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Intelligent Wisdom

reflections on the cognitive continuum
from myth to nondual thought

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2015.

"As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he !"
"Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding ..."
Proverbs, 23:7 - 14:33


I : The Heart of Wisdom in Ancient Egypt :

01. Visualizing the physical heart as the mind.
02. The heart in the Old Kingdom.
03. Conscience and the weighing of the heart.
04. Thoth, the first to write.
05. Intelligence-of-the-heart or the heart of wisdom.

II : Conceptualization in Western ontological thought :

06. Myth : simplifying "the beginning".
07. Proto-rationality in Parmenides and Democritus.
08. Conceptual rationality : the Sophists and Socrates.
09. Concept-realism : Plato and Aristotle.
10. Fideism or the onto-theological ground.
11. Real and rational science in scholasticism.
12. Rationalism and empirism of nature.
13. Kant, the shipwreck of foundationalism.
14. Criticism and the Münchhausen-trilemma.

III : Intelligent Wisdom after Critical Philosophy :

15. The spirit and way of life of the philosopher.
16. The own-Self and the heart of creative thought.
17. Beyond the concept : reflective & reflexive nonduality.

Epilogue : Guidelines

The Architecture of Thought




1 Mythical
libidinal ego


2 Pre-rational
tribal ego


3 Proto-rational
imitative ego
barrier between instinct and reason




4 Rational
formal ego


5 Critical
formal Self
barrier between rationality and intuition





own Self




I : The Heart of Wisdom in Ancient Egypt.

The use of capitals in words like "Absolute", "God" or "Divine", points to "theory" and reason. Hence, in the context of Ancient Egyptian thought, words such as "god", "the god", "gods", "goddesses", "pantheon" or "divine" are not capitalized.

"Osiris, the scribe Ani, said : 'O my heart which I had from my mother ! O my heart which I had from mother ! O my heart of my different ages ! May there be nothing to resist me at the judgment. May there be no opposition to me from the assessors.

May there be no parting of You from me in the presence of him who keeps the scales ! You are my Ka within my body, which formed and strengthened my limbs.

May You come forth to the place of happiness whereto I advance. May the entourage not cause my name to stink, and may no lies be spoken against me in the presence of the god ! It is indeed well that You should hear !'"

Papyrus of Ani, Plate 3 - ca. 1250 BCE - XIXth Dynasty - British Museum

01. Visualizing the physical heart as the mind.

In Ancient Egyptian, the word for "heart" was written in three possible ways.
(1) Heart as "ib" -Eeb- (F34) was written as, a single hieroglyph, representing a (mammal) heart + the determinative for "one" (a stroke).
(2) Heart as "HAt" -Hat- (F4) was written as , the forepart of a lion ("HAt"), a bread ("t" - X1, phonetical complement) + ("ib" - F34), used as determinative for everything related to "heart". The first two signs ("HA" and "t") + stroke determinative meant "forehead", "forepart", "beginning", "the best of", etc.
(3) Finally, heart was also written as "HAtii", with two strokes added, or , whereas "Hatiiw" indicated "thoughts" ...

The semantic field associated with this visual sign, or icon of a mammalian heart, was very rich, highly complex and encompassed all physical, emotional, mental and spiritual states of the human. The heart represented the physical heart, but also denoted the seat of thoughts and emotions, the mind, its intelligence and understanding, as well as will, desire, mood, wish, interiority, attentions, intentions, disposition, conscience and middle. In the sapiental discourses (cf. Amenemapt), it was the sacred shrine (devotion, spirituality). In funerary theology, the heart was the ultimate motor of the spiritual transformation ("Xpr" -Kheper-) of the "bA" -Ba- or "soul" into "Ax" -Akh- or "spirit" (in the horizon or "Axt" -Akhet-). The physical heart was not removed from the body during mummification, and often covered with an image of the dung-beetle -L1- "Kheper" ("Xpr") or "become", deemed helpful during judgment.

The hieroglyph of the heart marked off the subjective state, quality or "mental" condition which the Egyptians associated with the physical heart, considered as the master receptor & coordinator and motor organ of the organic, functional unity at work in the physical body. Likewise, the heart was the "other" (read "inner") side of this coordination of movements using conscious intent, causing speech (cf. the role of the tongue in the Memphis theology). The heart explicitly refers to the mind, as in : "thought of the heart", the "kAt" () meaning thought or meditation (cf. to think, to think out, to say).

The notion of the "shrine" of the heart as the sacred place of the "inner god" was a concept developed in the Late New Kingdom (ca. 1200 BCE), when personal piety became fully part of the Egyptian cultural form (cf. Hymns to Amun). By entering its "shrine", the heart (mind, desire, will) is brought before the god, enabling the latter to dwell in the person.

Deriving their concrete (not abstract) concepts from natural differentials, the intellectual elite of Ancient Egypt (scholars associated with the local House of Life) visualized their thoughts in "sacred signs" (or "hieroglyphs"). Mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational layers of cognition were superimposed and partly integrated into concrete conceptualizations. This pragmatical, deep thinking of the Ancient Egyptians was indeed unstable, but evidenced the first, unfinished "closure" of the cognitive apparatus. Proto-rationality integrated both myth and pre-rationality. Tensions remained and turbulence was unpredictable and possibly annual (cf. too much or too little Nile flood), but because of this "hieroglyphic thinking from the heart" (allowing for a "multiplicity of approaches" - cf. Frankfort, 1961), a dynamical equilibrium was achieved (and maintained for over thirty dynasties, covering 3000 years of history).

Hieroglyphs (as Byzantine Icons) refer to a wider experience of reality, to an understanding of the heart. Then, by using sacred symbols in particular cognitive contexts, the surrounding macrocosm is visualized as one complex whole of architectures, momenta & rhythms, which are also at work in human body, conceived as a microcosm.

Note that contrary to (a) the physical body or "Xt" -Khat-, (b) the "double" or "kA" -Ka-, (c) the ritual (noble) body or "zaH" -Sah- and (d) the celestial body or "xA-bA.s" -Khabas-, the heart represented a state of consciousness rather than a vehicle or executive, functional component of man's soteriology. Its conservation was necessary because the general mastery of life was projected in it. The heart was deemed responsible for the direction of the rudder, the navigation on the river of this life and for the initiation of spiritual transformation in the next (cf. the judgment scenes of deities, the divine king and common mortals).

approximative, all dates BCE

Predynastic Period

  • earliest communities : - 5000
  • Badarian : - 4000
  • Naqada I : - 4000 - 3600
  • Naqada II : - 3600 - 3300
  • Terminal Predynastic Period : 3300 - 3000

Dynastic Period

  • Early Dynastic Period : 3000 - 2600
  • Old Kingdom : 2600 - 2200
  • First Intermediate Period : 2200 - 1940
  • Middle Kingdom 1940 - 1760
  • Second Intermediate Period : 1760 - 1500
  • New Kingdom : 1500 - 1000
  • Third Intermediate Period : 1000 - 650
  • Late Period : 650 - 343

02. The heart in the Old Kingdom.

In the Old Kingdom, both psychological and funerary identifications are attested :

"I have come and I bring You the Eye of Horus, that your heart may be refreshed possessing it. I bring it to You under your sandals. Take the efflux which comes out of You. Your heart will not be inert, possessing it."
Pyramid Texts, Unas:32.

"There is no seed of a god which passes away at his <word>, and You shall not pass away at his <word>. Atum will not give You to Osiris, and he shall not claim your heart, nor have power over your heart. Atum will not give You to Horus, and he shall not claim your heart nor have power over your heart."
Pyramid Texts, Unas:215.

In the Maxims of Ptahhotep (ca. 2200 BCE) and other sapiental discourses, the word "heart" is always used to indicate and/or express subjective, internal, intimate, "states" or "conditions" of consciousness. In the context of the teachings, insofar as Maat is concerned and is used as a good example, Ptahhotep summarized the phenomenology of the subjective. The awareness of each human of him or herself, of volitions, affections and cogitations, and the complex functions, organs, subdivisions and strata of the psyche and her implicate processes are part of the connotative semantic field of the word "heart" and its use. 

The fact so many states of mind are mentioned, is suggestive of the freedom enjoyed by the "heart" to turn to any side it desired. With the "heart", we touch upon Ancient Egypt's concept of "will" and "freedom". Ante-rational thought did conceptualize the freedom to go wrong. Moreover, to the ancients, a harmony, called "Maat" existed which was established with the act of creation itself.

The Egyptian language of the Maxims captures the essence of the "state of heart" in a pictorial, metaphorical and poetical way, leaving room for many readings and an alternative "coupure" of the text. Indeed, to understand an Egyptian concept one is advised to seek context before content. The latter may be isolated within a given set of connotative meanings, but is never defined beforehand as in the "geometrical" method developed by the Greeks (cf. Euclid).

The "heart" in the Maxims of Ptahhotep
every clause ends with det. ("ib" - F34)

heart is weary : to be tired in body and mind ;
the heart, ended : the cognitive faculties being absent, finished ;
the exactness of (every) heart : the correct, precise information given ; 
heart get big/great : an inflated sense of personhood ;
directs the heart : to be able to conduct & control oneself, a powerful man ;
seize your heart (against) : to act aggressively against someone ;
control of heart : self-control, restraint of one's personal drives  ;
aggressive of heart : the attitude of attacking another person ;
relieve your heart : to undo oneself of a psychological burden ;
wash the heart : to relieve oneself of feelings, whether they be anger or joy ;
little heart : a man of weak cognitive abilities, an incompetent person ;
your heart desires : what you like or wish ;
the heart that robs : the greedy person, the thief ; 
evil on his heart : evil intentions, negative feelings and/or thoughts ;
please the heart : to satisfy oneself or another person ;
follow your heart : enjoy your life, be happy, make a good life for yourself ;
the time of 'follow-the-heart' : sum of all happy, joyful, unmixed moments of life ;
withdraw the heart : to separate oneself from a situation or a person ;
reaches the heart : to enter consciousness, to become aware ;
heart obeys his belly : the mind follows the instincts and the lower affects ;
heart is denuded : sorrowful state of mind, degeneration of the sense of ego ;
great of heart : great-hearted person ;
swallowing the heart : to loose sight of reality, to falter, to forget ;
calms the heart : to eliminate the harsh, unpolished sides of one's character ; 
the heart rejects it : a person does not accept a thought, feeling or action ;
greed of the heart : the vice of always wanting more material things ;
gladden the heart : to make a person happy, joyful and serene ;
whole heart together : to concentrate exclusively on something ;
a high heart : to be haughty ;
the hot of heart : a hot-heart or a hot-tempered, uncontrolled person ;
sad of heart : a depressed, sorrowful person ;
frivilous of heart : to be constantly light-hearted, gay and without concerns ;
obeys his heart : to follow the rules one made one's own ;
vex the heart : to make somebody furious ;
the trust of your heart : the faculty of trusting something or someone ;
lacks in heart : to be mindless, unconsiderate, disrespectful towards others ;
water upon the heart : effeminate, unmanly thoughts, feelings & actions ;
test his heart : to probe the authenticity of oneself or another ;
unbound of heart : to be gay and joyful as a result of being without obligations ;
joyful of heart : a positive, constructive attitude and a good sense of humour ;
the heart twines his tongue : thought and speech match, are equal ;
heart ... a listener or a non-listener : a person decides to listen or not ;
life ... are a man's heart : the core of a person is alive, healthy & prospering ;
valued by the heart : taken into consideration, given attention, be aware of ;
immerge your heart : to be discreet, to hide one's thoughts, to keep to oneself ;
be patient of heart : to be deliberate, to take the time to collect one's thoughts ;
his heart matches his steps : he lives & acts as he thinks and says, is straight ;

03. Conscience and the weighing of the heart.

"O my heart ! Raise yourself on your base (so) that You may recall what is in You."
Coffin Texts, spell 657.

In the Coffin Text, references to the netherworldly Judgment Hall abound. Brought before this tribunal, the deceased had to recall his or her life. To do so, the heart was crucial. If it abandoned the deceased, the cause was lost. The Coffin Texts were written during the Middle Kingdom, but, contrary to the New Kingdom Book of the Dead and its weighing scene, have no vignettes (explanatory, cartoon-like drawings explaining the actions surrounding the text).

The collapse of the Old Kingdom brought about a provincialism in which the nomes (or 42 provinces) themselves and not exclusively the royal residence defined Egyptian culture (as Memphis had between ca. 3000 & 2200 BCE). This triggered an interiorization and the emergence of a personal accountability based on the moral condition of the individual, i.e. on the nature of his or her heart. After the Old Kingdom, a person's place in society no longer determined what would eventuate in the afterlife (as had been the case in the Old Kingdom, where all depended on being near the divine king). Whether one had acquired moral rectitude was enough to be saved (i.e. dwell in the dark kingdom of Osiris and, for the very few, ascend to Re's heaven - cf. the Pyramid texts of Unas).

From ca. 1940 BCE onwards, every Egyptian was deemed to have a "soul" or Ba. No longer a Pharaonic privilege, the soul of commoners could now spiritually evolve and also become a spirit or Akh. Although the elite of the elite (the divine king and his family) would experience ascension to Re, commoners, if vindicated by the independent tribunal of 42 Osirian assessors, could be regenerated to dwell in the latter's netherworld, which had its own kind of heaven (accommodating the spirits bound to the realm of Osiris). In fact, the kingdom of Osiris reflected the kingdom of the Horus-king on Earth. A Solar (royal) and Lunar (common) soteriology emerged.

"... my heart is not ignorant of its place, and it is firm on its base. I know my name. I am not ignorant of it. I will be among those that follow after Osiris ..."
Coffin Texts, spell 572.

During mummification, the mortuary priest would pull out the internal organs except the heart, which played an essential role in the mortuary rituals performed throughout Pharaonic history. If moved or damaged, it would be stitched together with great care. To assist a good outcome of its weighing, the amulet of the Kheper Beetle ("xpr") was usually placed on top of it during the wrapping of the mummy in linen.

The Weighing of the Heart
Papyrus of Ani, Plate 3 - ca. 1250 BCE - XIXth Dynasty - British Museum

In the Book of the Dead, the heart appears in the context of being without blame (i.e. in harmony with Maat). The deceased did not wish to loose his or her heart after judgment, for the heart was the seat of the Ba (before it entered its ritual, noble body). Judgment came after the mummy had been reactivated, so it could speak and adapt to its new, postmortem environment.  

But to enter the heaven of Osiris, it was decisive to have passed the trial of the balance. A heart found to be heavier than a plume, the symbol of Maat's justice, was devoured and with it the prospect of eternal life. Such a heavy heart (burdened by sin), only invited the remainder to be eaten by the monstrous "great devouress", the goddess Anmut

In the Book of the Dead, the process of deification of everyman implied a series of initiatoric events, starting with purification, then judgment and finally admission as a deity, or Akh of Osiris.  Hence, the heart was also a major "moral" center (cf. "conscience" or "super-ego" in depth-psychology).

During life, the heart was closely related with the Ka and (also) represented the cognitive aspect of personalized existence (i.e. the mind). Hence, the importance of the words one had spoken during one's earthly life.

The heart had to be restituted so the deceased received his memory and personal identity back, for perpetual existence also implied personal continuity. This notion is amply present in the Book of the Dead, elaborating on the restoration of the heart known in the Coffin Texts (and earlier, in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom ).

In the famous scene from the Papyrus of Ani, Ani and his wife enter the Hall of the Double Law or Double Truth (divine versus human - good versus evil - eternal life versus second death, etc.) to have Ani's heart, emblematic of conscience, weighed against the Feather of Maat, emblematic of truth & justice. Ani's heart is thus the epicenter of the whole scene, symbolizing Ani's thoughts, intentions and conscience during his lifetime on Earth.

The central emblem is Maat's Feather. It represents the standard of truth & justice immanent in creation, but also the truth of the declaration of innocence made by the deceased (Plate 31) before the tribunal of assessors (the hieroglyph for "not" is in red). By virtue of the rule of "reversal", this declaration involved a "purging" of possible past crimes. Three offences are repeated in the Judgment Scene :

  • never to diminish the offerings made to the temples (against the pantheon & the people) ;

  • never to destroy what had been made (against the memorial of the ancestors) ;

  • never to speak deceitfully (against truth & righteousness).

What does the text give us ? It starts with Ani invoking his own conscience but also his mother, from whom he received his heart (cf. the major role of woman in nurture, but also as representing the sacred "matrix" of life). We also learn his heart was linked with the Ka "within the body", the vital power making and sustaining one's stride. Next, Anubis weighs Ani's heart against the divine standard (the Feather) and Thoth confirms no sin is found and the equilibrium of the Great Balance is established. Finally, the Ogdoad of Hermopolis (headed by Thoth), confirms the sentence spoken and recorded by Thoth and it is they -the chaos-gods- who lift the curse of the Monster or Ani's "second death". Instead of being annihilated, Ani will be allowed to enter the kingdom of Osiris because he is "maa-cheru" ("mAa - xrw"), i.e. vindicated, justified, triumphant !

What was the meaning of this afterlife scene to those still alive ? The importance given to the heart could not be missed : it is a person's conscience, determined by what he said (wrote) and did (how he lived), which was deemed crucial. As Ptahhotep taught, just speech is the heart of a wise transference of the best of the past to the best of today for the sake of the future (so the memorial of the ancestors remains), as well as of the continuous progress made over the generations. If we study Egypt's sapiental literature, we do not encounter the notion a person may be vindicated during his or her lifetime on Earth. On the contrary, in the Old Kingdom, a non-royal could only hope to endure without being immortalized. The sage was always in the process of attaining the state of veneration, except when his vital force left his physical vehicle. Then and only then could veneration be a final station (a terminus). Although since the Middle Kingdom, deceased commoners could be immortalized and deified as "Osiris-NN", nobody attained this state during his or her lifetime. Only Pharaoh was a living god on Earth. Hence, even during his lifetime, Pharaoh was "justified", for he "lived in Maat".

The concept of the weighing procedure invoked in this scene, is not restricted to the afterlife (were it appears as the final "balance-sheet" of the deceased). The sapiental discourses make it clear that in every situation, the Egyptian wise seeks to do Maat, and does it by "measuring" the scale of the imbalance in order to restore the Left Eye of Horus and bring it to the forehead (i.e. realize a "tertium comparationis"). This to harmonize life and end strife in Pharaoh's name, he who guaranteed the unity of the Two Lands by returning Maat as voice-offering to his father Re.

First comes a careful, concrete investigation of what is at hand, in order to discover its "balance", i.e. the two factors allowing the "Ka" to flow (from high to low) and animate the given context. Next there is the restoration by striking the "nil", the true balancing-point of the beam, arrived at when the difference between the two weights is naught. Indeed, the sinuous waters go up and down and when this flood equilibrates (not too much and not too little), the inundation is perfect and the surplus large. The wise has always enough reserves to compensate for any imbalance ... At the balancing-point, Maat is brought to the nose of Atum ...

The wise of Ancient Egypt made the poise of the balance of truth & justice rest upon the vastness of the non-equilibrium (chaos) constantly threatening the survival of the cosmos. He knew this reclaiming of life by death is of no avail if at every movement of the rudder, the boatman knows how to balance the bark and master the waters, whether he be traveling on Earth or on the Nile of the netherworld. His commanding excellence made his bark float upon the chaotic ocean. His just word was the primordial hill, or the emergence of order out of chaos, the making of the beam of the balance, keeping the two scales together and separated, allowing one to "walk upon the waters", using the surface-tensions of their chaos.

04. Thoth, the first to write.
Thoth's name, written as G26, the hieroglyph of the Ibis :

appeared perched on a standard on slate palettes of the Late Predynastic Period. The sacred Ibis (Ibis religiosa) had a long curved beak, suggestive of the crescent New Moon, and black & white feathering reminiscent of the Lunar phases of waxing & waning. In the Old Kingdom, the association between the Ibis and Thoth had already been made, for in the afterlife, the wings of Thoth carried Pharaoh over the celestial river (cf. Pyramid Texts, § 1176 & § 1254).
Hopfner (1914) thought "DHw" could have been the oldest name of the Ibis, implying that Thoth ("DHwT" or "Djehuti") would mean : "he who has the nature of the Ibis". Others, like Wessetzky (1958), conjecture it proceeds from "HwwT" or "messenger" with prefix I10, "D". 

Another, less common, pictogram for Thoth was the squatting baboon, who greeted the dawning Sun with agitated, chattering sounds. These baboons are also represented on their hind legs with front paws raised in praise and greeting of Re (cf. the First Hour of the Amduat). They faced the rising Sun (cf. above the statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel). In both instances, Thoth wears a crown representing the crescent Moon supporting the disk of the Full Moon. In the Middle Kingdom, he was worshipped in all of Egypt. In all major temples, the cult of Thoth was present. Why ? 

An exceptional deity, not part of the royal Heliopolitan Ennead, but with an Ogdoad of his own, he was the secretary of Re, and so the "scribe of the gods". He was Re's messenger, who promulgated the laws of "the Lord of All" or sole creator-god, Atum-Kheper-Re. He was a traveler and an international deity, for his name can be found in many ancient languages : neo-Babylonian, Coptic, Aramean, Greek & Latin. Thoth represented the embodiment of all knowledge and literature. He had invented writing and wrote himself. His most important record was the outcome of the mythical battle between Upper Egyptian Seth and Lower Egyptian Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis. Thoth was at the command of all the divine books in the House of Life. The wisdom of Thoth was revered and considered too secret for profane eyes.

In the Middle Kingdom story of the magician Djedi, a man of a hundred and ten, we read that Djedi knew the number of the secret chambers of the sanctuary of Thoth. The latter was "mdw nTr" "medu netjer", the "word of the god", namely Re. He is called the "son of Re" and "Lord of the Eight gods" (of Hermopolis, Thoth's cult centre). In the funerary rituals, Thoth acted the part of the recorder, and his decision was accepted by all deities. Thoth observed whether the heart (mind) of the deceased was light enough to balance the feather of truth & justice. This by "weighing the words", for the heaviness of heart was the result of unwholesome speech (cf. the insistence on silence serving magical purposes). Thoth was also the ultimate teacher of magic, ritualism & the words of power which opened the secret pylons of the underworld. As healer of the Left Eye of Horus (cf. wedjat), Thoth is the deity of medicine.

His original home was Khemenu, or "eight-town", referring to the four pairs of mythical chaos-gods existing before creation (cf. Nun), of which Thoth became the leader and head. The Greeks called it Hermopolis. In myth, it was famous for the "high ground" on which Re rested when he rose for the first time. This "risen land" was a central metaphor, an example of the emergence of creation out of the undifferentiated waters, in which inert chaos lay dormant.

This chaos of pre-existence was personified by the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, showing this theology was intimately linked with the "mind of Re" speaking its Great Word transforming the pre-creational, chaotic Ogdoad Egg (cf. the "Eight of Hermopolis", four female snake-goddesses & four male frog-gods with Predynastic roots) into the created Ennead of Hermopolis, headed by the "First of the Eight", the Great Word of Re, Thoth. The Hermopolitan scheme is magical, for the true magician (like Pharaoh) finds his origin not in the pantheon, but before the Ennead and Ogdoad.

In Isis and the other great goddesses (personifications of the Great Sorceress), the balance tilted towards Lunar sacrality, in Osiris- Pharaoh, Follower of Horus, son of Re, towards Solar divinity, but in both cases not exclusively. Isis knew the "true name" of Re without which Osiris would not have resurrected. The divinity of Pharaoh was not without the sacred, for he was the son of Her who bore Atum !

The peace of Thoth was a neutrality which was also the objective guarantee of objectivity, truth and justice. This middle path had chaotic polarities of equal force (four females, four males) surrounding it. Slight movements away from the straight path could imply going astray and be assimilated by either polarity of the Ogdoad. Disease was the outcome of this loss of equilibrium between and control over the forces of chaos. Through the power of the Great Word, the greatest evil could be conquered (cf. the overthrowing of Apophis, the giant snake trying to swallow Re before dawn). The creative verb is dropped by the sacred Ibis, and order is restored. The mind of Re brings clarity, distinction and operational control in all contexts.

Thoth is known as the divine witness, mediator & messenger who recorded things as they were. He was also the arbiter, and his duty was to prevent Set or Horus from destroying the other. He was able to keep these hostile forces in exact equilibrium. Darkness & light, night & day, evil & good were balanced by Thoth, the heart and tongue of Re. It is Thoth who spoke the Great Word, resulting in the wishes of Re being carried into effect, and once he had given an authorative command ("Hu") and had put it into writing, it could not fail to realize itself ("Heka").

The androgynous nature of Thoth can be derived from his being a male deity. Just as the great magic of mother Isis (female) was derived from her knowing the true name of the creator Re (male), so was the writer Thoth (male) a great magician because he (as the mind of Re) knew how to practice the sacred Lunar traditions (female) to invent writing, science & literature. Pharaoh (male), Lord of the Two Lands, was the greatest of magicians, because as a living god on Earth he had assimilated the power of the sacred Great Sorceress Herself (being Her son) and hence Pharaoh stood before the Enneads abiding in the sky. Pharaoh's Great Word was spoken by a living god-with-us, and hence Pharaoh's "heka" was outstandingly sublime and greater than the greatest deities.

To acclimatize to Egypt,
the Greeks identified their gods with native divinities. In the Late Period, Thoth was probably the most popular and diverse deity of the Egyptian pantheon. Indeed, in the Late New Kingdom, Third Intermediate and Late Period, individual destiny and fate had become increasingly important. Both lay in the hand of the gods and this fate could be derived by studying the rhythms of planets & stars (astrology, entering Egypt from Babylon).

Although a national deity, Thoth had local associations and particularities and was regarded as a Moon-god, determining the rhythms of Egyptian national life (festivals & calendars). As "Lord of Time", Thoth, the mysterious, ruled individual destinies too, and was thus very popular. By extension he was lord of knowledge, language, all science, magic, writing and understanding. He was the creator who called things into being merely by the sound of his voice. As guide and judge of the dead, Thoth owed much popularity with common people, and the "power of the Moon" was invoked in the
wisdom teachings.

The Greek settlers identified their god Hermes with Thoth. Like Thoth, he was Lunar, and associated with medicine and the realm of the dead. Both were tricksters and messengers. Hermes was the "logos", the interpreter of Divine Will to humanity. In Stoic philosophy, Hermes is both "logos" and "demiurge", which probably owed something to the Hermopolitans. In Alexandrian Egypt, the Greek Hermes (identified with Thoth), became cosmopolitan and Hellenistic, but Egyptianized and known throughout the Roman world as "the Egyptian". Interestingly, by intermingling native Egyptian (Thoth) and Greek theology (Hermes) with Hellenistic philosophy, a syncretic sum was produced, a major and crucial archetypal idea, which encompassed the function of the cognitive in the Mediterranean cultures of before Christianity :
Hermes Trismegistus, or Hermes the "Thrice Greatest". Indeed, during their rituals, the Egyptians used to call Thoth "Great ! Great ! Great !". 

However, by people of Greek culture, Trismegistus was not envisaged in the same way as the Egyptians saw him. The Greeks produced fictional stories to explain the emergence of Hermes Trismegistus (cf. the
Tabula Smaragdina). For example, it was widely circulated Homer was an Egyptian and a son of Hermes ! The learned Greeks invented a "human" Trismegistus.

The "philosophical" Hermetica (the Corpus Hermeticum) presented Hermes as a teacher of wisdom. However, in the "technical" Hermetica (the Greek magical papyri which readapt Egyptian magic), Thoth appeared, for there Trismegistus was seen as a cosmic deity, able to dwell in the heart of his devotees and object of identification for the magician. This ambiguity of Hermes Trismegistus, the dual-union between the Divine and the human, must have struck many. It may explain why Hermes is mentioned in early Christian literature (cf. the two natures of Christ). Hermetical principles were imported in Europe in the XI - XIIth century by the monastic movement (as part of the "Orientale Lumen" - cf. Bernard of Clairvaux, Willem of St.Thierry).

Hermes Trismegistus the wisdom-teacher influenced both Christianity and Islam. Besides its dogmatic canon,
Early Christianity was influenced by neo-Platonism and Stoicism, both linked with Alexandrian Hermetism, and the Pagan notions of "Divine Mind", "World Soul", "Demiurge" and "Pure Act" (developed in the New Kingdom and returning in Classical Greek philosophy).

Through Harran, Hermes established his place in Islamic sciences, which in turn would help initiate the European Renaissance in XIVth century Italy. It is at this point a new mixture was brewed, one which called into being a re-Platonized egyptomanic Hermeticism conquering Europe and finally the New World. It is still with us in Egyptian Masonic Orders and the various branches of Californian New Age religion.

Three fundamental phases appear :

  1. native Hermopolitan theology : the perennial worship of the native Egyptian Thoth, "Thrice Greatest", centered in Hermopolis ("Hermoupolis Magna") ;

  2. historical Hermetism : the identification of Thoth with Hermes Trismegistus, who, in his Graeco-Alexandrian, philosophical teachings (between ca. 150 BCE and 250 CE) is Greek and human (although Egyptian elements persist), but who assumed, in the technical Hermetica, the cosmicity of the Egyptian Thoth ;

  3. literary Hermeticism : the Renaissance produced a fictional European Trismegistus, based on the Alexandrian Hermes Trismegistus and a misunderstood Ancient Egyptian language. Trismegistus became the patron of alchemy, magic, mystery orders, freemasonry, astrology, the New Age, the Western tradition ... and all matters occult. 

Thoth was the first to write. The hieroglyphic system reflects his mentality, for it aims at a fluent communication of the pictorial, non-cerebral, parallel, non-linear "intelligence of the heart", integrating (although ante-rationally) the early layers of cognition, namely its mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational sedimentations.

Our knowledge of the Ancient Egyptian language is the result of modern scholarship, for since the Renaissance, a symbolical and allegorical interpretation was favored, which proved to be wrong (but based on the practice of allegorical mystifications of Egyptian priests working under the Ptolemies). Egyptian belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family, and is related to Arabic, Ethiopic and Hebrew, but also to North African (Hamitic) languages such as Berber and Cushitic. Being the longest continually attested language in the world, it appeared ca. 3000 BCE and remained in use until the XIth century CE.

The learned Jesuit antiquarian Athanasius Kircher (1602 - 1680) proposed nonsensical allegorical translations (Lingua Aegyptical restituta, 1643). Thomas Young (1773 -1829), the author of the undulatory theory of light, who had assigned the correct phonetical values to five hieroglyphic signs, still maintained these alphabetical signs were written together with allegorical signs, which, according to him, formed the bulk. The final decipherment, starting as late as 1822, was the work of the Frenchman Jean-François Champollion, 1790 - 1832, cf. Précis du système hiéroglyphique des anciens égyptiens par M.Champollion le jeune, 1824.

Champollion, who had a very good knowledge of Coptic (the last stage of Egyptian), proved the assumption of the allegorists wrong. He showed, especially aided by the presence of the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian (as any other language) assigned phonetical values to signs. These formed consonantal structures as in Hebrew and Arabic. He also discovered that some were pictures indicating the category of the preceding words, the so-called "determinatives".

After Champollion's death in 1832, the lead in Egyptology passed to Germany (Richard Lepsius, 1810 - 1884). This Berlin school shaped Egyptian philology for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in particular scholars such as Adolf Erman (1854 - 1937), Kurt Sethe (1869 - 1934), who, together with Francis Griffith (1862 - 1934), Battiscombe Gunn (1883 - 1950) and Alan Gardiner (1879 - 1963) in England, laid the systematic basis for the study of Egyptian. Later, Jacob Polotsky (1905 - 1991) established the "standard theory" of Egyptian grammar. These efforts finally made the historical record available to scholars of other disciplines. Hence, by interdisciplinary work, the impact of Pharaonic Egypt on all Mediterranean cultures of antiquity can be put into evidence. The result being, that Ancient Egypt can no longer neglected in the history of the formation of the European intellectual movements (cf. Egypt's impact on Greek philosophy, in particular Memphite thought).

The first hieroglyphs were written down towards the end of the Terminal Predynastic period (end of the fourth millennium BCE), often attached as labels on commodities. There is a continuous recorded until the eleventh century CE, when Coptic (the last stage of the language) expired as a spoken tongue and was superseded by Arabic. 

The Egyptian language knew six stages : 

* Archaic Egyptian (first two Dynasties)
* Old Egyptian (Old Kingdom)
* Middle Egyptian (First Intermediate Period & Middle Kingdom)
* Late Egyptian (New Kingdom & Third Intermediate Period)
* Demotic Egyptian (Late Period)
* Coptic (Roman Period).

In the last two stages, new scripts emerged and only in Coptic is the vocalic structure known, with distinct dialects.  Archaic Egyptian consists of brief inscriptions. Old Egyptian has the first continuous texts. Middle Egyptian is the "classical form" of the language. Late Egyptian is very different from Old and Middle Egyptian (cf. the verbal structure). Although over 6000 hieroglyphs have been documented, only about 700 are attested for Middle Egyptian (the majority of other hieroglyphs are found in Graeco-Roman temples only).

of thought
in Egyptian literature
major stages of growth in the formation of Middle Egyptian
Gerzean ware design schemata, early palettes

individual hieroglyphs, labels, no texts, no grammar, cartoon-like style - Predynastic

Relief of Snefru, Biography of Methen, Sinai Inscriptions, Testamentary Enactment 
Pyramid Texts

individual words with archaic sentences, a  rudimentary grammar to simple sentences in the "record" style of the Old Kingdom

concrete operations
Maxims of Ptahhotep, Coffin Texts, Sapiental literature, ... Great Hymn to the Aten ... Memphis Theology

from simple sentences to the classical form of a fine literary language capable of more further changes

Egyptian hieroglyphs is a system of writing which, fully developed, had 2 classes of signs : logograms & phonograms. The phonograms refer to the actual sounds of the language. Each letter is a phoneme. The consonantal phonograms, representing either one, two or three phonemes are without vocalization, and so lack pronunciation.

Hieroglyphic Egyptian gives a pale reflection of the spoken tongue, and was used as a ceremonial, sacred language. At best, we may derive guides to pronunciation based on Coptic. The "e" of Egyptology is only a convention.

Mainly found in temples & tombs, the sacred script bring into visual evidence the excellence of Egyptian civilization and hence mirrors Egyptian life as an idealized, a-historical (timeless) "golden" form. Precisely this strong desire of most Ancient Egyptians to visualize the afterlife after this-life, and to give an account of the heaven of their desires (in particular in tombs of kings, royals and high officials), makes us recover, through hieroglyphs, parts of the overall typology of their ante-rational mindset, which is lost. These artworks, or archetypes of Ancient soteriology, try to eternalize what was the most creative and efficient, namely the luminous & self-created Re-spirit of eternity-in-everlastingness (Atum-afloat-in-the-Nun, the boundless ocean of darkness).

Contrary to other languages (except perhaps Linear A, Maya script and Chinese), Egyptian introduced visual glyphs (pictorial materializations, actualizations or sedimentations of meaningful shared states of consciousness). These various visual  and artistic representations of crucial typologies brought in effect (in its classical form) a variety of categories, namely : man and his occupations, woman and her occupations, anthropomorphic deities, parts of the human body, mammals, parts of mammals, birds, parts of birds, amphibious animals, reptiles, etc., fishes and parts of fishes, invertebrates and lesser animals, trees and plants, sky, Earth, water, buildings, parts of buildings, etc., ships and parts of ships, domestic and funerary furniture, temple furniture and sacred emblems, crowns, dress, staves, etc., warfare, hunting, butchery, agriculture, crafts and professions, robe, fibre, baskets, bags, etc., vessels of stone and earthenware, loaves and cakes, writings, games, music, strokes & geometrical figures (cf. the sign list of Gardiner, 1982, pp.544-547).

Each visual glyph is a work of art. Because these glyphs (as cultural sedimentations), represent an important part of the iconography of the Egyptian mindset, they form a complex image-language with a sense of nuance broad enough to encompass ancient wisdom and its teachings of the heart, and this for more than 3000 years. To put into evidence the "sacredness" of hieroglyphs, we may try to visualize -with the icons as windows to Egypt's wisdom- how the practical closure offered by this proto-rational cognition created literature, religion and wisdom teachings.

Mature ante-rational thinking enables a first closure of mind, allowing concepts to form concrete "blocks" or mental aggregates. These refer to concrete, specific situations, local contingencies and geosentimental conceptualizations. When the context is changed, the blocks no longer support each other and the concept is undermined. So bound to changing contexts, the concrete concept is unstable. This contrary to the second, stable closure of formal rationality, which operates in the abstract and the decontextualized. Ante-rational thought has no universal operator. Only existential contexts are denoted.

If communication is always based on signs, and the latter are signals (reptile cortex), icons (limbic system) and symbols (neo-cortex - cf. neurophilosophy), then hieroglyphs bring out the best of "emotional intelligence", or the "intelligence-of-the-heart". Its icons bring the synthetic function of symbols to the fore, and appeal -in the right-handed- to the right hemisphere of the neo-cortex, processing spatiality and synthesis.

"Let us remember that prior being a device of physical weighing, the pair of scales is the symbol for the act of exchanging physical and intangible things. In other words, exchanging and not weighing is the main thing."
Mancini, 2004, p.53.

An image is not a sequential symbol, but always a whole. It does not need to be analyzed (like letters in a word), but grasped as a totality. Hence, besides artistic aptitudes, the ability to visualize is trained as well as  thinking in images. Small visual details define important distinctions (for example, the difference between G36, the swallow, & G37, the sparrow, is defined by a tiny change in the tails). Subtlety and nuance are possible by adding pictures with determinative meaning to the phonograms (together forming a consonantal system of sounds).

logogram (word writing) 

A logogram is the representation of a complete word (not individual letters or phonemes) directly by a picture of the object actually denoted. As such, it does not take the phonemes into consideration, but only the direct objects & notions connected therewith. To compose a complete vocabulary with logograms would however be cumbersome. As there were about 500 hieroglyphs in common use, only the same number of words could have been written this way. The rest of the ca. 17.000 known words had to be written with phonograms.

For example :

, depicting the Sun, signifies : "Sun", is a logogram, for this sign alone denotes the Sun.

, depicting a mouth, signifies : "mouth", is also a logogram.

Indeed, a writing system exclusively based on logography would have thousands of signs to encompass the complete semantics of any spoken language. Such a large vocabulary would be unpractical. Moreover, which pictures to use for things that can not be easily pictured, like wisdom, understanding, authoritative speech, love, justice and the like ? How to address grammar (and simple categories as gender and number) ?

The theory according to which Ancient Egyptian was a complex allegorical logography was refuted by Champollion in 1822. Most hieroglyphs represent phonograms, not logograms (or ideograms, in the case of allegorical denotation). As until recently sufficient insight into Egyptian was lacking, trustworthy translations were slow to emerge and their assimilation by historians, philosophers and philologists even slower. The impact of Ancient Egypt on Judaism, Greece and Christianity (curtailing Hellenocentrism) has been put into evidence only a few decades ago (cf. Hermes the Egyptian, 2002 & The Instruction of Amen-em-apt, son of Kanakht, 2003). Via Alexandria, Egypt's wisdom influenced the Hellenistic world and, much later, the Renaissance (cf. the Orientale Lumen and the rise of Hermeticism). This did not bring about a historical Egypt, but an egyptomania turning romantic in the XIXth century.

phonogram (sound writing)

Egyptian phonography (a word represented by a series of sound-glyphs or phonemes -letters- of the spoken sounds) was derived through phonetic borrowing. Logograms are used to write other words or parts of words semantically unrelated to the phonogram, but with which they phonetically share the same consonantal structure. 

For example :

The logogram  , signifies "mouth". It is used as a phonogram with the phonemic value "r" to write words as "r", meaning "toward" or to represent the phonemic element "r" in a word like "rn" or "name".

    "rn" or "name" : the logograms of mouth and water

This pictorial phonography is based on the principle of the rebus : show one thing to mean another. If, for example, we would write English with the Egyptian signary and apply the rebus principle, then the word "belief" would be written with the logograms of a "bee" and a "leaf" ...

The shared consonantal structure allows one to develop a large number of phonograms with limited number of hieroglyphs. These, and not the logograms, as in any other language, are the solid architecture of Egyptian.

The consonantal system was present from the beginning. Three main categories of phonograms prevail :

  • uniconsonantal hieroglyphs (one sign for one sound) : 26 (including variants) - they represent a single consonant and are the most important and frequent group of phonograms ;

  • biconsonantal hieroglyphs (one sign for two sounds) : a pair of successive consonants (ca. 100) ;

  • triconsonantal hieroglyphs : (one sign for three sounds) : a trio of successive consonants (ca. 50).

Duplets and triplets are often accompanied by uniconsonantal hieroglyphs which partly or completely repeat their phonemic value. This phonetic complementation is to make sure the complemented hieroglyph was indeed a phonogram and not a logogram and/or to have some extra calligraphic freedom in case a gap needed to be filled ...

This phonography allowed a word of more than one consonant to be written in different ways. But in Egyptian, economy was exercised and spellings were relatively standardized, allowing for variant forms for certain words only. 

ideogram or semogram (idea writing)

Logograms are ideograms, concerned with direct meaning and sense, not with sound. A pictorial ideography (a variety of hieroglyphs -representing idea's, notions, contexts, categories, modalities, nuance etc.-) adds meaning. Ideograms are semantic (and so semograms). Egyptian has a particular type of ideogram, the determinative, derived from logograms, and placed at the end of words to assist in specifying their meaning when uncertainty existed. To the objective sound-glyph (the phonetics, in this case, being the consonantal structures with no vocalizations), an ideogram is added indicating the general idea of the word.

A stroke for example was the determinative indicating the function of the hieroglyph was logographic. The determinative specified the intended meaning. Some were specific in application (closely connected to one word), while others identified a word as belonging to a certain class or category (the generic determinatives or taxograms). Determinatives of a word would be changed or varied to introduce nuance. The same hieroglyph can thus function as a logogram, a phonogram and a determinative (O1, "pr" or "house", was regularly used in all three functions) !

For example :

The logogram , depicting the Sun, signifies : "Sun" (in continuous texts, a stroke would be put underneath the hieroglyph to indicate a purely logographic sense). Placed at the end of words, it is related to the actions of the Sun (as in "rise", "day", "yesterday", "spend all day", "hour", "period") and so then the hieroglyph is a determinative. In the context of dates however, it is a phonogram with as phonetic value the duplet "sw".

Besides these purely semantical functions, the determinatives also marked the ends of words and hence assist reading. They help to identify the "word-images" in a text, and point out the preceding signs are meant as phonograms. Once established, these were slow to change, causing -as early as the Middle Kingdom- great divergences between the written script, becoming increasingly "historical", and the spoken, contemporary pronunciations of the words.

In the New Kingdom and later, when Middle Egyptian became the ceremonial or "sacred" language of the rituals, its hieroglyphs had lost touch with the actual spoken tongue, although the magical, effective power of these visual symbols abided, spurring the analogical frenzy of the native Ptolemaic priesthood (bringing to number of hieroglyphs to more than 6000).

Until its demise (the last datable hieroglyph is a temple inscription on the island of Philae, carved as late as ca. 394 CE), hieroglyphic writing remained a consonantal, pictorial system, allowing for both phonograms & determinatives to convey meaning. The latter, because of the specific iconography, is symbolic in both the analytic and synthetic mode of recording cognitive states in material glyphs.

05. Intelligence-of-the-heart or the heart of wisdom.

The reptile brain emits signals to identify territory, aggression and food. It has no emotions and is primarily occupied with immediate survival.

The mammalian brain concocts affects to color sensoric and motoric stimuli. It contains the cranial endocrinal glands governing sexual development, passions, sleep, dreams, pleasure and pain. Emotional patterns gives rise to icons, or signs allowing consciousness to move from an outer representation to an inner sensation (of light, sound, smell, touch & taste), and this based on personal phantasmd, dream & wish. The latter are computed and memorized by a limbic cortex constantly balancing between lust and unlust, allowing gratification or triggering woe, and more often the latter ... This system empowers the early mental function of visual retention.

On the level of the neocortex, consciousness, identity, conceptual cognition & willful action are processed and sedimented into symbols, intended to compute information about inner states and outer phenomena. The left hemisphere of the neocortex processes information sequentially, the right hemisphere simultaneously (or parallel, accessing several inputs at once). The digital mode of the left hemisphere deals with the analytical mode, reducing variety to a defined abstractions. The right hemisphere allows for the analogical mode, denoting quanta, making the unity of the standard principle, rule or abstraction into a variety of facts.

Symbols are semantic fields of meaningful patterns, associations, connotations, etc. Analytic symbols are quantitative and measure our inner & outer environment. Synthetic (or analogical) symbols are qualitative. They constitute a network of connected & interdependent meaningful associations around a semantic core which they constantly circumambulate, bringing variety under unity. Synthetic symbols join different associations to each other and bring this diversity in the cognitive act of apprehending one sign.

"Thus a symbol is a material representation of immaterial qualities and functions. It is an objectification of things subjective in us and subliminal in nature, awakening us to a perception of the world which may make us aware of a knowledge contained in our soul."
Schwaller de Lubicz, 1978, p.17.

The evocative power of an analogical symbol rallies a complete emotional pattern, as it were triggering the whole network at once (cf. the role of mandala in Buddhist Vajrayâna). Insofar symbols are introduced to evoke subjective, vital responses, they are esoteric.

Hieroglyphs are sacred because -next to their utilitarian, arbitrary and singular meaning or analytical function-, they also act as analogical links between the reptilo-limbic systems & the right hemisphere of the neo-cortex. In this mode, they play out their synthetic function.

"In this sense, the symbol is thus the object, exterior to us, which awakens innate knowledge through the senses. This creates our intuitive knowledge of the simultaneous, a continuity in which a discontinuity is located."
Schwaller de Lubicz, 1978, p.62.

Complementarity rules the synthetic mode. A relationship between two elements always prevails.  If the active pole is forward activity, then the passive pole moves by inverse activity.

"Earth's rightness lies in justice !
Speak not falsely - You are great.
Act not lightly - You are weighty.
Speak not falsely - You are the balance.
Do not swerve - You are the norm !
You are one with the balance,
if it tilts, You may tilt."

The Eloquent Peasant - third petition, Middle Kingdom (Lichtheim, 1975, I.176).

In Ancient Egypt, the heart (mind) of mind "is the balance" and realizes the constant exchange between divine and mundane levels of existence. The "intelligence-of-the-heart" evoked by the Egyptian sages works analogically. Its "practice" is elucidated by a symbol :

U38 "mxAt", balance, justice

(Anubis checks the plummet and watches this small text-line) :
"Said he-who-is-in-the-tomb : 'Pay attention to the decision of truth and the plummet of the balance, according to its stance.'"

Papyrus of Ani - XIXth Dynasty
Weighing Scene (cf. supra)
Chapter 30B - plate 3

This exhortation summarizes the practice of wisdom found in Ancient Egypt, as well as their philosophy of well-being and art of living happily & light-heartedly (for the outcome of the weighing is determined by the weight of the heart). In this short sentence, the "practical method" of the Ancient Egyptians springs to the fore : concentration, observation, quantification (analysis, spatiotemporal flow, measurements) & recording (fixating) with the sole purpose of rebalancing, reequilibrating & correcting concrete states of affairs, using the plumb-line of the various equilibria in which these actual aggregates of events are dynamically -scale-wise- involved, causing Maat "to be done for them" and their environments and the proper Ka, at peace with itself, to flow between all vital parts of creation. 

So t
he "logic" behind the operation of the balance involves 4 rules :

  1. inversion : when a concept is introduced, its opposite is also invoked (the two scale of the balance) ;

  2. asymmetry : flow and energy are the outcome of inequality (the feather-scale of the balance is a priori correct) ;

  3. reciprocity : the two sides of everything interact and are interdependent (the beam of the balance) ;

  4. multiplicity-in-oneness : the possibilities between every pair are measured by one standard (the plummet).

Wisdom ("sAA"), understanding ("siA"), authoritative speech ("Hw") and effective power ("HkA") are the mental functions developed by this ancient proto-rational civilization. As the theoretical, formal, purely analytic mode is lacking (as are decontextualization and universals), hieroglyphic thinking is close to the "instinctive" or ante-rational approach of the "intelligence-of-the-heart".

In three millennia, this synthetic, analogical mode was able to develop a range of ante-rational theologies, rituals and wisdom teachings. Heliopolitan, Hermopolitan, Theban & Memphite  henotheist thought represented so many answers to the same set of philosophical questions : How did creation come about ? What is man's place in the order of the universe ? How to speak and act justly ?

  • Memphite unity (body) : Ptah is one & all-comprehensive (he is Nun, Atum & Re). With mind he speaks the Great Word and creates everything therewith. Pre-creation, first time & creation are all put into one category, an exemplaric summation. Ptah was before creation, during the first time, at the moment of creation and in every created god & goddess, in all Kas & Bas, in all temples and on every altar ... Just as Pharaoh alone faced the deities (everybody else had to face him), so was every member of the Enneads (or constellations of deities around a godhead), a manifestation of Ptah.

  • Heliopolitan ritual (appearance) : Atum-Re, afloat in Nun, creates himself in the first time and with himself his Ennead or company of gods & goddesses. Pre-creation is left behind and hostile. Self-creative Re-Atum-Kheprer has understanding (sia), wisdom (saa), authoritative utterance (hu, the Great Word), magic (heka) and justice-truth (maat). His eternal rejuvenation is based on his being all-light forever, life eternal & mutating perpetually in his Bark. At night, Re navigates on the Nile of the Duat, the underworld, the depth of which touches the primordial chaos of pre-creation (or Nun, represented by Osiris). His eternal cycle represents "neheh", the perpetuity of eternity-in-everlastingness (or Atum in Nun).

    The origin of creation was Atum, but the moment he autogenerates he splits into a pair (Shu and Tefnut). Unity and differentiation walk hand in hand. The first two "generations of gods" are natural principles : Shu, Tefnut, Geb and Nut and the hypostases of physical phenomena : Air, Moist, Earth & Sky. Only with the third generation of deities, did human drama enter the picture. As is to be expected, they are represented by anthropomorphic deities. Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys are the prime actors in the mystery play of the mythical "golden age", the grand story of Osiris ;

  • Hermopolitan magic (names) : Thoth is the head of the pre-creational Ogdoad, composed of four frog-gods and their consorts. When Thoth, as the sacred Ibis, drops the creative Great Word from his beak, everything is created. The mythical origin (before time and before the intermediate, transient, fugal first time) is placed under the command of the divine mind, the word of Re and the god of magic ;

  • Theban monarchy (power) : Amun is one & all-comprehensive (he is Nun, Atum & Re). Amun is the "king of the gods" and Pharaoh. Amun was before creation, during the first time, at the moment of creation and in every created god & goddess. Moreover, he is not only "before" everything, but also "beyond" everything. Amun is one and millions. Nevertheless, Amun hears the prayers of the poor and is near to the devotees.

II : Conceptualization in Western ontological thought.

06. Myth : simplifying "the beginning".

To situate, within the framework of Ancient Greek history, "the Greek miracle" in general and the advent of philosophy in particular, the following division is helpful :

  • Neolithic Age (7000 - 2600 BCE) : settlements of farmers in Crete and mainland Greece ; 

  • Bronze Age (2600 - 1100 BCE) : the Bronze Age, starting with the arrival of peaceful immigrants on Crete, can be divided in two periods :

    Minoan : This culture was palace-based. Between ca. 2600 and 1600 BCE, no Greek influence was present on the island. The Minoans reached their zenith between ca. 1730 and 1500 (the "Pax Minoica"). Two scripts are attested : hieroglyphic (not yet deciphered) & Linear A. The latter is nearly always used for administrative purposes (the count of peoples & objects). The last phase of the Minoan neopalatial civilization was characterized by Mycenæan influence (i.e. after ca.1600 BCE).
    Mycenæan : Initiated ca. 1600 BCE, the culture of these Greek speaking people spread over mainland Greece and reached Crete. It was strongly influenced by Minoan protopalatial (ending with the destruction of ca. 1730 BCE) & neopalatial culture, but remained loyal to its own Greek character. Eventually they conquered Crete (ca. 1450 BCE) and caused the elaboration of Greek Linear B based on Cretan Linear A, which is not a Greek language as evidenced by the few tablets found in Linear A (for example, the word for "total" -often used in administrative texts- cannot be understood as the archaic matrix of a Greek word).  

    So Minoan and Mycenæan cultures interpenetrated : before 1600 BCE, Crete had directly influenced the formation of Early Helladic Greece but was itself non-Greek (Linear A) - after 1450 BCE, Mycenæan Greece took over Minoan culture on Crete and Greek Linear B was used by the Minoan treasury of Crete in the postpalatial.

  • Dark Age (1100 - 750 BCE) : "Dorian" Greece, pushing Greek culture a step back ;

  • Archaic Age (750 - 478 BCE) : Greek culture reemerges ;

  • Classical Age (478 - 323 BCE) : the "polis" and the emergence of classical, concept-rationalism.

Although the scattered Mycenæan refugees probably kept parts of their linguistic tradition alive, the cultural network which had existed beforehand had been destroyed by the Dorians and with it a unified cultural form in Greece based on a shared language. Moreover, Dorian culture was very likely oral.

During these obscure centuries, Greek culture, as a form shared by all the inhabitants of Greece, was nonexistent. The marauding barbarians, who had destroyed the fortified towns of the pre-Helladics, and had developed (thanks to Crete) into the grand Mycenæan culture, were themselves destroyed by horned plundering hordes from the North, identified by some as belonging to the Doric branch of the Greek family ... 

The second half of the tenth century BCE brought a distinct easing off in depopulation, isolation, metal-shortages, architectural and artistic impoverishment & regional disparities. Because important centers of Greek civilization were still wrapped in obscurity, one can however not claim the "Greek Renaissance" had already begun ... Moreover, these changes were confined to the Aegean and its coasts.

In the memory of these few scattered groups, settling in the South of Greece and able to safeguard the "original" Mycenæan form, Mycenæ became legendary & heroic. In a sense, the Mycenæans represented the "mythical" past of the Ancient Greeks ...

The length of the Dark Age (300 years) threw a devastating shadow on the survival of Mycenæan culture. Note the name of this period refers to how little is known about it and also points to the remarkable contrast between Doric Greece & Mycenæan culture. The Dorians had no written language of their own and did not use Linear B. Isolation and loss of skills characterized the period.

The archaic mentality emerging in Ionia around 750 BCE and prefigurated in the rigid Mycenæan "megaron" as well as in the complex geometrical design of Dorian pottery, was stern, courageous, young, linear and geometrizing. But just like the rigid Mycenæans had been fascinated by Minoan Crete and its "African" elliptic and chaotic natural scenery, these Archaic Greeks were awestricken by the formidable grandeur of (Afro-Egyptian culture. Their own insistence upon this should be taken serious. There was more than intellectual opportunism at work here. 

Of course, as Indo-Europeans, the Ionians had a couple of typical features of their own :

  • individuality / authority : at the beginning of the Archaic Age, there was a "crisis of sovereignty" (Vernant, 1962). It implied a new political problem : Who should rule and by virtue of what authority ? The collapse of the Mycenæan palace civilization was followed by a return to the small tribal organization (cf. the "ethnos"). This tension between individuality and social unity is fundamental to understand Greek philosophy (culminating in the judgment of Socrates). The view an individual had the right to rule by virtue of divine lineage was undermined. Heroic individualism was slowly replaced by an egalitarian ideal, in which archaic aristocratic authority was challenged. The building of temples was an "argument" for the appropriation of civic authority and helpful to keep control of the foundation of the economic power of the landowners, the aristocrats (Hahn, 2001, p.237). They secured their claim by drawing a particular connection between themselves together with a given deity and so integrated the divergent fractions of the community through the regularity of worship ... This swing of the pendulum between the particularism of the aristocrats and the egalitarism of the democrats, remained a fundamental ingredient of Greek culture & animated the Classical Greek "polis" ;

  • exploring mentality : at the beginning of the Archaic Age, the population quadrupled and citizenship was increasingly connected with land ownership, triggering a competition for land which motivated the colonization. But besides these external causes, the Greeks were a curious people, always eager to learn more by approving new ideas and linearizing them in accord with their own abstract (generalizing, universalizing) frame of mind. The dynamic nature of the Greek cultural form assisted a decontextualized approach (while in Egypt, a sedentary mentality reigned and the concrete concept never emerged without context) ;

  • unique dynamical script : the importance of their new system of writing should not be underestimated : by fixating the vowels, the Greeks were able to describe an state of affairs with a precision no other script of antiquity possessed. This referential, objective linguistic capacity enabled them to communicate through writing with more ease, precision & objective validity. The Egyptian intellectual elite read and wrote hieroglyphs, also used a short-script (hieratic) and mastered a common script (Demotic, Coptic). The absence of vowels in hieroglyphic script eternalized it and made it ill-equipped to cover both the immediate situation as well as be precise. By adding vowels, the Greeks made writing referential, dynamical and objectifying ; 

  • linearizing, geometrizing mentality : proportion, measurement, number, spatial organization, cyclical processes etc. "reveal" the structure, form, order, organization of the cosmos. Numbers are more than practical tools to categorize, for they reflect the genuine, authentic, essential features of any object. A number never stands alone, for it entertains numerous fixed mathematical relationships with other numbers and spatial characteristics. These are described in general, universal, abstract terms ("theoria"), to be distinguished from their particular, local, concrete applications in architecture, sculpture, poetry etc. ("techné") ;

  • anthropomorphic theology :  deities had a human face and in the Mycenæan age, they were at times combined in one cult. At the beginning of the Archaic Age, the pantheon was systematized by Homer and Hesiod, and each deity received its task (as in human society). However, Greek religion was undogmatic, for no sacred text existed. Xenophanes was critical about Greek anthropo-morphic (and anthropocentric) polytheism, proposing One Supreme God who was unlike anything human. Typical for Greek soteriology (salvic theory), is insisting the human soul had to liberate itself from the physical body through purification (cf. "ascesis" in Orphism) or somehow trigger its release (cf. "katharsis" & "ekstasis" in the Dionysian cult). Most major Greek emancipatoric theories will return to this and understand the body as the prison of the soul (cf. Plato & Plotinus). This would become the cornerstone of the Greek idea of "mystery", as opposed to the Egyptian view on the mysteries, in which transformation and ascension are taught.

"Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Bronze Age to Classical Greece was something less tangible, but quite possibly inherited : an attitude of mind which could borrow the formal and hieratic arts of the East and transform them into something spontaneous and cheerful ; a divine discontent which led the Greek ever to develop and improve their inheritance."
Higgings, 1997, p.190 (my italics).

So from the middle and late eight century BCE, profuse changes came about in the outlook of Greek civilization. This "Greek Renaissance" was an Age of Revolution. Exploration and codification (through settlement) were its leitmotivs. This revival took place between ca. 750 and 650 BCE. 

The Corinthian expansion probably took place at the end of the ninth century BCE, while the establishment of a Greek settlement in the Levant is slightly earlier. These colonizations did not leave a strong impact, while the eighth century Greek colonies in southern Italy and Sicily shaped the history of these regions for the next centuries. The early colonizations consisted of forerunners of probably voluntary and spontaneous venturers, whereas those of the eight century were the work of organized bodies of Greeks, possibly led by an individual aristocrat and his retinue, stimulated by the growth of population in the Greek homeland.

Greeks may have been marauding the Egyptian Delta perhaps as early as ca. 800 BCE, if not earlier. Because Ionian mercenaries had successfully assisted Pharaoh Psammetichus I (664 - 610 BCE) in his battle against the Assyrians, the Greeks were welcomed in Egypt, enabling Miletus to found Neukratis and the Greeks to settle in the Delta of Lower Egypt. Pharaoh Amasis (570 - 526 BCE) allowed them to settle upstream (Heliopolis, Thebes). Of a direct influence of Ancient Egyptian thought on these early visitors is more than likely (cf. Hermes the Egyptian, part I, 2002).

Greek philosophy, the intellectual side of the "Greek miracle", was initiated in Asia Minor, starting in Ionia ca. 600 BCE. I
nitiated by Thales of Milete (ca. 652 - 545 BCE), it commenced with a pre-rational approach of nature (the material pole), and, thanks to Pythagoras of Samos (ca. 580 BCE - 500), who coined the term "philosophy", added a study of proportion and number (the mathematical pole). These early philosophers tried to do away with mythological explanations, whereas the symbolism of Pythagoras coupled their naturalism with a mysticism of numbers, allowing natural phenomena to be related to each other in abstract, theoretical terms.

Identifying the myths of
Mycenæan heroism, the pantheon (Hesiod) and the works of Homer as representing the mythical and pre-rational phases of Greek cognition, we see the Ionians gather the central themes of Greek thought in proto-rational terms. A closure is realized by justifying the world by its origin & the role of man by symbolization. Each pre-Eleatic posits a pivot, an ontological foundation for what exists. The multiplicity of mythical views is challenged by the unification around a single principle. This proto-rationality exceeds itself, and paves the road for the conceptual rationality of the Eleatics, the sophists and Classical Philosophy.

With the introduction of conceptual rationality by Parmenides of Elea (ca. 515 - 440 BCE) & Democritus of Abdera (ca. 460 - 380/370 BCE), the stage is set for the ontological tradition of the West long before the Platonic and Peripatetic systems.

Thales of Miletus

There is a consensus, dating back at least to the 4th century BCE and continuing to our present academical history of Greek philosophy, of Thales of Miletus being the first Greek philosopher. According to the Greek thinker Apollodorus, he was born in 624 BCE. The Greek historian Diogenes Laërtius (ca. 3th century CE) placed his death in the 58th Olympiad (548 - 545 BCE), at the age of 78. He also affirms Thales traveled to Egypt, while Iamblichius explains how he advised other intellectual Greeks to go to Egypt in order to learn :

"Thales advised Pythagoras to go to Egypt and to entertain himself as much as possible with the priests of Memphis and Diospolis : it was from them that he had drawn all the knowledge which made him a sage and a scientist in the eyes of the masses."
Iamblichius : Life of Pythagoras, 12, my italics.

During his lifetime, the word "philosopher" (or "lover of wisdom") had not yet been coined. Thales was counted, however, among the so-called "Seven Wise Men" (the "sophoi"), whose name derives from a term designating inventiveness and practical wisdom rather than speculative insight (consistent with the Ancient Egyptians' notion of wisdom). In fact, today we reckon Thales to be the only "philosopher" on that list !

Thales tried to transmit to the Greeks the mathematical knowledge he had derived from the Babylonians (who, when conquering Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period, had influenced its astronomy profoundly). Thales sought to give it a more exact foundation and used it for the solution of practical problems, such as the determination of the distance of a ship as seen from the shore or of the height of the Gizza pyramids. Though he was also credited with predicting an eclipse of the Sun, it is likely he merely gave a natural explanation of one on the basis of Babylonian astronomical knowledge (cf. the Saros-period between eclipses). 

Thales' significance for Greek philosophy, lies less in his choice of water as the essential substance, than in his attempt to explain nature by the simplification of phenomena. Indeed, Thales searched for causes within nature itself rather than in the caprices of the anthropomorphic gods. He was deemed the first Greek to give a purely natural explanation of the origin of the world, free from all mythological ingredients and unnecessary complexities (linearization and homogeneity). The claim Thales was the founder of Greek philosophy rests primarily on Aristotle, who wrote he was the first (Greek) to suggest a single material substratum for the universe, namely, water, or moisture ...

Even though Thales renounced mythology, his choice of water as the fundamental building block of matter had its precedent in the Egyptian tradition (cf. "Nun", the undifferentiated primordial waters before time and space and its "Ba" or "soul", the autogenitor Atum). To Thales, the entire universe is a living organism, nourished by exhalations from water (cf. Egypt's organic, hylozoistic view on creation).

It is true Thales made a fresh start on the basis of what a person could observe and figure out by looking at the world as it presented itself. This procedure naturally resulted in a tendency to make sweeping generalizations on the basis of rather restricted but carefully checked observations. Milesian thought prompted philosophy to move beyond the localized, contextualized & traditional thought of the cultures surrounding it.

In geometry, Thales has been credited with the discovery of five theorems :

(1) a circle is bisected by its diameter ;
(2) angles at the base of a triangle having two sides of equal length are equal ;
(3) opposite angles of intersecting straight lines are equal ;
(4) the angle inscribed in a semicircle is a right angle ;
(5) a triangle is determined if its base and the angles relative to the base are given.

The mathematical achievements of Thales are difficult to assess. The ancients credited particular discoveries to men with a general reputation for wisdom. However, their logic evidences the linear and geometric spirit of the Greeks. Surely, before Thales, Egyptians and Mesopotamians had arrived at the truths represented by these theorems. But the way the Greeks recorded and fixated knowledge in more abstract, discursive, denotative and context-independent terms, was highly original. It is these linearizing & symbolical activities which foremost characterize the "Greek miracle", not observation, recording and comparison. The latter can be done with proto-rational concepts too. But formal reason is precisely this : a reduction of a variety (a manifold) to a limited number of categories. This in order to seek a universal proposition (a conclusion) on the basis of a universal major and an empirical minor. The latter was provided by the storehouse of practical knowledge cherished in all important Egyptians temples (cf. Memphis, Heliopolis, Hermopolis, Abydos & Thebes).

Anaximander of Miletus

Thales' friend, disciple and successor, Anaximander of Miletus (ca. 611 - 547 BCE), is said to have given a more elaborate account of the origin and development of the ordered world (the cosmos). However, his writings are lost, and although still available to Apollodorus of Athens (cf. Chronica, ca. 140 BCE), they are not known to have been used by any other writer later than Aristotle and his successor Theophrastus of Eresus (ca. 370 - 285 BCE). The latter's Phusikos Doxai is also lost, but repeated by Simplicius (6th century CE). All ancient doxographers depend on the latter's Physics (Diels).

Doxography evidences Anaximander wrote treatises on geography, astronomy, and cosmology surviving for several centuries. He made a map of the known world, prized symmetry and introduced geometry and mathematical proportions into his efforts to map the heavens. Thus, his theories departed from earlier, more cosmogonic conceptions of the universe and prefigured the achievements of later astronomers.

Unfortunately, we only possess one sentence of Anaximander's writings. In this sentence, Anaximander explains a "need" or "necessity" (a moral imperative at work in creation) operating between the elements (as well as in human society) : 

"But where things have their origin, there too they must pass away, as it should ; for indeed, they give one another justice and penalty for their injustice, in accord with the ordinance of time."
Simplicius : Commentary on the Physics, 24.13v, my translation.

According to him, the cosmos developed out of the "apeiron", the boundless, infinite and indefinite (without distinguishable qualities). Aristotle would add : immortal, Divine and imperishable.

Within this "apeiron" something arose to produce the opposites of hot and cold. These at once began to struggle with each other and produced the cosmos. The cold (and wet) partly dried up (becoming solid Earth), partly remained (as water), and -by means of the hot- partly evaporated (becoming air and mist), its evaporating part (by expansion), splitting up the hot into fiery rings, which surround the whole cosmos. Because these rings are enveloped by mist, however, there remain only certain breathing holes visible to men, appearing to them as Sun, Moon, and stars. 

"The Greeks seem to have received from Egypt their old celestial architecture, as well as that of their temples. It is only when conceived in this way, as a roof, that the 'ouranos' can be described as 'brazen' or (in the Odyssey) as made of iron. The reference is no doubt to the great solidity of the edifice. Hesiod has much the same thing in mind when he calls it, 'a seat set firm'."
Kahn, 1994, p.139.

Anaximander realized upward and downward are not absolute. Downward means toward the middle of the Earth and upward away from it, so the Earth has no need to be supported by anything (as Thales had believed). Instead, he asserted the Earth remained in its unsupported position at the centre of the universe because it had no reason to move in any direction and therefore was at rest.

Starting from Thales' observations, Anaximander tried to reconstruct the development of life in more detail. Life, being closely bound up with moisture, originated in the sea. All land animals, he held, are descendants of sea animals. Gradually, however, the moisture will be partly evaporated, until in the end all things will have returned into the undifferentiated "apeiron", in order to pay the "penalty for their injustice", i.e. of having struggled against one another.

Anaximander subscribed to the philosophical view unity could definitely be found behind all multiplicity.

Anaximenes of Miletus

Anaximander's successor, Anaximenes of Miletus (ca. 585 - 525 BCE), taught Air was the origin of all things. Neither Thales nor Anaximander appear to have specified the way in which "the other things" arose out of the water or the "apeiron". Anaximenes, however, declared the other types of matter arose out of Air by condensation and rarefaction. In this way, what to Thales had been merely a beginning, became a fundamental principle remaining essentially the same through all of its transmutations.

Thus, the term "arche", which originally simply meant "beginning," acquired the new meaning of "principle," a term henceforth playing an enormous role in philosophy. This concept of a principle remaining the same through many transmutations is, furthermore, the presupposition of the idea nothing can come out of nothing. All of the comings to be and passing away we observe, are nothing but transmutations of something remaining essentially the same for ever (the law of conservation). 

Pythagoras of Samos

The Ionian naturalists (materialists) were individuals, and although Anaximander had Thales as a teacher, no "school" emerged after their death. With Pythagoras (ca. 580 BCE, island of Samos, Ionia  - ca. 500, Metapontum, Lucania), this son of an engraver of gems, we encounter the first Greek "school" of thought, a teaching in which religion, mysticism, mathematics and philosophy were allowed to interpenetrate each other and orchestrate a totally new symphonic whole, which will have a decisive influence on Greek thought as well as on Greek architecture. This was so unique, that Pythagorism may well be called the second major orientation in pre-Socratic philosophy next to Milesian materialism as a whole. 

According to tradition, the very word "philosophy" was coined by Pythagoras, who described himself as a "philo-sophos", a "lover" of wisdom. With his school, the scope of the Milesian "sophoi" was dramatically enlarged by the introduction of metaphysics, mystical experience and the philosophy of mathematics (including Pythagorean numerology). These speculative considerations took place "next to" physical inquires into the nature of all possible beings. With his emphasis on numbers and the theology of arithmetic (cf. Nicomachus of Gesara's The Theology of Arithmetic, ca. 100 CE), Pythagoras completed mathematics, for a complete study of geometry was taken for granted (for part of the "know-how" of the Milesian "sophoi").

The combination of geometry and arithmetic, was called the "tetraktys" (from "tetra", "four"), after the form of a four-tiered triangular patters of ten dots, the sacred symbol upon which Pythagorean Oats were sworn, and which probably had its origin in the arrangements of pebbles used to study mathematics. It is "holy", because of its summarizing manifestation of completion. It is "sacred", because it contains a secret which is kept out of sight of the inept ...

TETRAKTYS - ultimate sacred number
"delta" shaped form (cf. "deka", ten) in four ("tetra") rows
directly influenced Hebrew qabalah and its 10 "Sephiroth"
as well as the structure of the 4 qabalistic worlds

Unfortunately, none of the writings of Pythagoras have survived, and Pythagoreans invariably supported their doctrines by indiscriminately citing their master's authority. It is difficult to distinguish his teachings from those of his disciples, neither legends from historical fact. However, he is credited with the theory of the functional significance of sacred numbers in the objective world and in music (obtained by stopping a lyre string at various points along its length - the octave (2: 1), the fifth (3: 2) and the fourth (4: 3)). Other discoveries often attributed to him, like the incommensurability of the side and diagonal of a square, and the Pythagorean theorem stating the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals in area to the sum of the squares of the other two sides (well-known in Egypt and Mesopotamia), were probably developed only later by the Pythagorean school. 

Diogenius Laërtius also tells us Pythagoras entered the Egyptian temples and learned the secrets of their gods. This is a remarkable testimony. The Egyptian gods were hidden from sight. Nobody, except Pharaoh and his appointed priests, could enter the "holy of holies" and face the deity. There was no communication between the deities and humans, for gods communicate only with gods. In the Late New Kingdom, common people took Amun "in their heart" and the Hidden Supreme heard their prayers & supplications ... Does the fact Pythagoras entered parts of the inner spaces of the temple (decorated with the grand story of the pantheon), not make it likely he had learned how to read hieroglyphs and had satisfied the discipline of an Egyptian priesthood in decline ? Not to say he had become an Egyptian priest, but a wide variety of functions were in existence in Egyptian temples and some of them allowed access to areas which revealed much to those able to read the sacred writing, the "words of the gods" (cf. "lector" priest of the "House of Life" - in the Late Period Memphis, Sais and Bubastis had major libraries).

Iamblichus writes Pythagoras buried Thales and knew Anaximander before he stayed 22 years in Egypt and was initiated in the teachings of the priests of Thebes (plurality & unity of the Divine) and the doctrine of the resurrection of Osiris (the immortality of the soul). He would have received the sign of the winged disk in gold on his thigh, so that he was called "chrysomeros", or "he of the golden thigh". When the Persian Cambyses conquered Egypt in 525 BCE, he was made captive and brought to Chaldea. There he studied with the "magoi" for 12 years and learned about numbers and music. Other authors claimed he encountered Zarathoustra (being baptized in the Euphrate) and traveled to India were he met Gautama the Buddha (& was taught the doctrine of the "transmigration", i.e. rebirth ?). The teachings drew a large following in the Greek colony of Croton in southern Italy, were he went to live. A kind of Freemasonry "avant la lettre" rose among the aristocracy. It was a fraternity with Pythagoras as its "master". Its members had a lot of political power (based on "areté" and "ponós", excellence and effort), but were eventually massacred in a riot long after Pythagoras had died. The followers spread the principles and caused Pythagorism (or "Pythagoreanism") to become part of the Greek world. Iamblichus quotes his master, who had said : "number is the rule of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and demons".

In all, the various accounts draw a cosmopolitan picture of Pythagoras. He was the first Greek philosopher in the universal sense of the word, for all beings were part of his reflection. His interests go further than the physical doctrines of the Milesians and for the first time in Greek history, philosophy, mathematics & religion were put in one system of thought.

The problem of describing Pythagorism is complicated by the fact the surviving picture is far from complete, being based chiefly on a small number of fragments from the time before Plato and on various discussions in authors who wrote much later - most of whom were either Aristotelians or Neo-Platonists. In spite of these historical uncertainties, the contribution of Pythagorism to Western culture has been significant and therefore justifies the effort, however inadequate, to depict what its teachings may have been.

Three levels may be discerned :

  1. original teachings of Pythagoras ;

  2. Pythagoras in Plato and Aristotle ;

  3. teachings & influence of the Pythagorean school.

The character of original Pythagorism is controversial, and the conglomeration of disparate features it displayed is intrinsically confusing. Its fame rests, however, on some very influential ideas, and likely most of these prevailed in the school of Croton :

  • the metaphysics of number and the conception reality, including music and astronomy, is, at its deepest level, mathematical in nature : Pythagoras' sufficient ground is not a cosmic substance but an inner organization or structure coupled with a liberating, salvic intentions, albeit ascetical & philosophical ;

  • the use of philosophy as a means of spiritual purification : a lover of wisdom is more than an intelligent person aware of problems and their solutions, for his pursuit of wisdom must be a window to the immortal soul, the light of which draws him near to the original and fundamental level of reality : the mathematical order of being which whispers a hidden, mysterious language of silence, with a code available to the initiate only ; 

  • the heavenly destiny of the soul and the possibility of its rising to union with the Divine : Pythagoras is not satisfied with the mundane, immanent perspective, for the Pythagorean philosopher is before all the rest a lover of unity and its experience, which implies transcendence, trance, osmosis etc. ; 

  • the appeal to certain symbols, sometimes mystical, such as the "tetraktys", the golden section, and the harmony of the spheres : symbols are the residue of spiritual experiences and contain a code to trigger co-relative experiences later ; 

  • the Pythagorean theorem : mathematics and the solution of particular problems are the "purest" way to encounter the immortal soul, for its language is that of sacred number ; 

  • the demand members of the order shall observe a strict loyalty and secrecy : the order is a private affair and has no "outer order".

What could Pythagoras have learned from the priest of Memphis and Thebes ?

  • the unity of the Divine : the absolute is One and Millions, invisible by nature and manifest in nature's forms ;

  • the rule of truth and justice : all actions have to be weighed on the balance of truth to measure their order ;

  • the order of creation : the cosmos unfolded as a series of numbers : 0 > 1 > 2 & 3 > 4 & 5 > 6, 7, 8, 9 ;

  • the sacrality of "10" : Pharaoh, "son of Re", completes the Ennead + 1 = "10" order ;

  • the creativity of thought and speech : the cosmos as conceived in the "mind" of the absolute ;

  • geometrical solutions to practical problems : mathematical papyri testify Egypt's elementary abilities ;

  • the magic of symbols : sacred script and ritual speech have powers beyond their physical form ;

  • the rule of silence : the Egyptian gods and their priests were out of sight and hidden - silence was gold ;

  • the harmony of opposites : all fundamental oppositions are bridged by a harmonic "third" ;

  • the symbolism of numbers : each natural number (0 - 10) has "inner" meanings, purposes and relations.

There probably never existed a strictly uniform system of Pythagorean philosophy and religious beliefs, even if the school did have a certain internal organization. Pythagoras appears to have taught by pregnant, cryptic "akousmata" ("something heard") or "symbola". His pupils handed these on, formed them partly into Hieroi Logoi ("Sacred Discourses"), of which different versions were current from the 4th century BCE on, and they interpreted them according to their convictions.

Plato mentions Pythagoras only once (Republic, X.600). No details are given about the "Pythagorean way of life", which he compares with Homer. The Pythagorean teachings were obviously popular enough for Plato not to bother to discuss them. Not so for his pupil Aristotle, who wrote :

"Pythagoreans applied themselves to  mathematics, and were the first to develop this science ; and through studying it they came to believe that its principles are the principles of everything. And since numbers are by first nature among these principles, and they fancied that they could detect in number, to a greater extent than in fire and Earth and water, many analogues of what is and comes into being-such and such a property of number being justice,. and such and such soul or mind, another opportunity, and similarly, more or less, with all the rest - and since they saw further that the properties and ratios of the musical scales are based on numbers, and since it seemed clear that all other things have their whole nature modeled upon numbers, and that numbers are the ultimate things in the whole physical universe, they assumed the elements of numbers to be the elements of everything, and the whole universe to be a proportion or number."

Aristotle, Metaphysics, I, v. 1-3, 985b.

In  the 4th century BCE, Plato's inclination toward Pythagorism created a tendency -manifest already in the middle of the century in the works of his pupils- to interpret Platonic concepts as originally Pythagorean. Most of the literary sources ultimately hark back to the environment of Plato and Aristotle. Later, neo-Platonism, which developed in the third century CE, reworked Pythagorism. Although they claimed to reassert a true understanding of Plato, they took a syncretic approach and drew from other sources, such as Pythagorean number mysticism and the Hermetica.

By laying stress on certain inner experiences and intuitive truths revealed only to the initiated, Pythagorism seems to have represented a soul-directed, salvic idealism alien to the mainstream of pre-Socratic Greek thought, preoccupied with determining what the basic cosmic substance ("phusis") was. In contrast with Ionian naturalism, Pythagorism was akin to trends seen in mystery religions and mystical movements, such as Orphism, which often claimed to achieve a spiritual insight into the Divine origin and nature of the soul through intoxication. Yet, there are also aspects of it appearing to have owed much to the more sober, "Homeric" philosophy of the Ionians, especially regarding ascetics and the importance of mathematics. 

Indeed, the Pythagoreans displayed an interest in metaphysics (the nature of being), as did their naturalistic predecessors, though they claimed to find its key in mathematical form rather than in any cosmic substance. They accepted the essentially Ionian doctrines saying the world is composed of opposites and generated from something unlimited, but they added the idea of the imposition of limit (number) upon the unlimited and the sense of a musical harmony in the universe (a "music of the spheres", sounding to human ears as silence - cf. Aristotle, De Caelo, II.9). Again, like the Ionians, they devoted themselves to astronomical and geometrical speculations. Combining, as it does, a theory of number with a numerology and a speculative cosmology with a theory of the deeper, more spiritual reaches of the soul, Pythagorism interweaves religion and philosophy more inseparably than does any other movement in pre-Socratic thought. 

The occult blend of proportion & number with numerology, as well as speculative philosophy masked with the pursuits of religion, point to an emerging conceptual rationality still clinging to the proto-rational mode of thought, dependent of context & myth. Pythagorism achieves a grand synthesis, liberated from the necessities of local myth, multi-cultural and grasping an intrinsic "Homeric" tendency towards linearization. Pythagoras and his school were also the first to develop a system of thought influenced by many disparate sources (Ionian, Egyptian, Persian, Indian). These various elements were brought together, equilibrated and made to function as part of a larger whole. Just as the Ionian "sophoi" before him, this system of thought incorporated foreign sources, transcending them using a Greek mode of thought. But if we analyze the object - subject relationships at work, we cannot say of Pythagorism it has completely emancipated both sides. A symbolical adualism is still implied. Numbers are more than just mental conventions, but are an expression of the ontological structure of nature, and so refer to an extra-mental "ground", "foundation" or "hypokeimenon" (underlying thing, substratum). A "magical" sympathy exists between things. Wandering Pythagoras heralds urban Plato, who may be read as a direct student of the former.

Pythagorism differentiates between subject & object, and so is the earliest manifestation of conceptual rationality in Greece. Not yet a clear demarcation (as in Plato's "two worlds"), Pythagoras steps outside the continuum of ante-rationality.

Summary what ante-rationality accomplished.

Ante-rationality encompasses the three first, earliest layers of cognition, namely mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational thought, developing libidinal notions, tribal pre-concepts & imitative concrete concepts respectively. Concrete concepts are never decontextualized. These early Piagetian stages (cf. Stuurkunde, 1993, Cognition, 2003, Clearings, 2006) are characterized as follows :

Myth : the notion

First substage :

  1. non-reflective adualism and only a virtual consciousness of identity ;

  2. primitive action testifying a quasi complete indifferentiation between the subjective and the objective side of cognition ;

  3. actions are quasi uncoordinated, i.e. random movements are frequent.

Second substage :

  1. first decentration of actions with regard to their material origin (i.e. the physical body) ;

  2. first objectification by a subject experiencing itself for the first time as the source of actions ;

  3. objectification of actions and the experience of spatiality ;

  4. objects are linked because of the growing coordination of actual actions ;

  5. links between actions in means/goals schemes, allowing the subject to experience itself as the source of action (initiative), moving beyond the dependence between the external object and the acting body ;

  6. spatial & temporal permanency and causal relationships are observed ;

  7. differentiation (between object and subject) leads to logico-mathematical structures, whereas the distinction between actions related to the subject and those related to the external objects becomes the startingpoint of causal relationships ;

  8. the putting together of schematics derived from external objects or from the forms of actions which have been applied to external objects.

Pre-rationality : the pre-concept

  1. because of the introduction of semiotical factors (symbolical play, language, and the formation of mental images), the coordination of movements is no longer exclusively triggered by their practical and material actualizations without any knowledge of their existence as forms, i.e. the first layer of thought occurs : the difference between subject & object is a signal which gives rise to the symbol ;

  2. upon the simple action, a new type of interiorized action is erected which is not conceptual because the interiorization itself is nothing more than a copy of the development of the actions using signs and imagination ;

  3. no object of thought is realized but only an internal structure of the actions in a pre-concept formed by imagination & language ;

  4. pre-verbal intelligence & interiorization of imitation in imaginal representations ;

  5. psychomorph view on causality : no distinction between objects and the actions of the subjects ;

  6. objects are living beings with qualities attributed to them as a result of interactions ;

  7. at first, no logical distinction is made between "all" and "few" and comparisons are comprehended in an absolute way, i.e. A < B is possible, but A < B < C is not ; 

  8. finally, the difference between class and individual is grasped, but transitivity and reversibility are not mastered ;

  9. the pre-concepts & pre-relations are dependent on the variations existing between the relational characteristics of objects & can not be reversed, making them rather impermanent and difficult to maintain. They stand between action-schema and concept.

Proto-rationality : the concrete concept

  1. for the first time stable concepts and relations emerge and the interiorized actions receive the status of "operations", allowing for transformations. The latter make it possible to change the variable factors while keeping others invariant ;

  2. the increase of coordinations forms coordinating systems & structures which are capable of becoming closed systems by virtue of a play of anticipative and retrospective constructions of thought (imaginal thought-forms) ;

  3. these mental operations, instead of introducing corrections when the actions are finished, exist by the pre-correction of errors and this thanks to the double play of anticipation and retroaction or "perfect regulation" ;

  4. transitivity is mastered which causes the enclosedness of the formal system ;

  5. necessity is grasped ;

  6. constructive abstraction, new, unifying coordinations which allow for the emergence of a total system and auto-regulation (or the equilibration caused by perfect regulation) ;

  7. transitivity, conservation and reversibility are given ;

  8. the mental operations are "concrete", not "formal", implying that they (a) exclusively appear in immediate contexts and (b) deal with objects only (i.e. are not reflexive) ;

  9. the concrete operatoric structures are not established through a system of combinations, but one step at a time ; 

  10. this stage is paradoxal : a balanced development of logico-mathematical operations versus the limitations imposed upon the concrete operations. This conflict triggers the next, final stage, which covers the formal operations.

07. Conceptual rationality in Parmenides and Democritus.

The evolution from "mythos" to "logos", viewed as a reflective process of the understanding of thought by itself, went through stages characterized by a variety of object/subject-relationships.

In myth, non-reflective adualism pertains. This differentiates to bring about the pre-concept, allowing for a distinction between object and subject, but not without a psychomorph recuperation of the former by the latter. Pre-conceptual thinking seeks a hypostatic grounding of this subjective objectivity of pre-rationality. In Ancient Egypt, in particular in the Old Kingdom, this was realized by the introduction of the pre-concept of divine kingship, expressing a unique feature : the equilibrium of opposites. The dual nature of the monarchy was all-comprehensive and reflected in the regalia, in the royal titulary, in the royal rituals and festivals. Frankfort (1948) called the presence of the divine king and his institution of "transcendent significance". It was a unique phenomenon in the region, if not in the world. In the pre-Eleatics, the "arché" of nature ("physis") played the same cognitive role of "explaining" the constant intermixture of the objective & subjective poles of thought. It did so, by moving beyond the scarcely established demarcation, positing a "root-cause", borrowing its descriptive terms from the language of myth and the ongoing battle of the "enantia" or elements of nature (cf. water, air, fire and pre-existence).

The step from non-reflective adualism (myth) to pre-rationality is nothing less than a revolution. For the first time, the coordinations of a physical body are experienced by a subject as "its own", enabling this subject to distinguish between object and subject, albeit in psychomorph form. Cognition begins with notional myth, but the first pre-rational thought (or auto-reflection) is of pre-rationality. Likewise, the step from pre-rationality to proto-rationality, from pre-concept to concept, is crucial, for the ability to generate mental operations is added to the range of the cognitive differentiation between object and subject.

By integrating transitivity, proto-rationality offers a closure. Various classes of concrete concepts constitute practical "systems" operating logico-mathematical procedures within given contexts. Theoretical insights are absent, and no formal procedure is ever outlined. Practical inductivity (by entertaining the psychological connectedness between events), not formal causality, yields a vast storehouse of practical notions, pre-concepts and concrete concepts.

The formal operations of rational thought have no contextual entanglements, and give a universal, a-temporal embedding to the cognitive process through abstraction, categorization & linearization. Here the formal concept is introduced and theories see the light. Cognition is liberated from the immediate events and able to conceptualize logical & mathematical truths (deduction) as well as physical causalities in abstract terms, without any consideration for their actual occurrence, if any (cf. the inner thought-experiment). Thought is able to combine propositions into abstract systems and paradigms.

Parmenides of Elea

Parmenides of Elea (ca. 515 - 440 BCE), inspired by Pythagoras, who introduced the concept a priori, and pupil of Xenophanes (ca. 580/577 - 485/480 BCE), was the first Greek to develop, in poetical form, his philosophical insights about truth ("aletheia"). Thanks to the neo-Platonist Simplicius (490 - 560), 111 lines about the Way of Truth are extant. In it, the conviction dominates human beings can attain knowledge of reality or understanding ("noos"). But to know the truth, only two ways are open : the Way of Truth and the Way of Opinion. These are defined in terms of the expressions "is" and "is not".

The first is the authentic way, leading to the unity and uniqueness of "being". When using the copula "is", Parmenides points to the perfect identity of substantial "being", ascribed in a single sense. Hence, what is other than "being" itself has no being at all ... This is the second way, that of mere opinion ("doxa").

In his argument, Parmenides makes use of a three-tiered disjunction and a reductio ad absurdum. To answer the question : "Is a thing or is it not ?", three answers are deemed possible : (a) it is or (b) it is not or (c) it is and it is not.

By using the necessities of this logic, the formal conditions of knowledge become apparent. Two ways of inquiry are alone conceivable. The first, the journey of persuasion, attends on reality, on the fact a thing is, while the second, is without report and deals with that a thing is not and must not be. As one can neither know what is not (deemed absurd), nor tell of it, the second way is pointless. Only one way is thus left over : "being" is ungenerated, imperishable, entire, unique, unmoved and perfect. It never was nor will be, since it is now all together, one, indivisible. It has no parentage.

Let us consider the three answers. If a thing is and is not, then this either means that there is a difference due to circumstance or that "being" and "nonbeing" are different and identical at the same time. This answer is relative (circumstantial) or contradictory. If a thing is not, then it cannot be an object of a proposition. If this would not be the case, not-being would exists ! But this answer is pointless. As the last two answers are clearly false, and only three answers are possible, the first answer must, by this reductio ad absurdum, be true, namely : the object of thought "is" and equal to itself and being itself from every point of view.

Parmenides clearly accommodates formal rationality, the fourth stage in the self-reflective differentiation of cognition. Before the Eleatics, with Pythagoras as the exception to the rule, the difference between object and subject of thought remained psychomorph. The formal laws of logic were not yet brought forward in this way and used as tools to back an argument. The strong necessity implied by the laws of thought had not yet become clear. Ontologically, the proto-rational concept of change of Heraclitus (540 – 475 BCE) -with whom he is often paired- is indeed opposed to the static, single being of Parmenides, but epistemologically, the latter was the first to underline the importance of the formal characteristics a priori of all thought and the use of a chain of arguments. The mediating role of the metaphor is replaced by an emphasis on the distinction between the thinking subject (and its thoughts) and the reality of what is known. What is this "Being" ? What sense attaches to the verb "to be" in asserting and thinking ?

"... remaining the same and in the same state, it lies by itself and remains thus where it is perpetually, for strong necessity holds it in the bondage of a limit, which keeps it apart, because it is not lawful that Being should be incomplete, for it is not defective, whereas Not-being would lack everything. The same thing is for conceiving as is cause of the thought conceived ; for not without Being, when one thing has been said of another, will You find conceiving. And time is not nor will be another thing alongside Being, since this was bound fast by fate to be entire and changeless."
Parmenides, fragment 8, 29-35.I

Ironically (or by force of apory ?), the idealism of Parmenides, thinking the necessity of the object of thought, confuses between a substantialist and a predicative use of the verb "to be" or the copula "is". That something "is" (or "Dasein") is not identical with what something "is" (or "Sosein"). Properties (accidents) do exist apart from the "being" of the substances they describe. Absence of certain accidents can be expressed.

From the substantialist point of view, not-being is pointless. Only an all-comprehensive "Being" can be posited. Parmenides asserted further predicates of the verb "to be", namely by introducing the noun-expression "Being", conceived as ungenerated, imperishable, complete, unique, unvarying and non-physical ...

He did not grasp the absence of certain properties as not-being, nor could he attribute different forms of "being" to objects. What Parmenides calls "Being", is an all-comprehensive being-there standing as being qua being, as "Dasein" in all the entities of the natural world (trapped in their "Sosein").

Democritus of Abdera

"All thinkers then agree in making the contraries principles, both those who describe the All as one and unmoved (for even Parmenides treats hot and cold as principles under the names of Fire and Earth) and those too who use the rare and the dense. The same is true of Democritus also, with his plenum and void, both of which exist, he says, the one as being, the other as not-being. Again he speaks of differences in position, shape, and order, and these are genera of which the species are contraries, namely, of position, above and below, before and behind ; of shape, angular and angleless, straight and round."
Aristotle : Physics, book 1, part 5.

Democritus of Abdera (ca. 460 - 380/370 BCE), geometer and known for his atomic theory, developed the first mechanistic model and introduced conceptual empiricism. His system represents, in a way more fitting than the aphorisms of Heraclitus, a current of thought radically opposing Eleatic thought, drawing its inspiration from the object of thought as posited by the senses.

The evidence of sensation cannot be denied. The Eleatics are obviously wrong. Instead of relying on the formal conditions of thought only, the origin of knowledge is given with the undeniable evidence put forward by the senses. Becoming, movement and change are fundamental. Hence, not-being exists. It is empty space, a void. If so, then being is occupied space, a plenum. The latter is not a closed unity or continuum, a Being, but an infinite variety of indivisible particles called "atoms".

The atoms are all composed of the same kind of matter and only differ from each other in terms of their quantitative properties, like extension, weight, form and order. They never change and cannot be divided. For all of eternity, they cross empty space in straight lines. Because these atoms collided by deviating ("clinamen") from their paths, the world of objects came into existence (why they moved away from their linear trajectories remains unexplained). Hence, the universe is composed of a multiplicity of atoms moving and colliding in empty space ... Each time this occurs, they form a vortex separated from the rest of the universe, thus forming a world on its own. Hence, an infinite number of simultaneous and successive worlds are in existence.

Objects emerge by the random aggregation of atoms. Things do not have an "inner" coherence or "substance" (essence). Everything is impermanent and will eventually fall apart under the pressure of new collisions. Atoms are characterized by quantitative features only. Thus, all spiritual, psychological and mental processes can be reduced to conglomerates of atoms moving without inner principle of unity. Thoughts, feelings, volitions and the like, are nothing more than mechanical activities between atoms. Qualities are subjective interpretations of quantities. Hence, the universe is material, quantitative, deterministic and without finality.

Regarding knowledge, Democritus conjectures that the senses are all derived from the sense of touch. The atoms bombard the senses and give a picture of the object emitting them. As a function of their speed, form etc. we can speak of sweet, blue etc. These names are only conventional and do not convey any real characteristic of the object in question.

This whole analysis does not lead to skepticism and pure relativism. Human beings are able to discover the true, real features of a thing behind the dark veil of the senses. This is rational knowledge. Indeed, without the latter, it would not be possible to develop the mechanistic model !

The logical difficulty is obvious : if all things are atoms, then how can rational knowledge be more reliable than sensation ? Moreover, how can atomism describe atoms without in some way transcending them ? In epistemological terms : how can the subject of knowledge be eclipsed hand in hand with a description of this "fact" ? There is a contradictio in actu exercito : although refusing the subject of knowledge any independence from the object of knowledge, the former is implied in the refusal. By the necessities of the architecture of conceptual thought, every observation implies a subject of observation.

The problems facing Democritus are those of realism (materialism) in general. They mirror those of Eleatic idealism (spiritualism). Both represent the two poles of the essential tension characterizing thought in pre-Socratic philosophy (cf. Clearings, 2006).

The pendulum-swing between realism and idealism, or, in other words, the exorcism of respectively either subject or object of knowledge, can be identified in pre-Socratic thought as the apory between Parmenides & Democritus. Both exemplify a movement of thought allowing it to exceed and thus reduce (repress) its natural anti-pode. Idealism rejects the object of sensation, realism the constructive activity of the subject of thought. Instead of harmonizing both, by introducing a principle of complementarity, thought is crippled by a contradiction. In each case, the necessities lay bare by this forced monism (either of mind or of matter), bring the structure of both poles to the fore : Parmenides thinks the logical conditions a priori, leading to oneness, universality and qualitative uniqueness, Democritus observes the empirical conditions a posteriori, bringing in an infinite series of singular atoms and quantitative multiplicity.

08. Conceptual rationality in the Sophists and Socrates.

"Nothing exists. If anything existed, it could not be known. If anything did exit, and could be known, it could not be communicated."
Gorgias of Leontini : On What is Not, or On Nature, 66 - 86.

With the start of the Vth century BCE, Greek philosophers showed less interest in cosmological issues, but instead turned to practical questions of education, economy & politics. On the one hand, international awareness made some question the natural foundation of morality and justice, which seemed more a matter of habit & convention ("nomos") than being the expression of the unchanging natural law ("physis"). On the other hand, the rise of powerful city-states ("polis") accommodated the study of good citizenship.

After the Persian Wars, the rich wanted "areté", virtue, merit and social esteem. And to be successful, especially in Athens, one had to be able to convince by using words. The sophists were wandering teachers paid to teach how to use words and arguments to win a cause. They were not concerned with the contents, nor with the truth-value of their mental strategies, but only with the result of convincing an audience hic et nunc.

Inventing rhetoric (cf. Gorgias), the sophists posited the relativity of thought, making the human the measure of all things in the process of escaping the wilderness (cf. Protagoras) or rejecting culture and embracing the right of the strong to express their natural instincts, i.e. enslaving the weak and glorifying egoism (cf. Callicles). Because of their blunt rejection of objective, extra-mental truth, both Socrates (470 - 399 BCE) & Plato tried hard to refute the relativism & skepticism of the Sophist they rejected.

By introducing the relativity of thought (skepticism and humanism), the sophists prompted a new quest for a comprehensive system. In it, the various facets developed since Thales would have to be brought together so true knowledge would remain certain and eternal (and not circumstantial and probable).

Socrates, as Plato, Xenophon & Aristophanes depict him, wanted to know the "eidos" or "essence" of words, not just their rhetoric, opportunistic applications. He was convinced there was an object, extra-mental reality which could be known by way of dialogue, conversation, induction and apory. View and method of Socrates influenced Plato.

09. Concept-realism : Plato and Aristotle.

The abstract concept is the core of formal rationality, maintaining a clear-cut demarcation between subject & object of experience. The object is felt to have substance & independence, while the subject is deemed active, interactive and symbolizing. Parmenides and Democritus were the first to explore the possibilities of the poles of conceptual thought, but a system of philosophy is absent. To combat the sophists thoroughly, Socrates & Plato launched a comprehensive philosophical inquiry, advancing Platonic concept-realism.

Greek concept-realism, gratifying the  tendency of conceptual thought to fossilize & substantialize its inherent duality, developed two radical answers and two major epistemologies. These were foremost intended to serve ontology, or the study of "real" beings, as does the logic underpinning them. Indeed, neither Plato or Aristotle developed the quantitative view of the world as proposed by Democritus. Their comprehensive systems contain no mathematical physics.

In concept-realism, concepts must refer to something "real", either in the mind or extra-mental. Our thoughts (even imaginations) are always about some thing. In concept-realism, this "real" is a sufficient ground guaranteeing the identity of every thing. For the Greeks, the "real" had to be universal ("ta katholou", or applicable everywhere and all the time). Given the duality of conceptual reason (formal rationality), two positions emerged : either these universals exist by themselves outside the sensoric world (the real is ideal - cf. Plato) or they only exist as the form of things in each individual thing (the ideal is real - cf. Aristotle). In the former, a cleavage occurs and dualism emerges (between being and becoming), in the latter, a quasi-Divine "intellectus agens" has to be posited. Again two reductions of the ongoing, crucial tension of thought, i.e. the continuous, shocking confrontations between object and subject of knowledge : the concordia discors characterizing formal, conceptual, discursive rationality.


For Plato (428 - 347 BCE), strongly influenced by Pythagoras and the Eleatics, there is a real, Divine world of ideas "out there" or, as in neo-Platonism, "in here", a transcendent realm of Being, in which the things of this fluctuating world participate. Ideas are those aspects of a thing which do not change.

Obviously then, truth is the remembrance ("anamnesis") of (or return to) this eternally good state of affairs, conceived as the limit of limits of Being or even beyond that. These Platonic ideas, like particularia of a higher order, are no longer the truth of this world of becoming but of another, better world of Being, leaving us with the cleaving impasse of idealism : Where is the object ?

The Platonic ideas exist objectively in a reality outside the thinker. Hence, the empirical has a derivative status. The world of forms is outside the permanent flux characteristic of the former, and also external to the thinking mind and its passing whims. A trans-empirical, Platonic idea is a paradigm for the singular things which participate in it ("methexis"). Becoming participates in Being, and only Being, as Parmenides taught, has reality. The physical world is not substantial (without sufficient ground) and posited as a mere reflection. If so, it has no true existence of its own (for its essence is trans-empirical). Plato projects the world of ideas outside the human mind and represents the transcendent pole of Greek concept-realism, for the "real" moves beyond our senses as well as our minds. To eternalize truth, nothing less will do.


Aristotle (384 - 322 BCE) rejects the separate, Platonic world of real proto-types, but not the "ta katholou", the generalities ("les généralités", "die Allgemeinen"), conceived, as conceptual realism demands, in terms of the "real", essential and sufficient ground of knowledge, the foundation of thought. So general, universal ideas do exist, but they are always immanent in the singular things of this world. There is no world of ideas "out there". There is no cleavage in what "is" and there is only one world, namely the actual world present here and now. The indwelling formal and final causes of things are known by abstracting what is gathered by the passive intellect, fed by the senses, witnessing material and efficient causes. The actual process of abstraction is performed by the intellectus agens, a kind of Peripatetic "Deus ex machina", reminding us of the impasse of realism : Where is the subject ?

"The faculty of thinking then thinks the forms in the images, and as what is to be pursued or avoided is already marked out for it in these forms, the faculty can, by being engaged upon the images, be moved, and this also in a way independent from sensation."
Aristotle : De Anima, III.7.

How is this first intellect able to derive by abstraction the universal on the basis of the particular ? How does it recognize the forms in the images without (Platonic) proto-types ? Even a very large number of particulars does not logically justify a universal proposition, as Aristotle knew. Induction has no final clause, for all past causes can never be known. How does this active intellect then recognize the similarities between properties offered by the passive intellect, if not by virtue of a measure which is independent from sensation (and so again introducing a world of ideas) ?

Aristotle posits the objective forms in the actual world. In the latter, both being and becoming operate. This was a major step forward, for ontological dualism is explicitly avoided, although implicitly reintroduced within psychology. The forms are realized in singulars, but known by accident of a universal intellect he does not study. For him, the "real" is known through the senses and the curious abstracting abilities of the mind. The workings of the intellectus agens remain dark. This concept-realism is immanent. All things are explained in terms of four causes : causa materialis, causa efficiens, causa formalis and causa finalis. Experience of the first two causes, triggers the process of cognition and knowledge of material bodies. Abstracting the last two causes, allows one to understand the "form" or essence of things.

In Platonic concept-realism, one cannot avoid asking the question : How can another world be the truth of this world ? The ontological cleavage seems totally unacceptable. Peripatetic thought summons a psychological critique, for how can the human soul possibly know anything if not by virtue of this remarkable active intellect ? Both reductions are problematic. Because they try to escape, in vain, the Factum Rationis, and so represent the two extreme poles of the concordia discors of thought, they form an apory. Plato, being an idealist, lost grip on reality. Aristotle, the realist, did not fully probe his own mind. Composite forms of both systems do not avoid the conflict, although they may conceal it better. The crucial tension of thought was not solved by Greek concept-realism. How to evolve formal rationality beyond this dilemma ?

The two major philosophical systems of Greek philosophy are examples of foundational thinking. Truth is eternalized and static. Concept-realism will always ground our concepts in a reality outside knowledge. Plato cuts reality in two qualitatively different worlds. True knowledge is remembering the world of ideas. Aristotle divides the mind in two functionally different intellects. To draw out and abstract the common element, an intellectus agens is needed. But, both positions reveal new insights : knowledge is impossible without innate forms (Plato) versus knowledge starts with sensation (Aristotle). Greek thought is unable to reconcile the extremes and so no armed truce ensued. One tried to avoid the concordia discors by eliminating the other side of the equation. These tensions, like open wires, short-circuited Medieval logic, preparing thought for its emancipation from fideism and fundamental theology.

10. Fideism or the onto-theological ground.

Although the Romans established a vast political unity (cf. the Pax Romana), focusing on monumental, lasting social, administrative and judicial order backed by a strong military, their intellectual influence on the Middle Ages was not as profound as the Greek legacy. The following components were decisive :

  • the quality and variety of Greek philosophy : pre-Socratics, Plato-Aristotle, Hedonists, Epicurists, Cynics, neo-Platonists, Stoics, etc. ;

  • Greek art and science : mathematics, geometry, cosmology, architecture, grammar, linguistics, drama, sculpture, etc. 

  • anthropocentrism : the human and his emancipation were of central concern ;

  • ideal of the abstract : study devoid of practical consequences, aiming at absolute knowledge coupled with tolerance, dialogue, contradiction and argumentation ;

  • impact of reason on action : the search for harmony, measure and balance.

The Christian Empire of Constantine the Great (ca.274/288 - 337) heralded the beginning of the end of "Pagan" philosophy and the indoctrination "de manu militari" of Catholic dogma (cf. Council of Nicea of 325 CE). Both in Rome, Alexandria and Constantinople, revealed knowledge was deemed superior than independent, rational thinking and philosophy was made to serve fundamental theology. The latter was based on an exegesis of the canon of the New Testament (a name invented ca. 190 CE). These 27 books  were accepted by the majority of the Roman Church as late as 382 CE (Concilium Romanum).

In 415 CE, the Hellenized Egyptian scientist & Platonic philosopher Hypathia of Alexandria (ca. 370 - 415), the inventor of the astrolabe and the hydrometer, was brutally murdered by a raging Christian mob tolerated by the Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 375 - 444). They tore off her clothing and dragged her through the streets of the city till she died ! In 529 CE, under the Christian emperor Justinianus, who commissioned the Hagia Sophia, the Platonic Academy at Athens was closed. To fight those who made a different choice (or "heretics"), institutionalized Christianity was all but loving & kind. In those days, and for many more centuries to come, violence, repression, blacklisting, the suppression & burning of manuscripts, the rewriting of history etc. would remain common practices in both Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy alike.

Revealed knowledge was eternal and absolute, for unveiling the "Creator-God" of all possible things, i.e. God as the ground of grounds and focal point of a theology rooted in the axiom of the existence of this transcendent God (onto-theology). Educated by Late Hellenism, early Christian thinkers allowed Greek concepts to infiltrate the emerging Christian theology and its apology, in particular those of Plato and neo-Platonism, as evidenced by the first "sum" of Christian philosophy (or philosophy of the revealed texts), the work of Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430). For him, three "imperial" principles of faith stood firm : the Incarnation of the Son of God, the God-Man Jesus Christ and the Representative of Christ on Earth (the Pope of Rome).

The major difference between ancient philosophy (rooted in the maxim "know thyself") and the end of Late Hellenism, is the beginning of a purely theoretical and abstract pursuit, divorced from the oral tradition of the art of living. If ancient philosophy had been a way of life (in the "polis"), implying the total person (including affects and volition besides cognition), the Middle Ages would develop a purely intellectual, exegetic scholastic approach, still with us in philosophy today. Spiritual exercises were no longer deemed part of philosophy, but were integrated in Christian spirituality. Religion realized the transformation of one's personality and oriented one's whole way of being, not philosophy. Of course, the conceptions of Christocentric & Trinitarian monotheism, as well as the sense of hierarchy and liturgy, serving Roman & Byzantine Christianity, sum up, albeit "Christianized", the essence of Paganism.

Fideism holds faith above reason, or worse, denies reason its place. However, as soon as faith needs to be explained to convert the infidel or to refute the arguments of critical non-believers, reason is needed (cf. the Apologetics). Then, as the servants of dogma, logic and philosophy accommodate theology, and adapt to the necessities of sacred, miraculous texts ...

When Imperial Rome's upper classes turned Christian, they were driven by Late Hellenistic fears (the collapse of a weakened empire) and spiritual pessimism (cf. the astral fatalism of Pagan religions). The intellectual elite sought refuge in the salvic simplicity advocated by the Roman centrist, based on an act of will, a leap of faith, but not in the elaborate trappings of the mysteries, nor in the Gnostics. Thus, Christian intellectuals (starting with Augustine and ending with Thomas Aquinas) slowly "Christianized" Pagan philosophy, "explaining" the religion of Jesus Christ in a logic borrowed from Late Hellenism. Even Trinitarian theology could benefit from the elaborated triadic speculations of neo-Platonism.

In the 9th century, thanks to the Carolingian Renaissance, and the organization of the Palatine School, a remote ancestor of the Renaissance "university" ("turned towards unity") was created. Europe, under the political will of Charlemagne, was awakened to its "rational" inheritance and embraced the importance of education and learning (for the upper classes). Although short-lived, its influence would not completely vanish.

Usually depicted as a transitional figure between fideist & scholastic theology, the Benedictine Anselm of Canterbury (1033 - 1109) was a protagonist of the Augustinian tradition. Philosophy is only dialectica (logic, rhetoric, linguistic) and part of theology. Nevertheless, his position within this fideist movement is rationalistic, for he seeks the "rationes necessariae" (necessary reasons) for the existence of God, but also for revelations as the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ. However, his rationalism is provisional, for Anselm believes so he may understand ("credo ut intelligam"), but does not seek to understand in order to believe.

The context in which he operated, the vows he took, deny Anselm to openly profess the distinction between philosophy and theology, and so, even if he had not been able to find the necessary reasons for Divine existence, he would not, therefore, have rejected the existence of God. Perhaps is it fair to say Anselm is the most dialectical pole within the Augustinian movement and its blatant fideism, overturned by Thomas Aquinas
(1225 - 1274).

11. Real and rational science in scholasticism.

In his Isagoge, a work translated by Boethius, Porphyry (232/3 - ca. 305) had written :

I shall not say anything about whether genera and species exist as substances, or are confined to mere conceptions ; and if they are substances, whether they are material or immaterial ; and whether they exist separately from sensible objects, or in them immanently."
Porphyry : Isagoge, 1, introduction.

For Boethius, considering these matters to be "very deep", the answer is Aristotelian : the universals have an objective existence in particular physical things only, but the mind is able to conceive genera and species independent of these bodies.

For Isidore of Sevilla, who died in 636 CE, etymology was the crucial science, for to know the name ("nomen") of an object gave insight into its essential nature. Hence, he posits an implicate adualism between the name (or word) and its reality or "res". This symbolic adualism or natural sympathy (correspondence) differentiates not between an "inner" subjective state of consciousness and an "outer" objective reality (cf. ante-rationality and its psychomorphism). This view was a blunt return to Plato and the Eleatic cleavage between "is" & "is not". Indeed, the core of the Augustinian interpretation of Christianity is neo-Platonic. Here, symbolical adualism (between "nomen" and "res") walks hand in hand with ontological dualism, for the true name of a thing reveals its unchanging, transcendent essence or substance by way of a direct, transcendent intuition, precisely because there is a radical division between the perfect, true world of Being and the incomplete, false world of becoming, only bridged by the Holy Spirit and His intuitive gifts. So, true knowledge, necessary and eternal, is not derived from the senses, nor from the workings of the human mind, but is placed in the soul by God, who sheds light upon our mind (illuminism).

Clearly the problem of universals touched the foundation of fideist thinking, which tried to identify general names (like "God") in the mind with universal objects in extra-mental reality.

On the one hand, there was the ultra-realistic position, or "exaggerated realism", found in the De Divisione Naturae of John Scotus Eriugena (ca. 810 - 877) and the work of Remigius of Auxerre (ca. 841 - 908), who taught that the species is a "partitio substantialis" of the genus. The species is also the substantial unity of many individuals. Thus, individuals only differ accidentally from one another. All beings are thus modifications of one Being. A new child is not a new substance, not a new "soul", but a new property of the already existing substance called "humanity" (a kind of monopsychism avant la lettre may be noted).

On the other hand, very soon heretics in dialectic rose. For Eric (Heiricus) of Auxerre (841 - 876), general names had no universal objects corresponding to them. Universals concepts arise because the mind gathers together ("coarctatio") the multitude of individuals and forms the idea of species. This variety is again gathered together to form the genus. Only individuals exist. By the process of "coarctatio", many genera form the extensive concept of "ousia" ("substantia"). In the same line, Roscelin (ca. 1050 - 1120) held that a universal is only a word ("flatus vocis") and so "nihil esse praeter individua" ...

Peter Abelard

In the Middle Ages, this apory between exaggerated realists ("reales") and nominalists ("nominales"), itself a logico-linguistic transposition of the ontological apory between Plato and Aristotle (cf. concept-realism), is best illustrated by the clash between William of Champeaux (1070 - 1120), and Abelard (1079 - 1142). The latter was a rigorist dialectic arguing against the "antiqua doctrina", and, according to the famous Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153), an agent of Satan !

Abelard argued, that according to William of Champeaux, only ten different substances or "essences" exist (namely the 10 categories of Aristotle). Hence, all living beings, subsumed under "substance", are substantially identical, and so Socrates and the donkey Brunellus are the same. In his early days, William of Champeaux taught, against his teacher Roscelin, that the individual members of a species only differ accidentally from one another. But this identity-theory came under severe attack and so he changed it. Some say as a subterfuge, William later replied to Abelard with his indifference thesis, according to which two members of the same species are the same thing, not "essentialiter" but "indifferenter". Peter and Paul are "indifferently" men (they thus possess humanity "secundum indifferentiam"), because as Peter is rational, so is Paul, whereas their humanity is not the same, i.e. their nature is not numerically the same, but like ("similis"). In fact, agreeing with one of Abelard's polemical interpretations, he is saying the universal substances of both are alike, applying indifferently to both or any other man.

Abelard's "nominalism" is a denial of ultra-realism in epistemology, i.e. against the adualism between "vox" and "res". He does not refute Platonic "ideae" preexisting in the mind of God, but understands these as the metaphysical foundation of the real similarities in status between objects of the same species, and not of the particular objects (as Platonism insists). So the ideas explain how two things may be alike, but objects do not participate in ideas, nor are these ideas the "ousia" or "substantia" of objects.

Abelard's analysis states the distinction between the logical and the real orders, but without the denial of the objective foundation of the universals. This early nominalism is a moderate realism. He demonstrated how one could deny exaggerated realism without being obliged to reject the objectivity of genera and species.

For Abelard, universals were by nature inclined to be ascribed to several objects. They are only words, not things (against the "reales"). When identified with words, universals are not reduced to mere "sound" (which is also a "res"), but to the signifying power of words (against the "nominales"). This "significatio" of words is not a concept accompanying the word (a mere contents of mind, i.e. exclusively subjective), but gives expression or meaning to the objective status of the word (semantics). This status is a human convention based on real similarities between the particulars, but these real "convenientia" are not a "res", not "nihil" but a "quasi res", for example, it is not the substance "homo" that makes human beings similar, but the "esse hominem".

For Abelard, objectivity, found in universal propositions, is a human convention based on real similarities between particulars. The latter exist on their own. Ideas are the metaphysical foundation of the similarities between objects. They are not the "ousia", "eidos", essence or substance of things. These conventions have a special status, for they stand between being and nothing.

The extraordinary contribution of Abelard to scholastic epistemology is that he was able to avoid the apory of the concordia discors by introducing a third option :

  1. universale ante rem : the universals exist before the realities they subsume : Platonism ;

  2. universale in re : the universals only exist in the realities ("quidditas rei") of which they are abstractions : Aristotelism ;

  3. universale post rem : universals are words, abstact universal concepts with a meaning, given to them by human convention, in which real similarities between particulars are expressed. These are not "essentia" and not "nihil", but "quasi res".

This juggling may conceal the larger issue at hand : if extra-mental objects are particulars and mental concepts universals, then how to think their relationship ? Does an extra-mental foundation of universals exist ? The Greeks as well as the Scholastics answered affirmatively. The idea of a foundation of knowledge was still present.

For the Scholastics, given their preoccupation with God, the problem was to know whether an objective, extra-mental reality corresponded to the universals in the mind ? If so, then the mere concept of "God" might entail Divine existence, as the a priori proof tries to argue. If not, rational knowledge resulted in skepticism and Divine existence might be argued a posteriori only. Greek rationalism was concept-realism & ontological, whereas Medieval dialectics was foundational and logico-linguistic (psychological).

Abelard's solution involves a crucial distinction : universals are not real, but they are words (real sounds) with a significance referring to real similarities between real particulars. Because of their meaning, they are more than "nothing". The foundation of his nominalism is "the real" as evidenced by similarities between objects, whereas the "reales" supposed an ante-rational symbiosis between "verbum" and "res", between Platonic ideas and material objects ("methexis").

William of Ockham

"Although it is clear to many that a universal is not a substance existing outside the mind in individuals and really distinct from them, still some are of the opinion that a universal does in some manner exist outside the mind in individuals, although not really but only formally distinct from them. (...) However, this opinion appears to me wholly untenable."
Ockham : Summa totius logicae, I, c.xvi.

With the Franciscan monk William of Ockham (1290 - 1350), theologian & philosopher, the "via moderna" received its most logical of defenders. Thomists, Scotists and Augustinians formed the "via antiqua". It is their realism, Platonic (the essence is transcendent) as well as Aristotelic (the essence is immanent), which was firmly rejected. Instead, nominalism was promoted, but one without objective universals. It was hence more radical than Abelard's. No reality ("quid rei") is ever attained, but only a nominal representation ("quid nominis").

For Ockham, the metaphysics of essences was introduced into Christian theology and philosophy from Greek sources. So, contrary to Abelard's moderate nominalism, his strict nominalism did not incorporate them. There are no universal subsistent forms, for otherwise God would be limited in His creative act by these eternal ideas. Indeed, every idea is limited by its own individuality. This non-Christian invention has no place in Christian thought. Universals are only "termini concepti", final terms signifying individual things which stand for them in propositions.

It was Peter of Spain (thirteenth century), who's exact identity is unknown, who had distinguished between probable reasoning (dialectic), demonstrative science & sophistical reasoning. Ockham was influenced by this emphasis placed on syllogistic reasoning leading to probable conclusions. Hence, arguments in philosophy (as distinct from logic) are probable (terministic) rather than demonstrative. Formal logic is demonstrative, whereas terministic logic is probable.

For Ockham, who took the equipment to develop this terminist logic from his predecessors, empirical data were primordial and exclusive to establish the existence of a thing. The validity of inferring from the existence of one thing to the existence of another things was questioned. He distinguished between the spoken word ("terminus prolatus"), the written word ("terminus scriptus") and the concept ("terminus conceptus" or "intentio animæ"). The latter is a natural sign, the natural reaction to the stimuli of a direct empirical apprehension. Only individual things exist. By the fact a thing exists, it is individual. There cannot be existent universals, for if a universal exists, it must be an individual, which is a contradictio in terminis (for universals are supposed to subsume individuals).

This focus on the objects which are immediately known, goes hand in hand with the principle of economy to get rid of the abstracting "species intelligibiles". What is known as "Ockham's Razor" was a common principle in Medieval philosophy. Because of his frequent usage of the principle (cf. the Franciscan vow of poverty), his name has become indelibly attached to it. In Ockham's version it reads : "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate." (plurality should not be posited without necessity). In general terms, this principle of simplicity or parsimony is to always prefer the least complicated explanation for an observation.

Radical nominalists, like Nicolas of Autrecourt (ca. 1300 - ca. 1350), who belonged to the Faculty of Arts, would say no inference from the existence of one thing to the existence of another thing could be demonstrative or cogent, but only probable. Hence, necessity and certainty, idolized by the foregoing metaphysical systems, were gone. No demonstration of God's existence was possible. Such matters have to be relegated to the order of adherence to revealed knowledge or faith. At this point, theology and philosophy separate and the latter becomes a "lay" activity. This is not yet apparent in Ockham, who remains a theologian seeking to find a way to rethink the "proof" of God's existence in merely a posteriori terms.

Against his predecessors, Ockham accepts "being" as one concept common to creatures and God, meaning "being" is predicable in a univocal sense of all existent things. Without such a concept of being, the existence of God could not be conceived. But, this does not mean that this concept acts as a bridge between empirical observation of creatures and the existence of God. The concept of being is univocal in the sense that this concept is common to a plurality of things, neither accidentally or substantially alike (thus avoiding pantheism).

These thought bring the distinction between "scientia realis" and "scientia rationalis" to the fore. The former is concerned with real, individual things. He agrees with Aristotle that only individuals exist, but rejects the doctrine that science is of the universal. The latter are not forms realized in individuals (realities existing extramentally). Real science is only concerned with universal propositions, i.e. with their truth or falsity (for example : "Man is capable of laughter."). To say a universal proposition in science is "true", is to say that it is verified in all individual things of which the "terms" of the proposition are the natural signs. The terms known by real science stand for individual things, whereas the terms of the propositions of rational science (like logic) stand for other terms.

With Ockham, concept-realism is finally relinquished. The universals are limit-concepts. The foundational approach is also left behind. The nominal representations arrived at in real science are terministic, i.e. probable, not certain. They concern individuals, never extra-mental "universals". Real science deals with true or false propositions referring to individual things. These empirical data are primordial and exclusive to establish the existence of a thing. The concept ("terminus conceptus" or "intentio animæ") is a natural sign, the natural reaction to the stimuli of a direct empirical apprehension. Rational science is possible, but it does not concern natural signs but other terms.

For Ockham, the long scholastic dealings with concept-realism were futile. Universals are not before, not in and not after particulars. They are simply abrogated. Given the religious context at hand, only faith remains. Science is given a limited extension only. Nevertheless, by positing empirical data as primordial, Ockham comes close to realism, grounding knowledge (subreptively ?) in direct empirical apprehension, as would Thomas Aquinas before him. The latter had returned to concept-realism and backed Aristotle. Intellectual knowledge (science) derived from the senses and from abstraction (cf. the intellectus agens). The influence of Thomism was so vast that Ockham's message passed unnoticed.

12. Rationalism and empirism of nature.

"The scholastic university, dominated by theology, would continue to function up to the end of the eighteenth century, but from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, genuinely creative philosophical activity would develop outside the university, in the persons of Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche and Leibniz."
Hadot, 1995, p.270.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europe developed a new vision of the human. Differing radically from anything before, it became an example for non-Europeans to follow. Eventually, this new ideal conquered the civilized world. Its essential components were :

  • focus on the empirical : the transcendent realities of myth and religion are replaced by what the senses bring ;

  • humanism : the human is put in the center and given an ultimate value to which everything else had to be subdued. Egocentrism & the subjugation of nature to the will of the human prevailed ; 

  • openness : commerce brings the unknown into focus and exploration is of the order of the day, everything is possible & there are no sacred grounds ;

  • pluralism & tolerance : slowly the realization dawned that other people, groups, nations etc. have the right to take their own development at heart ;

  • rationalism & utility : science & technology are deemed crucial to eliminate the difficulties encountered : anticipation, prediction, self-control, efficiency, argumentation etc. become more important ;

  • pretence : the rational, calculating, planning and self-controlling Westerner becomes highly optimistic and develops pride in his enormous achievements, anticipating to become God himself, i.e. achieve immortality on Earth ;

  • democracy : with the French Revolution (1789), a new political consciousness dawned. Divine kingship could no longer be accepted and with its demise the world was again transformed.

René Descartes

"Il y a déjà quelque temps que je me suis aperçu que, dès mes premières années, j'ai reçu quantité de fausses opinions pour véritables, et que ce que j'ai depuis fondé sur des principes si mal assurés ne saurait être que fort douteux et incertain ; et dès lors j'ai bien jugé qu'il me fallait entreprendre sérieusement une fois dans ma vie de me défaire de toutes les opinions que j'avais reçues auparavant en ma créance, et commencer tout de nouveau dès les fondements, si je voulais établir quelque chose de ferme et de constant dans les sciences."
Descartes, R. : Meditations, 1, § 1a.

To seek indubitable truth, René Descartes (1596 - 1650) turned to methodological doubt. He left the Jesuit college of La Flèche and was ashamed of the amalgam of doubts and errors he had learned there. Traditional philosophy consisted of various contradicting opinions, grosso modo Platonic or Peripatetic. History was a series of moral lessons (cf. Livius) and philosophy was still restricted to logic. The experimental method was absent, and various authorities ("auctoritates") were studied (Galenus, Aristotle, Avicenna, etc.). Aim was to harmonize the magisterial contradictions (cf. the "sic et non" method). In the interpretation of these sources, a certain creativity was at work. However, in the mind of Cartesius, the only constructive point of his education, so the Discourse on Method (1637) tells us, was the discovery of his own ignorance.

This discovery prompted Descartes to reject all prejudices and seek out certain knowledge. Nine years he raises doubts about various conjectures and opinions covering the whole range of human activities. Eventually, doubt is raised regarding three sources of knowledge :

  1. authority : as contradictions always arise between authorities a higher criterion is needed ;

  2. senses : maybe waking experience is just a "dream" or a "hallucination" ? Can this be or not ? Also : the senses give confused information, so a still higher criterion is needed ;

  3. reason : how can we be certain some "malin génie" has not created us such, that we accept self-evident reasoning although we are in reality mislead and in fatal error ?

However far doubt is systematically applied, it does not extend to my own existence. Doubt reveals my existence. If, as maintained in the Principles of Philosophy, the word "thought" is defined as all which we are conscious of as operating in us, then understanding, willing, imagining and feeling are included. I can doubt all objects of these activities of consciousness, but that such an activity of consciousness exists, is beyond doubt.

Thus, the "res cogitans", "ego cogitans" or "l'être conscient" is the crucial factor in Cartesian philosophy. Its indubitable, intuitively grasped truth ? Cogito ergo sum : I think, therefore I am. That I doubt certain things may be the case, but the fact that I doubt them, i.e. am engaged in a certain conscious activity, is certain. To say : "I doubt whether I exist." is a contradictio in actu exercito, or a statement refuted by the mere act of stating it.

The certainty of Cogito ergo sum is not inferred but immediate and intuitive. It is not a conclusion, but a certain premiss, an axiom. It is not first & most certain in the "ordo essendi", but as far as regards the "ordo cognoscendi". It is true each time I think, and when I stop thinking there is no reason for me to think that I ever existed. I intuit in a concrete case the impossibility of thinking without existing. In the second Meditation, Cogito ergo sum is true each time I pronounce or mentally conceive it ...

Having intuited a true and certain proposition, Descartes seeks the general criterion of certainty implied. Cogito ergo sum is true and certain, because he clearly and distinctly sees what is affirmed. As a general rule, all things which I conceive clearly and distinctly are true. In the Principles of Philosophy, we are told "clear" means that which is present and apparent to an attentive mind and "distinct" that which contains within itself nothing but what is clear.

Although he has arrived at a certain and clear proposition, he does not start to work with it without more ado. Indeed, suppose God gave me a nature which causes me to err even in matters which seem self-evident ? To eliminate this "very slight" doubt, Descartes needs to prove the existence of a God who is not a deceiver. Without this proof, it might be so that what I conceive as clear and distinct, is in reality not so (cf. Does the Divine exist ?, 2005).

Both in the Meditations and the Principles of Philosophy, substance is demonstrated after proving the existence of God. However, the "I" in Cogito ergo sum, is not a transcendental ego (a mere formal condition of knowledge), but "me thinking". Despite various contents of thought, the thing that cannot be doubted is not "a thinking" or "a thought", but a thinking ego conceived as a substance. This ego is not formal, nor the "I" of ordinary discourse, but a concrete existing "I". Descartes uncritically assumes the Scholastic notion of substance, while this doctrine is open to doubt, as Kant will show. Thinking does not necessarily require a thinker, and the ego cogitans must not be a thing which thinks, but a mere transcendental ego accompanying every cogitation (cf. Kant).

At this point, the apory resulting from a mismanagement of the concordia discors or armed truce between object and subject of thought, animating all possible thought, reappeared and entered modernism.

Transcendental logic makes both terms of the formal equation offered by the Factum Rationis necessary and not reducible. In terms of acquiring knowledge, this implies object and subject of knowledge have to be used simultaneously. But like Plato and the "reales" after him, Descartes eclipses the object of knowledge by inflating an ego cogitans in terms of a substantial ego, solely reflecting on itself, and as Leibnizean monad, without windows on the world and the alter ego. The Spinozist definition of God and freedom being the mature example of the substantializing (ontologizing) effect of this idealistic reduction of the discordant concord or armed truce of thought.

"By God, I mean the absolutely infinite Being - that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses for itself an eternal and infinite essentiality."
Spinoza : Ethics, Part I, definition VI.

"That thing is called 'free', which exists solely by the necessity of its own nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone. That thing is inevitable, compelled, necessary, or rather constrained, which is determined by something external to itself to a fixed and definite method of existence or action."
Spinoza : Ethics, Part I, definition VII.

Because he did not rely on the object of knowledge (deemed doubtful), Descartes rooted his whole enterprise in an ideal ego constituting the possibility and expansion of knowledge. All idealists after him would do the same. The end result of this reduction is a Platonizing theory of knowledge grounded by ontological idealism.

David Hume

In his Treatise of Human Nature (1739) and Enquiry concerning human Understanding (1748), David Hume (1711 - 1776) seeks to develop a science of man. As Locke (1632 - 1704), he envisages a critical and experimental foundation.

"Nature is always too strong for principle."

Hume, D. : Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, 12, 2, 128.

"Perceptions" represent the general contents of mind, and are divided in impressions and ideas. The former strike the mind with vividness, force and liveliness, whereas the latter are faint images of these in thinking. Impressions are either of sensation or of reflection. The latter are in great measure derived from ideas.

Like Ockham, Hume is a nominalist. Real or ideal universals are not the foundation to erect the science of man. Unlike Descartes, he is an empirist : the senses are the foundation of knowledge, not the intuition of the existence of the cogito. Two kinds of propositions are possible :

  1. analytic : the predicate is part of the subject - these tautologies are universal and necessary, but restricted to geometry and arithmetic. All a priori propositions are analytic and have nothing to say about the world of fact, but only add structural meaning by connecting identical propositions ;

  2. synthetic : the predicate is not part of the subject and an extramental reality is implied. All synthetic propositions are a posteriori and have always something to say about the world.

The extra-mental reality sought can be no other than the one offered by direct or indirect empirical experience.

  1. direct synthetic propositions : the predicate is attached to the subject because of what is immediately empirically perceived here and now ;

  2. indirect synthetic propositions : the predicate is attached to the subject because we move from what be know to be a direct, given fact to a state of affairs which is not (yet) empirically given. These propositions are problematic because a necessary and objective connection between our idea of causality and real events cannot be demonstrated. Moreover, logically the move from a finite series of particular observations to an infinite, necessary law can never be warranted (cf. the problem of induction in naive realism).

Suppose the observed psychological connection between fact A and fact B is continuous. Is it necessary ? My (or our) witnessing the connection more than once, does not imply that it will work tomorrow. As we do not know whether this psychological continuity is valid and based on the reality of causality, i.e. a law working independently from the mind, skepticism results. The universal value of scientific laws cannot be demonstrated, neither can the reality of the world (within and without). Science is restricted to statements of probability.

The Achilles Heel of this position is the status of the sense-data and the formation of concepts. It is unclear how sense-data can be identified without conceptual connotation, which is not a sense datum. Moreover, sensation is introduced as a sufficient ground. "Adequatio intellectus ad rem" is presupposed (as in all forms of empirical realism). Finally, how can similarities between sense-data be observed ? Empiricism identifies truth with the naive correspondence between concept and fact.

The ontologisms a priori & a posteriori (of Greek concept-realism and the Medieval scholastics of universals) gave way to the crucial distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. On the one hand, Descartes, by introducing a substantial ego cogitans and its intuitive cogito ergo sum, reintroduced a kind of Platonism by (a) positing innate ideas and (b) backing his criterion of truth with a proof of God (making use of the criterion). On the other hand, Hume, by rejecting all but direct synthetic propositions, was unable to explain how we could draw out the common element without innate cognitive structures. Remember how Aristotle was forced to call in his intellectus agens to make abstractions possible ! Is rationalism not a return to the symbolical adualism (inneism) and its "leges cogitandi sunt leges essendi" (the laws of thinking are the laws of reality) ? Is empirism not the modern equivalent of the system of Democritus and the subsequent "veritas est adequatio rei et intellectus" ("truth is the correspondence between the intellect and reality) ? These constant pendulum-movements between subject and object of knowledge were identified by Kant and deemed a "scandal" ... How, in the light of these major apories, is knowledge possible ?

Kant, the shipwreck of foundationalism & criticism.

Immanuel Kant

"We thus see that all the wrangling about the nature of a thinking being, and its association with the material world, arises simply from our filling the gap, due to our ignorance, with paralogisms of reason, and by changing thoughts into things and hypostatizing them."
Kant, I. : Critique of Pure Reason, A394-398.

With his "Copernican Revolution", Kant (1724 - 1804) completes the self-reflective movement initiated by Descartes, focusing on the subject of experience. The scholastic substantialism of Descartes, identifying thought itself with his own existence as a substantial ego cogitans, is no longer presupposed. Kant probes into the pre-conditions of thought insofar as the human thinks. The idealist move from the empirical fact of thought to a thinking substance is not made. Incorporating rationalism and empirism, he avoids the battle-field of the endless (metaphysical and ontological) controversies by (a) finding and (b) applying the conditions of possible knowledge. The latter are discovered in the cognitive act and the cognitive system of which it is an application. An armed truce between object and subject had to be realized. Inspired by Newton (1642 - 1727) and turning against Hume, Kant deems synthetic propositions a priori possible (Hume only accepted direct synthetic propositions a posteriori). Why ? Because the system of categories produces scientific statements of fact which, contrary to Hume's skepticism, are always valid and necessary. This system stipulates the conditions of valid knowledge a priori and is therefore intended as the transcendental foundation of all possible knowledge, found rooted in the transcendental subject of cognition, not as an empirical ego, but as a universal condition of application in all possible thinking.

So Kant's aim was to find the conditions enabling statements of fact to be universal & necessary, i.e. as binding as the analytics of mathematics. Then, and only then, a universal and necessary science is possible. Without apory, philosophy explains how the universal physical laws of Newton are what they are. The scandal is over ... ?

With Kant, rational thought matured. Unlike concept-realism (Plato or Aristotle) and nominalism (Ockham or Hume), critical thought, inspired by Descartes, is rooted in the "I think", the transcendental condition of empirical (ego) self-consciousness without which nothing can be properly called "experience". This "I", the apex of the system of transcendental concepts, is "of all times" and represents the idea of the connected of experiences a priori. This is not a Cartesian substantial ego cogitans, nor an empirical datum, but the formal condition accompanying every experience of the empirical ego. It is the transcendental (conditional) unity of all possible experience (or apperception) a priori. Like the transcendental system of which it is the formal head, it is, by necessity, shared by all those who know.

"What can I know ?" is the first question asked by Kant. Which conditions make knowledge possible ? This special reflective activity was given a new word, namely "transcendental", not to be confused with "transcendent". This meta-knowledge is not occupied with outer objects, but with our manner of knowing these objects, so far as this is meant to be possible a priori (A11), i.e. always, everywhere and necessarily so. Kant's aim is to prepare for a true, immanent metaphysics, different from the transcendent, dogmatic ontologisms of the past, turning thoughts into things.

Modern, self-reflective thought, initiated by Descartes, implies the meditative capacity of mentally reflecting thoughts, as if the mind where a reflective surface. Cleaning it by eliminating the stains of authority, ideas and sense-input, Descartes continued to witness his own image and to identify it with his actual, physical, empirical ego-experience. Cogito ergo sum is not a conclusion, nor an inference. It seems a direct experience (intuition) of reality through ideality, in the case of Cartesius : irrespective of contents -what I think-, but only of form -that I think-. The free thinking initiated by Descartes and his self-reflective move away from scholastic substantialism is depersonalized & formalized by Kant. Transcendental inquiries involve a special meta-knowledge, produced by a particular reflective activity aiming at referring thought back to itself. In other words, critical thought introduces reflexivity or a relation holding between an element and itself (like in the case of co-referentially).

The transcendental system of the conditions of possible knowledge (or transcendental logic) is a hierarchy of concepts defining the objective ground of all possible knowledge, both in terms of the synthetic propositions a priori of object-knowledge (transcendental analytic covering understanding), as well as regarding the greatest possible expansion under the unity of understanding. These transcendental concepts are not empirical, but surface thanks to the reflexive transcendental method, bringing to consciousness principles which cannot be denied because they are part of every denial. They are "pure" because they are empty of empirical data and stand on their own, while rooted in (or suspended on) the transcendental "I think" and its Factum Rationis, the fact of reason. For Kant, reason, the higher faculty of knowledge, is only occupied with understanding, while the latter is only processing the input from the senses. Reason has no intellect to inform it. There is no faculty higher than reason.

"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds thence to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason for working up the material of intuition & comprehending it under the highest unity of thought."
Kant, I. : Critique of Pure Reason, B355.

For Kant, the process of acquiring knowledge runs as follows :

  1. transcendental aesthetic : empirical knowledge : a variety of direct, multiple, unordered, nameless impressions (Hume), called "Empfindungen" (or sensations) are synthesized by the forms of representation "space" (related to geometry) and "time" (related to arithmetics) and turned into "Erscheinungen" (or phenomena). These representations reflect the structure of our receptive apparatus. They are meant to structure sensations into phenomena ;

  2. transcendental analytic : scientific knowledge : phenomena are only objectified by thought, but do not constitute an object of knowledge, for this is realized in propositions. The phenomena need to be structured by the 12 categories of understanding, corresponding to 12 different types of propositions (quantity, quality, relation and modality, each viewed from three angels). This categorization of phenomena leads to object-knowledge (synthetic propositions a priori). The categories are meant to structure phenomena into object-knowledge ;

  3. transcendental dialectic : metaphysical knowledge : the variety of objects known is brought to a higher unity. A last, sufficient ground is sought and found in the ideas of reason : "ego", "world" and "God" (derived from the category of relation). These ideas are not things and only serve understanding, nothing more. While stimulating the mind's continuous expansion, they regulate understanding and bring it to a more comprehensive, reasonable unity. They are meant to structure understanding into an immanent metaphysics.

The 2 forms of representation, 12 categories (brought to unity by 3 ideas) make the object possible, rather than vice versa. The human mind is the active originator of experience, rather than just a passive recipient of perception, as Hume thought. The mind can not be a tabula rasa, a "blank tablet", so Descartes is right. The whole transcendental system is innate. Even on the level of the transcendental aesthetics, sensations, the only source of knowledge acknowledged, as Locke claimed, must always be processed to be recognized, or they would just be "less even than a dream" or "nothing to us". Both sensations, representation and categorization are necessary to constitute an object of knowledge.

Kant aimed to do for philosophy what Newton had done for physics : a universal system allowing one to explain the movements of planets as well as that of falling apples. He could not accept skepticism and the relativism it engenders. Not finding this firm ground in the objective, outward reality (as a transcendent world of Platonic ideas or universal forms immanent in matter), his transcendental method cleared the foundations of the subjective apparatus of thought, deemed universal. By thus making the subject of experience active after the reception of the sensation (analytic object-knowledge after the aesthetic synthesis of phenomena), all possible knowledge was about the "thing-for-us" and never about the absolute "thing-as-such".

Where did Kant miss out on his own Copernican revolution ?

The first to point to the major flaw was F.H.Jacobi (1743 - 1819), who -in 1787- asked : Were does the "matter" of the sensation ("Empfindung") turned into phenomena ("Erscheinung") come from ? Kant supposed our sensations were somehow caused by reality-as-such, the famous "Ding-an-sich". But how can this be ? Causality cannot be invoked, for the nameless sensations are pre-categorial. Neither can the world-as-such be thought as temporally first and the sensations last, for the former is outside time. Hence, the way our senses receive information is obscured, compromising Kant's epistemology. If Kant needs the "noumenon" to start up the engine of the categories, then he clearly does not use the "thing-as-such" as a negative, formal and empty limit-concept, and the Copernican Revolution is incomplete. And if this is the case, and it is, then his attempt at justifying knowledge a priori fails. So far the idealists were correct : knowledge cannot find a sufficient ground in the transcendental apparatus, for the latter depends on the very thing it tries to avoid : a direct, unmediated contact with reality !

Kant's system, although transcendental, and thus devoid of any attempt to explain the possibility of knowledge by ontology, retains the postulate of foundation, by which true knowledge is certain, universal and necessary. Hence, he still needed an Archimedic point outside knowledge. Scientific knowledge is considered to be a system of synthetic propositions a priori, and so indirect synthetic statements may pass the critical test (while for Hume only direct propositions were certain). Kant's philosophy is Newtonian, and so absolute principles are acknowledged both in sensation (time, space), understanding (forms, categories) as well as in reason (the ideas). At the same time, clear demarcations avoid their abuse and potential corruptive effect on thought.

Criticism and the Münchhausen-trilemma.

For good reasons, the history of philosophy is divided in pre- and post-Kantian. For with the crucial Copernican Revolution, the activity of the subject of knowledge was finally fully acknowledged. The categorial scheme is deemed to yield object-knowledge in the form of synthetical propositions a priori. So a Newtonian science of absolute certainties is possible. The skepticism of Hume (also at work in Ockham) is overturned. Causality can be thought and so the connectivity of our knowledge guaranteed. The catch ? By pursuing his foundational course, Kant had to introduce a pseudo-causality before causality in order to explain (describe) how the motor of the categories is fuelled. Moreover, the cleavage between becoming and being was reintroduced as the abyss between "noumena" and "phenomena". To avoid these problems, parts of the transcendental exercise of Die Kritik der Reinen Vernunft had to be redone.

With Kant, a totally new perspective unfolds : criticism highlights the limitations, demarcations, frontiers and borders of thought. It is not possible to step outside ourselves and witness the world from some real external or ideal internal vantage point. The subjective structure cannot be removed and so what we call "objective" cannot be identified as observation without interpretation. Conceptually, the latter is impossible. There is no point of intersection between the lines created by our thoughts and reality-as-such, i.e. absolute, noumenal reality. The lines bounce on the mirror-surface of phenomena and do not allow concepts to probe into noumenal reality itself.

Contrary to ante-rationality, formal rationality is able to operate without immediate context. Abstract concepts in various systems of signs emerge. The technological advances this type of thinking initiates, in particular by identifying an imperative chain of abstract commands to solve problems, were already obvious in Alexandria, but more so in modern times. In philosophy, formal rationality has not objectified the conditions of its own operation. It lacks reflexivity. In most systems of thought, ontology is placed before epistemology. This means a certain state of affairs is implicitly or explicitly presupposed before explaining the possibility of knowledge. Either the kickable qualities (cf. Popper) of reality are idolized, and turned into an underlying thing, a solid brickwork of stubbornly unyielding particles and forces, or the laws of thought are deemed sufficient to say what "is" and what "is not", and so constitute a "hypokeimenon" (cf. the tradition from Parmenides to Habermas).

To begin with ontology, is like starting with the fruit of philosophy. It also betrays the need to secure knowledge in an absolute sense. The foundation is a given (not a fruit) and is called in to subreptively ground knowledge by "explaining" it. Empiricism appeals to the senses. Rationality calls in the universality of signs.

Platonic and Peripatetic concept-realism was replaced by Medieval scholasticism. Modern empirism & rationalism reframed the theories of the reales & nominales, backing their position with realism or idealism respectively. Reflective, discursive, formal reasoning lacks reflexivity, and presupposes a sufficient ground before knowledge in which the latter is made to root. Either a real world "out there" is considered to be given, or an ideal subject and its truth-bearing structures pre-determine the act of knowledge. Thought has to make its surface reflective (capable of reflecting light) and investigate itself. With this realization, the critical layer of cognition becomes operational. Formal thought has to be integrated in the critical operation.

Critical thought uncovers the limits of conceptual thinking. Empirico-formal systems only know reality as it appears to them, not as it is by itself, as such (cf. the Copernican Revolution in epistemology). Hence, the world is epistemologically divided between "phenomena" and "noumena", between what is processed by our understanding (by virtue of the categorial schemes of out thinking capacity) and the intellectual intuition of things as they are as such.

In the 20th century, neo-Kantianism reconstructed parts of Kant's system. What can I know ? is answered without presupposing synthetic proposition a priori are possible. The science of certainties is replaced by the science of probabilities and approximations. Demonstrative intentions are replaced by a terminist logic. This means modernism, as the via moderna had before, took the next step by abolishing foundational thinking. To show this radical move does not automatically lead to relativism or skepticism, is one of the underlying motifs of the present exercise in critical thought.

According to Sextus Empiricus, it was the skeptic Pyrrho of Elis (ca. 365 - 275 BCE) who taught conflicts between two (or more) criteria of truth automatically lead to an apory or an antinomy, i.e. a contradiction posed by a group of individually plausible but collectively inconsistent propositions. The truth of a given criterion can only be argued using true propositions. But, whenever a given criterion is justified, a petitio principii or circular argument is involved. Discussions about the criterion of truth are therefore unending and without solution.

Much later, the problems of foundational thinking were summarized by the Münchhausen-trilemma (Albert, 1976). Its logic proves how every possible kind of foundational strategy is necessarily flawed. The trilemma was named after the Baron von Münchhausen, who tried to pull himself out of a swamp by his own hair !

Every time a theory of knowledge accommodates the postulate of foundation, three equally unacceptable situations occur. A justification of proposition P implies a deductive chain A of arguments A', A", etc. with P as conclusion. How extended must A be in order to justify P ?

  1. regressus ad infinitum :
    there is no end to the justification, and so no foundation is found (A', A", etc. does not lead to P) ;

  2. petitio principii :
    the end P is implied by the beginning, for P is part of the deductive chain A. Circularity is a valid deduction but no justification of P, hence no foundation is found ;

  3. abrogation ad hoc :
    justification is ended ad hoc, the postulate of justification is abrogated, and the unjustified sufficient ground (A' or A" or ...) is accepted as certain because, seeming certain, it needs no more justification.

The Münchhausen-trilemma is avoided by stopping to seek an absolute, sufficient ground for science. This happens when one accepts genuine science is terministic. In mathematics and physics, major changes have happened since Newton, and who is able to disprove the revolutions of tomorrow ? Hence, the categorial system cannot be absolute, although some of its general features are necessary in a normative way (for we use them when we think).

On the level of transcendental logic and the theory of knowledge, object and subject of thought are fundamental critical concepts. On the level of the practice of knowledge, experiment & argumentation are crucial. Realism and idealism are the proposed transcendental ideas of reason (instead of ego, world & God, crucial for psychology, cosmology & religious philosophy).

The end result of the proper regulative use of the ideas of the Real and the Ideal (leading to experimentation and argumentation respectively), is not a synthetic proposition a priori, but object-knowledge which is considered, for the time being, as very likely true by the community of sign-interpreters. These empirico-formal propositions are always a posteriori, and may be direct (reality-for-me) or indirect (reality-for-us). Critical epistemology is there to remind us of the natural tendency of reason to hypostatize its ideas.

If the idea of the real is turned into an object (like extra-mental, kickable and kicking things out there), then true knowledge is "adequatio intellectus ad rem". But, we do not know whether knowledge is made possible by a real world. Suppose the latter is the case, then how to reconcile this with the facts that (a) observation co-depends on theoretical connotation and (b) observation unfolds in a conceptual pattern which develops in the act of observing ?

If the idea of the ideal is turned into an object, then true knowledge is given by the "consensus omnium" and "leges cogitandi sunt leges essendi" persists. But, knowledge is not made possible by an ideal theory or ideology. For if so, then we blind ourselves from the fact that synthetic propositions are also statements about some thing extra-mental, escaping (inter) subjectivities. These two criteria of truth, although discordant, operate simultaneously, and regulate the development of thought. Correspondence and consensus are integrated in a coherence theory of truth.

In accord with Ockham's terministic probabilism and the view of all knowledge as "approximative", contemporary criticism finds comfort that only probable, not certain empirico-formal knowledge is possible, and that no sufficient ground for the possibility of knowledge needs to be found. This position is open and so free to investigate all possible expansions of knowledge. Dogmatic and ontological fossilizations are excluded from this secure but narrow point of view.

Facts are not monolithical, but hybrids.

On the one hand, they are theory-dependent and as such determined by intersubjective languages, theories and their arguments. Of this a descriptive analysis is possible, for we can test ourselves to realize how extended the influence of subjective connotations is on direct and indirect observation. In quantum mechanics, the total experimental set-up, observer included, co-determines the outcome of the experiment.

On the other hand, so must we think, facts are theory-independent. If not, then there is no genuine object of knowledge, whereas the proposition in which this is affirmed ("There is no object of knowledge.") has as object the absence of the object of knowledge. Universal illusion would pertain. The conviction (or belief) in the theory-independent face of facts is not descriptive for it cannot be observed (every observer has a unique set of space-time coordinates and cannot step out him or herself to observe). Ergo, the theory-independence of facts is normative and belongs to what we must think in order to think properly. And this is precisely what thinkers thinking properly have been doing all the time. Suppose we accept all conceptual thinkers have been deluded, then the argument of illusion holds, and skepticism is irreversible.

Also in science, the problems posed by skepticism had to be addressed. Especially since Kant, the question "What can I know ?" has been crucial. The apory between "realism" and "idealism" is also without final result. The foundational approach favored since Plato and Aristotle has caused a pendulum movement between two criteria of truth (consensus versus correspondence). To move beyond this, the antinomic problems of justificationism (i.e. the foundational, fundamentalist thinking within science) must be clear : if, on the one hand, real "sense data" are the only building-blocks of "true" knowing, as realism maintains, then why is the definition of the word "sense datum" not a sense datum ? Also : how can a "naked" or "raw" sense datum be observed if our mental framework co-constitutes our observation ? If, on the other hand, ideal linguistic symbols and speech-situations are the exclusive arena of truth, as idealism maintains, then how can knowledge be knowledge if it is in no way knowledge of something (i.e. a "res" and not only "flatus voci") ?

A focus of truth "behind the mirror" (as Kant put it) comes within reach if and only if both perspectives, experiment (correspondence, objectivity) and argumentation (consensus, intersubjectivity) are used together, and this in a regulative, non-constitutive (unfoundational) way. The criterion of truth is not justified by a sufficient ground outside knowledge, but by discovering the normative principles governing all possible knowledge. The latter are bi-polar but interactive and never exclusive, as 19th century, Newtonian scientific thinking claimed. Insofar as either realism or idealism are accepted, the logical merits of the truth claim of science do not exceed the religious criterion of truth. It cannot escape the apory as long as it identifies with objectivity at the expense of subjectivity and intersubjective symbolization (as in logical positivism, materialism, scientism, instrumentalism, reductionism and epiphenomenalism) or with subjectivity and intersubjective symbolic activities with disregard for entities independent of the human sphere (as in spiritualism, idealism and humanism).

Facts are not only experimental and not only theoretical. They are hybrids, composed of what we know (our theories) and, so must be think, the realities outside our minds. The latter cannot be isolated from the former, for the subjective conditions of knowledge cannot be removed without causing the perversity of reason. Empirico-formal object-knowledge is always the product of two vectors at work simultaneously. Not because of some ulterior reason, but because it must be so and has always been so. Epistemology is hence not descriptive, but normative.

Although the Copernican Revolution posits the subject and its constructivist activities, Kant's epistemology is a attempt to still adhere to the postulate of foundation, for synthetic judgments a priori are rooted in the cognitive, categorial apparatus of the subject of experience, without which no thinking is possible. In other worlds, the constructions of my mind are per definition those of other minds. These categories hold true for the object of experience insofar as this object is constituted in observation by our capacity of observation and knowledge. For Kant, scientific knowledge (empirico-formal propositions) does not deal with reality-as-such, but with reality-for-us. However, as contemporary mathematics, relativity & quantum mechanics disagree with the principles of Newtonian physics Kant thought to be anchored in our minds for ever, it becomes clear that these categories are not absolutely certain and not a priori. Kant's attempt to anchor science failed, although his unearthing the active subject became a fundamental and irreversible asset of modern epistemology.

Science has no anchor and is for ever set adrift on the limitless ocean. We may throw out our nets, but will only catch those fish unable to slip through the mazes, and there are only a few nets on board. Scientists erect buildings on the edge of or in the swamp. Such flooded bottomland, saturated with water, is constantly shifting. Yet, despite its instability, science tries to build a platform above it that will hold out for a while. How long nobody knows. But not forever, that much we do know ... Then we need another net, another set of poles driven into the swamp. In view of the vastness of the material universe, this procedure is practically unending. Likewise for the expansion of knowledge. Scientists cannot play for God. They are sailors on a leaking ship lost in the vastness, finding no harbor to accost. To them to repair their vessel while aboard ...

It took more than two centuries before the antinomy between realism and idealism was critically superseded by a normative theory on the possibility and the production of knowledge (cf. Clearings, 2006). In contemporary scientific practice, scientific facts are the outcome of two simultaneous vectors : on the one hand, objective experiments and their repetition, and, on the other hand, intersubjective communication between the community of sign-interpreters. Logic provides a few a priori conditions, related to the form, clarity and elegance of the symbols of a theory. Epistemology adds a few objective and intersubjective criteria and the local research-unit will foster a series of a posteriori rules of thumb. Nevertheless, despite all possible care, scientific knowledge cannot be absolutist or radical, but instead delicate, prudent & provisional. Indeed, divorced from the metaphysical aim to anchor knowledge, genuine science cannot be a new dogmatic religion, but a method to acquire fallible knowledge.

Indeed, empirico-formal knowledge, or knowledge of facts, is conditional, relative, hypothetical and historical, although a clear theory explaining a lot of phenomena will (provisionally) always be called "true", meaning "very probable", not "certain". A set of such theories will constitute a tenacious scientific paradigm, covering entities which "kick" and "kick back". But things may change, and usually they do ...

"It is an hypothesis that the sun will rise tomorrow : and this means that we do not know whether it will rise."
Wittgenstein, L. : Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.36311.

Regarding the justification of its truth claim, formal and critical rationality developed their argument in three stages :

  1. uncritical & foundational : true knowledge corresponds with real, repeatably observable objects (naive realism under the guise of materialism) or true knowledge is the object of an ideal theory (naive idealism under the guise of spiritualism or ideology). Greek conceptual realism developed both variants. In both strategies, the error consists in the implicate use of the contra-thesis. Real objects are also co-determined by the theoretical connotations of their observers. Ideal objects are always also referring to a "something" outside the grasp of a theoretical discourse. The foundation of science is objectified : the "real" world "out there" or the "ideal" theory of reason. For Kant, the apory empiricism versus rationalism was a scandal ;

  2. critical & foundational : asking for the limitations of human knowledge, Kant rooted cognition in the cognitive apparatus (cf. the Copernican Revolution). In this way, the foundation sought was interiorized and its a priori categorized. By making the ego cogito (the "I Think" of the Factum Rationis) the foundation of knowledge, Kant succeeded in making reality-as-such fall outside science ! Likewise, for Kant, meta-rational knowledge (intellectual perception) was denied to man, who's capacity to know, divorced from any direct contact with "das Ding an sich", seems trivial. The foundation of science is subjectified (not in an idealism but in a transcendentalism) ;

  3. critical & normative : in the previous century, the foundational approach was relinquished and in this way, the aporia threatening justification was avoided. Science produces terministic empirico-formal propositions. These are treated "as if" they represent a high probability, but never a certain truth. This likelihood is posited by repeatable tests and the intersubjective dialogues and argumentations of all involved sign-interpreters. The end result is fallible knowledge, although, for the time being, highly probable.

With the end of foundational thinking, the confrontation between incompatible foundations is over. Scientific knowledge is probable, historical and relative. Facts may change over time, and nobody is able to predict for certain what the future holds. The future is open. Moreover, scientific investigations are always conducted against the background of untestable information. Insofar as the latter is arguable, metaphysics is possible. But the latter is never testable, only arguable. Finally, who decides who the "involved sign-interpreters" are and/or when a certain threshold is "critical" ? In order to define these and other matters, science evokes a series of a posteriori conditions representing the idiosyncrasies of the local research-unity, the "opportunistic logic" of their fact-factory and the style of their pursuit of scientific, factual knowledge. These conditions determine the practice of knowledge.

Philosophy and science should remain open and postpone their final judgments. Both must be totally recuperated from the hang-over of their shameful foundational history over the last two millennia. The only role of science is to confirm or deny probable fact. The task of philosophy is to uncover the laws ruling epistemology, esthetics & ethics as well as develop a theoretical picture of the whole (speculation or metaphysics).

Ontology no longer roots object and subject in a self-sufficient ground or eternal, certain foundation. The possibility of knowledge is grounded in knowledge itself. Critical thought raises the reflective to the reflexive. Epistemology is a normative discipline, bringing out the principles, norms and maxims of true knowledge. These must be used in every correct cogitation producing valid knowledge.

The principles of thought are given by transcendental logic, the norms by the theory of knowledge (and truth) and the maxims by the knowledge-factory or applied epistemology. Science deals with propositions arrived at by the joint efforts of experimentation and argumentation. The discordant concord of both object and subject is necessary and their defenses should never be put down, nor should their truce, which is essential to produce knowledge that works, be broken. Both object and subject constitute knowledge, and each aim differently. Testing requires the monologue of nature, whereas argumentation is dialogal. Scientific knowledge is in the form of empirico-formal propositions which are terministic (probable) and fallible. They are formulated against the implicit or explicit background of untestable metaphysical speculations and always imply a "ceteris paribus" clause.

III : Intelligent Wisdom after Critical Philosophy :

15. The spirit and way of life of the philosopher.

Egyptian ante-rational sapience

Prince Hordedef, son of king Khufu (ca. 2571 - 2548 BCE), vizier Kagemni, serving under kings Huni & Snefru, ca. 2600 BCE, and vizier Ptahhotep (ca. 2200 BCE) were the first men on record to have lived their "wisdom". Their "sAt, "sAA" or "sArt", and the rule of Maat (justice & truth) it represented, animated more than 2000 years of Egyptian sapiental literature :

  1. The Instruction of Hordedef
    (Old Kingdom, Vth Dynasty, ca. 2487 - 2348 BCE, fragment) ;

  2. The Instructions of Kagemni
    (OK, late VIth Dynasty, ca. 2348 - 2205 BCE, fragment) ;

  3. The Maxims of Good Discourse of Ptahhotep ;
    (OK, late VIth Dynasty, ca. 2200 BCE, complete)

  4. The Instruction to Merikare
    (IX Dynasty, ca. 2160 - ?, incomplete) ;

  5. The Instruction of Pharaoh Amenemhat
    (Middle Kingdom, early XIIth Dynasty, ca. 1919 - 1875 BCE, nearly complete) ;

  6. The Instruction of Amen-em-apt
    (New Kingdom, XIX / XXth Dynasty, ca. 1292 - 1075 BCE, complete).

Both in Egypt and in Greece, the wise fostered an integrated approach of wisdom. They knew how to apply wise knowledge (sapience) in everyday, common life (practical philosophy, "praxis"). In wise living, cognition, affect, volition and sensation are addressed in special spiritual exercises. These allow the student to "orient themselves in thought, in the life of the city, or in the world" (Hadot, 1995, p.21.). In Egypt, ritual and devotion were always part of these sapiental discourses, for the wise was loved by the deities, the million faces of the Great One Alone (cf. the New Kingdom theologies of Ptah & Amun).

Greek spiritual exercises

"The Socratic maxim 'know thyself' requires a relation of the self to itself that 'constitutes the basis of all spiritual exercises'. Every spiritual exercise is dialogical insofar as it is an 'exercise of authentic presence' of the self to itself, and of the self to others."
Hadot, 1995, p.20.

The particulars of the Greek style involved more than youth, keen interest, opportunism, individualism and anthropocentrism. With the introduction of formal thought and its application to the major problems of philosophy (truth, goodness, beauty & the origin of the world, life and the human), a completely new kind of sapiental thinking was set afoot. Theory, linearization and abstraction were discovered and applied to the new Greek mentality. The immediate was objectified in discursive terms, and this in a script symbolizing vowels.

Starting with the Ionians, in particular Pythagoras, philosophy was a way of life summoning the person as a whole. Although in Greece cognition was privileged, philosophy also implied the training of affects, volitions & sensations (cf. the four elements of creation). Moreover, to effectively master these, a lot of effort was required. Together with cognitive tasks, imagination, music, ritual, meditation, martial arts, dance, singing, role-playing etc. were also practiced, addressing the entire spirit and "one's whole way of being" (Hadot, 1995, p.21.).

Greek philosophy was first to think the supremacy of reason & the subsequent liberation of thought from immediate context & geosentimentalities. Ante-rationality is bound to its milieu. Formal rationality is abstract and able to overstep the limits of old. The "young" Greeks emerged out of their Dark Age as curious individualists. Moreover, most pre-Socratics were also travelers & wanderers, eager to investigate other cultures. The emergence of the city-state and colonization walked hand in hand.

The emerging Greek mysteries, contrary to the Egyptian, aim at the illumination of thought through the bridling of emotions & uncontrolled volitions, and this while the body remained passive. The legend of Pythagoras meeting Gautama the Buddha springs to mind, for Buddhism has an "analytical meditation" ("vipashyanâ") intended to generate penetrating & critical insights. Greek spiritual practices indeed point to the transformation of one's vision of the world, only possible after a radical subjective change. Nearly always, reason is placed above passion and volition.

For Plato, the way of life of the philosopher is given with Socrates, a kind of "prophet" of the Greeks. He sought universal, eternal truths by means of dialogue, criticizing established views and inviting his listeners to discover the truth by using their own mind. Although Socrates is Plato's great example, his own philosophy had two aims : the transcendent and the political. Not only did the wise participate in the world of ideas, but he does so to return to the world to liberate and remind people of their original, transcendent origin (cf. the allegory of the cave in book VII of The Republic).

Plato, an Athenian aristocrat, depicts the philosopher as a liberator, a king who guides his own out of the cave of shadows & illusions. As such, the physical world of becoming is rejected. For those gone astray, the philosopher is a wandering light  ... He participates in a higher world and so for those caught in illusions, his wisdom is salvation. Hence, the human needs to "build" himself in the light of who he truly was, is and always will be. The Platonic school tries to help people remember their Divine, transcendent essence.

The process of institutionalization, starting with the Eleatics, had run its course. With Plato, the first comprehensive "system-school" emerged ; a graded, gradual approach scattered in a corpus of dialogues. In it, formal thought had duly linearized "the life of a philosopher", and in effect reduced "practical philosophy" to teaching, writing & politics. After Plato, Greek philosophy remained school-bound and in tune with power. Although we remember Plato for his "spiritualism" (or idealism), it should be clear his interests lay in the organization of the "perfect" city-state, one which would allow its citizens to "escape" the shadows and turn towards the light of their own substantial and eternal "idea" or substance.

Christ as wisdom ?

Although the thinkers of the Late Hellenistic schools (neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Skepticism and Epicurism) had already considerably lost the freedom of spirit characterizing the philosophers of the city-states, they continued to seek personal transformation, but more and more failed to find it in terms of Pagan philosophy and its religious practices. Indeed, the intellectual climate of Late Hellenism was characterized by a feeling of disquietude and fatalism, and from the beginning of the 4th century, a release of talent and creativity is witnessed. The empire was in a deep crisis and the reforms of Diocletianus (284 - 305) tried to "solve" the issues by transforming the Roman civil state into a despotic empire (he professionalized the army, introduced a hierarchical bureaucracy, raised the taxes and put into place a repressive legal system and a secret state police, the "agentes in rebus", as Augustine would call them). These changes were consolidated by Constantine the Great (306 - 337), who adopted Christianity as the ideology of the state, turning the monarchy, by introducing hereditary succession, into a system ruled by the grace of the God of Christ (he himself was baptized on his dead bed). After Theodosius I (346 - 395), the "imperator Christianissimus", the empire was divided and the Western part was invaded by the "barbarians" ... In the East, the Byzantines recovered from the Gothic inroad and, throwing back the Persians and the Arabs, they would hold out until 1453.

In Late Hellenism, Christianity represents the new view on the world, man & salvation, advancing parallels to Paganism, but outstripping the latter in ultimate rejection of the classical concepts.

"Messianism or millenarianism is the belief in the imminent arrival of a new order or millennium of harmony and justice when the Messiah and the saints 'go marching in'. It is a frequent response to distress of all sorts, but especially to military conquest and economic and cultural dominations by foreigners. Indeed, the idea that some outside force will sweep down and overthrow the present illegitimate rulers so that 'the first shall be last and the last shall be first' has been fundamental to Judaism, at least since the captivity in Babylon in the 6th century BC. It is clear, however, that this feeling intensified after about 50 BC and was very prominent for the next 200 years ; furthermore, the sense of apocalypse was not restricted to Jews. The crisis can be partially explained by a number of political and economic changes. There were the unprecedented success of the Romans in uniting the Mediterranean, the savage civil wars between the Roman warlords ; and finally, in 31 BC, the establishment of the Roman Empire -often portrayed as a new age- under Augustus."
Bernal, 1987, pp.124-125.

Four major novelties were adopted :

  1. the idea of a World Savior:
    there was a human, a God-man, called "Jesus Christ", who lived, died and rose again within historical times as the savior in the new cult ;

  2. the theology of the person :
    humans are persons endowed with a free will and so able to make a positive choice. Hence, despondent men of the empire could come one by one to find salvation ;

  3. the spiritual equality of all humans :
    although the social system distinguished ever more sharply between aristocrats and commoners, the new religion offered salvation to all human beings only because they were human ;

  4. the emperor as the protector of the new order :
    already at the end of the first century, Clement I had stressed the centrist approach and placed himself at the head of the Church of Christ (for Rome "had the bones" of Peter & Paul). Constantine would finalize this move, and declare himself as the protector of the Universal (Catholic) Church, while manipulating the outcome of crucial Christocentric & Trinitarian issues (cf. the Council of Nicea in 325, deciding in favour of co-substantialism and the two natures of Christ, effectively splitting Christianity irreversibly in two, each positing its own theological system).

In a Christian perspective, "spiritual exercises" no longer involved the person as an individual, but only as a member of the community or church. Without the church, there is no salvation ! Despite the theology of the person (in fact intended to allow people to make the life-saving choice for Christ and the Catholic Church), individualism was lost and even the monastic reaction (in 4th century Upper Egypt), would eventually also become regulated by the centrist bishops (cf. the rise of monastic rules) and emerge in the 9th as a completely regulated "spiritual" life (cf. Cluny). Also, even if monks and nuns were seeking transformation, this was no longer to find a new wholeness within themselves as themselves, but only insofar as they became, through baptism, the adoptive children of Christ Himself ! Realizing the "imago Dei" was the goal, and without the grace of the Holy Spirit this was deemed impossible.

Indeed, in Greek philosophy in general, and in neo-Platonism in particular, individual efforts were considered to be sufficient to realize wholeness and experience "the One" directly. In Christianity, only Jesus Christ is deemed to save. Indeed, persons make a "free choice" to find themselves integrated into the "mystical body of Christ" ! What a difference ! Without Divine grace, nothing could be achieved and man was an easy prey for the devil and his own (cf. Augustine, who's life coincided with the transition from Late Antiquity to the Christian Middle Ages).

With the rise of Christianity and its fundamentalism, philosophy and its pagan way of life were deemed heretical and so excommunicated. Also Hermetism and Gnosticism, still steeped in Paganism, were condemned. A mentality which would persist for more than 13 centuries, reducing free thought to nothing ! Officially, individual spiritual exercises were over and philosophy became the appendix of Christian theology, used for apology & exegesis only, i.e. reduced to logic & linguistics. Only as late as 2000 CE did the Roman Church acknowledge these "sins against truth" by asking God to forgive her.

Montaigne and Descartes : introspection & meditation

With his motto "Que sais-je ?", Montaigne (1533 - 1592) revitalized skepticism and posited cultural relativism. In his Essays (or "Attempts"), he eloquently employed so many references and quotes from classical, non-Christian Greek & Roman authors, in particular Lucretius, that his work may be read as an argument to disregard religious dogma. More importantly, Montaigne was the first to use introspection to analyze his own thoughts, feelings and actions. This "psychological turn" implied the return of self-discovery and the experience of oneself "as it is", which is the first step in any attempt to address the totality of faculties. This reinvention of the individual was one of the crucial characteristics of the Renaissance.

The move from humanism to rationalism (cf. Descartes' Discourse of Method) was interpreted by Toulmin as rationalism's answer to the initiating force of humanism (cf. Cosmopolis : The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, 1990), for in his Apology, Montaigne wrote that we can not be sure of anything unless we find the one thing which is absolutely certain. Of course, this is only possible if we place the human center stage.

To integrate systematic doubt into philosophical method, Descartes, relying on the natural light of reason to attain certain knowledge, introduced the style of the meditation. Self-reflective activity is made independent of revealed knowledge, and the thinker is deemed able to find absolute truth independent of the scholastic tradition. Although this cannot be called a return to a spiritual practice aiming at the integration of the whole (the transformation of parts -thoughts, affects, actions- into a larger whole), Cartesian meditation does imply a systematic use of introspection at the service of a given philosophical aim : finding the absolutely certain. He thereby initiated the French approach "from within", which returns in Bergson (1859 - 1941), as well as in Sartre (1905 - 1980) or Foucault (1926 - 1984). In German philosophy, Husserl (1859 - 1939) is a good example, as was the late Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951).

academic philosophy lacking the practice of wisdom

In the virulent dialectic between, on the one hand, the will to restore & maintain the old order of foundational thought (a nostalgia for pre-critical feudalism) as in Hegelianism, Marxism, scientism, Fregean logicism, logical positivism, historical materialism, Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology etc. and, on the other hand, an irrationalism rejecting the supreme role of the cognitive phenomenon, as in the protest philosophies of Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860), Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) and Bergson (1859 - 1941), irrationalism proved prophetical for the 20th century, ending with postmodern thought.

Contemporary academic philosophy, concocting a beautiful, but still incomplete neo-scholastic system, does not give the philosopher the tools to actually practice sapiental teachings "on the market", i.e. in the world outside school and the academic system. The curriculum has no practicum. These academia are presently unequipped to give its "Master Degree in Philosophy" any economic value. This petrifies the veins and causes arrest. The philosophy of the practice of philosophy is the necessary complement of the "pure" work of writing out theory intended to teach philosophy in the best possible way. Thanks to philosophy as praxis, the psychology, sociology, economics, etc. of acquiring wisdom are integrated to fructify philosophy as theoria. Thanks to the latter, the former increases efficiency.

With the reintroduction of the practice of philosophy, things radically changed. The philosopher could again move as a Socratic operator "on the market", a sage able to make a living as an independent teacher and advisor. Being a way of life, defined by (1) a free spirit of rational inquiry, (2) regulated by the idea of the unconditional, (3) aiming to be more "a living voice than writing and more a life than a voice" (Hadot, 1995, p.23.), philosophy is more than a logistics of ideas and their history.

The acquisition of absolute, purely abstract, theoretical knowledge should not be divorced again, this time by realist materialism instead of idealist dogmatic theology, from the transformation of one's complete personality through the exercise of wisdom. Moreover, the latter implies much more than relative, contextual virtues and maxims, mere "applications" outside the confines of the "academic approach". The fact exercising wisdom constitutes the actual spirit of philosophy, rooted in practice, should not be misunderstood for irrationalism. Quite on the contrary, it triggers a deeper realization of the own-Self of the philosopher, actualizing creative thought. Academic philosophy still circumvents a confrontation with the challenge posed by the actual life of philosophers through the well-known tactic of intentional silence.

16. The own-Self and the heart of creative thought.

Kant and the transcendental Self

Another great accomplishment of Kantianism, is to evidence certain necessary conditions of the possibility of self-consciousness, understood as "an original and transcendental condition" (A106), a state of consciousness preceding all data of perception, and without reference to which no representations of objects are possible (A107). This "pure", original & necessary Self-consciousness produces a synthetic unity of all phenomena in concept only (A108). Indeed, reason cannot perceive and the senses cannot think (A51, A68).

Transcending the empirical ego & its various, ever-changing states, this fundamental transcendental consciousness of myself cannot be rejected if the word "experience" is more than an unconscious, non-reflective stream of events (in which case "theory" & "science" would be impossible). For Kant, this "Self" of transcendental inquiry is not a substantial, permanent state of consciousness open to experience, but the necessary apex point of the whole cognitive apparatus.

Experience is always the experience of a subject of experience. But in critical epistemology, and this necessarily so, the state of consciousness of the transcendental Self can never be a clear, precise or definite conceptualization, as demanded by science, for conceptuality always defines existence in relation to given (outer) objects (B72). In terms of our mental concepts, the transcendental Self is the mere "representation I", always confused, and so, from the point of view of formal & critical thought, this Self-consciousness lies outside the empirical consciousness and is hardly a genuine "awareness" at all (for Kant, like Descartes, finds authenticity only in thought). If this Self-presentation in Self-ideas & Self-knowledge were as clear an impression of an object as in experience via the outer senses, it would constitute object-knowledge, which is not the case. Science is only constituted by the interplay of experimentation & argumentation. Hence, the Self is never the object constituted by our outer, physical senses. If this were not the case, then the intellect would perceive this Self directly.

Our consciousness assumes the color of our representations (experiences), and virtually nothing is left to Self-consciousness. The consciousness of a permanent subjective element in all our variegates experiences is not rejected, and necessarily so, but, according to Kant, we are only conscious of ourselves "with respect to the manifold of the representations which are only given in a perception" (B135). We know ourselves only as we appear to ourselves, not as we are in ourselves (B152, B153). We only know the transcendental "I" through our thoughts, not through direct experience. For Kant, sensation ("die sinnliche Anschauung" - A31) is the only form of perception which "must fall to everybody's share" (A42). He accepts an "intellectual perception" in which, though its own activity, without any intervention of the senses, all possible objects would be given to the subject :

"The consciousness of self (apperception) is the simple representation of the ego, and if by it alone all the manifold (representations) in the subject were given spontaneously, the inner intuition would be intellectual."
Kant, I. : Critique of Pure Reason, B68.

However, for the human this is not possible. It can only belong to the "primal Being" ("Urwesen").

Indeed, if the experience of the transcendental Self would be an articulate conceptualization transcending the categories, it would be an intuition of absolute reality (ideality), which would run against the conditions of possible knowledge (as defined by the categorial scheme fed by the outer senses). Hence, Self-consciousness demands perception of objects (B68), and on this Kant concurs with Descartes and Hume. "I" exist necessarily with and through my thought and experiences. Consciousness is always consciousness of something and the latter is an outer object. Without the senses no objects are given and without reason no object would be thought. Thoughts without contents are empty, perceptions without concepts are blind (A51). Although Kant has a intuition of sorts of the existence of the "I", he has no perception ("Anshauung") of it. The "I" is always connected with an "act", but is itself never an "act" or an "action" (B108). He affirms the existence of a transcendental Self of all thinking, but considers it to be inaccessible to direct experience and so not open to verification. Of course, the question is whether the "I" is always a "thinking I". In terms of "empirico-formal rationality" this is necessarily the case, but the possibilities of human consciousness are perhaps not as limited as the sort of consciousness voiced by Kant ...

In critical thought, strictly remaining within the realm of conceptual thinking, the transcendental Self of apperception points to an aspect of consciousness which does not refer to an empirical ego (or subject of experience), and so cannot be an object of any outer sense. All it does is guaranteeing the continuity of cognitive experience. Indeed, the connectedness of experience cannot be rejected. The latter is "a minimal condition of the occurrence of anything that can properly be called experience." (Strawson, 1982, p.167).

Conceptual thought has no direct, immediate access to the Real-Ideal. We must accept the transcendental Self to accompany every empirical experience, but we have no conceptual knowledge of this. Allowing intuition to constitute object-knowledge (in whatever way) would again open the door to an ontology in the heart of epistemology and blur the crucial barriers between the stages of cognition, particularly between rationality and intuition. Rationality, as the buffer-zone between instinct and intuition must guard its borders. These two "rings-pass-not", one between instinct and reason and another between reason and intuition, are necessary for reason to remain independent, free, flexible, open, communicative, dialogal and, eventually, sapient.

If no isolated consciousness of the "I", independent of its thoughts, experience and activities is possible (as Descartes, Kant and Husserl think), then for empiricists like Hume, James (1842 - 1910), Russell (1872 - 1970) & Ayer (1910 - 1989), this is sufficient to characterize the formal Self as nothing at all. A return to skeptic realism ?

"Indeed, by what would one know the knower ?"
Brihadaranyake Upanishad - 4.5.15

For Kant, the "intellektuelle Anschauung" was a perception producing outer objects, a bringing into existence contents of empirical experience without the use of the senses. Only a "primal being" or "Urwesen" could be entitled to such a capacity. It is not at all "everybody's share", as is sensation. In the Critique of Judgment, the Divine intellect evacuates the difference between possible & real, for in such a super-mind everything thought is also real. The mind of God is an "intellectus archetypus" or "intuitus originarius". But our sensations are not original, but derived ("sensuous"). Human cognition is an "intellectus ectypus", a derived, discursive intellect, i.e. one dependent on the material of the outer senses.

Although necessary in the theory of knowledge, this "Protestant" reduction of the substantial Self is too radical in other areas of philosophy. Even Kant knew this, reintroducing the substantial Self, the world as well as God as postulates of practical reason.

The preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason is the only place Kant writes about a fixed point required for our time-determined existence to be thinkable, implying an intellectual perception of the "I am" as the perception of a fixed inner point. For Kant, also our inner sensation is limited and bound by spatio-temporality. Schelling (1775 - 1854), trying to open another way for idealism and an ontology of the Self, accepts this latter type of intellectual perception as belonging to our cognitive abilities & distinguishes it from an intellectual perception producing objects by thinking. For Kant, inner sensation has nothing constant, while Schelling will criticize him concerning this limited view on possible human experience and accept "inner" experiences as real and empirical as those derived from the "outer" senses. Moreover, from 1801 onward, Schelling identifies the "Ichheit" as the highest principle of finitude, a subjective, relative and empirical unity. Against Kant and Husserl, for whom the "pure consciousness-life", the "I" and its pure experiences precedes all "worldly objectivity", Schelling said the Self is object-related and definable as object. The Self is a finite existence ("Seiendes"), to be left behind in order to attain to being (cf. nondual thought). So Schelling digs two strata below Kant, for besides the reduction of the pure ego to an "ego sum", this subjective, individual consciousness has to be reduced to an absolute consciousness, eclipsing all distinction between the two, in reality one, or the identify of the Real-Ideal ("Real-Idealismus").

The direct perception of a fixed inner point, of "I am" instead of "I think", is an existential, inner datum constituting the First Person Perspective (FPP).  When the empirical ego retreats, the Self experiences itself as a distinct, individual entity. The own-Self pretends substantiality while, conceptually, it is never found isolated. Hence, the cogitations of the own-Self are not conceptual but hyper-conceptual. It mirrors to itself a unique "own object" which is, in terms of conceptuality, apart from its relations, empty, although, for itself, originator of individual, unique Self-ideas. In that sense, from the point of view of critical thought, the own-Self is the imagination of complete I-ness beyond egology. It is a true fiction, a real Ideal.

In critical thought, the own-Self is an active fiction, potent icon, or imagination, a point or "focus imaginarius" beyond the surface of the mirror. In creative thought, consciousness projects itself into the mirror of the mind and beyond, and so the own-Self is directly, intimately but decisively experienced as a part of history, in casu, "my" individual, fundamental, unique ontic history, destiny of soul. In that sense, the own-Self is not only part of the world, but reflects my individual path or cosmodesic within the world-system. The own-Self is the logical precondition of transmigration, or (a) an existence in store-consciousness unsupported by the physical body and (b) the constant factor in a variety of consecutive physical supports for consciousness. Although the empirical ego dies with the body, the own-Self does not, and the "summum" (in terms of the unique Self-ideas) of thought, affects & actions done by the ego in its short life "on Earth" are transcribed at the moment of physical death in pure consciousness and retained there, adding to the maturity of the own-Self (cf. the "age of the soul"). Each consecutive incarnation is an opportunity to work out the agenda of the own-Self, fulfilling its purpose of ultimate principle of finitude, the subjective pole of the creative pull towards totalization characterizing immanent metaphysics. Hence, without the own-Self, immanent metaphysics cannot be thought.

Is the own-Self a metaphor of the "heart" of my consciousness, selecting out the positive evolutionary effects of the sensations (sensuous contact), the actions (volition), the affections (emotion) & the cogitations (thought) of the empirical ego ? This abstract "idea of ideas" is then the "real" Ideality of an own-Self, an abstract hyper-concept "of my pure I-ness", leading to a clear, inner, imaginal awareness of who "I am", a "Gestalt" or "mandala" of a someone rather than a something. Real in creative thought, this mandala is a fiction in critical thought. This demarcation between an empirical ego and a imaginal point remains pertinent as long as cognition works in accord with the principles of reason. Although the own-Self does not constitute reason (but regulates it), it does constitute the reality of my ideality-as-such.

As in the psycho-philosophical methods of surrealism, this "own-Self" is not a substantial, essential, ontological stratum "out there", but an epistemo-ontological interpretation of intuition "in here". This means it does not exceed the limitations given by immanent metaphysics, providing the heuristics for physics, biology and the human sciences.

This new province of creative thought redefines the First Person Perspective (FPP), giving shape to a mature "reality-for-me", the subjective knowledge of inner, intimate, private, secret, hidden mode of creative cognition through inner experience, reduced by critical thought to imagination, fiction & virtuality. This is not, as in critical thought, a "reality-for-us", for the moment anything private is shared by way of the outer senses, it a priori stops being private & inner. It may be a shared imagination, but never as clear and precise as in a trained imagination, able to hold thousands of individual items as one icon, image or visual matrix in each "moment" of thought of the ongoing mindstream.

Before reason, "reality-for-me" is geo-sentimental, firmly rooted in libidinal, tribal & imitative behaviours, realizing a context-bound & concrete closure. Formal & critical rationality are dual, operating the concordia discors of subject & object and advocating, along as things work out well, a relative, consensual paradigm. With reason, "reality-for-us" effectuates. Beyond reason, entering the mode of the creativity of the intellect, a mature & refined intimacy (without psychomorphism) re-emerges.

From the side of critical thought, interiority (via meditative introspection & absorption) initiates the "open space" of visualized options. In creative thought, the direct experience of an ideal Self effectuates. It is "real", but only for "me", i.e. as in true fiction, or like dreams come true in ways patterned with causality & meaningful coincidence.

How to experience the own-Self ?

The direct experience of this own-Self is possible, but not by way of the outer senses. Which introspective meditation introduces this "higher" Self-consciousness ? Can it be done by way of the inner organ of imagination ? In the Renaissance, memory theatres were common to organize the mind and enable its incredible mnemonic capacities, keeping track of all outer inputs & results from inner computing (Yates, 1965). Today, mental laziness and absence of spiritual exercises decrease the store of information available at any time.

For the brain, visualizing an image is as "real" as computing one using sensoric information (cf. From the Living Mindbrain to the Imaginal Brainmind, 2003). Imagination is therefore a powerful tool, enabling the inner transformation of parts into a larger whole, a visual interplay of different levels of meaning, composed out of numerous parts, etc.

Conceptual cognition evolves from the psychomorph pre-concepts of pre-rationality to the psychocreative hyper-concepts of creative thought. The latter observes an "inner world" (comparable to, but not the same as dreams, visions, fictions, hallucinations, mirages, etc.) in ways transcending the normal capacities of the ego. Self-realization begins with the internalization (introjections) of a particular Self-knowledge (or gnosis), which is not the direct, nondual discovery of absolute reality (Real-Ideal), as in nondual thought, but rather sets off with the imagination-reality of one's original leitmotif, the calling of one's ontic own-Self, offering (giving) vocation, i.e. the gift to subjective reality (or ego-consciousness) of an objective sense, I-ness or "I am" within subjectivity and the FPP. Although not "substantial", the own-Self is "existential" in inner monologues as well as in every intersubjective dialogue. In all creative thinking, "being-there" (Dasein) rather than "being-what ?" or "being-who ?" (Sosein) is invoked. To know, realize and experience the own-Self directly is like living on the "razor's edge" invoked by Maugham in his famous 1944 novel, citing the Upanishads (understanding the edge of the razor as the unique vantage point of creative thought to address nondual thought) :

"Arise ! Awake !
Having attained your gifts, understand them.
Sharp as the edge of a razor and hard to cross,
difficult is this path, say the sages.
What has no sound nor touch nor form nor decay,
likewise is tasteless, eternal, odorless,
without beginning or end, beyond the great, stable,
by discerning that, one is liberated from the mouth of death."

Katha Upanishad, Beck 1996.

Creative thought implies a continuously recurrent, sustained & concentrated cogitation of a new, more complete, enthusiastic inner vision of the individual person one experiences oneself to be. Insofar as this is introduced by an internal, iconic visualization of this imagination of "who I am", the condition of wholeness is satisfied & consciousness may expand and deepen its inner experience along those lines. At each moment of the mindstream, the creative operators cause changes in the overall conscious synthesis, transforming cognitive, affective & volitional events into the actualizing mandala (cf. infra), increasing compassion & love for all sentient beings (cf. goodness regulating the practice of philosophy). So the Socratic "know thyself", the primacy of cognition, can also be read in metaphysical terms, namely as a precept to acquire Self-knowledge, insight into who one truly is, i.e. a unique own-Self, allowing a second focus to operate in the functional field of consciousness. The circular movement of the empirical ego is replaced by a recurrent pendulum-swing between "katnut" and "gatlut", as Qabalah calls it.

"I still cannot, in accordance with the maxim at Delphi, know myself. I therefore think it ridiculous, as long as I don't know that, to devote my attention to something that is foreign to me."
Plato : Phaidos, 230a (Socrates is talking).

Bi-focality or a consciousness of both the empirical ego and the own-Self, represents a higher panorama in which the empirical ego is completely integrated, giving less afflictive emotions, goodness and a deep, clear, open & strong mind. The own-Self is thus a "higher" Self. By the way, the major difference between the psychosis of bipolar disorder and creative thought is not vision and its contents, but moral engagement (cf. Bucke, 1901). Sublime artists and sages shape their own "spiritual biotope". Crazy people have no place.

Touching upon the whole range of meaningful (semantic) presences by the clear, serene, dependent synthesis of cognitive, affective & actional experiences from an inner, panoramic perspective of the "I am" or ontic Self, creative thought transforms, through inner vision, the dual tension of rationality into the direct experience of life as a meaningful conscious event, stimulating one to practice its precepts (enthusiasm). Creative thought is thus the optimalization of :

  • self-reflection, or the dimension of the own-Self ;

  • free thought, acting on the human right to exhaust potential ;

  • encompassing finitude (completing immanent metaphysics).

How, given observers a priori never share the same spatio-temporal parameters, can "reality-for-us" not be a transient & conventional construction ? But is this "reality-for-me" of every other sign-interpreter, being untestable, not the immanent metaphysical root of our shared "reality-for-us" ? In tune with social logic, humans make-believe, pretend & act as if "reality-for-us" is substantial, permanent, "for all times", etc. But this is clearly never the case, for things are subject to causes, changes & connections, acting against pet ideas triggering solidification, petrification, mummification, fossilization, sedimentation, etc.

  • 1 - 4 : nominal senses : three-dimensional matter (particles & forces) & two-dimensional information on an uni-directional time-line : a physical body constituted by the operators matter and information ;

  • dim = 5 : nominal consciousness : the presence of an observer of the nominal world, not-coinciding with it, and able to exercise free choice : the empirical ego at the centre of a circular consciousness ;

  • dim = 6 : consciousness of the own-Self : direct, inner observation from the perspective of a unique spiritual vantage point : the ontic "I-ness" as the second focus of an elliptical consciousness ;

  • dim = 7 - 10 : the dimension of no-dimension : direct discovery of the natural state of the mind and its clear, natural, absolute light of presence-of-no-presence, the station-of-no-station.

Although the own-Self is untestable but arguable, its presence in consciousness is undeniable in an existential sense and effectuates the creative operator, producing series of totalizing, unconditional thoughts or hyper-concepts. These emanate from the own-Self and its ongoing "making of the mandala" and are sublime, imaginal, artistic (very beautiful) constructions of the mind, which, like pure diamonds, seem limitless, substantial & permanent (which is not the case - cf. nondual thought). They occupy the end of finitude, and define the borders of the ontic subjectivity at work in immanent metaphysics.

Immanent metaphysics still retains the division between object and subject. The former being a totalized picture of the outer world and the latter an inner mandala having the own-Self in its centre (or, an elliptical consciousness with two foci of I-ness, one empirical & conventional, another trans-empirical & ontic).

Five stages introduce the own-Self :

  • building : on the basis of the super-ego, the "summum bonum" of empirical consciousness, or a totalized icon or mandala of the best of cognition, affection and action is made. This mandala is a vibrant total picture, a summary of what the ego is able to perceive as its ultimate self-representation. This stage is purely empirical and does not escape the confines of critical thought. It demands renunciation and being conscious of the impermanence (interconnectedness) of all objects of empirical consciousness (ego as well as of all possible outer objects) ;

  • concentrating : once the mandala made, prolonged concentration on it decenters the ego, and "purifies" all which does not belong to the mandala, allowing the ego to take on the form of its own ideal, and distinguish itself clearly from its negative, the Shadow (cf. Jung). This form is not the own-Self, but a ladder to the plane of creative thought ;

  • becoming : insofar as the mandala indeed represents the best the ego is capable of, its representation is internalized and perceived "from within". Instead of visualizing the mandala "before" the ego (as any other outer object would), it is observed with "the eye of the mind" and realized as an inner object encompassing consciousness. When this happens, the mandala, or visualized correct Self-knowledge, is seen from within, with the direct experience of I-ness, of "my" soul or own-Self placed at the center ;

  • actualizing : Self-realization initiates the production of Self-ideas, which are more than a projection of the super-ego, but the living experience of an individual, historical being experiencing itself directly as a Self witnessing (integrating) all empirical states of consciousness ;

  • annihilating : the last stage of the own-Self is the end of the own-Self, namely when its own root is directly discovered as the nondual light of consciousness, the natural state of the mind.

A final remark.

In this philosophical & cognitive approach of the Self, the individual, personal nature of our creative thought is emphasized. The own-Self is not a collective "Self", a so-called "mystical body" or "community" (church) of "our Lord", as in the organized theistic religions & faiths. Neither is it a universal Self "of all times" or a depersonalized, solipsistic "complex mind", as so-called quantum-spirituality holds. If recuperated in a universalizing doctrine, especially a religious one, the direct experience of the Self is never direct or immediate, but a replacement of "my Lord" by "our Lord" (cf. Ibn-al'Arabî), a mere indirect, "collective ego".

Does monotheism not subjugate the most personal and intimate focus of consciousness to rules invented by a (usually male) elite and this in order to dominate the collectivity and satisfy their mammalian sex-, money- & power-drives ? This would be the very opposite of the true intent of creativity, implying novelty (progressivism), but also genuine individuality, the celebration of a someone rather than a something, of a "soul" rather than an ego.

Because traditional Western philosophy focused on formal and critical thinking, erroneously accepting the latter as the final stage of cognition, it opened the way for a dogmatic recuperation of creative thought, assisting (by means of an exclusive logic of finitude) the false, evil, ugly, dangerous, abusive and dehumanizing formats at work today. It is easy to hide someone behind something, but difficult to truly know oneself & live accordingly.

17. Beyond the concept : reflective & reflexive nonduality.

Hegel (1770 - 1831), rejecting the transcendental necessities of critical thought, confused his own-Self with the "absolute I" and attributed, with foundational eloquence, a transcendent, Divine consciousness to man :

"Consciousness, then, in its majestic sublimity above any specific law and every content of duty, puts whatever content it pleases into its knowledge and willing. It is moral genius and originality, which knows the inner voice of its immediate knowledge to be a voice Divine ; and since in such knowledge it directly knows experience as well, it is Divine creative power, which contains living force in its very conception. It is in itself, too, Divine worship, 'service of God', for its action is the contemplation of this its own proper Divinity."
Hegel, G.W.F. : The Phenomenology of Mind, 1807, chapter 8, my italics.

The "katapathic" (positive, constructive) recuperation of ontology in Hegel's epistemology, uniting the ontological, more extended (objectifying) definition of "intellectual perception" with the idea of the "absolute I" as the Self having itself as object (cf. Schelling), results in an invalid confusion (Hegelianism) and, a few decades later, in an even more regrettable reversal (Marxism). Both moves must be rejected as uncritical (invalid), but also confounding the higher modes of cognition (confounding the valid demarcation between immanent & transcendent metaphysics). Hegel makes clear
the benefits of critical thought are not "dead bones". In the name of historical materialism, Marx (1818 - 1883) evacuates the higher modes altogether.

Absolute reality (ideality) is beyond the own-Self and its creative thoughts. It can no longer be called "an experience" although its introduction is experiential. The natural light of the mind cannot be observed, for it is the very thing observing, perceiving only the suchness of the actual event(s) without interpretation. This light is a virtual light-point, a potential, a single clarity (as of a single mass less photon) in the single, open space of "all possibilities". It cannot be affirmed this singularity exists, for it can not be objectified, being the objectifier of objectifiers. It cannot be denied to exists, for there must be an absolute I (only witnessing itself) to support the own-Self & the ego, if the FPP & "reality-for-me" are to have meaning. It cannot at the same time be affirmed & denied (non-contradiction). It cannot be anything outside everything affirmed & denied (excluded middle). This is the nature of the mind as it is by itself, its witnessing clarity.

Nondual thought via the catuskoti ?

"Everything is such as it is, not such as it is, both such as it is and not such as it is, and neither such as it is nor such as it is not. That is the Buddha's teaching."
Nâgârjuna : Mâdhyamaka Kârikâ,

The knowledge, experience and realization of the own-Self is a necessary precondition for nondual thought (much like formal thought was for critical thought). The burning-away of attributes (of both ego & own-Self), leads to the discovery of and an introduction to the nonmanifest, natural foundation of the mind. The "veil of Self" is what keeps the creative mind and its immanent metaphysics wandering aimlessly, glorifying the limitations of only one infinite string, a unique individual among an infinity of individual strings. If nondual "knowledge" operates without notions, pre-concepts, concrete concepts, formal concepts, transcendental concepts or creative concepts, it can hardly be called "knowledge" in the conventional sense at all.

"What words can express comes to a stop when the domain of the mind comes to a stop."
Nâgârjuna : Mâdhyamaka Kârikâ,

Nondual thought is not discursive, nor conceptual. In other words, the apex of thought is non-verbal. Myth, the beginning of cognition, is also non-verbal, but opaque & non-reflective (and, mutatis mutandis, non-reflexive). Nondual thought, the end of cognition, on the contrary, is highly reflective (dynamical, differential, energetic) and sublimely reflexive, with no other object than the "I", turning it into an "absolute I" à la Schelling. But this is no longer "inner" knowledge, not even arguable (immanent) metaphysics, for it lacks all forms of duality and cannot be expressed in teachings, although teachings mime it poetically. As a direct self-liberating, self-transforming, wordless, instantaneous awareness in presence of the unlimited wholeness of which one's nature of mind is part.

If this highest, nondual awareness is called "wisdom", then wisdom transcends the world of the concept (i.e. concrete, formal, critical & creative).

Formally, nondual thought may be approached with the logic of the tetralemma, known in Indian philosophy as the "catuskoti", worked out in a Buddhist context by Nâgârjuna (ca. 200 CE) in his Mâdhyamaka Kârikâ, and used by countless practicing Buddhists, especially in Theravâda & Sûtrayâna, as the supreme device, mental tool or efficient instrument to liberate consciousness from all possible conceptualization, namely by negating all views, discovering they are without inherent existence, eternal substance, absolute identity or immortal essence, in short : impermanent. In the Pâli Canon, the principle emerges in the context of what Buddha Shakyamuni left "undeclared" (cf. Majjhima Nikâya, sutta 63).

"Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.
Then the seer stands in his own form.
At other times there is conformity with this flux."

Patañjali : Yoga-sûtra, 1.2 - 1.4

In logic, the particle "not" has no other function than to exclude a given affirmation. The tetralemma excludes everything by exhaustively analyzing what it is not :

  1. as it is (identity) : things are always connected with other things and if causality & change are accepted, then all identity is impermanent and devoid of inherent existence or substance ;

  2. as it is not (negation) : likewise, the negation of anything cannot be done without negating other things, making what is being negated interconnected and thus impermanent ;

  3. as it is and as it is not (mixture) : to say this clause has meaning is to utter a meaningless "flatus voci", except if differences in time, space & persons are introduced. In the latter case, the mixture is a new identity, and (1) applies ;

  4. beyond as it is and as it is not (included middle) : only if (1) & (2) cannot be clearly defined may this clause apply, but it is rejected as invalid. However, denying the included middle implies the excluded middle if we accept the principle of double negation, equivalent to the excluded middle.

"For the repelling of unwholesome thoughts, cultivate the opposite."
Patañjali : Yoga-sûtra, 2.33.

The tetralemma negates the four options given by logic (using the "reductio at absurdum", the "prasanga"). Accepting the first two is "nominal", and no valid path to liberation, for suffering is what is common to everything. Identity has to be renounced and its emptiness realized, i.e. conceptualizing the impermanence of everything (due to interconnectedness, interrelation and causality at work in the nominal consciousness) leads to the end of conceptualization. Accepting the last two is "irrational", for in classical logic, non-contradiction & the principle of the excluded middle are necessary (although many-value logics do not accept the principle of the excluded middle).

By restriction ("nirodha"), each clause removes, dissolves, evacuates & drives calm the final obstructions of knowledge (cf. "jñeyâ-varana"), and, ultimately, the concordia discors itself. The result being what is ultimately possible to get closer to the nondual state using conceptual thought. The tetralemma expresses the inapplicability of ordinary, nominal conceptual language to the absolute Real-Ideal. The idea behind the tetralemma is to establish a view beyond concepts, i.e. employ logic to reach beyond logic. Indeed, the "wisdom" of meditative equipoise cognizing emptiness is induced by an inferential consciousness segueing into emptiness. The "operation" of the tetralemma is therefore not self-settled, but a process by which conceptual thought is transformed into the highest possible wisdom. Is such an "operation" possible ?

Lumen naturale.

"... for what the natural light shows to be true can be in no degree doubtful, as, for example, that I am because I doubt, and other truths of the like kind ; inasmuch as I possess no other faculty whereby to distinguish truth from error, which can teach me the falsity of what the natural light declares to be true ..."
Descartes : Meditations, III.9.

In La Fléche, Descartes was introduced to the light-metaphysics of the philosophers of the Renaissance, for whom the "lumen naturale" was still a direct way to know the Divine and its absolute truth. Augustinian symbolic adualism or Peripatetic empirism both invoke a sufficient ground outside knowledge. But strict nominalists like Ockham, rejected any form of natural, primordial, given link between the order of thought and the order of the extra-mental.

"... commencer tout de nouveau dès les fondements ..."
Descartes : Meditations, 1.1

Descartes wants to escape the nominalism of Duns Scotus
(ca. 1266 - 1308). The "Deus absconditus", the eclipsing of God and Being, are caused by nominalism and its conventionalism. To escape eternalism (the presence a natural connection or innate bridge between thought and extra-mental reality) and nominalism (all thinking happens in conventional symbols, there is no "sacred" language, theory, insight, understanding, wisdom, etc.), Descartes posits the natural light as before any (conventional) meaning, before any possible word.

This "lightning" of direct insight happens in the interiority of the human "spirit", an innate, given, direct, immediate, spontaneous, luminous space or field of endless possibilities.
As in Thomism, light is conceived as an "actus".

With his view on the natural light as a "habitus", as a gift of nature to our human spirit, to this sublimity beyond object & subject (as thus beyond consciousness), enabling it to illuminate the imaginary space of our intellect, Descartes distances himself from the Divine interpretation (steeped in concept-realism and its authorities), positing the nondual "beginning" or zero-point of the Cartesian grid. This direct, nondual intuition of the point of singularity implied by the notion of absolute beginning is a point of light, clarity & luminosity (ironically, the photon has no mass and travels at the highest speed).  Cartesius aimed at a secular sapience, rooted in the natural light of cognition, divorced from revealed, Divine wisdom. This natural light is ineffable and before consciousness itself.

Descartes uses the metaphor of a blind man with a stick to convey the direct, invisible activity of the natural light in every cogitation. Only the stick connects the intellect with the extra-mental. Only in an instantaneous cognition (implying instant presence), can intellect know the absolute, as Buddhist logicians like Dignâga (480 - 540) and Dharmakîrti (ca. 7th century) also pointed out.

The stick is pivotal. It represents the immediate, instantaneous cogitation (direct experience), or "moment of truth", preceding every meaning of every sign. The ultimate foundation of thought is not found in the object (for then the natural light is also the Divine light), nor in the subject (for then the natural light is produced by languages, which are traditional). Only in each individual instance of cogitation, beyond object & subject, is certainty found, and this because the foundation of the mind found is "natural", i.e. the stick is trustworthy and represents the "straight path" followed in science as wisdom. The space illuminated by clarity is before any thought.

The nondual foundation of the mind is the only possible foundation for certain (but nondual) knowledge (cf. Spinoza's "verum index sui"). The natural light is the nature of mind or nondual thought. This is a direct, immediate, spontaneous, nondual intuition of the mind of itself one-fold, before any concepts and words. The latter should be stressed. The activity of the natural light has no bearing on concepts, but only on clarity, the presence of clear transparency integrated with every cogitation.

In Cartesian thought, the innate activity of the natural light of the mind is unmistaken, outspoken & crucial. Invisible and inner, this light illuminates our interiority in very act of cognition, opening new, ever-receding intellectual horizons for thought. The rationalist is an intellectual affirming nondual thought.

The nature of mind.

Even the creative concepts of the intellect, still circumambulating a fixed inner point (namely the own-Self), do not convey the nature or foundation of the mind itself. Without direct, contemplative experiences, i.e. distinguishing between the use of a logical system and the direct method of discovering and dwelling in the nature of mind, the foundation of the mind itself remains covered by conceptualizations, like the Sun behind massive clouds (cf. mythical notions, pre-concepts & concrete concepts, formal concepts, critical concepts & creative concepts).

To introduce nondual thought, logic & contemplative experience have to be distinguished. A direct introduction to and discovery of the natural light, does not create something, rather, as a mirror, reflects, when secondary causes manifest, the movements of energy appearing in it.

The nature of mind is ultimate reflectivity & reflexivity (the absolute I knowing the absolute I). The nature of mind is thus (a) self-clarity, like a Sun allowing itself to be seen or as a lamp in a dark room lighting up the room but also itself, (b) primordial purity, or the absence of conceptualization, (c) spontaneous perfection, self-liberating all flux within consciousness, (d) unobscured self-reflexion, as in a polished mirror, transparency in variety, like a rainbow or as water taking on the color of the glass and, as space accepting all objects in it, (e) impartiality.

The fundamental nature of the moving mind, its foundation, is a primordial, pervading awareness, a non-conceptual, instantaneous self-understanding & presence, an open, clear, luminous space of possibilities. This nature is not consciousness, and so some form of awareness functions outside its limits. Indeed, once there is consciousness, there must be an object and thus a dualism. The open, clear awareness present in nondual thought is a type of direct perception not found among sensate or mental objects. Hence, it is not an "intellectual perception", restricted to creative thought. The latter does not observe its own natural state, but the own-Self and its complex creative hyper-thoughts. Nondual awareness is not induced by any immediate prior condition. It is a self-settled, wordless, open awareness, without a place ("epi") on which a subject might stand ("histâmi") and so pre-epistemological. It is simply present to, aware of, its own state of absolute absoluteness (as the absolute I only aware of the absolute I).

Although without object, this subjectivity is "aware". It is "awareness of awareness", reached by a pathless path. It is clarity, but without differentiating anything. Liberation is discovering it and integrating all with it. And as the essence of all enlightened ones is the same, their form of manifestation is separate, distinct from one another. Indeed, in the sky many Suns may arise, but the sky always remains the sky. Likewise, the nature of mind of every individual is unique & distinct, but the base or essence of every individual is universal, and common to all sentient beings.

"Because reflexive open awareness lacks holding to any focus, its nature is clear light. Because its essential nature is untouched by extremes of permanence or annihilation, its nature is nondual. Because it is uncontaminated by an attraction to either excluding or including, its nature is blissful. (...) untouched by either the extreme of permanence or annihilation, it is the Lord that dwells just as it is, aware of everything."
Lishu Daring  : Authenticity of Open Awareness (8th century), commentary 526.6ff (Klein & Wangyal, 2006, p.84).

The essence & its display : energy & the nature of mind.

"There was neither non-existence not existence then.
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
What stirred ? Where ? In whose protection ?
Was there water, bottomlessly deep ?"

Rig Veda : Creation Hymn, 1.

"Through the paradox of rite, every consecrated space coincides with the center of the world, just as the time of any ritual coincides with the mythical time of the 'beginning'. Through repetition of the cosmogonic act, concrete time, in which the construction takes place, is projected into mythical time, in illo tempore when the foundation of the world occurred."
Eliade, M. : The Myth of the Eternal Return, 1965, p.21.

In Ancient Egypt, p
recreation (Nun) was the founding concept of all extant systems of theology (Heliopolitan, Memphite, Hermopolitan, Osirian & Theban branches). This founding concept, for which a special virtual adverb clause existed, was, like many others, also a transposition -in ante-rational, pictorial thought- of an important natural process, in this case, water surging up as the result of the specifics of the water table of the alluvial plain of the Nile (another image was provided by water falling from the sky).

Nun, Atum and creation

As early as the Old Kingdom (ca. 2670 - 2198 BCE), the virtual clause "n SDmt.f", i.e. "before he has (had) ..." or "he has (had) not yet ..." (Gardiner, § 402), denoted pre-states, namely a potential state before the actual state happens. Because this state was not yet actual, it indicated mere possibility, virtuality or potentiality, but related to (preexisting in) the effect. Anterior to creation, it was imagined as limitless waters (or ocean), called by various names : "nw", "nww", "nnw", "nnww", "nnnww" and "niw", vocalized in Coptic as "Noun", from which the English "Nun" has been derived.

Nun represented a principle of limitless wholeness before oneness rather than an individuality (beginning with oneness). It represents dark, primordial undifferentiated wholeness, preceding the creation of sky and Earth, i.e. before any movement or display from the base. It represents the everlasting dark pre-condition of creation, but also the unchanging vastness which abides simultaneous with all possible light-creation or display.  This nondual state is :

"... before the sky existed, before the Earth existed, before that which was to be made form existed, before turmoil existed, before that fear which arose on account of the Eye of Horus existed."

Pyramid Texts, utterance 486, § 1040.

In the ontology sketched in the Pyramid Texts, precreation is an undifferentiated mass of water. The Egyptians gave descriptive rather than denominative qualifications. Nun is conceived as an inchoate, dark, inert, nonexistent state-of-no-state. A large, inert mass of water higher than the sky and deeper than the netherworld is the image conveyed. This virtual realm of the nonexistent is beyond the subtle, invisible strata of creation, beyond the sky and underneath the netherworld. It is nondual, everywhere and nowhere.

his precreation, or nonexistence, is not a nothingness. There is movement from this base, there is display, for to be nonexistent potential is obviously to preclude actuality, but in Egyptian thought this never precludes the potentiality to come into existence, to become, transform or transmute. The latter is indicated by the verb "kpr", "Kheper", meaning "come into being, become, change, occur, happen, grow up, come to pass, take place, be effective, etc". Hence, besides chaotic Nun, precreation also effectuates the capacity of autogenous creation or self-creation.

The first display from the base is this autogenous activity. Limitless wholeness is before oneness, or the beginning of order. Light and life are spontaneous manifestations happening in the base, in Nun. Precreation is the conjunction (unity) of Nun & the sheer possibility of something preexisting as a nonexistent, virtual, clear, singular, one, primordial awareness causa sui. Precreation is viewed as the dual-union of Nun and Re-Atum, of the infinite, dark sea and the primordial light-spark of luminous self-awareness and self-creation (Atum-Kheprer). The image of Atum, in his Egg, afloat in Nun.

Creation (order, display, effective result) emerges from a singular, atomic monad, floating "very weary" (CT, utterance 80) in the dark, gloomy, lifeless infinity of Nun. Within the omnipresent substance of Nun, the possibility of order, light and life subsists : a nonexistent object capable of self-creation ex nihilo. Hence, although Nun is nowhere and everywhere, never and always, it is the primordial, irreversible and everlasting milieu in which the eternal potential of light auto-creates. Although order is not ex nihilo (for there is "something" before "anything"), self-clarity is spontaneous & without precedent. P
recreation is thus not the zero of nothingness, but the unity of a limitless wholeness (Nun) and the virtual oneness of a singular, autogenous genetic potential within it (Atum).

"Les Égyptiens ne rencontrent l'unicité absolue de dieu qu'en dehors du monde et de la création, durant la transition fugace entre la non-existence et l'existence. Par ses travaux créatifs, le premier - et à l'origine le seul dieu, disperse l'unicité primordiale en une multiplicité et une diversité de manifestations : ainsi, en dépit de multiples caractéristiques communes, chaque dieu est unique et incomparable."

Hornung, 1986, p.169, my italics.

Atum "created what exists" and is the "Lord of all things" (CT, utterance 306), "Lord of All" (CT, utterance 167), "Lord of Everything" and "Lord of Life" (CT, utterance 534). He/She is "the origin of all the forces and elements of nature" (Allen, 1988, p.9). His/Her name is a form of the verb "tm", probably a noun of action, meaning both "complete, finish" and "not be". Indeed, Atum, a bi-sexual supreme deity, makes display/creation emerge and completes it without belonging to the created order.

Coptic scholars like Crum (1939) translate "noyn" as "abyss of hell, depth of Earth, sea" etc.

Coptic "Noun", or "abyss of hell" ...

"In the beginning Elohîm created the heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void ; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."
Genesis, 1:1-2.

Precreation is more than a  dark, everlasting and limitless sea of undifferentiated space. It is more than a formless mass, inert, dark and inimical to the light-order & its life. In other words, precreation is not identical with Nun. Atum, the "Ba", "soul" or transformational principle of Nun, is the co-relative factor of Nun in preexistent nonexistence. Re-Atum-Kheper represents singularity, order, light and life resulting from self-creation, in essence self-clarity.

On the first moment of display, or "zep tepi" ("zp tpi"), on this "first occurrence" or "First Time", Atum is Atum-Kheprer. Before that moment, no order, light or life preexisted. While Atum "floated" in the inert ocean, this potential was as it were diffused in Nun. But on the creative instance, the patterns of existence were established and enacted by focus, contraction and pressure (or singularity). Creation was thus initiated by the distinction between the surrounding waters (Nun) and the active primordial seed or monad.

Atum-Kheprer creates ex nihilo. The beginning of display and energy (differentiation) is not the transformation of a previous state. Diffused in Nun, and thus inactive, Atum as Kheprer autocreates his own change of mode, and recollects out of darkness and dispersal, reversing the genetic potential, beginning the genesis of light and clarity. Nun is not changed because of Atum-Kheprer. Although the Egyptians could well see Atum-Kheprer as the "Ba of Nun", this mythical notion is rather confusing.

Let us go over this notion again. Before the monad Atum self-creates as Atum-Kheprer (changing from diffused and passive to contracted and active), lifeless, inert, dark nonexistence prevailed (Nun). With this monad bringing itself into existence, nonexistence is divided into, on the one hand, the chaotic waters (the Abyss) and, on the other hand, the seed of order, light and life (the Ennead). Atum represents the spontaneous, genetic potential of precreation to manifest creation, and because Atum-Kheprer self-creates, there is nothing anterior to this monad, except the liquid space of disorder and darkness in which Atum passively floats ... Before becoming singular, Atum (the genetic potential) is diffused in Nun, and thus incapable of concentration, focus and hence creativity or display of energy.

This difficult notion is touched upon in this remarkable text :

"It is me (who came out of) Nun, the sole one, without equal. If I (Atum) have transformed, it is on the
great occasion of my floating (after) I came into being ! I am he who flew up, who's {form is that of he who encircles}, who is in his egg. I am the one who began in the Nun. See : the chaos-gods came out of me ! See : I have come ! If (I) brought my body into being, it is through my Akh, (for) I am the one who made myself and I formed myself at my will according to my desire."
Coffin Texts, utterance 714, lines 343-344 : the second first person refers to Atum, not Nun as the rest of the passage makes clear (nowhere is the name "Atum" mentioned).

In the "zep tepi", Atum creates and completes the world for his own pleasure and according to his own heart (or divine mind - cf. Memphite theology).

The reason why something came out of Nun is explained as Atum pleasing himself (the image of masturbation), not parenthood. Other images convey the meaning of strong and powerful ejection (as in expectoration or ejaculation). Atum is both male and female and does not need a consort. The "zep tepi" emerges as the dreamed genesis (of the pantheon and its "golden" proportions) of an autarchic, masturbating bi-sexual African Solar deity, who at the moment of ejaculation brings actual creation into being (a "giving birth" of actualized "nature" of the godhead).

The first occurrence (display) unfolds at the moment creation starts with the spontaneous emergence of Atum-Kheprer contracting to a luminous point (Re) ex nihilo. Atum is alone insofar as he has no consort. He is causa sui (cause of itself) and sui generis (the only example of its kind and so constituting a class of its own, unique).

Atum autogenerates and necessarily splits into a divine diversity. The first "stable" form in (or first generation of) this "divine comedy" is the fertile trinity "Atum - Shu - Tefnut". His oneness is "fugal" (running away) and his being alone only serves his autogeneration, which does not impend an instantaneous differentiation into life and order, on the contrary. Atum is aloneness-in-transformation, a point of alternation between the diffused genetic potential and the beginning of light-genesis, the reversal of this diffusion by contraction or drawing together.

Atum, autogenerating for his own pleasure, immediately & simultaneously splits and, in the "zep tepi", gives birth to Shu & Tefnut, the start of a chain of ordered structures, the Ennead or divine sequence : {1, 2, 3} U {4, 5} U {6, 7, 8, 9}. This eternal happening, the proto-type (matrix) of order, is the imaginal continuum or "Golden Age" of natural parameters, preparing creation before it happens, and sustaining it when it actually happens. This is the divine mind and "Golden Age" with its infinite number of names, attributes and functions.

With Atum-Kheprer and the (eternal) first occurrence, no actual thing is positioned, but only the structure necessary to manifest light. This is the "Ennead" of Atum : Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Seth, Nephthys. Only the formal conditions of the divine display are given (i.e. an outline of its elements and forces). The world is in the image of Atum ("iti tem").

As every thing, except the absolute base or essence (Nun), is a dynamic light-display of the latter, even clarity and open awareness (Re-Atum) differ not from the ongoing movement from the base or "energy" (difference) or "Khepri". Instability (Set) is therefore part of this dynamic display, and "sub specie temporis", the base itself is impermanent (Atum is fugal). But from the perspective of its own essence, the base is changeless and ceaseless (every thing floats in Nun).

The essence of everything : the absolute Real-Ideal.

The Tao that can be trodden, is not the enduring & unchanging Tao. The name that can be named, is not the enduring & unchanging name."
Lao-Tze : Tao Teh King, 1.1.

"There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth - it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation ; it is also beyond every denial."
ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite : The Mystical Theology, chapter 5.

In Ancient Egypt, before any light, a dark, undifferentiated, indefinite vastness abided enduringly & everlastingly ("djedet"). This limitless darkness was always present, did not change and was without singularities. Nevertheless in this ocean, an inert & diffused potential for oneness was afloat. Out of itself, this potential hatched as the One to immediately differentiate, giving form to the natural energy-differentials ruling the order of light (the "gods & goddesses"). The display of Atum is spontaneous and ongoing, for the creation of the Ennead is an eternal and unending repetition.

In Dzogpa Chenpo (cf. Bön, Vajrayâna and Iranian light-mysticism), the essence or base of everything is discovered to be vast, boundless, everlasting, omnipervasive, limitless expansiveness, immeasurable, uncontracted & immutable. It is neither oneness or twoness, but indefinite. It is what Mâdhyamika cannot posit by way of inferential logic : emptiness beyond "affirmation & denial" (cf. negative theology). This base is real and displays itself as energy (lights, sounds, rays), of which the nature of every mind is part.

Western Abrahamic theology largely affirms the "Names of God" and their underlying symbolic adualism in terms of dogmatic fideism (escaping nominalism through faith alone). On the fringes, negative theology identified the essence of God with absolute, nameless, signless transcendence, only to be approached by nondual, ineffable and un-saying thought in the contemplation "of the mind".

So, as in Vedânta, with its important, Sanskrit-inspired distinction between "Nirguna-Brahman" & "Saguna-Brahman", Western onto-theology of the Divine Names and their "sacred" language (Hebrew, Latin, Arabic), distinguished between the interior "essence" of God and the exterior "existence" of God, between an impersonal absolute and a personal, more approachable God.

In Qabalah,
"YHVH" being ineffable, is pronounced as "Adonai" (or YHAdonaiVH). "ALHYM" (or "Elohîms), a masculine plural ("Eloah" is the singular form, "Allah" in Arabic) of a feminine noun, indicating neutral plurality & receptivity to the creative impulse, is the "Divine presence" within the created order (cf. the "shekinah"). "Elohîm" is creational as shown by the first three words of Genesis : "B'RASHITh BaRA ALoHIM ...", "In the Beginning the "Elohîm" Created ..." "Elohîm said" (343) occurs 10 times (cf. the 10 Emanations or "Sephiroth"). "Elohîm" is repeated 32 times in the first chapter of the account (cf. the aleph-beth (22) + 10 Sephiroth or the 32 Paths of Wisdom of the Tree of Life).

"Elohîm" is related to the majestic revelatory plurality of the singular hidden "YHVH" and is translated as "the holy Gods" or "Gods & Goddesses". It expresses the totality of Divine attributes (or exterior) and underlines the variety with which the Divine manifests in creation (God-in-Nature). The "Elohîm" are not idols for no "Eloah" (singular) can constitute Divine existence without reference to "YHVH", the uncreated silence.

The translators of the Septuagint (starting in the middle of the 3th century BCE) identified the Hebrew Name of the Divine "YHVH (the) Elohîm" with the Greek "Kyrios ho Theos", "Kyrios Kyrios" or "Despotes Kyrios", the gods of Hellenism. So "YHVH" was translated as "the Lord", and "Elohîm" as "God" ("Theos", "Deus"). Thus the plural "ALHYM" became the singular "God" !

Orthodox Christianity keeps the neo-Platonic division between the inner essence & the outer face of God. Indeed, the only place in creation where God is constantly Present (after the ministry of Jesus Christ), is in the Eucharistic Host & Cup. God is therefore "Loin-près" (or far-near).

In the tradition of Sufism, the essence of the Divine is unknown (nobody known Allah's Face but He). Divine existence is the Self-disclosure of Sheer Being in an infinite number of Divine Names, origin of all of creation (cf. Ibn al-'Arabî). Here "Allah" ("The God") is both Essence (His Face) & Existence (99 most beautiful Names).

These "positive" (dogmatic) theologies "of the book", pertain, as written testimonies, to the domain of creative thought, invalid when God's essence is at hand. As nominalism is correct, no symbolic adualism can be invoked to explain the "exclusive" status of any written text, of whatever nature or whatever its author. There is no God-given bridge from "text" to "God". Words do not suffice, on the contrary, as mere conventionalities, they obscure the natural light acting in the mind of each. Hence, as negative theology makes clear, positive theology becomes uncritical, unworldly & delusional if it does not regularly purge itself by way of negation, denial and renunciation.

For Plotinus (ca. 205 - 270), multiplicity is a fragmentation of the original unity of the One. Hence, each stage of emanation is a descent into greater multiplicity, which means greater restriction, more needs, and the dispersion and weakening of the power of previous stages. The One is the negation of duality, formless, unmeasured, and infinite. "Soul" (psyche - cf. empirical ego) and "spirit" (nous - cf. own-Self), are insufficient to know the One, because both operate by positing object & subject. Contemplation brings us so far as the ideas (of the own-Self), but only ecstasy allows for glimpses of the One.

"With the absolute I, which can never become object, the principium essendi and cogniscendi coincide."
Schelling : On the Self, 1.236.

For Schelling, the absolute subject is the knower of itself. It is "den Urstand", which can never become "Gegenstand" or object. To be known as subject and object is only possible in "ecstasy". Hence, absolute idealism is also absolute realism, for absolute I = Being pertains. Besides the reduction of thinking to the ego sum, the latter needs also to be reduced to an absolute I. So the empirical ego opens up for the state of its own individuality (or own-Self) and then annihilates this to discover the natural state of mind, which is one with the absolute I. This identity is then called "real-idealism". In the absolute I, the fight finally ends, the concordia discors is put to rest. Mind is no longer before nature, nor is nature before mind. Both are originally united, and the distinction between two is gone, for the are in reality one ("realiter Eins"). It is possible for a "completed spirit" to unite with the absolute, to bring on-itself ("an Sich") and for-itself ("für-sich") together. This is not to have the absolute in thinking (as in Hegelianism), for the spirit being "with itself" ("der 'bei sich' seinde Geist") has thinking in the absolute. Indeed, the thought of the absolute is not the state of the absolute !

Mystical experience : contemplation & union.

"'There is no target behind God' - that is the Real, that cannot be coveted. This is the station of the Real. Do not transgress ! In this station, no station is permitted. When You arrive, my brothers, return !"
Ibn al-'Arabî : The Meccan Openings, chapter 410 (Chittick, 1998, p.225).

In Classical Yoga ("râja"), three "inner" limbs characterize the path of increasing distinction between nature ("prakrti") & spirit ("purusha") : concentration ("dhâranâ"), contemplation ("dhyâna") and union ("samâdhi").

Nature includes matter, the world of appearances and mind, or "that which knows". "Purusha" ("man", "person") is the eternal, absolute I or "own-form" of "citta", consciousness. It observes the changes in matter as a witness, and, as Sâmkhya philosophy explains, the world comes into being by a union of both. In Vedânta, "purusha" is identified with "âtman", and hence also with "Brahman".

For Patañjali, the three "inner" limbs form a whole, called "restraint" or "self-control" ("samyama"). Contemplation is an incomplete union (cf. the presence of the own-Self as "samskâra" and/or the "union with nature"). Only when nature & pure consciousness are absolutely divorced, will all fluctuations of consciousness be restricted. This is not described as a "standing-outside-oneself" or "ecstasy", but as the realization of the true core of consciousness, "purusha". To realize the "own-form" of consciousness is restricting all of its fluctuations, bringing its luminous nature to the surface.

"And when fluctuations have dwindled consciousness is like a precious jewel ; there results with reference to the 'grasper', the 'grasping' and the 'grasped' a coincidence with that on which consciousness abides & by which it is 'anointed'."
Patañjali : Yoga-sûtra, 1.41.

In Zen, belonging to the Mahâyâna, "satori" is the beyond of knower & known. In Vajrayâna Buddhism, "union" is not called "samâdhi", but "contemplation" ("dhyâna").  This is a state of emptiness, or absence of inherent existence and substance, united with clarity. This highest meditative state is present in the inseparability of clarity & emptiness, which is liberation or "nirvâna".

In Dzogchen Buddhism, mindnature generates an ultimate, primordial wisdom beyond thought.

"One is introduced directly to one's own state.
One definitively decides upon this unique state.
One continues directly with confidence in liberation."

Garab Dorje : The Three Statements That Strike the Essential Points, (Reynolds, 1996, p.39).

The "gradual", "staircase" methods of Sûtrayâna & Tantrayâna use a "scala perfectionis" based on renunciation, compassion & emptiness, involving transforming impure into pure, slowly accommodating the advent of the highest state of awareness. Sûtra teachings accept the absolute view may be realized using conventional logic.  Dzogchen, accepting no conceptual authentication of the absolute, directly introduces the nature of mind & its light (clarity) by pointing to its immediate, instantaneous and constant presence hic et nun.

Once properly introduced, only two practices pertain : (1) constantly cutting through the conceptualizations created by the mind, and so each time being re-enlightened ("tregchöd") and (2) integrating every display from the base (pure & impure) with mindnature ("thödgal"). These ongoing, primary practices no longer rest on meditational sittings & pûjâs (both Sûtrayâna & Tantrayâna are "secondary" practices). Cutting through and integration bring the mind to itself and so allow it to be convinced of the genuine reality of its own light-nature, which is a display from the essence of everything. They enables the mind to better integrate every thought, affect & action in mindnature through self-liberation : as everything is as what it is, nothing must be done (i.e. rejected or affirmed). Without effort, every thought, affect and action is seen to "liberate" itself spontaneously. Being impermanent, it vanishes. To release all conceptualization is the precondition to gain confidence in the "even plains" of nondual thought.

"The nature of phenomena is nondual,

but each one, in its own state, is beyond
the limits of the mind.

There is no concept that can define
the condition of 'what is',

but vision nevertheless manifests :
all is good !

Everything has already been accomplished,
and so, having overcome the sickness of effort,

one finds oneself in the self-perfected state :
this is contemplation."

Garab Dorje : The Six Vajra Verses (Norbu, 1996, p.81).

In Qabalah, "katlut" denotes the lower, "nominal", material kind of consciousness of the fallen Adam. The "Fallen Daughter" ("Assiah", manifestation), bound by the four elements of the physical four-dimensional world of the body ("Malkuth", the kingdoms of thought, volition, affects & sensation), is conscious of herself in a confused, dreamlike Lunar way ("Yetzirah", formation). In this world of mind & imagination, consciousness, operating in a fifth dimension, does not exceed its own egological deeds, affects and cogitations (limited to the formal and the critical).

The higher state ("
gatlut") is two-tiered. In Tiphareth, the Solar adept experiences, knows & communicates with his or her Higher Self, the incarnating own-Self or "ego sum". This is a glorious spiritual experience. Transformation, freedom & compassion are necessary to cross the "abyss" separating the world of soul ("Briah", creation) from the world of spirit ("Atziluth", Divine presence). The latter is nondual & ineffable, involving a direct special, unworldly knowledge ("Daath") of the three factors of Divinity : Understanding ("Binah"), Wisdom ("Chockmah") & Crown ("Kether"), in other words, the triad of material forms, natural lights & ALHYM or "Gods & Goddesses" respectively, "YHVH" or "God" being posited beyond the Crown (as "Ain Soph Aur").

Christian mysticism, dominated by theological Christocentrism, introduced two paths to experience God : contemplation "of the heart" and contemplation "of the mind". In both cases, the essence of God is never known, but only how He shows Himself to the mystic. The mystic knows God only thanks to Divine Grace, as a gift of the Holy Spirit and never as the result of any effort or special technique (virtue prepares but does not produce). The contemplation of the heart or love-mysticism, involves a direct contact with the absolute through the dynamics of "holy" love, described by Beatrice of Nazareth (1200 - 1268), in her Seven Ways of Holy Love (1237), as a process unfolding in seven steps. The highest way brings the soul "into the insusceptible wisdom and the silent highness, into the deep abyss of the Deity, who is everything in everything that exists, insusceptible, elevated above everything, imperishable, almighty, all-embracing, and who acts all-ruling in everything that exists" (Seventh Way, § 1). On this highest level, her Divine love has objects as Christ and the Holy Trinity, but not God-as-He-is.

Contemplation "of the mind" brings the mystic close to God by way of the "imago Dei" hidden in the depth of the soul. In this type of experience, the absolute dawns. In the Spiritual Espousals (1335) of Jan van Ruusbroec
(1293 - 1381), the path of the Christian mystic has three parts : the "via pugativa" (the "active life"), the "via illuminativa" (the "yearning life") & the "via unitiva" (or the "contemplative life"). The last is also called "the third life" and deals with the supreme mystical experience. The core of the mystical teachings of Jan van Ruusbroec is the "summit of the inner life" and was considered by major French theologians like Jean Gerson (1363 - 1429) as heretical (because -in his reading- it was pantheistic) and hence a good candidate for rejection & critical scrutiny. For although Ruusbroec does stress the ontological difference between God and the contemplative, he nevertheless is unable to stop this overt proof of orthodoxy of being blurred by his definition of contemplation as "seeing God with God". The conflict between orthodox mystical theology and Ruusbroec's ultimate mystical experience is prominent in the text and often one has the impression that he invokes orthodoxy just to avoid condemnation each time his experience transcends important ontological boundaries. Did Ruusbroec think it possible to trespass the "natural" God-given limitations of created beings ? By stressing the core of our being is nothing less that God Himself, he comes very near the Vedânta and its identification of the soul ("âtman") with absolute being ("Brahman"), and seems to underpin the claim of some Islamic mystics, like Mansur Al-Hallaj (ca. 858 - 922), that they actually are "Allah" !

In Sufism, the sea can not be separated from the waves, nor can the waves exist without the sea. All these waves of light have names and create worlds, but there is nothing but the sea and its water. The water of the sea is always the selfsame water. Only the color of the cup determines its color. The Islamic mystic who plunges into this ocean of light annihilates everything he or she is (cf. "fanâ" or "annihilation"). What is left is utter darkness because of the nearness to the Absolute light. In that darkness is hidden the "Water of Life". To drink this water (a metaphor of "baqâ" or "survival") is to recover from total oblivion and survive as the perpetual witness of the Absolute. One is reborn as a totally renewed & perfected human being in the imperishable light which is the Face of the Absolute, but not the Absolute-as-such. The mystic cannot become God Himself !

Indeed, Sufi ontology of "wahdat al wujûd" (the unity of being), distinguishes between being-as-being (One & Necessary) and being-as-existence (multiple & possible), between being indeterminate and determinate. The mystic witnesses multiplicity as an expression, a modality of the absolute being-as-being. But the latter is irreversibly ineffable, incomprehensible & incomparable (i.e. the One Alone without a second). Indeed, in the Koran we read :

"Allah warns you about His Self."
Koran, 3:28.

The task of philosophy ?

He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God.
He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only.
Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is."

Blake, There is No Natural Religion, ca.1788.

It is not possible to express with words what is before and after words, forcing the infinite into the finite categories of concepts. But although ineffable, wordless, non-conceptual & non-verbal, nondual thought nevertheless exist. The religions "of the book" (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) reject any direct experience of God-as-God on onto-fideist grounds, and if contemplatives do touch the level of nondual thought and dare to express it, they are condemned, marginalized as insane, excommunicated and/or killed.

A direct experience of mindnature is the sole remedy here, not dubious poetry like "an awareness of awareness no longer consciousness", etc. Nevertheless, when their direct experience can no longer be kept a secret, mystics only have ambiguous poetical language and flamboyant prophetic speech as their final refuge ! Then, spurred by their enthusiasm, they evoke the deepest mystery, but this hidden, implicate layer of theirs, effective no doubt, is always at work without words & concepts, as the wisdom of silence.

How can philosophy assist in the discovery of the nondual ?

Theoretically, even creative thought is untestable, only arguable. The sublime constructions of the own-Self are immanent metaphysical speculations, transcending the limitations imposed by formal & critical thought. Here, philosophy has logic, argumentation & the rules of the ars inveniendi left as methods to discern between valid & invalid creativity, between strong, doubtful & weak arguments in the quest for totalizing answers regarding being, life & the human. This is important, for some speculative thinkers (like Hegel - cf. supra), posit the "Divine" within conceptual thought. Their systems block the direct discovery of the non-verbal pyramidion crowning the obelisk of consciousness with un-saying. One cannot discover the non-conceptual by applying inferential logic to concrete, formal, critical or metaphysical (hyper) concepts.

Insofar as the complete unfoldment of the cognitive continuum from myth to the nondual is deemed necessary, metaphysics may develop ways to annihilate the own-Self, as it were prepare cognition for its last & final step : nondual thought. Acting as a preliminary, the philosophy of emancipation gathers the mental conditions necessary to develop the best possible mindset to discover mindnature. It has no other focus, and mindnature (not the Real-Ideal) lies at the heart of such a "therapeutic" philosophy, as an
act of caring for growth-potential and full realization.

Practically, the wise is constantly working to make things fit in a less limited & narrowed "space". Clutching to pet ideas is renounced. The annihilation of the own-Self, as well as its rebirth, resuscitation & resurrection, are ongoing in each "invention" (cf. the alchemical "solve et coagula"). The own-Self, as a cup, is (re)created for the sake of compassion and out of love for all beings of light. The own-Self is a "phantasm" (a fiction) at work (i.e. genuinely operational) to help other beings to be less & less engrossed, anticipating & unable to "fit in" all others in their "Lebenswelt".

The practice of philosophy is helpful to lay bare mindnature. Open dialogue with a "spiritual friend" lies at the core of all spiritual transmissions, empowerments & initiations. However, this is but preliminary play, for if nondual thought can be pointed at (introduced ostentatiously as in : "There it is !"), it cannot be developed, produced, generated, invited, transmitted, anticipated, taught etc., completely & irreversibly baffling & perplexing conceptual thought ... even wondrously annihilating the own-Self (again).

As the blanks in-between thoughts, it occurs and that is what is.

Epilogue : Guidelines

  • reason (formal & critical thought) is not intellect (creative & nondual thought) ;

  • neither is reason instinct (ante-rational thought) ;

  • or intuition instinct ;

  • or instinct intuition ;

  • confirm the heuristic contribution of an immanent metaphysics of finitude to science ;

  • to move beyond critical thought, is to transcend the "nominal" empirical ego, the fugal "I" ;

  • beyond critical thought, always maintain a non-ontological definition of "intellectual perception" or intuitional knowledge, affirming intellect does not create outer objects without the outer senses (which are everybody's share) ;

  • conceive the own-Self or "ego sum" as the heart of an existential, meaningful, inner, positive, creative experience, like an imaginal, intellectual, meta-physical space, set ablaze by the Cartesian "lumen naturale" ;

  • creativity guards the limitations set by the immanent metaphysics of the own-Self ;

  • always remind the ineffable, nonverbal, non-discursive, non-conceptual nature of nondual thought, shaping the "apex" of thought as an open area of endless possibilities, a direct experience of the nature of mind ;

  • transcendent metaphysics poetically extols mind-nature & the absolute Real-Ideal ;

  • who knows whether the clear light of mindnature  is united with the base of everything ?

  • who knows whether mindnature is a luminous energy-singularity of the absolute Real-Ideal ?

  • philosophy may seek preliminaries for the nondual but without causality between preparation & fruit ;

  • the practice of philosophy is the open space in "a forest dark", bringing to awareness a change of mind is possible and so indirectly pointing to the transparant openness of the natural light of mind.


General Bibliography (2005 - 2007)
Bibliography on Egyptology (2004 - 2007)
Bibliography on Neurotheology (2003)

SiteMap of Philosophy SiteMap of Ancient Egyptian Sapience SiteMap of Studies in Buddhadharma


initiated : 29 I 2007 - last update : 30 VI 2010 - version n°1