P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 98
7th February 2005
I. 'Two Concepts of Truth' by Hubertus Fremerey
II. 'Was Kant a Mystic?' by Arthur Brown
III. Review of Francis Wheen How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World by Colin Amery
When Wittgenstein declared, in the famous opening line of his Tractatus
Logico-Philosophicus, "The world is all that is the case" he was giving
expression to a narrow notion of truth which has come to dominate English
speaking philosophy. Yet this logical conception is arguably at odds with our
deepest interest in truth, as it applies to areas of human experience beyond
the scientific - an interest consigned by Wittgenstein to the domain of the
'mystical' concerning which 'nothing can be said'. Hubertus Fremerey, in an
important and much needed contribution to the debate seeks to rectify this
imbalance by stressing the pre-eminent role of truth in the realms of morality,
spirit and art.
The theme of mysticism emerges again in Arthur Brown's clear and informative
essay comparing Kant's theory of noumena or 'things-in-themselves' to the
mystical conceptions of the world as 'One'. The author points out important
differences between Kant's theory and doctrines which can be derived from the
writings of the mystics. I can't help feeling that, even while he was arguing
on purely logical grounds for the necessity of a distinction between phenomena
and noumena, Kant was motivated by a deep mystical experience. Certainly, the
sense of awe and mystical wonder at the unknowableness of things in themselves
is a common experience to students of Kant - at least, those students who do
not dismiss the theory of noumena as an aberration which Kant's metaphysics
would be better without.
Finally, some light relief - and, some would argue, a dose of down-to-earth
reality - is provided by Colin Amery in his entertaining review of Francis
Wheen's book How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World. The irony that those who
criticize 'mumbo-jumbo' generally only succeed in producing more of the same
is, no doubt, not lost on Wheen who has made a tidy packet from this runaway
I. 'TWO CONCEPTS OF TRUTH' BY HUBERTUS FREMEREY
Sometimes a theme seems to be "in the air". While I had my overall concept of
the following essay ready and was working on the details, there appeared two
other essays with related content in Philosophy Pathways: One on 'Arguments
Beyond Reason' by Jeff Meyerhoff in PW Issue 95, the other on 'Philosophy -
Rigorous Science or Intuitive Thought: A Critique of Mind by John Searle' by
Richard Schain in PW Issue 97. But both only partially overlap with my own
essay, so I leave it as it was originally.
A hint: The guiding argument here is not any theory of the NATURE of truth, nor
anything on neurology or epistemology. The guiding argument is the fact that the
primary concern of man is NOT recognition but ACTION. To put it a bit
paradoxically: "The meaning of truth is not so much 'facts and theories', but
what to make of them - good acting". Thus my approach to the problem of truth
is an instrumental one in the Socratic sense - which goes beyond mere
pragmatism. We humans look for meaning in a world where we try to do meaningful
things. And this defines the meaning of what we call "truth". On the meaning of
truth in Socrates I owe some good hints to Daoud Khashaba, as I gratefully
Two concepts of truth
For some typical expositions of the modern philosophical concepts of truth have
a look into the entries in the IEP Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(http://www.iep.utm.edu/t/truth.htm) or into the SEOP Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/contents.html#t). However, both entries
- and similar ones in other modern philosophical dictionaries - are incomplete
and miss much of what we usually call truth in human intercourse and
What about religious truth as when Jesus (in John 14,6) says, "I am the way,
the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." The proof
of the "truth" of Jesus is in following in his steps and not in any scientific
"proof" or disproof of whether he really was the son of God etc. To try to
"prove" or to disprove the value of religious utterances by methods of science
or analytical philosophy is as meaningless as to try to "prove" or to disprove
the greatness of a work of art or of music or literature by physical means.
Or what about a "personal" truth as in the case of Kierkegaard when he writes:
"The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do; the
thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can
live and die... What is truth but to live for an idea?" (Journal 1 A 75, dated
August 1st, l835). This outcry again cannot be answered by logic or by
Or what about truth in the arts as when Nietzsche admired Bizet's Carmen (1875)
as a true tragedy, while he despised Wagner's Parsifal (1882) as a lie - not
because Parsifal is Christian while Carmen is pagan, but because Parsifal is
only pretending to be Christian while Carmen is pagan in an honest way.
Nietzsche never despised Bach for being Christian.
Of course one could dismiss all three forms of truth - the religious, the
personal, and the creative truth - as not being forms of "real" truth at all
but only "personal convictions". But I think that truth is one of those great
concepts - like justice, freedom, human dignity, love, the good - that are too
important to be left to modern philosophers. Modern philosophers tend to reduce
such concepts to logico-scientific ones, which they definitely are not. Those
concepts are meant to give orientation to human common and personal
understanding and striving, they make up the spiritual world we live in. Thus
to debate them away and call them nonsense by some allegedly logical or
"scientific" standard is an act of intellectual crime that misses the very
nature of human orientation in the world.
There is provable truth as in math and logic and in the physical sciences, and
there is "proven" truth as in a friendship or other interpersonal relation, and
there is "spiritual" truth as in art and religion. They all have their right in
themselves and should be handled with great respect and care.
An incomplete list of fields concerning truth:
- epistemology, theories of science and methodologies
- logics and formal languages, mathematics
- knowing and experiences, error and critical evaluation
- conceptualizing, language-games, meaning and understanding by conventions
- theory, ideology, worldview, perspectivism
- closed and open models of interpreting the world, ultrastability (Popper)
- religion, superstition, pseudo-science, esoterics, sects
- extrasensory and paranormal experiences, dreams and fancies
- madness and mental sanity, collective madness, ethno-psychoanalysis
- crimes, deviation and labeling (Foucault)
- communication and agreement, "common sense"
- "progress" in knowledge and insight (Piaget, Kohlberg), "wisdom"
- hermeneutics, rhetoric, intent, literary criticism (Gadamer, Ricoeur)
- languages of art and of mysticism
All the above are related to the general theme of "knowing the true nature of
things and the true state of the world". What we try to find out is the realm
of errors and lies and misunderstandings to be separated from truth. But at the
same time we try to protect the realm of "meaningful and useful" fancies and
dreams. We try to fight the weeds without doing harm to the flowers. But often
they are both at the same time as in the case of poppies and bindweed and many
What I am fighting against is not rational arguing or scientific methodology,
being a physicist myself. What I fight is a predominance, even a monopolizing
of technical arguments in much of modern philosophical thinking on the nature
To understand the core of the argument one may start not from truth but from
its three counterparts, which are (1) errors, (2) misunderstandings, and (3)
lies and self-deceptions. These three different forms of "un-truth" we know
from daily experience. And by experience we know three important fallacies:
"Fallacy of consensus", "fallacy of evidence", and "fallacy of plausibility",
which means: "What all agree to, need no be the case; what is 'evident', need
not be the case; what is 'plausible', need not be the case." These experiences
motivated the search for truth and Socrates may be called the godfather of this
search, while Descartes and Hume and Kant and Wittgenstein may have been his
most famous followers.
None of the great philosophers and metaphysicians was unaware of the problem of
truth, but Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud merely saw this in a different light.
Instead of studying a logical problem they hinted at a practical one: Why is
it, that people often are not so much interested in uncovering the truth but in
suppressing, rejecting, and evading it?
This was the great theme of "lebensphilosophie" which has taken seriously the
fact that thinking and truth in humans is not of interest in itself but is of
interest in the service of life and as a result of this is always ambivalent:
While "nothing is more practical than a good theory", any moral agent needs
hope and self-assuredness instead of melancholic doubts to get along in life.
False dreams and hopes may be the driving force behind great deeds while "the
truth" may be paralyzing and discouraging. By this argument Nietzsche chided
Socrates as being not helpful with his destructive attitude to all forms of
self-assuredness. But Socrates made people think on what it means to use
Man is often labelled "the thinking animal", "homo sapiens". But man is as much
a practical and creative and dreaming animal, a "homo faber" and "homo
creativus", and as such is asking for some good argument to guide his plans and
deeds. And as a moral agent, man is not just seeking truth but is seeking goals
and values and ways - and the arguments and strength and encouragement to keep
to those goals and to go those ways.
To err is not only a scientific or technical problem caused by applying some
false formulas or data or some false logical thinking. We often feel that we
erred in our way of treating other people, or in our decisions on some
important steps or directions in our life. Then we may feel ashamed or full of
remorse even if nobody else is accusing us. This insistent feeling of being
wrong, of having chosen a wrong way, of having failed our ideal standards, does
not indicate an error that could be assessed in the logico-scientific way. Yet
the very concept of error is meaningless even in such cases without the concept
of truth. By this we see a very old and venerable concept of truth again which
is quite different from the logico-scientific sort of truth. Because of this I
will henceforth keep apart two quite different concepts of truth as
"moral-spiritual truth" or TM on the one side and "logico-scientific truth" or
TL on the other. The third variety of truth I will call "artistic truth" or TA,
which makes the artist or architect or musician or entertainer or novelist etc.
sense whether they have failed some idea of a good and "true" work of art.
The important difference of TL when compared to TM and TA can bee seen as
follows: TL is a truth about "objective facts" of logic, mathematics, physics
and events. TM and TA are not on facts but on values and goals and ways.
Because of this most philosophers today don't speak of truth in the cases of TM
and TA anyway, but I think they should. I am not falling victim to "naturalistic
fallacy" here! I am just saying that to err includes by necessity the possible
alternative of being right - or at least of being "more near to the truth". You
just cannot speak of error or failure in a moral or artistic context without the
idea of some alternative "more near to truth" that you failed to realize. This
of course is a central idea of Plato and Aristotle.
But, as Aristotle already said: You need not assume an objective and eternal
truth to explain the meaning of moral or artistic failure. As we all know,
ideals may change dependent on culture and history, and we know that the
notions of better and worse do not necessarily include the notions of best and
worst. For instance, we have good and less good works of art and music, but no
best work. But even granting all this not many people would ever subscribe to
the idea that "anything goes". And this is a strange fact I try to understand.
It's a real philosophical problem and cannot be dismissed as a mere matter of
taste and left to the psychologist. It's a matter of orientation and evaluation.
To put the problem in a different light: "Why are people fighting - even
offering their lives like Socrates, Jesus, Bruno, Luther and many other
dissidents - to defend a truth which, in a strictly scientific sense, does not
even exist?" What value are those martyrs defending with their lives? They all
FEEL that it is a truth, but we have to understand what sort of truth it is.
Man is not - like the animals - bound to nature by instincts. He is free to
frame a picture of the world around him. This is a great leap forward in
evolution, since it enables imagination. By imagination and fantasy you become
independent of the "here and now", since you can build a model of what is
removed in time (tomorrow, yesterday) or in space ("other worlds" beyond the
horizon). But if you can model "real" reality in this way, you have the means
to model all sorts of "fictitious realities" too. Thus while in the first line
to be able to build models of the world is of the greatest practical usefulness
for hunting and building houses and traps and strategies etc. (all this requires
imagination of what could and should be or happen!), this ability is as good for
dreaming and "making sense of the world you live in." From this it doesn't
matter too much whether you build cathedrals of stone or of words and thoughts.
It's not a Christian thing: Remember the great visions of Marx and Lenin, who
too changed the world according to their visions. Their visions were as
misleading in most respects as were the visions of the religions. But people
need to have such visions to do great works - either to build cathedrals, or to
transform societies, or to land a man on the Moon or Mars and for this develop
the spaceships needed. Without our dreams there would be not much of value. We
would be mere "intelligent cattle".
And there is a paradox: You just can't be intelligent and still be like cattle.
If you are intelligent you have fantasy, and if you have fantasy you will think
of strange and distant and never seen worlds to be discovered and conquered or
to be built by yourself and your children and grandchildren. This in fact is my
theme: How should the world be like, the world designed and formed by ourselves
at this time, so that from looking backward in the year 3000 our descendants
could call it great and admirable and a testimony of our true intelligence and
not call it a failure and a shame? But by what standard? If "anything goes"
there would be none whatsoever. And that's our problem.
The answer to this cannot come from the sciences. The architect will not ask
the buildings-engineer how the new building should be like. The
buildings-engineer can only tell the architect what is feasible, not what is
"good". The "truth" of the artist and architect is quite different from the
truth of the engineer. But this does not mean that "anything goes". A good or
even great architecture is quite different from a bad or boring one. To find
the good solution from the countless possible solutions is the problem of the
artist and of the moral agent. In this they are asking for "truth".
The fundamental problem of ANY thinking being - even of a thinking robot, if
ever such a thing will exist - is TO MAKE GOOD USE OF ITS FREEDOM OF CHOICE.
Because to think includes by necessity to have countless options open for you
to choose from. Thus you have to find out which option to pick - and why. And
NO SCIENCE EVER WILL TELL YOU. Because picking an option is applying some
values and preferences, and science by its very nature is on facts and by this
is value-free. This establishing of values - and not only consolation and hope
- is one of the main justifications of any religion. You can try to do without
of course, but then you typically will have the values of the Nazis or of the
communists or the hedonists. I have doubts that this is preferable. To expect
that only nice and reasonable and caring "secular humanists" will take over is
What great authors of novels and of theology and philosophy always try to make
us aware of are those many ways of erring in a moral and spiritual sense, those
many pitfalls of vanity and self-deceit and false arguments and false
expectations that always spoil our deeds and plans. To err in a moral or
spiritual sense is not to err in a scientific sense but the error is in effect
like a moral and mental corruption and illness, weakening and sometimes even
destroying us personally - and sometimes whole societies as in the cases of
Fascism and Stalinism and even in cases of religious fundamentalisms.
This was the great theme of Nietzsche and of Freud and their followers: How
people spoil their life and that of other people by false fears and false
dreams and false intentions that all do not fit with "reality". But this is not
different from religious advice as, for instance, from the Buddha or from Jesus.
I think the core of all great religions is NOT fear of some projection of the
"ubervater" ['over-father', ed.], but is "angst" in a disturbing world. On this
I think Freud was wrong. Well, in older religions the fear of the "ubervater"
may have been a dominant feeling, but in the "renewed" religion of the Buddha
and of Jesus and Muhammad the dominant theme is "overcoming angst". What the
Buddha said, and what Jesus said was: "I will lead you out of darkness and
error, you can overcome angst and get out into the freedom and into the light."
Socrates did not go that far, but at least into the same direction. Thus it was
a matter of truth and not going astray.
And from this we see why removing all religions would not be a good idea: What
humans fear most - and have to fear most - is not the demons and superstitions,
but is man himself, his errors, his vileness, his stupidity and vanity. What
people fear is anarchy. To do away with religion may be getting rid of an
allegedly suppressive and fearful "ubervater", but then the gangsters rush in
to take his place. The fearful king and "ubervater" was at the same time seen
as the power upholding peace and law and order. This explains why even Hitler
and Stalin, Mao and Chomeini were seen and acclaimed as godlike liberators from
chaos and the villains.
But of course those "Great Helmsmen" in fact were great seducers and liars, not
true leaders. They led their peoples into darkness, not into the light, into
hate and fear, not into freedom. Thus we see once more this central theme of
lying and moral error which is so different from any mere scientific error.
This was what Jesus had on his mind when he said "I am the way, the truth, and
Moral and spiritual truth has two different while deeply connected aspects: One
is "clarity" and light, the other is "soundness" and reliability. If you build
your house on false assumptions, your house will fall down in due time. As I
said above, the main objective of any great religion is not so much to uncover
the hidden truth as to uncover the hidden lie - even that of agnosticism. We
should be careful here. It is very important to see the difference of "sinning
against the traditions of the community" and "sinning against the spiritual
inner truth." Both forms of "sinning" are very different and often conflicting.
Socrates and Jesus were both put to death (and Luther was declared outlaw)
because they were "sinning against the traditions of the community" in the view
of the authorities, but they did so to defend "the spiritual inner truth" of the
community. Their charge was that "the traditions of the community" were held up
by "sinning against the spiritual inner truth." This charge is similar to that
of those dissidents fighting Fascisms and Stalinisms and Christian or Islamic
fundamentalisms in the name of the inherent ideals of those movements, ideals
that have been corrupted by arrogance and fear, and by an obsession with power,
purity and control.
Any great religious or idealist conviction is as much a stabilizing as a
revolutionary creed. Matthew 10, 34-39 is a harsh and rebellious saying, and in
a similar mood modern theology in the words of Karl Barth (1886-1968) has put it
thus (not verbally, but the gist of it): "Don't ask how God is pleasing and
servicing you. Ask how you can please and service God!" A religion is quite a
challenge and not just a means "to keep people in moral order." A great
religion is a fundamental critique of human conduct, not just urging mere "good
behaviour". It is questioning the usual way of seeing things, not just a
"superstition". It is giving hope and strength in an absurd world, not just
offering "false dreams". Well, 90 per cent of religious practice may be of the
less good sort, but the essence is not.
I would not deny that all the bad effects of religion - urging mere good
behaviour and conformity, replacing solid knowledge and wisdom by
"superstition" and causing "false dreams" and being "opium of the masses" - are
of practical importance. And this applies with political religions like
nationalism, racism, fascism and communism etc. likewise. But we never should
forget that a-religious thinking is at least as ambivalent. What in fact is the
difference between slaying poor heathen in the name of God and slaying poor Jews
and capitalists in the name of "human progress"? The evil is not in religion
itself but in human stupidity and fear and vileness.
Thus once more: "The main objective of any great religion is not so much to
uncover the hidden truth as to uncover the hidden lie." Which of course are but
the two sides of the same problem. The important point to be seen is:
"Reasonable" behaviour can be as full of hidden lies as "religious" behaviour!
The great danger of all modern "scientism" and "naturalism" is to blur this
fact. The Nazis and the Stalinists thought themselves quite "reasonable". They
were killing in the name of reason. They were proud to suppress their feelings
of pity and respect in the name of reason and assumed good results. What did
analytical philosophy do to tell us what went wrong?
All true spiritual thinkers - as for instance Dostoevsky or Soloviev or
Bernanos - clearly saw this difference of being "reasonable" and being "good".
And they saw the hidden lies in most pious people too - as clear and even
clearer as Nietzsche or Freud ever did. Truth and lie in this sense are very
difficult problems, evading all mere "scientific" approaches. We should become
aware of this fact again.
The search for truth is like the search for the Holy Grail. A human life is not
a technical problem but a spiritual one. When the followers of Jesus asked him
"Master, where shall we go?" they were asking for guidance in a spiritual
wilderness. Even positivist philosophy is often a method to evade the
confrontation with truth and lie by splitting logical hairs like the pharisees
and scribes, and by this means stay comfortable.
The Greek word for wisdom - sophia - and the Jewish word for wisdom both meant
"to know what is right", and this comprised both aspects, the
scientific-factual and the moral one. To be right in the moral sense just meant
to be reasonable and to know your limits and God's word. This was one world of
"universal truth", whether in the Greek or in the Hebrew or in any other -
Buddhist, Christian, Islamist etc. - understanding. This unity has been lost
somewhere in the lifetime of Kant, but many people want to have it back. What
we are asking for today and with growing urgency is a new reading of what to
call "good" and "sensible" as different from merely being "technically and
scientifically effective". We don't need a philosophy for cattle-breeders and
The primary meaning of "being true" is to be "sound, sane, consistent,
reliable, sensible, honest, sincere, proven" as opposed to being "unsound,
insane, unreliable, absurd, dishonest, insincere, and pretending." We humans
are living in a world of thinking and inventive moral agents, not in a world of
provable facts and theories. We have to find a way to go and to act.
I am not opposed to modern analytical criticism per se. In the same way as
modern concepts of art have destroyed all former conventions on what art is,
modern analytical criticism destroyed all former conventions of what philosophy
is. But modern art, by destroying outlived conventions, much widened our
understanding of what art can be. So we have to ask whether modern philosophy,
by destroying outlived conventions in philosophical thinking, is as much
widening and enriching our understanding of what philosophy can be. Our modern
concept of truth should not become scholastic and hair-splitting but mind
expanding. It should allow us to see farther into the universe of reality than
we ever before dared or imagined to see.
Truth, justice, and beauty are but three of the great guiding ideas of mankind,
comparing what is to what should be, "for now we see through a glass, darkly,
but then face to face." The common and fundamental meaning of truth, justice,
and beauty is "characterizing a state of affairs we can agree to". This state -
and not some solution to a formula - is the goal of our eternal quest for truth
as thinking beings. My objection to positivism, logicism and naturalism is not
that they are "wrong" but that they are sterile and reducing the great human
quest for truth to a mere thoughtless method of accounting. The problem for
humans as moral agents is not scientific truth but reason, humanity, and
We live in a fragmented world of many different "multicultural" opinions, and
being open to learn from other people's view makes the strength of modernity.
To find the truth is our common human endeavour. But it's only in part a
scientific endeavour. It's more like a competent audience judging the arguments
of the philosophers and artists and practitioners and scientists and theologians
suggesting solutions for our problems. Who is this audience? The whole of
(c) Hubertus Fremerey 2005
II. 'WAS KANT A MYSTIC?' BY ARTHUR BROWN
Immanuel Kant is one of the most famous philosophers of the Enlightenment. He
and David Hume represent the two great minds of the eighteenth century. He is
well known for his ideal transcendentalism, a phenomenological philosophy that
was considered by many to be a safe haven for religion from the fatal empirical
arrows of David Hume. According to this philosophy this world is not "real" yet
it is not mere illusion either: it is a phenomenon of the ultimate reality, the
world of the noumenal, the thing in itself.
Kant describes his position and tries to prove it in his famous Critique of
Pure Reason. In the simplest sense, Kant is saying that outside of us there are
the things in themselves, the noumenal world. So Kant is denying that our minds
somehow create the universe, which is strict idealism. Yet, our minds are
crafted in a way by which they cannot comprehend the world "correctly". Some
axioms are hard wired in our minds, they interact with the world that we
perceive to produce a non-identical image of the universe in our minds. So,
according to Kant, we are perceiving a world that really exists, yet not in its
real nature, but only as a phenomenon.
It's just like a man who is wearing sunglasses, he will see things as black or
dark, the sunglasses did not create the external world, it just somehow
"modified" the objects to appear darker.
Kant states twelve axioms among which are time, space, unity, multiplicity and
causality. So we can conclude that the world in itself, that reality is neither
one nor many, that it is timeless, spaceless... etc. He even tries to prove his
position by proving time and space can not really exist by trying to prove that
their existence is paradoxical, for example he tries to prove that time cannot
have existed for ever and at the same time that it can not have been created,
thus he concludes that time does not really exist outside our minds.
It seems all those efforts were mainly done by Kant to preserve ethics. Kant
thinks that free will is essential for an ethical world, yet the strict
mechanical world view supposed by the classical physics of his age were
definitely leading to determinism and negation of any free will. According to
Kant's philosophy, our actions are totally governed by the natural laws in our
phenomenal world. Yet, free will does exist in the world of the thing in
itself. How free will can be "misperceived" as predetermined actions in the
phenomenal world is something we cannot know since we lack any knowledge about
the nature of the world in itself.
Evaluating Kant's Position here is not my goal. I just want to give the reader
a glance on Kant's philosophy before starting our inquiry about his philosophy
and genuine mysticism.
Some people would conclude that Kant's philosophy is mystical, since it somehow
may sound like the common teachings of the mystics. It agrees with the
widespread mystical doctrines in some aspects. My position here is that Kant
was not a mystic and that his philosophy was just close to the mystical
position by chance.
I will have now to discuss mysticism a bit. Mysticism is a universal experience
and practice. Trying to derive certain dogmas from such a wide spectrum of
variable systems of mysticism from the whole worldwide heritage is very
difficult indeed, yet I think it is not necessary. My personal view is that the
mystical experience itself is almost always the same, yet its interpretation is
opened to cultures and religions. Thus mystics may teach apparently different
dogmas, although all those dogmas are mere explanations for the same
experience. So I will try to compare Kant to the basics of any mystical
Many philosophers agree that there are two mystical experiences , one called
"extrovertive" mysticism in which the mystic will somehow realize "the one" in
everything around him and in his own self; the other is the "introvertive"
mysticism in which the mystic will realize "the one" alone, being bare of any
Since our interest here is in the relation between the ultimate reality and the
world as we perceive, I will mainly stress "extrovertive" mysticism.
Mystics usually perceive things "outside" of time; they speak of "eternal
actions" or "timeless actions". Actions still happen, yet the sense of time is
dramatically suppressed. Indians usually speak of time (along with the whole
world) as maya, illusion. Meister Eckhart teaches us that "Nothing is as
opposed to God as time... There is no process of becoming in God, but only a
present moment, that is a becoming without a becoming, a becoming-new without
renewal... All that is in God is an eternal present - time without renewal"
(Sermon DW 50). Mystics also speak in a similar manner about space and
Kant would provide similar teachings: the phenomenal world is not "real", the
twelve axioms are merely subjective mental constructions, and among them we
find time, place and multiplicity. Kant intellectually concluded this, from
what he thought to be paradoxical in this world. His arguments about the
paradoxical nature of time and place are well known and found elsewhere on the
internet, so in order to focus on our main concern, I will not explain them
here. Meanwhile, Meister Eckhart when saying the above stated words didn't
conclude that time is inapplicable to god, he felt that. He simply felt a
strange state of being, a wired type of consciousness where time is totally
transcended. Indian mystics even naively concluded that time is illusory. No
mystic did even realize that he concluded anything, the experience was so
intense that the illusory nature of time was self evident. The same can be said
regarding place and multiplicity.
It was just a coincidence that Kant and the mystics reached such identical
positions from totally different starting points and different paths. Yet, such
positions are not as close as it might seem to the first instance. There are
such critical differences that would solidly prove the different grounds of
reasoning, I'll try to explain some here.
While Kant thinks that our mind shapes the world the way we see it, a mystic
will simply speak of our being alienated from the "right" perception where we
come to see god in all things, good as well as evil. Thus to a mystic the
ultimate reality is mainly the core or essence of what exists. It is not to be
said that the thing should have a different shape other than the shape that we
see, but that god dwells in it the way it already is. Trying to prove that this
world is illusory is not a genuine mystical doctrine, it is acceptable in India
for example but Christian mystics as Eckhart, Tauler, Suso never expressed
their need for such a doctrine. They just stressed that god is in everything.
Theravada Buddhism is maybe the only genuine mystical system where the feeling
of sacredness is dramatically suppressed, but if we put this exception apart,
we can say that any mystic would feel sacredness towards the ultimate reality.
Kant, as far as I know, never talked about the noumenal world with this
sanctifying attitude. To him, the thing in itself was merely a solid
Mystics believe that one can experience the ultimate reality via the mystical
experience. Some call it nirvana, moksha, being one with the Tao, the inner
birth of the Christ, the Christ consciousness, the Buddha nature, the spiritual
wedding, etc. Although they all stress that the ultimate reality can never be
expressed by words, they believe it can be known, or better say it can be felt.
The reasons for this alleged ineffability are worth investigation, but that is
not our subject now. Kant, however, denies any possibility of knowing (and not
"feeling" since the noumenal world to him is just an intellectual subject) the
noumenal world. According to him, our minds were just crafted to see the world
this way, the mind has been made to be governed by time, place, etc and it
cannot transcend itself to know the thing in itself. It can, however,
intellectually conclude the presence of such a thing because it can know that
the axioms (time, place, etc) are paradoxical and not real. And thus Kant would
strangely agree (and once again for different reasons) that you couldn't say
what the noumenal world is, yet you can say what it is not. Just like the
lovely Indian "neti neti". Yet the mystics do know what "god" is like, they
just negate the possibility of saying what "god" is like. Kant here deviates.
I think that the last paragraph alone can disprove Kant being a mystic.
Here is another difference, less complicated but no less important. Almost all
mystics would affirm that the ultimate reality is one.
Oneness is perhaps the only positive affirmation a mystic attributes (and
strongly attributes) to the ultimate reality. Yet Kant doesn't. Since Kant
thought that Oneness is also an axiom, the thing in itself is neither one nor
many. While mystics find this reality to be "pure oneness" Kant thinks the
noumenal world transcends even oneness. Finally Kant explicitly deviates from
one of the most, if not the most, important tenet of genuine mysticism.
I must state here a possible objection to this point. According to the
objection (expressed to me by a friend) mystics claim that the ultimate reality
is both one and many, and that I am wrong in saying that they think it to be
"pure oneness". I here reply that multiplicity is only evident in the
"extrovertive" mystical experience when the one is perceived through all the
things that exist, so it is not the ultimate reality that is many, yet the
world from beyond which the one is present. So the mystical ultimate reality is
one and only one. But it is manifested in the multiplicity of this world, it is
not multiplicity itself, but it radiates from beyond the multiplicity.
This is best described in this extract from a poem by Shelley:
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity.
And after all is said, let's forget about the theoretical part. Let's look to
Kant the man. He was definitely a man of ethics, and as far as I can see he
didn't build his philosophy to protect religion, but to protect the ethics of
religion. He was too wise to be fooled by religion's fairy tales and omnipotent
gods. He was sad to see ethics collapse with religion. And his "Religion in
limits of mere reason" clearly shows his non-interested position in religion.
But although being a man of ethics, he was not a man of mysticism. He never let
a tear of love fall on his cheeks, he never let peace dwell in his soul, and he
never let his emotions take him to the desert of Eckhart's essential
Kant is to be respected as a philosopher who fought for ethics, and as one of
the most intellectually advanced men in his century. He definitely deserves to
be remembered as a freedom lover and truth seeker, yet not as a mystic.
(c) Arthur Brown 2005
III. 'REVIEW OF FRANCIS WHEEN HOW MUMBO-JUMBO CONQUERED THE WORLD' BY COLIN
If, as a student of philosophy, you were looking for a launch pad for the
Pathways Possible World Machine course you could do worse than invest in this
excellent book, compiled, if that is the right word, by a former columnist for
the Guardian who writes with an acerbic wit and lampoons with deadly accuracy
the arrogance and mediocrity of some of our current world leaders. Especially
Tony Blair, whom he describes taking a mud bath rather appropriately with his
guru-smitten wife, Cherie, who you may remember appeared at the front door of
Ten Downing Street on the day her husband took office, clad in little more than
her petticoat. I guess to have stepped from there into a steam bath was a
relatively simple matter.
One reviewer has already suggested this book has rescued "the greatest
philosophical movement of the past millennium", namely the Enlightenment as it
drifted towards a sunset of oblivion as existentialism and the
post-structuralists set out to build a new world, uncluttered by such
posthumous anachronisms. Add to this the even greater uncertainties that a
post-tsunami world has now thrust upon the planet and a book like this makes
valuable holiday reading. It is laced with an almost self-parodying humour.
Wheen may be better known for his well-received biography on the now largely
discredited Karl Marx, but even here critics have suggested that humour was
better left out of account. Both the author and his subject's shade would have
no doubt smiled at such pettiness. One more interesting link from Wheen's bio
is the award of the George Orwell Prize last year. Orwell's literary pseudonym
replaced the rather squalid middle class origins he preferred to forget as a
member of the Blair family. The present New Labour Prime Minister might like to
note this somewhat interesting coincidence.
Mumbo-Jumbo has indeed conquered a large slab of the thinking world - the
Blairites included. In his Mexican mud rebirthing the British leader offered a
prayer for world peace to an ancient Mayan deity - a month later 9/11
catapulted the world into a new era of the war against terror. The use of
astrologers and other new age aids was not new on the American continent. Nancy
Reagan wanted constant advice when her husband was in office. He, too, had
consulted Jeanne Dixon some time before becoming President. Having already
predicted the death of a "blue-eyed democratic president in office" it was
somewhat surprising this famous clairvoyant failed to pick up the later attempt
on Regan's life that he miraculously survived. Very few politicians of the
eighties survive Wheen's spleen. This includes Margaret Thatcher whom he
describes as "a devotee of mystical electric baths". The lady was not for
burning apparently, nor would she stoop to the muddy variety, perhaps a cut
above her successor from the New Left.
None of the sacred cows escape the cut of his satirical sword. UFO buffs,
including the distinguished Earl of Clancarty, come in for a ribbing, even
though this Irish peer held the first ever debate on UFO's in l979, suggesting
to their startled lordships that aliens were living in the earth's crust,
though he admitted, "I haven't been down there personally." Conspiracy buffs,
Nostradamus support teams and those like myself who predicted huge earthquakes
with the line-up of the planets in l982 came down with a bump when the
so-called Jupiter effect passed without incident. Wheen, it cannot be denied,
is an excellent debunker and may even wean a few New Age devotees off the teats
of their sacred cows. I think this is an important function of his book -
whatever your particular philosophical persuasion may be - it will cause you to
pause awhile and rethink where you are rooted. This surely must be why we
students of philosophy perennially pursue truth in the hope that like St
Francis of Assisi the result may be:
"Where there is error may we bring truth..."
The Guardian columnist raves along most readably for some 312 pages and it is
hard at times to put Mumbo Jumbo down even to brew a cup of coffee. I think I
read it over about two days, finishing just hours before the tsunami finally
struck. The world will probably never be quite the same again and we will learn
to adjust. Maybe this book will help those with questing minds to see some kind
of pattern out of the present chaos towards a more harmonious future where the
huge gap between rich and poor can be narrowed once and for all.
Philosophically, too, there have been a rash of commentators, questioning how
this could have happened, if there is indeed a god. Nietzsche declared him dead
at the beginning of what is now the last century. At the beginning of this one
first we have already had 9/11 and now the tsunami. The certainty of
uncertainty is for most now a way of life.
(c) Colin Amery 2005
Web site: http://www.amerylaw.co.nz
Francis Wheen How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World is published by Harper
Perennial (2004). ISBN 0007140975.
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