Monthly Archives: June 2019

Reading Schiller (and others)

On the road to science (the times of science #3) the nature of the domain to be explained remains unclear, as does, of course, just how the new science will go about its explaining — with what units acting and interacting in what ways. These questions get answered — progressively answered — only when the new science finally takes off as an open collective enterprise.

In the event, decisive advances made along that road must be read as oracular prophesies delivered in a kind of code.  The expositor does not know the goal, or the way by which it is to be reached or, of course, what particular steps might lead along that way. She quite literally does not know what she is talking about. And yet, through a kind of second sight, through some sort of strange intuition, decisive perceptions are attained which anticipate that goal and can even make contributions that will prove to be important when the new science eventually is able to undertake its investigations in the unknown future.

As an example, consider this sentence from Schiller’s sixth aesthetic letter:

Einseitigkeit in Übung der Kräfte führt zwar das Individuum unausbleiblich zum Irrthum, aber die Gattung zur Wahrheit.

One-sided exercise of its energies leads the individual inevitably into error, but the species into truth.

As may particularly be seen in countless absurd readings of Schiller (and even more of Hegel), it is tempting (as more than two centuries of responses to Schiller and Hegel amply demonstrate) to read Schiller here as characterizing the human species as some kind of mystical ‘world spirit’. The relation of the erring individual to that specter is imagined as if the species, so conceived, were to come into its truth through us erring individuals, or as it being already in truth but somehow requiring our recognition of this, or as it somehow finding its truth despite us, behind our backs, so to say, in a kind of ruse — etc etc etc.1

But Schiller was no more accurately seeing the actions of some mega-spirit here than were alchemists accurately investigating dragons and green lions. What Schiller was seeing through a glass darkly was rather the elementary structure of experience whose range or species is composed of ‘individual’ expressions of it — just as the table of chemical elements is composed of individual instances of the same basic structure (or ‘species’). Further, he was seeing that it is through identification and specification of that elementary structure alone that the factual level of individual and collective experience can at last be understood (through ongoing collective investigation).

Of course, if experience comes in different units of the same basic structure, the question must be posed how one of these, or a compound of these, comes at any moment to be the form of my experience — or the form of anyone’s experience. This has to do with the difference between the elements of physical nature and the elements of experiential nature. And here, too, Schiller exercised great penetration:

Der Wille des Menschen steht aber vollkommen frei zwischen Pflicht und Neigung, und in dieses Majestätsrecht seiner Person kann und darf keine physische Nöthigung greifen. Soll er also dieses Vermögen der Wahl beibehalten und nichts desto weniger ein zuverlässiges Glied in der Causalverknüpfung der Kräfte sein, so kann dies nur dadurch bewerkstelligt werden, daß die Wirkungen jener beiden Triebfedern [Pflicht und Neigung] im Reich der Erscheinungen vollkommen gleich ausfallen und, bei aller Verschiedenheit in der Form, die Materie seines Wollens dieselbe bleibt, daß also seine Triebe mit seiner Vernunft übereinstimmend genug sind, um zu einer universellen Gesetzgebung zu taugen. (Aesthetische Briefe, # 4)2

Schiller seems to be talking in quasi-Kantian terms here about concrete human beings and the conditions of their acting morally. But what may be discerned between the lines of this passage is the elementary form of experience which can be expressed as the range over which the ratio of A to B (here inclination and duty) extends, as marked by a relative preference for the one and/or the other. It is such differentiated weighting that Schiller calls ‘the human will’, the ‘magisterial (right of) personality’, and the ‘power of (re)solution’: these mark the elementary forms of human experience in a way that the elementary forms of physical nature are not marked. What differentiates the individual expressions of the general A/B ratio — unlike the difference in number of electron/proton which differentiates the chemical elements — is exactly the different marking or weighting or valorizing that may be exercised on that ratio in the spectrum between A at one of its ends and B at the other where all of the points between these ends are co-variable A/B ratios.

Again, when Schiller speaks of ‘universal legislation’, he is using Kantian language. But what is at stake is a whole new way of humans understanding themselves and deciding on their individual and collective actions through open research. Once the elementary structure of experience is exposed for collective investigation, humans will understand their actions —  and thereby pursue their actions — in a whole new way. They will know in advance the predictable effects of their experience, know it to be optional (ie, variable through the ‘magisterial right of personality’) and know its available alternatives along with their effects: 

Er kommt zu sich aus seinem sinnlichen Schlummer, erkennt sich als Mensch eine Wahl, deren er damals nicht fähig war, und verfährt nun nicht anders, als ob er von vorn anfinge und den Stand der Unabhängigkeit aus heller Einsicht und freiem Entschluß mit dem Stand der Verträge vertauschte. (Aesthetische Briefe, # 3)

The human being [both individual and collective] comes to itself out of its waking sleep, recognizes a choice which it could not make before, and sets to work as if beginning anew, exchanging the state of bondage by and for one of insight and free determination…

  1.  Such ‘dialectic’ may then be taken to represent the relation of the individual to God since the question arises whether the species, you and me and all the rest of us, might not actually be God. As a PhD project, somebody at some point will audit how much money has been spent over the last couple centuries paying professors to excogitate upon such idiocies. Such an accounting will demonstrate the enormous resources we have dedicated, not only to drivel, but to attacking ourselves and driving ourselves nuts.
  2.  Bartleby translation (with corrections and clarifications in brackets): “But the will of man is perfectly free between inclination and duty, and no physical necessity (can or ought to interfere) in this magisterial (right of) personality. If therefore he is to retain this power of (re)solution, and yet (also be an admitted) link in the causal concatenation of (internal and external) forces, this can only be effected when the operations of both these impulses (of inclination and duty) are (equally subject to expression) in the world of appearances. (And this) is only possible when, with every difference of form (in the relation of inclination and duty), the (differentiating) matter of man’s volition (so) remains the same (that the relation of these three factors is) sufficient (to give birth to the possibility of) a universal legislation.”

The Toronto school and Schiller

The relevance of Schiller to an investigation of the Toronto school does not have to do with its consideration of his work. There was no such consideration. Instead, the relevance has to do with the fact that Schiller, particularly in his Aesthetische Briefe, took up themes — and investigated those themes deeply — which the Toronto school would later also do. On the one hand, this gives an indication of a tradition within which the Toronto school participated, consciously or unconsciously1; on the other, Schiller’s work supplies clues for ways in which the Toronto school may usefully be examined. It is often the case in intellectual history, or always, that what can be found in a particular work or collective movement depends upon what is first of all brought to it.2

Here is Schiller in the sixth of the Aesthetische Briefe:3

Die mannigfaltigen Anlagen im Menschen zu entwickeln, war kein anderes Mittel, als sie einander entgegen zu setzen. Dieser Antagonism der Kräfte ist das große Instrument der Kultur, aber auch nur das Instrument; denn so lange derselbe dauert, ist man erst auf dem Wege zu dieser. Dadurch allein, daß in dem Menschen einzelne Kräfte sich isolieren und einer ausschließenden Gesetzgebung anmaßen, gerathen sie in Widerstreit mit der Wahrheit der Dinge und nöthigen den Gemeinsinn, der sonst mit träger Genügsamkeit auf der äußern Erscheinung ruht, in die Tiefen der Objekte zu dringen. Indem der reine Verstand eine Autorität in der Sinnenwelt usurpiert und der empirische [Verstand] beschäftigt ist, ihn den Bedingungen der Erfahrung zu unterwerfen, bilden beide Anlagen sich zu möglichster Reife aus und erschöpfen den ganzen Umfang ihrer Sphäre. (…) Sollte uns die Natur durch ihre Zwecke eine Vollkommenheit rauben können, welche uns die Vernunft durch die ihrigen [Zwecke] vorschreibt? Es muß also falsch sein, daß die Ausbildung der einzelnen Kräfte das Opfer ihrer Totalität nothwendig macht; oder wenn auch das Gesetz der Natur noch so sehr dahin strebte, so muß es bei uns stehen, diese Totalität in unsrer Natur, welche die Kunst zerstört hat, durch eine höhere Kunst wieder herzustellen.

That “the manifold aptitudes” of human being were set at odds by the Greeks and that this opposition was the motor of the whole western tradition was, of course, exactly the position reached by the Toronto school (along with I.A. Richards) by the late 1940s.4 So, too, the idea that the undoubted positive results of this tradition had brought with them fundamental problems which that tradition now had to solve (or potentially perish). As Schiller put these two points, the “rival directions [unloosed by the Greeks] arrive at the highest possible development, and exhaust the whole extent of their sphere”. McLuhan, for his part, had already been considering this constellation as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba, particularly in his work with Rupert Lodge. As he wrote in his master’s thesis on Meredith:

In his table talk, Coleridge noted that all men (…) are born either Platonists or Aristotelians. There are similarly, in all times and places, definite types of temperament displaying consistency of conformation. The literary or artistic expression of such temperaments has properly the same validity as has the philosophizing of the Idealist and the Realist.

These “Idealist” and “Realist” positions were just Schiller’s “pure understanding [which] usurps authority in the world of sense, and empiricism [which] attempts to subject this intellect [of pure understanding] to the conditions of [sense] experience”. As Lodge had insisted, and as Schiller explicitly stated, “it must be false that the Ausbildung of particular faculties [eg, of “understanding” and “sense”] renders the sacrifice of their totality necessary”. This must be false, that is, if it is true that these form a complex totality and not an unthinkable seamless singularity of some sort of one of them alone. It then followed for the Toronto school, as much as it did for Schiller, that the outstanding goal of western civilization must be to “re-form” (reformulate and thereby reinstitute) the “totality of our being” — especially including the medium enabling this complex.

This was what McLuhan called going ‘from the ivory tower to the control tower’. Not ‘control tower’ in the sense of some center manipulating lesser marginal entities through management from above, however, but ‘control tower’ in the sense of having an overview of independent entities each requiring attention and respect on its own, but just as much requiring communication between and among the ensemble. McLuhan expressed this notion to Jackie Tyrwhitt in this way:

With electronics, any marginal area can become centre, and marginal experiences can be had at any centre.  Perhaps the city needed to coordinate and concert the distracted sense programs of our global village will have to be built by computers in the way in which a big airport has to coordinate multiple flights.5

For Schiller, the demand was to understand “play” as the initial condition of such independence and coordination.  The overview depended upon an ability to allow “play” this priority.  Otherwise it would degrade into management via the rear-view mirror: a superiority would be assumed for which marginal entities could have neither genuine independence nor, as a result, effective coordination among themselves.6 

For McLuhan this priority of Schiller’s “play” was “the medium [that] is the message”. 

  1. The Toronto school was hardly unconscious of tradition and traditions. But as it itself was acutely aware, the great question was how to identify traditions and define them for further investigation. History played a major role in Innis’ economics; Innis named the subject of his work the “History of the Greek Mind”; and the single topic of McLuhan’s lifetime labor was the history of human communication. All realized that the cogency of their efforts depended upon the theorization deployed in their work; but they all equally realized that theory had to arise from the facts under study and could never be simply imposed on them.  All struggled with the chicken and egg problem implicated here. The suggestions of this blog is that there is a tradition of the consideration of this chicken and egg problem and that examination of it can supply interesting ways to approach both the contributions and the limitations of the Toronto school. Schiller was an important link in this further tradition whose foundation was laid by its two greatest representatives, Plato and Aristotle.
  2. The chicken and egg problem again — see the previous note.
  3. The translation at Bartleby: “There was no other way to develop the manifold aptitudes of man than to bring them in opposition with one another. This antagonism of forces is the great instrument of culture, but it is only an instrument; for as long as this antagonism lasts, man is only on the road to culture. It is only because these special forces are isolated in man, and because they take on themselves to impose an exclusive legislation, that they enter into strife with the truth of things, and oblige common sense, which generally adheres imperturbably to external phænomena, to dive into the essence of things. While pure understanding usurps authority in the world of sense, and empiricism attempts to subject this intellect (= pure understanding) to the conditions of experience (= the world of sense), these two rival directions arrive at the highest possible development, and exhaust the whole extent of their sphere.  (…) (But) can nature snatch from us, for any (particular) end whatever, the perfection (Vollkommenheit) which is prescribed to us by the (end) of reason (as opposed to understanding)? It must be false that the perfecting (Ausbildung) of particular faculties renders the sacrifice of their totality necessary; and even if the law of nature had imperiously this tendency, we must have the power to reform (re-form) by a superior art this totality of our being, which (inferior) art has destroyed.”
  4. This antagonism was formulated as sight versus sound, dialectic vs rhetoric, literacy vs orality, etc. Compare Schiller: “Der todte Buchstabe vertritt den lebendigen Verstand, und ein geübtes Gedächtniß leitet sicherer als Genie und Empfindung.” (Aesthetische Briefe, #6)
  5. McLuhan to   Tyrwhitt,  December 23, 1960, Letters 277–278.
  6. If speech were enforced along these lines, it would never have been initiated in history and could not be learned by a child today.

Lodge, Richards and Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters

Here is McLuhan’s mentor at the university of Manitoba, Rupert Lodge, at the beginning of his ‘Comparative Method in Philosophy’:1

Human knowledge is the product of two factors, sensation and intelligence. From sensation we derive the ultimate constituents of experience, its elementary qualities, its reds and blues, louds and softs, roughs, smooths, and the rest. These are not invented or originated by us, but are pure discoveries, sought after by us with interest, as gifts from the hand of nature which we may learn to use wisely and with discrimination. From the intellect with its spontaneous demand for unity, order, and system, we derive the formal patterns of logic and mathematics, in terms of which we seek to compare, distinguish. and arrange the sensory content of experience in such elementary relationships as apart or together, before or after, larger or smaller, more or less intense, to the right or to the left of, etc. These two factors are not found in complete isolation from one another, separated as if with a hatchet. In the simplest sensory experience there is at least a minimum of inference, as when we “separate” and “contrast” red and blue and “identify” this or that quality as belonging to the visual or auditory “system”. So, too, intellectual elaboration occurs only on the occasion of some stimulus which is sensory in origin and in its associations. Yet, since they differ in function, the one factor being essentially receptive and the other essentially originative, it is convenient as well as usual to regard them as distinct. While both are present in concrete knowing, each of these factors shows a considerable range of variation. At the one extreme it is possible for the sensory factor so to predominate as completely to overshadow the presence of intellectual factors. (…) At the other extreme it is possible for the intelligence (…) to predominate…

*

McLuhan’s library preserved at the University of Toronto does not have Ogden and Richards’ 1922 Foundations Of Aesthetics, which they co-authored with the painter James Wood. But he would certainly have read it at Cambridge along with its closely related Meaning of Meaning (Ogden and Richards, 1923), which McLuhan’s library has in a first edition copy with his marginal annotations. Given his training with Rupert Lodge at the University of Manitoba, immediately before his studies at Cambridge with Richards, he would have found the discussion of Schiller in the Foundations of great interest. For Lodge’s method, which set the program for McLuhan’s entire career, was a variation on Schiller’s as described in the Aesthetische Briefe of 1794.2

Here are Ogden and Richards on Schiller in The Foundations Of Aesthetics:

it was Kant’s view of the relations of Art and Play which led Schiller in his Briefe Uber die Aesthetische Erziehung der Menschen to elaborate a theory of harmonious activity in which a balance or equipoise is maintained. There are, according to Schiller (Letter 2), two opposing demands in man — that of the sense-impulse, and that of the form-impulse.3 (…) Harmony can be attained without diminution of either. And here the function of Play is introduced. The object of the sense-impulse is life, the object of the form-impulse, shape (Letter 15). The object of the play-impulse, expressed in a general proposition, can then be called living shape, or in its widest signification, Beauty.

Beauty, then (Letter 16), results from the reciprocity of two opposite impulses, and from the union of the opposite principles: we must seek its highest ideal in the most perfect possible equipoise.

“The scales of a balance stand poised”, he proceeds (Letter 20), “when they are empty; but also when they contain equal weights. Thus the mind passes from perception to reflection by an intermediate state (Stimmung) in which sense and reason are active at the same time, but thus mutually destroy their [one-sided] determining power and effect a [potentially positive] negation through an opposition [in which mere opposition is countered by relation] (…) if we call the condition of sensuous determination the physical, and that of reflective determination the logical and moral condition, we must call the condition of real and active [mutual] determinableness [Bestimmbarkeit]4 the aesthetic condition.”5

Modernity for Schiller, and then for Nietzsche a century later, and the Toronto school a half century later again, is the time when the balanced pans of a scale before a weighing (the precondition of any trustworthy weighing) are perceived as being only empty; and the difference between the two pans is perceived only as an antagonism. The great question posed by them all was how to restore perception, as McLuhan put it over and over again (including to the Ontario Dental Association), that “the gap is where the action is”.

It is here in the precondition of balance, and in the precondition of balance alone, that the play of the Spieltrieb is to be found already at work.

 

  1. In Manitoba Essays, ed Lodge, 405-432, 1937. For further citation and discussion, see The Comparative Method of Rupert Lodge and Rupert Lodge: Synthesis or Comparison?
  2. Schiller is mentioned by Lodge, but only in an off-hand manner, and seems never to have been discussed (or considered?) by him in detail. But this makes the parallels between them that much more remarkable.
  3. John Paul Russo in his detailed study of Richards has pointed out that the treatment of Schiller in The Foundations of Aesthetics is not entirely fair (I.A. Richards: His Life and Work, 106-107, but cf 712n62).  Indeed, it is particularly misleading to suggest, as Ogden and Richards do at this point in Foundations, that Schiller attributed “antagonism” to a prevalence of the sensuous drive over the rational one: “Whenever the form-impulse prevails (Letter 12) ‘there is the highest amplitude of being’. But if we subordinate (Letter 13) the sensuous to the rational, we get mere antagonism and no harmony.” Instead, Schiller was clear that “antagonism” results from the prevalence of either drive over against the other. “Antagonism” is exactly the absence, or at least the diminution, of mutual “play”. Ogden and Richards apparently did not see in this context how Schiller played off “highest amplitude” with “subordinate”: that is, in essential contrast to Heraclitus’ way up and down — “play” — he took “antagonism” to be the way up or down.  Schiller put this crucial point in the same Letter 13 cited by Ogden and Richards as follows: “The office of culture is to watch over them (the sensuous and rational drives) and to secure to each one its proper limits; therefore culture has to give equal justice to both, and to defend not only the rational impulsion against the sensuous, but also the latter against the former. Hence she has to act a twofold part: first, to protect sense against the attacks of freedom; secondly, to secure personality (“freedom”) against the power of sensations.”
  4. Schiller here plays off his earlier Stimmung (translated as “intermediate state” by Ogden and Richards, but in German has meanings ranging from ‘mood’ to ‘tuning’ and could even be ‘medium’ in this context) with Bestimmbarkeit. While it is not entirely mistaken to offer ‘determinableness’ as a translation of Bestimmbarkeit, the key move made by Schiller with his use of this term is to suggest that Stimmung is inherently plural such that any example of it has undergone a process of limitation and definition and only so has become distinct (bestimmt in German). The conclusion follows that any attempt to understand the role of play and beauty in human life, hence the role of any medium at all, must first of all be to assess that plurality and the ways in which it can become particularized. The same point concerning essential plurality is made by Schiller’s repeated use of the word ‘Gemüth’ (disposition) in this letter: ‘müth’ is cognate with English ‘mood’ and ‘Ge’ marks a collective.
  5. Die Schalen einer Wage stehen gleich, wenn sie leer sind; sie stehen aber auch gleich, wenn sie gleiche Gewichte enthalten. Das Gemüth geht also von der Empfindung zum Gedanken durch eine mittlere Stimmung über, in welcher Sinnlichkeit und Vernunft zugleich thätig sind, eben deswegen aber ihre bestimmende Gewalt gegenseitig aufheben und durch eine Entgegensetzung eine Negation bewirken. (…) wenn man den Zustand sinnlicher Bestimmung den physischen, den Zustand vernünftiger Bestimmung aber den logischen und moralischen nennt, so muß man diesen Zustand der realen und aktiven Bestimmbarkeit den ästhetischen heißen.”

Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters and nihilism

As soon as man is only form, he has no form, and the [autonomous] personality vanishes with the condition. In a word, it is only inasmuch as he is [genuinely] autonomous, that there is reality [also] out[side] of him, that he is receptive; and it is only inasmuch as he is receptive that there is reality in him…1 (Schiller, Aesthetic Letters, #13)2

At the midway point of his 1794 Aesthetic Letters (letter 13 of 27), Schiller foresaw what Nietzsche would specify almost a century later in his ‘History of an Error: How the true world became a fable’ (in Twilight of the Idols). When a human being becomes trapped in a hall of mirrors (all form or image, no outside reality), or, worse, a whole society (if that word can still be said to apply), or even a whole world (ditto), reality is lost — the ‘person’ as much as the ‘world’:

The true world — we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we also have abolished the apparent one!!3

The only way out of the hall of mirrors is finally to understand that it, too, is merely “apparent” and utterly vacuous.

In this way, such nihilism functions, or can function, as a direction marker. When the abysmal emptiness of a way of thinking and living is exposed, a new way can, at last, be discerned. What is lacking in most modern scholarship (if that word can still be said to apply) is the passion required for this exposure — and for the implicated dissolution of its own vacuity. Undergoing4 dissolution, alone, makes it possible to turn away from the hall of mirrors and to take another way — a way that may lead to reality, external and internal and, first of all, to the way between the two.5

Nihilism is the prompt exposing a new (though most ancient) ‘first of all’: the way between. Schiller’s play.

  1. Schiller’s point is that a psychotic (or an associate professor) who is unable to recognize the claims of an external reality has just to that extent also lost itself.
  2. Emphasis added. Translation is from Bartleby. The original (with emphasis added) reads: Sobald der Mensch nur Form ist, so hat er keine Form, und mit dem Zustand ist folglich auch die (selbständige) Person aufgehoben. Mit einem Wort: nur insofern er selbständig ist, ist Realität außer ihm, ist er empfänglich; nur, insofern er empfänglich ist, ist Realität in ihm…
  3.  Die wahre Welt haben wir abgeschafft: welche Welt blieb übrig? die scheinbare vielleicht?… Aber nein! mit der wahren Welt haben wir auch die scheinbare abgeschafft!! For discussion, see  Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters 2: What Mallarmé saw.
  4. Cf, “Zarathustra’s Untergang”: “Als Zarathustra dreissig Jahr alt war, verliess er seine Heimat und den See seiner Heimat und ging in das Gebirge.” Here away from his personal and geographical Heimat he addresses the sun as follows: “Du grosses Gestirn! Was wäre dein Glück, wenn du nicht Die hättest, welchen du leuchtest! (…) Ich möchte verschenken und austheilen, bis die Weisen unter den Menschen wieder einmal ihrer Thorheit und die Armen einmal ihres Reichthums froh geworden sind. Dazu muss ich in die Tiefe steigen: wie du des Abends thust, wenn du hinter das Meer gehst und noch der Unterwelt Licht bringst, du überreiches Gestirn! Ich muss, gleich dir, untergehen, wie die Menschen es nennen, zu denen ich hinab will. So segne mich denn, du ruhiges Auge, das ohne Neid auch ein allzugrosses Glück sehen kann! Segne den Becher, welche überfliessen will, dass das Wasser golden aus ihm fliesse und überallhin den Abglanz deiner Wonne trage! Siehe! Dieser Becher will wieder leer werden, und Zarathustra will wieder Mensch werden.”
  5. In order to be found, this way must first be taken.  This is the knot of thinking and time and being itself. See The times of science for discussion. Here is Heidegger: “Was heißt Denken? Was z.B. Schwimmen »heißt«, lernen wir nie durch eine Abhandlung über das Schwimmen kennen. Was Schwimmen heißt, sagt uns nur der Sprung in den Strom. Die Frage »Was heißt Denken«? läßt sich niemals dadurch beantworten, daß wir eine Begriffsbestimmung über das Denken, eine Definition, vorlegen…” (Was heißt Denken).

The times of science

In regard to the object, the working, the realization and the precondition of science, it is necessary to differentiate between a series of different times:

  1. the time of physical and psychological events in history (Voegelin’s “factual level of history”1) as the explanandum of science.2
  2. the time of laws below history that account for such events as their explanans (Voegelin’s “level of essence”) — eg, H + O => H20, which is always the case at the level of essence, but at the factual level will be expressed only within a complex of other factors which may or may not modify that expression.3
  3. the time of the discovery of such laws, which is a different time from the expression of laws at the factual and essential levels (even though the discovery happens in factual time and consists of insight into the essential level) — eg, all physical events have always obeyed the laws of chemistry, but chemistry itself was discovered only in the nineteenth century.
  4. the time of reality itself that enables such correlations between the factual and essential levels as well as the discovery of the laws of those correlations. The latter is another sort of correlation — between human insight and the correlations of the factual and essential levels of history. Now in order for these different sorts of correlations to be, they must themselves first of all be real possibilities. That is, such dynamics must be rooted in the nature of reality itself and this implicates another sort of time, since it cannot be the case that reality either holds seamlessly to itself or that it only fragments away from itself. In the first case, nothing else would be. In the second, correlation would not be. Reality itself is both irreducibly plural and integral, such that its very form is this dynamic knot of going out from itself while remaining correlated to itself. But dynamically going out from itself while staying correlated to itself is just what time is. Time ‘marches on’ as time. All time goes out from itself as its way of remaining itself. There is, then, a fundamental relation between being and time — both go out to go in — and it is this dynamic figure that underlies all the other times of science together with their correlations.4 

The time of the “factual level of history” is ever-changing or horizontal; the time of the “level of essence” is always the case or vertical; the time of discovery is horizontal/vertical, the moment in horizontal time when insight into timeless laws is achieved; the time of reality is the expression of all of these senses at once in a knot that is at once ‘on its own’ and yet tied through a possibility that is anything but its own. 

The history of philosophy, and of all the human sciences, might be told in terms of confusions between these different times. This is particularly to be seen in the reading of Hegel where the third level has nearly always been confused with the fourth, leading to the supposition that he either properly, or absurdly, foresaw “the end of history”. Instead, what Hegel foresaw is that the laws of the psychological/spiritual field would come to be known in a similar fashion to the way the chemical laws of physical materials began to be uncovered in his lifetime. What would end would not be all history, but the history of our ignorance of the interlocked factual and essential levels of spiritual reality. Not only would history not end, but a whole new history turning on this discovery would thereby begin. This would lead to ever-increasing insight into these spiritual levels and this, in turn, would lead to ever-increasing insight into all of the levels of time(s), but especially into level four — since our reflections about reality itself would at last be open to collective research.5

The times of the developments foreseen by Hegel are particularly knotted (hence also his exposition of them) since the eventual actualization of insight into the laws of spiritual reality depends on the prior possibility of this event in reality itself.  But this prior possibility in reality itself can be seen only after the actualization of such insight. As McLuhan often remarked, the effect comes before the cause. Such is the knot of time(s).

In fact, the Greeks had already come across these abysmal questions (perhaps in train of millennia-old traditions) and attempted to formulate them. When Whitehead observed that the history of western philosophy was a series of footnotes to Plato, he might equally have said that the dire history of our wars and social problems is a history of our continuing failure to understand the complications of times and therefore of our continuing inability to investigate that history scientifically.

The very existence of the human species, and perhaps even of the biosphere itself, may depend, as Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus remarks, on our awaking at last from the nightmare of this — correlated? — history of ignorance.

  1.  See Voegelin and the question of “intelligible units” for citation and discussion. See this same post for explanandumexplanans and Voegelin’s “level of essence”.
  2. All of the times considered here are knotted. At the factual level, for example, everything that happens is an expression of laws at the essential level.  But these are never known completely and may remain without theoretical elaboration for great stretches of time: most modern sciences have been known only for a small fraction of the time the human species has existed. And, indeed, how many undiscovered disciplines may be implicated in the factual level of events without our knowledge of them? As DNA-based genetics did until recently. And this complex of times could itself not exist except as something in being. The identity of times, their knot, must therefore always be borne in mind as their differences are interrogated.
  3. This is the difference between Saussure’s “langue” vs “parole”.
  4. Cf Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters (letter 11): “It is only in the absolute subject alone that its external determinations remain with it even as they flow out of it.” Original: “In dem absoluten Subjekt allein beharren mit der Persönlichkeit auch alle ihre Bestimmungen, weil sie aus der Persönlichkeit fließen.”
  5. Hans-Georg Gadamer used to call this imperatively needed collective research into fundamentals the “Dialog der Weltreligionen” or, in short, “die Sprache”.