Commentary on Political Economy

Monday, 1 June 2020


Logos, Logic, Life-World

The eschatology of the Judaeo-Christian Logos has a spatio-temporal trajectory from physis to telos that is all internal to the logic of the Logos itself, to its dialectic, to its ability to order the life-world in a rational manner by simply naming it. (Of course, Hegel’s Absolute Idealism is the highest expression of this logos of the Spirit as the unfolding of the Idea in space and in time.) The Word – the concept, thought, the idea, and hence the mind and the soul, the embodiment of the Spirit – is what establishes the ordo et connexio rerum et idearum, the adaequatio rei et intellectus – or rather, the adaequatio rei ad intellectus, the conformity of the material and mundane world to the spiritual and the intellectual! It is not “the thing” that does the rational ordering; it is the Word, the intellect with its logic. This World belongs to the Flesh: it is the World of beguiling shadows (Plato), of sin and falsehood (Augustine), of diabolical deception (Descartes), of mere appearances (Kant), of painful mortality and dreadful transience (Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard) – a world that only the guiding light of the Word as incarnate Spirit, as Logos, can illuminate and ultimately save and lead to eternal life.

Once again, in the dialectic of the Logos, it is the Word with its logic or reason that is truly perfectly real. The reality and truth of the Logos lie entirely within the a priori deductive logic of the Word, independent of experience. The divine purity and perfection of the Soul ensconce, insulate and cleanse it from the fallible inductive empiricism of the Body. The Cartesian cogito immortalizes the “methodical doubt” with regard to “the thing”, the Object opposed to the Subject. (The German word for “object”, Gegen-stand [standing-against, same as Latin ob-ponere], emphasizes this op-position of Subject to Object.) With Descartes, the scientific method becomes a “methodical doubt” that exposes “the thing” – perceived, external reality – as entirely deceptive and unreliable. The only certainty is the introspective and reflexive experience of thought and its logic. Only the deductive reasoning of the intellect through logic and mathematics can yield the Truth. The physical world is irremediably and irredeemably separated antinomically from the intellect because the human perception of it can yield only partial, evanescent empirico-inductive verities. This world, the external world of space and time, the world of the human senses, is false! For this reason, both the Word-as-Spirit as well as the Logos - the Word-as-Flesh - are not of this World! 

Two separate realities for Descartes, then; two heterogeneous “things” – the res cogitans (the Mind or Intellect) and the res extensa (Nature or Matter). The Word-as-Spirit can have no con-nection, no nexus with the physical world because it is categorically different and distinct from it. Only the Word-as-Logos, the Word-made-Flesh, could devise a logical order  - an ordo et connexio rerum et idearum, an adaequatio rei et intellectus - for the world if and only if the Word were conceived not as the transcendent Word-as-Spirit, but rather, to repeat, as the immanent Word-as-Flesh, as the Logos. For Descartes, this novel immanent understanding of the Logos as Word-as-Flesh is simply and wholly impossible because he, like all rationalist philosophers from Plato onwards, can conceive of Truth only as logico-mathematical certainty – indeed, we argue, as tautological syllogism where the conclusion follows from the premises! Because of this “dogmatism” (Hegel) with regard to Truth-as-Identity (A=A), Descartes insisted (quite logically on his own premises) on the irreconcilability of the res cogitans (the Mind or Intellect) and the res extensa (the physical world). The difficulty with the notion of logic and mathematics as the perfection of the Mind or Intellect, as its pure divine and spiritual “truth”, is that if logic is to be anything more than empty, desultory tautology, its categories or rules – what makes a statement or proposition or calculus “logical” or “illogical” – must be able to hold, to contain a content. In other words, it is quite impossible to think of a logical category, concept or rule that does not hold a material content, that does not refer to a “thing”. The word itself, con-cept (from the Latin, cepere, to grab, to hold), implies that a concept must “hold” an object. The logic of thought cannot be severed from the logic of things – because “things” are already the objects of thought and subject to its “logic”!

Of course, material things understood as mere objects, as Kantian “things-in-themselves”, could never be taken as the “contents” or objects of logical concepts and rules because, by definition, “things” in themselves – by the mere fact of being objects in themselves and therefore inaccessible to the intellect, mere qualitates occultae – could not re-present the content of any concept whatsoever. Yet, logical categories or concepts or rules must have a material content in the sense that not only must they refer to a particular sensible “thing”, but also they themselves – concepts themselves! – constitute a material sensible content – that they themselves are their own content! Thought is always and everywhere and simultaneously also reflection, thought about thought. It is a huge fallacy to think that there can be a “pure concept”, a concept that is pure form (eidos) lacking any content! As Kant himself put it, “concepts without content are empty, and content without concept is blind”. Evident here is the Kantian desperate search – “groping in the dark” - for a sensuous grounding of thought away from his formal categorical Schematismus! Despite this valuable insight, the fallacy that Kant committed was to separate form and content, schemata and sense-perceptions, concept and conceived, thought and its object, in any case! There is no “concept” as such that is distinct or even distinguishable – that is conceivable! – except as content, and vice versa. Hence, the logic of thought is also indistinguishable from the logic of things – not because there are “things-in-themselves”, objects that have this qualitas occulta, but rather for the precise reason that all “things” or “objects” are already “objects of thought”, “contents of concepts”!

This was, it will be recalled, the basis of Schopenhauer’s fierce critique of Kant. The complex relation of logic as “logic of thought” and “logic of things” is deftly elaborated in Heidegger’s Heraclitus. (We shall develop this thesis more amply below in connection with Kant’s idealism.) Significantly, Descartes’s best effort at unifying the deductive sciences (theology, metaphysics and mathematics) and the inductive sciences (physics, optics, biology) – a distinction going back to Aristotle and universally accepted in mediaeval thought - could be articulated only by means of an organic metaphor – the arbor scientiarum (the tree of science) whereby the former disciplines were the “roots” and “trunk” out of which the latter “branches” could grow. The difficulty, once again, as should be amply obvious, is that no metaphor can establish a logical or epistemo-logical nexus between logico-mathematics as understood by Descartes, on one side, and the physical sciences that he enlists as “outgrowths” or “branches” of the “pure sciences”, that is to say, logic and mathematics. (See P. Rossi, The Birth of Science in Europe. Also, A. Negri, Descartes, The Reasonable Ideology.) The idea of a “logic as science of the pure concept” theorized by Benedetto Croce (cf. his Logica come scienza del concetto puro) is simply a fantastic chimaera – a mythological hybrid beast – because there cannot be any “science” (understood in our sense of “scientific practices or techniques”) that deals with “pure concepts”. Indeed, there can be no such thing as a “pure concept” because all concepts, as objects of thought, have a material ec-sistence – as “thoughts”, as human activities.

Not surprisingly, the Cartesian apotheosis of logical-deductive reasoning as the only valid methodology for the acquisition of scientific knowledge (episteme), and the consequent degradation of empirical-inductive research (techne’ and doxa), sealed the separation of intellectual and manual labor for late-mediaeval European thought. On the other hand, Cartesian dualism and the consequent  “dogmatic” application of the  “methodical doubt” to human perception and scientific induction mark perhaps the true beginning of modern European skepticism and nihilism, both of which, paradoxical as it may seem, may have opened the way to the development of European science. (On modern European skepticism, see R. Popkin, The History of Skepticism in Europe. On all this, cf. my “Descartes’s World”.) Doubtless, it was the rampant nihilism of the chorismos of the Judaeo-Christian Logos that aroused Nietzsche’s fury in Twilight of the Idols and The Genealogy of Morals and, not least, in Beyond Good and Evil. The author of Zarathustra could not stomach the rationalist view that this world, the only world we know and in which we live, is false! His famous genial riposte (in the Second Untimely Meditation) to Descartes’s cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) was its inverse, vivo, ergo cogito (I live, therefore I think).

Of course, there are a host of calamitous consequences generated by the rationalist Weltanschauung: apart from the nihilism or annihilation of the natural terrestrial world in favour of the celestial one, together with the dogmatic prescription of a strict religious morality – which were the primary targets of Nietzsche’s ire aimed at Christianity -, there is also the hypostatization of the division between intellectual and manual labour and, sociologically, of the “oratorial” classes of clergy and monks, on one hand, and menial workers, artisans and peasants, on the other. These, together with the military order, formed the famous “three orders” into which mediaeval society has been categorized (see G. Duby, The Three Orders and The Age of the Cathedrals). (The word nihilism itself was first used by R. Jacobi in a letter in reference to Fichte’s “empirical Idealism”, the most extreme exasperation of German Classical Idealism as a reaction to Kant whereby the Subject, the I, simply produces itself as the non-I or “empirical I”, as “the world” until it attains the Absolute or Absolute Knowledge. As Jacobi well perceived, such a philosophy stultifyingly represents the annihilation of the material world itself!)

As we have seen, taken separately in their original acceptation, Spirit and Flesh, are antinomic concepts because the spirituality of the one categorically excludes the materiality of the other. The antinomy of the concepts of Word-as-Spirit and Flesh-as-Nature wholly escapes the valiant pneumatology of St. John in the Gospels. Yet, his rendering of the Christian Logos serves, so to speak, as a conceptual bridge to overcome this antinomy, to bridge this gap (Greek, choris) between the immortal or eternal (God, Spirit, Soul, Mind, Subject) and the mortal or perishable (World, Nature, Body, Matter, Object). Only with Kant’s Critical Idealism will we have a precise formulation of the insurmountability of these antinomies. But because this gap simply cannot be filled rationally – because the eternal and the perishable, the mortal and the immortal quite simply negate the possibility of their opposites, then it follows that just like the Word-as-Spirit, as Absolute, the Logos itself, or the Word as the presumed incarnation of the Spirit, the Word-as-Flesh, must remain problematic – an enigma that is impenetrable even to metaphysical thought and insolubly tied to the sphere of religious faith (pistis). Just like the Divinity, therefore – just like the Absolute Spirit (Hegel) – the Logos, the Word-as-Flesh, can be conceptualized only as a mysterium fidei (a mystery of faith).

Nevertheless, there is a way out of this impasse, a way to overcome this arcanum and its related chorismos by simply reflecting a little more deeply on the formulation of the concepts of Word and Flesh. Indeed, as defined, Word and Flesh are irresolubly antinomic concepts. But the separation or chorismos of Word and Flesh and of Being and Space-Time is untenably aporetic because the two notions inter-penetrate each other: the Word is inconceivable without the materiality that the Flesh entails; and the Flesh would not be conceivable either without the conceptuality of the Word. The Flesh grounds the Word, and the Word conceptualizes the Flesh. Deprived of its materiality, the Word would turn into vapid immaterial Spirit opposed to Nature, and the Logos would lose its historical meaning and redemptive mission in the world. Similarly, divested of its conceptual content, the Flesh would hold no meaning whatsoever because no meaning could be assigned or attributed to it. Indeed, it may be said that the notion of Word contains already that of Flesh in the sense that physical material existence – the flesh – is already implied totally in the very notion of Word. At the same time, the meaning of Word contains that of action given that “word” is derived from the Latin verbum, whence “verb” comes to denote all “actions” in our speech. Tellingly, the French noun for “word” is mot, which again like the Latin verbum points to motion or action. And motion, as Aristotle showed, is the central concept in all metaphysical speculation concerning Being in its dual aspect as actuality (movement, change or becoming) and potentiality (rest, substance, permanence). Both the Word and the Logos are aspects of Being, either actually or potentially. Deprived of Space-Time, Being would cease to have any content and meaning. An eternal, time-less Being would simply be devoid of meaning because it could not ec-sist, it could not be real, it would be a non-being, indeed a non-sense! Equally, a ubiquitous in-finite Being would lack all meaning because it would have no spatial finitude or boundary: it would not be an entity (in Leibniz’s famous saying, “a being is a [one distinct] being”). (These aspects of the Logos, of finitude and unity, we shall examine in connection with Heidegger’s critique of Scholastic and Kantian metaphysics.)

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