Monday, November 19, 2012

a characterization of naturalism

From time to time I read Alexander Pruss's blog, although admittedly he is from a completely different tradition than the one that I work within (he is basically an analytic theist or "analytic philosopher of religion").  But this is not to take away from some fairly good content that I find on his site.

In a recent post Alexander defines naturalism as a view stating,
that objectively speaking in itself there is nothing numinous: Nothing holy or sacred, but only the good or right; nothing sinful or unholy, but only the morally wrong; nothing uncanny or eldritch, but only the unusual or the scary; nothing aweful, but only the impressive; nothing mysterious, but only the puzzling or the strange; nothing fascinating, but only the attractive; nothing sublime, but only the beautiful.
I find this problematic on a number of fronts, but mostly because I tend to think that his analytic orientation has cut him off from those naturalisms which do admit the numinous: the holy or sacred, understood simply as the deeply natural and sublime.

In reading Corrington's new manuscript for example I am now certain more than ever that the "supernatural" within nature is what we may simply call the deeply natural.

Often times it is supposed that a naturalist cannot have a sense for sublimity and depth, the "more" or excess without remainder of experience.  This is not to say that, in principle, absolute knowledge of this remainder isn't possible. 

But, we may say that nature's astonishing character is most profoundly found in its power of transformation and the orders of magnitude that it possesses.  This is a realist view about nature, not about the human response to nature.  Thus "ecstasy" is a metaphysical characterization of the world, it is not being religiously transfixed somehow.  Nature itself is "ecstatic" in the original sense of the word - it possesses an "outside"or "beyond" the world which is already "within" it, whether this "beyond" is a temporal structure of reality, or whether this "beyond" is a potential or power for ontogenesis found within all things or before all things; these ideas can be interpreted in a number of ways.  Yet it is this ecstatic form of naturalism which emphasizes being aware of one's finitude, but also being able to transcend that finitude: in studying the natural world, in metaphysical theology, in science, but also in ecology, environmental studies, aesthetics, and so on.  It is the world - nature - which is ecstatic, and that is what the naturalist marvels over.  I believe that this is what Schelling had in mind for example when he crowned his own theology of nature with aesthetics.

In a way, speculation, then, as a philosophical procedure and task, is itself "ecstatic."  For far too long as philosophers we were told that our relationship to reality, nature, was conditioned and finite (correlationism, Kantian philosophy).  The "great outdoors" was barred from us.  But for Jaspers, for example, "ecstasy," transformation, was possible through metaphysical philosophy.  For me, and following Jaspers to some degree, transcendence first means: crossing that boundary which first encloses the human.  That is what I mean by ecstatic transcendence.  In all cases it means stepping outside of and going beyond that correlation which immediately encloses us.  This is at once theological and speculative (idealism), but it is at once also fully realist and materialist, insofar as those sustaining and generative conditions - the "beyond" the immediately human and its correlate - is part of reality and not "just" the thought of reality.

Perhaps the ultimate "beyond" in this form of transcendence would be to transcend to a beyond being itself, nonbeing.  This mystical enlightenment would be a union with that which is not only nonhuman, but not being in in its absolute form: not being or a that which is not yet.

Perhaps this is why for someone like Aristotle, speculative philosophy and theology, insofar as first principles and conditions are concerned, were taken to be one.