(2/2) The God Of The Philosophers And The Via Negativa

In this short series of 2 posts I’ve been thinking about the God of the philosophers in the continental tradition, and one thing the continental tradition is interested in, regarding truth, is not just correctness and certainty of judgments, but also how ideas are un-covered.  I’d like to think about how theology in the western continental tradition isn’t really what we think theology is at all.

Normal thinking discloses its object while avoiding contradiction: eg revealing the essence of justice in a sentence or two.  This is what Finite Thinking does, and Finite Consciousness (intentio) is consciousness of something (intentum): Intentionality.  More specifically, the Finite-ness or Finitude of consciousness consists in that it involves limited awareness, unlike God’s Infinite consciousness, as I explained last time.  This is a little clearer in German:  Heidegger clarified this by pointing out the conscious-unconscious distinction is not the most basic, because we have focused awareness (Dasein) in dreams which are vivid forms of human absorption, even though we are unconscious.  So, the basic trait of the finite mind is focused awareness, and this is contrasted with when our mind wanders away (weg Sein) and we are no longer there (nicht-Da-sein), so if we were having a conversation with someone we wouldn’t be able to say what was said because we were present at the conversation but not focused in awareness in the conversation.  In this regard, we see a further discrepancy between the finite mind and the infinite mind, because if God truly sees all, He would have to be in focused awareness relationship with everything, which the human mind can’t ever begin to conceive. 

Now, Kant said that the finite human mind is passive.  I don’t do anything to enact my experience of the tree: the impression simply comes to me.  Moreover, I can’t create a sensed tree no matter how much wishing I might do.  Kant says we could not even dream or imagine if something wasn’t already provided to the senses that was then being combined, augmented, etc.  Infinite thinking, on the other hand, is productive, it creates its object rather than being pressed upon by one.  For example, God didn’t first see light, but rather willed it into existence: let there be light.   In continental philosophy this type of productive thinking is called Hegelian dialectical or productive phenomenology.  If the basic nature of finite thinking is that it reaches its limit with contradiction (I can’t picture a married bachelor or square triangle), infinite thinking produces its object through a different relationship with contradiction:  So, if I take a whole sock (thesis) and tear it (antithesis), what is produced/made conspicuous (synthesis) is the Category of Unity, precisely as a lost-Unity.  The hidden category that was always there is conspicuous in its absence.    

If there is going to be another kind of logic that is proper to an infinite mind, it would be one that is not just reasoning from premises to conclusions using analytic (The triangle is three sided) and synthetic (The table is brown) judgements as the finite mind does.  And there is such another logic that uses the principle of contradiction as a vehicle to produce its thoughts, dialectical or Hegelian productive phenomenology (torn sock example above).  This is theology (in the strict continental philosophical sense) rather than philosophy because in traditional philosophy God is subject to the principle of contradiction (even God can’t picture a married bachelor: that something can’t both be and not be, at the same time and in the same way), while with dialectic the Infinite mind is not just subject to but is master of the principle of contradiction

So, if Hegelian phenomenology was the major innovation of his time, the last major innovation of the continental tradition began with Nietzsche’s notion of the “spur” or trace, which became “destru(k)tion” in Heidegger’s thinking, and finally “deconstruction” with Derrida’s translation of Heidegger’s term into French.  Again, this not philosophy, but “irrational theological ethics,” which by the way isn’t any less rigorous, but rather restoring weight to marginalized or left behind voices, like taking the pre Socratics very seriously and in depth rather than just disregarding them as archaic superstition.  Here we find ethics, not metaphysics as first philosophy and first religion, and so for instance when we see the violence being done to the LGBTQ by the beloved traditional definition of marriage, we are called by the voices of the widow, orphan, stranger and enemy to deconstruct the tradition interpretation of marriage and reconstruct it in a more inclusive way.  No positive resulted is gained, as the new concept may need to be deconstructed again at a later time, but at least we can say the new LGBTQ friendly definition seems less violent.  Of course, the change may create more problems then it solves, and so actions are re-thought, not In terms of certainty of consequence, but unlimited returns. Derrida gives the example of the calculating hedgehog rolling up as it always has in the face of danger into a protective ball as the car bears down on it on the highway: the point being is that the calculation brings destruction, and if it would have just kept walking it would have been fine.

This is theology rather than philosophy in that Leibniz said the first metaphysical question is: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  If we look at this sentence, we see it is assumed, though we didn’t first realize it, that “to be an entity means to have a Why.”  And this is why Leibniz says the principle of reason is the basic philosophical one, because it says “everything has a reason/why,” or more specifically “To be: this means to stand upon a ground.” This principle has existed ever since Plato’s critique of Antisthenes, which says however hard we try to encounter something in its uniqueness, the mind’s eye is already seeing it in the light of Being, others, separate from, in itself, and a slew of ontological determinations. 

But, what Derrida and Heidegger want to emphasize is the negative theology component I talked about yesterday, and this was typified by the mystic theologian Angelus Silesius who basically rejected the principle of reason, his most famous quote is “A rose is without a why.  It blooms because it blooms.”  Since Plato, the being of beings was understood as seen already in advance by the mind’s eye.  Being was the really real, but what we came to understand with Nietzsche is we don’t uncover Being like a miner unearthing what was already there, but rather artificially create it through sleight of hand.  In the same way, longing is produced whereby we say “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” or giving away a child’s unused toy might cause tears: we wouldn’t say the love was already present in a hidden manner, since it’s a magnification in reaction, not a dis-closing.

I’d like to dedicate these two blog posts to my friend and teacher Dr. David Goicoechea, one of the great postmodern philosophers, who left us too young at the age of 78

The “A Derrida Reader” is behind him on the shelf to the right – or to the left, from his point of view …