Commentary on Political Economy

Friday, 29 May 2020

FROM LOGOS TO FREEDOM - Logos, Choris, Pistis

This is the first part of our latest study on the origin and nature of the concept of human Freedom - a work still in course. Further instalments will be made over the next few weeks.

FROM LOGOS TO FREEDOM - Logos, Choris, Pistis

And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, New Testament)

Like the Christian gospel, which was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, Nietzsche’s gospel of eternal recurrence is a stumbling block and foolishness to those who still believe in the religion of progress….because it revives the controversy between Christianity and paganism. (K. Lowith, Meaning In History, p.214.)

The genius of Johannine pneumatology (the doctrine of the Spirit) is that it raises the possibility that the Spirit may become Flesh or Nature, but only in the guise of the Word. It enucleates the Platonic choris or categorical separation between Divinity and World whilst seeking to bridge the consequent antinomic gap between them by means of the Word-as-Logos. Yet, in the guise of the Logos, the incarnation of the Word is at least comprehensible. Indeed, as we shall see, St. John’s happy intuition of the materiality of the Word can lead to the overcoming of the antinomies of the prima philosophia, away from transcendence to an immanent understanding of life and the world. The Spirit as “spirit” cannot logically find an earthly embodiment as Nature. This separation or chorismos of Spirit and Nature, of Subject and Object, of Body and Soul is ubiquitous in, and central to, the culture and cosmogony of the Occident – especially since the onset of Christianity in the Hellenic period and of Neo-Platonism as its dominant philosophical current since Augustine in the Middle Ages. It opposes the imperishability and perfection of the Spirit, divine and human, to the transience and inertness of Nature-Matter. The mode of being of the former is strictly Logical and Rational: its Reason or Logos lies outside time and space; its Truth is timeless and incorruptible. In contrast, Nature-Matter is in time and space; human perception of it is fallible and corruptible. Furthermore, it preserves the presumed unity and identification of the Divine Spirit not just with the human Soul but also with the more restrictive notion of Self.

It is the self-consciousness of Spirit, the reflective power and intro-spection of Spirit that leads in turn to the identification of the Spirit-Soul or pneuma with the Self or Ego as a specific entity. Hence, the notion of pneuma constitutes a continuum from the Divinity to the Soul, then to the Self, and then also to Mind or Intellect. Like the Divinity, the Soul-Mind (this is the dual meaning of Geist in German) is perfect in its logic or Reason, and eternal in its immortality. From the pre-Socratics to Saint Paul, the Hellenistic, Graeco-Roman Paideia encapsulates the theological origins of philosophy (W. Jaeger, Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers and Paideia.) Here already the tension between theology and metaphysics is evident because one depends on faith – which is impermeable to and impenetrable by rational discourse - and the other on logic or dialectics. Both theology and philosophy theorize the Cosmos, but they do so in different, irreconcilable ways. Hence, despite its religious origins, philosophical speculation, which must always be conducted in accordance with reason (logos), logically and rationally, having regard to analytical deduction and empirical induction, must remain separate from theological belief, which is confined to faith (Greek, pistis). The logos of philosophy is on one side of an unbridgeable divide from the Cosmos – a division or gap or hiatus (Greek, choris) that only the faith (pistis) of theology can overleap (hence, “leap of faith”).

Theory Between Philosophy and “Science”
It is mere and shallow impertinence, of course, to opine that the real epistemological opposition is not between theology and philosophy, but rather between philosophy and science. – Because, as we are about to demonstrate, there is no such thing as “science”. What we have, instead, is a bundle of “scientific activities or practices” that collectively we misname as “science”, that is, as a specific and precise dimension of human thought and action.The purpose of theoria is to com-prehend, to encapsulate the cosmos by understanding it. To do so, the theoretician must extrude himself from the cosmos, from the world that theory wishes to comprehend and explicate. Taken to extremes, theory attempts to extricate the theoretician from the world upon which he reflects to an Archimedean point that lies outside the cosmos itself. (Cf. J. Habermas, Appendix to Knowledge and Human Interests.) In short, the theoretician must acquire a vision akin to that of a hypothetical God – out of this world - whence the common derivation of the nouns, theory and theology (Greek, theorein).
Theory represents the tendency of the human intellect to abstract from immediate experience to a comprehensive totality. But this task is impossible, because the theoretician is indissolubly tied to and enveloped by the world. Even in the case of scientific theory, all the human intellect can achieve is to advance conjectures that are open to refutation; the regularities that “science” purportedly observes are theorized in strictly hypothetical terms that are intrinsically open to falsification, where the “laws” promulgated are based on praxis, on a will to truth, rather than on universally ascertainable and valid knowledge. (Cf. K. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations.) It is important to avoid talking of “science” and to insist rather on “scientific practices” so as to emphasize that “science” is not a monolithic objective practice based on a precise and invariant methodology. Rather, scientific practices are human activities whose orientation and experimentation are implicitly “practical”, that is, subject to political and ethical choices. This is especially so now that the entire establishment of “research and development” have become integrated with and subservient to the needs of industrial production and consumption after the emergence of capitalist enterprise. (One of the earliest and sharpest expositions of this subjugation of “science” to industrial capitalism is in Max Weber’s famous lecture, “Science as a Vocation”.)
The question arises then of whether the human intellect must limit itself to practical matters within the ambit of scientific experimental research and proof, or else reach beyond the scientific ambit not just to explore politico-ethical choices, but also to question those very “scientific practices” that scientists and capitalists are keen to present as “value-neutral”. Again, this question is especially relevant when we consider that not just the truthfulness of “normal science” is thereby called into question, but also the extent to which scientific intervention modifies, distorts and exacerbates the very objects of its research  once these have reached industrial levels! (On these themes, cf. T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and P. Feyerabend, Against Method.) If philosophy has become, after the Copernican revolution, the handmaiden of science, then since the Industrial Revolution scientific practices have turned into the slavish tools of industrial capitalism.
In the realm of theory, both theology and rational metaphysics are still necessarily proper objects of human intellectual endeavour simply because (a) science itself is an exquisitely practical enterprise subject to politico-ethical choices, and (b) in any case, scientific practices and theories are manifestly unable to exhaust the domain of human intellectual and practical inquiry. Beyond the sphere of scientific research and experimentation lie the other irrepressible fields of intellectual enquiry and inquiry – namely, divine revelation, which belongs properly to the sphere of theology, and that which pertains to the quest of rational metaphysics, that is, deducible and discursive reasoning, logico-mathematics and dialectics, and then importantly the fields of ethics and aesthetics. Put differently, not only does scientific practice not exhaust the spectrum of human inquiry, enquiry and conduct; but also, the very nature of human action requires that the intellect address the practical and deontological and choices requiring the exercise of judgement that depend in large part on our understanding of Life and the Cosmos. (Let us recall that, beyond the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant’s Second and Third Critiques were entitled Critique of Practical Reason and Critique of Judgement.)
What is valuable in metaphysical and philosophical speculation is that it exposes the limitations of scientific activity both in terms of the choices and values its research displays and in terms of its false attempt to curtail the sphere of “truth” to experimental certainty and reproducibility. Just because an outcome is certain and sometimes reproducible, it is not for that reason alone “true” in the sense that the scientific explanation for its occurrence is (a) indeed epistemologically valid as an explanation, (b) universally applicable, and (c), in the case of an experiment, even desirable in practical ethico-political and socio-economic terms! Given these premises, it is evident that philosophy is by no means relegated to the subservient status of ancilla scientiarum (servant of the sciences). (Recall E. Husserl’s seminal essay “Die Krisis”.)

The con-descension in the metonymy of the Christian Logos is evident: the Word is made flesh: it heralds the incarnation of the Spirit among earthly human souls to reveal the grace of their redemption, of their future a-scension to paradise. The clear implication is that, in the Logos, the Word is both categorically superior and prior to the Flesh: it is the Word that initiates the action and the Flesh that receives it. The inception and trajectory of the Judaeo-Christian Logos neatly encapsulates the two parallel but inextricable problems of human existence and reflection: - that of the nature of reality or Being (ontology) and that of the Beginning (epistemology and deontology). (The original Greek meaning of problema as “metaphysical enigma” is teased out by G. Colli in “La Sfida dell’Enigma”, a chapter of his La Nascita della Filosofia.) Within these problems lie the derivative ones of the relationship of individual and cosmos (immanence or transcendence) and individual and society (ontogenetic or phylogenetic). We shall tackle these presently.

The Judaeo-Christian Logos describes the event, the moment, when “the Word was made Flesh”. It is not that the Word turns into the Flesh, because Word-as-Spirit and Flesh-as-Nature remain two separate, unbridgeable, toto genere, categorically different entities. The Word-as-Spirit categorically negates, eschews conceptually the Flesh-as-Flesh, as Nature. For both Word and Flesh, Spirit and Nature are antinomic categories: in other words, it is impossible to fill the gap dividing and opposing them, to overcome their separation (chorismos) logically or rationally because the two concepts logically exclude each other, and only an irrational projection of faith (pistis) to the other side of the divide (choris) – only a “leap of faith”, a projectio per hiatus irrationale (Fichte), makes the bridging of this irrational gap possible. Hence, the Word has two moments: one as Spirit, which gives rise to an insuperable antinomy with the Flesh; and one as Logos, which in the Johannine doctrine, but not necessarily, results in an aporia that only faith can overcome. For the Word to be made Flesh, something in the nature of a miracle incomprehensible to human reason must take place. The Word itself, as Spirit, then, does not represent a Logos accessible to human reason: rather, it belongs to an intuitus originarius only dimly comprehensible to the human intuitus derivativus - which can only conceive of the divine Logos as the Omniscience that it lacks! We know that we do not know (Socrates): it is this negative knowledge, this apophatic intuition (this docta ignorantia, or erudite ignorance, as Cusanus called it) that allows us to apprehend (rather than comprehend) the possibility of an Absolute Knowledge. To repeat, the Word assumes the semblance of Flesh so that the Spirit may intervene in the World as its Saviour, as the Messiah, by interceding with the highest Divinity, God the Father. Put differently, the Logos or Word is the objectification of the Spirit in the World, in the Cosmos – which requires its incarnation as Flesh, its Parousia (Greek for pre-sence, French, parution, Italian, parvenza) as the advent or Coming of the Messiah. It is thus that the Logos becomes an eschatology.

The Judaeo-Christian Logos frames the question of the beginning in unmistakeably eschatological terms – in terms of divine predestination that removes the possibility of human freedom. “And the Word was made flesh” neatly elides the issues of how the Word “was made” flesh and by whom. It therefore removes from the free scope of our inquisitive minds the very origin and end of this transubstantiation of the Word. In human terms, the real beginning is the ineluctability of freedom in the act of our perception and conception of the life-world, of the cosmos, by means of the Word. It is impossible to reconcile eschatology, including this one of the Christian Logos, with Freedom because every eschatology worthy of the name traces clearly and inexorably the path of what is supposedly human history – except that the denouement of its course is predetermined: it is not history; it is destiny.

The eschatology of the Logos describes and subtends the arc of human existence both spiritual, in the Soul, and mundane, in the Body – from birth to death and spiritual resurrection in heaven. Its vision of historical time is linear, unlike that of the Hellenistic world where human history was interpreted as cyclical, going through set phases of either perfection or corruption, much like Aristotle’s categorization of polities reflected this timelessness of political categories. From Herodotus and Thucydides to Polybius, historical time is not seen as a string of events revealing patterns of human actions from which lessons may be drawn to guide future conduct. Instead, each individual historical situation is described as a self-enclosed event, as a limited ‘inquiry’ (historia) by the writer. The history of Antiquity does not contain or reveal a Logos. At best, its historein can be clustered into separate ages or epochs that form not just a cyclical pattern or anakyklosis, as in Polybius. History for Antiquity was, as it were, heroic, a sequence of admonishing tales, a mixture of Tyche (Fortune), Prosopopoeia (Personality) and Pronoia (Providence) in an eternally recurring cosmos. But history itself was seen as, to put it with Sextus Empiricus, an a-methodon hyle (literally, “a thick forest”, shapeless, inchoate, unmethodical matter) from which no conclusions can be reached, no telos can be extracted. This skepsis forms indeed the middle ground of Plato’s categorization of historical narratives into “terroristic”, “eudaemonistic”, or “abderite”. It is this third category, neither positive nor negative, simply abulic and blindly “going nowhere”, that emerges as the dominant skepticism advanced by Sextus Empiricus.
The skeptical relativism of Empiricus and Antiquity was enthusiastically shared by Nietzsche, whose own “perspectivism” erected the rhetorical oratory of the Sophists against the dialectical sophistry (!) of Socrates. As Nietzsche, the philosopher of the Eternal Return who clearly preferred the tragic world of the Greeks to the denigratory slavish morals of Christians, noted first, the Judaeo-Christian Logos is linear, albeit not yet progressive, unlike its later modern humanist and bourgeois versions. For the task of the Christian civitas terrena is to preserve the pristine purity of its Soul by resisting the ravages of the Antichrist until the Second Coming of the Messiah. Its mission (Latin, mittere, to send to a destination), hence its destiny is the containment (catechon) of Evil and contentment in this life until the reaching of its destination in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the after-life, whereupon it will be re-surrected as the civitas Dei. The temporal end of the world coincides with the attainment of the ethical end (goal) of humanity in the Parousia, the final reconciliation (Hegel’s Ver-sohn-ung, the Son returning to the Father) of the human with the divine upon the appearance of the Saviour.
There may be linearity in this “pilgrimage” of the Christian civitas terrena, but there is no Progress as we have come to understand it in the modern era of scientific-industrial capitalism. Instead, the Christian Parousia or Second Coming of the Messiah is the climatic inversion of the Apocalypse occasioned by the onslaught of the Antichrist. There is definitely a terminus a quo and a terminus ad quem, even in chronological terms, that is related to the duration of the Roman Empire. But the purpose of the Empire is to serve as a respublica Christiana the temporal imperium of the Roman Emperor with his potestas and the spiritual auctoritas of the sacerdotium, of the Church, have the over-riding imperative to contain or to refrain the nefarious devilry of the Antichrist. The Pauline notion of catechon as a “power that restrains” formed the indispensable keystone of the Christian exegetical architectonics and rationalization of Roman imperial power. (This specific and central aspect of political theology is examined at length in M. Cacciari, Il Potere Che Frena.) As Carl Schmitt brilliantly indicated,
The unity of this respublica Christiana had its adequate succession of order in imperium [empire] and sacerdotium [priesthood]; its visible agents, in emperor and pope. The attachment to Rome signified a continuation of ancient orientations adopted by the Christian faith. The history of the Middle Ages is thus the history of a struggle for, not against Rome … This Christian empire was not eternal. It always had its own end and that of the present eon in view. Nevertheless, it was capable of being a historical power. The decisive historical concept of this continuity was that of the restrainer: katechon. "Empire" in this sense [60] meant the historical power to restrain the appearance of the Antichrist and the end of the present eon; it was a power that withholds (qui tenet), as the Apostle Paul said in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians. 8 (The Nomos of the Earth, pp.59-60).

We have here, as we shall outline later, the origin of “the three orders” (oratores, bellatores and laboratores), the division of intellectual and manual labor, corresponding to the separation of Spirit and Nature that will characterize the social structure of mediaeval Europe. Like all revolutionary eschatologies, the Judaeo-Christian one is also apocalyptic: rather than a progress or evolution toward the final goal of history, they prophesy a gradual decline such as that canvassed by the Marxist theory of  “the immiseration of the proletariat” that precedes the final “general crisis” of capitalism and induces the advent of communism. Such was the famous Zusammenbruchstheorie (general collapse theory) articulated by Hegelian Marxism, and notably by Rosa Luxembourg, among others, opposed to the evolutionary socialism of the neo-Kantian Austro-Marxists.
Linearity, yes, but no progress, then, in Christian historiography. Nevertheless, it is Nietzsche’s contention that this linear teleological perception of history in the Christian Logos is what will lead to the rationalization of the scientific method in European skepticism, first – a movement that encompasses Cartesian rationalism with its “methodical doubt”, as much as Humean empiricism with the de-struction of the Self and of causality - and Kantian epistemology (an “astute theology” for Nietzsche), later; and of history tout court in Hegelian idealism – all of which the philosopher of Rocken defiantly mocked. Before Hegel, then, and especially in Antiquity, the approach to history was “historicist” in the heroic Thucydidean sense that we have sketched above, or at most it was cyclical. This version of historicism was expounded most valiantly by Wilhelm Roscher: the idea behind it is, again, that history resembles an art rather than a science in that historical events and agencies are seen as sui generis, in a holistic manner, as unrepeatable events. And, importantly, the same goes for societies, whose history and functioning cannot be generalized or examined scientifically. This scientistic skepticism was occasioned by the rapid expansion of artisanal and capitalist industry; it brought about the methodical objectification or scientization of human and social history first in the political theory of Thomas Hobbes and then in the historiography of Niebuhr and Burkhardt who championed the “objectivity” that their chronological “distance” of their historical subject-matters afforded.
From the same direction, but from a different angle, the heroic, evenementiel historicism of “Thukydides-Roscher” (ironized by Marx in Das Kapital) was soon to be assailed and refuted by Carl Menger in his Die Irrtumer des Historismus (the errors of historicism) - a direct attack on Roscher and his German Historical School conducted on behalf of the nascent “science” of political economy. Both Marx and Menger – albeit from opposing Hegelian rationalist and Kantian empiricist directions – may be said to have shared the neo-Kantian dichotomy of science classified by Windelband into Natur-wissenschaften, governed by nomo-thetic rules or “numerical scientific laws”, and Geistes-wissenschaften, confined to idio-graphic studies or “idio-syncratic portraits”. The eiron (Greek for ironic smirk) of Marx deriding Roscher’s obstinacy to subtract human society from the historico-materialist “laws of capitalism” (Marx’s own Grundrisse of the Critique of Political Economy inked in 1851 [note the use of the Kantian word, “Critique”] followed closely the publication in1843 of Roscher’s Grundriss uber die Staats-wirtschaft) is reflected in Menger’s neo-classical empirio-criticism theorized by Ernst Mach in Erkenntnis und Irrtum. The emphasis is no longer on science as “wisdom” (Wissen) but as “experimental cognition” (Erkenntnis). The final attack on the rationalist Hegelian “emanationism” of the German Historical School will come from the greatest neo-Kantian in the social sciences, Max Weber in his Roscher und Knies. Weber founds the “objectivity” of social science upon its ability to distinguish between the qualitative or ethical value-rationality (Wert-rationalitat) and the quantitative purpose-rationality (Zweck-rationalitat) of human action. Evident is Weber’s reliance on a scientific dichotomy between the social sphere of public opinion that encompasses ethics and politics, and the technico-scientific sphere of  industrial production that pertains strictly to the sphere of economics. The crucial flaw in Weber’s pretended demonstration  of the possibility of an “objective” social science is that its entire epistemological validity relies on the existence of such a “scientifically-definable” social sphere of production that, in turn, depends on the measurability of industrial “labor” understood as a technical necessity rather than as an aspect of social compulsion or coercion. Weber’s candid, though distorted, aim was the scientific-objective avulsion of capitalist production from the ethico-practical choices or freedom of the political sphere – an avulsion that is simply impossible because, to repeat, industrial labor-power in capitalism is not a matter of scientific necessity but, quite emphatically, of blunt socio-political coercion!

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