [Beardsley, Monroe C., ed. The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (New York: The Modern Library, 1992]. Although the readings are mostly excerpts from each thinker’s most significant works, this blog will humbly to provide some thoughtful Christian dialogue on each philosopher’s major themes. Therefore, the reader must recognize two disclaimers: (1) my fallibility and (2) the possibility of an incomplete critique in lieu of missing sections from the anthology.

Fichte’s major project – known as the Wissenschaftslehre, or the “Study of Scientific Knowledge” – responds to Kant’s Idealism and critical philosophy and has been traditionally analyzed as the segue between Kant and Hegel in German Idealism. Although probably not intentionally, his Vocation of Man provides a summary of his ideas. He published the work during the Jena “Atheism Controversy” in order to translate his ideas in theological terminology. Ultimately Fichte attempts to resolve the tension between freedom and necessity through a synthesis of the infinite and the finite and, thus, accomplish the goal of philosophy: to offer a transcendental account of human consciousness and practical philosophy. Only in Kant’s Noumena does Fichte discover metaphysical relief, but however, the ontological answer, as in Kant, rests upon a violent emptiness.

Kant’s Transcendental Idealism offers a comprehensive epistemological system that allows for metaphysical inquiry, the object of which is his Noumena. Unfortunately, the Noumena is hardly explicable and perhaps reaches too far beyond Reason’s capacity (see my last post “Sacrificing Metaphysics for Epistemic Cohesion in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason”). In other words, Kant’s metaphysics lacks any substantive bases, and Fichte recognized this problem. Instead of looking to theoretical knowledge to provide an explanation, Fichte found answers in practical philosophy.

Because Kant’s philosophy depended so heavily on a priori necessity, freedom, according to Fichte, satisfies a basis for metaphysics in critical philosophy. The epistemological starting point philosophy is either the “thing in itself” – Fichte’s “dogmatism – or the subject – his “idealism” (See Breazeale, Daniel. “Fichte, Johann Gottlieb.” In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge, 1998. Retrieved September 27, 2009, from http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/DB030). Dogmatism allowed the “thing in itself” to determine the subject whereas Idealism positioned the subject as primary. Although Kant fought fiercely against empirical dogmatism, his philosophy still wreaked with idealistic fatalism in its reliance on a priori necessity. To realize the Noumena, a priori necessity proved to strong a force to overcome, but the subject’s propensity to freedom opened a route for some metaphysical realization, or hereafter called “relief.”

Fichte’s solution lies simply in his Tathandlung, or the “fact/act,” where both  action (or ethics) and knowledge (or epistemology) coincide or, rather, are one and the same. First, action transcends the realm on knowing, because the subject can act then immediately thereafter observe the consequences of some volition. Thus, action transcends the subject’s understanding, lifting a window into the Noumena. Secondly, before the subject ever knows, understands, reasons, etc., it must posit itself as an “acting” being, who knows, understands, reasons, etc. Therefore, action again occurs, at the very least, in simultaneity with knowledge if not before.

The realization of the Tathandlung represents the synthesis of not only action and fact but also of the Infinite and the finite. In practical philosophy, the self represents the Infinitude because the self tends toward complete self-determination. However, as the self strives towards such a goal, reason, or the finite, begins to restrict its capacity in lieu of a priori necessity. The self must posit itself as a self before it has knowledge, but this comes at the cost of freedom. Therefore, the transcendent recognition of human consciousness transpires with synthesis of the Infinite and the finite.

With this synthesis, Fichte effectively taps into the Noumena, a task Kant failed to accomplish. Not only does Fichte synthesize the Infinite and the finite – or freedom and necessity – but also practical and theoretical philosophy. Thus, fulfilling the goal of philosophy and providing a basis for metaphysics in critical philosophy after Kant’s failure. However, do his metaphysics stand on level ground?

Although Fichte achieves the Kantian Noumena, his metaphysics suffers from an intrinsic violence. Anglican Theologian John Milbank suggests that nihilism always presupposes a primordial violence. In this case, the Infinite and the finite violently clash, in which case only the Tathandlung can relieve the tension. In order to recognize itself, the Infinite is forced to collapse from its heights on the finite, unable to swim out of the fatalistic depths, or the “sensuous world” of cognitive necessity. The self continually strives for self-determination but falls into a priori necessity. It is unclear whether Fichte offers a stable solution for peace between the two, unless the self forsakes all cognition. Thus, the alluring Infinite Reason (or Will) violates its self-determination and hence its infinitude, leaving a mere emptiness in this “super-sensuous” world, because it must depend on the finite, or the sensuous world.

The super-sensuous world, then, cannot sustain a peaceful resolution between freedom and necessity because it has nothing to give. The omniscient Spirit in this piece leads Fichte to the super-sensuous world, away from the sensuous world of doubt and necessity. Unlike the Trinitarian God, Fichte’s Spirit gives out of nothingness, whereas the Trinitarian God gives out of his Infinite abundance. Fichte almost resolves the violent contradiction of freedom and necessity, but the Infinite Will violates itself, as it depends on the finite world of necessity and loses its actual “infinitude.”

Ultimately, Fichte successfully pries into Kant’s Noumena and  completes the quest of critical philosophy: to offer a transcendental account of human consciousness and practical philosophy. And he, albeit ironically, gains entry to the Noumena in the practical realm but the Infinite Will or the super-sensuous worlds he finds is nothing other than alluring emptiness.

This post is the second in a series of reflections on the history of continental European philosophy. The bases of these articles come from readings in The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche [Beardsley, Monroe C., ed. The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (New York: The Modern Library, 1992]. Although the readings are mostly excerpts from each thinker’s most significant works, this blog will humbly provide some thoughtful Christian dialogue on each philosopher’s major themes. Therefore, the reader must recognize two disclaimers: (1) my fallibility and (2) the possibility of an incomplete critique in lieu of missing sections from the anthology.

Kant’s ingenuity certainly does not stem from his system of Metaphysics, when, in his opinion, the objects of Metaphysics remain mostly unknowable. On the other hand, his epistemology shall forever merit praise because he not only revolutionized the object-subject distinction in Copernican fashion but also saved Reason from the English empiricists. However, if the objects of Metaphysics or some ens realissimum ultimately beyond the reaches of human understanding, did he really save Reason from English pessimism, most notably from that of Hume?

First, in his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant inverts the subject-object distinction, as he compares this inversion to Copernicus’ heliocentric astronomy.  Up to Kant’s time, external objects or perceptions controlled the subject, or the tabula rasa. Kant suggests that the subject or a priori schemata of the intuition structure the subject’s perception of external objects. Knowledge still begins with the a posteriori but cannot exist without the a priori to format experience, thus initiating a completely reciprocal dependency.

Before Kant, Hume contended that experience determined the subject’s knowledge because a priori arguments produce mere tautologies, identities, or analyses, namely that the conclusion is contained within the premise, or that B, the predicate, is contained within A, the subject. In contrast, a posteriori arguments express corollary or synthetic relations, where the conclusion coexists with or results from (although cause and effect, to Hume, is not empirically verifiable) the premise, or where the subject A produces predicate B. Thus, the lesser a priori analytic (A contains B) and the greater a posteriori synthetic (A results in B) remain the only epistemic possibilities.

To refute Hume, Kant illustrates the necessity of a priori synthetic arguments, where the realm of reason synthesizes two concepts without reducing each to an identity. For example, the addition of (5 + 7) does not intrinsically represent the solution (12) without some other tool of the intuition or presupposition (i.e., the method of counting or the notion of addition itself) that equates the addition of (5 + 7) with (12). Ultimately, Kant’s new a priori synthetic provides the subject to venture beyond the world of representation, or the a posteriori synthetic. The a posteriori only provides immediate understanding of the external world while the a priori can mediate our understanding further into the science Metaphysics.

In spite of Kant’s epistemic brilliance, his Metaphysics suffers at the hands of a priori concepts. Such concepts provide coherence in the realm Phenomena and perhaps entrance to the world of Noumena but the Noumena is still vaguely knowable. To Kant, Metaphysics is an immaterial “substratum, to us unknown, of the systematic unity, order, and purposiveness of the arrangement of the world – an idea which reason is constrained to form as the regulative principle of its investigation of nature…” Like Spinoza and Leibniz before him, philosophers attempted to identify some substance of existence, with which also provided a systematic unity of the world. However, Kant claims substance is an “empirical employment” and has no meaning in Metaphysics, which primarily deals with rational employment. The Noumena or the ens realissimum may exist analogously to our own existence in the Phenomena, but the direct relationship remains obscure.

Although Kant revived Reason and, thus, Metaphysics, he also denied any real knowledge of an ens realissimum. Metaphysics, in his opinion, must satisfy coherence to the epistemological method but ontology becomes so transcendent that not even Reason can reach its heights. From the Christian perspective, Kant promotes nothing more than nihilism. Metaphysics stands upon a systematic arrangement of concepts, and “it must be a matter of complete indifference to us, when we perceive such unity, whether we say that God in his wisdom has willed it to be so, or that nature has wisely arranged it thus.” Therefore, it is wholly transcendent and entirely impersonal, whereas the Triune God is both transcendent and immanent and also the perfection of personality. In Kant’s philosophy, there is no man behind the curtain.

In fact, Kant’s system is I-oriented, knowledge of the Noumena completely begins and arises from the self. Christians cannot help but to admit, that our existence arises only from God’s benevolent, omnipotent, and plentiful nature. To search for God leads the Christian to necessarily encounter the generous and giving abundance of God’s own existence, never leaving the thirsty seeker dry and never depleting His mystery for further quest. Kant’s ens realissimum, or that which he calls God, leaves the Metaphysician longing for something substantive merely to lose himself in a void.

Although Kant’s Metaphysics lack any substantive basis, one cannot overlook the genius of his epistemological rigor. While Kant ranks near the top of most influential thinkers, the Christian cannot be satisfied with his conclusions. Kant provides a great transition in the history of philosophy and a turn away from rash Modern objectivity, setting the stage for centuries of critical subjective philosophy. However, he still resuscitates Metaphysics only to let the science die at the feet of a daunting tower of Transcendental Idealism, a system with which Trinitarian theology cannot coincide.

This post is the first in a series of reflections on the history of continental European philosophy. The bases of these articles come from readings in The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche [Beardsley, Monroe C., ed. The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (New York: The Modern Library, 1992]. Although the readings are mostly excerpts from each thinker’s most significant works, this blog will humbly seek to provide some thoughtful Christian dialogue on each philosopher’s major themes. Therefore, the reader must recognize two disclaimers: (1) my fallibility and (2) the possibility of an incomplete critique in lieu of missing sections from the anthology.